Computer Basics

Are you new to using computers?
Do you wonder what people mean when they say the Cloud, Windows, Blackberry, Lion, etc.?
Perhaps you would just like to know more about how computers work?

When it comes to learning today’s technology, Computer Basics has all the basic concepts covered, with further areas of study covered should you decide to take your learning journey any further than the basics.

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[dropdown_box expand_text=”Introduction” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]

    [dropdown_box expand_text=”Getting To Know Computers” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]

    What is a Computer?

    A computer is an electronic device that manipulates information, or “data.” It has the ability to store, retrieve, and process data. You can use a computer to type documents, send email, and browse the internet. You can also use it to handle spreadsheets, accounting, database management, presentations, games, and more.

    Computers Simplified
    For beginning computer users, the computer aisles at an electronics store can be quite a mystery, not to mention overwhelming. However, computers really aren’t that mysterious. All types of computers consist of two basic parts:

    Hardware is any part of your computer that has a physical structure, such as the computer monitor or keyboard.
    Software is any set of instructions that tells the hardware what to do. It is what guides the hardware and tells it how to accomplish each task. Some examples of software are web browsers, games, and word processors such as Microsoft Word.

    Anything you buy for your computer can be classified as either hardware or software. Once you learn more about these items, computers are actually very straightforward.

    The first electronic computer, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), was developed in 1946. It took up 1,800 square feet and weighed 30 tons.

    What are the Different Types of Computers?

    When most people hear the word “computer,” they think of a personal computer such as a desktop or laptop computer. However, computers come in many shapes and sizes, and they perform many different functions in our daily lives. When you withdraw cash from an ATM, scan groceries at the store, or use a calculator, you’re using a type of computer.

    Desktop Computers
    Many people use desktop computers at work, home, school, or the library. They can be small, medium, or large in style, and usually sit on a desk. Once you add a monitor, mouse, and a keyboard, you have what is typically known as a desktop computer.

    Most desktop computers are easy to upgrade and expand, or add new parts. Another benefit of desktop computers is the cost. If you compare a desktop and a laptop with the same features, you will most likely find that the desktop computer is priced lower.

    Some desktop computers have a built-in monitor to save space. These are often called all-in-one desktop computers.

    Laptop Computers
    The second type of computer that you may be familiar with is a laptop computer, or a laptop. Laptops are battery- or AC-powered personal computers that are more portable than desktop computers, allowing you to use them almost anywhere.

    Since a laptop is smaller than a desktop, it’s more difficult to access the internal components. That means you may not be able to upgrade them as much as a desktop. However, it’s usually possible to add more RAM or a bigger hard drive.

    A server is a computer that “serves up” information to other computers on a network. Many businesses have file servers that employees can use to store and share files. A server can look like a regular desktop computer, or it can be much larger.

    Servers also play an important role in making the internet work: They are where webpages are stored. When you use your browser to click a link, a web server delivers the page you requested.

    Other Types of Computers
    Today, there lots of everyday devices that are basically specialized computers, even though we don’t always think of them as computers. Here are a few common examples:

    Tablet Computers:
    These use a touch-sensitive screen for typing and navigation. Since they don’t require a keyboard or mouse, tablet computers are even more portable than laptops. The iPad is an example of a tablet computer.
    Mobile Phones:
    Many mobile phones can do a lot of things a computer can do, such as browsing the internet or playing games. These phones are often called smartphones.
    Game Consoles:
    A game console is a specialized kind of computer that is used for playing video games. Although they are not as fully featured as a desktop computer, many newer consoles, such as the Nintendo Wii, allow you to do non-gaming tasks like browsing the internet.
    Many TVs now include applications (or apps) that let you access various types of online content. For example, you can view your Facebook news feed or watch streaming movies on Netflix.

    PCs and Macs

    Personal computers come in two main “styles:” PC and Mac. Both styles are fully functional, but they do have a different look and feel, and many people prefer one or the other.

    PC: This type of computer began with the original IBM PC that was introduced in 1981. Other companies began to create similar computers, which were called IBM PC Compatible (often shortened to PC). Today, this is the most common type of personal computer, and it typically includes the Microsoft Windows operating system.

    Mac: The Macintosh computer was introduced in 1984, and it was the first widely sold personal computer with a Graphical User Interface, or GUI (pronounced gooey). All Macs are made by one company, Apple Inc., and they almost always use the Mac OS X operating system.

    Although PC can refer to an IBM PC Compatible, the term can also be used to refer to any personal computer, including Macs.

    About This Tutorial

    In this tutorial, we’ll mostly be focusing on PCs and the Windows operating system. If you’re using a Mac, you may notice some differences with the way that your computer works. However, much of the information in this tutorial will still apply, no matter what kind of computer you’re using.

    [/dropdown_box][dropdown_box expand_text=”Understanding Operating Systems” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]

    What is an Operating System?

    An operating system is the most important software that runs on a computer. It manages the computer’s memory, processes, and all of its software and hardware. It also allows you to communicate with the computer without knowing how to speak the computer’s “language.” Without an operating system, a computer is useless.

    The Operating System’s Job
    You’ve probably heard the phrase boot your computer, but do you know what that means? Booting is the process that occurs when you press the power button to turn your computer on. During this process (which may take a minute or two), the computer does several things:

    It runs tests to make sure everything is working correctly.
    It checks for new hardware.
    It then starts up the operating system.

    Once the operating system has started up, it manages all of the software and hardware on the computer. Most of the time, there are many different programs running at the same time, and they all need to access your computer’s Central Processing Unit (CPU), memory, and storage. The operating system coordinates all of this to make sure that each program gets what it needs. Without the operating system, the software wouldn’t even be able to talk to the hardware, and the computer would be useless.

    Types of Operating Systems
    Operating systems usually come preloaded on any computer that you buy. Most people use the operating system that comes with their computer, but it is possible to upgrade or even change operating systems.

    The three most common operating systems for personal computers are Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS X, and Linux.

    Modern operating systems use a Graphical User Interface, or GUI (pronounced “gooey”). A GUI lets you use your mouse to click on icons, buttons, and menus, and everything is clearly displayed on the screen using a combination of graphics and text.

    Each operating system’s GUI has a different look and feel, so if you switch to a different operating system it may seem unfamiliar at first. However, modern operating systems are designed to be easy to use, and most of the basic principles are the same.

    Before GUIs, computers had a command-line interface, which meant the user had to type every single command to the computer, and the computer would only display text.

    Microsoft Windows

    Microsoft created the Windows operating system in the mid-1980s. Over the years, there have been many different versions of Windows, but the most recent ones are Windows 8 (released in 2012), Windows 7 (2009), and Windows Vista (2007). Windows comes preloaded on most new PCs, which helps to make it the most popular operating system in the world.

    If you’re buying a new computer or upgrading to a newer version of Windows, you can choose from several different editions of Windows, such as Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate. You may need to do some research to decide which edition is right for you.

    Visit Microsoft’s Windows page to learn more about this operating system.

    Check out our tutorials on Windows 8, Windows 7, and Windows XP for more information.

    Apple Mac OS X

    Mac OS is a line of operating systems created by Apple Inc. It comes preloaded on all new Macintosh computers, or Macs. All of the recent versions are known as Mac OS X (pronounced Mac O-S Ten), and the specific versions include Mavericks (released in 2013), Mountain Lion (2012), Lion (2011), and Snow Leopard (2009). Apple also offers a version called Mac OS X Server, which is designed to be run on servers.

    According to StatCounter Global Stats, Mac OS X users account for 7.5% of the operating systems market as of January 2013—much lower than the percentage of Windows users (more than 90%). One reason for this is that Apple computers tend to be more expensive. However, many people prefer the look and feel of Mac OS X

    To learn more about Macintosh computers and OS X, check out our Mac OS X Mountain Lion tutorial.


    Linux (pronounce LINN-ux) is a family of open-source operating systems, which means that they can be modified and distributed by anyone around the world. This is very different from proprietary software like Windows, which can only be modified by the company that owns it (Microsoft). The advantages of Linux are that it is free, and there are many different distributions (or versions) that you can choose from. Each distribution has a different look and feel, and the most popular ones include Ubuntu, Mint, and Fedora.

    Linux is named after Linus Torvalds, who created the Linux kernel in 1991. The kernel is the computer code that is the central part of an operating system.

    According to StatCounter Global Stats, Linux users account for less than 1% of the operating systems market as of January 2013. However, most servers run Linux because it’s relatively easy to customize.

    To learn more about different distributions of Linux, visit the Ubuntu, Mint, and Fedora websites.

    Operating Systems for Mobile Devices

    The operating systems that we’ve been talking about were designed to run on desktop or laptop computers. Mobile devices such as phones, tablet computers, and mp3 players are very different from desktop and laptop computers, so they run operating systems that are designed specifically for mobile devices. Examples of mobile operating systems include Apple iOS, Windows Phone, and Google Android.

    Operating systems for mobile devices generally aren’t as fully featured as those made for desktop or laptop computers, and they aren’t able to run all of the same software. However, you can still do a lot of things with them, such as watching movies, browsing the internet, managing your calendar, playing games, and more.


    What is an operating system? Is it software?
    Do you know what operating system your computer uses? If not, find out.
    Visit the Microsoft and Apple websites to learn more about each operating system.
    Search the internet for articles that compare Windows and Mac OS X.
    Visit the Ubuntu, Mint, and Fedora websites to learn more about each Linux distribution.
    If you have a PC and currently use an older version of Windows, such as Windows XP, search for articles comparing Windows 8 with Windows XP. You may want to read our lesson on Upgrading to Windows 8 to help you decide if you should upgrade.[/dropdown_box][dropdown_box expand_text=”Understanding Applications” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]

    What is an application?

    You may have heard people talking about using an application or an app. But what exactly does that mean? An app is a type of software that allows you to perform specific tasks. Applications for desktop or laptop computers are sometimes called desktop applications, and those for mobile devices are called mobile apps. When you open an application, it runs inside the operating system until you close it. Much of the time, you will have more than one application open at the same time, and this is known as multitasking.

    App is a very common term for an application, especially for simple applications that can be downloaded cheaply or even for free. Many apps are also available for mobile devices and even some TVs.

    Types of Desktop Applications

    There are countless desktop applications out there, and they fall into many different categories. Some are more full-featured (like Microsoft Word), while others may only do one or two things (like gadgets). Below are just a few types of applications that you might use:

    Word Processors: A word processor allows you to write a letter, design a flyer, and create many other kinds of documents. The most well-known word processor is Microsoft Word.
    Personal Finance: Personal finance software, such as Quicken, allows you to keep track of your income and expenses, create a budget, and more. Most personal finance programs can automatically download information from your bank, so you don’t have to manually type in all of your transactions.
    Web Browsers: A web browser is the tool that you use to access the World Wide Web. Most computers come with a web browser pre-installed, but you can also download a different one if you prefer. Examples of browsers include Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, and Safari.
    Games: There are many different games that you can play on your computer. They range from card games such as Solitaire to action games like Halo 2. Many action games require a lot of computing power, so they may not work unless you have a newer computer. Watching a movie in Windows Media Player
    Watching a movie in Windows Media Player
    Media Players: If you want to listen to mp3s or watch movies that you’ve downloaded, you’ll need to use a media player. Windows Media Player and iTunes are popular media players.
    Gadgets: Sometimes called widgets, these are simple applications that you can place on your desktop (or on the Dashboard if you’re using a Mac). There are many different types of gadgets, and they include calendars, calculators, maps, news headlines, and more.

    Installing Desktop Applications

    In order to work, an application usually has to be installed on your computer. Typically, installation is as simple as inserting the installation disc and following the instructions on the screen. For software that is downloaded from the internet, you can usually double-click it after it is finished downloading and then follow the instructions on the screen. Many applications include a readme file (for example, readme.txt), which includes installation instructions and other information.

    Use caution when downloading software, as it can contain viruses or other malware. If you have an antivirus program, you should scan the downloaded software before installing it. For more information, check out Protecting Your Computer from Internet Threats in our Internet Safety tutorial.

    Opening Files with Applications

    Many applications are designed to open one or more types of files (or file formats). For example, Microsoft Word can create and edit Word documents. If you don’t have the right kind of application, you won’t be able to open a file. For example, if you are taking our Access 2010 tutorial, you will need to have Microsoft Access in order to open the sample database.

    There are two main ways to open a file:

  • Find the file on your computer, and double-click it. This will open the file using the default program.
  • Open the application, then use the application to open the file. Once the application is open, you can go to the File menu at the top of the screen and select Open. This is useful because some files can be opened by several different applications, and this method allows you to choose which application to use.

    If you’re not sure what a file’s format is, you can look at the extension at the end of the file name (for example .docx, .txt, or .jpg). On some computers, the extension may be hidden, and you may need to look at the icon to determine the file format.

    Mobile Apps

    Desktop and laptop computers aren’t the only devices that can run apps. You can also download apps for mobile devices like smartphones and tablet computers, which opens up a lot of new possibilities. Here are a few examples of mobile apps:

    RedLaser: You can use RedLaser to compare prices while shopping. You simply scan an item’s barcode using your phone’s built-in camera, and the app searches the Web for the best price.

    Word Lens: Word Lens is a language translator app. Like RedLaser, it uses your phone’s camera to take a picture of a sign, menu, or other text that you want to translate, and then it displays the translation for you.

    Foursquare: If you’re going out to a restaurant, bar, or mall, you can “check in” with Foursquare to find nearby friends and also let your friends know where you are. Foursquare can also show you a list of nearby businesses (using your phone’s built-in GPS), which can help you discover places that you’ve never been to before.

    Compared to traditional applications, mobile apps are relatively cheap. Many of them cost as little as 99 cents, and others are free. If your mobile device has an internet connection, you can download apps directly onto the mobile device. Otherwise, you can download them to your computer and then transfer them over.


    What are some examples of applications you have on your computer? Did you have to install them, or did they come pre-installed on your computer?

    Try double-clicking some files on your computer. Which applications open up?

    What are some examples of mobile apps?

    If you have a mobile device, research some of the apps available for Apple iOS or Android.

    [/dropdown_box][dropdown_box expand_text=”Web Apps and the Cloud” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]

    What is the Cloud?

    You may have heard people using terms like the cloud, cloud computing, or cloud storage. But what exactly is the cloud? Basically, the cloud is the internet—more specifically, it’s all of the things that you can access remotely over the internet. When something is in the cloud, that means it is stored on servers on the internet, instead of on your computer. It lets you access your calendar, email, files, and more from any computer that has an internet connection.

    If you’ve ever used web-based email, then you’ve used the cloud—all of the emails in your inbox are stored on servers. However, there are many other services that use the cloud in different ways. Here are just a few examples:

    Dropbox is a cloud storage service that lets you easily store and share files with other people, and it lets you access your files from a mobile device as well.
    Evernote lets you type notes, clip webpages, take photos, and organize all of them from your computer or mobile device.
    Mozy and Carbonite can automatically back up your data in case your computer is lost, stolen, or damaged.

    Why Use the Cloud?

    There are many reasons to use the cloud, but the main reasons are convenience and reliability. In the past, if you wanted to bring a file with you, you would have to save it to a USB flash drive, external hard drive, or CD-R disc. Saving a file to the cloud ensures that you’ll be able to access it with any computer that has an internet connection, so you don’t have any physical media to keep track of. The cloud also makes it much easier to share a file with coworkers or friends, making it possible to collaborate over the internet.

    With the cloud, you’re much less likely to lose your data, since it is stored on servers. However, just like anything online, there is always a risk that someone may try to gain access to your personal data, so it’s important to choose a strong password and pay attention to any privacy settings for the service you’re using.

    What is a Web App?

    Previously, we talked about how desktop applications allow you to perform tasks on your computer. However, there are also web applications (or web apps), which run in the cloud and do not need to be installed on your computer. These are sometimes called cloud apps.

    Examples of Web Apps
    Online Email Services: Services like Gmail and Yahoo! Mail run within your browser and can do many of the same things that email programs like Microsoft Outlook can do. After you sign up for an online email service, you can begin using it immediately—no installation is required. Instead of being stored on your computer, your emails are stored in the cloud.
    Google Docs: Google Docs is an office suite that runs within your browser. Much like Microsoft Office, you can use it to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. Your documents are stored in the cloud, which makes it easy to share your documents with other people.

    Facebook: Facebook lets you create an online profile and interact with your friends. Profiles and conversations are constantly evolving, so Facebook uses web app technologies throughout the site to keep the information up-to-date. There are also games and other web apps that you can add to your Facebook profile.
    Web apps are becoming more and more integrated with websites, and it may be hard to distinguish between a web application and a “regular” website. In many cases, you may be using a web application without even knowing it!

    How Do Web Apps Work?

    When you use a web app, you are working from your computer or mobile device, but much of the actual processing is done by a network of servers. These servers can pool all of their processing power in order to handle requests from all over the world. They also use specialized servers to store the data that you’re working with, as well as the data from all of the other users. All of this happens very seamlessly, so it looks almost like the application is running on your computer.

    For example, if you open a document with Google Docs, your web browser will communicate with the network of servers to display your document. As you edit the document, your browser will work closely with the servers to make sure everything is kept up-to-date.


  • Do you already use the cloud for things like web-based email?
  • What are some other ways you could use the cloud?
  • How is a web app different from a desktop application?
  • [/dropdown_box]

[dropdown_box expand_text=”All About the Desktop Computer” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]abc[/dropdown_box]

    [dropdown_box expand_text=”Basic Parts of a Desktop Computer.” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]


    The basic parts of a desktop computer are the computer case, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and power cord. Each part plays an important role whenever you use a computer.

    Computer Case
    The computer case is the metal and plastic box that contains the main components of the computer. It houses the motherboard, central processing unit (CPU), the power supply, and more.

    Computer cases come in different shapes and sizes. A desktop case lies flat on a desk, and the monitor usually sits on top of it. A tower case is tall and sits next to the monitor or on the floor. The front of the case usually has an on/off switch and one or more optical drives.

    Most of the personal computers you can purchase today include tower cases rather than desktop cases; however, some computers are being made with all of the internal components built into the monitor, which completely eliminates the tower.

    The monitor works with a video card, located inside the computer case, to display images and text on the screen. Newer monitors usually have LCD (liquid crystal display) or LED (light-emitting diode) displays. These can be made very thin, and they are often called flat panel displays. Older monitors use CRT (cathode ray tube) displays. CRT monitors are much bigger and heavier, and they take up more desk space.

    Most monitors have control buttons that allow you to change your monitor’s display settings, and some monitors also have built-in speakers.

    LED displays are actually LCD displays that are backlit with light-emitting diodes. This allows for greater contrast than a traditional LCD display.

    Power Cord
    The power cord is the link between the power outlet and the power supply unit in the computer casing. If the power cord is not plugged in, the computer will not power on. To protect your computer from voltage spikes, you can plug the power cord into a surge protector. You can also use an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS), which acts as a surge protector and also provides temporary power if there is a blackout.

    The keyboard is one of the primary ways we communicate with the computer and enter data. There are many different types of computer keyboards, such as wired, wireless, ergonomic, and multimedia. Although there may be differences in the location of some keys or features, keyboards are very similar and allow you to accomplish basically the same tasks.

    If you want to learn how to type, or improve your touch-typing skills, check out our free Typing Tutorial.

    The mouse is a peripheral that is known as a pointing device. It lets you point to objects on the screen, click on them, and move them.

    There are two main types of mice: optical and mechanical. The optical mouse uses an electronic eye to detect movement and is easier to clean. The mechanical mouse uses a rolling ball to detect movement. Generally, a mechanical mouse is cheaper, although it may require regular cleaning to keep it working properly.

    Traditionally, a mouse connects to the computer using a USB or PS/2 connection. However, you can also buy a wireless mouse, which can reduce clutter on your desktop.

    To learn the basics of using a mouse, check out our interactive Mouse Tutorial.

    Mouse Alternatives
    There are other devices that can do the same thing a mouse can do, but with a different look and feel. Many people find them to be easier to use, and they also require less desk space than a mouse. The most common mouse alternatives include:

    Trackball: A trackball has a ball on top that can rotate freely. Instead of moving the device like a mouse, you can simply roll the ball with your fingers to move the pointer. Some mobile devices have miniature trackballs that can be controlled with your thumb.
    Touchpad: A touchpad (also called a trackpad) is a touch-sensitive pad that lets you control the pointer by making a “drawing” motion with your finger. Touchpads are very common on laptop computers.

    Think about the desktop computers you’ve seen at work, school, the library, a store, or a friend’s house. What did they look like? Were they all-in-one, or did they have a separate tower?
    Review the Parts of the Keyboard interactive on page 3 of this lesson. Are there any keys that you haven’t used before?

  • If you’re using a mouse, flip it over to see whether it’s optical or mechanical.
  • Is your monitor LCD, LED, or CRT?
  • If your monitor has control buttons, try adjusting the brightness and contrast
  • [/dropdown_box][dropdown_box expand_text=”Buttons, Sockets and Slots on a Desktop Computer” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]


    Take a look at the front and back of your computer case and count the number of buttons, sockets, and slots you see. Now, look at your monitor and count any that appear there. You probably counted at least 20.

    Each computer is different, so the buttons, slots, and sockets will vary from computer to computer. However, there are certain features you can expect to find on most desktop computers. Being familiar with the names of each and how they are commonly used will help you later on when you connect that new printer, mouse, digital camera, or other device.

    Front of Computer Case

    Back of Computer Case

    On the back of the computer case are connection ports that are made to fit specific devices. The arrangement of these varies from computer to computer, and many companies have their own special connectors for the specific devices. Some of the ports may be color coded to match a color on the device, which will help you determine which port is used with a particular device.

    Other Types of Ports
    There are many other types of ports that computers can have. For example, some Macs have a FireWire port, which is similar to USB. There are also newer ports such as Thunderbolt, which can transmit data at very high speeds, making them ideal for use with high-resolution monitors and external hard drives. If your computer has ports that you don’t recognize, consult your manual for more information.

    Peripherals You Can Use with Your Computer
    The most basic computer setup usually includes the computer case, monitor, keyboard, and mouse, but you can plug many different types of devices into the extra ports on your computer. These devices are called peripherals. Below are a few examples of peripherals.

    Printers: A printer is used to print documents, photos, or anything else that appears on your screen. There are many types of printers available, including inkjet, laser, and photo printers. You can also buy an all-in-one printer, scanner, and copier.
    Scanners: A scanner allows you to copy an image or document and save it to your computer as a digital (computer-readable) image. Many scanners are included as part of an all-in-one printer/scanner/copier, although you can also buy a separate flatbed or handheld scanner.
    Speakers/Headphones: Speakers and headphones are output devices, which means that they are devices that communicate information from the computer to the user. They allow you to hear sound and music. Depending on the model, they may connect to the audio port or the USB port. Some monitors also have built-in speakers.
    Microphones: A microphone is a type of input device, or a device that receives information from a user. You can connect the microphone to the computer and use the computer to record sound or to communicate with another computer user over the internet. Many computers come with built-in microphones.
    Web Cameras: A web camera, or webcam, is a type of input device that can record videos or take pictures. It can also transmit video over the internet in real time, allowing you to do video chat or video conferencing with someone in a different part of the world. Webcams are used often in business, and they also help many friends and families stay connected.
    Joystick or Game Controller: A joystick is a lever that is used to control computer games. There are various other types of controllers that you can use, and you can also use your mouse and keyboard to control most games.
    Digital Cameras: A digital camera lets you capture a picture or video in digital form. By connecting the camera to your computer’s USB port, you can transfer the images from the camera to the computer. You can then print the images, email them to a friend, or post them on the Web.
    Mobile Phones, MP3 Players, Tablet Computers, and Other Devices: When you buy an electronic device such as a mobile phone or mp3 player, check to see if it comes with a USB cable. If it does, that means you can connect it to your computer. With many devices, you can synchronize (or sync) them with your computer, which automatically keeps your contacts, music, and other data up-to-date whenever you connect the device to your computer.


  • Find out what types of drives are on your computer (e.g, CD-ROM, DVD-ROM).
  • Count the number of USB ports on your computer.
  • What are some of the peripherals that you can use with your computer?
  • Does your mobile phone include an adapter cable that connects to your computer?
  • [/dropdown_box][dropdown_box expand_text=”Inside a Desktop Computer” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]
    Have you ever looked inside a computer case before, or seen pictures of the inside of one? The small parts may look complicated, but the inside of a computer case really isn’t all that mysterious. This lesson will help you master some of the basic terminology and understand a little about what goes on inside the computer casing.

    A Look Inside a Desktop Computer

    Let’s explore the inside of a computer tower.


    The Central Processing Unit (CPU), also called a processor, is located inside the computer case on the motherboard. It is sometimes called the brain of the computer, and its job is to carry out commands. Whenever you press a key, click the mouse, or start an application, you’re sending instructions to the CPU.

    The CPU is generally a 2-inch ceramic square with a silicon chip located inside. The chip is usually about the size of a thumbnail. The CPU fits into the motherboard’s CPU socket, which is covered by the heat sink, an object that absorbs heat from the CPU.

    A processor’s speed is measured in megahertz (MHz), or millions of instructions per second, and gigahertz (GHz), or billions of instructions per second. A faster processor can execute instructions more quickly. However, the actual speed of the computer depends on the speed of many different components—not just the processor.

    There are many processor manufacturers for personal computers, but the most well-known ones are Intel and AMD.

    The motherboard is the computer’s main circuit board. It’s a thin plate that holds the CPU, memory, connectors for the hard drive and optical drives, expansion cards to control the video and audio, as well as connections to your computer’s ports (such as the USB ports). The motherboard connects directly or indirectly to every part of the computer.

    Power Supply Unit
    The power supply unit in a computer converts the power from the wall outlet to the type of power needed by the computer. It sends power through the cables to the motherboard and other components.

    If you decide to open the computer case and take a look, make sure to unplug the computer first. Before touching the inside of the computer, you should touch a grounded metal object (or a metal part of the computer casing) to discharge any static buildup. Static electricity can be transmitted through the computer circuits and ruin them.

    RAM (Random Access Memory)
    RAM is your system’s short-term memory. Whenever your computer performs calculations, it temporarily stores the data in the RAM until it is needed.

    This short-term memory disappears when the computer is turned off. If you’re working on a document, spreadsheet, or other type of file, you’ll need to save it to avoid losing it. When you save a file, the data is written to the hard drive, which acts as long-term storage.

    RAM is measured in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB). The more RAM you have, the more things your computer can do at the same time. If you don’t have enough RAM, you may notice that your computer is sluggish when you have several programs open. Because of this, many people add extra RAM to their computers to improve performance.

    A bit is the smallest unit of data in computer processing. A byte is a group of eight bits. A megabyte contains about one million bytes, and a gigabyte is about one billion bytes.

    Hard Drive
    The hard drive is the data center of the computer. This is where the software is installed, and it’s also where your documents and other files are stored. The hard drive is long-term storage, which means the data is still saved even if you turn the computer off or unplug it.

    When you run a program or open a file, the computer copies some of the data from the hard drive onto the RAM so that it can access the data more easily. When you save a file, the data is copied back to the hard drive. The faster the hard drive is, the faster your computer can start up and load programs.

    Most hard drives are hard disk drives, which store data on a magnetic platter. Some computers now use solid-state drives (also called flash hard drives). These are faster and more durable than hard disk drives, but they are also more expensive.

    A USB flash drive is basically a small, removable flash hard drive that plugs into a USB port. These are a convenient way to bring your files with you and open them on a different computer.

    If you’re using Windows, you can view information about your computer’s RAM and processor speed without opening up your computer. Just go to the Control Panel (in the Start menu) and click System and Security. In Mac OS X, you can view this information by clicking the Apple icon and selecting About This Mac.

    Expansion Cards
    Most computers have expansion slots on the motherboard that allow you to add various types of expansion cards. These are sometimes called PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) cards. You may never have to add any PCI cards, as most motherboards have built-in video, sound, network, and other capabilities. However, if you want to boost the performance of your computer or update the capabilities of an older computer, you can always add one or more cards. Below are some of the most common types of expansion cards:

    Video card
    The video card is responsible for what you see on the monitor. Most computers have a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) built into the motherboard, instead of having a separate video card. If you like playing graphics-intense games on the computer, you can add a faster video card to one of the expansion slots to get better performance.

    Sound Card
    The sound card, also called an audio card, is responsible for what you hear in the speakers or headphones. Most motherboards have integrated sound, but you can upgrade to a dedicated sound card for higher-quality sound.

    Network Card
    The network card allows your computer to communicate over a network and access the internet. It can either connect with an Ethernet cable or through a wireless connection (often called Wi-Fi). Many motherboards have built-in network connections, and a network card can also be added to an expansion slot.

    Bluetooth Card
    Bluetooth is a technology for wireless communication over short distances. It’s often used in computers to communicate with wireless keyboards, mice, and printers. It’s often built into the motherboard or included in a wireless network card. For computers that don’t have Bluetooth, a USB adapter (called a dongle) can be purchased.


    Review the parts of the computer identified in this lesson. Make sure you know the function of each part.
    Which parts provide short-term and long-term memory for your computer?
    Think Creatively! In the videos, we compared the CPU to a brain, the hard drive to a closet, and the motherboard to a blueprint. Can you think of any other good analogies, or comparisons? Do any of the computer parts listed remind you of anything else?
    Find out what your processor speed is. Is it measured in gigahertz or megahertz? How much RAM does your computer have?[/dropdown_box]

[dropdown_box expand_text=”Laptop Computers and Mobile Devices” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]abc[/dropdown_box]

    [dropdown_box expand_text=”Laptop Computers and Netbooks” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]

    What is a Laptop Computer?

    A laptop is a battery- or AC-powered personal computer that can be easily carried and used in a variety of locations. Many laptops are designed to have all of the functionality of a desktop computer, which means they can generally run the same software and open the same types of files. However, some laptops, such as netbooks, sacrifice some functionality in order to be even more portable.

    How is a Laptop Different From a Desktop?
    Since laptops are designed for portability, there are some important differences between them and desktop computers. A laptop has an all-in-one design, with a built-in monitor, keyboard, touchpad (which replaces the mouse), and speakers. That means it is fully functional even when there are no peripherals attached to it. A laptop is quicker to set up, and there are fewer cables to get in the way.

    You also have the option of connecting a regular mouse, a larger monitor, and other peripherals. This basically turns your laptop into a desktop computer, with one main difference: You can easily disconnect the peripherals and take the laptop with you wherever you go.

    Here are the main differences that you can expect with a laptop:

    Touchpad: A touchpad (also called a trackpad) is a touch-sensitive pad that lets you control the pointer by making a “drawing” motion with your finger. Many touchpads now include multi-touch gestures, which allow you to perform specific tasks by making gestures with more than one finger. For example, a pinch gesture is often used to zoom in or out.
    Battery: Every laptop has a battery, which allows you to use the laptop when it’s not plugged in. Whenever you plug the laptop in, the battery recharges. Another benefit of having a battery is that it can provide backup power to the laptop if the power goes out.
    AC Adapter: A laptop usually has a specialized power cable called an AC adapter, which is designed to be used with that particular kind of laptop. Some of these cables use magnetic MagSafe connectors that will safely pull out if someone trips over the power cable. This helps to prevent damage to the cable and the laptop.
    Ports: Most laptops have the same types of ports that desktop computers have (such as USB), although they usually have fewer ports to save space. However, some ports may be different, and you may need an adapter in order to use them. For example, the monitor port is often a Mini DisplayPort, which is a smaller version of the normal DisplayPort.

    Since some ports have a similar appearance, you may need to consult your manual to determine what types of ports your laptop has.

    What is a Netbook?

    A netbook is a type of laptop that is designed to be even more portable. Netbooks are often cheaper than laptops or desktops. They are generally less powerful than other types of computers, but they provide enough power for email and internet access, which is where the name “netbook” comes from.

    In order to save space, netbooks generally have smaller screens and keyboards. Many netbooks also lack certain hardware such as optical drives. However, there are many different models available, and in some cases there isn’t much of a difference between a large netbook and a “regular” laptop.

    Since netbooks are less powerful, they sometimes use a more simplified operating system. Many new netbooks use Windows 7 Starter, but some use simplified versions of Linux.


    If you’ve used a laptop computer before, think about some of the ways it was different from a desktop computer. Was it easier or more difficult to use?
    What are some of the advantages of using a laptop or netbook? Are there any disadvantages?
    If you are thinking about buying a laptop, think about how you would use it. Are there any parks, coffee shops, or bookstores where you could use your laptop?
    Would a laptop, netbook, or tablet computer work best for you?

    [/dropdown_box][dropdown_box expand_text=”Getting to Know Mobile Devices” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]

    What is a Mobile Device?

    A mobile device is basically any handheld computer. It is designed to be extremely portable, often fitting in the palm of your hand or in your pocket. Some mobile devices are more powerful, and they allow you to do many of the same things you can do with a desktop or laptop computer. These include tablet computers, e-readers, and smartphones.

    Tablet Computers
    Like laptops, tablet computers are designed to be portable. However, they provide a very different computing experience. The most obvious difference is that tablet computers don’t have keyboards or touchpads. Instead, the entire screen is touch-sensitive, allowing you to type on a virtual keyboard and use your finger as a mouse pointer.

    Tablet computers are mostly designed for consuming media, and they are optimized for tasks like web browsing, watching videos, reading e-books, and playing games. For many people, a “regular” computer like a desktop or laptop is still needed in order to use some programs. However, the convenience of a tablet computer means that it may be ideal as a second computer. Below are some of the main features that you can expect with a tablet computer:

    Mobile OS: Different types of tablets use different operating systems. Examples include Android and iOS. You’ll usually be able to download free updates to your OS as they become available.
    Solid-State Drives: Tablet computers usually use solid-state drives, which allow the computer to boot up and open programs more quickly. They are also more durable than hard disk drives.
    Wi-Fi and 3G/4G: Since they are optimized for internet use, tablet computers have built-in Wi-Fi. For a monthly fee, you can also purchase a 3G or 4G data plan, allowing you to access the internet from almost anywhere.
    Bluetooth: In order to save space, tablet computers have very few ports. If you want to use an external keyboard or other peripherals, they will often use a wireless Bluetooth connection.

    E-Book Readers
    E-book readers (also called e-readers) are similar to tablet computers, except they are mainly designed for reading e-books (digital, downloadable books). Examples include the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook.

    E-book readers have either an e-paper display or an LCD display:

    E-Paper: Short for electronic paper, this type of display can usually only display black and white. It is designed to look a lot like an actual page in a book. Unlike an LCD display, it is not backlit, so the text stays readable even outdoors in full sun. Many people consider e-paper to be more pleasant to read, as it causes less eye strain. However, it generally can’t be used for videos or other applications because the refresh rate is too low.
    LCD: This is the same type of screen found on tablet computers and laptops. It’s more versatile than e-paper, but it’s often more difficult to view in bright sunlight, as the image becomes washed out. Since an LCD screen can display colors, this type of e-reader is better for viewing magazines or books with photos. Many LCD e-readers (such as the Nook Color) are basically tablet computers, as they can do many different tasks in addition to displaying e-books.
    You don’t need an e-reader in order to read an e-book. E-books can usually be read on tablet computers, smartphones, laptops, and desktops.

    Go to the Kindle and Nook websites to compare the features of different e-readers.


    A smartphone is a powerful mobile phone that is designed to run a variety of applications in addition to phone service. Smartphones are basically small tablet computers, and they can be used for web browsing, watching videos, reading e-books, playing games, and more.

    Smartphones use touchscreens and operating systems similar to those used by tablet computers. Many of them use a virtual keyboard, but others (such as the BlackBerry Bold) have a physical keyboard, which allows the entire screen to be used for display purposes.

    Internet access is an important feature of smartphones. Generally, you will need to purchase a 3G or 4G data plan in addition to normal cell service. Smartphones can also connect to Wi-Fi when it is available, which is usually faster than 3G.

    A personal digital assistant (PDA) is a mobile device that is used for managing phone numbers, addresses, calendars, and other information. Before smartphones existed, a PDA was usually a separate device. Today, smartphones combine the functionality of a PDA and a mobile phone.


  • Think about how a tablet computer is different from a laptop. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of a tablet computer?
  • If you’re thinking about buying an e-reader, think about what kinds of things you like to read. Do you mostly read books or magazines?
  • What kind of screen do you think would be best?
  • Smartphones can have virtual keyboards or physical keyboards. What are some advantages and disadvantages to each one?
  • [/dropdown_box]

[dropdown_box expand_text=”Getting Started” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]abc[/dropdown_box]

    [dropdown_box expand_text=”Setting Up a Computer” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]
    You have a new computer and are ready to set it up. While this may seem like an overwhelming and difficult task, it is really very simple. It does not matter what name brand of computer you have, as most computers are set up in a very similar way.

    If you are setting up a newly purchased computer that is still in the box, you will probably find a how-to guide in the packaging that includes step-by-step details. However, even if it didn’t include instructions, you can still set up the computer in just a few easy steps. In this lesson, we’ll go through the different steps that are needed to set up a typical computer.

    Setting Up a Laptop Computer

    If you have a laptop, then setup should be very easy: Just open it up and press the power button. If the battery isn’t charged, you’ll need to plug in the AC adapter. You can continue using the laptop while it charges.

    If your laptop has any peripherals, such as external speakers, you may want to read the instructions below, since laptops and desktops generally use the same types of connections.

    Setting Up a Desktop Computer

    Step 1
    Unpack the monitor and computer case from the box. Remove any plastic covering or protective tape. Place the monitor and the computer case where you wish on the desk or work area.

    Think about where you want your desk or work area to be located, and where you want your monitor, computer case, and other hardware. Be sure to place your computer case in an area that is well-ventilated and that has good air flow. This will help to prevent overheating.

    Step 2
    Locate the monitor cable. It will usually be either a VGA or a DVI cable. VGA cables will often have blue connectors to make them easier to identify. (If you have an all-in-one computer that’s built into the monitor, you can skip to Step 4).

    Step 3
    Connect one end of the cable to the monitor port on the back of the computer case and the other end to the monitor. Hand-tighten the plastic-covered screws on the monitor cable to secure it.

    Many computer cables will only fit a specific way. If the cable doesn’t fit, don’t force it or you might damage the connectors. Make sure the plug aligns with the port, then connect it.

    Step 4
    Unpack the keyboard and determine whether it uses a USB (rectangular) connector or a PS/2 (round) connector. If it uses a USB connector, plug it into any of the USB ports on the back of the computer. If it uses a PS/2 connector, plug it into the purple keyboard port on the back of the computer.

    Step 5
    Unpack the mouse and determine whether it uses a USB (rectangular) connector or a PS/2 (round) connector. If it uses a USB connector, plug it into any of the USB ports on the back of the computer. If it uses a PS/2 connector, plug it into the green mouse port on the back of the computer.

  • If your keyboard has a USB port, you can connect your mouse to the keyboard instead of connecting it directly to your computer.
  • If you have a wireless mouse or keyboard, you may need to connect a Bluetooth dongle (USB adapter) to your computer. However, many computers have built-in Bluetooth, so a dongle may not be necessary.
  • Step 6
    If you have external speakers or headphones, you can connect them to your computer’s audio port (either on the front or the back of the computer case). Many computers have color-coded ports. Speakers or headphones connect to the green port, and a microphone can connect to the pink port. The blue port is the line in, which can be used with other types of devices.

    Some speakers, headphones, and microphones have USB connectors instead of the usual audio plug. These can be connected to any USB port. In addition, many computers have speakers or microphones built into the monitor.

    Step 7
    Locate the two power supply cables that came with your computer. Plug the first power supply cable into the back of the computer case, and then into a surge protector. Then, using the other cable, connect the monitor to the surge protector.

    Step 8
    Finally, plug the surge protector into a wall outlet. You may also need to turn the surge protector on if it has a power switch.

    If you don’t have a surge protector, you can plug the computer directly into the wall. However, this is not recommended, as electrical surges can damage your computer.

    Setup Complete
    Your basic computer hardware is now set up. Before you start it up, spend a little time arranging your workspace. A workspace that is arranged well can improve your productivity and also promote health.

    For more information on arranging your workspace, you can view the Computer Safety and Maintenance lesson in this tutorial.


  • If you have a desktop computer that is already set up at home, take a look at it.
    • Look at the monitor cable and see where it connects to the computer case and monitor.
      Locate the power cords for the monitor and computer case.
      Locate the audio ports.
  • Does your computer have a VGA monitor port, or some other kind?
  • Do you have a USB or PS/2 mouse?
  • Do you have a USB or PS/2 keyboard?
  • Is your computer plugged into a surge protector?
  • [/dropdown_box][dropdown_box expand_text=”Beginning to Use Your Computer” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]

    Starting Up a New Computer

    When you start up a brand-new computer for the first time, it will walk you through several steps to set up and personalize it. These steps usually only take a few minutes, and some of them are optional. The exact steps will vary depending on what type of operating system you are using, but here are a few things that you will usually be able to do:

    Choose a language and location: Your operating system may have many different languages installed, so you’ll need to choose the one that you want to use. You may also have the option of choosing your location.

    Watch a welcome video: Your computer may play a brief welcome video during the setup process, so it’s a good idea to turn your speakers on to get the full experience.
    Create a profile or account name: Your computer will need to have at least one account name that you will use to sign in. You can also choose to create a password for extra security. If other people will be using the computer, you can set up a separate account for each person later on.
    Choose a wireless network: If you have an existing wireless network, you can select it during the setup process. If you don’t have one, you can skip this step (we’ll talk about internet and network settings in Lesson 13: Connecting to the Internet).
    Register your computer: You’ll probably have the option of registering your computer, which will send your name, address, and other information to the computer company. If you don’t want to register at this point, you can skip it.

    If you’re not sure what to do at a particular step, read the instructions on the screen carefully. There may be a recommended option that you can choose, which will keep setup as simple as possible. In addition, some steps are optional, so if you’re still not sure, you can skip it.

    Whenever you’re creating a password, it’s important to create a strong one that will be hard for other people to guess. For tips on creating a strong password, check out Passwords: The First Step to Safety in our Internet Safety tutorial.

    If you have another computer that has all of your files and settings, you’ll probably want to copy them to the new computer. This is known as migrating. It’s possible to manually move your files using an external hard drive, DVD-ROM discs, or an existing home network. This can be time consuming, and you may not be able to move all of your settings to the new computer.

    However, your computer probably has a built-in tool to help you migrate your files and settings, and it may appear automatically during the setup process. This tool will let you choose what you want to move, and then it will automatically move the selected items to the new computer. PCs and Macs have different tools for this purpose:

  • PCs use Windows Easy Transfer, which will either be on your installation disc or can be downloaded. To download it, go to the Windows Easy Transfer page.
  • Macs use Migration Assistant, which is built into every Mac. For more information, go to the Apple Support page.
  • Installing Peripherals

    If you have a printer, scanner, webcam, or other peripherals, you can connect them at this point. Many peripherals are plug and play, which means they will be recognized by your computer as soon as they are plugged in. Other peripherals may include software that needs to be installed before you can begin using them. Use the instructions included with the device to install it if necessary.

    Generally, peripherals are optional, and you can add new ones at any time—you don’t have to add all peripherals during the initial setup of your computer.

    Setup Complete!
    You have now finished setting up your computer, and you can start using it. In the next lesson, we’ll go over the basics of using your operating system so you can begin to become comfortable with the way your computer works.


  • Is your computer brand new, or is it used?
  • If it is brand new, what are some of the setup steps you had to take when you first turned it on?
  • If you have old files on another computer, how will you move them to the new computer? Does your computer have a built-in tool to help you do this?
  • How many people use your computer?
  • Would it make sense to create multiple accounts?
  • Try creating a strong password.
  • What makes a password strong?
  • [/dropdown_box][dropdown_box expand_text=”Getting to Know the OS” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]
    The screen that you see when your computer has finished starting up is called the desktop. Depending on what kind of operating system you have, the desktop will look different, but it generally consists of menus at the bottom, top, and/or sides of the screen, with the rest of the screen containing a desktop background (or wallpaper). The desktop background area can also contain any files, applications, or shortcuts that you want to have quick access to.

    Getting to Know Your Computer’s OS

    Shutting Down Your Computer

    When you’re done using your computer, it’s important to shut it down properly. Depending on your operating system, the exact procedure for shutting down will vary.

    To Shut Down Windows 8:

  • Hover the mouse in the lower-right corner to access the Charms bar, then select Settings.
  • Click Power and select Shut down.
  • To Shut Down Windows 7 or Vista:

  • Click the Start button and then select the Shut down button (or the power button icon in Vista). You can also click the arrow to the right of the Shut down button for more options.
  • By default, if you click the power button icon in Vista, your computer will go to Sleep instead of shutting down. Sleep turns off most of your computer’s processes, but it remembers which applications and files are open. This allows your computer to start up more quickly, since you don’t have to wait for the operating system and applications to load.
  • To Shut Down Windows XP:

  • Click the Start button and then select Turn Off Computer.
  • To Shut Down Mac OS X:

  • Click the Apple icon and then select Shut Down.
  • Your Computer’s File System

    A computer uses folders to organize all of the different files and applications that it contains. A folder looks like a file, except the icon is shaped like a folder. To find a specific file, you will navigate to the correct folder using a specialized application such as Windows Explorer (for PCs—not to be confused with Internet Explorer) or Finder (for Macs).

    To Open Windows Explorer (PC):
    Click the Windows Explorer icon on the taskbar, or double-click any folder on your desktop. A Windows Explorer window will open.

    To Open Finder (Mac):
    Click the Finder icon on the Dock, or double-click any folder on your desktop. A Finder window will open up.

    Basic Navigation
    Whether you’re using Windows Explorer or Finder, basic navigation is the same. If you see the file that you want, you can double-click it. Otherwise, you can use the Navigation pane on the left side of the window to select a different location.

    Deleting Files
    Windows and OS X use a Trash can (or Recycle Bin) to prevent you from accidentally deleting files. When you delete a file, it is simply moved to the Trash can. If you change your mind, you can move the file back to its original location. If you’re sure you want to permanently delete the file, you will need to empty the trash.

    To Delete a File on a PC:
    Click and drag the file onto the Recycle Bin icon on the Desktop. Alternatively, you can select the file and then press the Delete key.

    To empty the trash, right-click the Recycle Bin icon and select Empty Recycle Bin. All files in the Recycle Bin will be permanently deleted.
    To Delete a File on a Mac:
    Click and drag the file onto the Trash icon on the Dock. Alternatively, you can select the file and then press Command-Delete.

    To empty the trash, right-click the Trash icon and select Empty Trash. All files in the Trash will be permanently deleted.

    Opening Applications

    When you double-click a file, it will automatically open the default application for that file type. However, much of the time you’ll open an application directly.

    To Open an Application on a PC:
    Click the Start button and select the desired application. If you don’t see it, you can click All Programs to see a complete list. For convenience, commonly used applications may also have a shortcut on the taskbar or on the desktop.

    In Windows 8, there is no Start menu, so you’ll usually open applications from the Start screen. To learn more, check out our lesson on Getting Started with Windows 8.

    To Open an Application on a Mac:
    Click on the application’s icon on the Dock. If you don’t see it, click the Spotlight icon in the top-right corner of the screen and type the name of the application.

    If you are using OS X Lion or Mountain Lion, you can also click the Launchpad icon on the Dock to select an application.

    Adjusting Your Computer’s Settings

    From time to time, you’ll need to adjust your computer’s settings. This can range from simple tasks such as changing your desktop background to more advanced tasks like adjusting your security or network settings. On PCs, the Control Panel is used to adjust settings. On Macs, you’ll use System Preferences.

    To Open the Control Panel (PC):
    Click the Start button and select Control Panel.
    The Control Panel will appear. You can then select the desired category to adjust the settings.
    In Windows 8, you can open the Control Panel directly from the Start screen. Simply type “Control Panel” and then press Enter.

    To Open System Preferences (Mac):
    Click the Apple icon and select System Preferences.
    The System Preferences window will appear. You can then select the desired category to adjust the settings.
    For more information about using Windows, check out our Windows 7, Windows XP, and Windows 8 tutorials.


  • Are you using a PC or a Mac? What kinds of menus and toolbars does it have? How do they change when you open an application?
  • What are folders used for?
    Try navigating through different folders on your computer.
    What happens when you delete a file on your computer?
    What happens when you double-click a file?
    Where do you go to adjust settings on a PC? On a Mac?

    [/dropdown_box][dropdown_box expand_text=”Connecting to the Internet” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]

    How Do I Connect to the Internet?

    Once you’ve set up your computer, you’ll probably want to get internet access so that you can send and receive email, browse the web, watch movies, and more. Before you can access the internet, there are three things that you need: internet service, a modem, and a web browser.

    Choosing an Internet Service
    Which Service is Best for Me?
    It all depends on where you live and how much speed you need. Internet Service Providers usually offer different levels of speed based on your needs. If you’re mainly using the internet for e-mail and social networking, a slower connection might be all you need, but if you want to download a lot of music or watch streaming movies, you’ll want a faster connection. You’ll need to do some research to find out what the options are in your area.

    Types of Internet Service
    Review the following interactive to see a few of the more well-known types of internet service.

    Choosing an Internet Service Provider
    Once you have decided which type of internet access you are interested in, you can determine which ISPs are available in your area that offer the type of internet access you want. Then, you will need to purchase internet service from one of the available ISPs. Talk to friends, family members, and neighbors to see what ISP they use. Below are some things to consider as you research ISPs:

  • Speed
  • Price
  • Ease of Installation
  • Service Record
  • Technical Support
  • Contract Terms
  • Although dial-up has traditionally been the cheapest option, many ISPs have raised dial-up prices to be the same as broadband. This is intended to encourage people to switch over to broadband. Generally, you should only use dial-up if it’s the only option available.

    Hardware Needed

    Once you have your computer, you really don’t need much additional hardware to connect to the internet. The primary piece of hardware you need is a modem.

    The type of internet access you choose will determine what type of modem you need. Dial-up access uses a telephone modem, DSL service uses a DSL modem, cable access uses a cable modem, and satellite service uses a satellite adapter. Your ISP may give you a modem (often for a fee) when you sign a contract, which helps to ensure that you have the right kind of modem. However, if you would prefer to shop for a better or cheaper modem, then you can choose to buy one separately.

    A router is a hardware device that allows you to connect several computers and other devices to a single internet connection, which is known as a home network. Many routers are wireless, allowing you to easily create a wireless network.

    You don’t necessarily need to buy a router to connect to the internet. It’s possible to connect your computer directly to your modem using an Ethernet cable. Also, many modems now include a built-in router, so you have the option of creating a network without having to buy more hardware.

    Most routers also act as a hardware firewall, which helps prevent people from gaining access to your computer through the internet.

    Network Card
    A network card is a piece of hardware that allows computers to communicate over a computer network. Most newer computers have a network card built into the motherboard, so it probably is not something you will need to purchase. The network card will either have an Ethernet port, a wireless connection, or both.

    If you have a laptop with a wireless connection, you can access the internet at any place that offers a Wi-Fi connection. Many restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, hotels, and other businesses offer free Wi-Fi. In addition, many cities provide free Wi-Fi in public areas such as parks and downtown areas.

    Web Browsers

    A web browser is the tool that you use to access the World Wide Web. The browser’s main job is to display webpages. It also lets you create Bookmarks (sometimes called Favorites) for sites you like so you can easily find them again later.

    The World Wide Web is a virtual network of websites connected by hyperlinks (or “links”). Websites are stored on servers on the internet, so the World Wide Web is a part of the internet.

    Your computer probably came with a browser pre-installed. PCs come with Internet Explorer, and Macs come with Safari. If you prefer to use a different browser, you can download Firefox, Google Chrome, or Opera. All of these browsers are free.

    Setting Up Your Internet Connection

    Once you have chosen an ISP and purchased the appropriate modem, you can use the instructions provided by your ISP (or included with the modem) to set up your internet connection. Depending on what type of service you have, your ISP may need to send a technician to your house in order to turn the connection on.

    After you have everything set up, you can open your web browser and begin using the internet. If you have any problems with your internet connection, you can call your ISP’s tech support number.

    Home Networking

    If you have multiple computers at home and want to use all of them to access the internet, you’ll probably want to create a home network. In a home network, all of your devices connect to your router, which is connected to the modem. That means everyone in your family can use the internet at the same time, and you don’t have to purchase a separate internet service for each computer.

    How is a Home Network Used?
    Each computer on a network doesn’t just connect to the internet—it also connects to the other computers and devices on the network. That means you can easily share files with other computers. Some programs even let you stream music and movies from one computer to another. One example of this is the Home Sharing feature in iTunes. These types of features are easy to set up, but it’s up to you whether you want to use them.

    Home networks aren’t just for families! Even if you live alone, you may have multiple devices that can connect to a network. Many phones, printers, mp3 players, video game consoles, and digital video recorders (DVRs) are equipped with wireless cards and often require very little setup to connect them to your home network.

    Wireless Security
    A home network can be wired (using Ethernet cables) or wireless (using Wi-Fi). It may also be a mixture of the two, with some devices connecting with Ethernet and others connecting wirelessly. Wireless is generally more convenient; however, you’ll need to think about wireless security. Below are some important security terms that you’ll need to know:

    SSID: A service set identifier, commonly called the SSID, is the name of a wireless network. You should change the default SSID to something unique that you’ll remember. You may not want to use your actual name, but you can use a hobby or other interest (for example, rockclimbing1).
    Encryption password: An encryption password is a series of characters that is used to control access to the network. For even greater security, some people use a passphrase, which is longer (and therefore more secure) than a password. You should choose a password or passphrase that’s easy for you to remember, but hard for other people to guess.
    Encryption: Encryption prevents unauthorized people from reading the data that is transmitted over your wireless network. The data is coded into an unreadable form, and it can only be decoded by a computer that has the correct password (or passphrase). The most common types of encryption for wireless networks are WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WPA2.
    Although it’s possible to create a wireless network that doesn’t have a password, it is very risky. You should always create a password or passphrase to protect it from unauthorized access.

    Setting Up a Home Network

    Before you set up your home network, you’ll need to have a working internet connection. The exact process of creating a network will vary depending on what type of computer you have, as well as what type of internet service you have. You should use the instructions provided by your ISP (or the ones included with your router) when setting up your network. The following steps will give you an idea of what to expect:

  • If you have a separate router, connect it to the modem, and make sure it has power through the power adapter. If you have a combined router/modem, you won’t have to do this.
  • Connect all nonwireless devices to your router using Ethernet cables. You may also need to connect your computer to the router until setup is complete, even if your computer has a wireless card.
  • From your computer, you will need to create the SSID and password (or passphrase) for your router. You now have a wireless network that you can begin connecting wireless devices to.
  • On each wireless device, you will need to go to your network settings and select the name (SSID) of the network that you just created. You will then be prompted to type in your password.
  • At this point, your home network setup is complete. If your network isn’t working, the instructions from your ISP should include some troubleshooting tips. You can also call your ISP’s tech support number if you’re still having trouble.


  • Research two or more Internet Service Providers, and compare their service packages. What are the different connection speeds offered by each provider?
  • Try using a few different web browsers. Do they work differently?
  • Which one was easier to use?
  • Do you have any devices (computers, mobile phones, etc.) that can connect wirelessly?
  • Would it make sense to create a wireless network in your home?
  • [/dropdown_box]

[dropdown_box expand_text=”Doing More with Computers” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]abc

    [dropdown_box expand_text=”How Do I Keep My Computer Healthy?” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]

    How Do I Keep My Computer Healthy?

    Computers are expensive, and with all big purchases, you probably want to protect your investment. Luckily, it is not difficult to keep your computer healthy and in good working order. Maintaining a computer involves three things: keeping it physically clean, protecting it from malware, and backing up your important files.

    Keep Your Computer Physically Clean
    When dealing with computers, dust isn’t just unattractive—it can potentially destroy parts of your computer. By cleaning your computer regularly, you can help to keep it working properly and avoid expensive repairs.

    Cleaning the Keyboard
    A dirty keyboard doesn’t look nice and can cause your keyboard to not work properly. Dust, food, liquid, or other particles can get stuck underneath the keys, which can cause them not to work. Check your owner’s manual to see if the manufacturer has provided you with instructions for your specific keyboard. If so, you should follow them. If not, the following steps are basic cleaning tips that will help you keep your keyboard clean:

  • Unplug the keyboard from the USB or PS/2 port. If the keyboard is plugged into the PS/2 port, you will need to shut down the computer before unplugging it.
  • Turn the keyboard upside down and gently shake it to remove dirt and dust.
  • Use a can of compressed air to clean between the keys.
  • Moisten a cotton cloth or paper towel with rubbing alcohol, and use it to clean the tops of the keys. Do not pour alcohol (or any other liquid) directly onto the keys.
  • Reconnect the keyboard to the computer once it is dry. If you are connecting it to a PS/2 port, you will need to connect it before turning the computer on.
  • Dealing with Liquids

    If you spill liquid on the keyboard, quickly shut down the computer, and disconnect and turn the keyboard upside down to allow the liquid to drain.

    If the liquid is sticky, you will need to hold the keyboard on its side under running water to rinse the sticky liquid away. Then, turn the keyboard upside down to drain for two days before reconnecting it. The keyboard may not be repairable at this point, but rinsing the sticky liquid off the keyboard is the only chance for it to be usable again. The best way to avoid this situation is to keep drinks away from the computer area.

    Cleaning the Mouse

    There are two main types of mice: optical and mechanical. Each is cleaned in basically the same way, although the mechanical mouse requires a bit more work.

  • Optical mice require no internal cleaning since there aren’t any rotating parts; however, they can get sticky over time as dust collects near the light emitter. This can cause erratic cursor movement or prevent the mouse from working.
  • Mechanical mice are especially susceptible to dust and particles that can accumulate inside the mouse, which can make it difficult to track, or move, properly. If the mouse pointer does not move smoothly, the mouse may need to be cleaned.
  • Before you clean your mouse, check your owner’s manual to see if the manufacturer has provided you with instructions for your specific mouse. If so, you should follow those instructions. If not, the following steps are basic cleaning tips that will help you keep your mouse clean.

  • Unplug the mouse from the USB or PS/2 port. If the mouse is plugged into the PS/2 port, you will need to shut down the computer before unplugging it.
  • Moisten a cotton cloth with rubbing alcohol, and use it to clean the top and bottom of the mouse.
  • If you have a mechanical mouse, remove the tracking ball by turning the ball-cover ring counterclockwise. Then, clean the tracking ball and the inside of the mouse with a cotton cloth moistened with rubbing alcohol.
  • Let all of the parts dry before reassembling and reconnecting the mouse. If you are connecting it to a PS/2 port, you will need to connect it before turning the computer on.
  • If you just want to give the mouse a quick cleaning, place it on a clean, white sheet of paper and move the mouse back and forth. Some of the dust and particles should rub off onto the paper.

    Cleaning the Monitor

    Dirt, fingerprints, and dust can make your computer screen difficult to read; however, it’s easy to clean your screen when needed. Although there are monitor-cleaning kits you can buy, they may damage your monitor if they are designed for a different type of monitor. For example, a monitor cleaner that is designed for glass screens may not work with some nonglass LCD screens. The safest method is simply to use a soft, clean cloth moistened with water.

    Do not use glass cleaner to clean a monitor. Many screens have anti-glare coatings that can be damaged by glass cleaner.

  • Turn off the computer.
  • Unplug the monitor from the power. If you are using a laptop, unplug the laptop.
  • Use a soft, clean cloth moistened with water to wipe the screen clean.
  • Do not spray any liquids directly onto the screen. The liquid could leak into the monitor and damage the internal components.

    Tips for Cleaning Other Computer Surfaces

    From time to time, you should clean your computer case and the sides and back of the monitor to avoid buildup of dust and dirt. Here are a few tips you can use when cleaning these surfaces:

  • Dust is your computer’s main enemy. Use an anti-static wipe to lightly dust your computer casing. Don’t use furniture cleaners or strong solvents.
  • Use a can of compressed air with a narrow nozzle to blow out debris from the air intake slots.
  • Spray cleaning solution (diluted ammonia cleaner or glass cleaner) on a paper towel or anti-static wipe. Clean the monitor housing and case (not the monitor screen) by wiping in a downward motion.
  • A safe cleaning solution for computer surfaces (not computer screens) is ammonia diluted with water, or glass cleaner comprised mostly of ammonia and water (check the label). Remember, the milder the solution, the better.
  • Keep it Cool
    Don’t restrict the airflow around your computer. A computer can generate a lot of heat, so the casing has fans that keep it from overheating. Avoid stacking papers, books, or other items around your computer.

    Many computer desks have an enclosed compartment for the computer case. If you have this type of desk, you may want to position the case so it is not against the back side of the desk. If the compartment has a door, you may want to leave it open to improve the airflow.

    Protecting Your Computer

    Safeguarding Against Malware
    Malware is any type of software that is designed to damage your computer or gain unauthorized access to your personal information. It includes viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, and other types. Most malware is distributed over the internet, often bundled with other software.

    The best way to guard against malware is to install antivirus software such as BitDefender, Norton, or Kaspersky. Antivirus software helps to prevent malware from being installed, and it can also remove malware from your computer. New malware is being created all the time, so it’s important to update your antivirus software frequently. Most antivirus programs can do this automatically, but you’ll need to make sure that this feature is enabled.

    It’s also important to stay smart when you’re browsing the Web or using email. If a website or email attachment looks suspicious, trust your instincts. Keep in mind that your antivirus program may not catch everything, so it’s best to avoid downloading anything that might contain malware.

    Backing Up Your Computer

    Imagine what would happen if your computer suddenly stopped working. Would you lose any important documents, photos, or other files? It may be possible to repair your computer, but your files may be lost forever. Luckily, you can prevent this by creating backup copies of all of your files (or just the important ones) on an external hard drive or an online backup service.

    External Hard Drives
    You can purchase an external hard drive and copy the contents of your computer to it. The initial backup could take several hours, so you will need to select a period of time where you do not need access to your computer. Running the backup overnight usually works best. Follow-up backups should be conducted on a regular basis, but will not take as long because the drive will only need to copy your most recent files.

    Western Digital, Iomega and Seagate produce popular external hard drives. Conduct some research on which product best suits your storage needs, or ask a computer sales representative for recommendations.

    One drawback, compared to online backup services, is that your external hard drive can be lost, damaged, or stolen just as your computer might be. Therefore, it is important to keep your drive in a secure location when not in use.

    Online Backup Services
    You can also back up your files to one of the online backup services like Mozy, Carbonite or Box, and your files will always be accessible to you. The amount of storage space provided by these sites varies, and you may have to pay a monthly or yearly fee for adequate storage. Again, do your research, as these services are constantly changing and offer varying features.

    One drawback to online backup services is that the initial backup can be slow and may even take days to upload if you have a large amount of files. However, subsequent backups should not take as long.

    Other Maintenance Techniques

    To keep your computer running smoothly, it’s important to keep the files and folders uncluttered. Cluttered or unorganized folders make it more difficult to find the files you need. Additionally, unwanted files can eventually fill up your hard drive, which will make your computer slower and harder to use. Here are a few things you can do to delete unwanted files and improve your computer’s performance:

  • Delete Files: If you have any unwanted files, you can delete them manually. To do this, simply drag them into the Recycle Bin (or Trash), and then empty the Recycle Bin.
  • Disk Defragmenter: Windows includes a Disk Defragmenter program in the Control Panel. It scans the files on your hard drive and then rearranges them so that it can read them faster. If your computer is running slowly, running Disk Defragmenter can help to speed it up.
  • Disk Cleanup: Windows also includes a Disk Cleanup program in the Control Panel. It scans your computer for temporary files and other files that can be deleted. You can then delete the files to free up space on your hard drive.
  • Creating a Safe Workspace

    Avoiding Strain and Injury
    In addition to keeping your computer healthy, it’s important to think about your own health. Using a computer involves a lot of repetitive motions such as typing and using the mouse. Over time, these motions can begin to take their toll on your body, especially your wrists, neck, and back. Staring at a monitor for long periods of time can also cause eye strain. To minimize this, you should take a few moments to make sure your workspace is arranged in a comfortable and healthy way.

  • Computer ergonomics is the science of equipment design and how specific equipment usage and placement can reduce the user’s discomfort and increase productivity. Some equipment is designed with special attention to ergonomics, such as ergonomic keyboards or ergonomic chairs.
  • Here are a few tips to help you avoid injury in your workspace:

  • Adjust your chair: Make sure your chair is adjusted to allow you to sit in a natural, comfortable position. Many office chairs are specially designed to support the lower back and promote good posture.
  • Keep the keyboard at a comfortable height: Try to place the keyboard in a position that allows you to keep your wrists straight and relaxed to avoid wrist strain. Many desks have a keyboard tray that may keep the keyboard at a better height. You can also buy an ergonomic keyboard that is designed to minimize wrist strain.
  • Keep the mouse close to the keyboard: If possible, place the mouse right next to the keyboard. If the mouse is too far away, it may be uncomfortable or awkward to reach for the mouse.
  • Place the monitor at a comfortable distance: The ideal position for a monitor is 20 to 40 inches away from your eyes. It should also be at eye level or slightly lower.
  • Avoid clutter: The computer area can quickly become cluttered with papers, computer accessories, and other items. By keeping this area as uncluttered as possible, you can improve your productivity and also prevent strain or injury.
  • Take frequent breaks: It’s important to take breaks while you’re working at your computer. To avoid eye strain, you should look away from the monitor every once in a while. You can also stand up and walk around to avoid sitting in the same position for long periods of time. Programs such as Eyes Relax and Workrave can automatically remind you to take breaks.
  • Challenge!

  • Take a look at your computer. Does it need to be cleaned?
  • Clean your monitor following the steps in the lesson. Be sure not to use glass cleaner or any harsh chemicals.
  • Based on the type of mouse you have, clean your mouse following the steps in the lesson. Do you have an optical or mechanical mouse?
  • What do you do if you spill liquids on your keyboard?
  • Does your computer have antivirus software installed? If not, research some of the different antivirus programs that are available.
  • What are two ways of backing up the data on your computer?
  • To minimize eye strain, how far should your monitor be from your eyes?
  • [/dropdown_box][dropdown_box expand_text=”Basic Troubleshooting Techniques” show_more=”” show_less=”” start=”hide”]

    Basic Troubleshooting Techniques

  • The computer goes blank before the Word document was saved. The browser window freezes for no reason. You can’t hear anything from your speakers.
  • Most people have at one time or another experienced a computer problem like the situations just described, and if you haven’t, chances are you will at some point. When a problem occurs, don’t panic! Instead, work your way through some basic troubleshooting techniques and try to solve the problem.

    General Tips to Keep in Mind
    There are many devices, parts, cords, and connections on a computer, which means that there are many possible problems that could arise. In addition, your computer uses a variety of software, which can also cause problems. However, no matter what the problem is, you can use the following tips to help you find a solution:

  • Always check the cables: Many computer problems are related to an issue in the cables and connections. The easiest first step you can take to troubleshoot most problems is to check all related cables and connections.
  • Isolate the problem: If possible, try to isolate the problem. For example, if you can’t get the cursor to move on the screen, try to determine if the issue is with the mouse. If you have an extra mouse, you can alternate devices to see if the one plugged in is the issue, or use the arrow keys on the keyboard to help determine if the mouse is the source of the problem. When trying to isolate the problem, only make one change at a time.
  • Take notes about error messages: If your computer gives you error messages, be sure to write down as much information as possible. If the basic troubleshooting steps don’t work, you may need the information.
  • Remember the steps you’ve taken, or write them down: Once you start troubleshooting, you will want to remember what you have done so you don’t repeat yourself. If you can’t remember it, write it down. If you end up asking people for help, it will be much easier if they know exactly which steps you’ve taken.
  • Simple Solutions to Common Problems

    Most of the time, problems can be fixed by using simple troubleshooting techniques, such as closing and reopening the program. It’s important to try these simple solutions before resorting to more extreme measures. If the problem still isn’t fixed, you can then try other troubleshooting techniques, such as reinstalling the software.

    Program Runs Slowly or Isn’t Working Right

  • If a program is running slowly or otherwise isn’t working right, the first thing you should try is closing the program and reopening it.
  • You can also shut down your computer, wait a few seconds, and boot it up again. Some minor problems will work themselves out when you do this.
  • Check with the company for any known problems or updates to the software.
  • Program is Completely Unresponsive

  • If a program has become completely unresponsive, you can press (and hold) Control+Alt+Delete on your keyboard to open the Task Manager. You can then select the program that isn’t working and click End Task. If you are using a Mac, you can press Option+Command+Esc to open a similar dialog box.
  • Problems Starting or Shutting Down the Computer

    Power Button Will Not Start Computer

  • If your computer does not start, begin by checking the power cord to confirm that it is plugged securely into the back of the computer case and the power outlet.
  • If it is plugged into an outlet, make sure it is a working outlet. Often, this will require you to plug a lamp or other electrical device into the outlet to make sure it is receiving power.
  • If the computer is plugged into a surge protector, verify that it is turned on. You may have to reset the surge protector by turning it off and then back on. You can also plug a lamp or other device into the surge protector to verify that it is on.
  • If you are using a laptop, the battery may not be charged. Plug the AC adapter into the wall and then try to turn on the laptop. If it still doesn’t start up, you may need to wait a few minutes and then try again.
  • “Non-System Disk or Disk Error” Message

  • If you get this message when you boot up your computer, it usually means there is a CD, DVD, USB flash drive, or floppy disk in your computer, which is interfering with your computer’s booting process. Remove the disk from the drive and restart the computer.
  • Windows Shutting Down Message Will Not Disappear

  • Sometimes Windows will freeze during the shutdown process. If this happens, the Windows is Shutting Down message screen will stay active on your screen. To finish shutting down the computer, press and hold the power button for about 10 seconds, or until the computer turns off.
  • Computer Begins Randomly Rebooting or Crashing

  • Check for overheating. Make sure the vents in the case are not blocked. Confirm that there is good air flow around the computer.
  • Update your antivirus software and scan for viruses.
  • Problems with the Monitor and Speakers

    No Picture on the Monitor

  • Confirm the computer is turned on.
  • Check the brightness control, located on your monitor or your keyboard, and make sure it is not set too low.
  • Check the connections for the monitor and surge protector, and make sure the surge protector is turned on.
  • Monitor Goes Blank Periodically

  • You may have the screensaver enabled. If the screensaver is enabled, just move your mouse back and forth and your original screen will appear. You can change the screensaver settings by going to your Control Panel (or your System Preferences if you’re using a Mac).
  • No Sound

  • Adjusting the sound volume on a Mac
  • Adjusting the sound volume on a Mac
  • Check the volume control on your computer. In Windows, the sound icon will usually be on the taskbar, and you can also access the sound options in the Control Panel. On Macs, the sound options are found at the top of the screen or in System Preferences.
  • Most media programs (such as iTunes or Windows Media Player) have a volume control, which will need to be turned up.
  • Make sure the speakers are turned on, if using external speakers.
  • Make sure external speakers are connected to the correct audio port or a USB port. If your computer has color-coded ports, the audio output will usually be green.
  • Connect headphones to the correct audio port, and determine if sound is audible from the headphones.
  • Solving More Difficult Problems

    If you still haven’t found a solution to your problem, you may need to ask someone else for help. Try searching the Web for the problem you’re having, as other people may have had similar problems. Also, if you have a friend or family member who knows a lot about computers, they may be able to help you.

    Keep in mind that most computer problems have simple solutions, although it may take some time to find them. For very difficult problems, a more drastic solution may be required, such as reformatting your hard drive, reinstalling programs, or reinstalling your operating system. If you’re not a computer expert, it’s possible that you could make the situation worse, so it’s best to consult a professional if you think a drastic solution is needed.


  • What do you do if a program on a PC is completely unresponsive?
  • What about a program on a Mac?
  • What should you do if you’ve tried everything and the problem still isn’t fixed?
  • Do you have a family member or friend who knows a lot about computers and would be able to help you with a computer problem?
  • [/dropdown_box]

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