Friday, December 3, 2010

Basic Computer Organisation

In the previous lesson we discussed about the evolution of computer. In this lesson we will provide you with an overview of the basic design of a computer. You will know how different parts of a computer are organised and how various operations are performed between different parts to do a specific task. As you know from the previous lesson the internal architecture of computer may differ from system to system, but the basic organisation remains the same for all computer systems.

At the end of the lesson you will be able to:
  • understand basic organisation of computer system
  • understand the meaning of Arithmetic Logical Unit, Control Unit and Central Processing Unit
  • differentiate between bit , byte and a word
  • define computer memory
  • differentiate between primary memory and secondary memory
  • differentiate between primary storage and secondary storage units
  • differentiate between input devices and output devices
A computer as shown in Fig. 2.1 performs basically five major operations or functions irrespective of their size and make. These are 1) it accepts data or instructions by way of input, 2) it stores data, 3) it can process data as required by the user, 4) it gives results in the form of output, and 5) it controls all operations inside a computer. We discuss below each of these operations.1. Input: This is the process of entering data and programs in to the computer system. You should know that computer is an electronic machine like any other machine which takes as inputs raw data and performs some processing giving out processed data. Therefore, the input unit takes data from us to the computer in an organized manner for processing.

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 Fig. 2.1 Basic computer Operations
2. Storage: The process of saving data and instructions permanently is known as storage. Data has to be fed into the system before the actual processing starts. It is because the processing speed of Central Processing Unit (CPU) is so fast that the data has to be provided to CPU with the same speed. Therefore the data is first stored in the storage unit for faster access and processing. This storage unit or the primary storage of the computer system is designed to do the above functionality. It provides space for storing data and instructions.
The storage unit performs the following major functions:
  • All data and instructions are stored here before and after processing.
  • Intermediate results of processing are also stored here.
3. Processing: The task of performing operations like arithmetic and logical operations is called processing. The Central Processing Unit (CPU) takes data and instructions from the storage unit and makes all sorts of calculations based on the instructions given and the type of data provided. It is then sent back to the storage unit.4. Output: This is the process of producing results from the data for getting useful information. Similarly the output produced by the computer after processing must also be kept somewhere inside the computer before being given to you in human readable form. Again the output is also stored inside the computer for further processing. 5. Control: The manner how instructions are executed and the above operations are performed. Controlling of all operations like input, processing and output are performed by control unit. It takes care of step by step processing of all operations in side the computer.

In order to carry out the operations mentioned in the previous section the computer allocates the task between its various functional units. The computer system is divided into three separate units for its operation. They are 1) arithmetic logical unit, 2) control unit, and 3) central processing unit.

Arithmetic Logical Unit (ALU)
After you enter data through the input device it is stored in the primary storage unit. The actual processing of the data and instruction are performed by Arithmetic Logical Unit. The major operations performed by the ALU are addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, logic and comparison. Data is transferred to ALU from storage unit when required. After processing the output is returned back to storage unit for further processing or getting stored.

Control Unit (CU)
The next component of computer is the Control Unit, which acts like the supervisor seeing that things are done in proper fashion. The control unit determines the sequence in which computer programs and instructions are executed. Things like processing of programs stored in the main memory, interpretation of the instructions and issuing of signals for other units of the computer to execute them. It also acts as a switch board operator when several users access the computer simultaneously. Thereby it coordinates the activities of computer’s peripheral equipment as they perform the input and output. Therefore it is the manager of all operations mentioned in the previous section.

Central Processing Unit (CPU)
The ALU and the CU of a computer system are jointly known as the central processing unit. You may call CPU as the brain of any computer system. It is just like brain that takes all major decisions, makes all sorts of calculations and directs different parts of the computer functions by activating and controlling the operations.

Personal Computer Configuration
Now let us identify the physical components that make the computer work. These are
1. Central Processing Unit (CPU)
2. Computer Memory (RAM and ROM)
3. Data bus
4. Ports
5. Motherboard
6. Hard disk
7. Output Devices
8. Input Devices
All these components are inter-connected for the personal computer to work.

There are two kinds of computer memory: primary and secondary. Primary memory is accessible directly by the processing unit. RAM is an example of primary memory. As soon as the computer is switched off the contents of the primary memory is lost. You can store and retrieve data much faster with primary memory compared to secondary memory. Secondary memory such as floppy disks, magnetic disk, etc., is located outside the computer. Primary memory is more expensive than secondary memory. Because of this the size of primary memory is less than that of secondary memory. We will discuss about secondary memory later on.
Computer memory is used to store two things: i) instructions to execute a program and ii) data. When the computer is doing any job, the data that have to be processed are stored in the primary memory. This data may come from an input device like keyboard or from a secondary storage device like a floppy disk.
As program or the set of instructions is kept in primary memory, the computer is able to follow instantly the set of instructions. For example, when you book ticket from railway reservation counter, the computer has to follow the same steps: take the request, check the availability of seats, calculate fare, wait for money to be paid, store the reservation and get the ticket printed out. The programme containing these steps is kept in memory of the computer and is followed for each request.
But inside the computer, the steps followed are quite different from what we see on the monitor or screen. In computer’s memory both programs and data are stored in the binary form. You have already been introduced with decimal number system, that is the numbers 1 to 9 and 0. The binary system has only two values 0 and 1. These are called bits. As human beings we all understand decimal system but the computer can only understand binary system. It is because a large number of integrated circuits inside the computer can be considered as switches, which can be made ON, or OFF. If a switch is ON it is considered 1 and if it is OFF it is 0. A number of switches in different states will give you a message like this: 110101....10. So the computer takes input in the form of 0 and 1 and gives output in the form 0 and 1 only. Is it not absurd if the computer gives outputs as 0’s & 1’s only? But you do not have to worry about. Every number in binary system can be converted to decimal system and vice versa; for example, 1010 meaning decimal 10. Therefore it is the computer that takes information or data in decimal form from you, convert it in to binary form, process it producing output in binary form and again convert the output to decimal form.
The primary memory as you know in the computer is in the form of IC’s (Integrated Circuits). These circuits are called Random Access Memory (RAM). Each of RAM’s locations stores one byte of information. (One byte is equal to 8 bits). A bit is an acronym for binary digit, which stands for one binary piece of information. This can be either 0 or 1. You will know more about RAM later. The Primary or internal storage section is made up of several small storage locations (ICs) called cells. Each of these cells can store a fixed number of bits called word length.
Each cell has a unique number assigned to it called the address of the cell and it is used to identify the cells. The address starts at 0 and goes up to (N-1). You should know that the memory is like a large cabinet containing as many drawers as there are addresses on memory. Each drawer contains a word and the address is written on outside of the drawer.
Capacity of Primary MemoryYou know that each cell of memory contains one character or 1 byte of data. So the capacity is defined in terms of byte or words. Thus 64 kilobyte (KB) memory is capable of storing 64 ´ 1024 = 32,768 bytes. (1 kilobyte is 1024 bytes). A memory size ranges from few kilobytes in small systems to several thousand kilobytes in large mainframe and super computer. In your personal computer you will find memory capacity in the range of 64 KB, 4 MB, 8 MB and even 16 MB (MB = Million bytes).
The following terms related to memory of a computer are discussed below:
  1. Random Access Memory (RAM):
  2. Read Only Memory (ROM):
  3. PROM
  4. EPROM:
  5. Cache Memory:
  6. Registers:
  7. The primary storage is referred to as random access memory (RAM) because it is possible to randomly select and use any location of the memory directly store and retrieve data. It takes same time to any address of the memory as the first address. It is also called read/write memory. The storage of data and instructions inside the primary storage is temporary. It disappears from RAM as soon as the power to the computer is switched off. The memories, which loose their content on failure of power supply, are known as volatile memories .So now we can say that RAM is volatile memory. There is another memory in computer, which is called Read Only Memory (ROM). Again it is the ICs inside the PC that form the ROM. The storage of program and data in the ROM is permanent. The ROM stores some standard processing programs supplied by the manufacturers to operate the personal computer. The ROM can only be read by the CPU but it cannot be changed. The basic input/output program is stored in the ROM that examines and initializes various equipment attached to the PC when the switch is made ON. The memories, which do not loose their content on failure of power supply, are known as non-volatile memories. ROM is non-volatile memory. There is another type of primary memory in computer, which is called Programmable Read Only Memory (PROM). You know that it is not possible to modify or erase programs stored in ROM, but it is possible for you to store your program in PROM chip. Once the programmes are written it cannot be changed and remain intact even if power is switched off. Therefore programs or instructions written in PROM or ROM cannot be erased or changed. This stands for Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory, which over come the problem of PROM & ROM. EPROM chip can be programmed time and again by erasing the information stored earlier in it. Information stored in EPROM exposing the chip for some time ultraviolet light and it erases chip is reprogrammed using a special programming facility. When the EPROM is in use information can only be read. The speed of CPU is extremely high compared to the access time of main memory. Therefore the performance of CPU decreases due to the slow speed of main memory. To decrease the mismatch in operating speed, a small memory chip is attached between CPU and Main memory whose access time is very close to the processing speed of CPU. It is called CACHE memory. CACHE memories are accessed much faster than conventional RAM. It is used to store programs or data currently being executed or temporary data frequently used by the CPU. So each memory makes main memory to be faster and larger than it really is. It is also very expensive to have bigger size of cache memory and its size is normally kept small. The CPU processes data and instructions with high speed, there is also movement of data between various units of computer. It is necessary to transfer the processed data with high speed. So the computer uses a number of special memory units called registers. They are not part of the main memory but they store data or information temporarily and pass it on as directed by the control unit.
You are now clear that the operating speed of primary memory or main memory should be as fast as possible to cope up with the CPU speed. These high-speed storage devices are very expensive and hence the cost per bit of storage is also very high. Again the storage capacity of the main memory is also very limited. Often it is necessary to store hundreds of millions of bytes of data for the CPU to process. Therefore additional memory is required in all the computer systems. This memory is called auxiliary memory or secondary storage.
In this type of memory the cost per bit of storage is low. However, the operating speed is slower than that of the primary storage. Huge volume of data are stored here on permanent basis and transferred to the primary storage as and when required. Most widely used secondary storage devices are magnetic tapes and magnetic disk.
  1. Magnetic Tape:
  2. Magnetic tapes are used for large computers like mainframe computers where large volume of data is stored for a longer time. In PC also you can use tapes in the form of cassettes. The cost of storing data in tapes is inexpensive. Tapes consist of magnetic materials that store data permanently. It can be 12.5 mm to 25 mm wide plastic film-type and 500 meter to 1200 meter long which is coated with magnetic material. The deck is connected to the central processor and information is fed into or read from the tape through the processor. It similar to cassette tape recorder.

Advantages of Magnetic Tape:
  • Compact:
  • Economical
  • Fast
  • Long term Storage and Re-usability
  • A 10-inch diameter reel of tape is 2400 feet long and is able to hold 800, 1600 or 6250 characters in each inch of its length. The maximum capacity of such tape is 180 million characters. Thus data are stored much more compactly on tape. : The cost of storing characters is very less as compared to other storage devices. : Copying of data is easier and fast. : Magnetic tapes can be used for long term storage and a tape can be used repeatedly with out loss of data.
  1. Magnetic Disk:
  2. Floppy Disk:
  3. You might have seen the gramophone record, which is circular like a disk and coated with magnetic material. Magnetic disks used in computer are made on the same principle. It rotates with very high speed inside the computer drive. Data is stored on both the surface of the disk. Magnetic disks are most popular for direct access storage device. Each disk consists of a number of invisible concentric circles called tracks. Information is recorded on tracks of a disk surface in the form of tiny magnetic spots. The presence of a magnetic spot represents one bit and its absence represents zero bit. The information stored in a disk can be read many times without affecting the stored data. So the reading operation is non-destructive. But if you want to write a new data, then the existing data is erased from the disk and new data is recorded. It is similar to magnetic disk discussed above. They are 5.25 inch or 3.5 inch in diameter. They come in single or double density and recorded on one or both surface of the diskette. The capacity of a 5.25-inch floppy is 1.2 mega bytes whereas for 3.5 inch floppy it is 1.44 mega bytes. It is cheaper than any other storage devices and is portable. The floppy is a low cost device particularly suitable for personal computer system. 
4. Optical Disk:
With every new application and software there is greater demand for memory capacity. It is the necessity to store large volume of data that has led to the development of optical disk storage medium. Optical disks can be divided into the following categories:
  1. Compact Disk/ Read Only Memory (CD-ROM)
  2. Write Once, Read Many (WORM)
  3. Erasable Optical Disk: These are optical disks where data can be written, erased and re-written. This also applies a laser beam to write and re-write the data. These disks may be used as alternatives to traditional disks. Erasable optical disks are based on a technology known as magnetic optical (MO). To write a data bit on to the erasable optical disk the MO drive's laser beam heats a tiny, precisely defined point on the disk's surface and magnetises it.
  4. : CD-ROM disks are made of reflective metals. CD-ROM is written during the process of manufacturing by high power laser beam. Here the storage density is very high, storage cost is very low and access time is relatively fast. Each disk is approximately 4 1/2 inches in diameter and can hold over 600 MB of data. As the CD-ROM can be read only we cannot write or make changes into the data contained in it. : The inconvenience that we can not write any thing in to a CD-ROM is avoided in WORM. A WORM allows the user to write data permanently on to the disk. Once the data is written it can never be erased without physically damaging the disk. Here data can be recorded from keyboard, video scanner, OCR equipment and other devices. The advantage of WORM is that it can store vast amount of data amounting to gigabytes (109 bytes). Any document in a WORM can be accessed very fast, say less than 30 seconds.
A computer is only useful when it is able to communicate with the external environment. When you work with the computer you feed your data and instructions through some devices to the computer. These devices are called Input devices. Similarly computer after processing, gives output through other devices called output devices.
For a particular application one form of device is more desirable compared to others. We will discuss various types of I/O devices that are used for different types of applications. They are also known as peripheral devices because they surround the CPU and make a communication between computer and the outer world.
Input Devices
Input devices are necessary to convert our information or data in to a form which can be understood by the computer. A good input device should provide timely, accurate and useful data to the main memory of the computer for processing followings are the most useful input devices.
  1. Keyboard: -
  2. This is the standard input device attached to all computers. The layout of keyboard is just like the traditional typewriter of the type QWERTY. It also contains some extra command keys and function keys. It contains a total of 101 to 104 keys. A typical keyboard used in a computer is shown in Fig. 2.6. You have to press correct combination of keys to input data. The computer can recognise the electrical signals corresponding to the correct key combination and processing is done accordingly.
  1. Mouse: - Mouse is an input device shown in Fig. 2.7 that is used with your personal computer. It rolls on a small ball and has two or three buttons on the top. When you roll the mouse across a flat surface the screen censors the mouse in the direction of mouse movement. The cursor moves very fast with mouse giving you more freedom to work in any direction. It is easier and faster to move through a mouse.

    The keyboard can input only text through keys provided in it. If we want to input a picture the keyboard cannot do that. Scanner is an optical device that can input any graphical matter and display it back. The common optical scanner devices are Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR), Optical Mark Reader (OMR) and Optical Character Reader (OCR).
  2. Scanner:
    1. Magnetic Ink Character Recognition
    • Optical Mark Reader (OMR):
    (MICR): - This is widely used by banks to process large volumes of cheques and drafts. Cheques are put inside the MICR. As they enter the reading unit the cheques pass through the magnetic field which causes the read head to recognise the character of the cheques. This technique is used when students have appeared in objective type tests and they had to mark their answer by darkening a square or circular space by pencil. These answer sheets are directly fed to a computer for grading where OMR is used.
    • Optical Character Recognition
    • (OCR): - This technique unites the direct reading of any printed character. Suppose you have a set of hand written characters on a piece of paper. You put it inside the scanner of the computer. This pattern is compared with a site of patterns stored inside the computer. Whichever pattern is matched is called a character read. Patterns that cannot be identified are rejected. OCRs are expensive though better the MICR.
Output Devices
  1. Visual Display Unit: The most popular input/output device is the Visual Display Unit (VDU). It is also called the monitor. A Keyboard is used to input data and Monitor is used to display the input data and to receive massages from the computer. A monitor has its own box which is separated from the main computer system and is connected to the computer by cable. In some systems it is compact with the system unit. It can be color or monochrome.
  2. Terminals: It is a very popular interactive input-output unit. It can be divided into two types: hard copy terminals and soft copy terminals. A hard copy terminal provides a printout on paper whereas soft copy terminals provide visual copy on monitor. A terminal when connected to a CPU sends instructions directly to the computer. Terminals are also classified as dumb terminals or intelligent terminals depending upon the work situation.
  3. Printer: It is an important output device which can be used to get a printed copy of the processed text or result on paper. There are different types of printers that are designed for different types of applications. Depending on their speed and approach of printing, printers are classified as impact and non-impact printers. Impact printers use the familiar typewriter approach of hammering a typeface against the paper and inked ribbon. Dot-matrix printers are of this type. Non-impact printers do not hit or impact a ribbon to print. They use electro-static chemicals and ink-jet technologies. Laser printers and Ink-jet printers are of this type. This type of printers can produce color printing and elaborate graphics.

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