Know The Difference: Phasers vs Blasters And 8 Other Distinctions Every Nerd Should Know

Maximum PC Staff

No one likes sounding stupid. Unfortunately, it’s dead simple to do exactly that when you’re talking about computer hardware or popular culture. One slip of the tongue or a single misused piece of terminology can land you a one-way ticket to Moron Hollow with six days and two delightful nights of luxury accommodations. In an effort to keep you from having to take such a shameful trip, we’ve put together this list of commonly misused and misunderstood terminology from the worlds of computing and geek culture.

Computer vs CPU

If you’re a regular reader of Maximum PC, we’re betting that you’ll already have an understanding of the difference between a computer and a CPU. Your mother and co-workers, however, might be a different story.

Should you hear them confuse one with the other, be gentle when you tell them that CPU stands for Central Processing Unit. Typically, the CPU is a silicon chip that can be found attached to a computer’s motherboard. In essence, it acts as the brain of a computer. In order to run a program, all CPUs preform the same four basic functions: fetch, decode, execute, and writeback. In the simplest terms, these four functions allow the CPU to receive, understand, and order the rest of the computer to fulfil the parameters set forth by whatever program a computer happens to be running at any given time, be it a function of your operating system, retrieving your email or settling a new city during a game of Civilization V.

A computer on the other hand… is a computer. We’re not talking about the brains of a laptop or the mouse attached to the rig on your desk at work, it’s the whole enchilada from soup to nuts, internals and peripherals included.

GB vs Gb

This one has been burning the face off of copyeditors for years. GB stands for gigabyte, which as any computer user will tell you, one can never have enough of. Depending on the context it is being used in, gigabyte can mean a number of things. If you’re talking digital data storage which is measured in bytes, a gigabyte is 1, 000, 000, 000, bytes. That’s 729 3.5” floppy disks worth of data. The term is also used as a standard of measurement for RAM size and  Depending on who you talk to, a gigabyte may also be the name applied to 1, 073,741,824 bytes. Go figure.

The term Gigabit is also a quantitative measurement for digital data—one gigabit is equivalent to 128 megabytes—but more commonly, it is used in reference to the transfer of information over the a Local Area Network (LAN). Gigabit internet is based on the Ethernet Frame format protocol, providing a scorching fast data transfer rate of one billion bits per second.

Transformers vs Gobots

Transformers was an awesome line of toys, comic books, video games, cartoons, and of late, movies, that follows the saga of a race of warring, sentient robots from the planet Cybertron that can disguise themselves as innocuous earth technologies, such as a car, a fighter jet or a boom box. Imported to North America in 1984 by Hasbro, Transformers revolutionized the action figure industry, by giving kids two toys in one. With its intriguing backstory, colourful palette of characters, and the sheer genius of combining two things most kids love—robots and awesome real-life hardware—Hasbro and their Japanese partner Takara created a timeless toy line that has captivated generations of children and the young at heart.

Gobots, on the other hand… We’ll just say it. Gobots are just all kinds of awful.

Also a Japanese import, The Gobot toy line was brought to North American shores by Tonka just before Transformers hit the scene. The toys, while similar in spirit, lacked the soul or mechanical complexity of Hasbro’s Transformers, and as such, failed to capture the imaginations of consumers. Clunky looking and boasting unfortunate names like Dumper, Dive-Dive and Small Foot, Gobots were the last things any red-blooded child of the 1980s wanted to find under the tree on Christmas morning. Not surprisingly, the toy line fizzled out of existence by 1987.

Memory vs Storage

Storage refers to whatever medium is used to store information on a computer, be it a hard drive, a solid state drive or a hybrid drive. Any information you install on a computer—documents, images, programs, music, ANYTHING—is saved to the computer’s storage. Storage is designed to hold data for long periods of time, unlike memory, the AADD poster child of the data wrangling world.

When you’re talking about computer memory, you’re talking about RAM, which stands for Random Access Memory. In simplest terms, computers use RAM as an instant storage facility used to store the information required to ensure the smooth operation of processes and applications. What’s contained in a computer’s RAM depends on what the computer is being ordered to do at the time.

Storage and memory work like this: Let’s say you decide to watch a movie on your netbook during a flight. As soon as you started the movie, it’s information was pushed from your computer’s storage to your to the RAM as part of the system’s preparations for processing the movie’s data in order to present it on your netbook’s screen. How smoothly that information is conveyed to your screen is dependant upon how much RAM you have installed in your computer.

This is why it’s so often suggested that the cheapest, easiest way to speed up a slow computer is to install more RAM.

Phaser vs. Blaster

Phasers and blasters are two of the most coveted fictional weapons of all time. While similar in function, they couldn’t be more different—just like the film and TV properties they originate from.

Phasers are a directed energy weapon made famous introduced by the Star Trek television back in the 1960s, and seen in every iteration of the franchise since.  The business end of a phaser deals death, destruction and headaches by emitting a beam or burst of rapid nadions, which is an imaginary sub-atomic particle. In order to weaponize the rapid nadions, a phaser refracts them through superconducting crystals. Depending on the task at hand, a phaser beam can be altered to produce a number of effects, allowing the individual wielding the weapon to stun, kill, incinerate, melt or atomize a target. That said, over the course of the past five decades, Star Trek characters have managed to modify phaser weapons to produce many other effects as well. The variety of phaser weapons is just as varied as what the effect of the device’s  rapid nadion beam, and range from devices small enough to hide in a pocket to ones so large that they can only be mounted on a starship or weapons platform.

Blasters are a death dealing animal of an all together different variety. Arguably finding their roots in the Star Wars trilogy (there were no other movies, got it?), blasters are typically pistol or rifle shaped weapons that fire bolts of particle beam energy or plasma, with power drawn from a replaceable power source not dissimilar from a conventional handgun or rifle magazine. According to Star Wars canon, blasters are the most common weapon in use throughout the galaxy. As with Star Trek’s phasers, blasters also come in larger sizes, suitable for use in fixed positions, on fighter craft mounted on the huge warships employed by the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire.

Modem vs Router

Let’s keep this one short and sweet: A modem, which is shorthand for MOdulate/DEModulate, is piece of hardware that can translate information from a digital source into an analog carrier signal and send it via phone line, over the air or through a fibre optic network for interception by another computer equipped with a modem. The receiving party’s modem then demodulates the analog carrier signal generated by the sender, translating it into digital information that the computer on the receiving end can understand. Magic!

A device designed to forward data between computer networks, a router acts as a go-between for a modem and the various computers and web-connected devices it’s connected to. The router’s function is to examine incoming and outgoing data and determine where it should be sent.

Firmware vs Driver

Firmware, which is present in everything from your desktops’s keyboard to your smartphone, refers to the typically small, data structures or programs that resides inside of a piece of hardware on a chip, telling it how to behave. Even though it’s baked into hardware, firmware can be updated in order to provide the hardware with new functionality or rid it of bugs. A driver is a piece of software designed to tell a computer how to interact with a piece of hardware.

So, in putting it all together, when you sit down in front of your computer to send an email, your keyboard’s firmware informs the keyboard that the depression of each key should send a particular signal to your computer. The driver software for your keyboard then in turn defines how the computer should translate the signals sent by the keyboard, making it possible to type out a message, thus ensuring that your cursive writing skills will continue their slow slide into oblivion.

Lag vs Bad Framerate

If you’ve ever played an MMO or other online multiplayer game and experienced a frustrating pause in the action that suddenly rectified itself at a blisteringly high speed, you’ve been victimized by lag. Lag occurs when there is too much latency (fancy geek talk for a delay) between your computer and the server/host it is communicating with. In online games, latency translates can translate into a slowdown or complete stop to the action that should be occurring onscreen.

Bad framerates have nothing to do with the time it takes for data to be sent to or from your computer over a network and everything to do with how much muscle your computer has under the hood. As a rule, gamers want to pull the best graphics performance out of any title they sit down to play. Show us a PC gamer who can stand to play a game using its default settings without the urger to tweak them, and we’ll show you someone who’d be better off rocking an Xbox. The more advanced graphical effects you switch on in a game, the harder your computer’s internals will be forced to work. Set the graphics too high in a game, and your computer, faithful hound that it is, will attempt to provide you with the visuals that you’ve asked for. Unfortunately, instead of the smooth, enjoyable eye candy you were hoping for, the game plods along with content that looks like a disjointed, drunken sideshow conducted by someone you wronged in a past life.

While you might not have any options other than changing ISPs or upgrading your Internet service to include superior upload/download speeds, there’s a number of things computer users can do to correct lousy framerates: lowering a piece of software’s graphical settings, installing more RAM and upgrading your PC’s graphics card or processor can all contribute to a less jarring viewing experience.

Android vs Cyborg

With the fervour surrounding shows like Downton Abbey and books like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter reaching a crescendo of popularity, the number of cyborgs and androids appearing in pop culture are on a decline, making it hard for casual viewers and readers to tell the difference between them. Let’s make sure that this precious geek knowledge is not lost to future generations by spelling it out for everyone to see right here, right now.

An android is a robot designed to look, and in many cases, act like a human. Despite their lifelike looks, they are completely artificial constructs. Some examples of androids include Data from Star Trek The Next Generation, Bishop in James Cameron’s Aliens, and Kryten from Red Dwarf.

Unlike Androids, cyborgs needn’t be human in form. A cyborg being comprised of living tissue that has been integrated with mechanical, digital or robotic parts. Some examples of a cyborg are DC Comics’ cleverly named Cyborg, Robocop, Doctor Who’s Cybermen and Jones the cyborg Dolphin from William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic.

Obviously we haven't even scratched the surface of the world of geeky distinctions--hit the comments and tell us what we missed!

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