Computer Parts Overview

Motherboard:

The Motherboard is the heart of the computer, so to speak. Everything connects to the motherboard in some way, shape, or form. When you plug in a mouse or an ethernet cable, you plug it into the motherboard. Graphics cards, RAM, the CPU, and storage drives all connect to the Motherboard. The most important factors to consider when choosing a motherboard are compatibility with other parts, most notably with your CPU. Below is a basic diagram, showing how the major parts interact with the motherboard (an Asus Prime Z370-A in this instance).

Central Processing Unit (CPU):

The CPU, also frequently called the processor, is one of the most important components of a computer. Without it your computer is useless. Almost all processes on a computer are performed by the CPU; it even generates the image on your screen if you don’t have a graphics card (assuming your CPU has integrated graphics). It is monumentally important to pick a CPU that will be able to handle the workload you demand of it. Shown below is a graphic of the front and back of an Intel processor.

CPU Cooling System:


The cooler keeps your CPU’s temperature in a safe range. Many processors come with a base-level cooling system which will suffice for many builds. If you have a high-powered processor with high clockspeeds, however, you may want to invest in a higher-quality CPU cooler. Thermal paste applied between the cooler and CPU helps the cooler remove heat from the CPU and keep it from overheating.

Shown above, an Intel stock cooler

Graphics Card:


The graphics card (often also called the GPU or Graphics Processing Unit, or video card) generates the images you see on your screen. Typically, graphics cards are only needed by people building a PC with the intent to run games or graphical design software, although some people use lower-end graphics cards in conjunction with CPUs that don’t have integrated graphics. A better graphics card usually translates to higher framerates when running games.

Shown above, a GTX Geforce 1080TI, a powerful Nvidia graphics card

Storage Drive:

The storage drive(s) in your computer are what determine its storage capacity. There are two main types of drive: HDD and SSD. Furthermore, the SSD category is broken into 2 types of its own: NVMe and SATA.

HDD: HDD stands for Hard Disk Drive, and has been around for longer than the SSD. As mentioned above, hard drives are more cost-efficient but not as fast at data retrieval.

SSD: SSD stands for Solid State Drive, the more recently-developed storage drive. SSD’s retrieve information much faster, making them highly desirable. This means your system will also boot faster when using an SSD. The downside of this is that they cost a bit more per gigabyte of storage, so it isn’t always feasible to have an SSD if you’re on a budget.

  • NVMe: NVMe stands forNon-Volatile Memory Express. This type of SSD is the fastest money can buy, more than 5 times faster than most SATA SSDs (more on those in a minute). This means that data is transferred to and from the drive much quicker than even a standard SSD, but as a result they cost more.
  • SATA: SATA stands for Serial Advanced Technology Attachment, and refers to the motherboard port that SATA SSDs plug into. These SSDs are slower than their NVMe counterparts, but still much faster than traditional hard drives.
Shown above, a Team GX2 1TB SATA SSD

RAM:


RAM stand for Random Access Memory, and the amount of RAM you buy will determine how much temporary data you can store for near-instant access. It allows you to switch between different programs or tabs quickly. For example, if you had a lot of tabs open in Chrome, more RAM would allow you to switch between tabs without having to reload a page each time you switched back to it. 

Shown above, 16GB of G.Skill Ripjaws RAM

Power Supply:

The power supply unit, sometimes abbreviated as PSU, is your computer’s power source. It directs electricity from a wall outlet to your computer’s motherboard, where it can be distributed to all of the components as needed.

Case:

The case is the part of the computer you see. Sometimes called the tower, it comes in three main sizes: Full tower, Mid tower, and Mini tower. Unless you need to store your computer in a very small compartment, Mid or Full towers are the best option, since if you get anything smaller, you will probably need to get a significantly downsized motherboard. The case holds all of the components inside, and is the hub to which you connect almost all external cables (display cables like HDMI and DisplayPort, USB connectors, Ethernet cables, and more).

Monitor:

The monitor is not technically part of the PC, but it is essential to the function of the computer. It is the screen that displays the images your computer generates.

Shown above, an Alienware AW25HF

Next section: Picking Your Parts

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