Building a PC - NowLedge Tech

Building a PC - NowLedge Tech
Building a PC
by Mark L. Chambers
Building a PC
Building a PC
by Mark L. Chambers
Building a PC For Dummies®, 5th Edition
Published by
Wiley Publishing, Inc.
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Hoboken, NJ 07030-5774
Copyright © 2006 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana
Published by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana
Published simultaneously in Canada
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2005932591
ISBN-13: 978-0-471-76772-5
ISBN-10: 0-471-76772-7
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
About the Author
Mark L. Chambers has been an author, a computer consultant, a BBS sysop,
a programmer, and a hardware technician for more than twenty years —
pushing computers and their uses far beyond normal performance limits for
decades now. His first love affair with a computer peripheral blossomed in
1984 when he bought his lightning-fast 300bps modem for his Atari 400. Now
he spends entirely too much time on the Internet and drinks far too much
caffeine-laden soda.
With a degree in journalism and creative writing from Louisiana State University, Mark took the logical career choice: programming computers. However,
after five years as a COBOL programmer for a hospital system, he decided
there must be a better way to earn a living, and he became the Documentation
Manager for Datastorm Technologies, a well-known communications software
developer. Somewhere in between writing software manuals, Mark began
writing computer how-to books. His first book, Running a Perfect BBS, was
published in 1994 — and after a short decade or so of fun (disguised as hard
work), Mark is one of the most productive and best-selling technology
authors on the planet.
Along with writing several books a year and editing whatever his publishers
throw at him, Mark has also branched out into Web-based education, designing and teaching a number of online classes — called WebClinics — for
His favorite pastimes include collecting gargoyles, watching St. Louis Cardinals
baseball, playing his three pinball machines and the latest computer games,
supercharging computers, and rendering 3-D flights of fancy with TrueSpace —
and during all that, he listens to just about every type of music imaginable.
Mark’s worldwide Internet radio station, MLC Radio (at,
plays only CD-quality classics from 1970 to 1979, including everything from
Rush to Billy Joel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Mark’s rapidly expanding list of books includes iMac For Dummies, 4th Edition;
Mac OS X Tiger All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies; Scanners For Dummies,
2nd Edition; CD & DVD Recording For Dummies, 2nd Edition; PCs All-in-One
Desk Reference For Dummies, 2nd Edition; Mac OS X Tiger: Top 100 Simplified
Tips & Tricks; Microsoft Office v. X Power User’s Guide; BURN IT! Creating Your
Own Great DVDs and CDs; The Hewlett-Packard Official Printer Handbook; The
Hewlett-Packard Official Recordable CD Handbook; The Hewlett-Packard Official
Digital Photography Handbook; Computer Gamer’s Bible; Recordable CD Bible;
Teach Yourself the iMac Visually; Running a Perfect BBS; Official Netscape Guide
to Web Animation; and the Windows 98 Troubleshooting and Optimizing Little
Black Book.
His books have been translated into fourteen languages so far — his favorites
are German, Polish, Dutch, and French. Although he can’t read them, he
enjoys the pictures a great deal.
Mark welcomes all comments and questions about his books. You can reach
him at [email protected], or visit MLC Books Online, his Web site, at
This book is posthumously dedicated to my friend and teacher, LSU journalism professor Jim Featherston. Jim taught me everything I need to know —
now I can put ideas to paper.
Author’s Acknowledgments
I find that writing the acknowledgments is always the easiest part of any book
because there’s never a shortage of material. I always have a big group to
First, a well-earned round of thanks to my knowledgeable technical editor,
Colin Banfield, who checked every word for accuracy (while enduring every
bad joke and pun).
I’d like to thank my old friend Jody Cooper for his excellent color photography — a picture is worth a thousand words, so I figure the brand-new 16-page
color insert in this edition ought to roughly double our page count!
As with every book I’ve written, I’d like to thank my wife, Anne, and my children, Erin, Chelsea, and Rose, for their support and love — and for letting me
follow my dream!
Finally, I send my heartfelt appreciation to the hard-working editors at Wiley
Publishing, Inc., who were responsible for the launch and completion of this
long-lived fifth revision: my project editor and copy editor, Susan Pink, and
my acquisitions editor, Bob Woerner. They’re talented, dedicated people, and
I count myself very lucky that I had their assistance for this project — and
many to come, I hope!
Publisher’s Acknowledgments
We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form
located at
Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:
Acquisitions, Editorial, and
Media Development
Composition Services
Project Editor: Susan Pink
Acquisitions Editor: Bob Woerner
Copy Editor: Susan Pink
Technical Editor: Colin Banfield
Editorial Manager: Jodi Jensen
Project Coordinator: Adrienne Martinez
Layout and Graphics: Jonelle Burns, Carl Byers,
Andrea Dahl, Stephanie D. Jumper,
Barbara Moore, Ron Terry
Proofreaders: Leeann Harney, Jessica Kramer,
Dwight Ramsey, Shannon Ramsey
Indexer: TECHBOOKS Production Services
Media Development Supervisor:
Richard Graves
Editorial Assistant: Amanda Foxworth
Cartoons: Rich Tennant
Publishing and Editorial for Technology Dummies
Richard Swadley, Vice President and Executive Group Publisher
Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher
Mary Bednarek, Executive Acquisitions Director
Mary C. Corder, Editorial Director
Publishing for Consumer Dummies
Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher
Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director
Composition Services
Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services
Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services
Contents at a Glance
Introduction ................................................................1
Part I: Can I Really Do This? ........................................7
Chapter 1: What’s in a Computer, Anyway? ...................................................................9
Chapter 2: What Type of PC Should I Build? ................................................................21
Part II: Building Your PC ...........................................41
Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard ............................43
Chapter 4: A Bag of Chips: Adding RAM and a CPU ....................................................61
Chapter 5: The Three PC Senses: Ports, Mouse, and Keyboard ................................73
Chapter 6: Images “R” Us: Adding Video and a Monitor .............................................89
Chapter 7: Make Room! Your Hard Drive and Other Storage Devices ....................111
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff ...................................133
Chapter 8: Putting the Spin on CD-ROM and DVD .....................................................135
Chapter 9: Let Your PC Rock! .......................................................................................153
Chapter 10: Modems and the Call of the Internet .....................................................171
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff ..........................187
Chapter 11: Attack of the SCSI Monster ......................................................................189
Chapter 12: So You Want to Add a LAN? .....................................................................205
Chapter 13: Life in the Fast Lane with Broadband ....................................................221
Chapter 14: Input and Output: Scanners, Cameras, Video Capture,
and Printers .................................................................................................................229
Chapter 15: More Power User Toys ............................................................................247
Part V: The Part of Tens ...........................................259
Chapter 16: Ten Reasons Not to Buy a Retail PC .......................................................261
Chapter 17: Ten Tools and Tasks for a Power User’s PC ..........................................267
Chapter 18: Ten Important Assembly Tips ................................................................275
Chapter 19: Ten Ways to Speed Up Your PC ..............................................................281
Chapter 20: Ten Things to Avoid Like the Plague .....................................................287
Part VI: Appendixes .................................................293
Appendix A: Choosing Your Operating System .........................................................295
Appendix B: Glossary ...................................................................................................307
Index ......................................................................323
Table of Contents
Introduction .................................................................1
About This Book ..............................................................................................1
Conventions Used in This Book ....................................................................2
What You’re Not to Read ................................................................................2
Foolish Assumptions ......................................................................................2
How This Book Is Organized ..........................................................................3
Part I: Can I Really Do This? .................................................................3
Part II: Building Your PC .......................................................................4
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff ................................................................4
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff .....................................................4
Part V: The Part of Tens ........................................................................4
Part VI: Appendixes ...............................................................................4
Icons Used in This Book .................................................................................5
Where to Go from Here ...................................................................................5
Part I: Can I Really Do This? .........................................7
Chapter 1: What’s in a Computer, Anyway? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9
Anyone Can Assemble a PC .........................................................................10
Building a better mousetrap (or computer) ....................................11
The primary, number-one, all-important,
absolutely necessary, required rule ..............................................13
The other primary, number-one, all-important,
absolutely necessary, required rule ..............................................13
PCs Are Built with Standard Parts ..............................................................13
Understanding Your Computer’s Components .........................................14
The metal mansion ..............................................................................14
The big kahuna ....................................................................................15
The eye candy ......................................................................................16
The places for plugs ............................................................................17
The data warehouse ............................................................................18
The bells and whistles ........................................................................18
Connecting Your Computer Components ..................................................19
Chapter 2: What Type of PC Should I Build? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
Interrogating Yourself on Your Computer Needs ......................................21
Answering Your Computer-Needs Questions ............................................23
Design 1: The Jack Benny economy-class ........................................24
Design 2: The Cunningham standard edition ...................................25
Design 3: The Wayne Manor Batcomputer .......................................27
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
Getting Your Hands on the Special Stuff ....................................................28
Drafting, graphics, and pretty pictures ............................................28
Home-office and small-business stuff ...............................................30
Mozart’s musical computer ...............................................................30
The ultimate bad-guy blasting box ....................................................31
Picking Up the Parts .....................................................................................33
Researching before you buy ..............................................................33
I live for mail order ..............................................................................34
Ordering parts online ..........................................................................36
Scavenging can be fun! ........................................................................36
What’s the deal with used parts? ......................................................38
Part II: Building Your PC ............................................41
Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard . . .43
A Case Is Not Just a Box ...............................................................................44
Choosing a case style that suits your needs ....................................45
Feeding power to your computer ......................................................47
Keeping your computer cool .............................................................48
Buttons, lights, and other foolishness ..............................................49
How about those slots? ......................................................................50
Your Motherboard Is Your Best Friend ......................................................51
Motherboard sizes ..............................................................................52
Motherboard features .........................................................................52
Grab Your Screwdriver and Install That Motherboard ............................54
I Laugh at Pesky Wires! .................................................................................57
Pumping power to your motherboard ..............................................58
Flashing lights, clicking switches, and a beeper to boot ................58
Chapter 4: A Bag of Chips: Adding RAM and a CPU . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .61
FYI about CPUs ..............................................................................................62
Celeron and Sempron processors .....................................................62
Pentium and Athlon processors ........................................................63
Your Monster Needs a Brain ........................................................................65
Add RAM Until the Mixture Thickens .........................................................67
Time to Meet Your Bus Slots ........................................................................70
Fire That Puppy Up! ......................................................................................71
Chapter 5: The Three PC Senses: Ports, Mouse, and Keyboard . . . . .73
Pursuing Your Port Preferences ..................................................................74
Of Keyboards, Mice, and Men (and Women) .............................................78
The mouse has mutated .....................................................................79
The key to keyboards .........................................................................81
Installing a Port Adapter Card .....................................................................83
Connecting External Ports ...........................................................................85
Table of Contents
Connecting Your Keyboard and Pointing Thing ........................................86
Installing a keyboard ...........................................................................86
Installing a non-USB mouse (or other pointing thing) ....................87
Check It Once, and Check It Twice! .............................................................87
Chapter 6: Images “R” Us: Adding Video and a Monitor . . . . . . . . . . .89
I’m Okay, You’re a Video Card .....................................................................89
Full speed ahead with accelerated graphics ...................................90
Will 3-D video transform my entire existence? ................................91
Thanks for the memory ......................................................................94
Look out! Digital video from the planet MPEG! ................................97
What else do I need from a video adapter? ......................................97
Staking Out Your Visual Territory ...............................................................99
Deciphering monitor sizes (and choosing the one for you) ........100
Comparing dot pitch among monitors ...........................................100
Feeling refreshed? .............................................................................101
What else makes a great monitor? ..................................................102
Installing a Video Adapter Card ................................................................105
Connecting Your Monitor ...........................................................................106
Hey, I Can Finally (Kind of) Boot! ..............................................................107
Chapter 7: Make Room! Your Hard Drive
and Other Storage Devices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .111
“Be Vewy Quiet . . . I’m Hunting for Hawd Dwives!” ................................112
Enhanced IDE hard drives ................................................................112
Serial ATA hard drives .......................................................................113
SCSI hard drives .................................................................................115
Comparing EIDE, SATA, and SCSI hard drives ................................116
More stuff about hard drives ...........................................................116
The Ancient Floppy Still Lives ...................................................................118
Why aren’t floppies trendy anymore? .............................................118
Selecting a floppy drive ....................................................................119
Don’t Forget Your Controller Card ............................................................119
Backing Up Your Data .................................................................................120
Selecting a Tape Drive ................................................................................121
Hey, You Just Removed Your Media! .........................................................122
The Zip drive: The floppy with muscle ...........................................123
The REV has landed ..........................................................................124
Connecting Your Drive Controller .............................................................124
Installing Your EIDE Hard Drive .................................................................125
Installing Your SATA Hard Drive ................................................................128
Installing Your 31⁄2-Inch Floppy Disk Drive ..............................................128
Installing Your Internal Tape Backup Drive .............................................129
Setting Up Your PC and Configuring Your Hard Drive ............................130
Formatting Your Hard Drive .......................................................................131
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff ...................................133
Chapter 8: Putting the Spin on CD-ROM and DVD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .135
Discovering the Details about CD and DVD .............................................136
Name your CD-ROM/DVD interface .................................................136
The great CD-ROM and DVD speed myth .......................................137
The battle of the drives: Internal versus external .........................139
Turning your computer into a jukebox ..........................................139
Reading multiple CDs at once ..........................................................140
Will that be caddy or tray? ...............................................................140
Other read-only CD-ROM and DVD features to covet ...................141
What You Need to Know about DVD .........................................................142
Do I need DVD for my computer? ....................................................144
The whole decoder thing explained ...............................................145
What You Need to Know about CD and DVD Recorders ........................145
Why record my own CDs and DVDs? ..............................................146
What’s the deal with rewriteable discs? .........................................148
Installing Your EIDE CD or DVD Drive ......................................................150
Loading Drivers and Testing Everything ..................................................152
Chapter 9: Let Your PC Rock! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .153
Sorting Out Sound Card Basics .................................................................154
Recognizing common breeds of sound cards ................................154
Don’t forget the software part! ........................................................157
Riding the wavetable .........................................................................157
Why do I need 3-D for my ears? .......................................................158
“Send help — I’m surrounded by sound!” ......................................159
MP3 fanatics, pay attention! .............................................................159
Do I need MIDI ports? ........................................................................160
Uhh . . . Is This Microphone On? ...............................................................160
Speaking of Speakers ..................................................................................163
The Subwoofer: Big Dog of Computer Speakers .....................................164
Putting Together Your PC Sound System .................................................165
Installing your sound card ...............................................................165
Connecting your speakers ................................................................166
Configuring software and testing your sound card .......................168
Adding a microphone ........................................................................168
Installing a subwoofer .......................................................................169
Chapter 10: Modems and the Call of the Internet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .171
A Modem Primer for Real People ..............................................................172
The whole speed thing explained ...................................................173
Behind-the-scenes stuff: Modem standards ...................................174
Will That Be a Card or a Case? ..................................................................176
Time to Face the Fax ...................................................................................178
The good and the bad on fax/modems ...........................................178
More good fax facts ...........................................................................179
Let Your Modem Speak! ..............................................................................180
Table of Contents
Installing an Internal Modem .....................................................................181
Connecting an External Serial Modem .....................................................183
Connecting an External USB Modem ........................................................184
Installing Software and Testing Your Modem ..........................................185
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff ...........................187
Chapter 11: Attack of the SCSI Monster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .189
Do I Really Need SCSI? ................................................................................190
Figuring Out SCSI .........................................................................................191
More about SCSI ID numbers ...........................................................192
More about SCSI terminators ...........................................................194
External SCSI ......................................................................................197
Your SCSI Shopping List .............................................................................198
Installing Your SCSI Card ............................................................................199
Adding an Internal SCSI Device .................................................................200
Connecting an External SCSI Device .........................................................202
Installing Software and Testing Your SCSI Adapter .................................203
Troubleshooting Your SCSI Devices ..........................................................203
Chapter 12: So You Want to Add a LAN? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .205
Adding the Network Advantage ................................................................206
Convenience .......................................................................................206
Communication .................................................................................206
Cooperation .......................................................................................207
Contact ................................................................................................207
Deciding Which Network Architecture Is Best for You ..........................208
Comparing client-server and peer-to-peer networks ....................208
Comparing network configurations ................................................209
Selecting a network operating system ............................................211
Collecting What You Need for an Ethernet Network ..............................211
More stuff about network interface cards ......................................213
More stuff about cables and connections ......................................214
There Are Always Exceptions! ...................................................................215
Use your telephone wiring ...............................................................215
Use your AC wiring ............................................................................216
Use your USB port .............................................................................216
Go wireless .........................................................................................216
Installing Your Network Interface Card ....................................................217
Connecting a Twisted-Pair Cable ..............................................................218
Turning Things On ......................................................................................219
Chapter 13: Life in the Fast Lane with Broadband . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .221
Figuring Out Whether You Need Broadband ...........................................222
Comparing Communications Technologies .............................................223
Figuring Out Those Connection Charges .................................................226
Locating an Internet Service Provider ......................................................227
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
Chapter 14: Input and Output: Scanners,
Cameras, Video Capture, and Printers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .229
The Wide, Wonderful World of Scanners .................................................230
Recognizing scanners in the wild ....................................................230
Diving into color depth .....................................................................233
Please pass the image .......................................................................233
Resolving the right resolution .........................................................234
Scanners and . . . Mark Twain? .........................................................235
Digital Camera Details ................................................................................236
Digital Video Capture: Its Time Has Come ...............................................239
Making sure your PC can handle digital video ..............................239
Getting other gadgets for digital video ...........................................239
One Word: Printers, Printers, Printers! ....................................................241
Will that be laser or inkjet? ..............................................................241
Advantages of inkjet printers ...........................................................243
Advantages of laser printers ............................................................244
Installing a Printer with a Parallel Port Interface ....................................244
Installing a Scanner, Capture Device,
or Printer with a USB Connection .........................................................245
Chapter 15: More Power User Toys . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .247
Live, Via Satellite: The Internet! .................................................................248
What comes with an Internet satellite system? .............................249
How expensive is a satellite Internet connection? ........................251
Okay, it’s neat, but . . . ......................................................................251
Reading a Pesky Macintosh Disk ...............................................................251
Conversing with Quake ..............................................................................252
Even People like You and Me Need Internet Security .............................253
Hey, I Can Get TV and FM Radio on My PC! .............................................254
Backing Up to the Web ...............................................................................255
Will You Move the Joystick, or Will It Move You? ...................................256
Part V: The Part of Tens ............................................259
Chapter 16: Ten Reasons Not to Buy a Retail PC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .261
It Just Plain Costs Less to Build Your Own PC! .......................................261
Recycle Used and Scavenged Hardware ..................................................262
Avoid the Monster Myth ............................................................................262
Encourage Freedom of Choice! ..................................................................263
Enjoy the Learning Experience ..................................................................264
Spare Yourself the Shipping and Repair Hassles ....................................264
Dodge Bundled Software Costs and Get What You Want .......................265
Avoid the Computer Sales Experience .....................................................265
Select the Brands That You Prefer ............................................................266
Get the Full Warranty for Each Part ..........................................................266
Table of Contents
Chapter 17: Ten Tools and Tasks for a Power User’s PC . . . . . . . . . .267
Forget Your Mouse ......................................................................................268
Guard That Power Supply! .........................................................................268
Back Up, Back Up, Back Up ........................................................................269
Diagnostics Software to the Rescue ..........................................................270
Stick Your Keyboard in a Drawer! .............................................................270
Stop the Spread of Viruses .........................................................................271
Organize Your Software ..............................................................................272
Use the Power of Your Voice ......................................................................272
Everyone Needs a Good Image Editor ......................................................273
Keep It Clean! ...............................................................................................273
Chapter 18: Ten Important Assembly Tips . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .275
Read the Instructions First! (Rule Number One) ....................................275
Build the Perfect Workspace .....................................................................276
Keep Track of UTOs (Unidentified Tiny Objects) ...................................276
Make Sure That You Have Everything You Need .....................................277
Yell for Help If Necessary ...........................................................................277
Use a Magnetic Screwdriver ......................................................................278
Start Your Own Parts Box ..........................................................................278
Take Your Time: The Zen of Assembly .....................................................279
Don’t Cover Up Too Quickly ......................................................................279
The Cable Rule: Check and Double-Check ...............................................279
Chapter 19: Ten Ways to Speed Up Your PC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .281
Defragment Your Hard Drive .....................................................................281
Get Connected with the Speediest Interfaces .........................................282
Install More RAM .........................................................................................282
Crank Up the CPU Steam ............................................................................283
Keep Your Backgrounds Plain ...................................................................283
Install a Fast CD-ROM or DVD Drive .........................................................283
Remove Resident Programs .......................................................................284
Accelerate Windows with Your Video Card .............................................285
Use a Native File System ............................................................................285
Don’t Forget That Turbo Button! ...............................................................286
Chapter 20: Ten Things to Avoid Like the Plague . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .287
It’s “Refurbished” for a Reason .................................................................288
Looking for an Antique? Buy a Pentium III CPU ......................................288
Never Depend on Floppies .........................................................................289
Help Stamp Out Unnecessary Passwords! ...............................................290
Honor Thy Friend’s Copyright ...................................................................290
Your PC Is Not a Kindergarten ...................................................................291
Don’t Jump on the Pirate Ship ...................................................................291
Keep Out of Monitors and Power Supplies ..............................................291
Don’t Lease a PC for the Long Haul ..........................................................292
Avoid Older Versions of PC Software ........................................................292
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
Part VI: Appendixes ..................................................293
Appendix A: Choosing Your Operating System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .295
Become Your Own Consultant! ..................................................................295
“But, Wait — I Collect Operating Systems!” .............................................297
DOS: The Old Workhorse Lives On ...........................................................298
Windows 95, 98, and Me: Thanks for the Memories ...............................299
Windows 2003 Server: Microsoft’s First String ........................................300
Windows XP: The King of the Hill .............................................................301
Linux: It’s Not Just for Techno-nerds! .......................................................303
Before You Install Your Operating System ...............................................305
Appendix B: Glossary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .307
Index .......................................................................323
ou’ve decided to build your own computer. Congratulations! That statement might seem a little like “You’ve decided to fly a 747” or “You’ve
decided to teach yourself accounting” — but I’m here to tell you that this book
was especially written to make it both easy and (believe it or not) fun to build
your own multimedia computer with an Intel Pentium or AMD processor. (Oh,
and don’t forget that you’re likely to save a significant chunk of cash as well,
especially if you’re building a powerful PC for applications such as gaming
and video editing.)
To sum up, I explain the mysterious parts in the box in honest-to-goodness
English, with a little humor and without the jargon — and then help you build
the PC that’s perfect for you!
About This Book
You’ll find that each chapter in this book acts as a reference for each type of
computer hardware that you can add to your computer; some are required
components, and others are optional devices that add extra functionality
to your PC. You can start at any point — each chapter is self-contained —
although the chapters are arranged in a somewhat linear order that I recommend that you follow. The book also includes a glossary of computer terms
and an appendix with information about the various operating systems available for the PC, which comes in handy if you haven’t decided on an operating
system to run.
Each chapter also provides the general information you need to make a
buying decision between different flavors of the same component. For example, in Chapter 9, I discuss both bare-bones and advanced sound cards (without resorting to engineer-speak).
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
Conventions Used in This Book
From time to time, I might ask you to type a command within Windows (or
whatever operating system you’re using). That text often appears in bold like
this: Type me. Press the Enter key to process the command.
I list menu commands with this format: File➪Open. For example, this shorthand indicates that you should click the File menu and then choose the Open
menu item.
From time to time, I mention messages you should see displayed onscreen by
an application or the operating system. Those messages look like this: This
is a message displayed by an application.
Although you don’t really need to know a great deal of technical information
to build a computer, you might be curious about the technical details that
surround computers and the components that you’re using. This technical
information is usually formatted as a sidebar (in a separate box) to separate
it from the stuff that you really have to know.
What You’re Not to Read
If you’re interested in buying and installing a particular component, such as a
DVD drive or a video adapter card, you can jump directly to the chapter that
describes the device and start reading. Most chapters end with general installation instructions that familiarize you with the installation process. (They
don’t replace the specific documentation that accompanies each component,
although the generic steps that I provide give you an idea of what’s involved.)
On the other hand, if you’re interested in building a computer from scratch,
start with Chapter 1 and follow the chapters in order; you can also skip to
other chapters whenever necessary for information that you might need.
Foolish Assumptions
Here’s a friendly warning: You might run across one or two doubting Thomases
when you announce that you’re building your own PC. Those folks probably
make lots of foolish assumptions about what’s involved in building a PC, and
you just might want to burst their bubble by telling them the following truths:
You don’t have to be a computer technician with years of training, and
you don’t need a workshop full of expensive tools. In this book, no
assumptions are made about your previous knowledge of computers,
the Internet, programming your DVD player, or long division.
No experience? Don’t let that stop you! I introduce you to each of the
systems in your computer, what they do, and how you install them,
including advanced technology that would make a technoid green with
envy. (I can’t fix spaghetti by myself, so you know that building a PC
must be easier than it first appears!)
Some people still think that you don’t save a dime by building your own
PC. If that’s the case, why is it still such a booming business? By assembling your own computer, you can save hundreds of dollars (and take
advantage of used parts from an older computer).
Finally, some people might ask you what you plan to learn by building
your own PC — and that’s an easy one! By the time that you’re finished,
you’ll be ready to add and upgrade parts yourself so that you’ll save
money in the future — and computer-repair techs will growl when you
meet them.
Now that I’ve put those myths to rest, it’s time for the good stuff!
How This Book Is Organized
I’ve divided this book into six major parts. The first five are made up of a
number of chapters, and each chapter is further divided into sections. You’ll
find all the nasty acronyms and abbreviations, part names, and relevant items
in the index; important topics and information that appear elsewhere in the
book are cross referenced to make them easier to find. The book also has a
spiffy full-color photo shoot of a PC assembly that would please even the pickiest supermodel.
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
In Part I, I introduce you to the tool (yes, only one tool) of the PC assembly
trade (a screwdriver, which tells you how complex the hardware really is),
what components make up a PC, and how they work together within your
computer. You also determine what type of computer you should build by
examining your current and future needs.
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
Part II: Building Your PC
In Part II, you assemble the required components to build a bare-bones PC —
it won’t play the latest 3-D shoot-’em-up game with all the visual bells and
whistles, but it will have all the basic features that you need. You’ll be able to
load your choice of operating system after you’ve finished this part.
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
In Part III, I cover the addition of hardware that makes a multimedia PC fun to
use — such as a digital stereo sound card, a DVD drive, and a dial-up modem.
After you’ve completed this part, you can use your new PC to access the Internet or watch a DVD movie while you work. Or you can finally play that latest
3-D shoot-’em-up game with every last visual bell and whistle turned on.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
In Part IV, I introduce you to advanced hardware that pumps up the performance of your PC, including home networking (both the wired and the wireless type), cable and DSL Internet connections, digital scanners, and SCSI
devices. (If the acronyms sound like Egyptian hieroglyphics, read all about
them here.) Not every computer owner needs the technology found in this
part, but after you’ve read these chapters, you’ll be familiar with the
enhancements that you can add to create a power user’s PC.
Part V: The Part of Tens
The five chapters in Part V are a quick reference of tips and advice on several
topics related to the assembly of PCs. For example, you’ll find a chapter
devoted to potential problems and a chapter to help you speed up your new
Part VI: Appendixes
The first appendix features a comparison of the different operating systems
typically used on today’s PCs. If you haven’t considered what type of operating system that you’ll use, this information can be very helpful to you. The
second appendix is a glossary of computer components, terms, abbreviations, and acronyms.
Icons Used in This Book
Some things that you encounter while building your PC are just too important
to miss. To make sure that you see certain paragraphs, they’re marked with
one of the following icons.
This icon marks the hardware you’re likely to find in a power user or gamer’s
PC: the latest, the fastest, or the most powerful components at the time this
book was written. You may have to pay more for hot hardware, but the performance you’ll get is usually worth the extra coinage.
These are important. Consider my maxims to be the stuff you’d highlight in
a college textbook — these facts and recommendations that would make a
good tattoo, because they’re universal and timeless in scope. (You’ll see!)
Information marked with this icon is the printed equivalent of those sticky
notes that decorate the front of some PCs. You might already know this stuff,
but a reminder never hurts.
Are you thinking of adding hardware from an older computer or used hardware
that you’ve bought or been given? If so, stay on the lookout for the Scavenger
icon; it highlights information and recommendations on using older hardware.
(Remember, though, that scavenged parts won’t have a warranty like new
components — or perform as well as new hardware, either.)
The Tip icon makes it easy to spot information that will save you time and
trouble (and sometimes even money).
If you’re like me and you’re curious about what’s happening behind the
scenes — you know, if you’re the kind of person who disassembled alarm
clocks as a kid — this icon is for you. The Technical Stuff icon highlights
information that you don’t really need for assembling your PC but which
you might find interesting. This information can also be blissfully ignored.
As you can imagine, the Warning icon steers you clear of potential disaster.
Always read the information under this icon first!
Where to Go from Here
Before you turn the page, grab yourself a pencil and some scratch paper for
taking notes — or throw caution to the wind and write directly in the book. If
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
you need help on a particular component, jump to the right chapter; if you
need to start from the beginning, start with Part I.
Enjoy yourself and take your time. Remember Mark’s First Maxim of PC
You’re not running a race!
(I told you that maxims were universal and timeless, didn’t I?) Although the
process of building your own PC might seem a little daunting now, it really is
easy. Plus, nothing is more satisfying than using a computer that you built
yourself or answering PC questions from friends and relatives because
“you’re the computer expert!”
Part I
Can I Really
Do This?
In this part . . .
introduce you to the various components used to
build a computer, and you find out what task each part
performs. I also cover some of the basic rules of computer
assembly, and I explain how you can use scavenged parts
from an older computer to help cut the cost of your new
PC. Finally, you act as your own consultant and determine
which type of custom computer you should build to fit
your needs.
Chapter 1
What’s in a Computer, Anyway?
In This Chapter
Discovering how simple PCs really are
Using commonsense assembly (CA)
Understanding standard PC components
Connecting components
sk most people what they know about computers, and they’ll tell you
that a PC is a complex, sealed box full of confusing parts that you need
an engineering degree to understand — something like a cross between an
unopened Egyptian pyramid and a rocket engine. Ask those same people
whether they want to try their hand at actually building a computer, and
they’ll probably laugh out loud. Even if you did buy all the mysterious electronic parts (which techno-types affectionately refer to as computer components), where would you start? Where do you buy everything? How do you fit
the components together? Nobody but an honest-to-goodness computer nerd
could possibly put a computer together!
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have great news: If you can handle the tool
shown in Figure 1-1 — yes, the humble Phillips screwdriver — you can safely
assemble your own computer (and even enjoy doing it!). After you discover
how to build your own computer and start to use it, you’ll probably agree
with me: Building a computer is easier than figuring out how to use some of
the complicated software that the computer can run. The idea that building a
computer is as difficult as building or repairing a car is just a myth (probably
encouraged by computer salespeople).
Figure 1-1:
The tool of
choice for
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
In this chapter, I introduce you to the standard electronics and peripherals
that you can use to build your computer, and then I show you how they fit
together. (And after you’ve successfully built your first computer, drop me an
e-mail at [email protected], and I can congratulate you personally!)
Anyone Can Assemble a PC
You might have heard a horror story or two about someone who tried to
upgrade a PC and ended up being sucked through a black hole into another
dimension. When you announce to the world that you’re going to build your
own computer, you’re likely to face a number of common myths:
“Why, you have to be practically psychic about how machinery works
to stick your hands inside a computer!” Wrong. In fact, you don’t have
to know how any of the components work, so you don’t have to be an
expert in laser optics, magnetism, or electronic theory. You just need to
connect the parts together correctly and attach them to the motherboard and computer case.
“You can’t build a computer on a card table, you know. You’re going
to need an airstrip, a complete toolkit, and a warehouse full of parts.”
Nope. You can not only assemble a computer on your dining room table
but also do so with no special tools. Find your favorite screwdriver, and
you’re a lean, mean, computer-assembling machine.
“It’s going to take you years to put together a computer. Heck, by the
time you’re finished, your computer will already be out of date.”
Depends on how long it takes. No, no — just kidding! This myth is definitely false. If you have all your components ready to go, assembling a PC
is a first-time project that you can easily finish during a long weekend.
“Something’s not going to work with something else. You’ll see.”
Wrong again. (Geez, who are these people? They probably still think that
airplanes will never get off the ground.) Today’s computer components
are designed to work with each other. Regardless of what brand name
you buy or how much you spend, if you buy a standard computer device,
it should join in that big cooperative team effort that makes a working
What’s the secret to building a PC? Time for the first Mark’s Maxim for
this book:
There really isn’t a secret to building a PC.
That’s why many people have started their own home businesses building
custom computers in their spare time — and why thousands of my readers
have built their own computers using this book. Building a computer is fun —
that is, after you conquer your initial fear. Plus, you get a big ego boost after
Chapter 1: What’s in a Computer, Anyway?
people find out that you built your own computer. Suddenly, you’re a genuine
PC guru to your family and friends, so be prepared to handle those technical
support questions at your next party.
Building a better mousetrap
(or computer)
Over the past few years, I’ve developed a simple rule for myself, which
applies perfectly to building anything from a mousetrap to a computer. I call
this rule CA — or, for those who can’t stand abbreviations, commonsense
assembly. The idea is a simple one: You can prevent most mistakes while
assembling a PC by using a little common sense.
Keep the following CA rules in mind when handling and connecting computer
Give yourself plenty of empty space and adequate lighting. If you’re
building a computer on the dining table, make sure that your work area
is covered with newspaper to avoid scratches. I also recommend keeping an adjustable desk lamp handy to shine light where you need it.
Don’t start without all the necessary components. If you don’t have
everything that you need to follow a project from beginning to end, don’t
start yet (only to find you have to stop halfway through). It’s too easy to
miss a step or forget something if you leave your computer’s bedside
and come back the next day.
Treat your components carefully. This commonsense rule doesn’t mean
that you need to wear gloves when handling cables or that you need to
refrigerate your adapter cards. Just don’t drop a part on the floor or toss
it to a friend. Keep components in their antistatic packaging until you’re
ready to install them.
Follow the Three Absolutes of Component Care and Feeding.
1. Never bend a circuit board or an adapter card.
2. Always make sure the cables that connect your parts aren’t
3. Never try to make something fit. Take the component out, check
the instructions again, and try it a different way if possible.
Installing adapter cards on your motherboard can sometimes take a
little longer or require a little more force than plugging a game cartridge
into a video game. But determining whether a card is aligned correctly
with the slot is usually easy because the slot is keyed to the shape of the
corresponding card.
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
Read any documentation that comes with each computer component.
Although I provide step-by-step assembly instructions throughout this
book, one of your components might require special switch settings or
some other unique treatment.
Keep all your parts manuals together for easy reference. After your
computer is running, you can refer to your manuals quickly if you need
to change any settings. In the future, if you want to sell the old device
and upgrade, it’s considered good manners to provide the original
manual with the component. (Complete with manual makes a better
impression on eBay.)
Save your boxes and receipts. Although it’s rare, you might find yourself stuck with a brand-new defective item, and you’ll need the original
packaging to return it.
Use bowls to hold small parts. Loose screws, jumpers, and wires have a
habit of wandering off if left on their own. If you end up with extra
screws or doodads after successfully assembling a PC, put these parts in
a bowl and start your own spare-parts warehouse. Trust me: They’ll
come in handy in the future. If you’re a true techno-nerd, get thee hence
to a hardware store and buy one of those wall racks with all the little
compartments — they’re perfect for organizing everything from screws
to wires and jumpers.
Keep a magnetic screwdriver handy. It never fails. Sooner or later, you
end up dropping a screw inside your computer case. If no loose components are in the case, feel free to pick up the case, turn it upside down,
and let gravity do its thing. However, if you’ve installed a component
that’s not screwed down yet, I recommend using a magnetic screwdriver
for picking up wayward screws.
Check all connections after you install a component. I can’t explain
this phenomenon (other than to invoke Murphy’s Law), but you’ll often
connect a new component firmly only to discover later that you somehow disconnected some other connector accidentally.
Never forget the common foe: static electricity. I’ll show you how you
can easily ground yourself before you touch any circuitry or adapter
cards — grounding sounds painful, but it’s not! Unless you ground yourself, you run the risk of damaging a component from the static electricity
that might be lurking on your body.
Leave the computer cover off during assembly. There’s no reason to
replace the case’s cover immediately after installing a part — what if you
connected a cable upside down? Instead, test your newly installed
device first, if possible. As long as you don’t touch any of the circuit
boards inside the case, you’ll be fine.
By the way, nothing inside your machine will explode or spew nasty radiation,
so you don’t have to step behind a lead screen when you fire it up. Simply
make sure that you don’t touch any circuit boards inside while the machine is
Chapter 1: What’s in a Computer, Anyway?
running. Personally, I replace the case’s cover on a work-in-progress only at
the end of the day (to fend off dust, felines, and small fingers).
The primary, number-one, all-important,
absolutely necessary, required rule
Do not panic!
There’s very little chance that you can destroy a component simply by connecting it the wrong way. Take your time while you build your computer and
move at your own pace — you can avoid mistakes that way. Here’s an important Mark’s Maxim:
Building a computer is not a contest, and there is no time limit.
After you’ve gained experience and built a few machines, you can work on
speed records; for now, just try to schedule as much uninterrupted time as possible. For example, I know several supertechs who can assemble a complete PC
in a single hour. Of course, people often laugh at them at dinner parties — being
a techno-nerd does have its dark side, I guess.
The other primary, number-one,
all-important, absolutely necessary,
required rule
Liquids are taboo!
If you even so much as think of parking your soda or mineral water next to your
computer (even just for a second), you might remind yourself of Chernobyl or
Three Mile Island. If you spill beverages or other liquids on your computer components, that liquid will ruin everything that it touches — period.
PCs Are Built with Standard Parts
When the first personal computers appeared way back in the late 1970s, you
had to be good with electronics — and a soldering iron — to build one.
Everything was soldered by hand to circuit boards, and you even had to
build the computer’s case yourself. A hacker (as applied to computers) was a
person who “hacked together” a computer from bits and pieces of hardware.
(Today, unfortunately, the word carries a darker connotation.)
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
Computers have advanced a few light-years since then; now they’re more like
appliances, in that one computer is put together pretty much like another.
Ever since IBM introduced the IBM PC, computers have been built using standard components with the same connectors and dimensions, so you no
longer need the experience of an electronics engineer to assemble one. And
the parts are self-contained, so you don’t need to worry about soldering (or
gears and springs, either). Everyone uses the same building blocks that fit
together the same way.
In fact, assembling standardized computer components is how popular mailorder and direct-sale computer manufacturers build their machines. Like you,
they order standard computer components and peripherals and then follow a
procedure (much like the ones that I describe in this book) to assemble the
computer according to your specifications.
The process that you follow to build your own computer is much like following a recipe. Like baking a cake, you add certain parts to your mixture in a
certain order. Before you know it, you’re taking a big bite — or, in this case,
using the Internet, writing the great American novel, or blasting your favorite
aliens from the planet Quark.
Understanding Your Computer’s
Before you find out more about where to buy the parts that make up a computer (or, if you’re lucky, where to scavenge them), allow me to introduce you
to each of the major components of your computer. I describe each component in general, although you can find out all the details about each computer
part in other chapters of this book.
By the way, scavenging parts is more wholesome than it sounds; I use the
term to refer to components that you’ve removed from an older computer,
used components that you’ve bought, or used parts that someone has given
you. Check out Chapter 2 for some good tips and hints on where to scavenge
computer components.
The metal mansion
Your computer’s case is its home, complete with a power supply, the various
buttons and lights on the front, and the all-important fan that keeps the inside of
your computer cool. Today’s high-power gaming machines have three or four
fans, depending on how many devices inside are generating heat — heck, the
fastest PCs that gamers build these days are liquid-cooled, just like your car!
Chapter 1: What’s in a Computer, Anyway?
You might notice several large, rectangular cutouts on the front of your case.
Don’t worry — your computer case isn’t defective; it’s supposed to have
them. These holes, called drive bays, enable you to add components, such as
a tape backup drive or a DVD-ROM drive. An unused drive bay is usually covered by a plastic insert. Or the front of your case might have a door that
swings open for access to the bays.
You can get computer cases in various sizes. The size that you choose depends
on how many toys (usually called peripherals) you want to add to your computer. See Chapter 3 for a more detailed discussion of your computer’s case.
The big kahuna
A number of different circuit boards are inside a computer, but only one is big
enough, complicated enough, and important enough to be called your computer’s motherboard. Your computer motherboard holds
The CPU chip: This acts as the brain of your PC.
The RAM modules: These act as your computer’s memory while it’s
turned on.
All sorts of connectors: You connect lots of things to your motherboard,
such as hard drives, a DVD drive, and power cables.
In fact, the motherboard holds just about everything, as you can see in Figure
1-2. (PCI slots are covered in Chapter 4, and your motherboard’s BIOS makes
an appearance in Chapters 3 and 7.)
If you enjoy acronyms and abbreviations, you’ll be happy to know that CPU
stands for central processing unit, and RAM stands for random access memory.
Computer CPUs come in different speeds, measured in gigahertz (GHz), such
as 3 GHz. Older processors used to be measured in megahertz (MHz), such as
350 MHz. Sometimes, the CPU speed is mentioned after the processor name,
such as Pentium 4 3.06 GHz. In general, the faster the CPU speed, the faster
your computer.
The most popular brand of CPU these days is the Intel Pentium series, which
includes the Pentium 4 and Pentium Extreme Edition, but you can also find
processors from Advanced Micro Devices, which everyone calls AMD. AMD’s
alternative CPUs are usually less expensive and often run faster and more efficiently than the Pentium 4. I discuss the most popular processors and their
advantages later in Chapter 4.
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
Built-in audio jacks
PCI slots
Figure 1-2: AGP slot
Your (black)
main circuit
affectionately called
the mother- Battery
IDE device
power connector
Your motherboard is probably one of the more expensive parts that you need
to buy. If you can find a used motherboard in good shape with a Pentium 4
class CPU already installed, you should consider it if the price is right. What
price is right? Motherboard prices fluctuate every month (usually downward),
so check the price on a new motherboard that has a similar Pentium-series
chip to determine whether you’re getting a good deal on the used board. I find
Newegg (, eBay (, and PriceWatch
( to be the best resources for checking prices.
For all the details on your motherboard, see Chapter 3. I discuss CPU chips
and RAM modules in Chapter 4.
The eye candy
Next on your list are the video card and monitor. Together, these two parts
display everything from your e-mail to your latest financial figures to all
those killer Web pages (and don’t forget those flashy enemy Quarkians you
need to disintegrate).
Chapter 1: What’s in a Computer, Anyway?
All video cards have their own special, onboard RAM modules; the more RAM,
the more colors and detail the card can display. Today’s state-of-the-art video
cards also help speed up your computer while it displays 3-D graphics or digital video. The video card performs most of the display work itself, giving
your CPU a well-deserved rest. (Note that many of today’s motherboards
have a built-in video card, so you may not need a separate card if you’re not
interested in playing the latest games.)
Monitors have screen areas that typically range from 15 inches to 21 inches
(measured diagonally across the case). You can go even larger if you crave
that much space, or you can put two monitors side-by-side for a larger virtual
desktop. Naturally, the larger the monitor, the more expensive it is. The latest
liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors, which use less electricity and emit
very little radiation, are more expensive than CRT (or tube) monitors of the
same size.
Chapter 6 contains just about everything that you ever (or never) wanted to
know about video cards and PC monitors.
The places for plugs
Your power cord isn’t the only connection that you need on the outside of
your computer. For example, you also need to attach a mouse and a keyboard
(unless you’ve gone wireless), and you might also want to add a portable
MP3 player, a gamepad, a digital camera, and a printer. These days, virtually
all the ports (the connectors so proudly displayed on the back of your PC) are
built into the motherboard, but you can install new ports for external devices
You can point and click with things other than a mouse, such as a trackball,
a touchpad, or a drawing tablet. A mouse is practically a requirement for
Windows (although you can still navigate strictly from the keyboard if
Even the traditional keyboard has changed. Ergonomically shaped keyboards
are designed to make typing easier on your hands, wrists, and forearms. And
Windows XP recognizes two or three new keys to activate the Start button
and display menus in an application. (Thank goodness Bill Gates can’t add
new letters to the alphabet.) However, if you can scavenge a standard PC keyboard, it should still work just fine.
Your computer also needs at least one universal serial bus (USB) and one
parallel port to use many external devices. For example, most digital cameras
are connected with USB ports, and your printer can use either a parallel port
or a USB port. Other proprietary, specialized ports (such as a FireWire port
for digital video) might end up sticking out the back of your new computer,
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
depending on what components you add. (Need the complete rundown on
ports? Jump to Chapter 5.)
Oh, and don’t forget your Ethernet network port. Many motherboards now
have built-in Ethernet cards, or you can add an Ethernet network adapter
card separately. For all the details on building your own network (or connecting your new PC to an existing network), swing by Chapter 12.
The data warehouse
Earlier in this chapter, I mention that your RAM modules act as your computer’s memory while the computer is running. However, when you switch off
your computer, it forgets the data in RAM, so you need a permanent place to
store Uncle Milton’s Web page address or your latest stock report. This permanent storage comes in three forms: hard drive, removable storage drive
(for example, a CD/DVD recorder or a Zip drive), and floppy disk drive (with
its accompanying floppy disk).
Your computer includes at least one hard drive and one floppy drive; the
standard PC floppy drive still uses a 31⁄2-inch disk that holds 1.44MB. Hard
drives, on the other hand, have much greater storage capacities. Older drives
can store hundreds of megabytes (MB), but newer hard drives hold gigabytes
(GB) of data (that’s 1000 megabytes). At the time of this writing, typical hard
drives range in capacity from 40GB to more than 300 or 400GB — and those
figures are constantly rising, while costs are constantly dropping. (You’ve
gotta love that free-market competitive model!)
Newer hard drives are typically faster than old drives, too. The new ones can
deliver more data to your computer in less time than drives made as little as
two or three years ago.
If you’re buying a new hard drive, buy as much data territory as possible.
Chapter 7 is your guide to both hard drives and floppy drives.
The bells and whistles
Today’s multimedia PCs have almost more extras, add-ons, and fun doodads
than any mere mortal can afford — well, except for Bill Gates, that is. If you
want to be able to install and run today’s software, though, you need at least
a CD-ROM drive. Multimedia applications and games also need a sound card
(or built-in audio hardware on your motherboard), along with a set of speakers. In Chapter 8, I tell you more about CD-ROM and DVD drives, and Chapter
9 has the skinny on PC sound cards.
Another common addition to a PC is a printer. If you need the lowdown on
today’s printer technology, jump to Chapter 14. And don’t forget a dial-up
Chapter 1: What’s in a Computer, Anyway?
modem for connecting your computer to other computers across telephone
lines, especially if you’re an Internet junkie. (I cover modems in Chapter 10.)
If a high-speed cable or DSL Internet connection is available in your area and
you can afford it, you can jump on the Internet broadbandwagon. (That’s so
bad it doesn’t even qualify as a pun.)
In later chapters, I also discuss advanced stuff for power users, such as network hardware and scanners. You don’t have to read those chapters, and you
won’t be tested on them. But they’re there in case you feel adventurous (or
you really need them).
Connecting Your Computer Components
You might be wondering how to connect all the various components that
make up a computer. “What happens if I connect something wrong? Am I
going to light up like a Christmas tree? Will I burn up an expensive part?”
I admit that when I built my first computer in the early 90s, I had these same
concerns. To reassure you, consider these facts:
Most connectors for computer components are marked to help you
plug them in correctly. In fact, some connectors are designed so that
you can install them in only one direction.
Ruining a computer component simply by plugging it in the wrong
way is almost impossible. At the worst, the device simply won’t work.
Just connect the component properly, and it should work just fine.
Although you connect your computer to a wall socket, unless you disassemble the power supply or monitor (which you are not going to
do), you won’t be exposed to dangerous voltage. Of course, it pays to
take basic precautions — such as unplugging your PC each time you add
or remove a component.
Most components within a computer are connected with cables. For example,
Figures 1-3 and 1-4 show a floppy drive cable and a power cable, respectively.
I give you instructions on how to make sure that you’re connecting cables
You’ll also be adding adapter cards. These circuit boards plug into your computer, much like how a game cartridge plugs into a video game. Adapter cards
provide your computer with additional features — for example, you can add a
sound card (see Chapter 9) and an internal modem (see Chapter 10) to provide
better audio and a dial-up Internet connection, respectively. Adapter cards are
arranged in rows at one end of a computer, as shown in Figure 1-5.
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
Figure 1-3:
A typical
floppy drive
Marked edge of
ribbon cable
indicates pin 1
Figure 1-4:
A PC power
cable —
can you
ever have
too many?
Cable from
power supply
Connector on a component
Adapter cards
Empty slot
Figure 1-5:
installed in a
Depending on the type of motherboard that you install, you’ll use PCI, PCIExpress, or AGP adapter cards. In Chapter 3, I explain how to select the right
type of adapter card as well as what all those NASA-inspired abbreviations
mean. Make sure that you get the right kind of adapter card because the
wrong type of card won’t fit.
Chapter 2
What Type of PC Should I Build?
In This Chapter
Determining what type of computer you need
Choosing one of three computer designs
Deciding whether you need (gasp) special stuff
Buying parts through the mail or on the Web
hen you walk into an oh-so-hip retail electronics store these days to
buy a computer, the salesperson is supposed to help you choose the
right one for your needs. If you build your own computer, however, you need
to figure out for yourself what type of computer is best for you. Take it from
me — you’re likely to come up with something far better than many so-called
experts who sell computers. Remember that they’re interested primarily in
making money, so it’s in their best interest to talk you into a more expensive
model than you really need.
In this chapter, I show you how to figure out what type of computer fits your
needs, and I suggest three basic configurations. I tell you what parts you need
to buy. I also fill you in on the different sources for buying computer parts —
especially used parts, which can cut the cost of building your new machine
even further.
Interrogating Yourself on
Your Computer Needs
If every computer owner had the same needs, only a single model would be
available. But because today’s computers are used at home and at the office,
for business and for pleasure, what works well for one person might not fit
for another. Although most computers sold at the time of this writing are
Pentium 4 computers, they’re about as different from each other as the
thirty-odd flavors at your local ice cream parlor — or at least they should be.
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
To custom-build the computer that you need, you have to design it around
who you are and what you plan to do. The easiest way to determine what
type of computer you need is to ask yourself a series of questions. For those
who enjoy TV shows about lawyers, here’s a chance to cross-examine yourself. Grab a pen and a notebook and write your answers to the questions on
this checklist:
Primary application: What will be the main function of your computer?
In other words, what will you be doing with it about 75 percent of the
time that you’re using it? For example, do you plan to use the computer
for word processing, drafting, or Internet e-mail and Web surfing? Are
you a big-time game player who likes to play the latest and hottest 3-D
game releases? Jot down the main function of your computer under the
heading “Primary application.”
If you’re not quite sure what your primary application will be, just write a
general term such as office work, home use, or very expensive paperweight.
Secondary application: What will be the secondary function of your
computer? In other words, what will you typically use it for if you’re not
performing the main function? Do you play games during the evening, or
does your family use the computer for education or those hot eBay bargains? Write the secondary use for your computer under the “Secondary
application” heading.
Family computer: Will children be using your computer for education or
games? If so, write that use under the “Family computer” heading.
High-quality video: Will you be using your computer for heavy-duty
graphics, such as the latest cutting-edge 3-D games, professional desktop publishing, home DVD theater, video editing with a program such as
Adobe Premiere Pro, or advanced image editing with a program such as
Jasc Paint Shop Pro? If so, write required under the “High-quality video”
Power user: Are you going to run an entire suite of computer programs
such as Microsoft Office or Macromedia’s Studio MX? Will you be running
sophisticated, expensive applications such as Adobe Creative Suite 2? If
you’re planning on using complex programs, write yes under the “Power
User” heading.
Some people want the fastest possible computer. They hate waiting, and
they’re willing to pay extra to get the Cadillac of computers that’s ready
for anything. If you fit this description and you don’t mind paying extra
for many of your computer components, go ahead and write yes under
the “Power User” heading. You’ll spend more money than the typical
person because you’re buying more powerful and expensive parts, but
you’ll probably end up with the nicest computer on your block.
Chapter 2: What Type of PC Should I Build?
Network user: Will you connect your computer to other computers over
a wired or wireless LAN? (That’s techno-babble gibberish for local area
network — or, if you have a life, just the network.) If your answer to this
question is yes, write that down under the “Network user” heading (and
prepare yourself for an extra headache or two later, in Chapter 12, where
I discuss networks).
One last question: Where were you on the night of the 15th? (Too bad
Perry Mason didn’t have a computer to keep track of all those details!)
See, that didn’t hurt! You’ve now eliminated the salesperson and built a list of
your computer tasks and activities. From this list, you can build your own
description of your computer needs. Pat yourself on the back and pour yourself another cup of coffee or grab another soda. In the following section, you
use this list to determine what type of components you need to build into
your computer.
Answering Your Computer-Needs
If you were buying a computer through a retail store, the salesperson’s next
move after inquiring about your computer needs would be to saunter over to
one particular model and say something reassuring, like “Based on what
you’ve told me, I’d recommend this as the perfect PC for you. Will that be
cash, check, or charge?”
Whoa, Nellie! Chances are that the salesperson’s choice might meet your
needs, but when you’re building your own computer, you get to decide which
parts are more important than others. Are you looking for speed? Storage
space? The best sound or the best 3-D graphics?
In this section, you use the description of your computer needs (which you
created in the preceding section) to choose between three standard computer designs. I’ve created each of these basic designs to fit a particular type
of computer owner. Later in this chapter, you find out whether you need to
add special stuff to your base model. (You might recognize this method as
the same one used by savvy car buyers to get exactly the car they want at the
lowest possible price.)
Look through the descriptions of each of the three designs that follow and
then select one that can best serve as the base model for your computer. Of
course, you can add or subtract parts, select more expensive parts for any of
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
these designs, or just jot down extra parts that you want to add after your
computer is up and running. The following computer designs aren’t hard-andfast specifications, just suggestions.
I include in each of the following designs a final entry (the Optional field) that
names one or more extras that most people find useful for one reason or
another. They’re not required to run programs, but they make life a heck of a
lot easier! Some optional items that I suggest might be upgrades to an existing part in that design. For example, if you’re willing to spend extra for a
faster processor, I recommend the type of processor that you should look for.
Because the standards for CPU speeds, requirements for random access
memory (RAM), and hard drive capacities change often in today’s PC industry, you’ll find my absolute latest and greatest recommendations for all three
designs — as well as links to my favorite Web stores and resource sites — on
my Web site,
Design 1: The Jack Benny economy-class
One of the reasons why you might want to build a computer is to save money.
My first design is tailored for those who want to build a basic, no-frills computer for the least amount of money. (Fans of old-time radio, think about the
penny-pinching Jack Benny.) You won’t be piloting the latest flight simulator
on this computer . . . but then again, life doesn’t begin and end with games.
However, you can skip only certain pieces of hardware; for example, avoid
asking, “Do I really need a keyboard?” (Hey, even a Maxwell needs wheels.)
This type of computer is suitable if the checklist description that you compiled in the preceding section fits this profile:
Both your primary and secondary applications are word processing,
home finance, keeping track of household records, Internet e-mail, or
similar simple applications that don’t require the fastest computer or a
large amount of memory.
According to your checklist, you have no entry under “Family computer,”
you do not require high-quality video, and you are not a power user.
In Table 2-1, I list the appropriate details about the computer components
that you need to build this bare-bones, basic computer design. Although it
has no bells and only a few whistles, it still qualifies as an entry-level PC —
and it’s also representative of what you can build from used parts. (Find more
details on all these components in upcoming chapters.) This PC will run its
best using Windows XP Home.
Chapter 2: What Type of PC Should I Build?
Table 2-1 Requirements for a Bare-Bones Pentium-Class Computer
Computer Component
What to Look For
Standard “pizza-box,” ATX minitower, or desktop
model; single fan
Celeron, Pentium 4, Sempron or Athlon XP; peripheral
component interconnect (PCI) slots
System RAM
Hard drive
One enhanced integrated drive electronics (EIDE)
drive with at least 40GB of storage capacity
Floppy drive
One 31⁄2-inch, 1.44MB disk drive
48x internal drive
Video card
Standard 32MB or 64MB PCI/AGP super video graphics array (SVGA) adapter
15-inch SVGA
At least two universal serial bus (USB) ports and one
parallel port
Standard 101-keyboard; mouse
A modem for connecting to the Internet; a DVD
recorder for creating data and audio CDs and DVDvideo discs; inkjet printer
Design 2: The Cunningham
standard edition
Remember Richie Cunningham and his family from Happy Days? If home computers had been around in the 1950s, Richie and crew would have used this
standard edition design. (Think of this model as the family sedan.) It’s typical
in every way, including the moderate amount of money that you’ll spend
building it. This computer has standard multimedia capabilities, and it can
handle Adobe Photoshop Elements without blinking.
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
This type of computer is suitable if your checklist description fits this profile:
Your primary application involves browsing the Web, using Internet
e-mail, working with more advanced productivity programs (such as
spreadsheets and scheduling applications), using simple desktoppublishing software, or creating computer artwork.
Your secondary application involves computer games, multimedia, or
educational software on CD or DVD.
You do not require high-quality video, and you are not a power user.
Table 2-2 lists the requirements for the most important parts that you need
for building this midrange design.
Table 2-2
Requirements for a Middle-Range
Pentium-Class Computer
Computer Component
What to Look For
ATX minitower model; single fan
Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon XP; AGP and PCI slots
System RAM
Hard drive
One EIDE or SATA drive with at least 80GB of storage
Floppy drive
One 31⁄2-inch, 1.44MB disk drive
Video card
Standard 64MB accelerated graphics port (AGP) 3-D
video adapter with NVIDIA or ATI graphics chipset
56 Kbps v.90 internal data/fax
16x internal DVD recorder
Sound card
PCI audio card (64 voices)
17-inch SVGA
Four USB ports and one parallel port
Standard 101-keyboard; mouse
Inkjet or monochrome laser printer; scanner; 19-inch
monitor; FireWire port for a digital camcorder; wired
or wireless Ethernet adapter; cable/digital subscriber
line (DSL) modem
Chapter 2: What Type of PC Should I Build?
Design 3: The Wayne Manor Batcomputer
“Holy microchips, Batman!” Design 3 is the power user’s dream — everything
is first class. This system can handle even the toughest jobs, such as creating
3-D artwork, putting games such as Half-Life 2 through their paces, and editing
images with Adobe Photoshop CS2. The Batcomputer that you build can be as
good as any top-of-the-line computer that you can buy at That Big Store That
Sells PCs — except, of course, that you’ll spend hundreds of dollars less.
This type of computer is suitable if your checklist description fits this profile:
Your primary application involves advanced or heavy computational
work, such as computer-aided drafting, video editing, or 3-D animation.
If your primary application is playing the latest and greatest computer
games in all their glory, you should consider the Batcomputer, too.
According to your checklist, you require high-quality video, and you are
a power user.
You simply want the best possible computer, which will last the longest
time before it requires upgrading. (Speaking of upgrading, in the sidebar
“Finding bargains in so-called obsolete computers” elsewhere in this
chapter, I show you how to take advantage of other people upgrading
their computers.)
Table 2-3 lists the requirements for the most important components that you
need for this design.
Table 2-3
Requirements for a Top-of-the-Line
Pentium-Class Computer
Computer Component
What to Look For
Full-tower model; dual fan
The fastest doggone Pentium Extreme Edition or
Athlon 64 processor available; AGP or PCI-Express
video slot, PCI and PCI-Express slots
System RAM
At least 1GB
Hard drive
One EIDE, SATA, or SCSI drive with at least 120GB of
storage capacity
Floppy drive
One 31⁄2-inch, 1.44MB disk drive
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
Table 2-3 (continued)
Computer Component
What to Look For
Video card
AGP or PCI-Express 3-D SVGA adapter with at least
128MB of video memory; NVIDIA or ATI graphics
56 Kbps v.90 internal data/fax
16x dual-layer DVD recorder
Sound card
PCI audio card (64 voices, 3-D positional sound, hardware MP3 encoding)
19-inch SVGA or 17-inch liquid crystal display (LCD)
flat-screen display
Four to six USB ports, two FireWire ports, and one
parallel port
Ergonomic keyboard with extra Windows keys,
Scanner; inkjet or laser printer; wired or wireless
Ethernet adapter; 21-inch monitor; cable/digital subscriber line (DSL) modem; videoconferencing
(Webcam) camera; TV tuner card
After you select the best base-model computer that meets your needs, you’re
ready to identify any special add-ons (or, in the language of the techno-wizards,
peripherals) you need to use your applications.
Getting Your Hands on the Special Stuff
If you plan to use your new computer almost exclusively for a particular purpose (composing music or drafting, for example), you might already know
what special stuff you need. In case you’re a newcomer to your particular
application, however, the following sections outline some of the special stuff
that you might need.
Drafting, graphics, and pretty pictures
If you’re an artist or you’re interested in computer graphics, you might want
to get your hands on some of the equipment in this list. The first two are
peripherals, and the second two are upgrades to standard components:
Chapter 2: What Type of PC Should I Build?
Drawing tablet: This computer peripheral is something like an electronic
piece of paper — now there’s a real technological advancement, right?
You can draw on the surface of the tablet, as shown in Figure 2-1, which
in turn sends your drawing directly to the screen. Many freehand artists
and drafting gurus prefer drawing with natural movements of the hand
rather than trying to draw a line by using a mouse cursor. (For more
information on the drawing tablet, jump to Chapter 5.)
Figure 2-1:
A drawing
tablet —
the tool of
choice for
artists (and
Cable to computer
Scanner: A scanner (as shown in Figure 2-2) enables you to “read” pictures from printed material directly into a graphics program. You can
also use a scanner to read (or acquire) text from a magazine article or
book directly into your word processing program. Some scanners use a
feature named OCR — an abbreviation that’s actually easier to use than
the full phrase, optical character recognition. (For all the details on scanner technology, head to Chapter 14.)
Figure 2-2:
A flatbed
scanner is
great for
and text.
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
Upgrades: If you wrote required under the “High-quality video” heading
in your description, you need a faster, more expensive video card with
these features:
• 3-D accelerator chip: This accelerator chip takes care of the video
processing that would normally be handled by your CPU, so your
Windows games and programs with high-resolution graphics run
faster. The latest high-performance video cards from NVIDIA and
ATI both feature 3-D acceleration onboard.
• Additional video RAM: Extra video RAM enables your monitor to
display more colors with higher resolutions within Windows (which
is easier on your eyes). With extra RAM, your computer can display
higher resolutions. For example, a professional desktop-publishing
application can easily create layouts that require a minimum resolution of 1600 x 1200. And you can display larger pictures with
more accurate colors.
Home-office and small-business stuff
Are you going to get all businesslike on me? No problem — a computer can help
you organize a home office so that you can find the right information when you
need it. (Imagine that!) Consider these extras as company money well spent:
Printer: Most home office computers need an inkjet or a laser printer.
Both these printers have distinct advantages, and I explain the differences in detail in Chapter 14.
Scanner: If your PC came equipped with a data/fax modem, you might
consider adding a scanner. Besides the advantages that I mention in the
preceding section, a scanner provides the “missing link” for your
modem’s fax capabilities. Without a scanner, you can fax only electronic
documents that you create on your computer — you’re stuck if you want
to fax something from a paper copy. With a scanner, however, you can
scan in the pages from your hard copy and then fax the images.
Data/fax/voice modem: Speaking of modems, how would you like your
computer to answer the phone for you? If you pick up a data/fax/voice
modem, you can set up separate voice mailboxes for you and your business. I talk more about voice modems in Chapter 10.
Mozart’s musical computer
Too bad Wolfgang Amadeus never got to jam using a computer. If you’re a
musician, you might already know some of the cool stuff that you can do
with a computer. Whether or not you’re a musician, the following computer
Chapter 2: What Type of PC Should I Build?
components can turn your PC into a miniature recording studio. Check out
these toys:
MIDI: No self-respecting computer musician would be without a sound
card with MIDI support. With the Musical Instrument Digital Interface
(MIDI) standard, you can play music directly into the computer from
your instrument and then edit the music. Or your computer can take
control of a MIDI-capable instrument that you’ve connected to the MIDI
port and play it automatically. (For the complete description of MIDI,
visit Chapter 9.)
MP3: Are you interested in riding the recent wave of MP3 popularity?
These digital music files can be downloaded from the Internet and
stored on your computer’s hard drive, yet they sound exactly like you’re
listening to an audio CD. You can also transfer these files to one of the
new generation of handheld MP3 personal players (like my favorite, the
iPod from Apple) and listen while you’re walking or working. A sound
card with MP3 hardware support can create superb MP3 files or allow a
slower computer to play MP3 files without distortion. (I serve up the
MP3 details in Chapter 9.)
CDs: One of my favorite extras enables you to record your own audio CDs.
Musicians and audiophiles can burn MP3 files to create custom CDs —
and your home-brewed CDs can sound as good as the music CDs you
buy in a store. Figure 2-3 illustrates a typical external DVD recorder. (For
all the details on CD and DVD drives, skip to Chapter 8.)
Figure 2-3:
Tape is
dead —
now you
have a CD
or DVD
recorder for
your own
audio CDs!
The ultimate bad-guy blasting box
Now, you might have to pretend with your friends and family, but you can relax
around here: I know the real reason why you need a computer. If you haven’t
played some of today’s best action, strategy, and simulation computer games,
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
you’re missing out on the chance to fly an Apache helicopter, play 18 holes
with Arnold Palmer, or take over the entire galaxy, planet by planet! Here’s
the special stuff that you need to create your ultimate game machine:
Joystick: When you mention that you’re ready to play games, most
people think of a computer joystick (or its close relative, the PC
gamepad) first. The traditional favorite for flight games, joysticks come
in a wide range of styles: Some have two buttons and sell for less than
$10, and others have twenty buttons that are programmable for every
game and sell for more than $100. Joysticks aren’t the only controller
choice, though. You can find steering wheels and pedals for car racing,
video-game-style gamepads, and even 3-D controllers for games such as
Doom 3 and Half-Life 2.
If you’re willing to spend the extra cash, you can even get a force feedback joystick (as shown in Figure 2-4) that shakes and rumbles when
your F-16 or Spitfire gets hit. Thank goodness no one’s developed a missile that you can launch from your computer! (Set your sights on
Chapter 15 to find out more about this hot joystick.)
Figure 2-4:
programmable forcefeedback
for those
Top Gun
3-D video card: If you prefer 3-D games, you need an advanced 3-D video
card that can help speed up the action. This type of card takes care of
the complex math necessary for realistic 3-D effects, leaving your computer free to concentrate on running the program. A 3-D video card fits
the bill also if you’re looking for extra video RAM. Today’s 3-D video
Chapter 2: What Type of PC Should I Build?
cards use one of two slots on your motherboard: PCI-Express or AGP.
(Chapter 6 includes more info about video cards.)
Audiophile sound card: A great game machine needs the same highquality sound card demanded by computer musicians. Most games
released these days have spectacular soundtracks, and the Dolby Digital
sound from a good sound card enhances gameplay. Some games even
use a technique called stereo positioning (which the more expensive
sound cards can take advantage of). If a racecar passes you on the right,
for example, you hear the sound of its engine through your right
speaker. (If you’re interested in sound cards, check out Chapter 9.)
Subwoofer speaker: Speaking of speakers, if you want to feel like you’re
inside your game, consider a more expensive PC speaker system that
includes a subwoofer. Audiophiles know that a subwoofer speaker provides the richest, deepest bass (even down to subsonics that you can’t
actually hear), and game players enjoy the rumble that it adds to special
effects such as laser blasts, machine guns, and afterburners. (Chapter 9
has more details on speaker systems and subwoofers.)
Picking Up the Parts
“Okay, Mark, now I know what parts I need, but where am I going to find them?”
As little as ten years ago, you would have had a hard time locating all the
individual components for a computer. But now that a personal computer has
practically become a household necessity (and more people are building
their own computers), you have several sources for the parts that you need.
In general, I recommend that you buy brand-new components for your computer whenever possible. Why? Some components in a computer (for example, the hard drives, which are complex and have a large number of moving
parts) can fail after a few years of use. In addition, prices for the fastest and
most powerful components are constantly dropping. Consider the example of
a used hard drive: Why install an older, slower, used hard drive that holds
only 40GB for $25 when you can add a newer, faster drive that holds a whopping 250GB (for about $100)?
In this section, I compare new versus used parts and tell you several likely
sources for each.
Researching before you buy
From time to time during your computer shopping, you might feel as though
you’re alone and that there’s no one to help you decide between brands or
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
make decisions on features. Not so! (“Everybody’s a critic,” as they say in
show business.) If you feel that you need more information before deciding
on parts to buy or scavenge, consider these sources:
Computer magazines: You need look no further than your local newsstand to find a half-dozen excellent magazines that specialize in product
reviews, tips, and tricks for the novice computer owner and coverage of
the newest and hottest computer technology. I recommend PC Magazine
and Maximum PC for their hardware reviews.
Some magazines hand out awards for the hardware and software that
they rate most highly. If the computer component that you’re considering carries two or three of these awards on its box, you probably have a
winner. For example, I personally rate the PC Magazine Editor’s Choice
Award as an indicator of a high-quality product.
The Web: Most publishers of computer magazines also offer online versions of their printed material, and you can search through an entire site
for product information, reviews, and product comparisons. Some good
examples are PC Magazine (at, PC World (www.pcworld.
com), Tom’s Hardware (, (,
ZDNet (, and other sites, such as (www.cnet.
com) and Price Watch ( Many online stores also
offer reviews and ratings submitted by customers, like
Internet newsgroups: Although you need an Internet connection to read
messages, newsgroups such as alt.comp.hardware.homebuilt and
comp.hardware are chock-full of interesting reviews, hints, and tips. If
you need to ask something specific, you can simply post a message to
the newsgroup and receive an answer by e-mail or in a reply posting on
the newsgroup. Visit Google Groups at to
read these newsgroups using your Web browser.
Computer user groups: Computer user groups come in handy! You’ll
likely find someone who has already traveled down the same road and
bought a similar computer component. You can learn from that person’s
mistakes or success without spending a dollar.
I live for mail order
What’s that you say, Bunkie? You need to buy some new parts, like a motherboard, hard drive, and video card? You say that you want to save money and
don’t want to pay the inflated prices at your local Maze O’ Wires computer
store? Or perhaps you live in a small town without a local computer store?
Never fear — use mail order, and let the postal service (or, more likely, FedEx
or UPS) leap to the rescue.
Chapter 2: What Type of PC Should I Build?
When you order parts from a reputable mail-order company, you can choose
from a huge selection of computer parts, and you always save money over
buying them from a retail computer store. Depending on where you live, you
might also save money by avoiding local sales tax on your purchase.
If you’ve never ordered parts through the mail and you’re not sure whether
you’re working with a reputable company, keep these guidelines in mind:
Check the specs: Ask the salesperson for a detailed description of the
part before you complete the order, just to make certain that you’re
buying the right item. Feel free to ask questions — for example, “Is that
an AGP or a PCI video card?” If you like things in writing, ask the salesperson to mail or fax you the specifications and the price.
Research refunds: Make sure that the company allows you to return a
part for a full refund if it doesn’t turn out to be what you need. If you
return a component, some companies charge you a restocking fee, which
is basically a charge that you pay the company for the hard work involved
in sticking a returned box back on a shelf. (I wish I had a piece of that
Choose COD or charge: Some people are wary of using a credit card
over the phone or over the Internet. If you prefer, ask for COD shipment
instead. Ordering COD will cost you extra, but it’s better than mailing a
personal check and then waiting for it to clear. Personally, I always use
a credit card, which provides me with additional leverage if there’s a
Buy only what you want: If you can’t get exactly the part that you need
from one company, you can always get it elsewhere. Beware of salespeople and online stores that tell you that they’re out of the particular part
that you’re looking for but can sell you a better model of the same part
for a higher price.
Keep your shipment grounded: Some companies tack on an additional
shipment charge, or they automatically charge you for next-day shipment unless you request regular shipment. Unless you really do need
that part tomorrow, you can probably save ten dollars or more by
choosing regular ground shipment.
After you build your first computer, you’ll develop a good relationship with at
least one or two mail-order companies. I have several favorite companies,
each of which is my first stop for a particular type of part. (It’s always a good
idea to find a monitor locally, though, because you can evaluate it with your
own eyes and you won’t pay a fortune on shipping.) For an updated list of my
favorites in the world of mail-order companies, visit my Web site, MLC Books
Online, at
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
Ordering parts online
If you have access to the Internet at work, at school, or at a neighbor’s house,
you can travel through the limitless world of cyberspace looking for computer parts.
If you need a start in online shopping, visit three of my favorite online computer stores: the site (, Newegg
(, and Price Watch (
All three of these Web sites enable you to search for computer goodies from
many different manufacturers, and each offers specials on overstocked parts.
You can display side-by-side comparison charts of different parts so that you
can compare features and performance online. Then check for the site with
the current lowest price — without leaving the comfort of that swivel chair
you bought for the computer room.
If the computer you’re using has a printer, you can use your browser to print
full descriptions of the parts you’re researching. These descriptions can
come in handy later when you have to make a final decision on which brand
to buy.
Most of these Web sites accept only credit cards, although they offer secure
connections if you’re using Mozilla Firefox or Microsoft Internet Explorer —
you can tell your connection is secure if a padlock icon appears in the browser’s
status line. The guidelines that I mention for mail-order purchases apply to
online ordering, too.
Scavenging can be fun!
For a computer techno-nerd, nothing is more exciting than rooting around in
an older computer and looking for spare parts. There’s no telling what treasures you might uncover! RAM modules, a tape backup unit, or perhaps just a
hard drive cable: All these components can go into your parts box for that
next project or for a quick repair if a component fails on your new computer.
For your scavenging pleasure, here are a number of possible sources for
used parts:
Computer stores: Each time that I visit my favorite local computer store
and repair shop — hi, guys! — I always ask whether they have any “new”
(recently removed) used parts. Because these techies are always upgrading computers, they often hang on to older parts, which they might be
more than happy to sell to you at a reduced price. This technique won’t
work with the MegaMultiMillion Computer Mall — they don’t sell used
Chapter 2: What Type of PC Should I Build?
Finding bargains in so-called obsolete computers
Most computers now being replaced or
scrapped work just fine. For most of us, a computer generally doesn’t become obsolete until it
no longer has the performance to run the programs that you want to use. I have several friends
who are still quite pleased with their Pentium-IIIbased computers — they’re not technical wizards, and they don’t use their computers very
often. Besides, if they can still run WordPerfect
and Windows Explorer under Windows 98SE,
their older computers suit them just fine.
You won’t find any single answer to why a
computer is deemed obsolete, but the answer
doesn’t matter all that much. The important
point is that lots of people are upgrading their
computers, which gives you a great opportunity
to scavenge perfectly functional, used equipment for your own computer. (Of course, if
you’re building a new system designed for highperformance applications, you should avoid any
scavenged parts that would slow down the performance of your new PC. In that case, I’d recommend only keyboards, pointing devices, and
internal modems as used parts.)
Here are some reasons why people replace
their “outdated” computer equipment:
For some techno-wizards, a computer
becomes outdated the moment a faster CPU
hits the scene. Because these people are
always on the leading edge of technology,
they upgrade continually — and continually
get rid of older, yet functional, equipment.
It’s a great opportunity to get your hands on
some good used gear.
Although you might not believe it at first, it’s
not network computers or office PCs that
wear out their welcome the quickest. That
dubious honor goes to the PCs used by the
computer gaming crowd. Computer games
demand much more horsepower and
advanced hardware than the average office
suite of programs; therefore, computer
gamers are a good source of used, highperformance equipment.
The Internet is also a major reason why
people are replacing their older computers.
Connecting to the Web using a fast cable
modem or DSL line takes more PC horsepower, and the plug-ins and multimedia
animation offered by the Web don’t run well
on older hardware. Some people think,
“New Web technology? Time to upgrade!”
(and time for you to scam on their “older”
Look at the classified ads in your local newspaper (or check some of the resources mentioned
in the section “Picking Up the Parts,” elsewhere
in this chapter). You’re likely to find hundreds
of people looking to unload their computer
equipment — often at bargain-basement prices.
(Oh, and don’t forget eBay.)
parts. In fact, you might get stuck with that used-car computer salesperson again.
Computer user groups: If you’re a member of a local computer user
group, ask around at the next meeting to see whether anyone has a spare
video card or DVD-ROM to sell. If you’re lucky, you might even get an offer
of help with installing it. Some user groups can get special pricing on hardware and software through arrangements with manufacturers, too.
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
The Web: A number of online companies specialize in selling used computer hardware on the Web. Many of these sites let you buy your components with a credit card over a secure Web connection, too. Try eBay
( or the OnSale Online Auction Supersite (www.onsale.
com); both sites offer new and used components through a real-time
auction. Or try Web sites like Newegg ( or The Used
Computer Mall ( for super deals.
Computer bulletin board systems (BBSes): In the Grand Old Days before
the arrival of the Internet, computer bulletin board systems were the
kings of cyberspace. Even today, tens of thousands of bulletin boards
are still operating online throughout the country (including mine, at If you live in just about any middleto large-sized town, at least one bulletin board system is likely to carry
advertisements selling used computer equipment.
Friends and family: Is Uncle Milton using that old original Pentium to
hold up the garage wall? After you’re known in your family as a computer guru, you’ll likely be presented with all sorts of older equipment.
Friends will approach you for your opinion on how much they can get
for their older computer (which is the perfect opportunity to make an
offer of your own).
Garage sales: I’ve found hundreds of dollars worth of good parts at local
garage sales and bought them for pennies! Typically, you have to buy the
entire computer, but as long as everything is working, you can get a
really great deal. Just make sure that you plug the computer in and
check it out before handing over the cash.
Classified ads: Here’s another source for used parts. Unfortunately,
though, most owners who advertise in the classifieds think that their
computers are worth far more than they actually are, so it might take
some haggling to get a good price.
What’s the deal with used parts?
Why do I continue to jabber away about used parts . . . after all, you’re building a new computer, so why the heck should you add old parts to it? One
reason is obvious: A used part can cost half as much as a new part — an
important consideration if you’re trying to save money. You might even find
someone willing to give you an older computer, from which you can scavenge
components for your new computer.
Again, don’t forget this important maxim: You should consider adding used
parts only when doing so won’t hamper the performance of your PC!
Chapter 2: What Type of PC Should I Build?
If you’re building your first computer, you might be surprised to discover
that most computer parts can last for many years. For example, keyboards
and mice can operate just as well on your new Pentium 4 computer as they
did on that older Pentium III computer. Circuit boards and solid-state electrical components are surprisingly strong and hardy, and they have a long operational life.
You can find an increasing number of older computers out there, which you
can buy for peanuts. Their CPUs just can’t keep up with today’s software, but
most of the other parts work fine and can continue to work fine in your new
computer. The modular design of today’s computers enables you to yank a
circuit board from an older computer and pretty safely assume that it will
work on your new machine. For example, you can easily remove a Sound
Blaster AWE64 sound card from a Pentium III computer and plug it right into
your new computer; Windows XP can recognize and use a tremendous
number of older hardware devices. If you’re not interested in the highestquality audiophile sound from your PC, you’ve just saved yourself some cash!
Yes, I’m going to preach again: If you decide to add used parts to your computer, make sure they are working fine and are not too old for your computer.
In my discussion of computer components in other chapters, I provide a
description of which types of used items are suitable for Athlon XP, Athlon 64,
and Pentium 4 computers.
In general, you can scavenge used parts from a Pentium III computer to build
Design 1 (which I discuss in the section “Answering Your Computer-Needs
Questions,” earlier in this chapter). You can even scavenge some components (such as a floppy drive, mouse, or keyboard) from an older Pentium II
computer. Design 2 can also benefit from a used floppy drive, computer case,
mouse, and keyboard. However, if you are a power user and are building a
computer based on Design 3, I suggest that you buy only the latest parts;
older technology that wasn’t designed for Pentium 4 and Athlon 64 speeds
will just slow down your supercomputer.
Part I: Can I Really Do This?
Part II
Building Your PC
In this part . . .
he real fun commences when you build a bare-bones
PC from the ground up. You install the required stuff
that every computer needs, such as RAM modules, a CPU,
a hard drive, and a video card. If that sounds a little frightening, don’t worry; I explain each part in detail, and each
chapter ends with a general set of step-by-step installation
instructions that give you a good idea of what you can
expect. After you’re finished with this part, you’ll be able
to boot your new computer. Remember: All you need is a
Chapter 3
Building the Foundation: The Case
and Motherboard
In This Chapter
Getting acquainted with your computer case
Choosing a case
Selecting a motherboard
Guarding against static
Installing your motherboard
Connecting the power supply
Hooking up the lights and buttons
ou don’t have to be an architect or a construction foreman to know that
a building is only as good as its foundation. Build a skyscraper on sand,
and it doesn’t matter how well you wallpaper the bathrooms or how fast the
elevators run. Eventually, a building with a weak foundation will fall, and it’s
certain to take everything with it.
In this chapter, you discover the various components that are common to all
computer cases. I show you how to construct a sturdy foundation for your
computer by selecting the right size and type of computer case, which provides the framework that houses the internal computer components. I introduce you to the geography of your motherboard; then you find out how to
install the motherboard and connect it to the computer’s power supply.
In later chapters, you continue your assembly project by finding out how to
add components, such as a hard drive and a DVD recorder, to this chassis.
Part II: Building Your PC
A Case Is Not Just a Box
Why is selecting the proper case for your computer so important?
Your computer needs room to grow: If you’re a power user, you need
room to expand. (A power user is someone with considerable computer
experience or someone who needs a powerful computer for advanced
applications; see Chapter 2 for more details.) Adding devices and other
toys can easily lead you to outgrow a standard desktop case. Believe me,
it’s a royal pain to upgrade to a larger case — you basically have to disassemble your entire computer, remove the motherboard and other components, and move them all to a larger case. Keep this upgrade possibility
in mind when you select your case and think about your future needs.
You need room on your desk: If your desktop space is limited (by either
the size of your desk or your work habits), you can save yourself some
valuable real estate by selecting a tower (vertical) case and placing it
under your desk.
Most cases have at least one or two rectangular cutouts in front of empty
drive bays. You can use these open bays to hold components that need
access to the outside world, such as a new hard drive, a DVD drive, or a tape
backup. (After all, it’s a little hard to load a DVD or a floppy disk into a drive if
it’s buried inside the case.) When an open bay is empty, it’s covered with a
rectangular plastic piece that blends in with the outside of the case. Other
drive bays remain hidden inside the case, with no access to the outside;
these bays are usually reserved for additional hard drives, which don’t need
to be handled during routine use.
If coordinating your computer with your room is important, I bet those cases
in designer colors and shapes are calling your name. But before you pick up
an aerodynamic case in canary yellow or neon green, keep in mind that you’ll
probably find it difficult to find other parts in such exotic colors later on.
Most computer components with external faceplates — such as DVD and
floppy drives — come in only almond, off-white, and black, which tend to
stand out like a sore thumb in an orange case. That’s why the main colors for
computer cases are still almond, off-white, and black, and I recommend that
you stick with them unless you want a computer that looks like you assembled it at the junkyard.
If you must have a case in an exotic color, consider one with a hinged door
that covers the drive bays — you can close the door when you’re not loading
a CD or DVD disc into your almond-colored DVD drive, and no one can tell
that you’re (gasp!) fashion-impaired.
Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard
Most new cases come with the mounting hardware necessary to attach your
motherboard, although it never hurts to ask when you order your case. You
also need screws and plastic spacers, and they should be included with
either the case or the motherboard.
Choosing a case style that suits your needs
You can choose from three standard types of cases: pizza- and shoe-box, desktop, and tower. Each gives you a certain amount of elbow room for upgrading.
Pizza-box and shoe-box cases
Figure 3-1 illustrates the pizza-box case, which is very thin — and before you
ask, it’s not made of cardboard nor does it contain Italian deliciousness inside.
(Sigh. I get that one all the time.) This case has only one or two open drive
bays. Although you might not be able to add any adapter cards, this case does
take up the smallest amount of space of any standard computer case. In fact,
your friends might speculate that your svelte computer has been working out
nights at the gym.
3 1 2 -inch floppy drive bay
Figure 3-1:
A slim and
trim pizzabox case.
CD drive bay
Power and reset buttons
Pizza-box cases are typically used for network workstations or as simple terminals, so I don’t recommend that you buy one of these for your home computer. However, if you’re building an economy-class machine and want to
save space as well as pizza money, the pizza-box case might be fine for your
needs. (See Chapter 2 for details about what qualifies as an economy-class
Pizza-box cases don’t offer much room for later upgrades.
A derivative of the pizza-box case is the shoe-box case, which is roughly square
and a little taller than a shoe-box. These cases are favored by hard-core gamers
Part II: Building Your PC
who like to lug their PCs to a friend’s house for multiplayer gaming — this
type of case typically has a handle built into the top, and offers only one or
two bays. (Again, not a champion for upgrading, but easily carried from one
LAN gaming party to another.)
Desktop case
The next case in our fashion show is the traditional desktop case, as shown
in Figure 3-2. This type of case usually sits horizontally on your desk, just like
those ponderous PC XT and AT cases did back in the ancient 1980s. Today’s
desktop case has gone on a diet, however, and the days of those behemoths
are long gone. The desktop case is not as compact as the pizza-box or shoebox cases. Most desktop cases can switch between horizontal mode and vertical mode, depending on the orientation that you prefer.
Hard drive light
CD-ROM drive
Figure 3-2:
case: a
Power switch
3 1 2 -inch floppy drive
Power light
The desktop case usually provides two or three open drive bays on the front,
with one or two hidden bays. This case typically has room for six or seven
adapter cards in the back. This setup is usually par for the course for a home
computer. Unless you’re a power user, the desktop case is your case of choice.
Tower case
For the techno-nerd or power user who has everything, we have the Ferrari of
cases — the brawny tower case, which sits vertically like an old mainframe
computer. As shown in Figure 3-3, many tower cases have four, or even five,
open drive bays. If you’re planning on stuffing your computer full of extras, this
is the case for you. Like the desktop case, the tower case has room for a standard six or seven adapter cards in back. Because of the weight and size of a
fully outfitted tower case, it is designed to sit upright on the floor under your
desk, where you can comfortably reach all the buttons and the CD-ROM drive.
Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard
5 1 4 -inch half-height bays
3 1 2 -inch floppy bays
Figure 3-3:
wrestler of
cases: the
tower case.
Power and reset buttons
Many manufacturers also produce a minitower case, which also sits vertically
like a tower case but is designed to fit comfortably next to the monitor on top
of your desk. An average minitower case has a drive bay capacity equal to
that of a standard desktop case.
Feeding power to your computer
Your new computer will be hungry for power, and the power supply takes care
of that need by reducing the voltage from your wall socket to something more
easily handled by your computer. The power supply then pumps the juice to
the computer’s components through a number of individual power cables.
These cables end in a special connector that you can insert in only one direction, so it’s well-nigh impossible to make a mistake and damage a hard drive
or DVD drive because of an electrical short caused by a reversed connection.
An ATX motherboard has only one power connector, and older AT motherboards require two power connectors. I show you how to connect both types
later in this chapter.
Most cases are now sold with the power supply already installed (yea!); a preinstalled power supply not only eliminates a step in building your PC but also
Part II: Building Your PC
ensures that you get a power supply of the proper rating. In addition, you can
be sure that all the holes for the switches and cables match up.
The more powerful the CPU, the more power it generally draws — and the
more powerful the case fan and the processor fan must be to cool it. Also,
power users tend to stuff their computers full of all sorts of neat hardware
toys, each of which draws its own power. For these reasons, I strongly suggest
that you invest in a case that includes at least a 400-watt power supply, especially if you’re going to add a slew of internal extras, such as a DVD recorder
and a tape backup drive. (In fact, AMD recommends at least a 400-watt power
supply for the Athlon 64.)
If you buy a used case, make sure that it comes with a power supply and a
working fan. You should also make sure that the power supply is UL listed —
just check that it has a UL listed sticker.
A used power supply by itself isn’t worth much, especially if it was built to fit
a nonstandard case. Never open up a power supply to try to fix it or massage
it to work in a particular case.
A Mark’s Maxim to commit to memory: Live household voltage is not a welcome visitor within the human body.
Leave a malfunctioning or broken computer monitor alone for the same reason.
Keeping your computer cool
Because all the various devices and components in your computer produce
lots of heat, your computer can actually shut down, lock up, or return errors
if it gets too hot. Extended overheating reduces the operational life of your
parts — especially your CPU — and leads to early failure. How does your
computer keep its cool through this heat wave?
The answer is nothing elaborate or high-tech. In fact, it’s just a fan! Your computer’s power supply uses a fan to continually circulate air through the inside
of the case. Pizza-box cases and standard-size desktop cases are small enough
to require only one fan. However, if you’re thinking of buying a tower case and
your computer will use the latest Intel or AMD processor, I highly recommend
that you buy a case with at least dual fans. Multiple fans — I’ve seen uber-PCs
with four fans onboard — are a definite requirement if this type of computer is
going to stay on for many hours at a time or if it’s jammed full of parts and
devices. Ball-bearing fans are preferred because they last longer.
CPU chips now run so hot that they come equipped with their own dedicated
fan, which sits on top of or beside the processor. This fan is connected to one
of the power cables leading to the power supply. If a CPU overheats, it generally
locks up your computer or returns some strange results in your programs —
and it will more than likely be permanently damaged. (Most motherboards
Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard
now come with a CPU thermal-sensing feature that you can set in your PC’s
BIOS — if your CPU gets too hot, your system automatically shuts down!)
After your computer is running, it’s also a good idea to place it where the fan
exhaust isn’t blocked by a wall or furniture. An open location provides better
Buttons, lights, and other foolishness
Most cases today have a power light and a hard drive activity light. Your
motherboard runs these components. Some new cases also feature a digital
readout of the computer’s internal temperature (or, in some cases, the temperature of the CPU itself). If you’re building a cutting-edge PC with a superfast processor and plenty of internal devices, I heartily recommend one of
these cases, which allow you to monitor your PC’s cooling (and help prevent
the China Syndrome from occurring on your motherboard).
Another favorite case modding (slang for modification) is the addition of neon
lights inside your case that look simply delicious in low light — naturally,
you’ll need a case with transparent Plexiglas panels. (Remember the movie
The Fast and the Furious?) I’m too old to need decals, special paint jobs, or
neon finery on a case, but . . . kids today. Anyway, these lights typically need
a standard internal power connector, so don’t forget to reserve one if you’re
doing The Neon Thing.
Dust busting!
A computer needs at least one internal fan to
keep its sensitive electronics cool. This circulating air has a drawback: All the internal parts
within your new computer get dusty over time.
Hint: Open your computer’s case every year or
so to blow the dust off your motherboard, power
supply, and all the various devices that you’ve
installed. Accumulated dust can act like an
insulating blanket and cause chips and electrical parts to overheat. Consider it an anniversary
of sorts. (Boy, I need to step away from the keyboard for a day or two.)
Before you open your case to upgrade or clear
off the dust, head to your local computer store
or photography shop and grab some canned
air — one of those spray cans that shoots a compressed stream of air for dusting off cameras and
computer parts. Techno-types swear by ’em.
Take particular care when dusting off your
motherboard and the fan intake on your power
supply (which is likely to be filthy). Canned air is
also handy for cleaning keyboards and adapter
cards. Help out your planet by making sure that
you choose a brand that doesn’t deplete the
ozone layer, and don’t make the mistake of
buying one of those air horns that the football
types use at the game. (Take my word for it:
They don’t work, and they annoy the neighbors.)
Part II: Building Your PC
As for buttons, your case will sport a power button and a reset button. If your
case has a key lock — which I despise — I recommend that you ignore it.
Your case should also include a simple speaker, which looks just like the
speaker in an inexpensive transistor radio. Although you’ll definitely want to
add a multimedia sound card and external speakers to your computer to take
full advantage of today’s software (see Chapter 9 for more about multimedia
sound), this little internal speaker still performs an important task: If something is wrong when you start your computer, the speaker alerts you with a
number of beeps.
Other than these standard items, your case can be as plain or as elegantly
sculpted as you want. Naturally, designer cases from Gucci cost more, but
you can subtly boast about your computer’s good taste at parties, editors
will want your picture in their fashion magazines, and you could become one
of the in crowd. It could happen.
How about those slots?
Your case has a number of holes on the back, which are meant for adapter
cards. Each of these slot openings enables you to screw in a bracket that
attaches to an adapter card, holding the card firmly in place. If the card has
any external ports, they are also visible through the back of the case.
Most cases have these slots open, although the slots need to be covered.
Adding slot covers involves a little manual labor. If your slots are already covered, scoot to the next section; or, if you’ll be installing at least one or two
adapter cards (I show you how in later chapters), leave one or two slots
uncovered to save yourself the trouble of removing them again.
Follow these instructions to close up the slot holes in the back of your case:
1. Check the parts that came with your case to find the slot covers,
which are thin, metal strips with a bend at the top.
You should also find a number of screws that fit into the screw holes at
the top of each slot opening.
2. Lay your open case down on top of your work surface.
You should be able to clearly see the screw holes and the slot openings
at the back of your case.
3. Slide a slot cover over one of the slot openings so that the screw hole
lines up with the screw hole in the case, as shown in Figure 3-4.
Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard
Figure 3-4:
Cover a
vacant slot
with a slot
4. Insert and tighten the screw to hold the cover over the opening.
5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until all the slot openings are covered.
Your Motherboard Is Your Best Friend
The third color photo (see the color insert in the middle of the book) shows
the main features of the heart and soul of your computer — its motherboard.
The motherboard holds most of the electronics and circuits that your computer needs to follow your orders. Depending on the type of processor that
you’ve chosen, the top of your motherboard has a big square or slot socket
to hold your computer’s CPU chip and several rows of small slots to hold
your RAM (memory) modules.
Ten years ago, buying a motherboard by itself was much harder. However,
with the constant acceleration of CPU speeds and the requirements of today’s
software, folks in the mall are selling motherboards rather than ice cream.
Some companies that advertise in Computer Shopper magazine or operate
Web-based parts stores sell nothing but motherboards. And you can generally
buy a bare motherboard at your local computer store if it has a repair shop.
Part II: Building Your PC
Keeping your computer castle secure
Even if security were a consideration, I still
wouldn’t use the key lock that comes on your
computer case because it can be foiled by
simply taking the cover off the computer and
disconnecting the wire. Often, you find that
cases manufactured by the same company
have the same key pattern, so one nefarious
jerk in an office could unlock half the computers in the building. Also, keys are easy to lose.
If you need to prevent access to your computer
while you get a cup of java or a can of caffeineladen soda, use a Windows screensaver with
the password option turned on. If you need
tighter security, use an encryption utility. Both
options work through software, so you can
forget about a silly metal key.
Another surefire security measure is to use a
boot password, which prevents your computer
from running unless you enter the correct password. Most motherboards can be configured to
require a boot password through the BIOS menu.
Finally, you might decide to invest in one of the
newest PC security technologies: a portable fingerprint scanner, which can replace passwords
and protect both your PC’s files and access to
the Internet or your local network. Most fingerprint scanners connect to your PC through a
universal serial bus (USB) port and retail for less
than $100.
Motherboard sizes
Today’s motherboards follow the ATX standard size guidelines — older computers used Baby AT or AT motherboards, but those are antiques now.
To ensure that you get a case that accepts your board, buying your motherboard first is a good idea. If you’ve found a used case or motherboard, make
sure that whatever you buy fits your existing part. For example, an ATX motherboard requires an ATX case and an ATX power supply — (ahem) an AT-size
motherboard doesn’t fit in an ATX case. All of today’s processors require an
ATX case.
Motherboard features
While you’re shopping for a motherboard, keep these guidelines in mind:
Stick with a minimum of a Pentium 4 or an Athlon XP. You might have a
strong temptation to jump on a great price for a Pentium III motherboard.
No matter what the processor speed, however, you’ll be buying yesterday’s technology, and you won’t have the Pentium 4 class power that you
need for running many current (or future) programs and operating systems. Even if the advertisement reads “A Good Pick for Windows XP,” say
Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard
good-bye to the Pentium III (as readers of the first edition of this book
said good-bye to the 486 and the original Pentium).
Okay, okay — so I guess if you were given a Pentium III motherboard by
your next-door neighbor, you can use it — but don’t expect it to keep up
with the latest software, and (as they used to say in the TV show Mission:
Impossible) “the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions.”
Consider an onboard drive controller. As you might infer from the
name, the drive controller sends and receives data to your hard drives
and CD-ROM/DVD drive. (Think of a referee at a soccer match, and you
get the idea.) Power users favor an onboard UltraDMA/133 controller, a
serial ATA (SATA) controller, or a small computer system interface (SCSI)
controller on a standard Pentium-series motherboard. Why UltraDMA/133,
SATA, or SCSI? Because these standard controllers provide you with
faster performance than the enhanced integrated drive electronics (EIDE)
drive controller. (See Chapter 7 for more information on EIDE and SCSI
drives.) A motherboard with an onboard controller doesn’t need a separate hard drive/floppy drive controller. Therefore, you can save that
adapter slot for another toy.
Spend extra for onboard ports. Like an onboard drive controller,
onboard USB and FireWire ports save an adapter slot. (Jump to Chapter 5
for the lowdown on port cards.) Many motherboards now carry onboard
sound cards. In fact, some motherboards even have built-in video cards,
although I prefer to add my own video adapter. An ATX motherboard
should (by definition) already have serial and parallel ports onboard.
Don’t give me any static!
Before you install the motherboard in your case,
it’s time for a warning about the dangers of
static electricity. Static can damage electrical
components in the blink of an eye, and not even
Thomas Edison himself could fix them. I won’t
launch into a terribly interesting discussion of
how static was discovered in 400 B.C. by somebody we don’t know with a piece of silk and a
glass rod. For all I care, the discovery of static
electricity could have been made by prehistoric
man shuffling across a bearskin rug.
Instead, just remember this simple rule while
handling motherboards, adapter cards, circuit
boards, and other computer parts: Before
installing any circuit board, adapter card, or part
on your computer (or before removing it from
the case), discharge any static electricity that
you might be harboring by touching something
else made of metal. (You can discharge static
also by touching your spouse on the earlobe,
although I don’t recommend this method.)
Typically, the metal chassis of your computer is
a good choice, although you can also touch a
metal table or chair. If your computer is plugged
in with the cover off (which happens quite often
when you’re installing a hard drive or an
adapter card), you can touch the metal housing
of your power supply for a perfect ground.
Antistatic strips are available for keyboards and
wrist rests that discharge static. However, the
only time that I ever worry about static is when
I’m handling parts and circuit boards, so I don’t
use this item.
Part II: Building Your PC
Make sure that your new motherboard has at least two PCI slots and
one AGP or PCI-Express slot. Avoid any motherboard that includes
more than a single industry standard architecture (ISA) slot; peripheral
component interconnect (PCI) technology provides better performance
for your adapter cards (for example, a PCI video capture card or a hard
drive controller card). Your accelerated graphics port (AGP) or PCIExpress slot, on the other hand, is dedicated to your video card.
(Chapter 4 explains more about these different slots.)
Every motherboard carries a set of chips called the BIOS. (This silly
acronym stands for basic input-output system.) Your BIOS determines
much of what your computer can do and also controls what happens for
different types of input. For example, your BIOS keeps track of what hard
drives and floppy drives you can use, what happens when you press a
key on the keyboard, and how data is read and written to RAM. You can
usually forget about your computer’s BIOS and just let it do its work, but
if your computer suffers a hardware failure or a serious error, it’s your
BIOS that displays the error message. Most computers today use one of
five brand-name BIOS chipsets: Intel, Award, Phoenix, NVIDIA, or AMI.
Make sure that you update your flash BIOS. Today’s motherboards
include flash BIOS, which sounds like the name of a hero from a science
fiction film. This is actually a good feature; it enables you to update the
capabilities of your computer with new features and bug fixes from the
motherboard manufacturer. I check regularly for motherboard BIOS
updates on the manufacturer’s Web site.
Choose more random access memory. All motherboards have a maximum amount of random access memory (RAM) that they can handle.
Unless NASA has chosen you to control the next shuttle launch, a board
that supports 2 to 3GB RAM should be sufficient. Real techno-nerds or
ultra-power-users might demand support for up to 6GB RAM, although
it’s not likely that they’ll ever use it all on a personal computer until the
arrival of Windows Vista.
Grab Your Screwdriver and
Install That Motherboard
It’s showtime! Get ready to add your motherboard to your system case.
Follow these steps:
1. Protect your new motherboard from static electricity that you picked
up from your lava lamp or from Trixie, the family Persian cat, and
touch a metal surface beforehand.
Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard
2. Cover your work surface with newspaper and lay your open case
down on top of the newspaper.
You should be able to clearly see the screw holes and the plastic spacer
guides where the motherboard will sit. Check the documentation that
came with your case for any special instructions.
3. Hold the motherboard by the edges and lay it down inside the case to
align it.
All the electrical components (such as the CPU socket, memory sockets,
and adapter slots) should be on top; the underside of the circuit board
should have no components. To align the case, make sure that the
adapter card slots line up with the slots cut into the back of the case, as
shown in Figure 3-5.
Slot covers
Screw and spacer holes
Figure 3-5:
Align the
motherboard with
the case by
the adapter
Adapter card slots
4. Note which screw holes line up with the screw holes in your motherboard, and mark their position on a piece of paper.
Most cases use only two to four screws to hold the board, and the rest
of the board is supported and held rigid by plastic spacers. These spacers usually slide under a metal tab or a metal guide — they serve to keep
your motherboard away from any possible dangerous contact with the
metal of your computer case. You might find additional help in your
motherboard manual on locating these holes.
5. Remove the motherboard from the case and add the plastic spacers to
the holes (in your motherboard) that need them.
Figure 3-6 illustrates how you push the spacers through the holes from
the bottom of the board. The spacers should snap firmly into place.
Part II: Building Your PC
Figure 3-6:
Snap the
into the
bottom of
the motherboard.
6. Before you install the motherboard, take a few minutes to check for
any switches or jumpers that might need to be set.
Most motherboards are shipped with default settings that work fine,
although it pays to check anyway — that’s right, you have to crack open
the motherboard manual and do a little light reading. Older motherboards were configured with dual inline packaging (DIP) switches (little
banks of slide or rocker switches) and jumpers, which are pins that you
can connect with a small plastic-and-metal collar. (Pentium 4 class motherboards are designed for people like you and me who hate poking and
moving tiny things, so they rarely need any configuration.)
If you need to set a DIP switch, use a pen to push the plastic sliders into
the correct order, as shown in Figure 3-7, where switches 4 and 6 have
been set to On.
Figure 3-7:
might use
(left) or
Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard
If you need to set a jumper, use your fingers or a set of tweezers to lift
the plastic jumper and seat it into the correct position. Figure 3-8 shows
a jumper on pins 1 and 2 of jumper J1.
Figure 3-8:
A pair of
comes in
handy when
setting a
7. Pick up your motherboard by the edges and slide it into place, making
sure that all the plastic spacers are correctly positioned.
Don’t get upset if it takes a few tries, and don’t bend or force anything.
I’ve never installed a motherboard on my first attempt. Once again,
make certain that the adapter slots line up with the slots in the case as
before. After the motherboard is in, gently check each corner of the
board to make sure that it’s correctly seated and doesn’t wobble.
8. You’re ready to lock it down. Put in the screws, but don’t overtighten
them — circuit boards tend to crack if you do.
Some boards come with thin, nonconductive washers for the screws, so
don’t forget to use them if they were included.
That’s it! Congratulations! See, that wasn’t that hard, was it?
You’ve completed your computer’s basic chassis. In the next section, you
connect the cables needed to provide power to the motherboard.
I Laugh at Pesky Wires!
The hard part of installing your motherboard is over, but the process isn’t
complete. You still need to connect the wires from the power supply as well
as the wires to the buttons and lights on the front of your case. This is a good
time to take care of these chores because your motherboard is easy to work
with right now. You have unrestricted access to all the pins and connectors
on your motherboard, with no adapter cards or cables hanging around to
interfere with your work.
Part II: Building Your PC
Pumping power to your motherboard
The first connection that you make is the most important — connecting your
ATX motherboard to the power supply. To connect the two cables that supply
power to the motherboard, follow these steps:
1. If your case is plugged into a wall socket, unplug it first.
2. Locate the power connector on your motherboard.
Again, if you need help in finding the power connector, check your motherboard manual. Can you see why I recommend that you save all the
documentation for your hardware? On an ATX motherboard, the two
power cables are combined into one cable, and the plug is designed to
connect only one way, so things are easier.
3. Align the connector with the socket and press down gently until the
connectors snap in place.
Connecting the power cable might seem kind of scary the first time that you
do it, but take heart: Thanks to the ATX standard, you can’t go wrong!
Flashing lights, clicking switches,
and a beeper to boot
Follow these steps to connect the motherboard to the various switches and
lights (and your all-important PC speaker, if you have one) on your case:
1. Check the documentation that came with your case to determine
which wires lead to which lights and switches.
Typically, you get to play “match the colors.” For example, the connector on the green and white wires might be for the power button, and the
red and white wires might be the PC speaker. The connectors on the
ends of the wires are also be marked with a word or two (such as power
or reset) that identifies them.
If you’re using a secondhand case without any documentation, you can
still determine what’s connected to what with a bit of electrical detective
work. Follow the wires back to their source, and jot down what switch or
light each one is connected to — and don’t forget to save that piece of
paper for the next time you perform surgery on your computer.
2. After you determine which connector is which, refer to your motherboard manual for the location of the following pins.
On most motherboards, these words (or an abbreviation) are also printed
right next to the pins, making it easier to locate them if you don’t have a
copy of the manual:
Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard
• Power light or power LED: This is the power light on the front of
the case.
• HDD light or HD LED: This is the hard-drive activity light on the
front of the case. It lights whenever your computer accesses your
hard drive, so it’s flickering just about all the time.
• Reset: This is the reset switch on the front of the case; you press it
when your computer is locked up.
• Key lock: This leads to the key lock on the front of your case. If
your computer is locked with the key, your keyboard is disabled.
Like the Turbo switch and Turbo light, the key lock is another
anachronism from the ancient days of the 1980s and early 1990s,
and thankfully most cases sold today have eliminated this irritating little feature. I’ve never used it, nor has anyone else I know.
Unless you have some pressing need for this type of security, don’t
spend extra money to get it — if your case has a key lock, feel free
to leave its wires disconnected.
• Speaker or Spk: This wire should lead to your computer’s internal
speaker. Even if you plan on adding a sound card later, you need to
connect the speaker because it provides audio error messages that
can help you diagnose problems with your computer. In fact, you
use these audio error messages in Chapter 4.
3. Attach each cable to its corresponding pins on the motherboard by
pushing the connector onto the pins, as shown in Figure 3-9.
Figure 3-9:
cables from
your case
to your
For the case cables that I mention in the preceding step, it doesn’t matter
which way the connector is facing. If a connector needs to be reversed, you
can fix it in the next chapter, when you run your first tests. (The exceptions
to this rule are the connectors from the power supply and power switch, as I
discuss earlier.)
Part II: Building Your PC
Chapter 4
A Bag of Chips: Adding
RAM and a CPU
In This Chapter
Evaluating today’s CPUs
Plugging in your CPU
Adding system RAM
Figuring out the type of bus slots you have
Testing your work
fter you install the motherboard inside your computer’s case, which I
cover in Chapter 3, your PC might still be missing one or two very
important parts: its brain (the central processing unit, or CPU) and its
memory (random access memory, or RAM). When you run a computer program, your computer’s CPU performs the calculations and executes the commands stored in that program. In tandem, your computer’s RAM acts as a
work area for the program: storing, changing, and retrieving data. As an
example, if you run an address book program on your computer, your CPU
can use the instructions within the program to search for names or print
address labels, and your computer’s RAM stores all those names and
addresses until you exit the program.
I recommend buying a motherboard with the CPU and RAM modules preinstalled (commonly called a populated motherboard, for some strange socioengineering reason). That way, you don’t need to worry about compatibility
problems or installation hassles. (Differences exist in socket types, voltage
requirements, and physical measurements in both the Pentium and Athlon
lines of CPU chips, so not every motherboard accepts every CPU.) If your
motherboard comes with these chips preinstalled, you can skip most of this
chapter and visit your local miniature golf course for a heady 18 holes. Don’t
forget, though — I need you back here to test the chassis in the last section
of this chapter.
Part II: Building Your PC
If you need to install your CPU or your memory — either before you install
your motherboard inside your case or afterward — this chapter will attach
itself to you like a suckerfish to the side of an aquarium. Just follow the
appropriate steps and then test your chassis.
FYI about CPUs
You can choose from a number of CPU models these days, and you might be
able to save a little money while shopping if you’re faced with a decision
between manufacturers and speeds (or if you’re scavenging from an older
PC). Therefore, review the general characteristics of the current crop of computer cranium components. I take them in order of price and power, starting
with the low-end processors.
I mention this question elsewhere in this book, but the question bears repeating: What’s the difference between a 2.4 GHz Pentium 4 CPU and a 2.8 GHz
Pentium 4 CPU? No, it’s not a trick question! Because the processors are the
same type, it’s the speed, which is expressed in megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz
(GHz). When you’re shopping for the processors that I describe in this section,
make sure that you get at least the minimum speed for the type of computer
you’re building. (If you’re not sure what that minimum speed or type is, see
Chapter 2, or visit my Web site at for my latest recommendations.) However, you can also follow this simple Mark’s Maxim:
Buy the fastest doggone possible processor you can afford!
Remember, adding plenty of RAM is just as important from a performance
angle as buying the fastest CPU you can afford. With only 128MB of RAM, for
example, Windows is still going to run slowly, even with a super-fast Pentium
Extreme Edition processor. You’ll find more details on how much RAM you
should add later in this chapter.
Celeron and Sempron processors
Celeron and Sempron are two processors designed for the price-conscious
consumer. In other words, although you get lots of bang for your buck from
these CPUs, they aren’t as advanced and don’t have the extra punch of their
more expensive brethren. Don’t get me wrong, though: Either of these two
processors is still more than speedy enough to power a typical family PC.
Chapter 4: A Bag of Chips: Adding RAM and a CPU
The Intel Celeron: The darling of the low-cost crowd
The Celeron, designed by Intel as a cheaper alternative to the Pentium since
the days of the Pentium II, works quite well if you’re building a midrange computer for use with an office suite or if you plan to explore the Internet. The
Celeron has a lower amount of cache memory than the Pentium, so it’s not as
efficient as the Pentium 4, and its raw megahertz speed rating is typically
slower than a full-blown Pentium 4.
Celeron processors are a little faster than the Sempron, which I discuss
next. Celeron processors typically handle data at a faster bus speed than
Sempron CPUs — the faster the bus speed, the faster the CPU can send and
receive data to other system components, such as your video card and
system RAM.
The AMD Sempron: A bare-bones hot rod
Because AMD designed the Sempron to compete directly with the Celeron, the
Sempron is usually neck-and-neck in performance benchmarks. On the downside, because the Sempron is a stripped-down Athlon XP, it typically also runs
hotter. I therefore recommend that you pick up a second fan for your case.
Pentium and Athlon processors
In this section, I cover the big CPU twosome dominating the current PC
scene. The Pentium Extreme Edition and the Athlon 64 series are suitable for
high-end power user systems. Either of these processors is my first recommendation for most folks playing the latest computer games, working with
digital video or music, or using demanding business applications.
One step down the performance ladder, the Pentium 4 and the Athlon XP
processors are perfect for a midrange PC for home or office. I cover them
as well.
Today’s Pentium 4 processors include hyperthreading technology, which
allows a single CPU to perform like multiple CPUs. In fact, Windows XP and
2003 Server think that you’re running a dual-processor motherboard! The
adage “Two heads are better than one” is just as true when it comes to computer CPUs, and hyperthreading is a feature that you should ask for if you’re
buying a new CPU. A PC using one of these chips is more efficient and runs
significantly faster when you’re running more than one application at a time.
Part II: Building Your PC
The Intel Pentium Extreme Edition: High-end horsepower
The Pentium Extreme Edition CPU is a super-fast processor that features
Intel’s hyperthreading technology, providing the best performance for today’s
games, 3-D applications, and video editing. The latest versions of the Extreme
Edition CPU are dual-core processors, so they excel at multitasking and
number crunching. At the time of this writing, the motherboard selection for
Extreme Edition CPUs is sparse, but the market will continue to expand as
time goes by. The Extreme Edition is a socket 478 or LGA 775 processor,
depending on the version. (Remember, the type of socket your motherboard
has — think “connector that the CPU plugs into” — determines what type of
processor you can use.)
The Intel Pentium 4: Still king of the hill
The Pentium 4 is the most popular CPU on the market, and with good reason:
It’s a fantastic all-around CPU. Although it doesn’t operate as efficiently as a
standard Athlon 64 CPU — and doesn’t offer 64-bit operation — the Pentium 4
is often faster in raw speed, and it runs with a wider range of motherboards. It’s
a great choice for just about any PC. The Pentium 4 is a socket 478 processor.
The AMD Athlon 64: The tyrannosaurus rex of processors
The Athlon 64 X2 is AMD’s fastest, most efficient, and most advanced CPU.
The Athlon 64 CPU X2 even outperforms the Pentium Extreme Edition dualcore processor line, and it’s a particular favorite with the gaming community.
But wait: Before you close this book and head to your Web browser, you
should know that the Athlon 64 X2 is not the right choice for everyone. Like a
sports car, the Athlon 64 X2 is far more expensive than a standard Athlon 64
processor. Plus, fewer motherboards are approved for use with the Athlon 64
X2. I would recommend it for techno-wizards who want absolutely the best
performance available in a CPU or for those folks who want to look forward
to three or four years of use before they plan to buy another motherboard or
build another PC. AMD’s other 64-bit processor is the Athlon 64 FX series,
which delivers a level of performance between a standard single-core Athlon
64 and the Athlon 64 X2. Athlon 64 CPUs are socket 754 or socket 939,
depending on the version.
By the way, that 64 in the Athlon 64 designation is no accident: All Athlon 64
processors support the latest 64-bit version of Windows, Windows XP
Professional x64 Edition, as well as 64-bit Linux and the upcoming Windows
Vista. The dynamic duo of one of these operating systems and any Athlon 64bit processor results in faster performance, support for up to an unbelievable
128 gigabytes of RAM, and full support for dual-core CPUs. In the Intel corner,
Extreme Edition processors with EM64T offer 64-bit support as well.
The AMD Athlon XP: A reliable workhorse
Like the aging Pentium 4, AMD’s Athlon XP is no longer top dog, but it still
offers respectable performance for a typical family or office PC, and again it
Chapter 4: A Bag of Chips: Adding RAM and a CPU
provides more efficient operation than Pentium 4 models with similar speeds.
The Athlon XP CPU is a socket A processor.
Your Monster Needs a Brain
Suppose that someone who upgraded a PC donated an Athlon 64 X2 CPU to
your cause — hey, it could happen, right? Or, more likely, you found a CPU for
sale online at a great price. Anyway, you need to install your CPU on your
motherboard — after all, that’s where your processor belongs (it won’t work
by itself), and the pins on a CPU can be damaged easily by small children,
dogs, or a cat in an exceptionally bad mood.
For a novice, the CPU installation process is probably one of the scariest
moments in the entire project. If you feel that you need professional help on
this one, just bring your case (with motherboard installed) and CPU to your
local computer repair shop or ask a computer guru whom you know to handle
the CPU installation. Ask the expert to install the CPU, and watch the process
closely. Hint: After you’ve seen it installed correctly, it’s not a big deal at all.
As I outlined previously, motherboards made for today’s processors, such as
the Pentium 4 or Extreme Edition or the Athlon XP or 64, use a socket A,
socket 370, socket 478, socket 754, socket 939, or LGA 775 CPU. In plain
English, that means you’re looking at a square socket that accepts a flat
processor chip. Follow these steps to install your CPU chip:
1. Don’t handle anything until you touch a metal surface first.
I’ll bet that you just finished pulling a load of fuzzy socks out of your
clothes dryer, didn’t you?
Static electricity can damage sensitive computer components! Touching
a metal surface, such as your computer’s chassis, conducts static electricity away from your body.
2. Haul your open computer chassis onto your work surface.
Don’t plug the chassis in yet — nothing will happen. We’ll plug in the
power cord later in this chapter.
3. Locate the CPU socket on your motherboard.
The CPU socket is a big square that looks like it could hold two or three
thousand pins. If you need help finding the CPU socket, refer to the
schematic in your motherboard’s manual. Pentium and Athlon motherboards typically feature special sockets called zero insertion force (ZIF)
sockets for the CPU. Unlike older motherboards that used 386 and 486
processors, ZIF sockets allow you to easily install or remove CPUs without requiring force.
Part II: Building Your PC
Unfortunately, the CPU is not one of those parts that are cleverly
designed to fit only one way, but at least the nice folks at the plant give
you a marker to help during installation. Figure 4-1 shows two typical
CPU chips and two different types of sockets. See the stubby corner on
the chip? That corner should point in the same direction as the socket’s
marker. Depending on the motherboard, the matching corner on the
socket might be stubby as well, or it could have a small dot or a tiny
groove. If you’re the least bit unsure about how to line up the CPU chip,
check your motherboard manual.
Chip type 1
Marked edge
Marked edge
Figure 4-1:
CPU chips
and sockets
ready for a
Marked edge
Socket type 1
Socket type 2
4. If your motherboard has a ZIF socket for the CPU, raise the lever on
the side of the socket.
Your motherboard manual should show you how to lift the lever; this
step unlocks the ZIF socket so that you can insert the chip.
5. Carefully place the CPU chip on top of the socket.
The edges of the chip should match the edges of the socket, and the
stubby corner should match the socket marker. Look at the chip from
the top and the side to make sure that the pins that you can see are on
top of their matching holes.
Chapter 4: A Bag of Chips: Adding RAM and a CPU
6. Okay, take a deep breath and relax — then use your fingers to gently
push down on the edges of the chip.
Apply even pressure to the top of the CPU. After some initial resistance,
the chip should settle into the socket. Press evenly on the CPU until the
pins aren’t visible from the side.
7. If your motherboard has a ZIF socket for the CPU, lower the lever on
the side of the socket.
Push the lever down to lock the ZIF socket so that the CPU chip is held
in place.
Never, never, never try to force a CPU into a motherboard. If it doesn’t feel
like it’s correctly seated and all the pins fit, back off and check your motherboard manual to make sure that the chip is aligned correctly. If the CPU is not
correctly aligned and you try to force it into the socket, you’ll bend some of
the pins (which can be fixed, but only by an experienced technician). In the
worst case, you’ll break a pin. If this happens, you may as well bury the chip
in your backyard and get another CPU.
All processors made these days need fans on top or on the side to keep the
chip cool; the fan is clamped to the top of the chip (usually with an intervening layer of conductive glue to help transfer heat). This fan will have a separate power cable that you need to connect, so refer to your CPU and
motherboard documentation to find the fan connector.
Add RAM Until the Mixture Thickens
If you bought RAM with your motherboard, it should come preinstalled. If
you bought your RAM chips separately or you scavenged them, here are the
rules of the game:
DDR and DDR2: The most common memory modules used with Pentium
and Athlon PCs are double data rate (DDR) modules, which are effectively
twice the speed of older synchronous DRAM (SDRAM) memory. The latest
version of this type of memory is the DDR2 module, which doubles again
the data transfer between RAM and your PC — however, the new DDR2
design is still relatively new, so it’s less common (and more expensive)
than the older DDR standard at the time of this writing. DDR and DDR2
memory modules have one notch on the connector and two notches on
each side of the module. Figure 4-2 illustrates a typical DDR module, just
waiting for someone to reach out and install it.
RDRAM: Yet another high-performance variety of RAM — but this older
species is on the decline. In fact, Rambus dynamic random access
Memory (RDRAM) modules are now disappearing from the market as
DDR2 memory grows more popular. (I know, the doggone acronyms are
as bad as the full names.)
Part II: Building Your PC
Figure 4-2:
Is it a potato
chip? A
No, it’s a
DDR chip.
Athlon and Pentium PCs use DIMM memory — short for dual inline
memory module — and older Pentium-class computers use SIMM
memory, short for single inline memory module. First-generation
Pentium motherboards used extended data output (EDO), 72-pin SIMMs.
Because they’re no longer manufactured, these antiques are now actually gaining in value! (Forget gold coins; invest in old silicon.)
While you’re out shopping for RAM, remember that DDR and DDR2
memory is assigned a speed rating as part of the name, so it’s commonly
listed as DDR266/PC2100 or DDR2 400. As you might guess, the faster the
memory speed, the better the performance, so the bigger numbers
tell you that 333 (or 2700) is faster than 226 (or 2100). The speed rating
that you choose should be determined by the memory speeds that your
motherboard supports.
In the days of the 486 and the original Pentium, SIMMs were typically
grouped in pairs, although most of today’s motherboards can accept
two to four DIMMs.
Compatibility: To avoid mix-ups and stragglers, it’s better to order all
your RAM at one time from the same dealer. In general, RAM modules
made by different manufacturers are supposed to work together as long
as they’re all rated at the same speed, although I’ve heard horror stories
on the Internet about compatibility problems. Whenever you can, order
the same brand.
Amount: Check the design that you created in Chapter 2 for the recommended amount of RAM that you should use, but don’t forget this Mark’s
The more RAM, the merrier! This is especially true with Windows XP and
Windows 2003 Server Edition. The more RAM you can add, the better
and faster your system runs.
Ready to install your memory modules? Good — follow these steps:
1. Touch something metal to banish the static monster.
2. Cover your work surface with a piece or two of newspaper and lay
your chassis down on top of the newspaper.
Again, don’t plug the chassis in yet — wait until the end of the chapter.
Chapter 4: A Bag of Chips: Adding RAM and a CPU
3. Locate the memory slots, which you can generally find at one corner
of the motherboard, close to the CPU itself.
If Picasso designed your motherboard, check the manual, which should
include a schematic drawing to help you find the memory slots. You
should also find instructions on which bank of slots to fill first — make
sure that you add the memory in the order specified by the manual. (The
banks are usually marked on the motherboard itself, just to avoid confusion.) In general, most people fill bank 0 first, and then bank 1, and so on.
4. Position the motherboard so that the DIMM memory slots are facing
you. The slots should look like those shown in Figure 4-3. (Remember:
DDR modules have different notches, but they’re installed the same.)
The clever little locking mechanism uses friction to lock the DIMM firmly
in place. Notice that the notches cut into the connectors at the bottom
of the module match the spacers in the memory sockets; you can’t
install DIMM or DDR chips the wrong way. The notch is an example of
good thinking on someone’s part.
Figure 4-3:
ready for
5. Align the metal teeth at the bottom of the module with the socket, and
then push down lightly to seat the chip, as shown in Figure 4-4.
Figure 4-4:
Inserting the
DIMM chip
safely into
its socket.
Part II: Building Your PC
6. As the module moves into place, make sure that the two levers at each
side of the socket move toward the center, as shown in Figure 4-5,
until that clever little locking mechanism clicks into place.
Figure 4-5:
The locking
levers on
That’s it! When correctly installed, the module should sit vertically on the
motherboard, and the two levers should be flush against the sides of the
Time to Meet Your Bus Slots
While you have your case open and you can see everything clearly, take a
moment to determine what type of bus slots you have. (And note that the
type of slots has nothing to do with the processor, memory, and motherboard’s bus speed.) If you add internal adapter cards to your computer, they
fit into these bus slots (becoming, in effect, an extension of the motherboard
itself). If you’re confused about which types of slots you have, check your
motherboard manual.
Most motherboards that you buy today have a mixture of the following slots:
An accelerated graphics port (AGP) slot or a PCI-Express x16 slot
reserved for a video card
Four or five peripheral component interconnect (PCI) slots
A number of PCI-Express x1 slots for PCI-Express adapter cards (other
than a video card)
This information becomes really important really quickly because you’ll need
to buy the proper type of adapter card for many other parts in your computer. If the card doesn’t match your available slots, you can’t use it! These
slots are a series of long, parallel connectors on your motherboard, and most
motherboards come with anywhere from five to seven slots. Figures 4-6 and
4-7 illustrate the two most common types of slots on Pentium and Athlon
motherboards: the super-fast AGP video card slot and the high-speed 32-bit
PCI bus slot. (You’ll also find more about the AGP and PCI-Express video card
slots in Chapter 6.)
Chapter 4: A Bag of Chips: Adding RAM and a CPU
Side View
AGP Slot
Top View
Figure 4-6:
video bus
slot and
an AGP
Figure 4-7:
A fast PCI
bus slot
and a PCI
If you’re rapidly becoming tired of the word slot, here’s good news: We’re finished with it, at least for this chapter!
Fire That Puppy Up!
Time to test your work and see how well you did. Although your computer
doesn’t even have a monitor or keyboard connected yet, you can still check
out your assembly so far. Follow these steps:
Part II: Building Your PC
1. Plug the three-prong power cord that came with your computer case
into the matching connector on the power supply.
Go ahead and push this one in pretty firmly. You don’t want it to
wiggle free.
2. Plug the power cable into your friendly wall socket.
3. Push the power switch on the front or back of your case.
If you connected your cables to the motherboard correctly, and if your
switches are hooked up correctly (both of which are covered in detail in
Chapter 3), and if your CPU and RAM chips are installed correctly, the following should happen:
The power light should be lit.
Troubleshooting: If the power light doesn’t go on and the fan on your
power supply is turning, reverse the connector attached to the power
light pins on the motherboard. For all the information on motherboard
connections, refer to Chapter 3.
The fan on the CPU should be spinning.
Troubleshooting: If the fan isn’t spinning, check to make sure that
you’ve plugged in the cable from the fan to your power supply.
If the preceding components are in working order, your motherboard is
receiving power, and the power light is correctly connected. (If none of these
things is happening, switch off your computer and reverse the order of the
power cables connected to your computer.)
Your computer might blurt out a series of beeps. Don’t worry — it’s merely
trying to tell you that it can’t find a video adapter, a keyboard, and other such
components. (You install and attach those elements in later chapters.) In fact,
the beeps are your friends, and you can use them later in the assembly process
to help you diagnose problems. For example, if the machine emits one long
beep followed by three short beeps, you have a video problem. If your PC
sounds eight or more long, continuous beeps, it’s telling you that it’s encountering a memory problem.
That’s about all the testing you can do at this stage. After your chassis passes
all these tests, you’re ready to add more components to your computer.
Chapter 5
The Three PC Senses: Ports,
Mouse, and Keyboard
In This Chapter
Determining which ports you need
Selecting a keyboard
Selecting a pointing device
Installing a port adapter card
Connecting things to ports
Testing your work
n today’s world of graphical user interfaces (read that as Windows XP,
Windows 2000, Linux, and Mac OS X), a keyboard is no longer enough. To
get the most from modern computer programs, you need to drag and drop
and double-click. In other words, your computer needs a mouse (or another
pointing device). In fact, pointing devices have been around for more than a
decade or two, and they were standard equipment on other computers (such
as the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga) long before the arrival of Windows
3.0 on the PC. Most computer techno-wizards prefer the speed of keyboard
commands, but for better or worse, the mouse is here to stay. Both your
mouse and keyboard connect to your computer through special connectors
plugged into ports on the front or back of the case. Your computer also needs
a port for sending information to your printer as well as a port for sending
and receiving data through an external modem. Although some of these ports
have changed over the years, others are virtually unchanged since the arrival
of the first PC.
In this chapter, you find out how to add ports to your computer (if required),
how to connect your keyboard and mouse, and the many different types of
pointing devices available today.
If you bought a new motherboard, it should have several of these ports built
in already. For example, all motherboards have a built-in keyboard connector.
However, older “antique” motherboards might require you to buy an adapter
card that adds a FireWire port to your computer. If you installed an ATX
Part II: Building Your PC
motherboard into an ATX case, your ports are already set! (For all the details
on cases, see Chapter 3.) If your motherboard came with built-in ports but
without connectors, you still need to attach the port connectors to the motherboard and then add the ports to your case. So don’t skip this entire chapter; instead, jump to the “Connecting Built-in Ports” section.
Pursuing Your Port Preferences
Prepare to be amazed by the variety of ports that you can add to your computer! Your computer definitely needs the first three or four ports mentioned
in the following list (and illustrated in Figure 5-1), although the rest are
optional ports that handle the special hardware that power users just love.
Figure 5-1:
Most ATX
motherboards sport keyboard
these ports.
Mouse USB Serial
connector ports port
VGA External audio
Chapter 5: The Three PC Senses: Ports, Mouse, and Keyboard
Keyboard port: Keyboard ports come in two varieties: One type fits the
IBM PS/2 connector shown in Figure 5-2. An older type of keyboard port is
larger than the PS/2 connector. All motherboards made in the last five or
six years have a keyboard port that accepts the smaller PS/2 plug. If you
want to use a keyboard that has a good feel to it but uses the older-style,
round connector (usually called an AT connector), you can pick up a converter that enables you to plug the older keyboard into a PS/2-style port.
Figure 5-2:
Serial port: These ports have been around since the early days of the PC
(and were once the standard port for connecting an external modem). In
current computers, serial ports are primarily reserved for some exotic
types of joysticks and game controllers. A serial port is commonly called
a COM port (short for communications port). Most motherboards offer
two serial ports (but can have more than two), and each of these ports
is typically assigned one of four standard COM port designations —
COM1, COM2, and so on — which identifies that particular port to the
In the past, computers used serial ports to handle your modem, your
digital camera, and your mouse. If you’re a real technological old-timer,
you might have even used this type of port to plug in a strange type of
printer called a serial printer. And if you remember that, you may also
recall that these ports used to come in two varieties (a male 9-pin version and a male 25-pin version), but the 9-pin serial port is the only one
in use today. (By the way, a male connector has pins, and a female connector has holes for those pins. Go figure.) With as many as four COM
ports on the same computer, you can run multiple modems on the same
computer. Some companies still use modem servers on their networks,
and others use one incoming line for a fax/modem while using another
line for an Internet connection.
Part II: Building Your PC
Parallel printer port: Although it’s hard to believe, one type of port
hasn’t changed much since the early days of PC XT and AT class computers. Parallel printer ports look and operate pretty much as they did
in the early 1980s. Their primary purpose is to provide a connection for
your printer. (For several years past, parallel ports also performed
double duty as connections for external devices, such as scanners and
Zip drives. Today’s hardware, however, is almost exclusively connected
through a USB or FireWire port.) Unlike serial ports, parallel ports transfer data on several wires rather than on just two. Unfortunately, scavengers often mistake parallel ports for the older 25-pin serial port on
older PCs (sounds like a case for more computer case labels, as I suggest at the end of this section). Unless you’re using a scavenged serial
card from an older computer, you probably won’t run into a 25-pin serial
port, so if you see a rectangular port with two rows of pins (or holes) on
the back of your PC, it’s practically guaranteed to be a parallel port.
PS/2 mouse port: This port is a dedicated mouse port, which frees up
your serial ports for other things. You’ll find the PS/2 port on computers
built after 1995 or so. (As I mentioned earlier in this chapter, older computers enabled you to connect the mouse using one of the serial ports.)
USB port: This high-speed port is the universal method for attaching all
sorts of peripherals (such as digital cameras and external modems) to
your computer. The first version of the USB port (usually called USB 1.1)
could accommodate as many as 127 daisy-chained (that is, connected)
devices — probably even enough for Bill Gates, and it provided transfer
rates of as much as 12 megabits per second (Mbps). USB 2.0 ports go
even further, moving data at speeds as fast as a blistering 480 Mbps (and
it’s backward compatible with version 1.1 USB hardware). Plus, any
peripheral that you plug into a USB port is automatically recognized by
Windows 2000 and Windows XP (as it should be), and you can remove
that same device without rebooting your computer. Figure 5-3 illustrates
the USB ports and connectors on both the PC and peripheral ends.
USB now reigns as king for connecting scanners, joysticks, controllers,
digital cameras, printers, and even some mice and keyboards. If you’re
shopping for a new motherboard, make sure that it comes with USB 2.0
ports, and you can kiss port confusion goodbye!
FireWire port: Otherwise known as your friendly neighborhood IEEE1394 high-performance serial bus, a FireWire port transfers data as fast
as 400 Mbps, which has made it a popular choice for connecting expensive toys that generate lots of data, such as digital camcorders, videoconferencing cameras, super-fast scanners, and color laser printers. Like
USB, FireWire is automatically recognized by Windows 2000 and Windows
XP; it supports as many as 63 devices connected together on a single
FireWire port. (Although the USB 2.0 port could surpass FireWire in a
speed race, FireWire allows your computer to control digital devices as
well, so it’s likely to hang around. A new FireWire 800 standard has
appeared on a few high-end PCs and can pump an unbelievable 800 Mbps
Chapter 5: The Three PC Senses: Ports, Mouse, and Keyboard
to external devices, but these super-fast connectors aren’t likely to be as
popular in the PC world as USB 2.0 for some time to come.)
Figure 5-3:
connectors that
the world.
If you’re planning on editing digital video or participating in videoconferencing, consider adding a FireWire port to your PC. Figure 5-4 illustrates
a FireWire and USB port panel that takes the place of a drive bay cover
on the front of your PC — as you might imagine, having these ports on
the front of your computer (instead of hiding out in back) is a great convenience when connecting digital cameras, digital video (DV) camcorders, and external hard drives.
Figure 5-4:
A frontpanel port
that fits in
the front
of your
PC case.
Ac er
l Se
Part II: Building Your PC
Game port: If you plan to add a sound card to your computer, the card
might also have a game port for your joystick or gamepad. If not, most
multiple in/out (I/O) port adapter cards also provide a game port
onboard along with the standard serial and parallel ports. Game ports
have 15 pins, and one port can connect two standard, two-button IBM
joysticks. (Or, you can decide to opt for a USB game controller, although
many gamers get very attached to their expensive flight joysticks, steering wheels, and throttles.)
MIDI port: You use this type of specialized port for connecting MIDIcapable musical instruments to your computer. MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) ports are usually added along with your sound
card. (You find out more about sound cards and MIDI in Chapter 9.)
Again, you can also get a USB-to-MIDI port adapter.
Infrared port: If you have a laptop computer or handheld device with an
infrared port, you might want to consider adding one to your new computer. An infrared port lets you transfer data and files between two computers without the need to string cables between the two machines. An
infrared port comes in handy if you travel often and like to keep your
data synchronized between your laptop and desktop systems. Infrared
ports are typically installed on an adapter card, with some sort of external infrared sensor (which looks something like the infamous “red eye”
from your TV’s remote control).
SCSI port: If you install a small computer system interface (SCSI)
adapter card in your computer (which I cover in Chapter 11), the card
also offers an external SCSI port to connect scanners, CD recorders, and
other SCSI devices.
Label your ports, and you will rejoice later.
Put that label maker that you got for Christmas to good use. Even though you
might remember now which port is which, I heartily recommend that you
create labels for your ports after you install them. If you label your ports (or
at least copy the port layout on the back of your PC on paper), you eliminate
any identification problems in the future.
Of Keyboards, Mice, and
Men (and Women)
“Grandpa, in your day, did they really have only one kind of mouse and one kind
of keyboard?” Things have really changed — now you can choose from a dizzying array of pointing devices and keyboards (and even combinations of both).
Chapter 5: The Three PC Senses: Ports, Mouse, and Keyboard
The mouse has mutated
If you’re at a loss about which pointing device is best for you, here are some
guidelines to steer you in the right direction:
Standard mouse: The basic mouse is still around; it comes in two-button
and three-button varieties. Some mice even carry smaller buttons on the
sides! If you choose a mouse that has sprouted more than two buttons,
you might be able to program the additional buttons. (For example, the
software that came with my trackball enables me to program the middle
button to double-click.) A mouse is still a good choice for a traditional
pointing device, although it’s harder to use for delicate work and requires
lots of desk space. And these pointing devices get dirty often. You should
clean your mouse at the first sign of skipping or sloppy response. (To
avoid this onerous chore, buy an optical mouse, which doesn’t use a ball
and doesn’t require any cleaning.)
Most fashionable mice now sport a wheel between the buttons, which
enables you to scroll Web pages and documents up and down (and even
left and right) by turning the wheel with your finger — nice!
Wireless mouse: This type of mouse doesn’t trail cords, a desirable feature for many computer owners. Going wireless also enables you to control a presentation with much more freedom than a standard mouse. Be
prepared to feed this monster new batteries often, though (or buy a
rechargeable model), and check the box to see just how far you can
stray without losing the signal.
Trackball: As shown in Figure 5-5, this pointing device resembles an
upside-down mouse: Rather than move the housing around, you move
the ball with your finger or thumb. Trackballs are a little harder to use
at first; they stay in one place, however, so they require much less desktop space.
Figure 5-5:
A typical
Part II: Building Your PC
If you decide on a trackball for your computer systems, consider buying
my favorite pointing device: an optical trackball. They never require
adjustment or cleaning, and they have fewer moving parts than standard
trackballs or mice. These trackballs use balls covered with a pattern of
dots, and optical sensors in the body of the trackball “read” these dots
to determine movement.
Touchpad: This pointing device has been popular on laptops, but it’s
also available for desktop computers. To use a touchpad (as shown in
Figure 5-6), you move your finger across its surface, and the cursor follows your movements onscreen. To click, you can either press a button
on the touchpad or tap the pad surface twice in quick succession. No
pen or other stylus is required. Like trackballs, touchpads take up little
space. They don’t require cleaning, although they do need to be
adjusted every few months by running a special program. Some people
feel that a touchpad is better for fine detail work on a computer.
Figure 5-6:
Okay, so a
looks a little
strange, but
it works!
Drawing tablet: This pointing device is a larger version of the touchpad.
A drawing pad is designed specifically for computer art and drafting. It
allows freehand drawing on the tablet, which then appears on the screen.
Depending on the size of the tablet, you can even use a ruler or stencil,
but don’t use a regular pen or pencil, please! (Use only the stylus that
comes with the tablet.) The drawing tablet can also double as a regular
touchpad when you’re not drawing.
Fingertip mouse: Another pointing device that started out on laptops is
the fingertip mouse. There’s really not much to it other than a tiny button
about the size of a pencil eraser that sits in the middle of a smooth case.
(Many laptops feature a fingertip mouse in the middle of their keyboards,
or you can buy a desktop keyboard with a built-in fingertip mouse.) To use
Chapter 5: The Three PC Senses: Ports, Mouse, and Keyboard
a fingertip mouse, you nudge the button in the direction that you want the
cursor to travel onscreen. The longer you push, the farther the cursor travels; the harder you push, the faster it moves. To click, you press a button
on the case. As with a touchpad, you need to adjust a fingertip mouse from
time to time by running a program.
The key to keyboards
One keyboard is not just like another! For example, if you’ve been given an
older 84-key keyboard, I suggest hanging it up in the barn as a good luck
charm along with the horseshoes. You can easily recognize these keyboards
because they don’t have a separate set of cursor control keys or a separate
numeric keypad. If you’re using any version of Windows, you need at least a
standard 101-key keyboard.
More expensive keyboards have additional features that can make your life at
the computer considerably easier. For example:
Extra keys: Windows 2000 and XP both support extra keys. In fact, one
key even looks like the Windows logo. Pressing these keys make dropdown menus appear within programs, display the task list, print special
characters, and much more. (That crazy Gates fellow . . . it wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up adding new symbols to the alphabet!)
Ergo, ergonomics: Recognizing the evils of carpal tunnel syndrome,
many keyboards today are ergonomically designed. This design usually
includes a wrist rest and a more human-friendly shape. The ergonomic
keyboard shown in Figure 5-7 is a good example.
Figure 5-7:
Catch the
wave! An
reduce wrist
Part II: Building Your PC
Mouse/keyboard combos: Need every inch of desk space? Consider a
keyboard with a built-in trackball or touchpad. These integrated keyboards reduce hand movements and make you a more efficient, meaner
typing machine.
Detached connectivity: For the couch potato who has everything. Look
Ma, no wires! A wireless keyboard enables you to lounge on your futon
while composing that Great American Novel — but don’t forget the batteries, and remember that these keyboards are significantly more expensive than their wired brethren. (My tech editor recommends a pair of
binoculars, if your futon is more than three or four feet away!)
If you decide to use a wireless keyboard or mouse, rechargeable batteries are the smart power user’s investment. Although you pay more up
front for the special reusable batteries and charger unit, you more than
make up for that in savings over the years. Oh, and here’s my two-cent
recommendation on rechargeable batteries: Go with lithium ion (LiIon)
batteries, which last longer and don’t require charging as often as nickel
cadmium (NiCad) batteries.
Multifunction buttons: Many computer multifunction keyboards look
more like your car’s dashboard these days. Buttons have been added
to allow you to check your e-mail, visit certain Web sites, display help
for your operating system and applications, connect to the Internet,
and control your optical drive. (One of my computers even has a rotary
volume control on the keyboard, which I find much handier than the volume control on the Windows taskbar. Besides, it reminds me of my old
stereo receiver.)
Although these keyboards are convenient, remember that a multifunction keyboard requires its own proprietary software; if you’ve scavenged
one of these keyboards and didn’t get the software, all those extra buttons become window dressing. Also, you have to program many of those
keys on a multifunction keyboard. Sounds a little strange, doesn’t it?
What you’re doing is identifying what function each of these specialized
keys is supposed to perform. (You should have to do this only once.)
If you’re using a desktop case or a huge 21-inch monitor, I recommend a keyboard shelf, which looks like a drawer that fits under your computer. The
shelf slides out to give you access to the keyboard. After you’re finished
typing, you can simply push the shelf back inside the unit. This device saves
desk space, and it puts your keyboard at the proper typing position.
If you’re buying a new keyboard, always try it out before you pull out your
credit card. Because keyboards are all made differently, they have a different
typing and comfort “feel” to them. People can be finicky about their keyboards, and typing a long document on a bad keyboard is roughly equivalent
to poking a soggy sponge or a hard rock repeatedly with your fingers.
Chapter 5: The Three PC Senses: Ports, Mouse, and Keyboard
Installing a Port Adapter Card
If your motherboard doesn’t have built-in USB 2.0 or FireWire ports, it’s time to
add your port adapter card. These cards typically have one USB 2.0 and one
FireWire port on the side of the card itself, and some allow you to add cables
that take up another slot on the back of your case to add even more ports.
Check the manual that came with your port adapter card to determine what
connectors are actually on your card and which must be added separately.
Your adapter card manual should also fill you in on any dual inline packaging
(DIP) switch or jumper settings that have to be configured — I discuss both
DIP switches and jumpers in Chapter 3. Now is a good time to move any
required jumpers, before your card is mashed between several other cards
and you have to be a contortionist like the Great Zambini to reach it. I do
have good news about most port adapter cards: The factory default settings
are usually just what you need, although it never hurts to check first.
To install your port adapter card, follow these instructions:
1. Don’t handle anything until you touch a metal surface.
Have you been shuffling your feet through that deep, plush carpeting
all day? Dissipate yourself of excess electrostatic energy. I’m talking
Static City!
2. Haul your open case on top of your work surface.
Do not plug it in yet.
3. Locate an adapter card slot of the proper length at the back of your case.
I cover the different types of adapter slots in Chapter 4, but here’s a
refresher just in case: peripheral component interconnect (PCI) cards use
the short slots, and 16-bit industry standard architecture (ISA) cards are
twice as long. Because USB 2.0 and FireWire port adapter cards are PCI,
you’ll need a PCI slot. Also, make sure that any notches cut into the connectors on your card match any spacers within the slot. These spacers
help ensure that you don’t try to stick a 16-bit card into a PCI slot. Found
an empty slot of the right length? Good! Move along to the next step.
4. Take your trusty screwdriver and remove the screw and the metal slot
cover at the back of the case, as shown in Figure 5-8.
Stick both these parts in your parts box.
You might need this slot cover later to close your case if you decide to
remove an adapter card.
Part II: Building Your PC
Figure 5-8:
To open a
slot, first
remove the
metal cover
from your
5. Pick up the adapter card by the top corners and then line up the connector on the bottom of the card with the slot on the motherboard, as
shown in Figure 5-9.
The card’s metal bracket should align with the open space created when
you removed the slot cover. If the adapter card has extra connectors
that aren’t positioned above the slot, you’re trying to fit the wrong type
of card into the wrong slot. Look for a slot that has matching connectors
and notches.
Figure 5-9:
Make sure
that the
on the
of the card
line up with
the slot.
Chapter 5: The Three PC Senses: Ports, Mouse, and Keyboard
6. Houston, are we go for launch? If so, apply even pressure to the top of
the card and push it down into the slot on the motherboard.
Although you won’t hear a click, you should be able to tell when the card
is firmly seated. The bracket should be resting tightly against the case.
7. Add the screw that you removed in Step 4 and tighten down the
bracket — but don’t overtighten it.
Your computer is now equipped with at least one external USB port or
FireWire port.
Connecting External Ports
If your computer uses a standard ATX motherboard and case (which I discuss
in Chapter 3), your ports are already connected. (If you recall, they stick out
the back of the PC through that funky cutout.) Therefore, you can skip this
section with a smile (unless you’ve installed a sound card that offers separate
ports for MIDI or optical connections).
However, if you need to attach external ports to the front or back of your case
and connect them to your motherboard, you’re in the right place. External
ports for the back of your case should look something like metal slot covers,
sporting one or two ports on the outside and separate ribbon cables for each
port. External ports for the front of your case are usually built into the case
already, complete with cables for connecting to your motherboard.
External ports are not the same as the ATX-standard ports that are permanently attached to your motherboard — they need to be connected manually.
To install external ports, follow these instructions:
1. Don’t handle anything until you touch a metal surface.
Put down that slick, plastic, handheld video game; you might be carrying static now.
2. If you’re connecting an external port on the front of your case, skip to
Step 5. If you’re installing an external port on the back of your case,
remove the screw and the metal slot cover at the back of the case and
save both in your parts box.
3. Insert the slot cover with the ports into the vacant slot.
4. Add the screw that you removed in Step 2 and tighten the bracket.
Part II: Building Your PC
5. Check your motherboard manual and find the connectors for the
external ports.
These connectors are similar to the motherboard connectors for your
reset button.
6. Attach the cables to the connectors on your motherboard as
instructed by your motherboard’s manual.
Pin 1 on the motherboard connector should align with the marked wire
on the cable; this marking is usually a red stripe or red lettering.
Connecting Your Keyboard
and Pointing Thing
It’s time to add those all-important parts that let you argue directly with your
computer: your mouse and keyboard. As I mention earlier in this chapter,
computers use one of two types of keyboard connectors, and a mouse can be
connected to a serial port or a separate mouse port. The steps that you
follow are determined by your motherboard and what it provides.
Installing a keyboard
Connecting the keyboard is as easy as plugging in the cable through the case
and into the keyboard port. To install your keyboard, follow these instructions:
1. Locate the keyboard port on the back of your case.
If you have an older keyboard, the port should be as thick as a permanent marker. If you have a PS/2 keyboard port, it should be about the
thickness of a pencil eraser. If your keyboard connector is the same size
as the keyboard port, rejoice and continue. If the connector is the wrong
size, grumble, visit a local computer shop, and ask for an adapter to
make an older keyboard fit a PS/2 keyboard port (or the other way
2. Place the tip of the keyboard connector into the port and rotate it
slowly while applying light pressure.
The connector should fit into the port only one way, so you should be
able to feel when the pins line up. If your connector has a little arrow or
a flat area on the outside, that indicator usually points up (although not
every motherboard has the decency to define “up” the same way).
3. When the keyboard connector is correctly aligned, push it in firmly.
Chapter 5: The Three PC Senses: Ports, Mouse, and Keyboard
Installing a non-USB mouse
(or other pointing thing)
If you’ve invested in a USB mouse, you already know the drill: just plug it in.
However, if you’ve grown attached to an older non-USB mouse — my goodness,
that sounds somewhat racy — you’ll be happy to know that all of today’s
motherboards still offer a PS/2 mouse port.
Follow these steps to install the mouse:
1. Locate the port on the back of your case.
2. Place the tip of the connector into the port and rotate it slowly while
applying light pressure.
The connector should fit into the port only one way, so you should be
able to feel when the pins line up. If your connector has a little arrow or
a flat area on the outside, that marker usually points up (although the
direction that “up” takes seems to vary in the eyes of some engineers).
3. After the connector is correctly aligned, push it in firmly.
Check It Once, and Check It Twice!
Even though your PC is now sporting all of its ports, you really have no way
to test them — but all is not lost. You can test your keyboard right now. Just
push the power switch on your computer case.
If you’ve connected your keyboard to the port on your motherboard correctly,
all three keyboard lights should flash — the Num Lock, Caps Lock, and Scroll
Lock indicators. If these indicators light up, your keyboard is correctly installed.
If these lights don’t illuminate, remove the keyboard connector from the keyboard port and try plugging it in again. If you still have no luck, try another
keyboard to make sure that the port is working, and then check your motherboard manual to make sure that you’re connecting the keyboard to the keyboard port. (Remember that the port is the same size and shape as your
mouse port; look for a keyboard icon next to the correct port.)
Part II: Building Your PC
Chapter 6
Images “R” Us: Adding
Video and a Monitor
In This Chapter
Finding the right video card
Understanding a monitor’s specs
Installing your video adapter card
Connecting your monitor
Testing your work
hile you’re building your computer, you’ll be dazzled by more features, functions, acronyms, and assorted hoo-hah surrounding your
video display than just about any other component of your computer system.
Computer components such as your floppy drive and your keyboard remain
largely unchanged since the 486-class computers of old, but today’s multimedia applications and operating systems demand monitors and video cards
that deliver photographic-quality color and sharp detail. Game players and
multimedia techno-jocks will also spend their dollars freely for advanced 3-D
graphics and good-quality digital video.
In this chapter, I help you understand the buzzwords and acronyms that surround the technology behind all those video features so that you can make an
intelligent decision on what to buy. I give you the inside information about your
video subsystem, which has two parts: the video adapter card that fits inside
your computer and the monitor that displays the images. You find out how to
select the features that you need and how to install your video components.
I’m Okay, You’re a Video Card
Your video card plays an important role in your computer: It sends the visual
output produced by a program to your monitor, which displays the output on
its screen. That visual output could be alphanumeric characters that form
words, high-resolution graphics such as a photograph taken with your digital
Part II: Building Your PC
camera, or even the realistic 3-D shape of a monster in your favorite PC
action game.
Get set because, in this section, I take you on a whirlwind tour designed to
help you find the video card that’s exactly right for your applications.
Full speed ahead with
accelerated graphics
Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the Mojave Desert for more than a
decade, you’ve most likely encountered a Windows program running on a computer. Graphical operating systems such as Mac OS X and Windows XP were
designed to make computers easier to use by making the displays more visual.
You probably agree that the graphical point-and-click interface is a good development, but when this type of interface was introduced, computers were
nowhere near ready to handle the graphics. The first Windows programs ran
abysmally slow, and the splashy graphics took too long to display — hence,
the popular nickname for Windows 3.0 became WinDoze.
By the way, I have a rare copy of Windows 2.1, which is the precursor of
Windows 3.0. It runs on antique 80286 PCs. Windows 2.1 takes up a whopping
seven floppy disks, and they’re the old 720K disks to boot! (And no, it doesn’t
run Half-Life 2.)
As time went by and Windows slowly developed into the operating environment of choice, computer hardware designers decided to tackle the problem
of slow graphics by beefing up the standard PC video adapter. These enhancements enabled the computer’s CPU to concentrate on running programs and
performing calculations. With the arrival of the accelerated graphics card,
techno-nerds around the globe breathed a collective sigh of relief. Finally,
graphics were moving full speed ahead!
Accelerated cards have a separate processor onboard (often called a GPU, for
graphics processing unit) to handle complex graphics functions, such as drawing 3-D objects and displaying menus (which means that your CPU doesn’t
need to worry about these tasks). In the past, accelerated cards cost dramatically more than standard video cards, but now they’re standard equipment
with any PC that you buy. When you’re shopping for a fast video card, keep
these guidelines in mind:
Look for AGP or PCI-Express: You get the best performance from an
accelerated graphics port (AGP) or PCI-Express video card. Sticking a
fast video card in a standard peripheral component interconnect (PCI)
Chapter 6: Images “R” Us: Adding Video and a Monitor
slot is a little like forcing a thoroughbred horse to pull a plow: It will do
the job, but you’re holding it back. Only the AGP and PCI-Express bus
types provide the super-fast throughput that your new video card needs
to work its magic. (Chapter 3 includes more information on selecting a
motherboard with support for AGP and PCI-Express adapter cards.)
Compare speed: Most video card manufacturers provide benchmark figures advertising the speed of their accelerated cards; you can use these
figures for speed comparisons. As an example, the manufacturer of my
video card measures its card’s speed using the 3DMark05 utility from
FutureMark (, which is a well-known benchmark
program for graphics hardware under Windows.
Get driver support: Make sure that your new card is fully supported
with drivers for Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server, OpenGL, and
Direct3D. (The last two in that list are the high-performance graphics
subsystems that gamers use when playing today’s most demanding 3-D
games under Windows.) With the right software drivers, just about any
operating system can benefit from the same accelerated video adapter.
If you’re looking for a specific software driver, I heartily recommend, at, which is a comprehensive
Web site that provides links for just about every manufacturer and every
type of computer component that I’ve ever seen.
Video cards are one computer component that simply don’t “scavenge well” —
that’s because Windows video standards are constantly evolving, and a video
card that’s only a couple of years old is already an antique. Therefore, I strongly
recommend that you install a new video card if performance is your goal!
Stick with an AGP or PCI-Express video card designed for today’s Athlon and
Pentium computers.
If you’re building an inexpensive, low-end PC, you can save money by choosing a motherboard with integrated (built-in) video hardware. An integrated
video card offers mediocre performance at best when compared with a separate AGP or PCI-Express video card, but you may find the integrated solution
a money-saver if games are not high on your list.
Will 3-D video transform
my entire existence?
You might have seen 3-D computer graphics on television or in the movies, but
what good is a 3-D video card if you’re not running an expensive graphics program? Computer gamers will tell you that there’s no better piece of hardware to
Part II: Building Your PC
Catching a ride on the magic bus
If you’re familiar with the history of motherboards and the various bus architectures that
have been used in computers, you’re probably
lots of fun to talk to at parties. With all this technical knowledge at your disposal, you might
also know that 486 computers used a nifty bus
called the VESA Local Bus (VLB), which was
faster than the original 16-bit ISA standard bus.
Back in the days of the 486, VLB offered the
fastest access to your system’s CPU and RAM,
and it had the same purpose as the PCI slot in
the first Pentium machines: connecting your
video adapter card and hard drive controller
card to provide the fastest possible flow of data.
Unfortunately, VLB wasn’t fast enough and has
faded into the history of yesterday’s technology; VLB isn’t suitable for use on any Pentiumclass motherboard (including the original firstgeneration Pentiums). Even the PCI bus, which
is roughly 30 percent faster than VLB, has been
declared yesterday’s technology — these days,
a card using an AGP or PCI-Express bus delivers the fastest video performance. (In fact, PCI
video cards have all but disappeared.)
improve 3-D games such as Unreal Tournament, Halo 2, Half-Life 2, and Doom 3.
With a 3-D video card, objects in these games look so realistic that you can practically reach out and touch them, and these games will run much faster, too.
If you’re a nut for computer graphics, you might have already entered the
world of 3-D; if not, here’s a quick introduction. Today’s 3-D video cards take
care of rendering — that’s the computer term for drawing objects in three
dimensions and overlaying a pattern on the surface of the object. For example, a square wooden block is originally rendered as a simple cube object, but
when a wood grain pattern is added, it suddenly looks just like a wooden
block. Of course, that wooden block can just as easily become a complex
object, such as a tentacled mercenary with a phased plasma rifle from the
planet Quark. Modern 3-D computer games work with your 3-D video card to
realistically render your enemies, who then proceed to try to render you
(limb from limb, if you get my drift). These advanced games even provide
realistic lighting, shadow effects, and weather effects such as rain and snow.
A 3-D video card handles the complex math necessary to produce 3-D images
(just like an accelerated video card does for Windows), thus enabling your
CPU to focus on handling the program. Figure 6-1 illustrates my favorite rendering program, trueSpace (, with a representative cool
3-D graphic (in this case, a giant walking robot).
Chapter 6: Images “R” Us: Adding Video and a Monitor
Figure 6-1:
My 3-D
program of
A 3-D video card speeds up just about every operation in today’s hottest
computer games (as well as “serious” programs such as trueSpace,
Photoshop CS2, Premiere Pro, and other multimedia bigwig applications).
The most popular 3-D video cards use chipsets from the following two top
NVIDIA: Home to the older RIVA TNT and TNT2 (both of which have been
big favorites of computer gamers for years), NVIDIA (
is known in the 3-D world for its GeForce chipset. At the time of this writing, the GeForce 7800 GTX chipset is found on the most powerful 3-D
video cards available.
ATI: The ATI Rage series of 3-D video cards was a mainstay for years in
the retail PC world because they were cheap and reasonably powerful.
The company ( continues to update its Radeon GPU
chipset (currently the Radeon X850 series) to compete head-to-head
with GeForce, so it’s also a 3-D video card to compare.
Speaking of comparisons, what should you look for in a 3-D video card?
Here’s a quick shopper’s checklist:
Part II: Building Your PC
Go for memory: Look for the most onboard RAM that you can afford.
Most cards feature anywhere from 32MB to 512MB.
Compare speed: Check common benchmarks between cards to determine which is actually faster. As an example, the 3DMark05 benchmark
utility that I mention earlier in this chapter can help determine which
card is truly the fastest at performing a standard rendering test. You typically find these benchmark figures in the card’s specifications on the
box or on the company’s Web site. (Some video card manufacturers also
list the frame rate that a card can achieve while running a popular game
such as Unreal Tournament, Doom 3, or Half-Life 2; the higher the frame
rate, the better the performance, which makes it a good figure to use
while comparing video cards.)
Get driver support: Your card should offer full OpenGL and Direct3D
support. These two drivers are the most popular for today’s computer
games and rendering programs.
Go for color and resolution: The deeper the color depth and the higher
the resolution, the better. Find out more about these features in the next
For reviews and benchmarks of the latest video cards (along with comparisons between the newest NVIDIA and ATI chipsets), visit Tom’s Hardware at
Thanks for the memory
Your computer’s motherboard isn’t the only part of your computer that has
its own RAM. Your video card needs memory as well. In essence, your video
adapter uses RAM to store colors and pixel values; the more RAM on your
video card, the more colors you can display and the higher the video resolution you can use. I recommend a minimum of 32MB of video memory for a PC
running an office suite and Internet applications or a minimum of 128MB if
you’re running graphics-intensive games and applications on a 3-D video card.
Because colors and resolution are important in selecting a video card, I
attack them separately.
More about colors
In the early days of computers, you were lucky if you could display 4 or 16
colors on the screen at one time. These old standards were color graphics
adapter (CGA) and enhanced graphics adapter (EGA). People were satisfied
with CGA and EGA colors for a surprisingly long time, mostly because computer hardware in those days cost a fortune, and why would anyone need
more colors to run (chortle) DOS programs? Even game players were happy
with 16 colors. (And some still say that the games had more depth and imagination back then because games didn’t rely on flashy graphics. Go figure.)
Chapter 6: Images “R” Us: Adding Video and a Monitor
How deep is your color?
You hear techno-nerds talk about color depth all
the time, especially when they argue about the
Web. Color depth refers to the number of colors
in an image; popular color depths are 256
colors, 64 thousand colors, and 16 million colors.
Most graphics on the Web use a color depth of
256 colors because the lower the color depth,
the less time it takes to download the image to
a Web browser using a standard dial-up analog
connection. Still, some people who create Web
pages like to use 16 million color graphics
because those graphics look better. Eventually,
the popularity of broadband Internet access will
allow Webmasters to strut their stuff with more
confidence, but for now the battle rages on.
With the arrival of the video graphics array (VGA) standard of 256 colors and
the debut of Windows 3.0, everything changed. Suddenly, the rush was on for
flashier and more realistic color. Most computers now use the super video
graphics array (SVGA) standard, and even the most rudimentary video card
on the market these days can provide more than 16 million colors on the
screen at one time. That’s true photographic-quality color.
Have you scavenged a video card with 16MB or less RAM? I’d use it as a boot
scraper. At the time of this writing, you can pick up a 64MB video card for
less than 30 bucks — and that card is far more likely to work with today’s
games, video-editing, and graphics applications.
More about resolution
Extra video RAM lets your monitor display images at a higher resolution. To
explain resolution, I need to introduce you to a single dot on your monitor: a
pixel. The display on your monitor is built from thousands of pixels arranged
in lines, each pixel displaying a certain color. Your video system’s resolution
is expressed in the number of pixels displayed horizontally and the number
of lines displayed vertically. For example, a resolution of 1024 x 768 means
that the monitor displays 1024 pixels horizontally across the screen and 768
pixels vertically.
At lower resolutions, graphics look big and chunky, with ragged edges and
blocky shapes. Any resolution lower than 800 x 600 is pretty much unusable
these days.
At higher resolutions, such as 1024 x 768, 1152 x 864 (my favorite), 1280 x
1024 or even 1600 x 1200, you can fit more images, data, icons, and information on your screen at one time. With such a higher resolution, you can work
on an entire brochure in your desktop-publishing program without zooming
out. Or you can fit more of your favorite Web page on the screen without
scrolling. Details look better, too, and you can work more efficiently.
Part II: Building Your PC
But wait — it couldn’t be that easy, could it? Nope, you’re right: There’s a
trade-off between resolution and the readability of the fonts and graphics on
your screen. For example, I simply can’t work for long with a resolution of
1600 x 1200: my older (read that wiser and more mature) eyes end up producing a whopper of a headache trying to read text while I’m writing.
Note that LCD (or flat-panel) monitors typically favor one resolution, which
the manufacturer usually specifies as the native resolution. If you switch an
LCD monitor to a resolution other than the native resolution, the screen is
likely to look fuzzy or out of focus.
What’s your favorite display resolution? Only you can tell — the decision is
completely personal, like choosing that keyboard that feels “just right.” After
installing your video card, try a wide range of resolutions to see what suits
you best. But remember, every monitor has a maximum resolution it can display, so keep your experimentation within the limits of your hardware!
Digital video 101
“What exactly is digital video, and why do I need
a video card that displays it?” Well, like the digital audio stored on audio CDs, you can also
store video in digital format. In fact, this technology has been around as long as the laser disc.
On the computer, however, digital video has
come of age only within the past decade. The
first big breakthrough occurred when Windows
95 arrived and became the PC operating system
of choice because it contained support for digital
video in the Microsoft AVI format. (DOS had no
built-in support for displaying video.) Computer
games and the Web have also helped to popularize digital video on the computer screen.
The big drawback with digital video has been
the sheer amount of space that it takes up. A
few minutes of uncompressed digital video
(recorded at full-screen resolution with stereo
sound) can easily take up 500MB of storage
space on your hard drive. This massive storage
space required for digital video is one of the
reasons for the popularity of the DVD recorder,
which can store 4.7GB of digital video on one
disc (or 8.5GB on a dual-layer DVD disc).
Notice that I said uncompressed. That’s where
MPEG comes in: It’s one of two or three compression formats that greatly reduce the size of
a digital video file. The video is compressed
(encoded) while it’s recorded, and then an
MPEG software program decompresses
(decodes) it on your computer. In the days of the
Pentium II, that decoding took time and quite a
bit of the CPU’s resources, resulting in the slow,
stuttering video playback that you might remember seeing on older computers — or video playback in a window the size of a postage stamp.
Today’s video cards are far more powerful, and
many have built-in MPEG encoding and decoding in hardware for full-screen video that’s
smooth as butter.
Chapter 6: Images “R” Us: Adding Video and a Monitor
Look out! Digital video from
the planet MPEG!
Yep, video cards are just chock-full of acronyms, and this one is a real winner:
MPEG stands for Moving Pictures Expert Group. Now that’s a trivial fact that
you can toss around to your friends, right? At least the name suggests something of value — MPEG is the buzzword for digital video on your computer.
If you plan to use your computer extensively to edit digital video, make sure
that your video card has hardware MPEG support, which can encode (and
decode) MPEG digital video all by itself without bogging down your CPU.
What else do I need from a video adapter?
By this time, you might be shrugging your shoulders in disgust, thinking that
you’ll probably have to pay $1000 for a good-quality video adapter with a top
3-D chipset, at least 128MB of RAM, and hardware MPEG decoding. Perhaps
you’ll have to take a second mortgage on the house?
Fear not, good citizen! A good-quality, 3-D gaming card with the NVIDIA
GeForce FX 5200 chipset and 128MB of memory, for example, has all these
features and even a few more — and you can pick it up at a local computer
store for well under $60. (Other comparable cards are around the same
price.) Not a bad price for a power user part, eh?
Knowing about a few other features can help you determine which video card
to buy. Along with the 3-D features that I mention earlier in this chapter,
here’s a short checklist of features that add value to any video card:
Higher refresh rate: If you spend hours at the PC, your eyes will feel
much better at the end of the day if your video card offers a refresh rate
of 75 to 85 Hz. (I discuss refresh rate in more detail later in this chapter,
in the “Feeling refreshed?” section.)
Support: Before buying a video card, check the company’s Web site.
Here are some questions to ask: How often does the manufacturer
update its drivers for the card that you’re considering? Does it offer tech
support over the Web, or will you end up getting put on hold, waiting for
the next available customer service rep?
DVI output: Oh joy, yet another strange abbreviation created by engineers
to confuse normal humankind. In this case, the seemingly random collection of letters stands for digital visual interface (often called digital
Part II: Building Your PC
video interface as well), which refers to a relatively new port that connects your video card to many new flat-panel liquid crystal display (LCD)
and digital cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors. A DVI port looks nothing
like a standard VGA port, but it provides the fastest transfer of video data
(hence the best performance) and the highest-quality digital video signal
(compared with the tired analog signal offered by a standard VGA port).
As long as your current monitor uses a standard VGA connection, you
don’t need a DVI port . . . but there’s always the future, right?
Bundled software and Windows utilities: Most video adapters available
today include bundled software on CD-ROM. The software usually highlights the top features of the video card. (For example, a 3-D video card
typically includes one or two games that take advantage of the card’s 3-D
hardware.) Other favorites are multimedia encyclopedias and educational multimedia software for kids, as well as a software DVD player
program. The best cards have utilities that add functionality to
Windows, such as enabling you to quickly change the resolution of your
desktop. Look for the software bundle that best fits your needs.
TV output: If you create business presentations or broadcast-quality animation on your computer, how can you display your work on your television (or transfer it to videotape)? The easiest method is to buy a video
adapter that can display output from your computer on a TV, VCR, or
camcorder as well as on a monitor.
A video card with TV output is not the same thing as a TV card. Don’t
expect to be able to watch TV just because your video card has TV
output. For that, you need a TV card, which is an adapter with a built-in
TV tuner that enables you to watch TV in a little window on your monitor. It’s just the thing for sports fanatics and those who refuse to miss
their soaps.
Video panning: If you have the necessary RAM, some cards enable you
to pan (move) your screen around a huge image or document, rather
like how a movie camera pans to keep an actor in view while he or she
moves from one part of the set to the other. This feature lets you view
the whole image or document even if it’s so big that it doesn’t fit all on
one screen. If you’re going to edit large graphics in Photoshop or perhaps edit large documents or brochures in a desktop-publishing package, video panning might be a valuable feature for you.
Dual display: A card with this feature can support two monitors at once,
placed side-by-side — Windows XP allows you to use the two monitors
as one super-large desktop, or you can display two different desktops
at the same time. Sweet! (Of course, you’ll have to spring for a second
monitor — such is the techno-wizard’s lifestyle.)
DPMS support: A video card with display power management signaling
(DPMS) support can shut down your monitor to save energy in case you
leave your computer unattended for a preset amount of time. (This feature requires a DPMS monitor, which I cover later in this chapter.)
Chapter 6: Images “R” Us: Adding Video and a Monitor
DVD details
I’m willing to bet that you’re already familiar
with DVD, which is abbreviation-speak for digital video disc (or digital versatile disc, depending on the abbreviation that you encounter first).
This type of disc, called “the new generation of
CD-ROM,” is rapidly replacing the VHS tape for
home movie distribution.
Single-layer, single-sided DVDs hold about
seven times the data of a standard CD-ROM —
a tasty 4.7GB — so they have the storage
capacity required to hold even the longest
movies. (Dual-layer DVDs will hold a whopping
8.8GB!) Plus, DVDs carry Dolby Digital Surround
sound, and there’s even plenty of room for
niceties such as subtitling in multiple languages. Finally, DVDs use a form of MPEG
encoding called MPEG-2, which provides a picture as good as commercial satellite TV (much
better than your average VHS tape). For complete coverage of DVD drives meant for PC use,
see Chapter 8.
Staking Out Your Visual Territory
Luckily, there’s less to remember about your computer’s monitor than there
is about your video adapter, although it’s still just as important in providing
you with the best possible display. In this section, I discuss the selling points
of a good monitor.
Like a keyboard, a monitor is something that you really need to try in person.
You need to see the monitor and its display with your own eyes before you
buy it. Often, the only difference between two monitors with similar prices is
that one simply looks better to you.
If you live in a large town with at least one or two computer stores, visit each
store and take a look at the monitors they offer. Before you decide to buy, write
down the brand name and model number of the monitor and see whether you
can buy it online or through mail order for less. (With the brand name and
model number, you can easily use Price Watch at to
locate the best prices across the entire Internet.)
Whichever monitor you choose, it must be capable of displaying SVGA graphics. Without an SVGA monitor, even the best video card and the most powerful Pentium or Athlon computer will look like those old Pong games from the
early 1980s. (Luckily, it’s getting harder to find a VGA monitor these days, for
exactly that reason.)
Part II: Building Your PC
Deciphering monitor sizes (and choosing
the one for you)
You can buy a monitor in several different sizes (all measured diagonally, like
a TV): 15-inch, 17-inch, 19-inch, 21-inch — even larger, which is especially
useful for those doing desktop-publishing or computer-aided drafting. Which
is the right size for you?
You can compare the size of your monitor with the size of your car. A 15-inch
monitor is like a ’71 Volkswagen Beetle, and a 21-inch monitor is like a Cadillac
sports sedan. They both do the same job — driving you where you want to
go — but one is faster, bigger, and more fun to drive (as well as much more
expensive). You can stretch out in the Caddy, and it has all the latest controls
and a gaggle of automatic functions that keep everything in sync — it’s the
same with the 21-inch monitor.
In general, the larger the monitor, the easier it is on your eyes, especially if
you’ll be chained in front of your computer for hours at a time. At the same
resolution, the 17-inch monitor displays the same images as the 15-inch, but
the image is physically bigger and the details stand out more clearly. When
you increase the resolution of your desktop (to 1024 x 768 or so), the monitor
size becomes more important because the smaller monitor needs to shrink
everything to fit the entire desktop on its screen.
Ever heard the adage “How big is a 19-inch TV?” Computer monitors suffer
from the same inaccuracy. Although two monitors might both be advertised
as 17 inches, one of them might have an actual viewing area of 15.9 inches,
and the other might have a viewing area of 16.1 inches. (Remember, we’re
measuring the diagonal size of the screen.) As you might expect, the second
monitor displays more than the first. The first monitor probably looks the
same size, but you’ll probably be paying for more plastic case. When you’re
shopping for a monitor, it’s worth paying a few dollars more for the monitor
with a larger actual viewing area.
For general home use, a 15-inch monitor is fine. But if you prefer larger text
and graphics, plan to do graphics-intensive work for several hours at a time,
or are a hard-core gamer, I would point you toward at least a 17-inch or 19inch monitor.
Comparing dot pitch among monitors
Although dot pitch sounds like a cartoon character, it’s actually another important figure that you can use to compare monitors while you’re out shopping.
Rather than go into an exhaustive techno-nerd discussion of electron guns,
cathode ray tubes, and magnetic fields, just keep this in mind: The lower a
monitor’s dot pitch, the more detailed and precise the display. (In fact, dot
Chapter 6: Images “R” Us: Adding Video and a Monitor
pitch refers to the distance between pixels; the smaller the dot pitch, the
closer the pixels and the more detailed the image.)
Although more expensive CRT monitors boast a .22 or .24 dot pitch, typical
LCD monitors have a .26 dot pitch, which is fine for most computer users.
Any dot pitch higher than .26 loses a noticeable amount of detail, thus resulting in a grainy appearance at higher resolutions. The higher the dot pitch, the
worse the image becomes.
Feeling refreshed?
Another feature to look for while shopping for a CRT (or tube) monitor is a high
refresh rate, which refers to the number of times per second that your video
adapter card redraws the image onscreen. The higher the refresh rate, the
better. Although the human eye can’t see it, most monitors redraw each pixel on
the screen 60 times a second (for a refresh rate of 60 Hz). The screen is drawn
line by line, starting at the top-left corner; Figure 6-2 shows you this process.
Figure 6-2:
Can you
this path 60
times a
Although you can’t see the screen being redrawn, the human eye can discern
the difference between 60 Hz and 70 Hz. The more times that the screen is
redrawn every second, the sharper, clearer, and more stable the image
appears. (You might be able to notice the flicker of your screen refreshing at
lower refresh rates by looking slightly above or to the side of the screen
because your peripheral vision can pick it up more easily.) The best monitors
now have average refresh rates of between 75 Hz and 85 Hz. If you plan to
Part II: Building Your PC
Attack of the dot-pitch piranha
There you are, shopping for a monitor at your
local computer chain store. The salesperson
swoops down like a vulture and leads you to a
remarkably cheap 19-inch monitor. “Isn’t this a
great deal?” he crows. “You get a 19-inch monitor for about the same price as a 17-inch!”
Here’s your response: Stare him straight in his
beady little eyes and ask him, “Okay, slugger,
what’s the dot pitch on this great deal?” If
his answer is something outrageous, like “a .39
dot pitch,” you can bet that the monitor probably won’t reach a higher resolution than 1024 x
768 — and the display won’t be very readable,
either! At best, you might find a monitor like this
one suitable for playing computer games at
800 x 600 resolution, although using it under
Windows will eventually drive you insane from
the grainy, smudgy-looking fonts.
These cheap monitors are usually an off-brand
because no major monitor manufacturer (such
as NEC, Sony, or Hitachi) would want to produce such a monster.
Oh, and don’t forget to smile condescendingly
at the oh-so-helpful salesperson . . . who probably just missed out on a fat bonus for selling
you a super-cheap monitor.
spend long hours in front of your monitor, you’ll probably feel less fatigued
and your eyes will be in better shape with a monitor that offers a higher
refresh rate. (Personally, I can’t use a system running at anything less than
75Hz.) Your video card needs to support a higher refresh rate, too.
Common refresh rates for today’s PCs are 72 Hz, 75 Hz, 80 Hz, and 95 Hz. (As I
said, I recommend anything above 75 Hz.) However, some very expensive
high-performance monitors (commonly used for computer-aided drafting)
can handle refresh rates over 100 Hz. Under Windows XP or Windows 2000,
your computer can automatically set the optimal refresh rate for your particular hardware combination.
Remember that the best judge of a monitor’s display is your own eye, so use it!
Therefore, I recommend that you select a monitor by shopping at your local
computer stores; then buy it online to save money.
What else makes a great monitor?
When you’re familiar with the major features of a good monitor, you’re almost
ready to go shopping. In this section, I list a number of extra features that you
should look for while selecting the monitor that works best for you. Keep in
mind that these features can appear on a good 17-inch monitor as well as on
an expensive 21-inch model:
Chapter 6: Images “R” Us: Adding Video and a Monitor
Flat screen: If you can imagine writing a document, playing a game, or
answering your e-mail on the surface of a basketball, you get some idea
of why computer owners crave CRT monitors with screens as flat as possible. Old monitors with curved tubes tend to distort the display, especially if you’re doing fine detail work, such as drafting or
desktop-publishing layout.
Flat panel: Although they’re still significantly more expensive than standard tube monitors of the same size, these color displays are a dream
come true. LCD flat-panel monitors use the same liquid-crystal technology
as laptop computer screens, so they require only 15 to 20 percent of the
depth of a regular monitor. With a flat-panel monitor, you get a truly flat,
edge-to-edge display with no distortion and gorgeous color. Flat-panel
screens also give off very little heat and use much less electricity. And,
unlike a monitor with a tube, a flat-panel display emits virtually no radiation, so it’s easier on your eyes, and you can spend longer periods of time
in front of your computer without discomfort. Once available only in 15and 17-inch models, larger 19-inch and 21-inch flat-panel displays are
becoming affordable now that the price of the technology has dropped.
If you decide on an LCD flat-panel monitor, make sure you note the
response time (given in milliseconds, such as 8 ms, 16 ms, or 20ms) — the
lower the response time, the better a flat-panel monitor will be for gaming
and digital video. If you’re a gamer or you’re into digital video, I strongly
recommend an LCD monitor with a 16ms response time or lower.
Antiglare coating: As a general rule, whatever you create or do on your
computer should shine — not the monitor itself! An antiglare screen can
be a big help in an office that is brightly lit or has many windows. If you
decide on a monitor that doesn’t have an antiglare coating, you can still
buy an antiglare panel and attach it to your monitor later.
Energy Star/DPMS compliant: All Pentium and Athlon-class motherboards sold these days have the Energy Star power management system
built in. (Before Energy Star became a standard, these motherboards
used to be called green or power-saver boards.) You can configure an
Energy Star motherboard to power down the computer while you’re off
getting doughnuts. If your monitor is Energy Star-compliant, your computer can shut the monitor down too. When you return, press a key or
move your mouse to wake up your computer, and then congratulate
yourself on saving both your money and your environment.
Some video cards can also perform this power-down function for your
monitor; see whether your card’s manual mentions that it’s Energy
Star/VESA DPMS compatible. If so, follow its instructions for enabling
the power-saving features.
Low radiation: All computer monitors emit some electromagnetic radiation. As I mentioned earlier in this section, flat-panel LCD monitors emit
the least (virtually none at all). Depending on what you read, you might
feel that computers also attract Bigfoot or UFOs — but the radiation is
Part II: Building Your PC
real. Your monitor is responsible for virtually all the electromagnetic
emissions from your computer, which makes sense when you think
about it: You’re sitting in front of a big glass tube, on the other side of
which are three big electron guns shooting a bazillion electrons at
hyperwarp speed right at your head. Before you decide to go back to
using an abacus, let me reassure you that computer monitors are safe to
use! However, many monitors are designed to further reduce electromagnetic emissions to the MPR II standard, set by the Swedish Board for
Technical Accreditation, or the more stringent European TCO standard.
If you plan to spend hours every day in front of your monitor, it’s reassuring to know that you won’t get a sunburn.
Digital controls: Older monitors have thumbwheel controls, which you
use to adjust everything from contrast and brightness to vertical and
horizontal positioning. This method is fine until your 4-year-old starts
messing with them. Techno-nerds like me favor more precise digital controls with an on-screen display (OSD) of easy-to-follow menus that make
fine-tuning your monitor’s picture more like setting your DVD player.
Most monitors with digital controls also offer separate programmable configurations that you can store in memory. If a particular program changes
the characteristics of your screen, you can load a special configuration to
take care of it rather than manually adjust your monitor each time.
Color configuration: Does that pink really look like pink to you? If your
monitor supports color configuration, you can change the hue of the
colors displayed by your monitor. This feature is a real killer for users
who do desktop publishing and image editing — they can adjust their
colors to match the Pantone color chart used by printers.
Built-in speakers: Built-in speakers aren’t for everyone because they
usually add a considerable amount to the price of your monitor, and the
stereo separation from speakers that are only a few inches apart is
pretty dismal. (Remember that the sound card has jacks that enable you
to add your own external speakers, which typically sell for less than $30
a pair. For more information, see Chapter 9.) However, if you’re looking
for convenience and you want to save desktop space, you can investigate a monitor with built-in speakers.
Tilt/swivel pedestal: Older CGA and EGA monitors usually came with
little pop-up legs, but any good-quality monitor that you buy today
should have a base that tilts and swivels. Your neck will thank you! If
you’ve scavenged an older VGA monitor without a base, you can also
pick up a tilting monitor stand at most computer stores.
Take it from someone who spends hours a day writing at the keyboard:
Elevating your monitor correctly is important. You should be able to sit
down at your keyboard and type naturally, with your monitor at eye
level and at least two feet distant from your eyes. With a properly positioned monitor, you should be able to work without undue strain on
your neck or your eyes.
Chapter 6: Images “R” Us: Adding Video and a Monitor
Warranty: Because you can use an SVGA monitor with just about any
IBM-compatible computer that you might build in the foreseeable future,
it’s worth paying extra for a longer warranty. Most top monitors these
days have a three- to five-year warranty; economy models typically offer
only a one-year warranty.
Installing a Video Adapter Card
In this section, I show you how to add your video adapter card to your chassis.
Your video adapter card will have one VGA port on the side of the card itself.
Today’s video cards are jumperless, or plug and play, which means they configure themselves automatically for your computer. For example, Windows XP
and Windows 2003 Server can usually set up a plug-and-play video card automatically. If you have one of these video cards, congratulate yourself for your
good choice, although it’s still a good idea to check your manual for any lastminute instructions that might apply to your operating system.
To install your video adapter card, follow these instructions:
1. Touch a metal surface before you handle your video card (or anything
else on your computer).
Let me guess: You’ve been making balloon animals to amuse your kids?
If so, your skin is now one big conductor for static electricity, and that
static could damage your video card.
2. If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it.
3. Locate an adapter card slot of the proper length at the back of your
computer case.
If you have an AGP or a PCI-Express video card and an Athlon or
Pentium 4 motherboard, you should be able to easily locate the single
AGP or PCI-Express slot. (It’s usually in the middle of the motherboard.)
If you have a 32-bit PCI video card, use one of the shorter PCI adapter
card slots. (Need help identifying what type of card slots you have?
Chapter 4 illustrates these slots.)
Most video adapter cards meant for Pentium-class computers these
days fit only in an AGP slot or a PCI-Express slot.
4. When you locate the slot, take your favorite screwdriver and remove
the screw and the metal slot cover at the back of the case.
Stick both parts in your spare-parts box.
Part II: Building Your PC
5. Pick up your video adapter card by the top corners. Line up the connector on the bottom of the card with the slot on the motherboard.
All the connectors and any notches on the video card should line up
with the slot; the card’s metal bracket should align with the open space
created when you removed the slot cover.
Does the adapter card have extra connectors that aren’t positioned
above the slot? If so, you’re trying to fit a “square peg into a round hole”!
Look for a slot that has matching connectors and notches.
6. If everything lines up as it should, apply even pressure to the top of
the card and push it down into the slot on the motherboard.
Although you won’t hear a click, you should be able to tell when the card
is firmly seated, and the bracket should be resting tightly against the case.
Remember: Never apply undue force — the card should pop in easily!
7. Add the screw to the corresponding hole in the bracket and tighten
down the bracket, but don’t overtighten it.
Connecting Your Monitor
Connecting your monitor to your computer is a simple task. Luckily, the VGA
video port and cable connect only if they’re correctly aligned. (The same is
true for a DVI connector, although most PC owners still use the VGA port.)
To connect your monitor to a VGA port, follow these instructions:
1. Locate the VGA video port on the back of your case.
Although the port is about the size of a serial port, notice that the VGA
port has 15 pins. (You can see this illustrated in Chapter 5.)
2. Align the connector on the end of the monitor cable with the video port.
The angled edges on the connector are designed to make sure that it
goes in only the right way.
3. When the connector is aligned correctly with the video port, push the
connector in firmly.
4. If you want, you can tighten the connector by turning the knobs on
the connector clockwise.
Some connectors use screws instead, and you’ll need a very small
screwdriver to tighten these connectors. If you feel that the connector is
in firmly, you can leave it as is.
5. Plug the three-prong power cord that came with your monitor into the
matching connector on the back of your monitor’s case.
Push the plug in firmly to make sure that it doesn’t pop out.
Chapter 6: Images “R” Us: Adding Video and a Monitor
6. Plug the monitor’s power cable into your friendly local wall socket.
If your wall socket accepts only two prongs — indicating that it isn’t
grounded — I would heartily recommend that you relocate your computer to a socket that is grounded instead of sticking an adapter plug on
the cable.
In case you noticed, the connector on the monitor end of your monitor’s power
cable and the connector on the computer end of your computer’s power cable
are probably similar — in fact, they’re likely to be interchangeable unless
you’re using a new flat-panel LCD display. Interchangeable cables were one of
the first things that someone designed correctly for the IBM line of personal
computers. Interchangeable cables let you grab whatever standard power
cable is around and use it on either your computer or your monitor. Most
techno-types have at least one or two spare power cables in their parts box.
Hey, I Can Finally (Kind of) Boot!
That’s right, you’re finally going to see something on the screen after completing this chapter’s tests. You can also visually check to make sure that your CPU
and RAM modules are correctly recognized by your motherboard at this point.
Is a screensaver really necessary?
Do you need to protect your monitor by using a
screensaver? This question is asked so often by
new computer owners that I’d like to answer it
for you here: No. Modern SVGA color monitors
don’t suffer from burn-in, as did the old monochrome monitors that were originally paired
with IBM PCs, XTs, and ATs. Burn-in was a particularly horrible fate for a monochrome monitor; if left on for hours on end with the same
display, the image would be literally burned into
the monitor tube. That shadowy image would be
visible even while you worked on other programs. Even today, you can still see one of these
relics from time to time; check out the screen on
your bank’s ATM machine!
However, if you run Windows XP or Windows
2000, you get one or two screensavers for free
anyway — those screensavers do come in
handy for the following:
Password protection: If you need a simple
measure of security at your home or office,
you can password-protect a screensaver,
which prevents anyone else from using
your computer. Be careful, though, because
it is still possible to bypass the screensaver
by rebooting the computer (turning it off and
then on again).
Messages: You can configure some screensavers to display a scrolling message, which
is perfect for letting fellow workers know
where you are and when you’ll be back.
Anger management: Some screensavers
are humorous enough to keep you from
losing your cool on a particularly bad day.
Part II: Building Your PC
If you’ve unplugged your PC, plug it back in now. Push the power switch on your
monitor and then push the power switch on the front or back of your case.
To make sure that your computer recognizes all your stuff correctly, you
should turn on your monitor and any external parts, such as your modem or
printer, before turning on your computer (or at the same time). The easiest
and most convenient way to do this is to connect all the power cables from
your various computer devices into the same surge protector or uninterruptible power supply (UPS). This way, you can turn the entire system on or off
with a single flip of one switch, and your entire system is also protected
against indirect power surges from lightning strikes or alien encounters.
If you’ve correctly installed your video adapter and connected your monitor
cable, the following should happen:
1. You should see a message on your screen, which identifies either the
video adapter or the motherboard.
It doesn’t matter which you see. The important thing is that your monitor is displaying the message.
Troubleshooting: If your monitor doesn’t display any text, check the
installation of your video card and then make sure that the monitor
cable is firmly connected and that you plugged in your monitor. Also,
make sure that you’ve set both the contrast and brightness on your
monitor to medium.
2. After a few seconds, you should see your computer counting the amount
of RAM on your motherboard.
Actually, your computer is testing your computer’s RAM, so watch to
make sure that you have all the memory that you should have and that
no error messages are displayed.
Troubleshooting: If your computer returns an error message about
your system memory or RAM, go to Chapter 4 and check your RAM to
make sure that you installed it correctly. You might also need to consult
your motherboard’s manual to make certain you chose the right bank in
which to add RAM.
3. If the RAM test goes okay, your computer will probably show a screen
detailing all the parts it can find (such as what CPU you have), how
much RAM you have, and how many ports it can locate.
Troubleshooting: If your computer locks up, return to Chapter 4 and
double-check your CPU installation.
Chapter 6: Images “R” Us: Adding Video and a Monitor
4. At this point in the boot process, your computer tries to find a hard
drive or floppy drive and promptly gets upset when it doesn’t find them.
Poor thing — your computer will probably beep once or twice and then
sulk in frustration.
Troubleshooting: No beep? Check your PC’s internal speaker to make
sure that it’s properly connected.
5. Turn off your computer, pet the case affectionately, and reassure your
half-assembled chassis that you will be adding a hard drive and floppy
drive in Chapter 7.
If your machine completed this test, you’ve successfully added your
video adapter and monitor to your system — good going!
Part II: Building Your PC
Chapter 7
Make Room! Your Hard Drive
and Other Storage Devices
In This Chapter
Shopping for a fast hard drive
Determining how much capacity you need
Using multiple hard drives
Selecting a drive controller
Adding a floppy disk drive
Backing up your data to tape
Using removable media: REV and Zip drives
Connecting your controller card
Installing your hard drive, floppy drive, and tape backup
Configuring your hard drive
Formatting your hard drive
h, the quest for storage. Whose domicile ever has enough closets and
room for all your stuff? (Even Bill Gates probably needs another closet.)
Likewise, your new computer needs a warehouse to permanently store all
those programs and all that data that you’ll be using. And for that, you need a
hard drive. Of course, you could simply run your trusty Web browser, jump
to your favorite online hardware mega-super-colossal-mall and buy the first
hard drive that you see. If you’re looking for the best value, however, you
should take your time and consider your options. To make an informed
choice while you’re shopping (and to make the installation easier), you need
to know which hard drive features and specifications are most important.
Although you can consider a hard drive to be the main memory “closet” of
your computer, it isn’t the only magnetic storage device that your computer
Part II: Building Your PC
can use. In this chapter, I also introduce you to alternative data storage
options such as
Floppy disk drives
Tape backups to protect against the loss of your valuable data
2GB universal serial bus (USB) drives no bigger than a key chain
You can also store data by writing it to CD or DVD using laser light — hence
the moniker optical drive — but I cover that in Chapter 8.
“Be Vewy Quiet . . . I’m Hunting
for Hawd Dwives!”
If you’ve started looking in ads or online for hard drives, you’re probably
drowning in techno-babble and funny numbers and odd acronyms. Is it EIDE
or E-I-E-I-O? Who would want to buy something that’s SCSI (skuzzy)? Little
Miss Muffet SATA on a tuffet? (Okay, that last one was a stretch, but I couldn’t
help it.)
To help you select a hard drive that’s suitable for your system, get ready
because the acronyms and jargon are going to flow fast and free through this
section. You’ll find out more about what types of hard drives will fit in your
computer, and the advantages and disadvantages of each breed of hard drive.
Then you use this information to determine which type of hard drive is
appropriate for your needs.
Luckily, today’s PCs use only three major types of internal hard drive
Enhanced IDE hard drives
An enhanced IDE (commonly known as EIDE) hard drive is the successor to
the IDE (or integrated drive electronics) throne, which in turn was based
upon the ATA interface standard introduced back in the hoary days of 1986.
The enhanced part of the name simply means that these drives are smaller,
run faster, and have more storage capacity. As you can guess from its name,
an IDE drive carries onboard most of the electronics that were located on a
hard drive controller card. Enhanced IDE is the single most popular hard
drive technology, and this type of drive is used in just about every PC manufactured today. Most EIDE adapter cards can control a maximum of four EIDE
devices (including hard drives, tape backup drives, and CD/DVD recorders).
Chapter 7: Make Room! Your Hard Drive and Other Storage Devices
By the way, EIDE drives are also called PATA (that’s short for Parallel ATA)
devices. This gets important in the next section, as you’ll see.
Figure 7-1 illustrates the business end of a modern EIDE drive. Note the appearance and position of the power connector, the ribbon cable connector, and the
master/slave jumper set. (Note: You need to be familiar with all three components when you install your hard drive.) These components might be in different spots on your particular hard drive, but they’re there somewhere — check
your hard drive documentation for their exact location. The master/slave
jumper is particularly important: The setting that you choose for this jumper
determines whether the drive is the primary (master) drive or the secondary
(slave) drive in a PC with two hard drives. If you have only one drive, you
should select master drive. Your hard drive jumper diagram (which usually
appears printed on top of the drive) provides the settings for the master/slave
jumper, and you’ll find more about jumpers in Chapter 3.
Cable se
Slave ct
Figure 7-1:
hard drive
is the
of today’s
Serial ATA hard drives
For most PC owners, an EIDE (PATA) drive is probably the best choice — but if
you’re willing to spend a few dollars more, you can join the ranks of the SATA
faithful (short for serial ATA, as opposed to parallel ATA for EIDE drives). The
SATA interface delivers data back and forth between your PC and your hard
drive significantly faster than EIDE/PATA — about 20 MBps faster — and the
cable itself is smaller (which allows for better airflow inside your PC’s chassis), about half an inch wide.
SATA devices also require a different power connector, which uses 15 pins —
therefore, you’ll never mix up a SATA power cable with a standard EIDE/PATA
Part II: Building Your PC
power cable, which has only 4 pins. In fact, many SATA hard drives include
one of each type of power plug (like you see in Figure 7-2), just in case you’re
using an older power supply that doesn’t have a SATA plug. If your SATA device
doesn’t have a legacy 4-pin power plug, you’ll have to pick up a converter at
your local computer store; one end of the converter connects to the 4-pin
plug from your power supply, and the other fits your SATA drive.
Besides the simplified cable connections and the performance boost, SATA
drives have one huge advantage: no master/slave jumper! A SATA drive is
designated as primary or secondary according to the cable connection you
make on the motherboard, so there are no jumpers to set. (Remember,
today’s motherboards are typically equipped with two SATA connectors and
two EIDE/PATA connectors. For each type of interface, one connector will be
called the primary and one will be called the secondary.)
Serial cable
SATA drive
SATA power
Parallel cable
Serial data
interface connector
Diagnostic jumper
Figure 7-2:
the cables
and connectors
of an
drive and a
SATA drive.
EIDE drive
Parallel data
interface connector
jumper settings
Legacy power
Chapter 7: Make Room! Your Hard Drive and Other Storage Devices
Okay, I almost forgot another plus for SATA drives: They can be unplugged
and swapped without turning off your PC (a procedure called hot swapping).
This is more of an issue for server PCs that normally never get turned off, but
recently I’ve seen consumer desktop and tower cases that offer slide-in/slideout device bays that allow techies to easily swap SATA drives.
SCSI hard drives
SCSI is short for small computer system interface, which is a power user’s
dream. (Unfortunately, you really do pronounce it scuz-zee.) Many SCSI
adapters can move data far faster than even a SATA drive. SCSI hard drives
are often found on network server computers, dedicated high-power gaming
machines, and 3-D graphics workstations. (The SCSI hard drive was once the
standard for all Macintosh computers — something to remember for your
next techno-trivia game.)
SCSI speed isn’t limited to hard drives, however: A typical SCSI adapter can
connect as many as seven SCSI devices to your computer (including scanners
and CD recorders). Some variants of SCSI can support as many as fifteen
devices. (For complete details on SCSI and what it can do for your PC, jump
to Chapter 11.)
Ah, but there’s a caveat: SCSI adapter cards, drives, and devices can be the
most aggravating beasts on the face of this planet to install and configure.
A hard drive genealogy
Hard drives have developed quickly over the
years, and the hallowed family of older abbreviations and acronyms is proof. In fact, the following acronyms are so old that I don’t even
bother spelling them out.
In the beginning, computers used MFM and RLL
drives, which were big, heavy clunkers that
actually used voice coil magnets (the kind of
magnets used in stereo speakers). These hard
drives took up half the computer’s case. Most of
us old-timers fondly remember an MFM drive
thrashing around on our desktops — and
because these drives used speaker magnets,
they would literally shake from time to time. You
can’t buy one of these drives these days unless
you jump into a time machine.
The next arrival was the ESDI interface, which
was a hot, new item that took hard drives to
faster speeds and larger capacities. ESDIs
needed new controllers, and every power user
jumped on the bandwagon. Again, you can
promptly forget about them.
IDE drives were next on the horizon, and some
are still around. These drives were much
smaller, lasted longer, and ran faster than earlier models. You can still find IDE drives on some
386 and most 486 computers, happily chugging
away with aplomb. (They have no idea they’re
Part II: Building Your PC
Unlike EIDE, which requires you to set only a single jumper (or SATA, which
needs no jumpers), a SCSI device chain requires correct termination and a
unique SCSI ID number for each device. Many a computer guru has snapped
from the frustration of trying to force a cantankerous SCSI card to work properly. (Usually these cards get thrown off a local bridge and settle to the
bottom, where they irritate even the fish.)
Comparing EIDE, SATA,
and SCSI hard drives
“Okay,” you say, “SCSI or SATA wins, right?” Wrong, believe it or not.
EIDE/PATA is still the hard drive of choice for three important reasons:
Less expensive: EIDE drives and adapter cards are typically less expensive than SCSI and SATA hardware, which makes EIDE more popular with
computer manufacturers.
No significant performance difference: Not every computer application
sees a dramatic performance increase from faster SATA and SCSI hardware. For example, your word processor doesn’t perform any better
with a SATA drive than with an EIDE drive because hard disk access isn’t
important while you’re typing.
More popular with hardware manufacturers: At the time of this writing, most CD/DVD recorders, internal tape drives, and internal cartridge
drives still use EIDE connections — and as long as the common denominator is still EIDE/PATA instead of SATA, EIDE will remain King of the Hill!
I agree that SATA is indeed superior to EIDE hardware, and it is slowly but
surely replacing EIDE as a standard. In a couple of years, it will be harder and
harder to buy a new EIDE drive, and many techs are predicting the upcoming
demise of SCSI as well.
Don’t give up entirely on SCSI, though. I describe it in detail in Chapter 11 and
even show you how to install it. In fact, you can mix SCSI, SATA, and EIDE
hardware in the same computer; if you find that you need a SCSI device chain
after your computer is up and running with an EIDE or a SATA drive, you can
add it. (This is a great idea for those that want a speedy high-resolution scanner or multiple DVD recording system added to their existing PC.)
More stuff about hard drives
What specifications does a smart shopper look for in an EIDE drive? Here are
a few:
Chapter 7: Make Room! Your Hard Drive and Other Storage Devices
Storage capacity: No big mystery here. The more storage capacity, the
more data you can store on a drive. Although an obsolete MFM drive of
50MB was considered overkill in its day, modern EIDE drives hold anywhere from 60GB to more than 300GB. Hard drive capacities are always
increasing over time.
On average, most home computers running Windows XP need at least
20GB of hard drive space. For an office computer, the size of your hard
drive is more dependent on what type of programs you run; some office
software suites take up an entire gigabyte of space all by themselves. My
personal recommendation? It’s always a good idea to buy a drive so large
that you can’t imagine ever running out of space — believe me, my friend,
you’ll fill it up! I would suggest a drive of at least 60GB, which will set you
back less than $75. Remember, that’s a bare minimum; gamers, digital photographers, and digital video connoisseurs will want far more room.
Access time: A drive’s access time (sometimes called seek time) is a measurement of how fast the drive can read and write data. The lower the
number, the faster the drive. This time is measured in milliseconds (ms),
and it’s usually listed next to the drive in advertisements. Naturally, the
faster the drive, the more expensive it is. (Just once, I’d like the best of
something to be the cheapest.)
Today’s fastest EIDE drives have access times of around 7 ms, although
any speed under 10 ms should be fast enough for your Pentium computer. If you’re a power user with a Pentium 4 or Athlon XP processor,
stick with a drive below 10 ms. Super-fast SATA drives often deliver
access times around 5 ms.
rpm: At last, an abbreviation that most of us understand! Yes indeed, this
is your old friend, revolutions per minute, and it measures the speed at
which the platters within your hard drive are moving. (The platters are the
spinning discs in your hard drive that store data magnetically.) In general,
the faster the rpm, the faster the drive can retrieve data. Before you strap
a tachometer onto your drive, however, you should know that rpm is not
as accurate as access time in predicting a drive’s performance. I recommend a drive with a minimum of 7200 rpm (my Western Digital Raptor
SATA drive spins at 10,000 rpm, and Windows XP feels like a Ferrari).
Size: Most drives are 31⁄2 inches, which means that they fit in a standard
31⁄2-inch bay. (Most PC cases have one of these bays left open: It’s reserved
for your floppy disk drive. However, these bays can be covered as well,
without an outside opening — perfect for a hard drive’s nest.) If you have
an available standard half-height 51⁄4-inch bay in your case, you need a
drive cage kit to enable the 31⁄2-inch drive to fit. A drive cage is simply a
metal square that holds the smaller 31⁄2-inch drive inside; in turn, the cage
is fastened to the computer chassis as if it were a 51⁄4-inch device.
Cache: A hard drive’s cache (sometimes called a buffer) holds data that’s
used frequently (or will soon be needed) by your central processing unit
(CPU). With a disk cache, the hard drive itself doesn’t have to re-read that
Part II: Building Your PC
data. As you might guess, the larger the cache, the better (and usually the
more expensive) the drive. I recommend a drive with at least an 8MB
Warranty: A hard drive is one of the few parts in your computer that is
both complex and has moving parts of its own. A typical hard drive has
a reliable lifetime of about six years or so under normal use. The standard industry warranty for hard drives is three years, although you can
find drives with warranties as long as five years.
If you’re contemplating using a scavenged drive, consider the condition of
the drive carefully before using it. For example, if the drive is more than three
or four years old (or if it’s been used for several hours every day for two or
three years), it’s already well past middle age, and it’s certainly not fast
enough for a new Pentium 4 system. In essence, you’ll be slowing down your
entire computer if you use it. Also, older drives usually hold well under 20GB
and perhaps as little as 5GB. With the size of today’s Windows operating systems, a lower-capacity hard drive under 20GB doesn’t give you much room
for additional programs or data files. I urge you to consider a new hard drive
that uses the latest technology.
The Ancient Floppy Still Lives
Once upon a time, long before modems and networks, only one way existed
to transfer information from one computer to another, back up your computer files, or store data offsite: the floppy disk. The floppy disk was an icon,
a universally recognized symbol that everyone revered, and if you didn’t
have a drawer full of floppies — well, Bucko, you just weren’t with it!
Why aren’t floppies trendy anymore?
A number of things have led to the gradual decline in importance of the
floppy disk:
Too fragile: Floppy disks are the most fragile of magnetic media. Even
the plastic case of a 31⁄2-inch floppy disk isn’t much protection, and
floppy disks are infamous for simply losing data through exposure to
magnetic fields, heat, and simple old age. (Ahem: Never, never put floppy
disks on top of your stereo speakers. The next time that you play Jimi
Hendrix, they’re goners!)
Too small: The development of really big programs — that is, programs
that would require forty floppy disks — produced the perfect environment for the arrival of the CD-ROM. (For the full story on CD-ROMs and
DVDs, hop over to Chapter 8.)
Chapter 7: Make Room! Your Hard Drive and Other Storage Devices
Too slow: A program that takes 20 seconds to load from a floppy is
loaded in less than 1 second from a hard drive. It’s not practical to run a
program from a floppy drive or access files regularly from a floppy.
Despite all these drawbacks, floppy drives are still standard equipment on
computers partly because of the universal nature of 31⁄2-inch floppy disks.
They’ve been around for so long, and everyone’s so accustomed to them,
that no computer manufacturer wants to take the plunge and produce a computer without a floppy drive. (Unless, of course, you’re interested in a new
Macintosh computer such as the G4 desktop or the iMac — but if you are,
why are you reading this book?)
Another reason for the continued survival of the 31⁄2-inch floppy is that all computer users still need some form of removable storage, and floppy drives are
cheap. Better forms of removable media have been developed — for example,
the Zip drive, which I mention later in this chapter. However, these other
removable media drives are more expensive to produce and aren’t universal.
IBM once attempted to make 2.88MB disks a standard, but that concept was
met with hoots of derision by most of the computing world. By that time, digital video and audio had arrived on the Web and on CD-ROM, and even a
small digital video or digital audio file probably wouldn’t fit on a single floppy
disk, even if that floppy could hold 2.88MB. (Hence the hoots.)
Also, important data still resides on 31⁄2-inch floppies around the world. (On
unreliable, potentially unstable floppies. Makes you shudder thinking about
it, eh?)
Selecting a floppy drive
There isn’t much in the way of features to look for when you’re buying a
floppy disk drive. Color is one, however — you can easily buy a black floppy
drive to match that smashing ebony case you bought for your new system.
Don’t Forget Your Controller Card
Many motherboards sold these days feature more than just integrated serial
ports and parallel ports. All modern motherboards already have at least a builtin EIDE hard drive and floppy drive controller. A controller directs the flow of
data to and from your hard drives, floppy drives, and any additional devices.
Here are three other features that you should consider for your motherboard’s built-in controller:
Part II: Building Your PC
SATA support: Motherboard manufacturers are rapidly adopting the
SATA standard, but it’s still easy to buy a motherboard that doesn’t
include SATA support. If you’re itching to push the performance of your
PC to the limit, make sure your new motherboard has the SATA connectors you need.
RAID support: Great, another acronym. This one stands for redundant
array of independent disks. In plain speech, a RAID is a combination of
two or more hard drives linked together by your motherboard’s onboard
controller. A RAID can be configured to boost the transfer speed for the
files on the array’s hard drives or to provide redundant (backup) copies
of those files in case one of the hard drives fails. Either way, most home
PC owners should probably steer clear of a RAID — just make sure you
back up your data. (Heck, even a RAID needs to be backed up regularly.)
Cache: A controller memory cache stores data that’s used often or that
your CPU will probably require very soon. It improves performance
because the CPU can retrieve the data from the memory cache, which is
much faster than re-reading it from the drive. Don’t spend any extra on a
caching controller, however, unless you’re a power user intent on cutting-edge gaming or professional-quality video editing (or you plan to
use your computer as a network server or something equally taxing). A
“Cunningham Edition” home PC or a simple office PC really doesn’t need
such high-speed disk access.
Backing Up Your Data
One thing that floppy disks were once good for was backing up your hard
drive. Of course in those days, a hard drive held 50MB or 75MB, so you
needed only a box or two of 31⁄2-inch high-density floppies to do the job.
However, no one would even consider backing up one of today’s 180GB hard
drives on 1.44MB floppy disks. No one deserves punishment like that. (Well,
maybe spammers and hackers.) To be honest, many computer owners don’t
back up their data.
Now, consider that statement carefully because, unfortunately, it’s true. The
vast majority of computer owners in the world have absolutely no recourse if
their hard drive fails or if they happen to delete the wrong file or directory. If
your data is important to you — and I’m certainly assuming that it is — can
you really afford to lose it all in a few seconds? If you answered, “No,” keep
reading. If you answered, “Yes,” I’m wondering why you need a computer in
the first place.
Three popular solutions exist for backing up your data easily: a tape backup
unit, a Zip drive, and a CD or DVD recorder. I discuss tape backups and the
Zip drive in the following sections, and I attack CD and DVD recorders in
Chapter 8.
Chapter 7: Make Room! Your Hard Drive and Other Storage Devices
I should also mention that some companies now sell external hard drives that
are especially made for backing up your internal hard drives. A USB 2.0 or
FireWire external drive is well-suited for backing up data, as long as you keep
that external drive safely stored away while you’re not using it.
Whichever method you choose to back up your data, I strongly urge you to
make it a habit to back up once a week or once a month, depending on how
often the important data on your drive changes.
I back up my entire system to DVD+RW once a week. However, to back up
individual files conveniently, you can still use floppy disks. Although they can
only hold 1.44MB, floppy disks work well to back up smaller files that you’re
working on — Word document files or address book data, for example. These
files are small enough to fit easily on a single floppy, and no fancy backup
software is required. For example, I simply copy the latest versions of the
files that I’m working on to a floppy, and copy the files back to my hard drive
in case I do something really dumb. Remember, however, that you can’t rely
on floppy disks as permanent backup — instead, consider a 512MB or 1GB
USB flash drive, which is much more reliable and scads faster than a floppy!
Selecting a Tape Drive
Before I leap into the discussion of tape backups, I should note why they’re
still around. After all, backups made to CD and DVD are more reliable in the
long run than any tape backup because optical storage is superior to magnetic storage! However, the huge capacities of today’s hard drives keep tape
backup systems in vogue because a tape can hold much more than even a
DVD disc. This is especially attractive when backing up a network server or if
you schedule automated backups. With a tape drive, you can back up your
120GB drive with three tapes; that same backup to DVD+RW would take
twenty-eight discs!
Tape drives vary widely in speed and capacity. Older QIC-80 models, which used
to be the standard, maxed out at about 250MB per tape (with compression —
the tape actually held only 120MB, but the backup software compressed the
data as it was written to tape, so you could squeeze as much as 50 percent
more data onto one tape). Typical speeds were about 10MB per minute,
although some drive manufacturers offered proprietary tape drive adapter
cards that could boost speeds to as much as 19MB per minute.
However, even backing up 250MB at a time has become anachronistic, so the
QIC-80 standard was updated to a technology named Travan, which can hold
anywhere from 10GB to 40GB of compressed data per tape. These drives can
typically save data at anywhere from 100 to 240MB per minute. Figure 7-3
shows a typical Travan drive.
Part II: Building Your PC
Figure 7-3:
A standard
internal tape
drive, which
holds as
much as
40GB of
data per
Most Travan drives are internal drives and take up a single half-height bay.
Although some Travan drives require a separate controller card (which should
be provided along with the drive), most either connect to your floppy drive
cable or act as another EIDE or SCSI device. You can also find external tape
backup units that connect to your USB. These external tape drives are good for
office use or if you have both a laptop and a desktop computer and want to
back up the data on both of them, although they’re typically somewhat slower
than the EIDE or SCSI model. You can pick up a Travan drive for less than $300.
The Cadillac of tape backup units is the digital audio tape (DAT) drive, which
is several times faster than a Travan drive in both backing up and restoring
files. Digital audio tapes can hold anywhere from 4GB to 80GB of data on a
single tape, so if you’re looking for a backup solution with the least amount of
tape swapping, DAT is your choice. As you might expect, these drives are
more expensive, averaging about $600. Digital audio tapes are far more reliable than older magnetic backup tapes, and they’re faster than Travan drives.
Hey, You Just Removed Your Media!
In this section, I tell you about an old friend that enables you to take 750MB
of data and run with it — or mail it, or toss it to a co-worker, or even lock it in
a safety deposit box. I’m talking about the popular Zip removable-media drive
from Iomega ( A removable media drive enables you to
insert and remove cartridges (or, in some cases, actual hard drive platters)
so that you can take your data with you.
Chapter 7: Make Room! Your Hard Drive and Other Storage Devices
Do you really need removable storage,
or are you just fascinated by toys?
To be honest, you don’t absolutely need a
removable storage drive unless your primary
application fits one of these criteria:
lock it up so that others have no access to
it. Zip drives make taking your important
data with you easy.
File size: If you plan to send or receive files
that can’t be efficiently sent over the
Internet or by floppy disk (perhaps because
the files are just too big), you’d benefit from
a removable media solution. For example,
publishers and printers love to use Zip
drives to send desktop-publishing files.
Archiving: If you want to store information
without filling up your hard drive, a Zip drive
can act as a warehouse for archiving data.
Security/portability: If security is an issue
and you want to protect your data, the best
way to do so is to take your data with you or
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Ah, but don’t forget
that a DVD-RW or DVD+RW disc can hold far
more at 4.7GB! If you’re planning on adding a
DVD recorder to your PC, a Zip drive is less
important. Instead, consider Iomega’s new REV
removable-cartridge hard drive, which can
store 35GB on a single cartridge.
The Zip drive: The floppy with muscle
Iomega caused a minor revolution by introducing the Zip drive, which uses a
cartridge similar in size and shape to a standard 1.44MB 31⁄2-inch floppy. The
original Zip drive held 100MB; the newest model holds 750MB of data and
accesses that data much faster than your old friend, the floppy drive. The Zip
drive features an average seek time of 29 ms. (See “More stuff about hard
drives,” earlier in this chapter, if you’re not sure what seek time, also called
access time, is.)
Although each Zip disk sells for anywhere from $10 to $25, the ability to store
750MB means that you can carry those digital video and audio files, or perhaps the contents of an entire Web site — all on a disk that you can carry in
your pocket. Techno-nerds around the globe can breathe a sigh of relief.
With the set of Zip utility programs that come with the drive, you can password-protect a disk or catalog the contents of all your disks so that you can
locate a single file easily. Iomega also includes a simple-to-use backup and
restore program with both versions of the Zip drive.
The Zip drive is available in external USB and internal EIDE versions. At the
time this chapter was written, both versions were about $150.
Part II: Building Your PC
Of course, Zip drives have disadvantages as well:
Zip drives are far slower than recordable CDs and DVDs
Every PC that needs to read your disk needs a Zip drive as well
CD-RW and DVD-RW drives and media are cheaper than Zip drives and
For these reasons, both my technical editor and I prefer rewriteable CD-RW
discs to Zip disks — a CD-RW can be read on just about any PC, and much
faster to boot.
The REV has landed
If you want a removable media drive with 35GB of capacity and a wealth of
connection options, you’re asking for the Iomega REV drive. REV cartridge
drives are available with USB, FireWire (or IEEE 1394), and SCSI external connections and with internal EIDE, SATA, and SCSI drives. At a street price of
around $350 for the internal versions (and around $60 per cartridge), the REV
is an economical choice, too. The REV cartridge is essentially a hard drive
subsystem, with the platters enclosed and protected. When you load the cartridge into the REV drive, you end up with a complete hard drive, ready to
use. These cartridges are sturdy enough to mail or ship across town or around
the world — but remember, the person on the receiving end will need their
own REV drive to read that cartridge!
The average access time for the REV drive is close to that of a traditional
hard drive — much faster than a CD or DVD disc — so it’s a good choice for
retrieving digital video and sound files for your multimedia projects. You can
also use the REV drive as a fast backup unit for selected directories on your
hard drive; a simple backup application is included with the drive.
If you’re running multiple operating systems — for instance, Windows XP and
Linux on the same PC — removable cartridge drives such as the REV make it
easy to store files that you use with “that other operating system” when you’re
not using it. For example, a friend of mine stores his Linux source code and
compiler files on his REV drive so that they don’t take up valuable space on his
hard drive — and he can carry them with him when he travels out of town!
Connecting Your Drive Controller
A hard drive is an expensive doorstop unless you connect it to your motherboard — and in this section, I’ll show you how to connect that all-important
EIDE or SATA cable. Remember that your EIDE or SATA controller is built into
your motherboard — congratulate yourself. After you’ve completed this
Chapter 7: Make Room! Your Hard Drive and Other Storage Devices
section, continue to the installation of your hard drive and floppy drive, which
I cover in the following sections. These same steps apply also to built-in SATA
Ready? Then follow these steps to connect your cables:
1. Oh, my goodness — you’ve been struck by lightning! Now is not the
time to install a computer component. In case you can’t wait, however,
touch a metal surface before you handle anything.
This action discharges any static electricity that your body might be
2. If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it.
3. Check your motherboard manual for the location of two connectors:
• One connector attaches one end of the hard drive cable to the
motherboard (either EIDE or SATA).
• The other connector attaches one end of the cable from your
floppy drive to the motherboard.
4. Attach the cables that came with your controller or motherboard to
these connectors, as shown in your manual.
No manual for your scavenged motherboard? Check the manufacturer’s
Web site, or visit your local computer repair shop and ask a tech to identify them for you.
Make sure that you connect the correct cable to each connector. The
floppy drive cable usually has a twist in it toward the end that connects
to the drive.
For any flat ribbon cable connector that you attach to an EIDE drive or your
motherboard, pin 1 on the male connector must always match the hole for
pin 1 on the female connector. In almost every case, pin 1 on the male connector is the pin in the upper-left corner of the connector. “Okay,” you say,
“but how can I tell which side of the ribbon cable is wire 1?” No problem —
every ribbon cable has one wire that’s painted red or somehow marked with
a design (or lettering, perhaps). That wire is wire 1, which should always connect to pin 1. Figure 7-4 illustrates this phenomenon.
Installing Your EIDE Hard Drive
Installing an EIDE hard drive is a simple procedure. Follow these steps:
1. Just finished combing your hair? Now that you look marvelous, touch
a metal surface before you handle your drive.
This action discharges any static electricity that you might have picked up.
Part II: Building Your PC
2. If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it.
3. If you’re installing only one drive, check the jumper settings on your
hard drive to make sure that they’re set for single drive, master unit.
This setting is the default factory setting for most drives, although it
never hurts to be sure. If the jumpers aren’t set correctly, move them to
the correct positions for single drive, master unit. If you’re installing two
devices (or a second device on a PC that already has one EIDE hard
drive), your EIDE hard drive must be set as multiple drives, master unit,
and the other device should be set as multiple drives, slave unit.
4. Select an open drive bay for your hard drive.
Depending on the size of your drive, it might fit in a 31⁄2-inch bay, or you
might have to use a 51⁄4-inch half-height bay. If you want to fit a 31⁄2-inch
drive into a 51⁄4-inch half-height bay, you need a drive cage kit, which contains rails that fit on the side of the hard drive, bringing its total width to
51⁄4 inches.
5. If your drive needs a cage kit, attach it by using the screws that came
with your drive to attach the cage rails onto both sides of your drive.
If the drive is the same size as the open bay, you don’t need a cage kit
and you can simply skip to Step 6.
6. Slide the drive into the selected bay from the front of the case.
The end with the connectors should go in first, and the electronic stuff
should be on the bottom, as in Figure 7-5.
Pin 1
Figure 7-4:
Pin 1 on
the male
be on the
same side
as wire 1 on
a ribbon
Marked edge of
ribbon cable
indicates wire 1
Chapter 7: Make Room! Your Hard Drive and Other Storage Devices
Figure 7-5:
The drive
should slide
into the
open bay
with the
away from
the front of
the case.
7. Carefully slide the hard drive back and forth in the drive bay until
the screw holes in the side of the bay line up with the screw holes on
the side of the drive. Unsheath your mighty screwdriver and use the
screws that came with the drive (or your cage kit) to attach the drive
to the side of the bay.
You generally use four screws to secure the hard drive to the bay.
8. Connect one of the power cables from your power supply to the
power connector on the hard drive.
This connector fits only one way. Press it in firmly to make certain that it
doesn’t pull out.
9. Connect the ribbon cable coming from the controller card (or your
motherboard if it has a built-in controller) to the back of the hard drive.
Remember: The wire with the markings is wire 1. If you’re unsure which
pin on the drive’s connector is pin 1, check your drive’s manual. The
connector should fit snugly, so after it’s correctly aligned, press it all the
way on. Many drive and cable manufacturers now block one hole and
one pin on the two connectors (a trick called keying) so that the cable
fits only one way!
Good job! You don’t have to be an electrician to install a hard drive.
Part II: Building Your PC
Installing Your SATA Hard Drive
Okay, so installing a SATA drive is even easier than adding an EIDE drive!
Follow these steps:
1. Finished wiping your windows? Make sure that you touch the metal
chassis before you get started!
2. If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it.
3. Select an open drive bay for your hard drive.
4. Slide the drive into the selected bay from the front of the case.
Again, slide the end with the connectors in first, with any exposed circuitry facing down.
5. Slide the hard drive back and forth in the drive bay until the screw
holes in the side of the bay line up with the screw holes on the side of
the drive. Use the screws that came with the drive to attach the drive
to the side of the bay.
You generally use four screws to secure the hard drive to the bay.
6. Connect one of the SATA power cables from your power supply to the
power connector on the hard drive.
Remember, your SATA hard drive may have a legacy 4-pin power connector — if not (and your power supply doesn’t have SATA connectors available), run to your local computer store and pick up a 4-to-15 pin
(EIDE-to-SATA) power converter.
7. Connect the SATA cable coming from the controller card (or your
motherboard if it has a built-in SATA controller) to the back of the
hard drive.
Don’t forget to dance the jumperless SATA Superiority Dance!
Installing Your 31⁄2-Inch
Floppy Disk Drive
Follow these steps to install your 1.44MB 31⁄2-inch floppy disk drive:
1. Now that you’re done dusting the furniture and building up static,
touch a metal surface before you install your floppy drive.
This action discharges any nasty static electricity that you might be
2. If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it.
Chapter 7: Make Room! Your Hard Drive and Other Storage Devices
3. Select an open drive bay for your floppy drive.
All cases come with at least one 31⁄2-inch bay especially for your floppy
drive, so use that one.
If you have a computer case from the planet Quark that doesn’t have a
31⁄2-inch drive bay, you can even use a 51⁄4-inch half-height bay if you get a
drive cage kit.
Is your 31⁄2-inch drive bay sitting vertically so that it’s sideways in the
case? Never fear — you weren’t sold a mutant case; floppy drives work
both horizontally and vertically. Smile knowingly to yourself and continue the installation.
4. Slide the drive into the selected bay from the front of the case. (The
end with the connectors should go in first.)
If you’re installing the drive horizontally, the button that ejects the disk
should be on the bottom; if you’re installing the drive vertically, it doesn’t
matter which way it faces.
5. Slide the floppy drive back and forth in the drive bay until the screw
holes in the side of the bay line up with those on the side of the floppy
drive. Use the screws that came with the floppy drive to attach the
drive to the side of the bay.
You generally use two screws to secure the floppy drive to the bay.
6. Connect one of the power cables from your power supply to the
power connector on the floppy drive.
To avoid mistakes, this connector fits only one way. Push it in as far as
7. Connect the ribbon cable coming from the controller card (or your
motherboard if it has a built-in controller) to the back of the drive.
If you’re installing this floppy drive as your drive A: (the standard configuration for PCs), use the last connector on the cable (the one after the
twist in the cable). This connector goes on only one way and should fit
snugly. When the connector is aligned correctly, press it all the way on.
Installing Your Internal
Tape Backup Drive
If you’ve chosen to install a Travan or DAT drive for backups, you’ll be happy
that you did after you’ve filled up several gigabytes of hard drive space.
Follow these steps to install an internal EIDE tape backup drive:
Part II: Building Your PC
1. Silk sheets on the bed? Say no more — touch a metal surface before
you touch the inside of your computer.
This action discharges any static electricity that might be hiding on your
2. If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it.
3. Select an open drive bay for your tape drive.
If your tape drive fits in a 31⁄2-inch drive bay, use that drive bay.
Otherwise, you can use a 51⁄4-inch half-height bay and a drive cage kit.
Unlike a 31⁄2-inch floppy drive, your tape drive must sit horizontally in
your computer case, so you can’t use it in a vertical drive bay.
4. Slide the tape drive into the selected bay from the front of the case.
The end with the connectors should go in first. Check your drive manual
for the correct orientation. (Most units have some sort of label on the
front that tells which end is up.)
5. Slide the tape drive back and forth until the screw holes in the side of
the bay line up with those on the side of the drive. Use the screws that
came with the tape drive (or your cage kit) to attach the drive to the
side of the bay.
You generally use four screws to secure the tape drive to the bay.
6. Connect one of the power cables from your power supply to the
power connector on the drive.
This connector fits only one way, which makes life easier for everyone.
Make sure that you push it in tightly.
7. Connect the EIDE cable from your motherboard to the back of your
tape drive.
Check your tape drive manual to see which jumpers need to be set, and
follow the instructions for connecting the cable.
Setting Up Your PC and Configuring
Your Hard Drive
In this section, you configure your new hard drive and format it. To get started
with your hard drive setup, make sure that the monitor and keyboard are
connected and that your computer is plugged in. Then follow these steps:
Chapter 7: Make Room! Your Hard Drive and Other Storage Devices
1. Check your motherboard manual and see what key or key combination displays your computer’s CMOS setup screen.
CMOS stands for complementary metal-oxide semiconductor, which is a
type of RAM that stores data even after your PC is turned off. Usually, the
key you press to display this screen is the Delete key (or perhaps F1). If
you can’t find the key, don’t panic — all motherboards display the setup
key when you turn on the computer — just watch closely and be prepared to press the key.
2. Push the power switch on the front or back of your case.
3. When you see the screen prompt to enter your setup screen, press the
indicated key.
Although the screen that appears varies with every motherboard, you
should see a menu with at least one entry for EIDE HDD Auto Detect,
SATA HDD Auto Detect, Hard Drive Auto Detection, or something
similar. Use your cursor keys to select that function and follow the
onscreen instructions. Your motherboard should identify your hard
drive’s characteristics automatically.
4. After you enter the hard drive settings, select the standard settings
screen and set your drive A: as a 31⁄2-inch 1.44MB floppy drive.
On this same screen, set the computer’s internal clock with the current
date and time.
5. Make sure to save the values you entered, and then exit the setup
Usually, you see a separate menu item to Save values and exit. Your
computer should now reboot.
Your PC can now recognize its hard drive and floppy drive. For your floppy
drive, that’s all that’s necessary. Your hard drive, however, must now be formatted before your computer can access it.
Formatting Your Hard Drive
At this point, your new computer knows that it has a hard drive and a floppy
drive and the specifications of those drives. However, the hard drive isn’t
partitioned or formatted, so when you reboot your PC, it can’t access the
hard drive — and thus, you can’t load that fancy operating system you’ve
been hankering to use. In nontechnoid terms, partitioning means to divide
your hard drive into one or more drive letters. You must create at least one
Part II: Building Your PC
partition to store data on your drive. After you’ve created one or more partitions, it’s time to format those partitions — this process prepares them to
hold data by creating areas to store information on the magnetic surface of
the platters (as well as creating a directory that stores the location of all the
files that you save to your hard drive).
After you exit the setup screen in the last step of the preceding section, your
PC will automatically reboot. Then, after what will seem like an agonizing
wait, your computer beeps and informs you that there’s been a hard drive
failure. Smile quietly to yourself, insert the formatting utility disk provided by
the hard drive manufacturer, and continue the boot process by pressing the
indicated key. The floppy drive should spring to life, and eventually the drive
manufacturer’s partitioning and formatting program appears.
If you have a scavenged drive that already has existing data, it should boot
correctly if it was drive C: (the primary hard drive) on the original PC. I would
still recommend that you partition and format it, however, to ensure that the
formatting will be completely compatible with your hard drive controller.
“But Mark, I bought this hard drive used, and I didn’t get a formatting utility
disk!” Don’t panic! Instead, boot your system by using a Windows XP installation CD-ROM and then follow the instructions that appear. The Windows XP
Setup program can automatically prepare your hard drive before it installs
XP! (Pretty snazzy, yes? Hoo-ah, Redmond!)
Part III
Adding the
Fun Stuff
In this part . . .
ou add all the fancy bells and whistles that any
multimedia computer needs these days, such as a
DVD recorder, a 3-D sound card that plays MP3 music,
and a dial-up modem (or DSL/cable connection) for the
Internet. Get ready to blast the toughest game invaders,
surf the Web, or listen to audio CDs while you work on a
Chapter 8
Putting the Spin on
In This Chapter
Sorting out optical speeds
Getting the lowdown on DVDs
Shopping for a CD or DVD drive
Playing audio CDs on your computer
Recording your own CDs
Recording DVDs
Installing your CD/DVD drive
Testing your work
t’s becoming hard to remember the days of old. I’m speaking of prehistoric
times, before computers had CD and DVD-ROM drives. (As frightening as it
sounds, most young folks don’t remember a computer without one!) You already
know that a modern multimedia computer requires at least a CD-ROM drive
for installing software and games, digital video, interactive encyclopedias,
and silliness such as talking bears . . . but you can actually do much more
than that in the world of optical media. Today’s technology enables you to
record your own data DVDs, data CDs, and audio CDs, or watch DVD movies
with Dolby Digital Surround sound that you’ve recorded yourself!
In this chapter, I explore all the CD and DVD hardware that’s available, and I
discuss the features that help you determine which drive is right for your
new computer. After you install your drive and the software that it requires,
you’re ready to access the world of multimedia — and don’t forget to take a
few minutes to explain to the younger generation the historical relevance of
floppy disks.
By the way, if you’d like a complete guide to CD and DVD recording — in fact,
an entire For Dummies book devoted just to the subject — I can highly recommend CD & DVD Recording For Dummies, 2nd Edition, written by yours truly
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
(what a coincidence!), by Wiley Publishing, Inc. It gets into the technical stuff,
provides you with all the tips and tricks that I’ve learned in a decade of burning CDs and DVDs, and shows you how to create all the different types of
discs that I mention in this chapter.
Discovering the Details
about CD and DVD
Ready for a long, highly technical discussion of bits and bytes, reflected laser
light, and variable speed motors?
If so, you’re reading the wrong book! The good thing about CD and DVD technology is that you don’t have to know anything about the man behind the
magic curtain. Most drives are built in the same manner, are used in the same
way, and perform equally well. However, a number of extra features often
help determine the price of your CD-ROM or DVD drive, and this section
helps you “decode” all the options while you’re shopping (or scavenging).
Name your CD-ROM/DVD interface
CD and DVD drives can be internal (installed inside your PC’s case) or external. I prefer internal drives over external drives because internal hardware
costs less and takes up less space on your desk. (See the upcoming section
“The battle of the drives: Internal versus external” for a comparison of external and internal optical drives.)
Internal drives
An internal read-only CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive should set you back about
$30. Just like with hard drives, you can choose from three standard connection interfaces for your new internal CD-ROM or DVD drive:
Enhanced integrated drive electronics (EIDE): Most optical drives today
use the same EIDE technology as the most popular type of hard drive, so
you can connect your CD or DVD drive to the same controller as your
hard drive. (I talk about EIDE technology in Chapter 7.) Enjoy this kind of
convenience because it doesn’t happen very often in the PC world.
Serial advanced technology attachment (SATA): If you’re building a PC
using serial ATA devices, you can add a SATA CD or DVD drive as well.
These drives are significantly faster and typically easier to install, but you
Chapter 8: Putting the Spin on CD-ROM and DVD
may pay an extra ten bucks for your new drive over a similar drive that
uses an EIDE connection. (Serial ATA is covered like a blanket in Chapter 7.)
Small computer system interface (SCSI): You might want to choose a
SCSI optical drive for its pure, raw, unadulterated speed — just like the
SCSI hard drives that I discuss in Chapter 7. SCSI CD-ROM and DVD
drives transfer data significantly faster than their EIDE counterparts,
and some even surpass SATA speeds. (For more details on the SCSI interface, jump to Chapter 11.)
External drives
Because external drives have their own case (and sometimes their own power
supply as well), they cost significantly more than an internal drive. For example, an internal DVD recorder runs about $50, and an external DVD recorder
drive starts at around $100. You have three interface choices for connecting an
external optical drive:
SCSI: If your PC has a SCSI card installed, you can choose either an internal or an external SCSI CD or DVD drive. (The ultimate in convenience!)
For more details on SCSI technology, see Chapter 11.
USB: Is it any wonder that the USB (universal serial bus) port is so popular these days? Here’s yet another peripheral that you can connect. And,
as with the other USB hardware that I discuss throughout this book, you
don’t have to reboot your PC when you add or remove your external
USB CD or DVD — make sure, though, that you buy only USB 2.0 hardware, and make sure that your new PC has USB 2.0 ports available. (USB
1.1 is barely able to keep up with 4x CD recording, and forget about
burning DVDs with a USB 1.1 connection.)
FireWire: Because an external FireWire CD or DVD drive is super-fast, you
can compare it favorably with an internal CD or DVD drive. A FireWire
port transfers data much faster than the older USB 1.1 standard, so these
drives can usually read faster as well. (USB 2.0 drives are actually faster
than first-generation FireWire drives.) Again, if you’re looking for an external CD or DVD recorder with the best performance, FireWire or USB 2.0
are your best connection bets. If your computer doesn’t have either a
FireWire or a USB 2.0 port, you have to add a port adapter card. (You’ll
find more about FireWire and both flavors of USB in Chapter 5.)
The great CD-ROM and DVD speed myth
If you’re shopping for a CD or DVD drive, you’re going to be pelted with numbers: 16X, 24X, and 48X, for example. Those numbers aren’t size figures for NBA
basketball shoes — the number in front of the X indicates how fast the CD or
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
What really goes on in my optical drive?
Okay, if you absolutely must know, your CD (or
DVD) drive uses a laser to read a long series
of tiny pits in the surface of a disc. These pits
represent digital data — a string of zeros and
ones — which your computer can recognize as
program data or music. In fact, your computer’s
CD or DVD drive is internally similar to a regular
audio CD player. Ready for a totally useless fact?
If you unraveled all the pits in a typical CD-ROM,
they would stretch over three miles!
This is how the laser reads these microscopic
pits: The laser light is directly reflected from the
smooth areas of the disc (lands), and the pits
scatter the light and do not reflect it. A lens in
your CD or DVD drive picks up the reflected light
and therefore can tell the difference between
pits and lands. The reflective surface on a disc is
a thin layer of metal, which gives the disc a shiny
DVD can transfer data (its transfer rate). By transferring, I’m talking about either
reading data from a disc or writing data to the disc from your hard drive.
Original single-speed CD-ROM drives could read data from the disc at about
150 kilobytes per second (KBps); the X figure indicates a multiple of that original speed. For example, an 8X drive (usually read as eight speed by CD-ROM
racing enthusiasts) can read data eight times faster than the original singlespeed drives. So, an 8X CD-ROM drive can transfer about 1200 KBps from the
disc to your computer.
Okay, so where does the “myth” come in? Well, most of today’s games and
applications don’t need the whopping-fast transfer rate of a 48X or 52X
CD-ROM drive. Because the typical CD-ROM game or application is still likely
to recommend a 16X drive, the biggest benefit of these is that they give
techno-weenies a chance to brag about their speedy drives. (Coincidentally,
this is the reason why most retail computers still come with 32X or 42X
drives. Those manufacturers know the fact behind the myth as well as you
do!) DVD read-only drives, on the other hand, fall between 4X and 16X speeds
when reading a DVD; in a similar vein, this “X-factor” relates to a multiple of
the first DVD-ROM drive speed.
Because most programs and games don’t need the blazing speed of a 48X or
52X CD-ROM drive, most computer owners are still quite satisfied with a 32X
drive. If you want to save some money by buying or scavenging a used
CD-ROM 32X drive for your new Pentium 4 computer, I say that you can go for
it with a clear conscience.
Don’t get me wrong. High-speed drives are nice in certain situations. For example, a 52X CD-ROM drive installs one of those huge 3GB productivity applications or 3-D games to your hard drive much faster than a 16X drive, so a fast
Chapter 8: Putting the Spin on CD-ROM and DVD
drive can save you time. If your primary application revolves around digital
video or you have the spending money and simply hate waiting, a fast CD or
DVD drive is probably a better choice.
The battle of the drives: Internal
versus external
As I mentioned earlier in this chapter, CD or DVD drives that use the EIDE,
SATA or SCSI interface are internal drives. They fit in an internal half-height
drive bay in your computer case (just like a floppy or hard drive).
External CD and DVD drives can be convenient if you have a laptop computer
that has a SCSI, USB, or FireWire port but no internal CD or DVD drive. You
can connect the external drive to your laptop, carry the drive with you when
you travel, and then simply reconnect the drive to your desktop computer
when you return to your home or office.
External drives also eliminate much of the heat inside your case because the
laser in the drive generates more heat than just about any other part in your
computer. Naturally, external drives are more expensive because you’re also
paying for a separate case, power supply, and external cable.
If you need to share an external CD or DVD drive among more than one PC
and they all have USB 2.0 ports, you’re in luck! A portable USB CD or DVD
drive will be a perfect fit for your needs.
Turning your computer into a jukebox
If you want your PC to do double duty as a stereo, you’ll be happy to know
that multiple CD and DVD changers for your computer are alive and well,
A tale of CDs and CD-ROMs
What’s the difference between an audio CD and
a computer CD-ROM? Like everything else in
the computer world, of course, the answer is
hidden by abbreviations and acronyms! An
audio CD (compact disc) holds digital audio in
the standard international format called Red
Book. A computer CD-ROM (short for compact
disc-read only memory) is written with the
Yellow Book standard, and contains files that
your PC can read or programs that you can run.
(You absolutely do not need to remember this
type of trivia, and you won’t be tested on it.) An
audio CD player can’t read a data CD-ROM that
has files on it (or a DVD-ROM data disc that contains files), but a computer CD or DVD drive can
read both audio CDs and computer CD-ROMs.
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
except that it’s usually called a jukebox (in honor of those vinyl-playing
Wurlitzer dinosaurs that everyone wants for the den). Jukeboxes are available in several different sizes, including half-height internal drives that can
switch between four discs. Drives with a higher capacity don’t fit internally,
so they sit outside the computer in an external case. Although a jukebox
holds multiple discs, it can read from only one disc at a time.
External jukeboxes are usually SCSI devices, so make sure that you get everything you need when buying a jukebox, including a SCSI adapter (if you don’t
have one), an external SCSI cable, and all the software drivers for your operating
system. A jukebox can set you back anywhere from $200 to $500, depending on
the number of discs that it holds as well as the speed (and type) of the drive.
Reading multiple CDs at once
If you need to access multiple CDs or DVDs at once, check out a tower drive
array. Nothing exotic here: A tower system is simply a large external case that
holds from four to eight half-height, internal USB 2.0/FireWire/SCSI optical
drives, including a separate power supply and fan. Sounds a little clunky,
right? Well, don’t laugh too hard; unlike jukeboxes, tower drive arrays can
read from each of those discs simultaneously! Tower arrays are typically used
on office networks and Web servers that need immediate access to a wide
range of discs. For a small office, a tower system enables one person to
retrieve an image file from one disc at the same time that another person is
searching a database on another disc.
Will that be caddy or tray?
The earliest computer CD-ROM drives all used a flat plastic cartridge called a
CD-ROM caddy. (Sorry, Tiger — it won’t help you choose the right club for that
difficult par 3 on the 17th.) This type of caddy holds the disc inside the drive
and helps keep the disc away from dust and fingerprints. (You could store a
disc in the caddy, if necessary.) Figure 8-1 shows a caddy CD-ROM drive.
As CD-ROM technology advanced, however, more and more drives turned to
a motorized tray system for holding the disc. As you can see in Figure 8-2, a
tray-loading optical drive looks more like a standard audio CD player. You
press a button to extend the tray, and then you press the button again to
retract the tray and load the disc into the innards of the drive. Of course, this
procedure is much more convenient than opening a plastic caddy each time
that you want to load a disc, so tray drives are preferred by the hip multimedia crowd.
Chapter 8: Putting the Spin on CD-ROM and DVD
Figure 8-1:
A typical
with caddy
Figure 8-2:
A CD or
DVD drive
with tray
Other read-only CD-ROM and
DVD features to covet
In actual operation, you can find few differences between an expensive, namebrand CD or DVD read-only drive and a cheaper drive of the same speed from a
smaller manufacturer. Both drives read and transfer at about the same speed,
and both can be controlled from within your applications. (For example, you
can eject a disc from your audio CD program with either drive.)
So which features really make a difference? Here’s a checklist that helps you
separate the wheat from the chaff when you’re shopping for a CD or DVD
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
Access time: If you’re not careful, you can easily confuse a drive’s access
time with its transfer rate (measured as 48X or 52X, as I discuss in the section “The great CD-ROM and DVD speed myth,” earlier in this chapter).
Access time is the actual time required for your CD or DVD drive to locate
a specific file on the disc. Older drives have access times of about 150 milliseconds (ms), and today’s faster CD and DVD drives average an access
time of around 100 ms for reading CDs and 150 ms for reading DVDs.
In Chapter 7, I discuss how access time is important when choosing a
hard drive. Most hard drives have access times of around 7 to 11 ms
(much faster than the typical 80 ms for an optical drive), which is another
reason why hard drives are still the champions of the multimedia world.
Besides, reading and writing everyday data, such as a letter to Aunt
Mildred or that Great American Novel, is much easier with a hard drive.
Audio controls: When the first CD-ROM drives appeared on the market,
many of them didn’t even have a stereo headphone jack or a volume
control — after all, who knew that playing audio CDs through a multimedia computer system would become so popular? Manufacturers have
learned their lesson, though, and most drives now include a headphone
jack and volume control. Some external drives come with everything
necessary for dual use as an audio CD player and a computer CD or DVD
drive: separate channel connectors for your stereo and even a full collection of control buttons, such as skip track, pause, and play.
Cache: Just like a hard drive, a CD or DVD drive uses a special set of
onboard random access memory (RAM) modules to hold data that your
computer needs often . . . or will probably need soon. The larger this
cache (also called a data buffer), the fewer interruptions you experience
in the transfer of data. If you plan to use a DVD drive for watching digital
video, consider a drive with at least 2MB of cache RAM.
Support: Does your drive’s manufacturer offer tech support through the
Web, or will you end up spending your two bits calling long-distance for
support over the telephone? (Remember, scavengers, that you won’t be
getting free tech support.)
What You Need to Know about DVD
Unless you don’t own a TV, you’ve probably already heard about DVD, which is
short for digital video disc. (Some folks are starting to say that the abbreviation
stands for digital versatile disc. Although it’s probably an urban legend, I’ve
heard that a computer novice recently asked a computer salesman for a PC
with a digital voodoo disc.) DVDs look similar to standard audio CDs or computer CD-ROMs, but they can store much more data. They also feature a higher
transfer rate than standard CDs. The current generation of DVDs holds anywhere from a hefty 4.7GB (that’s the equivalent of seven standard CD-ROMs) to
9.4GB. In fact, the DVD specification allows for discs holding as much as a
whopping 17GB each!
Chapter 8: Putting the Spin on CD-ROM and DVD
Before you get really upset at the computer hardware industry for replacing
your traditional CD-ROMs with this new voodoo, here’s the good news: A
DVD drive can also read your standard audio CDs and computer data CDs, so
you don’t need two drives. However, some older DVD drives can’t read discs
created by a CD recorder.
Although DVD drives work the same as CD drives, they use a different type of
laser, and the pits carrying the encoded data on the surface of the disc are
smaller and packed more tightly. The denser the data, the more data a single
disc can hold, as shown in Figure 8-3.
“Why on earth do I need that kind of space?” you might ask. Think (and thank)
Hollywood. DVD technology has practically replaced VHS tape in the video
rental market. Today’s digital video takes up gigabytes of space. Quality, storage capability, and durability are much better with digital video than with
VHS. A typical Hollywood movie fits nicely on a single DVD, with room to
spare. A CD simply doesn’t have the capacity for all that digital video.
1.6 m
0.83 m
0.74 m
Figure 8-3:
packs more
of your data
into the
same space
than a
0.4 m
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
The extra room on a DVD even enables manufacturers to include such luxuries
as running commentary from the director, multiple language versions of the
same film, or parts of the film that were edited out in the big-screen version.
Most DVD movies you buy today feature Dolby Digital Surround sound, which
is typically supported by today’s video cards or your PC’s DVD player software. Some even feature Dolby DTS, which sounds even closer to the audio
you hear in your local GooglePlex 32-screen theater.
Do I need DVD for my computer?
If you’ve played one of the latest computer games, it’s probably obvious why
DVD is becoming more attractive: A single CD-ROM simply doesn’t have the
storage space required by today’s hottest games. For example, it’s not
uncommon for a sophisticated 3-D video game to ship on two or three CDs.
DVD ends the irritation of disc swapping for millions of game players (at least
for a few years, anyway).
Although DVD was once considered revolutionary for the home video market,
it’s pretty much MOTS for computer owners. (Sorry about that — acronyms
have begun to take over my brain. MOTS is short for more of the same.)
Computer DVD drives can read much more data and do it faster, although
discs are used for the same purposes: multimedia games, educational titles,
digital video, and audio. So far, I’ve heard no announcement that DVD will
replace those irritating free demo CD-ROMs that you get in the mail from
Internet service providers and software developers. I use those free discs as
coasters for parties, or you can make a really interesting DMFYBC (short, of
course, for digital mobile for your baby’s crib.)
So how long will it take before you really need a DVD drive in your computer?
That depends on how quickly software manufacturers switch completely
from CD-ROM to DVD technology, and whether or not you’re set on watching
DVD movies on your PC. For the foreseeable computing future (meaning
another two or three years), you’re certainly safe in selecting a standard CD
read-only drive or CD recorder for your system.
If you decide to add a DVD drive to your computer, make sure that your PC
has the horsepower to handle it. I recommend a bare minimum of a Pentium
Celeron or an AMD Sempron CPU. The faster your CPU, the better. (In Chapter
4, I explain the Intel and AMD CPU models in detail.) Your video card should
be capable of displaying 16 million colors at a resolution of at least 800 x 600,
and you need a super video graphics array (SVGA) monitor with at least a .28
dot pitch. (See Chapter 6 for more information on video cards and monitors.)
Chapter 8: Putting the Spin on CD-ROM and DVD
The whole decoder thing explained
The digital video on DVDs is compressed by using the MPEG-2 standard to
save space. The MPEG-2 decoder built into your video card (or performed in
software by your DVD player) decompresses the video and handles the Dolby
Digital audio. Without the decoder card, you can’t watch the same discs that
you can use in a home DVD movie player.
The Dolby Digital sound standard is also referred to by audiophiles as AC-3
technology, so you might see AC-3 listed in the description of a DVD drive
that includes a decoder card.
One more stumbling block stands in the way of your Dolby Digital listening
pleasure: You need a PC sound card, stereo amplifier or a stereo receiver that
supports Dolby Digital sound, as well as the proper speaker system. And
don’t forget that you have to run wires from your computer to your stereo.
What You Need to Know about
CD and DVD Recorders
CD recording is just plain neat. With CD-R (short for compact disc-recordable)
technology, you can record (or, in techno-wizard parlance, burn) your own
commercial-quality audio CDs with as much as 74 minutes of music or save
as much as 700MB of computer data. Plus, you can play these discs on any
standard CD drive (although older DVD drives can’t read them). Need more
space? A DVD recorder can pack that golden 4.7GB that I mentioned earlier
onto a single disc, and most DVD recorders can create movie discs that you
can use in your TV’s DVD player!
A decade ago, CD recorders were so expensive and hard to use that most
computer owners simply thought that they were out of reach. The good news
is that this technology (CD recorders, blank discs, and related software) has
dropped in price. A spindle of one hundred blank CD-R discs are now available through the mail for less than $20, and recorders that were sold for more
than $1000 have dropped to $50 — for a complete kit that includes the drive
and the recording software.
A DVD recorder for well under $100 is easy to find, and a spindle of one hundred recordable DVDs will set you back less than $50. Two types of recordonce DVDs are available: DVD-R and DVD+R. As you can guess, these two
formats are not compatible, and you must buy the right type of disc for the
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
recorder that you choose. (If you’ve invested in a multiformat DVD recorder,
you can write ’em both — but note that DVD+R recording speeds are generally faster than DVD-R recording speeds on the same drive.)
CD and DVD recording software has also become easier to use. Programs
such as Drag-to-Disc from Roxio ( enable you to write data
directly to a CD or DVD recorder under Windows XP, just as though the
recorder were a huge floppy drive.
In case you’re wondering, when you aren’t using a CD recorder to create CDs,
it doubles as a standard CD-ROM read-only drive, so you need to buy only
one drive. (The same is true of a DVD recorder, which can read CDs and DVDs
as well as burn them.)
Remember that copyright restrictions determine what you can legally record!
Unless you’re sure that you can copy the material, I strongly advise you to
contact the copyright owner for permission.
Make sure that you check the system requirements for a drive before you buy
it. I recommend that you dedicate at least 1GB of hard drive space to recording with a CD recorder, and at least 6GB for a DVD recorder. (You need that
space to hold all the data that you intend to record.) If you select a SCSI or
SATA recorder, you need the corresponding connectors (either built-in to the
motherboard or located on an adapter card you’ve installed). Windows 2003
Server and XP are currently the best operating systems for CD and DVD
recording on the PC.
Why record my own CDs and DVDs?
A number of computer applications can benefit from a CD recorder — in fact,
they’d sit up and beg for one if only they could speak. If your primary application appears on this list or you’re interested in any of the following applications, you should consider a CD recorder (or, in some cases, a DVD recorder)
rather than a simple read-only CD-ROM drive:
Creating audio CDs: If you’re an audiophile with a ton of hard-to-find
vinyl albums (or a stack of irreplaceable cassettes or tape reels gathering dust in a corner of your home), you can transfer those musical treasures to compact disc. Today’s higher-end recording programs enable
you to rearrange tracks in any order, print a cover for the CD jewel box
with a list of the track names, and even remove some of the crackle, pop,
and hiss associated with older media.
If you have found a used CD recorder and will be using it primarily for
recording audio, make sure that it supports a recording format called
disc-at-once; this format enables you to create discs without irritating
clicks between each of the tracks.
Chapter 8: Putting the Spin on CD-ROM and DVD
Archival storage: How would you like to remove those three-year-old
tax records, spreadsheets, and word processing documents from your
hard drive and free up all that space — without losing a single byte of
that data in case you need it in the future? Although you could back up
that data to tape, you’d have to restore it to your hard drive to use it,
and magnetic tape has a limited shelf life. If you use CD-Rs to archive
your data, however, you can be assured that those old files will be available for years to come and can be read on any CD-ROM drive. Plus, you
can run programs and read data files directly from the disc, so you don’t
have to restore anything. The 4.7GB capacity of a recordable DVD makes
a DVD recorder an even better storage solution.
How long does a recorded CD or DVD last? Although companies cite many
different figures, the average shelf life of a recorded disc is usually stated
as somewhere around ten years. (I’m betting it’s much longer, but only if
you take proper care of your discs and store them in a cool environment.)
Moving data: Do you have a presentation or slide show to perform on a
business trip? A recorded disc is a perfect way to carry gigabytes of data
with you wherever you go without worrying about magnetism or X-rays
in airports (two dreaded enemies of exposed film in cameras and magnetic media, such as floppies and backup tapes). With the universal
acceptance of CD and DVD, it’s now a safe bet that the computer at your
destination will be able to read your disc.
Digital photo albums: If you have a recorder and a digital camera (or a
scanner that can digitize regular photographs), you have everything you
need to create your own custom photo albums on a disc. You can display these photo albums on any computer with a corresponding optical
drive and an SVGA color monitor.
You can even include on your CD-R a trial version of a graphics program,
such as Adobe’s Photoshop Elements (, so that family
members who don’t have a graphics viewer can install one right from your
disc. (Shareware programs offer you a free trial period, but you need to
pay the author if you continue to use the program.) Paint Shop Pro has an
excellent slide show feature that can display your pictures automatically.
Small business: A CD or DVD recorder is practically a requirement these
days for distributing beta copies of most software or even distributing
the finished product if you don’t want the expense of duplicating a large
number of CDs at a commercial replicating plant. A good example is a
CD-ROM that contains all the templates, clip art, and documents that a
new employee might need. Having everything on one recorded disc
beats scurrying around and looking for the company logo clip art.
Movies, movies, movies: If you love your DV camcorder, you can burn that
digital video onto a DVD and create your own DVD movies. Depending on
the DVD creation software that you use — such as MyDVD Studio from
Sonic, at — you might even be able to add your own
menus, animated backgrounds, and slide shows of digital photographs
to your DVD movie. (Wait ’til Grandma sees the kids on her DVD player,
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
complete with menus she can operate with her DVD remote control . . .
she’ll be so busy watching your movies, she’ll burn her apple pie!)
If you have a large number of people who will be accessing the same
archival data on a network or Web site, consider recording a disc with
the data instead of storing it on a hard drive. You can save time because
you don’t have to back up the data if it’s stored on a disc, and after your
network administrator has configured the drive properly, everyone can
access the data from a single disc on the server.
What’s the deal with rewriteable discs?
All CD recorders today are CD-RW drives, which stands for compact discrewriteable. Unlike an older, blank CD-R, which can be recorded only once,
you can reuse and re-record a CD-RW. (DVD rewriteable discs come in three
flavors: DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM. The first two formats are the most
popular for those burning DVD movie discs, and the older DVD-RAM format is
usually used for backing up your hard drive. Like a CD-RW, you can record,
read, and erase these rewriteable discs hundreds of times.)
A rewriteable CD or DVD sounds like the ideal choice, until I mention the downside: CD-RWs can be read only on drives that support CD-RW, which means that
virtually no CD-ROM drives or audio CD players older than four or five years can
read CD-RWs. Although all new CD-ROM drives can read both, check the specifications of a drive (or call the manufacturer’s technical support) to make sure
that a specific drive can read CD-RWs. When it comes to compatibility, CD-R is
clearly the winner: A standard CD-R can be read on standard computer CD-ROM
drives and audio CD players that have been around for almost two decades.
Doin’ the LightScribe thing
Are you old enough to remember laser-etched
vinyl record albums? (My favorite was Styx’s
Paradise Theater.) These albums played
normally on your turntable, but carried coollooking labels and borders around the edge of
the album that were etched into the vinyl using
a laser. About right now, you should be saying,
“Hey, my DVD recorder uses a laser too! I
wonder . . .”
Before you try and patent the idea, let me tell
you about LightScribe drives and media. If your
CD or DVD recorder supports this new technology and you record a CD or DVD using the
proper media, you can flip over that new disc
you’ve burned and use your drive’s laser to burn
a silkscreen-quality label onto the top of the
media! No printer or paper labels needed. The
laser-etched label looks awesome and will
make you the envy of all of your techno-friends
at your next party.
One downside (you knew there’d be at least
one): A spindle of fifty LightScribe blank DVD+R
discs is more than $90 at the time of this writing,
so they’re three times as expensive as their less
flashy brethren.
Chapter 8: Putting the Spin on CD-ROM and DVD
Likewise, not every computer’s DVD drive or TV DVD player will recognize all
rewriteable disc formats. However, virtually all PC DVD-ROM read-only drives
and TV DVD players can read a DVD-R because the format has been around for
several years. Why is this? The DVD rewriteable disc formats that I mentioned
earlier aren’t as well established as CD-RW — none of the three formats are
compatible. (Sigh. Can’t we all just get along?) For example, you can’t use a
DVD+RW in a DVD-RW drive. At the time of this writing, the format battle rages
on. For the best compatibility, I recommend a dual-format DVD recorder,
which can burn both DVD-RW and DVD+RW discs.
Prices for CD-RW hardware, software, and blank discs are only slightly higher
than standard CD-R prices, so the decision is a simple one: If you need to
record discs that everyone can read, stick with CD-R. If you’re recording discs
for use on your own computer and the convenience and savings of using
rewriteable discs appeal to you, go with CD-RW. This is true also with DVDrecordable and DVD-rewriteable discs.
Table 8-1 should help you sort things out between the different CD and DVD
recording formats.
Table 8-1
CD and DVD Recording Formats
Compatible With
All PC CD-ROM drives
and PC DVD drives
Most PC CD-ROM drives
and PC DVD drives
DVD+R drives; many DVD
DVD+R drives; many DVD
DVD+R drives; few DVD
All DVD drives and DVD
DVD-R drives; few DVD
All PC DVD-RAM drives
Remember, all but the last type of drive in Table 8-1 can create both data
CD-ROMs and audio CDs — the exception, DVD-RAM, can’t write to CD-R or
CD-RW discs.
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
Caring for your CDs and DVDs
Contrary to popular opinion, optical discs are
not indestructible. Here’s a quick checklist of
the most common archenemies of any compact
disc — avoid them all, and you’ll never lose a
byte of data (or a single musical note)!
Heat: Keep those discs cool! The same hot
car seat that claimed your favorite cassettes
(or those videos from the rental store) could
melt your discs or render them unreadable.
Dust: Like any audio CD player, a few
specks of dust can cause a CD or DVD drive
to skip to skip to skip. (You get the idea.)
Liquids: Anything from water to grape juice
to prussic acid can mess up a disc. If you’re
lucky, you might be able to remove a liquid
stain with a little isopropyl alcohol.
Fingers: Oily fingerprints can lead to dirty
discs, and your drive will occasionally refuse
to read them. Handle your discs by the edges
or use your finger as a spindle by sticking it
through the hole in the center of the disc.
Sharp objects: A surface scratch on the
reflective side of a CD or DVD can deflect
the laser light, which leads to lost data. If
you’re handling a recordable disc, make
certain that you don’t scratch the gold
or silver layer on the top side of the disc.
And stay away from ballpoint pens when
labeling your discs — use a permanent
(nonsmudging) felt-tip marker.
That said, you are human and might get gunk on
your discs anyway. If you already have an
expensive, hi-tech compact disc cleaning apparatus, you can use it on your computer CDs and
DVDs as well. However, I really don’t think that
these James Bond contrivances are necessary.
Compact discs were designed to be easy to
clean. I recommend a lint-free photographer’s
lens cloth for dusting the bottom of your CDs
(and, if necessary, a bit of isopropyl alcohol
disc-cleaning solution).
To clean the bottom surface of a CD or DVD,
wipe from the center spindle hole straight
toward the outside of the disc. Never wipe a
compact disc or DVD in a circular motion
because that can scratch the surface and result
in lost data.
Installing Your EIDE CD or DVD Drive
Have you already installed an EIDE hard drive in your system, as I demonstrate in Chapter 7? If so, you might need to unplug some connections. Why?
Your EIDE CD or DVD drive might use the same controller and cable as your
EIDE hard drive. If you like, take a permanent marker and mark the cables in
their current position (with a “To Hard Drive 1” on the cable, for example) so
that you can restore the existing connections quickly after you have your
optical drive in place.
If your CD or DVD drive ever swallows your disc and won’t eject it, it’s time to
straighten a paper clip. Locate the emergency manual eject hole — it’s an
unmarked hole under the tray (about the diameter of a piece of wire). Stick
the end of the paper clip into the manual eject hole and push firmly; the tray
should pop out of the drive.
Chapter 8: Putting the Spin on CD-ROM and DVD
If your computer uses a single EIDE hard drive configured as single drive,
master unit (which is the default hard drive installation that I describe in
Chapter 7), you need to change the jumper settings on your hard drive so that
it’s set for multiple drive, master unit. Until you complete this task, your computer can’t correctly recognize the CD/DVD drive. Just follow these steps:
1. Now that you’ve taken off that heavy wool sweater, touch a metal surface before you handle your drive.
This step discharges any static electricity that your body might be
2. If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it and remove the cover.
3. Check the jumper settings on your CD/DVD drive to make sure that it’s
set for multiple drive, slave unit.
Multiple drive, slave unit is the default factory setting for most CD/DVD
drives, although it never hurts to be sure. If the jumpers aren’t set correctly, move them to the correct position. (Your CD-ROM/DVD manual
shows where the jumpers are located on your drive and how to set them.)
4. Select an open drive bay for your CD/DVD drive.
A CD-ROM/DVD drive requires a 51⁄4-inch half-height bay. External USB,
FireWire, and SCSI drives have their own case and don’t need an internal
drive bay. (In fact, you shouldn’t be following this procedure at all if
you’re installing an external drive.)
5. From the front of the computer case, slide the drive into the drive bay.
The end of the drive with the connectors should go in first. Usually, a
label or some kind of writing on the front of your drive indicates which
end is up.
6. Attach the drive to the side of the bay.
Slide the drive back and forth until the screw holes in the side of the bay
line up with those on the side of the drive. Secure the drive with the
screws (usually four) that came with the drive.
7. Connect one of the power cables from your power supply to the power
connector on the drive.
Note that the power connector fits only one way.
8. Connect the ribbon cable coming from the controller card (or your
motherboard, if it has a built-in controller) to the back of the drive.
A second connector should be on the ribbon cable, connecting your
hard drive to your controller. That’s the connector for your second EIDE
device, which in this instance is your CD/DVD drive. The wire with the
markings is on the side with pin 1. If you’re unsure which pin on the
drive’s connector is pin 1, check your drive’s manual. The connector
should fit snugly, so press it all the way on after you correctly align it.
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
Loading Drivers and Testing Everything
Because Windows 2003 Server and Windows XP recognize standard optical
drives without requiring you to load additional drivers, you can jump right to
testing your installation.
After you install your drive and reboot Windows, load a computer game or
application CD-ROM into your drive and double-click the My Computer icon
on your desktop. Double-click the icon for your new CD or DVD drive to display the directory of the disc in Windows Explorer. (If the disc that you
loaded runs automatically, you won’t even have to lift a finger . . . the program’s installation menu will appear all by itself!)
Your new optical drive has a separate drive letter, just like your hard drive. If
you’ve installed a single hard drive, for example, your computer will probably
assign drive D: to your new DVD recorder.
If your drive doesn’t seem to be working, make sure that it’s receiving power: Is
the drive’s power indicator lit? If not, check the power connection to the drive.
If the drive is receiving power but doesn’t seem to be able to read a disc, you
might have the cable upside down. Reverse the EIDE cable connected to the
back of the drive by flipping it over and reconnecting it.
This procedure completes your CD/DVD drive installation! In Chapter 9, I show
you how to add a sound card to your PC to enjoy digital audio and music.
Chapter 9
Let Your PC Rock!
In This Chapter
Buying the right type of sound card
Figuring out wavetable technology
Taking a look at MIDI
Playing MP3 music
Understanding 3-D spatial sound
Figuring out surround sound
Selecting and installing a microphone for your system
Choosing and installing speakers for your system
Shopping for and installing a subwoofer
Installing your sound card
Testing your work
ace it — the days of the computer as a big, silent monolith have passed.
A perfect example is how computers are portrayed by Hollywood: These
days, multimedia computers in movies sound more like video games. More
than anything else, this change in perception on the part of the public —
computers evolving from room-filling silent machine to R2-D2 — is because of
the audio revolution that started with the Macintosh many years ago, which
has culminated in home and office PCs that speak, sing, scream, and even
sob! (What, you’ve never heard a computer sob? Try running Quicken on my
computer; it must be hard to balance my financial mess.)
In this chapter, I walk you through the process of adding real, honest-togoodness, high-quality stereo surround sound to your PC — you can make
your games (and even your serious word processor) come alive. I discuss
the speakers and subwoofer that will satisfy even the most demanding computer audiophile. No more silly beeps from that archaic internal PC speaker.
You’re going to add a multimedia sound system, and your new PC will suddenly sing like a bird.
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
Sorting Out Sound Card Basics
Remember the last time that you went shopping for a new CD player, satellite
radio, or receiver for your stereo system or your car? Despite all the fancy
jargon and the pretty brushed chrome, some of the equipment just didn’t sound
good enough. And, if you’re like me, you might have found that the most expensive models often didn’t sound much better than the less expensive ones.
As you probably already know, the best way to select audio equipment is to
listen with your own ears. Understandably, that presents a bit of a conundrum when choosing a sound card from a mail order catalog. The secret is to
know which of the computer audio buzzwords actually improves the sound
that you hear. Luckily, teaching yourself the lingo of computer audio is pretty
easy. If you’re an audiophile, you want to make a good choice when shopping
for your sound card because it’s the most important component in your computer when it comes to sound quality.
Recognizing common breeds
of sound cards
You’ll find two common types of sound cards available today: the integrated
sound card (which is built-in to your motherboard) and the PCI bus sound
card. Both types of sound hardware can produce spectacular sound, and
each has particular advantages over the other.
PCI bus audio
The PCI card is today’s state-of-the-art sound card. (More about the PCI slot
appears in Chapter 4.) Good 32-bit PCI sound hardware can deliver spectacular stereo sound effects for your games (including 3-D spatial sound, which I
get into in a moment) and can record in stereo with CD quality at 44 KHz. In
other words, the audio that you hear from one of these cards, which usually
start around $50, can reach (or even surpass) the clarity and low noise level
that you enjoy with audio CDs. The sound card that you select for your PC
might also include a game port for your joystick or even a built-in FireWire
port. Many top-of-the-line PCI cards come with a panel designed to fit in an
empty slot in your PC’s case, providing plugs and separate volume controls.
Don’t get confused if your new sound card is listed as providing the highestquality 24-bit sound — it’s still a 32-bit PCI card. Before you pull out your hair
in frustration, let me explain. When sound card manufacturers talk about
24-bit audio, they’re talking about the sound quality (or bit rate) that the card
can produce — and not the type of card slot. 24-bit sound quality is top-ofthe-line these days and is offered by companies such as Creative Labs
Chapter 9: Let Your PC Rock!
( and their Audigy 4 Pro series of cards. But never
fear; it’s still pumped out by a 32-bit PCI card.
Figure 9-1 shows the 32-bit Sound Blaster Live! sound card.
Integrated audio
The majority of today’s motherboards include onboard integrated audio
hardware, complete with attached ports. Typically, this integrated sound
hardware is a good choice for a PC dedicated to casual gaming, office applications, and Internet fun. Depending on the features of the onboard sound, you
may even get bells and whistles like 3-D spatial sound or MP3 hardware compression (buzzwords that I explain later in this chapter).
8-bit or 16-bit audio
If someone gives you an original 8-bit or 16-bit Sound Blaster-compatible
card, promptly run over it with your car — repeatedly. These older cards may
not support true stereo recording or stereo effects, and they are usually the
cheapest sound cards that you can find. Unless you found one of these in an
Egyptian tomb and you’re not interested at all in the quality of the audio produced by your PC, steer clear of these cards. They make great boot scrapers.
Figure 9-1:
The basic
standard for
today’s PCI
audio cards
is the Sound
Live! card.
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
Surfing the sounds of the Web
You’ll probably encounter many types of sound
and music files in the multimedia world, especially if you spend lots of time on the Internet
and the Web. If you have the right software or
browser plug-in, your sound card should be
able to play these other files, too:
WAV: The WAV format is the Microsoft
standard for recording, storing, and playing
digital sound (and it’s a popular format on
the Web). Both Netscape Navigator and
Internet Explorer can recognize and play
WAV files automatically. The sound quality
of WAV files can range from compact disc
quality to mono sound files of telephone
quality. (The lower the sound quality, the
smaller the file size — and the less time
that it takes to transfer over the Web.)
Windows 2000 and XP include simple
sound-editing tools, and any sound-editing
program worth installing can save and play
WAV files. You’ll find a hard drive’s worth of
WAV files at my favorite audio site, The
Daily .WAV (
AU: You often encounter AU sound files on
the Web. This sound format was developed
by Sun Microsystems, and AU files are popular in the Unix and Linux worlds. Because
AU files are compressed, they require less
time to download. Although most soundediting programs can play AU files, it’s more
important that your Web browser support
them so that you can hear them directly
while surfing. For example, if you connect to
a Web site featuring sound files and click
one of the recordings, you can hear voices
speak within your browser. If you’re using
Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer, AU support is built in.
AIFF: The AIFF format is a popular sound
standard for Macintosh computers. Most
sound-editing programs can import AIFF
files, so you can play them if you download
them to your hard drive. Like the Windows
WAV format, AIFF files are CD quality, but
they’re usually not compressed like WAV
files. Therefore, they’re not all that popular
on the Web because of their size.
MP3: MP3 format music files have taken the
Internet by storm. Depending on their file
size, MP3 files can be even better than CD
quality (and yet still be very small compared
with the same music in WAV format). An
entire underground of Web sites has developed to distribute dance, pop, and alternative singles in MP3 format — illegally, I
might add, because many of these songs
are (of course) copyrighted. You can create
MP3 files on your PC, and pocket MP3 players that resemble everything from portable
cassette players to ballpoint pens are all the
rage these days.
WMA: Microsoft’s answer to MP3, WMA
files are slightly better in quality than MP3
files and are considerably smaller.
However, Bill and his gang have saddled the
WMA format with extensive copy protection that severely restricts how you listen to
your music (and even how often you can
burn it to an audio CD). Therefore, many
audiophiles steer clear of WMA. WMA is
the preferred format within Windows Media
Player and is supported by most portable
music players (except the iPod).
AAC: A relatively new format, AAC was
developed by Apple for use on the iTunes
Music Store, so all the songs you purchase
and download from the Music Store are in
AAC format. AAC files are similar in quality
to MP3, but they’re actually slightly smaller
because of better compression. As you
might expect, the Apple iPod music player
supports AAC songs — unfortunately, most
other MP3 players don’t.
Chapter 9: Let Your PC Rock!
Don’t forget the software part!
Make sure that the sound card you choose is well supported with software
and drivers written for the operating system you’re using. (Appendix A is an
introduction to all the truly chic PC operating systems.)
If you scavenge a used sound card and don’t get any software along with it,
check the company’s Web site (if possible) to find out whether you can download the latest drivers. One online resource for drivers that I use is The
Driver Zone at If you can’t connect to the Internet,
call the manufacturer’s technical support line to get the software.
If you’re buying a new sound card, it should include the drivers that you need
and also a number of nifty software toys. These programs often include an
onscreen “stereo deck” that lets you play audio CDs, digital sound files in
Windows WAV format, MP3 files, or MIDI music. (See the upcoming section, “Do
I need MIDI ports?” for more.) Figure 9-2 shows an audio mixer that came with
my sound card. You might even get a voice-recognition program or a text-tospeech program that lets your computer talk to you and “read” text files aloud.
Figure 9-2:
Hey, that
looks like
my stereo,
man. Can
your new
play my
Maroon 5
Riding the wavetable
Virtually all of today’s sound cards offer wavetable technology. Exactly what
is this advanced hoo-hah all about?
Rather than get bogged down with a discussion of waveforms and analog/digital
processing, here are the real facts on wavetable: It is indeed worth its reputation. 8-bit sound cards (and most older 16-bit sound cards) used a technique
called frequency modulation (FM), in which the sound card creates the closest
possible imitation of a sound. For example, if your PC should sound like a
grand piano, an FM sound card produces the closest possible sound to that of
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
a grand piano. It would probably be a fairly close imitation, but you can still tell
that the sound is computer generated.
A wavetable card, on the other hand, stores the real sound of a grand piano
in digitized form (within a certain chip on the card itself) and plays that
instead — a big improvement! Whether you’re playing a game with background music or listening to MIDI music, a sound card with wavetable support definitely sounds better (which is why musicians and audiophiles who
own computers usually invest in a wavetable card with a huge selection of
sound samples). Most wavetable sound cards can also be upgraded with
additional onboard RAM, which enables them to offer more than one sound
for the same instrument.
However, wavetable technology means nothing when it comes to digitally
recorded music or digital sound effects in WAV format (which are actual
sounds recorded as data on your hard drive or an audio CD). Wavetable support only improves computer-generated music, and it doesn’t make an audio
CD played on your computer’s CD-ROM drive sound any better.
Why do I need 3-D for my ears?
Another feature offered by many advanced sound cards is — get ready for a
real mouthful here — 3-D spatial imaging. This type of sound has several
Playing audio CDs
Playing digital audio files
Playing sound effects within games
Sound cards with 3-D spatial imaging provide an auditorium or concert hall
effect — the music sounds as though the speakers are separated farther apart
than they actually are.
Computer game players are the ones who can really take advantage of 3-D
imaging. If you’re playing a game that supports one of these 3-D cards, a laser
bolt streaking past the right side of your ship actually comes from the right
speaker. If you hear the deep, guttural growl of a dragon to your left, it would
behoove you to turn your character to the left quickly (and with sword drawn)!
If you’re a game player, I definitely recommend that you spend a few extra dollars for a card that supports 3-D spatial imaging. If you’re not an audiophile or
you’re not into computer games, this feature might not be important to you.
Chapter 9: Let Your PC Rock!
The software in many game programs provides a less effective form of 3-D
spatial imaging that plays on standard sound cards. However, you always get
better sound effects when you have a sound card with hardware that supports 3-D imaging.
“Send help — I’m surrounded by sound!”
Take 3-D spatial imaging one step further — including both sound effects and
music — and you have surround sound, just like the super-realistic audio
that you’ve experienced in movie theaters and with the best home stereo systems. Home DVD players usually offer Dolby Digital Surround sound built in,
and more are arriving on the market that offer Dolby DTS (which delivers
even higher quality surround sound). You can join in the fun with your PC,
however, if you add both a DVD drive and a sound card with Dolby Digital
Surround support to your computer. You can play games, watch commercial
movies, and even enjoy audio discs recorded in surround sound. (For more
information on DVD drives and MPEG decoding, read Chapter 8.)
You need five, six, or even seven speakers and a game, movie, or audio CD
that’s encoded for surround sound. As the line between your PC and your traditional stereo system continues to blur, however, you’ll be seeing more of
surround sound, and it’ll be less expensive to add to your existing PC.
MP3 fanatics, pay attention!
Do you have a collection of thousands of songs in MP3 format taking up gigabytes of space on recorded CD or DVD discs or an old hard drive? You can
enjoy these CD-quality sound files through your computer’s sound system, or
you can even record them directly to an audio CD if you have a CD or DVD
recorder. (For more information on CD recording, make a note to visit
Chapter 8 when you’re finished here.) MP3 files are all the rage on the
Internet, and hundreds of different models of personal MP3 players (similar
to personal cassette players) are on the market. I’ve even seen a number of
MP3 car audio decks that have appeared recently!
If you’re already an MP3 fanatic and you’re shopping for a sound card, I can’t
stress this advice enough: Buy a card that supports high-quality MP3 encoding and
digital effects! This type of card is especially valuable when you create your own
MP3 files or listen to your collection. For example, my Sound Blaster Audigy 2
card allows me to add environmental effects to a recording to simulate a concert
hall or stadium, and I can record the highest-quality MP3 files from a number
of different audio sources (including analog and digital CD audio, of course).
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
Do I need MIDI ports?
All right, it’s time to come face-to-face with MIDI (a rather cute acronym for
musical instrument digital interface), which is an international standard
shared by computers, synthesizers, and many types of specialized musical
instruments (such as drums and keyboards). MIDI music is shared in the
form of data files, which enable most computers to play the same music. MIDI
files make it possible for musicians to record and play music using computers. MIDI files are often found on the Web; in fact, the EMBED HyperText
Markup Language (HTML) command enables your Web page to play a MIDI
song as background music. Most sound cards can play MIDI music files without extra hardware or software, and a wavetable card can sound great while
playing MIDI. (See the earlier section, “Riding the wavetable.”)
However, most sound cards do not provide the MIDI interface connectors
(ports) that enable you to hook up a synthesizer or other musical instrument
that supports MIDI directly to your computer. These connectors are usually
offered as an upgrade that you can buy and install later, or they come with
the card for a higher price — you might even find that a motherboard with
integrated audio includes a MIDI port. Naturally, musicians get a big kick out
of connecting a musical instrument to their computer. If you’re running
music-editing software with MIDI support, you can play notes on the instrument and create MIDI music directly, or you can instruct your computer to
“play” the instrument automatically.
But do you really need MIDI interface connectors (sometimes referred to as
MIDI daughterboards) or a USB-to-MIDI converter? If you’re not a musician, I
recommend against spending extra money on a sound card with MIDI connectors. However, if you are a musician and you want to experiment with computers in your music, these connectors are worth every penny! Actually,
they’re probably going to set you back about $50. (If you’re a professional
musician, chances are you’re already an expert on MIDI and you’ve long since
skipped to the next section.)
Uhh . . . Is This Microphone On?
Your ears are not the only lucky body parts to benefit from a sound card —
your mouth also gets to enjoy itself. With a microphone attached to your
sound card, you can take advantage of computer applications like these:
Voice recording: The simplest application for a microphone is to help
you record your voice and other sounds. You can create digital WAV files
of sounds and attach these files to specific actions in Windows so that
pulling down a menu, running a program, closing a window, and the like
Chapter 9: Let Your PC Rock!
are accompanied by their own sound effects. You can also edit your
recordings with a sound editor to add special effects, add these sound
files to your Web page for Web surfers to enjoy, or just have a little fun
with your dog. To try this out under Windows 2000 or Windows XP,
choose Start➪All Programs➪Accessories➪Entertainment➪
Sound Recorder to run the Windows Sound Recorder program.
Voice command and dictation: Imagine talking to your computer
through a microphone to run programs, open and close windows, and
even dictate into your word processor with a program such as Dragon
NaturallySpeaking 8, from ScanSoft ( The idea has
sort of a Buck Rogers or Luke Skywalker feel, doesn’t it? You can even
control some computer games these days with spoken commands.
Thanks to the popularity of the PC sound card, these applications are
available right now.
Note: You typically have to “train” your computer to recognize your
verbal patterns, and these applications are nowhere near 100 percent
accurate. However, this kind of technology is constantly improving, and
it’s a great help to computer owners who need special accommodations
and those computer owners who might not feel comfortable with the
Voice e-mail: If you have an Internet e-mail client application that allows
attachments, you can record your own voice as a digital WAV file and
send it along with the text. Because of the large size of digital audio,
however, voice e-mail applications record your voice at less than CD
quality. Even so, attaching a human voice to an e-mail message still has
considerable impact (especially when you haven’t heard that certain
voice in several weeks).
Internet telephone: No doubt about it, Internet telephone programs are
just plain neat. And if you call someone at long distance or international
rates often, you can save a ton of money! An Internet telephone program
turns your microphone and sound card into a telephone — but instead
of talking over standard telephone lines, your voices are transmitted
over the Internet as data. Therefore, the only cost that you incur is the
online time from your Internet service provider (ISP).
Note: The person on the other end of the conversation must also have a
computer, an Internet connection, and a copy of the same Internet telephone program that you’re using. Some of these programs are so sophisticated that they have call screening and Internet telephone answering
machines, too.
If you decide that an Internet telephone program is a good idea, look for
one that supports full duplex operation. With a 32-bit sound card on
both sides of the conversation, full duplex enables both of you to speak
at the same time. If you’re restricted to half duplex, you can talk only in
turns, much like a CB radio.
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
You can find three basic types of computer microphones: the clip-on/stick-on
model shown in Figure 9-3, the fancier boom microphone shown in Figure 9-4,
and the headset microphone:
Clip-on microphones: Designed to clip onto your lapel or collar, this
type of mike is naturally better for capturing your voice. When not in
use, this microphone fits into a holder that sticks to the front of your
computer case.
Figure 9-3:
A clip-on/
Boom mikes: This kind sits on your desk or on top of your computer
case. Boom mikes tend to pick up a little more background sound from
around your computer.
Figure 9-4:
A big,
bad boom
Chapter 9: Let Your PC Rock!
Headset microphones: You’ve typically seen these used by telephone
operators. They enable you to use both hands while you talk, and
they’re the microphone of choice if you’re using a voice command or
voice dictation system. A headset microphone might come with or without stereo headphones.
Do you already have a microphone with a standard jack that you use with a
cassette recorder? This type of microphone should work fine with your
sound card. Just make sure that it has some sort of stand to hold it upright.
Speaking of Speakers
No matter what kind of sound card you have or what you choose to listen to,
you can’t hear anything without a speaker. External (add-on) computer speakers are another part of your system that might vary widely with your personal
preferences. For example, some computer owners are happy with a set of
headphones, which helps all family members maintain their sanity (especially
if the computer room is located right next to the baby’s room). In fact, if you
have a portable stereo cassette player or FM stereo radio, you can use the
headphones that came with it with your new sound card. And don’t forget the
internal speaker (also called the PC Gnome), which I mention in Chapters 3
and 4 — the internal speaker is really only useful for simple beeps, but it
comes in handy when diagnosing problems when turning on your computer.
On the other end of the spectrum, some computer owners are as demanding
about their computer speakers as they are about their stereo speakers. For
these audiophiles, only the very best audio reproduction is acceptable, especially when they’re battling slobbering purple dragons from Medieval
Dimension X. Your preferences in audio quality determine whether you spend
$10 or $200 (or even more) on your computer’s speaker system.
Speakers are connected to your system in one of three ways:
A traditional analog line out jack and plug: Every sound card has a line
out or speaker jack — in fact, your speakers connect to your PC exactly
like the headphones on your personal CD or cassette player.
A digital jack and plug: Today’s sophisticated stereo systems and highend amplified speaker systems can accept a digital signal through an
optical SPDIF output jack.
A universal serial bus (USB) connector: If you’ve invested in a set of
digital speakers, you’ll use one of your USB ports. These speakers often
don’t require an AC adapter because they draw electricity directly
through the USB port. Because these speakers require USB support, you
should be using Windows 2003 Server or XP.
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
Unless you have a definite reason why you prefer using headphones, I strongly
recommend a set of speakers especially designed to be used on a computer.
Computer speakers come in all shapes and sizes — some are even integrated
into your computer monitor — but a multimedia monitor is typically much
more expensive than a regular monitor and a separate set of speakers. Speakers
are best placed on either side of the monitor, about a foot away from your ears.
When you shop for a set of speakers, look for these features:
Amplified power: If you’re looking for a little more power and better
sound, select a speaker set that has its own built-in amplifier. The downside is that the built-in amp needs power; depending on the size of your
speakers, you need to provide C or D cell batteries. If your speaker set
comes with its own AC wall adapter, you don’t need batteries.
Magnetic shielding: A traditional CRT monitor is highly susceptible to
distortion from magnetic sources. Because larger speakers use larger
magnets, the more powerful the speaker set you choose, the greater the
chance that they can interfere with your monitor. To guard against this
interference, most computer speakers are magnetically shielded so that
you can place them next to a monitor without causing problems.
Speaker controls: If your sound card has a volume control (and you can
control the volume of your speakers from within Windows), why do you
need separate bass, treble, and volume controls on your speakers? I
prefer speaker controls because they’re much more convenient. If you
need to adjust the volume for a particular game or a Web site with audio,
you can do so without opening another window, launching another program, or having to reach around to the back of your computer.
Flat-panel design: Some people feel that flat-panel speakers are a little
funny looking — they’re not much thicker than a CD case — and other
techno-types consider them cool. Most flat-panel speakers produce the
same quality of sound as a standard speaker. Although they can save
space on your computer desk, they’re typically a little more expensive
than traditional computer speakers.
The Subwoofer: Big Dog
of Computer Speakers
If you enjoy your computer games — I mean really enjoy your computer
games — I should mention one other speaker enhancement. A computer subwoofer provides the deep subsonic bass punch that adds realism whether
you’re flying a jet or playing an old arcade classic such as Asteroids. You’ll
feel every explosion! Figure 9-5 shows a standard subwoofer.
Chapter 9: Let Your PC Rock!
Figure 9-5:
A subwoofer can
an extra
measure of
realism to
You can buy a subwoofer separately or shop for a speaker system that
includes one. (It’s no accident that high-performance sound systems sold for
home theaters include a subwoofer.) A subwoofer is about the size of a loaf of
bread, and one will typically set you back around $50 to $100, depending on
the power that it can handle.
Unlike the rest of a computer speaker system, a subwoofer is best placed on
the floor to cut down on vibration — unless, of course, the idea of your computer desk rattling like a tin roof in a hailstorm appeals to you. (Plus, your PC
will avoid dancing the Shimmy, which could in fact be bad for your PC’s hard
Putting Together Your PC Sound System
So you’ve bought a new sound card, speaker system, and microphone for
your PC, and all your audio accoutrements are unpacked and ready. In this
section, I show you how to install each piece of hardware (in sequence, no
less, starting with your sound card). After you’re finished, you can sit back
and enjoy anything from Mozart to Metallica!
Installing your sound card
So you’re ready to delve into the world of digital audio. Keep your sound
card’s manual handy because you may have to perform a little jumper
surgery during the testing phase. Follow these steps:
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
1. If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it.
2. Remove the cover from your case (if necessary), placing the screws in
your parts bowl.
What’s a parts bowl? You know, that covered plastic bowl, shoebox, or
coffee can that holds all the small computer parts. You can’t be a
techno-wizard without a parts bowl.
3. Finished dusting your antiques? You had better touch a metal surface
before you install your card to discharge any static electricity that you
might have picked up before it can damage a computer component.
4. Select an open PCI adapter card slot for your sound card.
For more information on PCI cards and PCI bus slots, see Chapter 4.
5. Remove the screw and the metal slot cover adjacent to the selected slot.
Don’t forget to stick the screw and slot cover into your parts bowl (or
box, or can).
6. Line up the connector on the sound card with the slot on the
The card’s metal bracket should align with the open space that remains
when you removed the slot cover.
7. Apply even pressure to the top of the card and push it down into
the slot.
If the card is all the way in, the bracket should be resting tightly against
the case.
8. Add the screw and tighten down the bracket.
Connecting your speakers
Before you can test the operation of your sound card, you need to connect
your speakers. Follow these steps and see Figure 9-6, which illustrates the
business end of a typical sound card:
1. Locate the speaker jack on the sound card.
Usually the speaker jack is labeled Speakers or Spkr, although some
cards also use the stereo term Line Out. If you need help identifying
which jack to use, check your sound card manual.
Chapter 9: Let Your PC Rock!
Figure 9-6:
The jacks on
a typical
32-bit sound
2. Insert the audio cable plug from your speakers into the sound card’s
speaker jack.
3. If your speakers are amplified, add the required batteries.
If your speaker set uses an AC adapter or power cord, plug it into a
nearby wall socket and plug the connector into the power connector on
one of the speakers.
4. Set the volume controls on all parts.
If your speakers are amplified, they probably have their own separate
volume control. To avoid waking the neighbors and to prevent permanent hearing loss, make sure that all volume controls are set at less than
the halfway point.
5. If your speakers are amplified, turn them on.
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
Configuring software and
testing your sound card
Time to install the software required by your sound card, configure it, and
test your new audio hardware.
Follow these steps:
1. If you’ve unplugged your computer, plug it back in now.
2. Connect the monitor and keyboard (if you haven’t already done so)
and push the power switch on your monitor.
3. Push the power switch on the front or back of your case and allow
your computer to boot.
The familiar face of Windows should eventually appear on your screen.
4. Run the sound card installation software.
Insert the installation software into your CD-ROM drive and follow the
instructions onscreen or in your sound card manual to install the driver.
The installation program will probably make changes to your system files.
5. After the software is installed, reboot your computer (if necessary).
6. Run the diagnostics software supplied with your sound card.
Your sound card should come with a diagnostics program that lets you
test its operation. Typically, these diagnostics programs play digital
audio effects and MIDI music from both speakers, individually and
together. For example, you might be asked whether you hear a sound
effect from the left speaker, from the right speaker, and then from the
“center” channel. If you can’t find the diagnostics software, try installing
a game that has support for your sound card to see whether the card is
working correctly.
If you’ve scavenged a sound card but didn’t get any of the bundled software,
don’t despair! Digital audio players, MP3 players, sound editors, and text-tospeech conversion programs are available for just about every platform. Try
connecting with the manufacturer’s Web site or searching the Internet for
shareware programs that will work with your scavenged card.
Adding a microphone
Follow these steps to add a microphone only after you’ve tested your installation and know that your sound card is working properly. If you need to
remove your sound card to change some jumper settings, you have to disconnect only your speakers:
Chapter 9: Let Your PC Rock!
1. Locate the microphone jack on the sound card.
On most cards, the microphone jack is labeled Microphone or Mic,
although some cards also use the stereo term Line In. If you need help
identifying which jack to use, check your sound card manual.
2. Insert the audio cable plug from your microphone into the sound
card’s microphone jack.
3. If your microphone has an on/off switch, turn it on.
4. Adjust (or affix) your microphone.
If you’re using a clip-on/stick-on microphone, remove the paper backing
and stick the holder on your case. Make sure that the microphone and
its cable don’t obscure or block any switches, lights, or openings on the
front of your computer. If you’re using a boom microphone, place it on
top of your case or to one side of your monitor.
For best operation, your microphone should be no more than one or two feet
away from your chair. Of course, clip-on microphones work best attached to
your person, and headset microphones will work correctly only when worn.
Installing a subwoofer
Follow this procedure to install a subwoofer only after you’ve tested your
installation and your sound card is working properly.
Unless your subwoofer is part of a speaker set, you have to disconnect your
speakers. The subwoofer plugs directly into your sound card, and the speakers then plug into the subwoofer.
1. Find the speaker jack on the sound card.
Usually the speaker jack is labeled Speakers or Spkr, but some cards
also use the stereo term Line Out. If you need help identifying which
jack to use, check your sound card manual.
2. Insert the audio cable plug from your subwoofer into the sound card’s
speaker jack and connect your two speakers to the subwoofer.
3. Plug the power cord for your subwoofer into the wall socket.
4. Set the subwoofer’s volume control at less than the halfway point.
5. Turn on your subwoofer and then crank up your favorite audio CD to
test it out.
I recommend Devo or George Thorogood and the Destroyers. (My editor
leans towards the Talking Heads, specifically, the soundtrack album Stop
Making Sense!)
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
Chapter 10
Modems and the Call
of the Internet
In This Chapter
Understanding modem speeds and standards
Choosing between internal and external modems
Using fax technology
Understanding voice technology
Installing your modem
Testing your work
ore than any other computer part, the modem has become a true
household word — it’s the major star of the Internet show. For most of
us, the modem is our ticket to the Web. If you want to venture into the online
world, the least expensive way to connect to the Internet is to add a dial-up
modem. Just a scant decade ago (right before the Internet became a media
sensation), modems were second-class computer citizens, behind printers
and scanners. But because getting online is the reason why many people get
a computer in the first place, the modem has arrived at center stage.
Would you like to join the online crowd? You could choose a broadband
connection — typically, a cable or digital subscriber line (DSL) link to the
Internet — but not everyone needs a high-speed Internet connection. In fact,
if all you do on the Internet is occasionally visit a Web site, read your e-mail,
or use instant messaging, you really don’t need broadband — and the higher
cost of such a connection. (I dive into the pros and cons of broadband in
Chapter 13.)
If you don’t need (or can’t get) high-speed Internet access, stay right here! In
this chapter, I show you how to select a modem with the features that you
need. You then find out how to install the modem, either inside or outside
your computer case. You might want to celebrate your new modem by sending a few faxes to your friends and co-workers — without ever touching a fax
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
A Modem Primer for Real People
Exactly what is a modem? I could give you the lengthy techno-nerd description or the explanation favored by those who’d rather do something else with
the next thirty minutes of their lives. Here’s the abridged version: The word
modem is short for modulate-demodulate, which are the terms usually used
for digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital conversion processes. A modem is a
device that translates (or modulates) the digital language of computers
(zeros and ones) into an analog signal (variable waves, like a human voice),
which can travel over a telephone line. This analog signal doesn’t sound anything like a human voice, but it can carry data. The receiving modem then
translates (or demodulates) the incoming signal from analog back to digital,
which the receiving computer can then use. Figure 10-1 gives you an idea of
what’s happening.
Figure 10-1:
strut their
data over a
Digital signal
from computer
Analog signal
over telephone line
Modem converts
to analog
Digital signal
to computer
Modem converts
to digital
Modems are serial devices, meaning that they send data one bit at a time
over the same wire — in this case, your telephone line. In the past, serial
devices connected to — you guessed it — a PC’s serial port. Today, however,
virtually all external modems connect to your computer’s universal serial bus
(USB) port. Or, if you select an internal modem adapter card, that card comes
with its own serial port. If all this talk of internal cards and ports is foreign,
don’t worry; I cover the different types of modems in detail later in this chapter. (Curious about serial and USB ports? Chapter 5 covers the installation of
all types of ports.)
If you can afford a high-speed DSL or cable connection to the Internet, you’ll
experience “the Web without the Wait.” If you’re going to spend two or three
hours a night on the Net, I strongly recommend that you invest the money in
a high-speed connection — if it’s available in your area. (Find out more about
DSL and cable Internet connections in Chapter 13.)
Chapter 10: Modems and the Call of the Internet
A bit of quaint modem history
Modems existed long before PCs and e-mail
became popular — in fact, I bought my first 300
bps modem in 1983. Since then, an online world
of some type has always existed.
In the beginning, cyberspace (a fancy term that
refers to the online community as a whole)
consisted of a number of individual computer
techno-wizards who connected with each other
over telephone lines to transfer programs and
chat, much like ham radio operators. Mainframe
computer centers also used modems to connect remote businesses and offices to the central computer.
The arrival in the early 1980s of the automated
computer bulletin board system (BBS; one of
the older abbreviations in this book) provided
the first community-based online service,
whereby callers in the same town could leave
messages, play games, share files, chat with
each other, and even participate in worldwide
conferences through the Fidonet message network system. Most BBSes are still free to this
day, and most are ready for calls 24 hours a
day. Although BBSes have lost much of their
popularity because of the Internet, many thousands of them are still in operation around the
world because they offer a local online community that you don’t find on the Internet. For a
little historical cyberspace fun, you can visit my
Batboard BBS, which has been online since
1984! (Boy, I’m getting old.) In fact, you can use
your Web browser to call the BBS instead of
connecting directly; just type www.mlcbooks.
com to visit my Web browser, and click the Visit
My Classic BBS link. The Batboard is free, and
you’ll find a number of popular online games!
Most of the online world is now centered around
the global network called the Internet (especially the portion of the Internet called the Web,
which is short for World Wide Web). Originally,
the Internet served as a military and scientific
information system, and people used it to search
for information and files. The Internet is still a
tremendous tool for researching almost any
topic, although it has become increasingly commercial and is now considered by many to be
one heck of an entertainment value.
The whole speed thing explained
In days of old, you practically had to have a degree in advanced quantified
thakamology to buy a modem. You had to consider modem standards, whether
you needed fax technology, actual throughput (the speed at which data is sent
and received), and so on. As more and more people jumped on the online
bandwagon, however, shopping for a modem became easier. Today you need
to concentrate only on the modem’s speed and the standards that the modem
supports. (So much for that Ph.D. in advanced quantified thakamology.)
You usually see speed advertised as bps, which is short for bits per second.
(A bit is the smallest subparticle of computer data; it’s either a zero or a one.
Different combinations of zeros and ones represent letters, numerals, and
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
When speeds differ
You might be wondering what happens if you
have a 56 Kbps modem and your friend has
an older 33.6 Kbps modem. For example, if the
two modems are transferring data at different speeds, how do they communicate? The
answer is that the faster modem in a connection always falls back to match the best speed
of the slower modem. This process is handshaking, and each modem connection that you
make begins this way: Both modems compare
top speeds and standards and then automatically choose the fastest possible speed and
standard supported by both modems.
other characters that make up words, numbers, and even entire computer
programs.) When you transfer data across a telephone line with a modem,
you’re actually sending a long stream of bits between the two computers.
The first modems generally available to the public sent 300 bps. This speed
was fine for simply reading text from a BBS. (The characters would appear on
your monitor at about the rate of a fast typist.) As programs became larger
and people wanted to do more online (and with less waiting), modems moved
through a number of speeds: from 300 to 1200 bps, 2400 bps, 9600 bps, 14,400
bps, 28,800 bps, 33,600 bps, and now 56,000 bps. (Whew!)
Modem speeds in the tens of thousands are typically abbreviated. For example, 28,800 bps is usually expressed as 28.8 Kbps (kilobits per second).
The fastest possible telephone modem available today can theoretically reach
speeds of 56 Kbps.
Check with your Internet service provider (ISP) to determine its top modem
speed (and what modem standards it supports) before you buy or scavenge a
Behind-the-scenes stuff: Modem standards
All modems sold in the past decade included a form of error control, which
makes sure that none of the data is lost or changed by noise on your telephone line. Modems also use some form of data compression, which lets the
modem send more data in a shorter time. These features are specified by
international standards — every modem around the world that supports the
same standard as your modem can automatically transfer data at the fastest
possible speed.
Chapter 10: Modems and the Call of the Internet
You don’t really need to remember what standards your modem supports to
use it, although you should consider modem standards while shopping. The
following standards determine the maximum speed at which your modem
can connect to your Aunt Mildred’s system in Wassaugh Falls, for example.
Other factors that influence modem speed include the clarity of the telephone connection, the top speed of both modems, the overall performance of
both computers, and even the type of data that you’re transferring.
Here’s a quick list of the standards that you’ll encounter while shopping for a
v.92: An update to the v.90 standard. No speed increase here over the
v.90 standard, but these modems do provide features such as quick connect (which cuts the handshaking time in half each time that you connect to your ISP), PCM upstream (which reduces the time required to
upload larger files to the Internet), and modem-on-hold (which allows
you to answer a voice call while you’re connected to the Internet). If
you’re buying a new modem, chances are that it’s a v.92 model.
v.90: The international standard approved in 1998, which can provide
transfer speeds as fast as 56 Kbps. All modems now sold support the
v.90 standard.
56K x2: One of two 56 Kbps pseudostandards that emerged before the
v.90 standard was finalized. (A pseudostandard is a proprietary standard
offered by one hardware manufacturer that isn’t adopted by the rest of
the civilized world.) These modems connect at up to 56 Kbps but only
with other modems that support the same x2 standard. If the other
modem doesn’t support the proprietary x2 standard, the modems fall
back to 33.6 Kbps. The x2 standard was developed by U.S. Robotics.
56K KFlex: The other 56 Kbps pseudostandard that appeared while v.90
was in development. These modems connect at as much as 56 Kbps but
only with other modems that support the same KFlex standard. If the
other modem doesn’t support the proprietary KFlex standard, the modems
fall back to 33.6 Kbps. Lucent Technologies and Rockwell developed the
KFlex standard.
v.34 extended: An improved version of the v.34 standard. The v.34
extended standard allows for transfer speeds as fast as 33.6 Kbps.
v.34: The most common modem standard in the early 1990s; provides
transfer speeds as fast as 28.8 Kbps.
v.32bis: Delivers a maximum speed of 14.4 Kbps.
v.42/v.42bis: The original error control/data compression combination (and probably the oldest standard that you’ll encounter in a scavenged modem). These modems usually transferred data at a maximum
of 9600 bps.
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
A bit of clarification is necessary for the 56 Kbps modem specifications:
Do you have an older, proprietary 56 Kbps modem that uses one of
those pseudostandards that I mentioned? Unless it’s upgradeable, you
won’t be able to connect at the highest speed with a standard v.90
modem. If you buy one of these proprietary 56 Kbps modems, check
with the manufacturer to determine whether it can be upgraded.
You’re more likely to encounter an African wildebeest wearing a hula skirt
in your living room than to connect at a full 56 Kbps with any telephone
modem, no matter what the specification. Your telephone line has to be
crystal clear, and conditions must be perfect. In fact, I have never received
a full 56 Kbps. And, coincidentally, I’ve never seen a wildebeest, either.
In essence, 56 Kbps is the fastest modem speed available, but the most that
you can squeeze from a standard telephone line is a respectable 49.3 Kbps
connection. This restriction is due to the conversion process between digital
and analog that the modem must perform and the less-than-perfect conditions provided by an analog telephone line.
This speed limit doesn’t apply to DSL or cable Internet, which are broadband
connections. A broadband Internet connection couldn’t care less about even
the fastest dial-up analog modem, which it considers strictly horse-and-buggy.
If you are a speed racer, are not afraid to spend money, and want all the facts
on a really fast connection, zip directly to Chapter 13.
If you’re shopping for a modem (no matter what the speed), buying an upgradeable model is worth the extra money. These modems can be reprogrammed
with the latest standards. Look for models advertising flash ROM or upgradeable firmware (fancy terms for upgrading your modem). For Windows XP
users, the manufacturer should supply a modem information file (INF file) so
that Windows can control your specific brand of modem. Your modem support should be installed automatically when you run the modem installation
software for your particular operating system; if not, follow the directions
provided in your modem’s manual for your operating system.
If you’ve chosen a well-known modem brand, Windows will probably recognize your modem automatically when you install it. Your manual should tell
you whether you need to install a new control file.
Will That Be a Card or a Case?
You can uncover plenty of pros and cons for both internal and external
modems, so determining which type is right for you is generally easy. Here’s
a list of the clouds and their accompanying silver linings:
Chapter 10: Modems and the Call of the Internet
Cost: Internal modems don’t need their own case and separate power
supply, so they’re generally 20 to 30 percent cheaper than their external
Status lights: As you can see by the example shown in Figure 10-2, external modems have lights that let you monitor how your call is proceeding.
If you know something about what the lights mean, they can be a valuable tool in figuring out whether your modem and computer are cooperating (or whether your modem has sprung a leak). Internal modems have
no lights and live inside your computer’s case, so it’s hard to tell exactly
what they’re doing.
Figure 10-2:
A typical
with light
Portability: If you have more than one computer (or if you need to carry
your modem between work and home), an external modem is worth the
extra cost. An internal modem, on the other hand, isn’t very portable.
Because it’s buried deep inside your computer case, you have to open
the case if you want to move the modem to another computer.
Security: It’s harder for an internal modem to “walk off” in an office
Less clutter: If you have limited desk space, an internal modem means
one less box cluttering up your computer desk.
Overcrowding: If you’ve already filled all the slots in your computer
with various goodies, such as a separate video capture adapter and a
FireWire card, you don’t have room for an internal modem. This is
another reason why many technoids have external modems.
Easy to install: A USB modem is about as easy to install as your keyboard or mouse!
If you’ve scavenged an external modem with a serial connection, make sure
that you also pick up the proper modem serial cable. Most modem cables use
a 9-pin connector on the computer side and a 25-pin connector on the modem
end. But many serial adapter cards with two ports have one 9-pin and one
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
25-pin serial connector. If your mouse is connected to your 9-pin serial port,
you have to connect your modem to the second serial port.
While shopping for your serial modem cable, avoid buying a null modem
cable. These special cables are designed to hook together two computers
with a direct serial connection; they usually bear some sort of printing proclaiming their identity. A null modem cable will not work with your modem.
Time to Face the Fax
Back when a 2400 bps modem was considered a speed demon, you could
choose a modem with or without fax technology. Due to improvements in
technology and chip manufacturing, however, all new modems sold today
have built-in fax support, for the same price. In fact, even if you decide on a
broadband connection to the Internet, you might find that you still need a
dial-up modem to use as your dedicated fax hardware.
The good and the bad on fax/modems
Just what exactly can you do with a fax/modem? Actually, just about anything
that you can do with a real fax machine, and a whole lot more to boot!
Naturally, you can use a fax/modem to send and receive faxes from other fax
machines or other computers. You can also build a telephone directory, automatically send faxes at night, allow other fax machines to poll your computer
for new documents, send broadcast faxes to multiple destinations, and
design your own cover sheets, just like you can with an expensive fax
machine. With a fax/modem, you can even send programs and data files to
other computers with fax/modems.
Before you decide to take on the business world with a fax/modem, however,
I must tell you about two drawbacks to faxing with a computer:
The document must be stored on your computer: You can send only
documents that you’ve created on your computer, which includes just
about any word processing document, spreadsheet, image, or whatever
you could normally print. However, you can’t fax a photograph from
today’s newspaper or a recipe from Aunt Bertha’s Hometown Hash
Handbook. Anything existing on paper is called hard copy by both the
press and computer tech types — and the only way that you can send
hard copy with a fax/modem is to first scan it into your computer (with
a scanner or all-in-one printer that has a built-in scanning feature). If
Chapter 10: Modems and the Call of the Internet
you’re interested in scanners and how you can capture digital images of
a hard copy, flip your hard copy of this book to Chapter 14.
You gotta leave your computer on: Your computer must be on 24 hours
a day if you’re serious about using it as a fax machine. Leaving your
computer on enables your modem to answer fax calls while you’re away
and send faxes at the times that you specify. If you leave your fax program running under Windows XP, you can still take care of your work
while your fax/modem lurks in the background, ready to pounce like a
fierce jungle cat on any incoming call.
Leaving your computer turned on isn’t as bad as it sounds because a
computer uses less power than you might think. Your monitor is the real
power hog in your computer system, and most people who run their
computers constantly simply turn off the monitor unless they need to
use the machine. Other PC owners use the built-in power-saving setting
in Windows XP, which allows a computer to “awaken” automatically
when an incoming ring is detected.
If you decide to use your new computer as a part of a home office, I strongly
suggest that you have a second telephone line installed especially for your
computer. Otherwise, anyone trying to send you a fax while you’re on the
phone ordering pizza is going to get an irritating busy signal. You can also use
a separate telephone line for voice mail, as described in the section “Let Your
Modem Speak,” a little later in this chapter.
Can’t add a second telephone line for your computer fax? Then you should
consider adding distinctive ring service to your existing line. This neat feature
from the telephone company lets more than one telephone number use the
same physical telephone line to your home. The telephone rings differently
for each number, so you can tell which calls are for you and which are for the
computer. Today’s crop of fax/modems and fax software can distinguish calls
and can be configured to answer only a certain ring pattern. If you want to
use this feature, make sure that your modem supports both distinctive ring
and adaptive answer (which enables the modem to automatically switch to
fax mode when necessary).
More good fax facts
“Okay, Mark, that’s all well and good, but what can I really do with a fax that
I’ve received?” That’s part of the magic of a fax/modem. If you want, you can
simply save the faxed document as a file on your computer and then view it
onscreen whenever you need it (complete with rotation and zoom). If you
want to get fancy, though, try these features on for size:
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
Print it: If you don’t have a plain-paper fax machine, you can print a fax
on your system printer. (No more of that flimsy thermal stuff that turns
yellow — we’re talking real paper here.)
Send it as an e-mail attachment: If friends or co-workers are connected
to the Internet, you can attach the document in an Internet e-mail message to them, and they can load it just as though they had received it
over the phone. This is an easy way to send a fax anywhere on the
Import it into a document: If your fax software includes OCR (short for
a real whopper of a term, optical character recognition), your computer
can actually “read” the words on the fax and insert them as text into
your favorite word processor. Although this recognition isn’t 100 percent
accurate, it’s good enough to save you lots of time that you would have
spent retyping the document.
Turn it into an electronic document: If you’ve invested in Adobe’s
Acrobat software, you can turn that fax into a PDF document, which can
be opened on just about any computer running these days. (Alternately,
you can usually convert a fax document into an image file in TIFF or
JPEG format, which are also common “legal tender” among different
types of computers.)
Edit and resend it: Most fax programs enable you to add your own text
or even draw on the original fax and then resend it. This function is great
for correcting errors or making suggestions during the development of a
hard-copy document such as a contract or lease.
If you’re shopping for a fax/modem, it’s usually hard to tell which features are
supported by the software that’s included with your modem. If the fax software that you get doesn’t support these features, invest in a full-featured fax
or communications program such as WinFax PRO or Procomm Plus (both at
Let Your Modem Speak!
Have you ever called a business and tried to contact someone who was out
of the office? You likely encountered voice mail, with which you can leave a
verbal message for a specific person. If you think that this kind of technology
is too expensive for your home office, think again. With today’s voice modems,
callers are presented with a professional telephone answering service for
your business. The cost is usually only $50 or so more than a regular fax/
Chapter 10: Modems and the Call of the Internet
Voice modem hardware and software provides a number of individual, personal voice mailboxes. (The number of mailboxes and the features available
for each mailbox vary with the modem and the software that comes with it.)
A caller can store a voice message for you by pressing keys on the telephone,
which sends numeric commands to your computer. Most voice modems
allow you to pick up your voice mail from a remote telephone, so you don’t
even need to be at your computer to check your messages.
Most voice modems also provide other amenities. For example:
Speakerphone: One of my favorite voice modem features, the speakerphone can be used to dial the phone and talk to someone through your
PC’s microphone and speakers — no telephone handset necessary! (You
can read more about microphones and speakers in Chapter 9.)
Personalized mailbox: If you have more than one message mailbox,
your voice modem should enable you to store an individual voice greeting for each mailbox.
Caller ID: If you’re curious about the origin of a call, make sure that you
get a voice modem with caller ID support, including an onscreen display
of the caller’s telephone number. (You also need to sign up for caller ID
service through your telephone company.)
Dual transmission: The best voice modems enable you to transmit both
voice and data in the same connection simultaneously. For example, you
can talk to other players during multiplayer online games or talk to
someone while sending that person a spreadsheet file.
Mail alerts: Some voice modems can even dial your pager to tell you
when you’ve received voice mail. (Personally, I don’t ever want to be that
tightly wired to my computer.)
You can choose a combination voice, fax, and data modem — or if the voice
features aren’t attractive, just a fax and data modem. The choice that you
make depends on how you plan to use your computer and the price you’re
willing to pay for a modem. Although voice technology is neat, it’s certainly
not a requirement when connecting to the Internet or sending a fax.
Installing an Internal Modem
Installing an internal modem has been compared favorably with wrestling an
enraged tiger with your bare hands — but often this observation has more to
do with trying to shoehorn an internal modem into an existing computer,
where several devices have already claimed serial ports.
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
For those who are scavenging an internal modem, you might need to change
jumper settings on the modem if another component in your computer is
already using the default COM port (another term for serial port). For example, if your mouse is using a serial port, it’s likely connected to COM1, so you
need to configure your modem as COM2. The installation software for your
modem provides you with possible settings for the COM port.
Follow these instructions in order to install an internal modem, and you
should come out unscathed on the other side:
1. Did you just brush the family dog? You’d better touch a metal surface
before you install your card!
By touching a metal surface before you touch any components, you
release any static electricity that you might have picked up.
2. If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it and remove the cover
from your case.
3. Select an open PCI adapter card slot for your modem.
4. Remove the screw and the metal slot cover adjacent to the selected slot.
Don’t forget to stick both these parts in your parts bowl.
5. Line up the connector on the card with the slot on the motherboard.
The card’s metal bracket should align with the open space created when
you removed the slot cover.
6. Apply even pressure to the top of the card and push it down into
the slot.
If the card is all the way in, the bracket should rest tightly against
the case.
7. Add the screw and tighten down the bracket.
8. Plug the telephone line from the wall into the proper jack on the back
of your computer.
If you have two jacks on the back of your modem, your modem accepts
both the telephone line and a standard external telephone, so you can
call others with the telephone when the modem isn’t using the line. Check
your modem manual to see which jack should receive the telephone line
from the wall; it’s typically marked Line or has a picture of a wall telephone jack next to it. If you want to use a separate telephone, connect
the cord from the telephone to the other jack (usually marked Phone).
Now jump to the section, “Installing Software and Testing Your Modem.”
Chapter 10: Modems and the Call of the Internet
Connecting an External Serial Modem
As I mentioned earlier, I strongly recommend an external modem that uses a
USB connection. (Your old serial modem makes a great target — hang it on
the wall and throw darts at it. I never miss.) Anyway, pay heed to this Mark’s
If you’re installing an external modem, embrace your USB port!
However, if you’ve scavenged an older external serial modem, make sure that
you have an open serial port on your computer and a modem cable with the
right connectors, and then follow these steps:
1. Locate the 9-pin serial port on the back of your case.
The serial port is a small connector, as shown in Figure 10-3.
If your mouse is already using your 9-pin serial port, don’t worry. Simply
connect your modem to your second serial port, which is usually set as
COM2. You will, however, need a cable that matches the connector for
your second serial port, which is typically a 25-pin port. Most computer
stores sell little converter things that can turn a 9-pin connector on the
end of a cable into a 25-pin connector.
Figure 10-3:
A 9-pin
2. Align the connector on the end of your modem cable with the
serial port.
The angled edges on the connector are designed to make sure that it
goes on only the right way.
3. After the connector is correctly aligned, push it in firmly.
4. If you want, you can tighten the connector by turning the knobs on
the connector clockwise.
If the connector uses screws instead, you need a small screwdriver. If
the connector is already tight enough, you can leave it as is.
5. Connect the power cord from your modem to the wall socket.
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
6. Plug the telephone line from the wall into the proper jack on the back
of your computer.
Most external modems have two jacks, which means that you can also
plug in a standard telephone and use it when the modem isn’t using the
line. Your modem manual should tell you which jack should receive the
telephone line from the wall; it’s usually marked Line or has a picture of
a wall telephone jack next to it. If you want to use a separate telephone,
connect the cord from the telephone to the other jack (typically marked
7. Turn on your modem.
Now jump to the section, “Installing Software and Testing Your Modem.”
Connecting an External USB Modem
Bully for you — you’ve made the right choice for connecting an external
modem! Follow these steps to install an external USB modem:
1. Locate one of your computer’s USB ports.
2. If necessary, connect the USB cable to your modem.
Some modems have USB cables that are permanently connected.
3. Connect the power cord from your modem to the wall socket.
4. Plug the telephone line from the wall into the proper jack on the back
of your computer.
Most external modems have two jacks, which means that you can also
plug in a standard telephone and use it when the modem isn’t using the
line. Your modem manual should tell you which jack should receive the
telephone line from the wall; it’s usually marked Line or has a picture of
a wall telephone jack next to it. To use a separate telephone, connect the
cord from the telephone to the other jack (typically marked Phone).
5. Turn on your modem.
6. Align the connector on the end of the modem’s USB cable with the
USB port.
The USB connector goes in only one way.
7. After the connector is correctly aligned, push it in firmly.
Chapter 10: Modems and the Call of the Internet
Windows automatically recognizes that you’ve added a USB modem, and you’ll
probably be prompted to load the CD-ROM from the modem manufacturer so
that Windows can install the modem’s drivers. After the driver software is
loaded, you’re ready to go. You can connect or remove your modem from
your PC at any time without rebooting because Windows XP and Windows
2003 Server both support the USB hot-swap feature. That’s convenient — and
it’s one of the reasons why USB devices are so doggone popular these days!
Installing Software and
Testing Your Modem
To configure and test your internal or external modem, you must install the
software and communications program that came with it. Follow these steps:
1. If you’ve unplugged your computer, plug it back in.
2. Connect the monitor and keyboard and push the power switch on
your monitor.
3. Push the power switch on the front or back of your case, and then
allow your computer to boot.
4. Run the modem installation software.
Insert the installation software into your CD-ROM or floppy drive and
follow the instructions (onscreen or in your modem manual) to install
the diagnostics software as well as any communications software that
might be bundled with your modem.
If you’ve scavenged a modem and you don’t have any communications
software, I would recommend a commercial program suitable for your
operating system (such as Procomm Plus; visit
Remember, you don’t need special communications software to use
Internet Explorer, Outlook, or Outlook Express.
5. Run the diagnostics program.
Today’s communications programs are written for Windows XP or Windows
2003 Server. If you plan to use one of these programs, don’t install the communications software until you’ve installed your new operating system. You
can read all about different operating systems and their pros and cons in
Appendix A.
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
Part IV
Adding the
Advanced Stuff
In this part . . .
ere I describe the power-user peripherals often
found on high-performance computers. You discover more about speeding up your PC with SCSI, building
a simple network, using a digital scanner or digital still
camera, and adding high-speed Internet connections such
as cable and DSL to your computer. The advanced (and
sometimes expensive) technology that you find in this
part isn’t a requirement for your average home or smalloffice PC, although these chapters serve as an introduction to the world of power-user computing.
Chapter 11
Attack of the SCSI Monster
In This Chapter
Understanding SCSI technology
Assigning ID numbers to SCSI devices
Shopping for SCSI
Installing your SCSI card
Adding SCSI devices
Installing software and testing your work
Troubleshooting your SCSI components
lright, quit laughing at the acronym (which, by the way, is pronounced
scuz-zee and stands for small computer system interface). Perhaps you first
heard of SCSI speed in casual conversation at your computer user group. Maybe
a friend of yours who’s a computer guru recommends it. Or your friendly hi-tech
salesperson at the computer store sidles up to you and says something like,
“You know, you could really speed up that PC of yours with a SCSI card.”
No, you’re not being flim-flammed . . . the salesperson is telling you the truth.
A SCSI component such as a hard drive can transfer data much faster than
standard enhanced integrated drive electronics (EIDE) drives — in fact, SCSI
hardware is still faster than serial ATA (SATA) hardware. (For the scoop on
EIDE and SATA drives, skip back to Chapter 7.) If you crave raw speed, SCSI is
indeed the answer to your dreams. SCSI can also support seven devices on a
single adapter card, including neat stuff such as scanners, CD and DVD
recorders, tape backup drives, and removable cartridge drives.
However, as the adage says, “You can’t get something for nothing.” And when
it comes to adding SCSI support to your computer, the process is definitely
more difficult than adding an EIDE hard drive (as I cover in Chapter 7). I
doubt that you’ll need a bottle of your favorite headache medication, and you
probably won’t turn antisocial during the installation process — but make
sure that you read in their entirety both this chapter and the manuals that
accompany your SCSI hardware.
In this chapter, I show you how to properly install and configure your SCSI
adapter card and SCSI devices.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Do I Really Need SCSI?
Before you decide to add SCSI, you need to take a hard look at your computer
and its applications. Unlike your keyboard and mouse, SCSI is definitely not a
requirement for a typical desktop PC (especially one meant for simple applications such as reading your e-mail or using Quicken), so you shouldn’t add
SCSI to your system without a darn good reason. With that in mind, here are
the darn good reasons:
Speed: SCSI hard drives, which are most common SCSI devices, are the
current king of the racetrack. For example, a properly configured SCSI
hard drive can typically transfer data at least 30 percent faster than a
standard EIDE hard drive and a good 15 percent faster than a SATA hard
drive. Whoops, there’s a downside: A SCSI adapter card provides the
fastest possible data-transfer rates for things such as hard drives and
DVD recorders, but you need to buy SCSI components to take advantage
of that speed.
Some peripherals that you wouldn’t consider speedy (such as the most
expensive high-resolution scanners) work faster and more efficiently on a
SCSI system. The most common SCSI adapter cards can transfer data at
anywhere from 20MB to 60MB per second, and more advanced variants
of SCSI (such as UltraSCSI) can achieve a phenomenal transfer rate of up
to 320MB per second. Figures like that, ladies and gentlemen, make a
techno-wizard sit up and take notice. Blazing transfer rates also make network and Web site administrators take notice, which is why SCSI hardware is typically used on server computers that handle Internet traffic
(as well as PCs built for uber-gaming or no-holds-barred video editing).
For many power users, this speed increase is reason enough to jump on
the SCSI bandwagon. However, if you want to save money or you really
aren’t worried about squeezing that extra speed from your PC, a standard EIDE or SATA system is fine.
Expansion: If you plan on hanging every internal device except the
kitchen sink on your computer, a SCSI adapter card is a natural choice.
When everything is configured correctly, a single SCSI adapter card can
take care of seven devices. (The UltraSCSI variety can handle fifteen!) An
EIDE or serial ATA controller card, on the other hand, can support a maximum of only four devices (two on the primary connector and two on the
secondary EIDE connector). Your SCSI card automatically routes data to
and from these devices, so you can even use them simultaneously.
You might be asking, “Why not use USB or FireWire rather than SCSI?”
After all, universal serial bus and FireWire peripherals are a cinch to add
to your system. However, both these connection types support only
external peripherals, such as external hard drives, digital cameras, or
Chapter 11: Attack of the SCSI Monster
scanners. Aha! — there’s the rub. So you won’t find an internal hard drive,
DVD recorder, or tape backup unit that works with USB or FireWire.
Compatibility: Some parts that require fast transfer rates use only a SCSI
interface. For example, many digital audio tape (DAT, covered in Chapter
7) backup drives still use the SCSI standard and require a SCSI adapter
because they need the fastest possible data transfer.
SCSI is recognized by a wide range of operating systems, including UNIX,
Linux, and all versions of Windows. (See Appendix A for a comparison of
operating systems.)
SCSI is available also as a built-in feature on many motherboards. If you’re
sure that your PC will include SCSI peripherals, you might want to pay the
extra cash for one of these advanced motherboards. That way, you can save
the card slot that would otherwise be occupied by a SCSI adapter.
SCSI adapter cards and devices are typically more expensive than their EIDE
cousins. If you decide to walk the SCSI road, expect to pay the higher toll. On
average, SCSI controller cards and peripherals cost about 20 to 25 percent
more than a similar piece of EIDE hardware.
Figuring Out SCSI
In theory, mapping out the internal workings of a SCSI card and the various
parts attached to it sounds no more difficult than figuring out how to pour a
bowl of cereal. Most SCSI adapter cards enable you to connect as many as
seven devices, so you can attach all sorts of neat toys, such as scanners, superfast hard drives, and DVD recorders. Internal peripherals fit on one nice cable,
and external peripherals connect directly to the external SCSI port on the
adapter card. It couldn’t be simpler: Your SCSI adapter card identifies each
device attached to it by a unique number, called a SCSI ID. Pass the milk, right?
Wrong. You must take care of a couple of other requirements before everything will work:
Identify your devices: Your SCSI adapter must be properly configured
so that it doesn’t argue with the other SCSI parts in your computer. You
must assign a unique ID number to each of your SCSI devices. For example, if you assign the same SCSI ID to your SCSI hard drive and your SCSI
CD-ROM drive, these components argue and fight over who gets the ID
number and neither drive works. Read how to set these ID numbers in
the following section, “More about SCSI ID numbers.”
Terminate your device chain: Each SCSI device connected to your SCSI
card forms a link in a chain (made from cables rather than from metal),
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
and the two ends of that chain must be correctly terminated to indicate
that no more devices are left for the SCSI adapter to access. The combination of a SCSI adapter card and at least one SCSI component is often
called a chain. If your SCSI components (including the SCSI adapter
itself) aren’t properly terminated, your computer will be unable to recognize them. Read more about chaining and termination in the upcoming
section, “More about SCSI terminators.”
If you keep these important requirements in mind when you install your SCSI
card and devices, your SCSI chain will be easier to configure.
More about SCSI ID numbers
Each SCSI device on your SCSI chain (the adapter card as well as the SCSI
peripherals) must have a unique SCSI ID number that identifies it to your
computer. SCSI-2 cards use a range of ID numbers from 0 to 7, with ID number
7 typically reserved for the adapter card itself (which leaves seven ID numbers for your SCSI components). If you’re unsure which default ID number
your SCSI controller card uses, check your manual.
Suppose that you’ve decided to add a SCSI hard drive and a SCSI internal DVD
recorder to your computer so that you can record your own audio CDs and
DVD movies. That’s a total of three ID numbers. If your SCSI card reserves ID
number 7 for itself, you could assign ID number 1 to the SCSI hard drive and
ID number 3 to the CD recorder. Figure 11-1 illustrates a simple SCSI chain.
Figure 11-1:
A simple
SCSI device
showing the
unique ID
for each
ID 3
DVD recorder
ID 1
ID 7
SCSI hard drive
SCSI card
This scenario is all fine and dandy if those ID values happen to be unique and
they’re the defaults for each part. In fact, this is sometimes the case if you’re
adding just a SCSI adapter card and one or two devices. Once again, check
the manuals for your SCSI components to determine what number the various devices use for ID number defaults.
Chapter 11: Attack of the SCSI Monster
Multiple SCSI cards for the techno-wizard
I know that many of you are sticking up your
hand with a question, and I’ll bet that question
is, “Can I install more than one SCSI card in my
computer?” Yes, you can install more than one
SCSI adapter card in your system, but unless you
use plug-and-play (PnP) SCSI adapter cards,
you’ll be facing a serious round of configuration before everything works. Unless you know
a techno-wizard with an extremely powerful
computer, you’ll find that a PC with multiple SCSI
cards is about as rare as a white tiger.
Virtually all SCSI installations involve a single
SCSI card by itself or perhaps a single SCSI
card added to an existing computer that’s
already using EIDE hard drives and devices.
Enhanced IDE and SCSI coexist pretty well in
the same machine.
When adding a SCSI adapter card or SCSI devices to your PC, keep updated
records on what devices use what numbers!
If you’re really lucky, the controller card and peripherals will have ID numbers
that are already unique. If so, you can joyfully jump to the following section,
“More about SCSI terminators.” Otherwise, grumble to yourself about Murphy’s
Law and change the matching SCSI ID numbers until each of them is unique.
You can use one of these three methods to set SCSI ID numbers on SCSI
adapter cards and devices:
Spin the wheel: Your device might have a thumbwheel on the bottom,
which you can use to change the ID number. The ID number appears in a
little window, as shown in Figure 11-2. To change the number, turn the
thumbwheel until you see a number that’s not already assigned to
another SCSI peripheral or the SCSI adapter card.
Figure 11-2:
Set the jumper: Your SCSI adapter card or device might have a series of
jumpers, which you move to set the correct ID number. Figure 11-3
shows a typical jumper (a plastic-and-metal crossover that you can move
to connect different sets of pins). To change the ID number on a device
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
that uses jumpers, pull the jumper off the pins and move the jumper to
the correct pins. For example, you might have to move a jumper that connects pins 1 and 2 to pins 3 and 4. Check the part’s manual for information
about configuring the jumper. A pair of needle-nose pliers or tweezers
makes a good tool for moving jumpers.
Figure 11-3:
1 2 3 4 5 6
Let the device set its own ID number: That’s right — some components
set their own SCSI device IDs automatically. These devices require a SCSI
adapter card that supports SCAM (a tacky acronym that stands for SCSI
configured automatically). All devices on the SCSI chain must also be
SCAM compliant.
More about SCSI terminators
The other requirement for a successful SCSI installation is the proper configuration of terminators. If terminator makes you think of Arnold as a big walking
robot with a bad temper and a bazooka, forget it — in the SCSI world, a terminator is a stop sign for your SCSI adapter card. All SCSI hardware (including
SCSI adapter cards) can be terminated.
The terminator tells your SCSI adapter card that the SCSI chain has ended
and that no other SCSI devices are remaining on the chain. Without a terminator, your SCSI card continues to look for devices farther down the SCSI cable.
On the other hand, if you terminate the chain too early and another SCSI
peripheral is connected farther along the cable, your SCSI adapter card will
never recognize that part. Either way, it’s no picnic.
Suppose that you want to add a SCSI adapter card and a SCSI scanner to your
PC. You need only two SCSI ID numbers, but you must also indicate to your
SCSI adapter card that one (and only one) SCSI peripheral is on the chain.
This SCSI configuration is the easiest type to figure out: Because both these
components mark an end of the SCSI chain, both need to be terminated.
Figure 11-4 illustrates a simple SCSI chain.
Chapter 11: Attack of the SCSI Monster
Figure 11-4:
A simple
SCSI device
showing the
SCSI card
Adapter is
Scanner is
When you introduce another SCSI peripheral, things get trickier. To illustrate,
suppose that you have a SCSI adapter card with a SCSI hard drive and a SCSI
internal DVD recorder. Figure 11-5 shows a properly terminated chain.
Figure 11-5:
chain with
two devices,
the proper
DVD recorder
SCSI hard drive
SCSI card
Hard drive is
not terminated
Figure 11-6 illustrates what happens when the SCSI adapter card is improperly terminated: Your adapter card doesn’t recognize your CD recorder, and
you can’t use it.
Figure 11-6:
we have a
DVD recorder
SCSI hard drive
SCSI card
Improper termination, so
the system does not
recognize the recorder
Hard drive is
SCSI adapter is
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Because the effects of improper termination are easy to spot, it’s usually
pretty simple to correct this problem. If you install a device (such as a SCSI
hard drive or CD recorder) and your computer doesn’t recognize the device
or you can’t operate it, the termination is probably the first thing that you
should check. Your SCSI adapter card should include a SCSI diagnostics program; running this program might help you determine what’s wrong.
You can use one of three methods to set termination on SCSI adapter cards
and peripherals:
Insert the resistor pack: As you can see in Figure 11-7, a resistor pack is
an electronic plug that typically looks like a silicon caterpillar. To terminate a SCSI device with a resistor pack, simply plug in the resistor. Your
device manual should show you where the resistor socket is located.
Figure 11-7:
of the
Set the jumper: Older SCSI devices might have a jumper, which you can
move to enable or disable termination (according to the instructions in
your device manual). To change the termination, move the jumper to the
correct pins. Check your device manual for information about configuring
the jumper. (Also see the earlier section, “More about SCSI ID numbers.”)
Set the DIP switch: DIP (dual inline packaging) switches are commonly
used to select the configuration settings for a hardware device. Use a
pointed object to slide the tiny switches, as specified in your device
manual. The switches can be either on or off. (Generally the on direction
is noted on the DIP switch itself, as shown in Figure 11-8.) One series of
on and off will equal termination and the other will disable termination
(as specified in your manual).
Figure 11-8:
of the DIP
Chapter 11: Attack of the SCSI Monster
External SCSI
If you’re using an external SCSI device (such as an external DAT backup
drive) on your SCSI adapter card, that component still needs a unique ID and
the proper termination. Your SCSI adapter should provide an external connector, which is usually on the back of the card. Because it has 50 or 68 pins,
your SCSI port is typically easy to locate. Figure 11-9 illustrates a common
external SCSI port.
Figure 11-9:
The exotic
curves of an
SCSI port.
Unfortunately, you can find a number of variations on the cable connectors
for a SCSI external device, so it’s a good idea to buy the cable after you’ve
both installed your card and bought the device.
You can attach to your PC multiple external SCSI devices, such as an external
DVD multi-drive unit and an external SCSI tape backup — a process that old,
burned-out hackers who date back to the days of the Atari and Commodore
64 (like myself) call daisy chaining. When two external SCSI devices are daisy
chained, you connect the two peripherals with a short SCSI cable — in effect,
continuing the chain through the devices. (And yes, it is just like the daisy
chaining that you can perform with USB and FireWire devices. Go figure . . . a
good idea has staying power.)
If you’re connecting an external SCSI peripheral to a SCSI card that’s already
connected to internal SCSI devices, remember that your SCSI adapter card
should no longer be terminated. In effect, the SCSI card is now in the middle
of the SCSI chain, with devices on either side.
If you do install multiple external SCSI devices, you need to terminate only
the last external peripheral in the daisy chain. For example, Figure 11-10
shows a typical external chain — adding an external DAT drive to your PC.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Figure 11-10:
A properly
SCSI chain
with an
SCSI card
Adapter is
External DAT drive
External DAT drive
is terminated
As you can see in Figure 11-11, the improper termination of your SCSI adapter
card (when it shouldn’t be terminated) will prevent other SCSI devices from
being recognized.
SCSI card
SCSI hard drive
External DAT drive
Figure 11-11:
take that
off the
Hard drive is
SCSI adapter is
Improper termination,
so the system does
not recognize the
external DAT drive
Your SCSI Shopping List
If you’ve decided to add SCSI support to your computer, be prepared to
spend anywhere from $45 to $250 for your SCSI adapter card. With such wide
price ranges, it makes sense to weigh the advantages of one card against
another. While you’re comparing SCSI adapter cards, keep these advanced
features in mind:
PCI or bust: If top transfer rates for your SCSI hard drives are your goal,
buy a PCI (peripheral component interconnect) SCSI adapter card (or
buy a motherboard with built-in SCSI support). (Get the scoop on PCI
and ISA in Chapter 4.)
Plug and play: As with other adapter cards, if your motherboard supports plug and play (PnP), you save a great deal of time and trouble if
you buy a PnP SCSI adapter card. PnP enables your computer to automatically configure your SCSI adapter card.
Chapter 11: Attack of the SCSI Monster
Bus mastering: Bus mastering is a data transfer protocol that greatly
increases the efficiency of multitasking operating systems such as
Windows XP and Linux. When you reduce the technology to terms that
mere mortals can understand, bus mastering enables your SCSI card to
move different files smoothly to different places at the same time.
Upgradeable firmware: Your SCSI adapter card has its own basic
input/output system (BIOS), so it really doesn’t need the help of the
BIOS on your motherboard to recognize SCSI peripherals and hard
drives. However, just like the BIOS on your motherboard, your SCSI BIOS
should be upgradeable; a card with this type of BIOS can be reprogrammed with bug fixes, new features, and support for new devices.
Some SCSI cards call this feature flash ROM.
Cache memory: SCSI adapter cards with onboard cache memory are
typically used whenever your SCSI hard drive (or drives) must transfer
data at the fastest possible speed, or when your computer will be
accessing a large number of files simultaneously (for example, a network
or a Web server). These SCSI cards have their own random access
memory (RAM) onboard, which holds data that the CPU accesses frequently, so your SCSI drive doesn’t have to reread that data over and
over. Some cards can even anticipate the data that your computer will
need. For example, SCSI cards with cache memory can load the contents
of a multimegabyte file into RAM, where the drive can later access it.
The larger the RAM cache, the better (and usually the more expensive
the SCSI adapter card).
Installing Your SCSI Card
The typical SCSI installation will have to share your computer with an existing EIDE or SATA hard drive. However, you can install SCSI by itself and ignore
the passé world of EIDE; if you’ve decided on a SCSI-only system, don’t forget
to strut your SCSI stuff at the next technoid get-together!
If your motherboard has SCSI built-in, you can ignore the card installation
instructions in steps 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9 — simply ground yourself (as shown in
step 1), open your case (steps 2 and 3), check termination (step 6), and attach
the SCSI ribbon cable to the SCSI connector on the motherboard (step 10). Oh,
and feel free to gloat.
1. You’ve just been kidnapped by aliens and returned, and you want to
install a SCSI adapter card? In case you picked up any static electricity, you’d better touch a metal surface before you install your card.
2. If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it.
3. Remove the cover from your case.
4. Select an open PCI adapter (32-bit) card slot for your SCSI card.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
5. Remove the screw and the metal slot cover adjacent to the selected slot.
Don’t forget to stick both these parts in your parts box.
6. Check your SCSI adapter for proper termination.
If your SCSI card needs to be terminated (because it’s at one end of the
SCSI chain), you’ll find that setting a jumper or adding a resistor pack is
much easier now than after you’ve installed the card. Remember: Your
SCSI adapter will need to be terminated if you have only internal SCSI
components to add, with no external peripherals (and vice versa).
Because you’re installing your SCSI adapter card first, the default SCSI ID
number (typically 7) is okay. (You’ll find more on ID numbers earlier in
this chapter in the section “More about SCSI ID numbers.”)
7. Line up the connector on the card with the slot on the motherboard.
The card’s metal bracket should align with the open space that’s left
when you removed the slot cover.
8. Apply even pressure to the top of the card and push it down into
the slot.
If the card is all the way in, the bracket should be resting tightly against
the case.
9. Add the screw and tighten down the bracket.
10. Attach the SCSI ribbon cable to the proper connector on the card.
Your adapter card manual can help you locate the SCSI cable connector.
For any ribbon cable, pin 1 on the male connector must always match the
hole for pin 1 on the female connector. In almost every case, pin 1 on the
male connector is the pin in the upper-left corner of the connector on the
device. Every ribbon cable has one wire that’s painted red, or somehow
marked; that wire is wire 1, and you should always connect it to pin 1.
Adding an Internal SCSI Device
After you install a SCSI adapter, you can then add internal SCSI components,
such as a DVD recorder, a hard drive, or a tape backup drive. If you’re adding
a new internal SCSI peripheral to an existing SCSI chain, remember that this
installation usually involves a change to your current termination configuration. You might have to change the termination on either end of the SCSI
chain. If you forget to set the proper termination, your SCSI adapter card
might not recognize your new peripheral. Even worse, an existing SCSI part
that’s been working flawlessly for months will suddenly stop working, too.
Chapter 11: Attack of the SCSI Monster
To install an internal device, follow these steps:
1. If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it and remove the
2. You’ve been rubbing a birthday balloon on your head, and now you
want to install a SCSI component? Don’t forget to touch a metal surface to discharge any static electricity.
3. Check the termination and SCSI ID number on your new device and
configure these settings properly.
If your new part will be connected closer to the end of your SCSI cable
than any existing SCSI components on the chain, the new device should
be terminated. For more information on terminating your SCSI hardware,
see the section “More about SCSI terminators,” earlier in this chapter.
For details on setting the SCSI ID number, see the section “More about
SCSI ID numbers,” earlier in this chapter.
If you’ve forgotten the SCSI ID numbers for other SCSI components
you’ve previously installed, you can use the SCSI diagnostics or utility
program that came with your SCSI adapter to determine the ID numbers
without disassembling your computer.
4. Select an open drive bay for your new component.
5. From the front of the case, slide the device into the bay and attach it
to the side of the bay.
Slide the component back and forth until the screw holes in the side of
the bay line up with those on the side of the device. Then secure the
part using the screws that came with it.
6. Connect one of the power cables from your power supply to the
power connector on the device.
Note that the connector fits only one way.
7. Connect the ribbon cable coming from your SCSI adapter card (or
your motherboard if it has a built-in SCSI adapter) to the back of the
If you’re installing the first internal SCSI peripheral on your SCSI chain,
use the first open device connector on the cable. If you’re installing an
internal SCSI peripheral on an existing SCSI device chain, use the next
open connector on the cable. On the ribbon cable, the wire with the
markings is on the side with pin 1. If you’re unsure which pin on the
device’s connector is pin 1, check your manual. The connector should fit
snugly, so press it all the way on after you align it correctly.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Connecting an External SCSI Device
If you’re adding a new device to an existing SCSI chain, you’ll probably have
to change your current termination configuration. You might need to change
the termination on either end of the SCSI chain. If you forget to set the proper
termination, your SCSI adapter card might not recognize your new part.
To install an external device, follow these steps:
1. Set the correct termination and SCSI ID number for your external
For more information on termination, see the section “More about SCSI
terminators,” earlier in this chapter. For details on setting a SCSI ID
number for your new external peripheral, see the section “More about
SCSI ID numbers,” earlier in this chapter.
2. Locate the external SCSI port on the back of your case.
The SCSI port is a flat, thick connector with 50 or 68 pins (refer to Figure
11-9). If you’re installing a new external SCSI peripheral on an existing
external daisy chain, plug the cable from the new device into the secondary SCSI port on the external device that’s now last on the chain. (To
understand daisy chaining, see the earlier section in this chapter,
“External SCSI.”
3. Align the connector on the end of your SCSI cable with the SCSI port
and push the connector in firmly.
The angled edges on the connector are designed to make sure that it
goes in only the right way.
4. Tighten the connector by snapping the wire clips toward the center of
the cable, as shown in Figure 11-12.
5. Connect the power cord from your external device to the wall socket.
Figure 11-12:
typically use
wire clips to
ensure that
the cable
stays on.
Chapter 11: Attack of the SCSI Monster
Installing Software and Testing
Your SCSI Adapter
To install the software required by your SCSI card and to test your new SCSI
chain, follow these steps:
1. If you’ve unplugged your computer, plug it back in now.
2. Connect the keyboard and the monitor (if you haven’t already done
so) and turn on the monitor.
3. Push the power switch on your computer case and allow your computer to boot.
4. Run the SCSI card installation software.
Insert the installation software into your CD-ROM or floppy drive (as
appropriate) and follow the instructions onscreen (or the instructions in
your SCSI card manual) to configure your SCSI management software.
5. If the installation program prompts you to reboot your computer, do so.
6. Run the diagnostics software supplied with your SCSI card.
Your SCSI card should come with a diagnostics program that lets you
test its operation. Typically, these diagnostics programs also enable you
to check for proper recognition of devices on the SCSI chain.
Troubleshooting Your SCSI Devices
So you’ve installed a SCSI device and . . . nothing. Your computer doesn’t recognize your new peripheral. Brothers and sisters, I’ve been there, and I feel
your pain. Believe me, this situation is the definition of the word hassle.
Before you take a chain saw to your computer, here’s a quick checklist of possible causes for the problem:
Are your ribbon cable connections correct? Pin 1 on the male connector must match hole 1 on the female connector — this applies to both
the adapter card and the device. (External SCSI peripherals don’t have
this problem.)
Termination, termination, termination! This is the classic problem when
adding a new SCSI component: The last device on the internal SCSI cable
should be terminated. If you have one (or more) external SCSI peripherals,
the last of those peripherals should be terminated. If you don’t have any
external components, your SCSI adapter should be terminated.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Does the device have a unique SCSI ID? Without a unique ID, two SCSI
peripherals will fight to a standstill like drenched cats, and neither of
them will work.
Is your SCSI device receiving power? Don’t forget to plug in an external
SCSI peripheral. Internal SCSI components should be connected to one
of the power cords leading from your computer’s power supply.
Do you need to install a device driver? Although your SCSI card
might recognize your new SCSI component, don’t forget to install any
manufacturer-specific software drivers that might be required for the
Is the device conflicting with existing SCSI components in your PC?
Run the SCSI diagnostics program that came with your adapter card to
determine whether your new peripheral is recognized by your computer; if it is, the problem is probably not caused by a SCSI device conflict. If the new part isn’t recognized (and both termination and SCSI ID
numbers are okay), it’s probably time to call the manufacturer’s technical support hotline.
Chapter 12
So You Want to Add a LAN?
In This Chapter
Determining your networking needs
Understanding network architecture
Gathering the hardware and software you need
Evaluating traditional and alternative networks
Installing a network interface card
Connecting your network computers
Installing driver software
mong the many revolutionary concepts that have rocked PC design for
more than two decades, the most important has been the desktop computer network. On a local area network (or LAN, for short), your desktop PC
can share programs and data with other computers in your home or office.
With the right equipment, your networked PCs can run programs and use
shared hardware that resides on a central server computer. You can use a
network to share a broadband digital subscriber line (DSL) or cable Internet
connection, too. In fact, with network software called groupware, you can participate with others in officewide projects, where everyone works and communicates together. Networks can be as small or as large as you like: They
can link desktop computers in an entire building or an office with ten computers, or you can simply connect two or three PCs in your home to share
the same printer and exchange e-mail.
Gamers, don’t feel left out because the business types get to have all the fun.
Networks also enable several players to compete in the same game, with
each player using a different PC. These first-person graphic multiplayer battles began with the first version of Doom, the classic shoot-’em-up game. But
now just about every game that arrives on the store shelf features network
play. You can race cars, build empires, pilot star fighters, or deliver a cyber
karate chop to your boss. (If you’re a real gladiator, you can even set up a network at home just for gaming.)
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Adding network support isn’t for everyone. If you have access to only one
computer or you have no pressing reason to add your computer to an existing network, you can stop reading here and jump to the next chapter.
Feel like connecting? Then read on!
Adding the Network Advantage
If you use several PCs in your home, you might want to connect them through
a network. By doing so, you can share data between your computers —
everything from a shared family calendar to your kid’s artwork. In addition,
with a network you can also look forward to the following benefits, which I
call the four Cs: convenience, communication, cooperation, and contact.
Imagine being able to load a document into your word processing application
directly from someone else’s hard drive — no running back and forth with a
floppy disk. (Most techno-types call the archaic floppy disk method a sneakernet.) If your PC is connected to a network, you can transfer files, run programs, and access data on the other networked computers, just as though
those programs and files resided on your local hard drive (that is, the drive
that’s physically in your own PC).
The convenience of a network doesn’t stop with just data, though. You can
also share peripherals. For example, on a network, you can share a printer, a
DVD-ROM jukebox, a fax/modem, or a tape drive, which is a great way to cut
expenses for a small business that has just a handful of employees. Instead of
buying a printer for each PC, everyone can share the same printer.
With software such as Procomm Plus (from Symantec, at,
you can even access your network from a remote site by using a modem connection. For example, you can use the modem on your home computer to
connect to a modem server on your office network. After you successfully log
on (enter your username and the correct password), you can retrieve files or
answer e-mail.
One of the primary uses for a small office network is interoffice electronic mail.
E-mail software is built into Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server, although
you can find e-mail clients (applications that let you read e-mail) for DOS and
Chapter 12: So You Want to Add a LAN?
Linux as well. E-mail can contain more than mere text messages; you can
include attachments such as data files, voice and video clips, or even entire
Unfortunately, you can also share a virus with the outside world through a
LAN connection or e-mail attachments. Get yourself a good antivirus program,
such as Norton AntiVirus (, install it, and keep it updated!
With an antivirus program running while you’re using your computer, you’re
protected — just in case.
Standard 100 Mbps (or even 1000 Mbps, or gigabit) networks with fast transfer rates can support videoconferencing between computers on the network.
Because everyone involved needs a video camera, videoconferencing isn’t
widespread yet, although it could eventually replace the telephone for those
with a high-speed Internet connection.
For businesses of every size, the answer to office cooperation is a groupware
system. A typical groupware system such as Lotus Notes from IBM (www.lotus.
com) includes e-mail and an electronic public message base (where you can
leave messages of general interest, such as announcements), along with a
common word processor, spreadsheet, and database program that everyone
uses. Each of these common applications shares the same documents, so
anyone can use and update those documents. Groupware enables users to
discuss, change, and revise data on a project, often simultaneously. For example, in a small office, Bill can add a note to a proposal for a new product while
Jane makes a change to the product’s dimensions. (Even Microsoft has joined
the groupware bandwagon. For example, you can also work with the same type
of cooperative documents using Microsoft Office under Windows 2003 Server.)
Using groupware also enables you to coordinate numerous schedules when
you want to organize a meeting or an office event. By using a shared calendar,
for example, family members can specify when they’re available during any
given week, thus allowing anyone who’s planning a family event to keep track
of upcoming soccer games or music lessons.
The final benefit, contact, refers to contact with the Internet. If your computer has access to an existing office network, that network might already
have a fast, dedicated connection to the Internet. With a network connection
on your office PC, your file transfers and Web surfing will be many times
faster than they would be over a modem connection.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Yes, home office types can also distribute a single Internet connection
amongst the entire network gang! As I mention earlier in this section, both
Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server allow you to share a broadband
Internet connection among all the computers on your network. Or, if you like,
you can allow everyone on your network to access the Internet connection
by using a hardware device called an Internet router (also called an Internet
gateway or Internet sharing device).
Do you need to connect to a network to access the Internet? Definitely not! A
majority of home computer owners still connect to the Internet through a
dial-up connection (Chapter 10 tells you all about using a modem) or one of
the high-speed connections (as I describe in Chapter 13). Although the
Internet is actually a huge network of smaller networks, you do not need your
own network to use it.
Deciding Which Network Architecture
Is Best for You
This section explains the basic terms that you need to know when discussing
networks. I show you the fundamentals of network architecture, which is the
structure in which you string computers together. Read on to find out how to
construct a basic network with the smallest investment in time and money.
You could go full-bore and network all the PCs in your entire neighborhood,
but that’s not what this book is about. For you home users and small-business
owners, this section gives you the basics on constructing a small network of
two to five computers, called nodes in network terms. For more detailed information on building a network, I suggest that you check out Home Networking
For Dummies, 3rd Edition, by Kathy Ivens (Wiley).
Comparing client-server and
peer-to-peer networks
Desktop networks fall into one of two mysterious categories; you continually
hear them mentioned if you hang around a networking techno-nerd. Rather
than force any well-adjusted human being into hanging around such a social
derelict, let me explain these terms up front:
Client-server: This term is one of the more popular buzzwords in use by
the computer elite these days. Luckily, client-server turns out to be simple.
Chapter 12: So You Want to Add a LAN?
On a network, a client is simply a computer that uses the network’s
resources. Usually, a client computer is the computer on your desk.
The other half of the name, the server, refers to a computer dedicated to
providing a resource for the client computers on the network. For example, a file server provides the other computers on the network with the
fastest access possible to a set of files, which reside on the server
instead of the individual client computers. Other servers, such as dedicated CD/DVD servers, printer servers, and modem servers, allow everyone on the network to use the same hardware and access the same data.
A client-server network is a network that includes one or more server
computers, no matter what the function of the server. Although file
servers and printer servers are the most common shared resources, any
server transforms your network into a client-server network.
Peer-to-peer: For once, the name means what it says. A peer-to-peer network has no servers — all computers are connected to each other. (In
fact, every computer is as good as its peers.) You save the cost of an
expensive server computer, but it’s harder for computers to share the
same information. A peer-to-peer network is best for the home user or
for an office in which everyone simply wants to exchange e-mail and files
or use a common printer. Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server both
include simple peer-to-peer networking, which is suitable for file and
printer sharing.
Comparing network configurations
Wait — don’t breathe yet! Now that you understand the difference between
client-server and peer-to-peer, you should know something about the three
popular configurations of desktop computer networks:
Simple Ethernet: Ethernet was the first widespread network topology
used with PCs. (Topology is a 50-cent word for network structure.)
Ethernet is still the most popular network topology by far, and it works
equally well as client-server or peer-to-peer. Traditional Ethernet networks without a switch transfer data more slowly and less efficiently
than a star Ethernet network (which I describe in the following bullet).
On an Ethernet network, each computer’s network card is assigned a
unique identifying electronic number. Packets of data are broadcast
across the entire network. The computer that matches the number collects the packet and processes it; computers that don’t match the
packet ignore it. If two computers attempt to broadcast packets at the
same time, the entire network is basically placed on hold until the conflict passes. This on-hold delay accounts for the relative inefficiency of
an Ethernet network without a switch.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Star Ethernet: The star Ethernet network topology is the king of the hill
in PC networking, with the best performance and highest efficiency.
A star Ethernet network is built much like a modern railroad switching
station: Each computer sends data packets to a central switch, which
routes the data to the proper receiving node. Because each node is separately connected to the switch, a star network enables each computer to
send data packets at the same time, and no conflicts arise that might
reduce the efficiency of your Ethernet network. The switch simply keeps
up with each packet and suspends those it can’t send immediately
(rather like an airport control tower placing an airplane in a holding pattern). When the receiving node is ready to accept the data, the switch
gives the packet “clearance to land,” and the packet is allowed through
the switch. Figure 12-1 illustrates a star Ethernet network.
Most home and small business PC owners who want to install a network
should stick with the star Ethernet topology: It’s cheap, easier to install, and
supported by Windows 2003 Server and Windows XP. Hey, you’re now a network techno-genius — you understood the buzzwords! Better go look in the
mirror and see whether you’ve grown a beard or suddenly sprouted a pocket
protector full of old ballpoint pens. (Suspenders are a dead giveaway, too.)
Figure 12-1:
The star
uses a
Chapter 12: So You Want to Add a LAN?
Anyway, an Ethernet network with a switch best fits the requirements of quick,
easy, and cheap. In fact, many Ethernet networking do-it-yourself packages
are now available, such as the Linksys EtherFast 10/100 Network in a Box
(, which sells for around $50 online; it features two network cards, all the cabling that you need, and a five-port switch. (More on
switches later in the chapter.)
Shopping for an Ethernet kit? It should include most of the required hardware
and software, but note that many of these packages still require you to buy
your own cable and connectors. On the positive side, they can be installed by
mere mortals (or a brand-new techno-wiz like you). If the PCs you want to connect already have built-in 10/100 network hardware, you don’t need a kit —
just a switch and cables.
Selecting a network operating system
If you’re familiar with networking under Windows XP, you already know that
you can use the built-in Ethernet networking support offered in both
Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server.
As I discuss in Appendix A, Windows 2003 Server and its older sibling,
Windows 2000, have become the operating systems of choice for larger networks that use a server. For peer-to-peer networking in the home or a small
office, Windows XP is a better choice than UNIX and Linux; UNIX and its progeny work best as servers, and UNIX is more difficult to set up and maintain
than Windows XP.
Collecting What You Need
for an Ethernet Network
As you can tell, I like the “everything’s included” approach, and I always recommend a networking kit for those setting out on the Ethernet voyage for the
first time. However, if you’re buying your network supplies from different places
or you’ve scavenged an adapter card or two, you need to make sure that you
have the proper hardware. Here’s a quick checklist of what you need:
Network interface cards: You need a network interface card (NIC) for
each computer that you plan to connect to your network. I discuss these
cards in the next section. (If the PCs on your network use motherboards
with integrated NIC hardware, you won’t need separate cards, and you
have my admiration.)
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Cabling: Today’s Ethernet networks use twisted-pair cable, which resembles telephone wire. This option is usually chosen for a home network
and is far more popular today than coaxial cabling (although coax is still
often used in networks installed within the walls of a home or an office).
Twisted-pair cable has a connector (an RJ-45) that looks very much like
a telephone wire, as you can see in Figure 12-2. With twisted-pair cabling,
each computer is connected to the switch. Figure 12-3 shows a typical
twisted-pair star Ethernet configuration.
Figure 12-2:
A twistedpair cable
and connector,
ready to
Client computer
Server computer
Twisted-pair cable
Figure 12-3:
A typical
Chapter 12: So You Want to Add a LAN?
You can connect two computers using twisted-pair cable without using a
switch, but three or more computers on a twisted-pair network require a
switch. If you’re connecting just two computers for multiplayer games,
file transfers, or printer sharing, ask your local computer store for a
twisted-pair crossover cable.
Software: If you’re running any flavor of Windows 98 or later, the software that you need for a peer-to-peer network is built in. (Thanks,
Switch: A switch makes the maintenance and upgrading of your network
much easier because all your network computers are connected to a
single box. As I stated earlier, a switch also provides the best performance and highest efficiency for an Ethernet network — it’s A Good
Thing indeed.
More stuff about network interface cards
As I mentioned earlier, if your motherboard has network hardware built-in,
you can skip this section with a smile.
The most expensive part of an Ethernet network is the network interface card
required for each computer. A typical network card uses a PCI slot — or, if
your motherboard includes integrated Ethernet networking hardware, you
can save that slot and avoid buying a separate network card.
Like every other adapter and part you can stick in your PC, some cards cost
more than others. The following checklist tells you what important features
are offered by a good network card:
Light emitting diode (LED) status lights: The status lights on a network
adapter card help determine what’s gone wrong if you experience problems. For example, a green light usually indicates that the adapter is correctly receiving a broadcast signal from the cable.
Certified: How can you tell whether the network interface card that
you’ve chosen will work with your flavor of Windows? Look for interface
cards carrying the manufacturer’s certification that the card works with
your chosen network software. The certification process involves testing
by both the software manufacturer and the card manufacturer, ensuring
that the card performs without problems. Most certified network cards
advertise their compatibility, but if you need reassurance, you can
always check with the card manufacturer.
Automatic or software configuration: No one wants to bother with
setting jumpers to configure a network card. The best network cards
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
automatically configure themselves after you’ve connected them to your
Full driver support: Check the manufacturer’s Web site or technical support department to make sure that the card comes with the necessary
drivers for your operating system. Those drivers should also be available for multiple operating systems because you never know when you
might have to hook a computer running Linux to your network.
More stuff about cables and connections
Installing the cables and connecting everything is the most time-consuming
chore involved in setting up a traditional cabled Ethernet network. Keep
these guidelines in mind when you shop for cables and connectors (and also
while you crawl around under desks):
Making cables is no picnic: I can’t stress this enough, so it’s Mark’s
Maxim time.
Unless you’ve created your own network cables before, buy them
Building your own cables from scratch is roughly akin to crafting a grand
piano from a bowl of jelly — with a pair of chopsticks. I’m not going to
discuss how to create cables in this chapter: a number of different varieties are available, each of which is rated to handle specific network
speeds. It’s much easier to walk into your computer store or call your
favorite mail-order outlet and ask for a premade network cable (sometimes called a patch cable). Ready-made cables come in several standard
lengths and already have the connectors on both ends, too. You don’t
waste time or money trying to learn how to cut cable, and you can be
sure that the cable works.
Always buy extra cable: No matter how well you plan your network and
how closely you measure the distance between your computers, something’s going to come up that demands more cable or more connectors.
Buy cables at least a foot longer than you think you need.
Get help: Enlist the aid of someone to hand you things, prepare cable,
and listen to your epithets.
Just Say No to exposed cable: Although running cable behind a desk or
along the baseboards does work, avoid exposed cable whenever possible. You’d be amazed at how clumsy people can be (even if you’ve taped
your cable under a rug) as well as how a cat’s gnawing teeth can lead to
lost data and a lost network connection.
If your cable has to cross a hallway or corridor and your building uses a
suspended ceiling, you might try routing the cable above the ceiling
tiles. For a solid ceiling, the molding used by electricians to cover
exposed cables works well.
Chapter 12: So You Want to Add a LAN?
There Are Always Exceptions!
After you become familiar with the virtues and requirements of a traditional
star Ethernet network using twisted-pair cable, guess what? You can toss all
that to the four winds! What if I told you that I can install a network without
running a single piece of Ethernet cable or a pesky network interface card?
It’s true: Thanks to the arrival of four alternative network technologies,
you’re no longer tied down to your grandfather’s LAN, and these technologies
work with any network software that uses a standard Ethernet connection.
All four are compatible with Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server, too.
However (isn’t there always a however whenever it comes to computers?),
these new networks also have their own limitations, so let’s take a look at all
four. After you’ve finished this section, you can decide whether to stick with
the tried-and-true twisted-pair cable Ethernet network or whether to strike
out on your own with a new breed of home network.
Use your telephone wiring
Alexander Graham Bell would have never conceived that his invention could
carry network packets, too. (Of course, he had very little training in computer hardware.) With a home phoneline network (HomePNA for short, at, your Ethernet hardware uses existing telephone wiring
in your home or office to transmit network data packets. To connect a new
PC to the network, you install a special network interface card, locate the
nearest telephone jack, and (snap!) plug in a cable. The jack can be located
anywhere within your home.
Unlike a dial-up connection to the Internet through your modem — which
rudely claims your telephone line and presents a busy signal to the world —
a HomePNA network allows you to use your telephone normally for answering and dialing voice calls.
On the downside, a HomePNA network is slower than a standard cabled
Ethernet connection, although it should be fast enough for multiplayer
gaming and sharing an Internet connection. Most cabled Ethernet networks
run at 100 Mbps (and some expensive hardware can reach 1000 Mbps), but
current HomePNA networking hardware is limited to about 10 Mbps. Also,
the hardware is a bit more expensive than a typical Ethernet kit, running
approximately $100 for a two-PC HomePNA kit. You should also consider how
many telephone jacks are spread throughout your house. Because most
homes have only a handful, you’re somewhat limited with this option.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Use your AC wiring
Come to think of it, there’s another network of wiring within the typical
house — but can AC current and computer data coexist? You bet! You simply
plug a powerline adapter plug (which acts as a network card) into any AC
wall socket in your home and connect the other end of the cable to your computer’s network interface card (or USB port). You probably have an AC outlet
in just about every room of your home, so this system is a little more adaptable than a HomePNA network.
As you might expect, speed and cost are again the issues: A powerline network
is somewhat slower than a home phoneline system, and it’s much more expensive than a basic twisted-pair Ethernet kit. I’d recommend this option for those
who want only basic file and printer sharing because it’s not really fast enough
for multiplayer gaming or for sharing a DSL or cable Internet connection.
Use your USB port
If you don’t mind cabling things together, the USB port — the jack-of-all-trades
of the PC world — can act as a network portal for your computers. Like a
powerline network, this option doesn’t require network cards, and you don’t
have to remove the case on your computer. One end of each cable connects
to the USB port on each PC in your network, and the other end of each cable
connects to a black box called a USB hub. The hub both connects the cables
and — surprise — acts as a switch in a traditional Ethernet network.
A USB network is about the same price as a standard Ethernet network kit, so
it’s cheaper than a home phoneline or powerline network. At 10 Mbps, it’s
also faster than a home phoneline network but far slower than a full-fledged
twisted-pair 100 Mbps Ethernet network.
Unfortunately, the downside for a USB network is tied to the length of the
cable. There can be a maximum of only 10 meters between computers on a
USB network — which, coincidentally, is also the maximum length of a standard USB cable. Anything longer, and your network signal fades between computers. Of course, this isn’t a problem if all your computers are in the same
room, but I don’t think that the Brady Bunch will be using a USB network.
Go wireless
If you eschew any type of wiring, hop on board the wireless Ethernet bandwagon! For this option, each PC in your network needs a wireless network
adapter card (or built-in integrated wireless hardware). You also need a
stand-alone piece of hardware called a wireless base station or wireless access
Chapter 12: So You Want to Add a LAN?
point, which acts as the switch of your network, transmitting and receiving
data from the computers. The two common wireless networking standards to
choose from follow:
802.11b: This is the most common wireless standard, more popularly
called Wi-Fi. It can reach about 10 Mbps, and the signal can be received
up to 75 to 100 feet away, depending on the intervening walls and any
electrical devices such as cordless phones and microwave ovens that
might interfere with the signal. 802.11b hardware should be good
enough for sharing a broadband Internet connection wirelessly.
802.11g: Don’t ask me who decided on the name, but 802.11g is much
faster, allowing maximum connection speeds around 54 Mbps. (802.11g
hardware is much more expensive than 802.11b stuff. Go figure.)
Anyway, this new faster standard is backward compatible with any
“antique” 802.11b hardware that you might pick up. 802.11g is a better
choice than 802.11b for network applications that demand faster data
transfer, such as copying and moving large files of 250MB or more
between your laptop and your home network or for playing today’s
latest network games. (Just to be confusing, many folks call this faster
standard “Wi-Fi” as well. Go figure.)
Okay, okay. There’s one more (albeit “orphaned”) wireless standard on
the market: 802.11a, which also does 54 Mbps. However, I strongly recommend that you give 802.11a the widest berth possible because it’s not
backward compatible with 802.11b, and PC manufacturers are already
dismissing it in favor of 802.11g. Remember, g is better than a! (Don’t you
just love engineers?)
Both Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server can handle wireless connections
with aplomb, maintaining the proper security so that your next-door neighbors don’t use your Internet connection for free.
For a comprehensive look at wireless connectivity in your home, check out
Wireless Home Networking For Dummies, by Danny Briere, Walter Bruce, and
Pat Hurley (Wiley)
Installing Your Network Interface Card
Ready to install your first PCI network interface adapter? Make sure that
every computer on your network that needs a network card has at least one
PCI slot open. Follow these steps:
1. Just finished polishing the silverware? Touch a metal surface before
you install your card to discharge any static electricity on your body.
2. If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it.
3. Remove the cover from your case.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
4. Select an open card slot for your network card; then remove the
screw and the metal slot cover adjacent to the selected slot.
5. Line up the connector on the card with the slot on the motherboard.
The card’s metal bracket should align with the open space left when you
removed the slot cover.
6. Apply even pressure to the top of the card and push it into the slot.
The bracket should be resting tightly against the case.
7. Add the screw and tighten down the bracket.
8. Connect the network cable to the corresponding port on the card.
Your adapter card manual can help you locate the network cable connector on your card.
9. Install the network adapter card driver software.
Check your card’s manual for information on how to load the driver software for your particular operating system.
Connecting a Twisted-Pair Cable
If you’ve ever plugged a telephone cord into a wall or a modem, you’ve probably performed a twisted-pair connection before:
1. Push the male connector into the female connector until it clicks.
The connectors fit only one way. Figure 12-4 illustrates the connection.
The connection is the same for both cable-to-switch and cable-tonetwork cards.
2. There is no Step 2.
Figure 12-4:
Folks, it
doesn’t get
any easier
a twistedpair cable.
Chapter 12: So You Want to Add a LAN?
Turning Things On
After you install the network adapter cards in all your computers and connect
your cables, all that remains to get things running is to install the driver software on each computer and “flip the networking switch” inside Windows XP.
The exact steps and the order to follow in the network driver installation
process vary according to the version of the software, the operating system
on the computer, and the options that you select. Therefore, the generic
steps coming up might not match what you see onscreen. Luckily, the card’s
installation program should display complete instructions, so you should
always follow the onscreen directions when things vary.
To install the software, follow these steps:
1. If you’ve unplugged your computer, plug it back in now.
2. Connect the keyboard and monitor (if you haven’t already done so)
and push the power switch on your monitor.
3. Turn on your computer by pushing the power switch and then allow
your computer to boot.
4. Run the driver installation software provided by your network
adapter card manufacturer.
Insert the install software into your CD-ROM or floppy drive and follow
the onscreen instructions. You’ll likely have to provide an identifying
name for this PC on your network.
5. Allow the installation program to reboot your computer. Watch the
network start-up messages and write down any error messages that
These error messages and possible solutions should be listed in the
card’s manual.
After you install the drivers on the PC, you can use the Windows XP New
Connection Wizard to automatically configure the computer as a good network citizen. To run the wizard, choose Start➪All Programs➪Accessories➪
Communications➪New Connection Wizard, which displays the dialog box
that you see in Figure 12-5.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Figure 12-5:
XP New
your sanity.
Follow the wizard’s prompts (which appear as a series of honest-to-goodness,
understandable English questions), and Windows XP will configure itself for
you. (If you feel the urge to hug Bill Gates afterwards, that’s normal.)
Chapter 13
Life in the Fast Lane
with Broadband
In This Chapter
Determining your connectivity needs
Comparing broadband with 56 Kbps analog modems
Comparing broadband services
Finding an Internet service provider (ISP)
roadband Internet connections represent a dream come true for
telecommuters and Internet junkies. Imagine transferring data over
existing telephone lines with throughput anywhere from 640 Kbps to 8 Mbps.
Think about smooth, real-time videoconferencing that doesn’t look like a bad
silent movie from the 1920s. Picture an Internet connection that lets you
receive a Web page and talk to someone on the telephone simultaneously.
Huzzah! You just have to have a broadband connection, right?
As my favorite Western star, John Wayne, used to drawl, “Hold on there, pardner.” Yes, you can do all that with broadband (think high-speed Internet, as
compared with an old-fashioned analog dial-up modem). But a high-speed
broadband connection, like digital subscriber line (DSL) or a cable Internet
connection, definitely isn’t for everyone, although many techno-nerds want
you to believe that. (After all, if broadband were that essential, everyone
would already have it, like a toothbrush or a pair of cheap sunglasses.)
In this chapter, I cover all the advantages and disadvantages of broadband,
such as its expensive hardware and higher subscription rates compared to
a dial-up connection. In fact, DSL and cable access are still not available in
some areas of the United States, and the rate that your telephone or cable
company charges for access might be outrageous.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
In short, I present you with a fair and honest picture of your high-speed
Internet options. You can decide for yourself whether you just have to
have broadband.
Figuring Out Whether
You Need Broadband
Before you go any further in this chapter, you should decide whether you
need a broadband connection to the Internet. For example, there’s no reason
to even consider the expenses involved in cable or DSL if all you do is connect to the Internet for a few minutes a day to check your e-mail. Of course,
you don’t have to meet any certain criteria to add a broadband Internet connection to your system, but it really isn’t cost effective to use it for only a few
minutes a day.
Choosing cable or DSL could be a winning proposition if you fit one of these
Internet junkie: I’m talking heavy-duty Web surfing here — at least three
or four hours a day of Internet access. If your primary activities on the
Internet are file transfers using file transfer protocol (FTP) or Web surfing, a broadband connection will be great for you. However, if you use
the Internet for only an hour a day — or if your primary Internet applications are e-mail, newsgroups, instant messaging, or Telnet — I recommend sticking with a 56 Kbps analog modem. (See Chapter 10 for more
about modems.)
Telecommuter: If you need high-speed access to your office network
from your home, DSL is a good choice. You can connect to the network
at your office and log on normally, just as though you were sitting at a
computer at work. (Take my word for it: If you work from a home office
using your computer, broadband is a must-have. Heck, perhaps your
employer will pay for it.)
Conferencing wizard: A broadband connection is practically a requirement for high-quality videoconferencing, such as over a local area network connection or over the Internet. If you’ve tried conferencing over
an analog modem, you’ll be amazed at the difference. Broadband provides the fast data-transfer rates for audio and a larger screen as well.
Multimedia lover: Looking for the best sound from Internet radio stations? Do you crave online music downloading from services such as
Apple’s iTunes Music Store? Or perhaps you love to download those
trailers for upcoming movies? Then sign up for broadband because a
dial-up connection just won’t cut it.
Chapter 13: Life in the Fast Lane with Broadband
What about ISDN?
Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) is
certainly a name chock-full of healthy buzzwords, but the important piece of the name is
the digital part. (For those of us who have been
running bulletin board systems and using the
Internet long before it became fashionable, the
abbreviation has subtly changed. If you’ve been
waiting for the arrival of digital networks for
several years now, like I have, ISDN has come
to mean It Still Does Nothing.) ISDN was the first
arrival on the high-speed Internet scene, and
we all know what happens to the first generation of just about any technology, right?
Although an ISDN connection is similar to a DSL
connection in some ways — for example, ISDN
uses the same physical telephone line as your
traditional analog connection, like DSL —
I heartily recommend that you give ISDN the cold
shoulder for three big reasons. First, ISDN is considerably slower than DSL, which cuts down on
the broad in broadband. Second, ISDN isn’t an
always-on connection like DSL. Heck, you actually have to dial the ISDN number to reach your
ISP, just like you would with a standard dial-up
connection using a modem! (How mundane.)
Third, ISDN is virtually extinct now because of
the popularity and convenience of DSL service.
In other words, it’s the first big loser in the broadband technology wars.
Actually, make that four big reasons because
ISDN is much harder to install and configure
than a DSL connection, and the equipment necessary to add an ISDN connection is more
expensive, too.
Comparing Communications Technologies
For many years, people wondered whether 28.8 Kbps was the fastest transfer
rate that could be squeezed out of an analog modem over a typical telephone
connection. (You get the gist in Figure 13-1.) Notice that I said typical. Because
a crystal-clear analog modem connection is a rare jewel indeed, it pays to
remember that analog lines are probably only 85 percent noise-free. Modem
manufacturers then squeezed a little harder, and lo and behold, suddenly the
top possible transfer rate was 33.6 Kbps. Everyone shook their heads with
finality and said, “Surely that must be the fastest possible speed!”
Figure 13-1:
A slow, tired
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Nope. Modem manufacturers have again proved the techno-types wrong. The
v.90 and v.92 international standards now provide a top data-transfer rate of
56 Kbps (with compression). Will these faster dial-up speeds forestall the
eventual doom of the dial-up analog connection?
The answer is “Definitely not!” If you fit the mold of the typical broadband
customer that I outlined previously, the advantages of DSL or cable far outweigh the money that you save with a simple analog modem connection. The
nearly perfect quality of the DSL line means virtually no interference. Both
cable and DSL will still be superior in raw throughput.
Analog dial-up technology just can’t keep up. You’ll need a nearly perfect
analog v.92 connection to get anywhere near the top throughput of 56 Kbps
on an analog modem, and that just doesn’t happen often in the real world.
(You’ll more likely end up with anywhere between 36 Kbps and 43.2 Kbps
throughput.) Your throughput will vary from call to call. (For more information on high-speed modems and their mating habits, jump to Chapter 10. I’ll
wait for you here.)
On the other hand, Figure 13-2 illustrates a digital signal, which is basically a
long string of zeros and ones, or on and off states (the same digital vocabulary spoken by your computer and your audio CD player). That means no
interference and approximately the same connection throughput at all times.
Plus, most cable and DSL systems remain connected to the ISP (and therefore
the Internet) at all times, so you need never listen to those screeching dial
tones again.
Figure 13-2:
A spunky
signal, full of
vim and
However, a 56 Kbps analog modem connection will have an effect on the popularity of broadband for some time to come. The higher cost of a broadband
connection, the higher ISP subscription prices, and the extra hassle involved
with setting up a broadband connection will keep millions of people satisfied
with a high-speed analog modem.
Chapter 13: Life in the Fast Lane with Broadband
“So, Mark, what’s the difference between DSL and cable connections? And
what other higher-speed connection options do I have?” I’m glad you asked!
Cable modems: With a cable modem and an enhanced cable network
(which must be capable of two-way communications), your cable company suddenly becomes an ISP and can supply you with a digital Internet
connection of 500 Kbps or faster. Cable modem service is now available to
most cable subscribers. With the nearly universal access of cable, this
type of broadband connection could well turn out to be the long-awaited,
high-speed connection for the common person. (Unfortunately, a cable
modem connection forces you to share bandwidth with all the other cable
Internet subscribers in your area. Therefore, your top speed depends on
the time of day and the current number of connections to your cable
Cable service has other advantages: A high-speed cable modem connection doesn’t interfere with your cable TV service. And if your house is
already wired for cable TV, it’s a cinch to expand that service to a cable
modem. Your telephone suddenly reverts to the job it had originally:
handling voice (and sometimes fax) calls, blissfully free of busy signals
and modem noise! Finally, your cable Internet service is always on.
Most cable Internet providers include a cable modem as part of their
service. This “black box” looks like a regular analog modem, but it connects to your coax cable on one end and to a network card installed in
your computer on the other. If your computer doesn’t have a network
interface card installed already, your cable company will probably provide one and install it as well.
DSL: Like cable modems, DSL was once another “could be big in just
a year or so” technology. Like cable Internet access, it was about as
available as sunshine in Carlsbad Caverns. Recently, however, DSL has
become a power player as local telephone companies expand and
improve their DSL coverage, with top speeds around 4 to 10 Mbps for
received data (depending on the flavor of DSL being installed) and as
much as 2 Mbps for transmitted data.
Like its ancestor ISDN, DSL uses a digital signal, and it works over the
standard copper telephone line in your home, so all you need is — you
guessed it — a DSL modem (which is usually supplied by your local
phone company) and a network interface card for your computer.
(Depending on the service that you receive, you might also need a splitter to separate the regular phone signal from the higher-frequency DSL
signal.) Like a cable modem connection, most DSL connections are
always on, so you don’t have to dial your ISP, and you can use your
voice telephone and place regular calls at the same time you’re connected to the Internet! Most DSL connections require you to have an
Ethernet network card in your PC, but some ISPs offer USB DSL modems
for computers without a network port.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Do you want a WAN?
If you’ve installed an Ethernet network, you can
use your broadband Internet connection to
create a WAN (a ridiculous sounding acronym
that stands for wide area network). This procedure is one method of tying together more than
one network; you connect the two networks
through your Internet connection using virtual
private networking (VPN). Suddenly your home
network can become a part of your office network — share the same files and access the
same e-mail server with aplomb! Creating a
WAN is no easy matter, and there are security
concerns (such as hackers trying to access
your network through the Internet), so it’s best
to seek professional help in tying your home
network to an outside network.
Whether you can obtain DSL service also depends on your distance from
the telephone switch. In most areas, your home or office can’t be farther
than 18,000 feet from a switch or local cable loop that supports DSL, so
it’s nigh impossible to obtain DSL service in your mountain cabin.
Multilink modems: A multilink analog connection using two telephone
lines and a special modem can deliver data at up to 112 Kbps. Modem
manufacturers such as 3Com are offering “doubling” modems. A bonded
analog connection uses standard telephone lines (which are nowhere
near perfect), so don’t expect 112 Kbps with every connection. Windows
XP and Windows 2003 Server Edition provide support for multilink connections. I wouldn’t recommend a multilink analog connection unless you
simply can’t get faster Internet access in some other way; the hassle of
two telephone lines for a relatively small increase in speed just doesn’t
compare with cable or DSL.
Satellite Internet connections: In Chapter 15, I discuss satellite Internet
connections in detail. They’re fast, but they usually require you to continue to use your analog modem connection — and most Internet junkies
don’t want anything to do with those “antique” 56K analog modems anymore. However, if you can spend the money, you can get a two-way satellite Internet connection that doesn’t require a phone line or modem —
and that might be the only viable alternative for that mountain cabin I
keep mentioning.
Figuring Out Those Connection Charges
The biggest expense in going broadband isn’t the hardware that you add to
your computer, which is usually covered by your cable or DSL provider as
part of your subscription. Rather, it’s the installation charges and monthly
access fees levied by your local telephone company.
Chapter 13: Life in the Fast Lane with Broadband
Installation charges for a broadband connection differ widely across the
globe, and every local telephone and cable company has a different pricing
plan. Some telephone companies make it as easy to install a DSL line as a
standard analog line. They offer telephone ordering for DSL service and Web
sites with helpful instructions; some will even charge a flat monthly rate.
Other telephone companies offer no presale help for DSL users (forget the
Web site) and charge an hourly rate that will leave you pounding your head
against a wall when the bill comes in. It all depends on where you live.
The important thing to remember is that you need full support from your
telephone or cable company before you begin your broadband quest.
Installing a cable modem is not a fun project that you can do yourself, and
DSL connections are usually installed professionally, so I won’t go into the
setup or configuration of a broadband connection here. (In fact, it’s important to note that you can’t follow the same procedure that you would use to
set up a dial-up Internet connection because DSL and cable Internet subscribers are effectively connecting through a local area network. They don’t
dial to connect to the ISP.)
What’s an average rate for broadband service? Installation costs an average
of $25 to $50, although you might get free installation if you’re on the ball.
Monthly broadband ISP charges typically range from $35 to $50.
Locating an Internet Service Provider
After you decide to go broadband, you have another bridge to cross: You
need to find an ISP that offers the service that you want. (From this angle,
broadband callers are no different from callers using analog modems. You
still must have an ISP to link you to the Internet.)
You might be limited to only one ISP for your cable or DSL connection:
namely, your cable company or local telephone company. However, some
larger cities offer more than one choice for your broadband provider. Here’s a
quick checklist of possible sources for local ISP information:
Your telephone book: Like any other business, the Yellow Pages likely
lists the ISPs in your area.
Friends, relatives, and neighbors: Ask those around you for the name of
their ISP. You can also find out whether they’re satisfied with the quality
of service that they receive from their ISP (and whether their connection
slows down during peak hours).
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Local computer stores: Computer stores are always a good source of
Computer club or user groups: You’ll get a chorus of possibilities from
club members.
Local bulletin board systems: If you’re already calling a local bulletin
board system (BBS), leave a message addressed to everyone about their
ISP recommendations or ask the BBS sysop (system operator).
Use the Net to find an ISP
Do you already have Internet access . . . perhaps
at work? If so, check out at (you
guessed it) This Web site has
information and links to thousands of ISPs in the
United States, Canada, and around the world (so
that even you readers in Djibouti or Liechtenstein
can find an ISP easily). Use these resources to
find out which ISPs in your area offer DSL, what
type of 56K modem standard they support (see
Chapter 10), and what the ISP charges for broadband installation and monthly access.
Chapter 14
Input and Output: Scanners,
Cameras, Video Capture,
and Printers
In This Chapter
Selecting a scanner
Understanding digital camera technology
Capturing images and video clips from a video source
Choosing the right printer
Installing your scanning hardware and printer
f you have lots of artistic talent, your computer can be a wonderfully creative tool. Just ask anyone who makes a living as a computer desktop publisher, graphics designer, or 3-D rendering wizard. With the help of today’s
powerful software, you can use a computer to produce a convincing image of
an oil painting or create a fleet of 3-D spaceships so real that you’d swear that
they really exist.
But what if you’re like me? I learned long ago that I failed finger painting in
first grade for good reason — I can’t draw even a stick figure. Thanks to
today’s scanners and video capture devices, though, anyone can convert a
kid’s drawing, a photo of a ball team, or a small business logo into a digital
image. (And don’t forget that you can print your digital images with an inkjet
or a laser printer.) You can even use a digital camera to snap your own original digital images or use a Webcam to record digital video.
Although these peripherals aren’t requirements for assembling a PC, they are
requirements for joining the world of digital photography and digital video —
and just try creating a hard copy of your resume without a printer! Therefore,
consider yourself warned: You’ll likely be choosing up at least one or two of
these toys within a few months after you’ve finished building your computer!
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
The Wide, Wonderful World of Scanners
Are you looking for images to add to your desktop-publishing project or your
personal Web page? If you’re searching for graphics and you’re not having
much luck, cheer up — you’re probably sitting in the middle of a gold mine.
With the help of a scanner, which converts a printed page to a digital image,
you can digitize graphics from books, magazines, cereal boxes, CD covers,
your children’s doodlings, and even the daily newspaper. Anything that you
can legally copy (and lay flat) is fair game for scanning. I write more about
copyrights in the sidebar “The lazy person’s guide to copyrights,” elsewhere
in this chapter.
A decade ago, a top-quality, high-resolution color scanner would set you back
at least $1000, but today (thanks to the wonders of modern manufacturing,
good clean living, and the worldwide popularity of digital scanning), a color
scanner with the same specifications will cost you less than $200, making it
an affordable addition to your PC. In this section, I discuss the various types
of scanners on the market and what you should look for while shopping.
For a comprehensive look at scanners (including basic image editing, maintenance, troubleshooting, and a huge repository of scanning tips and tricks), I
invite you to pick up a copy of another of my books, the bestselling Scanners
For Dummies, 2nd Edition (Wiley).
Recognizing scanners in the wild
Scanners come in four flavors these days:
Flatbed scanner: “Yessir, this here’s your Cad-ee-lac of scanners. Ain’t she
a beaut?” In fact, the flatbed scanner looks more like a copy machine than
a luxury car. But now that flatbed models have dropped so dramatically in
price, they’re the clear choice for most shoppers. The large scanning area
of a flatbed enables you to spread out an entire magazine or a book page.
Flatbed scanners typically offer higher resolutions and better color depth
than sheetfed scanners (which I discuss in the following bullet). Even 8 x
10 glossy photographs are no problem. In other words, images scanned on
a flatbed scanner offer greater detail and more true-to-life colors. The
Hewlett-Packard Scanjet ( and the Microtek ScanMaker
series ( are two well-respected models of flatbed
Figure 14-1 shows a typical flatbed scanner. Older flatbed scanners typically used a small computer system interface (SCSI), which (at the time)
provided the fastest possible scanning speed. Most late-model flatbed
Chapter 14: Input and Output: Scanners, Cameras, Video Capture, and Printers
scanners now use a USB (universal serial bus), SCSI, or FireWire connection. If your PC has USB connectors, a USB scanner is the easiest route
for connecting a scanner. And, coincidentally, I discuss these ports in
Chapter 5.
A flatbed scanner is your best choice!
Sheetfed scanner: A typical sheetfed scanner looks similar to a fax
machine and takes up less space on your desk (as shown in Figure 14-2).
With a sheetfed scanner, you feed in letter- or legal-size sheets of paper,
which the scanner draws in automatically. Unfortunately, this process
limits sheetfed scanners to source material no larger than a sheet of
paper. And unlike with a flatbed scanner, you have to tear a page out of a
book or magazine (or photocopy the page first) to scan it. Also, if your
source image is smaller than a page, you might need to tape the image to
a sheet of paper for the sheet feeder to pull the image in. (You can also
use a clear plastic sleeve to hold smaller items for scanning.)
Figure 14-1:
All hail the
flatbed, the
king of
Figure 14-2:
A sheetfed
looks much
like a fax
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Photo scanner: Photo scanners are a relatively new breed of image scanner. They’re available as external USB peripherals that you can carry
with your laptop. These scanners scan individual pictures (or even small
printed items, such as business cards or a driver’s license). Most people
use photo scanners to digitize prints that they’ve taken with a regular
film camera. Because a photo scanner can’t accept any original wider
than a photograph, however, the size of the material that you can scan
with one of these devices is limited. (Photo scanners should not be confused with negative/slide scanners, which are mondo expensive; they
produce incredibly high-resolution scans of film negatives and slides.)
On the other hand, photo scanners are automatic and fun to use — just
feed the picture in and the scanner slowly spits the picture back out as it
reads the image. Photo scanners generally offer the same scan quality as
a sheetfed scanner, and they run on any PC with a USB connection. Unless
you’re sure that your scanning needs will be limited to film prints, consider a flatbed scanner, which is far more versatile.
Handheld scanner: In olden times, when flatbed scanners were too
expensive for most computer owners, handheld scanners were the cheap
alternative. To use one, you run the scanner across the material that you
want to scan. A handheld scanner can read a strip only about four inches
across, so if your source graphic is larger than that, you need to scan the
entire picture in multiple strips and then “paste” the strips together using
a graphics editing program. This almost sounds like fun, but in real life,
most people I know with handheld scanners have never been able to successfully merge strips together. Plus, if you’re not careful and deliberate
about moving the scanner across the picture, you end up distorting the
scan and have to start over. Figure 14-3 shows a traditional handheld
Figure 14-3:
A typical
scanner —
do not buy
this object.
Chapter 14: Input and Output: Scanners, Cameras, Video Capture, and Printers
The pen is mightier than the handheld
Unlike an antique handheld scanner, a pen
scanner like the Logitech io 2 digital pen
( is a cutting-edge piece
of technology: In real time, the io 2 can scan
handwritten notes and sketches while you write
and draw. The io 2 is also great for those who
enter appointments and action items into
Microsoft Outlook because the pen scanner
records them while you’re writing them down —
and then you can automatically import your new
data into Outlook! At about $200, the io 2 is an
easy investment to make, but there is one
downside: You have to buy a special type of
paper to use the pen, as well as custom paper
inserts for things such as your Day Planner.
Because of their low resolution and all the hassle (and the fact that flatbed
scanners are so much more affordable today), handheld scanners are
antiques. Give ’em a wide berth.
Diving into color depth
Most scanners advertise 24-, 36- or 48-bit color, which is a measure of how
many colors that a scanner can record in the electronic version of an image.
Color depth is important because you want the electronic image to include
the full range of colors found in the original. For example, if you’re creating a
Web site featuring famous paintings, you would probably rather offer images
with 16.7 million colors (which is about the maximum that the human eye can
discern) than 16 colors (which would produce masterpieces that resemble
paint-by-number pictures).
Any scanner on the market these days will be capable of a minimum of 24-bit
color. If a scanner is advertised as true color, it’s probably a 24-bit model. A
30-bit scanner can record images in as many as 11 billion colors, and a 36-bit
scanner can deliver more than 68.7 billion colors.
This same 24-bit color figure comes up again when computer folks discuss
their video adapters. In the world of video adapters, 24-bit color is equivalent
to the 16.7 million colors that a modern video adapter card can display on a
super video graphics array (SVGA) monitor. (You can find more about video
adapter cards and monitors in Chapter 6.)
Please pass the image
Another feature that you should look for in a color scanner is single-pass
scanning. A single-pass scanner makes only one scanning trip across the
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
source material and captures the entire image at one time. On the other
hand, you can still find a handful of triple-pass scanners, which must make
three trips to scan the same image. If the scanner must make three passes,
you introduce three disadvantages:
Shaky scan: There’s more chance for a slight movement in the original
material, which can cause distortion in the final image. Any movement of
the scanner (even a tiny bump) can affect the image. Of course, closing
the cover on your scanner helps, but if you’re scanning a book or something that’s not completely flat, it’s hard to keep your material perfectly
motionless. (For this reason, never scan material while on a Ferris wheel
or any other moving surface.)
Boring: A triple-pass scanner typically takes three times as long to scan
an image.
Memory drag: A triple-pass scanner must store three separate images
and combine them by using software, which usually means that your
computer will need more memory and more temporary hard drive space
to produce the final image.
For these reasons, pick up a single-pass scanner. Trust me.
Resolving the right resolution
Many people tend to base their purchase of a scanner solely on the advertised resolution (usually in dpi, short for dots per inch). The higher the resolution, the better the quality of your scanned image. Most scanners available
to normal human beings like you and me have these standard raw (or optical)
600 x 600: Appropriate for the kids and their school projects
1200 x 1200: Good for scanning snapshots and photographs from books
or magazines; images for Web sites
2400 x 2400: The standard resolution for a good-quality scanner
4800 x 4800: Suitable for graphics artists who need high-resolution
detail at a higher price
It’s true that the higher the raw resolution, the better the scanner. However,
some manufacturers also advertise the interpolated resolution for a particular model. What’s the difference between raw and interpolated resolution?
The answer is in the software: The raw resolution value is the actual optical
resolution at which the scanner reads an image. The interpolated resolution
(the value of which is always higher) is calculated by the software provided
with the scanner. In fact, the interpolated value adds extra dots to the
scanned image without reading them from the original material.
Chapter 14: Input and Output: Scanners, Cameras, Video Capture, and Printers
Technoids would tell you that the interpolation step uses an algorithm (a
mathematical formula) to improve the quality of the image. In layman’s
terms, that’s the equivalent of the imaging software inserting new dots by
using an intelligent guess — but it’s still a guess. (Call me old-fashioned.)
When you’re shopping for a scanner, judge it by its optical resolution and
forget about the interpolated value. If you don’t see the raw or optical resolution in a scanner’s advertisement, check with the manufacturer to get that
crucial bit of information first . . . before you buy.
Scanners and . . . Mark Twain?
Buying a TWAIN-compatible scanner is a good idea. TWAIN is commonly
thought to stand for technology without an interesting name — at last, a group
of techno-types with a sense of humor — but it actually refers to a line from
Kipling, “and never the twain shall meet.” Anyway, trivia aside, TWAIN is a standard that ensures that your scanner will work with the image-capture software
and other graphics applications on your system. If both the hardware and the
software are TWAIN compatible, it doesn’t matter who manufactured either
piece. (Pretty refreshing, eh?)
Figure 14-4 illustrates my favorite TWAIN-compatible, image-editing software,
Paint Shop Pro, acquiring an image from my Webcam. I heartily recommend
Paint Shop Pro. You can download the shareware version of this great program from
Because TWAIN compatibility makes such good sense, just about every scanner made today supports TWAIN, although it never hurts to make sure before
you buy.
Most scanners come bundled with various software programs, which should
include the image-acquisition software that you need for scanning. You might
also receive other software, such as an image-editing program, a desktoppublishing application, or an optical character recognition (OCR) program.
OCR software can “read” the contents of a printed page that you’ve scanned
and enter the text from the page right into your word processor, just as
though you had typed the text yourself. Although OCR technology isn’t perfect and you might need to correct some errors, you don’t have to manually
retype the entire contents of a page into your word processor.
See the sections at the end of this chapter for the lowdown on installing a
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Figure 14-4:
an image
with Paint
Shop Pro.
Digital Camera Details
Until the arrival of digital cameras, getting original photographs into your
computer as images was a laborious chore. You had to take the exposed film
to your friendly photo lab to get the pictures developed, and then you sat
down at your expensive flatbed scanner and slowly digitized each of the finished prints into your computer.
If you need a large number of original digital images and you want to avoid
the drudgery of scanning them, look no further than the digital camera. Like
scanner technology, the digital camera has been around for some time, but
until recently, the typical digital camera was so expensive that you needed a
bodyguard to carry one. Prices for digital cameras have now dropped to less
than $200 on some models, although the higher-priced models with more features still hover around $500 to $1000 (or more). Popular brands include
Casio, Hewlett-Packard, Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Kodak, and Olympus.
You might be wondering where a digital camera stores the pictures and how
you “develop” them. The images that you take are stored in flash RAM, a form
of memory with the neat ability to store information after you turn off the
camera. More expensive digital cameras have more flash RAM onboard, so
they can store more pictures. (Not every digital camera uses flash RAM.
Chapter 14: Input and Output: Scanners, Cameras, Video Capture, and Printers
Some use removable cartridges, others have tiny hard drives, and some
models of digital cameras even use standard 1.44MB floppies or mini-CD
Loading the pictures from a digital camera into your PC couldn’t be easier:
You simply connect an appropriate cable between the camera and your PC’s
USB (or FireWire) port, run the camera’s software, and the pictures download
right from the camera into your computer. (I explain how to add these ports
to your computer in Chapter 5.) The cable is usually furnished with the
Figure 14-5 shows an image taken with a typical digital camera (and displayed
in Paint Shop Pro). The picture was taken with a Casio digital camera, which
stores a maximum of 96 24-bit images. Ignore the strange guy with the vacuum
cleaner; I couldn’t crop him out of the picture.
Figure 14-5:
A very
photographed by
a digital
Most digital cameras look similar to their film-based cousins (including
accessories such as a flash and that useless wrist strap). Point-and-shoot digital cameras are typically just as easy to use as the simple point-and-shoot
35mm film cameras available in any drugstore. Here’s a list of features that
can help you spot a better digital camera while you’re shopping:
LCD viewfinder: Now this is a feature I really like! An LCD (liquid crystal
display) viewfinder can help you see what your picture will look like
before you take it. Most digital cameras that offer this feature also let
you review your picture immediately after you take it, so you can judge
the results immediately and retake the shot if necessary. “Whoops, little
Sparky wasn’t smiling in that one, was he? We’ll just take it again from
the top.”
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Photo management: This feature gives you the ability to review and
delete your pictures from the camera itself. For example, if you’re out in
the field taking shots of houses for your real estate company and you
suddenly run out of RAM for new pictures, you can flip through your
images and delete those that you don’t want. Deleting the unwanted
images frees up additional RAM, and you’re back in business. Note: Some
older digital cameras require you to hook your camera up to your computer to delete shots, or you have to delete all your pictures at once.
Removable flash RAM: Although more expensive cameras have more
built-in flash RAM elbow room, the ultimate is a removable flash RAM
card system. If you have one of these cameras, you can simply buy
another flash RAM card and swap the cards for more storage whenever
you need it. The card that you remove stores the images you’ve already
taken until you can get them loaded onto your computer.
Higher resolution: Just like a scanner, a digital camera has a resolution
rating. In fact, many digital cameras can take pictures at more than one
resolution. It’s important to remember that the higher the resolution for
an image, the more space the image takes in RAM. Therefore, cameras
with multiple resolutions give you a choice. (You can have either a
smaller number of higher-resolution pictures or a larger number of
lower-resolution pictures.)
Unless you spend a fair chunk of change on a digital camera (read that
as $500 or more), you’re not going to get anywhere near the fine detail of
a 35mm film camera (even the cheaper point-and-shoot models). If you
need to save money but you still want high-resolution images, you might
decide to stick with the tried-and-true method of scanning film prints. In
general, a higher-resolution flatbed scanner is still much less expensive
than a higher-resolution digital camera. (If you plan on scanning lots of
photographs, check out the photo scanner information in the section
“Recognizing scanners in the wild,” earlier in this chapter.)
Compression: Digital cameras can compress your images so that they
take less space in memory. These images are similar to the highly compressed JPEG-format images common on the Web. Although you lose
some detail when you use compression, it’s usually not noticeable. These
cameras can pack many more images into their memory, so your “roll” of
digital film can carry twice (or even three times) the number of pictures.
A camera with variable compression might enable you to turn off compression, too. (If a digital camera saves images in the TIFF format, you’ll
get better quality, but you’ll get fewer images on a memory card because
TIFF images are larger.)
Zoom: The more expensive digital cameras have the same zoom feature
found on standard film cameras. Zoom enables you to magnify your subject for more detail. The higher the optical zoom offered by a camera,
the more expensive it usually is.
Chapter 14: Input and Output: Scanners, Cameras, Video Capture, and Printers
Special effects: Many cameras now offer onboard special effects, just
like the familiar special effects on a typical video camcorder. Typical
effects include automatic color palettes (which give your images a special look, such as sepia tone or pastel) and negative imaging (in which
the image looks like a photograph negative).
Digital Video Capture: Its Time Has Come
PCs have the ability to capture digital video; that is, you can display synchronized video and audio on your computer (or save it on your hard drive for
playback later). With the right hardware, you can record and store video from
any source, including a standard camcorder, your VCR, or a PC videocamera
(often called a Webcam). You can use digital video in numerous practical
ways on your computer, including videoconferencing, video clips for the Web,
business presentations, and even multimedia programming for games.
Making sure your PC can
handle digital video
If you’re taking full advantage of an advanced video card, DVD-ROM drive,
and the raw power of the Pentium 4 and Athlon CPU families on the market
today, you can easily work with digital video on your PC. At the time of this
writing, Pentium 4 and AMD Athlon 64 chips are the best choice for digital
video. Also, digital video takes up a lot of bytes, so make sure that you have
a roomy hard drive to handle all your clips.
At a minimum, your PC needs a Pentium 4 processor — for the AMD crowd,
an Athlon 64 processor should do the trick. You’ll also need a video card with
at least 64MB of RAM, and your PC should have at least 10 gigabytes of free
space to handle the digital video files.
Getting other gadgets for digital video
No matter how powerful your processor, your PC can’t do digital video all on
its own. You need to add other gadgets and software as well so that you can
capture the video and then edit it on your PC.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
You can use two general methods to capture video clips and still photos on
your personal computer:
Capture new video in digital form: For this you need a digital video
(DV) camcorder or Webcam. Webcams are perfect for videoconferencing, capturing simple video clips, or taking still images of you and the
kids — these cameras usually look like a little ball or a small box sporting a camera lens. They sit on top of your monitor and connect to your
USB port. (More expensive models connect to your FireWire port;
FireWire transfers data at a much faster rate for smoother and betterlooking footage.)
Convert other video sources into digital video: For this, you need a
video capture device that can produce digital video from an analog
source. Such a capture device attaches to your computer in many ways;
most are internal adapter cards, and others are USB or FireWire based.
After you install a capture device, you can plug a VCR, laser disc player,
or analog camcorder into it as the source. Like a computer videocamera,
a video capture device can capture continuous video clips or just snap
still images.
With a video capture device, you can also take all those home movies
that you’ve taped on bulky videocassettes and transfer them to recordable CDs or DVDs. (See Chapter 8 for more about CD and DVD recorders.)
After you capture video, you’ll want to edit it. With the recent improvements
in hardware speed and video quality, a ton of commercial and shareware
video-editing programs are on the market today, such as Adobe Premiere Pro
( With Premiere, you can add digital effects and WAV-format
digital sound to your AVI video clips. Video capture hardware typically comes
with bundled software, which might include a video-editing program and a
multimedia studio (such as Macromedia Director;
While you’re editing video on your newly assembled PC, you’ll quickly run
head-on into The Big Question: What digital video file format should you use
to save your finished classics? The two most popular formats for digital video
these days are AVI (the Microsoft standard supported in Windows XP and
Windows 2000) and MOV (the Apple QuickTime format, which originated on
the Macintosh but is now available also for the PC). Another popular format
that you encounter often on the Web is the MPEG standard, which is highly
compressed and more suitable than AVI or MOV files for downloading. I
prefer MPEG because it’s recognized in just about any video-editing application (and MPEG is the standard format for DVD movie discs, too).
Both Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server include support for playing DVDs.
(For more about DVD video, check out the DVD discussion in Chapter 8.)
Chapter 14: Input and Output: Scanners, Cameras, Video Capture, and Printers
Reducing the size of video clips
After you start using your new PC for digital video,
you’ll soon realize that even highly compressed
digital video can take up a tremendous chunk of
hard drive territory. Don’t be surprised to see ten
seconds of high-quality, high-resolution video
occupying 10MB of hard drive space. However,
you can adjust a number of settings to reduce the
size of a video clip after you’ve recorded it:
Color depth: Of course, video looks best in
24-bit true color, but you can reduce it to 256
colors and thus reduce the size of the file.
movie film. Although a greater number of
frames makes for a smoother video, you
can reduce the frame rate to shrink the size
of the video file.
Size of the video: Traditionally, reducing the
onscreen size of a video clip has been the
solution most people take when working
with digital video, which is why video clips
were typically three inches square a few
years ago. The smaller the onscreen size of
the video, the smaller the size of the file.
Frame rate: A frame is an individual image,
like the single images that make up a roll of
One Word: Printers, Printers, Printers!
If you ask computer owners what one peripheral gives them the most value
and fun for their money, most would probably say a modem or a printer. The
printed page is still useful in today’s world (at least for now), and the latest
inkjet and laser printers can produce everything from T-shirts to transparencies, from greeting cards to stickers, CD and DVD labels, glossy photos, banners, and paper airplanes. Calendars, business cards, coloring books . . . you
can see just how useful a printer can be, especially if you have kids.
In this section, I discuss what’s available in a printer these days for less than
$500 and how you can choose the right model for your needs.
Will that be laser or inkjet?
You have two breeds of computer printer to choose from these days:
Laser: A laser printer uses heat to bond a fine powder (toner) to the
paper to form characters and images. Although laser printers were once
very expensive, the technology has dropped in price. Many black-andwhite low-end models are now available for around $100; color laser
printers hover around $300.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Inkjet: An inkjet printer shoots ink onto the paper. Inkjet printers (also
known as Bubble Jet printers) are the most popular personal printers
around these days. Inkjets can produce images ranging from standard
black text to quality photographs. In fact, inkjet technology is used in
high-resolution photo printers and in multifunction printers (which combine a fax, copier, and printer in one unit).
Dot matrix: A scavenger might encounter a dot matrix printer, which creates characters by pushing tiny pins through an ink ribbon (rather like
an old-fashioned typewriter). The days when dot matrix was king are
behind us. These printers are noisy, prone to jamming, and don’t print
graphics very well. Plus, they print only in black. However, you can still
find dot matrix technology in limited use whenever the job demands
forms with multiple carbon copies because inkjet and laser printers
can’t print carbon copies.
The lazy person’s guide to copyrights
Just because you can capture a video clip from a
VCR or scan an image from a magazine doesn’t
mean that you can use it. Be careful when you’re
choosing material for your documents or your
Web site. Although I’m not a lawyer, I can provide
you with a few pointers that might steer you clear
of original copyrighted material. Keep these
guidelines in mind:
copied, but it doesn’t matter where you
obtained the material. If it’s copyrighted,
sticking the text or image on a newsgroup
does not make it public domain (intellectual
property that’s not protected by copyright
because it “belongs to the community at
large”). You still need permission from the
author to use the copyrighted material.
Beware the hidden copyright: Under current law, copyright is granted immediately
upon creation of an original work, and copyrighted text or images can be protected by
copyright regardless of whether a copyright
notice appears with the material.
Alterations mean zip: Another common
misconception is that “If I draw a mustache
on this picture of Mr. Spock, it becomes my
original work.” Altering the original material does not reset or clear the copyright, and
you still need permission.
Make sure permission is granted: You must
obtain permission to copy any original copyrighted work, even if the author has previously granted you permission for other work.
For example, just because you obtain permission to use one of a series of pictures on
your Web page does not mean that you can
use the entire series of images: You must
obtain permission for each individual image.
A change in media means nothing: If you scan
a copyrighted image from an original on paper,
the electronic image or document doesn’t
suddenly become your original work. (If it
did, I would have claimed the works of
Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mark
Twain a long time ago.) You guessed it — the
copyright still remains valid, and you need permission from the author to use the material.
The source is important: Most people think
that images they receive from an Internet
newsgroup or copy from a Web site can be
Consult your lawyer: Above all, if you’re
uncertain whether you can legally copy
something, ask your lawyer!
Chapter 14: Input and Output: Scanners, Cameras, Video Capture, and Printers
You should look for a number of features if you’re shopping for either an
inkjet or a laser printer: Your new printer should be able to print legal- and
letter-size paper, envelopes, and labels. The bigger the paper capacity, the
better. The printer that you select for your system should also be able to
handle at least 150 sheets of paper. And any printer that you consider should
also come with additional software, such as a printing kit for kids (with software and blank paper) or a business printing kit, as well as the driver software you need for your particular operating system. (See Appendix A for
more about operating systems.)
If you’re buying a parallel port printer, don’t forget to buy a bidirectional parallel printer cable at the time you purchase your printer. Printer cables are
typically not included with the printer.
Other features are specific to the type of printer, so it’s time to examine the
advantages of both inkjet and laser printers.
Advantages of inkjet printers
Inkjet printers offer these advantages:
Less expensive to buy: Inkjet printers range from $45 on up, and the
least expensive laser printers typically start at about $100. I should note,
however, that laser printers produce a better looking black-and-white
page for less money than a typical inkjet, and they can handle heavier
printing loads. If you’re looking for a heavy-duty monochrome printer
with good quality for an office, a laser printer ends up costing much less
in the long run when it comes to supplies.
Cheaper ink: Ink cartridges for an inkjet printer are somewhat less
expensive than a toner cartridge for a color laser printer. You can also
refill your used black ink cartridges to save even more.
Cost-effective color printing: Although laser printers also offer color,
you can expect to pay at least $500 to a whopping $1000 for a color laser
printer (depending on the quality and speed of the output). Most inkjet
printers use a dual-cartridge system (both cartridges are loaded side by
side). One ink cartridge contains black ink, and a separate color ink cartridge contains at least three colors of ink. Some inkjet printers use five
or more separate ink cartridges for printing true-color, 24-bit images,
which deliver really amazing results. (They can actually match photoprint quality.) However, to get the best results with these special cartridges, you’ll need special glossy inkjet paper.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
If you crave color on a budget, stick with a more expensive inkjet printer
that has a higher resolution of 1440 x 720 or 4800 x 1200. You’ll still
spend less than $200.
Higher resolution: A printer’s resolution is measured in dots per inch
(dpi). Most laser printers can produce 600 x 600 or 1200 x 1200 dpi resolution, but today’s inkjet models under $200 can do much better, at 4800 x
1200 dpi. These printers are better choices for high-resolution graphics.
In general, inkjet printers are better suited to the home or to an office requiring quick color printing.
Advantages of laser printers
Thinking about a laser printer? Laser printers offer these advantages:
Faster printing: Laser printers can hit anywhere from 12 to 30 pages
per minute, which is faster than an inkjet’s average of 8 to 12 pages per
No smearing: Because laser printers bond the toner to the paper, your
documents are reasonably safe from water. The ink used to print pages
on an inkjet printer usually smears if it gets wet.
True black: Even a dual-cartridge inkjet printer can’t deliver the true
black of a laser printer, especially in graphics with large areas of black.
More pages per cartridge: Black toner cartridges are more expensive
than black inkjet cartridges, but they last much longer: You’ll generally
get about double (sometimes even triple) the number of pages from a
black laser toner cartridge. Toner cartridges can also be refilled, thus
saving you quite a bit of money over a new cartridge.
Laser printers are a better choice for offices of every size and any situation
where the best-quality black print is required.
Installing a Printer with
a Parallel Port Interface
The process of installing a scanner or printer with a parallel port connection
is the same. Follow these steps:
1. Locate the 25-pin parallel port on the back of your computer case.
Figure 14-6 shows a standard parallel port.
Chapter 14: Input and Output: Scanners, Cameras, Video Capture, and Printers
Figure 14-6:
A parallel
Parallel port
(25 pins, male)
2. Align the connector on the end of your parallel cable with the parallel
port and push it in firmly.
The angled edges on the connector are designed to make sure that it
goes on only the right way.
3. If you like, you can tighten the connector by turning the knobs (or
screws) on the connector clockwise.
If you feel the connector is in firmly, you can leave it as is.
4. If you’re installing a printer, connect the other end of your cable to
the printer.
5. Connect the power cord from your printer to the wall socket, turn the
peripheral on, and restart your PC.
If you’re using Windows XP, your PC will automatically recognize the new
device during the boot process. Depending on the age and type of peripheral,
Windows might prompt you to insert the driver disk that came with the
device. Or, if the driver was included on the Windows CD-ROM, you might be
prompted to load your Windows CD-ROM so that the computer can locate the
driver. (Check the manufacturer’s Web site for driver software if you’ve scavenged a printer and didn’t get any drivers!)
If you’re adding a parallel port printer to your system, a new icon for your
new printer should now appear in your Printers folder.
Installing a Scanner, Capture Device,
or Printer with a USB Connection
If you’re using a scanner, capture device (such as a Webcam), or printer with
a USB connection under Windows XP, follow these steps:
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
1. If necessary, connect the USB cable to the device.
Some USB peripherals have their own cables permanently attached, and
others accept standard USB cables.
It’s always a good idea to check to see whether you need to buy a USB
cable for your new device before you leave the store!
2. Plug in the peripheral’s power supply and turn it on.
3. After you’ve booted Windows normally, plug the USB connector on
the cable into a USB port on your computer.
Windows should recognize that you’ve added a USB device. (If not, check
again to make sure that the peripheral has been turned on. If the device
is indeed receiving power and it’s on — and Windows still doesn’t recognize that it’s been plugged in — check the connections from your PC’s
motherboard to your PC’s USB ports.)
4. When prompted, load the manufacturer’s CD-ROM that came with
your device so that Windows can install the correct drivers.
You might also be prompted to load your Windows CD-ROM. If you’re
adding a USB printer to your system, a new icon for your new printer
should now appear in your Printers folder.
Chapter 15
More Power User Toys
In This Chapter
Accessing the Internet through a satellite link
Reading Macintosh media on your PC
Controlling your games with your voice
Protecting your privacy on the Internet
Watching TV on your computer
Backing up your data on the Internet
Feeling the feedback from your games
’m the first to admit that I’m fascinated by gadgets and toys. Most power
users covet the smallest, newest, or fastest examples of computer technology, like the calculator watch that every techno-nerd wears all through high
school. (I had two.) Although such technological marvels are rarely a requirement for your PC, power users crave these play toys anyway.
If you take a look at today’s high-end computer gadgets, you’ll find that most
of these technological wonders are more than mere toys. They really do simplify your life by keeping track of data, speeding up the network and Internet
connections you use every day, or reducing your computer to the size of your
checkbook (or even your business card). Many of these toys are upgrades to
features that are now considered necessities; for example, Windows XP has a
built-in bare-bones firewall, but you can do much better by spending some of
your hard-earned cash on a third-party firewall. (More on firewalls later in this
In this chapter, I introduce some high-end hardware items, software programs,
and services that you can add to your PC. The power user hardware and software products that I discuss in this chapter aren’t necessary, although they
can revolutionize the way that you use your PC.
Please note that this chapter is an informative overview, so I don’t tell you
how to install the hardware and software discussed here.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Live, Via Satellite: The Internet!
You might be asking, “Is there such a thing as an Internet connection that provides fast throughput without requiring me to install new telephone lines?”
In fact, there is: A number of data communications companies offer satellite
Internet links, using the same type of hardware commonly used for satellite
TV service.
By connecting your PC to the Internet via a satellite connection, you can
download files, Web pages, graphics images, sound or movie files — or whatever your heart desires — at blazing speeds of at least 500 Kbps (the download speed advertised for the Small Office VSAT Service, offered by Satellite
Communication Services, at
Compare that speed with the puny 56 Kbps for a single modem analog connection, 112 Kbps for a multilink analog connection (using two telephone
lines to increase the speed of a single connection), or an average of 400 Kbps
for a typical cable modem connection. You can see why the satellite system is
no longer just a neat gadget.
To link your PC to the Internet via satellite, you might need both (or just one)
of the following main links:
A modem connection: Today’s satellite subscriptions typically use VSAT
(two-way) technology, so your PC actually both receives and sends data
via the satellite — this way, you won’t need an incoming telephone line
and dial-up modem (or any type of cable connection) at all!
However, beware those satellite connections that still need a regular
modem and a regular Internet service provider (ISP). That’s because the
data that you send to the Internet needs to travel out over a standard
analog dial-up connection. This data might include commands to display
a Web page, search requests that you submit to a search engine such
as Google or Yahoo!, outgoing e-mail, or files that you send from your
A satellite connection: Data that you receive from the Internet is
typically transmitted at 500 Kbps from the satellite to your receiving
antenna on the ground. The data then travels over a coaxial (coax)
connection between the ground antenna and a special card installed
in your computer, or an external receiver. (Again, if you have VSAT
satellite hardware, you’ll also send your data to the Internet by transmitting it back to the satellite.)
Figure 15-1 illustrates the elements in the less expensive PC/Internet link,
which still requires a modem and telephone line.
Chapter 15: More Power User Toys
Incoming data at 400 Kbps broadcast from satellite
Requested data
sent to satellite
Figure 15-1:
And you
thought that
dishes were
only for TV!
Your PC
Modem to send
outgoing data at
33.6 Kbps or 56 Kbps
If you’re using a receive-only satellite system, sending (or uploading) a large
file to another site on the Internet using file transfer protocol (FTP) or e-mail
takes just as long as it would on a standard Internet modem connection. All
outgoing information (your e-mail, files that you send to a friend, or your
commands to view Web pages) goes through your modem and a regular
phone line. This speed bottleneck is removed with a two-way VSAT satellite
If you consider how most people use the Internet, a satellite system (which
gives you blazing reception speed) is a highly efficient way to browse the
Web. For example, almost all my online time is spent waiting for my PC to
receive a Web page, e-mail, an FTP file, or the text of a newsgroup message,
rather than transmitting requests to those sites. (The Web didn’t earn the
nickname The World Wide Wait for nothing!)
What comes with an Internet
satellite system?
In this section, I outline what you get with a typical satellite Internet system:
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Proprietary adapter card: This specially designed card accepts the
signal from the satellite dish and converts it to conventional data that
your PC can understand. Because the data is transmitted from the satellite to your dish antenna in an encrypted format for security, the adapter
card also decrypts the signal; within a two-way connection, the card
encrypts the signal before it’s transmitted to the satellite. The adapter
card also provides power to the antenna through the cable that links
them together. This adapter card is installed like any other standard PC
adapter card, which I discuss in Chapters 4 and 5. (Note that some services may provide you with an external converter/receiver instead of an
internal card, but they both do the same job.)
The satellite dish: Figure 15-2 illustrates a standard 24-inch dish, which
looks much like the dish used to receive satellite TV broadcasts. The
dish can be mounted on your roof, a wall, or a pole. The satellite dish
must be aligned to receive the broadcasts from a particular satellite,
which usually takes about 30 minutes of trial-and-error experimentation
(moving the dish back and forth) to get the best signal. (If you decide on
a professional installation, someone does this for you.)
LNB: (That’s short for low noise block, for some strange reason.) This
black box mounts on your antenna; it receives the signal from the
satellite and sends it along the cable to the adapter card in your PC.
Coaxial cable: Standard coaxial cable connects the different components to the adapter card in your PC. Although this stuff is considered
weather resistant, it should be protected from the elements whenever
possible. If you bury your cable, I recommend that you route it through
PVC pipe to your antenna.
Software: Your PC requires special software to recognize the adapter
card. This software is provided as a part of the package.
Figure 15-2:
A typical
(which looks
like a
Chapter 15: More Power User Toys
How expensive is a satellite
Internet connection?
The price you’ll pay for your connection depends on the source of your service and whether you choose a send/receive or receive-only system. A basic
satellite package typically doesn’t cover installation. However, if you’re comfortable installing an adapter card in your PC, mounting the antenna, and
routing the cable, you shouldn’t have any problems with the installation
process. It typically takes only a day for two people to install the system.
The buck doesn’t stop with installation charges. You still have to pay a basic
rate for the connection (based on either a flat monthly fee or a fixed rate
per megabyte downloaded) that starts at about $50 a month. If you choose
a receive-only system, you also still need to maintain a standard dial-up
Internet account with a local ISP so that you can send your e-mail data files
and upload your Web browser commands.
Okay, it’s neat, but . . .
Does a satellite Internet connection make sense? If you want smoking download speed and the other types of broadband access aren’t available in your
area, you can still make use of satellite technology.
However, the real determining factor is whether you truly need the raw speed
delivered by this system. Most casual Internet Web surfers will be satisfied
with a 56 Kbps connection or perhaps even a multilinked 112 Kbps connection. Only people with a need (and the money) for the fastest connection and
who are unable to connect by using another type of broadband technology
need to be interested in satellite technology — for example, Internet junkies
living in the country who spend more than four or five hours a day on the
Web, telecommuters, and those who receive large files via FTP regularly.
Reading a Pesky Macintosh Disk
Programs that read Macintosh floppy disks or CD/DVD discs on a PC have
been around for many years now, but the utility program MacDrive 6 (from
Mediafour Productions, at was the first one that reads
(and even records) Mac disks transparently (meaning you don’t have to
do anything different than you would with PC media). After you install
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
MacDrive 6, you don’t need to run a special program before you read Mac
media; just stick that disk in your PC running Windows XP or Windows 2003
Server and read those Mac files to your heart’s content. Although most
people might consider a program like MacDrive 6 to be a useful tool, it also
qualifies as a power user play toy because it’s so doggone neat. Oh, and it’s
cheap, too: You can download a copy for only $50.
In addition to reading Mac floppies, CDs, and DVDs, you can actually format
and record them on your PC, and you can also save and delete files from Mac
media. (Older Mac-to-PC programs enable you to only read Mac media.)
Again, the process is transparent to you. Just use any Windows function or
application to write files to the Mac media, and your Macintosh can make
sense of the result.
Conversing with Quake
I’ll be the first to admit that I need another set of hands when playing the 3-D
games Doom 3 or Half-Life 2 or flight simulators such as Falcon or Apache
Longbow. Just because you’re an ace typist doesn’t make you better at fragging your buddies in a hot-and-heavy multiplayer game. You have to control
your weapon with your mouse, trackball, or joystick, but moving around,
selecting weapons, and using special commands normally entails a quick leap
toward the keyboard! It’s easy to get confused when you can’t take your eyes
off your monitor without being blown to your component atoms.
Although you can solve the problem with a programmable joystick, it’s an
expensive solution. You have to create a button configuration by hand for
each game, and you’ll spend more than a few days teaching yourself all those
button assignments. There is an alternative: If you’re like me, you’d rather
use your voice to control your character! With the Game Commander 3 software (priced at $75) from Mindmaker (, you can
program as many as 256 keystrokes that your computer will automatically
“press” when you speak a single command. To change to the next weapon in
Quake, for example, you’d say, “Next,” instead of reaching for the bracket key
on your keyboard. Plus, voice commands in a game such as MechWarrior or
Freelancer seem much more realistic than pecking at your keyboard. With a
little imagination, you’ll feel like you’re talking to your ship’s computer or
your copilot! I’ve been using Game Commander 3 for several years now, and
the program has helped increase my scores.
It’s also easy to configure Game Commander for new games using templates
that you can download for free from the Mindmaker Web site. These
Chapter 15: More Power User Toys
templates can be loaded within Game Commander 3 to provide you with a
complete ready-made set of spoken command assignments.
To use Game Commander 3 under Windows, you need a full-duplex sound
card (all modern sound cards made in the last three or four years are full
duplex, but you can check the manual for your card to make sure) and a headset microphone. (More about sound cards and microphones in Chapter 9.)
Even People like You and Me
Need Internet Security
Stories abound on the Internet, TV, and the movies about the lack of Internet
security. Although it’s unlikely, someone can intercept your electronic mail or
discover personal information about you. You can take certain security measures, such as ordering products online only if your Web browser and the
Web site can create a secure connection or using an encryption utility to
encode the text within your e-mail messages. These procedures create a level
of security for most Web surfers and casual Internet users.
However, large corporations make use of powerful firewall software to carry
their Internet protection a step further. A firewall is a program or hardware
device that constantly monitors the company’s Internet connection to prevent unauthorized access to the company’s Web server (or, even worse, the
company’s network itself). Firewalls are typically complicated beasts that
cost hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars. A company without a firewall
is a potential target for an attack by a computer hacker. Wouldn’t it be nice if
anyone could install a firewall, just to be safe?
Thanks to the good folks in Redmond, the Service Pack 2 updates to Windows
XP now turn on the built-in XP firewall by default. However, this is bare-bones
protection — you can’t easily modify or customize the Windows XP firewall,
for example, and there’s not much feedback on what attempts, if any, have
been made to compromise your PC.
If you’re like me — on the Internet for hours at a time visiting Web sites and
downloading files — you can use a third-party software firewall instead. For
example, Symantec’s Norton Personal Firewall ( is an
inexpensive firewall for protecting your machine while you’re online — in
fact, I’d recommend it for anyone, even the casual Internet user with a dial-up
modem connection. Here’s a quick list of the possible security violations that
Norton Personal Firewall can monitor and prevent:
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Guarding the cookie jar: Personal Firewall alerts you to the use of Web
cookies by a site and enables you to block them if you want. A cookie is
a file that contains personal data about you, usually from a form that
you filled out online. Cookies are often stored automatically on your
hard drive without your knowledge.
Protecting your programs: Personal Firewall monitors and controls
which programs on your computer are allowed Internet access so that
an unauthorized program written by a hacker can’t automatically connect and transfer your personal information across the Internet without
your knowledge.
Ad filtering: Personal Firewall filters those irritating and bandwidthhogging banner ads. Because you don’t download them, you surf the
Web faster.
Trojan horse denial: Personal Firewall takes care of a problem that has
already plagued many Internet users — Trojan horse Java applets and
ActiveX controls that your Web browser runs automatically. Although
these hostile Trojan horse programs are rare, they can destroy data or
wreak havoc on your Windows system files. However, if you block all
beneficial Java and ActiveX traffic, you can’t enjoy many of the high-tech
Web sites with animated graphics and interactive controls. Personal
Firewall solves the problem because any potentially hostile applet that
you receive is flagged before it runs.
Norton Personal Firewall runs under both Windows XP and Windows 2003
Server. For more information on this program, visit the Symantec Web site
Hey, I Can Get TV and
FM Radio on My PC!
Do you love your PC? I mean, really, really love your PC? If so, you might have
a comfortable reclining chair in case you fall asleep in front of the keyboard.
Or maybe one of those little refrigerators to keep your source of caffeine and
sugar close at hand. (Considering a late-night burrito? I recommend that you
keep the portable microwave a healthy distance away from both you and the
Chapter 15: More Power User Toys
Bringing video to your PC
You can use TV tuner cards for more than just
watching TV or listening to the radio on your PC.
Most tuner cards also enable you to capture
incoming video or audio to your hard drive,
making captured video a cheap source of multimedia material for your next project. If you
want to watch or capture a movie, you can also
plug your VCR into most tuner cards.
Warning: Capturing copyrighted video or audio
and distributing it yourself is illegal. For more
information about copyrights, see Chapter 14.
Depending on the tuner card, you might also get
bundled software that enables you to take individual still images from the incoming video. It’s
the perfect way to get a good image of Uncle
Milton from that family reunion video.
The ultimate in PC mouse-potato technology, however, is the FM stereo/TV
tuner adapter card. Install one of these tuner cards, and you can watch TV or
listen to your favorite FM stereo station on your PC. These cards carry fullfeatured TV tuners and radio circuitry — but instead of using a separate TV
tube or speakers, the display is shown on your monitor. Because the audio is
routed with a cable from the TV card to your sound card, you hear the audio
through your PC speaker system. Some TV/FM tuner cards, such as the
AVerTV Go 007 FM Plus, from AVerMedia Technologies, Inc. (,
can act as a personal video recorder as well. Sweetness. (See the sidebar
“Bringing video to your PC” for more details.)
Most tuner cards provide an onscreen remote control that enables you to
control the volume, change the channel or station, and choose the size of the
TV display. If you’re running another program on your PC, you can display
the TV program as a picture-in-picture window or toggle it to full screen when
it’s time for that really important cartoon.
Backing Up to the Web
Sure, backing up your PC’s data is important. In fact, backing up your data is
the only way to guard against hardware failures or the occasional “Uh-oh!”
(or worse), indicating that you just accidentally erased an entire folder on
your hard drive. Many computer owners back up their data with tape drives,
and others use removable media, such as Zip or DVD rewriteable discs. (In
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Chapter 7, I discuss each of these backup methods.) An unfortunate few
probably still back up on floppies, but my advice to them is to enter the
twenty-first century, and soon.
Wait until you hear about the power user’s dream backup method. No tapes
to handle, and no time spent listening to your drive wind and rewind over and
over again. Plus, you have the confidence of knowing that your data is stored
safely offsite, so it’s secure even if your house or office is kidnapped by aliens.
I’m talking about storing your PC’s data on an Internet site with the software
service SwapDrive Backup (from SwapDrive, at
How does the service work? All you need is Windows XP or Windows 2003
Server, a copy of the SwapDrive Backup software, a subscription to the service, and at least a 56 Kbps connection to the Internet (of course, the faster,
the better). SwapDrive Backup enables you to set up an automatic backup
schedule, or you can perform a manual backup at any time.
At the scheduled time, the data that you mark for backup is read from your
hard drive, encrypted to a military-grade standard, and sent over the Internet
to the SwapDrive server. The company stores your data with your password
in encrypted form until you need it.
SwapDrive charges $75 for a year’s subscription with 100MB of online storage. After you subscribe, you can back up and retrieve your files as often as
Speaking of retrieval, your data can be retrieved and restored only with your
account password, which introduces an additional layer of security.
Will You Move the Joystick,
or Will It Move You?
The Logitech Wingman Force 3D joystick is a power user’s play toy. What sets
this piece of hardware apart from the pack is its ability to provide actual tactile feedback. In other words, when something happens in the game, you can
feel an authentic sense, force, or impact through the joystick. For example:
If you’re flying a light plane with a flight simulator, you feel the stick
resist your movements when you begin a turn and then relax gradually
as the turn continues.
Chapter 15: More Power User Toys
If you’re driving a tank, you feel the impact of each hit on your tank’s
armor as well as the recoil of each shot you fire.
If you’re playing a first-person shoot-’em-up (where you’re immersed in a
3-D world), you feel your way around corners in the dark and recognize
different wall textures.
If you’re bowling, you can tell whether your ball hit the lane too early or
just right.
As a dyed-in-the-wool computer game fanatic, I can tell you that this kind of
feedback adds that extra touch of realism. Much like how a sound card with
3-D support enhances the audio experience of a game, the Wingman Force 3D
enhances physical sensations of your game-playing experience. After all, a
game becomes much more realistic when your World War II fighter plane gets
harder to control when you’re dodging bullets with an enemy on your tail.
The Wingman Force 3D reflects every hit on your plane as well as the force
required to pull out of a power dive.
Like most of the more expensive joysticks on the market, you can program
each button to perform a keyboard command. And the stick itself is specially
designed for hours of hazardous flying through the enemy-filled skies of
Planet SpeedBump without cramping your hand.
Before you tense your muscles to leap out of your chair and run to your local
computer store for a Wingman Force 3D, don’t overlook the downside:
Pricey: Compared with a standard joystick that costs $15 or $20, the
SideWinder Force Feedback Pro is significantly pricier at about $50.
Game-dependent: The game that you’re playing must explicitly support
the Wingman Force 3D to enable the tactile-feedback feature. So, for
older games, Wingman Force 3D becomes just another joystick.
Part IV: Adding the Advanced Stuff
Part V
The Part of Tens
In this part . . .
provide you with worthwhile advice and tips (and
even the occasional warning) concerning five topics,
ranging from the assembly process to speeding up your
PC. Each chapter includes ten tips. Consider “The Part of
Tens” as a quick dose of experience (without the hard
Chapter 16
Ten Reasons Not to
Buy a Retail PC
In This Chapter
Paying less for the same computer
Taking advantage of used or scavenged hardware
Debunking the monster myth
Selecting what you need — not settling for what “comes with it”
Gaining experience with installing and upgrading hardware
Escaping the busy signal blues
Avoiding the curse of unwanted bundled software
Steering clear of computer salespeople
Adding the brand-name parts that you prefer
Receiving a full manufacturer’s warranty
uying a PC from a retail computer store or a big mail-order company is
easy: Out comes the credit card, the boxes arrive at your house, and
installation is as simple as plugging in the keyboard, mouse, speakers, and
monitor. Even the most experienced PC hardware junkie will have to admit
that a novice can save time and potential headaches by buying a retail PC.
Therefore, you might be asking yourself, “Why don’t I just travel the retail PC
route like most people? Why go to the trouble of building my own computer?”
In this chapter, I give you several doggone good reasons why you should
assemble your own machine.
It Just Plain Costs Less
to Build Your Own PC!
The first and, for some people, the most important reason for building a
computer is to save as much money as possible over the cost of a retail PC
Part V: The Part of Tens
(especially if you’re buying a PC from a local retail store, or if you’re building
a super-fast gaming system). If you build your own computer, you’re not
paying for all the overhead tacked on to the original price of a computer,
including a storefront, advertising, and a salesperson’s paycheck.
If you’ve been shopping for a PC, you already know that many retail PC packages don’t include a monitor, so often the price that you see isn’t for a complete system. And yes, you can save a hundred dollars or more over the price
of a complete PC offered by a big mail-order company. As I explain earlier in
this book, it’s simply a matter of searching for the right companies that sell
computer components at rock-bottom prices.
Using a Web site such as can bring you — in just a few
seconds — the best prices available anywhere!
Even if you have to buy every single component from your computer case to
your mousepad, you’re still likely to save a considerable amount of cash by
assembling your own computer.
Recycle Used and Scavenged Hardware
If you have an older computer hanging around the house, does it make sense
to throw it away or to sell it for a fraction of what you paid for it several years
ago? Why not recycle what you can out of that machine (for example, the
case, keyboard, modem, floppy drive, and monitor) and use those scavenged
parts when you build your new PC? When you build your own PC, you can
take advantage of used and scavenged hardware, and every part that you
avoid buying means even more money that stays in your pocket.
The constant urge among techno-types to upgrade means that you’ll likely find
sources of used hardware right in your own office or school, and those parts
are often only a couple of years old! My favorite example is “yesterday’s” 3-D
video card that has a “mere” 64MB of video RAM (shameful!) rather than the
128MB or 256MB that hard-core gamers desire. If you’re not interested in playing the latest games in high resolution, that 64MB is a perfect choice for you.
Avoid the Monster Myth
If you’re shopping for a computer in a retail store, you’re likely to be told
that you should “buy more computer than you need right now.” I call this
the monster myth: Buy a monster machine now, and you won’t be sorry later.
(Coincidentally, that more expensive and more powerful computer also earns
the salesperson a higher commission — go figure.)
Chapter 16: Ten Reasons Not to Buy a Retail PC
If you’re going to be using your computer often and you know that you’ll
need more power and more features in the future, I won’t argue that this line
of reasoning is good advice. You’ll avoid upgrading your computer several
times in the long run. However, the large percentage of new computer owners
have little experience on a PC, and they’re not really sure what they’re going
to do or how often they’ll use their PC. Why spend all that money on a monster machine if you’re not sure that you and your family will use it?
You might find yourself asking, “Do I really need all this stuff just to read
my Internet e-mail and keep an address book?” The answer: Definitely not.
I know many computer owners who are still satisfied with older Pentium II
and Pentium III PCs. Their machines run Windows 98SE, a browser, and an
e-mail program — and that’s all they need.
Too bad that most computer stores don’t have a bare-bones PC that you can
choose. But if you assemble your own computer, you can start out with an
economy-class Intel Celeron or Pentium 4 PC and add functionality later as
you gain experience. In fact, you can customize your computer to your specifications and avoid buying unnecessary hardware. (A number of big retail
chains now boast that they allow you to build a custom PC, but the price for
one of these custom machines ends up sky-high compared with a machine
that you assemble yourself.) Some mail-order catalogs and Web stores are
starting to get the idea, too, and are offering fairly low-cost machines, but you
usually don’t get to customize these inexpensive PCs very much. And don’t
forget to make sure that they’re using brand-name components before you
think about buying one!
Encourage Freedom of Choice!
If you build your own computer, it’s much easier to select special components
that don’t fit the cookie-cutter mold of retail PCs. For example, don’t expect to
find specialized pointing devices such as trackballs on most retail PCs at your
local computer store. If you buy a retail PC and you want to use a trackball
rather than a mouse, you’ll have to buy one separately (and then you’re stuck
with a mouse that you don’t need). That might not seem like much of a hassle,
but consider other specialized components, such as a high-end sound card
with Dolby Digital support, a gamer’s 3-D video card with 256MB of video RAM,
or a TV/video capture card. Buying one of these adapter cards, removing the
case, and substituting the adapter card that you really wanted in the first place
becomes a big deal.
When you design and assemble your own computer, you buy precisely
what you need, including any specialized hardware or peripherals. Even
Part V: The Part of Tens
if the perfect computer that you were considering at the computer store
doesn’t have a FireWire port and a DVD recorder, you can certainly build a
computer that does have these extras! If you’re considering buying a PC from
a direct vendor such as Dell or Gateway and you need special hardware, the
vendor can usually supply it — although you’ll pay substantially more for the
vendor’s version of the part than you would have paid for the part through a
mail-order catalog. Having a custom PC is nice, but unless you build it yourself, you’ll always pay more.
Enjoy the Learning Experience
What do you learn when you buy a retail PC? The answer: Not much. Sure,
you get a crash course in removing Styrofoam and plugging in cables, but
most owners of a retail PC are still afraid to remove the case from their computer. If you buy a retail PC, you’ll be left in the dark when the time comes to
upgrade your system to extend its useful life or replace a broken component.
On the other hand, if you build your own computer, you know what makes
it tick — you’ll suddenly blossom into a bona fide techno-wizard! With your
assembly experience and your knowledge of PC hardware, you’ll be better
prepared to fix problems and upgrade hardware and peripherals. The technicians at your local PC repair shop will wonder what happened to you; perhaps you should visit them from time to time just to swap hard drive
Spare Yourself the Shipping
and Repair Hassles
When you buy a retail PC from a store (or even from one of the big-name,
mail-order companies), you’ll probably be presented with a technical support
number and assurances that your computer will be promptly repaired if it
breaks. You’ll find that the word promptly has many meanings: waiting several
minutes (or even an hour) to speak to a technical support representative,
finding out that you’ll be without your PC and the data that you need for several weeks, or making an appointment with a service representative to eventually drop by your house and bring a replacement part. Oh, and don’t forget
that this coverage usually lasts for only a year, unless you paid big bucks for
the extended service contract when you bought your PC.
Chapter 16: Ten Reasons Not to Buy a Retail PC
When you build your own PC, you can buy parts locally — and, if a part
breaks, you don’t have to pick up the telephone and start waiting. You’ll
never find yourself repacking your computer to send it halfway across the
country. Instead, you can bring the faulty component back to the store
for an immediate replacement.
Dodge Bundled Software Costs
and Get What You Want
Retail PC salespeople like to crow about the cool software that’s included
with their computers. You usually get a productivity suite (which includes a
word processor, some sort of database application, and a spreadsheet program), a few Internet applications, and free hours on an online service. If
you’re lucky, you might also get a year-old game or two with your computer.
Generally, these programs are stripped-down versions of larger packages.
For example, although you might get Microsoft Works, most retail PCs sold
in stores don’t include Microsoft Office unless you pay more for it.
Unfortunately, this bundled software isn’t free at all: You pay for it along with
your hardware, the documentation is usually sparse, it’s rarely exactly what
you need, and you usually can’t subtract it from the total price of your computer if you don’t want it. Often, you won’t even receive the original program
CD-ROM, so you can’t reinstall the software. In fact, many new computer
owners end up uninstalling the bundled software to make room for the programs that they really want to run. If you build your own PC, you can select
your own full versions of your favorite applications later and save additional
Avoid the Computer Sales Experience
Although used-car salespeople seem to rank the lowest on the social totem
pole, computer salespeople aren’t much better. Many salespeople that I’ve
encountered in retail computer stores either consider the customer an idiot
or have little idea of exactly what they’re selling (making them the perfect
target for a few well-placed techno-questions — nothing’s funnier than an
embarrassed clueless salesperson who treated you like a computer novice
just a few seconds before)! Others try to pass off a computer that’s been
returned as near the quality of a brand-new machine. (Look closely for the
word refurbished the next time you shop for a computer, and you might see
this technique in action.)
Part V: The Part of Tens
By building your own PC, you can circumvent your computer retail store and
all the techniques that salespeople use to try to talk you into a specific computer — and you end up with a better computer that is less expensive and
perfectly suits your needs.
Select the Brands That You Prefer
Are you looking for specific brand-name components in your computer, such
as a Western Digital Raptor SATA hard drive or a Sound Blaster Audigy 4
sound card from Creative Labs? If you buy a retail PC, you end up with whatever hardware the manufacturer deems satisfactory (and you’d be surprised
by how many big-name manufacturers of retail PCs use no-name parts). Often
the only way that you can determine what you’re getting is to open the computer’s case on the sales floor.
Even if you’re buying a computer from a direct vendor that offers customized
PCs, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to ask for a specific brand for most of the
components used to assemble your computer. Typically, these vendors do
use brand-name parts but only those brands and models the vendor prefers.
If you need a different model, you’re no better off than you would be buying a
computer in a chain store.
When you build your own computer, you select the parts required to build it,
including any specific brand-name preferences.
Get the Full Warranty for Each Part
If you’ve found a retail PC at the price that you want and it includes many of
the brand-name parts that you’re looking for, you’re not necessarily receiving
the full manufacturer’s warranty on each of those components. Instead, the
brand-name components on many retail computers are covered by the computer company’s warranty (typically a year for both parts and labor). If that
name-brand hard drive breaks after two years in a retail PC, you might not be
able to return it to the manufacturer for service or replacement (even though
the drive has a three-year warranty if you buy it separately).
If you buy your own components and build your own PC, you’re assured that
each component is covered for the full length of the manufacturer’s warranty.
Chapter 17
Ten Tools and Tasks for
a Power User’s PC
In This Chapter
Replacing that archaic mouse
Adding an uninterruptible power supply
Backing up your system to tape
Diagnosing PC problems through software
Adjusting the height of your PC keyboard
Stamping out PC viruses
Organizing your media
Dictating to your PC
Editing images with a graphics editor
Cleaning your PC on a regular basis
o me, a power user is a person who is perfectly at home at the computer
keyboard. For example, a power user knows the keyboard shortcuts that
can speed up a favorite Windows program. Experienced power users also
know tips and tricks that can help make their computers run faster (such as
defragmenting a hard drive), and they know how to diagnose problems with
their computers. Power users are also more efficient, and this ability makes
them more productive at work and at home.
You can become a power user even if your computer isn’t the fastest or most
powerful PC on your block. Most people would say that it certainly helps to
start with the best computer possible, and that’s true in general: Speed and
capacity never hurt. However, I’ve sat down in front of many a top-of-the-line
retail computer system and noticed many features that could be added or
In this chapter, I name ten computer hardware and software extras that help
make your life easier behind the keyboard. And although they’re not necessarily expensive, each adds convenience, comfort, or efficiency to your
Part V: The Part of Tens
If you are comfortable, confident, and productive with your computer — no
matter how fast it is — you are a power user!
Forget Your Mouse
The mouse is now the most popular computer pointing device, but many
power users favor other pointing devices. Power users dislike standard mice
because they take up too much space on the desktop, they trail their cord
“tails” behind them, and they get filthy after a few months of constant use.
Mice are also terribly inefficient creatures because they require movements
of your forearm, which often makes it necessary to pick up your mouse and
relocate it to another area of your desk just to move the cursor all the way
across the screen.
I heartily recommend that you select another pointing device instead of a
mouse. These devices can include a touchpad, trackball, drawing tablet, or fingertip mouse. My favorite is the trackball, which offers precise control with
movements of your thumb or fingers rather than your forearm. A trackball
doesn’t move across the surface of your desk, so it needs cleaning far less
often, and it requires only a fraction of the desktop real estate necessary for a
standard corded mouse. (For more information on these pointing devices, see
Chapter 5.) Remember to try out your new pointing device at the store — like
a keyboard, a mouse is a personal device, and what feels comfortable to one
person feels like a plastic brick to another!
If you’re absolutely set on using a mouse, consider an infrared wireless
mouse, which at least eliminates that doggone tail.
Guard That Power Supply!
It never fails. The moment that you’ve finished the last chapter of your Great
American Novel — you know, the one that you’ve been working on for the
past 20 years — someone on your block decides to juice up a new electric
car, and every transformer within three miles goes up in smoke. You get hit
with a power failure, and the crowning chapter of your novel is suddenly
headed to that home for unfinished classics in the sky.
What can you do? Unfortunately, the answer is a big “nothing.” If you’ve
saved your work often, you can at least back up to the last revision, although
the loss of power might have resulted in lost clusters on your computer’s
hard drive. In the worst-case scenario, you might have been burning a CD
or DVD on your computer; if the recording process is interrupted by a power
failure, you’ve just created a dandy coaster for your cold drinks.
Chapter 17: Ten Tools and Tasks for a Power User’s PC
However, you can prevent such a catastrophe by adding an uninterruptible
power supply (UPS) to your computer system. A UPS is essentially a giant
battery that automatically provides power within a few milliseconds in case
of a power blackout or brownout. A typical UPS provides your computer with
another priceless 15 minutes or so of operation before it’s fully exhausted,
which should give you ample time to save your work and shut down your
system normally (or finish recording that DVD movie). Believe me, it’s a
weird feeling to see your computer monitor alive and well with every other
light and appliance in your home as dead as a doornail. (After you’ve finished
saving your work, gather the family around for a computer game or two!)
Note that a UPS is different from a surge protector, which is essentially just an
extension cord that self-destructs if it gets hit by a massive power surge. You
don’t get any additional power in case of a blackout with a surge protector.
A UPS is constantly recharged from your wall socket, so it’s always ready.
Most of these power supplies also filter AC line noise (small variations in line
voltage caused by some appliances, such as vacuum cleaners and televisions) and provide some measure of protection against lightning strikes.
Back Up, Back Up, Back Up
Even if your computer is connected to a UPS, you can still lose data. Hard
drives fail, viruses attack, and human error can result in deleted files. There’s
only one way to truly secure your computer from loss, so follow this Mark’s
Maxim to the letter:
Back up your data to tape or removable media — and do it on a regular basis!
As a consultant, I’ve seen individuals, small businesses, and even one or two
larger companies hammered by the loss of sensitive or irreplaceable data
because of hardware failure. The sad part is that the data could have been
backed up to a tape cartridge or a DVD-RW in just a few minutes. If you have
important data that would take time or money to replace, remember the
power user’s secret weapon: Back up your data!
How often should you back up? It all depends on how often you significantly
change your data. At minimum, I back up my work in progress every week
using DVD-RW discs, and many companies run automated backups of their
entire network every night. If time is tight, back up only your user data (such
as documents, graphics, and spreadsheet files). If I’m in on the road with my
laptop, I’ll even create a copy of an important document on my removable
USB flash drive, just in case disaster strikes my laptop’s hard drive. However,
Part V: The Part of Tens
if you have the time, I recommend that you back up your entire system,
including all your operating system files and application programs. This way,
you avoid the hassle of reconfiguring Windows and reloading your programs
on a new hard drive before you’re back to normal.
Check Chapter 7 for more information on tape backups and how you can
install one in your computer.
Back up your data! (Did I stress that enough?)
Diagnostics Software to the Rescue
Most power users have at least one diagnostics program because they understand that hardware and system problems can lead to a slower computer,
lockups, or even lost data. Unfortunately, these problems usually aren’t
obvious, so you need a program capable of both locating potential glitches
and eliminating them (or at least identifying them and providing a possible
solution or two). Some operating systems come with a simple disk-scanning
utility — for example, you can scan a hard drive for errors under both
Windows XP and Windows 2000 — but these programs don’t check for
hardware problems and don’t offer the range of features provided by
commercial diagnostics software.
Probably the oldest and best-known diagnostics package for the PC is Norton
SystemWorks, from Symantec ( This suite of programs
has been around since the days when DOS was king, and the Utilities have
saved my neck more than once! The Utilities package includes one of the best
disk defragmenters available, a system information and benchmark program,
a Windows optimizing and troubleshooting program, and the comprehensive
Disk Doctor that checks for just about every conceivable file error. I run
the Disk Doctor at least once a day, so I know that the files on my hard
drives are in good shape.
Stick Your Keyboard in a Drawer!
If you’re going to remain comfortable at your computer, you need to consider
ergonomics. Your keyboard should be at the proper height for comfortable
typing, your wrists should be supported to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome,
and your monitor should be close to your natural eye level to avoid cramping
your neck.
Chapter 17: Ten Tools and Tasks for a Power User’s PC
One of my first additions to my desktop computer was a keyboard drawer,
which is a metal case that holds a sliding drawer for your keyboard (as well
as a place to store a pencil and paper clips). Your computer sits on top (or
to the side) of the metal case, and you simply pull the drawer out and begin
typing. The drawer keeps the keyboard at the proper height and saves desktop space that you would otherwise need for your keyboard. When you’re
finished at the PC, slide the keyboard back into the case. (Some drawers are
designed to hold the keyboard and support the monitor instead, while the
PC sits on the floor beneath the desk.)
If your computer’s tower case sits on the floor (with only your monitor and
pointing device on your desk), I recommend a keyboard drawer that attaches
to the bottom of your computer desk. If you’re shopping for a computer desk,
it’s worth it to spend a bit more for a keyboard drawer.
Stop the Spread of Viruses
The latest wave of e-mail viruses might leave you thinking that computer
viruses are hovering outside your Internet connection 24 hours a day, just
waiting to bite your computer like a rabid silicon dog. It never hurts to be
prepared, especially if you receive lots of e-mail or try out lots of demo and
shareware software on your PC. Every computer power user worthy of the
title runs an antivirus scanning program constantly in the background.
The best-known virus scanning software for the PC is Norton AntiVirus,
which includes regular virus data updates downloaded automatically over the
Internet. These data files enable the program to recognize all the new viruses
that have been identified since the last update. You can learn more about this
great program (which should set you back about $50) at
Most virus-scanning programs identify viruses present in your computer’s
random access memory (RAM), on your hard drive’s boot sector, and within
files stored on your drive. Some scanners attempt to remove the virus from
the program or data file, and other programs simply advise that you delete
the infected file to guarantee that the virus is eradicated.
Be sure to update your virus signatures every week. Outdated virus protection is worse than no virus protection at all because you think you’re covered
and are likely to take risks, such as downloading and running software from
the Internet!
Part V: The Part of Tens
If you do a lot of Web surfing, you should immediately install a spyware
removal program. In my opinion, spyware is just one step below a virus: these
programs work invisibly while you surf, collecting the addresses of sites you
visit or displaying irritating banners. (Some spyware programs even go so far
as to change your browser’s home page to a sponsor site!) All spyware has
one thing in common, though: these programs slow down your PC, so they
should be eradicated. I recommend two free spyware removal applications:
Patrick Kolla’s SpyBot Search & Destroy ( and LavaSoft’s
Ad-Aware SE (
Organize Your Software
Floppy disks, backup tape cartridges, CD and DVD discs, and Zip disks . . .
where do you put all this stuff? It’s easy to throw everything into a shoebox,
but can you find a particular disc when you need it?
A power user keeps software organized and within easy reach. For CD and
DVD-ROMs, I suggest an audio CD rack that stands on the floor or mounts on
the wall. (Another good choice for discs that you’ve burned is a CD binder,
which allows you to carry your gaggle of discs easily while protecting them
from scratches and dirt.) You should keep floppy disks and Zip disks in a disk
case, preferably with dividers that can help keep your games separate from
that spreadsheet work you brought home from the office. If you need a little
extra security, look for a disk case with a lock. You can also store backup tape
cartridges in a special tape case. Although tape cases are a little harder to
find, you should be able to buy one at your local office supply store.
Use the Power of Your Voice
Does the idea of controlling your computer with your voice seem like science
fiction? How would you like to dictate your next report or memo to your computer — without typing a single character of the text? Thanks to programs
such as NaturallySpeaking from ScanSoft ( and ViaVoice
from IBM (, you can dictate text without adding artificial
pauses between words. These programs understand your normal speaking
voice, and they can handle more than one hundred words a minute (which
beats touch typing).
Although this technology has come a long way, you still have to “train” the
computer to recognize your speech patterns, and voice dictation on a computer is still nowhere near 100 percent accurate. Unfortunately, using voicerecognition software doesn’t get you out of proofreading your text. If you use
Chapter 17: Ten Tools and Tasks for a Power User’s PC
a word that your computer doesn’t recognize (such as a technical term or a
phrase from a foreign language), it takes only a second to add that word to
the computer’s dictionary; after you save the updated dictionary to the hard
drive, your computer recognizes and types the new word in future sessions.
At a minimum, your PC needs a 16-bit sound card and a microphone to use a
voice-recognition program, or a USB headset and microphone combo.
However, the more system RAM you have, the better.
Everyone Needs a Good Image Editor
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” That adage is the foundation of
today’s World Wide Web as well as graphical operating systems such as
Windows. Power users add graphics to their documents, use images as a
background for their operating system or their Web pages, build animated
GIFs (graphic interchange format, one of the popular image formats on the
Web), and demand high-resolution digital cameras for taking pictures of
everything from the family dog to Stonehenge.
Because images are so important to today’s computer power user, it’s no accident that graphics editors such as Paint Shop Pro, from Jasc (,
and Photoshop Elements, from Adobe (, are some of the
most popular applications available today. With an image editor, you can alter
the size and shape of an image, crop it to enhance a particular element, and
rotate it as you please. It’s easy to add text or paste another image on top of
an original. You can even edit the individual dots (pixels) in an image or draw
on an image with a virtual paintbrush or spray can.
Keep It Clean!
What power user wants to sit at a dirty keyboard? After you’ve spent time
and money building your own computer, it makes sense to clean the case,
monitor screen, keyboard, floppy drive, and pointing device from time to
time (as well as your scanner and printer, if you have them). Dust and grime
can interfere with the proper operation of your mouse or trackball. And if you
don’t clean the heads on your floppy drive and tape backup, they start losing
Here are a few tips for keeping your hardware squeaky clean:
Case: I recommend using a sponge dampened with mild soap and water
to clean the outside of your computer case; others have told me that
they use an antistatic surface cleaner, which you can find at an office
supply store.
Part V: The Part of Tens
Monitor: For your monitor, use a lens-cleaning solution and a soft lenspolishing cloth, both of which you’ll find at your local computer store,
eyeglass shop, or camera store. Avoid using plain old window cleaner
like you would avoid a case of pneumonia.
Keyboard: For your keyboard, nothing is better than using a can of compressed air; it’s great at cleaning hard-to-reach crevices. I’ve also used a
cotton swab (sometimes soaked with a little alcohol-based cleaning solution) to clean the ridges on my keyboard.
Floppy/tape backup drives: For your floppy drive and tape backup
drive, visit your local computer store and pick up the appropriate head
cleaner. These cleaning systems typically use some sort of cloth pad,
which you soak in alcohol and then load into the drive.
Mouse/trackball: To clean your mouse or trackball, remove the retaining
ring around the ball — usually you twist it in the direction indicated on
the bottom of the mouse — and clean the contact points and rollers
inside the mouse with a cotton swab soaked in alcohol. (Optical pointing
devices don’t need this kind of maintenance.)
Chapter 18
Ten Important Assembly Tips
In This Chapter
Reading the instructions
Creating the proper work area
Keeping track of small computer parts
Making sure that you have everything you need
Calling for help if you need it
Using a magnetized screwdriver
Starting your own parts box
Avoiding the urge to rush through assembly
Leaving your PC uncovered until testing is complete
Checking cables to make sure that they’re connected
ssembling your own computer is a simple job if you’re handy with a
screwdriver — but, like just about every other human endeavor, you
gain experience each time you build another PC. In this chapter, I present
a list of tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years that can help speed
up the entire assembly process, help prevent accidents and mistakes, and
generally make the assembly process more enjoyable.
Read the Instructions First!
(Rule Number One)
I know, I know . . . nothing is more boring than reading the instructions for
installing a hard drive or a video card; even techno-nerds dislike reading
hardware and software documentation. However, every second that you
spend reading about and familiarizing yourself with the installation process
for a computer component will save you hours of frustration when you’re
Part V: The Part of Tens
knee-deep in your computer, trying to get that new part to work. It doesn’t
matter whether you read the instructions fifteen minutes before you start
installation or three days ahead of time, just read them completely first. Trust
me on this one — even the folks at NASA (and the techs in nuclear submarines) read instructions. If you don’t have a manual for a scavenged component, check the manufacturer’s Web site — often, you’ll find a
documentation archive for discontinued products.
Build the Perfect Workspace
Your kitchen table might be the most convenient place to assemble your computer, but is it truly the best workspace? Your work area must be large and
sturdy enough to hold your computer’s chassis and parts and your tools —
and secure and quiet (think kids and furry beasts). A well-equipped workspace also has these features:
Access to at least two or three power plugs: During testing, you have to
at least provide power to your computer and the monitor, but it never
hurts to have a spare plug available in case you need to add and test an
external device, such as a DVD recorder or tape backup unit.
An adjustable lighting source: If you can’t see it, you can’t tighten it! I
use an adjustable extension lamp. (The gooseneck variety can be positioned perfectly.)
A smooth surface that won’t scratch or mar your computer case:
Because the paint on a PC’s case — especially a fancy neon green mod
case — is easily scratched, it pays to cover your workspace with a few
sheets of newspaper to keep your case looking new. And unlike a tablecloth, that newspaper won’t build up static electricity.
Keep Track of UTOs (Unidentified
Tiny Objects)
Why do some pieces of computer hardware have to be so doggone small? I’m
talking about screws, jumpers, terminators, and other assorted tiny objects
that you need to keep track of while you’re assembling your computer.
Here’s how you can make the perfect receptacle for these diminutive troublemakers: Glue a small magnet into the center of an old ashtray or ceramic
bowl with a broad base and then keep this “parts basket” handy and near to
you while you’re assembling your computer. (Or, if you like, fasten it to your
worktable.) The magnet will hold small screws, slot covers, and the like —
and you won’t be constantly digging in your pockets for small parts. (Don’t
permanently park a floppy disk in your bowl.)
Chapter 18: Ten Important Assembly Tips
Make Sure That You Have
Everything You Need
Before you start the installation of a new component, make sure that you
have all the cables, screws, and connectors required for finishing the job.
When you open your new part, check that the box contains everything it
should; if you’re scavenging a part from an older PC, you should also take
any screws, cables, or wires that connect it or hold it in place.
Similarly, it always pays to identify the requirements for a new part before
you add it. For example, if you’re going to install a new internal DVD recorder,
does your power supply still have an unused power cable and connector of
the right size? If not, you’ll need a Y power cable adapter, which transforms a
single power cable into two cables and connectors. If you’re buying a parallel
port printer, do you have a bidirectional printer cable with the right gender
connectors handy, or will you have to buy one? If you’re buying an internal
component, does your PC’s chassis still have an open bay of the right height?
A little preparation goes a long way toward avoiding simple frustrations (for
example, suddenly realizing that you don’t have the required batteries for
your new multimedia speakers) as well as big headaches (such as discovering that you don’t have a spare PCI adapter card slot for your new internal
Yell for Help If Necessary
Some of the assembly steps that you encounter when building your own
PC might make you nervous — for example, installing a CPU or a memory
module — whereas others might require additional configuration, such as
fine-tuning your computer for use with a new DVD recorder or adding drivers
for a new network card. Always keep in mind that several sources of assistance are available and that there’s no reason to be embarrassed about
asking for help.
If you can’t find the answers that you’re looking for in the documentation that
accompanied the new part, try these resources:
Query the manufacturer: Most hardware manufacturers offer technical
support over the telephone and also provide FAQs (lists of frequently
asked questions) about their products on their Web sites.
Ask someone: A friend, family member, or fellow computer club member
with experience in computer hardware can come in very handy. (Don’t
forget to pick up the check the next time you have lunch together.)
Part V: The Part of Tens
Find a computer store/tech: Most computer repair shops are happy to
answer a few questions for free. If you find yourself completely unable to
install a particular component, it’s likely (of course) that you can pay
one of the store’s techs to install the part for you. (Hey, techno-types
need new hard drives, too.)
Use a Magnetic Screwdriver
Carpenters have their hammers, woodsmen are skilled with an ax, but the
computer technician’s tool of choice is a trusty magnetized screwdriver. Look
for a reversible model that has both standard (straight) and Phillips (star)
tips. With your magnetized screwdriver by your side, you won’t panic when
you inevitably drop a screw deep within the guts of your new PC. Just poke
around in the general area and let magnetism do the rest for you.
Don’t worry that the screwdriver will wreak magnetic havoc on floppy disks
or backup tapes: The magnetic field from a screwdriver isn’t powerful enough
to damage disks or tapes unless you park your screwdriver on top of them
for at least a weekend. Therefore, when your screwdriver is not in use, keep it
in a drawer or on the wall. Some true techno-wizards keep their screwdrivers
in a belt holder. Thankfully, a screwdriver or all-purpose, multifunction-style
tool slung on your belt has replaced the pocket protector as the status
symbol of the uber-tech.
Start Your Own Parts Box
The last time that you installed a computer component, did you find yourself
with an extra unneeded screw, adapter card slot cover, cable, or connector? If
so, don’t throw away those extras. Instead, grab an empty cardboard box and
throw all your unneeded computer parts in there (except for circuit boards
and larger components, which should be stored separately in static-free plastic bags). Voilà! You’ve created your own parts box. The next time you suddenly find yourself one screw short or you need an extra jumper block, check
your parts box before you take off to your local Maze o’ Wires electronics
store. The more that you work with computer hardware, the more this box
will grow. You’ll soon have a comprehensive treasure chest of small computer
When you upgrade parts of your computer, you can always keep the older
components as backup hardware in case of failure; as a general rule, however, I try to sell older components (or donate them to my local school or
church if I can’t sell them). Unlike the small parts in your parts box, older
components that you’ve outgrown end up taking up too much room in your
closet or garage.
Chapter 18: Ten Important Assembly Tips
Take Your Time: The Zen of Assembly
You might be excited about building your own PC, but rushing through an
assembly step can lead to frustrating mistakes, such as mismatched cables
and upside-down components. Follow the step-by-step instructions in this
book and the documentation that comes with your hardware — and don’t
move to the next step until you’ve completely finished every task in the
current step.
If you’re working on a particularly delicate assembly step (such as adding a
CPU or a memory module to your motherboard) and it’s not going well, take
a deep breath or two. Then verify that you’re trying to do the right thing.
A friend of mine has a big sign above his workbench that reads “This isn’t
a race!” (That’s good advice for any craftsperson.)
No one is timing you, so move at your own speed.
Don’t Cover Up Too Quickly
I would never use a computer on a day-to-day basis without its case; the components would get far too dirty too quickly, and there would always be a
danger of spilling liquids on exposed components or touching a circuit board
while the computer is on.
However, because everything changes when you’re installing a new internal
part in your computer, keep the case off until you’re certain that the new component is working properly. Nothing is more irritating than attaching the case
on a computer and then finding that you forgot to connect the power cable to
your new DVD recorder or hard drive. Before I learned this important rule, I
would sometimes remove the case on my PC three or four times until everything finally worked. As long as you keep liquids away from your computer
and don’t touch any internal components while it’s on, you’re in no danger.
Save time and trouble by leaving the case off until you’re sure that your computer is working.
The Cable Rule: Check and Double-Check
I’ve spoken to many computer technicians and hardware techno-wizards,
and every one of them agrees: The number-one error that crops up while
installing a new part in your computer is mismatched or disconnected
cabling. Problems can even crop up with cables that are supposed to be
foolproof. Although internal power cables are designed to fit only one way,
you have to remember to connect them in the first place. (This oversight is
Part V: The Part of Tens
typically the cause of the classic line “Hey, it doesn’t act like it’s getting
power at all!” That’s because it isn’t. Around my shop, this discovery is typically followed by the sound of my palm hitting my forehead.)
On the other hand, many internal EIDE and SCSI cables can be connected
upside down, so remember the pin 1 rule: Pin 1 of the male connector on the
component should always align with the marked wire on the cable (which is
the cable manufacturer’s way of identifying which wire on the cable is wire 1).
Although it might take a few seconds extra when you install a new part, I recommend that you check each cable connection — including cables leading to
other parts — before you test the new component. You can easily and accidentally unplug an existing connection while you’re routing wires and moving
things around inside your computer’s chassis. If you install a new part and
another part suddenly refuses to work properly, there’s a good chance that
you accidentally unplugged something.
Chapter 19
Ten Ways to Speed Up Your PC
In This Chapter
Defragmenting your hard drive
Using the fastest connections
Adding more RAM
Upgrading your processor
Using 256-color plain backgrounds
Investing in a faster CD-ROM or DVD drive
Removing resident programs
Using a Windows AGP video card
Running your PC under a native file system
Using Turbo mode
f computer owners have one universal desire, it’s more speed. In this
chapter, I outline several tricks that you can use to improve the overall
performance of your computer. Some of these tips cost money (such as
adding memory modules or selecting faster hardware), but others won’t cost
you a cent. Go, Speed Racer, go!
Defragment Your Hard Drive
Over weeks and months of use, computers running any version of Windows
(including XP and 2000) will invariably slow down significantly because of
hard drive fragmentation.
First, a quick explanation: When you delete a file from your hard drive, that
area of your hard drive can then accept data from another file. If the file to be
saved is larger than this open area, however, Windows must split the file into
fragments. When your computer needs to load a file, Windows automatically
(and invisibly) reassembles these fragments back into the complete file.
However, the more fragmented the files are on your hard drive, the longer
this step takes and the slower your PC becomes.
Part V: The Part of Tens
How can you defragment your hard drive? If you’re running Windows XP
or Windows 2000, click the Start button, and then choose Programs➪
Accessories➪System Tools➪Disk Defragmenter.
My defragmenting program of choice for Windows XP is the Speed Disk program included with the Norton SystemWorks package (,
which you can find online for around $70.
Get Connected with the
Speediest Interfaces
If you’re interested in the fastest possible throughput from your internal hard
drives and CD-ROM/DVD drives, your computer cries out for a serial ATA or
SCSI connection — for plugging in external devices, demand FireWire or USB
2.0 connections.
If your PC came with an enhanced integrated drive electronics (EIDE) hard
drive, you can still add any of these connections (either by using your motherboard’s built-in hardware or by buying a PCI adapter with the correct connectors). However, if you’ve done your homework and you’re looking for a
power user PC, it pays to build your computer around a motherboard with
serial ATA (or SCSI), FireWire, and USB 2.0 built-in. “Just say no to EIDE and
USB 1.1!”
I recommend an AGP or a PCI-Express video card as well — especially if
gaming is high on your list of applications!
Install More RAM
Friends, installing more RAM (random access memory) is the big one! Any
32- or 64-bit operating system — including all breeds of Windows, Linux, and
UNIX — benefits from more system RAM. And with RAM prices free-falling
over the past few years, most PC owners can afford to bulk up to a gigabyte
or two of RAM. Here’s the skinny: If a program and its data don’t fit in RAM,
your operating system must save that data to and read it from a temporary
file (or virtual memory) on your hard drive. This process, called swapping,
can slow everything down to a crawl while your PC juggles data back and
With at least 512MB of memory or more, your operating system will have
more elbow room, and it will have to swap less data to disk — which means
that you can open more applications at one time and your entire computer
will run faster overall.
Chapter 19: Ten Ways to Speed Up Your PC
Crank Up the CPU Steam
If you’ve already traversed Chapter 3, you’re familiar with processors and
motherboards. Armed with this knowledge, you can consider an upgrade to
your existing CPU — if your motherboard can accept a faster CPU. You reap the
benefits while you’re using processor-intensive applications such as graphics
programs, spreadsheets, and the latest games. The old CPU can be stored as a
backup, sold to friends or family, or donated. (Science teachers love ’em!)
As a rule, I don’t go through the trouble of upgrading a CPU just one grade.
In other words, you probably won’t see a dramatic increase in performance
when you upgrade from a Pentium 4 running at 2.4 GHz to a Pentium 4 running at 2.8 GHz. On the other hand, if your motherboard can “jump” at least
two steps — from 2.4 GHz to 3 GHz, for example — you’ll be extending the life
of your existing motherboard, and you’ll really notice the difference.
Some Web sites will advise you to overclock your processor: In other words,
configure the motherboard settings so that the CPU runs faster than its rated
speed. I do not recommend overclocking for several good reasons: It shortens
the life of the CPU, and you have to use one or two fans on the chip to keep it
cool. Overclocking is not an easy task, and it doesn’t work as often as it does
work. You can end up locking up your PC as tight as Fort Knox while you’re
monkeying with different clock speeds and bus speed settings. Overclocking
just isn’t worth the effort!
Keep Your Backgrounds Plain
Graphical operating systems such as Windows XP and Linux can be dressed
up with 16-million-color photographs as backgrounds, animated icons, and
other exotic eye candy. If you want your PC to run faster under one of these
operating systems, however, select a simple, single-color background. Why?
Your PC must use extra RAM to display true-color images or animated icons.
Some full-screen background pictures that I’ve seen are nearly 6 megabytes
in size — they’re meant for resolutions of 1600 x 1200 (and even higher), and
they’re 16-million-color bitmaps! If you use a high-resolution, full-screen
bitmap with 16 million colors as your background, you may notice that your
PC slows down significantly when it’s loading the background image (or
redrawing it after you’ve closed a window or quit a game).
Install a Fast CD-ROM or DVD Drive
Paying for a higher X factor is worth the money when you’re shopping for
your CD-ROM or DVD drive. This X factor is a method of describing the speed
Part V: The Part of Tens
of the drive’s throughput as a multiple of the original single-speed drive,
which (in the case of CD-ROM drives) delivered 150 Kbps.
The higher the X factor of your CD-ROM or DVD drive, the faster the drive
can deliver data to your computer. You especially notice a faster drive when
you’re installing a new program, watching a DVD movie, or playing a game
and the drive is reading digital video. For complete details on adding a
CD-ROM or DVD drive to your PC, visit Chapter 8.
Remove Resident Programs
Beware! Your computer might be harboring hidden programs that are sucking
power and resources from your applications. No, I’m not talking about
viruses; these programs, called resident programs, have been around since
the days of DOS. A resident program is loaded automatically when you boot
your computer, and the program continues to work in the background while
you run the applications that you want. Unlike a virus, a resident program is
usually doing something you want, such as checking the status of your disk
drive, polling your Internet service provider for your e-mail, or displaying
stock quotes.
Unfortunately, if you load down your computer with too many resident programs, your PC has to devote too much processor time and RAM to maintain
them; thus, your applications will slow down accordingly. To make sure that
this slowdown doesn’t happen, don’t load more than two or three resident
tasks. Also avoid installing programs that automatically start each time that
you boot your PC unless you really need them to.
Under Windows XP and 2000, you can recognize most resident programs by
their icons in the system tray, which occupies the far-right side of the status
bar opposite from the Start button. To determine what each of these icons
does, you can usually left- or right-click the icon to display a menu. (And most
resident tasks have a menu item that you can select to shut them down.) If
you don’t need a program and it keeps loading a system tray icon, feel free to
choose Start➪Control Panel➪Add or Remove Programs. This will take you to
the Add or Remove Programs dialog box, where you can click the offending
application and then click Change/Remove to delete it. Hurrah!
Under UNIX, Linux, or Windows NT, display your list of applications that are
running and look for resident programs that might have been loaded during
the boot process.
Chapter 19: Ten Ways to Speed Up Your PC
Although uninstalling a resident program is always the best way to banish it
from your system, you can also stop a specific program from loading during
startup under Windows XP. Choose Start➪Run to display the Run dialog box,
type MSCONFIG in the Open box, and then click OK. This runs the System
Configuration Utility Windows XP application, where you can make changes
to the behavior of XP during the boot process. Click the Startup tab, and
you’ll see a list of the applications that Windows XP automatically runs
during startup; locate the program that you want to disable in the list, clear
the check box next to the program, and then click OK.
Accelerate Windows with
Your Video Card
If you’re scavenging parts from an older computer for use with a new
Pentium 4 PC that you’re building and you’re interested in the best video performance, buy a new accelerated graphics port (AGP) or PCI-Express video
card instead of using an older PCI video card. Most video adapter cards sold
a few years ago don’t provide high-performance hardware acceleration support or efficient 3-D support for Windows. A modern Windows 3-D accelerated card made with an NVIDIA or an ATI graphics chip speeds up your entire
PC because it takes over most video-related tasks from your computer’s CPU
(which can then turn its attention to other, more important CPU stuff). The
speed increase is most apparent when you’re playing games and when you’re
opening and closing several application windows on your PC. Naturally, the
heavier the graphical load on your PC, the more you benefit from an accelerated video card. Chapter 4 provides more detail on the different types of slots
and adapter cards.
Use a Native File System
Traditionally, PC data storage has been formatted under the DOS file system,
which is essentially a road map that your computer uses to store and retrieve
files on your hard drive. Although the DOS file system has been used for
many, many years, it isn’t the most efficient design, and it doesn’t directly
support neat features such as long filenames.
If you’ve decided to use Windows XP, Windows 2000, Linux, or UNIX, you’ll
find that you have at least one alternative format for storing and retrieving
files: Each of these operating systems has a native file system that improves
Part V: The Part of Tens
on the DOS file system. In every case, your operating system can save and
load data faster from its native file system, which was designed for use in a
32- or 64-bit multitasking environment. I especially recommend using the NT
file system (NTFS) if you’re running Windows XP or Windows 2000.
When you install Windows, Linux, or UNIX on a new hard drive, you’re given
the chance to reformat your hard drive for native file system support. I recommend that you use the native file system. If you still need DOS partitions
on your computer — for example, if you’ve decided to run multiple operating
systems — they should be formatted separately, and you should use a
multiple-boot utility, such as System Commander, from Avanquest Publishing
Don’t Forget That Turbo Button!
Does your older PC with a scavenged case have a Turbo button? (The computer cases manufactured today no longer carry this switch — and even if
your case has this switch, it might not be connected.) If your PC does have a
Turbo button, you might boot your computer one day and find that everything suddenly seems to run slower, as though the CPU has been dipped in
concrete. If so, your first suspect should be that doggone Turbo button; if
your PC isn’t running in Turbo mode, it’s forced to run more slowly.
Try punching the Turbo button and see whether your PC speeds up dramatically; if so, grab a piece of tape and a marking pen and cover the button with
a barrier that reads Hands Off! (In fact, the owners of some computers that
I’ve built have requested that I disconnect the Turbo switch wire from the
motherboard, which usually defaults to normal Turbo mode.)
Chapter 20
Ten Things to Avoid
Like the Plague
In This Chapter
Avoiding refurbished hardware
Saying, “No” to the Pentium III chip
Averting disaster from lost data on floppies
Turning off unnecessary passwords
Making sure that you don’t violate a copyright
Keeping small children away from the keyboard
Giving pirated software a wide berth
Leaving monitors and power supplies closed
Avoiding a long-term lease on a computer
Watching version numbers when buying software
n this chapter, I name a number of computer-related things that can lead to
lost data, hardware headaches, legal hassles, and even physical injury — in
other words, things that you should shun at all costs! Some things on this list
should be avoided while you’re building your PC, and others are dangerous
practices that some people engage in with their computer after it’s up and
running. I recommend that you keep the following three sayings in mind; they
seem to cover most situations in this chapter:
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Let the buyer beware.
Warning labels are there for a reason.
(That last one is a Mark’s Maxim, but it ought to be just as famous as the
Part V: The Part of Tens
It’s “Refurbished” for a Reason
The word refurbished seems to be appearing more and more often in computer hardware magazines, computer stores on the Web, and catalogs for
discount computers. Refurbished hardware is hardware that was returned
for some reason to the manufacturer (usually because it was defective).
The company fixes the defect and then resells the hardware to another
By law, refurbished computers and hardware components must be identified
as such in any advertising. The distributor usually trumpets the features
offered on the computer, the fact that you get a warranty, and perhaps even
that the merchandise is “like new.” Usually, you do save a significant amount
on refurbished hardware, so the prices that these companies advertise will
indeed catch your eye.
However, I recommend that you give refurbished components a wide berth
and buy only new parts (or scavenge working parts from an existing computer). Personally, I would never purchase a refurbished computer or refurbished component, and here are the reasons why:
You have no idea why the item was returned — but you can usually
safely assume that it wasn’t working properly.
You have no way of knowing how the former owner treated the item.
The manufacturer’s warranty is typically less than 90 days, which is usually a much shorter length of time than the warranty on a new item.
Many refurbished parts are not completely retested before they are
shipped back to the store.
The sale is usually final, so if it breaks, you’re stuck with it.
If you do decide to buy a refurbished item, here’s another Mark’s Maxim
for you:
Always find out all you can about that refurbished bargain before you spend
your money!
Looking for an Antique? Buy a
Pentium III CPU
Many stores and mail-order companies that sell computer hardware are still
selling CPU chips and motherboards based on the Pentium III design. The
Pentium III was a grand chip, and many of us techno-types with several
Chapter 20: Ten Things to Avoid Like the Plague
computers in the house can point to at least one, but the days of the Pentium
III are past us now. If you’re building a new computer to run any operating
system other than Windows 98 or Windows ME, take my advice and buy a
Pentium 4 CPU and motherboard.
Although the Pentium III CPU can indeed run Windows XP, the older architecture simply isn’t fast enough or advanced enough to offer anywhere near the
performance of a Pentium 4 computer. Sure, these older components are much
cheaper now, and you can save a considerable amount of money. However,
you’ll likely start looking for an upgrade CPU soon, and a Pentium III-socketed
motherboard doesn’t accept a Pentium 4 CPU.
If you’re building a computer from the ground up, buy a Pentium 4 processor;
you’ll thank yourself for many months to come!
Never Depend on Floppies
Floppy disks and important data just don’t mix. Floppies are susceptible to
magnetic fields (never store them on top of a speaker or your PC’s case); they
have a low shelf life (the amount of time you can reliably store a floppy disk
and then retrieve data from it); the exchange of floppies can spread viruses;
they’re easily mixed up or mislaid (even if you label them); and occasionally
one computer can’t read floppy disks formatted on another computer. In my
years as a consultant and computer technician, I’ve felt the pain of literally
dozens of folks who lost valuable data by trusting those familiar floppies.
Don’t get me wrong: Floppies are fine for carrying a document or two in your
pocket or sending a document through the mail — as long as you have a
backup copy of that data on your hard drive. From time to time, I even save a
document on a floppy as a simple backup for a day or so, but I don’t expect
with absolute certainty to be able to read that document after six months.
If you need to store your data away from your computer or send it to someone else, please consider something more reliable, such as a Zip drive, or
back up that information to digital audio tape (DAT). The best solution, however, is a favorite of mine: A CD recorder can archive information for more
than ten years at 700MB on each disc, and CD-R discs are a much more permanent data-retrieval system than any magnetic method. If you opt for DVD,
you can store 4 to almost 9GB of data, with the same reliability. (I discuss CD
and DVD recorders in Chapter 8, and Chapter 7 contains more information
about Zip drives and DAT backup.) Of course, the person who receives your
nomadic data will need the same type of hardware to read the media you
Part V: The Part of Tens
Another removable storage device that’s sweeping the PC world is the USB
Flash drive, which plugs directly into your PC’s universal serial bus (USB)
port and provides 32MB to a whopping 2GB of storage!
Under Windows 2003 Server or Windows XP, a Flash drive requires no drivers
or special software. Just plug it in, and your PC will recognize it as a removable media drive. The USB connection means that it’s universally compatible
with any late-model PC or Macintosh and that it transfers data much faster
(and more reliably) than a floppy drive. Plus, these convenient solid-state
drives aren’t much bigger than a ballpoint pen. Also, because there are no
moving parts, they’ll last practically forever. Prices range from $50 to $300 for
Flash drives.
Help Stamp Out Unnecessary Passwords!
Password protection is appropriate for sensitive files stored in an office network environment or connecting with your Internet service provider. But
passwords that you’ve assigned to Zip disks, backup tapes, screen savers,
archived files in .zip format, and even basic input/output system (BIOS)
passwords that don’t allow your PC to boot are nothing but trouble for the
typical home computer owner. If you have no reason to be overly cautious
about your computer and its data, for heaven’s sake, don’t assign passwords
that you don’t need!
Why do I despise unnecessary passwords? I’ve received countless calls from
friends, family members, and clients who can’t retrieve data from a disk or an
archive file (or even log on to their own computer) because they’ve forgotten
the password or typed it incorrectly. In effect, you’re locked out from accessing your own data. In the worst-case scenario, all you can do is reformat that
backup tape or that Zip disk and bid that data good-bye. (And I can tell you
that your memories of lost data will last a long, long time.)
Honor Thy Friend’s Copyright
Computers and the Internet are the best tools ever invented for accessing
and sharing information across the entire globe, and this dynamic duo also
makes it extremely easy to cut and paste your way to plagiarism and copyright violations. If an image or a document is not your original work, you
must be careful (and that includes quoting — even simple phrases).
For a quick rundown on the basics of copyrights, jump to Chapter 14.
Chapter 20: Ten Things to Avoid Like the Plague
Your PC Is Not a Kindergarten
If you’re a parent, you probably want your children to be computer literate
by the time they graduate from elementary school. And it’s true that the earlier your children are exposed to a computer, the more comfortable they will
be with a computer later in life.
However, I recommend that you keep very small children away from your
computer until they’re older; a good minimum age is about four years old.
An active toddler can do a surprising amount of damage to a typical PC:
jamming floppies the wrong way (or jamming toaster pastries any way) into
drives, spilling juice or milk on the keyboard or the case, yanking on wires
and cords, and slapping the monitor. I’ve even seen a CD-ROM drive with
peanut butter inside. To a one- or two-year-old, your PC is just another interesting toy with lights, and that child won’t be learning anything useful about
the computer for a while. Keep your computer safe until the kids are ready
at three or four years old.
Don’t Jump on the Pirate Ship
Programs illegally copied or distributed are referred to as pirated software. You
can download such illicit commercial software — such as games, applications,
and utilities — from a large network of Web sites and Internet newsgroups.
Besides being illegal, pirated software is an invitation for disaster; many renegade computer programmers use pirated software to distribute viruses and
Trojan horse programs. Although a Trojan horse program is described as a
useful application and might even look like one while it’s running, it destroys
data on your computer — or, in the worst case scenario, even allows a hacker
to remotely gain control of your PC over the Internet!
Support the authors of shareware and the companies that produce the best
commercial software: Buy their products and don’t pirate them!
Keep Out of Monitors and Power Supplies
Most of the components used in your computer, such as the hard drive,
are sealed; even if you could open them, you’d never be able to repair them.
Building a computer is a task of assembly, and you should never have to disassemble anything — except for removing components that you’re scavenging from an older computer.
Part V: The Part of Tens
Two sealed components deserve an even wider berth: your computer’s
power supply and your computer monitor. Never attempt to open the case on
either of these parts. They can be repaired only by computer technicians or if
sent back to the factory. They can also be quite dangerous if plugged in while
Don’t Lease a PC for the Long Haul
Are you considering leasing a PC instead of building your own system? Leasing
sometimes seems like a better deal; after all, you can start using the PC immediately, and if something breaks it generally gets fixed for free. Some mail-order
companies and larger computer chain stores allow you to lease a computer for
a monthly fee. If you need a computer for only a couple of months, leasing is
fine. However, leasing a computer for more than six months is not a very good
idea. PCs depreciate in value so quickly and advance in technology so fast that
your leased computer will be significantly less powerful and worth less within
just a year or two.
By building your own computer, you end up with the most power for the
money, and you can continue to upgrade your PC to stretch its useful life
over many years.
Avoid Older Versions of PC Software
If you’re a novice at buying computer software for your new PC, pay close
attention to the version numbers of the software you’re buying. Often, you see
expensive applications being sold for far less than the going rate in a catalog
or on a Web site. For example, an integrated suite of office applications might
be advertised at $500 at one store but only $250 at another. Usually, the store
selling the software for much less is selling an older version. For example, the
more expensive office suite might be Version 7.0, and the cheaper version
might be Version 6.0. The version number is usually listed in the advertisement, but it might be stuck down at the bottom of the ad.
If you’re unsure about the latest version number of a particular program, call
the store or connect to the manufacturer’s Web site.
Part VI
In this part . . .
ere you can find two helpful appendixes: a comparison of the popular operating systems now available
for the PC and a glossary of all those awful computer
acronyms, abbreviations, part names, and terms that you
don’t want to memorize.
Appendix A
Choosing Your Operating System
ost computer owners run whatever operating system came with their
computer or whatever’s the hot topic in this month’s CompuSmarts
magazine — whether it’s right for them or not. Running under the wrong
operating system is as bad as using the wrong workbench to build a piece
of furniture: You’ll probably finish the job eventually, but it will take much
longer than it should and your finished work won’t look as good.
How do you determine which operating system is right for you? In this appendix, I show you the good points and bad points of each major operating
system used on PCs today: Is it fast enough? Stable enough? Does it support
the applications that you want? Most important, does it make life on the computer easier for you?
Become Your Own Consultant!
You might be asking yourself, “Why don’t I just run what everyone else runs?”
True, today’s common PC operating system of choice is Windows XP, and it
does a great job for 70 percent or so of all the PCs around the world. But
what if your needs fit in the other 30 percent? That’s why you need to become
your own consultant to choose an operating system. Heck, if you want to
make things as authentic as possible, you can even charge yourself a tremendous amount of money. (Just don’t try claiming it on your taxes.)
Consider these points when you’re choosing an operating system:
Speed: Are you looking for the fastest operating system? If so, score one
point for the more popular 32- and 64-bit operating systems on your list:
Windows XP and XP x64, Windows 2003 Server, UNIX, and Linux. These
platforms load programs and data faster because they improve many of
the shortcomings of older operating systems, provide native file systems
(more on this later), and were designed for today’s faster CPUs.
Part VI: Appendixes
GUI: Do you want a graphical user interface? In terms that mere technomortals can understand, do you want to use a mouse and icons to run
programs or drag and drop a file on your printer? If so, you should lean
toward Windows 2003 Server, Windows XP, or Linux (with a graphical
shell). However, don’t automatically assume that a graphical user interface is faster and easier for everything you do on a computer. Those of
us who have been working with computers for many years often find the
DOS command line better for many tasks. For example, you can open a
DOS command line box from within Windows XP to move files from one
directory to another.
Stability: Is stability a factor? Does your application need to keep running day after day, solid as a rock? If so, consider Windows XP, Windows
2003 Server, Linux, and UNIX, which are the most stable platforms.
They’re least likely to lock up (or, as computer types like to say, crash).
DOS and the remaining Windows platforms (Windows 98 and Me) unfortunately hit the finish line in last place.
Legacy applications: Will your new computer be running an older DOS
program as its primary application? If so, consider leaving DOS as your
operating system and don’t upgrade (especially if the program will be
controlling any special hardware, such as a light pen, cash drawer, or
digital sensor). Although all versions of Windows enable you to access
DOS through a special window, none of these newer platforms is as completely compatible as the real McCoy! This is the reason why many small
businesses are still running PCs with DOS: The application that they’re
running was written in the early 1990s, and because the computer is
used for only that one application, there’s no need for an upgrade to
another operating system. (That’s if the program recognizes that you’ve
crossed into Y2K, of course — thank goodness that whole thing is
behind us!)
Programs that were written years ago and are bug-free and dependable
are legacy applications. For instance, a movie rental shop might be using
a checkout program and database written for DOS several years ago.
Sure, you could buy all-new Windows-based checkout and database software — if you can afford new tools, that’s certainly a good decision. But
what if business hasn’t been that good recently? Or what if your corporate bigwigs demand that you use their system? Sometimes it’s better to
follow the programmer’s adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t mess with it!”
Hardware auto configuration: Do you want your operating system to
automatically configure new hardware whenever possible? If so, Windows
XP and Windows 2003 Server easily win the race. DOS and UNIX don’t
finish at all because they offer no automatic configuration. (Linux, however, is becoming more hardware-friendly with each new version.)
Appendix A: Choosing Your Operating System
Software compatibility: Are you looking for the operating system offering
the most applications and software? In that case, the definite winners
are Windows 98 and Windows Me, which can run programs written for
Windows 95 and Windows 3.1 as well as most DOS programs. Windows
XP and Windows 2003 Server can run most Windows 95 software, but
they have more compatibility problems with DOS and Windows 3.1 applications. At the end of the line are DOS, Linux, and UNIX, which can run
only applications written especially for them, although both Linux and
UNIX can run emulators — programs that allow one operating system to
run programs written for another operating system.
Security: Will your new computer be used as a Web server, an intranet
machine, or an Internet firewall? The platforms to watch are Linux, UNIX,
and Windows Server 2003. These operating systems include the low-level
security features needed for an Internet server; in fact, the Internet was
built on a backbone of UNIX computers, and most machines carrying the
Internet’s digital traffic still use Linux or UNIX. (This explains why Internet
old-timers know all those cryptic Archie, Gopher, and FTP commands by
heart!) If you prefer a graphical Internet platform, Windows 2003 Server
has Internet applications built in for the network administrator.
Networking: Will your new computer need to run on an office network?
Give the nod to all versions of Windows; all these platforms have built-in
networking capabilities with automatic configuration. Linux, UNIX, and
DOS can also network, although they require more work — and DOS
needs additional software to run a network as well.
“But, Wait — I Collect
Operating Systems!”
Many computer owners don’t fit into one of those nice, neat slots that indicate precisely which operating system is the right one. I should know — I’m
one myself. Because you can run only one operating system on a PC, does
that mean that you need more than one computer? Perhaps more than one of
everything? (Hey, this could cost you a million dollars by the time that you’re
Back up a second there. You can actually run more than one operating
system on a single computer. Windows XP, Windows 2003 Server, UNIX, and
Linux all have a basic multiboot feature, which, in plain English, means that
you can select from multiple operating systems when you turn on your PC.
For example, you can select whether you want to run Linux or Windows XP.
This is the way to go if you sometimes need to run a particular application
available only under Linux, but you’d rather run Windows XP most of the
Part VI: Appendixes
There’s an even better way to take care of a multiboot computer, though. To
choose an operating system at startup, use a commercial multiboot utility,
such as System Commander 8, from V Communications (
This type of program keeps track of all the files that you need for maintaining
each operating system. You can even set up your hard drive with partitions
for each platform. If you boot into one particular platform more than the
others, you can set up a default operating system that loads automatically
after a certain number of seconds have elapsed. You can add or delete operating systems at any time, and the better multiboot programs are easy to use.
If you’ve decided to run a multiboot configuration, make sure that you have
more than enough hard drive real estate to comfortably hold all the operating systems that you’ll use (as well as the applications and assorted other
junk that normally fill up a hard drive). For example, if you want to run a computer with both Windows XP and Linux or UNIX, you need a minimum of 5 or
6GB for an average installation. Check the system requirements listed in the
manual for each operating system that you plan to run, add them together,
and then add an extra gigabyte for lagniappe (a Cajun word that means something extra)!
DOS: The Old Workhorse Lives On
Name: DOS
Aliases: PC-DOS, MS-DOS, Pokey, Dinosaur
Learning curve: Novice to intermediate
Architecture: 16-bit, character-based, limited graphics
Sure, the guy at the computer store says, “DOS is dead.” However, don’t forget
that DOS was around for many, many years before Windows arrived on the
scene, and a mind-boggling number of freeware, shareware, and commercial
programs have been written for DOS. Those applications still do the job —
they just don’t look as pretty, and they don’t have the icon-encrusted, dragand-drop visual controls of a Windows program. Figure A-1 illustrates a
common DOS application. Okay, I’ll admit it: That’s a great old DOS game
called DND that I still play.
DOS has one or two other advantages: As I mentioned earlier in this chapter,
many computer techie types who have been around for years find it faster to
type commands than to select them from a menu. DOS doesn’t take up acres
of hard drive territory, so you don’t lose 350MB of space on your drive just to
hold the operating system. Because it’s not a multitasking system, DOS is
inherently more stable than Windows (as long as the program you’re running
doesn’t lock up). However, you can run only a single program at one time, so
Appendix A: Choosing Your Operating System
don’t expect to handle your finances while you’re e-mailing Uncle Milton.
(Actually, because very few DOS applications are designed for the Internet,
you should forget about e-mail.)
Figure A-1:
DOS may be
old, but it
ain’t dead
yet, pardner.
DOS summary: At this time, the only major continuing development of DOS
software is for specialized hardware such as point-of-sale terminals and scientific devices, and even that is fading away. Time to wave farewell to DOS.
I’m certainly not advocating that you run DOS on a new PC. But DOS will
probably continue as the least-common-denominator operating system for a
while, so it deserves at least a mention in passing.
Windows 95, 98, and Me:
Thanks for the Memories
Name: Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows Me
Aliases: Win95, WinDoze, the Mac lookalike
Learning curve: Novice to intermediate
Architecture: 16-bit/32-bit graphical user interface
The legacy DOS-based versions of Windows have finally passed the crown
to their more stable offspring, Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server, so I
don’t go into great detail here. Suffice it to say that these older versions of
Windows might not have the driver support for today’s hardware (majorly
important), they lack the robust Internet and multimedia support of
Part VI: Appendixes
Windows XP (majorly important), and they don’t have many minor perks that
have been added to more recent releases of Windows (minorly important).
However, if you’ve been given a copy of Windows 95 or 98, you can upgrade
to Windows XP in the future, and virtually all Windows software still runs on
Windows Me. In other words, it makes a good start while you’re saving up for
Windows XP. (And yes, these crotchety antiques do take up significantly less
room on your hard drive than the newer versions of Windows.)
Windows 95, 98, and Me summary: Although I can’t believe it, it’s finally time
to wave goodbye to Windows 98. Thanks, old friend.
Windows 2003 Server:
Microsoft’s First String
Name: Windows 2003 Server
Aliases: Windows 2K3, Neat, Windows with Teeth
Learning curve: Intermediate to advanced
Architecture: 32-bit graphical user interface
Windows 2003 Server is the preferred networking platform for the PC,
although it demands the best of everything to run at thoroughbred speed:
A typical 2003 Server machine has a minimum of 512MB RAM, the fastest
possible processor, and as many gigabytes of hard drive space as you can
pack into your case. Windows 2003 Server is also considerably more expensive than the Home Edition of Windows XP.
Windows 2003 Server supports multiple CPUs with SMP (short for symmetric
multiprocessing, if you hadn’t guessed). In English, this means that you can
put more than one Pentium processor to work in the same machine! (Of
course, your motherboard has to support SMP.)
Windows 2003 Server comes in a Small Business Edition as well, which features extra components such as a shared fax service and enhanced firewall.
Windows 2003 Server features a user interface that’s quite close to Windows
XP, so if you’re familiar with Windows XP, you need to educate yourself only
on the Internet applications within Windows 2003 Server.
Windows 2003 Server summary: If you can afford the high price, if your computer is powerful enough to keep up with the requirements of Windows 2003
Server, and if you don’t need to run any DOS applications, Windows 2003
Server is hard to beat for the PC power user, programmer, hardware technician, or network administrator.
Appendix A: Choosing Your Operating System
Windows XP: The King of the Hill
Name: Windows XP
Aliases: WinXP, WinDoze: The Next Generation, Microsoft Bob II
Learning curve: Novice to intermediate
Architecture: 32-bit graphical user interface
There’s no doubt about it: Windows XP is now the top dog at Microsoft. Why
mess with success? Like Windows 98 before it, Windows XP is universally
supported, runs 32-bit software, and can still run many older 16-bit applications. So what improvements have been added by the Microsoft crew to
Windows XP over Windows 98? The major change is in the addition of new
Internet technologies, such as the built-in Internet firewall and the ability to
share a broadband Internet connection across a home or small office network. XP is far more stable than Windows 98 or Me because it has forever
cast off the remnants of DOS that continued to cling to the operating system.
XP also has the best support for recent multimedia arrivals, such as your
MP3 player and your digital camera. Figure A-2 is a typical Windows XP
screen shot, illustrating the screen effects, 3-D objects, and all-around hightech look befitting our Matrix world.
Figure A-2:
Ahhh, XP.
Life is
Part VI: Appendixes
If you are accustomed to Windows 98 and are stubborn, you can turn off
certain parts of the new interface (or all of it, if you want to keep your
Windows 98 functionality).
Even novices find that Windows XP is easy to learn. Online help is plentiful
and easy to access, including the ability to retrieve the latest help from the
Conveniences abound within Windows XP. For example, the automatic hardware detection that it provides makes adding a new modem, printer, or scanner to your system much easier. Plug in the new device or install it within
your computer’s case, reboot, and Windows XP will likely recognize the
device automatically.
Windows XP also includes built-in support for TCP/IP (transfer control protocol/
Internet protocol), which is the communications protocol used to connect to
the Web and the Internet, as well as excellent all-around support for LAN
(local area network) connections. (For more about networking, see Chapter
12.) Game players will enjoy DirectX, which is the graphics engine that enables
Windows games to use all the fancy features of your 3-D video card. (Chapter
6 tells you all about video cards.) If you’re interested in multimedia, Windows
XP includes support for digital video (in AVI and MPEG format) and digital
audio (in MP3 and WAV format). You can now import pictures directly into
your applications, including e-mail, word processing, and printing software.
You also get a number of utilities and tools that help you keep your computer
running in top shape, including a disk defragmenter, a scanning program that
can check your computer’s hard drive for errors, a scheduler that can automatically launch programs whenever you specify, and (with the Professional
version) a backup program that helps you back up the data on your computer.
The downside? Although Windows XP can run all the same 32-bit applications
as Windows 2003 Server, it doesn’t have many of Windows 2003 Server’s
server-level security features or built-in network support applications.
And there have been a number of well-publicized loopholes in Windows XP
Just like its ancestors, Windows XP is a drive hog: Expect it to gobble up at
least 4GB of your hard drive for a full installation, and that figure rises exponentially when you add programs and features. Whatever happened to the
days when you could comfortably fit everything on a 40MB drive? (Oh, I
remember — see the section entitled “DOS: The Old Workhorse Lives On,”
earlier in this appendix.)
Windows XP summary: XP has taken the place of Windows 98 and Me because
it is bundled with new computers and is a great operating system for novices.
Appendix A: Choosing Your Operating System
Truly, this is the version of Windows that most home PC owners have
deserved for many years now (and Macintosh owners have had for several
years now, but that’s another story). (Now I’m going to catch all sorts of bad
I think this is a good time to mention my book PCs All-in-One Desk Reference
For Dummies, 3rd Edition (Wiley). If you need a complete introduction to
Windows XP, you’ll find it there, along with coverage of all of today’s hottest
PC technologies, such as wireless networking, digital cameras, DVD recording, and Microsoft’s Office 2003 suite. This is truly the one book that takes a
snapshot of the entire PC world, and I’m particularly proud of it!
Linux: It’s Not Just for Techno-nerds!
Name: Linux
Aliases: Freedom, The Power Box, Pain, Torture
Learning curve: Intermediate to advanced
Architecture: 32- and 64-bit character-based interface (graphical shell
You can’t discuss Linux without mentioning its roots: the commercial UNIX
operating system. UNIX has a long history as an unbreakable and robust multitasking platform dating back before a mouse was even imagined. In their pure
form, both Linux and UNIX are character-based like DOS, and their command
language has inspired many a college computer student to change majors
within minutes of first exposure. (However, both Linux and UNIX can take
advantage of graphical shells that can transform them into graphical operating systems that rival XP in sheer beauty.) UNIX has airtight security features,
and it’s a highly efficient operating system that can even run on older and
slower Pentium II and Pentium III computers with as little as 16MB of RAM.
Before the arrival of Windows NT (and its successors, Windows 2000 and
Windows 2003 Server), UNIX machines were used as network servers, dial-up
servers for modems, and other applications that required security, multitasking, and stability. And one of the primary uses of UNIX over the past decade or
so has been on the Internet. Many Internet functions familiar to researchers,
scientists, and students today have their basis in UNIX commands. Like
Windows NT, UNIX supports SMP (which I explain in the “Windows 2003
Server: Microsoft’s First String” section), so you can put more than one CPU
in your computer for extra processing power.
Now that you’re more familiar with the history, let’s talk about Linux. Why
is it such a hot topic these days? A direct competitor of Windows XP and
Part VI: Appendixes
Windows 2003 Server, Linux is basically a rewrite of UNIX created by programmers from around the world, working almost exclusively on the Internet to
share code, specifications, and ideas. Linux is copyrighted, but it’s free of
charge for personal use. (That’s one of the reasons for its success right there!)
It runs virtually all UNIX software, and emulators that run most popular DOS
and Windows programs are available for it. Linux can talk shop with most of
the popular DOS, Windows, and Apple Mac OS X networking protocols.
Linux is an Internet nut’s dream. It provides built-in support for TCP/IP (the
communications protocol used on the Internet), Ethernet networking (see
Chapter 12 for networking details), and multiple modems, so it’s no surprise
that many Internet service providers and small businesses choose Linux to
power their Internet and intranet servers. Linux handles FTP, Internet e-mail,
the Web, and Telnet with ease. Figure A-3 illustrates a typical Linux session;
Note, however, that this is pure Linux, without a graphical user interface
(GUI) shell.
Figure A-3:
Without a
pretty GUI,
Linux is
With a graphical shell, Linux suddenly blooms into a beautiful butterfly —
figuratively, anyway — featuring a design similar to Windows XP. Unlike with
Windows, though, you can literally choose your own interface. A rapidly growing number of shells are available, each handling appearance and functionality
differently (with variations both subtle and outrageous). For example, your
icons can rotate, your windows can shimmer in and out of existence, and
menus can be rearranged at will. In my opinion, the most popular Linux GUI,
X, is practically as easy to use as Windows XP.
Linux has also proved popular because of its broad support and development
among programmers. New hardware support is added constantly, and new
technologies are often implemented within a few months. Linux is as well documented as UNIX or Windows 2003 Server, and programmers are constantly
writing applications and utilities that run under Linux. In fact, the full source
code package for the entire Linux operating system is available for the asking.
(On the Web, you can download the source from the Linux Kernel Archives, at
Appendix A: Choosing Your Operating System
In the early years of its growth, Linux was criticized for a lack of commercial
programs. Where were the applications and games that have built the
Microsoft kingdom? Linux could never enter the mainstream of the home computer world without these programs. Slowly, the times are a ’changin’ as evidenced by commercial-quality multimedia applications such as MusicMatch
Jukebox and games such as Doom 3 now on the Linux shelves at your local
computer store (or available free for the downloading). Heck, I can remember
when a store manager would have busted out laughing if you had even suggested a shelf dedicated to Linux.
Even with the appearance of mainstream applications, however, I can’t say
that Linux has reached the home market quite yet. Although new user-friendly
commercial versions of Linux, such as Red Hat and Caldera OpenLinux, now
ship with simpler installation programs and automated setup and configuration utilities, the character-based behemoth that is Linux still hides underneath. If you’re going to use the full power of Linux — for example, by setting
up the Apache Web server or an e-mail listserver or by building your own network around Linux — prepare to buy a shelf full of reference manuals. As a C
programmer once told me, “It’s not impossible to become a Linux guru, but
you’re going to gain weight with all that reading!”
UNIX and Linux summary: Linux is definitely not for the computer novice, but
if you’ve had experience with DOS, networking, or the character-based tools
on the Internet — or if you’ve ever used UNIX — it’s certainly not impossible
to figure out how to use it. Add to that factor the nonexistent price tag, the
reduced system requirements, the arrival of new GUIs and commercial programs, performance that beats Windows 2003 Server, and the constant development, and you can see why Linux is giving Windows XP and Windows 2003
Server stiff competition.
Before You Install Your
Operating System
Because all these operating systems are installed differently, I can’t give you
one comprehensive set of instructions. However, here’s a checklist of preparations that should make your installation run more smoothly, no matter
which platform you choose:
Back up your hard drive: If you’ve saved any data or created any documents that you’d hate to lose, back up your computer completely before
installing your operating system.
Part VI: Appendixes
Defragment your hard drive: Many operating systems need to create
large temporary disk files, and it’s easier to create these huge files on
a defragmented hard drive. Defragmenting optimizes all the files on a
hard drive so that your computer can read them faster. If you’re running
MS-DOS 6.22, you can use the DEFRAG utility to defragment your drive. If
you’re running Windows 98, Me or 2000, click the Start button and then
choose Programs➪Accessories➪System Tools➪Disk Defragmenter. Under
Windows XP, click the Start button and then choose All Programs➪
Accessories➪System Tools➪Disk Defragmenter.
Read the installation instructions: Sure, your new operating system is
designed to be installed by a kindergarten kid who’s half asleep, but that
doesn’t excuse you from at least scanning the installation instructions.
Read the README file: If something is important enough to include in a
README file on the distribution disks (or CD-ROM), it might affect your
Keep your driver disks handy: Although you’ve installed parts under
your previous operating system, you might need the specific drivers
that came with your parts for your new operating system.
Impose on a friend: Do you have a computer guru for a friend or a relative? Enlist an expert’s help if you need it, especially if that person runs
the same operating system that you’re installing.
Yell for the cavalry: What do you do if something goes horribly wrong
and you can’t find anything about it in the installation guide? Don’t
panic! Keep the tech support number for the operating system close at
hand; it should be located in the manual or the additional literature that
accompanied your operating system.
Before calling for tech support: Have your serial number handy and be
prepared to answer questions about what type of computer you have
and the parts you’ve installed. Be patient, too — tech support representatives for major software developers answer literally hundreds of calls
per day, and you’ll probably have to wait for at least five minutes before
you speak to a human voice.
Appendix B
access time: The amount of time that a hard drive, CD-ROM drive, DVD drive,
or memory module takes to read data. The faster the access time, the better.
adapter card: A circuit board that plugs into your motherboard to provide
your computer with additional functionality. For example, a video adapter
card plugs into your motherboard and enables your computer to display text
and graphics on your monitor.
AGP (accelerated graphics port): A bus standard for many of today’s
fastest 3-D video cards that offers graphics performance even better than
“ancient” video cards that use the PCI bus. AGP slots are rated by 2x, 4x,
and 8x speeds — as you might guess, the higher the X factor in the speed
rating, the faster the data flows to and from your video card. See also PCI.
application: A program that performs a task on your computer. For example,
an Internet application is a program that performs some useful function while
your computer is connected to the Internet.
AT-class: An older, standard set of dimensions for a PC’s motherboard and
case derived from the original IBM AT-class computer. If your PC used an ATclass motherboard, you must also have an AT-class case. AT-class cases and
hardware are practically extinct (except to scavengers) because ATX-class
cases and hardware have taken over the PC market.
Athlon Sempron: A lower-cost version of the Athlon XP processor, designed
for the least-expensive entry PCs (like the kind you see offered by mail-order
and department stores). The Sempron is not recommended for gaming or
power user PCs.
Athlon 64: A new 64-bit Athlon processor. At the time of this writing, the
Athlon 64 CPU is the most popular midrange processor offered by AMD
and is a good choice for all but hard-core gamers and those looking for
the absolute fastest PC.
Part VI: Appendixes
Athlon 64 FX: A version of the Athlon 64 processor designed for delivering
the best performance in games and high-end 3-D rendering applications. The
FX series is significantly faster than a standard Athlon 64 (and quite a bit
more expensive).
Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core: The latest and fastest version of the Athlon 64
processor, utilizing two CPU cores that allow far superior efficiency and
speed (especially when multitasking among more than one application). As
you might have guessed, the X2 Dual-Core is one of the most expensive CPUs
in the AMD lineup.
Athlon XP: An older processor series from Advanced Micro Devices (more
popularly called AMD). The Athlon XP is a good choice for an inexpensive
PC, but it is rapidly disappearing from the market and no longer offers the
best performance for power user applications and computer games.
ATX-class: Today’s standard set of dimensions and features for a PC’s motherboard and case, with support for standard built-in ports on the motherboard
and simpler connectors for power, case switches, and case lights. If you buy
an ATX-class motherboard for your computer, you must also use an ATX-class
bank: Another term for a RAM module socket on your motherboard. Most
motherboards have at least two RAM banks.
BIOS (basic input/output system): Your PC’s BIOS software controls many
low-level functions of your computer, such as keeping track of your hard
drive’s characteristics and what type of monitor you’re using. The BIOS
resides on one or two computer chips on your motherboard.
bit: The smallest unit of information used by a computer. It can have a value
of either 1 or 0.
bonding: A technique for combining two analog or DSL modem connections
to double the throughput (as a single connection).
bps (bits per second): A common method of measuring the speed of a
modem. Today’s high-speed modems are usually measured in kilobits per
second (Kbps), as in 56 Kbps.
broadband: A high-speed Internet connection that delivers data much faster
than a traditional dial-up analog modem connection. Common Internet broadband connections include DSL, cable, and satellite. See also DSL.
Appendix B: Glossary
bus: A slot on your motherboard that accepts adapter cards. Bus slots on
Pentium motherboards are generally 16-bit ISA slots, 32-bit PCI slots, AGP
slots, or PCI-Express slots. See also AGP, ISA, PCI, and PCI-Express.
byte: A group of eight bits that represents a single character of text or data
stored in your computer’s RAM.
CA (commonsense assembly): The technique of preventing mistakes during
the assembly of a computer by using your common sense. First postulated by
the author of this book.
cable modem: An external device that connects your computer to your cable
TV company’s coaxial cable. A cable modem is a requirement for connecting
to the Internet through cable access. Although a cable modem really isn’t
anything like a traditional analog modem, it looks like one.
cache: A special bank of memory that holds data that is often used or that
will be required in a few nanoseconds. Storing data in a cache speeds up the
operation of your PC because the data doesn’t have to be retrieved from RAM
or your hard drive. Many components have a cache, including your CPU,
your hard drive, and your CD/DVD recorder.
case: The metal enclosure that surrounds your computer and holds all its
parts. The case, typically held on with screws or thumbwheels, might have a
separate cover that you can remove to add or remove parts; other cases are
one piece and simply open up.
CD-ROM drive: An internal device that can read both CD-ROMs (which store
computer programs and files) and audio CDs (which store music). A typical
CD-ROM can hold as much as 700MB of data. CD-ROM drives cannot write to
the disc; they can only read data.
CD-RW drive: Also called a CD recorder. Enables you to record (and rerecord) CDs. Discs made with a CD-RW drive can hold computer data and
music. CD-Rs can be read on any CD-ROM drive but can be recorded only
once. CD-RWs can be read on most CD-ROM drives and can be re-recorded.
Celeron: A less expensive version of the Pentium 4 CPU produced by Intel for
the home market. Although a Celeron chip lacks the performance of a full
Pentium 4-class CPU of the same speed, it’s still a popular processor for lowend PCs.
CGA (color graphics adapter): The original IBM PC color standard. Programs
with CGA support could display a stunning four colors at a time.
Part VI: Appendixes
client-server: A network in which computers act as clients and retrieve information or services from a central server computer. Server computers can
also hold common shared resources, such as modems or CD-ROM drives, or
provide shared access to Internet services such as e-mail and a Web site.
CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor): CMOS RAM stores configuration data about your PC’s hardware even after your PC is turned off.
coax: Standard Ethernet cable (also called 10Base2 or 10Base5); commonly
used on simple peer-to-peer networks.
color depth: A reference to the number of colors in an image. Popular color
depths are 256 colors, 64,000 colors, and 16 million colors.
COM port: A numeric designator for a serial port that uses standard hardware settings. Most PC serial ports can be set to one of four COM ports:
COM1 through COM4.
component: The technoid word for a piece of computer hardware; a computer part.
compression: The use of a mathematical formula to reduce the amount of
disk space taken up by a file, a video clip, or an image. Some compression
schemes can reproduce the original exactly; other compression schemes lose
some detail from the original. Modems also use compression to reduce the
time necessary to transfer a file.
CPU (central processing unit): The chip that acts as your computer’s brain.
The CPU performs the commands provided by the programs that you run.
DAT (digital audio tape): A high-speed tape drive used to back up the data
on your hard drive. DAT backups, which can hold 4 to 80GB or more of data
on a single tape, are the most reliable backup drives on the market. Most
companies with networks use DAT drives to safeguard their data by backing
up nightly — and you, too, should back up the data on your hard drive
DDR (double data rate): The standard RAM module used on Pentium 4 computers. A DDR memory module is effectively twice as fast as an older SDRAM
module of the same speed. See also SDRAM.
DDR2: A faster standard for RAM modules developed by Intel, offering
increased bandwidth and better performance with upcoming hardware. At
the time of this writing, however, DDR2 modules still perform at about the
same speed as DDR memory modules.
Appendix B: Glossary
digital camera: A camera that looks and operates much like a traditional film
camera, except that its finished images are uploaded directly to a computer
rather than processed into photographs. Digital cameras are more expensive
than their film cousins.
DIMM (dual inline memory module): A specific type of RAM module usually
used with Pentium 4 and Athlon computers.
DIP (dual inline packaging) switches: A bank of tiny, sliding (or rocker)
switches that enables you to set different features on your motherboard,
some components, and many adapter cards. Use the tip of a pen to slide or
push the switches into their proper sequence.
DirectX: An extension to Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server that enables
fast animation and graphics display in game and multimedia programs.
distinctive ring: A service from your telephone company that enables more
than one telephone number to use the same physical telephone line.
DOS (disk operating system): One of the oldest operating systems still in use
on PCs. This character-based operating system requires you to type commands to run programs.
dot pitch: The amount of space between pixels on a monitor. The smaller the
dot pitch, the clearer and more detailed the display.
DPMS (display power management signaling): A feature that enables your
computer to power down your monitor after a specified period of inactivity.
This feature helps save energy and money.
drawing tablet: An input device that looks like a larger version of a touchpad.
Although the drawing tablet can be used as a pointing device, it is typically
used by graphic artists for freehand drawing in graphics applications.
DSL (digital subscriber line): A high-speed connection to the Internet offering top speeds of around 4 to 8 Mbps. Although DSL uses regular copper telephone line and is always on, it’s still not available in some rural areas of the
DSL modem: An external device that connects your computer to a DSL line.
The modem looks like a traditional analog telephone modem but delivers
data much faster.
DVD (digital video disc or digital versatile disc): The replacement for the
older CD-ROM format. A single DVD can hold from 4.7 to 17GB. DVDs can
hold computer data, full-length movies, and several hours of audio in MPEG
Part VI: Appendixes
DVD-RW/DVD+RW drive: A DVD recorder that enables you to record (and rerecord) DVDs. DVD-Rs and DVD+Rs can be read on any DVD drive (and virtually all DVD players designed for use with your TV set), but they can be
recorded only once. DVD-RWs and DVD+RWs are not as compatible as DVD-R
and DVD+R discs, but they can be re-recorded.
DVI (digital visual interface or digital video interface): A high-performance
port that connects your video card to the latest flat-panel LCD and CRT monitors. A DVI connection provides the best-quality video signal and the fastest
data transfer between your PC and your monitor — digital end-to-end, as the
techs say.
EDO (extended data output): A standard type of RAM module used on older
486 and Pentium-class computers that provides faster operation than earlier
types of RAM.
EIDE (enhanced integrated drive electronics): The standard hard drive and
device interface technology in use on PCs. Standard EIDE controllers (which
are built into today’s motherboards) can handle as many as four EIDE
devices, which can include additional hard drives, tape backup drives, and
DVD drives.
Ethernet: A network topology in which data is broadcast across the network
between computers. Although Ethernet is generally less efficient than other
network architectures, it’s less complex and less expensive to maintain.
external peripheral: A type of peripheral or device that sits outside your
computer’s case and is connected by a cable — for example, an external
fax modem: A type of modem that has all the functionality of a standard
modem but can also exchange faxes with either another fax modem or a standard fax machine.
female connector: A cable connector with holes that accept the pins on a
male connector.
fingertip mouse: A pointing device that uses a small button. To move objects
onscreen, you push the button in the direction that you want. Fingertip mice
are common on laptop computers.
firewall: A program or device designed to protect network data from being
accessed by a computer hacker. Most Internet and Web sites use a firewall to
provide security for company data.
Appendix B: Glossary
FireWire: The popular name for the IEEE 1394 high-performance serial bus
connection standard; developed by Apple. A FireWire connection is similar to
a USB connection. Devices can be added or removed without rebooting the
computer, and you can daisy chain as many as 63 FireWire devices from a
single port. Because of a FireWire port’s high data-transfer rate of 400 Mbps
and ability to control digital devices, it is especially well suited for connecting digital camcorders and external hard drives to your PC. The latest
FireWire 800 standard (which is now available for PCs) can transfer data at a
mind-boggling 800 Mbps.
Flash BIOS: An advanced BIOS chipset that can be updated with new features
by running an upgrade program (usually available from the manufacturer of
your motherboard).
Flash drive: An external solid-state removable storage drive that connects to
your USB port. These drives store data using the same technology as the
memory cards that you find in digital cameras.
flat-panel monitor: A monitor that uses LCD technology instead of a traditional tube. LCD monitors have been used on laptop computers for years and
are now just as popular for full-size desktop computers. A flat panel is much
thinner than a traditional tube monitor and uses less electricity and emits
very little radiation.
floppy drive: A component housed inside your computer; can save program
and data files to floppy disks, which can be stored as backups or loaded on
other PCs. Computers use 31⁄2-inch floppy disks that can store as much as
1.44MB of data on a single disk. However, floppies are unreliable and might
not be readable on other PCs.
game port: A port for connecting joysticks and game peripherals. Game ports
can be installed separately, although most sound cards have a game port
built in.
GB (gigabyte): A unit of data equal to 1024MB (megabytes).
GHz (gigahertz): The frequency (or speed) of a CPU as measured in billions
of cycles per second.
hacker: A computer user who attempts to access confidential information or
steal data across the Internet or a network without authorization. Hacking is
a criminal offense.
hard drive (or hard disk): A component that usually fits inside your case.
Your hard drive acts as permanent storage for your programs and data,
enabling you to save and delete files. Unlike the RAM in your computer, your
hard drive does not lose data when you turn off your PC.
Part VI: Appendixes
infrared port: An external optical port that allows fast, wireless transfer of
data between your PC and another computer equipped with a compatible
infrared port.
inkjet: A method of printing in which ink is injected from a cartridge onto
paper to create text and graphics on the page. Color inkjet printers are relatively inexpensive but take longer to print a page than a comparable laser
interface: A technoid term that refers to the method of connecting a peripheral to your computer. For example, printers use a parallel port interface or a
USB interface; hard drives use EIDE, FireWire, SATA, or SCSI interfaces. Some
interface types refer to adapter cards; others refer to ports and cables. See
also EIDE, FireWire, SCSI, and USB.
internal component: A component that you install inside your computer’s
case — for example, a hard drive or an internal modem.
ISA (industry standard architecture): ISA bus slots accept 16-bit adapter
cards to add functionality to your computer. ISA cards are typically slower
than PCI adapter cards, and many motherboards no longer include an ISA
joystick: An input device (for games) that’s similar to the control stick used
by an airplane pilot. Predictably, joysticks are usually used by game players
who enjoy flight simulators.
jumper: A set of two or more pins that can be shorted with a tiny plastic-andmetal crossover. Jumpers are commonly found on motherboards, components such as hard drives, and adapter cards.
KB (kilobyte): A unit equal to 1024 bytes.
keyboard port: Where the cable from your keyboard connects to your computer. Keyboard ports come in two sizes: the older, larger port and today’s
standard PS/2 smaller port. You can buy an adapter to make any keyboard fit
either size of keyboard port.
LAN (local area network): See network.
laser: A printer technology in which a powder is bonded to paper to create
text and graphics. Laser printers are fast and produce excellent print quality
but are typically more expensive than inkjet printers.
Appendix B: Glossary
Linux: A 32-bit (or 64-bit) operating system similar to UNIX and popular on
the Internet for use with Web servers. Unlike UNIX, Linux is freeware and its
source code is available. See also UNIX.
male connector: A cable connector with pins that fit into the holes on a
female connector.
MB (megabyte): A unit equal to 1024KB.
MHz (megahertz): The frequency (or speed) of an older CPU as measured in
millions of cycles per second.
MIDI (musical instrument digital interface): The MIDI hardware standard
enables computers of all types to play MIDI music and enables interaction
between the computer and the instrument. MIDI music files are common on
the Internet.
MIDI port: Enables you to connect a MIDI-compatible musical instrument to
your computer. Notes that you play on the instrument can be recorded on
your PC, or your PC can be set to play the instrument all by itself.
modem: A computer device that converts digital data from one computer to
an analog signal that can be sent over a telephone line. On the opposite end,
the analog signal is converted back to digital data. Modems are widely used
to access the Internet, online services, and computer bulletin board systems.
monitor: An external component that looks something like a TV screen. Your
computer’s monitor displays all the graphics generated by your PC.
motherboard: Your computer’s main circuit board. It holds the CPU, RAM modules, and most of the circuitry. Adapter cards plug into your motherboard.
mouse: The standard computer pointing device. You hold the mouse in your
hand and move it in the desired direction to create movement on your
screen. A mouse also has buttons that you can press to select items or run a
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: My favorite classical composer, and a doggone
good piano player to boot. He created the world’s most beautiful music, and
I’m happy to say that I now have a complete audio CD collection of every
single note that he ever composed.
MP3: A popular digital sound format used to download CD-quality music from
the Internet. Your computer can play MP3 files through its speaker system,
you can listen to them with a portable MP3 player, or you can record MP3
files to a CD-ROM and play them in any standard audio CD player.
Part VI: Appendixes
MPEG (Moving Pictures Expert Group): A popular digital video format and
compression scheme often found on the Web. MPEG-format video is used on
commercial DVD movies.
network: A system of computers connected to each other. Each computer
can share data with other computers in the network, and all computers
connected to the network can use common resources such as printers
and modems.
newsgroups: Also called Usenet. International Internet message areas, each
of which is usually dedicated to a special interest. Reading and posting questions in these newsgroups is a fun way to find out more about a subject (as
well as receive tons of unwanted Internet e-mail, which is lovingly termed
OCR (optical character recognition): OCR software can “read” the text from
a fax or a document scanned by a digital scanner and “type” that text into
your computer word processing program.
parallel port: A standard connector on most PCs that enables you to add
peripherals. Parallel ports are generally used to connect printers to PCs,
although other devices, such as Zip drives and digital scanners, are available
with parallel port connections.
PC card (or PCMCIA card): A device resembling a fat business card that
plugs directly into most laptops. The card can perform the same function as a
full-size adapter card, such as a modem, a network interface card, a SCSI
adapter, or even a hard drive. A PC card can also be used on a desktop computer equipped with a PC card slot.
PCI (peripheral component interconnect): A PCI bus slot can hold a 32-bit
adapter card to add functionality to your computer. PCI slots are faster than
older ISA slots, so they’re used for everything these days: for example,
Ethernet cards, sound cards, and SCSI adapter cards. See also ISA and SCSI.
PCI-Express: The high-performance successor for a standard PCI slot, the
PCI-Express bus is most commonly used these days for adding the latest and
fastest video card to your PC.
peer-to-peer: A type of network in which every computer is connected to
every other computer, and no server computer is required.
Pentium: The original Pentium CPU; the successor to the 486 series of
processors. It was manufactured by Intel — successive versions included
the Pentium II and Pentium III.
Appendix B: Glossary
Pentium 4: The fourth version of the Pentium CPU from Intel. At the time this
book was written, the Pentium 4 is the most popular CPU chip made for IBMcompatible personal computers.
Pentium Extreme Edition: The latest (and most expensive) Pentium CPU
from Intel, offering dual-core architecture that delivers better performance
while multitasking applications or playing games.
Pentium Xeon: A version of the Pentium 4 CPU designed for network server
computers and high-powered workstation PCs. It’s considerably more expensive than the standard Pentium 4 CPU.
pixel: A single dot on your monitor. Text and graphics displayed by a computer on a monitor are made up of pixels.
plug and play: A type of adapter card or external device that can be automatically configured by Windows. If your hardware device offers plug and play,
the chances are greatly reduced that you have to manually configure the settings for it.
port: A fancy name for a connector that you plug something into. For example, your keyboard plugs into a keyboard port, and your USB scanner plugs
into a USB port.
power supply: The box that carries electricity to your PC’s devices. Your
computer’s power supply provides a number of separate power cables; each
cable is connected to one of the various devices inside your computer that
need electricity. A power supply also has a fan that helps to cool the interior
of your computer. Never attempt to open or repair a power supply!
printer: An external device that can print text, graphics, and documents from
your computer on paper. Most printers sold these days use inkjet or laser
PS/2 mouse port: A special port that first appeared on the IBM PS/2 computer (hence the name). Most Pentium and Athlon-class motherboards feature a port reserved especially for your mouse or pointing device.
RAM (random access memory): The type of chip that acts as your computer’s short-term memory. This memory chip holds programs and data until
you turn off your computer.
RDRAM (Rambus dynamic RAM): An older design for RAM modules that
delivered better performance than DDR RAM but is now being phased out in
favor of DDR2 memory.
Part VI: Appendixes
refresh: The number of times per second that your video adapter card
redraws the image on your PC’s monitor. Higher refresh rates are easier on
the eyes.
rendering: A technoid term for creating 3-D objects and full 3-D scenes on
your computer. The classic films Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and A Bug’s Life
feature rendered 3-D characters.
resolution: The number of pixels on your screen measured as horizontal by
vertical. For example, a resolution of 1024 x 768 means that there are 1024
pixels across your screen and 768 lines down the side of the screen.
rpm (revolutions per minute): The speed of the platters in a hard drive. The
faster the RPM, the faster the drive can access your data.
SATA (serial ATA) interface: A popular hard drive and device interface technology that is easier to configure and faster than EIDE, but SATA hardware
typically costs somewhat more.
scanner: A device that converts (or captures) text and graphics from a
printed page into a digital image. Scanners are often used to “read” pictures
from books and magazines; the digital version of the picture can be edited
and used in documents or placed on a Web page.
SCSI (small computer system interface): A popular hard drive and device
interface technology that is faster and supports more devices than EIDE but
costs more. See also EIDE.
SCSI ID: A numeric identifier assigned to each device in a SCSI chain. Each
device requires a unique SCSI ID for proper operation.
SCSI port: A connector built into most SCSI adapter cards that enables you to
add external peripherals, such as CD recorders and scanners, to your SCSI
device chain.
SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM): An older type of RAM module that
was often used on Pentium II and Pentium III PCs. It offers faster performance
than the standard EDO RAM modules used on 486 and original Pentium computers. See also RAM.
serial port: A standard connector on most PCs that transfers data to and
from an external device. A serial port is generally used to connect an external
modem to your computer.
SIMM (single inline memory module): A specific type of RAM chip usually
used with older “antique” 486 and original Pentium-class computers.
Appendix B: Glossary
slot 1: The motherboard slot designed to accept an older Pentium II (and
some Pentium III) processors.
sound card: An adapter card that enables your computer to play music and
sound effects for games and other programs. Sound cards can also record
audio from a microphone or stereo system.
static electricity: The archenemy of all computer circuitry, especially computer chips. Before you install anything in your computer, you should touch
the metal chassis of your computer to discharge any static electricity on your
subwoofer: A separate speaker that you can add to a standard two-speaker
computer sound system. Subwoofers add deep bass response and can bring
realistic depth to sound effects.
SVGA (super video graphics array): The most common graphics standard
for PC video adapter cards and monitors now in use. The SVGA standard
allows for more than 16 million colors (24-bit or true color).
tape backup drive: A type of drive that enables you to back up your computer’s files to removable magnetic cartridges.
terminator: A switch or small resistor pack found on every SCSI device.
(Each end of a SCSI device chain must be terminated for everything to work
properly.) A different type of terminator is also required at each end of an
Ethernet peer-to-peer network. See also SCSI.
token ring: A network topology in which data is attached to a token and circulated among computers on the network.
topology: The structure or design of a network.
touchpad: A pointing device that reads the movement of your finger across
the surface of the pad. This movement is translated to cursor movement on
your screen.
trackball: A pointing device that resembles an upside-down mouse. You
move the cursor by rolling the trackball with your finger or thumb and clicking buttons.
twisted-pair cable: Also called 10BaseT, 100Base-T, and 1000Base-T, depending on the speed of the network. A form of network cable that looks much like
telephone cord, twisted-pair cable is commonly used on Ethernet networks
with a central hub or switch.
Part VI: Appendixes
UNIX: A 32-bit, character-based operating system. Like DOS, UNIX is controlled from a command line, but graphical front ends are available. The UNIX
commercial operating system is well known for security and speed, and UNIX
computers have run servers on the Internet for many years. See also DOS.
USB (universal serial bus): A standard connector that enables you to daisy
chain a whopping 127 devices, with data transfers at as much as 12 megabits
per second for USB standard 1.1 (and a respectable 480 Mbps for USB standard 2.0). USB connectors have become the standard of choice for all sorts of
computer peripherals, from computer videocameras and scanners to joysticks and speakers. (By the way, a USB 1.1 device works just fine when connected to a USB 2.0 port.)
VGA (video graphics array): The IBM PC graphics standard that featured 256
colors. Replaced on most of today’s computers by the SVGA standard. See
also SVGA.
video card: An adapter card that plugs into your motherboard and enables
your computer to display text and graphics on your monitor. Advanced
adapter cards can speed up the display of Windows programs and 3-D
voice modem: A computer modem that can also act as an answering machine
and voice mail system. Voice modems typically have a speakerphone option
as well.
WAV: The Microsoft standard format for a digital sound file. WAV files are
common across the Internet and can be recorded in CD-quality stereo.
wavetable: A feature supported by all modern PC sound cards. A wavetable
sound card produces more realistic instrument sounds (and therefore more
realistic sounding music).
Windows 2003 Server: The latest advanced version of the Windows operating system from Microsoft. The direct descendant of Windows NT and
Windows 2000, it comes in a number of flavors designed to appeal to small
businesses. Windows 2000 makes a great network server or Internet server
but, like NT before it, is much more expensive than Windows XP.
Windows Me (Millennium Edition): The last version of the Windows operating system to use a 16-bit DOS architecture (following in the footsteps of
Windows 95 and Windows 98). Like Windows 98, Windows Me is no longer
actively supported by Microsoft.
Windows NT: The predecessor to Windows 2000. In the days of Windows 98
and Windows Me, NT was the faster, more secure, more stable, and much
more expensive version of Windows that was popular with power users and
Web/Internet servers. NT is still popular as the backbone of some office
Appendix B: Glossary
Windows XP: The most popular 32-bit operating system for the PC. Windows
is a multimedia, graphical operating system that relies heavily on a pointing
device, such as a mouse. Windows 98, the predecessor to Windows XP, has
fewer features and lacks support for the latest hardware. (On the other hand,
it occupies less space on your hard drive than Windows XP.)
Windows XP 64: A new version of Windows XP that’s designed to support
the new generation of 64-bit processors from Intel and AMD. 64-bit functionality allows faster and more efficient multitasking, as well as faster hard drive
wireless mouse: A pointing device similar to a standard mouse but without
the cord that connects it to the computer. Wireless mice require batteries but
are a little more convenient without the cord.
ZIF (zero insertion force) socket: A socket that makes it easy to upgrade
your computer’s CPU in the future. The lever unlatches the CPU so that you
can easily remove it from the socket and then drop in a new CPU.
Zip drive: A type of drive that uses a removable cartridge about the size of a
floppy disk. Each Zip disk stores anywhere from 100 to 750MB of data, and
the data can be retrieved much faster from a Zip disk than from a floppy disk.
Zip drives are available with USB, FireWire, and EIDE interfaces. See also
FireWire, SCSI, and USB.
Part VI: Appendixes
• Numerics •
3-D accelerator chip, 30
3-D spatial imaging, 158–159
3-D video card, 32–33, 91–94
3DMark05 utility (FutureMark), 91
8-bit audio, 155
16-bit audio, 155
24-bit color, 233
24-bit sound, 154–155
32-bit PCI card, 154
56 Kbps modem specification, 176
64-bit support, 64
486 computer, 92
AAC format, 156
AC wiring, network using, 216
accelerated graphics port (AGP)
slot, 54, 70–71
video card, 285
access time
of CD-ROM/DVD drive, 142
of hard drive, 117
AC-3 technology, 145
ad filtering, 254
adapter card. See also SCSI adapter card;
sound card; video card
care of, 11
FM stereo/TV tuner, 254–255
installing, 11
plugging in, 19, 20
port, installing, 83–85
for satellite Internet connection, 250
types of, 20
Ad-Aware SE (LavaSoft), 272
Photoshop Elements, 147, 273
Premiere Pro, 240
ads, classified, used parts and, 38
AGP (accelerated graphics port)
slot, 54, 70–71
video card, 90–91, 285
AIFF format, 156
air, canned, 49
All Programs➪Accessories➪System Tools➪
Disk Defragmenter, 306
AMD series CPU
Athlon 64 series, 63, 64
Athlon XP, 64–65
overview of, 15
Sempron processor, 62, 63
analog signal, 223
antiglare coating on monitor, 103
antistatic packaging, 11
antistatic strips, 53
antivirus program, 207, 271
Apple iPod music player, 156
archiving, 123, 147
assembly, tips for
ask for help, 277–278
check cables, 279–280
gather parts, 277
keep track of tiny objects, 276
leave case off, 279
read instructions, 275–276
set up work space, 276
start parts box, 278
take time, 279
use magnetic screwdriver, 278
assessing needs
basic designs, evaluating, 23–24
economy-class design, 24–25
power use design, 26–27
questions to ask, 21–23
standard edition design, 25–26
AT connector, 75
Athlon 64 series processor (AMD), 63, 64
Athlon XP series processor (AMD), 64–65
ATI (manufacturer), 93
ATX standard size guidelines, 52
AU format, 156
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
audio CD, 139, 146
audio controls for CD-ROM/DVD drive, 142
audio formats, 156
audiophile sound card, 33
Batboard BBS of, 173
e-mail address of, 10
Web site of, 24, 35
Avanquest Publishing System
Commander, 286
AVerTV Go 007 FM Plus card, 255
AVI format, 240
background and performance, 283
backing up data
floppy disk and, 289
importance of, 120–121
Iomega Zip removable-media drive
and, 122–124
options for, 289–290
power use of computer and, 269–270
tape drive and, 121–122
to Web, 255–256
basic designs
economy-class, 24–25
overview of, 23–24
power use, 26–27
standard edition, 25–26
Batboard BBS, 173
battery, rechargeable, 82
BBS (bulletin board system)
history of, 173
used parts and, 38
benefits of building PC
brand-names, using, 266
bundled software costs, avoiding, 265
freedom of choice, 263–264
learning experience, 264
money, saving, 261–262
monster myth and, 262–263
recycling parts, 262
repairing and replacing parts, 264–265
salespeople, avoiding, 265–266
warranty, full, on each part, 266
BIOS, 54
bit, 173–174
bit rate, 154
bits per second (bps), 173, 174
boom microphone, 162
boot password, 52
boxes, saving, 12
bps (bits per second), 173, 174
Briere, Danny (Wireless Home Networking
For Dummies), 217
broadband connection
charges for, 226–227
description of, 19, 171, 221
determining need for, 222
ISP, finding, 227–228
modem speed and, 176
network and, 208
Bruce, Walter (Wireless Home Networking
For Dummies), 217
buffer, 117–118
bulletin board system (BBS)
history of, 173
used parts and, 38
burn-in, 107
bus mastering, 199
buttons on case, 50
buying components. See also used parts
by mail order, 34–35
motherboard, 51
new, 33
online, 36
researching before, 33–34
CA (commonsense assembly), 11–13
cable modem, 225
bidirectional parallel printer, 243
care of, 11
checking, 279–280
connecting components and, 19–20
interchangeable, 107
for modem, 178–179
network, 214
for SCSI external device, 197
serial compared to parallel, 114
twisted-pair, 212–213, 218
CD-ROM/DVD drive and, 142
controller memory, 120
hard drive and, 117–118
SCSI adapter card and, 199
caddy CD-ROM drive, 140, 141
caller ID, 181
camcorder, digital video, 147, 240
camera, digital, 236–239
capturing digital video, 239–241
cleaning, 273
description of, 14–15
for economy-class design, 25
fans and, 48–49
features of, 44–45, 49–50
front-panel port expander for, 77
key lock on, 50, 52
leaving off during assembly, 279
motherboard, installing, 54–57
mounting hardware for motherboard
and, 45
power supply and, 47–48
for power use design, 27
slots on back of, 50–51
for standard edition design, 26
types of, 45–47
audio, 139
caring for, 150
ejecting, 150
recording, 31, 146–148
CD & DVD Recording For Dummies, 2nd
Edition (Chambers), 135–136
CD binder, 272
CD recorder, 145–146, 289
CD-R, compatibility and, 148
CD-ROM disk, 139
CD-ROM drive
caddy compared to tray systems, 140–141
description of, 18
for economy-class design, 25
external, 137, 139
features of, 141–142
installing, 150–151
internal, 136–137, 139
jukebox, external, 139–140
for power use design, 28
scavenging, 138
speed of, 137–139
for standard edition design, 26
testing, 152
tower system, 140
X factor and, 283–284
CD-RW disk, Zip disk compared to, 124
CD-RW drive, 148–149
Celeron processor, 62–63
certification of network adapter card, 213
chaining, 191–192, 194–195, 197–198
Chambers, Mark
Batboard BBS of, 173
CD & DVD Recording For Dummies,
2nd Edition, 135–136
e-mail address of, 10
PCs All-in-One Desk Reference For
Dummies, 3rd Edition, 303
Scanners For Dummies, 230
Web site of, 24, 35
children and PC, 291
choosing components, 263–264, 266
circuit board, care of, 11
case, 49
CD or DVD, 150
hardware, 273–274
mouse, 79
client, 206, 209
client-server network, 208–209
clip-on microphone, 162
closing slot holes in back of case, 50–51
CMOS (complementary metal-oxide
semiconductor), 131 Web site, 34
COD shipping, 35
of faceplate, 44
video card and, 94–95
color configuration, 104
color depth, 95, 233
color printing, 243
COM port, 75
commonsense assembly (CA), 11–13
communication and network, 206–207
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
communication technologies, comparing,
of CD and DVD types, 148–149
of RAM modules, 68
SCSI interface and, 191
of software and operating system, 297
complementary metal-oxide
semiconductor (CMOS), 131
components. See also buying components;
connecting components; scavenging
parts; specific parts
care of, 11
cleaning, 49, 79, 150, 273–274
connecting, 19–20
disassembling, 291–292
documentation on, 12, 275–276
overheating of, 48
refurbished, 288
researching before buying, 33–34
selecting, 263–264, 266
as standardized, 13–14
data, 174
digital images, 238
digital video, 96
Computer Shopper (magazine), 51
computer stores, used parts and, 37
conferencing, 222
hard drive, 130–131
modem, 185
connecting components
external ports, 85–86
external SCSI device, 202
external serial modem, 183–184
external USB modem, 184–185
monitor, 106–107
overview of, 19–20
power supply, 58
speakers, 163, 166–167
switches and lights, 58–59
twisted-pair cables, 218
connections, checking, 12, 279–280
external SCSI, 202
male and female, 75
on motherboard, 15
ports, requirements for, 17–18
power, 113
ribbon cable, 113, 125, 126
RJ-45, 212
controller card, 119–120
audio, for CD-ROM/DVD drive, 142
on monitor, 104
on speakers, 164
convenience of networking, 206
cookie, 254
cooling system, 48–49
cooperation and network, 207
copyright restrictions, 146, 242, 290
Corel Paint Shop Pro, 235, 236
of broadband connection, 226–227
building PC and, 261–262
of CD recorder, 145
of digital camera, 236
of DVD recorder, 145
of Ethernet network, 211
of home phoneline network kit, 215
of inkjet printer, 243, 244
of internal CD-ROM/DVD drive, 136
of joystick, 32
of jukebox, 140
of laser printer, 241
of LightScribe DVD+R discs, 148
of Logitech io 2 digital pen, 233
of monitor, 15
of motherboard, 16
of new components, 33
of REV drive, 124
of satellite Internet connection, 251
of scanner, 230
of SCSI adapter cards and devices,
191, 198
shipping costs and, 35
of speakers, 163
of subwoofer, 165
of video card, 97
of voice modem, 180
of Zip drives and disks, 123
cover, leaving off during assembly, 12
CPU chip (processor)
Celeron and Sempron, 62–63
description of, 15, 61
for economy-class design, 25
fan for, 48–49, 67
hyperthreading technology and, 63
installing, 65–67
minimum requirements for, 52–53
Pentium and Athlon, 63–65
Pentium III, 288–289
for power use design, 27
selecting, 62
speed of, 15, 62
for standard edition design, 26
upgrading, 283
CPU socket, 65
Creative Labs, 154–155
cyberspace, 173
Daily .WAV Web site, 156
daisy chaining, 197–198
DAT (digital audio tape) drive, 122, 129–130
digital, 138
moving on CD or DVD, 147
data, backing up
floppy disk and, 289
importance of, 120–121
Iomega Zip removable-media drive
and, 122–124
options for, 289–290
power use of computer and, 269–270
tape drive and, 121–122
to Web, 255–256
data compression, 174
data storage, 18, 111–112. See also floppy
disk drive; hard drive; removable
storage drive
DDR (double data rate) and DDR2 memory
modules, 67–68
defragmenting hard drive, 281–282, 306
economy-class, 24–25
power use, 26–27
standard edition, 25–26
desktop case, 46
diagnostics software, 270
dial-up connection and modem speed,
176, 224
digital audio tape (DAT) drive, 122, 129–130
digital camera, 236–239
digital data, 138
digital readout, 49
digital signal, 224
digital subscriber line (DSL)
description of, 225–226
determining need for, 222
ISDN compared to, 223
digital video
capturing, 239–241
MPEG and, 97
overview of, 96
digital video disc (DVD)
caring for, 150
description of, 99, 142–144
ejecting, 150
recording, 146–148
rewriteable versions of, 148
digital visual interface (DVI) output, 97–98
DIMM (dual inline memory module), 68
DIP (dual inline packaging) switch, 56, 196
Director (Macromedia), 240
DirectX, 302
discharging static electricity, 53
display power management signaling
(DPMS) support, 98
distinctive ring service for telephone
line, 179
copyright restrictions and, 242
electronic, turning faxed document
into, 180
documentation, reading, 12, 275–276
Dolby Digital Surround sound, 144, 145, 159
DOS, 298–299
DOS file system, 285
dot matrix printer, 242
dot pitch, 100–101, 102
double data rate (DDR and DDR2) memory
modules, 67–68
downloading multimedia, 222
DPMS (display power management
signaling) support, 98
drafting, peripherals for, 28–30
Dragon NaturallySpeaking (ScanSoft),
161, 272
Drag-to-Disc (Roxio), 146
drawing tablet, 29, 80
drive bays, 15, 44
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
drive cage, 117
drive cage kit, 126
drive controller, 53
driver support for video card, 91
Driver Zone Web site, 91, 157
DSL (digital subscriber line)
description of, 225–226
determining need for, 222
ISDN compared to, 223
dual display feature of video card, 98
dual inline memory module (DIMM), 68
dual inline packaging (DIP) switch, 56, 196
dual transmission feature of voice
modem, 181
CD or DVD and, 150
cleaning from case, 49
removing from hardware, 273–274
DVD (digital video disc)
caring for, 150
description of, 99, 142–144
ejecting, 150
movies, recording, 147–148
recording, 146–148
rewriteable versions of, 148
DVD drive
CDs and, 143
evaluating need for, 144
external, 137, 139
features of, 141–142
installing, 150–151
internal, 136–137, 139
jukebox, external, 139–140
speed of, 137–139
system requirements for, 144
testing, 152
tower system, 140
video card and, 145
X factor and, 283–284
DVD recorder
description of, 145–146
storing data and, 289
Zip drive compared to, 123
DVD-R, compatibility and, 149
DVI (digital visual interface) output, 97–98
eBay Web site, 16, 38
economy-class basic design
features of, 24–25
pizza-box case and, 45
digital video, 97, 240
faxed document, 180
images, software for, 273
EIDE (enhanced IDE)
CD-ROM/DVD drive, 136
CD-ROM/DVD drive, installing, 150–151
description of, 53
hard drive, 112–113, 116
hard drive, installing, 125–127
8-bit audio, 155
ejecting CD or DVD from drive, 150
electricity, working with, 19
electronic document, turning faxed
document into, 180
sending faxed document as
attachment to, 180
voice, 161
e-mail address of author, 10
emulator, 297
Energy Star compliant monitor, 103
enhanced IDE (EIDE)
CD-ROM/DVD drive, 136
CD-ROM/DVD drive, installing, 150–151
description of, 53
hard drive, 112–113, 116
hard drive, installing, 125–127
entry-level design, 24–25
ergonomic keyboard, 81
ergonomics, 270–271
error control, 174
ESDI drive, 115
EtherFast 10/100 Network in a
Box (Linksys), 211
Ethernet network port, 18
Ethernet network topology, 209–211
expansion and SCSI adapter card, 190
external drive
CD-ROM/DVD, 137, 139
hard, 121
external modem
overview of, 176–178
serial, connecting, 183–184
USB, connecting, 184–185
external port, connecting, 85–86
external SCSI device, connecting, 202
extra keys on keyboard, support for, 81
faceplate, color of, 44
family use of computer, determining, 22
in case, 48–49
CPU and, 48–49, 67
description of, 15
troubleshooting, 72
fax/modem, 178–180
female connector, 75
56 Kbps modem specification, 176
file server, 209
fingerprint scanner, 52
fingerprints on CD or DVD, 150
fingertip mouse, 80–81
firewall, 253–254
internal devices and, 190–191
port, 17, 76–77, 137
flash BIOS, 54
Flash drive, 290
flash RAM, 236–237, 238
flash ROM, 199
flat screen monitor, 103
flatbed scanner, 230–231
flat-panel monitor, 96, 103
flat-panel speakers, 164
floppy disk drive
cleaning, 274
decline of, 118–119
description of, 18
for economy-class design, 25
installing, 128–129
for power use design, 27
selecting, 119
for standard edition design, 26
floppy disk, limitations of, 289
floppy drive cable connector, 20
FM (frequency modulation), 157–158
FM stereo/TV tuner adapter card, 254–255
force feedback joystick, 32
audio, 156
CD and DVD recording, 148–149
digital video, 240
formatting hard drive, 131–132
486 computer, 92
frame rate, 241
frequency modulation (FM), 157–158
front-panel port expander, 77
full duplex, 161
FutureMark 3DMark05 utility, 91
Game Commander 3 (Mindmaker), 252–253
game port, 78
case for computer for, 45–46
Logitech Wingman Force 3D joystick,
networks and, 205
peripherals for, 31–33
3-D spatial imaging sound card
and, 158–159
3-D video card and, 91–93
voice command and, 252–253
garage sales and used parts, 38
GIF (graphic interchange format), 273
GPU (graphics processing unit), 90
graphical user interface (GUI), 296, 304
graphics, peripherals for, 28–30
grounding self, 12
groupware, 205
groupware system, 207
GUI (graphical user interface), 296, 304
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
hacker, original meaning of, 13
half duplex, 161
handheld scanner, 232–233
handshaking, 174
hard copy, 178
hard drive
configuring, 130–131
controller, connecting, 124–125
data storage and, 18, 111–112
defragmenting, 281–282, 306
for economy-class design, 25
enhanced IDE (EIDE), 112–113, 116
external, 121
features of, 117–118
formatting, 131–132
history of and acronyms associated
with, 115
installing EIDE, 125–127
installing SATA, 128
for power use design, 27
scavenging, 118, 132
Serial ATA (SATA), 113–115
small computer system interface
(SCSI), 115–116, 190
for standard edition design, 26
types of, 112
hardware. See also specific components
auto configuration of, 296
cleaning, 49, 273–274
refurbished, 288
hardware MPEG support, 97
headset microphone, 163
heat and CD or DVD, 150
help, asking for, 277–278
Hewlett-Packard Scanjet, 230
high-speed Internet access, 171, 172
Home Networking For Dummies, 3rd Edition
(Ivens), 208
home office peripherals, 30
home phoneline network, 215
hub, USB, 216
Hurley, Pat (Wireless Home Networking
For Dummies), 217
hyperthreading technology, 63
Lotus Notes, 207
ViaVoice, 272
IDE (integrated drive electronics)
drive, 115 Web site, 34
IEEE1394 high-performance serial bus, 76
editing, 273
peripherals for, 28–30
importing faxed document, 180
industry standard architecture (ISA)
slot, 54
infrared port, 78
inkjet printer, 242, 243–244
adapter card, 11
CD-ROM drive, 150–151
CPU, 65–67
directions for as generic, 2
DVD drive, 150–151
EIDE hard drive, 125–127
external ports, 85–86
external SCSI device, 202
external serial modem, 183–184
external USB modem, 184–185
floppy disk drive, 128–129
internal modem, 181–182
internal SCSI device, 200–201
internal tape backup drive, 129–130
keyboard, 86
memory modules, 69–70
motherboard, 54–57
mouse, 87
multiple SCSI cards, 193
network interface card, 217–218
operating system, 305–306
port adapter card, 83–85
printer with parallel port interface,
printer with USB connection, 245–246
SATA hard drive, 128
scanner, 245–246
SCSI adapter card, 199–200
sound card, 165–166
static electricity and, 53
subwoofer, 169
video capture device, 245–246
video card, 105–106
instructions, reading, 12, 275–276
integrated audio, 155
integrated drive electronics (IDE)
drive, 115
Integrated Services Digital Network
(ISDN), 223
Celeron processor, 62–63
Pentium Extreme Edition, 63, 64
Pentium 4, 64
Pentium series CPU, 15
Pentium III CPU, 288–289
interface and speed, 282
internal CD-ROM/DVD drive, 136–137, 139
internal modem
description of, 176–178
installing, 181–182
internal SCSI device, adding, 200–201
communication technologies, comparing, 223–226
history of, 173
network and, 207–208
security tools for, 253–254
Internet access, high-speed, 171, 172. See
also broadband connection; satellite
Internet connection
Internet router, 208
Internet Service Provider (ISP),
finding, 227–228
Internet telephone, 161
interpolated resolution, 234–235
REV drive, 124
Zip removable-media drive, 122–124
iPod music player (Apple), 156
ISA (industry standard architecture)
slot, 54
ISDN (Integrated Services Digital
Network), 223
ISP (Internet Service Provider),
finding, 227–228 Web site, 228
Ivens, Kathy (Home Networking For
Dummies, 3rd Edition), 208
Jasc Paint Shop Pro, 273
joystick, 32, 256–257
jukebox, external, 139–140
EIDE hard drive and, 113
installing motherboard and, 56–57
SCSI adapter card or device and,
193–194, 196
keeping track of tiny objects, 276
key lock on case, 50, 52
cleaning, 274
description of, 17
drawer for, 271
installing, 86
port for, 75
testing, 87
types of, 81–82
keyboard/mouse combo, 82
labeling ports, 78
LAN (local area network)
AC wiring and, 216
communication and, 206–207
components of, 211–213
contact and, 207–208
convenience and, 206
cooperation and, 207
description of, 205–206
NIC, installing, 217–218
operating system and, 211, 297
telephone wiring and, 215
testing and configuring, 219–220
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
LAN (continued)
twisted-pair cable, connecting, 218
USB port and, 216
wireless, 216–217
laser printer, 241, 244
LavaSoft Ad-Aware SE, 272
LCD monitor, 96
LCD viewfinder, 237
learning experience, building PC as, 264
leasing, 292
legacy applications, 296
of case, 49
work space, 11
connecting, 58–59
on network adapter card, 213
power and hard drive activity
indicators, 49
troubleshooting, 72
LightScribe drive, 148
Linksys EtherFast 10/100 Network
in a Box, 211
Linux, 303–305
liquids, keeping away
from CD or DVD, 150
from computer, 13
lithium ion battery, 82
LNB (low noise block), 250
local area network (LAN)
AC wiring and, 216
communication and, 206–207
components of, 211–213
contact and, 207–208
convenience and, 206
cooperation and, 207
description of, 205–206
NIC, installing, 217–218
operating system and, 211, 297
telephone wiring and, 215
testing and configuring, 219–220
twisted-pair cable, connecting, 218
USB port and, 216
wireless, 216–217
io 2 digital pen, 233
Wingman Force 3D joystick, 256–257
Lotus Notes (IBM), 207
low noise block (LNB), 250
MacDrive 6 (Mediafour Productions),
Macromedia Director, 240
magazines, computer, 34
magnetic screwdriver, 12, 278
magnetic shielding of speakers, 164
mail-order company, buying from, 34–35
male connector, 75
manuals for parts, 12
of BIOS chipsets, 54
of CPU, 15
of digital cameras, 236
of scanners, 230
of 3-D video cards, 93
master/slave jumper set, 113
maxims, 5
Maximum PC (magazine), 34
Mediafour Productions MacDrive 6,
message, displaying on screensaver, 107
MFM drive, 115
adding, 168–169
types of, 162–163
uses of, 160–161
Microtek ScanMaker series, 230
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface)
description of, 31
port, 78, 160
Mindmaker Game Commander 3, 252–253
minitower case, 47
MLC Books Online Web site, 35
modding case, 49
cable, 225
configuring and testing, 185
data/fax/voice, 30
description of, 18–19, 171–172
DSL, 225
fax technology and, 178–180
56 Kbps specification, 176
history of, 173
internal compared to external,
172, 176–178
internal, installing, 181–182
multilink, 226
for power use design, 28
for satellite Internet connection, 248
scavenging, 177–178
software for, 185
speed of, 173–174
for standard edition design, 26
standards for, 174–175
voice type, 180–181
modem-on-hold, 175
cleaning, 274
connecting, 106–107
description of, 16–17, 99
disassembling, 292
dot pitch and, 100–101, 102
for economy-class design, 25
features of, 102–104
for power use design, 28
refresh rate, 101–102
resolution, video card, and, 95–96
screensaver and, 107
size of, 100
for standard edition design, 26
troubleshooting, 108
monster myth, 262–263
adapter card, installing on, 11
built-in controller on, 119–120
buying, 51
CPU chip, installing on, 65–67
description of, 15–16
for economy-class design, 25
Energy Star compliant, 103
features of, 52–54
installing, 54–57
integrated video card and, 91
mounting hardware for, 45
populated, 61
ports and, 73–74
power supply, connecting, 58
for power use design, 27
RAM modules, installing, 69–70
SCSI and, 191
size of, 52
slots on, 70–71
for standard edition design, 26
switches and lights, connecting, 58–59
testing, 71–72
mounting hardware for motherboard, 45
cleaning, 274
description of, 73
installing, 87
port for, 76
types of, 79–81
mouse/keyboard combo, 82
MOV format, 240
MPEG (Moving Pictures Expert Group),
96, 97, 240
MPEG-2, 99
MPEG-2 decoder, 145
MP3 format, 31, 156, 159
multiboot feature, 297–298
multifunction keyboard, 82
multifunction printer, 242
multilink analog connection, 248
multilink modem, 226
multiple drive, slave unit setting for
CD-ROM/DVD drive, 151
music, peripherals for, 30
Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI)
description of, 31
port, 78, 160
MyDVD Studio (Sonic), 147
myths about assembling PC, 10
native file system, 285–286
native resolution, 96
needs, assessing
basic designs, evaluating, 23–24
economy-class design, 24–25
power use design, 26–27
questions to ask, 21–23
standard edition design, 25–26
negative/slide scanner, 232
network. See local area network
network architecture
client-server, 208–209
Ethernet, 209–211
overview of, 208
peer-to-peer, 209
network interface card (NIC)
description of, 211, 213–214
installing, 217–218
network use of computer, assessing, 23
New Connection Wizard dialog box, 220
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
Newegg Web site, 16, 34, 36, 38
newsgroups, 34
NIC (network interface card)
description of, 211, 213–214
installing, 217–218
node, 208
Norton AntiVirus (Symantec), 207, 271
Norton Personal Firewall (Symantec),
Norton SystemWorks (Symantec), 270, 282
NT file system (NTFS), 286
null modem cable, 178
NVIDIA (manufacturer), 93
obsolete computer, scavenging parts from,
OCR (optical character recognition),
29, 235
onboard drive controller, 53
onboard ports, 53
online, ordering parts, 36
OnSale Online Auction Supersite, 38
opening slot, 84
operating system
DOS, 298–299
features of, 295–297
installing, 305–306
Linux, 303–305
multiple, running, 297–298
selecting, 211, 295
Windows 95, 98, and Me, 299–300
Windows 2003 Server, 300
Windows XP, 301–303
optical character recognition (OCR),
29, 235
optical drive, 138
optical trackball, 80
organizing software, 272
overclocking, 283
overheating of components, 48
Paint Shop Pro (Jasc), 147, 235, 236, 273
Parallel ATA (PATA) drive, 113
parallel cable, 114
parallel port, 17, 76
partitioning, 131–132
parts box, starting, 278
parts manuals, 12
password protection
boot password, 52
screensaver and, 107
unnecessary, 290
PATA (Parallel ATA) drive, 113
patch cable, 214
PC Magazine, 34
PC Magazine Web site, 34
PC World Web site, 34
PCI (peripheral component interconnect)
bus slot, 70–71
bus sound card, 154–155
overview of, 54
slots, minimum required, 54
PCI-Express slot, 54
PCI-Express video card, 90–91, 285
PCM upstream, 175
PCs All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies,
3rd Edition (Chambers), 303
peer-to-peer network, 209
pen scanner, 233
Pentium series CPU (Intel)
Extreme Edition, 63, 64
overview of, 15
Pentium 4, 64
Pentium III, 288–289
background and, 283
CPU and, 283
defragmenting hard drive and, 281–282
hyperthreading technology and, 63
interface and, 282
native file system and, 285–286
RAM and, 62, 282
resident programs and, 284–285
Turbo button and, 286
used parts and, 38
video card and, 285
X factor and, 283–284
audiophile sound card, 33
CD recorder, 31
digital camera, 236–239
drawing tablet, 29
joystick, 32
MIDI, 31
modem, data/fax/voice, 30
MP3, 31
overview of, 15, 229
printer, 30, 241–244
scanner, 29, 30, 230–236
subwoofer speaker, 33
video card, 3-D, 32–33
peripheral component interconnect
(PCI) technology
bus slot, 70–71
bus sound card, 154–155
overview of, 54
slots, minimum required, 54
permission and copyright restrictions, 242
Phillips screwdriver, 9
photo album, digital, 147
photo management, 238
photo scanner, 232
photographer’s lens cloth, 150
Photoshop Elements (Adobe), 147, 273
pins, locating, 58–59
pirated software, 291
pixel, 95
pizza-box case, 45
platters, 117
plug and play adapter card, 198
plug and play video card, 105
pointing device, 73, 268. See also
mouse; trackball
populated motherboard, 61
port adapter card, installing, 83–85
description of, 73
for economy-class design, 25
external, connecting, 85–86
FireWire, 17, 76–77, 137
game, 78
infrared, 78
keyboard, 75
labeling, 78
MIDI, 78, 160
motherboard and, 73–74
onboard, 53
parallel, 76
for power use design, 28
PS/2 mouse, 76
requirements for, 17–18
SCSI, 78
serial, 75
for standard edition design, 26
types of, 74
USB, 76, 77, 216
power cable, 20
power connector, 113
power supply
connecting, 58
description of, 47–48
disassembling, 292
power use of computer
assessing, 22
backing up data and, 269–270
CPU for, 63
design for, 26–27
diagnostics software and, 270
drive controller and, 53
ergonomics and, 270–271
pointing device and, 268
software organization and, 272
UPS and, 268–269
voice command and, 272–273
power user, description of, 44, 267–268
powerline adapter plug, 216
Premiere Pro (Adobe), 240
of broadband connection, 226–227
building PC and, 261–262
of CD recorder, 145
of digital camera, 236
of DVD recorder, 145
of Ethernet network, 211
of home phoneline network kit, 215
of inkjet printer, 243, 244
of internal CD-ROM/DVD drive, 136
of joystick, 32
of jukebox, 140
of laser printer, 241
of LightScribe DVD+R discs, 148
of Logitech io 2 digital pen, 233
of monitor, 15
of motherboard, 16
of new components, 33
of REV drive, 124
of satellite Internet connection, 251
of scanner, 230
of SCSI adapter cards and devices,
191, 198
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
price (continued)
shipping costs and, 35
of speakers, 163
of subwoofer, 165
of video card, 97
of voice modem, 180
of Zip drives and disks, 123
Price Watch Web site, 16, 34, 36, 262
primary use of computer, determining, 22
description of, 18
home office or small business and, 30
parallel port and, 76
with parallel port interface,
installing, 244–245
scavenging, 242
types of, 241–243
with USB connection, installing, 245–246
printing faxed document, 180
processor (CPU chip)
Celeron and Sempron, 62–63
description of, 15, 61
for economy-class design, 25
fan for, 48–49, 67
hyperthreading technology and, 63
installing, 65–67
minimum requirements for, 52–53
Pentium and Athlon, 63–65
Pentium III, 288–289
for power use design, 27
selecting, 62
speed of, 15, 62
for standard edition design, 26
upgrading, 283
Procomm Plus (Symantec), 180, 206
Programs➪Accessories➪System Tools➪
Disk Defragmenter, 282, 306
pseudostandard, 175
PS/2 connector, 75
PS/2 port, 76
public domain, 242
QIC-80 standard, 121
radiation and monitor, 103–104
RAID (redundant array of independent
disks) support, 120
RAM (random access memory)
adding, 282
description of, 61
motherboard and, 54
performance and, 62
troubleshooting, 108
types of, 67–68
video card and, 94–96
RAM, system
for economy-class design, 25
for power use design, 27
for standard edition design, 26
RAM modules
compatibility of, 68
description of, 15
installing, 69–70
video, additional, 30
video cards and, 17
Rambus dynamic random access memory
(RDRAM), 68
random access memory (RAM)
adding, 282
description of, 61
motherboard and, 54
performance and, 62
troubleshooting, 108
types of, 67–68
video card and, 94–96
raw resolution, 234
RDRAM (Rambus dynamic random
access memory), 68
documentation, 12, 275–276
Macintosh disks, 251–252
README file, 306
receipts, saving, 12
receive-only satellite system, 249
recording CD or DVD, 146–148
reducing size of video clip, 241
redundant array of independent disks
(RAID) support, 120
refresh rate, 97, 101–102
refund for returned part, 35
refurbished hardware, 288
removable storage drive, 18, 122–124
removing resident programs, 284–285
rendering, 92
repairing and replacing parts, 264–265
researching before buying
components, 33–34
resident programs, removing, 284–285
resistor pack, 196
digital camera and, 238
inkjet printer and, 244
scanner and, 234–235
video card and, 95–96
response time, 103
restocking fee, 35
REV drive (Iomega), 124
revolutions per minute (rpm), 117
ribbon cable connector, 113, 125, 126
RJ-45 connector, 212
RLL drive, 115
rocker, 56
router, 208
Roxio Drag-to-Disc, 146
rpm (revolutions per minute), 117
salespeople, avoiding by building PC,
SATA (serial ATA)
CD-ROM/DVD drive, 136–137
description of, 53
hard drive, 113–115, 116
hard drive, installing, 128
support for, 120
Satellite Communication Services Small
Office VSAT Service, 248
satellite Internet connection
components of, 249–250
determining need for, 251
overview of, 226, 248–249
price of, 251
saving boxes and receipts, 12
SCAM (SCSI configured automatically), 194
Scanjet (Hewlett-Packard), 230
ScanMaker series (Microtek), 230
color depth and, 233
description of, 230
fingerprint, 52
graphics applications and, 29
home office or small business and, 30
installing, 245–246
resolution and, 234–235
single-pass, 233–234
TWAIN-compatible, 235
types of, 230–233
Scanners For Dummies (Chambers), 230
ScanSoft Dragon NaturallySpeaking,
161, 272
scavenging parts
benefits of, 38–39, 262
CD-ROM drive, 138
description of, 14
external modem, 177–178
hard drive, 118, 132
internal modem, 182
from obsolete computers, 36–37
printer, 242
refurbished, 288
sound card, 155, 157
sources for, 37–38
video card, 91, 95
warranty and, 5
scratch on CD or DVD, 150
screensaver, 107
magnetic, 12, 278
Phillips, 9
SCSI (small computer system interface)
CD-ROM/DVD drive, 137
compatibility and, 191
description of, 53
expansion and, 190–191
external device, 197–198
external device, connecting, 202
hard drive, 115–116
ID numbers, 192–194
internal device, adding, 200–201
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
SCSI (continued)
port, 78
speed and, 189–190
terminators, 194–196
troubleshooting devices, 203–204
working with, 191–192
SCSI (small computer system interface)
adapter card
features of, 198–199
installing, 199–200
installing multiple, 193
testing, 203
SCSI configured automatically (SCAM), 194
secondary use of computer,
determining, 22
security computer, 52
selecting components, 263–264, 266
Sempron processor, 62–63
serial ATA (SATA)
CD-ROM/DVD drive, 136–137
description of, 53
hard drive, 113–115, 116
hard drive, installing, 128
support for, 120
serial cable, 114
serial modem, connecting, 183–184
serial port, 75
server, 209, 297
SCSI ID number, 193–194
termination on SCSI adapter cards
and peripherals, 196
shareware, 147
sheetfed scanner, 231
shelf for keyboard, 82
shipping costs, 35
shoe-box case, 45–46 Web site, 36
single drive, master unit setting, 126
single inline memory module (SIMM), 68
single-pass scanning, 233–234
16-bit audio, 155
64-bit support, 64
of case, 15, 44
of hard drive, 18, 117
of monitor, 17, 100
of motherboard, 52
of power supply, 48
of video clip, reducing, 241
on back of case, 50–51
on motherboard, 54
opening, 84
types of, 70–71
small business peripherals, 30
small computer system interface (SCSI)
CD-ROM/DVD drive, 137
compatibility and, 191
description of, 53
expansion and, 190–191
external device, 197–198
external device, connecting, 202
hard drive, 115–116
ID numbers, 192–194
internal device, adding, 200–201
port, 78
speed and, 189–190
terminators, 194–196
troubleshooting devices, 203–204
working with, 191–192
small computer system interface (SCSI)
adapter card
features of, 198–199
installing, 199–200
installing multiple, 193
testing, 203
Small Office VSAT Service (Satellite
Communication Services), 248
SMP (symmetric multiprocessing), 300
antivirus, 207, 271
bundled with PC, 265
bundled with video card, 98
compatibility of with operating
system, 297
diagnostics, 270
image editing, 273
for modem, 185
for multifunction keyboard, 82
for network, installing, 219–220
organizing, 272
pirated, 291
shareware, 147
for sound card, 157, 168
spyware removal, 272
versions of, 292
video-editing, 240
voice command, 273
Sonic MyDVD Studio, 147
Sound Blaster Live! sound card, 155
sound card
audiophile, 33
description of, 18, 154
installing, 165–166
integrated, 155
microphone and, 160–163
MIDI ports and, 160
MP3 format and, 159
PCI bus, 154–155
for power use design, 28
software for, 157, 168
speakers and, 163–164
for standard edition design, 26
surround sound and, 159
testing, 168
3-D spatial imaging and, 158–159
types of, 154–155
wavetable technology, 157–158
Sound Recorder (Windows), 161
speakerphone feature of voice modem, 181
built-in, on monitor, 104
on case, 50
connecting, 163, 166–167
description of, 18
features of, 164
subwoofer, 33, 164–165, 169
surround sound and, 159
of CPU, 15, 62
interface and, 282
of operating system, 295
SCSI and, 189–190
of 3-D video card, 94
of video card, 91
SpyBot Search & Destroy program, 272
spyware removal program, 272
stability of operating system, 296
standard edition design, 24–25
standard mouse, 79
modem, 174–176
QIC-80, 121
super video graphics array (SVGA), 95, 99
TWAIN, for scanners, 235
video graphics array (VGA), 95
wireless networking, 217
star Ethernet network topology, 210
Start➪All Programs➪Accessories➪
Communications➪New Connection
Wizard, 219
Start➪All Programs➪Accessories➪
Entertainment➪Sound Recorder, 161
Start➪Control Panel➪Add or Remove
Programs, 284
startup, stopping program from loading
during, 285
static electricity, 12, 53, 65
stereo positioning, 33
storage capacity
of DVD, 142–144
of hard drive, 117, 146
storage of digital video, 96
subwoofer speaker
description of, 33, 164–165
installing, 169
surge protector, 108, 269
surround sound, 159
SVGA (super video graphics array)
standard, 95, 99
SwapDrive Backup service, 256
swapping, 282
connecting, 58–59
dual inline packaging (DIP), 56, 196
for Ethernet network, 213
Norton AntiVirus, 207, 271
Norton Personal Firewall, 253–254
Norton SystemWorks, 270, 282
Procomm Plus, 206
Web site, 180
symmetric multiprocessing (SMP), 300
System Commander (V Communications),
286, 298
system tray, 284
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
tape drive
cleaning, 274
description of, 121–122
installing internal, 129–130
TCP/IP support, 302
technical support, 277, 306
telecommuting, 222
telephone, Internet, 161
telephone line
for satellite Internet connection, 248
second, 179
telephone wiring, network using, 215
terminating device chain, 191–192,
194–196, 197–198
terminator, 194–196
after formatting hard drive, 132
CD-ROM/DVD drive, 152
initial boot, 107–109
keyboard, 87
LAN, 219–220
modem, 185
motherboard, 71–72
SCSI adapter card, 203
sound card, 168
32-bit PCI card, 154
3-D accelerator chip, 30
3-D spatial imaging, 158–159
3-D video card, 32–33, 91–94
3DMark05 utility (FutureMark), 91
throughput, 173
tilt/swivel pedestal for monitor, 104
time requirement, 10, 13, 279
Tom’s Hardware Web site, 34, 94
tool of choice, 9
touchpad, 80
tower case, 46–47
tower drive array, 140
cleaning, 274
description of, 79–80, 268
transfer rate, 137–138, 142, 223–224
Travan drive, installing, 129–130
Travan technology, 121–122
tray CD-ROM drive, 140–141
triple-pass scanning, 234
Trojan horse denial, 254
Trojan horse program, 291
CD-ROM/DVD drive, 152
initial boot, 108–109
initial power test, 72
SCSI devices, 203–204
true color scanner, 233
trueSpace rendering program, 92–93
Turbo button, 286
TV card, 98, 255
TV output, 98
TWAIN-compatible scanner, 235
24-bit color, 233
24-bit sound, 154–155
twisted-pair cables, 212–213, 218
uncompressing digital video, 96
uninstalling resident programs, 284–285
uninterruptible power supply (UPS),
108, 268–269
universal serial bus (USB)
hot-swap feature, 185
internal devices and, 190–191
universal serial bus (USB) port
description of, 17, 76, 77
external CD-ROM/DVD drive and, 137
network and, 216
UNIX, 303, 305
to CPU, 283
to modem, 176
to SCSI adapter card, 199
to 3-D accelerator chip, 30
UPS (uninterruptible power supply),
108, 268–269
USB (universal serial bus)
hot-swap feature, 185
internal devices and, 190–191
USB Flash drive, 290
USB modem, connecting, 184–185
USB (universal serial bus) port
description of, 17, 76, 77
external CD-ROM/DVD drive and, 137
network and, 216
Used Computer Mall Web site, 38
used parts
benefits of, 262
CD-ROM drive, 138
external modem, 177–178
hard drive, 118, 132
internal modem, 182
from obsolete computers, 36–37
printer, 242
refurbished, 288
sound card, 155, 157
sources for, 37–38
video card, 91, 95
warranty and, 5
user groups
product information and reviews and, 34
used parts and, 37
V Communications System Commander,
286, 298
VESA Local Bus (VLB), 92
VGA (video graphics array) standard, 95
ViaVoice (IBM), 272
video capture device
description of, 240
installing, 245–246
video card
description of, 16–17, 89–90
for economy-class design, 25
features of, 97–98
installing, 105–106
integrated, 91
memory and, 94–96
MPEG-2 decoder and, 145
performance and, 285
for power use design, 28
price of, 97
scavenging, 91, 95
for standard edition design, 26
3-D, 32–33, 91–94
types of, 90–91
video graphics array (VGA) standard, 95
video panning, 98
video use of computer, determining, 22
videoconferencing, 222
virtual memory, 282
virtual private networking (VPN), 226
VLB (VESA Local Bus), 92
voice command
dictation and, 161
gaming and, 252–253
power use of computer and, 272–273
voice e-mail, 161
voice modem, 180–181
voice recording, 160–161
voltage, 19, 48
VPN (virtual private networking), 226
WAN (wide area network), 226
full, on each part, 266
on hard drive, 118
on monitor, 105
refurbished hardware and, 288
scavenged parts and, 5
WAV format, 156
wavetable technology, 157–158
Web sites
Adobe, 147
ATI, 93
of author, 24, 35
AverMedia Technologies, Inc., 255
backing up data to, 255–256
for checking prices, 16
Creative Labs, 154–155
Daily .WAV, 156
Dragon NaturallySpeaking, 161, 272
Drag-to-Disc (Roxio), 146
Driver Zone, 91, 157
Game Commander 3 (Mindmaker),
Iomega Zip removable-media drive, 122
ISP, finding, 228
Linksys, 211
Linux Kernal Archives, 304
Logitech io 2 digital pen, 233
Lotus Notes, 207
Mediafour Productions, 251
MyDVD Studio, 147
online shopping, 36
Paint Shop Pro, 235
Price Watch, 34, 36, 262
Building a PC For Dummies, 5th Edition
Web sites (continued)
product information, reviews, and
comparisons, 34
scanner manufacturers, 230
Small Office VSAT Service (Satellite
Communication Services), 248
spyware removal programs, 272
SwapDrive Backup service, 256
Symantec, 180, 207
System Commander, 286
trueSpace rendering program, 92–93
used parts and, 38
ViaVoice, 272
video-editing programs, 240
Webcam, 240
wide area network (WAN), 226
Windows 95, 98, and Me operating
systems, 299–300
Windows Sound Recorder, 161
Windows 2003 Server, 300
Windows XP, 301–303
New Connection Wizard, 219
Service Pack 2 firewall, 253
Setup program, 132
WinFax PRO (Symantec), 180
Wingman Force 3D joystick (Logitech),
Wireless Home Networking For Dummies
(Briere, Bruce, and Hurley), 217
wireless keyboard, 82
wireless mouse, 79, 268
wireless network, 216–217
WMA format, 156
work space, 10, 11, 276
X factor, 283–284
Y power cable adapter, 277
ZDNet Web site, 34
Zip removable-media drive
(Iomega), 122–124
ZIF (zero insertion force) socket, 65
zoom feature on digital camera, 238
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A standard ATX PC case, right out
of the box. The power cables for
internal devices (yellow, red, and
black) are at the top center.
What’s the first thing you
always do before working
on your PC’s innards? That’s
right, ground yourself by
touching the metal chassis
before you touch any electrical components.
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PCI slots (white)
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Built-in ports and audio jacks
AGP slot (black)
IDE device connectors
On the left, the Athlon 64 CPU is ready for insertion
in the ZIF socket. The fan/heat sink assembly clips
on after the processor is installed, as shown on the
right. The tube of thermal compound is applied
between the heat sink and the CPU.
CPU socket
Motherboard power connector
This ASUS Athlon 64 motherboard is a good example of a
motherboard for midrange to
power users.
RAM slots
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Connecting the CPU fan to the motherboard. Most of
today’s motherboards include a software utility that
displays and monitors your CPU temperature.
Aligning a DDR RAM module with a RAM socket on
the motherboard. Note the notch on the module
connector matches the spacer in the socket only
when everything is lined up correctly.
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A top view of the RAM slot — note that the two
locking levers on each side of the slot are in the
open position, ready to accept the RAM module.
Pressing down on the memory
module locks the levers on
either side of the RAM socket.
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With the AMD 64 processor
assembly and RAM modules
installed, the motherboard is
ready to be installed into the
case. Note that the built-in
ports face the rear of the case.
Parallel port
Ethernet port
FireWire port
Keyboard and mouse ports
Serial port
Audio in/out ports
USB ports
After an ATX motherboard is installed, the ports
appear through the back plate of the case.
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The motherboard is installed,
with all the slot covers open
and ready to accept adapter
cards. Note the power connections made to the motherboard
for the various fans.
Connecting the standard ATX motherboard power cable — note the primary
(black) and secondary (blue) EIDE/PATA
connectors, situated right next door.
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Connecting the power LED cable from the
front of the case to the motherboard.
Typically, you will need to connect, at a
minimum, the power LED, drive activity
LED, and reset button cables.
A typical AGP video card — in this case, an ASUS GeForce
6600 model with 128MB RAM. This card is a good high-end
choice for gaming. Note the notched hook that appears at
the end of the bus connector; this hook must be inserted
first when installing the video card.
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An intimate view of an AGP
video card slot. AGP and
PCI-Express video card slots
are usually a different color.
Fixing the AGP video card in
place with a screw.
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Most motherboards have
two EIDE (or PATA) data
cable connectors, each of
which supports two devices.
Installing an internal device — in
this case, an EIDE DVD recorder.
Align the device with the open
drive bay and slide it inside. (Don’t
forget to attach the rails first, if
your drive bay requires them.)
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Attaching an internal device
to the drive cage with screws.
Connecting the EIDE (PATA) data cable
to the back of the internal DVD recorder.
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Remember, your internal device won’t
work without a power connection!
This close-up shows the primary
EIDE cable and ATX power cable
connected. Note that two of the
three RAM sockets have been filled.
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Ah, truly a beautiful sight! Our EIDE
hard drive and DVD recorder are in
place. Notice the careful cable routing,
allowing for the best possible airflow.
(And it’s downright attractive to boot.)
After everything has been tested and
is working, it’s time to close the cover.
This case has a clear side panel.
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Connecting the keyboard to your new
system. Note the second FireWire
port, which uses a separate slot.
It’s easy to feed a hungry PC — connect
the power cable from your AC outlet.
The master power supply on/off switch
is next to the socket.
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Configuring the speaker arrangement for
your new audio card. Note the audiophile
mixer controls, which you can use to fine-tune
your sound volume from various sources.
Here’s another popular hardware configuration utility — the overclocking/monitoring application provided by ASUS with its
GeForce 6600 AGP video card. Using this
utility, I can monitor the video card’s temperature and fan speed.
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Configuring an antivirus program (Norton AntiVirus) —
one of the first programs you
should install. Don’t use your
PC without an antivirus program running!
A typical configuration utility for
an Internet router (often called a
sharing device). With a networking
device like this one, you can easily
share one high-speed broadband
Internet connection among all the
computers on your network.
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Our last color plate is a work I call “Storage through the Ages.” It gives you an idea of how quickly things move in the high-tech world of computer hardware.
At the bottom of this pyramid is my first hard drive, an antique Radio Shack TRS-80 15MB external hard disk subsystem, which was state-of-the-art in 1987. (Yep, that’s right, 15MB, and it had
its own key locking system.) In the middle is my circa-2000 80GB FireWire external hard drive. And,
at the top, my 512MB solid-state USB 2.0 USB Flash drive, which holds about thirty-four times as
much as the TRS-80 drive, all in the size of a pack of chewing gum.
The moral of my story? Be prepared to upgrade that cutting-edge PC you’ve built because hardware marches on!
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