Gigahertz, megabytes and hardware

June 29, 2011 

The computer business is an alphabet soup of names and acronyms. When a customer comes into our store for service, navigating the computer lingo can often be a challenge.

At a very basic level, the typical desktop computer has a monitor, a keyboard and mouse, the computer tower, and printer. All of these devices are connected with a data cable to the computer tower, and all but the keyboard and mouse have a power cord to the electrical outlet or surge protector. An exception would be wireless devices which need a power cord, but not a data cable.

I have heard a computer tower called many things, including a Central Processing Unit, modem, or hard drive. Each of those terms actually refer to a component inside that computer tower. A central processing unit is the main “thinking” component for the electronics of the computer. The processor is precisely seated on the motherboard, and is the “brain” of the computer. The motherboard covers one side of the computer and has connections for each component. The motherboard links all the activities of the computer, receiving input, executing the processor’s commands, transferring data, and sending signals to the monitor and other peripherals.

Connected to the motherboard are the following components: Random Access Memory, hard drive, optical drives, a network interface card and sometimes a modem. The ports you see at the back and front of the computer many times connect directly to the motherboard. Ports provide connection for input/output devices, displays, and connection to the internet.

Computer specifications, which are seen in advertising or product labels, often will highlight processing speed, memory and hard drive space. Processing speed is determined by the processor and is measured in gigahertz.

Dual Core, Core 2 Duo, Quad Core and today, even Six Core are the current models of system processors. Memory, or RAM, is measured in megabytes or gigabytes, and provides in-use memory for processing. The hard drive is the main storage device for data and is also measured in gigabytes. The hard drive is accessed frequently during processing, and stores data long-term when the computer is not in use.

Optical drives are the compact disk and digital video disk drives used to read and write discs and are often used for new program installations. A read only memory optical drive will read data from a disc; a burner or writer will save data to a disc. Usually the faceplate of the optical drive will specify whether it accepts only CDs or both CDs and DVDs. It also will indicate if it will write CDs or DVDs. A DVD drive will accept CDs, but a CD drive will not accept DVDs. A writer will always read discs, but a CD or DVD Rom will not burn discs.

The components that enable a computer to access the Internet are the modem and the NIC. A modem is only needed for dial-up service or for use with a fax. The network interface provides the Ethernet port for broadband cable connection. Some desktop computers also include wireless network interface cards as well.

One additional component we have not discussed is the power supply. Today’s computers use electricity via direct current to power its components. A power supply converts our common alternating current we get via the wall outlet to DC. The plugs from the power supply connect to the internal devices giving life to the motherboard, processor and components.

Of course we have only been addressing desktop computers. Notebooks have common named devices but carry their own vocabulary as well. Regardless, discussing computers today means understanding a host of names and meanings.

Do not be intimidated and count on your trusted computer adviser to help you make sense of all the alphabet soup.

Michael Shaffer, of Computer Renaissance of Bradenton, can be reached at 941-753-8277 or at info@cr-bradenton.com.

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