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The frequency at which wireless routers operate. Also the same frequency at which microwave ovens operate, so expect signal problems if you place your router or receiver next to one.

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Denotes various standards of wireless technology.


Typically found in corporate environments, 802.11a allows up to 54Mb/sec and uses the 5GHz frequency, making it less prone to interference than 802.11b/g/n.


802.11b is an old, slow standard, supporting up to 11Mb/sec. It remains just about acceptable for the majority of multi-PC, broadband-sharing networks, but it's too slow for even moderate multimedia sharing.


802.11g supports up to 54Mb/sec; more than fast enough for many PCs sharing an ADSL connection. Quick enough for some video sharing, although multiple streams will probably cause stuttering. Most 802.11g routers are also compatible with 802.11b devices.


The great hope of the wireless industry. 802.11n promises greater data rates through use of MIMO. The standard hasn't been ratified yet, though, so routers advertised as 802.11n are using a technology subject to change.

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Asymmetric digital subscriber line. The most common form of broadband technology in the UK. Data signals are transmitted over existing copper networks. Virtually all router/modem models have an ADSL modem, as opposed to a cable modem.


The opening in a lens that lets light through to the sensor. These are measured in f/stops. The lower the number, the larger the opening. Large apertures are known as "fast", and allow you to use faster shutter speeds in low-light environments.


Advanced Technology Extended. The most popular form factor for motherboards and PC cases. ATX boards measure 305 x 244mm (WxH).

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A form of wireless communication. Designed for very short distances, it's typically used for wireless.


Your camera takes a picture at what it calculates is the correct exposure (or in some cases, white balance) setting, and then takes a certain number of shots at greater and lesser exposures, so you can choose which one is best afterwards. Most cameras allow three-shot exposure bracketing.


Balanced Technology Extended. A new and sparingly-used form factor designed for optimal thermal design. Full-sized boards are 325 x 267mm (WxH). microBTX boards measure 264 x 267mm (WxH), and picoBTX boards are 203 x 267mm (WxH).

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The underlying architecture of your PC, the chipset is responsible for connecting every component on the motherboard.

Continuous shooting

Many cameras will continue taking pictures if you hold the shutter release down. How fast images are captured and how many are saved before the camera runs out of buffer depends on the camera. Make sure you get something powerful if you intend to take a lot of pictures, or want to photograph sporting events.

CrossFire /SLI

Technology from Nvidia and ATi, respectively. Both allow you to install more than one graphics card on a single motherboard, theoretically giving you twice the performance of one card. Real-world performance gains are always less impressive, but a good choice for cash-rich gamers.

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De-militarized zone. A part of your network exposed to internet traffic at-large. Use this only on PCs whose contents you want available to all and sundry.


Printing on both sides of a piece of paper. Some laser printers require you to manually rotate sheets of paper; higher-end models do it automatically. Some models have optional duplex units that you either specify at the time of ordering or fit when the need for the upgrade arises.

Duplex printing

Printing on both sides of a piece of paper. Most consumer inkjets allow for manual duplex printing, in which you remove and rotate sheets of paper once the first side is finished. Automatic duplexing manipulates the paper automatically; a fairly slow but intervention-free process.

Duty cycle

Generally measured in pages per month; most printers can manage around 20,000. The maximum amount of stress a printer's engine (its core mechanical and electronic components) can manage.

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Engine life

The total number of pages the printer is likely to manage over the course of its entire life, before irreplaceable components fail.

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Fade resistance

The most crucial aspect of a printer. Fade resistance is measured in years, and takes into account light fading and environmental factors to predict how long the average photo will last if stored in a frame, but away from direct sunlight. However, most manufacturers use very strict testing methodologies, so just because a manufacturer claims 95 years, it doesn't mean the photo will be invisible in a century's time. Instead, it means visible fading will have just have started.


Front-side bus. Measured in MHz, the speed at which your processor communicates with your processor.


A heated roller inside the printer. Toner is not permanently affixed to the page until it is melted on by the fuser. This is why the fuser is the last step in the printing process.

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Graphical Display Interface. A commonly-used printer language for standalone Windows printers.


Grams per square metre. This is how paper thickness is measured: the higher the number, the thicker the paper. All printers have a maximum paper thickness they can handle.

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Image drum

A static-sensitive roller, onto which the image to be printed is etched with a laser. The laser charges select parts of the roller, which then attracts toner. The page is passed over the roller, which transfers toner to the paper. On larger printers, this is often a replaceable part, since it is exhausted before the rest of the printer.


A term left-over from the days of film cameras. ISO refers to the sensitivity of the sensor. The lower the number, the less the sensitivity. In bright conditions you can get away with low sensitivity, but in dark environments you'll need higher sensitivity to avoid blurry images thanks to slow shutter speeds. The drawback is that higher ISO settings almost always means more noisy images.

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The component that focuses light onto the camera sensor.

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Media Access Code. Every network device in the world has a unique MAC. This allows ISPs to set your broadband account to work with a single wireless router. If you want to use a different router and your account is locked, check the router you buy allows MAC cloning.


Literally, this means taking a picture of something so close that it is literally the same size on the sensor as it is in real life. In practical terms, macro mode now simply means being able to focus on something extremely close to the lens. Useful for capturing detail shots, or taking pictures of flowers or insects.


The light-capturing sensor in a digital camera is measured in these. The more megapixels, the higher-resolution the final image. However, small sensors with lots of megapixels onboard tend to produce more noise.


A miniature version of ATX motherboards. These are frequently found in small-form factor PCs, and measure 244 x 244mm (WxH).


An ultra-small motherboard design, useful for embedded applications and tiny PCs. Measures 170 x 170mm (WxH).

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Onboard audio

Largely responsible for the death of the soundcard, onboard audio offers multiple channels (up to 8.1) at high-enough quality for most consumers.

Optical zoom

Virtually all digital cameras allow you to adjust the lens' focal length, zooming in on your subject. On compact cameras zoom is typically simply described as 3x or 10x (for instance). When fully extended, a 10x zoom lens means your subject will be ten times larger in the frame than when fully zoomed-out.

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Parallel ATA

Parallel Advanced Technology Attachment. Also known as IDE. A legacy way of connecting optical drives and hard disks to a motherboard. Characterised by thin, wide ribbon cables, IDE has been replaced by SATA as the connector of choice for hard disks, although it remains popular with optical drive manufacturers.


Printer control language. A method for your PC to communicate what it wants to your printer. Now largely superseded by PostScript and GDI.

Photo paper

Don't laugh. Although it's tempting to think of glossy photo paper as a distracting rip-off, the fact is it makes an absolutely huge difference to image quality. Using the manufacturers' paper with the right ink guarantees your ink will be absorbed in a predictable way, without smudging, blurring, or colours running into one another. It's one of the few areas in which the marketing blurb has it right.


A standard supported by many digital cameras. If your printer has a PictBridge, you can connect your camera directly to the printer via a USB cable.

Port forwarding

Some firewalls prevent certain traffic - such as online gaming or peer-to-peer file sharing. Port forwarding allows you to open only these ports, while leaving normal internet traffic protected.


A must-have printer language for networked or multi-platform printers.

Print head

An array of nozzles through which ink is fired onto a page, creating either text or images. The nozzles are typically significantly thinner than a human hair, and as such are very prone to clogging if handled too much. Some printers have print heads integrated into the ink cartridge, while others have a print head built straight into the printer. The latter becomes more troublesome with age.

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Quality of Service. A technology that allows a router to distinguish between different types of network traffic (VoIP or online gaming traffic) and give it priority over other, less speed-critical traffic.

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Serial ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment). A replacement for Parallel ATA (aka IDE) for hard disks and optical drives. SATA allows a higher theoretical maximum data rate, but in practice its chief advantage is smaller cables, which allow for less cluttered PCs.


Where you set focus, and then the camera waits (typically for 10 seconds) before firing the shutter. Generally used to provide you with time to dash into the frame for self-portrait and group shots. Some cameras have two-second timers so the act of pressing the shutter button doesn't de-stabilise the camera.


The mechanism that opens when you press the shutter release button. The shutter is generally open for a fraction of a second, as image sensors are very sensitive to light.


Stateful Packet Inspection. A Firewall technology that investigates individual data packets for dangerous content.


Service Set Identifier. This is the name by which your wireless signal goes by, allowing you to distinguish it from other visible signals when connecting to your network. It's possible to hide the SSID, whereby the only way to connect is to enter the name of your network. Not a substitute for WPA encryption, however.

Starter cartridge

The annoying habit of some manufacturers to include reduced-capacity toner cartridges with new printers.

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Traffic Management Channel. A traffic information service delivered over FM radio.


The laser printer's equivalent to ink. This fine black powder is adhered to paper by static electricity, before running over a heated roller (the fuser), which melts it to the page. Because it's sensitive to static, it's next to impossible to get off clothes and skin.

Transfer belt

Simply, a mechanism for moving a sheet of paper through a printer. This is not normally replaceable, although it occasionally is on large printers.

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Universal Plug n' Play. A network standard designed for multimedia sharing.


More or less the only way to connect a printer to your PC. Bizarrely, hardly any inkjets come with this ubiquitous cord, so make sure you buy one with your new printer. Don't get one from a high street store; the odds of being ripped off are phenomenally high.

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Virtual Private Network. Used for when you want to securely access a network from the internet.

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Waste toner bottle

No printing process is 100 per cent efficient. A waste toner bottle collects toner that falls from the page before fusing.


When the printer driver adds a watermark to each page printed. Useful for draft or confidential documents.

WebID keywords

A six-number code you can find in PC Pro magazine articles and use directly on the site search.


Wired Equivalent Privacy. An old, comparatively easily-breached form of wireless security. Most routers support this in the name of backwards compatibility, but don't use it to secure your network.

White balance

Most cameras can automatically detect which areas of an image are pure white. But if your shots come out with white walls looking yellow or off-colour skin tones, it's likely your camera is being confused by unusual lighting conditions. For best results, buy a camera that allows you to set white balance manually.


WiFi Protected Access. A form of wireless encryption. Much harder to crack than WEP protection, and the de facto standard for more wireless networks.

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