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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 your friends, teachers, classmates, and complete strangers!


Computer Hardware-Related Acronyms

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.

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 weed-whacker), 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 can 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.

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.

GPU: Graphics Processing Unit. The chip on a video card that processes graphics and video. Sometimes integrated on the motherboard, and sometimes on 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.

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.

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