Input and Output Devices
Before a computer can process your data, you need some method to input the data into the machine. The device you use will depend on what form this data takes (be it text, sound, artwork, etc.).
Similarly, after the computer has processed your data, you often need to produce output of the results. This output could be a display on the computer screen, hard copy on printed pages, or even the audio playback of music you composed on the computer.
The terms “input” and “output” are used both as verbs to describe the process of entering or displaying the data, and as nouns referring to the data itself entered into or displayed by the computer.
Below we discuss the variety of peripheral devices used for computer input and output.
The computer keyboard is used to enter text information into the computer, as when you type the contents of a report. The keyboard can also be used to type commands directing the computer to perform certain actions. Commands are typically chosen from an on-screen menu using a mouse, but there are often keyboard shortcuts for giving these same commands.
|Keyboard - An Input Device|
In addition to the keys of the main keyboard (used for typing text), keyboards usually also have a numeric keypad (for entering numerical data efficiently), a bank of editing keys (used in text editing operations), and a row of function keys along the top (to easily invoke certain program functions). Laptop computers, which don’t have room for large keyboards, often include a “fn” key so that other keys can perform double duty (such as having a numeric keypad function embedded within the main keyboard keys).
Improper use or positioning of a keyboard can lead to repetitive-stress injuries. Some ergonomic keyboards are designed with angled arrangements of keys and with built-in wrist rests that can minimize your risk of RSIs.
Most keyboards attach to the PC via a PS/2 connector or USB port (newer). Older Macintosh computers used an ABD connector, but for several years now all Mac keyboards have connected using USB.
The graphical user interfaces (GUIs) in use today require some kind of device for positioning the on-screen cursor. Typical pointing devices are: mouse, trackball, touch pad, trackpoint, graphics tablet, joystick, and touch screen.
Pointing devices, such as a mouse, connected to the PC via a serial ports (old), PS/2 mouse port (newer), or USB port (newest). Older Macs used ADB to connect their mice, but all recent Macs use USB (usually to a USB port right on the USB keyboard).
The mouse pointing device sits on your work surface and is moved with your hand. In older mice, a ball in the bottom of the mouse rolls on the surface as you move the mouse, and internal rollers sense the ball movement and transmit the information to the computer via the cord of the mouse.
The newer optical mouse does not use a rolling ball, but instead uses a light and a small optical sensor to detect the motion of the mouse by tracking a tiny image of the desk surface. Optical mice avoid the problem of a dirty mouse ball, which causes regular mice to roll unsmoothly if the mouse ball and internal rollers are not cleaned frequently.
|Mouse - An Input Device|
A cordless or wireless mouse communicates with the computer via radio waves (often using BlueTooth hardware and protocol) so that a cord is not needed (but such mice need internal batteries).
A mouse also includes one or more buttons (and possibly a scroll wheel) to allow users to interact with the GUI. The traditional PC mouse has two buttons, while the traditional Macintosh mouse has one button. On either type of computer you can also use mice with three or more buttons and a small scroll wheel (which can also usually be clicked like a button).
Most laptop computers today have a touch pad pointing device. You move the on-screen cursor by sliding your finger along the surface of the touch pad. The buttons are located below the pad, but most touch pads allow you to perform “mouse clicks” by tapping on the pad itself.
Touch pads have the advantage over mice that they take up much less room to use. They have the advantage over trackballs (which were used on early laptops) that there are no moving parts to get dirty and result in jumpy cursor control.
Some sub-notebook computers (such as the IBM ThinkPad), which lack room for even a touch pad, incorporate a trackpoint, a small rubber projection embedded between the keys of the keyboard. The trackpoint acts like a little joystick that can be used to control the position of the on-screen cursor.
The trackball is sort of like an upside-down mouse, with the ball located on top. You use your fingers to roll the trackball, and internal rollers (similar to what’s inside a mouse) sense the motion which is transmitted to the computer. Trackballs have the advantage over mice in that the body of the trackball remains stationary on your desk, so you don’t need as much room to use the trackball. Early laptop computers often used trackballs (before superior touch pads came along).
Trackballs have traditionally had the same problem as mice: dirty rollers can make their cursor control jumpy and unsmooth. But there are modern optical trackballs that don’t have this problem because their designs eliminate the rollers.
Joysticks and other game controllers can also be connected to a computer as pointing devices. They are generally used for playing games, and not for controlling the on-screen cursor in productivity software.
|Joysticks - An Input Device|
Some computers, especially small hand-held PDAs, have touch sensitive display screens. The user can make choices and press button images on the screen. You often use a stylus, which you hold like a pen, to “write” on the surface of a small touch screen.
A graphics tablet consists of an electronic writing area and a special “pen” that works with it. Graphics tablets allows artists to create graphical images with motions and actions similar to using more traditional drawing tools. The pen of the graphics tablet is pressure sensitive, so pressing harder or softer can result in brush strokes of different width (in an appropriate graphics program).
A scanner is a device that images a printed page or graphic by digitizing it, producing an image made of tiny pixels of different brightness and color values which are represented numerically and sent to the computer. Scanners scan graphics, but they can also scan pages of text which are then run through OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software that identifies the individual letter shapes and creates a text file of the page's contents.
|Scanner - An Input Device|
A microphone can be attached to a computer to record sound (usually through a sound card input or circuitry built into the motherboard). The sound is digitized—turned into numbers that represent the original analog sound waves—and stored in the computer to later processing and playback.
|Microphone - An Output Device|
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a system designed to transmit information between electronic musical instruments. A MIDI musical keyboard can be attached to a computer and allow a performer to play music that is captured by the computer system as a sequence of notes with the associated timing (instead of recording digitized sound waves).
The traditional output device of a personal computer has been the CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitor. Just like a television set (an older one, anyway) the CRT monitor contains a large cathode ray tube that uses an electron beam of varying strength to “paint” a picture onto the color phosphorescent dots on the inside of the screen.
CRT monitors are heavy and use more electrical power than flat panel displays, but they are preferred by some graphic artists for their accurate color rendition, and preferred by some gamers for faster response to rapidly changing graphics.
Monitor screen size is measured diagonally across the screen, in inches. Not all of the screen area may be usable for image display, so the viewable area is also specified. The resolution of the monitor is the maximum number of pixels it can display horizontally and vertically (such as 800 x 600, or 1024 x 768, or 1600 x 1200).
|Monitor - An Output Device|
Most monitors can display several resolutions below its maximum setting. Pixels (short for picture elements) are the small dots that make of the image displayed on the screen. The spacing of the screen’s tiny phosphor dots is called the dot pitch (dp), typically .28 or .26 (measured in millimeters). A screen with a smaller dot pitch produces sharper images.
Your computer must produce a video signal that a monitor can display. This may be handled by circuitry on the motherboard, but is usually handled by a video card in one of the computer’s expansion slots; often the slot is a special one dedicated to video use, such as an AGP slot (Accelerated Graphics Port). Video cards are also called video display adapters, and graphics cards. Many video cards contain separate processors and dedicated video memory for generating complex graphics quickly without burdening the CPU. These accelerated graphics cards are loved by gamers.
Flat Panel Monitor
A flat panel display usually uses an LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) screen to display output from the computer. The LCD consists of several thin layers that polarize the light passing through them. The polarization of one layer, containing long thin molecules called liquid crystals, can be controlled electronically at each pixel, blocking varying amounts of the light to make a pixel lighter or darker. Other types of flat panel technology exist (such as plasma displays) but LCDs are most commonly used in computers, especially laptops.
Older LCDs had slow response times and low contrast, but active matrix LCD screens have a transparent thin film transistor (TFT) controlling each pixel, so response, contrast, and viewing angle are much improved.
Flat panel displays are much lighter and less bulky than CRT monitors, and they consume much less power. They have been more expensive than CRTs in the past, but the price gap is narrowing. You will see many more flat panels in the future.
As with CRTs, the display size of a flat panel is expressed in inches, and the resolution is the number of pixels horizontally and vertically on the display.
Ink Jet Printer
For hardcopy (printed) output, you need some kind of printer attached to your computer (or available over a network). The most common type of printer for home systems is the color ink jet printer. These printers form the image on the page by spraying tiny droplets of ink from the print head. The printer needs several colors of ink (cyan, yellow, magenta, and black) to make color images. Some photo-quality ink jet printers have more colors of ink.
|Printer - An Output Device|
Ink jet printers are inexpensive, but the cost of consumables (ink cartridges and special paper) make them costly to operate in the long run for many purposes.
A laser printer produces good quality images by the same technology that photocopiers use. A drum coated with photosensitive material is charged, then an image is written onto it by a laser (or LEDs) which makes those areas lose the charge. The drum then rolls through toner (tiny plastic particles of pigment) that are attracted to the charged areas of the drum. The toner is then deposited onto the paper, and then fused into the paper with heat.
|Printer - An Output Device|
Most laser printers are monochrome (one color only, usually black), but more expensive laser printers with multiple color toner cartridges can produce color output.
Laser printers are faster than ink jet printers. Their speed is rated in pages per minute (ppm). Laser printers are more expensive than ink jets, but they are cheaper to run in the long term if you just need good quality black & white pages.
Multi-function printers are available that not only operate as a computer printer, but also include the hardware needed to be a scanner, photocopier, and FAX machine as well.
Dot matrix printers use small electromagnetically activated pins in the print head, and an inked ribbon, to produce images by impact. These printers are slow and noisy, and are not commonly used for personal computers anymore (but they can print multi-layer forms, which neither ink jet or laser printers can).
Computers also produce sound output, ranging from simple beeps alerting the user, to impressive game sound effects, to concert quality music. The circuitry to produce sound may be included on the motherboard, but high quality audio output from a PC usually requires a sound card in one of the expansion slots, connected to a set of good quality external speakers or headphones.
|Speakers - An Output Device|
Multimedia is a term describing computer output that includes sound, text, graphics, movies, and animation. A sound card is an example of a multimedia output device (as is a monitor that can display graphics).