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Saturday, September 03, 2005
  online tips- Making sense of tech talk
Many of us talk with ease about the Internet, digital cameras and MP3 players. But mention common computer terms such as CPU, memory, megabits, and megabytes, and confusion is sure to follow.

Yet getting such terms straight will help you communicate more effectively in this digital age, and learning the concepts is a breeze.

Q: I got a new computer at work. I told a colleague that I got a new CPU, and he said. “No, you got a new computer”. What’s the difference between CPU and computer?

A: The term CPU is an acronym that stands for Central Processing Unit.

Specifically, it refers to the main chip inside your personal computer. You’ve probably heard of Intel’s Pentium 4 processor.

That’s a CPU, a Central Processing Unit. It constitutes the brainpower of any personal computer.

Some loosely use the word CPU in reference to the entire box that houses the CPU and all the other components that make up your PC.

It is technically incorrect to do so, which is why you colleague corrects you.

That box and all the components are more properly refer to as “the computer”.

Q: What’s the difference between memory and hard drive space?

A: The word “memory” when used in reference to a computer is typically short for “random access memory” of the physical memory chips that reside inside you PC.

Those memory chips are separate from your hard drive, and it’s important to understand the difference.

There are two components within your personal computer that hold data: the memory and your hard drive.

When you install software onto your computer, you’re actually copying files from the installation CD or disc onto your hard drive, where the data is stored until you specifically delete it.

When you open an already-installed application on your computer, your operating system reads files stored on your hard drive and copies those files into random access memory (RAM), a set of computer chips that are inside your computer.

The data remains active within those memory chips until you close program or turn off your PC.

Why does the computer have to copy data from the hard drive to RAM? The reason is that RAM allows access to data much faster than does a hard drive, which is a comparatively slow mechanical device that could not keep up with the quick pace of data retrieval that you expect when working on a computer.

So when, referring to the “memory” in you computer, know that you should be talking about the actual memory chips in your PC.

If you wish to talk about how much storage space you have on your computer, then you should refer to how large a hard drive is.

Computer these days typically come with hard drives of about 80GB to 400GB. The amount of memory installed in computers today generally runs between 512MB and 2GB.

Q: What’s the difference between a graphics card and video card?

A: There’s no difference. Those are just two different terms for the same thing: the component in your PC that supplies video to your monitor.

Graphics card are one of the most commonly upgraded components of the personal computer, primarily because manufacturers are constantly improving the speed at which images can be displayed on your PC.

Such as speed is generally of little importance to people who primarily use the computer to browse the Web, read e-mail, and carry out typical office tasks.

But for fans of games and other programs that rely upon fast-moving images, video speed matters.

Q: What’s the difference between a megabyte and a megabit? I learned that my phone company rates its Internet connection speed in Mbps, which they say means megabits per second. Is that as fast as a megabyte per second?

A: there are eight bits in one byte. The prefix “mega” means “a thousand”, but the ration remains the same. One megabyte per second equals roughly eight megabits per second. It’s generally accepted to use abbreviation Mbps for “megabits per second” (note the small b to denote bit) and MBps, with a capital B, for “megabytes per second”, but advertisers often confuse the two.

Naturally, transferring data at 1 megabyte per second would be much faster than transferring it at 1 megabit per second – about eight times faster.

Confusion arises in part because peripherals such as disk drives are typically rated in megabytes per second, while network speeds, including you Internet connection, are rated in megabits per second.

So don’t be fooled into thinking that you Internet connection rated at 512Mbps is transferring data at 512 megabytes per second. That would be some serious throughput that not even today’s top disk drives can match.

-quick FAQ-

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