A computer is a programmable machine designed to sequentially and automatically carry out a sequence of arithmetic or logical operations.
The particular sequence of operations can be changed readily, allowing the computer to solve more than one kind of problem.
Conventionally a computer consists of some form of memory for data storage, at least one element that carries out arithmetic and logic operations, and a sequencing and control element that can change the order of operations based on the information that is stored. Peripheral devices allow information to be entered from external source, and allow the results of operations to be sent out.
A computer's processing unit executes series of instructions that make it read, manipulate and then store data. Conditional instructions change the sequence of instructions as a function of the current state of the machine or its environment.
Computer data storage, often called storage or memory, refers to computer components and recording media that retain digital data used for computing for some interval of time. Computer data storage provides one of the core functions of the modern computer, that of information retention. It is one of the fundamental components of all modern computers, and coupled with a central processing unit (CPU, a processor), implements the basic computer model used since the 1940s.
In contemporary usage, memory usually refers to a form of semiconductor storage known as random-access memory, typically DRAM (Dynamic-RAM) but memory can refer to other forms of fast but temporary storage. Similarly, storage today more commonly refers to storage devices and their media not directly accessible by the CPU (secondary or tertiary storage) — typically hard disk drives, optical disc drives, and other devices slower than RAM but more permanent. Historically, memory has been called main memory, real storage or internal memory while storage devices have been referred to as secondary storage, external memory or auxiliary/peripheral storage.
The contemporary distinctions are helpful, because they are also fundamental to the architecture of computers in general. The distinctions also reflect an important and significant technical difference between memory and mass storage devices, which has been blurred by the historical usage of the term storage. Nevertheless, this article uses the traditional nomenclature.
Many different forms of storage, based on various natural phenomena, have been invented. So far, no practical universal storage medium exists, and all forms of storage have some drawbacks. Therefore a computer system usually contains several kinds of storage, each with an individual purpose.