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Here is a guide to looking at computers and other devices. Of course because tech changes so quickly, we can't respond to everything and don't have the time to update constantly but we do our very best! Slight updates May 2014..

These are the categories:

Desktop or laptop? Notebook or iPad type? Operating System Tech Stuff Software RAM
Hard Drive/Disk Processor Graphics Card PCI Slots Monitor
TFT Monitor Guide USB/USB2 Firewire/Firewire 800 CD/DVD Printer
Scanners Modems Broadband The Internet Bluetooth/Wireless
Spam Email Disk Utilities, Backup Security Buying Value Jargon Guide - NEW
    TOP OF PAGE    

First up, something not to do with computers at all. This is to do with your personal information. Do you shred letters and destroy receipts and other personal information before trashing them? If not, today is the day to start. People often protect their computers but are slow to protect their personal information. But people go through trash to find your credit card details and other info. So destroy anything sensitive. It sounds over the top, but we destroy sensitive info by burning it. At the very least, tear up information before simply trashing it. And keep a good check on your financial information, bank statements etc.


The majority of people use PCs. These are the machines that you find in most offices and businesses (the dull, grey boxes). Many people have one of these machines in their homes. The other main fairly common computer is an Apple Mac which is preferred by many creative, music and graphics professionals and increasingly, home users, thanks to iTunes and the iPod. This covers various topics across the computer spectrum for both PCs and Macs:

Desktop or laptop? | TOP

Here is a table listing the advantages and disadvantages for you:

  Advantages Disadvantages
DESKTOP Cheaper than a laptop - pound for pound They are bigger and bulkier than laptops
  They are easier to expand (add better features and other cool things) You have to have a separate monitor (unless you get something like the Apple iMac)
  They are essential if you want to do very top end / professional work as they are more powerful Still quite difficult to upgrade yourself as many aren't designed to be worked on easily. Exception is the Apple G4 and G5
  You can take out things like the graphics card and replace them more easily Can be difficult to make enough space for them in a small room
  Have more ports in them (more connecting points for things like USB etc. See below)  
  Can put in more memory (RAM) and bigger hard drives (storage space)  
LAPTOP They are smaller, lighter They can get hot after prolonged use
  They can be carried around with you so you can take your work with you They are more easily stolen so you need more security features on them (lock, software to stop people using it without your permission)
  They have an in-built screen They only have limited battery power
  You can put them to use all over the place - easier to use with video projectors etc. More expensive than desktops
  Take up less room and can be put anywhere easily Much more difficult to upgrade yourself, you'll almost certainly have to get someone else to do it
  The ports are mostly more accessible (just turn the laptop round and plug the lead in) Less upgradeable than a desktop
    Generally less powerful than desktops because desktops can cool the processor better and therefore make the computer go faster
NOTEBOOK Even smaller, lighter than laptops Not as great if you're long-sighted!
  Extremely portable Less power than laptops
  They have an in-built screen Small screen sizes (9-11 inch)
  Still fairly well featured but non-essential inputs aren't often there Eg HDMI etc
    Can be quite expensive for what they offer

eg iPad etc

Good balance between portable screen and size Not as large as a laptop
  Lots of easy to use apps You wouldn't want to use to write long documents or do anything too complex
  Touch-screen operating system like an iPhone or smartphone Some don't like it as much as a 'proper operating system' although Mac OS and iOS increasingly simialr (Windows 8 similarly).
  Phone-like options like camera and video recording Quality not as good as a dedicated unit
  Great for video on the go, watching movies, playing games and doing basic things. Great fun and huge educational potential too. Smaller screen than on a monitor.


Operating System | TOP

This is at the heart of computers. Unfortunately for people, the most common operating system that makes computers work (or should I say, sometimes work) is Microsoft Windows. It is found in a variety of formats, the latest (2010-11) being Windows 7. There are other systems but the one you will probably come across is the Mac OSX which is the operating system used to power Apple computers. Another common system is called 'Linux'.

Some tech stuff | TOP

MB = megabyte. GB = gigabyte. 1000 megabytes is equivalent to 1 gigabyte.

TB = terabyte. 1 terrabyte = 1000GB.

Pixels = the units used to make up your monitor (or TV) screen. So your screen may be at 800 x 600 or 1024 x 764 or 1280 x 1024. As the number goes higher so your screen can fit more on - but the smaller the image will be. Therefore, you buy as big a screen as possible! Some manufacturers are improving the pixel density and the way pixels disaply to give you increasingly high quality displays (eg Mac OS Lion)

Software | TOP

These are computer programmes that allow you to do more than the operating system allows. For example it will run a printer connected to your computer, allow you to edit pictures and movies, write documents, prepare your accounts and more. Examples are things like Microsoft Word.


Random Access Memory. Part of what helps your computer run or go a bit faster. It's like the fuel in your car. You should consider machines with as much RAM as possible as your operating system (and some software) especially are always becoming more RAM 'hungry'. The physical speed of RAM is always getting faster too, so 1GB from the latest computer will be faster than 1GB from a computer 3 years old. There are different kinds of RAM so go for the fastest and best that budget will allow.

Hard Drive/Disk | TOP

This is where all the information on your computer sits. It's like your computer's cupboard where it stores all the information. The bigger the better because as programmes get better they take up more storage space on your computer. The hard drives have different speeds as well. Generally look out for a hard drive that says 7200rpm (that means it spins faster than some drives and therefore is faster). There are also different kinds of hard drives so look out for that. Currently things called 'Serial ATA' drives or 'Ultra ATA' or even 'eSATA' drives will be more than enough for normal use. Look at whether the hard drive has a 'buffer' as well.

Some drives come with multiple interfaces - such as USB, USB2, USB3 or Firewire / Firewire 800. Firewire is considered more stable but far less widely used, Firewire 800 is generally double the speed of Firewire. Drives with 'buffers' should go faster and be more stable than ones without. It is fairly easy (or should be) to fit a new hard drive inside your own computer. If you end up doing high-end video editing etc. you'll need faster drives still and should start to research something called 'RAID'. Some products now come with Intel's 'Thunderbolt' technology which is another huge increase in speed and functionality as different kinds of 'interfaces' (eg USB / Firewire) can be attached into it with the right attachments.

Other hard drives are going the route of tablet devices like the iPad and using 'solid state hard drives'. These can be found on devices like the Macbook Air / Macbooks gradually being released. These are 'flash' (ROM) based and are more reliable, cheaper, last longer and can sometimes be upgraded / replaced (eg your 'SD' slot on your digital camera). Some devices have static solid state drives, that can't be upgraded.

Remember that if you're doing other things eg bringing information into a computer via firewire / FW800 and simultaneously writing via Firewire / FW800, you can experience the dreaded firewire 'bottleneck', so getting a separate (PCI card etc) firewire interface to the built-in computer one is sometimes advisable. This applies more to stuff like video capturing than audio backup and daily tasks etc.

Processor | TOP

This is the thing that helps power the speed of your computer. It's not the only thing to think about though. When you see a PC advert and it has that annoying jingle and talks about Intel processors, that's what we mean. Generally the higher the number, the faster the computer. Numbers are measured in megahertz (MHz) and gigahertz (GHz, gigahertz = 1000 megahertz).

However, there are different types of processor chips and you should think before simply getting a computer with an 'high speed' chip inside. Processors work in different ways and there are different types. Currently machines are coming with 'dual-core' chips, where there are 2 processors working on a 'motherboard' (the place they live inside the computer). Some computers have up to a number of 'core' processors in them (eg dual core, 4 core, 8 core, 16 core etc) where the single processing chip effectively has more than one processor on it. Smartphones and tablets have also gone this route.

Something equally important is the speed of the 'frontside bus'. No it's not new government transport policy it's part of the processor chip. Don't worry about what it is too much but as ever, the faster the better!

Graphics Cards | TOP

To display the picture on your monitor and let you view DVDs and play games etc. Again the speed is measured in terms of RAM. The faster it is, the higher the screen resolution (the amount of pixels your monitor displays), the better it copes with video and motion - and the higher the quality.

Most graphics cards also have their own processor (power) built-in so it helps your computer go faster (one less thing for your computer to do!) Some cards let you output your computer screen etc. to external devices / video monitors or a TV screen. Get a faster graphics card if you will play a lot of games as a fast card re-draws on-screen graphics faster. Sometimes you'll want to get a separate and better graphics card (for playing video games, or video editing etc)

PCI Slots | TOP

These are pull-out slots at the back of your desktop. They are there so you can expand the functions of your computer. So they can be used for adding a new graphics card, adding more USB or Firewire slots, or video editing card etc. Used more by professionals. PCI Express is a fairly recent addition, for more high-end users.

Monitor | TOP

TFT ? CRT ? - The monitor is the things you use to view stuff on your computer. A CRT monitor is one of the normal ones that looks a bit like a regular TV and is quite a hefty thing. A TFT has more of a flat screen (no tube in it) and is therefore much smaller and lighter. However, a CRT monitor is better at accurately reflecting real colours so you get a better idea of what colour your printer may use for example. You can set your monitor to different resolutions (the higher the resolution, the smaller the image you see on the screen - but the more you can fit on the screen!)

What size? Well, 17" or 19" (17 or 19 inch) should really be a minimum. By the way a so-called 17 inch screen isn't ever that big - more like only 15.8 inches in screen space. So the bigger the better. Obviously a 21 inch or 24 inch screen may to too big (and too heavy!) for you but if you're going to be doing a lot of detailed work (like drawing) then a 21inch monitor should be a minimum. Some people have 2 monitors connected to their computer at the same time. Your graphics card may allow this - or you may have to fit anothert graphics card. The advantage is that you have the controls on one screen and can work fully on the other screen. May be a bit confusing for some though. Flatscreen (TFT) monitors will be in widescreen.

TFT Monitor Guide | TOP

Resolution - the amount of pixels on-screen. For example, typically a 17" TFT will have up to 1280x1024 (1.3 million pixels), 19" will usually also have 1280x1024 but may go up higher. The larger the screen, the higher the amount of pixels.

Dot Pitch - the lower the better.

Colours - the more the better.

Viewing Angle - measured as 'H:170, V:170'. This is the amount of tilt horizontally and vertically that the monitor has.

Contrast Ratio - the higher the better. This is basically the amount between the monitor displaying black and a white. Generally, the higher the better.

Brightness - does what it says, the higher the better, in theory.

Response Time - how fast graphics are 'drawn' on the screen, the lower the better, especially for gaming and graphic intensive use. For general usage don't worry about this too much.

Input - what kind of inputs does the monitor have? They will have VGA as standard. Some come with DVI (digital video interface) which provides no loss in signal down the cable between computer and monitor. Consider ones with S-video / composite input if likely to use out on the road for church video monitoring etc. Increasingly, HDMI is common and should be considered essential (high-definition multimedia interface). This is used when viewing HD (high definition).

Power Supply - is this internal or external? Up to you which you prefer? Internal may save clutter but may make the TFT slightly bulkier.

Weight / Dimensions - obviously the lower the better within reason!

Audio - does the monitor have in-built speakers? Do you want this?

VESA Wall Mount - this means you can mount your TFT on your wall. Great idea. Very useful.

What it looks like - go take a look at some LCD monitors in your local computer or electronics shop and get a feel of what you'd like it to look like and which size you want.

Calibration - Some monitors relfect colours more accurately than others. This is very important if you are a graphics pro, getting colours to look accurate on screen so you know what colours you are creating and producing when going to print

Check reviews in computer magazines, at or or google search to find the best models.

USB1.1 and USB2 - USB3 | TOP

These are ways of connecting peripherals/devices to your computer. Peripherals/devices are things like a digital camera, a camcorder, a printer, a scanner etc. USB is an easy way of connecting devices - you plug them in, use the software (often already on your computer) and away you go! USB2 is the same but 2 times faster than normal USB. Get USB2 if you can. USB is 'backwards compatible' which means you'll be able to use USB in USB2 sockets.

You may have heard of USB 'pen' or 'pocket' drives. These are small, key sized devices that can store info (in the same way that disk drives used to). They plug into a USB socket on your computer and then they 'mount' (appear on screen). You can drag files to and from these - and on computers with the latest operating systems (Windows XP, Vista or Mac OSX) they just plug in and don't need any special software.

USB3 is even more useful than USB2, is seriously faster (up to 4.8 Gbps as opposed to USB 480 mbps - up to 10 times faster). Donb't consider anything except USB3 unless your computer ports are older USB ones. USB4 will phase in through 2014.

Firewire/IEE194/i-link/Firewire 800 | TOP

The real name for this is firewire and the speed is about the same as USB2. It does a very similar thing to USB2 but is used more for things like camcorders whereas digital cameras connect to a computer using USB. There is a new firewire that gives speeds double that of USB2. Having one firewire port on your computer is a very good idea especially if you want to work with video. (A port is a socket usually found on the back of your computer). Firewire 800 is twice the speed of normal Firewire.


These are types of ways of storing information on disks. A CD will store up to 800MB of information. A DVD will store up to 9.4Gb of information. Of course CDs are used to record music, as are DVDs. Because they are bigger, DVDs are used to store movies and similar video footage. Your computer will allow you to create your own CDs and/or DVDs. Increasingly PCs have blu-ray DVD writing capablities built-in. Blu-Ray will store 25GB single-layer and 50GB double-layer. However, this is massively expandable (200GB discs are available).

Printer | TOP

Something that allows you to print information or pictures from your computer usually via USB. Most people get an inkjet (also called bubblejet) printer for their home. Some people have laser printers which are better quality but more expensive. If you want to print in colour (photos etc) get an inkjet. If you have a business a mono laser (black and white only) is better.

With printers, look for the price of the inkjet cartridges. If your printer is cheap and your cartridge prices are expensive, it's not a great buy. Note you do not have to get the 'branded' inkjet cartridges, as they are more expensive that compatible cartridges. However, if you don't get the 'branded' cartridges, you will likely suffer picture quality loss. A branded cartridge would be when you have an Epson printer and buy Epson cartridges. If you look around you will find compatible cartridges (ones that are the same but aren't made by Epson) for much cheaper prices. Canon and other makers are increasingly attaching microchips to inkjet cartridges, so people cannot use compatible ones.

Also look at the print resolution (the amount of dots a printer produces per square inch). The higher then generally the better. An interpolated resolution is when a printer tries to make something look better quality by making the existing image higher quality. This won't be as good quality as an actual resolution. My printer can interpolate up to 4800dpi but this wouldn't be as good quality as an actual 4800dpi image.

Many printers now print direct onto a printable CD. Basically they have a little tray which the CD sits in - you push it into the printer, design something with CD software you'll get free with the printer, then click 'print' and then choose 'print CD' (or similar) on your print menu and hey presto!

Scanners | TOP

This is something that means you can effectively 'photocopy' an image into your computer which can be useful, for example if you want to have a picture on your computer but you only have it as a photo. You pop it into the scanner, the scanner 'scans' (or copies) the photo and hey presto it's on your computer (remember to save it!) The technical stuff is similar to printers, basically get the highest dpi (dots per inch) you can! Sometimes scanners can scan transparencies (the negatives in your photos). This generally produces a higher quality image.

Modems | TOP

Huh?! Old computers came with a 56k modem built in. Old technology now but it meant that you would plug your telephone cable into your computer and use your phone line to dial-up to the internet verrrrrry slooooooowly. Some computers still have these in-built, but as broadband is so common and much faster, it's almost un-heard of. Still, it's a history lesson of the early days of the internet!

Broadband | TOP

For this you need to get a separate broadband modem and have to pay a service provider to allow you to access the Internet at these speeds. The modem will be a USB one or what's called an ethernet modem. Ethernet is simply a fast way of connecting computers.

Prices will range from £18 to £35 a month for standard broadband services - and like I say the big names aren't always the cheapest or fastest!

When you choose you internet provider you will share your 'bandwidth' with a set number of other users outside of your property. This means you share your broadband or dial-up connection with up to 50 other people (you're rarely all online at the same time). So think about this. It's possible to pay more for broadband and reduce the number of other users you share with to perhaps 10 or 20. This will probably help increase speed. Remember that sending information (like emails) is always slower than receiving.

Remember that some providers restrict the amount of time you are on in their pricing but give you higher speeds. Other providers give you slower speeds but don't restrict the amount of time you're online.

Go to the review pages of sites like for details on top internet/ADSL providers.

The Internet | TOP

A whole bunch of computers linked together. Your computer becomes part of a network of computers. When you connect to the internet, you do so via your phone line and have your own unique number (called an Internet Protocol number or IP). This is kind of like your personal telephone number.

When connected, this enables you to access most of the information out there on the web. But where is all this information stored? Well, on 10s of 1000s of computers called 'servers'. These servers store information for people who mostly pay money to have the information stored there then people are routed to that server to access this web page. When you dial a phone number, your phone number connects to their phone number via your telephone company through a telephone exchange. When you type in an Internet address, your computer connects via your Internet service provider to a server holding the information.

So - you connect to the Internet using say You then open up your browser (probably Internet Explorer. A browser is what lets you view the information on the Internet). You then type in Via freeserve you connect to the servers at (my Internet host company - that means where the pages live after I send them to You can then view these pages.

Email is much simpler in a way. It's simply a way of communicating electronically (but just like a phone).

If you have children or a computer in a public place, you will need to get a content filter. Companies such as Norton and Intego do excellent software to restrict which pages people are allowed to view. It may also be a good idea for you so you aren't tempted to look at messed up stuff. There are also freeware and shareware programs that do a very good job too.

Bluetooth / Wireless / Wi-Fi | TOP

These are ways of transferring data through the air rather than using cables. This means that people can have a laptop and not use any leads if they wanted to. You can send pictures, information, addresses by using bluetooth and connect up your mobile phone to your computer. With wireless networking you can access the Internet, send large files and log into a company network (a bunch of computers linked together) without cables. It gives you much more freedom! They use radio waves. If you do use wireless stuff, make sure that the info is 'encrypted' (coded) or other people may access your personal info. See below..

Spam Email | TOP

This is unsolicited email, basically stuff you don't want and haven't asked for. Often offensive and always annoying! So how do you protect yourself?

Be careful NEVER to respond to fake emails spoofing to be from places like online banks, ebay, paypal etc. These emails will NEVER ask for personal info, passwords or credit card details if they're genuine. They will address you by your full name if they're genuine. Never respond to requests for personal information over the phone either.

Be careful which email lists you subscribe to. If they don't have a privacy policy watch out. Most good email lists will tell you they don't pass on your details. Be careful to read carefully about if you need to check or uncheck a box to opt out of personal info being passed on or not. For example, the myfishbites newsletter doesn't reveal your details.

Don't open unsolicited emails while online (as far as possible). They may well send info back to the spammer that you have received the email. NEVER open attachments in emails if you do not know and trust the sender. In fact, be careful anyway, even friends may accidentally pass on a virus unwittingly.

Get an anti-spam program or use the ones in-built to your operating system. For PC, you can't go wrong with AVG for most things and it's free! For the Mac there is Spam Sieve ( For Mac, you may as well have the free Sophos Anti-Virus.

Remember that you often need to add all the people you know to your address book. Some programmes give you the option to 'add sender to message book' when you get an email. If it's a trusted source then do this. You will also need to add the email addresses of companies that send you emails (like subscription emails, newsletters etc.)

Disk Backup, Utilities and Password Protect | TOP

Your computer is valuable. If it's not, the info on it may well be and you need protection. This comes in 3 ways. Here's some advice:

1. Backup your files regularly. Use a separate hard drive (via USB), use a CD or DVD writer or a keysize pocket hard-drive. Do backup your files. Consider getting a program to do this, or use 'cloud' services (online backup) which backup your data over the web to remote storage that you can access. Places like Apple , DropBox and Google give you around 2GB of free space which is enough for most domestic people but not enough if you're handling photos or video files of course. What are you going to do if your computer or hard drive crashes - or as I have done, you delete essential files. You may well pay £100s to get a professional to recover your info.

2. Keep your computer in good shape. Don't go deleting and changing hordes of files without optimizing your system or defragmenting. There are many options for disk utility software - look under Symantec, Prosoft, Disk Warrior and others. If you don't take care, you may well regret it.

3. Password protect your computer and or files. You can use things like logging in as different users but this isn't infallible, especially on a PC. People can boot up your computer from a CD and have other ways and means of gaining access to important or private files.. what happens if you lose your laptop? Make sure your computer security settings are set to a maximum level.

Security | TOP

Virsues. A virus is a nasty piece of software designed to infect your computer, just as a human virus attacks the human body. These are nasty and will potentially cause significant damage to your computer. You abssolutely MUST have anti-virus software. This software will protect your computer from viruses - and disinfect it should you get or find a virus. Currently, viruses are much more likely to attack PCs than Macs. None of the recent viruses have affected Macs. I'm not an Apple salesman but buying a Mac is a great defence.

To protect against computer viruses and to stop spreading them to someone else, get anti-virus software. A free and excellent anti-virus software for PC can be got from AVG - here. Make sure you use the 'update' feature at least once a week, and immediately you hear about a new virus.

Another good example of these kinds of anti-virus software is found within the Norton Internet Security package (click here) - it can also be purchased separately. McAfee also do excellent software - click here.

Macs rarely have viruses (I've never had one). But don't be arrogant - I also run a virus checker on my Mac as you can never be sure. I use the free Sophos Anti-Virus. So whatever kind of computer you have, anti-virus software is essential. A good reason to get a virus checker is that some viruses will access both your or other people's computers and send out emails purporting to be from your email address, or email to the people on your address list. Some virsues have even managed to forward emails to lots of people from address books. So be careful what you write in your emails!!

Content Barriers - If you want to protect against young children or teenagers accessing dodgy sites then consider getting what's called 'parental control' or 'content barrier' software which stops bad Internet sites being accessed from your computer. Norton and Intego (click here) do this kind of software. The one annoying thing is it can block out perfectly harmless sites that mention subjects considered unsuitable.

Firewall - If you have a PC or Mac then buy firewall software for your protection, despite the in-built firewalls. A firewall protects you from what is called 'hacking' (or at least limits the ability to be hacked). What is a firewall? Well, it's either software - or hardware (such as found on modems or 'routers' (see above) that puts a special kind of 'wall' between your computer and the Internet. Hacking is where people seek to attack, control or interfere with your computer when you are connected to the internet.

Macs and PCs that are on the internet are equally susceptible to hacking so a firewall is ESSENTIAL if you have an internet connection, especially broadband. Because broadband is 'online' (on the internet) all the time, it increases your chances of being attacked or 'hacked'.

How does this happen? Well, although you have one wire coming out from your computer into your broadband modem, or telephone socket, there are in fact many 'ports' of entry into your computer down this line. A firewall protects all the 'ports' or as many as you ask it to protect. Sounds complicated yes but most software is user-friendly and easy to understand, just use the default settings or follow instructions.

Windows is a more vulnerable system that the Mac or another system called Linux. This means that when you are on the Internet your Windows machine is much more vulnerable to hacking.

Spyware is there to watch your Internet habits, will download to your PC without you knowing (and despite having a firewall) and can do something called 'keystroke logging' which means it can track the information you enter into web pages - such as passwords and other personal information so be warned. You MUST get anti-spyware software if you have a PC, it's as important as anti-virus or firewall software.

Finally, if you download music from non-safe sources (a safe source is Apple's iTunes, available for PC and Mac), then you are also at risk from spyware. So think before you download illegally! If it's just to test tunes then fair enough but be careful.

Therefore, if you have a PC, you must get anti-'spyware' software on your computer, which will also protect against 'tracking' cookies. Cookies store information that are necessary for you to do online shopping but many others are used to track your Internet movement. You may not want these on your computer..

Up to Date Software - Make sure you stay up to date with your operating system software (get the latest update available). Windows and Mac can be set up to download this automatically. You must do this, especially if connected to the internet.

Before installing software, I often give a breather period (a week or so) to check if the software is all OK and that there aren't any major bugs in the software. I always make sure my computer is in good condition. On the Mac, the operating system is fairly intelligent and sorts itself out. Nevertheless I start up the computer from a CD and run 'repair disk' just in case. I also use Apple's Disk Utility to 'repair permissions' before and after operating system updates. On the PC, run tools such as defragmenter and disk check to make sure your PC is in good nick.

The second update on sofware is for things like Microsoft Office / Adobe / other software you use. The reason you update your software is that it often improves performance - but more importantly, it fixes security holes that come with some programmes. It's always worth making sure you're up to date.

Online Security - Worried about online shopping? Here's some hints. First if unsure, only use sites you know and trust (amazon, hmv etc.) Second, before entering personal information make sure that there is a padlock icon on your internet browser window (Windows users usually top right, Mac users bottom left!)

Also check that addresses use the prefix of https://www instead of http://www. Finally, when choosing passwords, use different ones on each site if possible. Make passwords combinations of characters - so if you must use your cats name, don't just use 'garfield' but instead use 'g5rF1e1d'

Phishing - this is where companies set up fake websites to get you to enter credit card details. Be very careful to avoid them. So, make sure that the site you are buying from is completely genuine. Don't be fooled by security and privacy policies, these may be fake. Don't be fooled by images and alleged goods, these also may be fake. Check companies have phone numbers, contact addresses and emails. Phone them up. Even then it may not guarantee they're genuine. Stick to companies other people have used, that you know of, do a search under google about these companies, use only big name companies.

Online email / log in / log out - If you have an email provider (like hotmail, yahoo etc.) that you access by going on the internet - and especially if it's a computer not in your own home, be careful to make sure you ALWAYS log out before you leave. If you don't you will allow other people using thje computer after you, to access all your emails, email addresses and personal information even. This is especially key when you're doing things like using an online bank account etc. Be very careful. Be careful that people aren't watching you type your password in. Use secure passwords, don't use the same ones for every account you have and always make sure you log out completely. Consider clicking on the options on your internet browser such as 'empty cache' and 'delete history' and 'delete cookies' to make it even more secure. Change passwords regularly.

Computer Security - If you have a laptop then you should consider getting a lock to physically protect it. Most computers will have a slot on it where you will be able to insert a lock on the end of a chain into the laptop and then tie the other end of the lock cable to an inanimate object that can't be moved (a water pipe or something).

Malware - malicious software. This is usually combatted by AVG (PC) or other software but has a disruptive effect on your computer and can install / hide files without your knowing, popping up ads or doing strange things. Look around the web if you get infected as there are always solutions from clever people to get rid of them.

On top of this, you should consider the security of information on your computer to keep it away from prying eyes. To do this simply, you can set up a screensaver that requires you to type in a password to re-access the computer. This will work as a temporary measure perhaps in an office where you don't want others to see what you're typing. However, this is no long-term solution as people can start your computer from a CD, a disk - or indeed access your computer via USB or firewire from another computer. There are many options for this including software. The Mac has a system called File Vault where you can encrypt data into a safe folder that will not be able to be accessed via anyone else. There are many pieces of software around for this too. If you're worried, have a look around the internet. If you've got a laptop, it's well worth considering.

Value | TOP

When you buy a computer think about what you want. If you want a cheap all-rounder to sit at home and use the Internet then get the best price you can. Many systems come bundled with a scanner, monitor, printer. However, these are usually pretty poor so if you want a good printer or a good scanner don't get a bundle. This will allow you to pick and choose the things you want. Don't buy from regular stores but consider using the Internet, look at PC and Mac magazines. Read reviews.

When buying think about bundled software (stuff that comes with the computer). Think about the software the operating system offers. For me, the Mac OSX offers much more than Windows and certainly looks better! Don't just go for software because it's bundled (comes with) the compute). Think about what software you want. Do some research. Think about using cheap versions. Use 'Open Office' instead of Microsoft Office (called 'Neo Office on Mac).

Finally, don't just think short-term. You may be able to get a cheap PC but how reliable will it be? You will get what you pay for. If you go for a PC then consider a quality brand such as Dell, HP or Toshiba as examples. This is because their parts are more rigorously tested and checked and therefore less liekly to go wrong. They don't buy stuff from the back of a lorry! And will the shop you buy from, the brand - still be in existence in a couple of years?

What is the after-sales like? Do they give you a free number to phone? How long is your warranty? Will the business you bought from go out of business soon? Buying with a credit (not a debit) card does offer you extra protection. As ever, consider the balance between buying on the internet (cheaper) and buying locally (on-hand to help).


Jargon | TOP

NB. Some of this has been listed at the top of the page

Computer - the computer! Usually Mac or PC.

Monitor / TFT / screen - the screen that you look at when using your computer

Processor - this is also called a 'chip' and it partly determines how fast your computer is. There are different types, Intel, AMG, PowerPC etc. Numbers are measured in megahertz (MHz) and gigahertz (GHz, gigahertz = 1000 megahertz). Usually, the higher the number, the faster.

RAM - Random Access Memory. Again, the more, the faster. This has different types and you must buy the type compatible with your computer. This is like the fuel in your car.

Operating System - this is what makes the computer function. The most common ones are called Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.

Hard Disk / Hard Drive - this is where the information on your computer 'lives'. Again, these come in different amounts, and are currently measured mostly in gigabytes, abbreviated to GB (for example, 300GB). Again, there are different types of hard drives, that make your computer work faster. One of the factors is the RPM (revolutions per minute) of the hard drive. Again, the faster the better. Some hard drives have a thing called a 'buffer'. Without going into detail, this can help increase speed. If you are putting video into your computer, a large and fast hard drive is important.

Software - a computer programme that lives on your computer (on the hard drive) and allows you to do different things. For example, Microsoft Word allows you to write documents and letters. This is software. Software varies in what it can do and the price rises accordingly!!

CD - Most computers have a CD drive, this means that your computer will play CDs, although Macs no longer include this function (purchase separately). There are different types of CDs. There are 'Audio CDs' - the kind that you put in your CD player to play music - and there are the kinds that will let you save data/information, much in the same way that you save data/information to your hard drive. These are known corporately as CD-ROMs. These can't be played in your CD player. Sometimes you can get an 'enhanced CD' which will play both music and have video on. Your computer may have a CD-R or CD-RW drive. This means your computer can create an audio CD or a CD to save information. CD-R means that you can 'write' (or create) a CD. CD-RW means you can create a re-writable CD. This means, you can record a CD, than go back and record over it. This needs software to make it happen.

DVD - Similar to a CD. A DVD can contain a movie (such as your favourite movie) - or it can contain information. To create a DVD, you need software that allows you to create it. Most computers can play back DVDs, to allow you to watch a movie on your computer. Some computers have a DVD drive that allows you to record a DVD or information. There are many kinds of DVD formats unfortunately, which can be a bit confusing. These have names such as DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM. If your computer has a DVD recording drive, you must make sure you buy the same kind of DVD. So, for example, if your DVD recording drive says DVD-R, you must buy DVD-R DVDs, to enable you to 'record' a DVD.

Blu-Ray - a DVD which allows you store much more information on. You need a blu-ray drive to create and use Blu-Ray DVDs. When used for video, they produce a significantly higher quality picture than a regular DVD, but you need all the bits to utilise it - HDMI leads etc.

Printer - the thing that prints documents saved by your computer.

Scanner - what this does is to 'scan' a piece of paper or something similar. The word 'scan' means that it acts a bit like a photocopier. You put the paper in the scanner and it 'scans' it, producing an image of the paper on your computer!

USB, USB2 or USB3 - Universal Serial Bus. This is a 'port' or an 'input' on your computer that allows you to connect other 'devices' (such as printers, scanners, cameras) to your computer. What you have is a USB cable that attaches between the 'device' and your computer. It allows you to connect to a printer, a scanner and it will allow you to get pictures from a digital camera onto you computer. USB2 is twice as fast as USB.

Firewire - another type of 'port' or 'input' that does the same as USB. It is as fast as USB2, so can transfer data between your computer and other devices. Many camcorders have a firewire port and cable. Firewire is also known as 'i-Link' and IE1394. This is more common on Apple Mac computers. Firewire 800 is twice as fast as firewire.

The Internet - people often refer to this as the Web, or the World Wide Web (although tehnically they are different). This is basically a mass of computers all around the world connected together. When you 'go on the internet' you are able to view lots of different 'sites' with information, pictures and more on. is a website. How does it work? Well, information is 'sent' to computers that are called 'servers.' A 'server' is like a really large hard drive, containing lots of information. When you connect to the internet, you type in an address to your 'browser' (see below) and it connects to the information on the 'server'. It is like writing an address on an envelope and sending it to an address. It's exactly the same principle. So, for you would type in something like WWW - stands for 'world wide web' !

Browser - your browser is the thing that allows you to 'browse' or 'look at' the internet. These have names like 'Internet Explorer' or 'Firefox' or 'Safari' or 'Opera'.

Email - the messages that are sent between people using the computer. This is sort of like the the internet. What it does is use cables to send the messages between computers.

Broadband - This can use the phone line, or a cable connection (such as those provided by Virgin Media), or by satellite. This is much faster than 'dial-up' and the connection is 'always on'. With a dial-up connection, you have to dial up a number to connect to the internet. With broadband, the connection to the internet is always on. You need a special kind of modem to use broadband. A broadband connection is now the most common connection to the internet in the UK.

Java - a code and often used for online games, chat and other useful functions. Regularly patched for security holes. On the Mac it is no longer installed for security purposes (you can download it however and install if you want to).

Javascript - this is a 'language' that is used on computers and on the web, to do clever things. For example, javascript may allow you to have a little window that pops up, or lets someone do clever things with graphics.

Cookies - these are little snippets of information that are saved on your computer when you visit certain websites. These aren't all bad so don't worry about them too much! For example, if you order information off the internet or join a 'forum' on the internet, a cookie will be saved to your computer to remember you. These can also track a limited amount of information, such as what kind of browser you are using, or which page of the internet you wer on before you visited the site with a cookie on.

JPEG - a JPEG is a type of image or picture that you find on the internet. What a JPEG does is to 'compress' (or shrink) the information in an image, so the file size is very small. That way, you can put it on the internet, without being waiting all day for the image to appear! These are usually images with lots of colour and information in them, such as photos.

GIF - another kind of image, again it is compressed to make it small as possible. These are usually images with few colours in them. So for example, the little fish and the arrow at the bottom of this page are GIFs.

PNG - A similar but better type of format to GIF is called PNG, which does the same kind of thing as a gif, but it allows you to do 'transparent' images more easily (transparent means it doesn't have a background colour).

HTML/PHP/ASP etc - the code that creates the web pages you look at

HTML5 - a web standard that is being developed - the way that info is structured and presented across the internet. This will enable greater interaction and clever things to be done!

Any other jargon you want explained? Please use the contact page to email.


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