-An operating system is the most important software that runs on a computer. It manages the computer's memory, processes, and all of its software and hardware. It also allows you to communicate with the computer without knowing how to speak the computer's language. Without an operating system, a computer is useless.
-Your computer's operating system (OS) manages all of the software and hardware on the computer. Most of the time, there are many different computer programs running at the same time, and they all need to access your computer's central processing unit (CPU), memory, and storage. The operating system coordinates all of this to make sure each program gets what it needs.
-Operating systems usually come preloaded on any computer you buy. Most people use the operating system that comes with their computer, but it's possible to upgrade or even change operating systems.
The three most common operating systems for personal computers are Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS X, and Linux.
The central processing unit (CPU), also called a processor, is located inside the computer case on the motherboard. It is sometimes called the brain of the computer, and its job is to carry out commands. Whenever you press a key, click the mouse, or start an application, you're sending instructions to the CPU.
The CPU is generally a two-inch ceramic square with a silicon chip located inside. The chip is usually about the size of a thumbnail. The CPU fits into the motherboard's CPU socket, which is covered by the heat sink, an object that absorbs heat from the CPU.
A processor's speed is measured in megahertz (MHz), or millions of instructions per second; and gigahertz (GHz), or billions of instructions per second. A faster processor can execute instructions more quickly. However, the actual speed of the computer depends on the speed of many different components—not just the processor.
Video card: The video card is responsible for what you see on the monitor. Most computers have a GPU (graphics processing unit) built into the motherboard instead of having a separate video card. If you like playing graphics-intensive games, you can add a faster video card to one of the expansion slots to get better performance.
Sound card: The sound card, also called an audio card, is responsible for what you hear in the speakers or headphones. Most motherboards have integrated sound, but you can upgrade to a dedicated sound card for higher-quality sound.
Network card: The network card allows your computer to communicate over a network and access the Internet. It can either connect with an Ethernet cable or through a wireless connection (often called Wi-Fi). Many motherboards have built-in network connections, and a network card can also be added to an expansion slot.
Bluetooth card: A Bluetooth dongle: Bluetooth is a technology for wireless communication over short distances. It's often used in computers to communicate with wireless keyboards, mice, and printers. It's often built into the motherboard or included in a wireless network card. For computers that don't have Bluetooth, a USB adapter, called a dongle, can be purchased.
Modem: Once you have your computer, you really don't need much additional hardware to connect to the Internet. The primary piece of hardware you need is a modem.
The type of Internet access you choose will determine the type of modem you need. Dial-up access uses a telephone modem, DSL service uses a DSL modem, cable access uses a cable modem, and satellite service uses a satellite adapter. Your ISP may give you a modem—often for a fee—when you sign a contract, which helps ensure that you have the right kind of modem. However, if you would prefer to shop for a better or less expensive modem, you can choose to buy one separately.
Router: A router is a hardware device that allows you to connect several computers and other devices to a single Internet connection, which is known as a home network. Many routers are wireless, allowing you to easily create a wireless network.
You don't necessarily need to buy a router to connect to the Internet. It's possible to connect your computer directly to your modem using an Ethernet cable. Also, many modems now include a built-in router, so you have the option of creating a network without having to buy more hardware.
Most routers also act as a hardware firewall, which helps prevent others from gaining access to your computer through the Internet.
Network card: A network card is a piece of hardware that allows computers to communicate over a computer network. Most newer computers have a network card built into the motherboard, so it probably isn't something you'll need to purchase. The network card will have an Ethernet port, a wireless connection, or both.
If you have a laptop with a wireless connection, you can access the Internet at any place that offers a Wi-Fi connection. Many restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, hotels, and other businesses offer free Wi-Fi. In addition, many cities provide free Wi-Fi in public areas such as parks and downtown areas.
Setting up a network
Before you set up your home network, you'll need to have a working Internet connection. The exact process of creating a network will vary depending on the type of computer you have, as well as what type of Internet service you have. You should use the instructions provided by your ISP (or the ones included with your router) when setting up your network. The following steps will give you an idea of what to expect.
If you have a separate router, connect it to the modem, and make sure it has power through the power adapter. If you have a combined router and modem, you won't have to do this.
Connect all nonwireless devices to your router using Ethernet cables. You may also need to connect your computer to the router until setup is complete, even if your computer has a wireless card.
From your computer, you will need to create the SSID and password or passphrase for your router. You now have a wireless network that you can begin connecting wireless devices to.
On each wireless device, you will need to go to your network settings and select the name (SSID) of the network you just created. You will then be prompted to type your password.
At this point, your home network setup is complete. If your network isn't working, the instructions from your ISP should include some troubleshooting tips. You can also call your ISP's technical support number if you're still having trouble.
When you start up a new computer for the first time, it will walk you through several steps to set up and personalize it. These steps usually only take a few minutes, and some of them are optional. The exact steps will vary depending on what type of operating system you are using, but here are a few things you will usually be able to do.
Selecting a location
Choose a language and location: Your operating system may have many different languages installed, so you'll need to choose the one you want to use. You may also have the option of choosing your location.
Watch a welcome video: Your computer may play a brief welcome video during the setup process, so it's a good idea to turn your speakers on to get the full experience.
Create a profile or account name: Your computer will need to have at least one account name that you'll use to sign in. You can also choose to create a password for extra security. If others will be using the computer, you can set up separate accounts for each person later on.
Choose a wireless network: If you have an existing wireless network, you can select it during the setup process. If you don't have one, you can skip this step (we'll talk about Internet and network settings in the Connecting to the Internet lesson).
Register your computer: You'll probably have the option of registering your computer, which will send your name, address, and other information to the computer company. If you don't want to register at this point, you can skip it.
After unpacking the computer and peripherals
Unpack the monitor and computer case from the box. Remove any plastic covering or protective tape. Place the monitor and computer case where you want on a desk or work area.
Think about where you want your desk or work area to be located, and where you want your monitor, computer case, and other hardware to be. Be sure to place your computer case in an area that is well ventilated and that has good air flow. This will help to prevent overheating.
Locate the monitor cable. There are several types of monitor cables, so the one on your computer may not look like the one in the image at the left. If you're having trouble finding your monitor cable, refer to the instruction manual for your computer. (If you have an all-in-one computer that's built into the monitor, you can skip to Step 4).
Connecting the monitor cable to the VGA port
Connect one end of the cable to the monitor port on the back of the computer case and the other end to the monitor. Hand tighten the plastic-covered screws on the monitor cable to secure it.
Unpack the keyboard and determine whether it uses a USB (rectangular) connector or a PS/2 (round) connector. If it uses a USB connector, plug it into any of the USB ports on the back of the computer. If it uses a PS/2 connector, plug it into the purple keyboard port on the back of the computer.
Plugging the mouse into a USB port
Unpack the mouse and determine whether it uses a USB (rectangular) connector or a PS/2 (round) connector. If it uses a USB connector, plug it into any of the USB ports on the back of the computer. If it uses a PS/2 connector, plug it into the green mouse port on the back of the computer.
If you have external speakers or headphones, you can connect them to your computer's audio port (either on the front or the back of the computer case). Many computers have color-coded ports. Speakers or headphones connect to the green port, and a microphone connects to the pink port. The blue port is the line in, which can be used with other types of devices.
Some speakers, headphones, and microphones have USB connectors instead of the usual audio plug. These can be connected to any USB port. In addition, many computers have speakers or microphones built into the monitor.
Plugging the power cable into a surge protector
Locate the two power supply cables that came with your computer. Plug the first power supply cable into the back of the computer case, and then into a surge protector. Then, using the other cable, connect the monitor to the surge protector.
Plugging the surge protector into a wall outlet
Finally, plug the surge protector into a wall outlet. You may also need to turn on the surge protector if it has a power switch.
Like laptops, tablet computers are designed to be portable. However, they provide a different computing experience. The most obvious difference is that tablet computers don't have keyboards or touchpads. Instead, the entire screen is touch-sensitive, allowing you to type on a virtual keyboard and use your finger as a mouse pointer.
Tablet computers can't necessarily do everything traditional computers can do. For many people, a traditional computer like a desktop or laptop is still needed in order to use some programs. However, the convenience of a tablet computer means it may be ideal as a second computer. Below are some of the main features you can expect with a tablet computer.
Mobile OS: Different types of tablets use different operating systems. Examples include Android and iOS. You'll usually be able to download free updates to your OS as they become available.
Solid-state drives: Tablet computers usually use solid-state drives, which allow the computer to boot up and open programs more quickly. They are also more durable than hard disk drives.
Wi-Fi and 3G/4G: Because they are optimized for Internet use, tablet computers have built-in Wi-Fi. For a monthly fee, you can also purchase a 3G or 4G data plan, allowing you to access the Internet from almost anywhere.
Bluetooth: In order to save space, tablet computers have very few ports. If you want to use an external keyboard or other peripherals, they will often use a wireless Bluetooth connection.
Touchpad: A touchpad—also called a trackpad—is a touch-sensitive pad that lets you control the pointer by making a drawing motion with your finger. Many touchpads now include multi-touch gestures, which allow you to perform specific tasks by making gestures with more than one finger. For example, a pinch gesture is often used to zoom in or out.
Battery: Every laptop has a battery, which allows you to use the laptop when it's not plugged in. Whenever you plug in the laptop, the battery recharges. Another benefit of having a battery is that it can provide backup power to the laptop if the power goes out.
AC adapter: A laptop usually has a specialized power cable called an AC adapter, which is designed to be used with that specific type of laptop. Some of these cables use magnetic MagSafe connectors that will safely pull out if someone trips over the power cable. This helps to prevent damage to the cable and the laptop.
Ports: Most laptops have the same types of ports desktop computers have (such as USB), although they usually have fewer ports to save space. However, some ports may be different, and you may need an adapter in order to use them. For example, the monitor port is often a Mini DisplayPort, which is a smaller version of the normal DisplayPort.