Common Computer Terms & Definitions

Some common computer related terms:

BIOS: This is an acronym for Basic Input Output System. This is the first application your computer looks for as soon as you push the power button to turn it on. It is stored in the ROM on the motherboard of your computer. The BIOS contains information about the hardware configuration (memory (RAM), hard-disk drives, ports, any other add-on cards or peripherals and the CPU itself) of your computer and checks and initializes them as soon as your computer is turned on. After this, it hands over control to the Operating System in your computer, which proceeds on with the booting process.

CPU: This is an acronym that stands for Central Processing Unit. This microprocessor chip is that part of the computer that does most of the data processing. It’s the engine or brain of your computer and measures about 2″ x 2″. No, it’s not the big box sitting next to your monitor – it’s what’s INSIDE it! The CPU is the important part of a computer. (The box is known as the system unit or system tower)

Monitor: It’s a device that displays information from the computer to you. A few years ago, these monitors looked like small television sets sitting on top of your desk – they were called CRT monitors. (CRT stands for Cathode Ray Tube). Nowadays, you have the sleeker looking LCD monitors. (LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display.)

CD-ROM drive: Simply put, it’s the device that lets you use a CD or CD-ROM in your computer. These devices can only Read information from the CD, like, play a movie that is in a CD. But it cannot write anything to it from your computer. A typical CD generally has a capacity of about 640MB to 700MB and costs about Rs.10/- each.

CD burner: This is just an extension of the CD ROM. This device lets you copy stuff from your computer and write it to a CD. Writing something to a CD is also called Burning (No, it doesn’t actually burn!) Usually, you can burn data to a CD only once. But if you buy a Rewritable CD, you can use it multiple times – just like a floppy disk!

DVD-ROM drive: This is the device that lets you use a DVD ROM in your computer. A DVD ROM usually has a capacity of slightly over 4GB. It’s slightly more expensive than a CD and costs about Rs.15/- to Rs.18/- each.

DVD Burner: This device lets you copy or burn data to your DVD.

Video card: It’s that piece of hardware in your computer that connects your monitor to your computers motherboard. This device is the interface which facilitates data to be shown on your monitor from your computer. Modern mother boards of today have it built into them but it had to be purchased as a separate component before.( VGA stands for Video Graphics Array)

AGP Card: We can say, this is an advance version of the Video or display card. It’s a newer and faster graphics (display) output standard. (AGP is the acronym for Accelerated Graphics Port.) It also gives you a higher display resolution. You will normally find a separate AGP slot in your motherboard and to use it you will need an AGP card. In some newer motherboards, it comes built into them.

NIC: This stands for Network Interface Card, also known as Ethernet adapters or just Network Cards. It provides an interface between your computer and your network. Most NICs work at 100Mbps while the newer and more expensive Network Cards work at 1000Mbps, and are also known as Gigabit Ethernet Cards or Gigabit NICs.

PCI: This acronym stands for Peripheral Component Interconnect. This was originally developed by Intel and it refers to a cross platform local bus technology integrated into modern day motherboards. You would normally find 2 or 3 PCI slots on any motherboard to which you can add PCI devices like PCI display cards, PCI sound cards, PCI internal modems etc. There are two different versions of PCI – one is a 32 bit version which works at 33Mhz and the other, also called PCI V2.0 which works at 66Mhz.

PCI Express: This is the Open-standards based successor to the 32bit and 64bit PCI versions. Unlike the PCI versions which use 32bit and 64bit parallel buses, PCI Express uses a high speed Serial Link Technology like those found in the Gigabit Ethernet cards, SATA HDDs. The PCI Express technology shows the replacement of the old Shared Parallel Bus Technology with the more modern, high-speed, Serial Point-to-Point serial buses.

RAM: We’ve heard it many times – RAM stands for Random Access Memory or just, the plain memory in our computers. To make it easier to understand the concept, I can say, whatever you see on your monitor is what is in the RAM of your computer. Everything in your RAM goes away as soon as you switch off your computer. Remember, the more RAM you have in your computer, the more efficient you help it to perform! There are many types of RAM – like EDO, Non-EDO, SDRAM, DDR etc. The ones we are using today would most probably be DDR2 RAMs. The newer version is called DDR3. RAM is also known as Volatile Memory because whatever you store in it, is lost when the computer is shut down.

ROM: stands for Read Only Memory. Whatever you store in the ROM does not get lost when the computer is shut down. That’s why it’s called Non-Volatile Memory. A good example of ROM is the BIOS of your computer where information about the configuration of your computer is stored permanently.

RAID: This stands for “Redundant Array of Independent Disks”. This is a technology which increases the amount of hard-disk space by combining multiple hard-disks in an array and also provides fault-tolerance and increased efficiency in data-transfer. There are different types of RAID. This configuration is generally used in business critical locations and applications.

Sound Card: These are those devices which are built-in into your computer’s motherboard which produce sound. You also have PCI Sound Cards which are fixed into one of the PCI slots in the motherboard. You normally connect your External Speakers to the Output sockets of your computers sound card.

SCSI: Stands for Small Computer System Interface. This is a standard which allows you to connect different devices to your computer – like Hard-disks, CD-Rom drives, Floppy Drives etc. This is much faster than the regular IDE devices and therefore, more expensive too.

USB: Who hasn’t heard about this term! It stands for Universal Serial Bus. It allows you to connect any device with a USB connector, to your computer without having to turn it off. This technology has made life that much easier for the computer users, who, today, cannot imagine life without a USB Pen drive or USB cameras! The current version of USB is called USB 2.0 which allows data transfers of up to 480Mbps. (Oh! By the way, Mbps stands for “Mega Bits per second”)

Firewire: This is another technology which allows you to transfer data between two devices. It’s faster than the USB standard and is known as the IEEE 1394 standard. This is also ‘Plug and Play” – which means you can connect it to your computer without having to turn it off first and allows high speed transfer of data. You can connect your digital camera, Hard disk drives etc to your computer using this technology.

Bluetooth: It is a technology which allows digital devices to transfer data between them wirelesly. You can transfer files, songs etc from your Mobile phone to your computer or vice-versa or to any other Bluetooth enabled device. To transfer data to your computer from a Bluetooth device, you need to have a Bluetooth adapter. This is a very inexpensive gadget but comes in very handy at times.

SMPS: It stands for Switch Mode Power Supply – Look at the back of your computer’s ‘Tower” or “box” – do you see where the power cord is connected to? That’s the SMPS which supplies power to your computer.

Motherboard: The motherboard is the main circuit board of the computer. It’s also known as the Main board. It contains slots for the CPU, Memory, PCI and AGP slots. The newer ones come with built in sound, display and Ethernet (network) ports. Each and every component in your computer is connected to the motherboard in one way or the other. Before you buy a motherboard, make sure that it is capable to support the Processor (CPU) you wish to use.

Hard Disk Drive: This is the device where all the information you have in your computer is stored – the Operating System (OS), applications, files, pictures, songs, movies etc. There was a time when computers had no hard disk drives at all! Then the smallest capacity Hard disk drive (HDD) I remember was about 640MB in size, which was a huge amount of space at that time for computers running MS DOS 6.0! Then, when the 1.2GB hard disks hit the market, people were simply amazed and did not know what to do with that much space! Of course, now, I have a 1TB (Terabyte) HDD and I am already concerned that I might run soon run out of space on my Hard disk. There are internal and external Hard disk drives.

Floppy Disk Drive: These are the dinosaurs of the computer world! Before the CD-ROM drives and DVD-ROM drives came into existence, man relied hugely on these devices to transfer data from one computer to another! In the times of MS DOS, Windows 3.1, WordStar Release 4, Lotus 1-2-3 and Dbase III Plus, these devices called Floppy Disks actually thrived! There were two versions of them – the larger 5¼ Inch Floppy Disks which could store 1.2MB of data in it and the ‘trendier” and more compact 3½ Inch floppy disks which could store up to 1.44Mb of data in each of them!

Serial Port: It is a communication port which allows your computer to connect to various other devices – for example the External Modem. It allows for sequential transmission of data , i.e. 1 bit at a time.

Parallel Port: This is also a communication port which allows your computer to connect to other external devices like your printer, scanner etc. It transmits data at 8 bits at a time. These ports use the D25 standard or the 25 pin connectors.

Modem: This term stands for “Modulator – De Modulator”. This device allows your computer to connect to the internet. You can get different types of Modems, such as, External modems, Internal Modems and nowadays, you also get wireless modems, which connect to your computer through the USB ports.

Router: This is a device that connects networks together. For more on Routers, read our Networking section.

Desktop: Well, this is a term used to denote the first screen you get to see after your computer finishes its booting process, and before you open any other application. Remember that picture on your computer with the beautiful green hillside?

Virus: No. It does not cause Swine Flu! Instead, it is a small application or program that runs in your computer without your knowledge. Viruses are made to cause maximum damage to your computer. They normally attach themselves to executable files in your computer and corrupt them. Some viruses are designed to carry out some specific task on a particular date. Viruses can be spread through emails in the form of attachments. You must have a good anti-virus program to protect your computer.

Hardware: It’s all those parts of your computer which you can touch and feel.

Software: These are the programs or applications that run your computer.

Operating System: It is an interface between a computer and a user. It also serves as a platform for other applications to run on.

Computer configuration: If somebody asks you a question like “What is the configuration of your computer?” – it just means that he or she wants to know at least three important things – 1. What kind of processor (CPU) you have? 2. How much of memory(RAM) is installed & 3. What is the capacity of your computer’s hard-disk drive (HDD). You can then add on more details like the size & type of your monitor, keyboard, mouse etc.

You can find out the configuration of a computer by clicking on the System icon in the Control Panel or by just right-clicking on the My Computer icon on your computer’s desktop and selecting Properties. Then, in the General tab, you can find information about which version of Windows you have in your computer, what kind of processor (CPU) you have in your computer and how much of memory (RAM) you have installed.