A Guide to Basic Computer Terminology

Simple definitions for a complex machine...

Basic Computer Terminology feature

In a digitally focused world, it’s important to understand some basic computer terminology. You’ve probably already seen most of the words on this list, but just aren’t sure exactly what they mean or how they apply to you.

Basic Computer Terminology – PC Terms

When it comes to using your computer, you’ll likely hear all five of the following terms:


Wireless fidelity is a method that utilizes radio waves to connect to a network. A wireless router emits a frequency between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, which varies based on the network. Data is passed back and forth from your device to a wireless router via radio waves.


Random access memory is the memory available for programs to randomly use. Any program can access the memory to start and execute tasks. It’s a temporary and faster form of storage than a hard drive.


Defragging is a process that brings together fragmented files on your hard drive for better performance. As files are created and deleted, they often get fragmented among different sectors of your hard drive. This process reorganizes the fragments into whole files.

System Restore

If properly set up, you can restore your computer to an early time, such as before a virus infection or corrupted update. Personal files are not changed, but system files may be.


A firewall is a type of software or hardware that works to block viruses and hackers. It works in tandem with your anti-virus to reduce threats to your computer.

Basic Computer Terminology – Internet Terms

Before you master basic computer terminology, there are a few more Internet-related terms you need to know, such as:


Information from websites is stored on your computer to make the sites load faster in the future. You can clear the cache to save space on your device.


Cookies are small files that store details about your activity on a site, such as logging in and site preferences. These are refreshed at specific intervals. You can delete them at any time.


Toolbars contain options for controlling your browser and sit at the top of the browser. You can download additional toolbars to gain access to specialized search engines and personalized settings.

Add-Ons and Extensions

While the two terms mean the same thing, different browsers use different terms. Both are small programs that allow you to add on to or extend the function of the browser.

Search Engine

A search engine is a type of program that sends out digital spiders to gather as many online documents as possible. An index is then created and accessed when you enter a specific keyword or phrase.


  1. If I use Windows RT 8.1 on my Surface, do I need to stop using internet explorer and switch to Google chrome or Mozilla Firefox?

    • Hi Nancy,

      If you are still using Windows 8.1 you can continue to use Internet Explorer, although you do want to make sure you are running IE 11, or at least 10. Because Internet Explorer is being phased out by Microsoft (they now have Microsoft Edge for Windows 10) you may want to take this opportunity to try out browsers like Chrome and Firefox, in case you do someday upgrade to Windows 10. I’m not saying get rid of IE all together, just try out something different to familiarize yourself with alternative browsers.

      All the best!