How does a computer work?

The short version is, lots of intricate wiring, logical switches (mostly made from transistors) and perhaps capacitors - not including other essential components of the whole system. Computers typically have microchips or Integrated Circuits (IC), which are basically slices of refined silicon or silicon-based material, or another semiconductor, with numerous microscopic components and wiring etched or printed on. These micro circuits are made and arranged in ways that carry out certain logic, like Boolean logic, which is elemental to digital computers. Such chips or processors can now fit many different functional circuits in one, making them more efficient and advanced without taking so much room. Computers however won't do much without a set of instructions of which to perform, or information to deal with, written in a format it's designed (and made) to understand.

The main processing chip or chips is known as a Central Processing Unit (CPU), which works as the "brain" of a computer. This chiefly orchestrates the system and executes a computer program (runs code) which gives it purpose. The CPU can be "fed" data, encoded (written) in fluctuating electrical currents, for both instructions and data of which to process. It also outputs data in a similar manner, although any other hardware needs to be designed to respond to this. A CPU must still be powered in order to function, at least if the energy obtained from signals isn't enough. CPU's run programs in steps or processing clock cycles, although some do more complex multi-stage work before the command is complete. The "clock speed" or frequency dictates the speed of these operations. Synchronicity and timing is essential for all these systems - so they rely on a clock signal that works for all, even though it can change.

Another key part is some form of memory, which either temporarily stores data for running programs or stores long-term data (including program code) - typically computers have both. Many computers have a system memory (often called "RAM") which is fast for access and reading and writing data, but doesn't retain data by the time it loses power. Data "storage" or non-volatile memory often includes Solid State Drives, Hard Disk Drives and other disks or mediums; all of which keeps data even after power loss or system restarts.

The third key part of a computer is I/O or Input/Output - which can merely refer to the connections and interfaces (or "bus") for other components, hardware or devices. This can include non-volatile storage, as well as visual displays, audio devices, networking, peripherals and even other computing modules. Basically, data goes in, data goes out. These parts are still essential for computers - after all, what good would a computer be if nothing and no one can use it?

Typical computers work with discrete values that logically represent information or instruction code - such as binary. Digital values are quite limited, but can be increased by using more digits. While the saying goes "computers see everything as ones and zeros", this is not quite true - what a computer "sees" depends on the scope and context. Computers basically though don't think, they only calculate and carry out instructions. These "ones and zeros" aren't even 1's and 0's as we know them, but rather logical 1's and 0's. The former is a representation of binary data, for humans. Hexadecimal is more efficient for us because each digit (0 - 9, A - F) represents four binary digits (bits) and is easier to read. A computer program can convert and present raw data to hex-text pretty efficiently too.

Last update on 2022-12-14 by DNC admin.

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