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The final aspect of your computer's infrastructure is what truly holds everything together—its case. Although it appears to be nothing more than a box, the simple case has several complex functions. It is both the foundation for your computer and a protective shell that guards against both physical and invisible dangers. More importantly, the case is the one part of your computer that you see all the time. It is your pride and joy. The case is the physical embodiment of your computer.

In fact, the case is the body of your computer. It's a housing, vessel, and shield that provides the delicate electronics of the computer a secure environment in which to work. Cases come in various sizes, shapes, and effectiveness at their protective tasks to match your computer and the way you plan to use it.

In its protective role, the case guards the delicate circuitry inside your computer. Part of that protection is physical, guarding against physical dangers—forces that might act against its circuit boards, bending, stressing, even breaking them with deleterious results to their operation. It also prevents electrical short circuits that may be caused by the infall of the foreign objects that typically inhabit the office—paper clips, staples, letter openers, beer cans, and errant bridgework. The case also guards against invisible dangers, principally strong electrical fields that could induce noise that would interfere with the data handling of your system, potentially inducing errors that would crash your system.

The protective shield of the case works both ways. It also keeps what's inside your computer inside your computer. Among the wonders of the workings of a computer, two in particular pose problems for the outside world. The electrical voltages inside the computer can be a shocking discovery if you accidentally encounter them. And the high-frequency electrical signals that course through the computer's circuits can radiate like radio broadcasts and interfere with the reception of other transmissions—including everything from television to aircraft navigational beacons.

Your computer's case also has a more mundane role. Its physical presence gives you a place to put the things that you want to connect to your computer. Drive bays allow you to put mass-storage devices within ready reach of your computer's logic circuits while affording the case's protection to your peripherals. In addition, your computer's case provides the physical embodiment of the expansion slot, affording the boards that slide into the connectors of your computer's expansion bus protection with the same mechanical and electrical shelter as the rest of the system.

The case can play a more mundane role, too. It also can serve as the world's most expensive monitor stand, raising your screen to an appropriate viewing angle, elevated high above the clutter and confusion of your desktop. Or a tall, desk-side computer can be an impromptu stand for your coffee or cola cup or a more permanent residence for the papers that spillover from your desk. Appropriately chosen, the right notebook computer can be a gimmick pick-up device that can win you dates—providing you hang with the right (or wrong, depending on your perspective) crowd.

Compounding the function of your computer's case is the need to be selective. Some of what's inside your computer needs to get out—heat, for instance. And some of what's outside needs to get in—such as signals from the keyboard and power from your electrical outlets. In addition, the computer case must form a solid foundation upon which your system can be built. It must give disk drives a firm base and hold electrical assemblies out of harm's way. Overall, the simple case may not be as simple as you think.

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