Computer Hardware Suppliers

Computer Hardware

Before heading into building a computer or just working with the hardware, obviously you need to get it supplies from somewhere. So here is a list of some of the major computer hardware suppliers today.

Tiger Direct -icon A personal favorite. In business for over 20 years(according to the site), Tiger Direct iconhas a huge variety of pc components as well as ready-to-use systems. They also sell bare-bones kits, which are a good start for a someone just beginning understanding how to build a computer. They easily have some of the best prices around on hardware and basically everything else they sell. Much of the time they have free shipping(not all of the time) and in certain states you may not even have to pay sales tax, thus you get an extremely good deal. They also have good customer service and fast delivery times. They even include explanations of parts on their website. On a side-note, CompUSA is now part of Tiger Direct.

Newegg – Another excellent retailer in the same vein as Tiger Direct. One of best online tech retails, hands down.  Their prices are in line with Tiger Direct, so they are very competitive. They have a vast variety of parts and whole systems; basically anything you can think of.  And just like Tiger Direct, they sell more than just computer supplies. Both of these great stores seem to have the same values that are the basis of their business model; they are very customer service oriented.

Amazon -  What doesn’t Amazon sell? Amazon is the go-to internet retailer of choice, and the reasons are obvious. They have very competitive prices and fast. They are well-known and trusted, something very important for an internet company. They also have great return policies if you are not satisfied with what your purchase. While they are not necessarily tech-focused, they still offer a vast product line and great prices; another recommended retailer.

Bestbuy – Few people have not heard of BestBuy. It’s an old-fashioned brick and mortar biz that’s been around for years. While it is a competitive business and has an online presence, it tends to be more expensive than online retailers, such as Tiger Direct and Newegg.

So if you are buying a computer or building a computer, then these are some of the best computer hardware suppliers around. The two favorites are Tiger Direct and Newegg by far; they offer a huge variety of products, customer service is good, shipping is usually fast, and the prices are seriously hard to beat. These are recommended. While Amazon is recommended as an online retailer in general.

However, whichever online company you choose to do business with, ALWAYS do research on them before your first purchase. Check forums and the BBB for other customers’experiences. This could save you much pain and frustration later on if you find out that the company you used is fraudulent. The internet is still FULL of shady websites and that is not likely to change anytime soon. Other than that, continue on with learning computer hardware basics, and if you can, practice with the hardware itself. Experience is always the best teacher.

Bytes and Hertz

bits, bytes

You will not be able to get a full understanding of computer hardware basics without knowing how their capabilities are actually measured. Knowing how to tell how a piece of hardware performs when comparing it to others is very useful when buying your own or helping someone find a good deal. Thus, let us review some of the main terms used to describe the speed and capacity of pc hardware.

Byte Me and…

You many not really understand what they are all about(or you do and that’s why you’re interested in this site in the first place), but you have probably seen them before. Bits, the 1’s and 0’s running across the computer screens on movies or TV shows when a virus supposedly attacks a computer or something. Believe it or not, all of the logic behind computers revolves around these little 1’s and 0’s. These bits are the smallest unit of memory or informational storage in any computer and either have a value of 1 or 0.  1 means that the section of memory holding the bit is set to “yes” or “true”, while 0 means  that it is “no” or “false.”  A bit is “true” when an electric current passes through it; it is then on.

Bits are used when describing how much information it transferred by a piece of hardware at a single time.  You usually hear of CPU’s and how they process 32 to 64 bits at a given time nowadays. However, you usually find memory stated as kilobytes(210), megabytes(220) , gigabytes(230), and terabytes(240).  So, for example, one kilobyte is 1,024 bytes and one megabyte is 1,048,576 bytes. Many people erroneously say that a kilobyte is 1,000 bytes or a megabyte is 1,000,000 bytes.  Remember, bytes measured as powers of 2, a binary system. This is different from the decimal system we use for counting, which uses powers of 10.

Examples:

Computer disk drives: Storage capacity for magnetic drives is usually between 250 gigabytes and 4 terabytes. You will not really see anything under 250 gigabytes anymore. Hard disk drives’ capacities are higher , in general, than solid-state drives’, which are available in up to 2 terabyte capacities .  Data transfer rate is also different. The current hard disk drives can transfer data at up to around 140MB(megabytes) per second. Current solid-state drives can transfer data up to around 600MB per second.

…It Hertz

The Hertz measures how many cyclical actions are completed in a second , a frequency of how much something happens. CPU’s today are usually between 1 Gigahertz(phones, netbooks, tablets) and 6 gigahertz(high-end computers). Of course the higher the rate, or clock speed, the faster the hardware processes data. In one cycle, the processor does everything needed in order to receive data and transmit commands. CPU’s and memory modules, etc, need to have a speed rating compatible with the motherboard. They must be able to operate at the speed of the motherboard.

Examples:

As previously indicated, computer processors are usually between 1Gigaherz and 6Gigahertz. The standard clock speed for DDR 3 RAM at present is between 100Megahertz and 266Megahertz. Video cards have clock speeds from around 166Megahertz to 5700Megahertz

The preceding was a general explanation of bytes and hertz. A lot more can be discussed when talking about these topics. Further your research, because they are important things to know and necessary when developing an understanding of computer hardware basics.

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Computer Hard Drive

January 18, 2013 under Computer Components

A critical component of any computer today is the hard drive. The hard drive is hardware that stores data on your computer so that programs can be run and use your system’s hardware resources. Your files such as photos, videos, and music are stored on the hard drive. Computer hard drives have come a long way since their beginning. Compared to then, they can hold massive amounts of data, they are much smaller, and they are much less expensive. Really, throughout their history, their cost has continued to decrease while their storage capacity increases. This is definitely good for the consumer.

We will discuss several general topics about hard drives that will be good to know when learning computer hardware basics. These will include the main types on the market today, physical characteristics, and some of the inner workings of them.

Hard drives can be either internal or external. The most common for years now have been magnetic, SATA and PATA drives. These are very fragile, mechanical drives that are the standard in computers. Recently, however, a newer technology has started making an impact on the HDD (hard disk drive) market, Solid-State drives. We will discuss main points about both.

Magnetic Hard Drives

There are three main parts to SATA/PATA hard drives. First, the hard disk is made of platters, or disks, that store data. The second main component is the host adapter, usually found on the motherboard, which allows the computer to understand the data being transferred from the hard drive. Finally, you have the controller chip. As its name suggest, it controls the functions of the hard drive. It controls the motors that spin the discs and receives signals sent by the drive. On a semi-side note, PATA stands for Parallel Advanced Technology Attachment and uses a 40-pin connector for parallel data transfers. SATA, Serial Advanced Technology Attachment, uses a newer 7-pin connector for serial data transfer.

The inside of hard disk drives are extremely sensitive to small debris and will crash or malfunction if contaminated. Therefore, they are sealed before being sold. The circular platters need to be totally dirt and dust free for the read/write heads to extract and transfer data. The read/write head is located on a mechanical arm that moves it across one side of a platter, allowing it to find specific data addresses on the disc. This platter is closely situated near other platters to form the shape of a cylinder. One head is associated to one specific side of a platter. So if there are 3 platters in the hard drive, there will be a total of six heads. Each disc platter is divided into tracks that spiral around their surface. These tracks, in turn, are divided into sectors that can hold 512 bytes of data. The controller understands the layout of the disc and receives instructions from the BIOS when reading and writing data to and from the platters. On the other hand, the BIOS must receive information from the controller to understand the layout of the drive.

File systems are put on the tracks to group certain amounts of memory into clusters so that the hard drives can receive unique addresses for data to be stored and found. This being the case, two or more files cannot occupy one single sector. This means that once a file is using a sector, if there is still more memory in that sector that is not being used, it can never be used, due to address limitations. This inefficiency will result in data waste. This works the same way for clusters created by the file system. But since clusters are larger than sectors, even more data is wasted.

Internal Hard Drive & External Hard Drive:

 

Whereas the conventional disk drives discussed above are susceptible to physical damage due to their moving parts and fragility within the relationship between the heads and platters, solid-state drives have no moving parts at all. Think of a flash drive (or thumb drive/jump drive) when thinking about a SSD. These newer devices use integrated circuits to store data and are considerably faster than older magnetic disks when reading and writing data. There are several downsides to Solid-State drives at present. First, they are considerably more expensive than magnetic disk drives with less memory storage. Also, as data is accessed, it shortens the useful life of the drive itself. However, as development becomes more efficient, the pricing will decrease, and the capabilities will increase.

 

Those are the main computer hard drives available today. Future posts will go more in-depth about the characteristics of each. In your quest for learning computer hardware basics, continue to research on your own these components. Hard drives are complex, just as computers are. One post could not hope to cover all you can know about them.

Solid-State Hard Drive:

Source 1:
Quentin Docter, et al. CompTIA A+ Complete Study Guide. 2009

Source 2:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid-state_drive

Source 3:
My brain

What Is a Motherboard? – Part One

June 6, 2012 under Computer Components

So you are ready to start buying your computer hardware to build your first computer. That is great. Your journey to learn computer hardware basics starts with the board that births all other circuit boards, or something similar to that. If you have no motherboard, you have no computer. The type you choose directly dictates the other hardware you will be getting for your computer. So what is a motherboard, and what are some of its characteristics? The following information will explain what a motherboard(or system board or mainboard) is and the major parts it has, in general. Due to this topic's complexity, it will be divided into multiple posts.

The motherboard physically connects all other components, thus allowing a computer to run as a whole. It is usually located either at the side or the bottom of a computer case. Of course, how a system board fits in a case is very important. That is why you will want to make sure what case you are getting conforms to the size of your board.

System board form factors are classified as ATX, BTX, or NLX(the major ones used today). ATX boards are most popular today. They are designed to run cooler and allow full-length expansion cards to be installed. Micro ATX boards can work with normal-sized ATX and smaller ATX cases. They are similar in design to their bigger sibling, just smaller. Of course, with less surface space, they have less space for memory, expansion cards, integrated components, etc. Also, they are designed to require less energy, using smaller power supplies. So, adding USB peripherals(which use energy from the computer if they do not have there own power adapter), can eventually stress out the power supply. NLX boards are mainly used for more horizontal computer cases. Expansion cards are placed on sideways expansion slots. Therefore, expansion cards sit parallel to the motherboard. Finally, BTX motherboards were released a few years ago. They allow for better cooling using passive heat sinks. This also allows for a quieter system, as less fans are needed.

So what are the major parts of a motherboard? Here is a list below with a quick description of each.

  • Chipset - Circuits integrated to the motherboard using a Northbridge and Southbridge(data paths) to allow the CPU to communicate between the system board and other components.
  • Expansion slots – These are ports where you install components to the mainboard, like video cards, network cards, RAM, etc. These use buses to communicate with the CPU.
  • Power connectors – These feed power into internal components from the power supply.
  • Disk Drive Connectors – These connect the hard drive and other disk drives to your the mainboard
  • Keyboard connector – These connects a keyboard to your computer.
  • Peripheral ports – These connect peripherals, such as a game controller or microphone.
  • BIOS – This is firmware(a type of software) used to run a test(POST) to make sure components are working. It then starts the boot processor of your computer until your operating system takes over. It has an interface where you can change important settings for your computers components, among other things.
  • CMOS battery – This allows the BIOS to always have power running to it, even when the computer is off.  This is so CMOS memory can store user settings and specified component parameters for the BIOS.
  • Jumpers, DIP switches – These are used to allow the correct electrical voltage to transfer to the computer hardware on the motherboard.
  • Firmware – This is software that is actually encoded into computer hardware that can be run without instructions from an operating system. The BIOS uses this type of software to run before an operating system, such as Windows, starts.

Describing in detail the components of a motherboard is out of the scope of this post. However, we will start trying to tackle that in part two of "What Makes a Motherboard?" in a future post. In any case, this is a good start to understanding what a system board is and what it is made up of. Continue researching so that you may take your computer hardware basics knowledge to new heights!