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Basics of a computer and binary

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Old October 8th, 2013 (10:46 AM). Edited October 8th, 2013 by Darkroman.
Darkroman Darkroman is offline
    Join Date: Oct 2011
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    I'm making this thread to help those who don't understand certain aspects of a computer. The goal here is to help people not only understand, but possibly help in making purchases of a future PC, or part of a PC. Unfortunately, this won't be a guide on how to open up and replace a part in your PC, there are plenty of youtube videos out there to look for. Alright, let's get crackin'!

    A computer is a digital machine that does all sorts of calculations in a matter of microseconds. By taking a combination of a bunch of zeroes and ones (binary code), it performs certain acts, such as writing text on a monitor through typing, this is an easy way to understand input/output. Your keyboard, mouse, gamepad, or scanners are all input. The monitor is the most easily recognized output; it displays everything back to the user from the information your computer has acquired from all different types of sources (your printer is also an output device). All of this is done through a combination of zeroes and ones, A.K.A binary code, and down at the lower level.. with logic gates and transistors, but going down that deep is beyond the scope of this post.

    Bit: A bit is a binary digit that is either a 0 or a 1. That's all it basically is. It's also a state of either off or on, false or true respectively. You'll often hear certain retro systems being referred to as 8-bit or 16-bit. What this means is how high of a number it can count up to and how much memory it can hold at one time (usually). The higher the "bit count" for a computer, the more memory it can hold at a time which is useful for fitting more stuff for things like video images and sound data.

    Binary: Binary is a just a numbering system consisting of only two numbers (0 and 1), compared to our decimal system which has ten numbers (0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9). Anytime a there's a number greater than 1 in binary, there's a new digit (0, 1, 10, 11, 100, 101, 110, 111 and so on, which in our decimal numbering system is equivalent to 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). The left most number in binary is called most significant bit or MSB for short, and the right most number is the [i]least significant bit[i] or LSB for short. One last thing to mention is that in each binary place is 2^n - 1 power. If there are 4 binary digits (1010 for example), then the MSB is 2^4 - 1 (2^3) equivalent to 8. The third digit or the one left of the LSB is 2^2 - 1, equivalent to 2. Add those together (8 + 2) and 1010 is equivalent to the decimal number 10 (it's just a little coincidence that two 10s together in binary is equal to one 10 in decimal).

    Hexadecimal: Hexadecimal is another numbering systems which computers use as sort of an address numbering system for humans to recognize. You'll often see hexadecimal in the form of 00xFF01AB. That usually refers to a specific address in your computer's internal memory. It has 16 numbers (0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F). Instead of being 2^n - 1 it's 16^n - 1.

    Byte: A byte is a combination of 8 bits (e.g 10010110). There are scales of bytes like kilobyte (KB, 2^10), megabyte (MB, 2^20), gigabyte (GB 2^30), and terabyte (TB 2^40) and beyond. 1,024 bytes is equal to 1 kilobyte, 1,024 kilobytes or 1,048,576 bytes is equal to 1 megabyte. In general terms, a byte refers to how much memory a certain program takes up or how much space you have for certain programs. There's also the term word which is a 16-bit long binary number.

    Motherboard: The motherboard is the main board of the computer that contains all the main components of a computer: CPU, RAM, expansion slots for video card, sound card, or other things. It also has very important components that are built-in for communication between components. Most motherboards also come with what's called onboard components for sound, video, and a wired network connection. Some of the brands for motherboards are ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI, and ASRock.

    CPU: The CPU (central processing unit) is the brain of the computer. This is where most of the magic happens. A CPU contains the code dictionary (instruction set) to determine what combination of binary will do what for making certain calculations or movement of information from one storage to another. In your computer, the component is usually in the upper center part of the mainboard covered with some metal with fins (A.K.A heatsink) with a fan on top of the metal. There are many different types of CPUs (Intel, and AMD are the most known ones). Most processors are separated by generation and socket type. The newest processors from Intel use socket 1150 (the 4000 series like 4670 4770k), while last generation used socket 1155 (3570, 3770, 3320, 3450 etc), and there was also socket 2011 for the really high end consumer market. AMD uses a different socket for their CPUs. Their latest is AM3+, and they also have FM socket (FM1, FM2) which is for their respective CPUs. AMD FM1/2 CPUs are essentially called APU (accelerated processing unit) because they contain an integrated video processor (based on their radeon video cards).

    RAM: RAM, or random-access memory are those thin sticks on your motherboard, usually to the right of your CPU. It is considered volatile memory, because everything is erased when the computer is reset or turned off. It requires constant electricity to store information. RAM is where your programs load into from your hard drive. It's also used to run your operating system and its services. The more RAM you have, the more applications you can use at a time without slowdown. When you run out of RAM space, the operating system uses virtual memory. Virtual memory is space that's allocated on your hard drive that the operating system treats like RAM. It is MUCH slower though because of the nature of a hard drive. We'll get to that. The most common forms of RAM nowadays are DDR (double-data rate), with the most current version being DDR3. There are many different speeds (ranging from 1066MHZ to even 4000MHZ), and different sizes (1GB-8GB single stick), and also different form factors (desktop and laptop A.K.A SO-DIMM). If you want to upgrade your RAM or change it out, first find out what kind of RAM your system takes, and how much it can take and then go from there. 90% of the time, 8GB is sufficient enough unless you're doing a lot of video editing and 3D rendering. I'll mention that if the maximum memory your system can take is 16GB, for example, and you have 4 slots, then you can only have 4GB or less per slot.

    Hard Drive: A.K.A Hard disk, permanent storage, HDD, SSD. It's the non-volatile memory of a computer that permanently holds information. It'll most likely contain your main operating system, programs, games, music, documents and other forms of media. Hard drives are mostly mechanical still. The information is held with magnetic bits on the drive's platter. There are what's called Solid State Drives (or SSD for short) that hold information with flash memory based technology. It's also what your thumbdrive is. Flash hard drives are much faster than a traditional hard drive because the information can be accessed in an instant, whereas in traditional hard drives the information is read from the spinning platter using an armature to read and write from. SSDs are also much more expensive due to manufacturing costs. There are many different sizes of hard drives. The higher the capacity, the more stuff you can fit on it (common sense, no?). One final thing to note is if you ever take apart a hard drive, don't plan on using it again. You can have some fun with the unbelievably powerful magnets inside, though.

    Video Graphics Adapter: A.K.A video card, graphics card, graphics adapter etc. This is the component that draws graphics onto your monitor. It is also used for drawing 3D graphics for your games. The higher-end your video card, the faster your games will run. There are many tiers of graphics cards to choose from and is usually best to do some of your own research on them. The two major video companies that are out are nVidia (in-vi-dee-uh) and AMD (formally ATI, then AMD bought them). There's the GeForce series from nVidia, and the Radeon series from AMD. One final note: A lot of uninformed people equate the amount of memory a video card has to its speed, this is barely the case, if ever. Having more video memory just allows higher resolution textures and higher monitor resolutions to be set without as much lag. The most prominent figures in determing a video card's speed are the amount of shader pipelines, and memory bandwidth. Usually those two figures won't be found on the video card's box, and even those figures aren't an end-all-be-all factor. It's best to look up benchmarks to compare.

    Operating System: OS for short. This is what you see when your computer boots up. Most people have a Windows operating system (XP, Vista, 7, 8.. possibly something older than XP), or an Apple based OS (OSX, Tiger, Snow Leopard). The OS is the main software of the computer that allows communication between the user, hardware, and other software of the computer. This is what controls what goes in wherever location in memory. The OS can be as free, or restrictive in access to certain computer functions as the manufacturer wants you to be (there are ways around restrictions sometimes). There are also 32-bit and 64-bit versions of operating systems. 32-bit is essentially obsolete nowadays since 64-bit is widely supported now (except maybe for older applications prior to 1999, and even then you might still get lucky). A 32-bit OS will only allow you to use up to 4GB of RAM, whereas a 64-bit can theoretically allow you to use 16 exabytes of RAM (16,777,216 terabytes of RAM). Most 64-bit OS's put a hard restriction on maximum RAM, like Windows 7 basic only allowing 16GB of RAM, but higher end versions allowing 128GB of addressable RAM.

    Sound Card Device: I was debating whether I wanted to include info about this. I guess I will. The sound card is the device that generates sound output for your computer (holy epiphany Batman!). The most well known sound manufacturer is Creative Labs. They are mostly known for their Sound Blaster line. Other manufacturers in the game are ASUS, with their Xonar series sound cards, and another brand is HT Omega. Most motherboards come with some sort of onboard sound device already, but the benefits of a separate sound card is better sound quality, and less load on your CPU. A lot of time what comes down to deciding on a sound card is use, and your level of audiophile.

    That's just about it. In my next post, I'll describe a bit on networking. If there's anything I might've messed up or missed, let me know and I'll fix it ASAP.

    When I get home I'll also try to include some images as well... maybe mess around with the formatting, too. I hope to include some links to some good computer review sites, and sources to good computer help sites for stuff like viruses, and spyware, or just general computer problems.
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    Old October 8th, 2013 (1:13 PM).
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    pokemasta92 pokemasta92 is offline
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      Thanks for all of the info! I personally know about most of this stuff, however the average person doesn't. My biggest pet peeve is when people all over the country do not update anything! Java, Flash, Shockwave, internet browser, and the most important one, the operating system! They just assume anything that pops up or appears as an icon on the taskbar is an advertisement. Then as time goes on their computer starts to act up and slow down. That coupled with the fact that these same people don't delete anything makes it even worse. By delete anything I mean whenever they download something new, whether it be a program or a form of media, they never delete it, even if they never use/look at it again. It just adds onto the hard drive and gets worse and worse. They also usually never have any antivirus software, even though many of these programs are free online. Then they get upset and assume that this is just how computers are. Then they take their computer to an expert and pay money to fix the problem. I hate seeing this happen! It's my pet peeve because I feel bad.
      I don't use "uber" Pokémon, I don't calculate stat values, I don't use cheating devices, I don't breed my way to perfection, and I don't care about natures. I catch my Pokemon the way they are, and treat them like individuals instead of brainless drones. If you use this philosophy, copy & paste this into your signature.
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