Elements of A Computer System

This section provides an introduction to the hardware and software elements of a computer system.

Hardware (Physical) Elements


© Péter Gudella | Dreamstime.com

We will assume that you already know the physical layout of a stand-alone computer system, so we will not attempt to cover the complete range of of available monitors, keyboards, printers, mice, etc. Instead, we will focus on representative examples. We will examine how the Central Processing Unit (CPU) communicates with memory and I/O devices, the operating system layers and the internal registers in the CPU.

We will investigate the  various types of computer memory, including their relative speed, costs and uses within a computer system.  Memory can be split into three types – ROM, RAM and hybrid. We will also consider the order in which the CPU looks for information in the various types of memory.

We will examine the function of the components of the CPU, including the Arithmetic and Logic Unit (ALU), registers and control unit, as well as the methods used to communicate between the CPU and I/O devices, such as Direct Memory Addressing (DMA). We’ll also consider the different types of busses and the impact of bus width and I/O interfaces on the productivity of the CPU and we’ll look at the various types of communication ports.

Software Elements

Ubuntu Linux Screenshot

Ubuntu Linux (Wikipedia Commons)

Our approach to the software elements will cover types of software (operating systems, applications and security software) and their installation and application. We will describe various types of operating systems software, including multi-user operating systems, network operating systems, real-time systems and distributed systems.

Applications software can range from bespoke software to suites of programs offered by software manufacturers. We’ll look at security software, such as Firewalls and anti-virus software, including the need for keeping such software up to date. Other types of software including, for example, accessibility software, browsers, drivers, API, utilities and diagnostic tools will also be introduced.

The manner in which information is stored and accessed is important to any user of a computer system. This would include file systems and formatting, file extensions, file structure, hierarchical structure, absolute and relative paths, attributes, user profiles and permissions and rights.

We will also discuss the function of the layers of the operating system and their interaction. We’ll look at the pros and cons of different user interfaces, the role of the kernel, and how the operating system manages memory and I/O, including paging, thrashing, multitasking, interrupts and the tracking of files.

Next: Hardware Elements