Brush up on your tech acronyms

0717 primary

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

H. Basco asked for “a list of all the abbreviations that computer-savvy geniuses use, thinking we all KNOW what they mean!”

Sorry, but I can’t provide you with every tech acronym in existence. That would require writing a very large book. And it would be out of date long before I could finish it. But I’ve provided a handful of the more common abbreviations.

For the others, just search the web.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to]

BIOS: Basic Input/Output System. A chip on a PC motherboard that controls how the computer boots, then helps the hardware and software talk to each other.

BSoD: Blue Screen of Death. This is the colloquial name for what Microsoft calls a Stop Error. The computer suddenly stops working, and displays white text against a blue background. It’s best to avoid these.

CPU: Central Processing Unit. The computer’s main chip; the one that runs the operating system and other programs. If you’ve got a sticker that says “Intel inside,” it’s telling you that you’ve got an Intel CPU. This acronym has also been used incorrectly to refer to the main box of a desktop computer.

HDD: Hard Disk Drive. A common storage device with spinning disks inside a sealed, dust-free container.

HTML: Hyper-Text Markup Language. The primary language that contains the content and structural format of a webpage. HTML5 is the latest version of the standard.

ISP: Internet Service Provider. The company you pay monthly to connect your home or office to the Internet.

LAN: Local Area Network. A network connecting computers and devices physically near each other, such as in your home or office. Every computer connected to your router is on your LAN.

Mbps: Megabits per second. A measure of network speed. For instance, your ISP may offer 60Mbps and provide only 53. Not to be confused with MBps (note the capital B), which stands for Megabytes per second. I made that mistake recently. A byte contains eight bits.

MBR: Master Boot Record. The first place on your hard drive that your computer looks for boot instructions.

OEM: Original Equipment Manufacturer. Originally, the company that made the product, as opposed to the one that’s selling it. But OEM is often used to mean something sold or licensed to the manufacturer. For instance, an OEM copy of Windows is one that Microsoft intended to come installed on a computer.

RAID: Redundant Array of Independent Disks. Several HDDs running together as one to improve speed and/or redundancy.

SSD: Solid State Drive. A storage device without moving parts; much faster than HDDs but also much more expensive by the gigabyte.

TLA: Three-Letter Acronym. Any technology or concept that’s identified by three initials, such as CPU, ISP, LAN, MBR, OEM, and SSD.

USB: Universal Serial Bus. A standardized collection of connectors, cables and and protocols designed to connect peripherals to computers. The current version version, USB 3.0 is capable of transferring data ten times faster than USB 2.0 and is backwards compatible with other USB versions.

VoIP: Voice Over Internet Protocol. Technologies and services such as Skype that allow you to talk to other people over the Internet, as an alternative to landlines and cellphones.

VPN: Virtual Private Network. A system that uses encryption to allow you to pass information securely over the Internet. For instance, if you work at home, your employer may require a VPN to access the company servers.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon