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Chapter 1.1 Components of a Computer System and Modes of Use. 1.

1 (a and b) Hardware and Software Definitions

A computer system consists of hardware and software. The hardware is the physical part of the system. All computer systems require at least four types of hardware.

INPUT

PROCESSOR

OUTPUT

STORAGE

An input device is any piece of hardware that allows data to be transmitted to the computer processor. No computer, however powerful, is of value unless it is possible to give it instructions and also data to be used when those instructions are carried out. An output device is any piece of hardware that allows the computer processor to convey information, or the results of its processing. There is no point in having a computer system carrying out processing of any sort unless the results of that processing can be either reported, or used to effect future input to the system. Storage is any piece of hardware which can store data outside the processor in a form which is suitable for input back into the processor. This is necessary because data must be saved for future use if the processor is switched off and for transfer from one machine to another.

Descriptions of the basic hardware types will be given in a later Chapter. The software of a computer system is the various sets of instructions which tell the system how to do things. These sets of instructions are collected together in workable groups known as programs. Without programs of instructions computers would not be able to function because they would not know what to do.

1.1. (c)

Different Software Types

Sets of instructions to make a computer do something are grouped together as programs. These programs make up the software of a computer system. Depending on the sort of task that a program is expected to accomplish they are grouped into different types of software.

Operating system software is a set of programs, known as system programs, which control the operation of the computer system. They are responsible for the way that the pieces of hardware communicate with each other and for monitoring the way that the hardware of the system is used. User interface software is used to provide a method of communication between the person using the system and the system itself. Put very simply it is what you see on the screen when you are using the computer. Translator software is necessary because the computer uses a language that is difficult for human beings to understand and a computer is not capable of understanding human language. The translator software provides the computer with the equivalent of a Chinese-English dictionary so that it can look up what things mean. Utilities, or utility programs, are system programs designed to carry out common tasks, for instance the programs that control output to the printer or the storage of data. Programming languages are used to write sets of instructions that the processor can understand because it has a translator for that language. There are many different programming languages, each of which has been designed to solve a particular type of problem by having commands that are useful for solving the problem. Common applications software includes word processors, graphics, spreadsheets, and many others. These are the programs that you use to produce something worthwhile on the computer. They will be looked at in more detail in a later chapter.

All of these different software types will be covered in more detail later on in the work. For the moment, the important thing is that you understand that there are different types of software designed to carry out different tasks, and that you can give a brief description of each.

Systems Software and Applications Packages


Systems Software. Computers are machines that can carry out operations very quickly. This does not mean that they are in any way intelligent. However fast the machine can work, it is useless if it does not know what to do. Computers need specific instructions for even the most trivial of tasks. If a computer user had to supply these instructions there would be very few people able to use one. Consequently, the manufacturer of the machine will provide programs that are accessible to the user by using very simple commands, these programs are the system software. The operating system is the set of programs that control how the computer responds to user requests. Examples that you may have used include DOS and Windows. Utility programs are additional routines that can be added to an operating system or that are available to the user within an operating system. An example that you may have on your computer system would be a piece of back-up software that can be used to make sure that you do not lose all your work when the computer fails. Some frequently used routines are stored in such a way that they are accessible to users. These routines are stored together in a system library, and form part of the system software. This is something of a grey area between system software and application software because application software also gives access to library areas. Program translators are needed in order to allow users to produce programs in a simple format which can then be translated into something which the computer will understand. Applications Packages. A piece of applications software is a program, or set of instructions, designed to make the computer carry out some task. It differs from system software in that it makes the computer do something that is useful for the user. Word word-processing software, or Paintbrush graphics software are both examples of applications software because they both allow the user to produce something that is of general use. If the software can be used in many different situations to accomplish different things then it is said to be generic software. For example a word processor can be used to write a letter, or to produce a report, or type an essay, A word processor is a piece of generic software. If the software contains programs that allow lots of different tasks to be carried out, together with a book of instructions telling the user how the software should be used, then it is called an Applications Package. An integrated package consists of several parts, each of which is an application package. Further, the integrated package is designed so that users can easily move data between the different parts of the integrated package. For example, if two of the parts are a wordprocessor and a drawing package, users can move a drawing, created using the drawing package, into the word processing package.

1.1. (d)

Communications Hardware

Computing becomes really powerful when it is possible for different computers to communicate with each other. In order to do this the two computers that are talking to each other will need to have a set of rules to keep to otherwise they will not understand each other, there is more about these rules in a later chapter . But there is no point in having rules if they are not connected together in some way. The hardware that is used to connect them is known as communications hardware. Communications hardware can be as simple as a wire going from one computer to another, along which electronic signals can be sent. There are two problems with hardwiring, the first is that the computers are fixed according to where the wire is and the second is that there is a limit to how far the signal will travel down a wire before degrading and becoming useless. The first problem can be solved by using radio communication or infra red or any means that does not need a wire. The second problem can be solved by using a better quality wire to increase the range or by using the telephone lines that are already there. The problem with a telephone line is that it cannot take computer signals, so a special box is needed to change the computer signal to one that can go down the phone line, this box is a piece of communication hardware called a modem. Whatever the means used to send the signals, the computer has to be able to get the signals ready for sending in the first place, it does this by using a special piece of communications hardware called a network card. The job of the network card is to connect the processor to the wire (or whatever is being used) so that information can be sent and received. Dont worry about the details, they are not necessary at the moment. Just be aware that computers need extra hardware to be able to communicate.

Example Questions.
This section contains example questions based on the work in this first section of module 1. The work is of a very basic level because of its position in the syllabus, consequently the number of questions is somewhat restricted. Typical examiners comments follow each question. 1. Explain the difference between hardware and software. (2) A. -Hardware comprises the physical parts of the computer system, while.. -software are the programs that make the machine produce useful results. Notice that the answer suggested provides a link between the two terms. This was expected because of the use of the words explain the difference in the question. There are two marks available for the question so make sure that you have said two distinct things. Make sure that the second point is not just the opposite of the first. In this example there would be no mark for saying that software are the other parts that are not physical. Give two reasons why a computer system would need to have some type of external storage device. (2) A. -In order to store files when the power to the processor is switched off. -In order to store files which are too large to be stored in the processor itself, until they are needed. -To allow for the transfer of data from one machine to another. Notice that the question asks for reasons why the system needs to have storage, NOT for what is stored. Be careful to answer the question asked. Note that there are two indicators in the question that you should give two answers, the word in bold and the number of marks. This question does not ask for a comparison or an explanation, so dont give them. Notice that there are more than two acceptable answers. If you can think of three then give them, the examiner will choose the two best, but never give more than one extra answer because you then demonstrate that you are not sure and the examiner will choose your first two answers, right or wrong. Describe the difference between system software and application software. (2) A. -System software controls how the computer system works while -application software allows the user to make the computer do something useful. Again, this is a comparison type of question so the two parts of the answer should be related. An integrated applications package contains a number of different pieces of generic software. State what is meant by an integrated applications package and generic software. (3) A. An integrated applications package contains -a number of different pieces of software which -can communicate with each other in order to -allow the user to produce valuable work.

2.

3.

4.

-A package implies that there will be a users guide included. Generic software is -software that can be used in many areas for different end products. Notice the fact that there are more than three mark points for the first part of the answer, this does not mean that all three marks can be gained by only answering one part. In this type of question, some of the marks are always reserved for the last part of the question. 5. The computers used by two examiners, who live in different cities, need to communicate with each other. State two pieces of hardware that would be necessary to allow the computers to communicate and explain why each is necessary. (4) A. -Network card -to allow the computer to communicate externally -Modem -to allow the computers to use the telephone lines for communication/because the computers are a long distance apart. Notice that the question makes it clear that the computers are a long way apart which implies that communication by a hardwire is inappropriate. Realistically, this question would be set after the student has completed the whole of module 1 and will consequently have far more options open to them for the communication medium which will be credited in the exam, but the above answer is all that is expected here. Notice also that any question about communications hardware will automatically give credit for the network card so students should get used to always using it as an example of the hardware.