A computer is a programmable machine designed to perform arithmetic and logical operations automatically and sequentially on the input given by the user and gives the desired output after processing.
A computer is also an electronic device that stores, retrieves, and processes data, and can be programmed with instructions.
Computer components are divided into two major categories namely hardware and software.
Hardware is the machine itself and its connected devices such as monitor, keyboard, mouse etc. Hardware is also refers to the physical components of the computer.
Software are the set of programs that make use of hardware for performing various functions. The software is the instructions that makes the computer work. Software is held either on your computers hard disk, CD-ROM, DVD or on a diskette (floppy disk) and is loaded (i.e. copied) from the disk into the computers RAM (Random Access Memory), as and when required.
CHARACTERISTICS OF COMPUTERS
The characteristics of computers that have made them so powerful and universally useful are speed, accuracy, diligence, versatility and storage capacity. Let us discuss them briefly
Computers work at an incredible speed. A powerful computer is capable of performing about 3-4 million simple instructions per second.
In addition to being fast, computers are also accurate. Errors that may occur can almost always be attributed to human error (inaccurate data, poorly designed system or faulty instructions/programs written by the programmer).
Unlike human beings, computers are highly consistent. They do not suffer from human traits of boredom and tiredness resulting in lack of concentration. Computers, therefore, are better than human beings in performing voluminous and repetitive jobs.
Computers are versatile machines and are capable of performing any task as long as it can be broken down into a series of logical steps. The presence of computers can be seen in almost every sphere – Railway/Air reservation, Banks, Hotels, Weather forecasting and many more.
- Storage Capacity
Today’s computers can store large volumes of data. A piece of information once recorded (or stored) in the computer, can never be forgotten and can be retrieved almost instantaneously.
A computer system consists of mainly four basic units; namely input unit, storage unit, central processing unit and output unit. Central Processing unit further includes Arithmetic logic unit and control unit, as shown below
A computer performs five major operations or functions irrespective of its size and make. These are
- it accepts data or instructions as input,
- it stores data and instruction
- it processes data as per the instructions,
- it controls all operations inside a computer, and
- it gives results in the form of output.
- Input Unit: This unit is used for entering data and programs into the computer system by the user for processing.
- Storage Unit: The storage unit is used for storing data and instructions before and after processing.
- Output Unit: The output unit is used for storing the result as output produced by the computer after processing.
- Processing: The task of performing operations like arithmetic and logical operations is called processing. The Central Processing Unit (CPU) takes data and instructions from the storage unit and makes all sorts of calculations based on the instructions given and the type of data provided. It is then sent back to the storage unit.
CPU includes Arithmetic logic unit (ALU) and control unit (CU)
- Arithmetic Logic Unit: All calculations and comparisons, based on the instructions provided, are carried out within the ALU. It performs arithmetic functions like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and also logical operations like greater than, less than and equal to etc
- Control Unit: Controlling of all operations like input, processing and output are performed by control unit. It takes care of step by step processing of all operations inside the computer.
Computer’s memory can be classified into two types; primary memory and secondary memory;
- Primary Memory
Primary Memory can be further classified as RAM and ROM.
- RAM or Random Access Memory is the unit in a computer system. It is the place in a computer where the operating system, application programs and the data in current use are kept temporarily so that they can be accessed by the computer’s processor. It is said to be ‘volatile’ since its contents are accessible only as long as the computer is on. The contents of RAM are no more available once the computer is turned off.
- ROM or Read Only Memory is a special type of memory which can only be read and contents of which are not lost even when the computer is switched off. It typically contains manufacturer’s instructions. Among other things, ROM also stores an initial program called the ‘bootstrap loader’ whose function is to start the operation of computer system once the power is turned
- Secondary Memory
RAM is volatile memory having a limited storage capacity. Secondary/auxiliary memory is storage other than the RAM. These include devices that are peripheral and are connected and controlled by the computer to enable permanent storage of programs and data.
Secondary storage devices are of two types; magnetic and optical. Magnetic devices include hard disks and optical storage devices are CDs, DVDs, Pen drive, Zip drive etc.
- Hard Disk: Hard disks are made up of rigid material and are usually a stack of metal disks sealed in a box. The hard disk and the hard disk drive exist together as a unit and is a permanent part of the computer where data and programs
are saved. These disks have storage capacities ranging from 1GB to 80 GB and more. Hard disks are rewritable.
- Compact Disk: Compact Disk (CD) is portable disk having data storage capacity between 650-700 MB. It can hold large amount of information such as music, full-motion videos, and text etc. CDs can be either read only or read write type.
- Digital Video Disk: Digital Video Disk (DVD) is similar to a CD but has larger storage capacity and enormous clarity. Depending upon the disk type it can store several Gigabytes of data. DVDs are primarily used to store music or movies and can be played back on your television or the computer too. These are not rewritable.
Input & Output Devices
These devices are used to enter information and instructions into a computer for storage or processing and to deliver the processed data to a user. Input/Output devices are required for users to communicate with the computer. In simple terms, input devices bring information INTO the computer and output devices bring information OUT of a computer system.
These input/output devices are also known as peripherals since they surround the CPU and memory of a computer system.
An input device is any device that provides input to a computer. There are many input devices, but the two most common ones are a keyboard and mouse. Every key you press on the keyboard and every movement or click you make with the mouse sends a specific input signal to the computer.
The keyboard is very much like a standard typewriter keyboard with a few additional keys. The basic QWERTY layout of characters is maintained to make it easy to use the system. The additional keys are included to perform certain special functions. These are known as function keys that vary in number from keyboard to keyboard.
A device that controls the movement of the cursor or pointer on a display screen. A mouse is a small object you can roll along a hard and flat surface. Its name is derived from its shape, which looks a bit like a mouse. As you move the mouse, the pointer on the display screen moves in the same direction.
A trackball is an input device used to enter motion data into computers or other electronic devices. It serves the same purpose as a mouse, but is designed with a moveable ball on the top, which can be rolled in any direction.
A touch pad is a device for pointing (controlling input positioning) on a computer display screen. It is an alternative to the mouse. Originally incorporated in laptop , touch pads are also being made for use with desktop computers. A touch pad works by sensing the user’s finger movement and downward pressure.
- Touch Screen
It allows the user to operate/make selections by simply touching the display screen. A display screen that is sensitive to the touch of a finger or stylus. Widely used on ATM machines, retail point-of-sale terminals, car navigation systems, medical monitors and industrial control panels.
- Light Pen
Light pen is an input device that utilizes a light-sensitive detector to select objects on a display
- Magnetic ink character recognition (MICR)
MICR can identify character printed with a special ink that contains particles of magnetic material. This device particularly finds applications in banking industry.
- Optical mark recognition (OMR)
Optical mark recognition, also called mark sense reader is a technology where an OMR device senses the presence or absence of a mark, such as pencil mark. OMR is widely used in tests such as aptitude test.
- Bar code reader
Bar-code readers are photoelectric scanners that read the bar codes or vertical zebra strips , printed on product containers. These devices are generally used in super markets, bookshops etc.
Scanner is an input device that can read text or illustration printed on paper and translates the information into a form that the computer can use. A scanner works by digitizing an image.
Output device receives information from the CPU and presents it to the user in the desired from. The processed , stored in the memory of the computer is sent to the output unit, which then converts it into a form that can be understood by the user. The output is usually produced in one of the two ways – on the display device, or on paper (hard copy).
Monitor is often used synonymously with “computer screen” or “display.” Monitor is an output device that resembles the television screen (fig. 1.8). It may use a Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) to display information. The monitor is associated with a keyboard for manual input of characters and displays the information as it is keyed in. It also displays the program or application output. Like the television, monitors are also available in different sizes.
Printers are used to produce paper (commonly known as hardcopy) output. Based on the technology used, they can be classified as Impact or Non-impact printers.
Impact printers use the typewriting printing mechanism wherein a hammer strikes the paper through a ribbon in order to produce output. Dot-matrix and Character printers fall under this category.
Non-impact printers do not touch the paper while printing. They use chemical, heat or electrical signals to etch the symbols on paper. Inkjet, Deskjet, Laser, Thermal printers fall under this category of printers.
Plotters are used to print graphical output on paper. It interprets computer commands and makes line drawings on paper using multicoloured automated pens. It is capable of producing graphs, drawings, charts, maps etc.
- Facsimile (FAX)
Facsimile machine, a device that can send or receive pictures and text over a telephone line. Fax machines work by digitizing an image.
- Sound cards and Speaker(s)
An expansion board that enables a computer to manipulate and output sounds. Sound cards are necessary for nearly all CD-ROMs and have become commonplace on modern personal computers. Sound cards enable the computer to output sound through speakers connected to the board, to record sound input from a microphone connected to the computer, and manipulate sound stored on a disk.
Computer software is the set of programs that makes the hardware perform a set of tasks in particular order. Hardware and software are complimentary to each other. Both have to work together to produce meaningful results. Computer software is classified into two broad categories; system software and application software.
System software consists of a group of programs that control the operations of a computer equipment including functions like managing memory, managing peripherals, loading, storing, and is an interface between the application programs and the computer. MS DOS (Microsoft’s Disk Operating System), UNIX are examples of system software.
Software that can perform a specific task for the user, such as word processing, accounting, budgeting or payroll, fall under the category of application software. Word processors, spreadsheets, database management systems are all examples of general purpose application software.
Types of application software are:
- Word processing software: The main purpose of this software is to produce documents. MS-Word, Word Pad, Notepad and some other text editors are some of the examples of word processing software.
- Database software: Database is a collection of related data. The purpose of this software is to organize and manage data. The advantage of this software is that you can change the way data is stored and displayed. MS access, dBase, FoxPro, Paradox, and Oracle are some of the examples of database software.
- Spread sheet software: The spread sheet software is used to maintain budget, financial statements, grade sheets, and sales records. The purpose of this software is organizing numbers. It also allows the users to perform simple or complex calculations on the numbers entered in rows and columns. MS-Excel is one of the example of spreadsheet software.
- Presentation software: This software is used to display the information in the form of slide show. The three main functions of presentation software is editing that allows insertion and formatting of text, including graphics in the text and executing the slide shows. The best example for this type of application software is Microsoft PowerPoint.
- Multimedia software: Media players and real players are the examples of multimedia software. This software will allow the user to create audio and videos. The different forms of multimedia software are audio converters, players, burners, video encoders and decoders.
Computer language or programming language is a coded syntax used by computer programmers to communicate with a computer. Computer language establishes a flow of communication between software programs. The language enables a computer user to dictate what commands the computer must perform to process data. These languages can be classified into following categories:
- Machine language
- Assembly language
- High level language
Machine language or machine code is the native language directly understood by the computer’s central processing unit or CPU. This type of computer language is not easy to understand, as it only uses a binary system, an element of notations containing only a series of numbers consisting of one and zero, to produce commands.
Assembly Level Language
Assembly Level Language is a set of codes that can run directly on the computer’s processor. This type of language is most appropriate in writing operating systems and maintaining desktop applications. With the assembly level language, it is easier for a programmer to define commands. It is easier to understand and use as compared to machine language.
High Level Language
High Level Languages are user-friendly languages which are similar to English with vocabulary of words and symbols. These are easier to learn and require less time to write.
They are problem oriented rather than ‘machine’ based.
Program written in a high-level language can be translated into many machine languages and therefore can run on any computer for which there exists an appropriate translator.
Compiler & Interpreter
These are the programs that execute instructions written in a high-level language. There are two ways to run programs written in a high-level language. The most common is to compile the program; the other method is to pass the program through an interpreter.
A compiler is a special program that processes statements written in a particular programming language called as source code and converts them into machine language or “machine code” that a computer’s processor uses. Compiler translates high level language programs directly into machine language program. This process is called compilation.
An interpreter translates high-level instructions into an intermediate form, which it then executes. Compiled programs generally run faster than interpreted programs. The advantage of an interpreter, however, is that it does not need to go through the compilation stage during which machine instructions are generated. This process can be time-consuming if the program is long.
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