Basic PC Jargon


This is the painful column.For those of you who already use a PC, this column may be a bit, well, unnecessary.But it may clarify some fine-point so read on.If you fall asleep, itís probably my fault and I want to know about it.

There are several styles of PCs (personal computer, a name officially coined by IBM in 1981): the main ones are desktop models and laptops (or notebooks).As we will be discussing what they can do, not their size and weight, we will concentrate on desktop models, as functionally they are nearly the same.

Looking at a Computer, a PC, you see a monitor (a TV-like screen), a typewriter-style keyboard, and a case that houses the Computer itself.The case may sit on the floor, belying its name as a desktop PC.In addition, you may see audio speakers, a joystick (if a game-playing kid is the main user), and a mouse.The mouse looks like, well, a plastic egg with a tail.You know that the case is the key component because all the other pieces -- the monitor, the keyboard, the mouse, the speakers -- are attached to the case via cables, and the electric power cable attaches to the back of the case.

The keyboard is an Input device, input to the PC.You talk to the PC through the keyboard.The mouse and the joystick are Input devices, too.The monitor is an Output device, output from the PC.The PC talks to you through the monitor.The speakers are Output devices too.

The Computer itself is housed in the case, along with other components.The case is not the Computer, but the Computer is the case and everything the case contains.Making it simple, the case contains: a motherboard, a MicroProcessor chip, memory chips, a floppy drive, a hard-drive, a CD-ROM drive, a modem and slots.Wow!Hold on!Not yet.In addition, it contains a video card and asound card.The chips are for the most part installed directly onto the motherboard.The drives and modem are attached to the motherboard via cable or via their own cards.Ultimately, everything attaches to the memory chips and the memory chips attach to the MicroProcessor.

OK.The motherboard, a plastic laminate about one-foot square with lots of soldering pathways, serves as the neural structure for all these parts to communicate with one another.

The MicroProcessor, or CPU, whether made by Intel, AMD, or Motorola, is the brains of the computer, the soul of the brain so to speak.It is the key component in determining the power and sophistication of the overall PC.

While the CPU does all the thinking, it can only think about stuff that is in the memory chips (RAM).Therefore, the more memory the better.

The hard-drive is sort of a long-term memory device, as it can feed the memory chips (short-term memory) with data that they cannot store permanently.As a matter of fact, every time you turn on the PC, the memory chips begin empty; they are fed data from the hard-drive.The hard-drive always has far greater memory capacity than the memory chips, 100 to 500 times as much.

The floppy drive allows you to use floppy diskettes as additional memory.Youíve probably seen a floppy diskette; they are wafer-thin plastic squares 3.5 inches on a side with a metal slider on one side.They allow you to grab data from one PC and put it on another.

The CD-ROM drive allows you to play audio CDís through your PC and to use CD-like disks (CD-ROMs) as another way to feed your PC with data.The difference between floppy diskettes and CD data disks is that the CD disks have 500 times the capacity of floppy diskettes.

The modem allows you to attach a phone-line to the back of your PC.This adds an extraordinary dimension as you can access the Internet this way.Attaching to the Internet makes your PC as powerful as millions of PCís as it can access any Computer that is attached to the world-wide Internet.

A video card translates computer data into TV signals, and the sound card translates computer data into audio signals.

Slots allow you to attach as yet unthought of devices to the computerís mother-board.

Modern PCís may come with DVD players.DVDís are the High-Tech version of VHS movies.What makes them superior?As they are the size and shape of audio CDs, they are incredibly smaller than a VHS tape, perhaps 7% of the same volume of one tape.No moving parts.No rewind.Random Access (instead of Fast Forward, go directly to the 18th scene in the movie).Interactive features, like foreign language subtitles and viewing ratio (wide-screen or TV screen).And, best of all, they are cheaper to mass-produce.Although lower prices will probably not result until piracy forces prices down.

Then there are the external devices.Printers, scanners, PC cameras (lenses attached directly to your PC which let you take still or motion pictures).

And I havenít even mentioned MP3 players, digital cameras, digital camcorders, handheld computers, what else?

Another time.




While the human brain deals with impulses or information, computers deal with data.Data is measured in bytes.A byte can stand for one alphabetic character or a single numeric digit or a punctuation mark.Thus, War and Peace, a novel some 1500 pages long, requires 4,500,000 (1500 pages X 60 lines per page X 50 characters per line) bytes to be stored on a PC.But a typical hard-drive contains 1000 times that storage.So, if you were going to store your library on your PC, you could store 1000 large books on that hard drive.Not to mention, todayís hard drives are 5 times that large (5,000 large books or 25,000 avarage books).


created on 5/15/2001