EVE Online can sometimes be a bit unsettling. The lack of classes and levels gives some players the feeling that there is not a measurable means of determining one's on progress in the game. What EVE players use to determine each other's relative skill at a glance revolves around two things: ship type and module tech level. Billions upon billions of ISK get moved around every day in the buying and selling of Tech 2 (T2) ships and modules. As a new player, Tech 2 can feel like the playground of the veteran, but this isn't necessarily always the case. With the character creation improvements introduced about 18 months ago, new characters are well on their way to being able to equip some of the shiny modules that used to be the domain of the bitter old veteran.
At the bottom of the equipment hierarchy are the civilian class modules. There are two kinds of people who use civilian class mods, eBayers and characters who have just been created. You will want to train away from this gear ASAP, since it really pales in comparison to even its standard Tech 1 (T1) counterparts. The advantage is that they require very few skills to operate, so really are a nice option when starting out. Most of your early days will likely be spent with Tech 1 gear. You know that gear is standard Tech 1 when the item is called "Module Name I." These mods are usually quite inexpensive and readily accessible in any market system. When starting out, it's not really worth it to try to push too far beyond this basic level of gear.
Beyond that is what older players will refer to as "named" modules. This is any module where the name of the module does not follow the standard pattern. For example, 1MN Afterburner I is a T1 module, but Cold-Gas I Arcjet Thrusters are a named module. Named modules have clear advantages over standard equipment. Not only will they perform better than a standard counterpart, but they are also probably easier to fit to your ship. Almost all named modules have a reduction in CPU needed to equip them. Even very old characters will sometimes revert back to named modules for some fittings that are particularly tight on CPU, I know I do. There are different levels of named gear, and the easiest way to determine which are the best, other than comparing the raw stats, is to look at the meta-level for that item. You find the meta-level by selecting "Show Info," then tabbing to "Attributes." Meta-level 4 is the highest that is commonly encountered, so that gear is the best prior to training for Tech 2, but you are also going to pay a premium price for your extra tanking/DPS/whatever, so it is probably best to stick with lower end named gear if you want to have a little bit of an edge, but the difference is typically not huge between lower quality named modules and standard T1.
Tech 2 gear is a massive step up from basic Tech 1, and usually a big step up from even good named modules. It's easy to spot a Tech 2 module, as it will have the Roman numeral 'II' in a small yellow triangle in the upper-left corner of the icon (see link for example). These advanced modules and ships are the bread and butter of the PvP players and corps out there, and is something you will want to plan for if you want to be competitive in any field in the long run. The skill requirements, while comparatively high, are not always as unapproachable as they seem. Within a week, a new player could be flying a cruiser-class ship with the appropriate weapons systems and tanking skills trained. Alternatively, a new player could be in a frigate with Tech 2 small guns preparing to train Frigate V in hopes of flying an interceptor or assault frigate. Taking some time to look at the requirements for your desired module groups will help you plan for what to fit down the road.
Advanced weapons and mining lasers have the additional distinction of being able to use special ammunition or mining crystals to further increase their performance. When browsing the market under the 'Ammunition' tab, each class of weapon will have a group for advanced ammo. If you can't use Tech 2 guns, then don't bother with any of this, as it will not load into a T1 gun or laser.
Aside from simple differences in performance, Tech 2 often comes with a high price tag. This is because it is manufactured exclusively by players, and uses a lot of rather expensive components to produce. Many of today's Tech 2 producers do so via invention, whereby it is possible to turn a Tech 1 blueprint copy into a Tech 2 blueprint copy using some (rather expensive) skills and special equipment. Not every T1 module has a T2 counterpart, but the vast majority of the items you will be using day-to-day will.
Beyond Tech 2, there are officer and deadspace items, but these often come with a price tag of many billions of ISK, and are beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest capsuleers. All the same, they are a significant upgrade over even Tech 2, and are considered worth the expense by those looking for the absolute edge in PvP. For most pilots, though, Tech 2 is the highest echelon of readily available gear. Getting to the bigger T2 guns and the wide array of T2 ships is a large skill investment, but if you can decide where you want to begin your specialization, it's not as far off as it may seem.
Philip "Crovan" Manning loves to write about EVE, play EVE and eat carebears for lunch. When not writing for Massively or playing EVE, he can be found co-hosting The Drone Bay podcast along with CrazyKinux and Alsedrech, or writing for his own blog, Bitter Old Noob. All questions, comments and offers of large ISK