PHYS 251 - Introduction to Computer Techniques in Physics

Computers, Operating Systems, and Networking

Computer Architecture

If we are going to use computers as scientific tools for understanding, then we should have some sense of how they work. As stated in the link below, "the main components in a typical computer system are the processor, memory, input/output devices, and the communication channels that connect them. The processor is the workhorse of the system; it is the component that executes a program by performing arithmetic and logical operations on data. It is the only component that creates new information by combining or modifying current information. In a typical system there will be only one processor, known as the central processing unit, or CPU. Modern high performance systems, for example vector processors and parallel processors, often have more than one processor. Systems with only one processor are serial processors, or, especially among computational scientists, scalar processors."

The following link provides a good overview, as well as details, of computer architecture.

Operating Systems

A computer operating system is a group of instructions used by the computer to communicate with users and devices, to store and read data (input/output), and to execute programs (run a C program for example). Thus the operating system consists of lots of relatively small programs that basically translate your instructions, such as copy a file, into machine language so that the computer can execute your instruction. These operating-system programs treat you, devices, and programs as inputs for it to process. The obvious reason for the operating system is that computers do not speak English, but possess their own language which the vast majority of users would prefer not to have to learn. (Read: Landau, R. H., and P. J. Fink. A Scientist's and Engineer's Guide to Workstations and Supercomputers. Wiley-Interscience Publ., 1993.)

Internet Resources for Operating Systems

Internet Resources for UNIX

Internet Resources for Windows XP


The power of modern computing is the ability to link computers together in order to share resources and information. The following link provides a good overview, as well as details, of computer networks.

Physics & Astronomy Department, George Mason University
Maintained by Amin Jazaeri;