Or the how-to basics of turning PC-related WTF acronyms, technical shorthand and associated jargon into FTW understanding.
Learning the lingo of the many jargon-filled terms of PC hardware can make about as much sense as elvish without subtitles. It’s less like Sean Connery’s pronunciation of “The King of Rock ’n’ Roll” and more a cacophony of terms that don’t necessarily mean a whole lot at face value.
Let’s change that. Use this PC Rosetta Stone to read beneath the bullet-point jargon of your next PC or peripheral purchase so you can translate the essential parts of exactly what it is you’re paying for.
At the top of the keyboard lingo pyramid is ‘switches’. These are exclusive to mechanical keyboards and sit beneath the keys to control the translation of keystrokes to on-screen actions. The term ‘actuation force’ is used as a measurement of sorts for how far you have to press a key before it registers a keystroke.
Press a bunch of those keys and you’re in ‘rollover’ territory. Keyboard rollover refers to the number of keys that can be pressed and registered simultaneously, with ‘n-key rollover’ translating to being able to slap every key on your ’board.
Then there are switch types. ‘Cherry MX’ is the most common, and the colour types range from the World War II typing pool sounds of ‘clicky’ green and blue switches to the quieter black and red options.
INSANE IN THE MEMBRANE
While still around, membrane keyboards are rarer in gaming circles than newer mechanical counterparts. The membrane name comes from a film underneath the keyboard that’s used to measure keystrokes. Compared to the individual switches of mechanical keyboards, membrane keyboards are noticeably slower to actuate. This is because membrane keyboards have to bottom out and touch the membrane before a keystroke registers.
Like onions, seemingly simple gaming mice have a lot of layers. On the surface, they all perform the same function. But there are considerations across size, weight, ambidextrous and grip.
In terms of jargon, the biggest offenders are dots-per-inch (DPI), inches-per-second (IPS) and ‘polling rate’. DPI determines mouse movement detection. IPS explains the top speed before mouse movements are no longer tracked.
And polling rate covers the number of times per second the mouse communicates with the PC.
Higher is usually better for all three, but there’s an argument that there are diminishing returns for insanely high DPI, particularly for those serious about their shooters where lower sensitivities offer noticeable accuracy benefits.
Certain gaming mice also include switches which, like mechanical keyboards, generally have lifetimes measured in number of clicks (usually in the millions). Certain gaming mice also include customisable weights and these impact the resistance of the mouse as you play and slay.
Arguably, monitor jargon can prove to be the most confusing. A monitor’s resolution is explained in terms of its ‘progressive’ capabilities: Where, say, 1080p (Full HD) relates to 1080 vertical pixels and 1920 horizontal pixels.
Gaming monitors with 1440p resolutions are more prevalent, as they hit a nice halfway point between higher resolution (4K screens) and performance (1080p panels). Aspect ratios tend to stick to 16:9 (units), which is considered widescreen, but 16:10 is also an option for wider-screen monitors, with slightly wackier resolution numbers, to boot.
In terms of gaming monitors, ‘refresh rate’ reigns supreme. You can safely assume most monitors these days will have a 60-hertz (Hz) refresh rate, where hertz refers to the number of times per second a screen refreshes. The more common 60Hz monitors can’t keep up with frame rates of more than 60 frames per second (fps).
This is why 120Hz, 144Hz and 240Hz refresh-rate screens are popular among gamers, particularly those who want a competitive edge online. It’s best to pair an Nvidia graphics card with a compatible G-Sync screen, and an AMD video card with a FreeSync screen. That said, Nvidia is slowly rolling out FreeSync support for its newer-model graphics cards. G-Sync and FreeSync are hardware-driven ways to remove on-screen tearing during fast-paced games, which mitigates the inherent input delays and frame-rate restrictions of using software-based V-Sync.
The big panel decision after this is whether to go for a monitor that utilises in-plane switching (IPS) or twisted nematic (TN). IPS panels are newer, look better and boast an improved viewing angle, but they also have a slightly higher ‘response time’, measured in milliseconds (ms). The lower the number next to the response time, the faster your monitor is able to display images.
RGB LED LOL
Lighting is one of those ultimately optional extras that won’t disappear from laptops, desktops and PC peripherals. RGB simply means ‘red, green, blue’ and refers to a colour scheme that allows for PC innards and parts to become disco balls. RGB lighting is facilitated by way of light-emitting diodes: LEDs.
HDR HAR HAR
High dynamic range (HDR) is a new screen technology that sports visual differentiation between extremely bright areas and deep dark zones, even if they’re in the same on-screen image. It’s arguably more important for video playback than gaming, and because it’s a new tech, the investment is high.
PC INTERNALS DISSECTION
PC innards follow the trend of bigger numbers equating to better gains. This applies to your central processing unit (CPU), the brain of a PC; random access memory (RAM), which stores data for in-use apps; graphics processing unit (GPU), which makes games look prettier; and solid-state drives (SSDs), which load things faster. Hard disk drive (HDD) is an older tech that’s best avoided.
Expect to pay more for higher numbers, but investing in a more expensive PC today generally means fewer reasons to upgrade in the near future.
Headset terms start off self-explanatory. A ‘noise-cancelling microphone’ dampens background noise so your teammates don’t have to hear the conversation happening in
the room behind you. ‘Omni-directional mics’, on the other hand, pick up everything.
Less self-explanatory is the term ‘driver’ which, confusingly, refers to the micro-software you may have to install to make your headset (or any other hardware) play nice with your PC, but it also refers to the internal driver-unit hardware that converts electronic signals into noise. The bigger the driver unit, the more powerful the sound output.
Here hertz appears again, both for wireless and wired headsets. For the physical headphones, a wider Hz frequency equates to more detailed sound. For headphones that support wireless, Hz also impacts range; the higher the number, the longer the range. Bear in mind that while headphones may brag about 5.1 or 7.1 surround, some use virtual surround-sound recreation to trick your ears into a surround-soundscape, while others use hardware to offer a truer surround-sound experience.