The Ultimate PC Component Glossary

Though your PC's inner workings may seem mystifying, breaking down the various components is a worthwhile exercise — especially if you're thinking about upgrades.

The PC is really a group of interconnected parts working together, including the following components.

Motherboard: At the heart of your PC is the motherboard — the communications center that allows the various components to talk to one another. The motherboard not only determines your PC's capabilities, but also defines your upgrade options because other parts rely on its support and compatibility.

Chipset: Tying the CPU to the motherboard is the chipset, which carries messages between the CPU and other components, including your PC's main memory. When thinking about upgrades, remember that your chipset has to be optimized to support a new CPU.

Central processing unit (CPU): Think of the CPU as the “brain” of the PC. It manages the calculations constantly taking place within your computer. Installing this sensitive piece of hardware takes steady, experienced hands, as even the smallest error can have disastrous consequences.

Random access memory (RAM): RAM is where your PC manages data for the CPU. When RAM runs short, your computer relies more heavily on the hard drive, slowing down productivity. A RAM upgrade is a simple, cost-effective way to get a big boost. But remember: The maximum RAM your PC can support is determined by the motherboard.

Video card: The video card handles the graphics piece of your PC's thought processes, complementing the work of the CPU. Games and design programs rely on the video card, but upgrading to a card that handles higher resolutions can also allow you to add a better or second monitor.

Hard drive: The hard drive serves as a mass storage system, letting you hold on to permanent data, files and programs. Upgrading your hard drive — or adding a second — can help with storing big files and digital images as well as managing backups.

Display: Your PC's monitor interprets documents and images and lays them out in front of you, allowing you to interact with the computer. Monitor upgrades (e.g., larger screens, higher resolution, dual displays) are a popular route for optimizing the work environment and boosting productivity.

Your PC's components rely on each other to do their best work. A well-done upgrade not only strengthens this sense of interconnectedness, but also generates an across-the-board power boost.

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