Handy Computer Acronyms and Abbreviations
We geeks sure do love our acronyms and abbreviations, but they can be confusing to people who are new to building their own computers. Here's our top-secret list of some of the most common and (hopefully) useful computer acronyms and abbreviations. Use them to impress and befuddle your friends, teachers, classmates, and complete strangers.
AGP: Accelerated Graphics Port. A type of video interface introduced in 1996 as an improvement to PCI. It has now been largely replaced by PCI-e.
BAWLS: A highly caffeinated drink favored by many geeks. Can be purchased here.
BIOS: Basic Input-Output Services. This information is stored on a chip commonly referred to as the CMOS chip, which really isn't a CMOS chip at all. Usually it's a Flash-ROM chip. But they used to be CMOS chips back in the old days, and the name stuck. By whatever name, the BIOS contains the most basic information needed by the computer at the hardware level to let it know that it's a computer (rather than, for example, a toaster), how to boot up, and how to find the rest of its parts.
CD: Compact Disc. A type of optical media, so-called because it uses light to read the data stored on the disk.
CD-R: Compact Disc Recordable. A CD that can be recorded, but from which data cannot be deleted, so the space cannot be re-used. You can record on a CD-R multiple times, but the remaining space will be reduced by whatever's already occupying space on the disk.
CD-ROM: Compact Disc Read-Only Memory. Basically the same as any other CD, except referring specifically to a disk that contains computer data rather than music.
CD-RW: Compact Disc Re-Writable. A CD that can be recorded multiple times, and from which data can be deleted and the space re-used.
CPU: The Central Processing Unit, Microprocessor, or simply Processor.
DDR: Double Data Rate. A type of memory that sends and receives data twice every clock cycle, and therefore is capable of twice the data transfer rate of standard SDRAM.
DDR2: Double Data Rate 2.
DDR3: Double Data Rate Type 3.
DDR4: Double Data Rate Type 4.
DIMM: Dual In-Line Memory Module. A type of memory chip that uses a 64-bit bus, as compared to SIMM chips, which used a 32-bit bus.
DRAM: Dynamic Random Access Memory." A type of RAM that stores each bit of data on separate capacitors.
DV: Digital Video. A protocol for the storage and transfer of audio-visual information, often used to transfer information from a camcorder to a computer, usually over a Firewire interface.
DVD: Digital Versatile Disc. A type of optical media that allows far more storage than a CD.
DVD+R: Digital Versatile Disc Recordable. A type of DVD that can be recorded, but from which information cannot be deleted and the space it occupied re-used.
DVD+RW: Digital Versatile Disk Rewritable. A DVD that can be recorded, and from which information can be deleted and the space it occupied re-used.
DVD-R: Digital Versatile Disc Recordable. A type of DVD that can be recorded, but from which information cannot be deleted and the space it occupied re-used.
DVD-RAM: Digital Versatile Disc Random Access Memory. A DVD that can be written, erased, and re-written, and which also are capable of error-checking and other advanced sorts of stuff that RAM can do, making them suitable for us as RAM. They are much slower than real RAM, however, and are starting to fade from use.
DVD-RW: Digital Versatile Disk Rewritable. A DVD that can be recorded, and from which information can be deleted and the space it occupied re-used.
DVI: Digital Video Interface. A type of digital video interface that can be used by computers and other video devices. It was an improvement over VGA, but is starting to be obsolesced by HDMI.
ECC: Error Correction Code. ECC Memory uses a parity bit to insure that data has been transmitted correctly. It is both slower and more expensive than non-ECC memory, but it's more reliable. In order to use ECC memory, your motherboard must support it, and all of the memory on-board must be ECC. It's mainly used in high-end servers.
EIDE: Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics. EIDE was an improvement over IDE, which used to be the standard protocol for hard drive communications in most computers intended as workstations (as opposed to servers). EIDE supported data transfer rates of up to 16.6 Mbps, which was twice as fast as IDE, and required an 80-conductor cable (as opposed to the 40-conductor cables used for IDE). EIDE drives are being obsolesced by SATA, but there are still a bunch of them in service.
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions.
FSB: Front Side Bus. The part of a computer motherboard that allows the computer's processor to communicate with the RAM and the other components on the motherboard. Also the part of a bus where the driver sits.
GPU: Graphics Processing Unit. The chip on a video card that processes graphics and video. Sometimes the GPU is integrated on the motherboard, and sometimes it's part of the CPU itself.
HDD: Hard Disk Drive. An array of magnetic disks that store data until it is intentionally deleted by the user, the system, or a program.
HDMI: High-Definition Multimedia Interface. A digital standard for transmitting high-definition video and audio using a single cable. HDMI is rapidly becoming the standard interface for computers and home entertainment devices.
HDTV: High-Definition Television. The over-the-air television standard that replaced NTSC in the United States. Tuners are available that allow HDTV signals to be captured and processed on a computer, enabling the user to watch TV on his or her computer.
I/O: Input/Output. Kind of a generic term for data moving into or out of a computer or component.
ID10T: Pronounced "Eye Dee Ten Tee." Code given to a user by tech support agent when the user insists on talking to a supervisor. The user is told to inform the supervisor that they have an ID10T error. That lets the supervisor know that the user he's about to talk to is an idiot.
IDE: Integrated Device Electronics. See EIDE above.
IEEE: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The highly-educated geeks who came up with most of these standards and acronyms.
IGP: Integrated Graphics Processor. A video processing unit or video "card" that's integrated onto a computer motherboard, or sometimes onto the CPU.
IRQ: Interrupt Request. This gets complicated, but basically it's a way for a component of a computer to get the processor's attention. Back in the old days, we had to assign each component an IRQ. Although there were standards that were used by default, sometimes conflicts would arise when two or more devices tried to share the same IRQ, and we'd have to reassign IRQs to eliminate the conflicts. Nowadays, it's all pretty much automatic and pretty much reliable; so unless you're an engineer, knowing about IRQs is mainly a nice way to impress people.
ISA: Industry Standard Architecture. An obsolete expansion interface, which began to be replaced by PCI and AGP in the mid-1990's.
LAN: Local Area Network. Network cards are sometimes referred to as "LAN cards" or "LAN interfaces."
LCD: Liquid Crystal Display. A type of solid-state display technology used in computer monitors and other electronic displays.
LED: Light-Emitting Diode. A semiconductor that emits light. Often used for indicator lights, panel lights, and to illuminate LED computer monitors.
LUN: Logical Unit Number. Used to identify SCSI devices. Each device is assigned LUN ranging from 0 to 7, which identifies the device within the particular computer. Can also be used as an address for a virtual hard drive partition in a RAID array.
MAC Address: Media Access Control Address. The unique identification number of any network connection device, such as a network card or modem.
MBR: Master Boot Record. The section of the hard drive located in the boot sector, which contains (at a minimum) the partition table and the bootstrap code.
MCA: Micro Channel Architecture. An obsolete, IBM-proprietary expansion interface. Few devices were manufactured for the MCA interface because of its proprietary nature.
MOBO: A cooler way to say "motherboard."
NIC: Network Interface Card. Connects a computing device to a network. Often integrated into the motherboard nowadays and called simply a network interface or network adapter.
NTFS: New Technology File System. The preferred file system for Windows NT, 2000, XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10, and all Microsoft server systems.
NVMe SSD: An SSD drive with a very fast interface. It uses the PCIe bus rather than the much slower AHCI ATAPI bus, which was designed for spinning disk drives and is unable to take full advantage of SSD data transfer speeds. As of this writing, NVMe drives are available with actual data rates approaching 3 GB/s.
NVRAM: Non-Volatile Random Access Memory. NVRAM retains its data even when the computer is powered down.
OEM: Original Equipment Manufacturer. The company that manufactures a computer (or some other thing). If you build your own computer, then YOU are the OEM.
OSD: On Screen Display. Information that is outputted via the computer's monitor, such as the settings for the monitor itself.
PCB: Printed Circuit Board. Generic term for any phenolic board to which semiconductors are mounted, not just one in a computer.
PCI: Peripheral Component Interconnect. One of the expansion interfaces that replaced ISA. Many devices are still available for PCI, and most motherboards still contain at least one or two PCI slots. But PCI has largely been replaced by PCIe.
PCIe: Peripheral Component Interconnect Express. A newer expansion interface designed to replace the PCI, PCI-X, and AGP interfaces. Not to be confused with PCI-Extended (PCI-X).
PCI-X: Peripheral Component Interconnect Extended. A higher-bandwidth, 64-bit version of PCI used mainly in servers. Not to be confused with PCI-Express (PCIe).
PCMCIA: Personal Computer Memory Card International Association. In practice, defines the interface for laptop expansion cards. In theory, was supposed to set many other standards for portable computers, but never got around to actually doing it.
PEBKAC: Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair. A way that one tech support agent tells another that a user is an idiot.
PMU: Power Management Unit. The circuitry on a Macintosh computer than controls power-related functions.
PROM: Programmable Read-Only Memory. Read-only memory that is programmed after manufacture.
PS/2: Personal System/2. An historical IBM designation that still defines certain computer hardware, most notable the familiar purple and green mouse and keyboard connectors still used on some computers.
PSU: Power supply unit.
RAID: Redundant Array of Independent Disks. An array of disk drives that are arranged to increase data access speed (striping) and/or improve fault tolerance (mirroring). Also what SWAT teams do.
RAM: Random-Access Memory. This is memory that's writable by the system and by programs, that stores information while it is needed for running the system and for the execution of programs.
RDRAM: Rambus Dynamic Random Access Memory. A very fast, very expensive, proprietary type of RAM manufactured by a company named Rambus. (See? Some things do make sense.) It was very good memory, but it never quite caught on because of its proprietary nature.
ROM: Read-Only Memory. This memory is not easily writable. It consists of information that is necessary for the system or component to operate, which is usually called an "instruction set." Some types of ROM can be "flashed" by the user to change or update the instruction set, but it must be done deliberately.
RTFM: Read the f-----g manual. A not-so-nice way of telling someone that the question they're asking is answered in the manual accompanying a hardware device or software routine. Especially used by those who fancy themselves gurus in response to questions asked by newbies.
SATA: Serial Advanced Technology Attachment. A faster, more reliable interface that has largely obsolesced the older PATA technology used to connect ATA hard drives to the computer's motherboard.
SCSI: Small Computer System Interface. Pronounced "skuzzy." A very fast, very reliable interface used to connect hard drives to a computer's motherboard. Usually used only in high-end servers.
SIMM: Single In-Line Memory Module. An obsolete type of memory chip that used a 32-bit bus, as compared to DIMM chips, which use a 64-bit bus.
SMART: Self-Monitoring Analysis And Reporting Technology. A technology to monitor a hard drive's performance and hopefully warn the user of any problems.
SO-DIMM: Small Outline Dual In-Line Memory Module. The form-factor standard for memory used in laptops and other small form-factor computers.
SPOF: Single Point of Failure. This refers to one piece of hardware (or less often, software) which, if it fails, will render something inoperative. For example, a failed hard drive will render a computer inop, a failed switch will render a network inop, a failed RAID controller will render the RAID array inop, a failed engine will render your car inop, etc.
SRAM: Static Random Access Memory. Pronounced "ESS-ram." A type of RAM that holds data statically rather than dynamically. Faster and much more expensive than DRAM, SRAM is used mainly as cache memory on hard drives and processors.
sRGB: Standard Red Green Blue. The color standard now used by most image-related hardware, such as monitors, scanners, printers, and so forth.
SSD: Solid State Drive. A mass-storage device with no moving parts, which stores data in arrays of flash memory. Although early versions were painfully slow, currently-available SSD drives have much faster data access speed than hard disk drives. In addition, because they are not sequential devices, there is no degradation of access speed when the drives become fragmented. On the down side, SSDs are more expensive than HDDs, have a limited number of read / write cycles, and may be difficult to recover data from in the event of failure.
UPS: Uninterruptible Power Supply, a type of battery backup that provides a truly uninterrupted flow of current to the connected devices. Also a company that delivers stuff in brown trucks.
USB: Universal Serial Bus.
VGA: Video Graphics Array. The analog interface standard for attachment of monitors and other VDUs to a computer.
VDU: Visual Display Unit. A monitor, projector, or other device used to display or project a computer's visual data.
VRAM: Video Random Access Memory. Memory used by the video processor to store image data being processed and sent to the monitor.