Hardware

The computer - features you can expect to find

The three main parts of a computer

A computer comprises of three main parts:

  • INPUT SECTION
    This includes the keyboard (1), webcam, microphone, scanner, internal and external disk drive, external digital cameras, 802.11a/g/n wireless networks, and an ethernet connection.

  • STORAGE SECTION
    The place to store information is inside special electronic chips called Random Access Memory or RAM for short (for hard to find RAM cards, try Performance Memory & Peripherals Pty Ltd) and, for more permanent storage, a special rotating magnetic or optical storage disk called a hard disk, or new flash memory chips to replace the hard disk.

  • PROCESSING SECTION
    To process the digital information, every computer must have a microprocessor for running a set of instructions (or software).

  • OUTPUT SECTION
    An output device for presenting digital information in visual and/or auditory form includes a monitor, a printer, loudspeakers and an ethernet connection.

Australian Bureau of Statistics for 2000. Figures quoted on page 113 of Australian Personal Computers May 2000, in an article entitled The Clever Country?

The features you can expect to find on a modern computer (as of May 2010)

When you are in the market to buy a computer, don't be surprised to find the following features:

  • Ergonomically-designed keyboards and mouse connected wirelessly via Bluetooth.
  • Bluetooth wireless external peripherals such as printers and scanners.
  • A variety of software packages for telling the computer what to do under your direction and creativity.
  • A hard disk capacity of at least 320 gigabytes (GB) and up to 1TB for laptops and more than 500GB for desktop machines (if upgrading your hard disk to a larger size, we suggest you stick to the big name players in the business such as Toshiba, Maxtor, Quantum and Seagate — but choose the best because your data needs to be protected and last as long as possible as it is more valuable than your computer).

    UPDATE

    An important issue regarding hard disks is how fast the average data transfer rate is. It is generally recommended that when buying, say, an 500GB hard disk or larger that you try to get the fastest hard disk speed possible. By fastest we mean the data transfer speed, not the rpm or revolutions per second of the disk. While a disk spinning at 7,200rpm might speed up data transfer slightly compared to a 5,400rpm disk, you must look at the average data transfer speed to take into account other aspects of the hard disk technology. If the hard disk successfully exceeds on average 5,000KB per second (or 5,000Kps), it is considered a fast hard disk. Try to find hard disks with this kind of data transfer speed.

  • A microprocessor running at speeds of anywhere between 1GHz (almost unheard of these days but fast enough for desktop publishing work or 3D animation) to 3,000MHz (or 3GHz).

    UPDATE

    Because fast microprocessors approaching 3.5GHz tend to operate at a very high temperature, manufacturers are moving in a different direction. The trend is to produce two or more slower 1.67GHz or 2GHz microprocessors inside one chip. When software is designed to take advantage of this kind of dual-, tri- or quad-processing technology, the speed can be comparable to a 3.5GHz computer or higher.

  • A built-in Blu-ray/CD/DVD RW drive (at least 40x speed for the read only variety, and 8x speed for writing to a DVD).

    UPDATE
    October 2005

    If you want to record TV shows using a built-in TV tuner directly to the hard disk of your computer before burning them to DVD, some OEM or original equipment manufacturers may not install Sonic Encoder software because of copyright concerns. However, recently Microsoft has become aware of the ease by which consumers can purchase DVD and hard disk video recorders and have decided to change its tact. Now we have been told there are two versions of the Windows XP Media Centre Edition (MCE) software. Your aim is to find the MCE that does have the Sonic Encoder software for recording to your hard disk. Ask an expert at a computer store to tell you which one has it. Otherwise you must purchase a dedicated DVD recording software package to solve the problem.

    UPDATE
    May 2006

    Some laptops and desktop machines are coming out with HD-DVD and other newer optical disk storage technologies. If purchasing machines with these optical drives, make sure they can read and write older CDs and DVDs just as well as the new disks.

    UPDATE
    May 2010

    You can freely record and edit digital TV broadcasts for personal use using any suitable TV tuner device compatible with your PC or Apple

  • TV-tuner, video-in and video-out ports, USB ports, and stereo speakers and microphone for multimedia applications.

    UPDATE
    May 2006

    TV-tuners may become obsolete with the advent of internet television (or itele). But until the internet broadband network is fast enough, free-to-air digital TV reception remains the best way. As for USB ports, these should be the fastest variety (i.e. minimum 2.0, but 3.0 is now available). And be careful about microphone ports — manufacturers such as Apple may do away with this in favour of USB microphones. Also the quality of the stereo speakers may go down (e.g. early models of the MacBook Pro) to stop users re-record digital music to bypass certain restrictions placed on commercial MP3 music files from the iTunes web site.

  • Internal RAM of at least a standard of 2GB megabytes (i.e. 2,000MB) expandable to over 8GB.

    UPDATE
    May 2006

    For Windows 95 and 98, a RAM capacity of 128MB is fine. For Windows 2000 and NT, you should have at least 256MB of RAM. For Windows XP, 512MB of RAM is the absolute minimum. When Microsoft Vista was released in 2007, expect the minimum RAM requirements to jump to 1GB. And Windows 7 should be at least 1GB. When running the latest software applications on top of the operating system, you should double the above RAM amounts (i.e. 2GB), but it is recommended you choose a machine with 4GB RAM.

    Likewise, for Macintosh users, Classic OS 7 and 8 should require no more than say 128MB of RAM. Classic OS9 should be around 256MB or more. For OSX Panther, 256MB is more than adequate. Under OSX 10.5 Leopard in early 2007, you should have about 1GB of RAM at a minimum. Under OSX 10.6 Snow Leopard, 1GB is the absolute minimum, although it is recommended you have no less than 2GB. When running applications, this should be expanded to 4GB RAM. Fortunately Apple is now providing machines with the standard 4GB RAM. Expect to pay an extra AUD$450 for 8GB RAM.

  • Output monitors/screens averaging 15 inches or more in viewing size across the diagonal (2).

    UPDATE
    May 2006

    Go for the long cinema-style wide screens. It will help you to see and edit your family movies in the new high definition (HD) screen size format as used in the latest DVD disks and digital television networks. Don't go for laptops with screens smaller than 15-inch (across the diagonal). If you access spreadsheets a lot or do desktop publishing work such as writing your own book and designing it, a 17-inch screen is the absolute minimum for laptops, or a 24-inch screen for desktop machines.