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The Three Main Components of a Computer System

Updated on August 23, 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 human comes into the picture 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 the components is necessary in order to enable meaningful productivity. If installed separately, they may be useful to an extent. However, the device would only be capable of repetitive actions rather than achieve complete computing potential. Hardware and software could not operate without each other. They both need human input to perform complex processes.

1. Computer Hardware

This refers to any part that is tangible. 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.

What is likely the most important piece of hardware is the microprocessor chip known as the central processing unit (CPU). Newer computers come embedded with a union of CPU and a graphics processing chip (GPU) called the Accelerated Processing Unit (APU).

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. They are classified as secondary storage. There are two popular types of disk drives.

Hard disk drive: 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 drive: The newer SDDs store data on flash memory chips and are less prone to erratic behavior. These 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.

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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.

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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 hardware. It can be divided into two major categories.

Running computer software.
Running computer software.

System Software

This is also commonly known as an operating system (OS). The system manages other software and devices inside the computer.

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 utility 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.

Application Software

This is designed for end users. This software is meant to perform a specialized assignment and output useful information.

An example would be a word processing application that one uses to compose a letter or a brochure, such as Microsoft Word.

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

A collection of application software can come in a package that is commonly known as a software suite. A typical suite includes software for word processing, presentations, graphic design, and spreadsheets.

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.

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3. Humanware

Humanware refers to the user experience of hardware and software. More specifically, it is about the infrastructure of a system being designed based on the needs and interests of a user.

Typically, a great deal of testing is done on a software package to ensure that its productivity enhances the end user’s experience.

Humanware is ultimately the interaction that produces a useful output. The directives of a user is what creates documents, records music, and communicates to other computer systems.

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

Analogy of the Components of a Computer System

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, you will not have a good meal without a good chef. You need someone who can make good use of a recipe to make something good out of your ingredients.

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

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    • profile image

      randy 21 hours ago

      This is loving

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      Bryanna 6 days ago

      I love this

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      Emmanuel D.Sumo 8 days ago

      Many thanks to our potential analyst

    • profile image

      dianne ocampo 2 weeks ago

      great thanks a lot mwaa

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      bien clarence 2 weeks ago

      ilove sir jovi

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      Hussaini Yahaya Abdullahi Bununu 3 weeks ago

      we thank God about modern technology.

    • profile image

      muhidmah 3 weeks ago

      thanks alot

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      caleb 5 weeks 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 15 months ago

      thankshubpage

    • amuno profile image
      Author

      Alfred Amuno 20 months ago from Kampala

      Good to know Maria

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      Maria Hathaway 20 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~