Home Ch: 2 - Computers Computer Basics
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Chapter 2 - Hardware and Software

Why Understand the Basics?

Computers are found in all areas of the justice system, from the lawyer’s office to the Supreme Court of the United States. Though they are in widespread use, most legal professionals are unaware of how they work and how they can be used in the practice of law. Just as it is necessary to understand some of the basic features of an automobile, it is necessary to learn the basic features of computers and software. This section will provide insights into the basic infrastructure of hardware and software.

Without a doubt, computer technology has and will continue to revolutionize the way law firms, companies, and individuals communicate and conduct business. In the practice of law, we will continually have to address basic hardware and software questions. Hardware questions, such as what type of processor to buy, how much memory should be installed and whether a CD-ROM drive should be installed, will have to be answered. Software questions will include what operating system to purchase, case management, database or full text software should one use. The questions will impact the efficiency of your firm and the allocation of resources for technology. Also, it is important to understand these issues in order to intelligently converse with the court, opposing counsel and vendors, and even your kids about technology issues. They also are automating, and to communicate one must understand the basic computer hardware and software concepts. It is not expected that one will become a computer technologist, but understanding computers will become a necessary adjunct to every legal professional’s practice.

What is a computer and how does it work?

A computer is an electronic machine that enables one to input, manipulate, store and output information. One can use it to create documents, multimedia presentations, calculate numerical formulas, organize large amounts of data, and provide entertainment.

The main piece of a PC is the system unit. Inside are dozens of hardware parts. These include the microprocessor (CPU), which acts as the brains of the computer, memory chips that store data as it’s being processed, hard drives and more. Hardware peripherals reside outside the system unit, and include printers, scanners, keyboards, etc. Expansion cards fit within the main system and are installed to operate different hardware parts such as a modem or CD-ROM.

Data is entered through a keyboard or other input device and stored in RAM (Random Access Memory). The Central Processing Unit (CPU) moves the stored data from RAM and processes it and places the results back in RAM. Output from the processing is sent to a monitor or printer where it can be viewed.


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