A Guide to Basic Computer Terminology

Basic computer terminology began innocently with the invention of computers, however now we see computer terms creeping in the English language. Invading and trampling old meanings and terms for something more or less related to new computer terms developed as fast as we can learn.

Isn’t a desktop simply the top of your desk? No wonder the average person gets confused and stressed when confronted with basic computer terminology. This language has taken on a path of its own, using words such as cookie, ram, mouse, hardware and more. However don’t panic yet, just read this article and soon you will be speaking the basic computer terminology language.

Lets start with basic Computer Terminology

Everything about a computer falls into a particular category. Even the motherboard, hard drive, Windows XP, and your keyboard fall into one of these basic computer terminology sections.

  • Hardware refers to the basic parts that make up your computer. For example a hard drive, memory, and motherboard are part of the hardware of your computer.
  • Peripherals are those pieces of hardware that you add on to your computer. For example a mouse, keyboard, modem, monitor, etc
  • Software refers to all of the programs on your computer. Software helps you get things achieved, like writing letters, sending emails, and surfing the internet.

Different types of hardware

This is not the tools you buy at the local hardware store as this basic computer terminology is all about computers!

Hard drive. This is where all your data is stored when you save it. Its size or capacity is measured in gigabytes.

For Example, I have a 160GB hard drive in my computer. Obviously a 20GB hard drive is very small in comparison. Below is a picture of a 3.5″ desktop hard drive and a 2.5″ laptop hard drive. Now we have 1Tb hard drives and larger. You can also have an external hard drive just to store files on. Please see what is an external hard drive for more information.


Processor or Central Processing Unit (CPU) interprets computer program instructions and processes data. The bigger your processor, the faster your computer performs your tasks. Its speed is measured in megahertz and gigahertz. 1000 megahertz equals 1 gigahertz. People still have computers that can be something like a Pentium III 933mhz, however a more up to date computer would be Pentium IV 3.0ghz. The cpu (picture to the right) has tiny pins that must not be bent in any way or they will not go into the correct holes on the motherboard. And see in one of the corners there are no pins, and sometimes you can see an arrow there. This lets you know which way it goes into the motherboard.

Now days there are two types of processors, a 32-bit and a 64-bit. You can also install either 32-bit or 64-bit software.

Motherboard, systemboard, or mainboard is the central circuit board that provides electrical connections so the other components of a computer can communicate with each other. It is the main part to a computer. Without a motherboard or mainboard there is no computer. Every part to a computer connects to the motherboard. Motherboards can be simple with the bare minimum add on or they can include onboard graphics, onboard sound, network connections, USB ports, etc. To get a decent motherboard now days you need one that supports things like loads of USB ports, front USB ports, front audio, compatible for dual or quad core cpu, TV in and out, and more..

Basic Computer Terminology - motherboard

Ram (random access memory) is the memory of a computer which works with the other components of the computer to allow it to function. It stores your data when you are using it and returns it to the hard drive for storage when you are finished. For example it allows your programs to run and then puts them away when you close them. Ram size is measured in megabytes and gigabytes. Most computers have at least 512mb ram but if you doubled that it would be over 1 gigabyte. (1024mb).

When upgrade memory it is best to stick to a similar ram type that was originally in your computer. For example if you had a DDR2 667mhz 512mb stick of ram originally then you should put a DDR2 667mhz stick of ram in to upgrade. However the new stick could be 1GB instead of 512mb. (Just a larger size)

New computers running Windows Vista are able to handle having more ram. Windows Vista also does not run well on 512mb of ram.

256 ddr ram

CD Rom, Cd burner, or Dvd burner. These are used to read cd’s to install software, or access any data stored on a disk. The latest dvd burners can read most disks as well as burn both cd’s and dvd’s. The older type cd roms only read cd’s and cd burners read and write or burn cd’s.

basic computer terminology-dvd cd disc drive
Floppy disk drives are almost obsolete and is probably not needed when learning basic computer terminology but it is a part of history. It uses the older type 3.5″ square plastic disk. See more Different drives of a computer.

Different types of Peripherals

  • Keyboard allows you to type information into your computer. It has made the poor old type writer obsolete. See what and where are the keys on my keyboard?
  • Mouse This is used as a pointing device that can help you control your computer tasks. It is a hand held device with a left and right click button. It performs a lot of the keyboards functions but its as easy as you can click here and there. See how to use a mouse.
  • Monitor is the screen for viewing your working computer. The older type are CRT Monitors and the nice slim screens are LCD Monitors.
  • Modem This device connects your computer to a phone line to enable communication between you and other computers. It allows you to view pages stored on other computers which is commonly called the internet. You will need a service provider to do this. Most people have cable internet, however in remote areas they still use dial up internet which is extremely slow.
  • Printer/Scanner This allows you to print pages from your computer or scan and copy pages on to your computer to view and edit. Most new printers come with a scanner incorporated and sometimes they can also print great quality photos. See how to install a new printer.


The main and most important piece of software a computer has is the Operating System which is most commonly called Windows. See what operating system you are running. There is also software for almost anything you want to do with your computer. There is software for picture editing, movie making, music production, watching movies or TV, and more. It almost seems never ending. It all starts with an idea.

Basic Computer Terminology relating to software

  • Warez: A common name for illegal software.
  • Serial: The serial number for a particular piece of software.
  • Download: To click on a link for a file and transfer it through the internet to your computer to save.
  • Upload: To transfer a file from your computer to another host computer through the internet. Like uploading a video to Youtube.
  • Trial software: This is software that you can try before you buy. If your trial time runs out you will no longer be able to use this software unless you purchase a copy.
  • Apps: Is an abbreviation used for application software.

Commonly Used Terms in Basic Computer Terminology

  • Burn a cd: No this does not mean you can set fire to it! This means to write data to a disk. Maybe you want to burn a copy of your home movies on to a disk.
  • Desktop: It is everything you see when you start your computer except the taskbar.
  • Wallpaper: The monitor pattern or picture or other graphic representation that forms the desktop background onto which all the icons are displayed.  I like to use a photo of my own for the wallpaper on my desktop. I also have some free desktop wallpaper available for you to download.
  • Cookie: A text information message that is stored on your computer when you visit a web page. When you return to the page the cookie is used to recognize you. If you would like to see more information please see: what is a cookie?
  • Tweak: To make small changes that fine-tune a piece of software or hardware. There are many programs that help you do this. For example XP tools, Tweak u, Ashampoo.
  • Format: This can mean to format a computer or to format text. They are two totally different things!

See more computer terms to kick start you learning basic computer terminology.

If you are a new computer user, you should keep this article handy for future reference, and hopefully soon this basic computer terminology will become your second language.


  1. Benzema Rox says

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    Hope to get benefited by your website further!
    Thanks a lot!!!

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