Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Computers and processors

Let us start off with the basics of a computer. A computer is a device that allows you to do computations faster than you could by hand. It is a tool to make your life more convenient and productive. It has many uses from the simple enhanced word processor to a storage device for information to a controller device for machinery to device to model and chart music to a device to perform mathematical calculations. Further there are software programs that exist that allow your computer’s CPU to be networked with others to create large virtual processors of immense power. 

The type main Operating system are Windows – Microsoft and Mac – Apple. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses and each essentially for a while had a niche – MACs were more for graphic design and music while Windows became the business platform of choice. Of course there are operating systems out there Unix, Linux, Java, O/S 2 warp, DOS. Instead of listing all of the systems this link will provide a list of many most of which you may not know due to their age or the fact they pertain to a niche market. Most modern operating systems (O/S) make use of a GUI (Graphical user interfaces) which allows the user to interact with a computer more easily. GUIs have their respective strengths and weaknesses also. While they make it easier for the average user to interact with the system in some cases the limit the functionality of the machine limited it to certain tasks. 

What is common in all computers is they each contain a processor that routes and handles the information – think of a processor like your brain – remove it and the PC does not work. There are two main (well known) companies by brand:

  • AMD – more popular with business applications
  • Intel – more popular with gamers or people wanting advanced graphics also a little more pricy

If you open a case often you will see the processor (CPU – central processing unit) under a heat sink. The faster a processor is the more heat is creates thus the more robust and greater surface area needed to cool it despite its reduced size – think of it this way the faster you run the more you sweat. 

Processor technology has also advanced – the earlier processors were often custom designed and though Intel is the more recognized brand many of the earlier and other processors (the power of marketing). 

There are many CPU manufactures though – got this list from Wikipedia

Here is where it gets fun and why knowing and understanding specification is important – RAM, Processor and Bus speed all interact to determine how fast your computer is and that is before we get into the speed and capacity of the peripheral devices like memory sticks, hard drives, serial, P/S 2 and USB port but lets just deal with CPUs. CPU technology has advanced much in the previous years – from single to dual to quad core processors. As many of you know on the surface they are rated by clock speed and denoted by GHz. Yet, if we hold all things other factors constant many do not realize a 3 GHz single core has less processing speed than a 2.5 GHz dual core which has less than a 2 GHz quad core. Lets doe the math – 3x1 = 3, 2.5 x 2 = 5, 2 x 4 = 8. It is more complicate then that because you do have to factor in core clock rate, FSB (Front Side Bus) speed, RAM (Random Access Memory (volatile)) speed and other things to make sure you are comparing apples to apples (no pun intended) yet not understanding this is what causes many to get a lesser system and pay greater amounts of money. The ability to read and understand the detailed specifications of a system are key to assuring and insuring you get the best value for your money.

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