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 and configured for your preferences, and updated to remain secure.

Here you will learn about device and component installation, 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 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

Attention!

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 increasing 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 drive's 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 http://www.compuclever.com

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 SSDs 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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How To Upgrade RAM (Random Access Memory)

Understanding how to upgrade RAM is essential to improving your computer's performance.

New machines are generally fast at first ise, but over time as we install more applications and save more file, performance reduces. This is generally because there is insufficient memory to run all the applications, games, files and browser tabs we have open.

This results in your device reverting to virtual memory in order to keep your system working. However, virtual memory is much slower than the physical RAM inside your machine, hence the noticeable performance drop when in use.


RAM Installation In ActionBasic Computer Knowledge
RAM Installation In Action
Source:- offtek.co.uk

This is why learning how to upgrade RAM (Opens New Window)  is important, and this article walks you through the steps that you need to take to complete a memory upgrade successfully.

We identify the memory your device has installed and determine how much memory you need to get your computer performing better. 

We then look at a simple trick to quickly identify the maximum amount of memory your computer can handle. This is important because you don't want to buy too much of the wrong memory type that your computer cannot use.

We also investigate how to choose the right type of memory for your device. RAM modules  come in all sorts of different types and sizes so it is important you get this step right.

We then take a brief look at how to install your new RAM and confirm that it is being used by your computer.

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How To Install Sound Cards

Alongside upgrading RAM, there is an art to installing new sound cards too. The advances in sound technology allows for lots of things we take for granted, for example watching films or streaming media online, in high definition surround sound.

Increasing broadband speeds and advances in modern computing means you can communicate with friends and family members living thousands of miles away by using tools such as iPad FaceTime and Skype. All you need is a microphone or headset, which you plug into your sound card.

In addition, if you are heavily into online gaming or editing music, then a good quality sound card is essential.


Sound Card Electrical ContactsBasic Computer Knowledge
Sound Card Electrical Contacts

The how to install a sound card article (Opens New Window) discuss the simple steps of physically installing an audio card. We take a look at the prerequisite steps to keep you and your system safe and then review the steps to insert your new sound card and reassemble your machine.

To avoid any issues with your sound card it is important the device drivers are correctly installed.

Creative Labs are one of the most popular sound card makers in the world, and therefore by way of example, Creative Labs Sound Card Drivers (Opens New Window) are used to demonstrate the driver installation process.

However, it is worth noting that the process outlined in the article is applicable to most device driver installations.


Sound Card Driver Installation Wizard ExampleSound Card Driver Installation Wizard Example

The process in a Microsoft Windows environment is very similar irrespective of the make and model of your sound card.

If you want your new sound card to work correctly, you need to install the drivers issued by the manufacturer, rather than the inbuilt Windows drivers. This is because they are technically more compatible and provide more functionality.

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How Computer Monitors Work

Understanding how computer monitors work (Opens New Window) can quickly get very complicated. There is lots of unfamiliar jargon to pick up such as aspect ratios, colour depth and refresh rates.


Attention!

The Refresh Rate is simply the number of times the monitor updates with new images every second. The speed is measured in Hertz. The higher the  refresh rate, the smoother the screen 'moves'.


The aim of this article is to both make what appears to be complex, simple to understand, and hopefully improve your all round computer knowledge when it comes to display monitors so you make an informed choice when selecting your next monitor.


LED Monitor ExampleBasic Computer Knowledge
LED Monitor Example
Source:- https://pxhere.com

The article looks at the different types of monitor past and present such as TFT's and OLEDs.

We then explore the main characteristics of modern computer monitors such as screen sizes, resolutions and the different types of connectors. Each element is important when selecting a new monitor, not just the screen size, as you will see.

In addition, because we use displays more than all other parts of our computing devices, it is important to consider the capabilities of the monitor stand for ergonomic reasons. Tilt, swivel and rotate options are all important to get your posture right and avoid injury.

We also look at how the graphics and text you are looking at right now is presented on your screen. This part of the article is fairly complex, but honestly, it is understandable, and worth knowing in my humble opinion. This is how you build up your basic computer knowledge.

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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 videos 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 your current devices, and new devices in the future.

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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