Basic Computer Operations – A Beginner’s Crash Course

INTRODUCTION

WHO IS RIGHT!?

Welcome to a short beginner’s tutorial on the basic computer operations. The computer may be complex advanced technology, but when it comes down to the basic functions, there are only 4 simple basic computer operations:

  • Input
  • Processing
  • Storage
  • Output

But if you have searched through the Internet, then you might have already noticed that some people say there are 5 operations instead, and there are also a few quacks saying there are 6. Just who is correct here? Let us walk through each of these basic operations, and also the “extra operations” – Read on to find out!

 

 

 

SECTION A

5 BASIC OPERATIONS

This is the basic model that has been floating all over the Internet and textbooks – No one seems to have given a source to where it originated from, but I am guessing this is an adaptation of the Von Neumann Architecture because of the uncanny resemblance.

 

THE ILLUSTRATION

Computers are complicated. But when represented in the layman terms, it almost always looks like this:

 

INPUT

Where we feed the computer with instructions and data through the use of various devices – For example, the keyboard, mouse, microphones, card readers, cameras, and all kinds of sensors.

 

PROCESSING

Where the computer does data crunching. For example, reading electric signals from the microphone, images from the camera, then combining them together to create a video.

 

DATA STORAGE

Where the data is being stored. Following up with the above video example – Simply saving the processed video into the hard disk.

 

 

OUTPUT

Where the computer does some processing and output the results. For example, reading a stored video file, and outputting the audio through the speakers, images through the monitor.

 

CONTROLLING

Finally, this is kind of the debated 5th basic operation. Because controlling is, in essence, all of the above basic operations at the same time. For example, the simple act of copying a file from a flash drive to the local hard disk.

  • Input – Reading a file from the flash drive.
  • Processing – Reading data from the flash drive, making a copy to the hard disk.
  • Memory – Storing the file into the local hard disk.
  • Output – Using the monitor to show the file copy progress and result.

 

IS IT 4 OR 5 BASIC OPERATIONS?

Personally, I lean towards 4 basic operations. Since control is arguably not a basic function itself, but a combination of using the 4 “true basic operations”. Take that with a pinch of salt though… Some people will defend it as 5 basic operations, as control, coordination between all the components is also a key function – They are not wrong either.

 

 

SECTION B

6 BASIC OPERATIONS

This is the other model that is floating around, and there are 6 different basic operations. Not wrong again, but this is more on the context of programming, explained with pseudo-code.

 

1. A COMPUTER CAN RECEIVE INFORMATION

// OPEN DATA STREAM
var stream = new Stream();

// CONNECT TO LIGHT SENSOR
stream.connect("LIGHT SENSOR");

// GET CURRENT LIGHT LEVELS
var lighting = stream.read();

Similar to the above model, we can receive data from just about any input devices – Sensors, keyboard, mouse, or even receive data across the network.

 

2. A COMPUTER CAN OUTPUT INFORMATION

// READ SONG
var song = file.open("My-Song.mp3");

// PLAY SONG
song.play();

Similar to the above model again, we can output information and data to various devices – Simple example, playing a song or podcast.

 

3. A COMPUTER CAN PERFORM ARITHMETIC

var result = 1 + 2;

Duh. Captain Obvious reporting in.

 

4. A COMPUTER CAN ASSIGN VALUE TO A VARIABLE OR MEMORY LOCATION

var first = 123;
var second = "Hello World";
var third = ["foo", "bar"];

Remember storage from earlier on? Yep – This is storage, either temporary into the memory, or permanent saving into a file.

 

 

5. A COMPUTER CAN COMPARE TWO VARIABLES & SELECT ONE OF TWO ALTERNATIVE ACTIONS

var number = 123;
if (number > 100) {
  echo "More than 100";
} else {
  echo "Less than 100";
}

The very typical situation of "Do this if X is more than Y, or else do another thing".

 

6. A COMPUTER CAN REPEAT A GROUP OF ACTIONS

// REPEAT 10 TIMES
for (var i=0; i<10; i++) {
  echo "FOO - " + i;
}

What computers are very good for – Repeating tasks.

 

EXTRA

USEFUL BITS

That’s all for this guide, and here is a small section on some extras and links that may be useful to you.

 

SO… WHO IS CORRECT?

For the record, 4, 5, or 6 basic operations – They are all correct. But if you are a student looking to score distinction, answer with “all of them”.

  • There are only 4 basic computer operations, but control can also be contested as the 5th basic operation.
  • In the programming context, there are 6 basic operations.

 

LINKS & REFERENCES

 

THE INFOGRAPHIC

5 Basic Computer Operations (Click to Enlarge)

 

CLOSING

WHAT’S NEXT?

Thank you for reading, and we have come to the end of this guide. I hope this has helped you to better understand, and if you have anything to share with this guide, please feel free to comment below. Good luck and may the cyber force be with you.

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