Jargon buster

Jargon buster

If you don’t know your RAM from your SFC, our guide to computer jargon will get you up to speed

A small program that adds extra features or functionality to another application, often a web browser.


Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. A way of connecting to the internet over a phone line. This method is used by all broadband connections that use a BT line.


A file – such as a document or photo – that is sent via email by 'attaching' it to the email message.


This is a second copy of data – from individual files to entire hard drives – that is stored on a separate drive. Backups can be as vulnerable as the original data, so the more you have the better.


A measure of the amount of data transferred over a set period of time – it’s used by internet providers to work out how much downloading and uploading individual users do. Some cheap broadband tariffs include a maximum limit (cap) on the amount of bandwidth a customer can use per month.


Basic Input Output System. A tiny program that starts up with your computer to detect and set up your computer’s components – memory, hard drives, processor etc. – before handing control over to Windows. The BIOS is stored in a special chip on your computer’s motherboard, and it has its own battery to protect the settings.


The latest optical disc standard used for storing data, music and video. Each disc can store up to 25GB of data or video per layer, which is more than five times the amount supported by DVDs.


Wireless technology that handles both data and voice communications. Bluetooth is low-powered so it doesn’t interfere with other wireless devices, but it has a limited range.


A temporary area where you can copy text, images and files, using the [Ctrl] + [C] keyboard shortcut. The contents of the clipboard can then be pasted somewhere else, such as another part of a document or a folder on the hard drive, by pressing [Ctrl] + [V]. The clipboard can only handle one entry at a time, so if you press [Ctrl] + [C] again, it will overwrite the original contents.

Context menu

This is the menu that appears when you click on something with the right-hand mouse button. It could be a file, a folder or a block of text in Microsoft Word. The menu displays different options, depending on what has been clicked.This is the menu that appears when you click on something with the right-hand mouse button. It could be a file, a folder or a block of text in Microsoft Word. The menu displays different options depending on what has been clicked.


A small text file that is placed on your hard drive by a website, allowing the site to store information. Some just store your preferences on that site to improve your browsing experience, but others also store information, which is passed on to a third party for delivering targeted information such as adverts.


A prefix that means 'computer' or 'computer network', such as cyberspace: the electronic medium where online communication takes place.

Device manager

A tool to help you manage your PC’s hardware. From here you can check hardware devices are properly installed and you can launch troubleshooters if they’re not. You can also update hardware drivers and tweak certain settings, such as Power Management.

Devices and printers

This control panel lets you have a detailed look at the peripherals and printers that are connected to your PC. It provides shortcuts to troubleshooting tools as well as the device’s entry in Device Manager.


A small device that plugs into a spare port – typically a USB – to expand the computer’s functionality, such as providing wireless network access.

Drive image

An exact copy of a hard disk or an individual drive that is contained in a single file. You can use this to restore the hard disk’s entire contents in the event of a major Windows crash, malware infection or physical damage to the drive.


Also known as Device Driver, this is a special software program that allows your hardware devices to work with Windows. There are separate drivers for each piece of hardware in your PC.

Dual layer

Technology that allows data to be written to two layers of a DVD or Blu-ray disc, effectively doubling its overall capacity. Dual-layer DVDs can hold around 8GB of data instead of 4GB, and dual-layer Blu-ray discs can hold up to 50GB of information instead of 25GB.


A dual-core processor can process two tasks simultaneously by using each 'core'. This helps improve a computer’s overall performance compared to older processors that only have one core.


An optical disc used for storing data, music or video. Its unofficial term was Digital Video Disc, and it replaced the VHS video standard. DVDs can store up to eight times the amount of data as a compact disc – 4.8GB of data per layer.


The process of transforming a file using a cipher. This makes the file unreadable to anyone who doesn’t possess a key containing the information required to decode it back to its original form.


The name commonly used to describe networks connected via cable. Most networks are a mixture of wired Ethernet – which is faster and more secure – and wireless connections.


The part of your security program that’s designed to protect your computer by screening the flow of data between your PC and other networks, including the internet.


Gigabyte. A unit of measurement used for digital storage, including memory and hard drives. It’s a multiple of the ‘byte’ – one gigabyte equals one billion bytes. Other multiples are KB (kilobytes, or 1,000 bytes) and MB (megabytes, or one million bytes). One GB equates to 1,000MB.


High Definition. Offers substantially better quality pictures than those displayed in the older Standard Definition format found in analogue and early digital TVs.

HDD camcorder

A camcorder that stores its captured audio and video footage digitally on a hard disk drive, providing vastly improved storage capabilities over other digital formats, including memory cards and DVD.


High-Definition Multimedia Interface. An interface for transmitting audio and video digitally from a device – typically a computer, media player or camera – to a digital television. Unlike older analogue interfaces such as SCART, HDMI supports high definition signals. Cables supporting the newest HDMI 1.4 specification can also transmit network signals, allowing connected devices to share an internet connection.


A combined headphone and microphone set. The mic is typically a 'boom mic', held on an arm that can be swivelled into position near your mouth. Most headsets include a pair of headphones but some cheaper models only have a single earpiece.


A public place such as a shop, café or train that offers internet access through a Wi-Fi network. Access is sometimes free, but often the user needs to purchase credit or a subscription.


Liquid Crystal Display. Flat panel displays that display images through a series of tiny liquid crystals. LCD displays are now standard on modern TVs and monitors, as well as laptops.


Short for Malicious Software. This is the umbrella term used to describe programs that carry a threat to your computer privacy, security and data. Common types of malware include viruses and spyware.


Megapixel. This is the unit of measurement for a digital camera’s resolution, which is based on the number of sensors it has for capturing light and converting it to a digital image. Each megapixel contains one million pixels: the more megapixels a camera contains, the bigger the image it can produce.

Notification area

The bottom right-hand corner of the Windows Taskbar, which contains a number of shortcut icons to system tools, running applications and other useful features.


Peer-to-peer. This technology is used to make direct network connections between computers for file sharing over the internet. However, it can also be used to spread malware, which is hidden inside files that seem innocent.


The act of pretending to be a trusted online entity – like a bank or auction site – to trick people into revealing personal data such as passwords and credit card details.


Also referred to as a CPU (central processing unit), this is the ‘brain’ of the computer. It follows the instructions found in a computer program such as Windows or Microsoft Office. These tasks are carried out using a part of the processor known as the ‘core’.

Product key

Also known as the serial number. A multi-digit code that unlocks or activates a program to access the full version. 


Random Access Memory. Memory used to run programs and other processes in your computer. The more RAM your computer has, the faster it will perform.


Special database containing hundreds of Windows and program settings. You access it by using the Registry Editor (regedit) program.

Right click

Using the right-hand mouse button to click on an object such as a file, a folder or a block of text. Right-clicking usually reveals a pop-up menu with more options to choose from.


A device specifically designed to share a broadband internet connection over a network, both wirelessly and wired (through Ethernet cables). A router also acts as an extra layer of security between your PC and the internet.

Safe mode

A fail-safe version of Windows, which loads the bare minimum required for your computer to function. Safe Mode is most commonly used for troubleshooting, data recovery and security purposes.


A protected area of the computer’s memory or hard disk where programs can be run in isolation from the rest of the computer. Sandboxes are often used as a security measure for testing suspicious or unknown programs.

Screen resolution

Also known as Display Resolution. This refers to the size of your computer display, which is measured horizontally and vertically, as pixels. You can change the resolution by right-clicking the desktop and choosing ‘Screen Resolution’.


Secure Digital. This is the most popular type of memory card and is used in everything from digital cameras to camcorders. SD cards are close cousins of microSD cards, which are tiny versions designed to be used in small devices such as mobile phones.


Secure Digital High Capacity. These cards are a new generation of SD cards, capable of storing more data. Standard SD cards are limited to 4GB, whereas SDHC cards can store up to 32GB.


Secure Digital Extended Capacity. These cards are able to store a huge amount of data: up to 2048GB, compared to a limit of 32GB for SDHC cards.

Search engine

A website that contains an index of links to other websites and pages. You can search the index by typing keywords into a ‘Search’ box, which comes back with a list of relevant web pages.


System File Checker. A tool for verifying system files. If any are missing or corrupt, the SFC tool is capable of replacing them with working versions.


A low-powered state that cuts energy consumption by up to 90% when the computer isn’t used for short periods. It only takes a couple of seconds to wake up your PC from sleep mode, rather than minutes when starting it up.


Single Lens Reflex. A professional-level camera, which allows the photographer to view directly through the lens. Digital SLRs use the same features, in conjunction with high-level digital camera technology, to provide the accuracy of SLRs with the convenience of digital.

Social network

A website designed to encourage people to interact with each other socially. You can share news, photos and web links, as well as chat directly to people online. Facebook and Twitter are two examples of social networks.


The term used to describe bulk, unsolicited email that is sent without you requesting it. Some spam is sent from hijacked email accounts and computers infected with malware.


A form of malicious software designed to track the user’s keystrokes or mouse clicks, via the internet. The information is often used to collect sensitive data such as passwords and credit card details.

Start menu

The menu that appears when you click the large 'Start' button – the blue sphere with the Windows logo – in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.


The bar at the bottom of the desktop that provides shortcuts to the ‘Start’ menu, applications and various system tools via the Taskbar Notification Area.


Terabyte. A unit of measurement used for digital storage, specifically hard drives. Each terabyte equals 1,000 gigabytes, so a 1TB hard drive is the equivalent of two 500GB hard drives.


A set of icons, buttons and other elements that appear in a program window. Some toolbars are an integrated part of the program, and others can be installed separately to add extra functions.


This is used in place of a mouse on a laptop, with your finger controlling the cursor movement. You can plug a separate mouse into your laptop if you don’t like the touchpad.


A fake program that is designed to get installed on unsuspecting users’ computers, where it can wreak havoc. Most forms of spyware are classified as Trojans.


The process of transferring a file from a computer to the internet to be stored, shared or otherwise distributed, such as by email.


Universal Serial Bus. A common interface that lets you connect all kinds of hardware devices to your computer, including external hard drives, printers and mice.

User profile

This enables a single computer to be shared between two or more people. Each person creates a unique profile that contains their own files, preferences, settings and customised desktop.


Video Graphics Adapter. An analogue display port (with 15 holes arranged in three rows of five) that is used to connect a computer to an external display, usually a monitor or projector. The digital port known as DVI (Digital Video Interface) is now more common: it produces clearer, sharper pictures, and supports a wider range of display resolutions, including widescreen.


In photography, a viewfinder is what the photographer looks through to compose – and in many cases focus – the picture.


A computer program that can replicate itself and spread from one computer to another.

Web browser

A program for viewing and interacting with websites, such as Internet Explorer.


Short for ‘web camera’, a webcam can record and transmit video. Webcams are found in the lid of all Advent laptops, and can be purchased separately for desktop computers.


Wired Equivalent Privacy. An outdated form of encryption for wireless networks. It’s been taken over by the more secure WPA protocol, which is found in most modern Wi-Fi networks.


The term used to describe a wireless network, which allows computers to share files, an internet connection and other devices including printers, without having to be physically connected via cables.


Wi-Fi Protected Access. A form of encryption for wireless networks, greatly increasing their security. WPA is more secure than the older WEP standard.


Wi-Fi Protected Access 2. A newer standard of encryption for wireless networks with even greater security than WPA.