Saturday, September 19, 2015

Introduction to Computer - Hardware

Good morning everyone, it has been a very long time since I wrote anything so I think I should write something. How about basic computer parts? Good idea I guess! So let's begin.

Spoiler Alert: This will be a long post!

Here I will be focusing mainly on the desktop computers and will try to walk you through the basic hardware that is needed to build and run a system.


The very first thing that you will be needing here is the Processor and as the name suggests it is fairly easy to understand it's purpose, it will process something. In a single processor desktop environment, usually the processor does all the major calculations. This processor is actually the very heart of the CPU or central processing unit. So we will be needing a processor to build a computer. Right now the processors that we are using has multiple processing cores and small amount of very high speed internal memory. Each core is actually the unit of processing, more cores usually results in better multi-tasking which means doing many works simultaneously. As we often run more than couple programs at the same time it is better to have a multi-core processor. There is also another technique that makes the better utilization of CPU time, which is called multi-threading, which also allows greater multi-tasking capability. The small amount of memory that the processor have is used for storing the instructions and addresses. Usually this memory is the fastest memory of the whole computer. It is usually volatile type, just like the Main system memory or the RAM, so as long as computer looses power it also looses anything stored in here. This memory might be divided into multiple levels. About the clock speed that is advertised on the processor is the speed that the core/cores are running at. For the same processor higher clock speed usually results in better performance although the processor will burn more energy and will get more hot. For the same processor more cores usually results in more power consumption and higher temperature too. And if you are wondering yes you can turn cores on and off, multi-threading on and off or increase or decrease the clock speed if you have suitable processor and motherboard. So how does the processor tackle the heat? In desktop environment usually it is done by actively cooling the processor with a metal fin array that helps to increase the surface area and one or more fans to blow air through them in order to dissipate that heat. To make good contact between processor's heat spreader and the metal fins a thermal interface material is used, which seals two metals and thus allow heat to be transferred to the fins faster.

For demonstration purpose I'm using a core i7 2600 processor. To cool it down the cooler that I'm using is the Cooler Master 412S and the thermal interface material is the Thermaltake TG-2.

Processor on the motherboard : It is a Core i7- 2600 Processor with 4 Physical Cores but can act as 8 logical cores because of multi-threading, it has 8MB of Level-3 Cache Memory and a default Clock speed of 3.4GHz.

Thermal Interface Material being applied to the integrated heat spreader of the processor.
Cooler for the processor with two fans, one will push air through the fins and other will pull air. Mounting screws and back plate is also shown. The copper heat-pipes allow faster transfer of heat to the fins.

The thermal interface material that will seal between the processor's integrated heat spreader and the bottom part of the cooler which ensures proper transfer of heat.

So that was kind of a basic of processors, lets talk about which is needed for what. If someone wants to build a desktop just for media consumption, internet browsing, office works or for educational purpose a dual core processor will be enough for him/her. Or it can be stated like this, a 100US$ processor will be enough for this purpose. As I'm writing this right now, for around a hundred dollar a 4th generation Intel Core i3 processor or an AMD FX4350 can be found. Both of them are well suited for this job.
If anyone needs to play games on it then he will definitely need something better than this. He will also need a graphics card which I will talk about later. So here a Quad core processor will be enough for this. Or anyone can target at a 200-250US$ processor. At this point a core i5 4th generation/6th generation or AMD FX8370 is available at this price point which will suffice this.
Right now many people are using their desktop computers to do more than just gaming or daily usage, they use it for streaming or video editing. If you want to do this you have to go with something powerful yet if you don't want to spend that much you have to target at something that is more powerful than a quad core processor. A core i7 processor might come in handy. Sadly at upper tier AMD doesn't have that much of a powerful processor the FX-9590 is available although not as good as a Quad core i7 because Intel's architecture is superior than AMD right now.
Want more than that? Well Intel's octa-core i7 is also available but that will cost you about 1000US$.

That was the basic about processor, let's move on to the main system memory or the RAM. While the computer is running it keeps the running applications or part of it in the RAM so that processor can work with it, RAM is pretty fast, much faster than secondary storage or Hard disk drive or Solid State drive but much slower than the processor's cache memory. Processor can directly access the memory, and more memory usually results in faster speed because processor don't have to go to the disk to fetch information often, it can keep larger data in the system memory. Although insane amount of RAM with a low end processor won't do any good because in that case processor will be the limiting factor. Currently the highest performing RAM that is available right now is the DDR4 memory, although only two platforms supports that so it is pretty rare. DDR3 is still very good performer though.

Each of this sticks is a Transcend 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 CL9 module, four of them gives a total of 16GB

So how much memory do you need? Again for normal works 4GB 1333MHz will be enough, for gaming however 8GB 1600MHz will do good for now and if you want more than that, you will be better of with 16GB 1866MHz+. Although for DDR4,  the nominal speed is 2133MHz although that much of a speed is not needed in most cases.
Note: If you are rocking an AMD APU, better to get DDR3 2133MHz+ memory modules as the integrated Graphics shares the main system memory it is better to give them memory with higher bandwidth. Timing is also important on RAM, lower the value of it, better the performance is.

Next, the house that will house everything, the motherboard. It will allow you to put everything in there and connect all the peripherals. It houses the Processor and the RAM, it takes in the power from the power supply unit, convert it to power the CPU and the RAM properly. It also allow us to connect to the secondary storage such as hard disk drive/solid state drive/optical drive. It will also allow peripherals to be connected to it, like the network interface card, the sound card, graphics card, TV tuner card etc. It also has input output ports for connecting input devices like mouse or keyboard, monitor etc. There are some boards that won't allow you to connect a monitor to it by the way, in that case it is must to have a discrete graphics card. It also has USB ports to connect many different devices. There was a time when sound card and network interface card was to be bought separately and put it in the motherboard to get sound and to connect to a network, this days however good quality audio chip and network chip come with the motherboard thus allowing user have less hassle while building a system,

So this is the motherboard, it has RAM slots for installing the RAM, processor socket for the processor, Multiple Serial-ATA port for connecting Optical drive/hard drive/solid state drive, it has couple peripheral slot like the PCI slots and PCI express slots. It takes in power via two different port, the top 8pin EPS and the 24Pin port on the right. It has a battery to keep the clock going thus you don't have to set time each time you turn on the system. It has network interface card and sound card built into it.

There are so many motherboards out there in the market that will easily make someone confused, so what to look for? Well if you are looking for installing more RAM then definitely take one with four or more slots of RAM. Need more storage? grab one with more SATA ports, preferably SATA revision 3.0. You need to transfer stuffs on a regular basis take one with USB3.0 or higher. Need more GPU horsepower? take one that supports multiple GPU. Don't get caught up with the gimmicky marketing terms, try to understand what you need and take one accordingly.

So you definitely need power for this right? So you will need a power supply unit. I'm not going to write about power supply that much because I have already written about it. For demonstration purpose however I will be using a Corsair CX750 power supply unit.

The power supply unit: Corsair CX750
As you can see all the cables are visible here, those cables will be needed to power up all the components in your system.

Read this post to learn more about power supply unit.

If you want to play modern games however, you will need a decent Graphics card for this purpose. Many processors come with integrated graphics that will allow you to do most of the visual works but for graphically demanding task like gaming or GPU based rendering, you will need a discrete graphics card. Most graphics card this days will use the high speed PCI express port on the motherboard. If it has a consumption of more than 75W, you will have to put additional power plug to it which comes directly from the power supply unit.

A MSI GTX660OC 2GB Graphics Card
Integrated Graphics processor usually shares the main system memory or the RAM where the discrete card has its own high speed memory and also at the center of the card there will be a graphics processor. In the picture above the lower part is the PCI express interface that will allow us to connect it to a motherboard. The left side is where all the output ports are located, you can connect to monitor via those ports. The Graphics card however can get very hot so a fan and a heatsink is added by the card manufacturer to keep it cool.

If you are shopping for a graphics card ask yourself couple different questions like how many years are you going to play with it, how much money can you spend, do you want to add any other card later or the resolution and level of details that you are aiming for.  For one or two years, and a low budget with limited power and money you can take a look at the cards like Nvidia GTX750Ti/ Nvidia GTX950/AMD 270X/AMD 370, all of them will give good bang for the buck, letting you play games on full HD, you can use them for more than one year too but you might have to sacrifice quality a little to keep the game running in decent frame rate.
If you can spend more than that definitely look at the AMD R9 380 or the Nvidia GTX970, both will give you amazing performance and you can even go beyond full HD resolution.
Wants even better than that? Then save up and buy either one Nvidia GTX980Ti or Two AMD 390X, both will cost almost the same but two AMD 390X will give you very good performance and quality, even on 4k resolution, thanks to it's 8GB VRAM.

Let's talk about storage then, there are many different types of secondary storage available this days and mechanical hard drives are still being widely used due to the fact that they are fast enough and cost per gigabyte of storage is very low. Although this days people are getting solid states drives more often too mainly because they are fast. Current speed of SATA3.0 is about 6Gbps which is not enough in many cases in that case PCI Express based storage solutions are also used.

Different type of Storage solutions are shown in here. Now which one do you need? Well if you need faster boot time and faster application loading time, you can go with the SSD but for normal usage, HDD will do fine and best option will be combination of both of them, keeping Operating system and application on the SSD and media files on HDD you can store huge amount of media files and also have a fast system.

That is pretty much the basic hardware of a computer, you have to add in input output devices to work with it anyway.