Definitions of Computer Terms


There is a vast amount of terminology associated with computers and their use. Some are only pertinent to those who work in the information technology field. Certain terms are common to all computers and should be known by all users, which will assist in understanding and purchasing computers for personal use..


  • CPU stands for central processing unit. This is the computer's brain; it performs the calculations that drive all of the computer's functionality. Processors can be used singly or in groups. Computers designed to use multiple CPUs often can perform functions more quickly than single CPU systems.

Processor Speed

  • Processor speed is a measure of how quickly the CPU can operate. Though there are several ways to measure this, the most common is in cycles per second. A cycle is the most basic operation that a CPU executes and is often referred to numerically as hertz. One hertz would be one cycle per second. Current processor speeds are usually measured in gigahertz, which means billions of cycles per second.


  • Memory is specialized, high-speed internal storage that is used for holding data and program instructions with which the CPU is performing operations. As the CPU needs data, it is moved from standard internal or external storage into memory, where it can be processed. The speed and size of the memory chips work in conjunction with the processor speed to obtain overall processing speed.

    There are two forms of memory. Random Access Memory (RAM) that can be reused and changed as new data is required. Read Only Memory (ROM) cannot be changed and contains instructions for basic computer and operating system functions.


  • There are two main types of storage in addition to the specialized storage known as memory. These are internal and external storage. Internal storage usually refers to a computer's hard drives, which are not easily removable. External storage encompasses floppy disks, tape drives, CDs and DVDs as well as flash drives. External storage resides on media that can be easily removed from the computer for use on other computers or to be stored away from the machine.

Operating System

  • The operating system refers to a specialized group of programs that work together to enable the computer to function and to run other programs. Popular operating systems are the Microsoft Windows family, UNIX, LINUX, and Apple's operating system. Without an operating system a computer cannot function.


  • A computer network is a physical or logical construct that connects computers together to enable them to communicate. The computers can be connected with cabling or wirelessly. The Internet is a prime example of publicly networked computers with different websites existing on computers that can be located anywhere in the world. The network's power is evidenced in the ability to access these sites from one computer that is connected to this network. Private networks also exist and can be accessed only by privileged users.

Application Program

  • An application program is a program that makes use of the computer's operating system, CPU, memory and storage to perform a function. Examples are word processing, spreadsheet and e-mail programs. A firewall is a specialized application program that controls access to a computer or a computer network. Users must be authorized to pass through the firewall, and a well-designed firewall can significantly limit the vulnerability that exists from viruses or unauthorized intruders.

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