Inside Your PC’s Console - dummies

By Dan Gookin

The inside of your computer may look scary. But rest assured: Anyone with relatively basic knowledge can update, fix, or maintain their computer. Not every computer looks the same inside, but every PC has similar components. Before you tinker inside the console, get to know the typical PC’s innards.


Power supply: The easiest way to find it is to look for the location where the power plug connects to the console (usually, on the back). The power supply is right inside the case at that spot.

Cables: The power supply’s colorful cables snake from the power supply outward. One or two clusters go to the motherboard, and others go to the disk drives. The majority of cables, however, may not be connected, waiting for future expansions. In addition to the power cables, various data cables run hither and thither.

Drive bay: Also known as the disk drive cage, the drive bay contains the hard drive and optical drive; plus, it has room to add other drives. The front side of the drive bay is the front of the console, where you can access removable storage.

Motherboard: The motherboard is the main circuitry board dwelling inside the console. It’s probably difficult to see because it can be obscured by cables or the drive bay or both.


The following items are found on the motherboard:

I/O panel connectors: The I/O panel is where you connect peripherals to the PC, including USB gizmos, the keyboard and mouse, the monitor, and speakers. Sometimes, the I/O panel is on the motherboard, or a cable may connect the motherboard to the I/O panel elsewhere in the console.

Processor cooling fan: You may not see the processor directly. That’s because today’s processors run very hot and require direct cooling. So what you see rather than the processor is a cooling fan.

Processor: The processor rests beneath the cooling fan. You cannot see the processor unless you remove the fan, but don’t remove the fan just to see the processor. Another term for the processor is CPU, or central processing unit.

Memory banks: A typical PC sports anywhere from two to eight memory banks on its motherboard, or sometimes on a tiny expansion card jutting from the motherboard. Memory banks are always in pairs of two. Essentially, they’re tiny expansion slots into which memory cards, or DIMMs, are inserted.

DIMM: Your computer’s memory comes on comb-size cards called DIMMs (Dual In-line Memory Modules).

Power supply connector: The motherboard needs power, so a specific connector exists on the motherboard for the power supply.

Data connectors: The motherboard is also home to various places where data cables connect like cables for the disk drives, speaker, I/O panel, and console lamps.

Clock battery: The clock battery helps the PC keep track of time when the computer is unplugged. The battery looks like a large coin.

Expansion slots: To help customize your computer, expansion slots allow bonus circuitry in the form of expansion cards to be plugged in. An expansion card can add features such as a new display adapter, more USB ports, fancy audio, wireless networking, and a whole host of options. You may not see the expansion slots inside your PC when expansion cards are plugged into them.

  • View Video 183 to see a visual exploration of the insides of a PC.

  • Older PCs sport a floppy drive or perhaps even a Zip drive in the drive cage.

  • Don’t remove the motherboard from your PC. You’ll likely regret it.