PC hard­ware terms ex­plained and de­mys­ti­fied

PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - By James Nor­ris

Whether you are lost in a labyrinthine tech sup­port fo­rum and noth­ing’s mak­ing sense, or you just want to re­fresh your PC build­ing and main­te­nance knowl­edge, I’m here to help with a glos­sary of the most com­mon hard­ware terms and their straight­for­ward ex­pla­na­tions.

If you’re look­ing for more back-to-ba­sics help with both hard­ware and games, check out The Com­plete Guide to PC Gam­ing at www.bit.ly/com­pletepc.


32-bit – When ref­er­enc­ing com­puter ar­chi­tec­ture, the term 32-bit is used to de­note the num­ber of bits that can be pro­cessed si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Sys­tems us­ing 32-bit CPU and OS ar­chi­tec­tures gen­er­ally have lower per­for­mance po­ten­tial and RAM ca­pac­ity when com­pared to their newer, 64-bit brethren. This term is also used to de­scribe the colour range of a mon­i­tor that pro­vides 32-bit per pixel of colour in­for­ma­tion, which means eight bits per chan­nel for red, green and blue, along with an 8-bit trans­parency chan­nel.

64-bit – Again ref­er­enc­ing com­puter ar­chi­tec­ture, 64-bit is used to in­di­cate the num­ber of bits that can be pro­cessed at the same time, in this case twice as much as 32-bit, which pro­vides pro­cess­ing and mem­ory ad­van­tages for sys­tems de­signed around this greater po­ten­tial. Most mod­ern com­puter sys­tems use 64-bit ar­chi­tec­ture.

802.11 – Wi-Fi data stan­dard spec­i­fi­ca­tion fam­ily that runs on the 2.5GHz or 5GHz wire­less bands. MD Radeon – AMD’s brand name for its se­ries of graph­ics cards, DRAM mod­ules, SSDs and sup­port­ing soft­ware. Usu­ally refers to graph­ics cards or GPUs.

AMD Ryzen – AMD’s com­peti­tor to In­tel’s Core se­ries pro­ces­sors, now in their se­cond gen­er­a­tion. Ryzen pro­ces­sors, based on the Zen ar­chi­tec­ture, of­fer slightly lower sin­gle-core speeds than their In­tel coun­ter­parts but of­fer more cores at sim­i­lar or lower prices.

APU – Ac­cel­er­ated Pro­cess­ing Unit. AMD’s def­i­ni­tion for a CPU/GPU fu­sion de­signed for bud­get and midrange gam­ing-ori­ented sys­tems

As­pect ra­tio – The size of a com­puter screen’s width rel­a­tive to its height. Back dur­ing the CRT era, this was nor­mally 4:3, but with the ad­vent of flat-screen dis­plays, 16:9 has be­come the ac­cepted stan­dard. Other com­mon as­pect ra­tios in­clude 21:9 for ultrawide mon­i­tors, and 16:10 for pro­duc­tiv­i­ty­based work. Note that as­pect ra­tio does not spec­ify res­o­lu­tion or the ac­tual size, just the pro­por­tions of the dis­play.

Acer – Acer Inc. is a com­puter hard­ware com­pany, based in Tai­wan, that’s known for its Preda­tor se­ries of prod­ucts and com­pet­i­tive pric­ing.

ASUS – ASUSTek Com­puter Inc., based in Tai­wan, is a com­puter com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in high­per­for­mance, gamer-ori­ented hard­ware. ASUS owns the pop­u­lar Repub­lic of Gamers brand.

ATX – Ad­vanced Tech­nol­ogy eX­tended. Midrange desk­top PC size stan­dard for moth­er­boards and cases. Band­width Refers to the max­i­mum rate of data trans­fer from one place to an­other, mea­sured in bits per se­cond. This ap­plies to your in­ter­net con­nec­tion, as well as your PC’s hard­ware.

BenQ – A Tai­wanese hard­ware man­u­fac­turer known for high­per­for­mance gam­ing mon­i­tors and a com­pet­i­tive pric­ing struc­ture.

BIOS – Ba­sic In­put/Out­put Sys­tem, also Firmware, also UEFI. The BIOS is the low-level op­er­at­ing sys­tem of a com­po­nent such as a moth­er­board or graph­ics card, of­ten made user­ac­ces­si­ble via a set of op­tion screens that are avail­able for con­fig­u­ra­tion when your com­puter boots up.

Blu-ray – The high-den­sity op­ti­cal disc for­mat that re­placed DVD.

Blue­tooth – A low-band­width wire­less stan­dard used for pe­riph­er­als like mice, key­boards and speak­ers. Pro­duces un­ac­cept­able lag for gam­ing on most sys­tems, with RF-style wire­less or corded de­vices pre­ferred for high­per­for­mance sit­u­a­tions.

Bus – In this con­text, a hard­ware bus is the ar­chi­tec­ture in a com­puter’s sub­sys­tems that en­ables the var­i­ous com­po­nents to com­mu­ni­cate with each other. This in­cludes core ar­eas such the sys­tem mem­ory and ex­tends to pe­riph­er­als such as stor­age de­vices or ex­pan­sion card slots, each of which have their own unique spec­i­fi­ca­tions. able mo­dem – The de­vice used to pro­vide an in­ter­net sig­nal to your router from your ISP. Usu­ally sup­plied by cable com­pa­nies and ISPs to end users and of­ten built into a small net­work router.

Cache – A small amount of very high-speed mem­ory that’s used to keep fre­quently ac­cessed data handy for the CPU. A prop­erly man­aged and sized cache has an out­sized ef­fect on sys­tem per­for­mance.

Case – An en­clo­sure that houses all the parts of a PC.

CD-R – Record­able Com­pact Disc.

Chipset – The se­ries of in­te­grated cir­cuits that man­ages the func­tions of a moth­er­board.

Clock speed – The rate at which a com­puter per­forms cal­cu­la­tion, usu­ally mea­sured in mega­hertz (MHz) or gi­ga­hertz (GHz).

Codec – Short for coder-decoder. A codec is soft­ware or hard­ware that en­codes and de­codes data streams.

Core – The com­pu­ta­tional cen­tre of a pro­ces­sor, usu­ally one of a group of up to six in a mod­ern desk­top CPU.

Cor­sair – Pre­mium com­puter pe­riph­eral sup­plier based in Fre­mont, Cal­i­for­nia and known for qual­ity DRAM prod­ucts, key­boards, water-cool­ing sys­tems and high-fash­ion tower cases.

CPU – Cen­tral Pro­cess­ing Unit. The com­pu­ta­tion cen­tre of a com­puter, com­prised of one or more cores.

Cross­over Eth­er­net Cable –A length of RJ-45 net­work­ing cable with a spe­cial wiring con­fig­u­ra­tion that en­ables routers to be daisy chained to­gether via a spe­cially la­belled or au­tosens­ing Eth­er­net port. as Key­board – A bou­tique Austin, Texas-based hard­ware com­pany that pro­duces a range of well-re­ceived high-qual­ity me­chan­i­cal key­boards.

DHCP – Dy­namic Host Con­fig­u­ra­tion Pro­to­col. An au­to­matic IP ad­dress­ing sys­tem used on mod­ern TCP/IP net­works and the in­ter­net that pro­vides each com­puter with an IP ad­dress with­out re­quir­ing a man­u­ally en­tered or fixed-num­ber iden­ti­fi­ca­tion scheme. Widely used by in­ter­net ac­cess hard­ware such as net­work routers.

DDR – Dou­ble Data Rate mem­ory. Avail­able in many speeds and sizes.

Dis­playPort – Dis­playPort is a high-per­for­mance dig­i­tal video con­nec­tor de­signed for speedy re­fresh rates and high res­o­lu­tions.

DMA – Di­rect Mem­ory Ac­cess. Refers to de­vices that can di­rectly utilise sys­tem mem­ory with­out drain­ing pro­ces­sor re­sources.

DPI – Dots Per Inch. Used to de­ter­mine print­ing and screen res­o­lu­tion.

Drive bay – A place in­side a com­puter case pro­vided to in­stall a hard drive. Comes in 5.25-inch and 3.5-inch sizes.

DRAM – Dy­namic RAM. DRAM re­freshes con­stantly to hold data. It’s slower than static RAM, but cheaper.

Driver – The spe­cialised soft­ware that con­trols the low-level func­tions of hard­ware com­po­nents, usu­ally pro­vided by the com­po­nent man­u­fac­turer or oc­ca­sion­ally by the OS ven­dor. -ATX – Ex­tended ATX. Ex­tra-large ATX size used for deluxe moth­er­boards and com­puter cases.

AT – File Al­lo­ca­tion Ta­ble. A fam­ily of ro­bust but sim­ple fil­ing sys­tems used by many OS im­ple­men­ta­tions, such as MS-DOS, as well as stand­alone hard­ware such as print­ers or IP cam­eras. FAT files of­ten have lim­i­ta­tions on nam­ing con­ven­tions and size.

Fire­wall – A soft­ware or hard­ware net­work bar­rier that pro­tects users from out­side at­tacks and sur­veil­lance.

Firmware – Low-level soft­ware built into a de­vice’s non-volatile mem­ory (mem­ory which re­tains data even if the power is switched off). It com­mu­ni­cates with OS driv­ers and other hard­ware.

FLOPS – Float­ing Point Op­er­a­tions Per Se­cond. A mea­sure of com­pu­ta­tional per­for­mance that leans on com­plex float­ing-point op­er­a­tions. GPUs are

par­tic­u­larly ro­bust at per­form­ing these, out­per­form­ing even high-end CPUs by sev­eral orders of mag­ni­tude.

FreeSync – An AMD-cre­ated, but oth­er­wise free and open, mon­i­tor vari­able sync stan­dard, com­pat­i­ble with VESA’s Adap­tive Sync pro­to­col. Es­sen­tially, rather than the mon­i­tor re­fresh­ing at a steady rate, its re­fresh rate changes with the fram­er­ate of the game you’re play­ing. FreeSync 2 up­dates the stan­dard to in­clude lower min­i­mum fram­er­ates, HDR, HDMI sup­port and in­te­grated colour space man­age­ment.

GGi­ga­hertz 1000MHz. unit of in­ter­nal clock speed used by CPUs and other com­po­nents to spec­ify de­vice per­for­mance. Ad­just­ing the clock speed higher pro­vides bet­ter per­for­mance, although do­ing so can im­pact sta­bil­ity and power con­sump­tion.

G.Skill – A com­puter hard­ware man­u­fac­turer, based in Tai­wan, that’s best known for its top-shelf, high-speed DRAM prod­ucts.

G-Sync – Sim­i­lar to FreeSync, ex­cept pro­pri­etary. This is a mon­i­tor adap­tive sync stan­dard used by Nvidia to smooth fram­er­ate tran­si­tions and elim­i­nate dis­play tear­ing. Re­quires Nvidia graph­ics hard­ware and a G-Sync­ca­pable mon­i­tor.

Hard Boot – Re­set­ting a com­puter from a pow­ered-off con­di­tion.

Hard disk drive (also me­chan­i­cal

hard drive) – These legacy stor­age de­vices utilise ro­tat­ing mag­netic disks to store data and gen­er­ally fea­ture lower costs and larger ca­pac­i­ties than solid-state drives (SSDs). While me­chan­i­cal hard disk sys­tems are a ma­ture and sta­ble tech­nol­ogy, SSDs have re­cently be­gun to sup­plant them. The faster the ro­ta­tional speed of the disk, the bet­ter the per­for­mance and the higher the cost of the drive. 5400RPM disks are con­sid­ered main­stream, while 7200RPM and 10000RPM speeds are re­served for high-per­for­mance drives.

HBM – High Band­width Mem­ory. A type of stack­able mem­ory used in graph­ics cards that pro­vides high per­for­mance in a small form fac­tor.

Hyper­thread­ing – A CPU tech­nol­ogy that en­ables two threads to share a CPU core, dou­bling the thread ca­pa­bil­i­ties of a pro­ces­sor. Es­pe­cially use­ful for low-core-count lap­tops.

In­tel Core i9 – In­tel’s new­est con­sumer CPU. The Core i9 se­ries takes over from the pre­vi­ous top-of-the-line i7 pro­ces­sors and in­tro­duces fea­tures for­merly only found on en­ter­prise-grade hard­ware, run­ning from six to 18 cores and sup­port­ing hyper­thread­ing. The i9-9900K, with eight cores run­ning at a peak of 5GHz, is a gam­ing beast.

IP ad­dress – In­ter­net Pro­to­col ad­dress. The unique numeric ad­dress of a net­worked de­vice, dis­played as a se­ries of num­bers, for ex­am­ple in the com­monly used ver­sion four of the IP pro­to­col. As de­mand for IP ad­dresses has grown, ver­sion six of the IP pro­to­col is be­ing rolled out, which pro­vides a much larger ad­dress­ing space to cover the rapid growth of in­ter­net-con­nected de­vices.

IPS panel – In-Plane Switch­ing. A type of ad­vanced LCD dis­play that of­fers su­pe­rior colours and view­ing an­gles.

ITX – In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy eX­tended. Tiny desk­top PC size stan­dard used for tight spa­ces or bou­tique builds.

JEDEC – A col­lo­quial term re­fer­ring to the DRAM pre­con­fig­ured mem­ory set­ting pro­files de­rived from the Joint Elec­tron De­vice En­gi­neer­ing Coun­cil’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Sim­i­lar to XMP.

KKilo­hertz – 1000Hz; A unit of com­put­ing speed. Gen­er­ally used to de­scribe mon­i­tor re­fresh rates.

KVM switch – Short for Key­board, Video, Mouse. A type of switch­box that en­ables mul­ti­ple com­put­ers to be at­tached to a sin­gle key­board, mon­i­tor, and mouse or other in­put de­vice.

LAN/WLAN – Lo­cal Area Net­work / Wire­less Lo­cal Area Net­work. A pri­vate lo­cal net­work of com­put­ers usu­ally con­nected via Wi-Fi or Eth­er­net.

Log­itech – A highly suc­cess­ful Swiss com­puter pe­riph­er­als com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in mice, head­sets, key­boards and com­puter speak­ers.

MAC ad­dress – A code built into ev­ery net­work-ca­pa­ble port that uniquely iden­ti­fies each de­vice con­nec­tion. Usu­ally takes the form of six pairs of hexa­dec­i­mal dig­its sep­a­rated by a comma or dash.

Me­chan­i­cal key­board – A type of key­board that uses mi­croswitches in­stead of the de­fault rub­ber domes for ac­tu­a­tion. They tend to pro­vide a form of tac­tile and au­dio feed­back that cer­tain users find sat­is­fy­ing.

Mega­hertz – 1000KHz. A unit of com­put­ing speed. Gen­er­ally used to spec­ify speeds on mem­ory as well as on older pro­ces­sors.

MLC – Multi Level Cell. Nor­mally refers to a NAND mem­ory im­ple­men­ta­tion. Cheaper but less durable than SLC.

MSI – Mi­cro-Star In­ter­na­tional, a Tai­wanese cor­po­ra­tion that makes just about any kind of com­put­ing hard­ware you can imag­ine.

Moth­er­board – The cen­tre­piece of a PC sys­tem and the place where all the other com­po­nents are in­stalled.

NAND flash mem­ory – The type of mem­ory used in SSDs.

NZXT – An Amer­i­can hard­ware com­pany known for cases and com­po­nents, such as liq­uid cool­ers.

Nvidia GTX – In Nvidia’s cur­rent nomen­cla­ture, GTX refers to con­sumer graph­ics cards based on its last­gen­er­a­tion Pas­cal and pre­vi­ous Maxwell ar­chi­tec­tures. The Pas­cal-based Nvidia GTX 1080 and big brother 1080 Ti were the first Nvidia cards able to pro­vide 4K gam­ing at rea­son­able fram­er­ates, while the 1070 is de­signed to cover gam­ing needs at 1080 and 1440 res­o­lu­tions and high de­tail.

Nvidia RTX – Fea­tur­ing the new Tur­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, Nvidia’s RTX se­ries of graph­ics cards, in­clud­ing the RTX 2080 and higher-per­for­mance

RTX 2080 Ti, are the cur­rent top shelf when it comes to per­for­mance in con­sumer graph­ics cards, both in real-world and po­ten­tial num­bers. With Tur­ing, 50% higher ef­fi­ciency per core, faster mem­ory and ded­i­cated ray trac­ing and AI hard­ware, as well as jumps of over 20 frames per se­cond are pos­si­ble in many games.

OLED – Or­ganic Light Emit­ting Diode. An ad­vanced screen tech­nol­ogy that of­fers low power, high per­for­mance and amaz­ing im­age qual­ity. In­creas­ingly found on smart­phones, such as the iPhone XS and Sam­sung Galaxy S9, as well as on large screen TVs.

Over­clock­ing – Push­ing a com­po­nent be­yond its rated spec­i­fi­ca­tions to im­prove its per­for­mance.

PCB – Printed Cir­cuit Board. The back­board on which com­po­nents such as sock­ets and Volt­age Reg­u­la­tor Mod­ules (VRMs) are mounted.

PCIE (OR PCI-E) – Pe­riph­eral Com­po­nent In­ter­con­nect Ex­press. A high-speed slot de­sign used in mod­ern com­put­ers for add-in cards.

Pixel – A sin­gle el­e­ment or dot on a com­puter screen.

PSU – Power Sup­ply Unit. A box-like com­po­nent with ca­bles that pro­vides a com­puter with power.

RAID – Re­dun­dant Ar­ray of In­de­pen­dent Disks. A set of drives con­fig­ured in an ar­ray for im­proved per­for­mance and re­li­a­bil­ity.

RAM – Random Ac­cess Mem­ory. The com­pu­ta­tional workspace of a com­puter sys­tem. It’s volatile, mean­ing the data it stores is lost when the sys­tem is re­set or turned off.

RAMDAC – Random Ac­cess Mem­ory Dig­i­tal to Ana­logue Con­verter. Con­verts im­age data into sig­nals that can be dis­played on a mon­i­tor.

Razer – Razer Inc. is a gam­ing hard­ware com­pany with head­quar­ters in San Fran­cisco and Sin­ga­pore. Razer’s en­tire prod­uct cat­a­logue is gam­ing ori­ented. Known es­pe­cially for its gam­ing lap­tops.

RJ-11 – An old-style tele­phone con­nec­tor that looks like a nar­row Eth­er­net (RJ-45) con­nec­tor. Also used for ana­logue modems.

Roc­cat – A Ger­man pe­riph­eral man­u­fac­turer that spe­cialises in in­put de­vices such as me­chan­i­cal key­boards and mice, as well as head­phones.

ROM – Read-Only Mem­ory. An area of pro­tected mem­ory that con­tains spe­cialised in­struc­tions.

Router – A hub that man­ages wired and wire­less con­nec­tions to a net­work.

SATA – Se­rial ATA. A data trans­port pro­to­col used for stor­age de­vices.

Screen burn – The af­ter­im­age left on cer­tain types of dis­plays, such as OLEDs, af­ter dis­play­ing static im­ages for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time. Can cause per­ma­nent hard­ware dam­age.

SLC – Sin­gle-Level Cell NAND mem­ory. The quick­est, prici­est and most ex­pen­sive NAND im­ple­men­ta­tion.

SO-DIMM – The type of DDR mem­ory mod­ule used in lap­top sys­tems. Uses a smaller form fac­tor than stan­dard mem­ory sticks.

Solid state – Used to de­scribe a de­vice with no mov­ing parts.

SSD – Solid-State Drive. A stor­age drive made of non-volatile mem­ory cells in­stead of a mov­ing mag­netic plat­ter. Much faster than hard disk drives.

SteelSeries – High-end Dan­ish gam­ing pe­riph­eral man­u­fac­turer known for head­sets, mice and me­chan­i­cal key­boards.

Stream pro­ces­sors – Lim­ited in­struc­tion pro­ces­sors used in GPUs to per­form spe­cialised func­tions. Used for high-per­for­mance ap­pli­ca­tions. T

DP – To­tal Dis­si­pated Power. The max­i­mum wattage a part will al­low be­fore shut­ting down or throt­tling to avoid dam­age or over­heat­ing. Can be used as a rough in­di­ca­tor of in­gener­a­tion per­for­mance or ef­fi­ciency.

TN panel – Twisted Ne­matic panel. An older style of LCD dis­play that of­fers low price and very high speed, but is also notable for washed-out colours and poor view­ing an­gles.

Touch­pad – A small flat pad that reg­is­ters mouse-style pointer move­ment when you slide a fin­ger­tip across it. Used for lap­tops.

UUl­traw­ide dis­play – A com­puter mon­i­tor that sports a cinema-like 21:9 as­pect ra­tio. Avail­able in 2560x1080 and 3440x1440 res­o­lu­tions.

UPS – Un­in­ter­rupt­able Power Sup­ply. A bat­tery-backup power source that en­ables a com­puter sys­tem to con­tinue func­tion­ing in the case of a power out­age or other prob­lems.

USB – Univer­sal Se­rial Bus. A small hot-swap­pable data con­nec­tor that’s ca­pa­ble of high per­for­mance when us­ing the lat­est spec­i­fi­ca­tions. V

VA panel Ver­ti­cal Align­ment panel. type of LCD dis­play that de­liv­ers high con­trast ra­tios, deeper black lev­els and more ac­cu­rate colours. VA pan­els are ideal for gam­ing.

WWAP – Wire­less Ac­cess Point. The place you log into a wire­less net­work. Watt – A mea­sure of elec­tri­cal power. We­b­cam – A usu­ally USB-based PC cam­era that pro­vides live video for use with con­fer­ences, game stream­ing and other me­dia pro­jects.

WPA2 – Wi-Fi Pro­tected Ac­cess 2. The most ro­bust se­cu­rity pro­to­col cur­rently pro­vided for many Wi-Fi net­works.

XXMP – Ex­treme Mem­ory Pro­file. An In­tel-de­rived DRAM set­tings stan­dard that pro­vides sev­eral fail-safe mem­ory con­fig­u­ra­tions be­yond the de­fault set­ting, al­low­ing easy con­fig­u­ra­tion of high-speed mem­ory mod­ules.

AMD Ryzen


Case CPUs

Hard disk drive



Me­chan­i­cal key­board SSD

Ultrawide Dis­play

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