What’s Inside A Computer?

Think about the title of this post.  Do you know what’s inside the computer on your desk? Do you know the difference between a desktop and a laptop?  Is the screen on your desk “the computer”?  These and other related questions are constant ice breakers at office parties.  I’m going to start off by saying that both the laptop and the desktop are computers.  I’ll start by identifying the computer from what you see outside, then move on to what you might see inside if you were to open one.  

The laptop is designed to be mobile, you’ll regularly find it in coffee shops, or being used by a student sitting under a tree at a university or perhaps used by a salesperson on an airplane seat while on his way to the next appointment.  Because of its size and mobility, the Laptop has different hardware specs compared to a Desktop.  The first and most obvious sign that you have a laptop, is that the computer looks a lot like an oversized book.  Here are some general specs that are the make-up a laptop.

On the outside:

  • Hard shell casing
  • Keyboard
  • Trackpad
  • Monitor (screen)
  • Microphone & Speakers
  • Peripheral Ports (ethernet, USB, microphone and headphone, external monitors)

On the Inside:

  • Motherboard (PC)/Logic Board (Macs)
  • HDD or SSD (Hard Disk Drive or Solid-State Drive)
  • Memory/Ram
  • Wi-Fi Wireless Chip
  • Optical Drive/CD Reader (non-present in modern laptops)
  • Lithium Battery (about the size of a Hershey’s candy bar)

One of the reasons Laptops are so popular and expensive, is because all the specifications listed above, are built to fit into a very small plastic encasing.  As a rule, you’ll spend more money buying a Laptop vs. a Desktop but with a Laptop, you’ll have the ability to move from one place to another without having to be plugged into a power chord or Wi-Fi cable.


The Desktop on the other hand, accommodates a stable non-mobile environment.  When you look at a workstation (home or office), you’ll find a box sitting either on a desk or on the floor.  

The most common names for that box are a PC, CPU, or Desktop.  The desktop is similar to a laptop but it requires a  monitor, keyboard and mouse.  A huge advantage to a Desktop computer is that everything inside it is replaceable.  So, if something breaks or becomes outdated, you can easily replace any of its parts.  Here are the replaceable parts of the Desktop.

Skeleton Case


HDD or SSD (see above)


Video Card (motherboard comes with one but you can add a third part for better performance)

Power Supply

Optical Drive (not necessary)

Once you decide what you’re going to use the computer for, you’ll have a better understanding of the type of machine you want to buy.  The first question you should ask yourself is “What am I going to use the computer for?”  Once you have that answer, you’ll save time looking for the computer that best fits you and as a bi-product, you’ll save money by not spending on a computer that overwhelms your needs.

In the end, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment because you became an educated shopper.  By understanding the makeup of a computer (internally and externally) you’ll be able to decide which peripherals best suit your needs.  You’ll also establish a solid foundation that’ll help you in your quest for whatever technology you desire to use.  

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