What is a Computer Hardware?

Computer technology is developing faster than any other field. For this reason it is also impossible that any document can always reflect the current state of the art. This is also the case here. The state of this documentation corresponds essentially to the state of the home PC market in the first quarter of 1998.

What is hardware?

According to the encyclopedia hardware is a generic term for the mechanical equipment of a computer system. The hardware includes all electronic and mechanical components of the central unit and the connected peripherals. In a nutshell, hardware is everything you can touch on the computer (at least if there is no power in it).

The PC

A “personal computer” is nothing more than a workstation PC, which just a few years ago stood in stark contrast to the “impersonal” mainframe computer. In addition to the IBM-compatible PC discussed here, there are others, such as Apple Macintosh or Alpha workstations, which usually have a specialized meaning.

Usually one sees a PC only from the outside: A screen, a keyboard, mouse, printer, perhaps still scanner or the like and a more or less large, mysterious, mostly grey housing. Anyone who has ever opened this case will have wondered for the first time how such a tangle of cables and electronics ultimately makes a text program appear on the screen.


All PC components must be “fastened” somewhere and cannot float freely in space. This task is performed by the motherboard. In addition to inserting cards and cables, its task is to control the data exchange between all components. It or the bus system integrated into it ensures that the bits reach their destination at all, e.g. the main memory.

Currently there are two basically different types of mainboards on the market: Socket-7 for all Pentium- and Pentium-compatible processors and Pentium II for the so-called Slot-1. Since these two processor types are fundamentally different, this also applies to the mainboards (see also section Processors).

One more word about bus systems: On a newer motherboard there seem to be two bus systems. On the one hand the older ISA bus, on the other hand the faster PCI bus. In reality, however, it is only one PCI bus that carries a few slots for ISA cards for compatibility reasons (contrary to the 33 MHz of the PCI bus, an ISA card only runs at 8 MHz).

These bus systems are particularly important for the user with regard to the expansion cards, because there are different slots for each bus. Graphics cards are usually designed for the PCI bus because of the required speed, but most cards are still available for the ISA bus. With the Pentium II boards, the AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) was introduced, which is supposed to speed up the graphic display enormously.

Then there is another difference between mainboards: The form factor, i.e. the dimensions of the board. A distinction is made between Baby-AT (BAT) and ATX, where the ATX guidelines specify exactly where which socket is to be located and so you can easily install any ATX mainboard into any ATX case without any problems, but this should only be interesting for DIY enthusiasts.

On the motherboard there are apart from the slots for cards, RAM and processor mostly the following components:


The chipset controls (also) the data traffic on the mainboard as well as the external data traffic. An example of a chipset is the 430TX from Intel.

Floppy controller

It enables communication with a maximum of two floppy disk drives.

E-IDE Controller

This component allows access to “normal” hard disks with EIDE interface. In the past, this controller was usually located on its own card.


The basic input-output system is housed in a clearly labelled chip. It contains all important routines for data communication in the PC and provides for the self-test of the PC during start-up. It also contains the setup program of the computer in which important hardware settings are made.

The Processor

The heart of every PC is its processor. Calculation and calculation are done here. Always with 0 and 1 and 1 and 0 … From all these logical operations with binary numbers finally the letter is created there in the text program. The clock frequency of a processor indicates how many operations it can perform in one second. For a processor with 233 MHz this is 233,000,000! In one second.

Overview in the processor jungle

In the area where Intel used to rest quietly on its monopoly, new names have come since 1995: Companies such as AMD and Cyrix have since brought a breath of fresh air to the field of microprocessors and, at the same time, to countless product names; the processor jungle is perfect. Roughly speaking, the current range of processors for PCs can be divided into three groups: Intel Pentium II Intel Pentium and Compatible Intel Pentium Pro

Pentium II processorIn the area of the Pentium II, Intel is (still) the sole supplier. The Pentium II differs enormously from its predecessors: the processor is no longer a flat square, but rather resembles a plug-in card. Thus, it no longer sits on a socket, but in a slot, slot 1.

Pentium processor All Pentiums and Pentium compatibles are located in socket-7 (original name: socket-7). This is probably the biggest mess of names: Whether you say AMD K5-200 or IBM/Cyrix 6×86 PR200+ or Intel Pentium 200 MHz, you ultimately mean the same thing. You can’t tell from a PC whether an AMD or an Intel processor is doing its job inside. You can only feel it when you buy it: Intel CPUs are much more expensive than their competitors from AMD or Cyrix. Due to this price advantage of about 25 percent, it will probably take a while until the Pentium-II will have replaced the Socket-7.

But what does the processor actually do? It calculates. No more, but no less. It calculates everything that is generated in the PC. However, others are responsible for things like communication with the hard disk or the screen display. It is therefore fundamentally wrong to believe that the speed of a PC is only related to the processor. The fastest processor will not get going if, for example, it is slowed down by a slow hard disk.

Another term always appears in connection with processors: CPU, the abbreviation for Central Processing Unit. Originally, the term CPU meant the unit of processor and memory, but today the term CPU is almost always identical with the word processor.

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