Basic nerd lingo

Just as our patients don`t understand mesial, distal, and osseointegrated, most dentists don`t understand the special language of computer nerds. Following are some useful definitions of common computer terms:

Larry Emmott, DDS

Just as our patients don`t understand mesial, distal, and osseointegrated, most dentists don`t understand the special language of computer nerds. Following are some useful definitions of common computer terms:

- CPU: This is the central processing unit. It is the part of the computer where all the commands are interpreted and executed. It also is used to refer to the "box part" of the computer. The monitor, keyboard, printer, etc., plug into the box or CPU.

- Hard Drive: The hard drive is the main storage memory of the computer. Hard drive storage is measured in megabytes (MB) (usually called "megs" in computer talk). New computers have at least 1,000 MB, which is also called a gigabyte (GB). In computer talk, this is called a "gig." The higher the GB of the hard drive, the more total storage you have.

- Random Access Memory: This is abbreviated as RAM. It is measured in megabytes. RAM is the active memory a computer has to process or manipulate data. The higher the RAM number, the more memory is available. More RAM will allow you to do more things on the computer simultaneously and faster. Having too little RAM is a common cause of computer freezes or crashes. If this happens, then you use the alternative RAM definition, Rarely Adequate Memory.

The two kinds of memory or storage confuse some people. A useful analogy is to think in terms of books. The hard drive storage is the total data you have available. It is like all of the books you have on the shelves - the more shelves you have, the more hard drive storage you have. The RAM memory is the book you have taken off the shelf and are currently reading. RAM is like your desk: The bigger the desk, the more books you can keep open on it.

- Processor: Most new PC computers are sold with a Pentium processor from Intel. The speed of the processor is measured in Mega Hertz, which is abbreviated as MHz. The higher the MHz number, the faster the computer will run. A Pentium II processor running at 400 MHz is abbreviated as PII 400 MHz.

Other processors are available and may be less expensive. AMD chips, for example, are fast and reliable; however, at this time, Intel still is the industry standard.

Macintosh computers from Apple have similar systems, but use different names and numbers. But Mac-intoshes are seldom used in dentistry.

- GUI: Pronounced Gooey. It stands for graphical user interface. It is a method of interacting with the computer using graphics or pictures instead of typed keyboard commands. It was first introduced for popular use by Macintosh in 1987 and then, according to some, shamelessly copied by Microsoft with Windows. The World Wide Web is also graphically based. GUIs are easy to use, intuitive, and user friendly.

- Digitize: This means turning information - including pictures, numbers, letters, or sounds - into number codes or digits that can be read by a computer. Digitized information can be manipulated and stored electronically. It can also be transmitted over phone lines.

- Motherboard: Otherwise known as the mother of all boards, this is the main printed circuit board in the CPU. It contains the processor and all other chips that connect the various peripherals.

- Operating System: This refers to the underlying system your computer uses to run the software. The most popular and well-known operating system is Windows. Other operating systems are Mac for Macintosh computers; DOS, the precursor to Windows on IBM-compatible computers; and some other less well-known systems (OS2 and UNIX).

- VGA: Stands for video graphics array. It is a video display standard for high-resolution graphics on a computer monitor. It is the preferred standard and includes a higher resolution Super VGA mode.

The future is coming and it will be amazing.

Dr. Larry Emmott is a practicing general dentist in Phoenix, Ariz. He is also an entertaining, award-winning professional speaker. He has addressed hundreds of professional groups. He is a featured speaker at the Las Vegas Institute, is a member of AADPA, and will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming ADA Technology Day. He has written many articles for national magazines on dentistry, computer use, and management. He produces a monthly newsletter on management and computer use in the dental office. He has developed and maintains an Internet Web site at; his e-mail address is

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