Isle of Wight computer help

Home |  Contact |  Case studies |  Computer help |  Links |  Feedback |  Sitemap | 

Computer Jargon for Beginners
Spring 2005

A few terms you may come across.
There's a more complete one here.

A small program that is run whenever you start your computer, the BIOS is stored on a chip attached to your computer's motherboard. The BIOS contains instructions so that the computer can access various devices (floppy and hard drives etc) on a very low level which will allow the operating system (e.g. Windows) to be loaded. The BIOS needs to be set up properly, and there is a utility that can be accessed at boot time for this purpose. The wrong settings can render the computer unbootable...

Byte :
You don't really need to know. Just think of it as a single 'unit' of information, and the more you have of them, the better (and more expensive) your computer will be. About 1000 of them make a Kilobyte (actually 1024 - 2 to the power of 10, because that's how computers work). 1024KB are 1 Megabyte, and 1024MB are 1 Gigabyte.


Central processing unit - the main 'chip' controlling the computer. All data has to pass through this chip. Compare to the human brain (though brains are much cleverer). Measured in Megahertz (MHz) or Gigahertz (GHz) (millions or billions of clock cycles per second). Generally the faster the clock speed the better, but this is only one aspect of a CPU's performance and does not always follow, unless you are comparing like for like - i.e. 2 Pentium 4 processors, or 2 Celeron M, or 2 AMD Semprons. The list goes on, so best do some reading up, or ask...

Hard disk drive, or hard drive - used to permanently store data, programmes and the operating system, even when the computer is switched off - hopefully... This is a very delicate part of your PC and should be handled with care and backed up regularly. Size is now measured in Gigabytes (GB, 'gigs'). Minimum size for a 'normal' PC at the moment should be 40GB. 80GB costs hardly anything extra and is OK for a general office computer. If you are saving lots of large pictures, films or installing the latest games then the bigger the better.

Modem :
A device to turn the digital data from your computer into an analogue signal (a horrible screeching sound!) so that it can be transmitted over a normal telephone line. Also reverses the process for received data. If you can get broadband, then use that instead.

Network :
Two or more computers joined together so that you can share files, printers, Internet connections and the like. The Internet is a huge network, made up of many, many smaller networks.

Random access memory, or just memory - computers use this to store and manipulate data and applications whilst it is in use. The contents are lost when the computer is switched off. Generally speaking, having more memory will speed up your computer and allow you to run more programmes at the same time. Windows XP should have at least 256 Megabytes (MB, 'megs') of RAM. There is not really much point in going over 1 Gigabyte (about 1000 MB) for a 'normal' PC, with 512 MB being ample for most users.