Common Computer Terms

Do-It-Yourself Tech

Computer technology has a wide variety of its own terminology. This post will a compilation of some of the most common terms for computer hardware specifically. Though, of course, many terms inevitably will not be mentioned. Please email us, if you are interested in a definition not listed here.

Components of the Inside of a Basic Computer:

Motherboard – This is the main component of the computer; the big square green thingy that nearly everything inside the computer plugs into. Sometimes it is also called the mainboard. In buying a computer, most don’t shop around for certain motherboards. This component especially has been commoditized, making it such that it can be very hard to distinguish between better or worse motherboards without a lot of computer know-how.

– Stands for Central Processing Unit and is exactly that. This component is the “power house” of the computer and is usually what people refer to when benchmarking the speed or “how fast” a computer runs. Intel processors are the standard and there are currently two models that are most popular: Pentium IV and Centrino. For a more thorough discussion on processors, please read here.

Power Supply
– This is the rectangular box usually placed at the top and back of the computer where the power is plugged in. Unless you are building your own computer, most times the power supply isn’t a customizable option when shopping for computers. 300 Watt power supplies are the standard currently, with more wattage being better for computers with more devices.

Hard Drive – This is where all your data resides. All the files necessary to run the computer plus all your saved documents can be found on the hard drive. This is a key component. If it goes bad, you loose all your data. If any other component causes the computer to stop working, there is a good chance that the hard drive and all data is still intact, allowing for the possibility of the data to be recovered to another computer. The current standard for hard drives is around 80 gigabytes, though computers can come with upwards of 200 gigabytes.

Memory (RAM) – Random Access Memory is what is used to load programs or data when you access them. Unlike the hard drive, which is a permanent location for your data files, memory is used to store your data temporarily when you access it. This is because memory is much faster than the hard drive, though computers have less of it. The standard for memory is currently 512 megabytes, though 1 gigabyte is quickly becoming popular (around 1,024 megabytes). Adding more memory to a computer is perhaps the most common upgrade, as it is the cheapest and easiest way to speed up a computer.

CD-ROM Drive (DVD / Burner) – CDs (Compact Discs) have become the most popular medium for installing and transferring programs, movies, music, and data. The next generation is called DVD (Digital Video Disc) which has over five times the capacity and allows for higher quality movies. A CD-Burner allows you to make your own music or data CDs and a DVD-Burner allows you to make your own movie or data DVDs. Both types of burner can be used for backups. Please read here for more on backups.

Floppy Drive – Most computers now don’t even come with a floppy drive. It used to be the means by which you could manually transfer data from one computer to another. The capacity was only 1.44 megabytes, which is nothing compared to 512 megabytes (or more) that you can now fit on your keychain via memory sticks that plug into USB slots on new computers.

Sound Card – This used to be a separate component inside the computer but is now mostly commonly built into the motherboard. This is what controls the quality of your sound and is where you plug your speakers in. Most computers come with a sound card capable of stereo sound. If you are interested in surround sound, you will need to check and see if the card supports it.

Network Card – Like the sound card, it used to be a separate component that is now built into the motherboard. This is where you plug in the cable that connects you to a network or your internet connection. This is how most people connect computers together to share data.

Video Card – This component can also be built into the motherboard. However, having a separate video card is necessary for any sort of gaming or graphic design. Video cards also have memory (RAM) with the standard being around 64-128 megabytes.

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