An Easy and Informative Overview of Key Hardware Components of a Computer
A computer has two essential parts that make it a fully-functional electronic device. The hardware and software components. Hardware is an amalgam of physical parts that are attached to the computer, while the software is a code or program to run the hardware. Common hardware components of a computer include a CPU, hard disk drive, video card, network interface card, and similar others. The keyboard, mouse, and speaker that you commonly see are also hardware but considered as external hardware. In this article, we will discuss the key hardware components of a computer and specifically the internal hardware components.
If you want to know how to become a PACS administrator, it’s essential to understand the hardware components of a computer.
Key Hardware Components of a Computer
Different computers have a different set of hardware depending on the key functions it is meant to fulfill. For example, a gaming computer needs a heavy-duty processor, more RAM, and a graphics card. However, there are some key hardware components that every computer must have. The following are some of those key components:
1. Video Card
A video card also known as a graphics card, display adapter, video adapter, or video controller. The video card is attached to the motherboard and generates the video signals that are sent to the computer display. It calculates and controls the appearance of the image on the screen. In simple words, it is meant to enhance the image quality that you see on the computer display.
In the field of imaging informatics, the video card is essential for displaying high resolution medical images for diagnostic viewing. A few examples are high res X-rays, diagnostic mammography, 3D MR reconstructed images or digital pathology slides. As radiology workstations have multiple high resolution monitors, it is not uncommon to have 2 or more video cards in a single computer.
The imaging informatics professional may need to support the video card on computers and servers. Support may include physical installation and replacement of graphics cards as well as driver updates and software compatibility testing.
2 CPU / GPU
CPU stands for Central Processing Unit, or in simple words, the brain of the computer. It is the main core chip in the computer that carries out all the tasks and instructs all other components on what functions they have to perform. The working principle of the CPU is based on 3 key steps. First, it fetches the instructions from the memory. Next, the instructions are decoded to understand that it is meant to execute. Lastly, it executes the instructions and the operation is completed. These steps keep on repeating again and again in a cycle continuously every single second.
On the other hand, GPU stands for Graphics Processing Unit, which is required by a computer to render images, videos, or other graphics for display. Generally, the GPU is embedded on the motherboard or located on the video card. Originally, GPUs were meant to accelerate the rendering of 3D graphics. But they have become a lot more advanced, programmable, and feature-rich today. In fact, developers are now focusing on utilizing the full power of GPUs to create visually-attractive and realistic graphics, accelerate high-performance computing workflows, perform deep learning, etc.
Memory applies to any physical device that is capable of storing data temporarily (Random Access Memory – RAM) or permanently (Read-Only Memory). Every computer motherboard has multiple memory slots where memory modules connect. The computer memory is divided into primary (or main) memory and secondary (or auxiliary) memory. The primary memory module (RAM) holds data and instructions when the program is getting executed, while the secondary memory (ROM) module holds data for a longer duration even when the program is not in use.
Unlike ROM, RAM is volatile – meaning the data on RAM is lost when the computer is shut down. Increased RAM is useful for performance and not for long term storage of any data. Storage of data will be covered by the hard drive.
4. Hard Drive
The hard drive, also known as a hard disk drive. This is the hardware component responsible for storing all your computer data from documents, pictures, and videos to programs, applications, operating systems, and a lot more. It is a non-volatile data storage device, which means that the data remains stored even when you turn off the computer. Hard drives for personal computers can store terabytes of data.
5. Network Interface Card
A network interface card (NIC) also known as a network adapter, network interface controller, or LAN adapter, is a crucial hardware component without which a computer is not able to connect to a network. It is composed of electronic circuitry that is required to communicate through a wireless connection or wired connection. Some of the common functionalities of NIC include converting data into a digital signal, acting as a middleware between the data network and computer/server, supporting I/O interrupt, etc.
An imaging informatics professional will sometimes need to configure the NIC. For example, radiology PACS administrators may need to configure a NIC to have a static IP in order to establish DICOM connections.
6. Motherboard Connectivity
The motherboard is an all-in-one platform that connects all the hardware components of a computer together. It connects the CPU, hard drives, memory, video card, and all other hardware directly or through cables. However, there are few hardware used for motherboard connectivity with peripheral devices (any auxiliary device that connects with the computer to get or put information into it). The key ones are listed below:
- PCI: Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) is a local computer bus acting as a connection interface for attaching the motherboard with computer peripherals. Can connect video cards and network interface cards.
- USB: Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports are the commonly used connection medium between peripheral and other devices with the computer. These ports connect a lot of USB devices with the computer, such as a keyboard, printer, mouse, speaker, etc.
- SCSI: Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) is a fast internal computer bus that is capable of connecting a lot of peripheral devices with the computer at the same time. However, it is no longer used in consumer computers and replaced with better alternatives, such as USB.
- AGP: Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) is a hardware interface that connects the graphics card with the computer. It provides a point-in-point channel that sets a direct connection between the memory and graphics card.
7. Removable Media Hardware
Removable media hardware is any hardware component of a computer that can be removed from it while the system is still in the running phase. The following are common removable media hardware associated with a computer:
- CD: Compact Disc (CD) is a molded plastic disc that is used to record, store, and play videos, audios, or any other digital data. The data is scanned via a laser beam in order to reproduce and access the data. Medical images can be given to patients on CDs.
- DVD: Digital Video Disc (DVD) is a digital optical disc that is widely used to store and view high-resolution audiovisual material. It is similar to CD but offers more enhanced data storage capacity. High resolution medical images such as Mammo Tomography images can be given to patients on DVDs.
- MOD: Manufactured-On-Demand (MOD) mostly referred to as MOD DVDs. These are manufactured via laser burning method, which is considered a much more efficient method to manufacture DVDs for lower volumes. The image it creates is easily readable by the player.
- Flash: Flash also known as USB flash drive or thumb drive is a portable, compact data storage device. It includes flash memory and comes with a USB interface that connects with a computer USB port to store and access digital data. Flash drives are not recommended to be used in the hospital enterprise setting as these devices have been known to carry and spread malware, viruses or ransomware.
All the above-listed hardware components of a computer and many more make up the computer a fully-functional computing machine. Over the years, the computer’s hardware components have become a lot more advanced and compact, and we can expect a lot more innovation and advancement around them with every passing year.