For users that are new to the world of PCDIY , common terms and acronyms can be a little bit confusing. It’s definitely easy to find out what you need to know with a simple Google search but sometimes you’ll end up with much more information than you need. That’s why we decided to start a new series where we’ll go over our own super simplified definitions of some common phrases, terms and acronyms you’ll encounter in regards to building your own PC.
First up: Components
Short for “personal computer”, PC is generally used to refer to a complete system. It is also commonly used to refer to a Windows-based computer in contrast to Apple’s “Macs”. Some of you may think this is a bit of a no brainer to include in this list, but you’d be surprised to hear how many times we see people calling their PCs “CPUs”.
What exactly does PCDIY mean? Simply put, it’s the combination of the “PC” and “DIY” (do-it-yourself) worlds. We’ve been using this acronym internally for several years now to describe a more niche area of the “PC” market. Anything from building a PC from scratch, modifying a PC, upgrading components or performing maintenance falls into this category. Like other DIY projects, PCDIY is all about self-learning and the rewarding sense of accomplishment that comes with it.
Short for “central processing unit” or “processor”, the CPU is commonly referred to as the “brains” of your PC. Like a brain, the CPU runs countless calculations. It may be the smallest component in your system but it is also one of the most important. This may be one of the reasons why so many people mistakenly refer to their systems as “CPUs”.
MB or Motherboard
Sometimes called a “mobo” or “mainboard”, the motherboard is a big printed circuit board that allows your CPU to communicate with all of the other components in your system. If the CPU is the brains then the motherboard is the central nervous system. The motherboard is where all of your PC components are connected and come together.
Storage (HDD / SSD)
While the CPU is responsible for processing programs and information, storage devices are the PC components that hold it all. Storage systems for your PC are typically broken into two categories. Mechanical storage devices with actual spinning disks, and flash storage devices which do not have any moving parts. HDDs (hard drive disks) are mechanical drives which can store much larger amounts of data but are slower and more prone to failure in comparison to their flash-based counterparts. SSDs (solid state drives) are much faster and more compact but are unable to hold as much data as HDDs.
Not to be confused with the storage devices above, “Random Access Memory” refers to small capacity, instantly accessible storage that is used to temporarily store information from your running programs. RAM is what allows programs to run faster by bypassing the need to store some information in your computer’s storage devices. Unlike the HDDs and SSDs that store your operating system and programs, data stored in RAM can be retrieved much quicker but requires power in order to do so. This means whenever your computer turns off, all of the data stored in your RAM is forgotten unlike the data in your hard drives.
Short for “power supply unit”, the PSU is the component that provides electrical power to your entire PC. It converts main AC power from a wall outlet into regulated DC which is then used to provide power to all of your PC components. Power supplies are available in a large variety of wattage sizes to accommodate the varying power consumption of components. They are also available with different levels of efficiency which refers to how efficiently the PSU converts AC power into DC power for your components. A higher level of efficiency basically means less electricity is being wasted from the outlet, which can also mean less heat is being produced.
GPU (Video / Graphics Card)
Short for “graphics processing unit” the GPU is another processor that focuses on rendering graphics. Although most modern CPUs also come with their own integrated GPU, it is still necessary to have a discrete graphics card for any kind of heavy PC gaming. While “GPU” technically refers to the processing unit on the video card, most people use “GPU”, “graphics card” and “video card” interchangeably since they are sold as a single unit.
Keep in mind these explanations are very basic and not meant to dive into the intricate details and functions of each individual PC component. Perhaps we’ll save a more advanced glossary for another time. Join us next week for part two which will focus entirely on CPU-related terms. As always, your feedback is greatly appreciated so don’t hesitate to comment if you have any suggestions on what you’d like us to cover.