PC Hardware GlossaryA simple guide to PC hardware terminology.
3-D RAMVideo RAM designed to improve 3-D graphics.
80 pin IDE cableIDE cable with 80 pins. Forty of these pins are ground wires used to reduce crosstalk.
AGP SlotSlot on the motherboard designed for a video card.
Active matrixType of display which amplifies the video signal at every intersection in the grid of electrodes to improve quality.
Active terminatorTerminator used on single ended SCSI cables which includes voltage regulators.
Adapter cardCircuit board used in expansion slots. Also known as expansion cards.
Address busUsed by CPU to communicate memory and I/O address to memory controller and I/O devices.
ATCType of L2 cache in Pentium processors that is embedded on the same core processor die as CPU.
AmmeterMeter that measures electrical amperage of electrical current.
Amplifier repeaterRepeater that does not distinguish between noise and signal and amplifies both.
Asynchronous SRAMStatic RAM that doesn't work in step with CPU clock rate.
ATType of PC form factor. Also called Full AT.
ATXMost widely used form factor for PCs.
Autorange meterMultimeter that senses the quantity of input and sets range automatically.
Baby ATSmaller version of AT form factor.
Back side busBust between the CPU and L2 cache.
Backplane systemForm factor which has no true motherboard.
BankLocation on motherboard that contains slots for modules of memory.
Beam detect mirrorDetects presence of laser printer's laser beam.
BNC connectorUsed with thin coaxial cable.
BrouterFunctions as both a bridge and a router.
BEDOVersion of EDO with improved access time.
BusPaths or lines on a motherboard that carries data, instructions and electrical power.
C-RIMMPlaceholder for a RIMM module that provides continuity.
Cable modemUsed with cable internet service. The cable modem connects to the NIC in a PC.
CapacitorStores and electrical charge. Used to smooth of the flow of electrical current.
CD-RDrive that can write data to a CD.
CD-RWDrive that can write data to a CD. The data can then be erased and rewritten.
CPU (Central Processing Unit)The CPU receives data input by the user, processes information and executes commands. In a PC, the CPU is housed in a single chip called a microprocessor.
Chip creepProcess in which chips loosen due to changes in temperature.
Chip setGroup of chips on the motherboard that controls the timing and flow of data and instructions to and from the CPU.
Circuit boardDevice that contains electrical circuits and chips.
Clock speedSpeed or frequency of a processor.
CMOS configuration chipChip on the motherboard that contains setup information about a PC.
Coaxial cableNetworking cable used with ThinNet or ThickNet.
Compact caseLow-profile case used for low-end desktop PCs.
Crossover CableA cable used to connect two PCs into a very simple network or connect two hubs.
Data busLines or paths on the system bus that the CPU uses to send and receive data.
Data cartridgeTape medium used for backups.
Device driverProgram that tells the PC how to communicate with and I/O device.
DIMMCircuit board used to hold memory.
DiodeElectronic device that allows electricity to flow in one direction.
DIP switchSwitch that can be set on or off. Holds configuration data.
Direct rambus DRAMMemory technology that uses a narrow and fast system bus. Stored on a RIMM module
DMA channelChannel in which a device can pass data to memory without involving the CPU.
DMA transfer modeUsed by devices, such as hard drives, to transfer data to memory without involving CPU.
DDR SDRAMMemory technology used on DIMMs that runs at twice the speed of the system clock.
Dual-voltage CPUCPU that requires two different voltages.
DRAMMemory that requires refreshing every few milliseconds.
ECCChecks integtrity of data stored on DIMMs and RIMMs and corrects single-bit errors in a byte.
ECPParallel port mode that uses a DMA channel for increased performance.
EEPROMChip in which a high voltage can be applied to one of the pins to erase data before new data is written.
EISA busA 32-bit bus that can transfer 4 byts at a time at a speed of about 20 MHz.
EIDEInterface for secondary storage devices (hard drives) in a PC.
EPPParallel port that allows data to flow in both directions for improved performance.
EPROMChip that allows data to be erased with a special ultraviolet light so the chip can be reprogrammed.
Expansion busBus that does not run in sync with the system clock.
Expansion cardCircuit board that is added to the motherboard to increase capabilities.
Expansion slotSlot on the motherboard where an expansion card can be added.
FireWire (IEEE 1394)Expansion bus that can work as a local bus.
Flash memoryRAM that can hold data when powered off.
Flash ROMROM that can be reprogrammed or changed without replacing chips.
Flat panel monitorMonitor that uses and LCD panel.
FlexATXVersion of ATX that allows for maximum flexibility.
Form factorSet of standards on the size, shape abd configuration on devices such as power supplies, cases and motherboards.
Gigahertz (GHz)One billion cycles/second.
Graphics Processor Unit (GPU)Specialised microprocessor used for video cards.
Graphics acceleratorVideo card with a dedicated processor to improve video quality and increase speed.
Half-lifeAmount of time for a storage device to weaken to half its strength.
Hard boot (Cold boot)Turning of and restarting or pressing PC reset button.
Hard copyOutput from printer to printed page.
Hard driveMain secondary storage device of a PC.
Hardware interruptCaused by device signaling that it requires service.
HD-DVDDVD standard that supports high def video encoding.
HeadTop or bottom surface of a platter in a hard drive.
Heat sinkPiece of metal that can be mounted to chips to dissipate heat.
Hertz (Hz)Unit of measurement for frequency.
Hot swappableComponent that can be plugged into a PC while it is running. The PC registers the device and configures it without rebooting.
HubNetwork component that provides a central location to connect cables.
Hyper-threadingTechnology trademarked by Intel that enables a processor to appear as two logical processor. Each logical processor can execute a thread of a multi-threaded program which can improve performance in certain conditions.
IDEHard drive with disk controller integrated ibto the drive.
Intelligent UPS (Smart UPS)UPS that can be managed with software.
InterlacedDisplay in which the monitor only draws every other line.
Internal busBus located in CPU used for communication between CPU and components.
Internal cacheMemory cache contained inside the CPU. Faster than external cache.
ISAOlder interface which can only support an 8 or 16-bit data path.
JumperTwo wired located on the motherboard that hold configuration data.
KeyboardInput device through which data can be input the PC.
LAN (Local area network)Network that covers a small area.
LCD (Liquid crystal display)Flat panel display used in PC monitors and various other electronic devices.
Line conditionerDevice that regulates electrical power.
Line-interactive UPSUPS with shorter swiching time. AC to DC converter is constantly running.
Local busBus that works ata s speed synched with the CPU frequency.
Local I/O busBus that provides I/O devices with access to the CPU.
Logical drive (Volume)Section of the hard drive the OS sees as a physical drive.
Low-level formatCreates the tracks and sectors on a hard drive.
LPXForm factor that uses riser cards plugged into the motherboard to install expansion cards.
MAC addressHexadecimal address unique to each NIC.
Master boot recordFirst sector on hard drive. Contains program for booting and the partition table.
MDRAMType of RAM used on video cards.
MHz (Megahertz)One million cycles per second.
MemoryMicrochips that can hold data and programs.
Mini ATXSmaller ATX board. Can be used with ATX cases and PSUs.
Mini-LPXSmaller version of LPX.
ModemModulates digital data to an analog format that can be trnsported over telephone lines and demodulated back to digital. MOdulate and DEModulate.
MonitorUsed to display text and graphics output from PC.
MotherboardThe main board of a PC. Also called system board.
MouseInput device that allows a user to move a cursor on screen and select items.
MP3Compression method used on audio files.
MultimeterDevice used to measure and test components in an electrical system.
MultiplierThe bus speed multiplied by the multiplier gives the CPU clock speed.
NIC (Network interface card)Expansion card used to give a PC networking capabilities.
NLXForm factor similar to LPX but with more support for current processor technology.
Non-volatileType of RAM that can hold data as long as it is powered.
North BridgeConnects I/O buses to the system bus.
Null modem cableCable that allows two devices to communicate. Transmit and receive wires are cross-connected and no modem is required.
OverclockingIncreasing the clock rate or frequency at which a device runs. The CPU and video card can are two devices that can be overclocked, among others.
P1 connectorPower connector used by ATX motherboards.
P8 connectorOne of two power connectors used by AT motherboards.
P9 connectorOne of two power connectors used by AT motherboards.
Parallel ATAIDE cabling method in which a 40 or 80-pin cable is used with a 40-pin IDE connector.
Parallel port25-pin port on a PC.
Patch cableNetwork cable used to connect a PC to a hub.
PC CardAdapter card for notebooks used for connecting modems, networks, and CD-ROM drives.
PCI busBus that runs at speed up to 33 MHz or 66 MHz with a 32 or 64-bit data path.
PCI ExpressImplementation of the PCI bus based on a much faster serial physical-layer communications protocol.
PDA (Personal digital assistant)Handhel PC with its own OS and applications.
PeripheralA peripheral is a device that communicates with the CPU that is not located on the motherboard.
PAC (Pin array cartridge)Houses the Intel Itanium CPU.
PinoutHow each pin on a bus, connector or socket is configured.
PitsAreas on the surface of DVDs or CDs used to represent data.
PixelSmall dot on a scan line. Images on the monitor are made up of pixels.
PnP (Plug and Play)Automatically configures devices during installation.
PollingWhen the CPU checks a device to determine if they are ready to send and receive data.
PortPhysical connector, 2. Another name for an I/O address.
Power ConditionerRegulates power and provides continuous voltage.
Power Supply (PSU)Supplies power to all devices in a PC.
PrinterProduces printed output to paper.
ProtocolSet of rules and standards.
PS/2 mouseMouse that plugs into the PS/2 port on the motherboard.
RAID (Redundant array of independent disks)Method used to configure multiple hard drives for better performance and fault tolerance.
RAMDACShort for Random Access Memory Digital-to-Analog Converter. The RAMDAC is a single chip located on a video card. The RAMDAC's role is to convert digitally encoded images into analog signals that can be displayed by a monitor.
RAM driveMemory that works as a hard drive. Much faster than a standard platter hard drive.
RAM (Random Access Memory)Memory modules installed in the motherboard used for temporary data storage.
Read/write headDevice that reads or writes data to a disk.
RectifierConverts AC current to DC current.
Refresh rateNumber of times in a second an electronic beam can fill a monitor screen from top to bottom.
RepeaterDevice that amplifies a signal so it may be sent for longer distances.
ResistorDevice that opposes the flow of electrical power.
RIMMMemory module developed by Rambus.
RJ-11Phone line connection found on devices such as modems.
RJ-45Connection type used with a twisted pair cable on a network.
ROM (Read-only memory)Chip that contains a program that can not be deleted.
RouterDevice used to connect networks.
SCSI (Small Computer System Interface)Interface between a host adapter and the CPU that can contain as many as 15 devices on a single bus.
SCSI IDNumber assigned to a SCSI device.
Secondary storageDevice that permanently holds data such as hard drives.
SectorA segment of a track on a hard drive disk that has a capacity of 512 bytes.
SATA (Serial ATA)Cabling method that uses a smaller cable than a 80-pin PATA cable. Is more reliable and faster than PATA.
Serial portUsed for transfering data one bit at a time.
Shielded twisted-pair cableCable that has one or more twisted pairs of wires surrounded by a metal casing.
Signal-regenerating repeaterRepeater that can detect the difference between noise and a clear signal and filters out the noise.
Single-voltage CPURequires one voltage for all operations.
SlackWasted space on a hard drive.
SLI (Scalable Link Interface)Technology developed by Nvidia that allows two PCI Express video cards in the same PC to be linked so they can share the processing load.
SO-DIMMType of DIMM module used in notebook computers.
SO-RIMMType of RIMM module used in notebook computers.
South bridgePart of the chip set that connects slower I/O buses to the system bus.
SPGA (Staggered Pin Grid Array)Method used on CPU socket to allow for more pins in a smaller space.
SSD (Solid State Drive)Storage device that holds data like a standard hard drive, but functions with no moving parts and achieves much faster transfer rates, uses considerably less power and has lower latency.
Static RAMRAM module that holds data with the need for refreshing as long as the PC is powered up.
Surge protectorDevice used to protect electrical components from power spikes and surges.
SwitchA network hardware device used to segment a network.
Synchrnous DRAM (SDRAM)Type of RAM that runs in sync with the system clock.
Synchrnous SRAMType of SRAM. Is faster than asynchrnous SRAM.
System BusBus between the memory and CPU. Also known as the memory bus, external bus, host bus or front side bus.
System ClockProvides a continuous pulse that PC devices used to time themselves.
Terminating ResistorResistor used to dampen the voltage near the end of a SCSI chain.
Thermal PrinterA line printer that uses a wax based ink.
TraceWire on a printed circuit board that provides a connection.
TracksCircles on a medium used to divide a disk.
TransceiverLocated on a NIC. Responsible for signal conversion.
TransformerUsed to change the ratio of current to voltage.
TransistorDevice used to control the flow of electricity.
UART ChipChip that controls serial ports.
UDFFile system used for optical mediums.
UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply)Provides a backup power source during power failures.
Video CardExpansion card installed in a PC to provide video capabilities.
VoltMeasure of potential difference in an electrical circuit.
VoltageElectrical difference that causes current to flow.
VoltmeterUsed for measuring AD or DC voltage.
WattUnit used to measure power.
WattageElectrical power. Measured in watts.
ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) SocketSmaller lever used to secure the processor into the socket.
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