Barebones Computer System – describes a computer with minimal parts included, intended for people who want and are able to build their own computer, but don’t want to start entirely from scratch. Typically includes a case, a motherboard, and a power supply.
Case – the metal box containing the CPU, RAM, HDD, motherboard and other parts. Most cases these days are “towers” – meaning they are designed to stand up. Some cases are designed to lay flat on the desk, but not many people have computers like that these days.
Computer – a loosely used term referring to either a case with all contained parts, or an entire setup with a monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc. Computer purchases may include the monitor, keyboard, and other components or may be just the case with internal parts.
CPU (Central Processing Unit) – the part that actually does all the computing. The other parts are primarily supporting parts. The speed of the CPU along with the amount of RAM are the two most important components in determining the overall performance of your computer.
CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) – allows a single set of code to be referenced across multiple websites to define visual styles. It is used for the same general purpose as HTML but it is more streamlined. For example, to create headlines that are large, green, and bold you can either use HTML to manually type the font style every time you wanted to use it, or you could create a stylesheet and say anything using code “H3” would be green, large and bold. Then you’d reference “H3” whenever you wanted the special font style.
Desktop (definition 2) – the initial screen viewed when a computer is first turned on and has fully booted, or after a user has logged in. The desktop contains icons of software programs as well as various folders available on the computer.
Driver – a file that tells the operating system what type of hardware is in the computer and how it can be used. For example, a video card can be installed in a computer but without the correct driver(s), the computer won’t recognize that it is a video card. Installing the correct driver(s) tells the computer that it is a video card and what its limitations are.
Fan – helps keep the parts of the computer cool. Some fans are directly attached to the CPU. If a computer is not kept at a reasonable temperature, it can overheat causing malfunction and potentially decreasing the overall lifespan of the system. Computers should always be kept at room temperature or cooler, if possible. Gaming computers, servers, and other intensely-used systems may need even more cooling.
HDD (Hard Disk Drive) – stores all the information saved on the computer. Typically referred to as simply a “hard drive”, people often confuse this with RAM and vice versa. Hard drives are generally internal, but external hard drives can be purchased as well for additional storage space.
HTML Tags – the actual code used to interpret visual appearance (e.g. for bold text or for a line break). Most tags need to have a beginning and a closing tag. In the example for bold text, the 2nd tag,, is the closing tag. The slash makes it a closing tag.
Modem – used to a connect a computer to the internet. Generally will connect to the wall via a Cat5 cable, and also to the computer or to a router via another Cat5 cable. Cable modems are external, dial-up modems are usually internal.
Monitor – the screen of a computer setup, often looks like a TV without the channel/volume buttons. Some very new computers consist of a large touch-screen monitor with all computer components built in, but generally speaking the monitor is not the computer.
Motherboard – a circuit board inside the case that connects all the parts of the computer together. The RAM and CPU are directly connected to the motherboard. The motherboard also determines the performance potential of the computer because each motherboard only supports a certain range of parts. In other words, a motherboard from the 90s can’t use a brand new state-of-the-art CPU or the newest type of RAM. Motherboards also have ports (USB, PS/2, VGA, etc) where the keyboard, mouse, monitor, etc are plugged in.
Netbook – very similar to a laptop, but smaller. Netbooks do not provide CD or DVD drives, are generally smaller, and have fewer resources available to them but potentially longer battery life. Designed for lighter use.
Network – several computers and/or printers or other devices connected via wires or wireless signals. Implies that resources can be used by others on the network (e.g. printer sharing, shared internet connection, etc). See also Modem, Router.
Network Card/Adapter – the adapter that a Cat5 cable is plugged into in order to connect to the internet. A wireless network card will have an antenna on the back used to receive the wireless signal sent by the router. Network adapters are typically PCI or PCIe.
Operating System – the software that makes sense of the hardware. Examples of operating systems are Microsoft Windows, Linux, and MacOSX. The operating system orchestrates the functions of a computer.
PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) Expansion Slot/Bus – a slot on the motherboard where PCI cards can be installed. The bus transmits the information sent by the card to the rest of the computer.
PCIe (Perhipheral Component Interconnect Express) Expansion Slot/Bus – a slot on the motherboard where PCIe cards can be installed. The bus transmits the information sent by the card to the rest of the computer.
PS/2 (Personal System/2) Port – the circular serial port(s) where some keyboards and mice are plugged in. Most computers have the ports colored – purple for the keyboard, green for the mouse. Not to be confused with the gaming system.
RAM (Random Access Memory) – allows the computer to run multiple programs at the same time. This also aids a computer’s processing speed, but RAM alone will not make a fast computer. RAM is sold in many different types, and some types require installation in pairs (two of the exact same stick).
Router – used to connect multiple computers to a single modem so that they share an internet connection. Wireless routers serve the same purpose but do not require a Cat5 cable leading from the router to the computer.
Sound Card/Adapter – a component installed in a computer generally to improve sound capabilities. Sound cards usually don’t impact performance much. In much older computers, a sound card was required in order to have sound. In newer computers, sound capabilities are typically onboard. Sound cards are usually PCI, PCIe, or ISA.
Terabyte – equivalent to 1,024 gigabytes.
Upload – the opposite of downloading, this takes a file or files from a personal computer and makes them available online. Uploading is most frequently done with photos, to enable them to be shared with others.
Video Card/Video Adapter – a component installed in a computer usually to improve graphics capabilities and/or improve performance. Video cards have their own RAM and processor. If the computer was previously using only onboard video adapters, this requires some of the computer’s resources to be used for displaying graphics on the screen. A video card can instead use its own resources, thus leaving the computer more to work with for the rest of its functions. Video cards can also be used to create a dual-monitor setup when combined with a 2nd video card or the onboard video adapter. Video cards are usually PCI, PCIe, VGA, or AGP. Generally speaking, this refers to the slot they will fit in. Available slots vary amongst motherboards.
Web Browser – a program used to view websites over the internet.