Unit 2 Computer Systems

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To enable learners to understand computer systems and apply theoretical knowledge to practical application when building, configuring and maintaining computer systems.

Unit abstract

Most IT professionals will at some stage have to set up, use, customise and maintain computer systems. In order to do so effectively they will need to understand how computer systems work. Learners will understand the theoretical aspects of computer systems, and how information is processed. This unit explores the hardware, software and peripheral components that make up a computer system. There are many different manufacturers of computer systems and each manufacturer will produce a wide range of models with different specifications. Deciding which particular model is appropriate for a given situation depends on a variety of factors. Custom-built computer systems are also an advantage when meeting specialised requirements, whilst maintaining performance and keeping costs low. These aspects are explored in this unit so that learners can make informed choices when designing a computer system for a given purpose. Learners will be able to apply their theoretical knowledge to practical application by building, configuring and testing a functional computer system which will meet a given specification. Computer users also need the skills required to set up and carry out routine maintenance of computer systems. Although this unit does not extensively cover fault finding and repair, it includes the basic maintenance skills that would normally be expected of most computer users

Learning outcomes

1 Understand the function of computer systems

Computer systems: microcomputers eg personal computers; mobile computers; minicomputers eg mid-range servers, workstations; mainframes eg large scale network systems; supercomputers eg high performance systems; models; multiprocessing
Environments: home, business, computer gaming, networking, real-time, communication
Function: main components (Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU), control unit, memory and input/output devices), connection eg busses; Central Processing Unit (CPU) (control unit, arithmetic logic unit, registers, input/output); memory (Random Access Memory (RAM), Read Only Memory (ROM), registers, programmable, cache), auxiliary storage; computer architecture
Hardware: central processing unit; motherboard, power supply unit, cooling units, backing storage eg hard disc drive; controllers, ports, main memory, memory types, battery, specialised cards eg Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI), Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP), network, graphics, modem, sound, optical drives; performance factors
Software: systems software eg operating systems, utility programs, library programs, translator programs; applications software eg special purpose software, be-spoke software; performance factors
Peripherals: printers, plotters, cameras, scanners; keyboard and mouse; monitors, display adapters; multimedia devices; storage media; networking; portable drives; plug and play components; performance factors

2 Be able to design computer systems

Needs analysis: client and system requirements, problems/limitations with current/new system, functionality, costs, timescales, resources, investigation/analytical techniques eg interviews, questionnaires
Selection: costs, client requirements, maintenance contracts, outputs required, compatibility; system integration eg home entertainment; storage capacity; accessibility; performance eg speed, time, power, efficiency, effectiveness, usability, alternative solutions
System specification: client requirements, system requirements, system components, configuration, time, tools and resources, alternatives eg processor types, backup options; security measures; documentation

3 Be able to build and configure computer systems

Health and safety: health and safety practices; electrostatic precautions eg antistatic mats, antistatic wrist straps
System installation: hardware: assemble and disassemble a computer system; install motherboard, processor, heat-sink and fan, memory, power supply unit and connect to internal components; install hard disc drive, optical drive; install specialised cards eg graphics, network, modem, audio; install and configure software eg operating system, application software, utility software; install peripheral devices eg printer, scanner, camera; install communication devices eg modem, router
System configuration: configure Basic Input Output System (BIOS) eg date/time, power management, security; install latest antivirus/security updates; update user profiles; configure desktop, icon size, font size, colour, background, customise menu; file management, files and folders, setting file/folder sharing permissions; peripheral devices, printer, scanner, camera; communication devices
System testing: fault detection, Power On Self Test (POST), diagnostic faults, troubleshoot devices; technical support documentation eg reference manuals, online manufacturer support; test hardware eg input/output devices, peripheral devices; test software; documentation eg test plan

4 Be able to undertake routine maintenance on computer systems

Software maintenance: upgrade software eg virus definition files; patches/updates; scheduling maintenance tasks; utility software eg defragmentation, clean-up, back-up, system profilers; other third party utility software eg compression utilities, spyware/malware removal
Hardware maintenance: upgrade hardware; install and configure new peripherals eg printers, scanners; install and configure additional or replacement devices eg hard drive, memory, graphics, sound, optical media, network; cleaning equipment
File management: manage files/folders; back-up procedures


Anfinsin, D – IT Essentials: PC Hardware and Software Companion Guide (Cisco Press, 2010) ISBN 158713263X
Dick, D – The PC Support Handbook: The Configuration and Systems Guide (Dumbreck Publishing, 2009) ISBN 9780954171131
MacRae K – The Computer Manual: The Step-by-step Guide to Upgrading and Repairing a PC (Haynes Group, 2002) ISBN 1859608884
MacRae K and Marshall G – Computer Troubleshooting: The Complete Step-by-step Guide to Diagnosing and Fixing Common PC Problems, Second Edition (Haynes Group, 2008) ISBN 1844255174
White R and Downs T – How Computers Work (Que, 2003) ISBN 0789730332


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