Hardware ID Facilitator's Guide

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Hardware Identification Facilitator’s Guide

Box A - Memory

Cards vs. Memory

Explain difference between cards and memory.

  • Cards, or "Expansion Cards", are used to add a function to the computer.
  • Memory is used for temporary storage and workspace.


RAM (or Random Access Memory) is an important part of the computer system which is used by actively running programs to perform necessary tasks while the computer is on.

OBJECTIVE: To enable the builder to recognize different types of memory sticks.

1. DDR

  • 1. A stick of DDR is usually 5.25 inches long and has a single notch in it near the center of the stick.
  • 2. The newer DDR2 has a single notch that is slightly nearer the center of the stick, so it will not fit into a regular DDR slot.
  • 3. And the DDR3 stick also has a single notch on it that is slightly closer to the center.


  • 1. A stick of RAMBUS is usually 5.25 inches long and has two notches in it at the center of the stick.


  • 1. A stick of SDRAM is usually 5.25 inches long and has two notches in it, one near the center of the stick, and one closer to the side.

4.72-Pin SIMM

  • 1. 72 pin SIMMs are 4.25 inches long. The holes and notches need to match exactly since there are other objects that look like 72-pin SIMM but aren't, so see points A (side holes), B (center notch) and C (side notch) in the picture.

5.30-Pin SIMM

  • 1. 30-pin SIMMs are 3.5 inches long. These are the oldest types of memory we still see on a regular basis in System Evaluation. Note that they do not have a center notch.

Exercise 1
Sort memory using flow chart. OBJECTIVE: To ensure volunteers can identify different sticks of memory.

Exercise 2
Practice putting the memory sticks into their slots on the motherboard. 

OBJECTIVE: To identify what type of memory the motherboard takes and to practice properly installing the correct memory into their slots.

  • 1. Card slots point towards the back of the motherboard (show them to identify the back of the motherboard by looking for the outside connectors.) You can then say that the memory slots do not point unobstructed towards the back.
  • 2. Explain how the notches on the memory slots on the motherboard correlate with the notches on the sticks of memory.
  • 3. Open the clips, match up the notches and install the stick into the grooves at either end.
  • 4. Press down on the stick until the clips flip closed by themselves around the stick. This tells you that the memory is properly seated into the slot so it can function correctly.


  • If people get confused about the function of memory explain that when you buffer a video online that is memory, but when you download it, it goes to the hard drive. Sometimes this helps clarify what memory is.
  • Sometimes I like to point out that along the side of the memory slot there are tiny little dots, and that those turn solid where the notches are, which helps indicate what type of memory is in the slot without taking it out.
  • I like to really really stress that DDR has one notch and it is an important one to remember.

Box B - Cards


A Card is a smallish circuit board that connects to the motherboard and adds a function to the computer system. It has a metal plate on the end that shows on the back of the computer. Usually the plate has one or more ports into which a cable can be plugged. On the bottom of the card are teeth that plug into the motherboard so that communication can occur between the computer and the outside world.

Card Functions

Use the connectors on the metal plate to identify the cards according to the functions. OBJECTIVE: Be able to Identify card faces and their function.

  • Get a box of cards to be sorted, pour them into a pile in the center of the table, and rummage through them, looking for the following connector types: HD15, DVI, RJ11, RJ45, Sound Ports, Antenna Connector
  • All About Cards

Exercise 1
Sort cards using Card Sorting Flow Chart

Pick up each card and using the following chart, put each card in one of six piles (video, sound, modem, network, wireless, and miscellaneous.)

Description of slot pins on cards

1. AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) card has narrow pins that alternate thick end to thin end, sort of like bricks - squiggly lines

2. ISA (Industry Standard Architecture), the oldest slot type, has very wide teeth

3. PCIe cards have slender pins that have a picket fence appearance but have a small extra tab in front of the pins

4. PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) card has wider pins than either the AGP or PCIe that also look like a picket fence

Exercise 2
Sort cards based on their pins - turn your attention to the teeth or pins on the lower edge of the cards. 

You can determine what type card slot the card needs by identifying the characteristics of the pins themselves as described above.

  • Good to have volunteers double check themselves by repeating the card function (face) and then sorting based on pins
  • Card sorting by slot type

Exercise 3
Install some cards into the motherboards to get a feel for the slots and the locks that are at the back of some cards.

1. Explaining the differences in the space from the pins to the metal face plate is helpful in installing the cards into the motherboard. 2. Emphasize that they are measuring the gap, not the length of the card. Explain this by showing them how the slots on the motherboard are situated nearer or further from the edge of the board, so the gaps have to vary to match.

  • I explain that cards are like expansion packs for a computer. You can get a very basic computer, but then get a fancy game. By installing a certain card into your computer you can plug your game controller, fancy microphone, ect into your computer. Explain that it adds ports to the system.
    • Notes from Richard: I think we should change the slot type flow chart to ask about the little tab on PCIe (as compared to PCI).

Box C - Motherboards


The motherboard in your computer system is VERY well-connected - it has communication lines running every which way. OBJECTIVE: Be able to find connectors and objects on the motherboard that are important in the build process.

Common Connectors

Give a brief description of the common connectors that you will see on a motherboard:

  • 1.On-board Cluster - The on-board cluster is a group of ports attached to the motherboard. They can be found on the edge of the motherboard that would face out of the back of the computer if the motherboard were in a case.
  • 2.Capacitors - Capacitors or caps are cylinders made of metal and plastic which help regulate the flow of electricity on the motherboard. If capacitors become overloaded, they puff up on top and may look as if they have leaked fluid (think of a blown household battery).
    • Volunteers should be able to identify blown caps as a condition for recycling a system or component.
  • 3. Processor
    • Socket-type processor - the Central Processing Unit socket lies flat on the motherboard and the gold pins on the CPU fit down into its holes, with its heat sink and fan on top.
    • Slot-type processor - the slot processor stands up sideways on the motherboard in a slot that looks similar to a card slot. The Pentium II and early Pentium III processors are this type, but no one is manufacturing them any more. It too has a heat sink and fan attached to the side to keep the CPU from overheating.
    • Have volunteers look at the examples on the board. Note that the mobo in the upper right hand corner of the Example Board is capable of holding multiple processors.
  • 4.Drive Connectors
    • IDE Connector - Show several examples to help volunteers recognize the connector; Note the blank pin spot in the middle.
    • SATA (Serial ATA) Connector - Small L-shaped connector usually protected by a little wall around it. This is the newest hard drive type.
    • SCSI Connector - these are usually found in servers and you will see examples of the various types in Lesson Box E Hard Drives.
    • Optical drives, such as CD and DVD - they use the same connector type that the hard drive does, IDE or SATA.
    • Floppy - a double row of pins like the IDE but shorter and has a blank pin spot near the end.
  • 5. Bridges and communication facilitators
    • Northbridge - the integrated circuit that connects the CPU to the system memory, RAM and video card buses. Frequently has heat sink and fan to cool.
    • Southbridge - the IC that controls hard drive bus (IDE or SATA), USB, PCI buses, keyboard/mouse, etc. On a newer mobo, will often have heat sink and fan.
  • Motherboard ID

Exercise 1
Sort the motherboards in the Lesson Box using the Motherboard Sorting flow chart. 

  • Have people feel capacitors and remind them that a blown cap is often a very subtle difference.

Box D - Drives

Explain common drives
  • 5 1/4 Floppy drive (5 1/2" wide)
  • 3 1/2 Floppy drive (3 1/2" wide)
  • Tape drives, Zip drive (3 1/2" wide)
  • CD drive
  • CD R/RW drive (can be no speed listed, "high speed", "ultra speed" or actual speed numbers)
  • DVD drive
  • DVD R/RW drive

Notes about drives -

For each optical drive, place the appropriate label(s) on top of it.

  • 1. None of the drives listed above are hard drives.
  • 2. All DVD and CD drives are called optical drives and are 5 1/4".
  • 3. Optical drives are usually labeled on their face by logo Compact Disc or DVD. It will be written underneath if they can record or rewrite (R/RW) or to the right side of the logo if they are high speed or ultra speed.

Exercise 1
Identify the types of CD and DVD drives from the front, especially whether they are recordable and/or rewritable. 

Also locate where the High Speed and Ultra Speed designations are placed. Sort them into what drives we would keep and which we would recycle

    • Notes from Richard, Box D and E - We should make flow charts that cover the vocabulary to make the boxes consistent.

Box E - Hard Drives

OBJECTIVE: Look through the lesson box and notice the characteristics that you will need to look for in order to locate the hard drive(s) in a computer system.

Types of hard drives
  • 1.IDE
  • 2.SATA
  • 3.SCSI

Hard drive sizing -

Some hard drives are marked with the size but some are not. Hard drive sizes are general marked in gigabytes (GB). If it is an older drive, it may be marked in megabytes.  Remember 1 gigabyte = 1000 megabytes

Exercise 1
Sort hard drives

  • When I explain this box at some point I say something of the sort, "It is very very important that all build volunteers know what a hard drive looks like because it's our responsibility to take them out..." (explain how donors are trusting us with their stuff and the importance of data security)
  • Point out that there can be more than one hard drive in a system.
    • Notes from Richard - Box E could have them sort into IDE, SATA, and other. Then it could ask to find a capacity or model number on at least three drives
      • Jahsie likes this idea. Maybe we could point out the size to them, and how to find it, but focus on the connectors.

Box F - CPU Box

OBJECTIVE: Prebuilder will be able to manually determine the processor speed by removing the heat sink and CPU chip, locating the speed and replacing the unit without damage


CPU is an abbreviation for Central Processing Unit. The CPU is the brains of the computer and is commonly referred to as simply the "processor". It is the most important part of the computer. The CPU/Processor processes data and instructions, does calculations and whatever the software programs tell it to do.

  • 1.Types of processors
    • slot processor
    • socket processor
  • CPU Box

Heat Sinks

A Heat Sink is defined as a metal conductor specially designed to conduct (and radiate) heat. Processor can be found underneath the metal because it gets hot when it is working and needs to be cooled off.

Exercise 1
Using the boards with CPUs attached, (one for Intel, one for AMD) locate the processor speeds on each.

Exercise 2
Practice removing the heat sink to read the processor speed and putting it back on

  • Explain how the pins are very fragile, so whenever handling a processor one must be very careful.