computer ports on a 1990s-era IBM desktop pc

Computer componet stations

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Station 1: Power supplies
check_boxStation 2: Basic input-output system BIOS
bookStation 3:CPU and RAM
bookStation 4: Non-volatile storage
bookStation 5: Component connection ports
bookStation 6: Input devices (keyboard and mouse)
bookStation 7: Output devices (pixels)
bookStation 8: Mother boards
bookStation 9: Cases and oragnization
bookStation 10: Who was this so-called Von Neumann?

Station 1: Power

All of these millions of transistors need electrical power to do their work. That power comes from a single component in the computer called the power supply.

Power is measured in watts. We're familiar with this measurement from light bulbs whose brightness is directly proportional to its wattage. For comparison, a desktop computer could use as little as 50 watts or as much as 800 watts for larger systems with fancy graphics cards. Cell phones operate on 40-80 watts.

Exploration steps

  1. Examine the power supply at your station. Figure out how to plug it into the wall. You'll notice that this cord runs directly from the wall into the power supply box. The colored wires running out of the box have connectors that supply various voltages to miscellaneous components in the computer needing between 3 DC Volts to 12 DC Volts.
  2. Respond to the first 4 questions on your half sheet.
  3. Your goal is to get the buzzer to run on the power supply. Start by plugging it into the wall. Make sure the power switch is in the On position.
  4. Locate the output port that has two little nails sticking out of it (all the colored cables are safe to touch)
  5. Use the alligator clips to try wiring up the buzzer so that it sounds by connecting on nail to one of the buzzer's wires and the other nail to the other wire on the buzzer. This is called an electric circuit. Note that if you can't get the buzzer to sound, try reversing the leads.
  6. Populate your component card with the content you learned about in this exercise.

Station 2: BIOS and diagnostic systems

Computers contain a component capable of checking the system for essential functionality as soon as it is powered on. It's like your car checking fluid levels and various engine components when the ignition is engaged.

Exploration steps

  1. Make sure you have a Panosonic ToughBook laptop in front of you.
  2. Plug the computer in using the supplied DC power supply. Note that the power port is behind a little door all the way back on the right side of the machine. The power cable has to be snugly pushed into place to connect.
  3. Let's see what's up with this system. Start by turning it on and seeing if we can get an operating system to load, which would allow us to do computer-like things, such as write a program. The power switch is on the right right edge, to the left of the word "POWER". Slide it on.
  4. Patiently watch as the system starts up, checking its basic systems.
  5. Record your observations on your station half sheet.
  6. You should have discovered and recorded that the system isn't capable of much, but it can do some basic things:
  7. Even though a full-on operating system hasn't been installed on this system, a mini-system is built into the mother board that knows how to check the system for basic health, display hardware profiles to the user, and allow the user to set essential system settings, most notably, where to look for an operating system to boot.
  8. Access the BIOs of this machine by following the message in the lower left corner of the screen when you power the system on. Follow its instructions. (If you "miss it", hold down the power switch to turn off the machine, and try again.)
  9. Once you have loaded the BIOS setting screen, try tinkering around. Study the key commands on the bottom of the screen. Navigate between the tabs and respond to the prompts on your half-sheet.
  10. Just in case something changed we don't want to change, when you exist, do NOT save changes.
  11. Unplug and fold up the machine for the next group.
  12. Now that you have experienced how the the BIOS chip works on a real computer, you can glean more details for your note card from the wikipedia entry on BIOS chips.
  13. Populate your note card labeled "Basic Input Output System (BIOS)" with a list of the settings you can access via the BIOS setup screen.

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Station 3: CPU & RAM

The CPU and RAM work together to carry out the actual computing actions of a computer--by which we mean doing math on 1s and 0s. We'll simulate this process in this station.

Exploration steps
  1. Designate one partner to act as the CPU and the other to act as the RAM. If you have three people in your group, two can be CPUs--the RAM will just need to be very busy.
  2. The person who is acting the CPU needs to pull up this binary logic computer tool online and make sure you know how to input two binary numbers, the operation, and write down the result.
  3. While the CPU is practicing, the RAM person should locate a stack of binary logical operations. The RAM's job is to organize the cards in numeric order and prepare to hand the cards in the correctly numbered order to the CPU each your timer "ticks."
  4. The RAM needs to pull up a clock or stop watch of some kind and prepare to start by tracking every 30 seconds. The CPU will get 30 seconds to perform each calculation. The RAM will take the card back from the CPU after 30 seconds and swap it out with a new one, whether or not the CPU is ready.
  5. Run the activity through all 12 cards at 30/seconds per card. Check for correctness and write it down on your 1/2 sheet.
  6. The RAM and CPU should now discuss their results and see if the clock can go any faster--can the CPU process a single instruction every 20 seconds? 15? Maybe the CPU needs MORE time. Adjust the time and run the same experiment again, with a new copy of the operation cards. Report your findings on your half sheet.
  7. If you have time, run the simulation a third time--see how fast you can go!
  8. Do some reading on the wikipedia page for clock speed which data you'll summarize on your 1/2 sheet.

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Station 4: Storage

Computers require power to carry out computations. But some components can keep 1s and 0s in memory without power. These components are called non-volatile storage, such as a hard disk drive, a compact disc, or a flash drive.

Exploration steps

  1. Use th is online storage unit converter to make comparisons between several different storage devices that are at this station.
  2. We want to compare the size of various storage devices. We're going to use the size of a single MP3 song and assume it's 5 MB (caps is important). Use this with the converter when measuring sizes.
  3. Using the mp3 song as a reference complete the table on your half sheet, looking at the devices as needed.
  4. Review this person's blog about the price of storage through time: blog post link

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Station 5: Component connection ports

Since a computer is composed of many sub-components, engineers design standardized "plugs" or, as we say, ports, for connecting those components together. Some components exist

Exploration steps

  1. Open this guide to ports created by a site called Check out what the section headers are on this page so you can navigate it on your port hunt
  2. Locate the motherboard that is floating around on the table, caseless. Study the ports on this printed circuit board by searching for the name of the port, counting the number of pins, and counting the number of ports of this type on the MOBO
  3. Once you have decided on the type of port, search Wikipedia for the port name, and read the opening two paragraphs about the port to complete the remainder of the table row. For example, the serial port was done for you, and you can find the wikipdia article on RS232 ports here.
  4. If you have recorded data on these ports, continue to read about the RS232 communication protocol in order to gain insight to answer the thought question on this station's half sheet.

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Station 6: Input devices (keyboard and mouse)

Exploration steps

  1. Take apart the gray dell keyboard. All the screws have been removed and the parts can be gently pulled apart. Before removing each layer, attempt to type some data onto the screen. The computer is running a version of the Linux operating system that only works with keyboards--no mice!
  2. Once you have the rubber springy layer off, you'll see the clear plastic layers with the white lines on them. The white lines are flat wires that conduct electricity. The voltages are so small you can't even feel it with you fingers. No danger of shock!
  3. Attempt to type the phrase "[so-and-so] and [so-and-so] was here." (e.g. "Alexix and Jonas were here.") into the editor while the two layers of plastic that have the lines and dotes are NOT sitting on top of one another. You'll need to do this using the supplied wire.

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Station 7: Output devices (Computer displays)

Computer displays are the most common computer output devices. They are basically a grid of little special tiny light bulbs that can be on, off, and often one of several million colors.

Exploration steps

  1. Read about pixels on our course textbook
  2. Secure a transparency film with the pixel grid on it, and a blank sheet of paper.
  3. Trace a square onto your blank sheet of paper that's the size of the grid. Now use markers to draw yourself an ICON of some shape inside your box. The goal is to be able to place the clear grid over the icon and then encode the pixels somehow.
  4. Switch icon papers with your partner, and try to write out in some clever way which pixels should be "on" and which should be "off" if we wanted to digitally display the icon on another computer.
  5. Work through the computations on your station guide.
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