I started writing about computers and technology back in 1988. No, I wasn’t there when the first IBM PC rolled off the assembly line...but pretty close. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of seeing PC technology evolve from clunky, incompatible contraptions into sleek expressions of processing performance. The best part is that the evolution is continuing even as you read this.
But with all of the advances and standardization that has taken place over the last 15 years or so, it’s harder than ever to get your questions answered or problems solved. PCs and their peripherals still offer a real set of challenges for everyday users. Setup, configuration, compatibility, and performance issues weigh on all users at one time or another, and most error messages remain every bit as cryptic as they were back in the days of DOS 2.0. Today, however, most PCs ship with little (if any) printed documentation, and only the very determined-or very bored-can wait hours on hold before finally talking to a human being at technical support. I swear if I hear another Musak version of “Muskrat Love,” I might just have a seizure.
If you haven’t looked at the cover yet, this book is about PC hardware annoyances-the issues and problems associated with the drives, monitors, printers, scanners, RAM, chips, boards, and other assorted gadgets tucked inside or attached to your desktop or laptop system.
You don’t need to be a computer geek to use this book, but it helps to understand some basics. You’ll get the most from this book if you’re comfortable using Windows XP, and know which end of a screwdriver to hold when it comes time to open the system. If not, don’t worry-I’ve included step-by-step instructions for important procedures. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been using PCs for 20 years or still can’t find the mouse port on your very first system. The annoyances cut across a wide range of topics and difficulty levels to keep things interesting, while keeping the heavy troubleshooting and geek-speak to a minimum.
The book is organized into big categories-desktops, notebooks, hard drives, printers, networks, and so forth. Within each chapter, the annoyances are grouped by topic. For example, the desktop chapter includes setup, keyboard, mouse, startup, BIOS/CMOS, memory, processor, port, and maintenance annoyances. This makes it easier to browse around and jump to the pages that most interest you-and solve a knotty problem that’s been driving you crazy.
The following typographic conventions are used in this book:
Indicates new terms, URLs, filenames, file extensions, directories, and program names.
Used to show the contents of files, commands and options, or the output from commands.
Constant width bold
Indicates commands or other text that should be typed literally by the user.
This book uses arrow symbols to signify menu instructions. For example, “File → Print” is a more compact way of saying, “Click File on the command bar at the top of the screen and choose Print from the drop-down menu.” However, if an instruction directs you to click a tab, check an option, or click a button in a dialog box, we’ll tell you.
Pathnames show the location of a file or application in Windows Explorer. Folders are separated by a backward slash. For example, C:\Windows\System32.
Stephen J. Bigelow started out in 1987 with a BSEE, and took a manufacturing engineering job where he worked extensively with computer technologies, programming, and interfacing. But after far too many years suffering in the mind-numbing, soul-sucking layoff lottery of corporate hell, he decided to actually do something meaningful with his life.
Since then, Bigelow has written numerous popular PC repair books, including Bigelow’s PC Hardware Desk Reference (McGraw Hill). He has also written numerous technical articles for Computer Currents, Computer User, and pretty much any other publication that would actually pay him.
Today, Bigelow continues to learn about computers and networks, writing extensively for Processor Magazine, SmartComputing, and http://CNET.com. His work has also been seen in eWeek and PC Today.
One of the great things about this job is that I get to learn new things almost every day. This book would not have been possible without the many varied questions and helpful personal experiences that so many computer users have shared with me over the years. I hope that I’ve given back even a fraction of what you all have given me.
I’d also like to acknowledge the patient support and encouragement of Robert Luhn, Brett Johnson, Jim Aspinwall, and the entire O’Reilly staff. It’s said that you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but you folks make it look easy.