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In this introductory chapter, you will look at the components of a computer and at the role of computers in

a networking system. You will use the "ground up" approach to learning networking, starting with the most
basic component of a network the computer. The more you know about computers, the easier it will be
to understand networks and how they are designed and built.
To help you understand the role that computers play in a networking system, consider the Internet. You
can think of the Internet as a tree, and computers as the leaves on the tree. Computers are the sources
and receivers of information, both giving to and taking from the Internet. Note that computers can function
without the Internet, but that the Internet cannot exist without computers. As time goes by, computer
users are becoming increasingly dependent on the Internet.
Computers, along with being an integral part of a network, also play a vital role in the world of work.
Businesses use their computers for a variety of purposes, but they also use them in some common ways.
They use servers to store important data and to manage employee accounts. They use spreadsheet
software to organize financial information, word processor software to maintain records and
correspondence, and Web browsers to access company Web sites.
With all this in mind, you will begin to look at the inner workings of a computer. This will give you the
foundation you need to begin your study of networking.
Because computers are important building blocks in a network, it is important to be able to recognize and
name the major components of a PC.
Many networking devices are themselves special-purpose computers, with many of the same parts as
"normal" PCs. In order to use your computer as a reliable means of obtaining information, such as
accessing web-based curriculum, your computer must be in good working order, which means you may
occasionally need to troubleshoot simple problems in your computer's hardware and software. You
should be able to recognize, name, and state the purpose of the following PC components:
Small, Discrete Components

transistor - device that amplifies a signal or opens and closes a circuit


integrated circuit (IC) - device made of semiconductor material; contains many transistors and
performs a specific task
resistor - device made of material which opposes the flow of electric current
capacitor - electronic component that stores energy in the form of an electrostatic field; it consists
of two conducting metal plates separated by an insulating material
connector - the part of a cable that plugs into a port or interface
light emitting diode (LED) - semiconductor device which emits light when a current passes
through it

Personal Computer Subsystems

printed circuit board (pcb) - a thin plate on which chips (integrated circuits) and other electronic
components are placed
CD-ROM drive compact disk read only memory drive, a device that can read information from a
CD-ROM
CPU - central processing unit, the brains of the computer where most calculations take place
floppy disk drive - a disk drive that can read and write to floppy disks
hard disk drive - the device that reads and writes data on a hard disk
microprocessor - a silicon chip that contains a CPU
motherboard - the main circuit board of a microcomputer

bus - a collection of wires through which data is transmitted from one part of a computer to
another
RAM - random access memory, also known as Read-Write memory, can have new data written
into it as well as stored data read from it. A drawback of RAM is that it requires electrical power to
maintain data storage. If the computer is turned off or looses power, all data stored in ram is lost,
unless it the data was saved to disk
ROM - read-only memory, computer memory on which data has been prerecorded; once data
has been written onto a ROM chip, it cannot be removed and can only be read
system unit - the main part of a PC; the system unit includes the chassis, microprocessor, main
memory, bus, and ports, but does not include the keyboard or monitor, or any external devices
connected to the computer
expansion slot - an opening in a computer where a circuit board can be inserted to add new
capabilities to the computer
power supply - the component that supplies power to a computer

Backplane Components

backplane - the large circuit board that contains sockets for expansion cards
network card - an expansion board inserted into a computer so that the computer can be
connected to a network
video card - a board that plugs into a PC to give it display capabilities
sound card - an expansion board that enables a computer to manipulate and output sounds
parallel port - an interface capable of transferring more than one bit simultaneously and which is
used to connect external devices such as printers
serial port - an interface that can be used for serial communication, in which only 1 bit is
transmitted at a time
mouse port - a port designed for connecting a mouse to a PC
power cord - cord used to connect an electrical device to an electrical outlet in order to provide
power to the device

The figure shows the basic components of an idealized computer. You can think of the internal
components of a PC as a network of devices, all attached to the system bus. In a sense, a PC is a small
computer network.

The information flow in an idealized computer


Information and electric power are constantly flowing in a PC. It helps to understand networking by
thinking of the computer as a miniature network, with all the various devices within the system unit
attached to, and communicating with, each other. As shown in the figure, the following are some of the
important information flows (almost all of which occur through the bus):

boot instructions - stored in ROM, until they are sent out


software applications stored in RAM after they have been loaded
RAM and ROM - constantly talk to the CPU through the bus
application information - stored in RAM while applications are being used
saved information - flows from RAM to some form of storage device
exported information - flows from RAM and the CPU, through the bus and expansion slots, to the
printer, video card, sound card, or network card

The relationship of NICs to PCs


As shown in the figure, a network interface card (NIC) is a printed circuit board that provides
network communication capabilities to and from a personal computer. Also called a LAN
adapter, it plugs into a motherboard and provides a port for connecting to the network. This
card can be designed as an Ethernet card, a Token Ring card, or a Fiber Distributed Data
Interface (FDDI) card.
A network card communicates with the network through a serial connection, and with the
computer through a parallel connection. Each card requires an IRQ, an I/O address, and an
upper memory address to work with DOS or Windows 95/98. An IRQ, or interrupt request line,
is a signal informing a CPU that an event that needs its attention has occurred. An IRQ is sent
over a hardware line to the microprocessor. An example of an interrupt being issued would be
when a key is pressed on a keyboard; the CPU must move the character from the keyboard to
RAM. An I/O address is a location in memory used to enter data or retrieve data from a
computer by an auxiliary device. In DOS-based systems, upper memory refers to the memory
area between the first 640 kilobytes (K) and 1 megabyte (M) of RAM.
When you select a network card, consider the following three factors:
1. type of network (for example, Ethernet, Token Ring, or FDDI)
2. type of media (for example, twisted-pair, coaxial, or fiber-optic cable)
3. type of system bus (for example, PCI or ISA)

PC components versus laptop components


Laptop computers and notebook computers are becoming increasingly popular, as are palm
top computers, personal digital assistants, and other small computing devices. The information
described in the previous sections also pertains to laptops. The main difference is that
components in a laptop are smaller the expansion slots become PCMCIA slots, where NICs,
modems, hard drives and other useful devices, usually the size of a thick credit card, can be
inserted into the PCMCIA slots along the perimeter as shown in the figure.
A web browser acts on behalf of a user by:

contacting a web server


requesting information
receiving information
displaying the results on a screen

A browser is software that interprets hypertext markup language (HTML) the language used to code
web page content. HTML can display graphics and play sound, movies, and other multimedia files.
Hyperlinks - computer program commands that point to other places inside a PC, or on a network connect to other web pages and to files that can be downloaded.