The Three Major Components of a Computer System

Updated on March 18, 2018
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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 functions on three major systems; hardware, software, and humanware. Hardware and software exist together to make up the actual computer. The humanware component adds in the life factor in order to bring 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 unable to achieve complete computing potential. Hardware and software need the human input in order to make data execution possible.

1. Computer Hardware

This refers to any part that can be touched by the human hand. Examples include:

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

These parts are usually 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). New and slim computers merge the traditional CPU and the graphics processing chip (GPU) into what is called accelerated processing unit (APU). The CPU and APU are responsible for all arithmetic and graphics 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. It is classified as secondary storage.

There are two popular types of disk drives.

Hard disk: This drive is mechanical by design and stores data on magnetic and metallic platters. Its data is read by read/write heads and this makes it rather erratic and prone to failure if used improperly.

Solid state disk: The newer drive stores data on flash memory chips and is less prone to erratic behavior. It is faster and more reliable than the hard disk.

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.

What computer platform do you find easy to use?

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What operating system platform would you prefer to use MOST in future?

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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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Alfred Amuno

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      • profile image

        Seth. 4 days ago

        Helps a lot

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        Farhan 5 days ago

        Well questions

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        Shu'aib Wa'alamu shika 8 days ago

        Tnks u for ur assistant

      • profile image

        Ruth Anivai 2 weeks ago

        These notes are really a big help to me.

        Thank you.

      • profile image

        Fridah Chimupeni 2 weeks ago

        Thank you so much for your information

      • profile image

        Maryam Bala Ningi 2 weeks ago

        excellent job thanks for your assistance

        I thank you and thank God

      • profile image

        Efetobore 2 weeks ago

        loving

        &

        easy to learn

      • profile image

        shikor 3 weeks ago

        it's helpful

      • amuno profile image
        Author

        Alfred Amuno 3 weeks ago from Kampala

        Thank you all for appreciating

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        Oluwatoyosi 3 weeks ago

        love it

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        sely 5 weeks ago

        Very nice $ educative i waz illitrate bt now am literate

      • profile image

        bernadette mwongeli omc 6 weeks ago

        a nice and educative forum

      • profile image

        Frank Mitchels 7 weeks ago

        Wow great stuff, really interesting how computers work. I'm 57 and my 11 year old grandson has been teaching me how to use them, but when he's not there i rely on stuff on the 'web. Thanks again for your helpful page, good to see someone is informing us old fokes on this new tech.

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        ronald ucu 8 weeks ago

        good notes

      • profile image

        Prosper 2 months ago

        Nice one

      • profile image

        Bhawana sharma 3 months ago

        Knowledgeable

      • amuno profile image
        Author

        Alfred Amuno 3 months ago from Kampala

        Thanks Abdul

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        abdul malik 3 months ago

        very nice notes on computer and also parts of computer.

      • profile image

        ivan geofrey 4 months ago

        good notes ,the help me to understand types of disk

      • profile image

        Salia Sheriff 5 months 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 5 months ago

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

      • profile image

        Sam Ru 5 months ago

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

        #Newbie

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        sunday john 5 months 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 5 months ago

        What are the gains of computer to the society

      • profile image

        Maryam Ali 6 months ago

        What Are The Example Of Human Ware

      • profile image

        Anonymous 6 months ago

        Humanware Is Love

        Humanware Is Life

      • profile image

        randy 7 months ago

        This is loving

      • profile image

        Bryanna 7 months ago

        I love this

      • profile image

        Emmanuel D.Sumo 7 months ago

        Many thanks to our potential analyst

      • profile image

        dianne ocampo 7 months ago

        great thanks a lot mwaa

      • profile image

        bien clarence 7 months ago

        ilove sir jovi

      • profile image

        Hussaini Yahaya Abdullahi Bununu 7 months ago

        we thank God about modern technology.

      • profile image

        muhidmah 7 months ago

        thanks alot

      • profile image

        caleb 8 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 22 months ago

        thankshubpage

      • amuno profile image
        Author

        Alfred Amuno 2 years ago from Kampala

        Good to know Maria

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        Maria Hathaway 2 years 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~

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