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Talking PC's .... Learning The Lingo By Bob Craypoe

This column is designed to be an informative guide to the technological age.   In this issue we will discuss the basics.  The language used by computer geeks, nerds, enthusiasts and professionals.  We will refer to the basic components of the PC and give their definitions.

CRT- When someone mentions the CRT, they are most often referring to the PCís monitor (the unit from which the picture is displayed).  The term CRT is short for Cathode Ray Tube, which is really one of the components within the monitor.

CPU-Central Processing Unit.  Some people refer to the PC itself as the CPU.  But like the term CRT is a component within a monitor, the CPU is really a component within the PC.  The CPU, or processor, speed is rated in Megahertz.  A Meg in computer terms is synonymous with one million.  Frequency is measured in Hertz, or cycles per second.  One million Hertz is the equivalent of one million cycles per second, which would be one Megahertz.  Now letís use an Intel Pentium 75 as an example.  A 75 megahertz Pentium is obviously a processor that has had itís processing speed rated at 75 megahertz.  That means every second, it pushes out 75 million groups of oneís and zeros.  Mind boggling isnít it?  So when someone tells you a processors speed, they will be telling you in megahertz.  If they know what theyíre talking about.

Megabyte-One million bytes.  A byte is short for binary term.  Which is a unit of storage capable of holding one character, or eight bits.  Bit is short for binary digit, which is a single one or zero.  One byte is basically a group of eight digits (or bits) consisting of ones and zeros.  Every time one character is typed on a keyboard, eight bits (or one byte) of information is input into the computer.  In short: 8 bits=1 byte, one megabyte is equal to one million bytes or eight million bits.  Got it?  I hope so, because Iíd hate to have to explain it again.

Floppy drive- The floppy drive is the drive in which a floppy disk is inserted. There are basically two types.  A 3 Ĺ inch floppy drive and the increasingly antiquated 5 ľ inch floppy drive.  The largest amount of information that can be stored on a floppy is 2.88 megabytes.  However, it is a rare occasion when a 2.88 megabyte floppy drive is found.  Virtually all floppy drives are the 1.44 megabyte type.  There are removable storage disks such as the Iomega Zip disk that can store 100 megabytes of information and they have recently come out with a disk that stores 250 MBís.  MB is short for megabyte, by the way.

Hard drive-
The hard drive is the unit within the PC in which the bulk of all data is stored.  The storage capacity is measured in megabytes, just like the floppy and other removable storage mediums like the Zip disk.  However the size of a hard drive can vary significantly from one PC to another and the storage capacities are increasing at ridiculously high rates.  Just a few years ago, a one GB (gigabyte) hard drive would have been considered enviably large.  Now itís really nothing.  A gigabyte is one billion bytes.  You probably couldnít find a hard drive with a storage capacity below 4 GB, at any store that sells PC hardware.  I look in magazines now and see adds for 10 GB, 17 GB, 20GB and higher.  Just think, 4GB or 4 billion bytes of storage is considered the bare minimum, these days.          

Ram-Random Access Memory.  Whenever anyone refers to ďmemoryĒ they are usually referring to the PCís RAM.  Your RAMís storage capacity, like the storage capacity for hard drives, is measured in megabytes.  Most new systems come with a minimum of 32 MB of RAM.  But unlike the hard drive, RAM is only a temporary storage place for information.  So why bother with RAM?  Iím glad you asked. Every time you go to open an application or execute a command, your PC will look to the hard drive in search of that information.  Once that information is located, it is temporarily stored into memory.  Information is read significantly faster from RAM than from the hard drive. Simply stated: The more RAM you have to store information, the faster your PCís applications will run.  Basically, since the information wouldnít need to be retrieved from the (slower) hard drive, as you continue to work within the application.

CD-ROM-Compact Disk Read Only Memory.   The ROM part is easy to explain.  It just means that you can only read from the CD and not write to it.  However, we now live in an age where recordable CD-ROM drives are affordable.  CD-ROM drive speeds are also increasing at ridiculously fast rates.  Most new systems come with a CD-ROM drive thatís at least 40 X (40 times).  Which isnít even the fastest speed currently available.  I am hesitant to even mention the fastest speed available because itís bound to change by the time you read this.

Modem-The modem is the device thatís used to connect to the Internet or send and receive faxes on your PC.  The term modem is short for modulator/demodulator. It basically converts digital information into an analog signal and then sends it out over a phone line.  On the receiving PC, the analog signal is received and then converted back to the original digital information it started out as.  Modem speed is measured in kilobits per second (KBPS).  Thatís thousands of bits per second.  So a 14.4 k modem is obviously 14,400 bits per second or 14.4 thousand BPS.

Operating System-Also known as the OS.   The operating system is the basic interface between the user and the PC.  The most popular operating systems are the ones that were developed by Microsoft.  First there was DOS (the Disk operating System).  Then the various releases of Windows such as Windows 3.1 (first popular release of windows), Windows 3.11 for Workgroups, Windows NT, Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows 2000. Then there are other operating systems such as Unix and OS/2.  Unix is primarily used for file servers and OS/2 is fading in popularity.  There is the Mac OS, that is the Operating System loaded on Macintosh computers.  There are more recent additions to the OS market such as the BeOS and Linux.  Linux is the more popular of the two and is increasing in popularity at a much faster rate.  Linux uses many of the same commands that Unix uses.  Itís not known for being user friendly and would have to be made more user friendly in order for it to be more of a threat to Microsoft.   At least on the workstation level.  It is, however, becoming a major player on the web server level.

Sumary:  We hope that many of you out there have found this article to be of some assistance and that you have gained something of value from it.  It is one individual article, so itís impossible to include everything pertinent to all of the subjects touched on. But, hopefully, if someone walked up to you and said ďI just got a new PC.  Itís a 333 megahertz Pentium 2 system with 64 MB of RAM, a 10 GB hard drive, 40 X CD-ROM and a 56 k modem, with Windows 98 pre-loadedĒ, you wouldnít be at a loss for words.  It would be even nicer to think that we were the ones who made it possible for you to understand that statement.  Take care.

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