Computer and IT abbreviation reference

  • By Christopher Kielty, last updated May 8, 2018

This reference covers basic computer and IT abbreviations, categorized into general, file system, and networking. Definitions and some details provided for each.

General abbreviations

BIOS: BASIC INPUT OUTPUT SYSTEM. BIOS is firmware that performs basic, necessary functions during boot up.

OS: OPERATING SYSTEM. OS X, Windows, and Arch Linux are some examples of operating systems. Interestingly, Linux by itself isn’t actually an operating system. It’s a kernel. Linux distributions like Ubuntu, Mint, and Arch are operating systems that use the Linux kernel.

CPU: CENTRAL PROCESSING UNIT. This is where a lot of your computer’s raw computational brawn lies. Although, these days your GPU is a pretty mighty contender.

GPU: GRAPHICS PROCESSING UNIT. This is the other major player in the number crunching game. As the name implies, the GPU is typically more specialized for graphics related activities. But this doesn’t just mean video games. Many apps get a huge performance boost if you have a decent GPU. Pretty cool, right?

RAM: RANDOM ACCESS MEMORY. This is where your apps live while they’re running. It’s actually a little more complicated than that. There’s swap space and other systems in play to help make the most out of what is usually very limited RAM. Generally, though, this is where information is stored when it needs to be accessed really, really fast. The drawback with RAM is it’s cost per GB and the fact that when you shut your computer off, everything in RAM is erased. RAM wouldn’t be suitable for any kind of long term data storage. Although, there is such thing as a RAM disk.

HD / HDD: HARD DRIVE / HARD DISK DRIVE. A hard drive is a mechanical device used for long term data storage. It’s pretty much the opposite of RAM. When compared to the insane speeds achieved by RAM, the hard drive is just painfully slow. But what the hard drive lacks in speed, it makes up for in long term data integrity. This is, as long as you don’t accidentally drop it…

SSD: SOLID STATE DRIVE. The SSD is a faster alternative to the HDD. Solid state drives are purely electronic, without any moving parts. It is said that the SSDs lack of moving parts make them more reliable than conventional hard drives. I think this is definitely true for more applications.

USB: UNIVERSAL SERIAL BUS. A popular bus technology. No, not the kind of bus you ride on. USB lets you connect keyboard/mice, thumb drives, CD/DVD drives, external hard drives, cameras, smartphones, ethernet adapters, and even external monitors to your computer. Don’t worry, you can do a lot more than that with USB. That’s just what I could think of at the moment. USB is pretty darn awesome.

FSB: FRONT SIDE BUS. The front side bus is a data communications interface that commonly connects an Intel CPU to the northbridge.

ROM: READ ONLY MEMORY. Your smartphone probably uses ROM. When you reset your phone to factory settings, those settings are read from a ROM chip. Obviously, you can write data to ROM. Otherwise, how would a ROM have any data in the first place? The process for writing data to ROM is just usually far more complicated than what would be involved with a typical disk - say, a USB thumb drive.

Kb / KB: KILOBYTE / KILOBYTE. A kilobit (Kb with a lower case b) is one thousand bits. A kilobyte (KB with an uppercase B) is one thousand bytes. Kilobits are commonly used for denoting data transfer speeds while kilobytes are more commonly used to measure the size of small files on a data storage device.

Mbmegabit See also: MB and Mb (with a lowercase b) are actually not the same thing…

Mb / MB: MEGABIT / MEGABYTE. A megabit (Mb with a lower case b) is one million bits. A megabyte (MB with an uppercase B) is one million bytes. Megabits are commonly used for denoting data transfer speeds while megabytes are used more for communicating file and data storage sizes.

Gb / GB: GIGABIT / GIGABYTE. A gigabit (Gb with a lower case b) is one billion bits. A gigabyte (GB with an uppercase B) is one billion bytes. Gigabits are commonly used for denoting data transfer speeds (think gigabit ethernet) while gigabytes are used more for reporting large file sizes. It’s also currently pretty common to see GBs used for SSD size.

Tb / TB: TERABIT / TERABYTE. A terabit (Tb with a lower case b) is one trillion bits. A terabyte (TB with an uppercase B) is one trillion bytes. The terabyte is commonly seen as a unit of measure for hard drives. The terabit isn’t a very common unit of measure. Of course, if you’re from the Technical University of Denmark, data transfer speeds of 43 Tbps are achievable. One day, network speeds for us ordinary folk will probably reach terabit speeds.

File system abbreviations

FAT: FILE ALLOCATION TABLE. Although the FAT file system is becoming a bit dated, it seems like it’s everywhere. If have some information on a USB drive and want to ensure that the most possible devices will be able to read it, FAT is a good choice. Hopefully your files aren’t too big…

exFAT: EXTENDED FILE ALLOCATION TABLE. The exFat file system is commonly used on removable disks such as USB thumb drives. ExFat can typically be read by computers running Mac, Windows, and Linux, making it a good choice when cross platform compatibility is needed.

NTFS: NEW TECHNOLOGY FILE SYSTEM. This name doesn’t really make sense anymore. It’s not new. Now unless you’re reading this from the past. The NTFS file system is developed by Microsoft. It has been the default file system in Windows since NT 3.1.

Networking abbreviations

See also: Learn about hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), an application layer request/response protocol

HTTP: HYPERTEXT TRANSFER PROTOCOL. When you use a web browser to visit a website, chances are HTTP is involved. The “http://” at the beginning of web addresses specifies the Hypertext Transfer Protocol.

FTP: FILE TRANSFER PROTOCOL. Useful for uploading files to/from a server. This document was uploaded to a server using FTP.

IP: INTERNET PROTOCOL. The networking protocol used both on the world wide web and your local network.

LAN: LOCAL AREA NETWORK. When you have several computers connected (with a router, for example), without the world wide web in between them, this is known as a LAN. Popular computer games used to allow you to play over a LAN connection. Now, many games require each computer to connect over the internet to a centralized server. I think this is bad because if that company ever goes out of business, your ability to connect to their multiplayer server is probably going with them.

WAN: WIDE AREA NETWORK. This term is sometimes used to describe an internet connection. Remember, there is such a thing as a LAN that isn’t connected to the internet. I can’t imagine that’s too terribly common…

URL: UNIVERSAL RESOURCE LOCATOR. URLs are what you type into the address bar of your website. When you click on a link, its URL tells your browser where to go.

DSL: DIGITAL SUBSCRIBER LINE. DSL is a networking technology used for connecting to the internet over a conventional phone line. Not only is DSL faster than dial up, it is typically possible to use your telephone on the same line while remaining connected to the internet.

ADSL: ASYMETRIC DIGITAL SUBSCRIBER LINE. ASDL is similar to DSL. The asymetric bit means that the bandwidth rates up and down aren’t the same. For example, let’s say you have a 1 Mbps ADSL connection. With an asymetric connection, that typically means 1 Mbps download rate. The upload rate will be different (typically a lot slower).

100BASE-T: 100 Mb/s BASEBAND SIGNALING ETHERNET. The name really says it all. 100BASE-T is a baseband signaling ethernet standard that operates a little faster than the speed of smell (that’s 100 Mb/s, otherwise known as 12.5 MB/s).