This isn’t a list of computer hardware everyone is familiar with, so you won’t find keyboards or mice listed here. Instead you’ll find devices and parts mainly referred to by their abbreviations or by cryptic terms such as parallel port. We also have a computer terms page available for more information.
Devices are loosely grouped by category, but if you can’t find a device in the category in which you think it belongs, take a moment to check the other categories.
Core Computer Parts And Systems
- Motherboard, the master chipset for your computer into which all other core devices connect. PC motherboards are all roughly compatible except when it comes to CPUs and RAM—the motherboard your computer uses must match the model of CPU and type of RAM.
- CPU: Computer Processing Unit, the chip which performs all the general purpose calculations for your computer. The most common CPUs for PCs are all loosely based on a 30-year old chip from Intel, the 8086, which powered the earliest PCs.
- RAM: Random Access Memory, also called DRAM for Dynamic RAM. This is where programs store the data on which they’re currently working. RAM is fast—thousands of times faster than your hard drive—so the more RAM your computer has, the faster your computer can work (up until all the data you ever need can be stored into RAM).
- PSU: Power Supply Unit which converts Alternating Current (A/C) electricity from your wall socket into various different Direct Current (D/C) voltages and wattages required by the different parts in your computer. Typically your PSU connects to your motherboard, hard drives, disc players, fans, and any other parts which require their own direct power connection.
- Math Coprocessor: CPUs are designed to do basic math very quickly and perform a few other operations very quickly, but they often can’t do advanced math without converting it into basic math, kind of like the way you probably do long division. A math coprocessor is a slower secondary CPU in your computer which is designed to do advanced math. Despite being slower in general, it’s faster at advanced math.
- GPU: Graphics Processing Unit, another secondary CPU optimized for a specific purpose—this time it’s graphics. Like math coprocessors, GPUs are slower at general computing, but they’re much faster at vector math (geometry). Many math-based operations, such as cryptography research, will use high-end GPUs as math coprocessors.
Other Stuff Inside Your Computer
- PCI: Peripheral Component Interconnect, the most common type of expansion slot inside your computer from 1990 to 2005.
- ISA: Industry Standard Architecture, a very old type of expansion slot still found in some relatively recent business computers.
- PCI Express, the current most popular expansion slot inside your computer. Comes in several different sizes.
- AGP: Accelerated Graphics Port, graphics card expansion slot. Also comes in several different sizes, but most computers from 1995 forward have full-sized slots.
- IDE/ATA/PATA: Integrated Drive Electronics/Advanced Technology Attachment/Parallel ATA, connectors for older magnetic hard drives. Called IDE or ATA in its day, most people call it Parallel ATA (PATA) these days to distinguish it from the current standard, SATA.
- SATA: Serial Advanced Technology Attachment, the current most popular way to connect magnetic disk drives or solid state drives inside your computer. Can be exceedingly fast. (See also eSATA.)
- PC Speaker: not what you think—it’s the tiny chip inside your computer that makes the beep noise when your computer boots. PC speakers saw their heyday back in the DOS era when nearly every game used them to play video game-style music.
- Network Card, Graphics Card, Sound Card: various devices formerly separate but which are usually built right onto your motherboard these days. (Although you can add aftermarket cards too.)
List Of Computer Hardware Peripheral Connections
- USB: Universal Serial Bus, the most common peripheral connection found on modern computers. Comes in four different versions: 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, and 3.0. There’s also a wireless USB standard, but it really has nothing to do with traditional USB except the name.
- VGA: Video Graphics Array, the long-running standard interface for connecting your computer monitor to your computer, now being replaced by DVI and HDMI.
- DVI: Digital Visual Interface, a common way to connect LCD or plasma computer monitors to your computer. It does not work on older CRT computer monitors. DVI signals can be easily converted to HDMI television signals.
- DisplayPort, an Apple computer monitor connection used by a few other devices.
- Comm(unication)/Serial: an old port connection predating USB which can still be found on many modern servers and business computers because the computer can use the serial port as a very basic text-only computer monitor for debugging. Serial ports were also commonly used with high-quality external dial-up modems.
- Parallel Port, a wide connection which connects to older printers using a standard cord. Increasingly phased out in favor of USB, which is faster.
- Firewire, a USB-like standard widely supported by Apple (but not by many other manufactures) which provided fast data transfer speeds—faster than USB at the time. Mainly used to connect portable hard drives and cameras to your computer.
- PCMCIA: Personal Computer Memory Card International Association device, a PCI-like interface which let you add devices to your laptop. Replaced almost entirely by small USB devices.
- IR: InfraRed, a light-based communications port which allows you to control your computer or send data wirelessly. Popular in the days before wifi or Bluetooth and still seen on media center PCs.
- PS/2: Personal System/2, old-style connections for your mouse and keyboard still found on many business computers but increasingly supplanted by USB ports.
- eSATA: external SATA, external connection for SATA hard drives, sort of like connecting a USB device, but much faster than USB 2.0. (About the same speed as USB 3.0.)
- SSD: Solid State Drive, a computer hard drive with no mechanically-moving parts, typically smaller and lighter than traditional magnetic hard drives.
- LED: Light-Emitting Diode, any of the many flashing lights on your computer, keyboard, USB drives, and other devices on this list of computer hardware.
Download our free C is for Computer report.