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PC Demolition Lab

Kathy (right) and me.

The PC Demolition Lab took place in the Ford Hall Foyer on September 25, 2012.

It is a core part of the CSC 103 course. The PC Demolition Lab allows students to closely analyze an outdated computer desktop tower and become familiar with the functionalities of its parts -- something that a lot of people are not challenged to do. In this way, they are able to understand and appreciate how computers work.

I worked with Kathy during the lab. We took apart our PC by hand; taking apart some of the hardware required using a special screwdriver. The rest of this page is dedicated to our various findings and observations.

All students taking this course have also created their own PC Demolition Lab Pages.

The Computer

Dell Optiplex GX270.
Inside the PC tower.

The computer we took apart was a Dell Optiplex GX270.

Operating System: Windows XP.

Upon opening the PC tower, there were certain parts that were clearly visible, such as:

  • Power Supply
  • Motherboard
    • RAM
    • Chips
    • Cables/Wires
  • Video Card
  • PCI Expansion Slots



The motherboard was located next to the power supply on a tray.

It holds the processor, RAM, and it connects to other devices such as the power supply and hard disk. Simply put, it joins all parts of a computer together.

Wires are etched onto the motherboard to facilitate communication from the processor to other parts on the motherboard.

Cables physically connect devices like the hard disk and power supply to the motherboard. They also join peripheral devices to the motherboard as well.


Intel Pentium 4 Processor (front).
Intel Pentium 4 Processor (back)


  • Intel Pentium 4 Processor
  • 3.2 GHz
Heat sink found over processor.

The processor was not in plain view when the PC was opened. It was located on the motherboard, under a heat sink and fan. This is because it works very fast, executing billions of cycles per second. Today, most processors have clock rate ranging from 1 GHz to 3 GHz.

According to Wikipedia's article on the CPU the processor, or central processing unit (CPU), is responsible for "performing the basic arithmetical, logical, and input/output operations of the system". In other words, it is the part of the computer where the majority of calculations take place.

Webopedia states that, "...the CPU is the brains of the computer..." and "In terms of calculating power, the CPU is the most important element of a computer system".



Two quartz crystals are located on the motherboard in aluminum cases.

Their functionality is to support processor speeds. To do this, they vibrate to create "an electrical signal of precise frequency" (Crystal oscillator article from Wikipedia.).

In other words, they tell the processor how fast to go.


  • 3 Volts

The battery is located on the motherboard. It allows the computer to know the specific day and time upon turning it on.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

RAM sticks
RAM on motherboard

Specifications (per memory stick):

  • 512 MB of memory
  • DDR400

Two sticks of RAM were located near the heat sink on the motherboard. Their purpose is to access stored data very quickly, in any order, when the computer is on. The RAM is constantly exchanging information with the processor.

There are two types of RAM (Webopedia):

  1. DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory)
    1. More common
    2. Memory must constantly be refreshed or else data will be lost
  2. SRAM (Static Random Access Memory)
    1. Faster
    2. Less volatile than DRAM
    3. Requires more power and is more expensive than DRAM

Today, total RAM storage is typically between 2 GB to 8 GB.

Hard Disk

Hard disk drive unopened


  • 40 GB

The hard disk was located to the right of the CD-drive. We detached its cables from the motherboard, removed it from the PC tower, and took it apart using a special screw driver. Inside was an actual disk. Unfortunately, since the disk was exposed to open air, it was no longer functional because dust particles are large enough to hinder memory storage.

Hard disk drive opened

A hard disk is the "main, and usually largest, data storage device in a computer. The operating system, software titles and most other files are stored in the hard disk drive" (Hard Disk Article on About.com).

It is a form of magnetic technology. According to Wikipedia article on Hard disk drive, "Magnetic heads arranged on a moving actuator arm read and write data to the surfaces [of the disk]".

Today, hard disks can have capacities that go into the terabytes (TB).

Power Supply

Power Supply


  • Maximum power: 210 W
    • This means that the computer can work in other countries

The power supply is a metal box, near the corner of PC tower case and adjacent to the motherboard. It allows the computer to operate on electricity.

It "converts the alternating current (AC) line from your home to the direct current (DC) needed by the personal computer" (PC Power Supply Article on "How Stuff Works").

CD Drive


The CD-Drive was located on the top left of the PC tower case, adjacent to the hard disk. On this computer, it could play CD's, but not burn/record data onto them.

A CD-Drive is a type of optical disk drive, which "uses laser light or electromagnetic waves within or near the visible light spectrum as part of the process of reading or writing data to or from optical discs" (Wikipedia article on Optical disk drives).