What Is Computer Hardware?

Home & Family, Technology
on March 11, 2012

A computer, according to Microsoft.com, is "a system of many parts working together." Computer hardware includes the physical parts you can see and touch. Here's a brief description of key computer hardware components in a home computer.

The system unit. This unit is the core of your computer and contains the electronic components that process information. It's what goes in that box you stick under the desk.

  • Central processing unit (CPU) — This acts as the computer's brain. It's sometimes called a microprocessor.
  • Random access memory (RAM) —This refers to temporary storage your computer uses while the computer is on. This information is erased when the computer is turned off.
  • Hard drive — Your computer stores enormous amounts of information on a hard disk, which Microsoft describes as "a rigid platter or stack of platters with a magnetic surface." The hard drive holds almost all your computer's programs and files and is usually contained in the system unit.

Modem. A modem allows the computer to connect to the Internet. A modem sends and receives information over a high-speed cable. Some modems are internal. Most higher speed modems are external and can be connected to the computer with a cable or wirelessly.

CD and DVD drives. These drives are most often found on the front of the system unit. CD drives use lasers to retrieve data on a CD. You can store files onto a blank CD if you have a recordable CD drive. You can also play music CDs in it. DVD drives do everything a CD drive does with the added benefit of being able to read DVDs.

Monitor. The monitor is a TV for your computer. It is hooked to the computer via a cable. When purchasing a monitor or cable, make sure they're compatible with your computer.

Mouse. That's the thing used to point and select items on the computer monitor screen. The mouse is either connected to your computer with a cable or capable of transmitting a wireless signal to the computer.

Keyboard. Those familiar only with typewriters can be comforted by a computer keyboard, which is based on the positioning of symbols on a typewriter. A keyboard allows the user to type text into a computer program. It can be wireless or connected to the computer with a compatible cord.

Printer. If you need documents, pictures or anything else printed from your computer, you'll need a printer. Most printers require a printer cable. Some computers are connected wirelessly. For a printer to work properly, it must be installed on your computer using software that comes with the printer.

Power supply. The system unit on most computers has a spot to connect a power cord, which in turn connects to a standard wall outlet.