Learn lingo before computer shopping

Editors note: This is one of several columns that I wrote for the Columbia Missourian. They were originally called Your Digital World

Soon, manufacturers are going to start digging into their pockets and shelling out funds for advertisements.

That’s right tech fans, it’s holiday shopping season.

So to help prepare you for the stores and e-tailers, I’ve compiled a list of terms you might want to have handy when shopping.

Processor — this is the brain of every computer; it’s oftentimes called a CPU, or central processing unit. The basic measurement of speed is in megahertz, which is abbreviated MHz. Recently, CPUs have become so fast that their speed is measured in gigahertz, GHz. Essentially, the more megahertz, the faster the processor. Be savvy, though. Why buy a 1.5 GHz processor for a lot more than a 1 GHz? You won’t notice the difference in speed. The latest processor for PCs is the Pentium 4, often abbreviated as P4; the latest for the Macintosh is a G4.

RAM — After the processor, the amount of Random Access Memory you have determines the speed of your machine. RAM is where a computer loads the operating system and the programs you’re running. The more RAM, the faster your system will be when running several programs, or doing something memory intensive, like working in Photoshop. RAM is measured in megabytes; in general, don’t settle for anything less than 128 MB. Even if you’re only going to run a few applications at first, 128 MB will give you room to expand if want to do more.

Hard drive — If RAM is your office desk that gets wiped clean when you shut down your computer, the hard drive is the filing cabinet you put everything into. It’s the place where all your files, from MP3s to e-mails, get stored. You want as much space as you can afford, I think. Almost every hard drive these days can hold at least 1 gigabyte. The computer I bought four and a half years ago had a 9 GB drive, and I need more room.

CD burners — Where do you put data when you don’t have room on your hard drive, or just want to share it with a friend? That’s where external storage comes into play. CD-RW drives allow you to burn data to a CD-R disc permanently or to a CD-RW disc over and over again. The max storage on these is about 750 MB, and you can use them to burn audio CDs of MP3s for you car or work stereo. Their speed is listed like this: write speed x re-write speed x read speed. For instance, my very old burner is a 2x2x4. The higher the number, the faster it is.

Zip drives — If you’ve got a 25 MB file that’s too big for a floppy disk but a waste of CD, you’ll want a Zip drive, or some other type of removable storage. Zip has pretty much become the standard, and the newest model reads disks that hold 250 MB or 100 MB. Superdisk drives read standard floppies and 120 MB special disks, but aren’t as widely found as Zip drives.

Well, I’m just about out of room, but keep your browsers pointed to http://www.heisel.org/yourdigiworld and look out for a growing Tech Term dictionary. Also e-mail me at yourdigiworld@yahoo.com if you want more information before you start researching a computer purchase, or with any of your digital questions.

About Chris

Python developer, Agile practitioner trying desperately not to be a pointy haired boss.
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