Wednesday, 1 May 2013

What is Inside a Computer?

Earlier this year we went to an amazing science and engineering day held at a local University. There were so many amazing hands-on things for the kids to get involved in. I expected them to be fascinated by things that glow in the dark and involve slime, but there was one table that really caught their attention and took me by surprise.

One of the guys had taken the cover of an Apple MacBook. He told us the sad tale of his daughter, a spilt drink and not realizing the seriousness of the incident until after he had tried powering it on (oops.)

Public Service Announcement: When your child spills a drink on a gadget, turn it upside down and wait until it is completely dry before turning it back on.

Anyway, he decided to make the best of a bad situation and use the poor, deceased laptop as an educational demonstration of what's inside a laptop.

This isn't the one that we saw, but here's what the inside of a MacBook Pro looks like:

macbook pro inside out

My kids were fascinated.  They stood for ages listening to explanations of which bit was the processor, RAM, storage, wifi, etc.

I realized that they had never seen the inside of a computer. Somehow it hadn't dawned on me to show them. We felt rather negligent for having omitted this really simple part of their tech education. We have an abundance of old computer bits and bobs lying around including a old Sky Box which their Dad took apart to show them.

There has been a lot of recent concern that kids are growing up as users of computers and other gadgets but with less knowledge of how to program computers, or even design new computers, than other generations.

A good first step addressing this issue is to teach them the basics of what components are inside a computer.

So take apart a computer (preferably without violating a warranty ... make sure it's powered off) blow out the dust and show your kids what's inside.

If you need to brush up on what's inside a PC or don't have a computer to take apart then the following video gives a good overview.

This is also a good time to introduce them a Raspberry Pi mini computer which comes on a single board. The Raspberry Pi was developed to provide a low cost way for kids to get their heads around a computer in the same way that previous generations were able to with the Sinclair Spectrum and other early home PCs.

Here's a picture of our Raspberry Pi Model B with the various components labeled.

I'm not convinced that the Raspberry Pi is as easy to get started with as my Sinclair Spectrum 16K, but the bare board approach does help kids to get inside the box.

Sharing the above video and looking at the Raspberry Pi board with your kids will only take a few minutes and you'll be taking a step towards demystifying everyday technology.

I'll be covering the Raspberry Pi in more detail in future articles so you can get an idea of what you can do with it.

Tablets are one of the most common gadgets for kids to be using these days so let's also take a look inside one.

Helpfully Sony have provided a look inside the 2013 Xperia Z tablet. This video teardown explains what's inside the tablet and takes you through the components.

If that's given you (and your kids) a taste for finding out what's inside gadgets then you could head over to the Teardowns section at iFixit where you can see the guts of lots of modern gadgets.

But do warn them not to do this at home without supervision and / or permission. I took apart my Skedoodle when I was a kid to see how it worked and it was never the same again!

More from Tech Age Kids:


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