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Computers - a beginner's guide

- Free technical support and assistance when you buy a desktop or laptop computer from Dell. Check out the numerous special offers and customise your machine for your own needs.

Computers - a guide to what's inside

Does talk of computers leave your brain befuddled? Do you not know your hard drive from your floppy? Do you think that RAM is a male sheep? If so, then this article is for you. Read this ShoppingTrolley guide to what's inside your computer and you will know exactly what to look for when buying a computer.

PC World sell an extensive selection of PC's and peripherals (as described below) and often have internet only offers featuring deals that are not available in store.

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Apple Store
- Buy the Power Mac, eMac, iMac and the new iPod online from the Apple Store.
Mac Warehouse
- The biggest resellers of all things Apple in the UK, including the MacBook Air, Apple MacBook, Apple Desktops, Laptops, servers and accessories.
- Discount prices on new and reconditioned computers and laptops, together with monitors, servers, software and other peripherals. Featured products include discounted products from Dell and HP, in many cases supported by 3 year manufacturer's warranties. Free delivery on all orders.

Processor (CPU)

The processor is at the very heart of your computer. The faster the processor, and all other things being equal, the faster your computer will work. The processor is also referred to as the CPU, standing for Central Processing Unit. Processors are primarily manufactured by Intel, who produce the Pentium, Celeron and the new Core CPUs; and AMD, who produce the Athlon, Sempron and the Turion CPU's. (Turions are just used in laptops).

Many computers now offer "dual-core" processors. A dual core processor increases the performance of your computer - it's like have two processors working together instead of just one, to make multi tasking quicker and better.


The motherboard is the main circuit board inside a computer. All the other cards in the computer, together with the processor and the RAM (see below) are attached directly to the motherboard. Other peripherals such as hard drives and cd / dvd drives are connected to the motherboard via ribbon cables, so called because they are flat and look like a ribbon in shape.


RAM, standing for "Random Access Memory" is often referred to as your computer's memory. It is memory that is used for loading data, running applications and performing calculations. Most types of RAM are volatile, which means that the data in the RAM is lost when the computer is switched off. Having extra RAM in the computer will speed up its performance and enhance multi tasking. Extra RAM can be added to your computer by slotting it into slots on the motherboard. There are different types of RAM, and the type that you require is dependent on the motherboard inside your computer. Companies such as Crucial have applications that you can download to identify the correct RAM for your motherboard, making it easier to purchase more.

Hard Drive

The hard drive is the media that stores (hopefully permanently) the data and applications on your computer. It is wise to back up data frequently as hard drives can fail now and again. Many computers nowadays have two hard drives fitted. which offers an inbuilt back up system, should you choose to make use of it, although it is still worth having a separate back up that can be accessed should your computer fail to boot up. The size of a hard drive is measured in GB, and the larger it is, the more data it can store. Most hard drives are manufactured by Seagate, Maxtor, Western Digital or Samsung.

Graphics Card

A graphics card is a separate processor entirely devoted to displaying graphics and moving polygons (many sided shapes) around your screen. Most of the modern graphics cards support 3D graphics, being supported by DirectX, which is now the leading 3D graphics interface. If your computer has a dedicated graphics card, it will attach to the motherboard via a slot, usually the AGP or Advanced Graphics Port, and will have its own RAM for data processing in addition to the computer system's RAM.

In budget systems, the graphics processors may be "integrated". This means that they use the computer system's RAM instead of their own, which leads to a loss in performance when playing games. However, it is usually possible to upgrade an integrated system with a dedicated card, if desired. However, if you only use your computer for word processing and the internet, this probably won't be necessary.

Sound Card

A sound card is a separate board that plugs into a slot on the motherboard, that enables the computer to output sounds to the speakers, and also enables you to record sounds to the hard drive.

Many systems have integrated sound, provided by audio processors built into the motherboard, that purport to emulate the Sound Blaster (the de facto stand in sound production). However, integrated sound uses more system resources and is of lower quality than the sound produced by a separate sound card.

Remote Access

If you would like to be able to access your computer from another computer anywhere in the world, then you need remote access software.

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Rock Direct
- High end laptops for those who need to use intensive applications such as video processing on the move, or play the latest games with cutting edge graphics.
Micro Warehouse
- Huge selection of keenly priced laptops, desktops, pc monitor and peripherals. Check out the clearance section for offers on hard drives, CPUs, complete computers, displays, networking and more.
- Get a faster computer for a fraction of the price of a new one. At Crucial, the world leaders in RAM, you can buy Manufacturer-direct upgrades. Adding more RAM is one of the most cost effective ways to speed up your computer. Free UK delivery.
- Competitive pricing on over 20,000 computer products and peripherals, including their own brand Systemax PCs, servers and laptops.
Laptops Direct
- Netbooks from under £160 including the ASUS Eee and the Acer Aspire One, together with cashback on HP laptops, and powerful home laptops to replace your desktop such as the Acer Aspire 4920 Gemstone.
- Over 16,000 IT products at cheap prices. You can custom build your own PC and buy any peripherals you need. Free delivery if you spend over £100.
- Low priced components including CD & DVD Rewriters, Hard Drives, Keyboards/Mice, Memory, LCD Monitors, Motherboards, Printers, Processors and Wireless Networking.
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- All the help you need to identify the correct RAM for your machine. Also Smartmedia, Compact Flash, Memory Sticks, Multimedia and Secure Digital.
Premier Gent
- Specialises in hi-tech innovative accessories, eg computers, digital cameras, notebooks, components, consoles and games.
Waterproof Keyboard
- Completely waterproof keyboard which is also dust proof. It can be used on boats, in laboratories, in fact anywhere where it may be subjected to contaminants or liquids.
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Touch Typing Now
- Software that will train you in Touch Typing, so that you will be able to type at 70 words per minute.