103a-as PC Lab

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Amber's Guide to Dismantling a PC

Getting Started

First of all, you will need to find a few things.

  • an old PC you don't mind messing up (or confidence that you can put it back together without damaging it)
  • one (1) Phillips head screwdriver
  • one (1) flathead screwdriver.

If you want to go even deeper into the computer, you should also find yourself a really small Phillips head as well (one just bigger than an eyeglass screwdriver will do). Also, I would suggest having a lot of table space to spread out on.

Open 'er Up!

Next up is the trickiest part--getting the cover off. My partner, Joanna, and I had some trouble at first, but once we found the levers underneath it came off easily. If you feel around under the computer when it is upright you should be able to feel plastic levers that squeeze or press up on either end. These will release the case and it should just pop off.

It should look something like the picture to the right once you get it open.

Our opened PC.

There is a lot of protective casing even inside the computer that will have to be removed. Your best bet would be to just look and feel around to find any screws or moving pieces. Remove the screws and move those pieces until you can get the extra metal out.

On our computer the power supply was in the way of everything else. Until we figured out how to move it, we couldn't get to anything fun.

Let the Fun Begin...

Once you're in, it's more searching for screws and moving parts. The best plan is probably to find and disconnect all the connectors and ribbons so everything is free to move on its own. Then you get to really dig in. If you plan on putting the computer back together, remember what plugged in where.

The first thing that came out for us was the riser card. This is where external drivers can be plugged in, i.e. video cards, audio cards, printers etc. Many of those things that we now connect via USB used to have to plug in this way.

Our riser card had some really old ports (black) and some newer ports called PCIs (white).

We got the hard disk out next. It didn't look like much on the outside. Ours was actually bigger than the one from the computer next to us--not as in memory but in physical size. Ours was from around 1998, according to the copywright marks on much of the hardware.

From here we went on, continuing to feel and look around for screws and moving parts to pull the innards out.

What Are Computer "Guts"?

Inside every computer you'll find five main components:

  1. the power supply (battery on laptops)
  2. the CPU (Central Processing Unit)
  3. the RAM (Random Access Memory)
  4. the HD (hard disk)
  5. the Motherboard
The HD. It's the same brand as the portable external hard drive I just bought. These companies work really hard to improve technology, both for consumer benefit and profit.

The power supply converts the 110v of A/C (alternating current) power coming from a standard outlet to the lower voltage D/C (direct current) power needed to run the working parts of the computer. The electricity that gets sent around in the computer can be as low as 5v D/C.

The CPU is where all the thinking gets done. It's where the pressing of a key gets converted into bits to make any changes. It's where coding and bits meet and interact.

The RAM is home to temporary memory. So if you are working on a word document, any changes you make exist only in that temporary memory until you save it too....

The HD. Also known as the hard drive or hard disk. This is long term memory for everything in your computer. Things like your operating system or saved documents and pictures live there, awaiting the day it will be pulled up to the RAM to be used.

The Motherboard is what enables these parts to communicate properly. It is what connects additional parts like the CD/DVD Rom, Zip Drive or the Floppy Drive to the CPU and RAM.

So What Does This Stuff Look Like?

Here are images of the insides of the PC Joanna and I disassembled. Things may look different on yours, depending on factors like when it was made, what it was used for and what company made it, but much of it should be similar.

This is our power supply after Joanna opened it up.
Our CPU. It was considerably larger (almost 2 times the size) of our neighbors'.
The RAM. We found it plugged directly into the motherboard. Now it's on my door as a decoration.
A close-up of the motherboard. Kind of looks like a city, doesn't it?
How the CPU plugs into the motherboard.
The CD/DVD Rom. Those haven't changed much--on the outside.
Our computer was old enough to have an internal Zip drive. This was the step between floppy disks and CDs. It worked alright for the short time before CDs surpassed it in speed and capacity.
Ours also had a floppy drive, another sign of age. This is what it looks like opened up.
The empty shell of the computer. In there still is the cooling fan, the floppy and some of the other internal casing. It looks so sad and lonely...