Ever wondered what goes on inside your computer, or why it
doesn't always do what you expect? Like a magic genie,
just give your command and off it goes to do the work to edit that
document, run your calculation, change that picture, or play a
movie. Inside the computer are millions of parts and thousands of
programs all working together to fulfil your wish.
Unfortunately a failure in even one small part or in a program will
cause errors or crash the computer.
The complexity in a modern PC is almost impossible for the brain
to comprehend. Try getting your head around the scale of the
current desktop computer system as represented by the following
- When the first microprocessor chip was introduced by Intel in
1975 it had 2,300 transistors, the current versions have more than
- The Hard Drive in your computer, which stores all your programs
and files, is an electro- mechanical device that spins at around
7200 revolutions per minute. The read/write head floats above the
spinning disk at a height of only 3 nanometres. By way of
comparison, if the disk were the size of the earth then the head
would float only 25 cm above the earth. Not much space for
- A typical Windows 7 computer has more than 80,000 program files
and over 200,000 individual program settings which are stored in
the computer "registry". Errors in any of these files or
settings can cause the computer to malfunction.
- Windows 7 can work with thousands of different pieces of
hardware and comes with in built support for more than 5000
different types of hardware from files stored in its
library. These hardware files are called drivers.
Thankfully, computer systems are relatively reliable despite
their complexity. Lets then look briefly at some
of key components inside the computer and where problems can
The Central Processing Unit.
Also called the CPU or brains of the whole system.
These are now incredibly tiny and powerful. Smaller
components means the computer can be faster, more capable and use
less power. Fortunately the central processing unit is one of the
most reliable parts of the computer and can be expected to last
years, even with 24 hour operation. Usually other parts of the
computer will fail before the central processor does.
The Hard Disk.
The hard disk is the permanent memory store insider the
computer. Being electro- mechanical it is more prone to error
than the non moving or so called "Solid State" parts such as the
CPU. Unfortunately hard disk failure will result in loss of
your data, so it is a major catastrophe when it does fail. That is
why it is so important to constantly save your data to a back up
device. Minor hard disk failures can also cause
glitches in the programs which can look like software faults.
The operating system is like the autonomous nerve control system
of the brain keeping a watch on everything and keeping things
organised. With the Windows operating system, Microsoft
has invested billions of dollars in time and effort to ensure
the software is reliable. Microsoft has an army of testers, to try
out every function and combination of functions to find mistakes
and correct these before the product is launched. Even
after launch continual updates are used to correct errors when they
Microsoft has also built in a range of self checking and
correcting features into Windows 7 that automatically fix common
errors when they occur. The system configuration is
automatically backed up on a regular basis and when any changes or
updates are made to the computer. In the event of a failure of the
system settings the previous state of the computer can be
The great strength of the Microsoft Windows system is its ability
to support a wide range of hardware and software from thousands of
suppliers. This gives the Microsoft windows system its
incredible flexibility to suit a wide range of needs, and also
fosters competition amongst hardware suppliers which keeps prices
down. It is a considerable challenge for both
hardware suppliers and Microsoft to keep the system functioning
smoothly when supporting a huge range of different types of
Considering the millions of parts, program files, settings and
hardware types that make up a modern computer it's no wonder they
sometimes fail. In next month's article we will talk
about what the average user can do to help overcome computer
problems and seek appropriate help when problems do occur.