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The Three Main Components of a Computer System

Updated on October 24, 2017
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Alfred is a long-time teacher and computer enthusiast who works with and troubleshoots a wide range of computing devices.

A computer runs on three major systems; hardware, software, and humanware. Hardware and software exist together to make up the actual device. The humanware brings the whole computer into a functional existence.

A basic computer system with all the components.
A basic computer system with all the components.

Each of these components is necessary in order to enable meaningful productivity. If installed separately, they may be useful to an extent but only capable of repetitive actions rather than achieving complete computing potential. Hardware and software need the human input in order to trigger the execution of data processing.

1. Computer Hardware

This refers to any part that is tangible by the human touch. Examples include:

  • Display monitor.
  • Keyboard.
  • Mouse.
  • Motherboard.
  • Memory modules.
  • Disk drive.

These parts are typically housed within the laptop or desktop unit itself, except for the desktop keyboard and mouse.

A typical installation of computer hardware.
A typical installation of computer hardware.

The most important piece of hardware is the microprocessor chip, known as the central processing unit (CPU). Newer and slimmer computers come embedded with a union of CPU and a graphics processing chip (GPU) called accelerated processing unit (APU). The CPU and APU are responsible for all kinds of data manipulation.

The AMD CPU is an example of a microprocessor and, as shown above, is attached to a motherboard.
The AMD CPU is an example of a microprocessor and, as shown above, is attached to a motherboard.

A component just as important in a system unit is the disk drive. This is where data and information is stored locally on the computer. It is classified as secondary storage. There are two popular types of disk drives.

Hard disk: HDDs are mechanical by design and store data on magnetic and metallic platters, which are read by read/write heads. This makes this type of drive rather erratic and prone to failure if used improperly.

Solid state disk: The newer SDDs store data on flash memory chips and are less prone to erratic behavior. They are much faster and more reliable compared to HDDs.

An illustration of various hardware components inside the system unit.
An illustration of various hardware components inside the system unit.

Another vital part within a system is the motherboard. It provides communication and direct connectivity to devices throughout the computer.

Sample Acer motherboard.
Sample Acer motherboard.

Connectivity to a motherboard can be internal or external.

Internal devices that connect to the motherboard include:

  • Microprocessor (CPU).
  • Disk drive.
  • Random access memory (memory modules).
  • Power supply unit (PSU).

External peripherals that connect to the motherboard include:

  • Monitor.
  • Keyboard.
  • Mouse.
  • Printer.

Above is Apple's iMac computer, an example of a single unit computer set. It contains the system unit and monitor bundled together.
Above is Apple's iMac computer, an example of a single unit computer set. It contains the system unit and monitor bundled together.

Which one of the following is your preferred personal computer setup?

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Unlike the desktop and single unit computers, which have the mouse and keybaord as separate devices, the two are integrated within the laptop computer.
Unlike the desktop and single unit computers, which have the mouse and keybaord as separate devices, the two are integrated within the laptop computer.

2. Computer Software

Software refers to the instructions, programs, data, and protocols which run on top of hardware. It is also retained temporarily and persistently in primary and secondary hardware media. The random access memory chip is an example of primary hardware while the hard disk drive is an example of secondary hardware.

Running computer software.
Running computer software.

Software can be divided into system, application, malicious and programming categories.

System Software

The system manages other software and devices inside the computer. The foremost example of system software is the operating system (OS).

In a typical setup, the operating system is like the motherboard for software. It is the first thing that is installed, followed by applications and other software. Three popular operating systems for traditional computers include Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

Popular mobile operating systems include Android OS, iPhone OS, Windows Phone OS, and Firefox OS.

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Application Software

This is designed for end users to perform a specialized assignment in order to output useful information.

An example would be a word processing application used to compose letters or brochures, such as Microsoft Word.

Other popular examples include Adobe Photoshop, Corel Draw, and AutoCAD.

A collection of application software is bundled in a package that is commonly known as a software suite. A typical suite includes software for word processing, presentation, graphic design, and spreadsheet.

Examples include Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, and iWork.

Software is written in computer languages such as Visual Basic, C, and Java.

For many years, software was usually stored on optical discs. This is changing fast with cloud storage becoming more popular.
For many years, software was usually stored on optical discs. This is changing fast with cloud storage becoming more popular.

Malicious Software

Malware, is short for malicious software, which is a generic term that refers to exploitative code designed by criminals and black hat hackers to maim normal operations of a computer. Malware attack will result in data loss and hacker access to private information.

Affected computers can also be converted into zombies and used in a bigger mission of criminal activities like launching denial of service attack and spreading spam.

Malware scripts are delivered to the computer as viruses, trojans, rootkits, keyloggers, worms, or through email and websites as adware, spyware, ransomware and scareware.

Programming Software

These are tools used by developers to create all kinds of software like Windows OS and Word processing. Also called languages, they are used to write source codes, debug errors, maintain and create new software for computers and write malicious scripts like viruses and trojans.

Popular examples of high-level languages are Java, Javascript, BASIC, PHP, Visual Basic, Visual C++, Visual Basic, Python, Ruby, Perl, Java.

3. Humanware

Humanware refers to the person that uses the computer. More specifically, it is about the individual that brings together the hardware and software components to make them productive.

Typically, a great deal of testing is done on software packages and hardware parts to ensure they enhance the end-user experience to aid in creating documents, musical and video recordings, and all forms of raw and finished data.

A cute example of humanware.
A cute example of humanware.

Computer System Analogy

In a nutshell, a working computer system can be compared to a functioning kitchen.

  • Food and cooking utensils are hardware.
  • The recipe is software.
  • The chef is humanware.

Even after purchasing the freshest ingredients and the finest pots and pans, there will not be a good meal without a chef. He/she will make good use of listed recipes to make good of the ingredients and utensils.

Both hardware and software are complemented by the works of a human to produce a fully functional computer system.

© 2012 Alfred Amuno

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    • profile image

      Salia Sheriff 2 days ago

      Thank you very much for allowing me to know the difference between SSD and HDD. You make my day easy.

    • profile image

      Alhassan Usman Buratai 10 days ago

      Wow such a wonderful comprehensive, essential explanation on computer issues. Thanks you a lot for this excellent job...

    • profile image

      Sam Ru 2 weeks ago

      this is quite intriguing..hope to learn a whole lot more!!

      #Newbie

    • profile image

      sunday john 2 weeks ago

      i was confused in some part of. component of computer but now am well understood. thanks to our potential analyst

    • profile image

      faeezah yunusa 3 weeks ago

      What are the gains of computer to the society

    • profile image

      Maryam Ali 4 weeks ago

      What Are The Example Of Human Ware

    • profile image

      Anonymous 7 weeks ago

      Humanware Is Love

      Humanware Is Life

    • profile image

      randy 8 weeks ago

      This is loving

    • profile image

      Bryanna 2 months ago

      I love this

    • profile image

      Emmanuel D.Sumo 2 months ago

      Many thanks to our potential analyst

    • profile image

      dianne ocampo 2 months ago

      great thanks a lot mwaa

    • profile image

      bien clarence 2 months ago

      ilove sir jovi

    • profile image

      Hussaini Yahaya Abdullahi Bununu 2 months ago

      we thank God about modern technology.

    • profile image

      muhidmah 2 months ago

      thanks alot

    • profile image

      caleb 3 months ago

      yaaaaaani i was stuck but am now confident enough to stand before my students to explain the three components of the computer clearly and preciously.

      thanks mr Amuno

    • profile image

      jannah calim 17 months ago

      thankshubpage

    • amuno profile image
      Author

      Alfred Amuno 22 months ago from Kampala

      Good to know Maria

    • profile image

      Maria Hathaway 22 months ago

      This article has really taught me a lot. I never understood this part of the computer, but now I do. Thank you very much.

    • amuno profile image
      Author

      Alfred Amuno 5 years ago from Kampala

      Thanks Thranax. I believe little articles in Hubpages should go about passing info like this around.

    • thranax profile image

      Andrew 5 years ago from Rep Boston MA

      Nice little overview anyone can understand. It's a step in the right direction to teach the general population computers aren't scary and learning about them isn't difficult!

      ~thranax~