top of page

Simple Glossary of Computer Terms

5G: Cellular technology that provides increased speed, responsiveness, and bandwidth.

Bandwidth: The speed and capacity of an Internet or cellular connection. Internet service providers (ISP) and cell phone service providers allow you to choose how much bandwidth you want to pay for, based on your usage needs and budget.

Blu-Ray Disc: A type of DVD (digital video disc) that can record and play high definition video at higher rates than a standard DVD, resulting in better-quality videos with superior colors and details. It's called "Blu-Ray" because the laser that reads the disc is blue, as compared to the red laser used in standard DVD players.

Bluetooth: A low-power wireless technology that lets devices communicate with each other over relatively short distances (typically less than 30 feet). If you use a wireless headset with your cell phone, it probably communicates with the phone via Bluetooth. There are also Bluetooth-enabled televisions, computers, keyboards, mice, printers, and more.

Broadband: High-speed Internet, such as coaxial cable, DSL (digital subscriber line), and fiber optic. (See Internet Service Provider). Although DSL is considered a broadband technology, its speed is far more limited than either coaxial cable or fiber optic.

Cache: If a computer has information you access frequently, it creates a temporary storage area for that data called a cache. This allows your computer to access the information more quickly.

CD/DVD Drive (also optical drive): Allows you to play and copy music and movies to and from your computer, as well as install software. Many computers don't come with these drives, although you can easily attach one externally, typically using a USB connection.

Download: Copying information from one device or location (the source) to another (the destination), such as downloading files or photos from the Internet to a computer, flash drive, cloud storage, etc.


Ergonomics: If your body is regularly subjected to awkward posture or repeated movement, your musculoskeletal system can be adversely affected and injured. Proper ergonomics can mitigate or eliminate the causal factors of common workplace problems such as back injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Firewall: Software that protects your computer and other devices from threats on the Internet. Firewalls monitor the traffic between your computer and the Internet, and apply a set of safety standards to make sure your device isn't being targeted or accessed by unauthorized visitors.


Gateway (also Wi-Fi Gateway): A device that combines the functions of a modem and a router.

Graphics Card (also video card): Allows your computer to display graphic images, such as photos and videos. It translates the raw data (number of colors, resolution, etc.) into pictures you can see. There are two basic types of graphics cards:

  • Integrated cards are less efficient, because they share your computer's memory and processor

  • Dedicated cards are more expensive, because they have their own memory and processor

Hard Drive (also hard disk, hard disk drive, or HDD): Stores the operating system, program files, and your personal files. An external hard drive can connect to your computer through a USB cable, providing extra storage and backup capabilities.

Hardware: The physical parts of your computer system, such as the processor, hard drive, keyboard, monitor, mouse, and printer. Smartphones, tablets, and USB flash drives are also examples of hardware.

Internet: One enormous global connection (or millions of smaller ones, depending upon your perspective) that links computers together so they can communicate virtually instantaneously.

Internet Service Provider (ISP): The company that provides your Internet connection. AT&T (U-verse) and Comcast (Xfinity) are two well-known ISPs. AT&T uses technologies such as DSL (digital subscriber line) and fiber optics, while Comcast uses coaxial cable.

JPEG (the file extension .jpg or .jpeg): A graphics file format whose file size can be compressed while retaining high image quality.

Modem: A device that connects your computer to the Internet.

Motherboard: Your computer's main circuit board. It holds many components your computer needs to function (such as the processor, bus, memory, and more), while also acting as a conduit for power and communication.

Multimedia: Combines several media together, such as photos, videos, text, and sound.

Operating System (OS): The software that allows you to interact with your computer. It enables communication between the hardware and the other software on your system. Personal computers use the Microsoft Windows operating system. Apple computers use Apple's operating system, called macOS.

PC: A personal computer that uses the Microsoft Windows operating system. Apple computers use the Apple macOS operating system, and they're not referred to as personal computers or PCs, but as 'Apples' or 'Macs'.

Port: Allows you to connect peripheral devices (such as printers and flash drives) to your computer. USB is a common type of port that supports "plug and play," meaning it communicates with the computer automatically if a device is connected. An Ethernet port lets you connect your computer to your modem or router for wired Internet access.

Processor (also Central Processing Unit or CPU): The 'brains' of the computer. Various aspects of the processor - including its speed - are important factors in determining computer performance. Intel and AMD are the two largest and best-known manufacturers of computer processors.

RAM (Random Access Memory): Your computer's short-term memory, storing information for fast access. It's an important component in faster computing, and it also plays a key role in how much multitasking (performing multiple tasks simultaneously) your computer can do.

Router: A device that connects to a modem, allowing your computers, printers, smartphones, tablets, smart tvs, and other Wi-Fi enabled devices to connect to the Internet connection wirelessly.

Search Engine: A type of website that helps you find practically anything you're looking for on the Internet. Enter a word, phrase, or topic to get a list of sites and other resources that meet your search criteria. There are literally thousands of search engines, but just a few 'major' ones, including Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft's Bing.


Smartphone: A mobile phone that's practically a pocket-size computer you can use to access the Internet, run apps (programs), send and receive email and text messages, take and share photos, and much more. The two types of smartphones are Android phones and iPhones.

Software: Performs specific tasks, which can range from system software that controls basic computer functionality, to application programs (such as Microsoft Word), and networking software.


Solid State Drive (SSD): Flash memory (the same type of memory used in a USB flash drive) that provides superior performance and durability compared to a hard disk drive (HDD). Because it has no moving parts, an SSD also runs cooler and quieter, and uses less energy, than a HDD.

Sound Card: Interprets audio signals and transmits them through your computer's speakers. As with graphics cards, sound cards are available in both integrated and dedicated versions.

Storage: Long-term memory, such as hard drives, solid state drives (SSD), flash drives, CDs, DVDs, and cloud-based storage.

USB (Universal Serial Bus): A type of connection that allows you to attach devices (such as printers, flash drives, external hard drives, etc.) to your computer. Most operating systems automatically detect attached USB devices. Smartphones and tablets have USB connections for attaching flash drives, wired headphones or earbuds, and other low-power devices, as well as for charging purposes. USB ports and drives are typically type A, type B (used for printer connections), and type C.

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol): Allows you to make voice and video calls over your Internet connection. VoIP can offer a substantial cost savings compared to traditional phone service and cell phones. Google Voice and Skype are examples of VoIP programs for computers. Major VoIP providers for your home or business phones include RingCentral and Vonage.

Web Browser (also browser): The program you use to access the Internet and view web pages on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. The most common browsers are Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Tor. Chrome and Safari are the most popular browsers.

Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity, also WiFi): A wireless network. Wi-Fi networks are accessible by any device with wireless networking capabilities, including computers, smartphones, smart tv's, tablets, printers, and more.

bottom of page