103a-au PC Lab

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103a-au Open-it Up! Lab

The main parts inside a computer, and how they work

  • The processor: The computer's central processing unit, or CPU, works through the use of transistors which switch the electrical signals to 1 or 0 and provide the computer with its binary information. The CPU runs at a certain number of Megahertz (MHz), or times per second when the transistors can switch. CPUs come in Intel or Pentium brands.
  • The memory: Computer memory helps the computer access information much more quickly than it would be able to otherwise. When the memory turns on, it makes sure that all the computer's data is still accessible as small discrete pieces of information -- bits, bytes, megabytes, and gigabytes, in ascending order of information size. The memory accesses the computer's operating system and loads the program the user wishes to access for immediate use.
  • The disk drive: The disk drive has a plastic base material much like that of a cassette tape, which is magnetic and stores the disk's data. The magnetic plastic is arranged in rings of tracks, so that the data on the disk can be read in any order, jumping from track to track. The read-write heads on the disk drive allows the data to be written and stored on the disk.
  • The CD-ROM: The CD in a computer is read by a laser, which reads the microscopic pits in the seemingly smooth surface of a CD. The light reflected back by the laser, depending on whether or not there is a pit, is transmitted into the computer as a small unit of information (a bit).
  • The power-supply: The computer's power supply keeps the computer up and running. Various parts of a computer are powered by various voltages of power. The power supply's default is usually 110 volts, but much fewer are needed for many of the computer's functions. 5 volts are used for digital circuits. 12 volts are used to run the motors in a computer's fan and disk drive.
  • The battery: Even desktop computers have batteries, because while they take most of their needed power from electricity, there is one thing a computer needs power to keep track of even when it's off: time. A desktop computer's battery keeps track of the computer clock, so that when the computer is turned back on, it can accurately display the time.
  • The cables: The cables inside a computer transmit bits of information between various components of the motherboard and the computer at large.


  1. Brain, Marshall. "How CDs Work." 01 April 2000. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/cd.htm>
  2. Brown, Gary. "How Floppy Disk Drives Work." 26 February 2001. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://computer.howstuffworks.com/floppy-disk-drive.htm>
  3. Brown, Gary. "How PC Power Supplies Work." 05 March 2001. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://computer.howstuffworks.com/power-supply.htm>
  4. Central Processing Unit <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CPU>
  5. Tyson, Jeff. "How Computer Memory Works." 23 August 2000. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://computer.howstuffworks.com/computer-memory.htm>
  6. "Why does my computer need a battery?." 01 April 2000. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://computer.howstuffworks.com/question319.htm>

Lab report

Page by Sierra Brezina. Lab on 9/22/08.

The lab team!

103a-au morgan and sierra.jpeg

Morgan and Sierra!

The deconstruction

Computer With Parts Inside

103a-au open computer 2.jpeg

Computer Without The Parts

103a-au gutted computer.jpeg

Processor (CPU)

103a-au cpu and heat sink 1.jpeg

Processor (Heat Sink Side)

103a-au cpu and heat sink 2.jpeg

Memory Cards

103a-au memory cards.jpeg

Power Supply

103a-au power supply and power cords.jpeg

Hard Disk

103a-au hard drive.jpeg


103a-au cd and dvd drive.jpeg

The Motherboard

103a-au motherboard.jpeg


The challenges in deconstructing a computer:

  1. Getting the computer open!
  2. Figuring out how to take the parts out of the computer without breaking, tearing, or snapping anything.
  3. Keeping track of which components performed what operation in the computer after we'd removed them from their proper place.
  4. Putting everything back into the computer in the right order again at the end!

The discoveries:

  • It is possible to get everything out of the computer without breaking any of the parts!
  • The fan that keeps the computer cool is a lot smaller than I imagined it would be.
  • In fact, everything's a lot smaller than it seems like it should be! The memory cards and the CPU in particular come to mind.