Glossary of Home Computing and Network terms

 

Internet, World Wide Web, Broadband, Hub or Broadband Router, Wi-Fi, Wireless Security, WPA or WEP encryption, MAC Access control, Operating System, CPU, Memory, RAM, Storage, Security Software, Antivirus, Virus Scan, Firewall

INTERNET:

The Internet is a Global network of communication links and network equipment connecting computers all over the world.

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WEB:

The Web is all the web pages (data) and the links (that you click) connecting them together - You can't touch it. Also known as the World Wide Web (www), this could not exist without the Internet.

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BROADBAND:

Is the connection you buy from an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to connect from your home or office to the edge of the Internet. Usually this works over a fixed phone line or Cable TV but there is also Mobile Broadband (3G) which uses the mobile phone network to the same result.

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HUB or BROADBAND ROUTER:

The box that connects your PC to your broadband service is referred to by varied descriptions. Frequently, the term 'Hub' is used e.g. BT Homehub which is unfortunate as a 'hub' has a specific meaning in networking and this is not one. A better reference is 'Broadband Router' though it is still not technically accurate.

The box actually performs two or three roles: a 'Switch' which provides your home network both wired (Ethernet) and wireless (Wi-Fi) to connect PC's and printers etc together; a 'Router' which enables communication with the Internet and sometimes an 'ADSL Modem' which is needed to talk over a standard telephone line. So, technically, it is a Switch/Router(/Modem) though helpdesks, sales and box labels may call it a "Hub" or just "Router".

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Wi-Fi:

At Home; Your Broadband has a Switch/Router (also referred to as a 'Hub') connected to it in your house. A Wi-Fi enabled Switch has an aerial and you can connect wirelessly (without any cable) from a Laptop, Smart Phone etc. which has Wi-Fi built in. So, you can sit in the lounge without any cable to your Laptop and use your Broadband to access the Internet.

Away from home; McDonalds, Starbucks, some pubs and hotels etc. have Wi-Fi available so you can connect your laptop/Smart Phone there and use their Internet connection. (Usually charged or at least you have to buy something and you need to get an access code from the provider).

Public Wi-Fi connections at stations, airports etc usually need a subscription buying from a provider, e.g. Cloud, T-Mobile, BT Openzone.

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Wi-Fi Security:

An Unsecured network is open for anyone to connect to. There is a risk here that someone may hack into your network to attempt to steal data but I would say probably less than you being mugged in the street. What is more likely to happen is that a stranger will connect to the Internet via your broadband for free and use up you bandwidth possibly reducing your access speeds and even costing you money in usage fees. You could also be accused of any online fraud they may carry out as the source address would be logged to you.

WEP and WPA:

A Secured wireless connection will usually use either WPA or WEP encryption keys. WEP is less secure because only one key is needed to 'hack' into it but it is enough to thwart casual intruders. WPA generates a new key on every transaction so is very difficult to hack, it is preferred but its processing overhead can slow down older PCs to an unacceptable degree and some devices simply do not support WPA. With both WEP and WPA, the approved user just needs one passcode to enter into their PC or Smart Phone for connection.

MAC Access Control:

Each network interface on every PC, Smart Phone etc has its own unique Address 'burnt' into it at manufacture; this is the 'MAC' address. Most Switches can be configured to only allow connections from MAC addresses which have been added into a permitted list so, even if someone has your WEP or WPA passcode, they cannot connect to your network.

MAC address looks like these examples: 0d:55:3f:aa:6b:d2 or 0d.55.3f.aa.6b.d2

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CPU:

The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the arithmetic brain of the PC where all the calculation and control takes place. Some CPUs have multiple "cores" which allows more multi-tasking and better performance for programs which are built to make use of it.

The speed of a processor is measured in Giga-Hertz (GHz).
1 GHz = 1,000,000,000 cycles per second.

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Memory (RAM):

The Random Access Memory (RAM) is the working space for the CPU, a bit like using a white board to keep track of your calculations. If there isn't enough RAM, the CPU wastes a lot of time deleting and rewriting in the small space and performance problems are seen.

RAM only relates to transient processing and has no connection with how much data you can store e.g. documents, images, music etc.

RAM is measured in Giga Bytes (GB) or Mega Bytes (MB). Example RAM = 1GB.
1 GB = 1,000,000,000 Bytes = 1,000 MB (a single Byte is 8 bits, a bit being a single binary 1 or 0)

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Storage (Hard Disk):

This is where all your Software Programs and Data are stored. Data includes all documents, images, music files etc.

A PC may be fitted with 1 or more hard disks and they can be mounted internally or externally.

Storage is measured in Tera Bytes (TB), Giga Bytes (GB) or Mega Bytes (MB). Example Hard Disk = 160GB
1 TB = 1,000 GB = 1,000,000 MB

Drives:

Hard disks can be "partitioned" into several logical "drives" seen in My Computer as C:, D:, G: etc.

If the C: drive is near full, this can cause performance problems as the system uses this drive for temporary storage during processing.

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Operating System:

Without the Operating System, a PC is just a box of electronics. The Operating System software governs how all the parts work together and how it interacts with the user through the mouse, keyboard and screen.

The Windows operating system from Microsoft is what is generally encountered on a PC. Microsoft launch a new version every couple of years but they all do the same basic job even though they look a little different and have different specialities. Current version (Oct 12) is Windows 8 but its predecessors Windows 7, Vista and XP are massively present. Earlier versions such as Win '95 are still in wide use.

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Security Software:

Security software comes mainly under Antivirus and Firewall headings but keeping your Operating System and Web Browser software updated with security patches via Windows Update or the products own update is very important.

Antivirus:

Good Antivirus software monitors files as they are used and system memory for code with the 'signature' of many undesirable pieces of software. This undesirable software is generically known as Malware and includes Virus, Trojan, Worm, Spyware etc. As new Malware appears all the time, it is essential that your Antivirus product is up-to-date. Most commercial Antivirus is licensed year by year and will stop receiving updates when the licence expires so though it may still run and may detect older Malware it will not detect new threats.

Virus Scan:

A Virus Scan is when the Antivirus software scans all files on the hard disk of the PC. This should be done regularly and most Antivirus will be scheduled to carry out frequent full scans. A full Scan can take several hours if you have a lot of data and will impact on PC performance whilst it is running.

Firewall:

A firewall is not the same as an Antivirus product though sometimes the two will be marketed together in a single security package. Firewalls act as a gateway only allowing certain types of traffic in and out of the PC network connections. This software is targeted at stopping people making illicit connection to your PC from outside but also prevents some transmission of data out of your PC by selective programs.

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