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In this lesson, we will cover three important topics. First, we review the purpose of computers. Second, we explain several important computer terms. Finally, we will outline the parts of a computer, why each part is important and explain how to compare various economical computer options.

1.1 The Purpose of Computers
Your computer is a home for your files and documents. The purpose of a computer is to create and store files and folders. These files, which are also called documents, are organized inside of folders and stored on your computer in your File Manager.

What is a File?
A file is like a sheet of paper you have written something important on. Files should be placed inside of folders.

What is a Folder?
A folder is a place where you put a group of files to keep those files organized and separate from all of your other files.

What is a File Manager?
A file manager is a place where you store a group of files. The files are usually organized in alphabetical order.


Above is a file cabinet with a bunch of folders inside of it. Note that the folders have sheets of paper inside of them. These sheets of paper are like the files we create and store with our computer.

Here is what the file manager on your computer looks like:


You can create new folders and new documents by clicking on the File Menu in the top menu. You can change the appearance of your file manager by clicking on Edit, then Preferences. You can move files and folders to other folders in your file manager by selecting them in the right (light) workspace and dragging them to where you want in the left (dark) workspace.

A second purpose of computers is to browse the Internet and gather more information to help you build your own business or learn a new skill. A third purpose of your computer is to create and edit images and videos. We will review web browsers, images and videos later in this course.

1.2 Important Computer Terms
Computers have introduced many new terms to the English language. Here are some of the most important computer terms we will cover in this article:

Computer Hardware
The hardware that processes the software. This includes your computer, monitor, keyboard, CPU, RAM and Hard Drive.

Central Processing Unit (CPU) A small chip that processes your data and programs. Should have at least two cores and a speed of at least 1.2 Ghz.


A CPU Chip is the brain of your computer.

Here is a diagram of how the CPU works:


Random Access Memory (RAM) The place where your computer stores data temporarily while the computer is running. RAM is very fast.

Hard Drive (SSD, HDD or eMMC) The place where your computer stores data and programs more permanently. Ideally, you should have at least 64 GB hard drive. SSD are the fastest but HDD is more durable. The hard drive should not be soldered.

Screen size is the width of a computer screen measured at a diagonal. Thus, an 11 inch laptop is actually only 9 inches wide, a 14 inch laptop is only 11 inches wide and a 15 inch laptop is only 13 inches wide. What is the screen size of your computer?


Computer Software
Computer programs, including both application software (such as office programs, web browsers, image editors and games) and the computer operating system.

Startup Program The initial program that runs when you push the On button for your computer. The startup program sets the correct voltages for all of the hardware components before handing the computer over to the operating system. The three most common start up programs are BIOS, UEFI and Coreboot. UEFI is the least secure of these three options but sadly is also the most common.

Operating System Takes over from the startup program and sets all of the software configurations and instructions. The most common, least secure and slowest operating system is Windows. The most secure and fastest operating system is Linux.

Computer Applications (also called apps) Programs for processing documents and data such as office programs, web editors, web browsers, and image editors.

Word processor An office program such as LibreOffice to write common documents. Can do elaborate formatting of text and images.

Text Editor A simple word processor that does not do text formatting. Text editors are sometimes used to teach HTML and CSS. But this requires manually entering all opening and closing HTML brackets. We will therefore use a code editor instead.

Web Code Editor A word processor such as Bluefish intended specifically for building websites. A good code editor will automatically insert opening and closing HTML tags thus reducing errors and reducing the time it will take you to write web pages.

1.3 How a Computer Works
The purpose of a computer is to organize, store and share information. To achieve this goal, a computer has many interacting parts. Just because we use computers all the time, doesn't mean that we understand them. Knowing more about how computers work on the inside will help better understand how to buy a computer and how to use a computer and how to keep your computer from crashing or breaking.

While there is a tendency to focus only on some parts of the computer, such as the Central Processing Unit (CPU) or the Operating System, in fact, each part of a computer is important. One can have the fastest processor, but it will not lead to a fully functional computer if the keyboard for the computer is too narrow to type on. Therefore, when considering computer options, it is important to closely examine all of the components of a computer. The following diagram shows the major parts of a computer with important questions that should be considered for each part:


RAM (Random Access Memory) Internal Temporary Storage
RAM is one of the most important parts of a computer. The more RAM a computer has, the faster it will run and the less likely it is to crash when editing large documents with lots of images. Ideally, a computer should have at least 2 GB of RAM. Many programs, such as the Open Shot video editor require a minimum of 4 GB of RAM. Even programs that do not technically require more than 1 GB of RAM, such as LibreOffice can use the extra RAM when running large documents with dozens of images. Too little RAM means you computer may crash much more frequently causing you to lose any unsaved work.

Here is a picture of the inside of a typical laptop:

The soldered on non-upgradeable RAM are the 4 black squares under the number 2. The removable and upgradeable Solid State Hard Drive is just below the number 4.


What do we mean by temporary RAM versus permanent Hard Drive storage?


Imagine you are at school and your write some important information on a sheet of paper. You need a place to store this sheet of paper while you are taking it home. Where will you put this sheet of paper? The quickest option is to put the paper in your pocket.

You pocket is your temporary storage. Next you might transfer the paper from your pocket to your backpack before you leave school. Your backpack is like the External Storage such as a USB Drive. Then when you get home, you might transfer the sheet of paper from your backpack to the top drawer of your desk at your home. The sheet of paper is now in permanent internal storage.


Internal Hard Drive
The internal Hard Drive, which is where your computer stores your documents, your file manager and your programs, is one of the least understood, yet most important components of a computer. To the left is a Kingston Removable 16 GB SSD card found in some Acer Chromebooks:


In the middle is a picture of a super fast $55 Toshiba 120 GB NVME SSD that can replace the Kingston SSD in a matter of minutes. To the right is a picture of a cheap, slow eMMC storage chip soldered to a circuit board. Avoid soldered eMMC based computers!

Below is a spinning hard disk drive (HDD):


Many students (and even their teachers and parents) mistakenly believe that the limiting factor in a slow computer is the speed of the CPU or the size of the RAM. In fact, in most cases, the limiting factor is the READ/WRITE speed of the Hard Drive. Using a USB 2 stick for a hard drive will slow down your computer to about 40 MB per second. This is even slower than a old fashioned spinning HDD which is about 50 to 100 MB per second.

The typical soldered eMMC hard drives found on most Chromebooks are also slow with a Read/Write speed of about 50 to 100 MB per second. The removable Kingston SSD that comes with the Acer Chromebook 15 has a speed of about 500 MB per second – five to ten times more than HDD or eMMC. But newer NVME SSDs, which cost $50 to $200, can be used to replace the Kingston SSD increasing the speed to 1,000 or more MB per second. Thus, by getting a $200 laptop with a removable SSD hard drive, and then replacing the SSD drive with an NVME SSD drive, a student, parent, teacher or school district can create a laptop that is actually faster than a $2,000 laptop for a total price of under $300.


Therefore, an essential feature to look for in a laptop with a removable, replaceable, upgradeable SSD drive – which would allow students to upgrade their SSD to a high speed NVME SSD that is twice as fast as a normal SSD and 10 times faster than an HDD or eMMC. The replacement hard drive would also have a storage capacity of 120 to 240 GB or more – 5 to 10 times more than the storage capacity of a normal SSD. Sadly, most computers today do not have removable SSD hard drives. Instead, they have eMMC processors – all of which are soldered to the circuit board – meaning they can never be replaced.

What is the smallest hard drive you should consider?
The size of the hard drive is also a very important factor because this is not only where you may store all of your documents, images and videos, but also where you will store your operating system, drivers and application programs. File Size is another huge difference between Windows PCs and Chromebooks. While the Chrome or other Linux operating system is less than 10 GB complete with essential application programs like the LibreOffice word processor and image editor, the Windows operating system complete with all required updates and the MS Office program is nearly 30 GB. The Windows October 2018 Update adds another 5 GB bringing the entire required file size to more than 35 GB! In addition, you should be aware that the actual usable size of any hard drive is about 10 percent less than its advertised size. Therefore, a 32 GB hard drive is actually only 29 GB and a 64 GB drive is actually only 57 GB.

So while a 32 GB hard drive may be large enough to handle a Chromebook or Raspberry Pi Linux operating system complete with all applications, if you want to run the Windows 10 operating system, you will need a hard drive that is at least 64 GB. This is huge problem because many low cost Windows laptops come with a 32 GB eMMC hard drive that is permanently soldered to the mother board of the laptop – making it impossible for these low cost Windows computers to run once all of the required updates are loaded. This is why you need to be extremely careful when looking at low cost Windows laptops.

What is the type of hard drive storage on your computer hard drive?
What is the amount of hard drive storage on your computer hard drive?
Why is an SSD Hard Drive better than an HDD hard drive?
Why is an HDD Hard Drive better than a soldered eMMC hard drive?
What is the type and speed of your computer’s central processing unit?What is the amount of RAM on your computer?