Help! I can’t understand Computer Geek Speak

Computer Acronyms!

“Your NTFS MBR on your SSD is broken. That will be $99 thanks” - sound familiar? If you can’t understand your computer guy – you’re not alone, and you need to read this.

I work in the computer industry and hence have to help lots of people on a daily basis with their various computer issues. We then explain what the problem was and how we fixed it, in way that can be understood by a normal human being. Unfortunately in my industry this “explaining” bit is something that often doesn’t seem to happen very well, and computer people LOVE acronyms! We have like literally thousands of them. As an added bonus, by learning a few common acronyms, you may feel more confident and comfortable in going over to visit those super nerdy friends that you have been avoiding for the past few years, and might one day pop in to see them even if your PC isn’t broken.

It is my hope that by the end of this series of articles you will be able to go toe-to-toe with the geekiest of the geeky nerd and hold your own, even in an Officially Sanctioned IT Acronym Street Battle. By the way, OSITASBs are typically held outside internet cafes at 2am if you’re ever keen to get involved – BYO pocket protector and nerd glasses – you will need them.

Today we will try to clear up some of the murky waters of computer tech acronyms and in the next installments you can look forward to demystifying Internet Acronyms and Internet Slang. If you find this article so fascinating that you simply can’t wait to read the next installment, early releases may be available in the news section of our website at

Part 1 - Computer Tech talk:

RAM Random Access Memory

Your computers short term memory. When you do stuff on the computer, the computer loads the files, pictures, programs etc you are working on into its RAM. When the RAM is full, the computer starts using your HDD as virtual (pretend) RAM. RAM is very fast memory and so things in the RAM work super quickly. More RAM will often help the computer run a bit quicker. Everyone should have at least 4 GB of RAM.

HDD Hard Drive

This is a part that stores all your stuff (its long term memory). Your programs, photos, documents and emails all live on your hard drive. They can also be external (connected via USB) which are referred to, rather unimaginatively, as “external hard drives”.

SSD - Solid State Drive

It’s a hard drive. But faster. MUCH faster. Normal hard drives have spinning disks and heads that read the data that is magnetically encoded on the disks (think record player). SSDs use flash memory and have no moving parts. This makes them at LEAST 500% faster than a normal HDD, and they don’t die if they are bumped or banged around.

USB - Universal Serial Bus

A connection standard. A “USB” is not a physical thing. The little dongle thingy you have on your key ring which you put photos on sometimes to “back them up” is NOT a “USB” but is in fact a Flash Drive that happens to connect via USB to your computer. Most devices at the moment connect via USB to computers. Printers, external HDDs, Webcams and even headphones all can connect to computers via USB. There is now a new type of USB that is much faster and will be the new Universal standard in the next few years – USB-C.

USB-C: The new USB

Although USB-C is currently only used by hipsters sipping chai lattes out of half avocados down on the cappuccino strip, it will become the new standard of connecting everything to everything. Apple in their infinite wisdom have removed all normal USB ports from their newer MacBook computers, which now only ship with USB-C. When you buy your new MacBook, don’t forget to purchase at least 17 different USB-C to “various other device” converter cables, just in case you want to do something weird, like, um, print a document.

Bytes, Bits, Megabytes etc

Measurement of file size. A bit (b) is a single 0 or 1. A byte (B) is made up of 8 bits and can represent, for example a single letter or character. A kilobyte (KB) is 1,024 bytes. A megabyte (MB) is 1,024 KB. Gigabyte (GB) is 1,024 MB. So a one gig (GB) text file would contain 1,073,741,824 characters. Many computers now even use Terabytes (TB) which is - you guessed it - 1,024 GB or 1,099,511,627,776 characters (bit are normally used when we talk about internet, with a lowercase 'b' see Mbps in internet section).

OS - Operating System

The program on your computer that make the other programs all work. On a Person Computer (PC) this is usually Windows 10 or 7, on a Mac it could be some kind of cat (mountain lion, lion etc) or a mountain (Yosemite, Sierra etc). Without an OS your computer is much less entertaining, unless you really enjoy staring into the void at a black screen.

MB - Motherboard or Main-board.

The big circuit board that everything plugs into. I have never been sure why this is called a “mother” board, I suppose it’s sort of responsible for making sure everything else is doing what it is supposed to be doing, so that kinda makes sense….

CPUCentral Processing Unit

The brain of the computer. Faster CPU = Faster computer. Most CPUs have more than one “core” meaning they can think about more than one thing at a time. More cores = more tasks can be done at the same time.

GPUGraphics Processing Unit

Much like the CPU but dedicated to graphics. This is the part of the computer that is used for displaying everything on your computer not just for games. The most expensive GPUs are used for CAD, Video, Image processing and of course games.

Booting, boot up

When you press that button on your computer it gets ready by loading the OS or Operating System. This is called booting and sometimes what we want to give the computer when it does do what it is supposed to.


Super Geek Bonus section:

MBR – Master Boot Record.

Sounds impressive doesn’t it? The MBR is simply the first little section on the hard drive that tells Windows how to boot up properly. I guess “Little Booty Bit” simply didn’t have the same ring to it.

FS - File System

A standard, or way of organizing files on a hard drive. All drives must have a file system in order to store files on them.

NFTSNT File System

NT (New Technology) was an OS made my Microsoft (MS) in the early 90s. Mainly used in corporate environments, NT was very stable, secure and robust but not very user friendly. Subsequent versions of Windows (2000, XP, 7, 8 and 10) all use the NT File System to organise files on the hard drive due to its stability and security features. NTFS is the normal file system for PCs today and hard drives formatted in NTFS can be READ (but written to) by Apple computers.

FAT/FAT32File Allocation Table (32 bit)

Older file system. Works really well, but has several constraints. The biggest one being that it can only store files up to 2 GB in size. Fine for documents and songs and stuff, but try to save a high resolution 4k movie files on a FAT32 drive and it just isn’t going to happen. Very popular for flash drives and external HDDs as it can be read and written to by both PC and Mac computers. Isn’t it nice when they get along?

HFS+ - Hierarchical File System (Plus)

Apples file system on choice (replaced by APFS in the latest OS, High Sierra). Just another file system really. It can be read and written to on a Mac, but PCs can’t see it at all. No reading, no writing without third party utilities. Totally ghosted*. This is why your mates PC can’t access your copy of the latest “Neutral Milk Hotel – hipster remix” you downloaded from your MacBook Pro to your USB-C flash drive.

APFSApple File System

Apple latest and newest FS because, you know, there simply weren’t enough file systems around. At this stage it is very new and doesn’t really get along well with anyone (PCs, other Macs, graphics calculators etc)

*ghosted: completely ignored (see upcoming internet slang article for more detail)