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The Three Major Components of a Computer System

Alfred is a long-time teacher and computer enthusiast who works with and troubleshoots a wide range of computing devices.

The image illustrates the major components of a computer system

The image illustrates the major components of a computer system

There are three major components of a computer system:

  • hardware
  • software
  • humanware

While hardware and software components co-exist to make up the actual computer, the humanware component adds in the human face to bring the complete computer into a functional and productive existence. When installed separately, each may be useful to an extent but incapable of achieving complete computing potential. Hardware and software need the human factor in order to make input and connectivity possible.

1. Computer Hardware

These are computer system components that can be touched by the human hand. Examples include:

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

These parts are housed within the laptop or the desktop system-unit. For the desktop, however, the keyboard and mouse are attached and used externally.

A typical installation of computer hardware component

A typical installation of computer hardware component

The most important piece of hardware is the microprocessor chip, which is commonly known as the central processing unit (CPU).

New and slim laptop computers merge the traditional CPU and the graphics processing chip (GPU) into what is called accelerated processing unit (APU). These chips are usually attached to the motherboard in these laptops.

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 is the disk drive. This is where computer data is stored. It is classified as secondary memory.

There are two popular types of disk drives to choose from.

Hard disk: This drive is mechanical by design and stores data on magnetic and metallic platters. Its data is read magnetically by read/write heads which make it reliant on an uninterrupted supply of power. A sudden power outage can lead to data loss or drive failure. It must be used properly for the sake of data integrity and long lifespan.

Solid state disk: This new type of disk drive stores data on flash memory chips and is less prone to erratic behavior. It is faster and reliable even in the event of sudden power outages.

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.

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

The software component 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.

An illustration of software componet running on a computer

An illustration of software componet running on a computer

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.

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.

The software component is stored on optical media, disk drives and cloud storage spaces

The software component is stored on optical media, disk drives and cloud storage spaces

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

The humanware component refers to the person that uses the computer. More specifically, it is about the individual that makes hardware and software components 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.

The Analogy of Components of a Computer

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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Alfred Amuno

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