Computer Terminology for Beginners

By Cam Merritt

For the beginner, computer terminology can be incredibly intimidating. The key is to start with a few basic terms and expand your knowledge from there.

Hardware and Software

"Hardware" is the machine itself--the computer, keyboard, mouse and other physical equipment. "Software" refers to the programs you run, which tell the computer what to do.

CPU and Peripherals

The central processing unit, or CPU, is the "brain" of the computer, the part that does the work. "Peripherals" are devices used to give instructions to the CPU, carry out the CPU's instructions or add function to the CP; they include keyboards, mice, monitors, printers and scanners.


Random access memory--often called RAM or just "memory"--describes the amount of data a computer can hold in its "brain" at any one time, without having to go retrieve information from another source. The more memory, the more tasks the computer can handle at once, and the faster it can work.


Storage devices are where you save all your data. Every computer has a hard drive as its primary storage device. You can add additional hard drives for more storage; "flash drives" are small, portable storage devices.


The Universal Serial Bus, or USB, is a system for connecting devices to computers. In the past, different devices required different kinds of plugs and connections, making compatibility a nightmare. USB has standardized connections.