Computer Terms Demystified

Press Release: Computer Terms Demystified


December 2000 – Computer Terms Demystified for Holiday Shoppers

Holiday shoppers stand quietly in front of the row of computers
on display at the local store. One of them asks the Customer Service
person a techy question — and all heads slightly tilt
to hear the conversation better.

“That’s me. I’m one of the head-tilters,” said a mid-aged man in
Pullman, Wash., who asked to remain anonymous. “I really don’t
want anybody to know that I don’t have a clue when it comes to
buying a computer. Oh I understand a few words — like monitor and
keyboard — but most of the acronyms mean little to me.

“I’ve seen others who eavesdrop on computer conversations in stores.
We all do it, I think. We’re learning, while keeping our egos intact.”
SDRAM. GB. MHz. DVD-ROM or is it CD-ROM? And why is a 15-inch
screen not 15-inches of viewable area? What actually is refreshing about screen
refresh rates? And why should anyone care about the pitch of dots?

“It’s easy to become intimidated, but it all comes down to
this: The computer you should buy depends on how much money you
have to spend and how you plan to use the computer,” said Susan
Daffron, editor-in-chief of Computor Companion, a magazine that
helps people in the Idaho Panhandle and northeastern Washington
use their computers more effectively.

“After you set your budget, it may be difficult to
make apple-to-apple comparisons among advertised computers in
your price range. While I cannot teach you in a few minutes all
there is to know about computer terminology, understanding a
few acronyms can help you compare machines,” said Daffron.

  • SDRAM: Computer memory. The amount and speed of computer memory affects the processing speed of your computer. SDRAM runs faster than DRAM memory, which is faster than conventional RAM memory. SDRAM is capable of running three times faster than RAM. It’s the newest kid on the block.
  • GB: The acronym for gigabytes, which is a measurement term. One measures the amount of information that can be stored on a hard drive, for example, in bytes — gigabytes, megabytes, terabytes. How to know what is what? Imagine one byte, one little speck of storage space. Multiply that by 1000. The result is roughly 1 kilobyte. Multiple 1 kb by 1000 and the result is roughly 1 megabyte. Now multiply 1000 times 1 megabyte and you have about 1 gigabyte. How many gigabytes in a terabyte? About 1000. Lots of GB’s for a hard drive is a good thing. Get as much as you can afford.
  • MHz: Another measurement term. You’ll see this in reference to computer microprocessors, the engine that goes into motion when you turn on your computer. The greater the MHz — or Megahertz — the faster the microprocessor. One thousand MHz equals one GigaHertz. Many retail outlets feature computers running at 700 plus MHz, while top-of-the-line power users will seek out 1 to 1.4 GHz machines.
  • DVD-ROM: Digital Versatile Disks (DVD)and disk players are expected to replace CD disks and players during the next few years. DVDs can hold more than 28 times the amount of information found on a CD. DVD players can also play CD’s, while the reverse is not true.
  • Screen Size: Surprise, surprise. The viewing area of one 17-inch screen can be larger than another similarly sized screen. And, sometimes a 15-inch flat panel display can have as much viewable area as a 17-inch monitor. What to do? Look at the viewable area measurement usually found on spec sheets accompanying monitors. Or measure the display area yourself. Measure the distance between the lower left-hand corner of the glass display and the upper right-hand corner, ending at the glass edge. Don’t include the case enclosing the glass display screen.
  • Dot Pitch and Refresh Rate: The dot pitch tells you how sharp the displayed image can be. Common dot pitches are .28, .27, .26, .21 A smaller number means a sharper image. The refresh rate is the amount of times a display’s image is repainted or refreshed per second. A refresh rate of 75 means the image is refreshed 75 times in a second. Screen flickering occurs when the refresh rate is low. Look for refresh rates over 75 to avoid flicker.

Susan Daffron said a general rule when buying a computer is that
higher numbers for the various measurements are better and more
expensive. Frequently the best value for most computer buyers — those
that are not power users — are models that are one or two levels
below the top of the line. Daffron added, “Don’t overlook the value of software bundled
into a machine. Software is expensive, so include it in your
price comparisons.”

“The monitor,” she said, “is often an underappreciated part of the system. A good monitor can outlast the computer. “I’ve been using the same, very good 21-inch monitor since
1995 with four different computers. Get at least a 17-inch monitor. “If you plan to do any desktop publishing or graphics work, you may want to move up to a 21-inch monitor. Your eyes
will thank you,” she said. To run the new monitor, Daffron said get a SuperVGA video
card. A fast video card, she said, makes a big difference in how fast the computer seems to run because everything in today’s operating systems involves graphics.

“If you need to cut costs, don’t do it on the video components,” Daffron said. “Video cards come with memory on the card measured in megabytes (MB). The more memory, the faster your monitor can refresh the screen. Also remember that the higher the resolution you want to run, the more video memory you need. “Often even a slow computer will seem sprightly with a good video system.” Daffron said computer prices vary dramatically, so
decide what you want and get quotes from a number of vendors. “Make the salespeople explain anything you don’t understand,” said Daffron. “And if you don’t feel comfortable with the computer, store, or
mail order company, don’t buy anything from them. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. “Armed with a little knowledge, you’ll end up with a computer you’ll enjoy using.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Daffron said her publication, Computor Companion, is a
good source of information on computers. She would also be happy to
answer journalist or consumer questions by phone or by email.
Computor Companion is free. About 15,000, 24-page issues are
delivered bimonthly in Stevens, Pend Oreille and Spokane
counties, Washington, and Bonner, Boundary, and Kootenai counties,
Idaho. Contact numbers: phone 208-265-6147