How much do you know about computer terminology? What does the amount of RAM in your computer do for your business? If you are not sure, don’t worry, you are not alone. People buy computers all the time but many don’t fully understand how each part works together to make a suitable computer.
Having a minimum understanding computer terminology is important to your business. It helps you decide when you need a new computer, guides your decisions when you add pieces to your overall information technology strategy, and helps when working with your own IT department or consulting company. So, without further ado, let’s consider go through an example:
This laptop costs $399.99 (at least, it did on 2/28/13…) and has the following specifications:
- CPU – 2nd Gen Intel® Core™ i3-2328M processor
- RAM – 4GB DDR3 SDRAM – expandable to 8GB
- Screen – 15.6″ LED-backlit high-definition display
- Hard Drive – 500GB hard drive (5400 rpm)
- USB – 3 high-speed USB 2.0 ports
If your computer had a brain, it would be the CPU, or Central Processing Unit. In real world terms, consider the CPU a project manager. Working alone, the project manager can accomplish a lot. If you add someone to the team, the work gets done faster. The more people you have, the faster the work gets done. That is the basic concept of multi-core processors.
Most modern processors are either built by AMD or Intel. They are most often multi-core. Years ago, they were designated by the processing speed of the chip but now are identified by a model number, in this case, 2328M. The manufacturers do that because the there is a limit of how fast you can make a CPU but there are other things you can do to make it faster. For now, let’s just say that there are many different processor options. If you want to know which one is better, there are people around the web that do performance tests. Leave it to them and trust the results.
Random Access Memory (Wikipedia link). Often indicated as memory (as in 4GB memory), RAM is the working memory of your computer. It only stores information when your computer is turned on. It is easy to put information into RAM and delete it from RAM. When the power is on, the information is stored and when the power is removed, the information is gone.
It you were watering your plants, RAM would be the watering can; you fill it up when you need it, use it on the plants (refiling as needed), and pour out or empty it when you are through. The bigger the can, the fewer trips you need to refill.
The RAM in your computer works the same way; it saves information as long as you need it then forgets when you don’t. The more RAM you have, the more complex stuff you can do and the faster you can do it.
Graphics and screen size
If the CPU is the brain of a computer, the graphics chip is the eyes, but in reverse. The graphic chip translates the information from the CPU into a form that you, the user, can use and enjoy. The better the graphic chip or GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) is, the easier it is for the computer or CPU to create a good picture. If the CPU has it easy, it can concentrate on other work and your computer will run faster.
Graphics chips can either be built into the motherboard (main circuit board) or in an expansion card. The best graphics setups are usually on separate cards with dedicated memory (RAM for your graphic card). Most computers have integrated graphics and shared RAM. Not the best, but very suitable for most needs.
Screen size is measured diagonally. For laptops, 15.6″ is a common size that is a good combination of power consumption, portability, and usability. For a desktop, the bigger the screen the better. Even better than one screen is two (or more).
Hard drives (HHD) are the filing cabinets of the computer. All the information that you want to keep gets stored there. Looking at our example, you will see that the hard drive is listed as 500GB Serial ATA hard drive (5400 rpm). To give you a better understanding of what you are looking at, let’s break down the different parts:
- 500GB or 500 Gigabytes is the amount of storage of the hard drive. The bigger, the better. It is not uncommon to see hard drive capacities of 1TB or 1 Terabyte (1000 Gigabytes) available. Remember, the hard drive is the filing cabinet of your computer so the bigger the filing cabinet, the more stuff you can store. That can be documents, letters, orders, videos, music, whatever.
- Serial ATA – This is the way the computer talks to the hard drive. Most modern computers use Serial ATA. No reason to spend much time thinking about this part, just make sure that if you ever decide to add another hard drive to your computer, you get one that works the same (or is at least compatible)
- 5400 rpm – A hard drive is made up of platters and a read head. If you were to crack one open, you would notice it looks a lot like a record player with several records stacked on top of each other. They are stacked because there is only so much you can fit on a platter and if you want more space, you need more platters. The faster it spins, the faster you can access the data. You can find hard drives that spin up to 10,000 rpm.
The fastest hard drives don’t spin at all; they are Solid-state drives(Wikipedia link) that are created using certain types of electronic chips. Unlike the typical RAM, the information stored on a solid-state drive does not get erased when the power is removed.
Universal Serial Bus (Wikipedia link) or USB is the standard form of connecting external devices to your computer. Mice, keyboards, thumb drives (flash drives, USB drives, etc), webcams, and much more. Most computers have USB 2.0 ports. The numbers 2.0 describe the version of the standard. More and more often, we are seeing USB 3.0 ports (usually colored blue). You can research the standards yourself but the thing to remember is that USB 3.0 is about 5 times faster than USB 2.0.
The Operating System or OS is the software that makes your computer function. Think about your OS as computer knowledge; if you have a good amount of knowledge, you can do a variety of things. Getting back to the example of the CPU being a project manager, having a good OS is like having a project manager with a bunch of experience. Their knowledge is what makes them a good project manager. Having the latest version of an OS is like the project manager having recent experience. If you are a few versions behind, the project will still gets done but it may not be quite as fast or quite as easy.
Currently, there are 3 big names in operating systems; Microsoft Windows, Apple OS, and Linux. All have their pros and cons. Choosing an OS is outside the realm of this article but Windows is the most common, Apple tends to be great for video and graphics work, and Linux is what you use if you are really into computers and want to have more control and less cost.
We have looked at several different pieces of computer technology: the CPU, RAM, screen size and graphics, hard drive, USB ports, and the operating system. Each have their own role to play in your computer. Understanding how they work together will help you make better decisions when considering the computer needs of your business. In the next post of this series, I will outline the the process I use to select a computer. Until then, if you have any questions, please leave a comment and let me know.