Understanding Tech Specs

By Tracey Dowdy

It’s no secret that technology moves at the speed of light and in the time it takes to type this sentence there’s probably been four updates to iTunes.

Not only is it a matter of keeping up with trends, it’s important to have a basic knowledge of rudimentary tech terms. Without that foundation, it’s difficult to know what to look for when choosing new devices. How much RAM do you need? Should you store your images in the Cloud? What’s a pixel?

This handy glossary of basic tech terms should help.

App – An app (application) is basically another word for program. It’s simply software designed to perform a specific task and most commonly refers to programs or games on smartphones and tablets.

Bit – The smallest unit of measure on a computer. Eight bits = One byte

Cloud storage – Instead of locally – e.g. on your hard drive – data is stored, managed and backed up remotely and made available to users via a third-party network.

Driver – A program used by the operating system to run hardware like the sound or video cards. Drivers should be updated periodically to maintain peak performance.

Firmware – Permanent software embedded into read only memory (hardware) which runs programs on the device.  Firmware also allows updates to be downloaded to the device.

Flash Drives are portable memory sticks that connect to computers via the USB port. They allow for easy transfer of files, images or videos between devices.

LTE (4G LTE) – LTE or Long Term Evolution is the process for transmitting high speed data for mobile technology. 4G simply refers to the fourth generation of LTE technology. The speed and performance of 4G LTE allows for faster downloads and performance when compared to previous versions.

Megapixel – Pixels (Picture Elements) are what comprise your computer image. They are tiny, square dots and the more pixels the better the image quality. A megapixel is one million pixels.

Near Field Communication (NFC) allows devices to communicate wirelessly when in close proximity to one another, often just a few centimeters away, or by tapping devices together.

Operating System – Commonly referred to as OS, the operating system allows a device’s software to communicate with its hardware. It manages tasks and resources, and executes programs. Common examples are Microsoft Windows or Mac’s iOS Yosemite.

Peer-to-peer (p2p) is a type of network that links computers directly to one another rather than to a server. Resources and bandwidth are shared which reduces the demand on individual participants. Most home networks are P2P.

Processor: The processor interprets and executes commands allowing a computer or mobile device to operate. Computers have multicore processors which allow them to run multiple programs simultaneously and independently. The more cores, the faster the speed of the computer. Processor speed is measured in megahertz – MHz.

RAM is the computer’s Random Access Memory comprised of tiny computer chips. When you open a program on your computer, it is loaded into RAM which allows it to run faster than if it was running form your hard drive. The more RAM the more data that can be loaded and accessed without slowing down computer performance. When you shut down your computer, the contents of the RAM are dumped. Adding RAM is often the most cost-effective way to upgrade a computer.

Resolution measures the detail of the image on your screen. Generally measured by the number of pixels in a specific area (DPI/dots per inch) or the number of pixels in the entire image (1024 x 768). Apple’s Retina display at roughly 330 dpi exceeds human vision making the display appear smooth and individual pixels disappear.

USB or (Universal Serial Bus) is a standard connection port allowing users to connect devices such as a flash drive, router, keyboard or mouse to a computer.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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