Basic Computing Using Windows/Computers and Peripherals

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The first thing you should know is that a computer is an automatic, electronic, data-processing machine that takes in facts and figures known as data, and then processes or organizes it in some useful way (what's commonly called computation). Afterwards it outputs, or displays, the results for you to see as information. Keep in mind that data is not information; rather, information is the knowledge that you, the end-user, derive from accurate data that's entered into a computer. Only after processing, is data transformed into information which is then used for decision making. Each part of a computer can be classified as either hardware or software.

Types of computers[edit]

There are actually a lot of different kinds of computers. Most of what we'll go through here are classified as Personal Computers (PCs). Most people will describe a computer as a box with a monitor attached; this is a desktop, which are computers designed to stay in one place. There are also much more powerful computers called servers that can be as big as a room or even a house. This is what companies use to, say, power websites and do computations that one person wouldn't really need for themselves. The Wikimedia Foundation even has them!

Some computers are designed to have all its components in one place in a small package, making it easy to travel with it and use it as you go. Smaller, portable desktops are called laptops or notebooks, and even smaller laptops are called netbooks that can be carried in just one hand. In the 2000s, Tablet PCs were common, and unlike laptops, they were just a screen that could be written to with a stylus instead of a mouse. Everything else in the computer was in the screen itself, or behind it. Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) were also common, but have been replaced by smartphones and tablets,[note 1] which are indeed computers! Smartphones have touchscreens that can be tapped using your fingers to do different things for you, like be a calculator or type text. Any computer that doesn't need to be plugged into a wall outlet to work have batteries instead that generally last for about three to eight hours, with some reaching twelve and beyond before needing to be recharged. Smaller devices tend to last longer.


Hardware refers to all of the physical components of a computer. These parts may include:

  • A soft output device (most commonly known as a monitor, but televisions can also be used)
  • A hard output device (i.e. a printer)
  • A keyboard
  • A pointing device (usually a mouse, but varieties exist)
  • Any buttons on the case/chassis of the computer, such as a power button
  • Internal components in the case such as a processor, memory, storage, motherboard, and power supply
  • Any cables that connect these components together

The monitor[edit]

You might think among many people today that the part of the computer that normally displays pictures and text is the computer itself. This is usually not true. With a standard desktop computer, the part that does the actual computing is often in a separate box. With a laptop or a netbook, the computing is done in the hardware under the keyboard. The rest is done under the monitor.[note 2] Computers may also refer to the whole assembly of the hardware. When the inside of a computer is actually inside the monitor itself, the computer is called an all-in-one.

Just like computers, there are different types of monitors. Throughout the early era of computing, both monitors and televisions alike used cathode ray tubes, and were often referred by their shortform, CRTs, which could have very high refresh rates for games. However, in the 2000s, the industry made a switch to liquid-crystal displays (LCDs), which had flat panels and were lighter. Now, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are being introduced to monitors, and are generally much more expensive.

Monitors are commonly known as soft output devices, because the information that's displayed doesn't stay on the monitor.

The printer[edit]

Printers put data on paper. This is why it's referred to as a hard output device. Different types of printers include Xerox, laser, and deskjet, and scanners may also be included, where they can dial out to a number and send pictures of paper. They may also be sent to the computer for viewing at any time. These are fax machines.

Input devices[edit]

There are also different kinds of input hardware. For most personal computers, the two important ones are the mouse and the keyboard. The mouse is used to move the cursor (or arrow) around the screen. A keyboard is used to enter (type) letters, numbers, and other symbols into a computer. With the advent of smartphones, fingers have become the mouse, and a keyboard interface appears when text needs to be entered in.


Software is all of the instructions and programming that a computer uses to do what you ask it to do. Packages of software are often called programs, and an operating system is a collection of programs that help all the other programs run. Think of software as the power behind the hardware. Without software, your computer doesn't do anything. Without hardware, the software can't even exist. Computers do not think for themselves, so they need software, which is made to manipulate the computer's hardware in such a way that you, the user, can understand.

As an example, a calculator is a very simple form of computer. It is nowhere near the complexity or versatility of a personal computer. You input information as series of key presses, and the calculator computes the result which is displayed as output on a small screen. Calculators are faster than humans, so this creates utility in the form of time saved. Calculators can also repeat calculations easier than humans.

Computers store all data in binary, which is a number system that only uses ones (1) and zeros (0). One digit in binary code is called a bit, and eight bits is called a byte. A byte is the amount of space one letter takes up. One thing to bear in mind is that all the extra detail about how the letter looks must also be stored in binary code and so word processor documents use more space than one byte per letter.


Some software is not designed to be changed so that when the hardware turns on, it runs the same thing every time. Firmware is common for a computer's BIOS,[note 3] as well as arcade machines since they're meant to use only one game.

Turning the computer on[edit]

This is an example of a power button. Every modern desktop and laptop has one.

Desktops often have a power button at the front of the case. When turning a desktop on, first make sure that the power supply is connected to the back of the computer and a power outlet, and then press the button. On laptops and tablets, simply locate the power button and press it.

Windows may present a login screen, in which a username and/or password will be prompted. Newer versions of Windows may not require the username to be typed. On Windows 10, a PIN may be prompted in the place of a password. Type the password into the box, then press the enter key, or click on (put the cursor on top of and push the left button on the mouse) the OK button if there is one. If on Windows 8 and newer the password/PIN box does not come up, it just means the computer is not set to have a password. We will learn more about this later. If this box did not come up, but instead a screen with pictures and names of the user accounts, click the picture with the correct username beside it, type in the password if there is one, and press ↵ Enter on your physical or virtual keyboard.

Turning off the computer

To turn the computer off:

Windows version Method 1 Method 2 Method 3 Method 4
Windows XP (or earlier) Open the Start menu, then click Turn off Computer, then click Shut Down. Open the Start menu by clicking on Start or the Start orb located on the taskbar, then click Shut Down, then select Shut Down, then click OK. Press Alt+F4, select Shut Down, then tap or click OK. This key combination closes programs and should only be used when no programs are running, to prevent data loss. Open Command Prompt as an administrator. Type shutdown.exe /s and press Enter to run the command.
Windows Vista Open the Start menu, then click the power icon.
Windows 7 Open the Start menu, then click Shut Down.
Windows 8
Windows RT
Open the Charms menu by either pressing ⊞ Win+C, moving the pointer to the upper or lower-right corner or swiping in from the right side of the screen. Tap or click Settings, then Power, then Shut Down.
Windows 8.1 Right-click or long-tap on the Start logo located on the taskbar, then tap or click Shut Down.
Windows 10 Open the Start menu, click the power icon, and then click Shut Down.
On Windows 8.1 Update 1, one other method is to open Start, then tap or click on the power icon located in the upper-right corner, then tap or click Shut Down. This method may not work on all devices.

These methods will ensure that your computer will shut down correctly. However, one other method is to hold the power button for approximately ten seconds, or flip the power supply's switch on the back of the computer. This is known has a hard shutdown, and should only be done if the computer freezes for as much as thirty seconds. Upon doing a hard shutdown, Windows may tell you that the computer was not shut down correctly.


  1. The distinction between tablets and tablet PCs is that modern tablets don't only use styluses, but companies can often choose to include it.
  2. Don't confuse this with the internal component known as the video card; that is much more like the processor, and its job is to tell the monitor what to show.
  3. Though in many cases the BIOS can be updated.