Additional PC Hardware Terms

The previous definitions guide covered top-level topics, like PC components and general acronyms or initialisms that are encountered in the world of PCs. For the enthusiast digging deeper, we’ve also broken-out more in-depth terms in the guide below.


Motherboard & CPU Terms

VRM: Voltage Regulator Module. These are also present on the video card. VRMs are often specified as having a certain number of phases, e.g. 6+1 phase. Although there’s more to it than just phases, an increased number of VRM phases does generally improve the “cleanliness” of the voltage provided to the CPU (or GPU), and thus the stable OC potential grows. VRMs consist of chokes, MOSFETs, and capacitors.

Capacitor: Small capsules located across the board and other components. Capacitors are responsible for storing and managing power.

Transistor: Small electrical processing component. There are billions of these on the average CPU and GPU.

BGA: Ball-Grid Array, a specific type of component engineering that is not user-serviceable. CPUs and motherboards which use a BGA connection will be soldered together.

PLX/PEX: A chip on some multi-GPU motherboards which multiplexes the PCI-e lanes, thereby manipulating lane count in a fashion which allows expanded multi-GPU configurations.

Die: The piece of silicon that would most accurately be described as the CPU. A silicon die is cut from a silicon wafer, cut from a silicon crystal. Silicon is a synthetic material made mostly of sand.

IHS: Integrated Heat-Spreader, located on top of the silicon die, on top of the CPU and its substrate.

Substrate: The green foundation for the CPU.

PCB: Printed Circuit-Board. Most components have one of these – the motherboard is a printed circuit-board with components surface-mounted, as are the memory modules and video cards.

GbE: Gigabit Ethernet.

Vcore: Voltage (Core), used in CPU overclocking to stabilize the overclock.

Graphics Terms

VRM: See above.

GDDR5: A specific type of high-speed memory that most modern GPUs will access. This memory is located on the video card PCB and is physically closer to the GPU, just part of its speed advantage over system memory. GDDR5 operates at roughly 8Gbps/die.

GDDR5X: A new version of GDDR5 memory, introduced by Micron and nVidia on the GTX 1080 in 2016. GDDR5X has a throughput potential in the range of 13-14Gbps/die and is lower voltage than GDDR5.

HBM: High-Bandwidth Memory, introduced by AMD on the Fiji GPU in 2015. HBM “lives” on the same substrate as the GPU, rather than the video card PCB. This allows for a smaller form factor video card that is capable of significantly greater throughput (upwards of 1TB/s on HBM2).

Architecture: The generation of design for a particular GPU or CPU (or other electrical product). Recent GPU architectures include Pascal, Maxwell, Kepler, and Fermi from nVidia and Polaris, Fiji, Hawaii, and Tonga from AMD. Recent CPU architectures include Broadwell-E, Skylake, and Haswell from Intel and Zen, Kaveri, and Piledriver from AMD.

Memory Terms

Timings: The collective term referring to CAS latency and tertiary timings, configurable in BIOS. Timings can be “tightened” (brought closer together) to improve access times and overall memory speed.

XMP: eXtreme Memory Profile, a set of preset profiles within the memory that make configuration easier. Contains pre-configured timings and speeds.

Heatspreader: The thermally conductive heatsink mounted to the memory stick.

Storage Terms

SATA: Serial ATA interface used for most SSDs and HDDs. Communicates over high-speed IO bus with PCH or chipset.

P/E Cycle: Progam/Erase Cycle, a specific function to SSDs that describes the process of writing or erasing from memory. SSDs have a limited number of P/E Cycles they can sustain prior to entering a read-only state (but this normally measures in the thousands, meaning that the usable life of the system will typically expire before that of the SSD).

Controller: The storage device’s effective CPU. An SSD is sort of like its own mini-computer: It’s got cache, a controller, and sometimes even DRAM. Controllers task program/erase events, write amplification control, garbage collection, and other tasks that impact the endurance and speed of the device.

Flash (or Flash NAND): Flash Memory using NAND gates. Flash NAND is the memory found on USB keys and SSDs, and is an electrically-accessed form of non-volatile (permanent) memory. Because this memory type is not accessed using rotating platters and mechanical heads, it is significantly faster than traditional magnetic (HDD) media.

General Terms

Mount: To install a component into a slot, generally concluding with an affirmative ‘click.’

Reseat: To re-install a component, normally as a means of troubleshooting to ensure that connection is solid.

ESD: Electro-static Discharge – a bad thing. If you’ve ever felt a ‘zap’ of electricity from touching a car door, that’s ESD. That physical zap can measure in the thousands of volts if you can feel it and, considering components like CPUs are only built to handle ~1V, that’s deadly to PC hardware. ESD can happen without feeling it physically, and can cause latent (delayed) issues with hardware, if not immediate ones.


By know, you’re probably aware that building a PC means you have the freedom to do what you want. As usual, this will mean that the terms you decide to learn are up to you and your build. The world of PC hardware terms is vast and how much you encounter is in your control. – Steve Burke, GamersNexus