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Foundations of Computer Science: Architecture of a Computer

Written By: Saniya Kalamkar

In this mini-series, we will be delving in computer science fundamentals, from the simple to complex. We will cover topics such as computer systems and networks, intelligent systems, information management, software engineering, programming, and the social issues surrounding computer science. Our goal is to leave you with a thorough understanding of the enormous field of computer science and all the different components of it. 

We will begin with the hardware, and more specifically, the architecture of a computer. Computer architecture is just the rules and logic that make up the functionality and organization of a computer. Basically, computer architecture is how hardware components are organized to create a functioning computer system. Most modern computers today follow Von-Neumann architecture. 

Components of Computer System

A computer system is made up of five components: the control unit, the arithmetic logic unit (ALU), the memory unit, and input/output (I/O) controllers. 

ALU (Arithmetic Logic Unit)

The ALU performs simple arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), as well as logic operations (AND, NOT, etc.). The control unit controls the other components of the computer (ALU, memory unit, I/O controllers). It controls the behavior of those components, by letting them know how to respond to instructions and data that is fetched from the memory unit and uses ALU to execute the instructions. Together, the ALU and the control unit make up the central processing unit, or CPU. The speed of the CPU often determines the speed of a computer as a whole.

Memory Unit

The memory unit is where instructions and data from the CPU is stored. There are two types of memory: random access memory (RAM) and read-only memory (ROM). RAM is used to store temporary data while ROM holds permanent data that is retained even when the computer loses power.

Input/Output Controllers

I/O controllers, meanwhile, connect input and output devices to the CPU. Input devices could include keyboards or touch screens,  while output devices could include printers or monitors. These components are highly involved with each other and are realized through transistors, or devices that control electronic currents. 

Understanding computer architecture is important for everyone, even if the hardware side of engineering doesn’t interest you. For instance, those who are interested in software engineering find understanding computer architecture helpful in writing better programs. Even if you aren’t interested in engineering, everyone uses a computer, so understanding the process and organization of it can be valuable.

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