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How Personal Computers Work

This chapter serves as an introduction to the entire concept of personal computers—what they do, how they work, that sort of thing—and computer hardware in particular.

This chapter is from the book

Chances are you’re reading this book because you just bought a new computer, are thinking about buying a new computer, or maybe even had someone give you their old computer. (Nothing wrong with high-tech hand-me-downs!) At this point, you might not be totally sure what it is you’ve gotten yourself into. Just what is this thing you’re holding in your hands, and what can you—or should you—do with it?

This chapter serves as an introduction to the entire concept of personal computers—what they do, how they work, that sort of thing—and computer hardware in particular. It’s a good place to start if you’re not that familiar with computers or want a brief refresher course in what all those pieces and parts are and what they do.

Of course, if you want to skip the background and get right to using your computer, that’s okay, too. For step-by-step instructions on how to connect and configure a new PC, go directly to Chapter 2, “Setting Up and Using Different Types of Computers.” Everything you need to know should be in that chapter.

What Your Computer Can Do

What good is a personal computer, anyway?

Everybody has one, you know (including you, now). In fact, it’s possible you bought your new computer just so that you wouldn’t feel left out. But now that you have a personal computer, what do you do with it?

Good for Getting Online

Most of what we do on our computers these days is accomplished via the Internet. We find friends and communicate with them online; we find useful information online; we watch TV and movies and listen to music online; we play games online; we even shop, order meals, and do our banking online. Most of these activities are accomplished by browsing something called the World Wide Web (or just the “Web”), which you do from something called a web browser.

Good for Social Networking

One of the most popular online activities these days involves something called social networking. A social network is a website where you can keep informed about what your friends and family are doing, and they can see what you’re up to, too. There are several social networks you can use, but the most popular are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. You can join one or more of these and start sharing your life online.

Good for Communicating

Your new computer is also great for keeping in touch with friends, family, and co-workers. Want to send a note to a friend? Or keep your family informed of what’s new and exciting? It’s easy enough to do, thanks to your new computer and the Internet. You can drop a note via email, keep folks up to date via Facebook or some similar social networking site, or participate in a real-time video chat (using your computer’s microphone and webcam) via Microsoft Teams or Zoom.

Good for Sharing Photos and Home Movies

You can also use your computer to store, edit, and share your favorite photos and home movies. When you upload a picture, your friends can view it online. You can even touch up the photo before you share it. Pretty nifty.

Good for Entertainment

For many people, a personal computer is a hub for all sorts of online entertainment. You can use your computer to listen to music over the Internet via streaming music services such as Pandora and Spotify. You also can watch movies and TV shows online with streaming video services such as Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, and Netflix.

Good for Keeping Informed

Entertainment is fun, but it’s also important to stay informed. Your computer is a great gateway to tons of information, both old and new. You can use Google and other search engines to search for just about anything you want online—or use your computer to browse the latest news headlines, sports scores, and weather reports. All the information you can think of is online somewhere, and you use your computer to find and read it.

Good for Work

A lot of people use their home PCs for work-related purposes. You can bring your work (reports, spreadsheets, you name it) home from the office and finish it on your home PC. Or, if you work at home, you can use your computer to pretty much run your small business—you can use it to do everything from typing memos and reports to generating invoices and setting budgets.

In short, anything you can do with a normal office PC, you can probably do on your home PC, using Microsoft Office, Google Docs, and similar productivity software.

Good for Play

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy, so there’s no reason not to have a little fun with your new PC. There are a lot of cool games online, plus you can purchase all manner of computer games to play, if that’s what you’re into. There’s a lot of fun to be had with your new PC!

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Last Update: November 17, 2020