How Do Computers Work? A Beginner’s Guide

Last Updated: October 7, 2021By

Black computer monitor on wooden desk

It’s no secret that computers are everywhere. They’re in our homes, schools, offices, and just about anywhere you can think of. And the more we use them, the more they seem to be an essential part of life. Computers are very complex machines, but we’ll break them down so you can understand how they work!

What Is a Computer?

A computer is an electronic machine that can store, retrieve and process data. These machines can be programmed for different purposes and carry out complex tasks such as playing chess or solving complicated mathematical problems.

Computers are most often used today for playing games, browsing the Internet, or making text documents with a word processing program. Computers can also do more than one thing at a time very quickly by following instructions in two or more programs called “threads” that tell each part of the machine what to do at the same time.

The computer’s ability to process data is used for many different purposes, including controlling machines such as washing machines and car engines. Computers are also used in banking transactions, airline reservations, cash registers at supermarkets and department stores, voting systems, and video games.

Some of these “applications” (programs) are very large and powerful, while others are small programs that help control specific parts of a computer or make it more convenient to use.

How Does a Computer Work?

A computer works by processing data, which is stored in the computer’s memory. Computers are made up of many different electronic components, including resistors, transistors, diodes, printed circuits, and integrated circuits (IC).

Most of these components are found inside the computer’s central processing unit (CPU). The CPU is like a small brain in that it stores information temporarily and processes data, including instructions on what to do.

A special type of memory called “RAM” holds programs while they run and temporarily stores some data for use by the processor. Data stored in RAM is erased when the computer is turned off.

The information that a computer works with can be input into it in many different ways, including by typing on a keyboard or pointing to an image displayed on a screen using a mouse. Often computers are connected through networks to send each other data and instructions (Internet).

A large central computer called a server, or less often many smaller computers called nodes controls the network and sends data to other computers in response to their requests.

Parts of the Computer

Desktop Computer on white table between lamps

A computer is made up of many different parts, including the following:

Motherboard: the main circuit board inside the computer, often shaped like a square or rectangle. It holds many of the essential parts such as CPU, RAM, and Graphics Card.

Central Processing Unit (CPU): A small part of the computer acts as the “brain” and performs calculations.

Random Access Memory (RAM): This is the part of the computer where programs are run, and data is temporarily stored while it’s being worked on by the CPU.

Graphics Card: This part of the computer is responsible for drawing images on a screen.

Hard Drive: This computer part permanently stores large amounts of information, including programs, documents, email messages, and multimedia files such as photos or videos.

Power Supply: This provides power to the computer.

Monitor: This is a display screen that displays what’s being worked on within the computer, including text and images.

Keyboard: This is a device that allows you to input text and commands into the computer.

Mouse: You move this device around to direct your mouse pointer (a small arrow symbol) over the screen.

Computer components can be connected together using different types of cables that join separate parts into one unit.

What Are the Differences Between Hardware and Software?

Software is the name for programs that perform tasks on a computer. There are many different types of software, including word processing programs (such as Microsoft Word), games, web browsers (for browsing websites), and photo or video editing tools.

Each type of software has its design and works in a special way to help you do certain things. For example, a word processing program has its own way of letting you write and edit text or create page layouts for your written work.

On the other hand, hardware is the name given to all physical parts and components that make up a computer. It includes things like motherboard, CPU, RAM, Graphics Card, etc.

Some types of hardware are essential for a computer to work properly, while others provide additional functions or make it easier to do specific tasks. For example, having separate buttons on your mouse that you can press to perform specific actions makes it faster and easier to use your mouse while working on a document.

Different Types of Computers

Many different types of computers exist, including the following:

Desktop computer: Desktop or tower-style computers come with a separate monitor, keyboard, and mouse. They’re larger than other types of computers but offer more processing power.

Laptop computer: These are smaller than desktop PCs because they include everything in one unit: a keyboard, screen, and computer parts.

Tablet: These are like laptops in that they include everything needed in one small device with a touch-sensitive screen. However, the screens on tablets tend to be smaller than those on most laptops.

Smartphones: Like tablet computers, smartphones are mobile devices that let you make calls and access the Internet. However, they also include a touchscreen display for viewing photos, text, and apps.

The term “computer” is often used to refer specifically to desktop or laptop PCs because these types of computers use different components than other kinds of computers such as tablets and smartphones.

FAQs About Computer

Silver iMac near iPhone and Macbook

What Is a Computer Virus?

A computer virus is a program designed to spread from one computer to another and damage data, programs, or systems.

A virus can be spread in several different ways, including the following:

Networking: When multiple computers are connected to one another, it’s easier for viruses to spread. For example, someone could unknowingly pass a virus on by sending an email with an infected attachment or visiting a website containing the virus code and unintentionally passing it on to their own PC.

Removable media: USB flash drives, CDs, DVDs are all types of removable media that can spread viruses. For example, if you insert a CD into your PC and open it, any virus code on the CD could potentially spread to your computer.

Email: Viruses can also spread through email. For example, an infected attachment could be sent to many people at the same time, which would result in it spreading quickly from one person’s inbox to another.

When a computer is infected with a virus, their PC will often crash or display error messages that prevent them from using it. This can lead people to think that viruses are just minor annoyances when in fact, they can cause major problems for someone’s computer or network.

Viruses are often designed to either damage data on a computer or steal information, including personal details like credit card numbers and passwords that could be used for identity theft.

Should I Get a Desktop Computer or Laptop?

If you’re looking for a new computer, the first question to ask yourself is whether you need a desktop or laptop.

  • Laptops are portable and easy to use on the go. They also often cost more than desktops because they contain smaller parts that can be harder to replace.
  • Many people find that laptops offer enough power for their needs without requiring large or multiple upgrades over time. They also come in various sizes, so it’s easier to select one based on your needs.

If portability isn’t a concern for you, or if you need powerful hardware that will handle heavy-duty tasks like video editing, then it might be better to opt for a desktop computer.

  • Desktop computers will often have more room for upgrades than laptops, so you’ll be able to add or change things like RAM or hard drives much easier if needed.
  • Desktop computers are generally more powerful than laptops and are also cheaper to upgrade. However, they aren’t as portable or easy to use on the go.

For this reason, desktop computers are a good choice for people who play games regularly and those who need to do a lot of typing or work on large files that require a larger screen.

You can also check out our article on the comparison of Laptop vs. Desktop Computers.


Computers have been a part of our lives for so long; it can be hard to remember what life was like without them. But the truth is that they continue to evolve and grow more powerful with each passing year. That means there are always new things we can learn about how best to use this tool in our daily lives.