Here it is, folks: The PC building bluffer's guide. Your one-stop shop to convincing everybody you know that you are the ultimate font of computer hardware knowledge. I'll warn you, it's a slippery slope from here on out. Before you know it, you'll be soldering CMOS chips in your spare time for... fun.
Find all the hardware you need to build your own machine with our handy hardware guides.
Technology develops pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. And the terms used to describe the latest and greatest PC gaming hardware develop even faster. Especially when manufacturers title their own products with complete disregard for standard naming conventions, we're looking at you guys, Intel and AMD.
Maybe you need a new processor, but don't know what you need. Maybe you need to know what sort of board you can fit in your diddy PC case. Or maybe you just want to pick up a new SSD and you’re tired of trying to figure your way through all the marketing jargon. Whatever your reason, we can guide you through the hardware terminology wilderness.
We've gathered the most important key terms here, for easy access, but clicking on the quick links below will take you to the in-depth page for each section.
Think you're ready to overclock? Wondering what to do with all that excess liquid nitrogen? You need to learn to talk before you can run, so we recommend you start off with our handy guide to everything CPU.
You might just be wondering how to pick a processor suitable for your needs. Understanding the technical terms might mean you won’t buy a processor that doesn’t fit in your motherboard socket, or accidentally drop a couple of grand on a 32-core server chip for your DOTA2 machine.
- Cores: The cores are the actual processing units within a CPU, with multiple cores making up a single processor
- Threads: Cores can often run multiple operations at one time due to a technology called HyperThreading on Intel CPUs and Simultaneous Multi Threading (SMT) on AMD chips.
- Socket: The socket in which a CPU connects to a motherboard and subsequently other components within a computer. Commonly employed as LGA (land grid array), PGA (pin grid array), or BGA (ball grid array) designs to create the multiple contact points between chip and board.
The motherboard is a PC’s hub for connectivity and features. Pick the wrong one and you can severely limit the features available to you, especially down the line when you look to add more hardware or upgrade.
If you aren’t sure if you’ll need more than one PCIe, or if you’ll need a water block fan header, then our guide to useful terms can help you out.
- Chipset: The chipset is a collection of integrated circuits on a motherboard. The chipset manages many of the connections with the CPU, such as, the inputs and outputs, LAN, Storage, and Audio, although many of these connections are now being built into the processors. The chipset also offers extra PCIe lanes on top of those integrated into the CPU.
- Form Factor: EATX, ATX, Micro ATX, Mini ITX,listed from largest to smallest. Various size standards have been designed for extended, or cut-down, connectivity to fit different case designs. Mini ITX is the smallest of those listed, often with only a single PCIe slot and sometimes even memory slots for notebook memory (SODIMM) rather than regular desktop DIMM slots. EATX offers an even wider ATX board, with more features and connectivity than an ATX motherboard.
- PCI-e Lanes: The peripheral component interconnect express is the latest high speed bus connecting peripherals, such as graphics cards, to the CPU. They are made up of multiple lanes allowing simultaneous send and receive signals per lane. Graphics cards often use PCIe connections that make use of 16x lanes for increased bandwidth.
If you need to prove to your console friends that your graphics card is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, better than their new Xbox One X, then you’ll need to learn all about graphics cards and what makes them tick.
Once you know all about your TeraFLOPS you can throw down knowledge on your friends until they buckle, or until you have no friends. Either way, you’ve all learnt something.
- Video memory: The memory used on a graphics card to store information the GPU requires, and is working with, such as the frame buffer and textures.
- PCB: Printed circuit board. The PCB contains the connections for allowing the components of a system communicate and receive power.
- FLOPS: The amount of floating point operations per second - useful for measure compute performance of a device. A teraflop is one million million operations per second.
So you’ve just picked up some new memory, plugged it in and, good news! The computer starts up and nothing seems broken… but wait. Why is it running so much slower than what it says on the box?!
You may feel ripped off, but before you send that angry email, take a look at our guide to memory jargon. Soon enough, you’ll be up and running with your memory purring along at advertised speeds, and you won’t even have to shout at customer service. Everybody wins.
- Speed: This is the clockspeed that the memory runs at. For gaming, memory speed is not a massively important factor, within reasonable speeds.
- DDR (Double data rate): Transfers data twice per clock, allowing for more data to be transferred. The current most common memory standard is DDR4, although DDR3 is still common among some older PCs. DDR4 offers higher frequencies, greater bandwidth, and lower power consumption than DDR3 modules.
- XMP: An Intel-supported standard that can be turned on within the BIOS of XMP-supported motherboards to allow higher frequencies than usually supported. XMP profiles are preset by the manufacturers.
If you aren’t sure why one SSD costs vast amounts more than another, and you can’t find a straight answer on the product page, then you’ve come to the right place.
SSDs are such a key component in modern PCs and they come in many shapes and sizes. Not knowing the terms can leave you stranded with an SSD that cost you too much, or doesn’t offer you the performance boost you may have hoped for.
- SATA: Interface for storage drives, currently utilises the AHCI protocol with a hard bandwidth limit of 600MB/s on inputs and outputs across the interface.
- PCIe: Interface used for the fastest consumer storage drives - can use AHCI and NVMe protocols.
- NVMe: Protocol - fast, designed for SSD - up to 3,500MB/s
Need a 4K, ultrawide, G-Sync, 240Hz, Quantum dot monitor? You most likely don’t, but it can be tricky to figure out what you actually need when searching for a monitor.
Even if you’ve got the perfect monitor, and you just want to know more about the tech, our guide is a great place to start your research.
- Resolution: The amount of pixels available to display an image on the monitor, traditionally measured in height and width.
- Refresh rate: How many times the monitor refreshes the image within one second. The standard is 60Hz, but it can be up to 240 and even 480Hz.
- Response times: How quickly the pixels change to the new information given to them - low response times leads to ghosting and motion blur.
The PSU is a massively underappreciated component in PC building. It pushes voltage to the most delicate and intricate systems, which can be turned into expensive paperweights by even the slightest surge of power.
Knowing your 80+ Titanium PSU from your unbranded ebay knock-off can save you money on your electricity bills in the long run, and prevent complete system meltdown and disaster.
- Rails: 12V, 5V, 5VSB, 3.3V - the connections that deliver power to components in your system.
- Modular: All cables can be removed and attached as required, providing easier cable-tidying and increased airflow.
- 80+ Efficiency ratings: Products with 80+ rating can achieve 80% energy efficiency at 20%, 50% and 100% rated load. Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Titanium improve on efficiency from 80% up to 94%
Get to know your rodent with our handy guide. It’s not necessarily worthwhile to go out and buy a laser mouse with 16000 DPI just because it’s touted as the best by a sponsored esports master.
Unless, of course, you are masquerading as an esports master, in which case, no one will believe you without some quality mouse knowledge, and that’s where our guide comes in.
- Laser sensor: These sensors bounce laser light off a surface to measure the distance travelled. It offers higher DPI ratings and works on any surface, but requires acceleration to translate the motion of the device to movement on the screen which can affect the consistency of motion.
- Optical sensor: An often cheaper, more consistent sensor, using infrared light. That means they need a mousemat for reliable use, but provide 1:1 tracking. Traditionally they offered lower DPI settings, but that is increasingly a thing of the past with the best sensors now being optical.
- DPI/CPI: Dots per inch and counts per inch, this is how the mouse measures how precisely it can track movement. Some mice can change DPI on-the-fly with specific buttons.
Annoy your everyone with one simple purchase! Cherry MX Blue switches will never cease to bug your fellow office/house mates. However, if you actually like people, you might want to check out our glossary of keyboard terms to avoid the most clickiest and clackiest key switches available to you.
Mechanical keyboards are an incredible experience compared to their membrane counterparts, but there are a lot of different features and switches out there. We’ve compiled a breakdown of all the terms you’ll need to get started in your sadly never-ending quest for the perfect board.
- Mechanical: A physical switch with actuation point on keypress. In some cases offers tactile feedback.
- Tactile: Keys that offer a physical click when actuated.
- Linear: Keys that offer no tactile feedback once actuated. Popular for gamers.
Want to gain the advantage in gaming with a full surround sound setup? Maybe you just bought the best headphones on the market and they are too quiet?
Whatever the case, understanding the terms and phrases is the first step towards getting your own ideal audio setup.
- Drivers: The component within headphones that converts the electrical signal into sound. The larger the driver, the more powerful the output, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to higher quality. Driver quality is key in creating the best sound quality.
- Amp: Power amplifier used to push a louder and better sound experience.
- DAC: Digital-to-analogue converter, this hardware converts the digital signal to analogue and utilise higher bitrate and sound quality.