Downloads   Links   Warranties   FAQ's   Glossary   Recovery Solutions


jump to: A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Z 

Short for Advanced Configuration and Power Interface, a power management specification developed by Intel, Microsoft, and Toshiba. ACPI, which will be part of the next version of Windows, enables the operating system to control the amount of power given to each device attached to the computer. With ACPI, the operating system can turn off peripheral devices, such as a CD-ROM players, when they're not in use. As another example, ACPI will enable manufacturers to produce computers that automatically power up as soon as you touch the keyboard.

Short for Accelerated Graphics Port, a new interface specification developed by Intel Corporation. AGP is based on PCI, but is designed especially for the throughput demands of 3-D graphics. Rather than using the PCI bus for graphics data, AGP introduces a dedicated point-to-point channel so that the graphics controller can directly access main memory. The AGP channel is 32 bits wide and runs at 66 MHz. This translates into a total bandwidth of 266 MBps, as opposed to the PCI bandwidth of 133 MBps. AGP also supports two optional faster modes, with throughputs of 533 MBps and 1.07 GBps. In addition, AGP allows 3-D textures to be stored in main memory rather than video memory.

Antivirus Program
A utility that searches a hard disk for viruses and removes any that are found. Most antivirus program include an auto-update feature that enables the program to download profiles of new viruses so that it can check for the new viruses as soon as they are discovered.

Short for AT Attachment, a disk drive implementation that integrates the controller on the disk drive itself. There are several versions of ATA, all developed by the Small Form Factor (SFF) Committee ATA: Known also as IDE, supports one or two hard drives, a 16-bit interface and PIO modes 0, 1 and 2. ATA-2: Supports faster PIO modes (3 and 4) and multiword DMA modes (1 and 2). Also supports logical block addressing (LBA) and block transfers. ATA-2 is marketed as Fast ATA and Enhanced IDE (EIDE). ATA-3: Minor revision to ATA-2. Ultra-ATA: Also called Ultra-DMA, ATA-33, and DMA-33, supports multiword DMA mode 3 running at 33 MBps. ATA/66: A new version of ATA proposed by Quantum Corporation, and supported by Intel, that will double ATA's throughput to 66 MBps. The first ATA/66 computers are expected to be available in the first half of 1999.

The modern-day shape and layout of PC motherboards. It improves on the previous standard, the Baby AT form factor, by rotating the orientation of the board 90 degrees. This allows for a more efficient design, with disk drive cable connectors nearer to the drive bays and the CPU closer to the power supply and cooling fan.

To copy files to a second medium (a disk or tape) as a precaution in case the first medium fails. One of the cardinal rules in using computers is. Back up your files regularly. Even the most reliable computer is apt to break down eventually. Many professionals recommend that you make two, or even three, backups of all your files. To be especially safe, you should keep one backup in a different location from the others.

You can back up files using operating system commands, or you can buy a special-purpose backup utility. Backup programs often compress the data so that backups require fewer disks.

(1) The act of backing up. (2) A substitute or alternative. The term backup usually refers to a disk or a tape that contains a copy of data.

The amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time. For digital devices, the bandwidth is usually expressed in bits per second(bps) or bytes per second. For analog devices, the bandwidth is expressed in cycles per second, or Hertz (Hz). The bandwidth is particularly important for I/O devices. For example, a fast disk drive can be hampered by a bus with a low bandwidth. This is the main reason that new buses, such as AGP, have been developed for the PC.

Pronounced bawd, the number of signaling elements that occur each second. The term is named after J.M.E. Baudot, the inventor of the Baudot telegraph code. At slow speeds, only one bit of information (signaling element) is encoded in each electrical change. The baud, therefore, indicates the number of bits per second that are transmitted. For example, 300 baud means that 300 bits are transmitted each second (abbreviated 300 bps ). Assuming asynchronous communication, which requires 10 bits per character, this translates to 30 characters per second (cps). For slow rates (below 1,200 baud), you can divide the baud by 10 to see how many characters per second are sent.

(Basic Input/Output System) The set of essential software routines that provides the basic interface between the hardware and the software operation system. When you start your system, the BIOS initiates your components and tells the computer what to do until the operating system loads and take over.

BNC Connector
Short for British Naval Connector or Bayonet Nut Connector or Bayonet Neill Concelman, a type of connector used with coaxial cables such as the RG-58 A/U cable used with the 10Base-2 Ethernet system. The basic BNC connector is a male type mounted at each end of a cable. This connector has a center pin connected to the center cable conductor and a metal tube connected to the outer cable shield. A rotating ring outside the tube locks the cable to any female connector.

BNC T-connectors (used with the 10Base-2 system) are female devices for connecting two cables to a network interface card (NIC). A BNC barrel connector allows connecting two cables together.

Boot Disk
A diskette from which you can boot your computer. Normally, your computer boots from a hard disk, but if the hard disk is damaged (for example, by a virus), you can boot the computer from a bootable diskette. For this reason, it's a good idea to make sure you always have a bootable diskette on hand. In Windows 95, you can create a bootable diskette by following these steps:

  1. Insert a blank, formatted diskette in the floppy drive
  2. Select Start->Settings->Control Panel
  3. Open Add/Remove Programs
  4. Select the Startup Disk tab and press the Create Disk… button
A bootable diskette is also called a bootable floppy, boot disk, and startup disk.

A collection of wires through which data is Transmitted from one part of a computer to another. You can think of a bus as a highway on which data Travels within a computer. When used reference to Personal computers, the term bus usually refers to Internal bus. This is a bus that connects all the internal computer components to the CPU and main memory. There's also an expansion bus that enables expansion boards to access the CPU and memory.

All buses consist of two parts -- an address bus and a data bus. The data bus transfers actual data whereas the address bus transfers information about where the data should go.

The size of a bus, known as its width, is important because it determines how much data can be transmitted at one time. For example, a 16-bit bus can transmit 16 bits of data, whereas a 32-bit bus can transmit 32 bits of data.

Every bus has a clock speed measured in MHz. A fast bus allows data to be transferred faster, which makes applications run faster. On PCs, the old ISA bus is being replaced by faster buses such as PCI.

Nearly all PCs made today include a local bus for data that requires especially fast transfer speeds, such as video data. The local bus is a high-speed pathway that connects directly to the processor.

In networking, a bus is a central cable that connects all devices on a local-area network (LAN). It is also called the backbone.

Bus Mastering
Refers to a feature supported by some bus architectures that enables a controller connected to the bus to communicate directly with other devices on the bus without going through the CPU. Most modern bus architectures, including PCI, support bus mastering because it improves performance.

Cache RAM
Cache (usually SRAM) stores frequently requested data and instructions. It is a small block of high-speed memory located between the CPU and the main memory. When your computer processor needs data, it will check the Cache first to see if it is there. If the data is not there, it will retrieve it from the slower main memory.


  1. Short for compressor/decompressor, a codec is any technology for compressing and decompressing data. Codecs can be implemented in software, hardware, or a combination of both. Some popular codecs for computer video include MPEG, Indeo and Cinepak.
  2. In telecommunications, (short for coder/decoder) a device that encodes or decodes a signal. For example, telephone companies use codecs to convert binary signals transmitted on their digital networks to analog signals converted on their analog networks.
  3. The translation of a binary value into a voltage that can be transmitted over a wire.

The situation that occurs when two or more devices attempt to send a signal along the same channel at the same time. The result of a collision is generally a garbled message. All computer networks require some sort of mechanism to either prevent collisions altogether or to recover from collisions when they do occur.

Abbreviation of complementary metal oxide semiconductor. Pronounced see-moss, CMOS is a widely used type of semiconductor. CMOS semiconductors use both NMOS (negative polarity) and PMOS (positive polarity) circuits. Since only one of the circuit types is on at any given time, CMOS chips require less power than chips using just one type of transistor. This makes them particularly attractive for use in battery-powered devices, such as portable computers. Personal computers also contain a small amount of battery-powered CMOS memory to hold the date, time, and system setup parameters.

In DOS systems, the name of a serial communications port. DOS supports four serial ports: COM1, COM2, COM3, and COM4. However, most software uses system interrupts to access the serial ports, and there are only two IRQ lines reserved. This means that the four COM ports share the same two IRQ lines. Typically, COM1 and COM3 use IRQ4, while COM2 and COM4 use IRQ3. So in general, if you have two devices, one of which is attached to COM1 and the other to COM3, you cannot use them simultaneously.

The configuration file for DOS systems. Whenever a DOS computer boots up, it reads the CONFIG.SYS file (if it exists) and executes any commands in it. The most common commands are BUFFERS= and FILES=, which enable you to specify the buffer size and the number of files that can be open simultaneously. In addition, you can enter commands that install drivers for devices.

A device that controls the transfer of data from a computer to a peripheral device and vice versa. For example, disk drives, display screens, keyboards, and printers all require controllers. In personal computers, the controllers are often single chips. When you purchase a computer, it comes with all the necessary controllers for standard components, such as the display screen, keyboard, and disk drives. If you attach additional devices, however, you may need to insert new controllers that come on expansion boards.

Controllers must be designed to communicate with the computer's expansion bus. There are three standard bus architectures for PCs -- the AT bus, PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect), and SCSI. When you purchase a controller, therefore, you must ensure that it conforms to the bus architecture that your computer uses.

Conventional Memory
On DOS systems, conventional memory refers to the portion of memory that is available to standard DOS programs. DOS systems have an address space of 1MB (megabyte), but the top 384K (called high memory) is reserved for system use. This leaves 640K of conventional memory. Everything above 1MB is either extended or expanded memory.

(Central Processing Unit) The control unit of a computer. The CPU interprets and executes instructions from other devices such as the monitor, printer, and hard disk and encompasses both the processor and the computer’s memory.

Daisy Chain
A hardware configuration in which devices are connected one to another in a series. The SCSI interface , for example, supports a daisy chain of up to 7 devices.

Daughter Card
A printed circuit board that plugs into another circuit board (usually the motherboard). A daughter card is similar to an expansion board, but it accesses the motherboard components (memory and CPU) directly instead of sending data through the slower expansion bus.

To remove magnetism from a device. The term is usually used in reference to color monitors and other display devices that use a Cathode Ray Tube (CRT). These devices aim electrons onto the display screen by creating magnetic fields inside the CRT. External magnetic forces -- such as the earth's natural magnetism or a magnet placed close to the monitor -- can magnetize the shadow mask, causing distorted images and colors. To remove this external magnetic forces, most monitors automatically degauss the CRT whenever you turn on the monitor. In addition, many monitors have a manual degauss button that performs a more thorough degaussing of the CRT. You can also use an external degausser that degausses the monitor from the outside. Since it may be impossible to remove the external magnetic force, degaussing works by re-aligning the magnetic fields inside the CRT to compensate for the external magnetism.

Dial-Up Networking
A component in Windows 95 that enables you to connect your computer to a network via a modem. If your computer is not connected to a LAN and you want to connect to the Internet, you need to configure Dial-Up Networking (DUN) to dial a Point of Presence (POP) and log into your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Your ISP will need to provide certain information, such as the gateway address and your computer's IP address. You access DUN through the My Computer icon. You can configure a different profile (called a connectoid) for each different online service you use. Once configured, you can copy a connectoid shortcut to your desktop so that all you need to do to make a connection is double-click the connectoid icon.

Short for dual in-line memory module, a small circuit board that holds memory chips. A single in-line memory module (SIMM) has a 32-bit path to the memory chips whereas a DIMM has 64-bit path. Because the Pentium processor requires a 64-bit path to memory, you need to install SIMMs two at a time. With DIMMs, you can install memory one DIMM at a time.

Acronym for dual in-line package, a type of chip housed in a rectangular casing with two rows of connecting pins on either side.

Direct X
A set of APIs developed by Microsoft that enables programmers to write programs that access hardware features of a computer without knowing exactly what hardware will be installed on the machine where the program eventually runs. DirectX achieves this by creating an intermediate layer that translates generic hardware commands into specific commands for particular pieces of hardware. In particular, DirectX lets multimedia applications take advantage of hardware acceleration features supported by graphics accelerators. DirectX 2, released in 1996, supports the Direct3D architecture. DirectX 5, released in 1998, adds new layers to the DirectX API. In addition to the low-level layer that communicates directly with multimedia hardware, DirectX 5 also includes a Media layer that enables programmers to manipulate multimedia objects and streams. DirectX 5 also supports USB and IEEE 1394 buses, AGP, and MMX.

A group of computers and devices on a network that are administered as a unit with common rules and procedures. Within the Internet, domains are defined by the IP address. All devices sharing a common part of the IP address are said to be in the same domain.

Domain Name
A name that identifies one or more IP addresses. For example, the domain name Hill Country represents about a doze IP addresses. Domain names are used in URLs to identify particular Web pages. For example, in the URL http:/, the domain name is Every domain name has a suffix that indicates which top-level (TLD) domain it belongs to. There are only a limited number of such domains.
For example:
gov - Government agencies
edu - Educational institutions
org - Organizations (nonprofit)
mil - Military
com - commercial business
net - Network organizations
ca - Canada
th - Thailand
Because the Internet is based on IP addresses, not domain names, every Web server requires a Domain Name System (DNS) server to translate domain names into IP addresses.

Dot Pitch
A measurement that indicates the diagonal distance between like-colored phosphor dots on a display screen. Measured in millimeters, the dot pitch is one of the principal characteristics that determines the quality of display monitors. The lower the number, the crisper the image. The dot pitch of color monitors for personal computers ranges from about 0.15 mm to 0.30 mm. Another term for dot pitch is phosphor pitch.

DRAM is most commonly used type of memory in computers. A bank of DRAM memory usually forms the computer's main memory. It is called Dynamic because it needs to be refreshed.

A program that controls a device. Every device, whether it be a printer, disk drive, or keyboard, must have a driver program. Many drivers, such as the keyboard driver, come with the operating system. For other devices, you may need to load a new driver when you connect the device to your computer. In DOS systems, drivers are files with a .SYS extension. In Windows environments, drivers often have a .DRV extension. A driver acts like a translator between the device and programs that use the device. Each device has its own set of specialized commands that only its driver knows. In contrast, most programs access devices by using generic commands. The driver, therefore, accepts generic commands from a program and then translates them into specialized commands for the device.

Short for digital versatile disc or digital video disc, a new type of CD-ROM that holds a minimum of 4.7GB (gigabytes), enough for a full-length movie. Many experts believe that DVD disks, called DVD-ROMs, will eventually replace CD-ROMs, as well as VHS video cassettes and laser discs. The DVD specification supports disks with capacities of from 4.7GB to 17GB and access rates of 600 KBps to 1.3 MBps. One of the best features of DVD drives is that they are backward-compatible with CD-ROMs. This means that DVD players can play old CD-ROMs, CD-I disks, and video CDs, as well as new DVD-ROMs. Newer DVD players, called second-generation or DVD-2 drives, can also read CD-R and CD-RW disks. DVD uses MPEG-2 to compress video data.

ECC Memory
Error Checking and Correction. A method of detecting and correcting system memory errors by adding additional bits and using a special algorithm.

EDO Memory
Short for Extended Data Output Dynamic Random Access Memory, a type of DRAM that is faster than conventional DRAM. Unlike conventional DRAM which can only access one block of data at a time, EDO RAM can start fetching the next block of memory at the same time that it sends the previous block to the CPU.

Acronym for electrically erasable programmable read-only memory. Pronounced double-ee-prom or e-e-prom, an EEPROM is a special type of PROM that can be erased by exposing it to an electrical charge. Like other types of PROM, EEPROM retains its contents even when the power is turned off. Also like other types of ROM, EEPROM is not as fast as RAM. EEPROM is similar to flash memory (sometimes called flash EEPROM). The principal difference is that EEPROM requires data to be written or erased one byte at a time whereas flash memory allows data to be written or erased in blocks. This makes flash memory faster.

Refers to the ability of a program or device to imitate another program or device. Many printers, for example, are designed to emulate Hewlett-Packard LaserJet printers because so much software is written for HP printers. By emulating an HP printer, a printer can work with any software written for a real HP printer. Emulation tricks the software into believing that a device is really some other device. Communications software packages often include terminal emulation drivers. This enables your PC to emulate a particular type of terminal so that you can log on to a mainframe. It is also possible for a computer to emulate another type of computer. For example, there are programs that enable an Apple Macintosh to emulate a PC.

Energy Star
A voluntary labeling program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S Department of Energy that identifies energy efficient products. Qualified products exceed minimum federal standards for energy consumption by a certain amount, or where no federal standards exist, have certain energy saving features. Such products may display the Energy Star label.

Acronym for erasable programmable read-only memory, and pronounced ee-prom, EPROM is a special type of memory that retains its contents until it is exposed to ultraviolet light. The ultraviolet light clears its contents, making it possible to reprogram the memory. To write to and erase an EPROM, you need a special device called a PROM programmer or PROM burner. An EPROM differs from a PROM in that a PROM can be written to only once and cannot be erased. EPROMs are used widely in personal computers because they enable the manufacturer to change the contents of the PROM before the computer is actually shipped. This means that bugs can be removed and new versions installed shortly before delivery.

Executable File
A file in a format that the computer can directly execute. Unlike source files, executable files cannot be read by humans. To transform a source file into an executable file, you need to pass it through a compiler or assembler. In DOS systems, executable files have either a.COM or.EXE extension and are called COM files and EXE files, respectively.

Expanded Memory
Also known as EMS (Expanded Memory Specification), expanded memory is a technique for utilizing more than 1MB (megabyte) of main memory in DOS -based computers. The limit of 1MB is built into the DOS operating system. The upper 384K is reserved for special purposes, leaving just 640K of conventional memory for programs.

Extended Memory
Memory above and beyond the standard 1MB (megabyte) of main memory that DOS supports. Extended memory is only available in PCs with an Intel 80286 or later microprocessor. Two types of memory can be added to a PC to increase memory beyond 1MB: expanded memory and extended memory. Expanded memory conforms to a published standard called EMS that enables DOS programs to take advantage of it. Extended memory, on the other hand, is not configured in any special manner and is therefore unavailable to most DOS programs. However, MS-Windows and OS/2 can use extended memory.

External Modem
A modem that resides in a self-contained box outside the computer system. Contrast with an internal modem, which resides on a printed circuit board inserted into the computer. External modems tend to be slightly more expensive than internal modems. Many experts consider them superior because they contain lights that indicate how the modem is functioning. In addition, they can easily be moved from one computer to another. However, they do use up one COM port.

Fault Tolerance
The ability of a system to respond gracefully to an unexpected hardware or software failure. There are many levels of fault tolerance, the lowest being the ability to continue operation in the event of a power failure. Many fault-tolerant computer systems mirror all operations -- that is, every operation is performed on two or more duplicate systems, so if one fails the other can take over.

Fax Modem
A device you can attach to a personal computer that enables you to transmit and receive electronic documents as faxes. A fax modem is like a regular modem except that it is designed to transmit documents to a fax machine or to another fax modem. Some, but not all, fax modems do double duty as regular modems. As with regular modems, fax modems can be either internal or external. Internal fax modems are often called fax boards.

Full Duplex
Refers to the transmission of data in two directions simultaneously. For example, a telephone is a full-duplex device because both parties can talk at once. In contrast, a walkie-talkie is a half-duplex device because only one party can transmit at a time.

Most modems have a switch that lets you choose between full-duplex and half-duplex modes. The choice depends on which communications program you are running.

In full-duplex mode, data you transmit does not appear on your screen until it has been received and sent back by the other party. This enables you to validate that the data has been accurately transmitted. If your display screen shows two of each character, it probably means that your modem is set to half-duplex mode when it should be in full-duplex mode.

FAT 32
A new version of the file allocation table (FAT) available in Windows 95 OSR 2 and Windows 98. FAT32 increases the number of bits used to address clusters and also reduces the size of each cluster. The result is that it can support larger disks (up to 2 terabytes) and better storage efficiency (less slack space).

Software (programs or data) that has been written onto read-only memory (ROM). Firmware is a combination of software and hardware. ROMs, PROMs and EPROMs that have data or programs recorded on them are firmware.

In networking, a combination of hardware and software that links two different types of networks. Gateways between e-mail systems, for example, allow users on different e-mail systems to exchange messages.

General Protection Fault
GPF, short for General Protection Fault, is a computer condition that causes a Windows application to crash. The most common cause of a GPF is two applications trying to use the same block of memory, or more specifically, one application trying to use memory assigned to another application.

The following situations can also cause GPFs:

  • Running an application with insufficient resources
  • Using improper hardware device drivers
  • Corrupted or missing Windows files
  • Applications exchanging data that cannot be read
  • GPFs are often preceded by an invalid page fault.

2 to the 30th power (1,073,741,824) bytes. One gigabyte is equal to 1,024 megabytes. Gigabyte is often abbreviated as G or GB.

GUI - Graphical User Interface
A program interface that takes advantage of the computer's graphics capabilities to make the program easier to use. Well-designed graphical user interfaces can free the user from learning complex command languages. On the other hand, many users find that they work more effectively with a command-driven interface, especially if they already know the command language.

Refers to the transmission of data in just one direction at a time. For example, a walkie-talkie is a half-duplex device because only one party can talk at a time. In contrast, a telephone is a full-duplex device because both parties can talk simultaneously.

Most modems contain a switch that lets you select between half-duplex and full-duplex modes. The correct choice depends on which program you are using to transmit data through the modem.

In half-duplex mode, each character transmitted is immediately displayed on your screen. (For this reason, it is sometimes called local echo -- characters are echoed by the local device). In full-duplex mode, transmitted data is not displayed on your monitor until it has been received and returned (remotely echoed) by the other device. If you are running a communications program and every character appears twice, it probably means that your modem is in half-duplex mode when it should be in full-duplex mode, and every character is being both locally and remotely echoed.

The process by which two devices initiate communications. Handshaking begins when one device sends a message to another device indicating that it wants to establish a communications channel. The two devices then send several messages back and forth that enable them to agree on a communications protocol.

Hayes Compatible
Hayes Microcomputer Products is one of the leading manufacturers of modems and has developed a language called the AT command set for controlling modems that has become the de facto standard. Any modem that recognizes Hayes modem commands is said to be Hayes-compatible.

This is very useful because most communications programs use Hayes modem commands. Virtually all modems manufactured today are Hayes-compatible.

Heat Sink
A component designed to lower the temperature of an electronic device by dissipating heat into the surrounding air. All modern CPUs require a heat sink. Some also require a fan. A heat sink without a fan is called a passive heat sink; a heat sink with a fan is called an active heat sink. Heat sinks are generally made of a zinc alloy and often have fins.

High Memory Area
In DOS -based systems, the high memory area refers to the first 64K of extended memory.

Short for HyperText Markup Language, the authoring language used to create documents on the World Wide Web. HTML is similar to SGML, although it is not a strict subset.

A common connection point for devices in a network. Hubs are commonly used to connect segments of a LAN. A hub contains multiple ports. When a packet arrives at one port, it is copied to the other ports so that all segments of the LAN can see all packets.

A passive hub serves simply as a conduit for the data, enabling it to go from one device (or segment) to another. So-called intelligent hubs include additional features that enables an administrator to monitor the traffic passing through the hub and to configure each port in the hub. Intelligent hubs are also called manageable hubs.

A third type of hub, called a switching hub, actually reads the destination address of each packet and then forwards the packet to the correct port.

Integrated Circuit
Another name for a chip, an IC is a small electronic device made out of a semiconductor material.

A display technique that enables a monitor to provide more resolution inexpensively. With interlacing monitors, the electron guns draw only half the horizontal lines with each pass (for example, all odd lines on one pass and all even lines on the next pass). Because an interlacing monitor refreshes only half the lines at one time, it can display twice as many lines per refresh cycle, giving it greater resolution. Another way of looking at it is that interlacing provides the same resolution as noninterlacing, but less expensively.

Internal Modem
A modem that resides on an expansion board that plugs into a computer. In contrast, an external modem is a box that attaches to a computer's COM port via cables.

A signal informing a program that an event has occurred. When a program receives an interrupt signal, it takes a specified action (which can be to ignore the signal). Interrupt signals can cause a program to suspend itself temporarily to service the interrupt.

Interrupt signals can come from a variety of sources. For example, every keystroke generates an interrupt signal. Interrupts can also be generated by other devices, such as a printer, to indicate that some event has occurred. These are called hardware interrupts. Interrupt signals initiated by programs are called software interrupts. A software interrupt is also called a trap or an exception.

PCs support 256 types of software interrupts and 15 hardware interrupts. Each type of software interrupt is associated with an interrupt handler -- a routine key on your keyboard, this triggers a specific interrupt handler. The complete list of interrupts and associated interrupt handlers is stored in a table called the interrupt vector table, which resides in the first 1 K of addressable memory.

Short for Internetwork Packet Exchange, a networking protocol used by the Novell NetWare operating systems. Like UDP/IP, IPX is a datagram protocol used for connectionless communications. Higher-level protocols, such as SPX and NCP, are used for additional error recovery services. The successor to IPX is the NetWare Link Services Protocol (NLSP).

The bus architecture used in the IBM PC/XT and PC/AT. It's often abbreviated as ISA (pronounced as separate letters or as eye-sa) bus. The AT version of the bus is called the AT bus and became a de facto industry standard. Starting in the early 90s, ISA began to be replaced by the PCI local bus architecture. Most computers made today include both an AT bus for slower devices and a PCI bus for devices that need better bus performance.

In 1993, Intel and Microsoft introduced a new version of the ISA specification called Plug and Play ISA. Plug and Play ISA enables the operating system to configure expansion boards automatically so that users do not need to fiddle with DIP switches and jumpers.

Short for Internet Service Provider, a company that provides access to the Internet. For a monthly fee, the service provider gives you a software package, username, password and access phone number. Equipped with a modem, you can then log on to the Internet and browse the World Wide Web and USENET, and send and receive e-mail.

In addition to serving individuals, ISPs also serve large companies, providing a direct connection from the company's networks to the Internet. ISPs themselves are connected to one another through Network Access Points (NAPs). ISPs are also called IAPs (Internet Access Providers).

A high-level programming language developed by Sun Microsystems. Java was originally called OAK, and was designed for handheld devices and set-top boxes. Oak was unsuccessful so in 1995 Sun changed the name to Java and modified the language to take advantage of the burgeoning World Wide Web.

Java is an object-oriented language similar to C++, but simplified to eliminate language features that cause common programming errors. Java source code files (files with a .java extension) are compiled into a format called bytecode (files with a .class extension), which can then be executed by a Java interpreter. Compiled Java code can run on most computers because Java interpreters and runtime environments, known as Java Virtual Machines (VMs), exist for most operating systems, including UNIX, the Macintosh OS, and Windows. Bytecode can also be converted directly into machine language instructions by a just-in-time compiler (JIT).

Java is a general purpose programming language with a number of features that make the language well suited for use on the World Wide Web. Small Java applications are called Java applets and can be downloaded from a Web server and run on your computer by a Java-compatible Web browser, such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer.

A metal bridge that closes an electrical circuit. Typically, a jumper consists of a plastic plug that fits over a pair of protruding pins. Jumpers are sometimes used to configure expansion boards. By placing a jumper plug over a different set of pins, you can change a board's parameters.

A technology developed by Lucent Technologies and Rockwell International for delivering data rates up to 56 Kbps over plain old telephone service (POTS). It was long believed that the maximum data transmission rate over copper telephone wires was 33.6 Kbps, but K56flex achieves higher rates by taking advantage of the fact that most phone switching stations are connected by high-speed digital lines. K56flex bypasses the normal digital-to-analog conversion and sends the digital data over the telephone wires directly to your modem where it is decoded.

Lucent and Rockwell have announced that future K56flex modems will conform to the new V.90 standard approved by the ITU. And users with older K56flex modems may upgrade their modems to support V.90.

While K56flex offers faster Internet access than normal modems, there are several caveats to using an K56flex modem:

  1. The high speeds are available only with downstream traffic (e.g., data sent to your computer). Upstream traffic is delivered using normal techniques, with a maximum speed of 33.6 Kbps.
  2. To connect to the Internet at K56flex speeds, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) must have a modem at the other end that supports V.90.
  3. Even if your ISP supports V.90, you might not achieve maximum transmission rates due to noisy lines.

The central module of an operating system. It is the part of the operating system that loads first, and it remains in main memory. Because it stays in memory, it is important for the kernel to be as small as possible while still providing all the essential services required by other parts of the operating system and applications. Typically, the kernel is responsible for memory management, process and task management, and disk management.

A computer network that spans a relatively small area. Most LANs are confined to a single building or group of buildings. However, one LAN can be connected to other LANs over any distance via telephone lines and radio waves. A system of LANs connected in this way is called a wide-area network (WAN).

Most LANs connect workstations and personal computers. Each node (individual computer ) in a LAN has its own CPU with which it executes programs, but it is also able to access data and devices anywhere on the LAN. This means that many users can share expensive devices, such as laser printers, as well as data. Users can also use the LAN to communicate with each other, by sending e-mail or engaging in chat sessions.

There are many different types of LANs Ethernets being the most common for PCs. Most Apple Macintosh networks are based on Apple's AppleTalk network system, which is built into Macintosh computers.

Abbreviation of liquid crystal display, a type of display used in digital watches and many portable computers. LCD displays utilize two sheets of polarizing material with a liquid crystal solution between them. An electric current passed through the liquid causes the crystals to align so that light cannot pass through them. Each crystal, therefore, is like a shutter, either allowing light to pass through or blocking the light.

Monochrome LCD images usually appear as blue or dark gray images on top of a grayish-white background. Color LCD displays use two basic techniques for producing color: Passive matrix is the less expensive of the two technologies. The other technology, called thin film transistor (TFT) or active-matrix, produces color images that are as sharp as traditional CRT displays, but the technology is expensive. Recent passive-matrix displays using new CSTN and DSTN technologies produce sharp colors rivaling active-matrix displays.

Abbreviation of light emitting diode, an electronic device that lights up when electricity is passed through it. LEDs are usually red. They are good for displaying images because they can be relatively small, and they do not burn out. However, they require more power than LCDs.

Short for Master Boot Record, a small program that is executed when a computer boots up. Typically, the MBR resides on the first sector of the hard disk. The program begins the boot process by looking up the partition table to determine which partition to use for booting. It then transfers program control to the boot sector of that partition, which continues the boot process. In DOS and Windows systems, you can create the MBR with the FDISK /MBR command.

An MBR virus is a common type of virus that replaces the MBR with its own code. Since the MBR executes every time a computer is started, this type of virus is extremely dangerous. MBR viruses normally enter a system through a floppy disk that is installed in the floppy drive when the computer is started up. Even if the floppy disk is not bootable, it can infect the MBR.


  1. Objects on which data can be stored. These include hard disks, floppy disks, CD-ROMs, and tapes.
  2. In computer networks, media refers to the cables linking workstations together. There are many different types of transmission media, the most popular being twisted-pair wire (normal electrical wire), coaxial cable (the type of cable used for cable television), and fiber optic cable (cables made out of glass).
  3. The form and technology used to communicate information. Multimedia presentations, for example, combine sound, pictures, and videos, all of which are different types of media.

Internal storage areas in the computer. The term memory identifies data storage that comes in the form of chips, and the word storage is used for memory that exists on tapes or disks. Moreover, the term memory is usually used as a shorthand for physical memory, which refers to the actual chips capable of holding data. Some computers also use virtual memory, which expands physical memory onto a hard disk.

Every computer comes with a certain amount of physical memory, usually referred to as main memory or RAM. You can think of main memory as an array of boxes, each of which can hold a single byte of information. A computer that has 1 megabyte of memory, therefore, can hold about 1 million bytes (or characters) of information.

A silicon chip that contains a CPU. In the world of personal computers, the terms microprocessor and CPU are used interchangeably. At the heart of all personal computers and most workstations sits a microprocessor. Microprocessors also control the logic of almost all digital devices, from clock radios to fuel-injection systems for automobiles.

Three basic characteristics differentiate microprocessors:

Instruction set: The set of instructions that the microprocessor can execute.
bandwidth : The number of bits processed in a single instruction.
clock speed : Given in megahertz (MHz), the clock speed determines how many instructions per second the processor can execute.

In both cases, the higher the value, the more powerful the CPU. For example, a 32-bit microprocessor that runs at 50MHz is more powerful than a 16-bit microprocessor that runs at 25MHz.

In addition to bandwidth and clock speed, microprocessors are classified as being either RISC (reduced instruction set computer) or CISC (complex instruction set computer).

The main circuit board of a microcomputer. The motherboard contains the connectors for attaching additional boards. Typically, the motherboard contains the CPU, BIOS, memory, mass storage interfaces, serial and parallel ports, expansion slots, and all the controllers required to control standard peripheral devices, such as the display screen, keyboard, and disk drive. Collectively, all these chips that reside on the motherboard are known as the motherboard's chipset.

On most PCs, it is possible to add memory chips directly to the motherboard. You may also be able to upgrade to a faster CP by replacing the CPU chip. To add additional core features, you may need to replace the motherboard entirely.

Acronym for modulator-demodulator. A modem is a device or program that enables a computer to transmit data over telephone lines. Computer information is stored digitally, whereas information transmitted over telephone lines is transmitted in the form of analog waves. A modem converts between these two forms.

A set of 57 multimedia instructions built into Intel's newest microprocessors and other x86-compatible microprocessors. MMX-enabled microprocessors can handle many common multimedia operations, such as digital signal processing (DSP), that are normally handled by a separate sound or video card. However, only software especially written to call MMX instructions -- so-called MMX-enabled software -- can take advantage of the MMX instruction set. The first generation of computers with MMX chips hit the market in January, 1997.

A billionth of a second. Many computer operations, such as the speed of memory chips, are measured in nanoseconds. Nanosecond is often abbreviated as ns.

Netbeui is short for NetBios Enhanced User Interface. It is an enhanced version of the NetBIOS protocol used by network operating systems such as LAN Manager, LAN Server, Windows for Workgroups, Windows 95 and Windows NT.

Netbeui was originally designed by IBM for their Lan Manager server and later extended by Microsoft and Novell.

In netoworks, a processing location. A node can be a computer or some other device, such as a printer. Every node has a unique network address, sometimes called a Data Link Control(DLC) address or Media Access Control(MAC) address.

Interference (static) that destroys the integrity of signals on a line. Noise can come from a variety of sources, including radio waves, nearby electrical wires, lightning, and bad connections. One of the major advantages of fiber optic cables over metal cables is that they are much less susceptible to noise.

Short for NT File System, one of the file system for the Windows NT operating system (Windows NT also supports the FAT file system). NTFS has features to improve reliability, such as transaction logs to help recover from disk failures. To control access to files, you can set permissions for directories and/or individual files. NTFS files are not accessible from other operating such as DOS.

For large applications, NTFS supports spanning volumes, which means files and directories can be spread out across several physical disks.

Operating System
The most important program that runs on a computer. Every general-purpose computer must have an operating system to run other programs. Operating systems perform basic tasks, such as recognizing input from the keyboard, sending output to the display screen, keeping track of files and directories on the disk, and controlling peripheral devices such as disk drives and printers.

For large systems, the operating system has even greater responsibilities and powers. It is like a traffic cop -- it makes sure that different programs and users running at the same time do not interfere with each other. The operating system is also responsible for security, ensuring that unauthorized users do not access the system.

Operating systems provide a software platform on top of which other programs, called application programs, can run. The application programs must be written to run on top of a particular operating system. Your choice of operating system, therefore, determines to a great extent the applications you can run. For PCs, the most popular operating systems are DOS, OS/2, and Windows, but others are available, such as Linux.

As a user, you normally interact with the operating system through a set of commands. For example, the DOS operating system contains commands such as COPY and RENAME for copying files and changing the names of files, respectively. The commands are accepted and executed by a part of the operating system called the command processor or command line interpreter. Graphical user interfaces allow you to enter commands by pointing and clicking at objects that appear on the screen.

To run a microprocessor faster than the speed for which it has been tested and approved. Overclocking is a popular technique for eking out a little more performance from a system. In many cases, you can force your CPU to run faster than it was intended simply by setting a jumper on the motherboard. Overclocking does come with some risks, however, such as over-heating, so you should become familiar with all the pros and cons before you attempt it.

Overclocking is sometimes called speed margining.

Parallel Port
A parallel interface for connecting an external device such as a printer. Most personal computers have both a parallel port and at least one serial port. On PCs, the parallel port uses a 25-pin connector (type DB-25) and is used to connect printers, computers and other devices that need relatively high bandwidth. It is often called a Centronics interface after the company that designed the original standard for parallel communication between a computer and printer. (The modern parallel interface is based on a design by Epson.)

A newer type of parallel port, which supports the same connectors as the Centronics interface, is the EPP (Enhanced Parallel Port) or ECP (Extended Capabilities Port). Both of these parallel ports support bi-directional communication and transfer rates ten times as fast as the Centronics port.

Macintoshes have a SCSI port, which is parallel, but more flexible.

Acronym for Peripheral Component Interconnect, a local bus standard developed by Intel Corporation. Most modern PCs include a PCI bus in addition to a more general ISA expansion bus. Many analysts, however, believe that PCI will eventually supplant ISA entirely. PCI is also used on newer versions of the Macintosh computer.

PCI is a 64-bit bus, though it is usually implemented as a 32-bit bus. It can run at clock speeds of 33 or 66 MHz. At 32 bits and 33 MHz, it yields a throughput rate of 133 MBps.

Although it was developed by Intel, PCI is not tied to any particular family of microprocessors.

Peer to Peer
A type of network in which each workstation has equivalent capabilities and responsibilities. This differs from client/server architectures, in which some computers are dedicated to serving the others. Peer-to-peer networks are generally simpler and less expensive, but they usually do not offer the same performance under heavy loads.

Peripheral Device
Any external device attached to a computer. Examples of peripherals include printers, disk drives, display monitors, keyboards, and mice.


  1. Short for pin grid array, a type of chip package in which the connecting pins are located on the bottom in concentric squares. PGA chips are particularly good for chips that have many pins, such as modern microprocessors. Compare with DIP and SIP.
  2. Short for Professional Graphics Adapter, a video standard developed by IBM that supports 640x480 resolution.

A diagram or table that describes the purpose of each pin in a chip or connector, or each wire in a cable.

Pipeline Burst Cache
A type of memory cache built into many modern DRAM controller and chipset designs. Pipeline burst caches use two techniques - a burst mode that pre-fetches memory contents before they are requested, and pipelining so that one memory value can be accessed in the cache at the same time that another memory value is accessed in DRAM. The purpose of pipeline burst caches is to minimize wait states so that memory can be accessed as fast a possible by the microprocessor.

Short for Picture Element, a pixel is a single point in a graphic image. Graphics monitors display pictures by dividing the display screen into thousands (or millions) of pixels, arranged in rows and columns. The pixels are so close together that they appear connected.

The number of bits used to represent each pixel determines how many colors or shades of gray can be displayed. For example, in 8-bit color mode, the color monitor uses 8 bits for each pixel, making it possible to display 2 to the 8th power (256) different colors or shades of gray.

On color monitors, each pixel is actually composed of three dots -- a red, a blue, and a green one. Ideally, the three dots should all converge at the same point, but all monitors have some convergence error that can make color pixels appear fuzzy.

The quality of a display system largely depends on its resolution, how many pixels it can display, and how many bits are used to represent each pixel. VGA systems display 640 by 480, or about 300,000 pixels. In contrast, SVGA systems display 1,024 by 768, or nearly 800,000 pixels. True Color systems use 24 bits per pixel, allowing them to display more than 16 million different colors.

Short for Plug and Play, a technology developed by Microsoft and Intel that supports plug-and-play installation. PnP is built into the Windows 95 operating system, but to use it, the computer's BIOS and expansion boards must also support PnP.

Short for power-on self test, a series of diagnostic tests that run automatically when you turn your computer on. The actual tests can differ depending on how the BIOS is configured, but usually the POST tests the RAM, the keyboard, and the disk drives. If the tests are successful, the computer boots itself. If the tests are unsuccessful, the computer reports the error by emitting a series of beeps and possibly displaying an error message and code on the display screen. The number of beeps indicates the error, but differs from one BIOS to another.

Primary Cache
Primary cache is the cache located closest to the CPU. Usually, primary cache is internal to the CPU, and secondary cache is external. Some early-model personal computers have CPU chips that don't contain internal cache. In these cases the external cache, if present, would actually be the primary (L1) cache.

An agreed-upon format for transmitting data between two devices. The protocol determines the following:

  • the type of error checking to be used
  • data compression method, if any
  • how the sending device will indicate that it has finished sending a message
  • how the receiving device will indicate that it has received a message
There are a variety of standard protocols from which programmers can choose. Each has particular advantages and disadvantages; for example, some are simpler than others, some are more reliable, and some are faster. From a user's point of view, the only interesting aspect about protocols is that your computer or device must support the right ones if you want to communicate with other computers. The protocol can be implemented either in hardware or in software.

PS/2 Port
A type of port developed by IBM for connecting a mouse or keyboard to a PC. The PS/2 port supports a mini DIN plug containing just 6 pins. Most PCs have a PS/2 port so that the serial port can be used by another device, such as a modem. The PS/2 port is often called the mouse port.

Short for Redundant Array of Independent (or Inexpensive) Disks, a category of disk drives that employ two or more drives in combination for fault tolerance and performance. RAID disk drives are used frequently on servers but aren't generally necessary for personal computers.

There are number of different RAID levels. The three most common are 0, 3, and 5:

Level 0: Provides data striping (spreading out blocks of each file across multiple disks) but no redundancy. This improves performance but does not deliver fault tolerance.

Level 1: Provides disk mirroring.

Level 3: Same as Level 0, but also reserves one dedicated disk for error correction data. It provides good performance and some level of fault tolerance.

Level 5: Provides data striping at the byte level and also stripe error correction information. This results in excellent performance and good fault tolerance.

(Random Access Memory) A configuration of memory cells that hold data for processing by a computer's central processing unit, or CPU; (see also memory). The term random derives from the fact that the CPU can retrieve data from any individual location, or address, within RAM.

Short for Remote Access Services, a feature built into Windows NT that enables users to log into an NT-based LAN using a modem, X.25 connection or WAN link. RAS works with several major network protocols, including TCP/IP, IPX, and Netbeui.

To use RAS from a remote node, you need a RAS client program, which is built into most versions of Windows, or any PPP client software. For example, most remote control programs work with RAS.

Rambus DRAM technology is a system-wide, chip-to-chip interface design that allows data to pass through a simplified bus. Rambus uses a unique RSL (Rambus Signaling Logic) technology. Rambus is available in two flavors: RDRAM and Concurrent RDRAM. RDRAM is currently in production with Concurrent RDRAM production scheduled for late 1997. The third line extension, Direct RDRAM, is in development stages and scheduled for production in 1999. In late 1996, Rambus agreed to a development and license contract with Intel that will lead to Intel's PC chip sets supporting Rambus memory starting in 1999.

To restart a computer. In DOS, you can reboot by pressing the Alt, Control and Delete keys simultaneously. This is called a warm boot. You can also perform a cold boot by turning the computer off and then on again.

On Macs, you reboot by selecting the "Restart" option from the Special menu.


  1. Generally, to update something with new data. For example, some Web browsers include a refresh button that updates the currently display Web pages. This feature is also called reload.
  2. To recharge a device with power or information. For example, dynamic RAM needs to be refreshed thousands of times per second or it will lose the data stored in it.
Similarly, display monitors must be refreshed many times per second. The refresh rate for a monitor is measured in hertz (Hz) and is also called the vertical frequency, vertical scan rate, frame rate or vertical refresh rate. The old standard for monitor refresh rates was 60Hz, but a new standard developed by VESA sets the refresh rate at 75Hz for monitors displaying resolutions of 640x480 or greater. This means that the monitor redraws the display 75 times per second. The faster the refresh rate, the less the monitor flickers.

Refers to the sharpness and clarity of an image. The term is most often used to describe monitors, printers, and bit-mapped graphic images. In the case of dot-matrix and laser printers, the resolution indicates the number of dots per inch. For example, a 300-dpi (dots per inch) printer is one that is capable of printing 300 distinct dots in a line 1 inch long. This means it can print 90,000 dots per square inch.

For graphics monitors, the screen resolution signifies the number of dots (pixels) on the entire screen. For example, a 640-by-480 pixel screen is capable of displaying 640 distinct dots on each of 480 lines, or about 300,000 pixels. This translates into different dpi measurements depending on the size of the screen. For example, a 15-inch VGA monitor (640x480) displays about 50 dots per inch.

Printers, monitors, scanners, and other I/O devices are often classified as high resolution, medium resolution, or low resolution. The actual resolution ranges for each of these grades is constantly shifting as the technology improves.


  1. Generally, any item that can be used. Devices such as printers and disk drives are resources, as is memory.
  2. In many operating systems, including Microsoft Windows and the Macintosh operating system, the term resource refers specifically to data or routines that are available to programs. These are also called system resources.

Short for Registered Jack-11, a four- or six-wire connector used primarily to connect telephone equipment in the United States. RJ-11 connectors are also used to connect some types of local-area networks (LANs), although RJ-45 connectors are more common.

Short for Registered Jack-45, an eight-wire connector used commonly to connect computers onto a local-area networks (LAN), especially Ethernets. RJ-45 connectors look similar to the ubiquitous RJ-11 connectors used for connecting telephone equipment, but they are somewhat wider.

A device that connects any number of LANs. Routers use headers and a forwarding table to determine where packets go, and they use ICMP to communicate with each other and configure the best route between any two hosts. Very little filtering of data is done through routers. Routers do not care about the type of data they handle.

Routing Switch
A switch that also performs routing operations. Usually a switch operates at layer 2 (the Data Link layer) of the OSI Reference Model while routers operate at layer 3 (the Network layer). Routing switches, however, perform many of the layer 3 functions usually reserved for routers. And because the routing is implemented in hardware rather than software, it is faster. The downside of routing switches is that they are not as powerful or as flexible as full-fledged routers.

Because they perform some layer 3 functions, routing switches are sometimes called layer-3 switches.

Screen Flicker
The phenomenon whereby a display screen appears to flicker. Screen flicker results from a variety of factors, the most important of which is the monitor's refresh rate, the speed with which the screen is redrawn. If the refresh rate is too slow, the screen will appear to glimmer. Another factor that affects screen flicker is the persistence of the screen phosphors. Low-persistence phosphors fade more quickly than high-persistence monitors, making screen flicker more likely. Screen flicker can also be affected by lighting. Finally, screen flicker is a subjective perception that affects people differently. Some people perceive screen flicker where others do not. Most people perceive no screen flicker if the refresh rate is 72 MHz or higher.

Abbreviation of Small Computer System Interface. Pronounced "scuzzy," SCSI is a parallel interface standard used by Apple Macintosh computers, PCs, and many UNIX systems for attaching peripheral devices to computers. Nearly all Apple Macintosh computers, excluding only the earliest Macs and the recent iMac, come with a SCSI port for attaching devices such as disk drives and printers.

SCSI interfaces provide for faster data transmission rates (up to 80 megabytes per second) than standard serial and parallel ports. In addition, you can attach many devices to a single SCSI port, so that SCSI is really an I/O bus rather than simply an interface.

The following varieties of SCSI are currently implemented:

SCSI-1: Uses an 8-bit bus, and supports data rates of 4 MBps

SCSI-2: Same as SCSI-1, but uses a 50-pin connector instead of a 25-pin connector, and supports multiple devices. This is what most people mean when they refer to plain SCSI.

Wide SCSI: Uses a wider cable (168 cable lines to 68 pins) to support 16-bit transfers.

Fast SCSI: Uses an 8-bit bus, but doubles the clock rate to support data rates of 10 MBps.

Fast Wide SCSI: Uses a 16-bit bus and supports data rates of 20 MBps.

Ultra SCSI: Uses an 8-bit bus, and supports data rates of 20 MBps.

SCSI-3: Uses a 16-bit bus and supports data rates of 40 MBps. Also called Ultra Wide SCSI.

Ultra2 SCSI: Uses an 8-bit bus and supports data rates of 40 MBps.

Wide Ultra2 SCSI: Uses a 16-bit bus and supports data rates of 80 MBps.

Short for Synchronous DRAM, a new type of DRAM that can run at much higher clock speeds than conventional memory. SDRAM actually synchronizes itself with the CPU's bus and is capable of running at 100 MHz, about three times faster than conventional FPM RAM, and about twice as fast EDO DRAM and BEDO DRAM. SDRAM is replacing EDO DRAM in many newer computers

Today's fastest Pentium systems use CPU buses running at 100 MHz, so SDRAM can keep up with them, though barely. Future PCs, however, are expected to have CPU buses running at 200 MHz or faster. SDRAM is not expected to support these high speeds which is why new memory technologies, such as RDRAM and SLDRAM, are being developed.

Secondary Cache
Short for Level 2 cache, cache memory that is external to the microprocessor. In general, L2 cache memory, also called the secondary cache, resides on a separate chip from the microprocessor chip. The Pentium Pro, however, has an L2 cache on the same chip as the microprocessor.

A material that is neither a good conductor of electricity (like copper) nor a good insulator (like rubber). The most common semiconductor materials are silicon and germanium. These materials are then doped to create an excess or lack of electrons.

Computer chips, both for CPU and memory, are composed of semiconductor materials. Semiconductors make it possible to miniaturize electronic components, such as transistors. Not only does miniaturization mean that the components take up less space, it also means that they are faster and require less energy.

Serial Port
A port, or interface, that can be used for serial communication, in which only 1 bit is transmitted at a time. Most serial ports on personal computers conform to the RS-232C or RS-422 standards. A serial port is a general-purpose interface that can be used for almost any type of device, including modems, mice, and printers (although most printers are connected to a parallel port).

Abbreviation of Synchronous Graphic Random Access Memory, a type of DRAM used increasingly on video adapters and graphics accelerators. Like SDRAM, SGRAM can synchronize itself with the CPU bus clock up to speeds of 100 MHz. In addition, SGRAM uses several other techniques, such as masked writes and block writes, to increase bandwidth for graphics-intensive functions.

Unlike VRAM and WRAM, SGRAM is single-ported. However, it can open two memory pages at once, which simulates the dual-port nature of other video RAM technologies.

Software distributed on the basis of an honor system. Most shareware is delivered free of charge, but the author usually requests that you pay a small fee if you like the program and use it regularly. By sending the small fee, you become registered with the producer so that you can receive service assistance and updates. You can copy shareware and pass it along to friends and colleagues, but they too are expected to pay a fee if they use the product.

Shareware is inexpensive because it is usually produced by a single programmer and is offered directly to customers. Thus, there are practically no packaging or advertising expenses.


  1. The outermost layer of a program. Shell is another term for user interface. Operating systems and applications sometimes provide an alternative shell to make interaction with the program easier. For example, if the application is usually command driven, the shell might be a menu-driven system that translates the user's selections into the appropriate commands.
  2. Sometimes called command shell, a shell is the command processor interface. The command processor is the program that executes operating system commands. The shell, therefore, is the part of the command processor that accepts commands. After verifying that the commands are valid, the shell sends them to another part of the command processor to be executed.

Acronym for single in-line memory module, a small circuit board that can hold a group of memory chips. Typically, SIMMs hold up 8 (on Macintoshes) or 9 (on PCs) RAM chips. On PCs, the ninth chip is often used for parity error checking. Unlike memory chips, SIMMs are measured in bytes rather than bits. SIMMs are easier to install than individual memory chips.

The bus from a SIMM to the actual memory chips is 32 bits wide. A newer technology, called dual in-line memory module (DIMM), provides a 64-bit bus. For modern Pentium microprocessors that have a 64-bit bus, you must use either DIMMs or pairs of SIMMs.

Abbreviation of single in-line package, a type of housing for electronic components in which the connecting pins protrude from one side. Compare with DIP and PGA. A SIP is also called a Single In-line Pin Package (SIPP).


  1. In UNIX and some other operating systems, a software object that connects an application to a network protocol. In UNIX, for example, a program can send and receive TCP/IP messages by opening a socket and reading and writing data to and from the socket. This simplifies program development because the programmer need only worry about manipulating the socket and can rely on the operating system to actually transport messages across the network correctly. Note that a socket in this sense is completely soft - it's a software object, not a physical component.
  2. A receptacle into which a plug can be inserted
  3. A receptacle for a microprocessor or other hardware component.

Socket 7
The form factor for fifth-generation CPU chips from Intel, Cyrix, and AMD. All Pentium chips, except Intel's Pentium Pro (Socket 8) and Pentium II (Slot 1), conform to the Socket 7 specifications. Intel has decided to phase out Socket 7 and replace it with Slot 1. But Intel's competitors, such as AMD and Cyrix, are sticking with Socket 7, and are developing an enhanced version.

Socket 8
The form factor for Intel's Pentium Pro microprocessors. The Pentium Pro was the first microprocessor not to use the venerable Socket 7 form factor. The Pentium II microprocessors use an even newer form factor called Slot 1. Socket 8 is a 387-pin ZIF socket with connections for the CPU and one or two SRAM dies for the Level 2 (L2) cache.

Software Modem
A modem implemented entirely in software. Software modems rely on the computer's processor to modulate and demodulate signals.

Short for static random access memory, and pronounced ess-ram. SRAM is a type of memory that is faster and more reliable than the more common DRAM (dynamic RAM). The term static is derived from the fact that it doesn't need to be refreshed like dynamic RAM.

While DRAM supports access times of about 60 nanoseconds, SRAM can give access times as low as 10 nanoseconds. In addition, its cycle time is much shorter than that of DRAM because it does not need to pause between accesses. Unfortunately, it is also much more expensive to produce than DRAM. Due to its high cost, SRAM is often used only as a memory cache.


  1. In networks, a device that filters and forwards packets between LAN segments. Switches operate at the data link layer (layer 2) of the OSI Reference Model and therefore support any packet protocol. LANs that use switches to join segments are called switched LANs or, in the case of Ethernet networks, switched Ethernet LANs.
  2. A small lever or button. The switches on the back of printers and on expansion boards are called DIP switches. A switch that has just two positions is called a toggle switch.
  3. Another word for option or parameter -- a symbol that you add to a command to modify the command's behavior.

Switching Hub
Short for port-switching hub, a special type of hub that forwards packets to the appropriate port based on the packet's address. Conventional hubs simply rebroadcast every packet to every port. Since switching hubs forward each packet only to the required port, they provide much better performance. Most switching hubs also support load balancing, so that ports are dynamically reassigned to different LAN segments based on traffic patterns.

Some newer switching hubs support both traditional Ethernet (10 Mbps) and Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps) ports. This enables the administrator to establish a dedicated, Fast Ethernet channel for high-traffic devices such as servers.

Acronym for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, the suite of communications protocols used to connect hosts on the Internet. TCP/IP uses several protocols, the two main ones being TCP and IP. TCP/IP is built into the UNIX operating system and is used by the Internet, making it the de facto standard for transmitting data over networks. Even network operating systems that have their own protocols, such as Netware, also support TCP/IP.


  1. 2 to the 40th power (1,099,511,627,776) bytes. This is approximately 1 trillion bytes.
  2. 10 to the 12th power (1,000,000,000,000). This is exactly one trillion.


  1. A device attached to the end-points of a bus network or daisy-chain. The purpose of the terminator is to absorb signals so that they do not reflect back down the line. Ethernet networks require a terminator at both ends of the bus, and SCSI chains require a single terminator at the end of the chain.
  2. A character that indicates the end of a string. In the C programming language, the null character serves as a terminator.

In online discussions, a series of messages that have been posted as replies to each other. A single forum or conference typically contains many threads covering different subjects. By reading each message in a thread, one after the other, you can see how the discussion has evolved. You can start a new thread by posting a message that is not a reply to an earlier message.

The amount of data transferred from one place to another or processed in a specified amount of time. Data transfer rates for disk drives and networks are measured in terms of throughput. Typically, throughputs are measured in Kbps, Mbps and Gbps.

Short for transmitter-receiver, a device that both transmits and receives analog or digital signals. The term is used most frequently to describe the component in local-area networks (LANs) that actually applies signals onto the network wire and detects signals passing through the wire. For many LANs, the transceiver is built into the network interface card (NIC). Some types of networks, however, require an external transceiver. In Ethernet networks, a transceiver is also called a Medium Access Unit (MAU).

True Color
Refers to any graphics device or software that uses at least 24 bits to represent each dot or pixel. Using 24 bits means that more than 16 million unique colors can be represented. Since humans can only distinguish a few million colors, this is more than enough to accurately represent any color image.

A device composed of semiconductor material that amplifies a signal or opens or closes a circuit. Invented in 1947 at Bell Labs, transistors have become the key ingredient of all digital circuits, including computers. Today's microprocessors contains tens of millions of microscopic transistors.

Prior to the invention of transistors, digital circuits were composed of vacuum tubes, which had many disadvantages. They were much larger, required more energy, dissipated more heat, and were more prone to failures. It's safe to say that without the invention of transistors, computing as we know it today would not be possible.

A protocol developed by Quantum Corporation and Intel that supports burst mode data transfer rates of 33.3 MBps. This is twice as fast as the previous disk drive standard for PCs, and is necessary to take advantage of new, faster Ultra ATA disk drives.

The official name for the protocol is Ultra DMA/33. It's also called UDMA, UDMA/33 and DMA mode 33.

Short for Universal Serial Bus, a new external bus standard that supports data transfer rates of 12 MBps (12 million bytes per second). A single USB port can be used to connect up to 128 peripheral devices, such as mice, modems, and keyboards. USB also supports Plug-and-Play installation and hot plugging.

Starting in 1996, a few computer manufacturers started including USB support in their new machines. Since the release of Intel's 440LX chipset in 1997, USB has become more widespread. It is expected to eventually completely replace serial and parallel ports.

A standard for 56-Kpbs modems approved by the International Telecommunication Union(ITU) in February, 1998. The V.90 standard resolves the battle between the two competing 56 Kbps technologies –X2 from 3COM and K56Flex from Rockwell Semiconductor. Both manufacturers have announced that their future modems will conform to V.90. In addition, most users who already purchased 56 Kbps modems will be able to apply a software upgrade to make their modems support V.90.

Virtual Device Driver
In Windows systems, a special type of device driver that has direct access to the operating system kernal. This allows them to interact with system and hardware resources at a very low level. In Windows 95, virtual device drivers are often called VxDs because the filenames end with the .vxd extension.

Virtual Machine
A self-contained operating enviorment that behaves as if it is a separate computer. For example, Java applets run in a Java virtual machine (VM) that has no access to the host operating system. This design has two advantages:

  • System Independence: A Java application will run the same in any Java VM, regardless of the hardware and software underlying the system.
  • Security: Because the VM has no contact with the operating system, there is little possibility of a Java program damaging other files or applications.
The second advantage, however, has a downside. Because programs running in a VM are separate from the operating system, they cannot take advantage of special operating system features.

A program or piece of code that is loaded onto your computer without your knowledge and runs against your wishes. Most viruses can also replicate themselves. All computer viruses are manmade. A simple virus that can make a copy of itself over and over again is relatively easy to produce. Even such a simple virus is dangerous because it will quickly use all available memory and bring the system to a halt. An even more dangerous type of virus is one capable of transmitting itself across networks and bypassing security systems.

Voltage Regulator
A device which maintains constant voltage in an electrical line in case of brownout.

Video Random Access Memory. A kind of high-speed memory used for the computer's display. VRAM must be fast to keep up with the speed at which the screen is scanned. The VRAM in a PC is on a display adapter card.VRAM has two ports so it can send the data for text and images to memory and to the display at the same time.

Wait State
A brief delay added before a microprocessor executes an instruction, to allow time for slower memory chips or external devices to respond. A wait states may be one or more of the computer's clock cycles or may be timed differently. One wait state on each access of memory can make the processor up to 20% slower. With no wait state (called zero wait state) the processor will run faster.

Wide Area Network - A network in which computers are connected to each other over a long distance, using telephone lines and satellite communications. See local area network (LAN).

Stands for Extended Memory Specification, a procedure developed jointly by AST Research, Intel Corporation, Lotus Development, and Microsoft Corporation, for using extended memory and DOS’s high memory area, a 64K block just above 1MB.

A technology developed by U.S. Robotics (now 3COM) for delivering data rates up to 56 Kbps over plain old telephone service (POTS). It was long believed that the maximum data transmission rate over copper telephone wires was 33.6 Kbps, but X2 achieves higher rates by taking advantage of the fact that most phone switching stations are connected by high-speed digital lines. X2 bypasses the normal digital-to-analog conversion and sends the digital data over the telephone wires directly to your modem where it is decoded.

ZIF Socket
Zero Insertion Force socket. A special socket for plugging in integrated circuits easily. The socket can be opened with a small lever or screw; the chip is dropped in, then the socket is closed.

©2003 Hill Country Computer, Inc. All Rights Reserved.