Glossary of Computer Hardware Terms

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This article talks about the glossary of computer hardware terms. There are lots of terms and components related to computer hardware that may leave you confused and make you feel lost.

However, if you know them, then it will not be difficult for you to tell your CPU from the GPU and other parts of computer hardware, just like a pro.

Here in this article you will find all those jargons that will help you know what is inside your computer.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The terms used in the computer world are often not self-explanatory and may leave a user bewildered at times.
  • It will be easy to distinguish a hardware item from the other when all these terms and their meanings are known precisel

The Glossary of Computer Hardware Terms

Glossary of Computer Hardware Terms

These are some of the key terms every computer user should know. These are all arranged chronologically for you. However, this is certainly not an exhaustive list.

Hardware Terms Starting with A:

Accelerated Graphics Port – Commonly known as AGP, this is a dedicated video bus or a parallel expansion card. This is a successor of the PCI or Peripheral Component Interconnect type video card.

It helps in attaching a video card to the motherboard and facilitates acceleration of 3D computer graphics. It was originally designed as a successor to PCI-type connections for video cards.

Accelerator – This refers to the microprocessor, ASIC or Application Specific Integrated Circuit. This fixed-function hardware is basically an expansion card that offloads the Central Processing Unit.

Accumulator – This register holds the previous operation results in the ALU or Arithmetic Logic Unit. It is also used sometimes as an input register for the adder.

Advanced Technology eXtended – Commonly known as ATX, this is a specific form factor of a motherboard that was designed by Intel in 1995. This particular motherboard is supposed to have improved DE factors standards such as the AT form factor.

AI Accelerator – This is designed to run artificial neural networks, machine vision algorithms, or machine learning.

Amp – This is a specific hardware that enhances the sound quality for a better audio experience. The power amplifier makes the sound louder and better.

Hardware Terms Starting with B:

Blu-Ray Disc – This refers to the optical disc that is used as a storage medium and is designed to take over the DVD system.

Bus – This refers to the common path of the components or the multiple subsystems to receive or send signals. This low cost option is often found in the micro and mini computers.

Hardware Terms Starting with C:

Cache – This refers to a fast and small buffer. It is located between the main memory and the Central Processing Unit. The main purpose of it is to reduce the time to access the frequently used instructions, operands, and other items.

Cache Line – This is the small block of memory that resides within a cache. It is usually 32 to 128 bytes in size and responsible for cache refill, eviction, and granularity.

COMA – This refers to Cache Only Memory Architecture, which is actually multiprocessor memory architecture. It helps in shifting the address space dynamically between the processor nodes as and when required.

Card Reader – This refers to the data input device. The main objective of it is to read the data stored in a storage medium and it is in the shape of a card.

Channel I/O – This is a generic term. It refers to the high-performance input/output architecture. It is employed in different forms on a mainframe computer and a number of other computers.

Chipset – This refers to a group of chips or Integrated Circuits, commonly known as ICs, and is intended to work in tandem as a single product.

Compact Disc Recordable – More commonly known as CD-R, this device is a form of an optical compact disc on which you can write only once.

Compact Disc Rewritable – This is commonly referred to as CD-RW. This is also a form of optical compact disc on which you can write several times.

Compact Disc Read Only Memory – This is usually referred to as CD-ROM. It is basically a compact disc that is pre-pressed and contains data or music. You cannot write on it.

Computer Case – This is called by different names such as cabinet, chassis, tower, box, enclosure, system unit, housing, or simply as a case. It houses all the hardware components of the computer excluding the monitor, mouse, keyboard and other external peripherals.

Computer Fan – This is the in-built active cooling system. The fan forces airflow inside the computer cabinet and all around it.

Computer Form Factor – This is actually a collective term that refers to the number of ports located in the back panel of the computer case, the type of power supply, placement of the mounting holes, their dimensions and others.

Computer Monitor – Also termed as the display of the computer, it refers to the electronic visual device along with its casing, circuitry, and power supply.

While the older models of display use a CRT or Cathode Ray Tube, the newer versions come with a flat panel LED or a Thin Film Transistor Liquid Crystal Display called TFT-LCD display.

Control Store – This refers to the memory that holds the microcode of the CPU.

Conventional PCI – A short for Conventional Peripheral Component Interconnect, a Conventional PCI is also called simply the PCI. This refers to the computer bus which allows attaching different hardware devices to the computer.

Core – This refers to that particular part of the Central Processing Unit which basically performs the arithmetic and logical operations.

A CPU can come with multiple cores. These are the real processing units of the CPU and all of them combined make up a single processor.

Core Memory – This refers to the main memory.

Central Processing Unit – Most commonly known as the CPU, this is also called the ‘brain’ of the computer that carries out all instructions given to the computer by the software and I/O devices.

Hardware Terms Starting with D:

D Cache – This refers to the data cache in the CPU or GPU. It stores requests and serves data loads. It typically mirrors the main memory or the Video RAM for a Graphics Processing Unit.

Data Storage – This refers to the computer components or recording media to store digital data.

Device Memory – This denotes the local memory linked with a hardware device which is different from the main memory such as an OpenCL compute device or a Graphics Processing Unit.

Digital Video Disc – Most commonly known as DVD which also stands for Digital Versatile Disc, this is a form of an optical compact disc.

The physical dimension of a DVD is the same as a CD or Compact Disc but it can store data by more than six times as compared to a CD.

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Digital Visual Interface – This refers to the video display interface commonly known as the DVI and is designed by the Digital Display Working Group or DDWG. This interface connects the video source to the display device of the computer such as the monitor.

Digital-to-Analogue converter – Also referred to as DA, this particular type of audio enhancement hardware changes the digital signals to analog signals by using higher bit rate to improve the quality of sound.

Direct Access Storage Device – It is also referred to as DASD. Related to a mainframe terminology, this secondary storage was introduced by IBM. This is typically an arrangement of hard disk drives that offers random access.

Direct Mapped Cache – This simple cache allows mapping every physical address to a single cache line indexed by means of the low bits of the address.

Direct Memory Access – Often called the DMA, this refers to the network interface controller or the disk drive that can access the main memory with no intervention from the Central Processing Unit. It may be provided with one or more such channels in the system.

DisplayPort – This refers to a digital display interface. This is developed by VESA or the Video Electronics Standards Association.

This port is typically used to attach a video source to the display device. However, this interface also allows using it for transmitting audio signals and other forms of data and connecting a USB.

Drive Bay – This is the region inside the computer case where you can add hardware devices such as CD drives, hard drives and more to the computer.

Drivers – These refer to the components within the headphones. These hardware components change the electrical signals into sound.

The output will be more powerful if the driver is larger but that may not necessarily translate into higher sound quality.

Dual In Line Memory Module – Often referred to as DIMM, this denotes the set of dynamic RAM Integrated Circuits.

These modules are specially designed for using in personal computers, servers and workstations and are usually mounted on the printed circuit board. This is the opposite of SIMM, explained later.

Dual Issue – This refers to the superscalar pipeline that can execute two instructions at the same time.

Dynamic Random Access Memory – Referred to as DRAM in short, this is a type of RAM that stores every bit of data in a distinct capacitor in the Integrated Circuit. This has to be refreshed periodically in order to retain the data stored in it.

Hardware Terms Starting with E:

Expansion Bus – This refers to the computer bus that is designed to move information between the peripheral devices of a computer system and its internal hardware including the RAM and CPU.

It is basically an assortment of wires and protocols and is used typically for the expansion of the computer.

Expansion Card – This refers to the printed circuit board which you can insert into the expansion slot or the electrical connector located on the motherboard of the computer or a riser or on a backplane.

This is used to add more functionality to the computer system through the expansion bus.

Hardware Terms Starting with F:

Fan Headers – These allow connecting a PWM or Pulse Width Modulation fan or a DC fan. The PWM fans offer better speed control than the DC fans but need an additional connection on the fan header with 4-pin headers in total.

The DC fans need 3 pins but can be connected to a 4-pin fan header where one pin is left unused.

Firewall – This refers to any software programs or hardware devices that is typically designed and used to protect the computer from malware, viruses, and Trojans.

Flash Memory – This refers to the type of computer storage chip that is non-volatile and can be electrically reprogrammed or erased.

Floppy Disk – This is a rectangular or square plastic shell which contains magnetic tapes to store data. This magnetic storage medium is thin and flexible which is why it is called a floppy.

Floppy Disk Drive – This is the drive that is used to read the floppy disks.

Floppy Disk Controller – This refers to the open-source and free graphics device driver.

Hardware Terms Starting with G:

Graphics Double Data Rate – Also termed as GDDR, this refers to a specific type of memory that is found commonly on most of the modern generation cards.

Rather than using a wider bus, this memory uses a much higher clock speed and also consumes a considerable amount of space on the graphics card board.

Graphics Processing Unit – Also termed as GPU more commonly, this specific part of the computer is responsible for the graphics performance.

Graphics Processing Unit Encoders – These encoders use graphics hardware for encoding the MPEG 4 or H.264 codec instead of the CPU cores. Some of the GPU encoders are Intel Quick Sync, Nvidia NVENC, and AMD VCE.

Hardware Terms Starting with H:

Hard Disk Drive – Usually referred to as HDD, this denotes the non-volatile storage device which stores data on rigid or ‘hard’ rapidly spinning disks or platters that come with magnetic surfaces.

Heat Spreader – This refers to a component that helps the memory to transfer the heat away from it and disperse it in the case.

High Bandwidth Memory – Also termed as HBM, this memory comes with a much larger bus in comparison to the GDDR memory but has lower clock speeds.

The good thing about it is that these can be stacked which saves a lot of space and latency and is usually built on the graphics processor itself directly.

High Definition Multimedia Interface – More commonly known as HDMI, this refers to the compact interface that is used to transfer uncompressed and encrypted video or digital audio data to the display of the computer such as the monitor, a digital TV or a video projector.

Hardware Terms Starting with I:

Input Device – This refers to any peripheral equipment, usually external, that is used to feed in data or control signals to the information processing system of the computer.

Integrated Circuit – These are also called chips simply. These circuits refer to a miniature electronic circuit. It is manufactured on the surface of a semiconductor material with a thin substrate.

Hardware Terms Starting with J:

Jump Drive – This is simply another term for the USB flash drive that helps in storing data.

Hardware Terms Starting with K:

Keyboard – This is one of the most significant input devices which resemble the keyboard of a typewriter. There are buttons for numbers and letters and specific symbols set in a specific arrangement. These keys act as electronic switches or mechanical levers.

Hardware Terms Starting with L:

Local Memory – This refers to the memory that is closely related to a processing element such as scratchpad or cache.

This memory is typically attached to a single processor node in a COMA or NUMA system or with the device memory in the accelerator such as the VRAM.

Hardware Terms Starting with M:

M.2 Slots – These slots allow a variety of sizes of M.2 drives. These are SSDs with smaller form factor and utilize either NVMe or Nonvolatile Memory Express or AHCI Advanced Host Controller Interface protocols across either the faster PCIe interfaces or the slower SATA interfaces.

Mainframe – This refers to a powerful computer that is used especially by large organizations. It can handle bulk data and process them accurately for tasks such as census, resource planning for enterprises, consumer and industry statistics, as well as processing financial transactions.

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Main Memory – This refers to the largest Random Access Memory in a computer system in a memory hierarchy. It normally consists of DRAM and is separate from scratchpads and caches.

Mask ROM – This refers to the particular type of Read Only Memory. The contents of it are programmed by the manufacturer of the Integrated Circuit.

Memory – This refers to the devices that are used to store programs or data. It can be stored either on a temporary or a permanent basis.

Memory Bus – this is a much wider bus that provides more bandwidth to the video memory and the Graphics processing unit to communicate. However, smaller buses are used generally to ensure higher clock speeds.

Memory Channels – Most systems come with at least dual memory channels that allow using two memory modules to get increased bandwidth.

These memory channels are separate and often come with matching colors on the motherboard. Few motherboards also come with four memory channels to offer much higher bandwidth.

Mini VGA – These are the small connectors that are usually found in laptop computers and other systems replacing the normal VGA connector.

Modem – A short for modulator/demodulator, this refers to a variant of Harvard architecture. It is used as a distinct and non-coherent data and instruction caches. It however mirrors the similar main memory address space and also shares the advanced levels of the similar cache hierarchy.

Monitor – This refers to the electronic visual display of a computer.

Motherboard – This is the central PCB or Printed Circuit Board, often referred to as the main board, in a computer.

It holds most of the critical components of the computer and at the same time provides the connection spaces or ports to connect other external computer peripherals.

Mouse – This is an external input device added to a computer to point at specific things. It is designed to detect 2D motions relative to the supporting surface.

This motion is mapped on the computer screen to the cursor and is used specifically to control a GUI or Graphical User Interface for CAD or any other tasks on a desktop computer.

Hardware Terms Starting with N:

Network – This refers to a collection of computers or other devices connected to each other through communications channels such as Ethernet or any other wireless networking.

Network Interface Controller – This term refers to the network card or Local Area Network card also known as LAN card.

Network on a Chip – Commonly referred to as an NOC, this denotes the computer network on a particular semiconductor chip that connects all the processing elements, additional memories, caches and fixed-function hardware. This is very common in SoC or System on a Chip designs.

Non-Uniform Memory Access – Referred to as NUMA in short, this indicates the non-volatile memory. Much like a volatile memory, this retains the stored data even when the system is not powered.

Non-Volatile Random Access Memory – This refers to the RAM that holds data when power of the computer is turned off.

Hardware Terms Starting with O:

Optical Disc Drive – This is a particular disk drive that can read or write data to or from any optical disks by using electromagnetic waves or a laser light or near the light gamut.

Hardware Terms Starting with P:

PCI Express – Commonly termed as PCIe, the PCI Express refers to an expansion bus interface that is standard designed to substitute the older bus standards such as PCI, PCI-X, and AGP.

PCI-eXtended – Also referred to as PCI-X, this expansion card and expansion bus standard augments the 32-bit PCI Local Bus for superior bandwidth that is required by servers.

PCIe Lanes – This refers to the multiple lanes of the modern high speed bus linking peripherals such as graphics cards to the Central Processing Unit.

These lanes allow sending and receiving simultaneous signals through each lane. Usually, graphics cards often use PCIe connections that come with 16x lanes to get more bandwidth.

Pen Drive – This is another name to indicate the USB flash drive.

Peripheral – This term signifies any device that is attached to the computer but is not a part of it.

Personal Computer – Often referred to as a PC, a personal computer refers to the system that is used for general purpose. The size, features, and its capabilities make it useful for every individual user.

It is designed to be operated and used directly by the end user without any computer operator intervening.

Power Connectors – These are 6-pin or 6+2 pin connectors or multiples of both that allow connecting the graphics cards so that they get the additional power to perform.

As for the Central Processing unit, it must be attached to the motherboard through a 24-pin EATX and either an 8-pin EATX or a 4-pin ATX power connector and sometimes both for intense overclocking.

Power Supply Unit – Also known as PSUs, this refers to that particular part of the computer which converts the AC mains low-voltage and regulated DC power supply that is used by all the components of the computer.

All modern computers generally use switched-mode power supplies. Though there are a few power supplies that come with a manual switch which allows selecting input voltage, most of them can adapt to the voltage of the mains supply automatically.

Printer – This refers to the external output device that prints documents, both text and graphics. There are different types of printers that can be attached to a computer to print data stored in electronic form on a physical print medium such as paper or any other transparencies.

Printed Circuit Board – Often referred to as a PCB, this board contains all the connections that are required by all the components of the system to receive power and also to communicate with each other.

Processing Element – This refers to a specific type of electronic circuit. A processing element can be either an internal component or a microprocessor that may function under external control or autonomously.

It usually performs arithmetic and logic operations on instructions and data and contains local memory. It may be connected to other different processing elements of the computer through a network on a chip, network or cache hierarchy.

Processor Node – This refers to the processor present in a multiprocessor system or a cluster. It is typically connected by a network or separate dedicated communication channels.

Programmable Read Only Memory – Also referred to as PROM, this is a kind of a non-volatile memory chip. It may be programmed once the device is created.

Programmer – This typically refers to any electronic apparatus that has the ability to arrange written software in order to configure non-volatile and programmable integrated circuits that are also called programmable devices.

This includes EPROMs or Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory, EEPROMs or Electrically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory, Flashes, eMMC or Embedded Multimedia Card, MRAM or Magneto-resistive Random Access Memory, FRAM or Ferroelectric Random Access Memory, NV RAM or Non-Volatile Random Access Memory, PALs or Phase Alternating Lines, FPGAs or Field Programmable Gate Arrays, and programmable logic circuits.

Hardware Terms Starting with R:

Random Access Memory – Commonly known as RAM, this refers to the type of data storage in a computer. This allows the stored data items to be accessed so that it can be read as well as written.

Both of these operations are done in almost the same amount of time regardless of the physical location of the data inside the RAM. This RAM typically comes with multiplexing and demultiplexing circuits.

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This allows linking the data lines with the addressed storage which helps eventually in reading or writing the stored data in it. Typically, the same address can access in excess of a single bit of storage.

These RAMs often come with a number of data lines and can be 8-bit, 16-bit and more. In modern computers, Random Access memory usually takes the form of ICs.

Read Only Memory – Referred to as a ROM most of the times, the Read Only memory signifies a specific kind of memory chip that holds that data in it even when the power supply of the computer is switched off.

Hardware Terms Starting with S:

Server – This refers to a special computer that is used typically to provide different types of services to the clients.

Single In-Line Memory Module – Also referred to as SIMM, this is a specific kind of memory module that contains a RAM that was used in computers in the early 1980s to the late 1990s. It is the opposite of DIMM.

Socket – This refers to the point where the CPU is connected to the motherboard and subsequently with the other components of the computer.

The sockets of today typically use an LGA or Land Grid Array, a PGA Pin Grid Array, or a BGA or Ball Grid Array design.

Solid State Drive – This is also called an electronic disk or solid-state disk that acts as a data storage device. It comes with Integrated Circuit assemblies in order to store data persistently in the memory.

Though these storage devices are also referred to as solid state disks, there are actually no physical spinning disks or any drive motor to spin a disk in them as it is in the Hard Disk Drives.

Sound Card – It is also called an audio card and refers to an internal expansion card. This card assists efficient input and output of the audio signals to and from the computer and these are executed under the control of a computer program.

Static Random Access Memory – Referred to as SRAM in short, this is a kind of a semiconductor memory. It uses a two-stable or flip-flop latching circuitry that stores every bit.

Stream Processors – These processors are found usually in GPUs and are more or less analogous to the cores of the processor. However, these are much simpler and usually calculate less operation per second.

The modern GPUs come with several of these stream processors inside them which allow them to deliver corresponding processing power.

In Nvidia GPUs these stream processors are called the CUDA or Compute Unified Device Architecture cores while in AMD these are called the Graphics Core Next or GCN cores.

Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory – This storage device is also referred to as SDRAM, which is similar to a DRAM or Dynamic Random Access Memory but is in line with the system bus.

SuperDisk – This refers to a high speed alternative to the 3.5 inch or 90 mm 1.44 MB floppy disk. This particular hardware can work at a high speed and was developed by Imation, a 3M’s storage products group, in 1997.

SATA – Also called Serial ATA or Serial AT Attachment, this is a specific type of computer bus interface.

It helps in connecting the host bus adapters to the mass storage devices which includes Hard Disk Drives, Solid-State Drives, and optical drives.

Hardware Terms Starting with T:

Tape Drive – This indicates the peripheral storage device that typically uses magnetic tape and allows sequential access only.

Terminal – This refers to the electromechanical or electronic hardware device which is usually used to enter data into a computing system or a computer and display data from it.

Touchpad – Usually found in laptop computers, this is also known as a trackpad. This is actually a pointing device which replaced the mouse used in a desktop computer and consists of a special surface that recognizes touch and finger movements.

It then translates the motion and position of the fingers of the users or even a stylus sometimes to represent a relative position on the screen.

Transistor – This refers to the building block of modern technology and to the small switches that offer the binary on/off of electricity which is the backbone of computer programming.

TV Tuner Card – This is a specific type of expansion card that allows processing TV signals on a computer.

Hardware Terms Starting with U:

Universal Serial Bus – Most commonly referred to as a USB, this helps in establishing a communication between the host controller, which is typically a personal computer, and the different devices connected to it.

Uop Cache – Another name of the micro-operations cache, this signifies that particular cache of deciphered micro-operations in a CISC or Complex Instruction Set Computer processor such as x86.

USB Flash Drive – This refers to the flash memory device. It is integrated with the USB interface and is usually rewritable and removable.

Hardware Terms Starting with V:

Video Card – This is another name of the graphics card or expansion card which produces a feed of output images that you can see on the monitor of the computer.

Video Graphics Array – Also called VGA, this refers to the graphical standard established by IBM. Most of the personal computer clone manufacturers conform to it.

Volatile Memory – This refers to that particular type of memory that needs power to maintain the information stored in them, much unlike the non-volatile memory.

Voltage Regulator Module – This is also referred to as VRM in short and allows regulating the voltage within the system to facilitate better overclocking as well as increasing the lifespan of the components.

Hardware Terms Starting with W:

Webcam – This is a specific type of an external input device that typically comes with a lens, an image sensor, and supporting circuitry.

This is actually a video camera that feeds in data to the computer system or to a network in the form of images in real time either through Wi-Fi, USB or Ethernet.

Write Back Cache – This refers to the cache where the stored operations are buffered particularly in cache lines. It reaches the main memory only when the whole cache line is evicted.

Write Through Cache – This refers to the cache where the stored operations are written immediately to the main memory underlying.

Hardware Terms Starting with Z:

Zip Drive – This denotes the removable floppy disk storage system. It was launched by Iomega in late 1994. These drives usually have a medium-to-high capacity which was about 100 MB at the time of its launch.

That brings the end of the computer hardware glossary list, which, like it is said before, is not an exhaustive one.

Conclusion

Knowing about the terms and acronyms about your computer, both inside and outside is kind of essential. Though knowing about the software may be a bit difficult for a non-tech-savvy person, knowing about the hardware is kind of easy with articles like this.

About Dominic Cooper

Dominic CooperDominic Cooper, a TTU graduate is a computer hardware expert. His only passion is to find out the nitty gritty of all computers. He loves to cook when he is not busy with writing, computer testing and research. He is not very fond of social media. Follow Him at Linkedin