How do computer parts turn electricity into useable information?


Like how do they turn the electricity running through them into actual 1’s and 0’s and show all of that on my screen?

In: 0

Well you seem to understand that it becomes binary, so I suppose you want to know how they turn parts and electricity into those 0 and 1s.

This gets complicated and my knowledge is a bit rusty, but I’ll do my best.

The basics are that computer components, like a cpu chip, have many many little gates in them, and they can be in two states. Sending a current to a gate flips it from one state to another, which is used to create a consistent logic by basically creating strings of logic that can be interpreted to have meaning by using programming to turn it into bits of information that can be worked with by software.

I hope someone else can come up with a more natural explanation, but basically using electricity to modify logical sequences can be used to store information.

To ELI5 that might take a hundred thousand words or so. Electrical signals aren’t turned into ones’s and zero’s they are ones’s and zero’s. Usually a high voltage (not actually that high like 3.3v) is a one and a low voltage (~0v) is a zero.

[This video]( explains how those electrical signals are used to add numbers.


Is think about a light bulb. It is either own or it is off. This is the relevant piece of information about the light bulb that changes quickly between one state or the other. And if you knew Morse code, you could send information to another person using your light just by switching it on and off.

Computer memory is made up of a ridiculously large number of switches that work exactly the same way a light bulb does. These switches are in one state or the other state, and they can constantly switch between the 2 very quickly and easily.

OK so you start with electricity and it goes into your magic computer box. The electricity goes into a power supply unit (PSU) which controls the distribution to the other bits inside. One of the bits is the Core Processing Unit (CPU) which does the stuff you’re asking.

A key thing that the CPU does is control the voltage of electricity through many, many tiny circuits. If it has high voltage, you could say it’s “on” or a “1”. Low voltage means it’s “off” or a “0”.

By combining these currents and circuits, you can create “logic gates”. This is a tricky part of the puzzle, but fortunately for us, some brainiacs already figured it out. These gates take two inputs (which are two currents of electricity).

A simplish example logic gate would be “AND”, as in, if current X AND current Y are both 1 (high voltage), then let the electricity continue at high voltage too, otherwise make it low voltage.

So two inputs go into the gate and one comes out. For AND, both inputs need to be 1 for the output to be 1. If not, the output is 0.

Combining complicated logic gates and then chaining literally millions/billions of them together is what your CPU is. Electricity travels almost at the speed of light so it’s ridiculously fast to run it through even this many logic gates.

The mind blowing thing is it would be really difficult to use the above information to create like, a calculator right? I wouldn’t want to try that myself! But today, the 1s and 0s are abstracted all the way up to things like real time 3D graphics rendering in video games which is just… truly amazing. I believe that improvements to CPUs and graphics cards is made mostly by being able to add more logic gates to the same tiny size of a CPU, so that it can do more complicated logic faster.