Cape Fear Community College

Computer Competency


Section I - Computer Basics

Section I provides an overview of computers with a basic understanding of how computers work and some computer vocabulary.

Computers and the internet have transformed the way we live, work, and play. They have become an integral part of the way we communicate with each other.  

The word “computer” has been around since 1646, and prior to 1940 they were referred to as calculators and tabulators.   In the early stages, a computer was defined as a person who performs calculations.   The first electronic computing device was developed in the 1940’s, and with it the modern term “computer” emerged.

A computer is an electronic device that accepts input (data), processes data, stores data, and produces output according to specified rules and instructions.   Computer input is whatever is typed in the form of numbers, text, images, audio, and video or transmitted to computer system.   Computers manipulate data, and this is referred to as processing.   The series of instructions that tell a computer how to process tasks is referred to as a computer program or software that sets up a computer to do a specific task.   The processing of tasks such as calculations, sorting data, modifying documents and pictures, and drawing graphs (charts) take place in the part of the computer that is called the central processing unit (CPU), which is referred to as the computer’s “brain.”  

The computer stores the data for processing in a temporary location referred to as the memory; the permanent location is called storage.

The results, which can take the form of reports, documents, music, charts, and pictures, are referred to as output.   The output can be displayed on the screen of the monitor, a printer, or transmitted to another computer or storage disks such as, 3 ½ “ floppy disks (A drive), a CD, or a DVD.

The significance of the modern computer is that it can store instructions and data needed for a computing task until needed.   This feature allows the computer to store one task while the other task is being used or accessed.  

Types of Computers

Computers are versatile and can be used to perform different tasks.   However, the different types of computers can be categorized according to size, cost and capability.   In the early stages of computing, a smaller computer, the minicomputer,  performed minimum tasks and was less powerful than the mainframe computer, which might take up a whole room.   After 1971, the first microcomputer consisting of a single chip in the CPU appeared.   Later there were three distinct types of computers: mainframes, minicomputers, and microcomputers.   The mainframes were large and expensive and were generally used by big companies.   In the last decade or so, personal computers, a type of microcomputer, was designed for use by individuals to provide access to a wide variety of application software, such as word processing, photo editing, spreadsheet, email, and internet access.

A desktop computer, used by most individuals in business and education, runs on electrical power with a keyboard as a separate unit.   These computers’ prices range from about $700 to $2,000.

A notebook computer (laptop) is a small lightweight computer that has all the components such as a keyboard, monitor and a mouse in a single portable unit.   The notebook computers can be either electric or battery operated and as such can be used outdoors or indoors.   They are little more expensive than the desktop computers with a cost ranging from $1,000 to $3,000.

A tablet computer is a portable computing unit featuring a touch-sensitive screen that can be used as a writing or drawing pad.   Since they were introduced in 2002, the prices have been high, in the range of $2,000 to $2,500.

A handheld computer, such as the Palm, IPAQ, or PocketPC, consists of a touch-sensitive screen or a small keyboard. This computer is designed to fit in the palm of your hand or a pocket and is battery operated.   Although it is not powerful enough to perform many of the tasks that can be accomplished by a PC or a laptop, it can be used as an electronic appointment or address book, a calculator, and a notepad.   However, with the inexpensive add-ons, these hand-held computers can be used to receive or send emails or to use maps and directions.   The prices range from about $150 to $700 for a model with a color screen and an integrated cell phone.

Personal Computer Systems refers to a computer and all the components such as input, output, and storage devices that are connected to it.   All computers include the following components:

System unit is the case that holds the main circuit boards (mother board), microprocessor, power supply, and the storage units.   In addition to these units the notebook systems include a built-in keyboard and speakers.

Display device – Most computers use the monitor for display, while the laptops use a LCD (liquid crystal display screen) that is attached to the system unit.

Keyboard is the primary input device.

Mouse is an input device designed to manipulate graphics and objects and to navigate the screen.

Floppy disk drive is a storage device to save files on. It is generally 3 ½”.

Hard Disk Drive is a component of the CPU, which can store billions of data.

CD and DVD drives – A CD drive uses laser technology to work with data on computer or audio CDs.   A DVD drive can work with data on computer CDs, audio CDs, computer DVDs, or movie DVDs.

Sound card and speakers – A small circuit board, called a sound card, is required for high-quality music, narration, and sound effects.

Modem – Many personal computers include a built-in modem that is used for internet connection.

Printer is an output device that produces documents and graphics on paper.

File Management

In this tutorial, you will work with the Windows 2000 operating system.   It is important to know how to save, locate, and organize computer files when working with a computer.   A file (document) is a collection of data or a term paper that has a name and is stored in your computer.   Once you create a file, you can open it, edit it, and print it.   If you make corrections, you have to resave the file.   You can save the file on your hard drive ( C:), floppy disk (3 ½ “ Floppy Drive A), Zip disks, CDs, or the Flash Drive ( Jump Drive).  

Folders It is best to organize and save files in folders that have unique names created by you in order to enable you to locate a file fast.   You can arrange and store files in a logical manner; for example, you can create a folder for your classes and then have subfolders for each course you are enrolled in.  

Exploring Files and Folders - The Windows Operating System provides two tools for exploring files and folders on your computer, Windows Explorer and My Computer.   Both display the contents of your computer but present a different “view” of the contents on your computer.

Windows Explorer – The way in which Windows Explorer is set up makes it easier to navigate from drive to drive, from folder to folder.   It also makes it easier to perform common tasks such as copying, pasting, and moving files and folders from one location to the other.   The Windows Explorer is divided into two panes. The left pane, also called the Explorer bar or Folder pane, shows the hierarchy of drives, folders, and files.   The right pane lists the contents of folders.   Since all the contents of your computer cannot fit on a monitor screen, Windows Explorer makes it possible for you to open drives and folders only when you need them by displaying a “+” sign against the folder to show it can be expanded.

My Computer icon represents your computer, its storage devices (drives), printers, and other objects.   My Computer window is organized according to name of drives, type, total size, and free space.  

Application Software is a program that performs a specific task for users. Examples of these programs are word processing, spreadsheet, photo editing, presentation, etc.

System Software – Operating system (OS) is essentially the master controller for all the activities that take place within a computer.   It helps the computer system monitor itself in order to function efficiently.

Online resources:








Note: Please inform the Learning Lab staff if the above links do not work.

Other Resources:

This tutorial is available only in the Learning Lab (Downtown & North Campus)

  1. Please click on Start on the computer and then on Programs and then click on Course Labs.   Work all the tutorials that are listed under Course Labs.
  2. Print each section as you finish them

Word Processing Software

Most computers include some basic software for word processing for producing documents such as reports, letters, memos, term papers, and manuscripts.   Word processing software gives you the ability to create a document, edit, and format the document.   Microsoft Word is used at CFCC in offices and classrooms.   If your home computer does not include Microsoft Word, you can use the word processing software available in your computer to type up a paper. However, if you have to work on the assignment in the classroom or you do not own a printer, it is better to save it as a Rich Text Format File (rtf), which can be easily converted to most word processing formats.  

Basic Word Tutorials

To learn more about Microsoft Word, please click on the links below to access the Microsoft Word tutorial

Basic Excel Tutorial

Basic Microsoft Power Point Tutorial


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