Understanding computer jargon

Understanding Computer Jargon: A Beginner’s Guide


The world of computers is a fascinating and ever-evolving realm that has become an integral part of our daily lives. Whether you’re a tech enthusiast, a newcomer to the digital landscape, or someone simply trying to make sense of the vast array of technology terms, computer jargon can often feel like a foreign language. In this blog, we aim to unravel the mysteries of computer jargon and provide you with a clear, accessible guide to the terminology that surrounds the world of computing.

At Infinite Loop we pride ourselves in not speaking techno mumbo jumbo and speaking in plain English.

What is Computer Jargon?

Deciphering the Tech Lingo

Computer jargon is a specialized language used by experts and enthusiasts in the field of technology. It consists of acronyms, abbreviations, and technical terms that can sound like a foreign language to the uninitiated. However, understanding this jargon is not just for tech geeks; it’s essential for anyone who interacts with computers in our tech-driven world.

Key Computer Concepts

Hardware vs. Software

Before we dive into the jargon, it’s crucial to grasp the fundamental distinction between hardware and software.

  • Hardware: This refers to the physical components of a computer, such as the central processing unit (CPU), memory (RAM), hard drive (HDD or SSD), graphics card (GPU), and more. These components are tangible and make up the physical structure of your computer.
  • Software: In contrast, software encompasses all the non-physical, intangible elements. It includes your operating system (like Windows, macOS, or Linux), applications, games, and other programs that you run on your computer.

Understanding this distinction is the first step towards demystifying computer jargon.

CPU, RAM, and Storage

Now, let’s delve into some core hardware components:

  • CPU (Central Processing Unit): Often called the “brain” of the computer, the CPU is responsible for executing instructions and performing calculations. It’s the powerhouse that drives your computer’s processes. When you see something listed like i5 3.0GHz this is the CPU. Think of it as the engine, just as a 3L engine is more powerful than a 2L engine so a 3GHz CPU is better than a 2GHz one. It is a little more complicated than that but don’t worry about it.
  • RAM (Random Access Memory): RAM is your computer’s short-term memory. It’s like a temporary workspace where data is stored while the CPU works on it. Unlike long-term storage (HDD or SSD), RAM is volatile, meaning it loses its data when the computer is powered off. Think of RAM like a forklift truck that moves data around. The bigger the forklift, the more data you can move in one go.
  • Storage (HDD and SSD): This is where your computer stores data for the long term. If the RAM is the forklift, the SSD & HDD are the warehouse. It includes two main types:
    • HDD (Hard Disk Drive): HDDs store data on spinning disks, and they’ve been a traditional form of storage for many years. They offer larger capacities but are slower compared to SSDs.
    • SSD (Solid-State Drive): SSDs use flash memory to store data, making them significantly faster and more reliable than HDDs. They have become the preferred choice for modern computers.

The Difference Between HDD and SSD

HDDs and SSDs are terms that often come up when discussing computer storage. Understanding their differences can help you make informed choices about your computing needs.

HDD (Hard Disk Drive): HDDs use spinning platters to store data. They are known for their capacity to store vast amounts of data, but they tend to be slower in terms of data access and retrieval. Due to their mechanical nature, they are more susceptible to physical damage.

SSD (Solid-State Drive): SSDs, on the other hand, have no moving parts and store data on flash memory chips. This lack of mechanical components makes them significantly faster, more reliable, and less prone to physical damage.

Why SSD is Better:

  1. Speed: SSDs are notably faster than HDDs. Your computer boots up more quickly, programs launch in a flash, and file transfers happen in the blink of an eye.
  2. Durability: With no moving parts, SSDs are more durable and less susceptible to mechanical failure due to bumps or shocks.
  3. Energy Efficiency: SSDs consume less power, which can lead to longer battery life in laptops.
  4. Silent Operation: SSDs are noiseless since they lack spinning disks and read/write heads found in HDDs.
  5. Compact Size: SSDs are smaller and lighter, making them ideal for slim laptops and ultrabooks.
  6. Reliability: SSDs are more reliable in the long run due to their lack of mechanical components that wear out.

While SSDs offer clear advantages, HDDs are still relevant for situations where massive storage is a priority, such as storing large media collections or backups. In many cases, a combination of both, with the OS and frequently used programs on an SSD and bulk storage on an HDD, offers a balanced solution. Read our blog on how adding an SSD to your Mac will speed it up dramatically.

RAM vs. Storage

Another common point of confusion is the difference between RAM and storage. As already mentioned, think of your RAM as a forklift truck and your storage as your warehouse.

RAM (Random Access Memory): RAM is your computer’s working memory, where data is temporarily stored for active processes. It’s like a temporary workspace for your computer’s operations. When you open a program or file, it’s loaded into RAM for quick access. However, RAM is volatile, meaning it loses its data when the computer is turned off. A typical computer might have 8GB, 16GB, or even 32GB of RAM.

Storage (HDD and SSD): Storage, on the other hand, is where your computer keeps data for the long term. It includes the files, applications, and your operating system. This is non-volatile memory, meaning the data remains intact even when the computer is powered off. Storage can be in the form of HDDs or SSDs, and capacities can range from 128GB to several terabytes.

Understanding the distinction between RAM and storage is crucial. RAM is for short-term, quick data access, while storage provides long-term data retention.

Networking Essentials: WAN, LAN, and SAN

In the world of computers and technology, networking is a fundamental concept that connects devices and systems to share information and resources. To demystify computer jargon, it’s essential to understand key networking terms. Let’s explore Wide Area Networks (WAN), Local Area Networks (LAN), and Storage Area Networks (SAN).

WAN (Wide Area Network)

Defining WAN

A Wide Area Network (WAN) is a network that covers a vast geographical area, often spanning countries or continents. WANs enable long-distance communication between devices, and they are commonly used by organizations with multiple offices in different locations.

Characteristics of WAN

  1. Geographical Scope: WANs cover extensive areas, often connecting devices or networks across cities, regions, or even countries.
  2. Public and Private Networks: WANs can be either public or private. Public WANs, such as the internet, are accessible to anyone, while private WANs are maintained by organizations for their exclusive use.
  3. Slower Speeds: WANs can have slower data transfer speeds compared to LANs due to the longer distances data needs to travel.
  4. Highly Reliable: WANs are designed for reliability, often featuring backup links and redundancies to ensure continuous connectivity.
  5. Internet Connection: The internet itself is a prime example of a WAN, allowing global connectivity.

Example of WAN Use

Imagine a multinational corporation with branch offices across different countries. These offices need to share data, communicate, and access centralized resources like databases. The WAN connects these offices, enabling seamless collaboration and data sharing over long distances.

LAN (Local Area Network)

Defining LAN

A Local Area Network (LAN) is a network that covers a small geographical area, typically confined to a single building or campus. LANs are designed for high-speed data transfer and local resource sharing.

Characteristics of LAN

  1. Limited Geographical Scope: LANs are localized, serving a specific area like a home, office, or school.
  2. High-Speed Connectivity: LANs offer high-speed data transfer within the local area, often delivering data at gigabit speeds.
  3. Private Ownership: LANs are usually privately owned and operated by individuals or organizations, ensuring exclusive access and control.
  4. Topology: LANs can use various topologies, such as Ethernet or Wi-Fi, to connect devices within the local area.
  5. Shared Resources: LANs facilitate sharing resources like printers, files, and internet connections among connected devices.

Example of LAN Use

A home network is a common example of a LAN. All the devices within a household, such as computers, smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and printers, are part of the LAN. They can communicate with each other, share files, and access the internet through a shared Wi-Fi network.

SAN (Storage Area Network)

Defining SAN

A Storage Area Network (SAN) is a specialized network designed to connect and manage storage devices, such as hard drives and storage arrays. SANs are used to store and retrieve data for large-scale applications and data centers.

Characteristics of SAN

  1. Storage Consolidation: SANs centralize storage devices to create large pools of storage resources that can be allocated as needed.
  2. High-Performance Storage: SANs are optimized for high-speed data transfer, making them suitable for critical applications and data-intensive workloads.
  3. Fiber Channel or iSCSI: SANs often use technologies like Fiber Channel or iSCSI to connect storage devices to servers.
  4. Scalability: SANs can be scaled up to accommodate growing data storage requirements, making them ideal for enterprises and data centers.
  5. Data Accessibility: SANs provide rapid, low-latency access to data, ensuring that critical applications receive the storage performance they require.

Example of SAN Use

Imagine a large hospital with electronic health records, medical imaging, and patient data that must be accessed quickly and reliably. A SAN connects storage devices to the hospital’s servers, ensuring that medical professionals can access patient data rapidly and securely.

Understanding these networking terms – WAN, LAN, and SAN – is vital in today’s interconnected world. It not only helps you navigate computer jargon but also gives you a deeper insight into the technologies that enable global communication, local connectivity, and efficient data storage and retrieval. Whether you’re setting up a home network, working in an office, or dealing with large-scale data systems, knowing these terms is a significant step toward tech literacy.


Computer jargon may seem intimidating, but with a bit of explanation and practice, you can become more confident in your tech-savvy endeavors. The key is not just memorizing the terms but understanding their purpose and how they fit into the broader world of computing. The knowledge you gain will empower you to make informed decisions, troubleshoot issues, and navigate the digital realm with ease.