Special Note – This is the last of a 5 part series entitled, “What The Heck Is Inside My Computer?” This series is designed to give you an idea of exactly what the major parts of your computer are, what they do, and what they look like. Hey, we’ll even hook some of ’em up for you so you can see how simple do-it-yourself upgrades can be.
To get the most from this series, make sure you watch the included videos. We did this series with the idea that the videos would be the main attraction, so that’s where you’ll find most of the information and demos. OK, ready to go?
What The Heck Is Inside My Computer? – Part 5 – Everything Else
Hey, we’re almost done!
Over the last 4 installments of this series, we’ve stripped the mystery away from the major components living inside your PC – your hard drive, RAM, CPU, and the motherboard. Now, let’s take a peek at the rest of the stuff. Note that for most computers, the components below will actually be integrated right into the motherboard itself. However, you can generally upgrade the parts to something better if you’re not happy with what you get out of the box.
Again, we urge you to refer to our video for a more complete picture of what everything is and how it all works together.
Note – When we’re talking about “replacing” an integrated component, we mean you plug a new card into one of your internal expansion slots and stop using or disable the onboard unit (Usually done via the system BIOS or through Windows)
1. Video Card – This is what enables you to hook a monitor to your computer – without a video card, you couldn’t use a monitor, and let me tell ya – that brings a whole new level of frustration to your computing experience!
It’s tough to say just where you’ll find this card. On a typical low to mid-range computer, it’s generally built right into the motherboard. However, on many higher end systems (or older systems) it’s installed in an expansion slot.
The more horsepower your video card packs, the more likely it is to be plugged into a slot. Why? High end video cards often need extra memory, heat sinks, and even fans – so integrating the card into the motherboard isn’t always practical.
If it’s not integrated into the board, you’ll find your video card generally plugs into a PCI Express slot. If your computer is a couple years old the card may possibly use an AGP slot (If it’s really old, it might plug into a normal PCI slot). You can tell exactly where your video card actually is on the board since the business end of it has a monitor output on the back.
Of all the things we’re discussing in this section, your video card is probably the most likely to get replaced. Maybe you want a dual head card so you can expand your desktop onto two monitors, maybe your current card can’t keep up with your gaming addiction, or maybe you simply need a bit more resolution for a new monitor you picked up. Whatever the reason, video cards are generally pretty easy to install, and we show you how right in the video.
2. Sound card – This is almost guaranteed to be built into your motherboard. I haven’t seen a computer that lacked an onboard sound card since the days a 486 was considered cutting edge technology.
As you probably guessed, your sound card controls your computer’s audio. From your speaker output to your mic input, the sound card is the go-to guy.
The good news is that, for the most part, this isn’t an item that usually needs an upgrade or replacement. The one included on the board is generally pretty good and only the audiophiles among us would consider changing it.
3. Ethernet card – Although these haven’t been integrated into the motherboard quite as long as sound cards have, chances are if your computer is less than 6 or 7 years old, you have an on-board Ethernet card. This component simply allows you to plug a network cable into the back of your computer so you can enjoy all that high speed access your ISP is dishing out.
About the only reason you’d ever need a third party card is if the one in your computer stopped working. (Note, failure is more common than you may think – your ethernet line generally isn’t protected against surges, so fried cards aren’t all that unusual).
4. Misc Cards – In addition to the three common cards mentioned above, there are a whole host of other cards that can be installed into your PC’s expansions slots.
You can get cards to add USB ports, cards to add serial ports, cards to add hard drive ports, and dozens more. (Maybe hundreds if you go back in time a bit.)
Alright, that’s the end of our series. Although this foray into our computer’s innards isn’t meant to turn you into a computer engineer, we hope it helped take some of the mystery out of what’s lurking inside your PC and how it all works together.