What’s Inside a Computer? The Simple Answer

Your computer is a lot like the human body in all its intricacy. Yet unlike the human body, the general public knows so little about the way computers work. The body parts that are vital to our existence (heart, brain, nerves, etc.) can be paralleled with the parts of your computer.

When the average person is asked to name two main computer components, they will most likely give an answer like “keyboard and mouse”. But that’s like listing fingers and toes as two main body parts. There’s so much more to a computer than the mouse and keyboard, and this post is to educate you on a few of the basics, and how they compare to the human body.

“The Brain” – Central Processing Unit (CPU)

The CPU is the decision maker of the computer. Located on the motherboard, it’s the CPU’s job to perform the tasks that make the entire computer work through thousands of tiny circuits. Every mouse click, every key pressed, and every program opened goes through the CPU, which then translates the commands into what you see happening on your screen. The speed of a CPU is measured in hertz (Hz). The higher the Hz, the faster the computer–although there are many other elements that contribute to a computer’s speed.

“The Nervous System” – The Motherboard

The motherboard is like the nervous system, in a sense. It moves information to and from the CPU and everything else in the machine. The motherboard connects directly or indirectly to every component in the computer, including the CPU, hard drive(s), memory, and expansion cards for video and audio. It helps all parts of the computer to communicate with each other, and translates the commands you give into a language the computer understands.

“The Short-Term Memory” – Random Access Memory (RAM)

Whenever your computer performs a function, it temporarily stores the data in the RAM until it is needed again. This prevents the computer from having to start from a clean slate after every command it sends. The more RAM you have, the more programs you can run simultaneously without slowing your computer down. The RAM contents are dumped each time the computer is shut down, hence the comparison to short-term memory. If you need something saved, that goes to the long-term memory.

“The Long-Term Memory” – Hard Drives

The hard drive is what your operating system and other programs are installed on, and it’s also where your files are stored. Programs and files saved to your hard drive remain there until you delete or uninstall them; they’re not dumped at shutdown the way RAM is. The faster your hard drive is, the faster it can start up and load programs and files. The hard drive simply works as a digital filing cabinet–if said filing cabinet was also able to hold your entire workspace.

“The Heart” – The Power Supply

The power supply works a lot like your heart. It sends out electricity to power everything from the CPU and graphics card to the fans that cool your computer. Think about when your leg falls asleep because there’s not enough blood getting to it. Putting weight on it isn’t a good idea, because you could fall over. It’s the same with computer components that aren’t getting enough power from the power supply; they won’t function properly. In fact, a failing power supply can actually damage components if they try to keep working on low power for too long.

The parallels between computers and the human body go on and on. Speakers are like the mouth, a web camera is like the eyes, the monitor (screen) is like the face. But that’s your computer in a nutshell.

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About the author

Photo of Erik Fullmer

Erik Fullmer

Erik was raised in many places but has long since called Utah home. Rooted in mountains, he spends a lot of time with his dogs in the mountains and in the winter he skis… a lot.

Erik is actively earning the necessary certifications and training to become a certified AMGA Ski Guide.

With over a decade of content writing experience, Erik finds passion when writing for the tech and outdoor recreation industries.