1. What exactly is a computer, and what are its four main functions? Computers are devices that process data. They help organize, sort, and categorize data to turn it into information. The computer’s four major functions are: (1) input: gather data, or allow users to enter data; (2) process: manipulate, calculate, or organize that data; (3) output: display data and information in a form suitable for the user; and (4) storage: save data and information for later use. 2. What is the difference between data and information?Data is a representation of a fact or idea. The number 3 and the words televisions and Sony are pieces of data. Information is data that has been organized or presented in a meaningful fashion. An inventory list that indicates that “three Sony televisions” are in stock is processed information. It allows a retail clerk to answer a customer query about the availability of merchandise.
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Information is more powerful than raw data. 3. What are bits and bytes, and how are they measured?To process data into information, computers need to work in a language they understand. This language, called binary language, consists of two numbers: 0 and 1. Each 0 and each 1 is a binary digit, or bit. Eight bits create one byte. In computers, each letter of the alphabet, each number, and each special character consists of a unique combination of eight bits (one byte)—a string of eight 0s and 1s. For describing large amounts of storage capacity, the terms megabyte (approximately 1 million bytes), gigabyte (approximately 1 billion bytes), terabyte (approximately 1 trillion bytes), and petabyte (1,000 terabytes) are used.
Input Devices and Output Devices 4. What devices can I use to get data into the computer?An input device enables you to enter data (text, images, and sounds) and instructions (user responses and commands) into a computer. You use keyboards to enter typed data and commands, whereas you use the mouse to enter user responses and commands. Touch screens are display screens that respond to commands initiated by a touch with a finger or a stylus. Images are input into the computer with scanners, digital cameras, camcorders, and smartphones. Live video is captured with webcams and digital video recorders. Microphones capture sounds. There are many different types of microphones, including desktop, headset, and clip-on models.
5. What devices can I use to get information out of the computer?Output devices enable you to send processed data out of your computer. It can take the form of text, pictures, sounds, or video. Monitors display soft copies of text, graphics, and video, whereas printers create hard copies of text and graphics. There are two primary categories of printers: inkjet and laser. Specialty printers are also available. These include all-in-one printers, plotters, and thermal printers. When choosing a printer, you should be aware of factors such as speed, resolution, color output, and cost. Speakers are the output devices for sound. Most computers include speakers; more-sophisticated systems include subwoofers and surround sound.
Processing, Memory, and Storage
6. What’s on the motherboard?The motherboard, the main circuit board of the system, contains a computer’s CPU, which coordinates the functions of all other devices on the computer. The performance of a CPU is affected by the speed of the processor (measured in GHz), the amount of cache memory, and the number of processing cores. RAM, the computer’s volatile memory, is also located on the motherboard. RAM is where all the data and instructions are held while the computer is running. ROM, a permanent type of memory, is responsible for housing instructions to help start up a computer. The motherboard also houses slots for expansion cards, which have specific functions that augment the computer’s basic functions. Typical expansion cards are sound and video cards.
7. Where are information and programs stored?To save programs and information permanently, you need to save them to the hard drive or to another permanent storage device such as a DVD or flash drive, or to the cloud. The hard drive is your computer’s primary device for permanent storage of software and files. The hard drive is a nonvolatile storage device, meaning it holds the data and instructions your computer needs permanently, even after the computer is turned off. Mechanical hard drives have spinning platters on which data is saved, whereas newer solid-state drives (SSDs) use solid-state memory, similar to that used with flash drives. External hard drives are essentially internal hard drives that have been made portable by enclosing them in a protective case and making them small and lightweight. Cloud storage refers to nonvolatile storage locations that are maintained on the Internet (in the “cloud”) by companies such as Dropbox. Storing your data in the cloud allows you to access it from almost any computing device that is connected to the Internet. Optical drives that can read from and write to CD, DVD, or Blu-ray discs are another means of permanent, portable storage. Data is saved to CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs as pits that are burned into the disc by a laser. Flash drives are another portable means of storing data. Flash drives plug into USB ports. Flash memory cards let you transfer digital data between your computer and devices such as digital cameras, smartphones, video cameras, and printers.
Ports and Power Controls 8. How are devices connected to the computer?There is a wide variety of ports that al low you to hook up peripheral devices (such as your monitor and keyboard) to your system. The fastest type of port used to connect devices to a computer is the Thunderbolt port. The most common type of port used to connect devices to a computer is the USB port. FireWire ports provide additional options for data transfer. Connectivity ports, such as Ethernet ports, give you access to networks and the Internet. HDMI ports are the most common multimedia port. They are used to connect monitors, TVs, and gaming consoles to computing devices and handle both audio and video data. Audio ports are used to connect headphones, microphones, and speakers to computing devices.
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9. What’s the best way to turn my computer on and off, and when should it be done? Power on your computer from a completely turned-off state. In Windows 8.1, you can turn your computer off by pressing the computer’s power button or by using the Shut down option from the power icon found on the Start screen. With the power-management options of Windows 8.1, for example, you only need to shut down your computer completely when you need to repair or install hardware in the system unit or move it to another location. However, if you use your computer only for a little while each day, it would be best to power it off completely after each daily use. Setting It All Up 10. How do I set up my computer to avoid strain and injury?Ergonomics refers to how you arrange your computer and equipment to minimize your risk of injury or discomfort. Ergonomics includes positioning your monitor correctly, buying an adjustable chair, assuming a proper position while typing, making sure the lighting is adequate, and not looking at the screen for long periods. Other good practices include taking frequent breaks and using specially designed equipment such as ergonomic keyboards. Ergonomics is also important to consider when using mobile devices. Be sure to check out the companion website or MyITLab for additional materials to help you review and learn—pearsonhighered.com/techinaction. And don’t forget the Replay Videos.