A Glossary Of Terms You'll Need To Know When Buying A Laptop

Confused by all all the technological terminology you're seeing while shopping for a laptop? Use this glossary to educate yourself.

For those of us not technologically inclined, or who have never had experience with buying a notebook computer, the task of picking out a suitable laptop can be needlessly confusing. There are some basic terms you will need to know, as well as some helpful hints on understanding the technospeak you may encounter in your research, so familiarize yourself with these before you begin looking at computers:

Notebook - Another term for "laptop".

Hardware - Physical componenets of a computer.

Software - Programs installed on a computer.

USB - Many mice, flylights, external fans and other notebook-powered accessories are powered by USB. Most of the time, the USB port will be what your digital camera, printer or other external devices will interface with. Two USB ports are standard, but with the rising popularity of USB accessories, 3 or 4 may be more appropriate.

Wi-Fi - Wireless Internet. A wi-fi "card" or built-in capabilities will allow your laptop to access wireless Internet access points. In order to set up an access point in your home, you will need a wireless router to plug your Internet cable into.

(PCMCIA) Card - A piece of hardware that you must insert into a side slot of your laptop. It is about the size of a playing card and will perform a function that your computer does not have internally, such as wireless Internet, a firewire port, extra USB ports, or a miniature modem.

Modem - Plug a phone cord into this in order to connect to dial-up Internet. Most laptops have them built-in, or you can get one as a card to insert when you need it.

Network port/card - Serves basically the same purpose as the modem, but the plug is configured for cable Internet or DSL. A network cable is used to connect it.

Processor Type - This will be Celeron, Pentium, AMD, etc. What is advised for a laptop is Pentium (the higher number the better) because the others run at very high speeds and have a tendency to heat up quickly, something you don't want in a laptop.

Screen Size - A measurement of the screen from the bottom left hand corner to the top right.

RAM - Short for Random Access Memory. RAM allows your programs to run smoothly and quickly. 256 MB of RAM is fairly standard; "preloaded" refers to what comes installed in the notebook, "maximum" refers to its capacity to upgrade. If your laptop is a long-term investment, you will want to at least have the potential to upgrade as years pass, to keep your computer fast enough to still be current.

Hard Drive - Physical space on a computer. Usually measured in gigabytes (GB), and 40 is standard for a notebook.

Optical Drives- These read or burn CDs and DVDs. A CD-ROM will just read CDs, a CD-Writer (CD-R) will read and burn, CD-RW (Rewriter) can erase certain types of CDs and re-burn them, a DVD-ROM will play DVDs, and a DVD-R will burn DVDs. The speed (usually 24x or above) refers to how quickly the CDs will be written.

Pointing Device - Touchpad or Trackpoint. A touchpad is a small square located south of the keyboard that serves the same purpose as a mouse, moving the pointer on your screen. A trackpoint is a small raised button in the center of the keyboard that does the same. Some people find one or the other easier to work with, but generally both are very functional.

Preloaded Operating System - Windows XP Home Edition is standard. Professional is usually available for slightly higher cost. An operating system is sometimes abbreviated as an "OS".

Processor speed - The base speed of the computer. Like RAM, it enables you to work quickly and without having to endure long leading times to start programs or use other functions while programs are running.

By becoming familiar with the basic terminology you will encounter while shopping for your laptop, you will be much better prepared to recognize a good deal and assert exactly what you want and need. This is a big investment, so prepare yourself accordingly, and you will feel much better about your purchase!

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