Author:- Stephen Harrison, B.Sc., M.Sc., MBCS, CITP, MInstM
Sharing over 20 years of IT experience with you 
More about me here

Building On Your Basic
Computer Knowledge

Basic Computer Knowledge is essential if you are to survive in the modern world. There are lots of different devices available today, catering for whole host of different requirements.

It is inevitable that these devices will need setup for your preferences, and updated to remain secure.

Here you will learn about device configuration and updating/upgrading. This enables you to gain a new understanding of how technology works so you get the best out of your computing investments. 


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Basic Computer Knowledge
American Megatrends BIOS

The Basic Input/Output System or BIOS is a small chip found inside all computers. It checks all the parts inside your machine e.g. memory, graphics, ports etc., are in working order, and tells these components how to work together.

American Megatrends LogoAmerican Megatrends Logo

American Megatrends BIOS (Opens New Window) is one of the most popular BIOS' in the world. You often hear the BIOS be called Firmware, System BIOS, CMOS, Flash BIOS, ROM BIOS and RAM BIOS to name but a few.

The BIOS performs initial checks through a process called the Power OSelf Test (POST). This is visible when you first switch on your device.

AMIBIOS Power On Self Test ScreenAMIBIOS Power On Self Test Screen

When the POST detects an issue or fault, it alerts you by issuing an audible beep code. In the first of a two part tutorial, knowledge of how to interpret the fault beep codes is explained and passed on to you.

The tutorial also explains how to access and configure your BIOS settings. For example, you can set up BIOS passwords in the security menu so only you and selected members of your family can change the BIOS settings.

The American Megatrends BIOS Update (Opens New Window) page explains why updating your BIOS is a good idea, and clarifies the AMIBIOS update process, which can be difficult to understand.

One of the key steps to upgrading your BIOS is to identify the motherboard inside your computer.

How to Identify if Your Motherboard is AMI ApprovedHow to Identify if Your Motherboard is AMI Approved


Always use the BIOS update file issued by the manufacturer of the motherboard inside your machine. If you apply the wrong BIOS update you could corrupt your motherboard.

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UEFI Firmware

Modern Windows computers are now being released with the new UEFI Firmware installed. Unified Extensible Firmware Interface is a replacement for the increasingly legacy computer BIOS, or Basic Input/Output System.

The increasing need for security and computing performance in today's society drive initiatives such as UEFI Firmware (Opens New Window). Part of Apple technology for years now, we look at what UEFI offers Windows based platforms.

Typical UEFI ScreenTypical UEFI Screen

UEFI offers performance and security benefits. For example, UEFI completes POST tasks much more quickly and more thoroughly than the old BIOS, before handing over control to the Operating System.

Cryptography (a form of security) added to UEFI protects your machines pre-boot process against Bootkit attacks.

The Apple MAC Thunder Strike BootkitThe Apple MAC Thunder Strike Bootkit

In addition to improved start up times and the ability to resume from hibernation much better than before (thus improving response times), UEFI Firmware also supports larger hard disk sizes and memory (RAM) capacity.

UEFI Firmware will eventually be the de facto choice for all devices. Understand how this works now so it becomes part of your basic computer knowledge.

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Hard Disk Drives

Hard Disks are sealed units containing different types of components that enable you to run your device and save your files.

On a traditional hard drive your data files are actually stored inside thin, concentric circles, or bands, hosted on the hard drives platters. These platters spin when the hard drive powers up, and the drive head reads/writes data as required e.g. loading your operating system, saving your documents etc.

You can't actually see the circles stored on the platters. They are very smooth when you open up a hard disk drive. The image below shows the different components and helps to picture how traditional hard disk drives work.

Hard Disk Drive ComponentsBasic Computer Knowledge
Hard Disk Drive Components
Courtesy of

Solid State Hard Drive (Opens New Window) or SDD, is now a viable option for computer users as costs decrease and capacity increases.

A, SSD is made up of RAM memory boards (Random Access Memory) instead of traditional rotating disk platters.

The RAM inside SSD's is non-volatile. This means that information stored in it is not lost when your machine loses power, unlike traditional computer RAM, which is volatile (Have you ever closed a document without saving and lost your data? That's volatile RAM!).

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Apple iPads

To make the best use of your iPad we review the standard features such as cameras and volume control, and explain the different options for interacting and multitasking on your device.

This means looking at different gestures (tap, drag, pinch etc.) and running multiple apps at the same time. This section includes charts and video's to help aid understanding.

Apple iPad Gesture Chart for BeginnersBasic Computer Knowledge
Apple iPad Gesture Chart for Beginners

We also look at ways to manage your apps and apply some basic but often forgotten security settings.

I call this section Your iPad Manual (Opens New Window), but a lot of the detail here is applicable to other iOS and even Android mobile devices.

Security is paramount today. Computer tablets are a magnet to thieves and criminals who want to steal your device or your data off it.

What would you do if someone stole your device containing sentimental and personal information, photographs and all your passwords?

One useful tool is called Find My iPad (Opens New Window). Once enabled it allows you to track your devices movements, send an alert out and even erase your data so no one else gets their hands on it (backed up first of course!).

Lost iPad Message Sent From iCloudLost iPad Message Sent From iCloud

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How to Make Alt Codes

Basic computer knowledge such as how to make alt codes, is a unique but easy way to insert special characters and symbols in to your documents and e-mails. 

For example, I may use an actual ÷ sign that everyone learns at school, when writing out maths calculations in an e-mail or document, rather than that standard slash (/) notation used by computers.

There are dozens of available alt codes for laptops and computers that are not displayed on a standard keyboard.

The article on how to make alt codes (Opens New Window) describes what alt codes are and their history, and explains how to access them on both laptop and desktop computer keyboards.

Basic Computer KnowledgeBasic Computer Knowledge
Alt Code Keyboard Instruction Layout

To type a special character, symbol or code using the alt key on a traditional or standard keyboard:-

  1. Enable Num Lock key. A light on the key itself or at the top of the keyboard usually identifies Num Lock as enabled;
  2. Press and hold down the Alt Key;
  3. Whilst the Alt key is pressed, type the number sequence on the numeric keypad for the alt code character you wish to produce;
  4. Release the Alt key. The character you have requested should appear on your screen.

The image above shows the process with the relevant keyboard keys highlighted for easy reference.

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Basic Computer Knowledge
Final Thoughts

Improving your basic computer knowledge is a must to properly manage all the new devices that are coming on to the market.

Knowledge is power, as they say. Education is important to acquiring knowledge, and I believe internet pages such as this one are key.

The following links are excellent sources of computing knowledge and education. 

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