Computer Glossary Terms
64-Bit Processing: Refers to how much data can be processed in one piece (in this case, 64 bits). Some modern software may require 64-bit processing to run.
App Store: A digital distribution platform for software. You may be familiar with the app store on your phone or tablet, but many operating systems are now incorporating them right into computers as well. This allows you to download applications or apps, sometimes for free and sometimes for a fee. Apps will vary by store, operating system, and manufacturer.
Bit/Byte: A bit is the smallest unit of measurement for electronic data. Eight bits equal one byte; approximately 1,000 bytes equals one kilobyte (KB); 1,000 kilobytes equals one megabyte (MB); 1,000 megabytes equals one gigabyte (GB), and 1,000 gigabytes equals one terabyte (TB). These units determine how much information your computer can store and retrieve. When it comes to hard drives, the higher the gigabytes and terabytes, the more storage space you have.
Bluetooth: A form of wireless communication allowing devices to communicate with each other. For example, a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse might be compatible with a computer or tablet, allowing these components to be used wirelessly.
Blu-ray: A high-definition optical disc used for movies and some video games. Unlike DVDs, Blu-rays are capable of full HD 1920x1080p video. Blu-rays can hold 50GB of data, over five times the capacity of a DVD.
Burn: To record data on a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray disc.
Bus Speed: Measured in megahertz (MHz), bus speed is the speed or frequency at which the data on the motherboard is moving.
Chipset: A set of electronic components in an integrated circuit that manages the data flow between the processor, memory, and peripherals. It is usually found on the motherboard of a computer.
Cloud storage Allows data to be stored virtually in storage space hosted by a third party, as opposed to on your physical hard drive. Cloud storage can be advantageous because it may make it easy to share information across devices or among users, as well as freeing up your own physical hard drive space.
DDR (Double Data Rate): A type of SDRAM (memory) that supports data transfers that effectively doubles the speed of the RAM. Double data rate type three (written DDR3), which is currently in use, is twice as fast as its predecessor, and faster is better!
Desktop: A personal computer intended for use in a single location (not surprisingly, this is typically a desk), as opposed to portable computers. Desktops may consist of a tower, monitor, keyboard, and mouse (sometimes with certain components sold separately). There’s been a rise in popularity of all-in-one desktops, which integrate the technical components into a flat-screen monitor for a sleeker design that takes up less space.
Digital Media: Can refer to the places where digital files are stored (memory cards, hard drives) or the files themselves (photos, videos, MP3s).
DVD (Digital Video Disc): Stores and plays both audio and video. Stores about 25 times more information than a CD. DVDs and CDs can be played and burned on a DVD/CD-RW Combo Drive or DVD+/-RW drive. A drive that does all of these things is sometimes referred to as a SuperMulti drive or burner. Dual-layer DVD drives allow you to burn about twice as much information onto a dual-layer DVD.
Ethernet: A wired Internet connection. While ethernet connections don’t allow for the portability and convenience of Wi-Fi, they can sometimes result in faster download and upload speeds, making them advantageous in certain situations.
Expansion Slot: A slot set aside on a computer’s motherboard where you can “expand” your computer functions by installing expansion cards. This can be used to add memory, graphics capabilities, or support for special devices.
Firewall: This hypothetical “wall” is actually a piece of software that protects a private computer from unauthorized access via the Internet. It prevents other computers from accessing your computer while you’re online.
Graphics Card: Also called a video card. When installed in a computer, it permits the computer to display pictures. It can either be built into the motherboard or exist separately, and in some computers can be upgraded using an expansion slot.
Hard Drive: A storage device typically measured in gigabytes or terabytes (either internal or external to a computer’s system unit) that holds large amounts of data. It’s the “memory box” of the computer where files like documents and photos are stored.
Hardware: The physical components of a computer system, such as the monitor, keyboard, tower, or notebook.
HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface): The uncompressed, all-digital standard used for high-definition (HD) quality for consumer electronics and PC products using a single cable (an HDMI cable). Generally, HDMI cables are used to connect HD devices (Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, HD DVRs) to an HDTV or monitor.
Hertz (Hz): A unit of frequency equal to one cycle per second.
High Definition: Means that the screen will be “widescreen” and at least twice as clear as standard definition (which is 480 horizontal lines). Generally, anything at 720 or more horizontal lines will be considered HD; 1920×1080 resolution refers to Full HD, and 4K (or 4,000) horizontal lines refer to Ultra HD.
Hyper-threading Technology: A feature of some Intel processors, hyperthreading may improve your computer’s ability to multitask (though not as much as a multi-core processor does). It’s particularly helpful for some heavy-duty applications, like zipping and unzipping files, playing 3D games, or using professional editing programs.
I/O Ports (Input/Output): The connectors on a PC that connect its external devices; examples include USB, HDMI, and VGA ports.
LAN (Local Area Network): A set of devices, such as computers, printers, or video games, physically or wirelessly connected for interactive communications wirelessly or through ethernet connections.
LCD (Liquid Crystal Display): A type of display that uses standard compact fluorescent tubes to illuminate the picture. Unlike LEDs, they don’t produce their own light.
LED backlighting: A way of producing light in LCD screens, resulting in a much clearer, brighter, better-looking display.
Level 2 Cache: Often written as “L2 cache,” this is a type of memory capable of high-speed storage, enabling quick access to the most recently used data and instructions.
Lithium-ion/lithium-polymer: A light, rechargeable battery often used in portable electronics such as notebooks and smartphones.
Memory: The place where a computer keeps programs and data. This could refer to the hard drive, RAM, or cache.
Memory Card Reader: A device that accesses data on a memory card, such as an SD card.
Motherboard: A computer’s main circuit board. It’s the central, essential part of a computer to which most other integrated parts are connected.
Multi-touch: A touchscreen or touchpad, sometimes referred to as multi-gesture, that recognizes two or more fingers, incorporating advanced functionality like pinching to zoom.
Network Card: A network card, network adapter, network interface controller, network interface card, or LAN adapter is a computer hardware component designed to allow computers to communicate over a computer network. It allows users to connect to each other wirelessly or by using cables.
Operating System (OS): Software that takes care of basic system activities such as reading forms and saving to disk. It controls how system resources are used and provide a user interface. Commonly used computer operating systems are Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.
Portable computer: A computer with a rechargeable battery that can be used wirelessly and incorporates necessary elements for use (display, keyboard, etc.) into one piece of hardware that opens while in use and closes when not. Notebooks (also called laptops) are probably the most common types of portable computers. Other examples are netbooks (generally smaller than notebooks, lacking optical drives and lighter on features) and Chromebooks (which don’t have a sizable hard drive but use online Cloud storage).
Processor: Also known as the CPU (central processing unit). As the primary element carrying out the computer’s functions, it’s effectively the “brain” of the computer. A dual-core processor has two execution cores, while a quad-core has four, etc; generally, more cores allows for faster computing.
Processor Speed: The rate at which the CPU performs calculations per second. It’s measured in megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz). 1000MHz equals one GHz.
RAM (Random Access Memory): The place where a computer keeps programs and data when they are in use. It’s measured in megabytes or gigabytes (see bit/byte for more info).
Retina display: A type of LCD screen specific to a newer-model Apple® MacBook Pro®, iPad®, iPhone®, and iPod®. Retina displays have a high enough pixel density that the human eye is unable to notice pixelation at a typical viewing distance. Basically, Retina displays are clearer than typical LCDs, making everything look really pretty.
SATA (Serial ATA): A way of connecting a hard drive to a computer. Most computers made after 2005 use SATA hard drives, which is generally faster and more efficient than SATA’s predecessor, PATA.
Screen Resolution: Maximum number of pixels that can be displayed on the screen. This number is a product of the number of columns and the number of rows. For example, a monitor with a 1920×1080 resolution can display 1,920 columns of pixels and 1,080 rows of pixels. The higher the resolution, the clearer the screen; see high definition for more info.
Security lock slot: An anti-theft system incorporated into some computers. It is used for attaching a lock-and-cable apparatus, in particular, those from Kensington.
Software: The actual programs on a computer, as opposed to the physical components. This includes applications (Word, Excel) and the operating system itself (Windows 8, Mac OS® X).
Solid-state drive (SSD): Like a standard hard drive, a solid-state drive is used to store data. However, SSDs read and write files much more quickly, resulting in better performance overall. Hybrid drives combined the standard features of hard disk drives and solid-state drives, resulting in a more optimal performance than a hard drive alone at a better price than a large SSD.
Sound card: A piece of computer hardware that controls its sound input and output.
TFT (Thin Film Transistor): A type of LCD flat-panel display that is made to be as thin and light as possible, taking up less space than bulky old-school computer monitors. TFT displays also generally have higher resolutions than older displays.
Touchpad: A pointing device used on many notebook PCs. You move the pointer on screen by moving your finger over the touchpad.
Touchscreen: A display you can interact with by touching it with an object, typically a finger or stylus. Capacitive touchscreens are very responsive to finger touches, allowing easy swiping, which generally results in an intuitive user interface; however, they won’t respond to a gloved hand or stylus. Resistive touchscreens, on the other hand, can typically be used with a finger or stylus, but require pressure to be applied to the screen, which can sometimes affect ease of use.
USB (Universal Serial Bus): A high-speed serial port technology that allows a variety of input and output devices to be easily attached to a PC. A USB device can be plugged in or unplugged without turning off the PC and is automatically recognized and configured upon plug-in. Typically, modern computers will have USB 3.0, USB 2.0, or some combination of the two. On paper, USB 3.0 is faster, though how much faster will depend on other factors, like your hardware.
Webcam: The term webcam is a combination of “web” and “video camera.” They can be used for video chatting or recording videos, and are built into most modern computers; older computers required an external webcam accessory.
WiDi: This Intel-developed technology is short for Wireless Display, and lets users to stream music, movies, photos, videos, and apps wirelessly from a compatible computer to a compatible HDTV or through the use of an adapter with other HDTVs. WiDi technology is capable of Full HD 1080p video and 5.1 surround sound audio, though you’ll need the appropriate hardware to achieve that.
Wi-Fi: Wireless networking technology that uses radio waves to provide wireless high-speed Internet and network connections.