The PC Hardware Nerd Quiz

Think you know your hardware? Put your big brain to work on this gallery of PC hardware trivia and you just might learn a thing or two.

Separating the true nerds from the wannabes

You can tell from five feet away if a screw is used to install a power supply or an optical drive. You can recite how much cache was in a Northwood Pentium 4. If you’re that kind of nerd, you won't have any problem with our PC Nerd Quiz. Or will you? We’ve assembled a mix of challenging questions designed to separate the true nerds from the wannabes. Let's see how you do. Ready? First question... 

This logo represents:

A) Intel's Thunderbolt.

B) Apple's Lightning connector.

C) DisplayLink 3.1

D) USB 4.0.

nerdquiz a
And the answer is...

We'll forgive you if you don't know the logo, as even we can't remember what the hell it means. That tells you how well Intel's Thunderbolt technology has assimilated itself into the PC collective after several long years. The good news, for Thunderbolt anyway, is that it's finally catching on: Most high-profile laptops and PCs implement support for it today. We'd guess in three years, everyone will recognize this logo as much as they recognize the USB logo.

konstantin lanzet
Credit: Konstantin Ianzet
This cartridge is:

A) An original Nintendo Slot 2 cartridge.

B) An Intel Pentium II Xeon Slot 2 CPU catridge.

C) An Atari ST 5200 cartridge.

D) A next-gen Intel 3DXPoint memory cartridge.

nerdquiz b
And the answer is...

Yes, that may actually look more like a game cartridge circa 1985, but it's actually a Slot 2 Pentium II Xeon CPU. Why such a gigantic cartridge? A product of 1998, it was built on a 0.25-micron process. In today's terms, that's a 250-nanometer process—for comparison, a modern Skylake CPU is built on a 14-nanometer process.

Back then it wasn't possible to integrate much cache into chip, so Intel put the L2 cache (up to 2MB) on chips placed next to the CPU and connected it via a secondary "back side bus." Before the use of a cartridge design, external cache was placed on the motherboard, which greatly reduced overall speed because it was farther away and could induce quality control issues. One other interesting fact: A Pentium II Xeon at 400MHz sipped just 18.6 watts, which would make it a mobile CPU today.

Credit: Asus
The highlighted connector on this motherboard is called an:

A) mSATA port.

B) M.2 port.

C) U.2 / Mini-SAS port.

D) SFF-1911A1 port.

nerdquiz c
And the answer is...

It's OK if you don't recognize that port, as it's only now seeing service in more recent motherboards. This is the motherboard side of the SFF-8639 connector, which was renamed to the more friendly-sounding U.2 last year. It offers up to x4 PCIe Gen 3 of bandwidth and connects to SATA-like 2.5-inch SSDs.

If you want to be hyper-technical, this connector is called a Mini-SAS HD, not to be confused with a related connector called SFF-8639. The industry is settling on just calling both U.2. Many motherboards, for example, will label this as U.2 rather than Mini-SAS HD.

This portable gaming console is:

A) The Nintendo DS4.

B) Nvidia Shield Portable.

C) PlayStation Vita Gen 2.0.

D) Microsoft Xbox One Pocket Edition.

nerdquiz b copy
And the answer is...

Nvidia's Shield Portable was originally named just Shield. While it excited the masses when announced in Oct. 2013, the Shield didn't appear to garner much sales. Some of that can be blamed on its high initial price of $299, but another big reason is the lack of compelling Android games (it could also stream PC games.) Discontinued in 2015, the Shield still has a cult popularity, with never-opened units selling for up to $400 on eBay.

konstantin lanzet card
Credit: Konstantin Lanzet
This video card goes into a:

A) Vesa Local Bus slot

B) NuBus slot

C) MicroChannel slot

D) EISA slot

nerdquiz a
And the answer is...

If you were a rebel-nerd in the early 1990s and didn't want to deal with IBM's proprietary and expensive Micro Channel Architecture (MCA) cards and thought the Extended ISA (EISA) bus was just too slow, you were kicking it with the finicky but fast Vesa Local Bus. Running at 25- to 40MHz on a 32-bit bus, VLB cards simply screamed. The bad news: Inserting these ridiculousy long cards was a problem, and it was closely tied to the 486 CPU. The introduction of the Pentium and Intel's PCI bus eventually replaced VLB cards by the mid 1990s.

Credit: Gigabyte
The color of these ports in the USB spec indicates they are:

A) USB 2.0

B) USB 3.0

C) USB 3.1

D) The color doesn't mean a damned thing.

nerdquiz d
And the answer is...

The yellow on that particular motherboard probably means some cool feature like a different controller, or higher output for charging, but the sad truth is the color of a USB port doesn't mean anything in the PC industry. The USB IF, the group that oversees USB, recommends color-coding of ports but  PC makers often ignore them. For example, Apple, HP and Dell routinely use black ports rather than the blue we've come to expect to represent USB 3.0. So orange, red, white, purple and pink USB don't mean anything at all.

monoprice 31 usbc usbc cable 130031
Credit: Monoprice
This cable is a:

A) Mini USB cable

B) Micro USB cable

C) Thunderbolt 2 cable

D) USB Type C cable

nerdquiz d
And the answer is...

Yes, it's a USB Type C or USB C cable, the new standard that's gradually replacing Micro USB cables. It's fully reversiable and supports up to 10Gbps data rates. Yes, we did have a trick answer there but it's not a Thunderbolt 2 cable, which uses a miniDisplayPort connector. Thunderbolt 3 uses a USB Type C but supports up to 40Gbps if the cable is an "active" cable.

ibm model m
Credit: Raymangold22
The IBM Model M keyboard is famous for using:

A) a buckling spring switch.

B) a butterfly switch.

C) a dome switch.

D) a Topre switch.

nerdquiz a
And the answer is...

IBM's famous Model M keyboard used the famous buckling spring design that some still prefer to more modern designs from Cherry for example. You can even continue to get keyboards using the buckling spring designs from Unicomp if you want to really roll it old school.

d kuru
Credit: D-Kuru
The CPU that will physically fit into this socket is:

A) An Intel Broadwell-E Core i7-5960X.

B) An Intel Skylake Core i7-6700K.

C) An AMD Vishera FX-8370.

D) An Intel Sandy Bridge Core i5-2500K.

nerdquiz c copy
And the answer is...

This one's a gimme as Intel hasn't used zero insertion force (ZIF)  sockets in a decade so the obvious answer is AMD's Vishera FX-8350 chip which uses pins on the CPU instead of pins in the socket. Which is better? On one hand you can easily bend pins on a ZIF CPU, but they're surprisingly easy to repair. While Intel doesn't put the pins on the CPU to bend, they're still in the mother board socket, Many rookie builders have destroyed motherboards by bending the difficult-to-repair pins.

Credit: Gordon Mah Ung
This is:

A) An ATI CrossFire bridge.

B) An Nvidia SLI bridge.

C) An old parallel port printer cable.

D) HD Audio cable.

nerdquiz b
And the answer is...

That is a flexible SLI cable provided by a motherboard maker to run two Nvidia cards using their Scalable Link Interface connectors. SLI cables can be built using soft ribbon cables like this one or a hard-printed circuit board. Nvida's latest GeForce GTX 1070 and GeForce GTX 1080 have introduced a high-bandwidth bridge that  supposedly increases the bandwidth for the latest-generation cards.

That's it. How did you do? Let us know in the comments.