General Basic Computer Definitions

This article is for anyone with a limited understanding of computer hardware and functions.

Cable Types and Connections

There are multiple cable types you should be aware of, from USB, ethernet, extension cords, and more. We’ll also identify electrical outlets, battery backups, and connectors.

USB Cables

USB cables are common, versatile cords that are used to plug, charge, and connect devices. These cables come in different types (from A to A, A to B, B to B, and so on). Each cable plugs into a specific port on your computer or device.

Type A: Type A cables are the standard type of USB cable. They’re used to connect devices to your computer, such as keyboards.

Type B: Type B cables connect printers and scanners to computers. 

Type C: USB C is a new type of cable. It’s mainly used to charge mobile devices.

Ethernet Cables: Ethernet cables supply an Internet connection from a router or network switch to a device.

Centronics Cables: Centronics cables are used to connect printers and other devices to a computer port.

25 Pin to 25 Pin Male Parallel Cable: 25 pin cables connect printers to computer ports.

9 Pin to 25 Pin Serial Cable: These cables connect to serial ports.

9 Pin Serial Cable: This cable also connects to serial ports.

9 Pin Female Connector: The male end of a 9 pin cable plugs into this connector.

9 Pin Male Connector: The female end of a 9 pin cable plugs into this connector.

25 Pin Male Connector: The female end of a 25 pin cable plugs into this connector.

Extension Cords: Extension cords help supply power to devices if they are out of reach of electrical outlets.

Electrical Outlets and Plugs: Electrical outlets supply power to devices through a plug, which is connected to the device on the end of a cable. The left slot is “neutral,” and the right is “hot.” Three-prong outlets, like the one shown below, feature a hole in the middle called a “ground” slot. Three-prong outlets are generally safer than two-prong outlets, as they provide better protection against electrical shock. 

Grounded vs. Non-Grounded Plugs: Grounded plugs are designed to plug into grounded outlets.

Cable Connectors: Cable connectors allow for devices to be plugged into the computer. They are found at the end of device cables. Common connector types are Ethernet and USB.

Battery Backups: Battery backups supply additional power in a protected state. It’s generally safer to plug in the computer and additional accessories into battery backups in case of a power outage or brownout. 

Computer Identification 

Computer Tower: The central component of your computer is the computer tower. Each computer tower brand varies, but the basics are the same. The computer tower houses various pieces of technology that are vital for the computer to function. You’ll find the computer’s power button here. The computer tower stores information in the hard drive, as well as temporary data, and interprets and executes commands. The computer tower has USB ports, audio jacks, and sometimes other input areas such as SD card slots and DVD drives.

Ports: Ports are where devices, such as cables, are connected to the computer. The computer searches for and “reads” these ports once a device is plugged in.

Monitor: The computer monitor is where everything is displayed. The monitor consists of a LED screen with a power button generally located on the bottom right corner. Additional buttons to adjust brightness and other settings are usually next to the power button.

Mouse and Cursor: The mouse has many functions, but mainly helps users navigate the computer and open files and programs. It helps “copy” and “paste” text, files, open windows and screens, and more. The mouse is displayed on the monitor via a cursor, a small, usually triangle-shaped icon. 

When using your keyboard, the cursor will change to the following icon:

A computer mouse is connected to the computer tower via a cable, which plugs into a computer port, or wirelessly via a Bluetooth connection. Skip to the “Bluetooth” section to learn more.

Keyboard: The keyboard lets users type data into the computer. It is connected to the computer tower via a cable, which plugs into a computer port, or wirelessly via a Bluetooth connection. Skip to the “Bluetooth” section to learn more.

Power Button: To turn the computer on, locate the power button on the computer tower and press it once. To turn the computer off, it’s best to do so via the “shut down” option on the computer’s start menu. Shutting off your computer by pressing the power button is called a “hard shut-down,” and might lead to data loss. If you must execute a hard shut down, press the power button for a few seconds until the computer turns off.

Windows 10 and Windows 11: Windows 10 and 11 are operating systems created by Microsoft. Windows 11 is the latest operating system, released in October 2021. Artisan runs on both systems. Learn more in the “Operating Systems” section. 

Computer Programs, Functions, and Features


Icons represent programs or files on a computer. 


A file represents information stored on the computer. File types often depend on the program you’re using, or where you’re downloading the file from. Files can be anything from photos, videos, text, software, and more. Common image file types end in .PNG and .JPEG, with text files usually ending in .txt, .doc, or .pdf. 


Folders store files in one place. You can give folders unique names to help organize them.


A program, also known as software, is a set of instructions the computer follows. Programs are varied, and range from browsers, image and video editors, video games, system files, and more.


Your computer desktop is the first screen you’ll see after logging in. It stores program and file icons, as well as the computer’s task bar.


The time and date are stored in the taskbar, usually in the bottom right corner of your screen. Mac computers often place the taskbar at the top of the screen. The taskbar also displays program icons. The start button and search bar are located at the bottom left on a Windows 10 computer, and in the middle of the taskbar on Windows 11.

Windows Start Button and Search Bar

Though the Windows 10 and Windows 11 start button and search menu look slightly different, their functions are the same. Click on the Windows start button to access common features, such as shutting off or restarting the computer, or frequently used files. Type a keyword into the search bar to bring up any corresponding files or programs.

Operating Systems

An operating system is what your computer runs on (ex. Windows or Apple/Mac). It serves many functions, from overseeing memory and networks, to sorting storage and more. 

Windows and Apple operating system icons


The Internet is accessed through a browser, and allows you to search for practically anything through a search engine. The Internet is also used to communicate with others, display websites, and send files.

Search Engine

Explore the Internet by entering information into the search engine. Common search engines include Google and Bing.


A network is your access to the Internet, which is supplied to your computer by an ethernet cable, WiFi source, or other connection. On a Windows computer, your available networks are displayed after clicking the computer icon in the bottom right of the taskbar. Some networks are password-protected.


A WiFi network is a wireless Internet connection. It is available to your computer via a router.

WiFi icon

Router and Modem

A modem transfers information from your Internet service provider to your router. 

A router transmits network signals to all network-enabled devices in the immediate area.

Network Switch

A network switch routes Internet connections to specific devices.


A browser is used to access the Internet. Its icon is usually located on your computer’s desktop. Common browsers include Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Safari.

File Explorer

File Explorer is located on the Windows taskbar. It stores recently visited and frequently accessed files, and displays a list of quick-access icons on the left side of the screen, such as a shortcut to your desktop, downloads folder, and documents folder.

Downloads Folder

Everything that is downloaded onto your computer is automatically stored in this folder, such as programs or files.

C Drive

Your C drive is your central computer drive. The computer’s operating system is stored here, as well as necessary program files.


Bluetooth lets devices connect to a computer without having any cables/wires plugged in. This is configured in your computer’s “Settings” area.

Bluetooth icon

Updated on June 15, 2023

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