Computer basics and terminology
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Computer Basics and Terminology Operating Systems What type of “operating system” do cars use? Most run on gasoline – thus many cars have a gasoline operating system, but some cars have different operating systems. Diesel Hydrogen Electric Solar Operating Systems

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Operating Systems

  • What type of “operating system” do cars use?

    • Most run on gasoline – thus many cars have a gasoline operating system, but some cars have different operating systems.

      • Diesel

      • Hydrogen

      • Electric

      • Solar

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Operating Systems

  • In a computer, the operating system is the computer code that controls the internal operations of the computer. This code is what makes the computer go.

  • Popular Operating Systems

    • Windows (95, 98, ME, 2000, XP, Vista) = Found on 90+ of the personal computers [Vista is the latest version of Windows but I would stay away from it if at all possible. CALS has made a decision to not support it– Windows will soon announce Windows 7 which is a “fixed” Vista]

    • Mac OS – Found on Mac Computers. Leopard is the name of the most current Mac OS.

    • Linux – found on a few personal computers (primarily the playground of computer geeks)

    • Unix – used with mainframe computers

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Old Operating Systems

  • CPM (Control Program for Microprocessors)

    • Early computers like the KayPro used this

  • MS-DOS (Microsoft Disc Operating System)

    • This was the predecessor to Windows

    • All you saw on the screen was a C prompt - >C

    • You had to type a command to get anything to happen

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Basic Computer Terminology

  • CPU – Central Processing Unit

    • The brains of the computer

    • Major manufacturers

      • Intel (75-80 percent of the market)

        • Pentium – Top of the line

        • Celeron - Basic

      • AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) 15-20% of the market

        • Athalon – Top of the line

        • Sempron – Basic

        • Phenom – New Super CPU (quad core)

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What to Look for in a CPU

  • Processing Speed

    • The Old Days

      • 4.7 Mhz early 80s

      • 10 Mhz mid 80s

      • A turbo switch was needed on computers because some software couldn’t run at 10 Mhz

    • Today

      • 3,000+ MHz is common (3 Gigahertz)

      • For most applications 3 GHz is adequate

        • faster CPUs are needed for video rendering and game playing but there is a way to improve performance other than speed of the CPU

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CPU Speeds

  • The CPU manufacturers are downplaying speed these days

  • Instead they are promoting dual core processors

    • A dual core CPU is basically two CPUs in one body.

    • So a dual core CPU operating at a slower speed can do more one work than a standard CPU operating at a faster speed

  • Intel and AMD have both recently announced quad core CPUs

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What to Look for in a CPU

  • GHz rating (speed at which the CPU operates).   

    • Get a CPU that is a couple steps below the top speed CPU.  You won't notice much of a performance difference, and you'll save a lot of money since the very fastest CPUs are significantly overpriced.

    • Or alternatively get a dual or quad core CPU that operates at a slower speed

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What to Look for in a CPU

  • Bus Speed (speed at which data is moved to and from the CPU)

    • Currently 200 MHz is the most common bus speed (although this is often reported as 400 MHz or 800 MHz as it is dual or quad pumped). Many CPUs still run at 166 or slower though.

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What to Look for in a CPU

  • Internal Cache (the quick access memory that is on the CPU to hold recent data).

    • This memory is very important in speeding things up. When comparing CPUs, you may want to look at how much cache the CPU has. Be warned: Intel's Celeron CPUs have very little cache memory - that's why they're cheaper!

    • Internal cache is labeled L1 and L2

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What to Look for in a CPU  

  • Another thing to consider with CPUs is the micron size of the CPU unit. Smaller sizes result in cooler operation and thus allow for higher clock speeds. 

    • In theory this is something to look for, in practice it is difficult.

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Basic Computer Terminology

  • Memory

    • RAM (Random Access Memory)

      • More is better

      • Determines how many programs can be open at one time and how many files can be handled

    • 1028 Mb is the minimum I would consider (commonly called 1 gigabyte - GB)

      • 2-4 Gb of memory is preferred

    • Programs in the future will require more and more memory

    • More memory is the key to maximizing computer performance

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Types of Memory Modules


    • 1996


    • 2001

  • DDR2 RAM

    • 2004

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Memory Modules

  • Memory modules simply plug into slots on the motherboard.

  • They are easy to replace

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Random Access Memory

  • Think of RAM as a desktop, the bigger the desktop, the more materials you can have out and open (I.e. the more programs you can have open and running). YOU CAN’T HAVE TOO MUCH RAM.

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Basic Computer Terminology

  • Motherboard

    • The main circuit board inside a computer, which contains the central processing unit, the bus, memory sockets, expansion slots, and other components

    • Various cards plug into slots on the motherboard

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Basic Computer Terminology

  • Hard Drive

    • An electro-mechanical device that stores data (programs, files)

    • Typically referred to as the “C” drive

    • Generally, the bigger the better

      • MB (Megabytes)

      • GB (Gigabytes)

    • 80 GB is the minimum I would consider

The Case, the insides

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Hard Drive

  • Consider the hard drive to be the big drawer in a desk. It is used for storage.

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Hard Drive Considerations

  • Generally bigger is better

  • Size is measured in Gigabytes

    • 80 Gig is the smallest I would consider

    • Most of my computers have 250+ Gig hard drives

    • Digital photographs, music and video “eat” hard drive space – 1 minute of video takes 1 gig

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Hard Drive Considerations

  • Seek Time

    • The time it takes the computer to find a specific piece of data on the hard drive

    • Measured in ms (milliseconds)

    • The lower the number, the faster

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Basic Computer Terminology

  • 3 ½ Floppy disk drive

    • Used for file storage but has limited capacity

    • Often go in the A drive

    • These are rapidly becoming obsolete

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Basic Computer Terminology

  • 5 ¼ Floppy disk drive

    • Rarely found on a computer today

    • Often went in the B drive

    • These disks were actually floppy

  • At one time in the early days of personal computing there were 8 inch floppies (IBM product)

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Basic Computer Terminology

  • Zip drives

    • A 100 M zip disk holds the equivalent of 66 small (3 ½) floppy disks

    • 250 & 750 Mb were other sizes

    • However it is much cheaper to just write files to a CD or save them to a USB drive

    • These were popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, prior tothe days of USB drives

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Basic Computer Terminology

  • USB drives

    • USB drives, also called thumb drives or flash drive, are storage devices that can be plugged into the USB ports.

    • They come in various sizes.

    • A 4 GB thumb drive costs about $19.

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Basic Computer Terminology

  • CD and DVD drives and burners

    • Data can be stored on a CD

    • Movies can be viewed with a DVD drive

  • Get one of each (that can write)

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Basic Computer Terminology

  • Video Card (also called Graphic Cards)

    • An electronic device found on the motherboard that determines the characteristics of how images will be displayed on the monitor. This card basically broadcasts video signals to your monitor.

    • Memory on video card is important

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Video Cards

  • Video cards can cost hundreds of dollars

  • People who play lots of games are do graphic intensive work need high end video cards

  • Dedicated “gamers” may install multiple graphics cards.

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Sound Card and Speakers

  • Just depends upon how much you want to spend and how you like to hear music

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Network Interface Card (NIC)

  • A network interface card (ethernet) allows your computer to be hooked to a network of other computers or the Internet

  • Today most computers come standard with a network interface card

    • 10/100 is the standard (the 10/100 means the card is capable of transmitting data at 10Mbps [Megabits per second] up to 100 MBPS).

    • The technology is rapidly moving to wireless

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  • A Modem allows the computer to hook up to other computers or the Internet using a telephone line.

  • As high speed network access has increased, there has been a decline in demand for modems.

  • However, it is smart to get a modem because they are CHEAP.

A little known fact is that RoadRunner provides dial up access in major cities. If you have RoadRunner at home and travel, you can access your e-mail by RoadRunner Dial up – provided you have a modem.

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  • Plug in slots on the computer so that peripherals such as printers, digital cameras, scanners, can be connected to the computer.

  • Serial Port used to be the standard

    • Once nearly all printers plugged into the serial port

    • They contain either 9 or 25 pins

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  • Parallel ports are much faster

    • A serial port sends information through a cable one bit at a time, whereas a parallel port sends eight bits at a time along parallel

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  • USB (Universal Serial Bus) became popular several years ago

    • Computers should have at least 4, preferable 6 or more USB ports.

    • Can plug a bunch of devices in without the conflicts presented by serial ports (in theory up to 127 devices can be connected)

    • Faster than serial ports

    • Most printers now plug into the USB port

  • USB2 is the new standard

    • Much faster than standard USB

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  • IEEE 1394 port or firewire port (Sony calls them ilink)

    • Used for connecting video cameras and transferring video

    • Very, Very fast

    • If your computer doesn’t have this port, forget digital movie making

    • A computer should have at least two

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Firewire (IEEE 1394)

  • One must realize there are 4 and 6 pin firewire ports (and connecting cables)

    • Six pin are foundon desktop computers

    • Four pin are found onlaptops and digital cables.

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  • Modern computers have ports on both the front and back of the computer. (See the next two slides)

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A Major Blunder

  • Some years back Dell came out with a tower computer case that had connections on the front, but you had to raise a lid to get to the connections, but it would only lift to a 45 degree angle. Since these computers typically sat on the floor, you nearly had to lay down on the floor to plug something in.

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  • The TV like device in which you view what the computer is doing.

  • Very important

  • Screen size is measured from corner to corner and the actual measurement is always a little less than advertised

    • 17 and 19 inch are standard

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  • A minor but important factor to consider in buying a computer is the number of “available” bays.

  • A bay is the slot or shelf in the computer case which computer components such as hard drives, cd drives, etc. are placed.

  • If you have some vacant bays in your case, then you can add additional computer components.

    • Since I have a bunch of old 3 ½ floppies I might choose to add a 3 ½ drive if my computer doesn’t come with one.

    • Some people add 2nd hard drives

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  • Resolution is also critical

    • The recommended screen resolution for a monitor, measured in pixels (horizontal x vertical). Higher resolutions can allow more information to fit on a screen, resulting in less scrolling. Example 1024 x 768)

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  • Standard or Flat Panel

    • Flat Panel weights considerable less and takes up less desk space

    • Flat Panel is easier on the eyes

    • Flat Panels costs a good bit more, but are decreasing in price all the time(Moore’s Law)

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Computer Ratings

  • Once a person takes the computer case off, one often discovers that regardless of who made the computer, the insides are the same.

  • It is perfectly OK to buy a computer that is made locally by a Mom and Pop outfit as long as “Mom and Pop” know what they are doing.

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Computer Rankings

  • Every year PC Magazine asks readers to send in ratings of their computers.

  • These may vary a little from year to year, but the trends are there.

  • The following slides show the 2008 PC Magazine reader survey of computers

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Over All Ratings – Desktop Computers

  • Apple (343 responses) 9.1

  • Self-built (2,185) 8.4

  • Sony (166) 7.9

  • Locally built/clone (422) 7.8

  • Dell (3,385) 7.7

  • Gateway (405) 7.6

  • Acer (81) 7.6

  • HP (1,780) 7.6

  • Lenovo/IBM (171) 7.4

  • eMachines (211) 7.3

  • Systemax (51) 7.1

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Over all Ratings - Laptops

  • Apple (397 responses) 9.2

  • Lenovo/IBM (640) 8.1

  • Sony (219) 8.0

  • Toshiba (581) 7.8

  • Dell (1,903) 7.9

  • Gateway (258) 7.6

  • HP (1290) 7.8

  • Acer (212) 7.8