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IT Made EZ Episode 1: The Basics of a Computer

Welcome to IT Made EZ where we take you from zero to proficient in information technology focused on a helpdesk position.

Check out the video and take the quiz below to see what you’ve learned!

If you prefer to read instead of watch videos, you can read the entire script below the video.

The Basics of a Computer – it’s comprised of pretty much two things — hardware and software.

Let’s get started with the hardware list.

First item is the hard drive – this is where all your data is stored.

A computer can be turned off and your information will still be there when you turn it back on.

One thing to note is that Windows 10 doesn’t run great on traditional hard drives. An SSD is recommended. SSD stands for solid state drive. There are no moving parts and it uses flash memory so the read and write times are a lot faster than traditional hard drives that have spinning platters. The most common speed of those drives is 7200 RPM and that runs okay, but there are also 5400 RPM drives and they cannot run Windows 10 properly. Unfortunately, that does not stop manufacturers from selling them with Windows 10 installed, so you need to be careful when purchasing a new computer.

One other thing to note is a newer kind of hard drive you might run into called NVMe which stands for non-volatile memory express. If you open a computer tower and don’t see anything that resembles a hard drive, it might have an NVMe chip connected directly on the motherboard whereas other hard drives are connected with what’s called a SATA cable.

Next up is the processor, also called the CPU which stands for central processing unit – this handles all requests sent to the computer by you and by your software. It controls how fast a process can be completed. Most processors are made by either Intel or AMD.

Moving onto the memory, also called RAM which stands for random access memory – this temporarily holds processes that are currently running. It controls how many processes can be running at one time. Lots of memory with a slow processor means a computer can do a lot of things very slowly. A fast processor with very little memory could theoretically do one or two things very quickly but freeze up if you try to open too many programs.

Bringing everything together is the motherboard or system board – this connects all of the internal and external parts of your computer. Unless a device is wireless, everything for your computer ultimately gets plugged into the motherboard one way or another. Even if a device is wireless like a Bluetooth headset, the other end of the signal is still connected to the motherboard.

Last but not least, the power supply – it receives electricity from the wall outlet and supplies it to all the computer’s components. The more devices you stick inside your computer, the higher the power supply wattage will need to be. Gaming computers need at least 500 watts, but the average computer can get away with 400 watts or less.

Of course, no computer would be complete without a keyboard and mouse used to input words and click buttons on the screen. It is worth noting that a computer does not technically need a keyboard and mouse to run, but you will need them to control your computer.

That wraps up the hardware essentials. Let’s move onto software.

First up, the operating system – this is also called the OS. Microsoft Windows, Apple, Android, and Linux are the four main operating systems out there. We will focus on Windows as that is the most common OS in the business world.

The main part of the Microsoft OS is Windows Explorer – this is where you can locate and launch your files and programs.

Inside Windows Explorer is the control panel and settings – here you can view and change settings for your computer such as the desktop background image, your screen saver, if and when your computer goes to sleep, where to install a printer, and stuff like that.

The last part of the OS that we’ll get into right now is the Command Prompt – this allows you to execute specific commands. Some of them can be found and launched from the control panel while others are exclusively run from command line. To run a command, hold down the Windows key and press the letter R. Then enter C-M-D in the Run box and click OK or hit Enter on the keyboard. You can also do a search for cmd or command prompt on the Windows 10 Start Menu. Some people who have used computers for a long time might say this looks like a Microsoft DOS box which existed before Windows was even invented.

Moving onto applications – this is any program that gets installed or comes with your computer. Microsoft Word, Excel, Adobe Reader – these are all applications.

The most common application is a web browser as it comes preloaded in all operating systems which allows connection to the internet. Windows comes with Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge built in. However, Internet Explorer has not been updated in quite some time and Microsoft will soon be removing it from future versions of Windows 10.

There are also several other web browsers that can be downloaded such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Safari.

One other thing worth mentioning is firmware. The easiest way to describe this is that it’s basically software that talks directly to hardware. The firmware on a computer is installed on the motherboard and it’s also known as the BIOS which stands for Basic Input Output System. BIOS is used to initialize your hardware and get it ready to run your operating system.

Now we’re going to talk about some basic hardware troubleshooting of a computer and how to determine where a problem lies.

We’ll go back to the top of the hardware list and start with the hard drive. If it’s a traditional spinning disk hard drive, a symptom might be that a computer has become very slow and frequently freezes up even when there are very few applications running. You can check the Task Manager to see how many resources are being used by clicking on the Performance tab. You can open the Task Manager a few different ways.

  1. Right-click on the Taskbar which is the horizontal line at the bottom of the screen, and you’ll see Task Manager in the menu that appears.
  2. You can also press Ctrl+Alt+Del on your keyboard and click Task Manager on the screen that comes up.
  3. Or, my personal favorite, pressing Ctrl+Shift+Esc on your keyboard brings up Task Manager right away.

Task Manager’s Performance tab will show you the percentage of CPU, memory, and disk utilization. If none of those numbers are very high but the computer is really slow, it could be a hard drive problem.

Next up, troubleshooting the processor. Honestly, it’s rare that a processor would completely die or have a problem, but it’s not impossible. Symptoms of a bad processor would be similar to symptoms of a bad motherboard. The computer might start to power on, but not fully come up. Sometimes a computer will issue a series of beeps when turning on which can indicate a specific problem and you will have to consult the motherboard’s manual or do a Google Search to learn what they mean.

Motherboards and processors are some of the more expensive components in the average computer, so if one of them dies, most people will replace the whole computer instead.

Moving onto memory. A computer with a bad memory stick in the first slot might not fully start up or have strange issues right away. A computer with a bad memory stick in the second slot, however, might not have a problem until more than 50% of the memory has been used. Fortunately, Windows has a built-in memory test that can be run, and some computer manufacturers have diagnostics built into the motherboard that will alert you to a multitude of hardware failures.

As for graphics card problems, if no video is displaying at all, make sure the monitor itself is working. If you get a picture, but it doesn’t look right, the first troubleshooting step is to upgrade the graphics driver. Sometimes Windows can do this for you from the Device Manager, but it’s best to go to the manufacturer’s website and download the driver manually. Sometimes all it takes is to uninstall the current driver from Device Manager, keep the box unchecked so the driver doesn’t get deleted, and then reboot the computer. Because the driver wasn’t deleted, Windows will reinstall it during the reboot and often fix common issues you’ll run into. You can also right-click on the Desktop and go to Display Settings to make sure the resolution is what it should be.

We’ve already touched on troubleshooting motherboard issues, so let’s talk about power supply problems. The two main symptoms you’ll see with a bad power supply is the computer randomly shutting down without warning and needs to be turned back on with the power button as well as the computer doing absolutely nothing when you attempt to turn it on. No sign of life is almost always a power supply problem, but in extremely rare cases, it could be the motherboard.

Those are the basics of hardware troubleshooting, so let’s move onto software.

Because it’s impossible to dive into every possible application out there, we’re going to talk about the basics of software troubleshooting, diagnosing operating system corruption, and how to fix common issues in Microsoft Office.

The quickest and easiest first step to diagnose a problem is to log in as a different user account on the computer. If you don’t have another account and you’re using Windows 10 Home, you can create a temporary one by opening a run box and entering “control userpasswords2”. If you’re using Windows 10 Professional, enter compmgmt.msc into the run box. After you create your temporary user, go ahead and log in with that new account. If the problem exists in the newly created profile, there’s a problem with the software you’re using. An uninstall and reinstall is a good thing to try, or you can also look for a newer version of the software on the company’s website. If the issue does not exist when logged in as a new user, the software settings are most likely corrupted. They will probably be stored in the Appdata local or roaming folder which we will cover more in another video. If the software you’re having an issue with is built into Windows, then the OS is probably corrupted.

Fortunately, Windows 10 gives you way more repair options than any other previous version of Windows. From a run box, type W-I-N-V-E-R and hit Enter or click OK. That will tell you what version of Windows 10 you’re currently running and a quick Google search will tell you what the latest version available is. Even if you’re already on the latest version, you can actually reinstall it overtop of itself to fix some Windows corruption issues. If the problem continues, the next option involves a lot more work and that’s called a Windows Reset. This removes all software and settings from the computer but allows you to keep your data, so you don’t have to run any backups before starting the process. When the Windows Reset completes, you will have to reinstall all of your applications, so it can be time-consuming, but sometimes this is your only option if system files are badly damaged. It’s also a good thing to stay current with Windows Updates which can be launched from the Settings app in Windows 10. If you keep your computer running all the time, updates usually happen automatically and might simply alert you when a restart is needed. If you have a laptop, I’d recommend checking for Windows Updates manually from time-to-time as you often turn this device on and off as needed.

Lastly, we’re going to talk about Microsoft Office because it’s the most common set of applications in the business world. In general, it is pretty solid in regard to reliability. Issues primarily arise when introducing add-ins into the software. An Office add-in is basically a piece of software that runs inside of the programs and can slow the applications down, cause it to crash, or prevent it from launching altogether. To confirm that an add-in is the problem, type the exe name of the program affected into the run box and follow it with a space, and then a forward slash in front of the word safe. This will automatically disable all add-ins for the application. If the software runs without a problem, you can click on File > Options > Add-ins to see which ones are installed. If Microsoft Office programs are still not working correctly, open the Settings app in Windows 10, click on Apps, and then find Office or Microsoft 365 in the list. Clicking the Modify button will bring up two Repair options. The first choice is called Quick Repair which does a basic reset of the software settings. The second option is an Online Repair. This completely downloads and reinstalls the software, so it’s more time-consuming but shouldn’t take more than 15 – 30 minutes depending on the speed of your internet connection.

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