in the Berkeley / Oakland / San Francisco Bay Area

(510) 725-9432



Bandwidth: The speed and download (& upload) capacity of an Internet connection. Many Internet service providers (ISP) allow you to choose how much bandwidth you want to pay for, based on your usage needs and budget.

Blu-Ray Disc: A type of DVD (digital video disc) that can record and play high definition video at higher rates than a standard DVD, resulting in higher-quality videos with better colors and details. It's called "Blu-Ray" because the laser that reads the disc is blue, as compared to the red laser in standard DVD players.

Bluetooth: A low-power wireless technology that lets devices communicate with each other over relatively short distances (typically less than 30 feet). If you use a wireless headset with your cell phone, it probably communicates with the phone via Bluetooth. There are also Bluetooth-enabled televisions, computers, keyboards, mice, printers, and more.

Broadband: High-speed Internet, such as coaxial cable, DSL (digital subscriber line), and fiber optic. (See Internet Service Provider)

Cache: If a computer has information you access frequently, it creates a special, temporary storage area for that data called a cache. This allows your computer to access the information more quickly.

CD/DVD Drive (also optical drive): Allows you to play music and movies on your computer, as well as install new software. Some smaller, lighter-weight computers - including netbooks - don't come with these drives (although you can easily attach one externally, typically using a USB connection). DVD-RWs allow you to read from - and write to - DVDs, which have greater storage capacity than CDs.

Download: Refers to the transfer of information from one computer to another, typically over the Internet. When you download a file over the Internet, you're copying the file to your computer.

Firewall: Software that protects your computer from threats on the Internet. Firewalls monitor the traffic between your computer and the Internet, and apply a set of safety standards to make sure your computer isn't being targeted or accessed by unauthorized visitors.

Firewire: A type of computer connection, used for moving data at faster transfer rates than USB.

Graphics Card (also video card): Allows your computer to display graphic images, such as photos and videos. It translates the raw data (number of colors, resolution, etc.) into pictures you can see. There are two basic kinds of graphics cards:

  • Integrated cards are less efficient, because they share your computer's memory and processor

  • Dedicated cards are more expensive, because they have their own memory and processor

Hard Drive (also hard disk): Stores the operating system, program files, and your personal files. An external hard drive can connect to your computer through a USB or Firewire cable, providing extra storage and backup capabilities.

Hardware: The physical parts of your computer system, such as the processor, hard drive, keyboard, monitor, mouse, and printer.

Hotspot: A wireless Internet connection that's available for public use, such as at a coffee shop or airport. Be wary of transmitting private information over an unsecured hotspot connection.

Internet: One big global connection (or millions of smaller ones, depending upon your perspective) that links computers together so they can communicate virtually instantaneously.

Internet Service Provider (ISP): The company that provides your Internet connection. AT&T and Comcast are two well-known ISPs. AT&T uses technologies such as DSL (digital subscriber line) and fiber optics, while Comcast uses coaxial cable.

JPEG (seen as the file extension .jpg or .jpeg): A photo file format whose file size can be compressed, while retaining relatively high image quality.

Modem: A device that connects your computer to the Internet.

Motherboard: Your computer's main circuit board. It holds many components your computer needs to function (such as the processor, bus, memory sockets, and more), while also acting as a conduit for power and communication.

Multimedia: Any kind of storytelling that mixes several media together, such as photos, videos, drawings, text, and sound.

Operating System (OS): The software that allows you to interact with your computer. It enables communication between the hardware and the other software on your system. Most personal computers use a version of the Microsoft Windows operating system. Apple computers use Apple's operating system, called macOS.

PC: Personal Computer. Computers that use the Microsoft Windows operating system are referred to as PCs.  Apple computers use Apple's operating system (called macOS), so even though they're also personal computers, they're not usually referred to as 'personal computers' or 'PCs', but rather as 'Apples' or 'Macs'.

Port: Allows you to connect peripheral devices to your computer (such as an MP3 player, camera, or printer). USB and Firewire are two common types of ports, and they support "plug and play," meaning they communicate with the computer automatically when a device is connected. An Ethernet port lets you connect your computer to your modem or router for Internet access. An HDMI port

Processor (also CPU, or Central Processing Unit): The 'brains' of the computer.  Various aspects of the processor - including its speed - are important factors in determining computer performance.  Intel and AMD are the two largest and best-known manufacturers of personal computer processors.

RAM (Random Access Memory):  Your computer's short-term memory, storing information for fast access.  It's an important component to faster computing, and it also plays a key role in how much multitasking (performing multiple tasks simultaneously) your computer can do.

Router: Connects your computer to a broadband modem (cable or DSL), allowing multiple computers to share the same Internet connection.  A wireless router allows you to create a Wi-Fi (wireless) network in your home.

Search Engine: A type of website that help you find practically anything you'd like to know.  Enter a word, phrase, or topic to get a list of sites and other resources that can probably answer your question.  There are literally thousands upon thousands of search engines, but just a few 'major' ones, including Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft's Bing.

Software: Performs specific tasks, which can range from system software that controls basic PC functionality, to application programs (such as Microsoft Word), and networking software.

Sound Card: Interprets audio signals and transmits them through your computer's speakers.  As with graphics cards, sound cards are available in both integrated and dedicated versions.

Storage: Long-term memory, such as hard drives, USB flash drives, CDs, and DVDs.  Storing your data on an external storage device can be a convenient way to copy or back up your information.

USB (Universal Serial Bus): A port that allows you to connect a device (such as a printer, a digital camera, a flash drive, an external hard drive, and many others) to your computer.  Most operating systems automatically detect USB devices.

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol): Allows you to make voice and video calls over your Internet connection.  VoIP can offer a substantial cost savings compared to traditional phone service and cell phones.  Skype is the best-known provider of VoIP service for computers.

Web Browser: The program you use to access the Internet and view web pages on your computer.  Web browsers are often simply referred to as browsers.  The 'major' web browsers are Microsoft Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera.

Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity): A wireless network, also known as a hotspot.  Wi-Fi networks are accessible by any device with wireless networking capabilities, which includes most laptop/notebook computers.