This month we introduce a new series on computers and how to use them. We will explain the difference between various components of a computer, how to select a system to suit your own needs, and everything else you need to know to get the most out of your system. In this first article of the series, TERRY CORBETT sorts out hardware and software.
In this article we deal with microcomputers which in everyday language are called simply 'computers'. The other category is 'Mainframe' computers which are very much larger and deal with huge amounts of shared information.
When choosing a computer you must first decide what you are going to use it for, otherwise you may purchase one that is not powerful enough for all of your requirements. There are two areas to consider -- hardware and software. First we will look at hardware.
The hardware of a computer system consists of the processor, floppy disk drive, hard disk, CD-ROM, monitor and printer. Most are now fitted with a sound card, speakers and a modem. A back-up system should also be included. There are two main ranges of computers available. There are those using the Intel(Pentium) and those using the Motorola microchips. The Intel range are used in the IBM and compatible machines and the Motorola is used in the Apple Macintosh.
IBM computers are the most widely used microcomputers in the business world, IBM having over 50% of the market. There are a number of other computer manufacturers who produce machines that use similar microchips to the IBM machines and which can therefore run the same programmes. Amongst these companies are Apricot, Compaq and Packard Bell.
In a computer there are a number of microchips each of which is built up of integrated circuits. There is one microchip which carries out the functions of the central processing unit (this controls the loading of data and its processing). There are others for the RAM (RAM stands for Random Access Memory and is an alternative name for working memory -- its contents are lost when the machine is switched off).
The speed of a computer is determined by its internal clock and is measured in hertz, one hertz being one cycle per second. The computer's internal clock sends pulses through the computer system which ensures that all of the peripherals (monitor, disk drives, printer) work in unison. Most business users choose a microcomputer based on the IBM PC architecture using the Pentium microchip. This is available with speeds of 166, 200...