5 Basic Computer Operations (A Beginner’s Crash Course)

Welcome to a quick tutorial on basic computer operations. Computers may be complex and advanced technology, but they are also surprisingly simplistic when it comes down to basic operations.

There are 4 (arguably 5) basic computer operations:

  1. Input – Feed data into the computer.
  2. Processing – The computer crunches the data.
  3. Storage – Save data into a storage media.
  4. Output – Display results or perform an action after processing.
  5. Control – The coordination between operations. For example, reading an image from a flash drive (input), then displaying it on the monitor (processing and output).

That’s all for the basics. But why is control arguably not a basic operation? Also, if you do a search on the Internet, there are a few quacks saying there are 6 operations. Just who is correct here? Let us walk through more of these – Read on!

 

 

QUICK SLIDES

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Basic Operations Programming Operations Useful Bits
The End

 

BASIC COMPUTER OPERATIONS

This is the basic model that has been floating all over the Internet and in 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 layman’s terms, it almost always looks like this:

 

1) 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.

 

2) PROCESSING

The computer crunches the data. For example, reading electric signals from the microphone and images from the camera. Then combine them together to create a video.

 

3) DATA STORAGE

Where the data is being stored, following up with the above video example – Simply save the processed video into the hard disk.

 

 

4) OUTPUT

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

 

5) CONTROLLING

Finally, this is the debated 5th basic operation. Controlling is kind of a “combination of operations”, take copying a file for example:

  • Input – Read the file from the flash drive.
  • Processing – Make a copy on the local hard disk, memory allocation, error checking, etc…
  • Data Storage – Save the copied data from the flash disk into the local hard disk.
  • Output – Use the monitor to show the file copy progress and result.

Yep, controlling is in essence “coordination”. But some people don’t consider it to be a basic operation, because it is more of a “combination” and not a “basic”.

 

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 and coordination between the components is also a key function – They are not wrong either.

 

 

PROGRAMMING – 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 in 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 device – 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.

 

USEFUL BITS & LINKS

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 END

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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