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Vangie Beal
Last Updated October 1, 2021 8:58 am

A system in computing is a general term for a computer or other piece of technology and all of its dependencies. Systems encompass all working parts that are required to run a technical process.

What is a computer system? 

A computer system includes everything that the technology requires to work, including hardware (a device), software (code that instructs the hardware), and a computer user (who gives commands to the software to complete a task). 

Computer hardware includes the desktop or laptop (or mobile device) and cables, which connect it to electricity and network resources, the CPU, the keyboard, and any internal or external storage devices. Computer software includes the operating system and any other applications that come automatically installed on the computer or can be downloaded.

Important computer system elements

These fixtures allow computer users to not only turn on and run a computer but also perform tasks on their device.

Central processing unit (CPU)

The central processing unit is located in the computer’s motherboard. It is a computer chip with pins that connect to the motherboard and transmit electrical signals. 

The CPU is the main control center of a computer; it instructs all programs to run and receives input from the user. Parts of the CPU include:

  • The clock, which transmits pulses and keeps time
  • The control unit, which gives instructions to the rest of the CPU and directs how parts work
  • The arithmetic logic unit (ALU), which performs mathematical and logical calculations
  • The registers, which store a limited amount of data from which to pull
  • Cached memory, which makes repeated operations faster

Peripheral devices

Peripheral devices in a computer system allow the computer to perform additional tasks. Peripheral devices receive electrical signals from the computer; they’re an extension of its computing power. Peripheral devices are either internal (within the computer already or inside it) or external (plugged into the computer).

Examples of peripheral devices include:

  • Storage 
  • Networking devices
    • Modems
    • Routers
    • Hubs
    • Switches
  • Display devices
    • Video monitors
    • Projectors
  • Input devices
    • Headphones
    • Microphones
    • SD cards 
    • HDMI cords
    • Charger (this is external, though it is required at some point to power a laptop)
    • Specialized controller

Some desktop peripherals, such as the keyboard or mouse, are not peripheral on a laptop but are built directly within the computer. 

What is a computer operating system?

All major computing devices need an operating system (OS), including computers, mobile phones, tablets, and servers, which typically require Linux and Unix-based operating systems for high-performance computing and workstations. An operating system directs the device’s hardware and tells it what to do: how to use computing resources like memory and RAM, and how to manage any external storage devices. Operating systems also control how other applications on the computer perform; all third-party applications sit on top of the operating system.

Operating systems either come with the computer and install when it is set up, or they can be installed by inserting a storage device that holds the OS software into the computer.

The operating system controls computer hardware and software through binary code, the electrical controls which run all computing devices. Operating systems allocate memory to applications based on what they require to run.

The following table shows the percentage of operating systems running on devices in 2021.

Desktop/Laptop Mobile
Windows—89% Android (open-source software for phones including Samsung and Google)—78.1%
macOS—8% iOS (for Apple mobile devices)—20.7%
Linux-based operating systems—1.9% other—1%

Other types of systems 

Enterprise software systems serve a variety of organizational and technical functions for businesses. These include resource planning, talent and human resources management, customer management, and web content production. 

ERP systems

Enterprise resource planning solutions serve industries that manufacture, track, and distribute products. Manufacturing and retail companies particularly benefit from ERP software. Using ERP systems, businesses handle: 

  • Service and asset management
  • supply chain management
  • Vendor management 
  • Inventory costs
  • Payments and invoicing

Read more: Best ERP Software & Tools in 2021

HRM systems 

Human resource management systems handle businesses’ employee data, applicant information, company policies, and payroll information. Using HR software, employees can view their compensation data and make time-off requests. Human resources staff can create new users, update job descriptions, upload company documents, and record applicant data. 

HRM systems must also comply with any regulations that require secure storage of employee and applicant personal data, including access restrictions. Although many HR solutions allow all employees to view a limited amount of information, like time off requests and payroll, they need to restrict what data unauthorized persons can view. HRM systems include: 

  • Organizational charts
  • Payroll data, such as compensation and deductions
  • Talent acquisition data and paperwork, such as resumes, interview notes, and background checks 
  • Employee tax forms and other electronic paperwork
  • Employee performance assessments

Also read: Best HR Software for Small Business 2021

CRM systems

Customer relationship management systems allow enterprises to manage all customer data and enhance the company sales pipeline. CRM software:

  • Stores customer contact information
  • Keeps records of sales representatives’ conversations with customers
  • Tracks customer stage in the pipeline
  • Stores deal and monetary data
  • Secures sensitive data

CRM software is one of the most essential tools for enterprises, since it streamlines many pieces of information that businesses need to run operations successfully and maintain good customer relationships. 

Project management systems 

Project management tools centralize enterprise planning, schedules, and communications through one application. They streamline tasks and project tracking through features like:

  • Kanban boards
  • Gantt charts
  • Customizable tasks
  • Calendar views
  • Reports

Project management software integrates with other apps, too, such as Google Workspace or Slack, to combine other work programs’ functionality. 

Also read: Best Project Management Software for 2021

Content management systems

A content management system (CMS) allows businesses to publish and edit visual content, usually web content. One of the most popular examples is WordPress, which companies use to build websites and publish web pages. Content management systems allow businesses to create and schedule web content, update their website’s home page, and often install ecommerce features through plugins. A good CMS expands a business’s functionality and visibility. 

Read more: Five Technologies to Have in Place Before Starting a Small Business

Alternate definition

On Macintoshes, System is short for System file, an essential program that runs whenever you start up a Macintosh. The System provides information to all other applications that run on a Macintosh. The System and Finder programs together make up the Mac OS.