The simple way computers work

Explain computers like I’m 5.

Computers are intricate machines but the way they work is simple.

You type into the keyboard. What you type ends up on the screen. You go to a website and the website ends up on the screen.

In the background there are a ton of things happening, you’re unaware happening.

After today you’ll understand what’s happening in the background.

What is in a computer?

For a computer to run you need a motherboard, CPU (central processing unit), Random access memory (RAM), power supply, and a GPU (graphic processing unit).

For a computer to power on you don’t need a GPU (also known as a video card) but you need the GPU to see something on the monitor.

How does this all connect?

A computer is very similar to your body’s nervous system. Your senses (vision, smell, taste, and touch) tell your brain to do something. Your brain then activates something else like your leg to move or turn your head.

For a computer, the words typed using the keyboard are like your senses. This input goes through the motherboard. The motherboard is like your body’s nervous system. It connects everything together.

From the motherboard, the words move to the RAM (also known as memory). The RAM is like your body’s short-term memory. The RAM holds the information until the CPU (also known as a processor) is ready for it. In the same way, your memory holds a task until you complete it.

Then the processor goes through the information and tells the other components what to do. Just like your brain tells the rest of your body what to do.

What are the other parts and what do they do?

Video card processes video data and sends the information to your monitor so you can see the data.

PSU (power supply unit), also called a power supply, gives power to all of the components in the computer.

NIC (network interface card) connects you to other computers including the internet. There can be 2 NICs per computer. 1 for wired connection and the other for WiFi. Sound cards process the audio data and send the sound to the speakers. The NIC is what gets your IP address.

Hard disk drive (hard drive) is like your memories in your brain from long ago. The hard drive stores files you need to access in the future.

CD-ROM drive (compact disc-read only memory) is another form of data storage. You copy or move your data to the CD for removal and storage to access later.

FDD (floppy diskette drive) also known as a floppy drive is not used as much anymore. It is a form of removable data storage.

Input devices are what you use to interact with the computer. Examples are mouse, keyboard, webcam and drawing tablets.

Media card reader is common on notebooks/laptops. They are slots so you can input a card you would use in a camera like an SD card.

How does the data travel?

The data moves over the printed circuits on the motherboard. These circuits are connected to ports/slots/connections for the type of information traveling.

The circuits are like a highway you drive your car on. There are lanes for each direction and the data travels over it like cars on a highway. The destination for the data is always the processor.

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