Talking the talk: a look at computerese

What do you call the main unit of your computer system? And what are they talking about when they discuss speed and space available on a computer? What is the difference between a hard drive and an optical drive? Let’s talk about computer talk.

At a very basic level, the typical computer desk 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 CPU, modem or hard drive. Each of those names refers to a component inside the computer tower.

A CPU, or 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: RAM, hard drive, optical drives, NIC, 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, seen on its labels or in advertising, 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, Tri Core and Quad Core are current models of 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 CD and DVD drives used to read and write discs. A ROM 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 will also 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 network interface card (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.

One additional component we have not discussed is the power supply. It has connectors for the motherboard and for each component inside the computer that requires its own power. The main power cord plugs into the power supply and gives life to the motherboard, processor and components.

Patty Harshbarger, the owner of Computer Renaissance in Bradenton, can be reached at (941) 753-8277 or