Easy Computer Basics, Windows 10 Edition (2016)
Chapter 1. Understanding Personal Computers
Chances are you’re reading this book because you have a new computer. At this point, you might not be totally sure what it is you’ve gotten yourself into. Just what is this mess of boxes and cables—how does it all go together, and how does it work?
We start by looking at the physical components of your system—the stuff we call computer hardware. A lot of different pieces and parts make up a typical computer system, and the pieces and parts differ depending on the type of computer you have.
You see, no two computer systems are identical. That’s because there are several types of configurations (desktops, notebooks, and such) and because you can always add new components to your system—or disconnect other pieces you don’t have any use for.
Types of Computers
Getting to Know Desktop PCs
A traditional desktop computer is one with a monitor designed to sit on your desktop, along with a separate keyboard and mouse and freestanding stereo speakers. The central component of a traditional desktop system is the system unit, which contains the PC’s central processing unit (CPU), memory, and motherboard. All the external components connect directly to the system unit.
Note: Connecting Components
The external components (called peripherals) of a desktop PC connect to the system unit via an assortment of connectors. Most peripherals today connect via USB connectors, but some components use other types of connections.
Note: Wired and Wireless Connections
On a desktop PC, most of the primary components connect to ports found on the back (or sometimes the front) of the system unit. However, some peripherals connect wirelessly, usually via Bluetooth.
Getting to Know All-in-One PCs
An all-in-one computer is a desktop model in which the system unit is built in to the monitor. The monitor/system unit also includes built-in speakers, as well as all the ports you need to connect external peripherals. Many people like the easier setup and smaller space requirements of an all-in-one system.
Some all-in-one PCs feature touchscreen monitors; you can control them by tapping and swiping the monitor screen with your fingers.
Caution: All-in-One Drawbacks
The chief drawbacks to all-in-one systems are the price (usually a bit more than traditional desktop PCs) and the fact that if one internal component goes bad, the whole system is out of commission. It’s a lot easier to replace a single component than an entire system!
Getting to Know Notebook PCs
Most new computers today are notebook models—sometimes called laptops. A notebook PC differs from a desktop PC in that all the pieces and parts are combined into a single unit that you can take with you almost anywhere. The built-in battery provides power when you’re not near a wall outlet. And some notebook PCs include touchscreen displays, which let you operate Windows with a swipe of your fingertips.
Note: Types of Notebooks
There are three types of notebook computers. Traditional notebooks have screens in the 14-inch to 16-inch range, 500GB or larger hard drives, and, in many cases, built-in CD/DVD drives. Desktop replacement notebooks have larger 17-inch screens and more powerful processors, but shorter battery life. Ultrabooks have smaller screens in the 10-inch to 14-inch range, no CD/DVD drive, but much longer battery life. Many ultrabooks also use faster solid-state memory rather than hard drives for storage.
Tip: External Peripherals
Even though a notebook PC has the keyboard, mouse, and monitor built in, you can still connect external keyboards, mice, and monitors to the unit. This is convenient if you want to use a bigger keyboard or monitor or a real mouse (instead of the notebook’s touchpad).
Getting to Know Tablet PCs
A tablet PC is a self-contained computer you can hold in one hand. Think of a tablet as the real-world equivalent of one of those communication pads you’ve seen on Star Trek. It doesn’t have a separate keyboard; instead, you operate it by tapping and swiping the screen with your fingers. If you have a tablet that runs the Windows 10 operating system, you see a special tiled touch-centric interface. Some tablets come with optional keyboards and mice for office use.
Note: Popular Tablets
The most popular tablet PC today is the Apple iPad—which doesn’t run Windows. (It runs Apple’s own portable operating system, dubbed iOS.) There are numerous Windows-based tablets, however, including Microsoft’s Surface tablets.
Note: Convertible PCs
Several manufacturers offer convertible or hybrid PCs. A convertible PC is a blend of the ultrabook and tablet form factors; think of a convertible PC as an ultrabook that converts into a tablet or as a tablet that converts into an ultrabook. For example, the Asus Transformer Pad looks like an ultrabook but features a screen that detaches from the keyboard—which then functions as a freestanding touchscreen tablet.
Every external component you plug into your computer has its own connector, and not all connectors are the same. This results in an assortment of jacks—called ports in the computer world. The USB port is probably the most common, used to connect all sorts of external peripherals, including printers, keyboards, mice, and disk drives.
Note: Portable Devices
Most portable devices that you connect to your computer, such as smartphones and digital cameras, connect via USB—as do most larger peripherals.
If you want to connect your computer to your TV to watch Internet videos on the TV screen, look for a computer with an HDMI port. HDMI carries digital audio and high-definition video in a single cable. Most of today’s flat-screen TVs have multiple HDMI inputs.
Hard Disk Drives: Long-Term Storage
The hard disk drive inside your computer stores all your important data—up to 6 terabytes (TB) or more, depending on your computer. A hard disk consists of metallic platters that store data magnetically. Special read/write heads realign magnetic particles on the platters, much like a recording head records data onto magnetic recording tape.
Tip: Formatting the Drive
Before you can store data on a hard disk, you must format the disk. When you format a hard disk, your computer prepares each track and sector of the disk to accept and store data magnetically. (Most new hard disks, such as the one in your new PC, come preformatted.)
Note: Ultrabook Storage
Many ultrabook PCs use solid-state flash storage rather than hard disks. Solid-state storage is lighter and faster than hard disk storage—but it’s more expensive and has a smaller storage capacity.
A computer keyboard looks and functions just like a typewriter keyboard, except that computer keyboards have a few more keys (for navigation and special program functions). When you press a key on your keyboard, it sends an electronic signal to your system unit that tells your machine what you want it to do.
Note: Windows Key
Many essential operations are triggered by use of the special Windows key on the computer keyboard. (For example, you open the Windows Start menu by pressing the Windows key.) This key is indicated by the Windows logo.
Tip: Wireless Keyboards
If you want to cut the cord, consider a wireless keyboard or mouse. These wireless devices operate via radio frequency signals and let you work several feet away from your computer, with no cables necessary.
On a desktop PC, you control your computer’s onscreen pointer (called a cursor) with an external device called a mouse. On a notebook PC, you use a small touchpad instead. Move your finger around the touchpad to move the cursor, and then click the left and right buttons below the touchpad to initiate actions in your program.
Tip: External Mice
If you’d rather use a mouse than a touchpad, you can connect any external mouse to your notebook PC via the USB port. Some manufacturers sell so-called notebook mice that are smaller and more portable than normal models.
Note: Mouse Options
Most external mice offer more control options than built-in touchpads. For example, some mice include a scrollwheel you can use to quickly scroll through a web page or word processing document.
Memory Card Readers
Many computers today include a set of memory card readers, usually grouped on the front or side of the unit. Memory cards store photos and movies recorded on digital cameras and camcorders. To read the contents of a memory card, simply insert the card into the proper slot of the memory card reader.
Note: Memory Card Formats
Different portable devices use different types of memory cards—which is why your computer has so many memory card slots. The most popular memory cards today are the Secure Digital (SD), Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC), Secure Digital Extended Capacity (SDXC), and CompactFlash (CF) formats.
CD and DVD Drives
Computer or data CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs look just like the compact discs and movies you play on your home audio/video system. Data is encoded in microscopic pits below the disc’s surface and is read from the disc via a drive that uses a consumer-grade laser. The laser beam follows the tracks of the disc and reads the pits, translating the data into a form your computer can understand.
Note: CD, DVD, and Blu-ray
Many new PCs come with combination CD/DVD drives that can read and write both CDs and DVDs. Some models include Blu-ray drives for high-definition video. But most ultrabooks and tablets don’t come with a CD/DVD drive, helping to decrease weight and increase battery life.
Note: Music and Movies
A computer CD drive can play back both data and commercial music CDs. A computer DVD drive can play back both data and commercial movie DVDs.
Your computer electronically transmits words and pictures to the computer screen built in to your notebook or to a separate video monitor on a desktop system. These images are created by a video card or chip installed inside the computer. Settings in Windows tell the video card or chip how to display the images you see on the screen.
Note: Touchscreen Displays
Some notebook PCs and desktop monitors (as well as all tablets) feature touchscreen displays. These displays function just like traditional displays but are also touch sensitive, which means that you can control your system by tapping and swiping the screen with your fingers.
To create a hard copy of your work, you must add a printer to your system. The two most common types are laser printers and inkjet printers. Laser printers work much like copy machines, applying toner (powdered ink) to paper by using a small laser. Inkjet printers shoot jets of ink onto the paper’s surface to create the printed image.
Tip: Black and White Versus Color
Black-and-white printers are faster than color printers and better if you’re printing memos, letters, and other single-color documents. Color printers are essential if you want to print pictures taken with a digital camera.
Note: Multifunction Printers
So-called multifunction printers offer copy, scan, and fax functionality, in addition to traditional printing.