computer-hardwareWhat comes to mind when you hear the word “computer”?

Do you envision a “tall box with buttons, slots and lights”, or do you see a screen with a mouse and keyboard in front of it? Do you see all of those individual parts as a single entity?

If I’m “on the computer”, that does not mean I’m sitting on top of a metal case looking bored. It means I’m sitting at my desk in front of my monitor, usually with one hand on my mouse and the other on my keyboard and a look of intense concentration, frustration or amusement on my face.

On the other hand, if “my computer is dead”, my monitor/keyboard/mouse are not even a part of the equation. They are fully capable of being dead all on their own without my computer being involved.

I find myself relying on the context to determine exactly what is meant when a computer is referenced. I am not alone. We speak very generally about computers, even when we have very specific thoughts to convey. But we all know the difference between the standard hardware (devices) that make up a complete computer system. Right?

The computer is the part of the system that does all of the actual work. It looks like a box with a bunch of sockets in the back and some buttons/lights/slots in the front. Inside, it has a bunch of components that work together to allow it to process tasks, store data and generally perform like a computer should. A computer is sometimes called a “tower”.

All of the other parts have names of their own, because they are not computers. They are (very important!) tools that allow you to interact with your computer. Without them, your computer is not of much use.

There are two main categories of devices that can be plugged into a computer: input and output. Input devices allow data to be sent to a computer (like keyboards, mice, etc.) and output devices allow the computer to send data to you (like monitors, printers, etc.).

The “screen” is called a monitor, and is the most common output device that gets plugged into a computer.

The two most common input devices are the keyboard and the mouse. I’ll devote an entire series to each of them later on.

Now, not to be confusing or anything, but laptops are another story entirely. Laptops (commonly called “notebooks”) are a computer with a built-in monitor, keyboard and mouse (usually in the form of a touch pad). I’ve always gotten the impression that laptops are somehow cheating. (Please don’t tell anyone that I’m writing this on a laptop.)

See what I did there, leaving you the mental image of me, pen or pencil in hand, writing on an electronic device? (Or am I the only person that gets those mental images?)