How Computers Work


How do Computers work?

If you are the type of person that wants to know how computers work you’ve come to the right place. My problem is I can’t explain how computers work while standing on one foot, as there are so many components both in hardware and software to get a computer to function today.

You don’t need to know everything about how computers work to understand how computers work.

If someone asked you how to build a house would you explain to them how to make bricks? I wouldn’t. Before I would answer I would first clarify what the person really wants to know. Is it how to structure it to be strong, how to layer the bricks or how to build the foundation? I’m not saying you can build a house without someone making bricks (Unless you build it with wood). It’s just not worth it to get bogged down with too much detail that the person should lose interest or that wasn’t really what he wanted to know to begin with. Obviously if the person was interested in masonry I would explain how to make bricks. Point is what your interest is. Some people are just curious about how computers compute or just hobbyists (I fit into this category). Some may want to buy a computer and just want to make a more educated decision or you may just want to be educated. So I won’t be writing about how to build transistors. (because I don’t know how, but if you know please share it with me.)

There is a ton of information to know how computers work. You don’t have to know how every part functions to understand how computers work so there is no need to get overwhelmed with too much information. First you should know which part it is that interests you most. Is it the operating system the hardware, internet and networking, servers the CPU or everything?  Then you can take one thing at a time and build from there.

Now that we’re past the introduction it’s time to get to how the computer actually works.

First the hardware

Hardware is the part of the computer you can kick.

(I don’t remember where I read that.)


My favorite part of the computer is the CPU. CPU (central processing unit) aka processor is the part that actually computes the data. Without a processor it would not be called a computer. The cpu can be programmed to do almost anything. Truth is it can’t the CPU has very limited capabilities there are only a couple of things it can really do. Processing data is its main job, the reason it can do so much is because it’s what controls all of the hardware. Without any hardware attached it would just be, well a silicon chip without any capabilities. We have an entire section about how a cpu works.


The most important part after the cpu is memory aka RAM (Random Access Memory). It’s not that RAM is really more important than other parts like the hard drive, as you need a both of them to have a  functioning computer. The memory is just very fundamental as it’s used the most. It’s like saying the heart is more important than the lungs. You can understand why someone might say that, but the truth is you can’t live without either.  Computer memory is where programs are loaded before they are executed. The cpu only executes instructions that are on the RAM chip. (At least is listens to someone.)

There are many more components in a computer. There are some components that are necessary just for the computer to function. There are some that are there to do other functions, like a joystick for games, scanners and printers. It is still a working computer without them it  just won’t be as useful.

Take a look at the hardware >>.

Then the software

What exactly is software?

Software is the  nonphysical components of computers, but is just as important. It’s like the soul of the body. Not that software is in anyway spiritual it’s just what gives the computer life even though you can’t touch it.

Computers have many layers of software. The lowest communicates directly with the hardware that called the driver. (We use the word communicate as if it know what its saying.)  On top of that there is the HAL the hardware abstraction layer. Its job is to stand between the operating system and the hardware. The HAL’s purpose is so the operating system doesn’t have do know how to communicate with every type of device out there. Next level is the operating system which is made to offer programs an environment to run in without having to know anything about hardware. Another function of the operating system is to allow more than one program to run at the same time and share hardware with each other. (Imagine 2 cat applications fighting over the computers mouse.)  After the operating system is the application or program like the browser you are using to read this.  You can probably divide the software into more levels, but that’s the basic idea.

More about software. >>

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