teaching old stones new tricks

Sitting up, taking nourishment, it's gonna be a good day.

What’s under the hood…

lady snow globes copyComputers, like snow globes, come in many wondrous forms but contain certain elements essential to the Platonic ideal of Computerness. There is the drive, cpu, board/s and components that do the work. The main board is the Mother board which, like it sounds, holds everything together and helps them talk nice to the peripherals. The other major component board called a Back plane and it holds other circuit boards. 

The boards are important in the structure of the computer but the components that are most important in understanding this machine are the Central Processing Unit (CPU) and the drive.

The CPU or Central processing Unit, is best compared to the brains of your computer. We’ve gone from essentially a form of abacus to the current processors that are the size of a fingernail have up to 8 cores and carry on thousands of calculations in a second. Seriously. When we talk about technology progressing in leaps and bounds, the CPU is a pretty good model. Go Google it or read this wikipedia page  about it’s history. 

You thought the parallel parking part of the driving test was tough...

the parallel parking part of the driving
test was comparatively easy

At this point you’ve looked at that web page and your eyes glazed somewhere around reconfigurable logic or anything after 1980: don’t worry. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the technical information if you try to understand it all. Remember, it’s like learning to drive. You don’t need to understand gear ratios and the molecular structure of transmission fluid, just that transmission has a delay, makes a clunk sound and then surges when driving up a hill.

The CPU uses programs to perform it’s thinking and those programs are mostly held in the hard drive. The hard drive can be a metal disk that spins and has an optical arm that reads the information on the disk plus writes new information.

There are also solid state (or ‘flash’) drives which don’t have any moving parts. They are larger versions of those little thumb drives you can buy at any place that sells computers or tvs. Each type of drive, disk or flash, has advantages and disadvantages. 

The evolution of drive

The evolution of drive

Disk drives are the direct descendant of those enormous spools of tape used on those room sized computers of the 60’s and 70’s. Now they are small enough to fit into a chocolate bar wrapper. A very highly engineered chocolate bar wrapper. These new drives have more storage capacity than solid state/flash drives but take more time to find it plus disk drives generate a lot of heat.

If you’re not sure which drive a computer is using, listen to it. If you hear a fan or whirring sound, it’s a disc drive. Flash drives don’t make any sound.

Flash drives power up and operate faster. The information doesn’t have to be found on the disc but, as I mentioned, the memory capacity is less than a hard drive. Like everything else in technology, however, wait a few weeks, it will all change. Solid state\flash drives are a lot more rugged than disc drives.

As you might expect, a thin magnetized metal plate spinning at several thousand rpm is vulnerable to dropping or jarring. They are remarkably resilient all things considered but nowhere near as rugged as something that doesn’t have moving parts.

"IBM Blue Gene P supercomputer" by Argonne National Laboratory's Flickr page

“IBM Blue Gene P supercomputer” by Argonne National Laboratory’s Flickr page

The final difference is price. Hard drives, are still less expensive and more readily available than flash drives. There are still some functionality differences too between what programs are compatible with flash technology but, again, that’s all changing as we build faster flash drives and smarter programmers.

I thought I’d be talking about different configurations but covering what’s under the hood is important. Now you can start to think about what you want your computer to do and how much you are willing to pay. The only way to make intelligent comparisons is to understand what it is you’re comparing.

Say hello to Mother

Say hello to Mother

So, once again, if you have any questions, go ahead and ask. If I can’t answer them I know a few people I can ask and get back to you with their answers. If there’s something you want to see discussed, let me know.

I’m here for ya.


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This entry was posted on July 2, 2015 by in Computers, unlearning and tagged , , , .

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