Definition and Simplification

Are you ever confused with the difference between the internet and your email, your modem and your router, your USB and your tire iron? Does the notion of unplugging everything form your computer and then plugging it all back in the right place seem like a daunting task? Then these next installments of Vermont Geek Speak are for you.

In an effort to educate and to gain a few extra restful nights of sleep for myself and my clients, I offer a simplified handful of terms to help you describe what’s really going on if there is a problem with your computer. Not a glossary per se, but a helpful list to differentiate between the more commonly confused items or terminology relating to an average user experience.

Part 1 – The Computer.

Whether you are running Mac or PC, all computers have the same basic working bits. Let’s begin with a rundown of the components and their functions. The word ‘computer’ can refer to either a laptop or a desktop. Let us focus on the desktop model for the most part even though it’s under and not on top of the desk. In this case, the computer is the big box that all of the cables plug into. It houses a myriad of essential parts and handles all of the operations of the system. If you want to be technical, it’s called a ‘system unit’ but nobody says that. Feel free and call it the ‘tower’ instead, that’s understandable and visually representative of the unit. Many refer to the entire system as their computer, lumping in the monitor, keyboard and mouse, which is acceptable, but not nearly as concise as you’ll need to be when a problem arises.

Inside of that tower there is a motherboard, also called a logic board, which is best described as ‘the thing that makes everything in there work together’. If you ever look inside of there, it is the largest piece of green silicon that everything is tied into. Connected to it is a processor that handles the math. Computers are in truth little more than a fancy calculator, all that they ‘see’ is 1’s and 0’s, so it’s mathematical abilities are paramount. The faster the processor, the faster it can crunch the numbers. Also attached is RAM, or ‘Random Access Memory’. RAM is probably the least expensive way to improve you computer. It is where the information that the computer needs at hand most urgently is stored and manipulated. A hard disk drive is in there as well. More often simply called the hard drive, it is the primary storage of the computer, housing all of your information, precious data, and embarrassing pictures of your children in the tub. It used to be called ROM for Read Only Memory, but that confused everyone with RAM, so the terminology has changed. This is the piece that needs to be ‘backed up’. Another essential component is the power supply. This box within the box connects with an IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission, for those of you keeping score at home) cable to your wall outlet and translates that power into a useful wattage for the computer to run efficiently. Quite a few other elements can exist in there, including video cards, sound cards, expansion cards, multiple fans, slots, cables and connections, but the common elements are listed above.

The external components of every system include input and output devices. Input devices refer to the mouse and the keyboard, as well as a variety of trackpads, trackballs, webcams, joysticks, or other haptic element. As defined by the word input, these are our direct link to the computer, allowing us to enter information as we see fit. Output is handled more often than not by a monitor, also called a screen. Monitors are usually either CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) or LCD (Liquid Crystal Display). The flat ones are the LCD’s and the deep ones are CRT’s. While CRT’s have excellent contrast and great imaging, the slimmer technology of the LCD is fast overtaking them in modern computing. The desk real estate alone made available by a svelte monitor can be of great benefit, and the ergonomic strain of the light emitted is much less as well. For those of us who spend far too much time looking at a screen, it is of a great advantage to make the switch.

With that, we’ve covered the essentials of your system, and in the next installment, we’ll define the components of the network that work to enable you to have internet access and to share and store files with multiple computers.

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