Sometimes my wife doesn't understand me. Occasionally my daughters don't know what I'm talking about. And now I discover my readers are often left in the dark by my techno-babble. Perhaps it's time for a little Computing 101.
Let's begin with the box, which some erroneously refer to as the CPU. The Central Processing Unit is actually the computer chip, like the Pentium.
On the front of the box you'll find two drive bays. This is where your optical discs go. That's your DVD or digital video disc, usually on the top, with your CD or compact disc drive beneath it.
The main difference between them is capacity. A DVD holds 4.7 GB (gigabytes) of data while a CD holds 700 MB (megabytes), with 1,000 MB equal to 1 GB. The newer Blu-ray media holds 50 GB on a dual layer disc.
The DVD drive is usually a read-only, meaning you can't burn a disc with it. The CD drive on the other hand is able to read and write. If there is just one drive it is a combination for both media. If it says ROM (read only memory) it's a reader. If it says "Re-Writeable," it will write a disc. The disc itself will say CD-RW or CD-R.
Inside the box is the RAM (random access memory), power supply and expansion slots, all on the motherboard. The power supply is the silver box with a fan. Never open it. Also never touch anything inside without grounding yourself first. Electrostatic discharge in the smallest amount can fry a circuit. You can turn a stick of memory into a bookmark simply by touching it.
The RAM is next to the CPU, which has a heat sink (the slotted aluminum thingy) on top of it with a fan. There will probably be a couple of empty slots next to the full ones. The slots are about 5 inches long with plastic clips on the ends. RAM holds temporary information.
The expansion slots (PCI mostly) are for your modem, video, sound and Ethernet (Internet connection) cards.
The hard drive holds all of the permanent information. It is the C drive, your storage device. It has the operating system (Windows) as well as all of your data (documents, e-mails, photos). It is called a hard drive because in comparison, the original 5.25-inch floppy disc (and 8-inch before that) was actually flexible, unlike the rigid 3.5-inch disks most of you know.
On the back of the box, all those ports can be confusing. But you can't put a cable in the wrong port -- except for the PS-2 devices, the mouse and keyboard - and they're color-coded. They both use little round connectors, although now both can use universal serial bus. Just about anything from a printer to a camera can be connected via a USB port. They're the narrow, flat rectangular thingies that connect to not only the rear panel, but usually to at least two on the front of the computer as well.
The pin plugs for the speakers, microphone and headsets are also color-coded. The blue trapezoid with holes in it is your video port. That's where your monitor connects.
Next is the software. That would encompass the programs, applications and utilities that run on your computer. As explained before, Windows falls under operating system, as would Linux or Leopard. They run everything on your system.
A browser would be Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer. An e-mail client would be Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Thunderbird or IncrediMail.
Word and Photoshop are programs or applications. A suite is a bundle of programs like Office or Norton Utilities. A utility is a program used as a tool. Your antivirus and antispyware programs such as AVG and Spyware Doctor are utilities.
Many computer users confuse upgrade with update. The former is a newer version of a program you have, usually at a cost. An update is an improvement to a program, usually downloadable and free. Version 3.2 would be an update while Version 4 is an upgrade.
The Internet or the Web: What's the difference? The World Wide Web (www) is where we explore with our browsers. The Internet is all else including e-mail, chat rooms, ftp (file transfer protocol) sites and the Web.
A driver is a tiny program that allows hardware to work with your system. Your video card for example won't work without a driver installed.
The registry is a database and records all hardware, software and users and is the backbone of the operating system.
There is so much more. We need to discuss cookies, viruses, worms, spy and adware. There are firewalls, defragmenting and system restores. But that will have to be another column.
So for now you should know the difference between a round thingy, a flat doohickey and silver gizmos. Perhaps computing, and hopefully this column won't be so confusing anymore.
Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly. Arthur welcomes your computer questions and ideas for future columns.