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Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to do the following:

  • Explain the cpu and describe the functions of the different sections.
  • Categorize the types of storage and their functions.
  • Describe how storage is classified.
  • Analyze and compare the input/output devices and explain their functions.


Components or tools of a computer system are grouped into one of two categories, hardware or software. We refer to the machines that compose a computer system as hardware. This hardware includes all the mechanical, electrical, electronic, and magnetic devices within the computer itself (the central processing unit) and all related peripheral devices (printers, magnetic tape units, magnetic disk drive units, and so on). These devices will be covered in this chapter to show you how they function and how they relate to one another. Take a few minutes to study figure 2-1. It shows the functional units of a computer system: the inputs, the central processing unit (cpu), and the outputs. The inputs can be on any storage medium from punched cards, paper tape, or magnetic ink to magnetic tape, disk, or drum; or they can be entries from a console keyboard or a cathode-ray tube (crt) terminal. The data from one or more of these inputs will be processed by the central processing unit to produce output. The output may be in punched cards or paper tape, on magnetic tape, disk, or drum, or it may be printed reports or information displayed on a console typewriter or crt terminal. The figure also shows the data flow, instruction flow, and flow of control. We'll start our hardware discussion with the cpu and then move into storage media (disk, tape, and drum). We'll end the chapter with a discussion of input/output devices and how they work.


The brain of a computer system is the central processing unit, which we generally refer to as the cpu or mainframe. The central processing unit IS THE COMPUTER. It is the cpu that processes the data transferred to it from one of the various input devices, and then transfers either the intermediate or final results of the processing to one of many output devices. A central control section and work areas are required to perform calculations or manipulate data. The cpu is the computing center of the system. It consists of a control section, internal storage section (main or primary memory), and arithmetic-logic section (fig. 2-1). Each of the sections within the cpu serves a specific function and has a particular relationship to the other sections within the cpu.

Figure 2-1. - Functional units of a computer system.

0017.GIF (11086 bytes)


The control section may be compared to a telephone exchange because it uses the instructions contained in the program in much the same manner as the telephone exchange uses telephone numbers. When a telephone number is dialed, it causes the telephone exchange to energize certain switches and control lines to connect the dialing phone with the phone having the number dialed. In a similar manner, each programmed instruction, when executed, causes the control section to energize certain control lines, enabling the computer to perform the function or operation indicated by the instruction.

The program may be stored in the internal circuits of the computer (computer memory), or it may be read instruction-by-instruction from external media. The internally stored program type of computer, generally referred to only as a stored-program computer, is the most practical type to use when speed and fully automatic operation are desired.

Computer programs may be so complex that the number of instructions plus the parameters necessary for program execution will exceed the memory capacity of a stored-program computer. When this occurs, the program may be sectionalized; that is, broken down into modules. One or more modules are then stored in computer memory and the rest in an easily accessible auxiliary memory. Then as each module is executed producing the desired results, it is swapped out of internal memory and the next succeeding module read in.

In addition to the commands that tell the computer what to do, the control unit also dictates how and when each specific operation is to be performed. It is also active in initiating circuits that locate any information stored within the computer or in an auxiliary storage device and in moving this information to the point where the actual manipulation or modification is to be accomplished.

The four major types of instructions are (1) transfer, (2) arithmetic, (3) logic, and (4) control. Transfer instructions are those whose basic function is to transfer (move) data from one location to another. Arithmetic instructions are those that combine two pieces of data to form a single piece of data using one of the arithmetic operations.

Logic instructions transform the digital computer into a system that is more than a high-speed adding machine. Using logic instructions, the programmer may construct a program with any number of alternate sequences. For example, through the use of logic instructions, a computer being used for maintenance inventory will have one sequence to follow if the number of a given item on hand is greater than the order amount and another sequence if it is smaller. The choice of which sequence to use will be made by the control section under the influence of the logic instruction. Logic instructions, thereby, provide the computer with the ability to make decisions based on the results of previously generated data. That is, the logic instructions permit the computer to select the proper program sequence to be executed from among the alternatives provided by the programmer.

Control instructions are used to send commands to devices not under direct command of the control section, such as input/output units or devices.


The arithmetic-logic section performs all arithmetic operations-adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. Through its logic capability, it tests various conditions encountered during processing and takes action based on the result. As indicated by the solid arrows in figure 2-1, data flows between the arithmetic-logic section and the internal storage section during processing. Specifically, data is transferred as needed from the internal storage section to the arithmetic-logic section, processed, and returned to the internal storage section. At no time does processing take place in the storage section. Data may be transferred back and forth between these two sections several times before processing is completed. The results are then transferred from internal storage to an output unit, as indicated by the solid arrow (fig. 2-1).


All memory (internal storage) sections must contain facilities to store computer data or instructions (that are intelligible to the computer) until these instructions or data are needed in the performance of the computer calculations. Before the stored-program computer can begin to process input data, it is first necessary to store in its memory a sequence of instructions, and tables of constants and other data it will use in its computations. The process by which these instructions and data are read into the computer is called loading.

Actually, the first step in loading instructions and data into a computer is to manually place enough instructions into memory using the keyboard or electronically using an operating system (discussed in chapter 1), so that these instructions can be used to bring in more instructions as desired. In this manner a few instructions are used to bootstrap more instructions. Some computers make use of an auxiliary (wired) memory that permanently stores the bootstrap program, thereby making manual loading unnecessary.

The memory (internal storage) section of a computer is essentially an electronically operated file cabinet. It has a large number (usually several hundred thousand) of storage locations; each referred to as a storage address or register. Every item of data and program instruction read into the computer during the loading process is stored or filed in a specific storage address and is almost instantly accessible.

Q.1 What is the brain of a computer system? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.2 How many sections make up the central processing unit? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.3 What are the names of the sections that make up the cpu? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.4 The control section can be compared to what? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.5 What are the four major types of instructions in the control section? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.6 What capability allows the arithmetic/logic section to test various conditions encountered during processing and take action based on the result? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.7 In the arithmetic/logic section, data is returned to what section after processing? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.8 What is the process by which instructions and data are read into a computer? answer.gif (214 bytes)

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