Many of us tend to take our PCs for granted, assuming they’ll be able to provide all of the capabilities we need. Just as often, however, we can get frustrated when our computer is too slow, doesn’t display at the resolution we need or isn’t able to hook up to the external components our jobs require. Knowing what the core components of a computer are and how their performance is measured allows you to customize each piece, arriving at a machine that’s perfectly tuned to match your needs.
The Core Components
A computer has eight primary elements. The performance of each piece impacts the whole, so the first step to building the perfect desktop or laptop is identifying the performance you need out of each.
The first is the computer case or tower. This is essentially the skeleton of your computer, and you’ll need a case that’s large enough to house all of the other components. Although you have less control over this aspect of a laptop, you have much more freedom to customize a desktop tower.
Next is the motherboard, sometimes referred to as a logic board. This is a PC’s backbone: it connects all of the other parts through a central printed circuit board. One of the most critical aspects of choosing a motherboard involves selecting one with all of the ports you need. When you plug something into your tower (such as a USB drive), you’re attaching it directly to the motherboard, so you need a port for every type of connector you’ll use.
Third is the central processing unit (CPU). Think of this as your computer’s brain. Its function is to select instructions, process them, perform the math and logic computations necessary for the computer to operate and then store the results of previous operations. You can have more than one CPU, and today’s standard is a dual-core (two, for lower-end machines) or a quad-core (four, for higher-performing PCs). If you’re asking a lot of your PC, you need to have multiple higher-end CPUs.
The power supply is a PC’s digestive system. If you purchase a high-quality, reliable power supply, your computer will run seamlessly. Lower-quality power supplies are susceptible to variable power levels as well as more frequent failure.
Fifth is the hard drive, one of the most well-known aspects of a computer. This is the long-term memory and where everything you save on that PC is stored. The more space you have, the fewer performance issues you’ll experience as you save more files. Two primary types of hard drives exist today: solid-state (SSD) and disk drives. The latter is a classic hard drive with a spinning platter that’s read by an external arm. The former is a newer technology with no moving parts: it’s smaller, faster and produces less heat than a classic disk drive. Disk drives are exponentially cheaper, but you don’t have to choose between one or the other. Many computers today have one of each, and your PC will prioritize using the SSD and spill over onto the classic disk drive as necessary.
While the motherboard is the brain and the hard drive is the long-term memory, a computer’s random access memory (RAM) is comparable to what the human brain is capable of concentrating on at any given point. If you have lots of applications open on your computer simultaneously and notice it slowing down, it’s because your RAM is maxed out and trying to concentrate on everything at once. The more powerful a PC’s memory is, the more rapidly it can operate, and the less lag time you’ll experience. Increasing a computer’s RAM is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to get an instant performance boost.
The seventh major component is the video card. This determines how well your computer can display 2D and 3D images and videos. You’ll need to match its capabilities with your monitors or projectors to ensure you’re getting all of the performance out of it that it’s capable of, but this is where it starts.
Finally, there’s the optical drive. This is the technology that’s used to read CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays. While still a central aspect of a PC, its importance is fading as PCs leverage cloud access and thumb drives more frequently.
Customizing Your Performance
When you’re creating a computer that will meet your needs, begin by outlining how you use it. Identify high-resource processes like streaming video, editing images or uploading and downloading large files. Determine which components are most crucial to those operations, then build the PC to meet the highest demands. If you do this well, you’ll experience longer and more consistent satisfaction with your computer’s performance.
Moiz Bhinderwala leads the technical services and logistics teams at Dynamic. With more than 10 years of experience in the IT industry, Moiz has deep knowledge of the complex technological landscape, working closely with clients to understand their IT challenges and help design custom technical solutions to meet their business goals.