Build Your Own PC

Build Your Own PC
Build the custom PC you want —
just the way you want it —
and have fun doing it!
Are you frustrated because you can’t
buy the PC you want? Have you ever
wanted to create your own custom
PC but were unfamiliar with all of the
parts and terminology? This book is
your new best friend!
This illustrated, hands-on guide will
help you choose the best components
for the PC that’s right for you. Inside
the book, we walk you through the
assembly process in simple, can-do
language. Plus, you get a bonus DVD
containing 45 minutes of step-by-step
video instructions that show you how
to build your own PC. It’s like having an
expert right beside you all the way!
Mark L. Chambers
has been building, customizing, and repairing PCs for
over 20 years for himself and clients. As a consultant,
he helps everyday folks update, maintain, and
troubleshoot PCs.
Build Your Own PC
ISBN 978-0-470-19611-3
⻬ Design and build your dream PC
⻬ Choose and install the
components that fit your needs
⻬ The tools and parts you need
⻬ What you need to know about
operating systems
⻬ Super-charge your graphics,
crank up your sound, and install
the memory you need
⻬ How to test your progress
Bonus DVD
Features 45 minutes
of step-by-step video
$29.99 US • $32.99 CAN • £19.99 UK
Hardware/Personal Computers
196113 cover.indd 1
Discover how to:
Stuff You
to Know
⻬ How to make your PC ready for the
Internet and connect to a network
Making Everything Easier! ™
Mark L. Chambers
Author of PCs All-In-One Desk
Reference For Dummies
12/11/08 2:50:02 PM
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D O -I T -Y O U R S E
Build You
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D O -I T -Y O U R S E
Build You
by Mark L. Chambers
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Build Your Own PC Do-It-Yourself For Dummies®
Published by
Wiley Publishing, Inc.
111 River Street
Hoboken, NJ 07030-5774
Copyright © 2009 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana
Published by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana
Published simultaneously in Canada
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise, except as permitted under Sections 107 or 108 of the
1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the prior written permission of the Publisher, or authorization through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee to the Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, (978)
750-8400, fax (978) 646-8600. Requests to the Publisher for permission should be addressed to the Legal Department, Wiley
Publishing, Inc., 10475 Crosspoint Blvd., Indianapolis, IN 46256, (317) 572-3447, fax (317) 572-4355, or online at
Trademarks: Wiley, the Wiley Publishing logo, For Dummies, the Dummies Man logo, A Reference for the Rest of Us!, The
Dummies Way, Dummies Daily, The Fun and Easy Way,, Making Everything Easier, and related trade dress are
trademarks or registered trademarks of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the United States and other countries,
and may not be used without written permission. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Wiley
Publishing, Inc., is not associated with any product or vendor mentioned in this book.
For general information on our other products and services, please contact our Customer Care Department within the U.S. at
877-762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317-572-3993, or fax 317-572-4002.
For technical support, please visit
Wiley also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print may not be available in
electronic books.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2008940688
ISBN: 978-0-470-19611-3
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
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Page v
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 20 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 caffeineladen 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 Hewlett-Packard.
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 MacBook For Dummies; iMac For Dummies;
Mac OS X Leopard All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies; Scanners For Dummies; CD & DVD
Recording For Dummies; PCs All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies; 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 14 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 about his books. You can reach him at [email protected], or
visit MLC Books Online, his Web site, at
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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.
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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 praise.
First, a well-earned round of thanks to my knowledgeable technical editor, Jim Kelly, who
checked every word for accuracy (while enduring every bad joke and pun).
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 new Do-It-Yourself edition — it
takes a ton of work to produce a completely new edition, and they did an incredible job.
Thanks are due to my project editor, Mark Enochs, my copy editor, Teresa Artman, 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!
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Publisher’s Acknowledgments
We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at For other comments, please contact our Customer Care Department within
the U.S. at 877-762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317-572-3993, or fax 317-572-4002.
Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:
Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development
Composition Services
Senior Project Editor: Mark Enochs
Project Coordinator: Katie Key
Executive Editor: Bob Woerner
Layout and Graphics: Carrie A. Cesavice,
Reuben W. Davis, Shane Johnson,
Jennifer Mayberry, Christine Williams
Senior Copy Editor: Teresa Artman
Technical Editor: James F. Kelly
Editorial Manager: Leah Cameron
Proofreaders: Laura Albert, Amanda Graham,
Linda Quigley
Media Development Project Manager:
Laura Moss-Hollister
Indexer: Sharon Shock
Media Development Assistant Project Manager:
Jenny Swisher
Media Development Assistant Producers:
Angela Denny, Josh Frank, Kit Malone, and
Shawn Patrick
Editorial Assistant: Amanda Foxworth
Sr. Editorial Assistant: Cherie Case
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
Composition Services
Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services
Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services
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Contents at a Glance
Part I: Preparations and Planning .................................................9
Chapter 1: A Screwdriver Is All You Need ...............................................................................................11
Chapter 2: What Type of PC Should I Build?...........................................................................................23
Part II: Assembling the Basics ....................................................39
Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard .......................................................41
Chapter 4: A Bag of Chips: Adding RAM and a CPU ...............................................................................61
Chapter 5: Installing Your Ports, Mouse, and Keyboard .......................................................................77
Chapter 6: Adding Video Hardware..........................................................................................................93
Chapter 7: Installing Your Hard Drive and Other Storage Devices ....................................................115
Chapter 8: Choosing and Installing an Operating System...................................................................135
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff ...................................................151
Chapter 9: Installing an Optical Drive....................................................................................................153
Chapter 10: Let Your PC Rock! ................................................................................................................169
Chapter 11: Modems and the Call of Broadband .................................................................................187
Part IV: Advanced PC Options ...................................................207
Chapter 12: So You Want to Add a LAN? ...............................................................................................209
Chapter 13: Input and Output: Scanners, Cameras, and Printers ......................................................223
Chapter 14: Building a Gaming PC..........................................................................................................235
Part V: The Part of Tens ............................................................249
Chapter 15: Ten Tools and Tasks for a Power User’s PC .....................................................................251
Chapter 16: Ten Important Assembly Tips ...........................................................................................257
Chapter 17: Ten Ways to Maintain Your PC...........................................................................................263
Chapter 18: Ten PC Pitfalls to Avoid Like the Plague...........................................................................269
Part VI: Appendixes..................................................................275
Appendix A: About the DVD....................................................................................................................277
Appendix B: The PC Builder’s Glossary ................................................................................................279
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Introduction .................................................................................1
Why Build Your Own?................................................................................................................1
It just plain costs less to build your own PC!................................................................1
Exercise your freedom of choice! ...................................................................................2
Enjoy the learning experience ........................................................................................2
Spare yourself the shipping and repair hassles ...........................................................2
Dodge bundled software costs and get what you want ..............................................3
Avoid the computer sales experience ...........................................................................3
Select the brands that you prefer ..................................................................................3
About This Book.........................................................................................................................4
Conventions Used in This Book ...............................................................................................4
Introducing Colossus.................................................................................................................5
Foolish Assumptions .................................................................................................................5
How This Book Is Organized.....................................................................................................6
Part I: Preparations and Planning ..................................................................................6
Part II: Assembling the Basics ........................................................................................6
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff ...........................................................................................6
Part IV: Advanced PC Options ........................................................................................7
Part V: The Part of Tens...................................................................................................7
Appendixes: About the DVD and the PC Builder’s Glossary ......................................7
Icons Used in This Book............................................................................................................7
Where to Go from Here..............................................................................................................8
Part I: Preparations and Planning ..................................................9
Chapter 1: A Screwdriver Is All You Need.......................................................................11
Assembly 101............................................................................................................................12
Building a better computer...........................................................................................12
The primary, number-one, all-important, absolutely necessary, required rule .....14
The other primary, number-one, all-important,
absolutely necessary, required rule.........................................................................15
PCs Are Built with Standard Parts .........................................................................................15
Introducing the Major Parts ...................................................................................................15
The metal mansion.........................................................................................................15
The big kahuna ...............................................................................................................17
The eye candy.................................................................................................................18
The places for plugs.......................................................................................................18
The data warehouse.......................................................................................................19
The bells and whistles ...................................................................................................20
Connecting Your Computer Components .............................................................................20
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Chapter 2: What Type of PC Should I Build? ....................................................................23
Interrogating Yourself on Your Computer Needs.................................................................23
Answering Your Computer-Needs Questions .......................................................................25
Design 1: The Jack Benny economy class ...................................................................25
Design 2: The Cunningham family edition ..................................................................26
Design 3: The Wayne Manor Batcomputer..................................................................27
Getting Your Hands on the Special Stuff ...............................................................................28
Drafting, graphics, and pretty pictures .......................................................................29
Home-office and small-business stuff ..........................................................................30
Mozart’s musical computer ..........................................................................................30
The ultimate bad-guy blasting box ..............................................................................31
Picking Up the Parts ................................................................................................................32
Researching before you buy .........................................................................................32
I live for mail order.........................................................................................................33
Ordering parts online ....................................................................................................34
Choosing an Operating System ..............................................................................................36
Introducing Colossus...............................................................................................................37
Part II: Assembling the Basics .....................................................39
Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard................................41
Choosing the Right Case .........................................................................................................41
Space-saver cases: Pizza box and shoe box ...............................................................42
Desktop case ...................................................................................................................44
Tower case ......................................................................................................................45
Other Case Considerations ....................................................................................................46
Feeding power to your computer.................................................................................46
Keeping your computer cool ........................................................................................46
Buttons, lights, and other foolishness.........................................................................47
Your Motherboard Is Your Best Friend .................................................................................48
Motherboard sizes .........................................................................................................48
Motherboard features....................................................................................................49
And for Colossus, I Pick . . ......................................................................................................51
Installing Slot Covers ................................................................................................52
Installing Your Motherboard....................................................................................54
Connecting the Power Supply..................................................................................57
Connecting Lights, Switches, and the Speaker ......................................................58
Chapter 4: A Bag of Chips: Adding RAM and a CPU.......................................................61
FYI about CPUs.........................................................................................................................62
Family PC choices: Intel Celeron and AMD Sempron processors ............................63
The Cunningham model: Intel Core 2 Duo and AMD Athlon 64 X2 processors......64
Power user: Intel Core 2 Quad and AMD Phenom series processors......................64
Add RAM to the Mix.................................................................................................................65
And for Colossus, I Pick . . ......................................................................................................66
Installing Your CPU....................................................................................................67
Installing Your Fan and Heatsink .............................................................................70
Installing Your RAM...................................................................................................72
Fire That Puppy Up!...................................................................................................74
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Chapter 5: Installing Your Ports, Mouse, and Keyboard................................................77
Pursuing Your Port Preferences .............................................................................................77
Of Keyboards and Mice ...........................................................................................................82
The mouse has mutated ................................................................................................82
The key to keyboards ....................................................................................................83
Check It Once, and Check It Twice!........................................................................................85
And For Colossus, I Pick..........................................................................................................85
Installing a Port Adapter Card .................................................................................86
Connecting Built-In Ports .........................................................................................89
Installing a Keyboard ................................................................................................91
Installing a Non-USB Mouse (Or Other Pointing Thing) .......................................92
Chapter 6: Adding Video Hardware...................................................................................93
The Video Card Explained ......................................................................................................93
Full speed ahead with accelerated graphics ..............................................................94
Will 3-D video transform my entire existence? ...........................................................95
Thanks for the memory .................................................................................................95
What’s the bill, and what else do I need? ....................................................................97
Hey, I Can Get TV on My PC! .................................................................................................100
Time to Meet Your Bus Slots ................................................................................................101
Staking Out Your Visual Territory........................................................................................102
Deciphering monitor sizes and shapes (and choosing the one for you) ..............102
What else makes a great monitor? .............................................................................103
And for Colossus, I Pick . . ....................................................................................................105
Installing Your Video Card......................................................................................106
Installing Your TV Tuner Card ...............................................................................109
Connecting Your Monitor .......................................................................................112
Checking Your Progress..........................................................................................114
Chapter 7: Installing Your Hard Drive and Other Storage Devices............................115
Choosing Betwixt Hard Drive Technologies .......................................................................116
Enhanced IDE (EIDE) hard drives...............................................................................116
Serial ATA hard drives..................................................................................................117
Comparing EIDE and SATA hard drives .....................................................................118
More stuff about hard drives ......................................................................................119
The Ancient Floppy Still Lives..............................................................................................120
Don’t Forget Your Controller Card .......................................................................................120
Hey, You Just Removed Your Media!....................................................................................121
Do you really need removable storage, or are you just fascinated by toys?........121
The Flash drive: Small but spacious ..........................................................................122
The REV has landed .....................................................................................................122
And for Colossus, I Pick . . ....................................................................................................122
Connecting Your Drive Controller .........................................................................123
Installing an EIDE Hard Drive .................................................................................125
Installing a SATA Hard Drive...................................................................................128
Installing Your 31⁄2-inch Floppy Disk Drive.............................................................129
Configuring Your PC and Hard Drive.....................................................................132
Formatting Your Hard Drive ...................................................................................134
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Chapter 8: Choosing and Installing an Operating System...........................................135
Become Your Own Consultant!.............................................................................................135
The Straight Talk on Vista.....................................................................................................137
Linux: It’s Not Just for Techno-nerds!..................................................................................138
Before You Install Your Operating System ..........................................................................140
Even People Like You and Me Need Internet Security ......................................................142
Installing Windows Vista ........................................................................................143
Installing Ubuntu Linux...........................................................................................147
Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff ....................................................151
Chapter 9: Installing an Optical Drive.............................................................................153
Discovering the Details about DVD and Blu-Ray................................................................153
What You Need to Know about Optical Recorders............................................................155
The great disc speed myth..........................................................................................156
Other read-only disc drive features to covet............................................................157
What You Need to Know about DVD and Blu-ray...............................................................159
Choosing an Internal or an External DVD Drive.................................................................160
Internal drives...............................................................................................................160
External drives..............................................................................................................161
And for Colossus, I Pick. . .....................................................................................................162
Installing an EIDE Optical Drive.............................................................................163
Testing Everything ..................................................................................................167
Chapter 10: Let Your PC Rock!..........................................................................................169
Sorting Out Sound Card Basics ............................................................................................169
PCI bus audio ................................................................................................................169
Integrated audio ...........................................................................................................170
Don’t forget the software part! ...................................................................................170
Why do I need 3-D for my ears?..................................................................................172
“Send help! I’m surrounded by sound!”.....................................................................172
MP3 fanatics, pay attention!........................................................................................173
Uhh . . . Is This Microphone On? ..........................................................................................173
Speaking of Speakers .............................................................................................................175
The Subwoofer: Big Dog of Computer Speakers ................................................................177
And for Colossus, I Pick . . ....................................................................................................177
Installing Your Sound Card.....................................................................................178
Connecting Your Speakers .....................................................................................181
Testing Your Sound System....................................................................................183
Adding a Microphone..............................................................................................185
Chapter 11: Modems and the Call of Broadband ..........................................................187
Figuring Out Whether You Need Broadband ......................................................................188
Figuring Out Those Connection Charges ............................................................................191
Locating an Internet Service Provider.................................................................................192
A Modem Primer for Real People.........................................................................................193
The whole speed thing explained ..............................................................................193
Will That Be a Card or a Case? .............................................................................................194
Let Your Modem Speak!.........................................................................................................195
Why Share Your Internet Connection? ................................................................................196
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Sharing through Hardware....................................................................................................197
Wired sharing devices .................................................................................................197
Wireless sharing devices .............................................................................................198
Installing an Internal Modem .................................................................................200
Installing an External USB Modem ........................................................................202
Sharing an Internet Connection through Software..............................................204
Sharing an Internet Connection through Hardware............................................206
Part IV: Advanced PC Options....................................................207
Chapter 12: So You Want to Add a LAN? ........................................................................209
Adding the Network Advantage ...........................................................................................209
Communication ............................................................................................................210
Cooperation ..................................................................................................................210
Contact ..........................................................................................................................210
Ethernet Networking 101.......................................................................................................211
Comparing client-server and peer-to-peer networks...............................................211
Collecting What You Need for an Ethernet Network .........................................................213
More stuff about network interface cards.................................................................214
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 ................................................................218
Turning Things On...................................................................................................220
Chapter 13: Input and Output: Scanners, Cameras, and Printers...............................223
The Wide, Wonderful World of Scanners ............................................................................223
Recognizing scanners in the wild.........................................................................................224
Diving into color depth................................................................................................226
Resolving the right resolution ....................................................................................227
Digital Camera Details ...........................................................................................................227
One Word: Printers, Printers, Printers! ...............................................................................229
Will that be laser or inkjet? .........................................................................................230
Advantages of inkjet printers .....................................................................................230
Advantages of laser printers.......................................................................................231
Installing a Scanner or Printer with a USB Connection ......................................232
Chapter 14: Building a Gaming PC...................................................................................235
Exotic Video Card Stuff Explained .......................................................................................235
Memory is number one ...............................................................................................235
What’s a GPU, anyway?................................................................................................236
Overclocking 101 ..........................................................................................................236
Running multiple cards with SLI.................................................................................238
You Gotta Have Fans and Heatsinks ....................................................................................238
It’s a RAID! ...............................................................................................................................241
Adding Lights and Gauges ....................................................................................................242
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Customizing Your Case..........................................................................................................244
Will You Move the Joystick, or Will It Move You? ..............................................................245
Configuring SLI for Multiple Video Cards .............................................................247
Part V: The Part of Tens.............................................................249
Chapter 15: Ten Tools and Tasks for a Power User’s PC..............................................251
Forget Your Mouse .................................................................................................................251
Guard That Power Supply! ....................................................................................................252
Back Up, Back Up, Back Up...................................................................................................253
Diagnostics Software to the Rescue ....................................................................................253
Stick Your Keyboard in a Drawer! ........................................................................................254
Stop the Spread of Viruses....................................................................................................254
Organize Your Software .........................................................................................................255
Use the Power of Your Voice.................................................................................................255
Everyone Needs a Good Image Editor.................................................................................256
Keep It Clean! ..........................................................................................................................256
Chapter 16: Ten Important Assembly Tips ......................................................................257
Read the Instructions First! (Rule Number One) ...............................................................257
Build the Perfect Workspace ................................................................................................257
Keep Track of UTOs (Unidentified Tiny Objects) ..............................................................259
Make Sure That You Have Everything You Need................................................................259
Yell for Help If Necessary ......................................................................................................259
Use a Magnetic Screwdriver .................................................................................................260
Start Your Own Parts Box .....................................................................................................260
Take Your Time: The Zen of Assembly ................................................................................261
Don’t Cover Up Too Quickly .................................................................................................261
The Cable Rule: Check and Double-Check ..........................................................................261
Chapter 17: Ten Ways to Maintain Your PC....................................................................263
Defragment Your Hard Drive ................................................................................................263
Get Connected with the Speediest Data Transfers ............................................................264
Keep Your Backgrounds Plain ..............................................................................................264
Remove Resident Programs..................................................................................................264
Keep Your Drivers Updated ..................................................................................................266
Use a Native File System .......................................................................................................266
Check Your Drives for Errors................................................................................................266
Uninstalling 101 ......................................................................................................................267
Maintain Your System Registry ............................................................................................268
Clean Up after Windows ........................................................................................................268
Chapter 18: Ten PC Pitfalls to Avoid Like the Plague...................................................269
It’s “Refurbished” for a Reason ............................................................................................269
Looking for an Antique? Buy a Pentium 4 CPU...................................................................270
Never Depend on Floppies....................................................................................................270
Help Stamp Out Unnecessary Passwords! ..........................................................................271
Honor Thy Neighbor’s Copyright.........................................................................................271
Your PC Is Not a Kindergarten..............................................................................................272
Don’t Jump on the Pirate Ship..............................................................................................272
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Keep Your Mitts Away from Monitors and Power Supplies..............................................272
Don’t Lease a PC for the Long Haul .....................................................................................273
Avoid Older Versions of PC Software...................................................................................273
Part VI: Appendixes ..................................................................275
Appendix A: About the DVD..............................................................................................277
System Requirements............................................................................................................277
Using the DVD.........................................................................................................................277
What You’ll Find on the DVD ................................................................................................278
Customer Care........................................................................................................................278
Appendix B: The PC Builder’s Glossary .........................................................................279
Index .......................................................................................289
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Build Your Own PC Do-It-Yourself For Dummies
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Page 1
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 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!
Why Build Your Own?
Buying 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?” There are
several doggone good reasons why you should assemble your own machine:
It just plain costs less to build your own PC!
The first reason — 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 (especially if you’re buying a PC from a local retail store, or if you’re building a super-fast
gaming system). When 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.
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. It’s simply a matter of
searching for the right companies that sell computer components at rock-bottom
prices. Remember, 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.
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Build Your Own PC Do-It-Yourself For Dummies
Exercise your freedom of choice!
When you build your own computer, you can select special components that don’t
kowtow to 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 1GB 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 if the perfect computer that you were considering at the computer store doesn’t have a FireWire port
and a Blu-ray 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. (And you’re likely to invalidate what’s
left of your warranty if you crack the case.)
On the other hand, when you build your own computer, you know what makes it
tick. You’ll 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 specifications.
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.
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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 strippeddown versions of larger packages.
Read between the lines when a PC manufacturer touts its bundled software. For
example, you might get baby sister Microsoft Works preloaded instead of its fullfeatured, big sister Microsoft Office, which most retail PCs sold in stores don’t
include — unless you pay more for it.
Unfortunately, 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 installation discs, 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 money.
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 who 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 wellplaced 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.)
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. 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 X-Fi Titanium sound card
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Build Your Own PC Do-It-Yourself For Dummies
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 (or,
if you used a mail-order shop, when you receive it).
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.
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. The book also includes a glossary of computer terms and an appendix about what’s on the DVD in the back of this
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 10,
I discuss both bare-bones and advanced sound cards (without resorting to engineerspeak).
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 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.
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.
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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.
Introducing Colossus
Throughout this book, I recommend a number of specific components by brand and
model number. If I were building my own PC at the time of this writing (and I actually
do build this PC on the companion DVD), I’d pick these parts, and I’ll always let you
know why I chose them.
I should note, however, that time marches on, as does computer technology. The
components I name in this edition will (of course) be supplanted soon enough with
newer models, so make sure you check the manufacturer’s Web site to see whether a
new device with more features or better performance is available.
I named my dream PC Colossus, after the truly awesome sentient supercomputer that
takes over the world in the cult 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project. (If you don’t
name your PC while building it, I strongly urge that you name it after it’s completed.
Consider it the human side of the assembly process!) This outstanding movie has a
sizable following among techno-types. If you enjoy a good science fiction film about
artificial intelligence, don’t miss this flick.
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!)
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Build Your Own PC Do-It-Yourself For Dummies
Some people still think that you don’t save a dime by building your own PC.
If that’s the case, why are there locally owned computer stores in your town
building custom PCs? By assembling your own computer, you can save hundreds of dollars (and take advantage of used parts like a keyboard or
modem 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 divided this book into five major parts, all 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. And do not overlook the companion DVD at the back of the book!
Part I: Preparations and Planning
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
Part II: Assembling the Basics
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 finish 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 DSL/cable 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 audio-visual bell and whistle turned on.
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Part IV: Advanced PC Options
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), digital
scanners, and USB 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 — including the ultimate gaming PC,
which I cover in Chapter 14.
Part V: The Part of Tens
The four 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.
Appendixes: About the DVD and
the PC Builder’s Glossary
Read about the companion DVD in the first Appendix. Then, the glossary lists all the
computer components, terms, abbreviations, and acronyms you need to know about.
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.
These are important. Consider my maxims to be the stuff you’d highlight in a college
textbook — these facts and recommendations 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.
The Tip icon makes it easy to spot information that will save you time and trouble
(and sometimes even money).
As you can imagine, the Warning icon steers you clear of potential disaster. Always
read the information under this icon first!
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Build Your Own PC Do-It-Yourself For Dummies
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 you need
help on a particular component, jump to the right chapter; if you need to start from
the beginning, start with Part I. And check out the DVD if you want to see me install
a component.
Enjoy yourself and take your time. Remember Mark’s First Maxim of PC Assembly:
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!”
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Part I
Preparations and Planning
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In this part . . .
introduce you to the various components used to build
a computer, and you find out what task each component performs. I also cover some of the basic rules of
computer assembly. Finally, you act as your own consultant and determine which type of custom computer you
should build to fit your needs. (It won’t hurt, I promise.)
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Chapter 1
A Screwdriver Is All You Need
Topics in this chapter
䊳 Discovering how simple PCs really are
䊳 Using commonsense assembly (CA)
䊳 Recognizing standard PC components
䊳 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 (or cry)
out loud. Even if you did buy all the mysterious electronic parts (which technotypes 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 lone tool shown
in Figure 1-1 — yes, the humble Philips 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
much 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 computer builders.
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 successfully build your first computer, drop me an e-mail at [email protected] with the subject “I Did It Mark!”, and I can congratulate you
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Part I: Preparations and Planning
Assembly 101
You might have heard a horror story or two about someone who tried to build 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 computer.
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 many 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 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
Building a better 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.
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Chapter 1: A Screwdriver Is All You Need
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 pinched.
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.
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. Store all your
component manuals for a particular PC that you’ve built in a separate
binder. 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 a box to keep your 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 box 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.
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Part I: Preparations and Planning
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. Chapter 3 covers grounding in more detail. It’s a good
habit to adopt from the very beginning.
Leave the computer cover off during assembly. There’s no reason to
replace the case’s cover immediately after installing a part. After all, 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 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 gain experience by building 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.)
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Chapter 1: A Screwdriver Is All You Need
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 every exposed circuit that it touches — period. You can’t salvage
anything from such a spill.
PCs Are Built with Standard Parts
Computers are practically appliances these days — 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 mail-order
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.
Introducing the Major Parts
Before you find out more about where to buy the parts that make up a computer,
allow me to introduce you to each of the major components. I describe each component in general, although you can find out all the details about each computer part
in other chapters of this book.
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 fans that keep 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!
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Part I: Preparations and Planning
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 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. Figure 1-2 illustrates a
custom “modded” case. Gamers and PC techno-jocks swear by unique cases, just
like how owners of custom cars love fancy paint jobs and flames galore. This case
has additional air vents at the front and room for more fans at the back, as well as
colorful paint and chrome accents.
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.
Vents for
better cooling
power supply
Extra drive
Figure 1-2: A custom “modded” case.
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Chapter 1: A Screwdriver Is All You Need
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.
All sorts of connectors: You connect lots of things to your motherboard,
such as hard drives, a DVD drive, and power cables.
The RAM modules: These act as your computer’s memory while it’s
turned on.
In fact, the motherboard holds just about everything, as you can see in Figure 1-3.
(PCI slots are covered in Chapter 4, and your motherboard’s BIOS makes an appearance in Chapters 3 and 7.)
Built-in audio jacks
PCI slots
PCI Video
slot (black)
IDE device
power connector
Figure 1-3: Your computer’s main circuit board, affectionately called the motherboard.
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Part I: Preparations and Planning
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. 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 Core 2 series, which includes
the Core 2 Duo and Core 2 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 as fast and efficiently as the Core 2 series. I
discuss the most popular processors and their advantages later in Chapter 4.
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 the 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).
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
might not need a separate card if you’re not interested in playing the latest games.)
Although you can certainly find many manufacturers of video cards, the actual
chipsets used in the cards are built by either AMD (originally ATI) and NVIDIA.
Monitors have screen areas that typically range from 15–24 inches (measured diagonally across the case). You can go even larger if you crave that much onscreen
space, or you can put two monitors side by side for a larger virtual desktop.
Naturally, the larger the monitor, the more expensive. Today’s liquid crystal display
(LCD) monitors use less electricity and emit very little radiation compared with the
“antique” CRT (or tube) monitors used a decade ago.
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 go
wireless), and you might also want to access a portable MP3 player, a gamepad, a
digital camera, a printer, or a scanner. 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 separately.
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Chapter 1: A Screwdriver Is All You Need
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 necessary).
Even the traditional keyboard has changed. Ergonomically shaped keyboards are
designed to make typing easier on your hands, wrists, and forearms. And both
Windows XP and Windows Vista recognize two or three Windows-specific keys to
activate the Start button and display menus in an application. (Thank goodness
Bill Gates can’t add new letters to the alphabet.)
Your computer also needs at least one universal serial bus (USB) port to use many
external devices. For example, most digital cameras connect via USB ports, as do virtually all printers on the market today. (Need the complete rundown on ports? Jump
to Chapter 5.)
Oh, and don’t forget your Ethernet network port. Just about every motherboard
available today has a built-in Ethernet card, and some even include built-in wireless
network hardware. For all the details on building your own network (or connecting
your new PC to an existing network), swing by Chapter 12.
You might also see a FireWire port. Although these are more common on a Mac than
on a PC, you could run into them from time to time.
As a quick and handy primer, Figure 1-4 shows what the three ports look like in comparison. Even if the shape throws you, they’re typically marked with a symbol.
IEEE 1394
Figure 1-4: Ports ahoy: USB, FireWire, and Ethernet.
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 DVD/
Blu-ray recorder or a USB Flash drive), and (maybe) a floppy disk drive.
Some PCs still include one floppy drive. (You know the one. It still uses a 31⁄2-inch
disk that holds a paltry 1.44MB.) If you like, you can skip the installation of a floppy
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drive, seeing as they are as unnecessary as an appendix to a cutting-edge PC running
Windows Vista. (A USB Flash drive is far superior in every way to the venerable
You need at least one hard drive. Today’s hard drives hold gigabytes (GB) of data
(that’s 1,000 megabytes), or even a terabyte (TB) of data (that’s 1,000 gigabytes). At
the time of this writing, typical hard drives range in capacity from 80GB to more than
1TB — and those figures are constantly rising, while costs are constantly dropping.
(You’ve gotta love that free-market competitive model!)
Buy as much data territory as possible. Chapter 7 is your guide to hard drives — and
there’s even a section on 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 DVD-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 or headphones. In Chapter 9, I tell
you more about DVD drives, and Chapter 10 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 13. If a high-speed cable or DSL Internet connection is available in your area, you can jump on the Internet broadbandwagon.
(That’s so bad it doesn’t even qualify as a pun.) Otherwise, you can still use a dial-up
modem for connecting your computer to other computers across telephone lines,
especially if you’re an Internet junkie. (I cover modems in Chapter 11.)
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
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 1990s, 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, with many using color to indicate where
they connect.
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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, Figure
1-5 shows a power cable (a perfect illustration of a connector that can only work The
Right Way). Of course, I give you instructions on how to make sure that you’re connecting cables properly.
Cable from
power supply
Connector on a component
Figure 1-5: A PC power cable — can you ever have too many?
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 10) to provide better audio than the built-in sound hardware that came with
your motherboard. Adapter cards are arranged in rows at one end of a computer, as
shown in Figure 1-6.
Adapter cards
Empty slot
Figure 1-6: Adapter cards installed in a computer.
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Depending on the type of motherboard that you install, you’ll use PCI, PCI-Express,
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.
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Chapter 2
What Type of PC Should I Build?
Topics in this chapter
䊳 Determining what type of computer you need
䊳 Choosing one of three computer designs
䊳 Deciding whether you need (gasp) special stuff
䊳 Buying parts through the mail or on the Web
䊳 Selecting an operating system
hen you walk into an oh-so-hip, retail electronics store these days to buy a
PC, 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.
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. I wrap up this chapter
with some thoughts on choosing the best operating system for you.
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 Intel-based computers, they’re
about as different from each other as the 30-odd flavors at your local ice cream
parlor — or at least they should be.
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
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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
you’re using it? Do you plan to use the computer for word processing and
drafting, or for 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 descriptor, such as Internet access, home use, or very expensive
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 educational purposes 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 educational
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 (say, with a program such as Adobe
Premiere Pro); or advanced image editing (say, with a program such as
Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2)? If so, write required under the “High-quality
video” heading.
Power user: Are you going to run an entire suite of computer programs,
such as Microsoft Office? Will you be running sophisticated, expensive
applications, such as Adobe Creative Suite 4? If you’re planning on using
complex programs, write yes under the “Power User” heading.
Some people just plain 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 — and your PC will last
longer before requiring an upgrade.
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.
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Answering Your Computer-Needs Questions
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 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 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-and-fast specifications, just suggestions.
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 3-D shooting game 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. (Find more details on all
these components in upcoming chapters.) This PC will run its best using Windows
XP Home or Vista Home Basic.
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Table 2-1
Requirements for a Bare-Bones Computer
Computer Component
What to Look For
Standard “pizza-box,” ATX minitower, or desktop model;
single fan
Intel Celeron or AMD Sempron; PCI slots
System RAM
Hard drive
One EIDE drive, 120GB minimum
Optical drive
16x internal DVD drive
Video card
Standard 128MB PCI/AGP adapter
Sound card
PCI audio card
17-inch LCD
At least four USB 2.0 ports
Standard keyboard; mouse
Design 2: The Cunningham family 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 can handle image editing and digital media without blinking, as well as most
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 desktop-publishing software, or
basic image editing with a program like Photoshop Elements.
Your secondary application involves computer games or educational
You don’t require high-quality video, and you’re not a power user.
Table 2-2 lists the requirements for the most important parts that you need for building this midrange design.
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Table 2-2
Requirements for a Middle-Range Computer
Computer Component
What to Look For
ATX minitower model; dual fan
Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD 64 Athlon X2; PCI and PCI-Express
System RAM
Hard drive
One EIDE or SATA drive, 240GB minimum
Optical drive
16x internal DVD recorder
56 Kbps v.90 internal data/fax, cable/DSL modem for
Video card
Standard 256MB PCI-Express 3-D video adapter with NVIDIA
or ATI graphics chipset
Sound card
PCI audio card with Surround Sound
19-inch LCD
Four USB 2.0 ports, digital media card reader, and one
FireWire port
Standard keyboard; mouse
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: creating 3-D artwork, putting
games such as Spore through their paces, creating videos and editing images with
Adobe Photoshop CS4. The Batcomputer that you build can be as good as any topof-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.
Table 2-3 lists the requirements for the most important components that you need
for this design.
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Table 2-3
Requirements for a Top-of-the-Line Computer
Computer Component
What to Look For
Full-tower model; dual or triple fan
The fastest doggone Core 2 Extreme Edition or Athlon
Phenom processor available; PCI and PCI-Express slots
System RAM
2GB to 4GB
Hard drive
One SATA drive, 500GB minimum
Optical Drive
16x dual-layer Blu-ray/DVD recorder
Floppy drive
One 31⁄2-inch, 1.44MB disk drive
Cable/DSL modem for broadband
Video card
PCI-Express 3-D adapter, 512MB minimum of video memory;
NVIDIA or ATI graphics chipset with TV tuner
Sound card
PCI audio card with Surround Sound, 3-D positional sound,
hardware MP3 encoding
21-inch widescreen LCD display
Four to six USB ports, one FireWire port, digital media card
reader, and one eSATA port
Ergonomic keyboard with extra Windows keys, trackball
You might also need a secondary 12 volt, 4-pin connector to connect the power
supply and motherboard to draw enough power for additional lights, fans, and some
high-end video cards. 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 with your applications.
If you’re really serious about your graphics, you’ll need to know about the GPU, or
graphics processing unit. The minimum GPU speed (called the core clock in technospeak) I recommend for a midrange PC is about 500 MHz, with the high-end gaming
cards turning in over 750 MHz. See Chapter 14 for more.
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.
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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:
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.) The drawing tablet is definitely a power
user peripheral (usually used by professionals), and would be most likely
found on a top-of-the-line system that features a larger monitor and plenty
of system RAM.
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. OCR allows you to convert scanned text into
editable text that you can modify in a word processor. (For all the details on
scanner technology, head to Chapter 13.) Your scanner will demand a spacious hard drive of at least 120GB (the higher the resolution, the larger the
image file). And the more system RAM you add to your machine, the faster
your image-editing software will perform.
Cable to computer
Figure 2-1: A drawing tablet — the tool of choice for graphic artists (and techno-nerds without
scratch paper).
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Figure 2-2: A flatbed scanner is great for acquiring graphics and text.
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 13.
Scanner: If you build your PC 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 modems in Chapter 11.
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 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 MIDIcapable instrument that you’ve connected to the MIDI port and play it
automatically. (For the complete description of MIDI, visit Chapter 10.)
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. (I serve up the MP3 details in
Chapter 10.)
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CDs: Musicians and audiophiles can burn MP3 files to create custom audio
CDs — any DVD recorder can do the trick — and your home-brewed CDs
can sound as good as the music CDs you buy in a store. (For all the details
on DVD drives, skip to Chapter 9.)
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, 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!
Although I go into heavy-duty detail on building a game machine in Chapter 14,
here’s a quick introduction to the special stuff that you need to create your ultimate
game machine:
Controller: 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
20 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 Red Alert 3 and Frontlines.
If you’re willing to spend the extra cash, you can even get a force feedback
controller that shakes and rumbles when your F-16 (or your medieval
warrior) gets hit.
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. Today’s top 3-D video cards use a
PCI-Express slot. (Chapter 6 includes more info about video cards.)
Audiophile sound card: A great game machine needs the same high-quality
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 10.)
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 10 has more
details on speaker systems and subwoofers.)
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Picking Up the Parts
“Okay, Mark, now I know what parts I need, but where am I going to find them?” As
little as 15 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.
Only 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.
(Don’t worry: The components you choose will work together fine, without the
device conflicts many PC owners encountered in the days of Windows 98.)
In this section, I cover several likely sources for the components you need.
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 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, consider these
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 (,
Tom’s Hardware (, (,
ZDNet (, and other sites, such as
( and Pricewatch ( Many online
stores also offer reviews and ratings submitted by customers, like Newegg
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
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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.
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 action!)
Choose to charge. Personally, I always use a credit card, which provides me
with additional leverage if there’s a problem. Today’s online Web stores are
typically secure and easy to use.
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.
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Get the full warranty for each part
Even if you find a retail PC at the price that
you want that includes many of the brandname parts that you’re looking for, beware
the fine print when it comes to warranties.
You’re not necessarily receiving the full manufacturer’s warranty on each component.
Instead, brand-name components on many
retail computers are covered by the computer company’s warranty (typically one year
for both parts and labor). Say your retail PC
machine has a name-brand hard drive that
breaks after two years. Even though that
hard drive technically has a three-year warranty — if you buy it separately, that is —
you might not be able to return it to the manufacturer for service or replacement when it
comes as part of a package deal.
When you buy your own components and
build your own PC, though, you’re assured
that each component is covered for the
full length of the hardware manufacturer’s
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
Ordering parts online
If you have access to the Internet, 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.
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 (as
shown in Figure 2-3). The guidelines that I mention for mail-order purchases apply to
online ordering, too.
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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-4-based computers — they’re not technical wizards, and they
don’t use their computers very often.
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
upgrade 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 high-performance
applications, you should avoid any scavenged parts that would slow down the performance of your new PC. In that case, I’d
recommend re-using only keyboards, pointing devices, and internal modems for parts.)
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.
The lock icon indicates a secure Web site.
Figure 2-3: A secure Web site in Firefox.
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Choosing an Operating System
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 Vista, and it does a great
job for many of the PCs around the world. But what if your needs are different?
That’s why you need to become your own consultant to choose between Windows
Vista and Windows XP. 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:
Convenience: Vista’s the winner here, hands down. Microsoft has gone to a
lot of trouble to make all sorts of actions as easy as possible in Vista, from
burning a DVD to creating a wireless network. However, all that convenience
requires at least 3GB of RAM and a Vista-capable video card to run
Speed: Are you looking for the fastest-performing operating system? If so,
score one point for the older 32- and 64-bit operating systems: Windows XP
and XP x64. These platforms load programs and data faster because they
don’t include many of the more graphics-intensive features of Windows
Vista. (In other words, Vista’s requirements for cutting-edge hardware may
actually slow down performance.)
Hardware configuration: Windows Vista offers the best automatic hardware configuration — but only those devices that are ready for Vista “outof-the-box” are guaranteed to work with Microsoft’s latest incarnation of
Graphics: The eye candy in Windows Vista may take every ounce of performance out of that new super 3-D graphics card you’re going to add, but
Vista is easily the most attractive and futuristic version of Windows ever
produced. (Note that the latest 3-D games might call for DirectX 10, which is
the gaming graphics subsystem that’s built into Windows Vista. These
games run only on Vista.)
Security: Will your new computer be used as a Web server, an intranet
machine, or an Internet firewall? The platform to watch is Windows Vista.
Windows Vista includes Windows Defender, which helps protect against
malicious software and spyware.
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 a new operating system. You can back up your system to DVD, or
even offsite using a broadband (DSL or cable modem) connection and a subscription to an online backup service.
Read the installation instructions. Sure, Windows Vista 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.
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Chapter 2: What Type of PC Should I Build?
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
installation discs.
Introducing Colossus
As I note in the Introduction, I recommend a number of specific components by
brand and model number throughout this book. If I were building my own PC at the
time of this writing, I’d pick these parts, and I’ll always let you know why I chose
them. (In fact, you can see me build this beast from start to finish on the DVD in the
back of this book.)
Working with what I covered in this chapter, I can make two decisions about
Colossus already:
I’ll build a PC based on Design 3 (the Wayne Manor Batcomputer).
Colossus will be the ultimate top-of-the-line PC, ready for the latest games,
and video and image editing. The components I’m picking will cost more,
but they’ll deliver the best performance.
I’ll use Windows Vista for my operating system (OS). Vista offers the
best compatibility with the cutting-edge components I’m choosing. (Oh, and
my family would look forward to the graphics wonderland that is Vista.)
’Nuff said.
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Part II
Assembling the Basics
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In this part . . .
he real fun commences when you build a bare-bones
PC from the motherboard up. You install the required
stuff that every computer needs, such as RAM modules, a
CPU, a hard drive, and a video card. I even have a chapter
on choosing and installing an operating system. If that
sounds a little frightening, don’t worry; I explain each
stage in detail, and each chapter ends with a general set
of step-by-step installation instructions that gives 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 screwdriver!
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Chapter 3
Building the Foundation:
The Case and Motherboard
Topics and tasks in this
⻬ Choosing a case
⻬ Selecting a motherboard
⻬ Guarding against static
⻬ Installing your motherboard
⻬ Connecting the power
⻬ Hooking up lights and
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.
Choosing the Right Case
Selecting the proper case for your computer is very important, and here are the reasons why:
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 because 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. Or, you could choose a space-saver case.
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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 DVD drive or a removable cartridge drive. (After all, it’s a little hard
to load a DVD 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.
Virtually all cases also come with a single fan for cooling the components, but a case
can also be designed to maximize airflow, with cutouts for additional fans, as well as
more vents for moving more air through the case.
If coordinating your computer with your room is important, I bet those cases in
designer colors and shapes are calling your name. 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. And, exotic colors usually
mean higher prices. Most computer components with external faceplates — such as
DVD drives — come in only 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 offwhite 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 off-white DVD drive, and no one can tell that you’re (gasp!)
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. (You can also buy these screws and spacers at most larger electronics
You can choose from three standard types of cases: pizza- and shoe-box, desktop,
and tower. You can compare their forms and sizes in Figure 3-1. Each has its merits
as well as different amounts of elbow room for upgrading.
Space-saver cases: Pizza box and shoe box
Figure 3-2 illustrates a pizza-box case, which is very squat and 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.
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 cash,
the pizza-box case might be fine for your needs. (See Chapter 2 for details about
what qualifies as an economy-class machine.)
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Pizza box
Shoe box
Figure 3-1: Choose your form to fit your needs.
Pizza-box cases don’t offer much room for later upgrades.
3½-inch floppy drive bay Optical drive bay
Power and reset buttons
Figure 3-2: A slim and trim pizza-box case.
A derivative of the pizza-box case is the shoe-box case, which is roughly square and
a little taller than a real-life shoe box. (Shuttle box is another name for a shoe-box
case.) You can see its unique and compact design in Figure 3-3. These cases are
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favored by hard-core gamers 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, this form isn’t a champion for upgrading, but they are
easily carried from one LAN gaming party to another.
Figure 3-3: Shoe-box cases offer great portability.
Desktop case
The next case in our fashion show is the traditional desktop case, as shown in
Figure 3-4. 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 isn’t as compact as the pizza-box or shoe-box cases. Most desktop
cases can switch between horizontal mode and vertical mode, depending on the
orientation that you prefer.
Optical drive
Hard drive light
Power switch
3½-inch floppy drive
USB ports
Power light
Figure 3-4: The standard desktop case: a middle-class computer castle.
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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, with at least two USB connectors on the front of the case. 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 3-5, 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. You’re also likely to find at least two USB connectors on the front of the case.
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 optical drive. The tower case is a favorite for gamers, which you can read
about in Chapter 14.
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.
5¼-inch half-height bays
3½-inch floppy bays
Power and Reset buttons
USB ports
Figure 3-5: The professional wrestler of computer cases: the tower case.
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Other Case Considerations
There are a few other case features to consider besides size and shape. From the
fans that’ll keep your machine cool to the lights that’ll tell you what your PC’s doing,
keep these features in mind when deciding on your style of 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.
While I’m on the subject of power supplies, don’t forget that you shouldn’t connect
your chassis to AC power until Chapter 4, so put that cable away!
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 (Advanced
Technology Extended) motherboard has only one power connector.
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 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. (I cover fans in the
following section.) 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 second hard drive.
(In fact, AMD recommends at least a 400-watt power supply for the Athlon 64 series
of CPUs. You can read all about processor choices in Chapter 4.) For anything less,
300-watt power supplies will fit the bill.
Never open a power supply to try to fix it or massage it to work in a particular case.
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?
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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 might be connected to one of
the power cables leading to the power supply, or it might be connected to a special
fan plug on the motherboard itself. 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 now come with a CPU thermalsensing feature that you can set in your PC’s BIOS. If your CPU gets too hot, your
system automatically shuts down. Check your motherboard manual for the settings
you should choose to activate this shut-down feature.)
After your computer is running, place it where the fan exhaust isn’t blocked by a
wall or furniture. An open location provides better airflow.
Buttons, lights, and other foolishness
All 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 super-fast processor and plenty of
internal devices, I heartily recommend one of these cases, which allows 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. (More on modding in
Chapter 14.)
Your case should also include a simple speaker, which looks just like the speaker in
an inexpensive transistor radio. Although you’ll definitely want a sound card and
external speakers to take full advantage of today’s software (see Chapter 10 for more
about high-end 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. (Chapter 4 explains what those beeps are telling you.)
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.
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Dust busting!
A computer needs at least one internal fan
to keep its sensitive electronics cool. This circulating air has a drawback, though: All the
internal parts within your new computer get
dusty over time. Hint: Open your computer
case every year or so to blow the dust off
your motherboard, power supply, and all
the various devices that you installed.
Accumulated dust can act like an insulating
blanket, causing 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.)
Your Motherboard Is Your Best Friend
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 (as
shown in Figure 3-6).
Fifteen years ago, buying a motherboard by itself was much more difficult. 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.
Motherboard sizes
Today’s motherboards follow the ATX standard size guidelines. You don’t want a
Baby AT or an AT motherboard; those are antiques now. Any new PC you’re building
should use an ATX motherboard and case (see Figure 3-7).
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Back panel
ATX power
PCI Express
Serial ATA
PCI slots
USB 2.0
Figure 3-6: A typical motherboard and her parts.
PCI Express
Rear I/O
panel shield
CPU power
PCI slots
24-pin ATX
power connector
Figure 3-7: An ATX motherboard.
Motherboard features
While you’re shopping for a motherboard, keep these guidelines in mind:
Stick with a minimum of a Core 2 Duo or an Athlon 64 X2. You might have
a strong temptation to jump on a great price for an older Pentium 4 motherboard. No matter what the processor speed, however, you’ll be buying
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yesterday’s technology, and you won’t have the 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 and Vista,” say
good-bye to the Pentium 4 (as readers of the first edition of this book
said good-bye to the 486 and the original Pentium).
Consider using a SATA drive controller. As you might infer from the name,
the drive controller sends and receives data to your hard drives and optical
drive. (Think of a referee at a soccer match, and you get the idea.) Power
users favor an onboard serial ATA (SATA) controller. SATA controllers provide
you with faster performance than an Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics
(EIDE) drive controller. (See Chapter 7 for more information on EIDE and SATA
drives.) A motherboard with an onboard controller doesn’t need a separate
Spend extra for onboard ports. Like an onboard drive controller, onboard
USB, FireWire, and eSATA (external SATA) 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.
Make sure that your new motherboard has at least two PCI slots and one
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 PCI-Express 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 RAM. 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 3 to 4GB RAM
should be sufficient. Real techno-nerds or ultra–power users might demand
support for up to 6GB RAM.
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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.
And for Colossus, I Pick . . .
Personally, I’m a tower man. A tower case provides me with the space for two optical
drives and at least two hard drives, so the case I’m selecting would be a good pick
for any high-performance PC. As I mention earlier, shopping for motherboards is a
feature comparison fun-fest, and you’ll see that reflected in my choice.
As of this writing, Colossus will enjoy
Antec Twelve Hundred full tower case: In black (of course), this case can
accommodate up to 12 drive bays accessible from the outside of the case
as well as three internal (hidden) drive bays. Talk about room to expand!
Front-mounted ports on the case include USB, analog audio, and eSATA.
A whopping three cooling fans in front and two in the back assure great
airflow. I’m also using an Antec NeoPower 650-watt power supply.
This case will run you about $200. Find it online at
ASUS P5N-D LGA775 motherboard: This board supports the Core 2
Duo/Quad and Core 2 Extreme processors, with an NVIDIA chipset that
allows me to use two NVIDIA video cards in SLI mode. (I discuss SLI mode in
more detail in Chapter 14.) The ASUS board supports up to 8GB of memory,
two PCI Express video card slots, SATA/EIDE/RAID controller, and a built-in
surround sound audio hardware. Plus you’ll get a huge selection of ports:
USB, FireWire, SPDIF digital audio, and analog audio.
This critter will set you back about $150. Read more online at
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Installing Slot Covers
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Phillips screwdriver
⻬ Slot covers
⻬ Screws
Time Needed:
Your case has a number of holes on the back, which are meant for adapter
cards. For each slot opening, you can screw in a bracket that attaches to an
adapter card, holding the card firmly in place. If the adapter card has any
external ports, they are also visible through the back of the case because
they poke through the open slot.
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.
5 minutes
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.
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
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Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard
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 the figure.
Insert and tighten the screw to hold the cover over the opening.
Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until all the desired slot openings are covered.
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Part II: Assembling the Basics
Installing Your Motherboard
Stuff You
Need to Know
It’s show time! Get ready to add your motherboard to your system case.
This procedure is one of the most time-consuming in the entire PC assembly process, so be prepared to take things at your own pace. (Fifteen minutes can easily turn into 30 minutes while installing a motherboard — but
as long as the installation is done properly, you can ignore the clock!)
⻬ Phillips screwdriver
⻬ Spacers
⻬ Screws
Time Needed:
30 minutes
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.
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.
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Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard
Slot covers
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.
Screw and spacer holes
Adapter card slots
Note which screw holes line up with the screw holes in your motherboard, and if necessary, write down their positions 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, which 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.
Remove the motherboard from the
case and add the plastic spacers to
the holes (in your motherboard)
that need them. The figure illustrates how you push the spacers
through the holes from the bottom
of the board. The spacers should
snap firmly into place.
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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. Some motherboards are 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. (Most motherboards are designed for people like you and me who
hate poking and moving tiny things, so they rarely need any configuration.)
DIP switches
If you need to set a DIP switch, use a pen to push the plastic sliders into the
correct order. The edges of the switch are usually marked On and Off. (In the
figure here, switches 4 and 6 have been set to On for two different types of DIP
switches.) If you need to set a jumper (with an EIDE hard drive, for example),
use your fingers or a set of tweezers to lift the plastic jumper and seat it into
the correct position, as outlined in the component manual. (The figure here
shows a jumper on pins 1 and 2.)
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.
You’re ready to lock it down. Add the screws to a snug fit, 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?
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Connecting the Power Supply
Stuff You
Need to Know
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
This is a good time to take care of this chore because your motherboard is easy to work with right now. You have unrestricted access to
all the connectors on your motherboard, with no adapter cards or
cables hanging around to interfere with your work
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ None
Time Needed:
5 minutes
If your case is plugged into a wall socket, it shouldn’t be!
Unplug your PC first.
Locate the power connector on your motherboard. 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.
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!
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Connecting Lights, Switches, and the Speaker
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Your bare hands
The final motherboard installation procedure involves connecting the wires
to the buttons and lights on the front of your case, as well as the speaker
that’s buried somewhere in your PC chassis. Although most of the pins on
your motherboard are marked, some of those markings can be pretty cryptic, so now is the time to grab your motherboard manual (and a good gooseneck lamp so that you can see those tiny labels).
⻬ None
Time Needed:
5 minutes
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
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Chapter 3: Building the Foundation: The Case and Motherboard
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.
Power light or power LED: This is the power light on the front of the
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.
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.
Attach each cable to its corresponding pins on the motherboard by
pushing the connector onto the
pins, as shown in the figure here.
Generally, it doesn’t matter which
way the connector is facing, unless
a specific direction or placement is
mentioned in the motherboard documentation. If a connector needs to
be reversed (because a light doesn’t
turn on when it should, or the
Reset button doesn’t work), you
can fix it in the next chapter, when
you run your first tests.
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Chapter 4
A Bag of Chips:
Adding RAM and a CPU
Tasks performed in
this chapter
⻬ Plugging in your
⻬ Adding system
⻬ 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.
To reduce the amount of work, I recommend buying a motherboard
with the CPU and RAM modules preinstalled (commonly called a
populated motherboard, for some strange socio-engineering
reason). For this book, I show you how to build a populated motherboard from the
ground up. If you buy a populated motherboard, 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 Intel and AMD lines of
CPU chips, so not every motherboard accepts every CPU.) If the motherboard you’re
using 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.
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. You can feast your eyes on the to-be-completed deal in
Figure 4-1.
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Figure 4-1: Your goal: The motherboard, CPU, and RAM all installed.
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. 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. Check out Table 4-1.
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 (Pentium 4) 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 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.) Note that if your CPU
has multiple cores (dual or quad-core), it will perform faster and more efficiently
than a single-core CPU of the same speed. However, you can also follow this simple
Mark’s Maxim:
Buy the fastest doggone possible processor you can afford!™
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 Intel Core 2 Quad Extreme processor.
Later in this chapter, you’ll find more details on how much RAM you should add.
While shopping, remember that the type of socket your motherboard has — think
“connector that the CPU plugs into” — determines what type of processor you
can use.
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Chapter 4: A Bag of Chips: Adding RAM and a CPU
Why are bus speed and CPU cache important?
While shopping for a CPU, make sure you
compare the amount of onboard cache
memory included with each processor.
Cache memory acts as a high-speed “workspace” for your CPU, storing data that the
CPU is working with so that your processor
doesn’t have to perform calculations on
data in system RAM (which is much slower).
The more cache memory, the faster and
more efficiently a processor performs.
speed, which you can think of as a speed
limit for data throughout your system. Both
your CPU and your motherboard must operate at the same bus speed. The higher the
bus speed, the faster your PC operates.
Both of these important specifications vary
with the type of processor (and might even
vary within a specific model, depending on
the manufacture date), so pay close attention to them while comparison shopping.
Your motherboard communicates with the
CPU and other components at a set bus
Table 4-1
CPU Comparisons
CPU Make/Model
Intel Celeron
Light-duty family PC
AMD Sempron
Light-duty family PC
Intel Core 2 Duo
Casual gaming/family PC
AMD Athlon 64 X2
Casual gaming/family PC
Intel Core 2 Quad
Hard-core gaming/video editing
AMD Phenom
3 or 4
Hard-core gaming/video editing
Family PC choices: Intel Celeron
and AMD 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. (Read about how I define a family
PC in Chapter 2.)
Both Celeron and Sempron are single-core CPUs — unlike most other Intel and AMD
CPU offerings, which offer anywhere from two to four cores. (More on multicore
processors in a page or two.) Older single-core Pentium 4 CPUs are antiques, so
avoid them.
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The Intel Celeron: The darling of the low-cost crowd
The Celeron processor, 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 rest of the Intel line, so it’s not as efficient as an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU (more on this choice in a bit), and its raw megahertz speed rating is typically far slower. The Celeron also offers a slower bus speed.
The AMD Sempron: A bare-bones hot rod
Because AMD designed the Sempron processor to compete directly with the
Celeron, the Sempron is usually neck-and-neck in performance benchmarks. Like the
Celeron, the Sempron has less cache memory and a slower bus speed than the AMD
Athlon 64 series (see the next section).
The Cunningham model: Intel Core 2 Duo
and AMD Athlon 64 X2 processors
One step up the performance ladder, the Intel Core 2 Duo and the Athlon 64 processors are perfect for a midrange PC for home or office.
The Intel Core 2 Duo: Still king of the hill
The Core 2 Duo, a dual-core processor, is the most popular CPU on the market, and
with good reason: It’s a fantastic all-around CPU. The Core 2 Duo is often faster in
raw speed than a corresponding Athlon 64 X2, and it runs with a wider range of
motherboards. It’s a great choice for just about any PC.
The AMD Athlon 64 X2: A reliable workhorse
Like the aging Pentium Extreme Edition, the AMD Athlon 64 X2 is no longer top dog,
but it still offers excellent performance for a typical family or office PC. And it provides more efficient operation than first-generation Intel Core Duo CPUs. The Athlon
64 X2 is a dual-core processor.
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 Windows Vista. The dynamic duo of one of these operating systems and any Athlon 64-bit processor results in faster performance and support for up to an unbelievable 128 gigabytes of RAM.
Power user: Intel Core 2 Quad and
AMD Phenom series processors
In this section, I cover the big CPU twosome dominating the current PC scene: the
Intel Core 2 Quad series and the AMD Phenom series, which are both quite 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.
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Today’s processors include hyperthreading technology, which allows a single CPU to
perform like multiple CPUs. (See the earlier Table 4-1.) In fact, Windows XP and Vista
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 building 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.
The Intel Core 2 Quad: High-end horsepower
The Core 2 Quad Extreme Edition CPU is a super-fast processor that features Intel
hyperthreading technology, providing the best performance for today’s games, 3-D
applications, and video editing. The latest versions of the Core 2 CPU are quad-core
processors, so they excel at multitasking and number crunching.
The AMD Phenom: The tyrannosaurus rex of processors
The Phenom is AMD’s fastest, most efficient, and most advanced CPU, offering four
cores. The Phenom even outperforms the Intel Core 2 Quad four-core 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 Phenom is not
the right choice for everyone. Like a sports car, the Phenom is far more expensive
than a standard Athlon 64 processor. Plus, fewer motherboards are approved for
use with the Athlon Phenom. 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.
Add RAM to the Mix
If you bought RAM with your motherboard, it should come preinstalled. If you need
to buy your RAM chips separately, here are the rules of the game:
DDR2 and DDR3: The most common memory modules used with today’s
PCs are double data rate (DDR2) modules, which are effectively four times
the speed of older synchronous DRAM (SDRAM) memory. The latest version
of this type of memory is the DDR3 (Double Data Rate) module, which again
increases the data transfer between RAM and your PC. However, the new
DDR3 design is less common (and more expensive) than the older DDR2
standard at the time of this writing. DDR2 and DDR3 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.
Figure 4-2: Is it a potato chip? A chocolate chip? No, it’s a DDR chip.
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While you’re out shopping for RAM, remember that DDR memory is
assigned a speed rating as part of the name, so it’s commonly listed as
DDR266/PC2100 or DDR3 1066. 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 266 (or 2100). The speed rating that you choose
should be determined by the memory speeds that your motherboard supports. Most of today’s motherboards can accept two to four modules.
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 DDR3 memory
grows more popular. (I know — the doggone acronyms are as bad as the full
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, use one 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 Vista. The more RAM you can add, the better and faster your
system runs.™
And for Colossus, I Pick . . .
I’m outfitting Colossus for the future, so I’m willing to invest the money in a CPU with
performance to last me several years!
Inside the case, my super-PC will be powered by
Intel Core 2 Quad Core: Although Intel’s speed demon is expensive, it’s
worth it — the 2.66 GHz model (with included fan and heatsink) runs about
$270 at the time of this writing.
Kingston HyperX 240-Pin DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Memory: I’m going with
4GB of RAM to start with (knowing that I can always add more RAM later
on), so Colossus will enjoy two DDR2 modules. Each module carries 2GB,
and I’ll use two RAM slots on the motherboard.
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Chapter 4: A Bag of Chips: Adding RAM and a CPU
Installing Your CPU
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ Motherboard
Time Needed:
15 minutes
Suppose that someone who upgraded a PC donated an Athlon Phenom
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).
For a novice, the CPU installation process is probably one of the scariest moments in the entire project. The pins on a CPU can be damaged
easily by small children, dogs, or a cat in an exceptionally bad mood. 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. As I outline previously, most motherboards made for today’s
processors provide a square socket that accepts a flat processor chip.
Haul your open computer chassis onto your work surface.
Don’t plug the chassis in yet because nothing will happen.
You’ll plug in the power cord later in this chapter.
I’ll bet that you just finished pulling
a load of fuzzy socks out of your
clothes dryer, didn’t you? And
rubbed a couple of balloons on
your head? Don’t handle anything
until you touch a metal surface
first. Get grounded. (If this makes
no sense to you, read Chapter 1 for
the importance of good grounding.)
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Chip type 1
Marked edge
Marked edge
Marked edge
Socket type 1
Socket type 2
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.
Today’s motherboards typically feature special
sockets called zero insertion force (ZIF) sockets
for the CPU. ZIF sockets allow you to easily
install or remove CPUs without requiring force.
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. Check out
the figure here, which 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.
Raise the ZIF 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.
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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. (Refer to the figure in Step 3
to see how this alignment works.)
Okay, take a deep breath and relax, and 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.
Lower the ZIF 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
isn’t 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.
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Installing Your Fan and Heatsink
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ Index card
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 — thermal compound — 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.
I recommend using a fan and heatsink combination, so I include a heatsink
in this procedure. If you’re using a CPU fan that’s powerful enough to keep
your processor cool, you can clamp the fan to the PC in Step 4 instead.
⻬ Fan/heatsink assembly
⻬ Thermal compound
Time Needed:
15 minutes
Don’t handle anything until you touch a
metal surface first to ground yourself.
Cooling fan
Unpack the fan/heatsink assembly.
Most processors you buy in a retail
box include a fan and heatsink. If
your processor didn’t come with
these parts, you can buy them separately at most larger electronics
stores, or through an online retailer
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Apply an even coat of thermal compound to the top of the CPU using a
paper index card. Don’t apply too much compound: Just make sure the
chip is covered with a thin coat.
Make certain that none of the compound falls on the motherboard or around the CPU.
Align the fan/heatsink assembly on top of the processor and
snap it in place. Because heatsinks vary in how they attach to
the motherboard, check the documentation that came with
your components to see how the assembly fits.
Plug the fan’s power cable into
the motherboard’s CPU fan
connector. It’s generally located
close to the CPU socket.
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Installing Your RAM
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Your bare hands
Ready to add one or more RAM modules to your motherboard? Adding
RAM is a simple task — much less daunting for most first-time techs
than installing a CPU — and this procedure shouldn’t take long.
⻬ RAM modules
⻬ Motherboard
Time Needed:
5 minutes
Make sure that you handle your RAM modules by the edges to minimize any
contact with the chips, and don’t forget that the modules have a keyed slot
in the connector that prevents them from being installed the wrong way.
Touch something metal to banish the static monster.
You know the drill!
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. Always 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.
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Position the motherboard so that
the memory slots are facing you.
The slots should look like those
shown in the figure. The clever
little locking mechanism uses friction to lock the module 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 DDR chips the wrong way.
The notch is an example of good
thinking on someone’s part.
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 the figure. As the
module moves into place, make
sure that the two levers at each
side of the socket move toward the
center, until that clever little locking mechanism clicks into place.
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 module.
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Fire That Puppy Up!
Stuff You
Need to Know
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. You finally get to press that Power button!
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ Power cables
Time Needed:
5 minutes
Plug the 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.
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Plug the power cable into your friendly wall socket.
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 plugged
in the cable from the fan to your power supply.
Decode the beeps. 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 two 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. Your motherboard
manual should list these audio status codes. 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. See Table 4-2.
Table 4-2
Beep Code Descriptions
Number of Beeps
What Your PC Is Telling You
Single short beep
Normal boot
Repeating short beeps
Problem with power supply or motherboard
Repeating long beeps
Problem with RAM modules
One long, two short beeps
Problem with video card
No beep
Problem with power supply, CPU installation, or PC speaker
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Chapter 5
Installing Your Ports,
Mouse, and Keyboard
Tasks performed in
this chapter
⻬ Installing a port
adapter card
⻬ Hooking up built-in
⻬ Connecting a
oth 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.
⻬ Installing a
non-USB mouse
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, less expensive (or older “antique”)
motherboards might require you to buy an adapter card if you need
to add less common ports (like a FireWire or an eSATA port) to your
Because you installed an ATX motherboard into an ATX case (see Chapter 3), your
ports are already set! However, 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.
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connector ports
Serial Parallel
port port
VGA External audio
Figure 5-1: Most ATX motherboards sport these ports.
Keyboard port: Keyboard ports come in two varieties:
• One type fits the IBM PS/2 connector that’s shown in Figure 5-2.
• An older type of keyboard port is larger than the PS/2 connector.
All motherboards made in the past few 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.
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Figure 5-2: The IBM PS/2 standard keyboard connector.
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. A single USB port can accommodate as many as 127 daisy-chained
(that is, connected) devices — probably even enough for Bill Gates. USB 2.0
ports move data at speeds as fast as a blistering 480 Mbps. Plus, any peripheral that you plug into a USB port is automatically recognized by Windows
XP and Windows Vista (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 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!
PS/2 mouse port: Although most pointing devices have switched to USB
connectors, most motherboards still offer a dedicated mouse port, which
frees up your USB ports for other things.
Figure 5-3: The USB connectors that conquered the world.
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FireWire port: Otherwise known as your friendly neighborhood IEEE-1394
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 Vista 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 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.)
If you’re planning on editing digital video or participating in videoconferencing, consider adding a FireWire port to your PC. Virtually all PC cases now
offer built-in USB ports on the front — but even if your case didn’t come
equipped with them, you can get a FireWire and USB port panel that takes
the place of a drive bay cover on the front of your PC (Figure 5-4). 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.
eSATA port: Interested in adding very fast external hard drives? Adding an
eSATA adapter card to your PC will allow you to run external eSATA drives
in a RAID array for the very fastest data access. (Chapter 14 describes RAID
arrays in more detail.) You can see what the plug looks like in Figure 5-5.
Parallel printer port: For the last decade, the parallel port’s primary purpose was to provide a connection for your printer. Today’s hardware, however, is almost exclusively connected through a USB or FireWire port. Most
motherboards still sport a parallel port, and if you need it, look for a rectangular port with two rows of pins (or holes) on the back of your PC.
l Se
Ac er
Figure 5-4: A front-panel port expander that fits in the front of your PC case.
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Serial port: 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 computer.
By the way, a male connector has pins, and a female connector has holes for
those pins. (Go figure.)
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. (Of course,
you can decide to opt for a USB game controller although many gamers
get very attached to their expensive older flight joysticks, steering wheels,
and throttles.)
MIDI port: You use this type of specialized port for connecting MIDI-capable
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 10.) Again, you can also get a
USB-to-MIDI port adapter if you own a MIDI instrument.
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, or if you’re using a remote
control with your PC in conjunction with a TV tuner card. 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).
Figure 5-5: An eSATA plug.
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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 and Mice
“Grandpa, in your day, did they really have only one kind of mouse and one kind of
keyboard?” Things have really changed, and you can now choose from a dizzying
array of pointing devices and keyboards (and even combinations of both).
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.
All 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, which is 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 5-6, this pointing device resembles an upsidedown 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.
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
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Drawing tablet: A drawing tablet (see Figure 5-7) is designed specifically for
computer art and drafting. It allows freehand drawing on the tablet, which
then appears onscreen. 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 pointing device when you’re not drawing.
Figure 5-6: A typical trackball.
Figure 5-7: Okay, so a drawing tablet looks a little strange, but it works!
The key to keyboards
One keyboard is not just like another! For example, if you’ve been given an older 84key 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
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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 XP and Vista both support extra keys. In fact, one key
even looks like the Windows logo. Pressing these keys make drop-down
menus appear within programs, display the task list, print special characters, and much more. (That crazy Gates fellow!)
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 5-8 is a good example.
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. Just don’t forget the batteries, and
remember that these keyboards are significantly more expensive than their
wired brethren. (My tech editor recommends also using 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.
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, and connect to the Internet.
Figure 5-8: Catch the wave! An ergonomic keyboard helps reduce wrist strain.
If you plan to use a desktop case or a huge 21-inch monitor with your finished PC, I
recommend that you consider allotting some space for 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 finish 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.
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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.
Check It Once, and Check It Twice!
After you complete the tasks in this chapter and your PC is sporting all of its ports,
you really have no way to test them. All is not lost, though. You can test your keyboard right now. Just push the power switch on your computer case.
If you 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.
The port is the same size and shape as your mouse port; look for a keyboard icon
next to the correct port.
And For Colossus, I Pick...
All of the ports I use are already integrated into the motherboard I chose back in
Chapter 3, so I don’t need a port adapter card for my new PC. However, input
devices I do need!
I heartily recommend my favorite keyboard and mouse combination for you (and
hereby add them to Colossus):
Logitech USB+PS/2 Wired Trackman Wheel: I’ve been using a Logitech
Trackman ever since they first appeared on the market, and an old-fashioned
mouse feels . . . well . . . old-fashioned compared to the comfort, ergonomics,
and efficiency of a trackball! This new model is cordless, so I can move it
around my desk as needed. I especially like the Trackman because of the fine
control it gives me while editing images.
Logitech G11 USB Standard Gaming Keyboard: Yep, the gaming side of
me wins again — this illuminated keyboard has 18 programmable keys
for assigning macros, and illuminated keys for those late-night gaming
marathons. The one-touch controls for media playback work great with
iTunes under Windows, too.
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Installing a Port Adapter Card
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Phillips screwdriver
⻬ Parts bowl
⻬ Port adapter card
Time Needed:
5 minutes
If your motherboard doesn’t have built-in USB 2.0, FireWire, or eSATA ports,
it’s time to add your port adapter card. These cards typically have at least
two of the same ports on back 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:
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!
Haul your open case on top of your work surface. Do not plug it in yet.
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Chapter 5: Installing Your Ports, Mouse, and Keyboard
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 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.
Take your trusty screwdriver and
remove the screw and the metal
slot cover at the back of the case.
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.
If you haven’t installed any slot
covers yet, just skip this step.
(Some folks add them as soon as
the motherboard is in the case;
others wait until all the cards have
been installed. It’s up to you — I
show you how to install the covers
in Chapter 3.)
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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.
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.
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,
eSATA, or FireWire port.
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Connecting Built-In Ports
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ Port cables
Time Needed:
10 minutes
If your computer uses a standard ATX motherboard and case (which I
discuss in Chapter 3), your ports are already connected at the back of
the case. (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
your case includes front-mounted ports that you need to connect).
If you need to attach external ports to the front or back of your case so
you can 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 (or twisted wires) 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 steps:
Don’t handle anything until you touch a
metal surface. Put down that slick, plastic,
handheld video game; you might be carrying static now. (Chapter 2 includes more
on grounding, and why it’s so important.)
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.
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Insert the slot cover with the ports
into the vacant slot.
Add the screw that you removed in Step 2 and tighten the bracket.
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.
Check your motherboard manual and find the connectors for the external ports. These connectors are similar to the motherboard connectors
for your reset button.
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Installing a Keyboard
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Your bare hands
As I mention earlier in this chapter, computers use one of two types of
keyboard connectors. The steps that you follow are determined by your
motherboard and what it provides.
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
⻬ USB or PS/2 keyboard
Time Needed:
2 minutes
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
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). Figure 5-2 (earlier in this
chapter) illustrates how this arrow alignment works.
When the keyboard connector is correctly aligned, push it in firmly.
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Installing a Non-USB Mouse (Or Other
Pointing Thing)
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ A non-USB mouse or
pointing device
Time Needed:
2 minutes
If you 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 virtually all of
today’s motherboards still
offer a PS/2 mouse port.
Follow these steps to install
the mouse:
Locate the port on the back of your case.
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).
After the connector is correctly
aligned, push it in firmly.
Mouse port
Mouse connector
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Chapter 6
Adding Video Hardware
Tasks performed in
this chapter
⻬ Installing your video
adapter card
⻬ Hooking up your
⻬ 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 have remained 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. PCs running Windows Vista need extra graphics horsepower from a video
card to support all the fancy eye candy and special effects. 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.
The Video Card Explained
Your video card plays a very important role in your computer: It sends the
visual output produced by a program to your monitor, which displays the output
onscreen. That visual output could be alphanumeric characters that form words;
high-resolution graphics, such as a photograph taken with your digital 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.
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Full speed ahead with accelerated graphics
Today’s standard PC video adapter includes enhancements that allow your PC’s CPU
to concentrate on running programs and performing calculations: The video card
actually handles most of the graphics work. With the arrival of the accelerated
graphics card, operating systems like Windows Vista can include a truly dazzling
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 PCI-Express
video card, but you might find the integrated solution a money-saver if games aren’t
high on your list.
Accelerated cards have a separate processor onboard (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). When you’re shopping for a fast video card, keep these guidelines in mind:
Choose PCI-Express. You get the best performance from a PCI-Express
video card. Sticking a fast video card in a standard Peripheral Component
Interconnect (PCI) 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 PCI-Express bus
type provides 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 PCI-Express adapter cards.
Older AGP video cards are rapidly disappearing as the PCI-Express bus has
become the standard, so stay clear of AGP at this point.
Go for memory. Look for the most onboard RAM that you can afford. Most
cards feature anywhere from 128MB to 1GB. More is better, natch. (Read
more about this in the upcoming section, “Thanks for the memory.”)
More colors and higher resolutions. The deeper the color depth and the
higher the resolution, the better. Find out more about these features in the
next section.
Compare speed. Compare the speeds that most video card manufacturers
provide benchmark for speed of their accelerated cards. As an example, the
manufacturer of my video card measures its card’s speed by using the
3DMark Vantage utility from Futuremark (, which is
a well-known benchmark program for graphics hardware under Windows.
For example, my NVIDIA GeForce 8400 GS video card turns in a respectable
4000+ rating, but today’s top-rated cards can turn in double that figure! (And
adding multiple video cards to your PC in SLI mode can result in truly astronomical benchmark figures — more on SLI mode in Chapter 14.) Some video
card manufacturers also list the frame rate that a card can achieve while
running a popular game, such as Half-Life 2. The higher the frame rate, the
better the performance, which makes it a good figure to use while comparing video cards.
Strive for a minimum GPU speed (called the core clock in technospeak) for a
mid-range PC of about 500 MHz, with the high-end gaming cards turning in
over 750 MHz.
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Verify driver support. Make sure that your new card is fully supported with
drivers for Windows XP and Windows Vista, OpenGL, and DirectX versions
9 and 10. (The last three 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. You’ll find the
drivers a card supports on the side of the box, or in the specifications section of a product review if you’re shopping online. (I’ve also done a little
digging on video card manufacturer Web sites to find out what operating
systems and subsystems a certain card will support.)
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.
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 improve
3-D games, such as Age of Conan. 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. And if you’re going to work in a beefy graphics program — say,
Adobe Photoshop, Flash, or Illustrator — this hardware spec is a must-have.
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. The most popular 3-D video cards use hardware chipsets
(the integrated circuits that control your hardware, like the BIOS chip on your motherboard) from the following two top manufacturers:
NVIDIA: NVIDIA ( is known in the 3-D world for its
GeForce chipset. At the time of this writing, the GeForce GTX 200–series
chipset is on the most powerful 3-D video cards available.
ATI: ATI ( continues to
update its Radeon GPU chipset (currently the Radeon HD 4800 series) to
compete head-to-head with GeForce, so it’s also a 3-D video card to compare.
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 using a minimum of 128MB of video memory for a PC running an office suite
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(think MS Office) and Internet applications, or a minimum of 256MB if you’re running
graphics-intensive games and applications on a 3-D video card. (See the preceding
section for more on 3-D video cards.)
Color depth
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. (Today’s video cards
easily support 16 million or more 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. Most people who create Web pages like to use 16 million
color graphics because those graphics look better. Today, the popularity of broadband
Internet access allows Webmasters to strut their stuff with more confidence.
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: the 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 also 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. You
can see how using a high, medium, or low resolution can really change how something looks onscreen in Figure 6-1.
Figure 6-1: High, medium, and low resolution.
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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 piece of trivia you can
toss around to your friends, right?) At least
the name suggests something of value —
MPEG is one of the most popular formats
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.
At higher resolutions — such as 1024 x 768, 1152 x 864 (my favorite), 1280 x 1024,
1600 x 1200, or even higher — you can fit more images, data, icons, and information
on your screen at one time. With such a higher resolution (especially with today’s
19-inch and larger monitors), you can work on an entire brochure in your desktoppublishing 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
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
What’s the best 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!
What’s the bill, and what else do I need?
By this time, you might be shrugging your shoulders in disgust, thinking that you’ll
probably have to pay a thousand bucks for a good-quality video adapter with a top
3-D chipset, at least 256MB 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 8600
GTS chipset and 256MB of memory, for example, has all these features and even a
few more — and you can pick one up at a local computer store for well under $75.
(Other comparable cards are around the same price.) Not a bad price for a power
user part, eh?
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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:
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 video
interface as well), which refers to a relatively new port that connects your
video card to many new, flat-panel LCD monitors. A DVI port (which looks
nothing like a standard VGA port) 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? See the difference
between the two ports in Figure 6-2.
Bundled software and Windows utilities: Most video adapters available
today include bundled software. 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, the easiest way to display your work on your television (or transfer it to videotape) is to buy a video adapter that can display
output from your computer on a TV 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) across 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 all fit 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.
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Dual display: A card with this feature can support two monitors at once,
placed side by side. Both Windows XP and Vista allow you to use the two
monitors as one super-large desktop, or you can display two different desktops at the same time. Sweet! See the magic in Figure 6-3. (Of course, you’ll
have to spring for a second monitor — such is the techno-wizard’s lifestyle.)
Typically, the card will offer both a VGA and DVI port (see Figure 6-2), and
you connect each port (with a converter, if necessary) to a separate monitor. Although Windows provides basic controls for dual display, most video
cards on the market today come with software that does a far better job,
allowing fine adjustments that allow you to perfectly synchronize the edges
of both displays.
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-enabled monitor, which I cover later in this chapter.)
Standard VGA
monitor connector
Figure 6-2: VGA and DIV ports.
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Figure 6-3: Dual monitor displays are a must for some tasks.
Hey, I Can Get TV 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 computer.)
The ultimate in PC mouse-potato technology, however, is the TV tuner adapter card.
Install one of these tuner cards, and you can watch TV on your PC. These cards
carry full-featured TV tuners. Instead of using a separate TV tube or speakers,
though, 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 tuner cards, such as the AVerTV Combo PCI-E, from
AVerMedia Technologies, Inc. (, can act as a personal video
recorder as well. Sweetness, and all for $100. (See the sidebar “Bringing video to
your PC” for more details.) You need a minimum of 512MB of RAM and at least a
set of stereo speakers, and I recommend a monitor of at least 19 inches as well.
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.
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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
home movie that’s still stuck on a VHS tape,
you can also plug your VCR into most tuner
Warning: Capturing copyrighted video or
audio and distributing it yourself is illegal.
Depending on the TV 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 — amateur video editors, rejoice!
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. Bus slots are the connectors on your
motherboard that accept adapter cards. (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. For example, plugging a video card
into the appropriate bus slot can provide you with better performance and more features than the integrated card built into your motherboard. 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 (4x or 8x) or a PCI-Express x16
slot reserved for a video card. These cards are generally longer than the
standard 32-bit PCI card.
Four or five Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) slots for 32-bit PCI
adapter cards. (Typically, this includes sound cards and the like although a
number of 32-bit video cards on the market don’t use the PCI-E slot.)
This information becomes really important really quickly because you 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. Your motherboard manual will detail how many slots
you have, and which kind they are.
If you’re rapidly becoming tired of the word slot, here’s good news: You’re finished
with it, at least for this chapter!
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Staking Out Your Visual Territory
Luckily, choosing a suitable monitor is easier than 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.
I recommend visiting at least one or two computer stores to 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 Pricewatch at to locate the best prices across the entire Internet.)
Deciphering monitor sizes and shapes
(and choosing the one for you)
You can buy a monitor in several different sizes, starting at around 17 inches. (All
monitors are measured diagonally, just like a TV.) You can easily find larger monitors, up to 22 inches and even larger. The extra screen real estate is especially useful
for those doing desktop-publishing or computer-aided drafting.
So which is the right size for you? Think of buying a car. A 17-inch monitor is like a
’71 Volkswagen Beetle, and a 22-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 a 22-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, a
19-inch monitor displays the same images as a 17-inch, but the image is physically
bigger and the details stand out more clearly. When you increase the resolution of
your desktop (to 1280 x 1024 or so), the monitor size becomes more important
because the smaller monitor needs to shrink everything to fit the entire desktop on
its screen.
Many of today’s flat-panel LCD monitors are advertised as widescreen: That is,
they’re longer in the horizontal dimension, just like a typical HD-TV, allowing you to
watch DVD movies in widescreen format. Even if you don’t watch DVD movies, however, widescreen displays are supported in Windows Vista, giving you more screen
real estate for all of your programs. (I like to leave Microsoft Word open next to my
Internet Explorer window, all of which fits on my widescreen display.) Today’s 3-D
games also support widescreen display, giving you a larger view of your alien
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Ever heard the teaser, “So, exactly how big is a 17-inch TV?” Computer monitors
suffer from the same head-scratching conundrum. Here the deal: You have to weigh
the diagonal width of the monitor case against the total viewing area. These are two
very different things. Here’s an example. Two monitors are advertised as 17 inches,
but one has an actual viewing area of 15.9 inches, and the other has a viewing area of
16.1 inches. (Remember: Viewing area measures 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 17-inch monitor is fine. If you prefer viewing 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 a 19-inch monitor at the minimum.
Remember that the best judge of a monitor’s display is your own eye, so use it!™
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 to look for while
selecting the flat-panel display that works best for you.
Flat-panel color displays are a dream come true. LCD monitors use the same liquidcrystal technology as laptop computer screens (not like those old clunker flat-panel
CRT screens), so they require only 15–20 percent of the physical depth of a CRT
monitor. This size difference can save you a ton of desktop space because your monitor’s footprint just went from Bigfoot to Betty Boop. See the svelte in Figure 6-4.
Figure 6-4: LCD minotors: lithe, lean, and thin.
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Here’s why folks love them so. With a flat-panel monitor, you get a truly flat, edge-toedge display with no distortion but gorgeous color. Flat-panel screens also give off
very little heat and use much less electricity. And, unlike a tube-based CRT monitor,
a flat-panel display emits virtually no radiation, so it’s easier (and safer) on your
eyes, and you can spend longer periods of time in front of your computer without
discomfort. Once available only in 15- and 17-inch models, larger 19-, 21-, and 22-inch
flat-panel displays are becoming affordable now that the price of the technology has
Make sure you note the response time (given in milliseconds, such as 5 ms, 8 ms,
or 12 ms). 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 an 8 ms response time or lower.
Keep in mind that these features can appear on a good 17-inch display as well as on
an expensive 22-inch model:
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.
Energy Star/DPMS–compliant: All motherboards sold these days have the
Energy Star power management system built in. 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 powersaving features. (VESA is the Video Electronics Standards Association.)
Digital controls: Techno-nerds like me favor precise digital controls with an
onscreen display (OSD) of easy-to-follow menus that make fine-tuning your
monitor’s picture more like setting up your DVD player. Controls can
include contrast, brightness, and color saturation.
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 per pair. For more
information, see Chapter 10.) However, if you’re looking for convenience
and you want to save desktop space, you can investigate a monitor with
built-in speakers.
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Work ergonomics and comfort: 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. Many displays take this a step further,
with stands that tilt forward and backward, or adjust up and down.
If you need extra height on your monitor and the stand doesn’t adjust
upward, consider purchasing a shelf unit, which allows you to store your
keyboard beneath the monitor. Using a shelf allows you to elevate your
Warranty: Because you can use a typical LCD monitor with just about any
PC that you might build or buy in the foreseeable future, pony up 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.
And for Colossus, I Pick . . .
Have I mentioned I’m a gamer? Big-time. Therefore, Colossus will need some real
horsepower for a video card, and I’m going to need a widescreen flat-panel LCD
monitor for my DVD movies.
My graphics picks are
EVGA GeForce 9800 GX2: This monster card carries 1GB of onboard
memory, has a 600 MHz core clock, and supports SLI mode (which I discuss
in more detail in Chapter 14). It has two DVI connectors, so I can run dual
DVI flat-panel monitors easily in the future. The EVGA card also supports
DirectX 10 and Windows Vista with ease.
ViewSonic 20-inch Widescreen LCD: Note that this monitor is not shown
on the companion DVD, but this would be my pick for its maximum resolution of 1680 x 1050, tilting base, OSD controls, and both VGA and DVI
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Installing Your Video Card
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Phillips screwdriver
⻬ Parts bowl
⻬ PCI-Express video card
Time Needed:
In this section, I show you how to add your video adapter card to your
chassis. Your video adapter card will have at least one DVI port on the side
of the card itself, and most cards still include a VGA port as well. (You see
what these ports look like in Figure 6-2, earlier in the chapter.) And as I mention earlier in the chapter, most of today’s video cards allow you to run two
monitors using both of these ports in conjunction.
If your motherboard includes integrated video hardware and you decided
to use it, you won’t need to install a separate card, and your DVI and/or
VGA port is already installed at the rear of your PC’s case. Instead, head
directly to the section, “Connecting Your Monitor” later in this chapter.
5 minutes
If your computer chassis is plugged
in, unplug it. And 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.
Touch a metal surface before you
handle your video card (or anything else on your computer).
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Locate a PCI-Express adapter card
slot of the proper length at the back
of your computer case. You should
be able to easily locate the single
PCI-Express slot. (It’s usually in the
middle of the motherboard, and is
molded in a different color from
your other PCI slots. Consult your
motherboard manual if you’re
uncertain of its location.)
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.)
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.
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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.
If the adapter card has extra connectors that aren’t positioned above the slot, you’re trying to fit a “square peg
into a round hole”! Look for a slot that has matching connectors and notches. Refer to your motherboard
manual if you need help locating the proper slot.
When 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 rest
tightly against the case.
Never apply undue force. The card should pop in easily!
Add the screw to the corresponding hole in the bracket
and tighten down the bracket,
but don’t overtighten it.
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Chapter 6: Adding Video Hardware
Installing Your TV Tuner Card
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Phillips screwdriver
⻬ Parts bowl
⻬ TV tuner card
⻬ Audio patch cable
Decided to add a TV tuner card to your PC? I understand completely,
seeing as how viewing football is an integral part of any computer
user’s task load! (Luckily, you can hide the video window when your significant other approaches.) A TV tuner card will work fine with either a
separate sound card or audio hardware that’s integrated into your PC’s
motherboard, and any monitor should work fine for standard-resolution
analog and digital TV broadcasts.
Note that you will need to have a cable long enough to reach from your
external antenna, cable box, or satellite box to the corresponding input
connector on your TV tuner card.
Time Needed:
If your new TV tuner card supports HD, you’ll probably get the best
possible results from a widescreen monitor.
5 minutes
If your computer chassis is
plugged in, unplug it. As always,
touch a metal surface before you
install your card to discharge any
static electricity.
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PCI slots
Select an open PCI adapter card
slot for your TV tuner card. (For
more information on PCI cards and
PCI bus slots, see Chapter 4.)
Remove the screw and the metal
slot cover adjacent to the selected
slot, and add the screw and slot
cover into your parts bowl.
Line up the connector on the TV tuner card with the slot on the motherboard. The
card’s metal bracket should align with the open space that remains when you removed
the slot cover.
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.
Add the screw from your parts bowl and tighten down the bracket.
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Chapter 6: Adding Video Hardware
Connect the cable from your external antenna, cable box, or satellite
box to the corresponding input
connector on the TV tuner card.
TV tuner card
Line out /
audio output jack
TV tuner card
Connect the patch cable from the
audio output/line out jack on your
TV tuner card to the audio
input/line in jack on your sound
card. (Note that some TV tuner
cards work directly through the
operating system with your sound
card, and may not require an external patch cable.)
Patch cable
Line in jack
Sound card
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Connecting Your Monitor
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Your bare hands
Connecting your monitor to your computer is a simple task. Luckily, the DVI
video port and cable connect only if they’re correctly aligned. The same is
true for a VGA connector, although most PC owners now use the DVI port.
If you’re using a flat-panel display with a VGA cable and you need to connect to a DVI port on your video card, drop by your local electronics store
and pick up a VGA-to-DVI converter, which will adapt the connector to fit
your cable.
⻬ Power cable
⻬ DVI (or VGA) cable
Time Needed:
5 minutes
Standard VGA
monitor connector
Locate the DVI video port on the
back of your case. (If you’re using
the VGA port, look for the 15-pin
port shown in at the top of the card
in the figure.)
Align the connector on the end of the
monitor cable with the video port. Note
that the DVI connector and port are
designed to fit together in only one way!
When the connector is aligned correctly
with the video port, push the connector in
firmly. You should hear a click as the DVI
connector seats. Some connectors still use
screw knobs. If you have one of these,
tighten the connector by turning the
knobs on the connector clockwise.
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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.
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.
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Checking Your Progress
Stuff You
Need to Know
That’s right. You’re finally going to see something on the screen after completing this chapter’s test. You can also visually check to make sure that
your CPU and RAM modules are correctly recognized by your motherboard
at this point.
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ None
Time Needed:
5 minutes
If you unplugged your PC, plug it back in now. Push the power switch on
your monitor and then push the power switch on your case.
To make sure that your computer recognizes all your stuff correctly, turn on
your monitor and any external peripherals (such as your 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.
Check for the following activity to make sure you installed your video
adapter and connected your monitor correctly:
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! 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 set both the contrast and brightness on your monitor to medium.
After a few seconds, you should see your computer displaying motherboard information, including
the type of CPU you installed and the amount of RAM on your motherboard. Watch to make sure that
no error messages are displayed. 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. If your computer locks up, press and hold the Power button until the PC shuts
off; then return to Chapter 4 and double-check your CPU installation.
At this point in the boot process, your computer tries to find a hard drive or floppy drive (if you
installed a floppy drive) and then promptly gets upset when it doesn’t find them. Poor thing. Your
computer will probably beep once or twice and then sulk in frustration. Chapter 4 includes a table of
what these beep codes mean.
No beep? Check your PC’s internal speaker to make sure that it’s properly connected, as described in Chapter 3.
Turn off your computer, pet the case affectionately, and reassure your half-assembled chassis that
you will be adding a hard drive in Chapter 7. If your machine completes this test, you successfully
added your video adapter and monitor to your system, and your RAM and CPU are properly
installed. Good going!
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Chapter 7
Installing Your Hard Drive and
Other Storage Devices
Tasks performed in
this chapter
⻬ Connecting your
controller card
⻬ Installing your
hard drive and
floppy drive
⻬ Configuring your
PC for your new
hard drive and
floppy drive
⻬ 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 a trusty Web browser on another
PC, jump to your favorite online hardware mega-super-colossalmall, 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 can use. In this chapter, I also introduce you to alternative data
storage options such as
Floppy disk drives
External USB hard drives
Removable cartridge hard drives
4GB universal serial bus (USB) Flash drives no bigger than a key chain
You can also store data by writing it to CD or DVD by using laser light — hence the
moniker optical drive — but I cover that in Chapter 9.
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Choosing Betwixt Hard Drive Technologies
If you’ve started looking at 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? 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, virtually all of today’s PCs use only two types of internal hard drive technology: EIDE and SATA. Let the alphabet soup begin — and don’t forget the Glossary if
you need help decoding those acronyms.
Enhanced IDE (EIDE) hard drives
An enhanced IDE (commonly known as EIDE) hard drive is the successor to the
IDE (or integrated drive electronics) throne. 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 and DVD recorders).
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.
A jumper is a tiny metal-and-plastic part that can connect two or more pins to configure a device. On an EIDE hard drive, 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 — if you have
two EIDE drives on the same cable, one drive should be set to master, and the other
drive should be set to slave. 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.
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Cable se
Slave ct
Figure 7-1: The EIDE hard drive is the workhorse of today’s PCs.
Serial ATA hard drives
For most PC owners, an EIDE (PATA) drive is probably the best choice. If you’re willing to spend a few dollars more, though, you can join the ranks of the SATA faithful.
(SATA is shorthand 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 this faster data
transfer rate means that programs load faster and documents get saved faster, too.
Also, the SATA 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. You’ll
never mix up a SATA power cable with a standard EIDE/PATA 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! (For more on master/slave, see
the preceding section.) 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 is
called the primary, and one is called the secondary.)
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SATA drive
EIDE drive
SATA power
Parallel data
interface connector
Serial data
interface connector
Diagnostic jumper
jumper settings
Legacy power
Figure 7-2: Comparing the connectors and cables of an EIDE/PATA drive and a SATA drive.
Comparing EIDE and SATA hard drives
“Okay,” you say, “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 SATA hardware, which makes EIDE more popular with computer
No significant performance difference: Not every computer application
sees a dramatic performance increase from faster SATA hardware. For example, your word processor doesn’t perform any better with a SATA drive than
with an EIDE drive because hard drive access isn’t important while you’re
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More popular with hardware manufacturers: At the time of this writing,
most CD/DVD recorders and internal tape 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!
What do I recommend? I agree that SATA is indeed superior to EIDE hardware, and
it’s slowly but surely replacing EIDE as a standard. You’ll notice that Colossus (my
super machine I build in this book) uses only SATA drives, so you can tell what I’d
On the plus side, you can mix SATA and EIDE hardware in the same computer. If you
find that you need an EIDE device after your computer is up and running with a SATA
drive, you can add it. The majority of motherboards on the market today offer both
onboard EIDE and SATA controllers.
More stuff about hard drives
What specifications does a smart shopper look for in an EIDE drive? Here are a few:
Storage capacity: No big mystery here. The more storage capacity, the
more data you can store on a drive. Modern EIDE drives hold anywhere
from 80GB to 1TB. (TB is short for terabyte. A lot!) Hard drive capacities
are always increasing over time.
On average, most home computers running Windows Vista need at least
60GB 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 recommendation? 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 120GB, which will set you back less than $80. 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 less than 10 ms should be fast enough for all but the most demanding
needs. If you’re a power user, stick with a drive less than 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 7,200 rpm. (My Western Digital Raptor SATA drive
spins at 10,000 rpm, and Windows feels like a Ferrari.)
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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 an additional 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
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 cache.
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.
The Ancient Floppy Still Lives
Despite all the well-known drawbacks to floppies — too fragile, too slow, and their
tiny storage capacity — floppy drives are still found on many PCs because of the universal nature of 31⁄2-inch floppy disks. Because they’ve been around for so long and
because everyone’s so accustomed to them, some computer manufacturers still produce PCs with a floppy drive.
Of course, better forms of removable media have been developed — for example,
the USB flash drive, which I mention later in this chapter. Unfortunately, important
data still resides on 31⁄2-inch floppies around the world. (On unreliable, potentially
unstable floppies. Makes you shudder thinking about it, eh?)
There isn’t much in the way of features to look for when you’re buying a floppy disk
drive. Color is pretty much it, and you can easily buy a black floppy drive to match
that smashing ebony case you bought for your new system.
So, just in case you absolutely have to have one, I show you how to install a floppy
drive later in this chapter. However, if you can possibly avoid using this less-thanadequate and less-than-desirable storage device, do so.
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 built-in 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.
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Here are three other features that you should consider for your motherboard’s builtin controller:
SATA support: Motherboard manufacturers are rapidly adopting the SATA
standard, but you can still 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. 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 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 (from Chapter 2) or a simple office PC really doesn’t need such highspeed disk access.
Hey, You Just Removed Your Media!
In this section, I tell you about an old friend that enables you to take up to 8GB 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 USB Flash drives, which store data without moving parts, batteries, or a power cord. I also highlight the nifty update on the
Iomega Zip drive system, the Iomega REV drive.
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:
File size: If you plan to send or receive files that can’t be efficiently sent
over the Internet (perhaps because the files are just too big), you’d benefit
from a removable media solution.
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 lock it up so that
others have no access to it. Flash drives make taking your important data
with you easy.
Archiving: If you want to store information without filling up your hard
drive, a flash drive can act as a warehouse for archiving data.
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The Flash drive: Small but spacious
Today’s USB flash drives are just downright nifty. (Yep, I actually used the word nifty
seeing as how neat just didn’t cover my excitement.) Prices have dropped on these
drives to a pittance, yet they still beat archaic floppies and Zip drives in a number of
different ways:
Flash drives transfer data much faster than floppies.
Finally (and probably most importantly), USB flash drives are easy to use
and don’t require any techno-wizard knowledge to master!
Flash drives are compatible with both PCs running Windows and Macs running Mac OS X, so they make great drives for transferring stuff with your
buddy in the next dorm room.
The REV has landed
If you want a removable media drive with anywhere from 35 to 120GB of capacity
and a wealth of connection options, you’re asking for the Iomega REV drive. REV cartridge drives are available with USB external connections and with internal EIDE and
SATA drives. Street prices range around $380 for the internal versions (and around
$75 per 120GB cartridge). 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.
And for Colossus, I Pick . . .
Slower hard drives are a major bottleneck for a high-performance PC, so Colossus
deserves to read and write data as fast as possible! I’m opting for two drives because
as a gamer and video editor, I need the elbow room!
As of this writing, my storage solution for Colossus is
Two Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB SATA drives (WD3000GLFS):
10,000 RPM and a 16MB cache add up to super-fast data reads and writes,
and the small form factor means it fits easily into an internal drive bay.
Programs and documents load faster, and Windows runs like the lithe
animal it should!
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Connecting Your Drive Controller
Stuff You
Need to Know
A hard drive is an expensive doorstop unless you connect it to your
motherboard. In this task, I 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.
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ Hard drive cable
⻬ Floppy drive cable
Time Needed:
5 minutes
If your computer chassis is plugged
in, unplug it. 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 carrying.
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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.
Attach the cables that came with your controller or motherboard to these
connectors, as shown in your manual. Make sure that you connect the correct cable to each connector. If you’re going to add a floppy drive, note
that the floppy drive cable usually has a twist in it toward the end that connects to the drive.
Pin 1
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.
Marked edge of
ribbon cable
indicates wire 1
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Installing an EIDE Hard Drive
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Phillips screwdriver
⻬ Parts bowl
The steps in this procedure describe the installation of a single EIDE
hard drive configured as single drive, master unit (which is the default
already set by most hard drive manufacturers). 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.
⻬ Internal hard drive
⻬ Data cable
⻬ Screws
Time Needed:
15 minutes
Single-drive EIDE System
If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it.
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.
Two-drive EIDE System
Single drive
with jumper set
single drive,
First drive
with jumper set
multiple drive,
Second drive
with jumper set
multiple drive,
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. As I mention at the beginning
of this task, this setting is the default factory setting for most
drives although it
never hurts to be sure.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
Connect the ribbon cable coming
from your motherboard’s built-in
controller to the back of the hard
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 just proved that you don’t have to be an electrician to install a hard
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Installing a SATA Hard Drive
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Phillips screwdriver
⻬ Parts bowl
Okay, so installing a SATA drive is even easier than adding an EIDE drive!
No jumpers to set, and both the power and data cables fit only one way.
In fact, the first six steps of this process are exactly the same as the previous procedure, “Installing an EIDE Hard Drive,” so I won’t repeat them here.
Just follow those first six steps and then come back here.
After you attach the drive to the bay, follow these two additional steps:
⻬ Internal hard drive
⻬ Data cable
⻬ Screws
Time Needed:
SATA drive
SATA power
Serial data
interface connector
15 minutes
Connect one of the SATA power
cables from your power supply to
the power connector on the hard
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. When you’re all done, don’t forget
to dance the jumperless SATA Superiority Dance!
Your SATA hard drive might 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. Luckily, most of the PC power supplies on the market now either provide SATA power cables or
include one or two SATA power converters.
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Installing Your 31⁄2-inch Floppy Disk Drive
Stuff You
Need to Know
If you decide to add a floppy drive to your system — perhaps to handle
any antique floppies you receive from your Aunt Mildred — these steps
will lead you through the procedure.
⻬ Phillips screwdriver
⻬ Parts bowl
⻬ Internal floppy drive
⻬ Data cable
⻬ Screws
Time Needed:
15 minutes
If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it.
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 carrying.
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
your 31⁄2-inch drive bay sits 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.
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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.
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.
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Connect the ribbon cable coming
from your motherboard’s 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.
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 possible.
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Configuring Your PC and Hard Drive
Stuff You
Need to Know
In this section, you configure your PC to accept your new hard drive. To get
started with your hard drive setup, make sure that the monitor and keyboard are connected and that your computer is plugged in. (For all the
details on connecting these cables and the ports they fit, see Chapter 5.)
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ Notepad
Time Needed:
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 Delete (or perhaps F1). If you can’t
find the key, don’t panic because all motherboards display the setup key when you turn on the computer. Just
watch closely and be prepared to press the key. If it goes
by too quickly, just power off; then turn it on again and
watch carefully. It might take you a few tries, but you’ll
find the proper key(s) to press.
Push the power switch on your case.
5 minutes
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.
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After you enter the hard drive settings, select the standard settings
screen and set your drive A: as a [email protected]@bf1⁄2-inch 1.44MB floppy
drive. (If you didn’t install a floppy drive earlier, you can leave drive
A: set to None or Off.) On this same screen, set the computer’s internal
clock with the current date and time.
Make sure to save the values you entered, and then exit the setup
screen. 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.
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Formatting Your Hard Drive
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ Windows XP/Vista instal-
lation disc or hard drive
installation disk from the
Time Needed:
5 minutes
At this point, your new computer knows that it has a hard drive (and maybe
a floppy drive) and the specifications of that drive. However, the hard drive
isn’t partitioned or formatted, so when you reboot your PC, it can’t access
the hard drive. 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 drives, designated by letters. You must
create at least one partition to store data on your drive. After you create
one or more partitions, it’s time to format those partitions, which 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 task, your PC will automatically reboot. Then, after
what seems like an agonizing wait, your computer beeps
and informs you that there’s been a hard drive failure.
Panicking is not allowed nor encouraged.
If your hard drive manufacturer provided a formatting utility disk,
insert the disk 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 didn’t receive a formatting utility disk (or you didn’t
install a floppy drive), your hard drive can be automatically
partitioned and formatted by the Windows XP or Windows
Vista Setup programs. After you install your optical drive,
boot your system by using a Windows XP or Vista installation disc and then follow the instructions that appear. The
Windows XP/Vista Setup programs can automatically prepare your hard drive before Windows is installed! (Pretty
snazzy, yes? Hoo-ah, Redmond!)
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Choosing and Installing an
Operating System
Tasks performed in
this chapter
⻬ Installing
Windows Vista
⻬ Installing Ubuntu
o matter what type of computer you build, you can’t enjoy
that hardware without an operating system (OS). An OS controls all your programs, providing the foundation for all the work
you do. As I’m sure you know, Microsoft Windows Vista is the current operating system of choice for PCs around the world, but a significant minority of PC owners have instead opted for the security
and advanced features of Linux.
So how do you determine which operating system is right for you? In
this chapter, I show you the good points and bad points of both Vista
and Linux: Is Vista fast enough? Stable enough? Does Linux support
the applications that you want? Most important, what makes life on
the computer easier for you?
Become Your Own Consultant!
If you’re wondering whether to just not run the OS most everyone else runs, well,
you’re not alone. True, today’s common PC operating system of choice is Windows
Vista, and it does a great job for most of the PCs around the world. But what if your
needs fall outside that box? Or you just plain don’t like it? That’s why you need to
become your own consultant to choose the right operating system for your needs
and druthers. (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 choosing between Vista and Linux:
Cost: Yep, I put this first for a reason. Most flavors of Linux can be obtained
for free although you can buy commercial packages as well (such as Red
Hat Enterprise and Mandriva). Microsoft, on the other hand, doesn’t give
Vista away. (Heck, I wouldn’t either, after all the work done by those folks in
Speed: If you’re looking for the fastest operating system, score one point for
Linux, which allows you to customize your interface shell (the actual controls and special effects you see onscreen).
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No matter what your decision, if speed is all-important to you, make sure
that you install a 64-bit version of the operating system you choose. (Vista
comes in two flavors — 32-bit and 64-bit — but virtually all Linux-based
operating systems are 64-bit.) 64-bit systems can use more memory and
provide faster hard drive access, along with faster data transfer betwixt
your hardware components.
Stability: Maybe stability is a major factor to you. If your applications need
to keep running day after day, solid as a rock, consider Linux. Me, I choose
Linux as a more stable platform than Windows Vista. A PC running Linux is
somewhat less likely to lock up (or, as computer types like to say, crash).
Downside: You generally don’t have tech support to call on with a Linux
installation. And if you love to experiment with new software and features,
don’t forget that any significant change you make to your Linux system
might introduce instability!
Legacy applications: Will your new computer be running older programs,
like games that are a number of years old? Vista is more likely to run these
programs, so it gets the nod here.
Hardware auto-configuration: If you want your operating system to automatically configure new hardware whenever possible, Windows Vista is the
winner. Microsoft spends a whole heck of a lot of time creating drivers (programs written to allow hardware devices to communicate with Windows)
and requiring hardware manufacturers to provide them. (To its credit, Linux
is becoming more hardware-friendly as time goes on.)
Cutting-edge technology: Vista just can’t keep up with the constantly
evolving Linux varieties available today, so if you’re looking for the latest
in features (like multiple-CPU multitasking, which is supported by some
motherboards), I’d choose Linux. (It’s no accident that Linux was the first
generally available 64-bit operating system.)
Software compatibility: If you’re looking for the operating system offering
the most applications and software, Windows Vista is your choice. However,
Linux PCs can run emulators for many Windows-only programs. (An emulator is a program that allows one operating system to run programs written
for another operating system.) However, running software under a Vista
emulator will be slower than running that same program under Vista. Go
Hardware support: As you might expect, most hardware is designed for
Vista, and getting every hardware device you buy to run under Linux will
likely take significantly amount more work.
Security: If your new computer is to be used as a Web server or an FTP
server, the platform to watch is Linux, which includes 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.
Networking: If your new computer needs to run on an office network, give
the nod to Windows Vista, which offers the industry standard, built-in networking capabilities with automatic configuration. Linux PCs can also network although they require more work.
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The Straight Talk on Vista
There’s no doubt about it: Windows Vista is now the top dog at Microsoft. Like
Windows XP before it, Windows Vista is universally supported and runs both 32-bit
and 64-bit software (depending on the version you buy). So what improvements
have been added by the Microsoft crew to Windows Vista over Windows XP? The
major change is in the addition of a new “look-and-feel” (developer-speak for the
appearance of your desktop; see Figure 8-1), along with a new Windows Explorer
design and improved visual special effects. Of course, Vista also includes updated
drivers, including the best support for recent hardware components and devices,
such as your MP3 player and digital camera.
Figure 8-1: The Windows Vista desktop.
If you’re accustomed to Windows XP and are stubborn, you can turn off certain parts
of the new interface in favor of what’s dubbed the Classic look as shown in Figure 8-2.
Even novices find Windows Vista easy to learn. Online help is plentiful and easy to
access — including the capability to retrieve the latest help from the Internet — and
tech support is available online and by voice.
Conveniences abound within Windows Vista. For example, its automatic hardwaredetection feature makes adding a new modem, printer, or scanner to your system
much easier. Just plug in the new device or install it within your computer’s case,
reboot, and Windows Vista will likely recognize the device automatically. Windows
Vista also includes new applications for spyware detection, digital video, image editing, a slew of new games, as well as new versions of Internet Explorer and Windows
Mail. Gamers will find a new version of DirectX — and DirectX 10 is a must-have for
today’s most advanced 3-D games.
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Figure 8-2: You can make Vista look like “Classic” XP.
The downside? Vista demands a huge increase in hardware performance over
Windows XP. All that eye candy needs horsepower to look good! To build a fast Vista
PC, you’ll need the latest (and most expensive) hardware you can afford. (Incoming
warning: If your video card is over a year old, you may find that you can’t use all the
graphic goodness within Vista.) Just like its ancestors, Windows Vista is also a drive
hog: Expect it to gobble up at least 50GB 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?)
Vista comes in four editions: Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate.
Most home PC owners should consider opting for the Home Premium or the
Ultimate version. You can read more online at the Microsoft site to see the difference
between the four, but I’m sure you can guess that each version gets progressively
more pricey.
I think this is a good time to mention my book PCs All-in-One Desk Reference For
Dummies, 4th Edition (Wiley). If you need a complete introduction to Windows Vista,
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 the Microsoft
Office 2007 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!
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
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into graphical operating systems that rival Vista in sheer beauty. Linux has airtight
security features, and it’s a highly efficient operating system that takes advantage of
64-bit processors, CPUs with multiple cores, and even motherboards that support multiple CPUs.
Linux is such a hot topic these days because as a direct competitor of Windows
Vista, 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 Windows and Apple Mac OS X networking protocols.
And Linux is an Internet nut’s dream. Like Vista, it provides built-in support for
TCP/IP (the communications protocol used on the Internet) and Ethernet networking (see Chapter 12 for networking details), so it’s no surprise that many Internet
service providers and small businesses choose Linux to power their Internet
servers. Linux handles FTP, Internet e-mail, and the Web with ease.
With a graphical shell, Linux suddenly blooms into a beautiful butterfly — figuratively, anyway — featuring a design similar to Windows Vista. 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 graphical user interface (GUI) — named X —
is practically as easy to use as Windows Vista. See Figure 8-3.
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. 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
Figure 8-3: The Linux desktop.
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Even with the appearance of mainstream applications, however, I can’t say that
Linux has reached the home market like Vista has. Although new user-friendly commercial versions of Linux (such as Red Hat Enterprise and Mandriva) now ship with
simpler installation programs as well as 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 an 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!”
Linux is definitely not for the computer novice, but if you’ve had experience with networking and server editions of Windows — 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
for most flavors of Linux, the reduced system requirements, the arrival of new GUIs
and commercial programs, performance that beats Vista, and the constant development, and you can see why Linux is giving the Windows Empire stiff competition.
Before You Install Your Operating System
Because operating systems are installed differently, I can’t give you one comprehensive procedure that you should follow before installing Vista or a flavor of Linux.
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’re by some chance using a hard drive that’s
had an operating system installed on it before, back up any data and any
documents that you’d hate to lose.
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 discs, it might affect your installation. Pop
that CD or DVD into a machine that’s already up and running and check for
Keep your driver disks handy. You might need the specific drivers that
came with your parts for your new operating system.
Impose on a friend. If 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. Brownies and steak dinners often
work well as bribes.
Yell for the cavalry. If something goes horribly wrong and you can’t find
anything about it in the installation guide, do not panic! Keep the tech support number for the operating system close at hand (if there is one); it
should be located in the manual or the additional literature that accompanied your operating system.
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Make a spec list. Jot down any serial or license numbers, the type of computer you have, and the parts you’ve installed. That way, if you have to call
for tech support, you’re prepared.
Be patient. 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.
Keeping your computer castle secure
If you need to prevent access to your computer while you get a cup of java or a can of
caffeine-laden soda, use a Windows or Linux
screen saver with the password option
turned on. If you need tighter security, use
an encryption utility.
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.
For example, the APC Biometric Biopod
( is an affordable USB device
that you can use to secure your PC’s passwords. To unlock a user account or deactivate your screen saver, just place your
fingertip on the Biopod metal sensor, and
you’re automatically logged in (just as if you
had manually typed your password). The
Biopod software takes care of all your passwords with a manager utility.
I’ve used the Biopod under Windows XP for
some time now, and I can personally attest
that it’s easy to use, accurate, and easy to
configure. In fact, if you travel with a laptop,
you’ll find the Biopod is effective portable
security to prevent unauthorized access
to your stuff. (Naturally, it won’t prevent
someone from walking off with your laptop,
but that’s why you brought a security
cable.) Because the Biopod is a USB device,
it can easily be moved from computer to
computer as you need it.
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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 could 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 Vista Firewall is on from the moment you
install the operating system (and that includes Vista Service Pack 1). However, this
is bare-bones protection — you can’t easily modify or customize the Windows 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 Internet Security 2008 ($60; is an inexpensive firewall for protecting your machine while you’re online. In fact, I recommend it
for anyone who goes online, even the casual Internet user with a dial-up modem connection. Here’s a quick list of the possible security violations that Norton Internet
Security 2008 can monitor and prevent:
Guarding the cookie jar: Norton alerts you to a site’s use of Web cookies
and enables you to block them. 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: The Norton 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: Norton filters those irritating and bandwidth-hogging banner
ads. Because you don’t download them, you surf the Web faster.
Phishing no more: Norton Internet Security 2008 takes care of phishing
expeditions by hackers posing as bona-fide companies who want you to
enter your personal information on a bogus Web site. Norton identifies and
blocks these scam sites for you.
Norton Personal Firewall runs under both Windows XP and Vista. For more information on this program, visit the Symantec Web site (
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Installing Windows Vista
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ Vista install disc
Time Needed:
30 minutes
Decided to jump on the Vista bandwagon? I’ll be honest: The majority of
my PCs are happily running one flavor of Windows or another, so you’ve
no reason to feel ashamed! Vista certainly offers the most comprehensive support and the best software compatibility available for a PC
operating system — not to mention the familiar landmarks that make
PC owners comfortable, like the Start button.
In this task, I show you how to install the 32-bit Ultimate version of
Windows Vista, using the standard installation DVD. I assume that you
haven’t installed an operating system yet, and that your hard drive is
unformatted. (Before a hard drive can be used, it must be formatted and
partitioned, which prepares the drive for data storage.)
Load the Vista install disc into your DVD drive and reboot your PC. After a
number of files are loaded, the Install Windows screen appears. This is a wizard
application that leads you step by step through the process, so breathe easy.
Click the drop-down list boxes
to select your installation language, time and currency
format, and keyboard type.
Click Next to continue.
Click the Install Now button.
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Type your Vista product key into
the Product Key text box. (You’ll
find this important number on the
DVD envelope, or packaged with
your Windows documentation.)
Then make sure that the
Automatically Activate Windows
When I’m Online check box is
enabled. Click Next to continue.
Ah, the legalese. Read the license terms, and click the I Accept
the License Terms check box to enable it. Then click Next.
Because you’re installing Vista on a
brand-new hard drive, click the
Custom (Advanced) button.
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Click the target hard drive from
the “Where Do You Want to Install
Windows?” list to select it and then
click Next. Vista formats the drive
you select, creates a single data
partition, and assigns the entire
capacity as your Windows Vista
boot drive. A boot drive is the hard
drive where Windows is installed —
Vista loads from this drive each
time you turn on your PC.
If Vista doesn’t recognize your hard
drive, you probably need to load an
updated driver for your motherboard. Load the driver disc that
came with your motherboard into
your DVD drive (or use a copy that
you’ve downloaded to a USB Flash
drive using another PC) and click
Load Driver. After you load the
driver, click Refresh to display the
list of hard drives again. Then go
back to select the target hard drive
in the list, and click Next.
The Install program copies files to your
hard drive and displays a progress list to
let you know how much time remains.
After rebooting, Vista prompts you
for an account username and password. You know the drill: Click in
each text box and type. (You have
to enter your password twice to
verify it.) Click a thumbnail image
to select an account picture, and
then click Next to continue.
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Click in the Type a Computer Name
box and type the name you want
assigned to your PC. This also sets
the name for any networks you
connect to later. Then click a
thumbnail image to select your
background. Click Next to continue.
On the Help Protect Windows Automatically
screen, opt for Use Recommended Settings to
Automatically Install Updates to Vista.
Click the Time Zone drop-down
list box to select your location.
Then click Next.
Click the Home location to select your level of network security.
Click Start to run Windows Vista. Enjoy!
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Chapter 8: Choosing and Installing an Operating System
Installing Ubuntu Linux
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ Ubuntu install disc
Time Needed:
1 hour (including
downloading time
over a broadband
I’ll use my favorite free open-source Linux flavor to demonstrate how
to install Linux on your PC. Ubuntu Linux, available free for the downloading at, is a great choice for a home PC. Ubuntu
comes already configured to handle most audio and visual media, and
the shell will be familiar and easy to learn for anyone who’s experienced
with Windows XP or Vista. You’ll even find a capable Web browser and
several Office-compatible applications to produce spreadsheets and
word processing documents.
Professional support is available for a price, but I’ve found that the
Ubuntu user community is accepting, patient, and knowledgeable (the
Big Three requirements of user community support). You often get
answers to questions posted on the site’s forums within an hour! You
can also download free documentation to help with the more complex
features of Ubuntu.
You can create your own Ubuntu install disc by downloading the ISO CD-ROM image from the Ubuntu
Web site (using another PC, of course) and burning it yourself with a CD/DVD recording application
(like Roxio Creator 2009). Image files hold the contents of a disc as a file, and can be used to re-create
that disc by recording it. This is a good choice if you have a broadband connection available — the
disc image is over 700MB — and a DVD-burning application at the ready. Alternatively, you can order a
free copy to be sent to you on CD. For a nominal charge, you can also order the DVD edition, which
offers a number of support programs along with the installation files.
For this installation, I assume that you haven’t installed an operating system yet and that your hard
drive is unformatted.
Load the Ubuntu install disc into
your DVD drive and reboot your
PC. The Ubuntu Installation screen
appears. This is a wizard, so just
follow the screens.
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Press the down-arrow key to highlight the Install Ubuntu menu item; then press Enter.
Click the area of the world map
closest to your location to set your
time zone and then click Forward.
After the kernel loads, you see the
Ubuntu Install Welcome dialog.
Click Forward to continue.
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Click to choose your keyboard
layout — by default, USA
QWERTY — and click Forward.
Enter the information required for
each field within the Who Are
You? screen and type your administrator account information.
(Note that you have to type your
password twice in the adjoining
text boxes to verify the spelling.)
Click Forward to continue.
The Install program partition
screen appears, allowing you to
choose a Guided or Manual partitioning process. Select the Guided
option to select it and then click
the hard drive you want to use.
(This formats the entire target
drive for use with Ubuntu.) Click
Forward to continue.
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The Ready to Install screen displays the information you entered
and the configuration settings you
chose. If everything looks correct,
click Install. The Install program
displays a progress bar to let you
know how much time remains.
When installation completes, you’re
prompted to reboot your PC. Click
Restart now, and enjoy Ubuntu!
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Adding the Fun Stuff
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In this part . . .
ou add all the fancy bells and whistles that any multimedia computer needs these days, such as a DVD
recorder, a surround sound card that plays MP3 music,
and a 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 spreadsheet!
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Chapter 9
Installing an Optical Drive
Tasks performed in
this chapter
⻬ Installing a DVD
⻬ Testing your work
t’s becoming hard to remember the days of old. I’m speaking of
prehistoric times, before computers had DVD-ROM drives. (As
frightening as it sounds, most young folks don’t remember a computer without one!) You already know that a modern PC requires at
least a DVD-ROM drive for installing software and games, and many
programs are available only on DVD. In fact, 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
recorded yourself! Owners of high-definition (HD) TVs might instead
opt for a Blu-ray drive or recorder, with larger data capacity and the
ability to watch today’s Blu-ray movies.
In this chapter, I explore all the CD, DVD, and Blu-ray hardware that’s available, and I
also 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.
You need a minimum of a DVD-ROM or DVD recorder on your new PC. Without one,
you’ll be up a creek when it comes to installing programs, watching movies, and
storing data for backups or sharing with others.
Discovering the Details about
DVD and Blu-Ray
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 optical 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 optical drive, and this section helps you “decode” all the options while you’re shopping.
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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 (and doesn’t have to be properly handled like an
external drive). (See the upcoming section “Choosing an Internal or an External DVD
Drive” for a comparison of external and internal optical drives.)
A number of computer applications can benefit from a DVD or Blu-ray 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 DVD recorder rather than a simple read-only DVD-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 disc’s jewel box with a list of the
track names, and even remove some of the crackle, pop, and hiss associated with older media.
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? If you use recordable DVDs to archive your data,
you can be assured that those old files will be available for years to come and
can be read on any DVD-ROM drive. Plus, you can run programs and read
data files directly from the disc, so you don’t have to restore anything.
How long does a recorded disc last? Although companies cite many different figures, the average shelf life of a recorded DVD or Blu-ray disc is
usually stated as somewhere around 100 years. (I’m betting it’s much longer,
but only if you take proper care of your discs and store them in a cool
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 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.
Movies, movies, movies: If you love your DV camcorder, you can burn that
digital video onto a DVD and create your own DVD movies. Today’s software
allows you 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, 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!)
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Caring for your discs
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)!
⻬ Heat: Keep those discs cool! The same
hot car seat that claimed your favorite
cassettes (or those videos from the
rental store) could render them unreadable.
⻬ 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
⻬ 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.
⻬ 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.
⻬ 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
All that said, we are but human and might
get gunk on our 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 disccleaning 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.
What You Need to Know about
Optical Recorders
Optical 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 drive. Need
more space? A DVD recorder can pack that golden 4.7GB that I mention earlier onto
a single disc, and most DVD recorders can create movie discs that you can use in
your TV’s DVD player. At the top end of the capacity heap is the 25GB or 50GB
offered by a Blu-ray burner.
A DVD recorder for well under $50 is easy to find, and a spindle of 100 recordable
DVDs will set you back less than $30. Two types of record-once DVDs are available:
DVD-R and DVD+R. As you can guess, these two formats are not compatible, and you
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must buy the right type of disc for the recorder that you choose. (If you 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.)
If you’re interested in the maximum amount of storage from your DVD and Blu-ray
recordable discs, consider buying dual-layer media (also abbreviated DL). If your
recorder supports DVD-DL, you can pack over 9GB of data on a single disc. Blu-ray
dual-layer discs can store up to 50GB each.
In case you’re wondering, when you aren’t using a DVD recorder to create DVDs, it
doubles as a standard DVD-ROM read-only drive, so you need to buy only one drive.
Of course, a DVD drive can also read and burn CDs. A Blu-ray recorder can handle all
three types of discs.
The great disc speed myth
If you’re shopping for an optical 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 DVD or Blu-ray drive 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 single-speed drives. DVD and Blu-ray X
figures work the same way: The higher the X, the faster the transfer rate, based on
the speed of the original single-speed drives.
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 16X DVD-ROM drive. Because
the typical game or application is still likely to recommend a 2X or 4X 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 4X DVD drives. Those manufacturers know the fact behind the myth as
well as you do!)
Don’t get me wrong. High-speed drives are nice in certain situations. For example, a
16X DVD-ROM drive installs one of those huge 8GB productivity applications or 3-D
games to your hard drive much faster than a 4X drive, so a fast 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 optical drive is probably a better choice.
When it comes to burning, however, your speed will vary greatly from the figure
quoted on the box because factors — such as the amount of memory in your PC and
speed at which your hard drive reads data (or even how fragmented your hard drive
is) — can affect the speed at which your recorder can pound ones and zeros into the
surface of a blank disc. Generally, of course, the same rule holds true, and the higher
the recording X number, the better. Just don’t expect that speed all the time.
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Other read-only disc drive features to covet
In actual operation, you can find but a few differences between an expensive, namebrand DVD or Blu-Ray 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 DVD or Blu-Ray drive:
Access time: If you’re not careful, you can easily confuse a drive’s access
time with its transfer rate (measured as the X factor, as I discuss in the section “The great DVD speed myth,” earlier in this chapter). Access time is the
actual time required for your optical drive to locate a specific file on the
disc. Older drives have access times of about 150 milliseconds (ms), and
today’s CD and DVD drives average an access time of around 100 ms for
reading CDs, 150 ms for reading DVDs, and 180 ms for reading Blu-Ray discs.
In Chapter 7, I discuss how access time is important when choosing a hard
drive. Most hard drives have access times of around 5 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: Most disc drives these days 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 DVD or Blu-Ray 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 4MB 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?
If your optical 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). See exactly where it’s located in
Figure 9-1. Stick the end of the paper clip into the manual eject hole and push firmly;
the tray should pop out of the drive.
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What really goes on in my optical drive?
Okay, if you absolutely must know, your
DVD drive uses a laser to read a long series
of tiny pits in the surface of a disc. (Ready
for a totally useless fact? If you unraveled all
the pits in a typical CD-ROM, they would
stretch over three miles!) These pits represent digital data — a string of zeros and
ones — that your computer can recognize as
program data or music. In fact, your computer’s DVD drive is internally similar to a
regular audio CD player.
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 DVD drive picks up the reflected
light, and can therefore 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 appearance.
Manual eject hole
Figure 9-1: If a disc gets stuck, use the emergency eject method.
Doin’ the LightScribe thing
Are you old enough to remember laseretched vinyl record albums? (My favorite
was Styx’s Paradise Theater.) These albums
played normally on your turntable, but carried cool-looking 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 just 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 laseretched label looks awesome and will make
you the envy of all your techno-friends at
your next party.
One downside (you knew there’d be at least
one): A spindle of 50 LightScribe blank
DVD+R discs is more than $50 at the time of
this writing, so they’re several times as
expensive as their less flashy brethren.
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What You Need to Know about
DVD and Blu-ray
Unless you don’t own a TV, you’ve probably already heard about DVD, which is
short for digital video disc. (Some folks 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.) The
current generation of DVDs holds anywhere from 4.7GB to 9.4GB.
Although DVD drives work the same as those antique 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 9-2.
1.6 m
0.74 m
0.83 m
0.4 m
Figure 9-2: DVD technology packs more of your data into the same space than a CD-ROM does.
“Why on earth do I need that kind of space?” you might ask. Three reasons: quality,
storage capability, and durability.
You can think and thank Hollywood. Today’s digital video takes up gigabytes of space.
A typical Hollywood movie fits nicely on a single DVD (unless it’s high-definition
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The war is over now
So you’re wondering what happened to
HD-DVD? That was the high-definition/
high-capacity optical format that directly
competed with Blu-ray. Like the War to End
All Wars — namely, Betamax versus VHS —
both formats were similar, but one eventually had to win out. Whether the advantage
was in marketing or distribution, Blu-ray
emerged from the fracas as the winner, and
those folks with dedicated HD-DVD-only
hardware will have to invest in a Blu-ray
stand-alone player (and a Blu-ray PC drive)
to keep up with Progress.
Luckily, a number of “dual-format” set-top
players and PC drives are on the market, so
HD-DVD proponents won’t need to trash all
those expensive discs!
Speaking of high-definition video, the capacity required for today’s best quality outstrips even the DVD. The Blu-ray drive to the rescue, which can read 25GB from a
single-layer disc (and up to a humongous 50GB on a single dual-density Blu-ray disc).
Although Blu-ray drives are still rare on all but the most expensive multimedia PCs,
expect this new optical standard to drop in price like a boat anchor. That capacity is
also attractive to folks who want to use a Blu-ray recorder for backing up their PCs,
or for storing huge amounts of archival digital video. (Oh. yes, I have many friends
who have more than 50GB of digital video they’d like to keep.)
As for durability, a DVD or Blu-ray disc is impervious to just about anything but very
deep scratches and heat — no worries about magnetic fields or degraded quality
with repeated viewings (which the VHS crowd remembers very well indeed). With
proper care, your discs can last a century or more!
Naturally, you can play both CDs and DVDs in a Blu-ray drive. Compatibility is, once
again, A Good Thing.
Choosing an Internal or
an External DVD Drive
You might be wondering whether your DVD drive should reside inside your PC or
you want it to be removable and easy to transport. Good thing all you need to consider is covered in this section!
Internal drives
An internal read-only DVD recorder drive (which also reads and writes CDs, naturally) should set you back about $30. Just like with hard drives, you can choose from
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two standard connection interfaces for your new internal drive. (Of course, the
faster the speed, the higher the price.)
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 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 DVD drive as well. These
drives are significantly faster and typically easier to install. (Serial ATA is
covered like a blanket in Chapter 7.)
Which is better? EIDE drives are cheaper, but SATA drives are somewhat easier to
configure. At the time of this writing, it’s a toss-up, so I generally recommend that
you use the interface you’re already using for your hard drives.
Your new drive will typically be mounted horizontally, but some space-saving, minitower cases allow you to mount your optical drive vertically. This works just fine,
but make sure you hold the disc in place while closing the drive door!
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 external DVD recorder runs about $50 to $75. You have two interface choices
for connecting an external optical drive:
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, like
with the other USB hardware that I discuss throughout this book, you don’t
have to reboot your PC when you add or remove an external USB DVD
drive. Make sure, though, that you buy only USB 2.0 hardware, and make
sure that your new PC has USB 2.0 ports available.
FireWire: 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.) 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, and a
detailed discussion of port adapter cards as well.)
As I mention earlier in this chapter, DVD drives that use the EIDE or SATA 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 disc drives can be convenient for file transfer and portability if you also
have a laptop computer that has a USB or FireWire port but no internal DVD drive.
You can connect an 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.
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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.
You’ll also have to handle your external drive carefully while moving it from place
to place: No bumps or drops, please! (Remember that the optics inside an external
drive can be jarred out of alignment.)
If you need to share an external DVD drive among more than one PC and they all
have USB 2.0 ports, you’re in luck! A portable USB DVD drive is the perfect fit for
your needs.
And for Colossus, I Pick. . .
Although Blu-ray recorders are dropping in price — as of this writing, they’re hovering around $250 — they’re still far more expensive than a typical DVD dual-layer
recorder. I don’t have any Blu-ray movies to watch, and I don’t need 50GB of storage
on a single disc at this moment, so Colossus will just have to do with a dual-layer
DVD recorder. (I do have a nice-sized collection of DVD movies.)
My optical drive pick For Colossus is:
LG 22X Dual-Layer DVD Burner (Model GH22LS30): Including LightScribe
support and using a SATA connection, the LG has a 2MB cache and can
handle any DVD format you throw at it, including the “antique” DVD-RAM
format. And for a paltry $25 bucks? ’Nuff said.
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Installing an EIDE Optical Drive
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Phillips screwdriver
⻬ Parts bowl
⻬ Internal EIDE optical
If you already installed an EIDE (PATA) hard drive in your system, as I
demonstrate in Chapter 7, you might need to unplug some connections.
Your EIDE 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.
Note that for the most part, installing a SATA drive is exactly the same
as installing an EIDE.
⻬ Screws
Time Needed:
15 minutes
If your computer uses a single EIDE hard drive configured as single
drive, master unit (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. I show you how during the
If your computer chassis is
plugged in, unplug it. 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 carrying.
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Cable se
Slave ct
Check the jumper settings on your
CD/DVD drive to make sure that it’s
set for multiple drive, slave unit.
Select an open drive bay for your optical
drive. A DVD drive requires a 51⁄4-inch, halfheight bay. (External USB and FireWire
drives have their own case and don’t need
an internal drive bay. In fact, you don’t
need to follow this procedure at all if
you’re installing an external drive — these
external drives are simple plug-and-play
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.
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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.
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.
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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 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.
(If your ribbon cable didn’t come
with two connectors, it’s okay to
grumble to yourself. I do it all the
time. You’ll have to make a trip to
your local Maze-o’-Wires electronics store and buy an EIDE cable that
does have two connectors.)
Multiple drive, slave unit is the default factory setting for most EIDE optical drives although it never hurts to be
sure. If the jumpers aren’t set correctly, move them to the correct position. (Your drive’s manual shows where the
jumpers are located on your drive and how to set them.)
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Testing Everything
Stuff You
Need to Know
Because Windows XP and Windows Vista recognize standard optical
drives without requiring you to load additional drivers, you can jump
right to testing your installation.
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ None
Time Needed:
15 minutes
After you install your drive and reboot Windows, load a computer
game or application disc into your new drive and double-click the
My Computer icon on your desktop (or on the Start menu).
Double-click the icon for your new drive to display the directory of
the disc. If the disc that you loaded runs automatically, you won’t
even have to lift a finger because the program’s installation menu
will appear all by itself!
If something seems amiss, check these things:
⻬ Got power? If your drive doesn’t seem to be working, make
sure that it’s receiving power: Is the drive’s power indicator
lit, and does the tray eject when you push the button on the
front of the drive? If not, shut down your PC and check the
power connection to the drive to make sure that the power
cable is securely attached.
⻬ Got power but it’s still a no-go? 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.
Your new optical drive has a separate drive letter, just like your hard drive. If you installed a single hard drive, for
example, your computer will probably assign drive D: to your new recorder/player.
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Tasks performed in
this chapter
⻬ Installing your sound
⻬ Testing your work
omputers have evolved from room-filling silent machines to
digital media warehouses. You can produce the same quality
audio from games and DVD movies played on your PC as you can
with the far more expensive digital audio components from a home
theater system.
In this chapter, I walk you through the process of adding real, honestto-goodness, high-quality surround sound to your PC so you can
make your games and your digital music collection 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!
Sorting Out Sound Card Basics
As you might 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 store. 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.
You’ll find two common types of PC audio hardware available today: the PCI bus
sound card and the integrated sound card (which is built-in to your motherboard).
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 easily surpass
the clarity and low noise level that you enjoy with audio CDs. Naturally, the sound
card that you select for your PC will include jacks for speakers or headphones, as
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well as a microphone. However, it 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 highest-quality
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-of-the-line these days and is offered by
companies such as Creative Labs ( and its Sound Blaster
X-Fi Elite Pro card. But never fear; it’s still pumped out by a 32-bit PCI card. (That 32bit means that it uses a 32-bit bus slot on your motherboard to communicate with
other PC components.)
Integrated audio
Virtually all 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 might even get some bells
and whistles, such as 3-D spatial sound and Dolby DTS playback (buzzwords that I
explain later in this chapter) or even a separate remote control for your software
MP3 player.
Naturally, your motherboard’s integrated audio hardware is not upgradeable. (Go
figure.) However, your motherboard should allow you to disable the built-in audio
hardware if you want to upgrade with the latest features on a PCI-bus sound adapter
Don’t forget the software part!
Make sure that the audio hardware you choose is well supported with software and
drivers written for the operating system you’re using. Believe me, there’s nothing
more frustrating than discovering that your expensive sound card you just bought
doesn’t support the 64-bit versions of Windows XP or Vista.
If you’re buying a new sound card or motherboard, it should include the drivers
that you need and also a number of nifty software toys. These programs usually
include an onscreen “stereo deck” that lets you play audio CDs, digital sound files in
Windows WAV format, or MP3 files. You might also get a software-based DVD player,
or a voice-recognition program that lets your computer talk to you and “read” text
files aloud.
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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:
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.
⻬ WAV: The WAV format is the Microsoft
⻬ MP3: MP3 format music files are now the
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 XP
and Vista 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 (
standard for digital music. Depending on
their file size, MP3 files can even be far
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.
⻬ 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 sound-editing
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.
⻬ AIFF:The AIFF format is a popular sound
standard for Macintosh computers. Most
sound-editing programs can import AIFF
⻬ 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).
⻬ AAC: AAC was developed by Apple for
use on the iTunes Store, so all the songs
you purchase and download from the
iTunes 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, though,
most other MP3 players don’t.
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Why do I need 3-D for my ears?
Another feature offered by many sound cards these days — get ready for a real
mouthful here — is 3-D spatial imaging. This type of sound has several applications:
Playing audio CDs
Playing digital audio files
Playing sound effects within games
Sound cards with 3-D spatial imaging provide an auditorium or a 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 or motherboard 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.
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 THX and Dolby DTS (which deliver 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 Sound 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, read Chapter 9.)
You need five, six, or even seven speakers and a game, a movie, or an 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.
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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 CDquality sound files through your computer’s sound system, or you can even record
them directly to an audio CD if you have a DVD recorder. (For more information on
CD recording, make a note to visit Chapter 9 when you’re finished here.) MP3 files
are all the rage on the Internet, and hundreds of different models of personal MP3
players are on the market. Heck, you can even invest in an MP3 car audio deck!
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 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).
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 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. (Note that
you can also record from inputs other than your microphone or sound card
line-in jack. For example, you can record music in the electronic MIDI
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
10, from Nuance Communications ( You can even control some computer games these days with spoken commands.
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 keyboard.
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. 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).
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Internet telephone: No doubt about it, Voice-over-IP (VoIP) 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. 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). Your voice modem can also act as a speakerphone and telephone answering service — more on this in Chapter 11.
Note: The person on the other end of the conversation must also have a
computer, an Internet connection, and a copy of the same VoIP program
that you’re using. Some of these programs are so sophisticated that they
have call screening and Internet telephone answering machines, too.
The three basic types of computer microphones are the clip-on/stick-on model, the
fancier boom microphone, and the headset microphone:
Clip-on microphones: Designed to clip onto your lapel or collar, this type
of mike see Figure 10-1) is usually better for capturing your voice (unless,
of course, a person is fidgeting or moving, in which case a boom mike is
Boom mikes: This kind of mike (see Figure 10-2) sits on your desk or on top
of your computer case. Boom mikes tend to pick up a little more ambient
sound from around your computer.
Headset microphones: This is kind of mike telephone operators use. They
free both hands while you talk, and they’re the microphone of choice when
using a voice command or voice dictation system. A headset microphone
usually comes with stereo headphones. (Gamers love ’em.)
If 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.
Figure 10-1: Use a lapel mike for close voice pickup.
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Figure 10-2: Use a desktop boom mike to pick up ambient sound.
Speaking of Speakers
No matter what kind of audio hardware 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 CD 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 (which I mention in Chapter 3) which is
really only useful for simple beeps, but comes in handy when diagnosing problems
when turning on your computer. In fact, your monitor might even have built-in
speakers although they’re not likely to produce top-quality sound.
On the other end of the spectrum, many 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.
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Speakers are connected to your system in one of three ways; compare the plugs in
Figure 10-3:
Traditional analog line-out jack and plug: Every sound card or integrated
audio hardware has a line-out or speaker jack. In fact, your speakers connect to your PC exactly like the headphones on your personal CD or MP3
Digital jack and plug: Today’s sophisticated stereo systems and high-end
amplified speaker systems can accept a digital signal through an optical
S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interconnect Format) output jack. You’ll pay
top-dollar for hardware that uses this jack.
Universal serial bus (USB) connector: If you’ve invested in a set of digital
speakers, you can usually use one of your USB ports. These speakers often
don’t require an AC adapter because they draw electricity directly through
the USB port.
Analog audio
Figure 10-3: Analog, digital, and USB speaker plugs.
Unless you have a definite reason why you prefer using headphones, I strongly recommend using a set of speakers especially designed to be used with a computer.
Computer speakers come in all shapes and sizes — as I mentioned earlier, some are
even integrated into your computer monitor. 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. Hint: If your speaker set comes with its
own AC wall adapter or a USB connection that provides power, you don’t
need batteries.
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
using 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.
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Flat-panel design: Some people feel that flat-panel speakers are a little
funny looking — they’re not much thicker than a CD case — but technotypes 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 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
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 drive.)
And for Colossus, I Pick . . .
Audio quality is important to me. I’m a music lover with over 100GB of digital music,
and I’m a hard-core gamer on top of that. Therefore, Colossus will need better-thanaverage audio hardware, and I’ll disable my motherboard’s integrated sound card in
favor of a PCI sound card.
As of this writing, here’s what goes into the hardest-working PC in show business:
Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer PCI sound card from Creative Labs:
Offering both 7.1 Surround Sound and Dolby DTS decoding, this card
includes the latest 3-D positional audio standard (EAX 5.0). You also get a
nifty remixer that can create a “pseudo-surround” effect for gaming, even
using headphones! Audio quality is excellent, with 24-bit clarity.
X-540 5.1 PC speaker system from Logitech: This sweet 5.1 surround
speaker system includes a center channel speaker that clips to your flatpanel monitor! (Talk about audio in your face!) The subwoofer offers 25
watts of power, providing all the thump you’re likely to need.
USB gaming headset from Logitech: This model works equally well as a
mike for podcasting and a hands-free gaming system. I appreciate the noisecanceling feature offered by this svelte, silver model.
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Installing Your Sound Card
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Phillips screwdriver
⻬ Parts bowl
So you bought a jiffy sound card, speaker system, and microphone for your
PC, and all your audio accoutrements are unpacked and ready. You’re set to
sit back and enjoy anything from Mozart to Metallica!
Of course, if you’ll be using your motherboard’s integrated audio hardware,
you won’t need to install a separate card. Just head directly to the next section, “Connecting Your Speakers.” I’ll join you there shortly.
Keep your sound card’s manual handy because you might have to perform
a little jumper surgery during the testing phase.
⻬ Sound card
Time Needed:
5 minutes
If your computer chassis is plugged
in, unplug it. 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.
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PCI slots
Select an open PCI adapter card
slot for your sound card. (For more
information on PCI cards and PCI
bus slots, see Chapter 3.)
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).
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.
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Line up the connector on the sound
card with the slot on the motherboard. The card’s metal bracket
should align with the open space
that remains when you removed
the slot cover.
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.
Add the screw (from your parts bowl)
and tighten down the bracket.
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Connecting Your Speakers
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ External speakers
⻬ Cables
⻬ Batteries or AC power
Before you can test the operation of your audio hardware, you need to
connect your speakers. For these steps, I use a standard analog connection from a set of external speakers to the audio hardware’s speaker
jack. (If your PC uses a digital connection, the steps are essentially the
same — just a different port.)
If you’re connecting speakers using a USB port, things are even simpler:
You can skip Steps 1 and 2 in this section! Just locate an open USB port
on your PC and connect the cable. (It goes in only one way, which is
how everything in life should work.) With the USB cable connected,
jump to Step 3.
supply (if necessary)
Time Needed:
5 minutes
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 or motherboard manual. (Most motherboards
and sound cards use a rather attractive lime-green color-coding to indicate the speaker jack.) The figure
here illustrates the analog audio
jacks on a typical sound card.
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Insert the audio cable plug from your speakers into the sound
card’s speaker jack. And 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. If your speakers use a USB connection, they might not require
batteries or a separate AC adapter.
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. You can always tweak the
volume later. And if your speakers are amplified,
turn them on.
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Testing Your Sound System
Stuff You
Need to Know
It’s time to install the software required by your sound card. Afterward,
you’ll test it to see whether your audio hardware and speakers are
working properly.
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ Sound card installation
Time Needed:
10 minutes
If you unplugged your computer,
plug it back in now. Connect the
monitor, mouse, and keyboard (if
you haven’t already done so); then
push the power switch on your
Push the power switch on your case and allow your computer to
boot. The familiar face of Windows XP or Vista should eventually
appear on your screen.
Run the sound card installation software. Insert the
installation software into your DVD drive and follow
the instructions onscreen or in your sound card/
motherboard manual to install the applications and
driver. The installation program will probably make
changes to your system files.
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After the software is installed,
reboot your computer (if necessary).
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. (And don’t forget to
click the volume control in the Windows notification area at
the right side of the taskbar — just to make sure that you
haven’t muted your PC’s audio by mistake.)
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Adding a Microphone
Stuff You
Need to Know
As I mention earlier in the chapter, many types of microphones are
available for your PC. Follow these steps to add a microphone only
after you test your installation and know that your sound card is
working properly.
⻬ Your bare hands
If you’re connecting a headset microphone via a USB port, you can skip
Steps 1 and 2 in this section! Just locate an open USB port on your PC
and connect the cable. With the USB cable connected, jump to Step 3.
⻬ Any PC-compatible
Time Needed:
5 minutes
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.
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Insert the audio cable plug from
your microphone into the sound
card’s microphone jack.
If your microphone has an on/off
switch, turn it on.
Adjust (or affix) your microphone.
• If you’re using a clip-on microphone, attach it
to your shirt.
• If your microphone is meant to be mounted
on your PC, 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
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.
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Modems and the
Call of Broadband
Tasks performed in
this chapter
⻬ Installing your
internal modem
⻬ Installing your exter-
nal modem
⻬ Sharing the Internet
through software
⻬ Adding a hardware
Internet sharing
ime to join the online crowd? If so, I recommend using a
broadband connection — typically, a cable or digital subscriber line (DSL) link to the Internet — even if you think you don’t
need a high-speed Internet connection. Even if a dial-up connection
is available to you — and maybe even a little less expensive — you
should really consider going broadband for a host of reasons. Even
if all you do on the Internet is occasionally visit a Web site, read
your e-mail, or use instant messaging, you’ll still find broadband
essential because you’ll experience “the Web without the Wait.”
And if you’re going to spend two or three hours nightly on the ’Net,
I strongly recommend that you invest the money in a high-speed
connection — if it’s available in your area, that is.
Broadband 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 10 Mbps or
faster. Think about smooth, real-time videoconferencing, high-resolution graphics
over the Web, and the ability to enjoy today’s latest online games with thousands of
other players? 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, isn’t available everywhere yet. So what can you use to connect if you’re outside your local cable or DSL
broadband service area?
In this chapter, I cover all the advantages and disadvantages of broadband, the latter
including expensive hardware and higher subscription rates compared with a dial-up
connection. To boot, the rate that your telephone or cable company charges for
access might be outrageous.
If you think you can’t get high-speed Internet access, stay right here! In this chapter,
I show you how to select a modem (yup, you gotta have one) with the features that
you need. Then I show you 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 machine!
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Figuring Out Whether You Need Broadband
Before you go any further in this chapter, decide whether you even need a broadband connection to the Internet for your new-built computer. For example, there’s no
reason to even consider the expenses involved in cable or DSL if all you plan to 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 per 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 daily of Internet access. If your primary activities on the Internet
are Web surfing or file transfers via File Transfer Protocol (FTP), a broadband connection will be great for you. If you use the Internet for only an
hour per day — or if your primary Internet applications are e-mail, newsgroups, or instant messaging, broadband is still the best choice. However,
such limited use may make it easier to endure a slow 56 Kbps analog
modem. (It depends on your level of patience. And whether or not you can
live with the repeated disconnects that occur with an analog connection.)
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.) DSL is also a good idea for those who don’t have a local cable provider.
Conferencing wizard: A broadband connection is practically a requirement
for high-quality videoconferencing, such as over a local area network (LAN)
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 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.
Online gamer: Whether your game of choice is World of Warcraft or
Warhammer Online, you need a broadband connection. These programs
transfer such a huge amount of game data back and forth between the
developer’s server and your PC that gameplay suffers if you use a dial-up
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 11-1.)
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Figure 11-1: A slow, tired analog signal.
Nope. Modem manufacturers 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 outline 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.
On the other hand, Figure 11-2 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 dialing-up tones again.
Figure 11-2: A spunky digital signal, full of vim and vigor.
“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 has turned 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 provider.)
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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. (If you elect to pay extra for
business-class cable Internet service, you can even run a 24-hour Web
server and FTP site for your home business.)
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
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 — as shown in Figure 11-3 — 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.
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
obtaining DSL service in your mountain cabin might be nigh impossible.
Satellite Internet connections: Satellite Internet connections are 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.
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Do you want a WAN?
If you’ve installed an Ethernet network (see
Chapter 12), 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 a
virtual private network (VPN). Suddenly
your home network can become a part of
your office network, enabling you to 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 I recommend
seeking professional help when tying your
home network to an outside network.
Figure 11-3: A typical DSL splitter.
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 carrier.
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.
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The important thing to remember is that you need full support from your telephone
or cable company before you begin your broadband quest. Although some carriers
provide “do-it-yourself” broadband installation kits for PC owners, most folks would
still agree that installing a cable or DSL modem is not a fun project that you can do
yourself. These connections are usually installed professionally. Therefore, I won’t
go into the installation 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 dialup
Internet connection because DSL and cable Internet subscribers are effectively connecting through a local area network (LAN). They don’t dial to connect to an 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).
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
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, whether
they support 56K modem connections, and
what the ISP charges for broadband installation and monthly access.
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A Modem Primer for Real People
I could give you the lengthy techno-nerd description of a modem. Or, for those folks
with things to do, here’s a simple explanation favored by those who’d rather do
something else with the next 30 minutes of their lives. The word modem is short for
modulate-demodulate, which are the terms usually used for the digital-to-analog and
analog-to-digital conversion processes. A modem is a device that translates (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 (demodulates) the incoming signal from analog back to
digital, which the receiving computer can then use. Figure 11-4 gives you an idea of
what’s happening.
Digital signal
from computer
Analog signal
over telephone line
Modem converts
to analog
Digital signal
to computer
Modem converts
to digital
Figure 11-4: Two modems strut their stuff, transferring data over a telephone line.
The whole speed thing explained
Here’s the scoop: The fastest possible telephone modem available today can theoretically reach speeds of 56 Kbps. (That is 56,000 bits per second — keep this number in
your mind when you read about broadband earlier in this chapter.)
However, let’s be honest. 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. 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, grass skirt or not.)
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 because of the conversion process between digital and analog that the
modem must perform and the less-than-perfect conditions provided by an analog
telephone line.
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This speed limit doesn’t apply to DSL or cable Internet, though, 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’re a speed racer, aren’t afraid to spend money, and want all the facts on a really
fast connection, zip directly to “Figuring Out Whether You Need Broadband,” earlier
in this chapter.
If you do stick with dialup and you don’t have a locally accessible Internet service
provider (ISP) — meaning that you have to dial long distance to connect — bear in
mind that a long-distance call to your ISP is still that: a long-distance toll call! If you
do have to use a dial-up connection, make sure the access number is local to your
Will That Be a Card or a Case?
You can uncover plenty of pros and cons for choosing an internal or an external
modem, so determining which type is right for you is generally easy. Here’s a list
of the clouds and their accompanying silver linings:
Cost: Internal modems don’t need their own case and separate power
supply, so they’re generally 20 to 30 percent less expensive than their
external brethren.
Status lights: As you can see by the example shown in Figure 11-5, external
modems have lights that let you monitor how your connection 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 — which live
inside your computer’s case — have no lights, so it’s hard to tell exactly
what they’re doing.
Less clutter: If you have limited desk space, an internal modem means one
less box cluttering up your computer desk.
Overcrowding: If you already filled all the slots in your computer with various goodies, such as a separate TV adapter and a FireWire card, you won’t
have room for an internal modem. This is another reason why many technoids have external modems.
Ease of installation: A USB modem is about as easy to install as your keyboard or mouse! On the other hand, installing an internal modem is just a
bit more complex.
If you’re installing an external modem, embrace your USB port!™
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Time to face the fax
All new modems sold today have built-in
fax support. In fact, even if you decide to
use a broadband connection to the Internet,
you might find that you still need a dialup
modem to use as your dedicated fax hardware.
expensive fax machine. With a fax/modem,
you can even send programs and data files
to other computers with fax/modems.
Remember, though, that the source document must be stored (or scanned) on your
computer, and you must leave your PC on
to receive faxes.
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
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 with
a dedicated installation 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.”
Figure 11-5: A typical external modem, complete with light show.
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/modem.
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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 10.)
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.)
Why Share Your Internet Connection?
“Don’t I need a separate Internet connection for each PC on my network?” Actually,
you just answered your own question: The network you installed (Chapter 12’s the
spot for all things networky) allows for all sorts of data communications between
PCs, including the ability to plug in to a shared connection.
I should note here that it is indeed technically possible to share a dialup Internet
connection by using the software connection-sharing feature in Windows Vista.
However, I don’t think that you’ll be satisfied with the results. (Sorry — it just
doesn’t provide enough horsepower to adequately handle more than one computer.)
Therefore, I assume for the rest of this chapter that you’re already using a digital
subscriber line (DSL), a cable modem Internet connection, or a satellite connection.
Here’s a list of benefits that help explain why Internet connection sharing — whether
through a program or a dedicated hardware device — is so doggone popular these
It’s cheap. As long as your ISP allows you to share your broadband connection, you save a bundle over the cost of adding completely separate connections for multiple machines in your home or office. (Naturally, this is the
major benefit.)
It’s convenient. With a shared Internet connection, other PCs on your network are easy to configure, and each one is as content as a sleeping cat.
Each PC on your network operates just as though it were directly connected
to the Internet, and the computers on the network can all do their own thing
on the Internet simultaneously.
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It offers centralized security. With a firewall in place — either running on
the PC (if you’re sharing through software) or on the device itself (if you’re
sharing through hardware) — you can protect the Internet activity on all the
PCs on your network at one time.
It’s efficient. Most folks I know are surprised that a shared Internet connection is so fast — even when multiple computers on the network are charging
down the information superhighway at the same time.
A connection shared through a dedicated hardware device, however, is
always faster than a connection shared through software.
Speaking of convenience and efficiency, I should also mention that many hardwaresharing devices also double as Ethernet switches. They allow you to build your
entire home or office network around one central piece of hardware rather than use
a separate switch and a PC running a software-sharing program.
Sharing through Hardware
As I mention earlier, I think that a hardware-sharing device is somewhat preferable
to sharing a connection through software. For example, with a software solution
At least one PC on your network must always remain turned on if anyone
wants to use the Internet.
You notice a significant slowdown on the sharing PC when several other PCs
are using the Internet.
You still need a switch or wireless base station.
With a hardware device, all the PCs on your network can concentrate on their own
work, eliminating the need to leave a PC running constantly as an “Internet server.”
(After all, a PC that’s capable of running Windows Vista at a decent clip is an expensive
resource compared with an investment of $50–$125 on a hardware-sharing device.)
In this section, I familiarize you with the two different types of hardware-sharing
Wired sharing devices
For PC owners who either already have a traditional wired Ethernet network — or
who are considering building one — a sharing device (like the wired router in Figure
11-6) is the perfect solution to Internet connection sharing. Today’s hardware-sharing
devices provide Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, or DHCP. DHCP allows your
hardware-sharing device to automatically configure IP addresses, providing unique
network addresses for each computer you’ve connected to the network. (If all that
sounds like gibberish, by the way, you’ll find more about Ethernet networks in
Chapter 12.)
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Figure 11-6: An Internet router.
For an idea of why hardware sharing is so popular, look at what you can buy — in
one small, tidy box — online for a mere $50:
A built-in, four-port Ethernet 10/100 switch: You can plug four PCs, to start
with, directly into the router for an instant Ethernet network at either 10
Mbps or 100 Mbps speeds.
A direct-connect port for your DSL or cable modem: The port can also
be used as a WAN connection to hook the device to an existing external
A DHCP server: Such a server provides near-automatic network configuration for the PCs hooked into the device.
The hardware and software controls you need to block certain Internet
traffic (both coming in and going out): You can also lock out individual PCs
from Internet access.
An easy-to-use, Web-based configuration screen: You can configure it on
any PC connected to the router.
Pretty neat, eh? Remember that this device is used in tandem with your existing
cable or DSL modem, which is typically included by your ISP as part of your Internet
subscription (even though you might be paying more because you’re renting the
I should also note that you can get a similar device with all these features and a built-in
DSL or cable modem. Because you aren’t charged a monthly rental fee for a modem,
you can thumb your nose at your ISP and save money in the long run. (Please avoid
mentioning my name when you gleefully return your modem to your ISP.)
Wireless sharing devices
Most folks think that sharing an Internet connection over a wireless network must
be harder to set up than a traditional wired network — and that it’s likely to be a
tremendous security risk. I’m happy to tell you that both preconceptions are wrong.
Wireless connection sharing with a hardware device is as simple to set up as the
wired device that I discuss in the preceding section.
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We’re talking a truly versatile all-in-one Internet sharing device. It’s got the antenna
that marks it as a wireless switch and it also sports four 10/100 Ethernet ports on
the back for your old-fashioned wired network. Yep, you guessed it, this is just plain
neat: It can accommodate multiple 802.11n wireless connections and four wired connections, all at the same time!
As you might expect, the cost on this puppy (about $125 online) is much higher than
the wired-only device (see the preceding section). Another factor is the speed of the
wireless connection; 802.11g devices are rapidly disappearing from the market, so
costs are dropping fast on 802.11n hardware. (And yes, if you opt for a wireless-only
network, you can find a cheaper wireless sharing device that doesn’t include any of
those silly “antique” wired ports.) Wireless adapter cards (including the USB variety)
are much more expensive than standard wired adapter cards, too.
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Installing an Internal Modem
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Phillips screwdriver
⻬ Parts bowl
Installing an internal modem used to be compared favorably with wrestling
an enraged tiger with your bare hands. Often, this observation had more to
do with trying to shoehorn an internal modem into an existing computer,
where several devices are already fighting over resources. Windows XP and
Vista make the installation generally smooth, though.
Follow these instructions in order to install an internal modem, and you
should come out unscathed on the other side.
⻬ Modem adapter card
⻬ Screws
Time Needed:
15 minutes
If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it. And 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.
PCI slots
Select an open PCI adapter card
slot for your modem.
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Remove the screw and the metal
slot cover adjacent to the selected
slot. Don’t forget to stick both these
parts in your spare parts bowl.
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.
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. Add the screw and
tighten down the bracket.
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 still call out 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).
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Installing an External USB Modem
Stuff You
Need to Know
Bully for you! You decided to use an external modem, and by using a USB
modem, you made the right connection choice as well! You’ll be able to
install this modem with no tools, so feel free to tie one hand behind your
back (if you’re in a daring mood).
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ External modem
⻬ Cables
Time Needed:
Locate one of your computer’s USB ports. If necessary, connect the USB cable to your modem. Some
modems have USB cables that are permanently
5 minutes
Connect the power cord from your modem to the wall
socket. Some USB modems are powered by the USB port
itself, so you might not even need a separate power cord.
Plug the telephone line from the wall into
the proper jack on the back of the external
modem. Some external modems have two
jacks, which means that you can also plug
in a standard telephone and still 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).
Line jack
USB port
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Turn on your external modem.
Align the connector on the end of the modem’s USB cable
with the USB port. The USB connector goes in only one way.
After the connector is correctly aligned, push it in firmly.
Windows automatically recognizes that you added a USB
modem, and you’ll probably be prompted to load the
installation disc 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. That’s convenient — and it’s one of the reasons
why USB devices are so doggone popular these days!
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Part III: Adding the Fun Stuff
Sharing an Internet Connection
through Software
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Your bare hands
If you decide to use the built-in Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) feature
of Windows Vista, first double-check to ensure that you use a working
Ethernet network — emphasis on “working.” Don’t try to share your connection if your network isn’t already running like a well-oiled machine. You
need a working broadband Internet connection to one of the PCs on your
network and an installed copy of Windows Vista on the PC that’s connected
to the Internet. (See Chapter 8 for more on installing Windows Vista.)
⻬ Existing broadband
Internet connection
⻬ Existing Ethernet
Standard 10/100 hub or switch
Time Needed:
5 minutes
DSL or cable modem
The Internet
This PC also needs two network ports installed: one that leads to the
network switch and a second one that leads to the cable or DSL modem.
Because many flavors of network cards exist (using many different connections — like USB, PC Card, and the more traditional internal adapter card),
follow the installation instructions provided by the card manufacturer to
add both cards to your PC.
Everything ship-shape? Good. Follow these steps to share that existing
Internet connection with the other computers on your network. Remember
to verify that you’re connected to the Internet. (I always open Internet
Explorer and do the Google thing.)
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On the Sharing tab, click the Allow
Other Network Users to Connect
through This Computer’s Internet
Connection check box to enable it.
Then click OK to save your
changes. Windows Vista indicates
that a connection is shared by
adding a “couple of friends” badge
under the connection icon.
Choose Start➪Control Panel➪
Network and Internet➪Network and
Sharing Center➪Manage Network
Connections. Right-click the
Internet connection you want to
share, and then choose Properties.
Vista displays the Properties dialog
box for your Internet connection.
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Sharing an Internet Connection
through Hardware
Stuff You
Need to Know
Naturally, the setup procedure for each device on the market is different —
as are the configuration steps for wired and wireless devices — but here’s a
sample of what’s in store when you take your new Internet sharing router
out of the box.
⻬ Your bare hands
⻬ Wired or wireless
Internet sharing device
⻬ Existing broadband
Make sure that your Internet connection to your ISP is working: Just
open your Web browser and load
your favorite page.
Internet connection
Time Needed:
5 minutes
If you’re running a typical stand-alone network switch, you
can either unplug all existing computers and put them on
the new device (most come with built-in ports) or connect
the WAN port from the existing switch into one of the ports
on the Internet sharing device. The device manual tells you
how to take care of the latter method. If you’re setting up a
new network, naturally, you just connect each Ethernet
cable directly to the sharing device.
Configure one of the PCs on your new network with the default
network settings provided by the device manufacturer.
Run Internet Explorer on the PC
you configured in Step 3 and use
the Web-based configuration
utility to finish configuring the
device. (You can see mine in the
figure here.) That’s it! If you’re
running a typical home network
or home office network, you’ll
likely keep the default settings for
everything. Luckily, you probably
don’t have to use any of the
optional settings, but it’s good
to know that they’re there.
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Part IV
Advanced PC Options
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In this part . . .
ere I describe the power-user peripherals often
found on high-performance computers. You discover
more about building a simple network and using a digital
scanner or digital camera. The advanced (and sometimes
expensive) technology that you find in this part isn’t a
requirement for your average home or small-office PC,
although these chapters serve as an introduction to the
world of power-user computing. I even throw in a chapter
on building a PC for the serious gamer.
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Chapter 12
So You Want to Add a LAN?
Tasks performed in
this chapter
⻬ Installing a network
interface card
⻬ Creating a network
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,
or play the latest games with others using the computers on
your network.
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.
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. Within these walls (um, pages),
I cover traditional wired networks as well as a number of network technologies that
eschew wires altogether.
Feel like connecting? Then read on!
Adding the Network Advantage
If you use more than one PC 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.
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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 CD-ROM
or a USB Flash drive. 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, Blu-ray
recorder, fax/modem, or tape drive. Sharing peripherals is a great way to cut
expenses for a large family. Instead of buying a printer for each PC, everyone
can share the same printer.
One of the primary uses for a small network is electronic mail. E-mail software is
built into Windows XP and Windows Vista; you can include attachments such as
data files, voice and video clips, or even entire programs.
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.™
For businesses of every size, the answer to office cooperation is a groupware system.
A typical groupware system, such as Lotus Notes from IBM (,
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.
You can also work with the same type of cooperative documents using Microsoft
Office 2007.
The final benefit, contact, refers to contact with the Internet. If your computer has
access to an existing network, that network might already have a fast, dedicated connection to the Internet. With a network connection on your PC, your file transfers
and Web surfing will be many times faster than they would be over a modem connection. Home office types can also distribute a single Internet connection amongst the
entire network gang!
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Windows XP and Windows Vista 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 or one of the high-speed connections I describe in Chapter 11. Although the
Internet is actually a huge network of smaller networks, you do not need your own
network to use it.
Ethernet Networking 101
This section explains the basic terms that you need to know when discussing
Ethernet 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, 4th 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: 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 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.
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Peer-to-peer: For once, a name that 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 network where everyone
simply wants to exchange e-mail and files or use a common printer.
Windows XP and Windows Vista both include simple peer-to-peer networking, which is suitable for file and printer sharing.
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.
Today’s Ethernet networks are 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, each computer can now 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 an Ethernet network with a switch.
Figure 12-1: Most Ethernet networks use a central switch.
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Collecting What You Need
for an Ethernet Network
Naturally, you need to make sure that you have the proper hardware before you
build your network. 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
Cabling: Today’s Ethernet networks use twisted-pair cable, which resembles
telephone wire. Twisted-pair cable has a connector (an RJ-45) that looks
very much like a telephone jack, as you can see in Figure 12-2. With twistedpair cabling, each computer is connected to the switch.
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.
I’d show you the difference between these two cables, but they look just the
same from the outside, and their connectors look the same, too. Just make
sure you ask for the right type at your favorite Maze o’ Wires computer
Software: If you’re running any flavor of Windows XP or Vista, the software
that you need for a peer-to-peer network is built in. (Thanks, Microsoft!)
Switch: A switch makes the maintenance and upgrading of your network
much easier because all your network computers are connected to a single
central device. As I state earlier, a switch also provides the best performance and highest efficiency for an Ethernet network — A Good Thing
Figure 12-2: A twisted-pair cable and connector, ready to rock.
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More stuff about network interface cards
As I mention 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 NIC required for each computer. A typical network card uses a PCI slot. 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.
Automatic or software configuration: No one wants to bother with setting
jumpers to configure a network card. The best network cards automatically
configure themselves after you connect them to your network.
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 Windows XP and Vista.
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
Unless you’ve created your own network cables before, buy them readymade!™
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 mailorder 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.
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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 tape 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.
There Are Always Exceptions!
After you become familiar with the virtues and requirements of a twisted-pair network, 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 Vista, too.
However (isn’t there always a however whenever it comes to computers?), these
new networks also have their own limitations, so take a look at all four. After you
finish this section, you can decide whether to stick with the tried-and-true, twistedpair 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 (using the same general procedure as installing an Ethernet
card), locate the nearest telephone jack, and (snap!) plug in a cable. The jack can be
located anywhere within your home.
Unlike a dialup 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 between 100 Mbps and
1000 Mbps, but current HomePNA networking hardware is limited to about 100
Mbps. Also, the hardware is a bit more expensive than a typical Ethernet kit, running
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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.
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 PC’s 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. It’s also about the only
option for homes with basements or walls that inhibit wireless signals.
Use your USB port
If you don’t mind cabling things together, the USB 2.0 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, though, it’s 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 — a wireless base station or wireless access point — which acts as the switch of
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your network, transmitting and receiving data from the computers. The two
common wireless networking standards to choose from follow:
802.11g: 802.11g is currently the most common standard, allowing maximum connection speeds around 54 Mbps. 802.11g is backward compatible
with any “antique” 802.11b hardware that you might pick up.
802.11n: This is the latest and greatest wireless standard, offering faster
speeds of up to 300 Mbps. (Like a dial-up analog modem, don’t hold your
breath waiting for this “maximum theoretical” speed. You’re more likely
going to get about 150 Mbps.) 802.11n is a better choice than 802.11g 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.
If you come across anything on the 802.11a standard, don’t just run away — SPRINT
away! You can’t buy “a” hardware any longer.
Both Windows XP and Windows Vista 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, 3rd Edition, by Danny Briere, Walter Bruce, and Pat
Hurley (Wiley).
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Installing Your Network Interface Card
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Phillips screwdriver
⻬ Parts bowl
So your motherboard doesn’t have built-in Ethernet hardware? Not to
worry. You picked up a PCI network interface adapter, so you’re ready to
add Ethernet support to your PC.
Before you get started, make sure that every computer on your network
without built-in Ethernet hardware has at least one PCI slot open for a network adapter card.
⻬ Network interface
adapter card
⻬ Screws
Time Needed:
15 minutes
If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it. And did
you just finish polishing the silverware? Touch a metal surface before you install your card to discharge any static electricity on your body. Hop to Chapter 3 to read all about how
important — and easy — this preventive step is.
PCI slots
Select an open PCI adapter
card slot for your Ethernet
network card.
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Remove the screw and the metal slot
cover adjacent to the selected slot.
Save both the screw and the slot
cover in your spare parts bowl.
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.
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.
Add the screw and tighten down the bracket.
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
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. Push the male connector into the female connector until it clicks. The
connectors fit only one way. The connection is the same for both the ports on
your switch and the ports on your adapter cards.
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Turning Things On
Stuff You
Need to Know
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 or Windows Vista.
⻬ Phillips screwdriver
⻬ Parts bowl
⻬ Network interface
adapter card (from
the preceding task)
⻬ Screws
Time Needed:
15 minutes
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 following
generic steps might not match exactly 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.
Run the driver installation software provided by your
network adapter card manufacturer and then follow the
onscreen instructions. After the drivers are installed, allow
the installation program to reboot your computer. Watch
the network start-up messages and write down any error
messages that appear. These error messages and possible
solutions should be listed in the card’s manual.
After installation is complete, use the
Windows wizards.
⻬ XP: 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➪
Connection Wizard, which
displays the dialog box
that you see in the figure.
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⻬ Vista: Under Windows
Vista, choose Start➪
Network➪Network and
Sharing Center, which
displays the dialog box
that you see in the figure.
Make sure that Network
Discovery and File
Sharing are turned on;
then click Connect to a
Network (Tasks section,
left side).
Follow the wizard’s prompts (which appear as a series of honest-to-goodness,
understandable English questions), and Windows will configure itself for you.
(If you feel the urge to hug Bill Gates afterwards, that’s normal.)
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Chapter 13
Input and Output: Scanners,
Cameras, and Printers
Task performed in
this chapter
⻬ Installing a scanner
or printer
re you lagging somewhat behind Ansel Adams as a
professional photographer? (I know I am.) 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. You can even use a digital camera to snap your own
original digital images or use a Webcam to record digital video. And
don’t forget that you can print your digital images with an inkjet
or a laser printer. Go ahead — preserve family history by scanning
treasured photos, or support your local charity with flyers you print
at home. You can turn your PC into a print shop!
Although these peripherals aren’t requirements for assembling a PC, they are
requirements for joining the world of digital photography and digital video as well as
just plain helpful tools in today’s busy world. Just try creating a hard copy of your
resume without a printer! Therefore, consider yourself warned: You’ll likely be
choosing at least one or two of these toys within a few months after you finished
building your computer, so it pays to keep in mind the system requirements: a
scanner, camera, or printer. (I’ll keep you abreast of the situation, of course.)
The Wide, Wonderful World of Scanners
With the help of a scanner, which you use to convert a printed page to a digital
image, you can digitize and input 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 (and using in your documents, or faxing with your PC’s fax modem). I write more about copyrights in the
sidebar “The lazy person’s guide to copyrights,” elsewhere in this chapter.
A color scanner with decent specs costs 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. You want to shop for the model that
best fits your needs and budget, including its configuration, color bit depth, and resolution. Kinda like shopping for a camera, when you think about it.
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Scanners eat hard drive storage for breakfast because today’s scanners can produce
awesome high-resolution images that can literally take up hundreds of megabytes
for each file (depending on the type and size of the image). If you’re going to be
doing a lot of scanning, make sure you invest in a minimum of one 500GB hard drive
to hold all those graphics! (Perhaps even 1TB — terabyte — if you’re gaming and
taking digital photographs at the same time.)
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).
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 desktop publishing application,
or an optical character recognition (OCR) program. OCR software can “read” the
contents of a printed page that you scan and then 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.
Recognizing scanners in the wild
Scanners come in three flavors: flatbeds, sheetfed, and photo. (Some “all-in-one”
units mix a scanner with a printer and fax machine, but they’re generally more
expensive and not as versatile as a dedicated scanner, and your scanning results
from an all-in-one unit won’t be as good.) For portability and convenience on the
go, consider using a photo scanner. For everyday workhorse scanning, I vote for
flatbeds, and here’s why.
Flatbed: “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. Flatbed models have dropped so dramatically in price that 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, and many flatbed
scanners also have the ability to scan film slides and negative strips. I
recommend a flatbed scanner with at least an 8.5" x 12" scanning area —
that’s about the average — and don’t forget to check for Windows Vista
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 (see Figure 13-1) offer greater detail and more true-to-life
One drawback to using a flatbed scanner is that they inherently take up
more deskspace because of their configuration.
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Virtually all late-model flatbed scanners use a USB 2.0 connection (although
some of the fastest and highest-priced models use a 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: A typical sheetfed scanner, which looks similar to a fax machine,
takes up less space on your desk than a flatbed. See Figure 13-2.
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 single sheet of paper —
not a sheet in a bound book or atlas. 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 standard sheet of paper, 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, but a sheetfed is still not the best way to work with older, brittle
photographs and documents.)
Figure 13-1: All hail the flatbed, the king of scanners.
Figure 13-2: A sheetfed scanner looks much like a fax machine.
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Photo: 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 dedicated negative/slide
scanners, which produce incredibly high-resolution scans of film negatives
and slides, but can’t be used to scan regular film prints.)
On the other hand, photo scanners are automatic and fun to use. Just feed
in the picture, 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, I recommend going with a flatbed scanner, which is far more versatile.
Diving into color depth
Most scanners feature 24-, 36- or 48-bit color, which is a measure of how many colors
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. Generally, the higher the bit depth, the better, and the
larger the size of the file you create. Hence, the more RAM and the larger hard drive
you install, the better. I would strongly recommend a 48-bit minimum color depth for
your new toy.
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.)
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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) resolutions:
600 x 600: Appropriate for the kids and their school projects
2400 x 2400: The standard resolution for a good-quality scanner
1200 x 1200: Good for scanning snapshots and photographs from books or
magazines; images for Web sites
4800 x 4800 (or better): Suitable for graphics artists who need highresolution 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:
Raw: The raw resolution value is the actual optical resolution at which the
scanner reads an image. (Note that this has nothing to do with the RAW
image format used in many cameras and image editors.)
Interpolated: 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.
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.
See the sections at the end of this chapter for the lowdown on installing a scanner.
Digital Camera Details
If you need to import a large number of original digital images and you want to avoid
the drudgery of scanning them, look no further than the digital camera. Prices for
digital cameras are less than $100 on some base models although higher-priced
models with more features still hover around $500 to $1,000 (or more). Popular
brands include Casio, Hewlett-Packard, Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Kodak, and Olympus.
In effect, a digital camera stores pictures you take and “develops” them. The images
are stored in flash RAM, which is a form of memory with the neat ability to store
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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. Some use removable cartridges (memory cards or sticks), others have
tiny hard drives, and some models of digital cameras even use mini-CD or DVD discs.
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 camera.
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:
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 choose between a smaller
number of higher-resolution pictures or a larger number of lower-resolution
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. (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 or RAW formats, you’ll get better
quality, but you’ll get fewer images on a memory card because images in
these formats are far larger than the same images in JPEG format.)
Zoom: The more expensive digital cameras have the same zoom capabilities
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. (Just like the optical resolution on a scanner is more
important than the interpolated resolution, the optical zoom level on a digital camera is far more important than the interpolated digital zoom.)
Special effects: Most cameras now offer onboard special effects, just like
the familiar special effects on a typical digital 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).
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Many digital cameras on the market today can do double-duty as a Web cam, which
captures digital video for Internet video conferencing and display on Web sites.
Remember that your camera must remain connected to your PC through a USB cable
in order to use the Web cam feature.
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 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.
The lazy person’s guide to copyrights
Just because you can capture a video clip
from a DVD 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:
site can be 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.
⻬ Beware the hidden copyright. Under cur-
⻬ Alterations mean zip. Another common
rent 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.
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
⻬ Make sure permission is granted. You
⻬ A change in media means nothing. If
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
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
⻬ The source is important. Most people
⻬ Consult your lawyer. Above all, if you’re
think that images they receive from an
Internet newsgroup or copy from a Web
uncertain whether you can legally copy
something, ask your lawyer!
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In this section, I discuss what’s available in a printer these days for less than $200
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-and-white
low-end models are now available for around $100; color laser printers
still hover around $300.
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).
When you’re shopping for either an inkjet or a laser printer, you should look for a
number of features. 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. (A
driver is a software program that allows a specific hardware component — internal
or external — to work with Windows.)
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: Inkjet printers range from $45 and more, 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.
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Cost-effective color printing: Although laser printers also offer color, you
can expect to pay at least $200 up to a whopping $1,000 for a color laser
printer (depending on the quality and speed of the output).
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 40 pages per
minute, which is faster than an inkjet’s average of 8 to 20 pages per minute.
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.
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Installing a Scanner or Printer
with a USB Connection
Stuff You
Need to Know
If you’re using a scanner, video capture device (such as a Web cam), or
printer with a USB connection under Windows XP or Windows Vista, follow
these steps:
⻬ Your bare hands
If necessary, connect the USB cable to the device. Some
USB peripherals have their own cables permanently
attached, and others accept standard USB cables.
Plug in the peripheral’s power supply and turn it on.
⻬ Cable
⻬ Device installation CD
Time Needed:
5 minutes
After you boot Windows
normally, plug the USB connector on the cable into a
USB port on your computer.
to PC
Check whether you need to buy a USB cable for your new device before you leave the store!
to printer
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Windows should recognize that you added a USB device. (If not, check again to
make sure that your new device 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.
You may need to reverse the connector to the USB pins on the motherboard.)
When prompted, load the manufacturer’s CD-ROM that came with
your device so that Windows can
install the correct drivers. If you’re
adding a USB printer to your
system, a new icon for your new
printer should now appear in your
Printers folder, as you can see in
the figure here.
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Chapter 14
Building a Gaming PC
Topics and tasks in
this chapter
⻬ Selecting the right
video card
⻬ Overclocking a video
⻬ Adding fans to your
case and a heatsink to
your CPU
⻬ Setting up a RAID array
⻬ Customizing your PC
with lights and gauges
⻬ Creating a unique case
t’s common knowledge among PC techno-wizards that the
two types of PC owners are gamers, and those who don’t
know they’re gamers. Yet. And for this reason, gamers deserve
their own chapter in this book because the latest 3-D games
demand the absolute best performance that your PC can deliver
if they’re going to run smoothly (and shock your eyeballs with
the best graphics). After all, hard-core gamers tend to take the
same pride in their super-computers as sports car owners take
in their automobiles — hence the customizing, or modding, that
PC gamers undertake to create a truly unique look for their
favorite computer. Hop on for the ride of your life in this chapter as I turn up the heat on your video card (literally) and add
all the bells and whistles you need to supercharge your
machine into a gamer’s dream.
Exotic Video Card Stuff
Of all the components in a gaming PC, the most important by far is the video card —
or cards — that you install. (Yes, I did just say cards because you can boost performance to an unbelievable degree by linking more than one video card. More on this
later in this section.) Although a fast CPU never hurts, the lion’s share of the work
performed by a gaming PC is putting that elaborate eye candy on your monitor;
therefore, your video hardware takes center stage.
In this section, I cover what every gamer should know about a video card. And I
would be remiss if I didn’t mention upfront that you might also need a secondary 12
volt, 4-pin power connector to connect the power supply and motherboard to draw
enough power for additional lights, fans, and some high-end video cards. You can
read about this in Chapter 2.
Memory is number one
Today’s visually stunning 3-D games need memory, and lots of it. Every subtle pattern — the bricks in a wall, the grass on the ground, the long flowing hair sported by
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the hero (or villain) is actually a texture. Textures are graphic designs that are
“wrapped” around a 3-D model to create the intricate, realistic objects you see
Textures have to be stored in memory, and that memory is actually part of your
video card — not like the system memory installed on your motherboard. The current crop of gaming video cards typically offer either 256 or 512GB of onboard RAM;
the more you can afford, the better. Your games will run faster, load quicker, and look
better with more graphics memory.
What’s a GPU, anyway?
Quite simply, a GPU (graphics processing unit) is the video card equivalent of your
motherboard’s CPU. A video card needs its own processing power to draw all those
objects; juggle those textures; and produce realistic effects, such as clouds and
rippling water.
Today’s cards use either an NVIDIA or AMD (formerly ATI) chipset. These two companies are constantly battling each other, raising the bar with faster GPUs, so I won’t
go into specific recommendations on what models to look for. Literally, by the time
this book is printed, what’s cutting-edge has been supplanted by something new. If
you’re interested in the latest GPU performance figures, drop by Tom’s Hardware
online ( and check out the newest reviews.
The minimum GPU speed (called the core clock in technospeak) I recommend for
a midrange PC is about 500MHz, with the high-end gaming cards turning in over
Although most video cards have only one GPU onboard, some hard-core gaming
cards carry two GPUs, allowing the two processors to share the load. (Naturally,
these cards deliver unbelievable results. Think of a game like BioShock, which has
literally dozens of video options, with every quality setting on maximum.)
Overclocking 101
Gamers take great joy in squeezing the absolute best possible performance from
video hardware: tweaking their graphics settings, downloading the latest drivers and
software updates, and running benchmarks that indicate just how many frames per
second (fps) their systems can deliver. The higher the fps rate, the smoother the animation (and the more realistic everything looks in the game, from a flag waving in
the breeze to a huge alien slashing at you with a correspondingly huge axe).
However, many hard-core gamers take an additional step to significantly improve the
performance of a video card: overclocking. Overclocking allows a video card’s GPU to
run faster than the normal speed designed by the manufacturer. In simple English,
faster operation means better performance, like a car with a well-tuned engine that’s
been modified for more horsepower.
In most situations I’m no fan of overclocking a CPU, but a graphics GPU is different.
The GPU doesn’t actually execute program instructions, so your PC is far less likely
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to lock up over time. Also, most gamers upgrade their video cards every two or
three years, so the long-term damage caused by overclocking isn’t a problem. (In
other words, by the time a GPU fails because of overclocking, it’s likely to have been
replaced already by an avid gamer looking for better performance!)
Overclocking your video card will most likely void your manufacturer’s warranty.
Just a few years ago, overclocking was a process best left to hardware techno-wizards, but today, there are Windows utilities that can automate much of the finetuning and testing required for a stable, overclocked card. For example, my NVIDIA
GeForce 8400 GS card is overclocked using the RivaTuner utility shown in Figure
14-1. You can download RivaTuner from — it works with most of
the current crop of NVIDIA video cards.
In the end, whether you overclock your video card or not is your decision. If you’re
satisfied with your PC’s performance within your games, there’s no reason to push
your hardware beyond normal limits. However, if your card is nearing the end of its
career or you’re forced to lower the quality of your graphics in a game to keep things
moving smoothly, overclocking might allow you to get another six months from your
existing video hardware.
Figure 14-1: RivaTuner allows you to overclock your NVIDIA video card safely.
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While testing your overclocking settings, keep these tips in mind:
Use the latest drivers. Check your card manufacturer’s Web site for the
latest video drivers for your hardware. A bug-free, up-to-date software
installation is easier to overclock reliably.
Start small. Bump up the speed in small increments. If the card returns
errors, you can fine-tune your settings by simply reducing the overclocking
rate to the last stable point. (In fact, RivaTuner can help automate the testing process if you wish.)
Watch your heat. Don’t attempt to overclock your card unless your GPU
has a heatsink or a built-in fan. Overclocking generates extra heat, and that
heat has to be dissipated for stable operation.
Running multiple cards with SLI
If you have to push every single feature to the maximum in your games, you might
want to consider adding a second (or even a third!) video card to your PC. NVIDIA
calls this feature SLI (short for Scalable Link Interface), and it allows you to link
two or three cards. The linked cards intelligently share the graphics processing
tasks, just like the video cards I mention earlier in this section that have two GPUs
onboard. (Heck, NVIDIA even supports linking two cards with two GPUs each, for a
mind-boggling four processors devoted to just your gaming. We’ve come a long way
from Pac-Man.)
Video cards running in SLI mode are connected to each other by a special
connector — a bridge — that provides the additional bandwidth that allows the
cards to work together at their full rated speed. You can see a bridge later in
the chapter.
There are caveats to using SLI, however. Your motherboard must have an NVIDIA
BIOS and chipset that supports SLI mode. And of course, you need to buy two or
three high-end NVIDIA video cards to populate your system. (AMD card owners need
not apply.) Not every game supports SLI, either, which makes sense; if your idea of a
game is Solitaire, Civilization 4, or Sims 2, you just don’t need that kind of power.
If SLI sounds like your salvation, consider buying a motherboard that supports SLI
directly because this type of motherboard includes two PCI-Express video card slots
instead of just one.
You Gotta Have Fans and Heatsinks
Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Every PC, no matter what the internal makeup,
needs at least one fan. (At least one for the PC case.)
However, many novice PC techs forget that a game machine is built with the fastest
components on the planet — and in the world of PC hardware, faster almost always
means hotter! Some of those components (like the video cards I mention earlier) are
even overclocked, which produces even more heat.
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So, make sure that any gaming PC you’re assembling has the proper number of fans.
Your case should provide at least two fan cages (square boxes that look much like
drive cages, typically with blades either 80mm or 120mm in diameter), as shown in
Figures 14-2 and 14-3.
Fan in cage
Figure 14-2: A fan cage inside a case.
Figure 14-3: These cages allow you to add extra fans to your case for more cooling.
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Fans that you add to your case use standard PC power supply connectors, so you’ll
need at least one free internal power cable (or a Y-splitter — as in Figure 14-4 — that
turns one power connector into two).
Figure 14-4: When you use more than one fan, you need a Y-splitter.
The best fans use ball bearings. They run faster, moving more air through your case,
and are typically more quiet than cheaper “free-spinning” units. Most fan specifications include an airflow rating in cubic feet per minute (cfm). The higher the airflow,
the better the cooling (and generally, the higher the price).
So how many fans should you add? If your PC has a single, high-end 3-D video card
and a gaming processor, I recommend using two case fans. If you’re using two or
three video cards in SLI mode (or you’re overclocking either your video card or your
CPU), I suggest using three case fans.
As I said, today’s CPUs generally use a dedicated fan, but that doesn’t mean that
every CPU fan is created equal! Like their bigger case-bound brothers, there are
many price points and airflow ratings for CPU fans, and you should definitely invest
in a better CPU fan for today’s Phenom and Core 2 Extreme processors. (And as I
mention earlier, overclocking also puts a strain on your CPU, so if you do decide to
overclock your processor, you need the most airflow you can get.)
CPU fans are generally powered either from a set of pins on the motherboard or by
a power connection from your PC’s power supply. Make sure you know which type
of power connector you’ll need before you order that $50 CPU cooler.
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Finally, the fastest CPUs also deserve a heatsink — a finned hunk of aluminum or
copper that you can add under your fan (or, in some cases, in place of a fan). I generally recommend buying a combo unit (like the one shown in Figure 14-5) that integrates both a heatsink and a fan, offering the best possible cooling under heavy load.
The heatsink/fan combo is separated from the CPU itself by a special thermal compound that helps transfer the heat evenly.
Figure 14-5: A CPU heatsink/fan combination.
It’s a RAID!
Gamers need more than just a super-fast video card, gobs of memory, and a performance CPU. What about all that data that has to be written to and from the hard drive
while you’re blasting away at those enemies? Enter another weapon in the ongoing
war of high-performance gaming: the RAID array.
RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, and most motherboards on
the market today support RAID functionality. Like an SLI installation, a RAID array is
a series of hard drives that work together to provide either faster read/write performance or a “mirror” backup that produces two copies of the same data. (As you
might imagine, gamers are far more interested in the former. The only things they
back up are their save game files. Go figure.)
The performance variety of the RAID standard is called RAID Level 0, and it’s the
most common implementation within the PC gaming community. RAID is supported
within both Windows XP and Vista.
To create a RAID array, you need at least two hard drives; most PC owners choose
two or more of the same model. Because data transfer speed is the goal here, you
should consider high-performance 10,000 rpm SATA drives (like the Western Digital
Raptor series, which I use on my machine). Your motherboard’s BIOS settings must
support RAID operation.
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After you install the drives, you must create the array from the motherboard’s BIOS
setup screen. Because every BIOS chip manufacturer uses a different method, check
your motherboard’s manual for the procedure.
I recommend installing a fresh copy of Windows Vista on a new RAID array, allowing
the operating system to automatically recognize the RAID installation and configure
itself accordingly. Vista calls this a clean install. Make sure that you have the latest
RAID driver handy on a floppy or USB Flash drive before beginning the Windows
installation because Windows Setup will prompt you for the driver. You can download the RAID driver for your flavor of Windows from the motherboard manufacturer’s Web site. (For more detail on installing Vista, check out Chapter 8.)
After Windows is installed, your RAID array works just like a single large hard drive.
Even though there are multiple drives in your case, Windows displays them as a
single logical unit, with one drive name.
Adding Lights and Gauges
Okay, I’m getting into an area that many budding PC assemblers might find a little
amusing. Why should you add lights and gauges to your PC? What the heck do they
add to your gaming experience?
The answer, honestly, is zero. Zip. Nada, nuttin’, bupkis, goose egg. A cool, blue neon
glow really doesn’t add anything to the game. However, what it does add to is your
reputation the next time you show off your PC, just like custom wheels on a ’69
Dodge Charger. Visual extras add that cool touch to your PC — and, in some cases,
actually add some functionality as well.
I call these PC mods “eye candy” because they’re visible from the outside of the
case. Eye candy includes
Lighted fans: Because a gaming PC will likely need a second (or third) fan,
why not invest in a fan unit that glows? I have to admit, these look pretty
neat in motion. Other than the illumination, a lighted fan is just like any
other PC fan, drawing perhaps just a little bit more power for the lighting
In case you’re wondering, there are indeed lighted CPU fans. And naturally,
you need a case with a transparent panel to see such visual splendor (see
Figure 14-6).
Rope lights: Another illuminated mod is the flexible rope light, which can be
fitted to the interior of your case. (Again, a transparent panel is a must to
receive the full benefit.) These lights come in a rainbow of colors, and some
can be set to blink or animate. Like your other internal components, a rope
light needs a power connection to your PC’s power supply.
Cold cathode and UV lights: These lights aren’t flexible like a rope light, but
they offer some neat effects. (Think neon. Really, really bright neon.) If your
room is decorated with black light posters, one of these lights mounted in
your case could lead you to a higher plane of existence. Anyway, these
lights typically run the length of your case, and are affixed either with
screws or double-sided tape.
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Figure 14-6: It’s all about the glow. Lighted fans make a statement in a dark gaming cave.
Lighted feet: No, I’m not kidding. You can buy illuminated plastic feet to
replace those oh-so-mundane rubber feet on the bottom of your case. Still
non-skid, but now lighted eye candy! Think of those cars you’ve seen on the
road at night with a neon glow underneath — it’s the same idea.
Temperature gauges: Here’s eye candy that actually provides you some
information. These gauges provide real-time information about the temperature inside your case. (Some units can also be wired to report the temperature of your CPU or GPU.) Typically, a temperature gauge is mounted in a
31⁄2-inch frame that allows it to be installed in a standard PC device bay
(much like your optical drive). Figure 14-7 illustrates a typical, aftermarket
temperature gauge.
Today’s motherboards can report both the temperature of your CPU and
the RPM speed of your CPU and case fans through software, so you don’t
really need a fancy external gauge. If you’re running Vista Premium or
Ultimate, for example, consider installing a Sidebar gadget that displays
these figures.
Fan controls: Need complete control over the amount of air moving through
your supercomputer’s case? Like a temperature gauge, fan control units are
mounted in a drive bay: A twist of a knob can increase your airflow as necessary. (Personally, I think this is overkill because most of today’s motherboards can control your fan speed automatically. But then again, eye candy
is all about appearance and gadgetry.)
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Figure 14-7: Gamers care very much about the internal temperature of their PCs.
Customizing Your Case
No chapter on modding a gaming PC would be complete without a mention of
custom cases. Today’s case styles range from the old-fashioned, sedate beige-andcream variety — yes, they still do exist — to complete transparency. With a little
searching on the Internet, you can locate cases sporting alien or demon faces, tribal
graphics, hotrod flames, and even cases with physical characteristics modeled after
the characters in today’s hottest games. (Would a World of Warcraft case with Night
Elf “ears” help my gaming experience? Probably not, but it might interest my cat.)
With so many designs, you can start your PC assembly with an attention-getting
(and expensive) case that requires no extra modifications. But what if you’re satisfied with your existing PC, and you just want to add a little pizzazz to your desktop?
Luckily, it’s easy to make your case stand out.
Probably the easiest mod you can perform on your case is a custom paint job, using
stencils or even freehand airbrush work. Because most cases are metal, you can use
a good-quality acrylic paint designed to cover metal surfaces. However, I do not recommend that anyone attempt to paint a case with components inside! A little missspray through the case’s vents, and you’ll end up with a lime-green hard drive, or
(even worse) a damaged motherboard. Instead, paint your case while it’s empty,
either before you start assembly or after you disassemble your existing PC. (It’s
worth the time you take.)
I heartily discourage painting the inside of your case cover. Flaking paint is never A
Good Thing when it comes to your motherboard and internal PC components. Also,
heat from the inner components can melt the paint and cause it to further damage
internal parts.
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If you’re considering adding decoration to the outside of your case, make very sure
that your mods don’t block any of the vents or drive bays. As I stress over and over
in this chapter, airflow is extremely important, and you might need access to those
empty drive bays in the future.
Color choices? Graphics? Heck, I’ve seen everything from automobile bumper stickers and baseball cards to neon paint and pinstripes. I’ve seen cases with actual cutouts (which might help air flow, but also probably result in a heavy accumulation of
dust over time). If you’re talented with metalcraft, you’ll find that a standard PC case
cover is a blank slate, ready for you to mold and shape as you like. Of course, the
inside chassis must remain pristine — trying to force an internal optical drive into a
mangled drive bay is a nightmare.
If you’re shopping for a case and you’re considering adding some of the internal
“eye candy” I mention in the chapter, make sure you choose a case with at least
one transparent panel.
The decorations you choose for your custom case are completely up to you
although I wouldn’t recommend a case decorated with refrigerator magnets.
Too strong of a magnetic field is never a good thing inside a PC.
Will You Move the Joystick,
or Will It Move You?
The Logitech Force 3D Pro joystick ( is a power user’s play toy.
What sets this piece of USB 2.0 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
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, 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
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 Force 3D Pro 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 Force 3D Pro reflects every hit on your plane
as well as the force required to pull out of a power dive.
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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 Force 3D Pro, don’t overlook the downside:
Pricey: Compared with a standard joystick that costs $15 or $20, the Force
3D Pro is significantly pricier at about $70.
Game-dependent: The game that you’re playing must explicitly support the
Force 3D Pro to enable the tactile-feedback feature. So, for older games, the
Force 3D Pro becomes just another joystick (albeit a very good one).
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Configuring SLI for Multiple Video Cards
Stuff You
Need to Know
⻬ Screwdriver
⻬ Parts bowl
⻬ SLI-capable mother-
If you decided to invest in more than one SLI-capable NVIDIA video
cards, I salute you! You’re a fellow hard-core gamer who demands the
best graphics performance. To implement SLI, you need a motherboard
with an NVIDIA chipset that offers this feature, as well as two NVIDIA
video cards with SLI support. The SLI bridge connecting cable should
be included with one (or both) of your video cards, as well as the
Windows driver disc.
In this section, I assume that you already installed both cards into the
PCI-Express slots on your motherboard, as I demonstrate in Chapter 6.
Now the cards need to be connected and then the software installed.
⻬ Two PCI-Express video
⻬ Bridge-connecting cable
⻬ NVIDIA driver software
Time Needed:
15 minutes
If your computer chassis is plugged in, unplug it. Now that you’ve
finished petting the family cat, touch a metal surface before you
handle any components.
Bridge cable
Install the bridge cable between
the two cards using the SLI connectors. The connectors are
marked on each card, and are also
identified in the manual for each
card. Make sure you plug the cable
in firmly — it only goes on one
way, so there’s no chance of
installing it upside-down.
Plug your PC’s power cord back in and make sure the
monitor is connected.
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Turn on your PC and allow Windows to load.
Windows displays a New Hardware
notification, and then the SLI capable system notification message
shown in the figure here. Click the
notification to continue.
The NVIDIA Set SLI Configuration screen appears. Select the Enable SLI
Technology (Recommended) option and then click Apply.
Keep your NVIDIA video card drivers updated to make sure SLI mode runs as fast as possible!
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The Part of Tens
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In this part . . .
provide you with worthwhile advice and tips (and even
the occasional warning) concerning a number of topics,
ranging from the assembly process to maintaining your
PC. Each chapter includes ten tips. Consider “The Part of
Tens” as a quick dose of experience (without the hard
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Ten Tools and Tasks for a
Power User’s PC
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. (Chapter 2 can help a power user build just the right PC.)
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 improved.
In this chapter, I name ten computer hardware and software extras that help make
your life easier behind the keyboard. They’re not necessarily expensive; and each
adds convenience, comfort, or efficiency that you might find worth the money.
If you’re comfortable, confident, and productive with your computer — no matter
how fast it is — you are a power user!™
Forget Your Mouse
The mouse has been the most popular computer pointing device for years now, 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 (and can
contribute to carpal tunnel stress).
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
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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 using an infrared wireless mouse,
which at least eliminates that doggone tail. (Whoops! I mean cord.) I also recommend
that you consider an optical mouse or trackball, which doesn’t require cleaning like
an old-fashioned model that uses a ball.
Guard That Power Supply!
It never fails. The moment that you finish 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, fat “nothing.” If you 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 just created a dandy coaster for
your cold drinks.
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 (but cool) 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 finish saving your work, gather the family around for a computer game or
two, but make it fast!)
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.
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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
How often should you back up? It all depends on how often you significantly change
your data. At a minimum, I back up my work in progress every week on DVD-RWs,
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 a hurry, I’ll even create a copy of an important document on my
removable USB Flash drive, just in case disaster strikes my desktop’s hard drive.
However, 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.
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 Vista — 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 Premier Edition, 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! As of this writing, the Premier Edition also includes
Norton AntiVirus 2008 (which I mention later in this chapter) and Norton Save &
Restore 2.0 (which backs up everything on your hard drive with just a couple of
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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.
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 using 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 24/7, 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
The best-known virus scanning software for the PC is Norton AntiVirus 2008, 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 $40) at
Most virus-scanning programs identify viruses present in your computer’s random
access memory (RAM) and on your hard drive including the 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 automatically (or, if you’re doing manual
updates, at least 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!
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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 using the
free spyware removal application Spybot Search & Destroy (
Organize Your Software
CDs and DVDs, Zip disks, and even that rare antique floppy . . . 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 CDs and DVDs,
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 Dragon
NaturallySpeaking 10 from Nuance Communications (
naturallyspeaking), you can dictate text without adding artificial pauses
between words. These programs understand your normal speaking voice, and
they can handle more than 100 words per minute (which beats touch typing).
Although this technology has come a long way, you do still have to “train” the computer to recognize your speech patterns, and voice dictation on a computer is still
nowhere near 100-percent accurate. And, unfortunately, using voice-recognition software doesn’t get you out of proofreading your text. However, if you use 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.
Then, 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 sound card and a microphone to use a voicerecognition program, or a USB headset and microphone combo. (All are covered
in Chapter 10.) Moreover, the more system RAM you have, the better.
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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 Vista and
Mac OS X. 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 highresolution digital cameras for taking pictures of everything from the family dog to
Because images are so important to today’s computer power user, it’s no
accident that graphics editors, such as Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 (from Corel, 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 so much time
and money building your own computer, it makes sense to clean the case, monitor
screen, keyboard, optical 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 tray on your
optical drive, don’t be surprised if your PC encounters errors while burning discs!
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.
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 for 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.
Optical drives: Again, compressed air works wonders to keep the tray
within your CD or DVD drive clean and dust-free.
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. (As I mention earlier, optical
pointing devices don’t need this kind of maintenance.)
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Ten Important Assembly Tips
ssembling your own computer is a simple job if you’re friends with Mr.
Phillips — his screwdriver, that is — 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 ten 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 knee-deep in your computer, trying to get
that new part to work. It doesn’t matter whether you read the instructions 15 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 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 be 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 — see Figure 16-1 —
can be positioned perfectly.)
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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.
Figure 16-1: Use a gooseneck lamp for flexible lighting while you work.
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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.
Make Sure That You Have
Everything You Need
Before you start installing a new component, make sure 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 end up with spare
parts after the installation (screws, cables, or wires), make sure to add them to
your parts box!
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 need a Y power cable adapter, which transforms a single power cable into
two cables and connectors. If you’re buying a USB printer, do you have a corresponding USB 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 eSATA adapter).
Yell for Help If Necessary
Some of the assembly steps that you encounter when building your own PC might
make you nervous (installing a CPU or a memory module), whereas others might
require additional configuration (fine-tuning your computer for use with a new DVD
recorder or adding drivers for a new wireless 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.
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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.)
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, and 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 (X-shaped) 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 your PC’s circuits:
The magnetic field from a screwdriver isn’t powerful enough to damage these components 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 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 parts. (Feel free to subdivide them into plastic bags.)
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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.
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
completely finish 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
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 because 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, like SATA cables. Although internal
power cables are designed to fit only one way, you have to remember to connect
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them in the first place. (This oversight is 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 cables can be connected upside down, so
remember the Pin 1 Rule, which you can see illustrated in Figure 16-2:
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).
Pin 1
Marked edge of
ribbon cable
indicates wire 1
Figure 16-2: The Pin 1 Rule: Pin 1, meet 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.
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Chapter 17
Ten Ways to Maintain Your PC
very PC owner wants to keep that machine running smoothly. In this Part of
Tens chapter, I outline several tricks that you can use to keep your machine
reliable and stable. Some of these tips cost money (such as 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 XP and
Vista will invariably slow down significantly because of hard drive fragmentation.
First, a quick explanation about fragmentation: 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.
When you defragment your hard drive (called a defrag), the program rearranges the
data on your hard drive so that each file is contiguous (no longer divided up into individual fragments) — making it much easier and faster for Windows to read that file
when you ask for it!
To defragment your hard drive, follow these simple steps:
Windows XP
1. Click the Start button, and then choose Programs➪Accessories➪
System Tools➪Disk Defragmenter.
2. From the list that appears, click the drive you want to defragment.
3. Click the Defragment button.
4. When the defragment is complete, click the Close button on the Disk
Defragmenter window to exit the program.
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Windows Vista
1. Click the Start button, and then choose All Programs➪
Accessories➪System Tools➪Disk Defragmenter.
2. Click the Select Volumes button to choose which drive you want to
3. Click the Defragment Now button and then click OK.
4. When the defragment is complete, click the Close button to exit the
Get Connected with the Speediest
Data Transfers
For the fastest possible throughput (the data transfer rate between components on
your system) from your internal hard drives and DVD drives, your computer cries
out for a serial ATA (SATA) connection. For plugging in external devices, demand a
FireWire, a USB 2.0, or an eSATA connection.
If you build your PC with an enhanced integrated drive electronics (EIDE) hard drive,
you can still add any of these connections, either by using your motherboard’s builtin hardware or by buying a PCI adapter with the correct connectors. (Chapter 7
describes more about your hard drives.) However, if you’ve done your homework
and you’re building a power user PC, it pays to build your computer around a motherboard with serial ATA, FireWire, and USB 2.0 built-in. “Just say no to EIDE!”
I recommend using a PCI-Express video card as well, especially if gaming is high on
your list of applications! Chapter 14 covers gaming PC performance like a blanket.
Keep Your Backgrounds Plain
Graphical operating systems, such as Windows Vista 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 because 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 (6MB) in size — 16 million–color
bitmaps! meant for widescreen resolutions of 1680 x 1050 (and even higher)! If you
use a high-resolution, full-screen bitmap with 16 million colors as your background,
you might notice that your PC slows down significantly when it’s loading the background image (or redrawing it after you close a window or quit a game).
Remove Resident Programs
Beware! Your computer might be harboring hidden programs that suck power and
resources from your applications. No, I’m not talking about viruses. I’m talking about
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resident programs, which have been around since the days of DOS. (Yup, you win the
secret prize if you remember DOS Days.) 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
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 Vista, you can recognize most resident programs by their
icons in the system tray, which occupies the lower 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 (Windows XP) or Start➪Control Panel➪
Uninstall a Program (Windows Vista). This takes you to a dialog box where you can
click the offending application and then click Change/Remove (XP) or
Uninstall/Change (Vista) to delete it. Hurrah!
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 and Vista. Here’s how:
Windows XP
1. Choose Start➪Run to display the Run dialog box.
2. Type MSCONFIG and then click OK.
Windows Vista
1. Choose Start and then click in the Start Search box.
2. Type MSCONFIG and then click the magnifying glass icon.
3. Click the MSconfig program.
Either path opens the System Configuration Utility, where you can make changes to
the behavior of Windows during the boot process. For both XP and Vista, do the
1. Click the Startup tab.
2. When you see a list of the applications that Windows 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.
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Keep Your Drivers Updated
Although I mentioned this tip several times earlier in this book, it belongs here as
well. I highly recommend that you make it a habit to check your hardware manufacturer Web sites every month for the latest and greatest versions of your drivers.
These drivers should include your motherboard’s BIOS, your video card, your sound
card, and your network hardware. Not only will the latest drivers keep your hardware running as fast as possible, but you might even eliminate the occasional
Use a Native File System
When you use Windows (XP or Vista), 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 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 NTFS file system if you’re running Windows XP or Windows
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. See Chapter 8 for more.
Check Your Drives for Errors
I have no earthly idea why Microsoft continues to hide the Check Disk feature, but
you should use it often. I check all the drives on my PCs every week. Checking the
disk for errors ensures that no corruption has occurred because of power outages or
misbehaving programs that don’t load and save files how they should. If you don’t
check your drives often, a small problem can rapidly escalate into something far nastier, and you could end up losing data.
To check a disk for errors, follow these steps.
Windows XP
1. Click the Start button and then click My Computer to display the drives
on your system.
2. Right-click the drive you want to check and then choose Properties from
the menu that appears.
3. Click the Tools tab.
4. Click the Check Now button and then select the Automatically Fix File
System Errors check box.
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5. Click Start.
If you’re checking your boot drive, you’ll see a warning dialog appear that
tells you that Windows will have to check the drive the next time you
reboot. This makes sense because you’re currently using it.
6. Click Yes to confirm.
7. Restart your PC.
Check Disk automatically does the deed.
Windows Vista
1. Click the Start button and then click My Computer.
2. Right-click the drive you want to check and then choose Properties from
the menu that appears.
3. Click the Tools tab.
4. Click the Check Now button and then select the Automatically Fix File
System Errors check box.
5. Click Start.
If a warning appears, you’ll have to reboot.
6. Click Schedule Disk Check to confirm.
7. Restart your PC and allow Check Disk to run.
Uninstalling 101
This one’s common sense, but you’d be surprised how many PC owners simply don’t
remember to uninstall unneeded software! Over time, your Windows Program folder
can become clogged with dozens of demos, shareware programs you tried but didn’t
buy, and even commercial software that you needed once or twice and haven’t run
in ages. Those unneeded applications take up space that you could be using for
something you’ll actually use.
Most applications now come with an uninstall program, which you can usually reach
from the application’s Start menu group. However, you can always display all the
programs you’ve installed under Windows from the Control Panel:
Windows XP
1. Choose Start➪Control Panel➪Add or Remove Programs.
2. Click the program you wish to uninstall.
3. Click Remove.
The uninstall program prompts you for confirmation.
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Windows Vista
1. Start➪Control Panel➪Uninstall a Program.
2. Click the program you wish to chuck.
3. Click Uninstall/Change.
The uninstall program prompts you for confirmation.
Maintain Your System Registry
Most of the settings for Windows XP and Vista — as well as the settings for the programs you run — are kept in a huge file called the Windows Registry. As you might
imagine, over time the Registry can become clogged with entries for programs
you’re not even running any longer, as well as incomplete and corrupted entries that
can slow down Windows (or cause errors, or even lock up your PC).
You can use any number of Windows Registry cleanup utilities to check your
Registry for errors and then remove the inaccurate and unnecessary entries. My
favorite is TweakNow RegCleaner Professional, from It’s
an inexpensive, $27 shareware program that keeps my Registry error-free, and it can
also safely reduce the size of your Registry (resulting in faster booting and faster
program loading).
Clean Up after Windows
Why do you have to clean up after Windows XP and Vista on a regular basis? You can
save space by deleting the unnecessary (like the temporary files that many programs create) and compressing the stuff you do want to keep (like your documents).
These tasks are performed in both XP and Vista by the Disk Cleanup program.
To run the Disk Cleanup program, follow these steps.
Windows XP
1. Click the Start button and then choose Programs➪Accessories➪
System Tools➪Disk Cleanup.
2. After the Disk Cleanup program displays the files that can be deleted,
click each desired check box to enable it.
3. Click the OK button; then click the Delete Files button to verify.
Disk Defragmenter automatically exits when it’s done.
Windows Vista
1. Click the Start button and then choose All Programs➪
Accessories➪System Tools➪Disk Cleanup.
2. Follow the preceding steps for Windows XP.
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Chapter 18
Ten PC Pitfalls to Avoid Like the Plague
n this chapter, I name a number of computer-related mishaps and mistakes 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 for the PC you
spent so much money, time, and love building! 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 currently just a Mark’s Maxim, but it ought to be as famous as the
It’s “Refurbished” for a Reason
You’ll often see refurbished hardware for sale in computer hardware magazines, computer stores on the Web, and in catalogs for discount computers. Refurbished (or
recertified) hardware 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 distributor.
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 use 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.
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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 aren’t completely retested before they’re 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
Looking for an Antique?
Buy a Pentium 4 CPU
Many computer hardware stores and mail-order companies still sell CPU chips and
motherboards based on the Pentium 4 design. The Pentium 4 was a grand chip, and
many of us techno-types with several computers in the house can point to at least
one, but the days of the Pentium 4 are past us now. If you’re building a computer to
run any operating system other than Windows XP, take my advice and buy an Intel
Core 2 Duo or Athlon 64 X2 CPU and motherboard. (I cover motherboards like a
blanket in Chapter 3.)
Although a Pentium 4 CPU can indeed run Windows Vista, the older architecture
simply isn’t fast enough or advanced enough to offer anywhere near the performance of a multiple-core 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 4-socketed motherboard doesn’t
accept a Core 2 Duo or Quad CPU.
When building a computer from the ground up, buy a multicore processor. You’ll
thank yourself (and maybe even me) 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. (Not to mention they will someday in the near
future become obsolete.) 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
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that data on your hard drive, that is. 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. 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 9.) Of course, the
person who receives your nomadic data will need the same type of hardware to read
the media you send.
Another removable storage device that’s swept the PC world is the USB 2.0 Flash
drive, which plugs directly into your PC’s universal serial bus (USB) port and provides anywhere from 32MB to a whopping 16GB of storage!
Under Windows XP or Windows Vista, 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. Because there are no moving parts, they’ll last practically forever. Prices range
from $25 to $200 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. However, passwords
that you assigned to 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 forgot the password or typed it
incorrectly. In effect, you’re locked out from accessing your own data. In the worstcase scenario, all you can do is reformat that hard drive 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 Neighbor’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).
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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 which 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 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 Your Mitts Away from Monitors
and Power Supplies
Most 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 maybe removing components to make sure they’re seating properly or
to upgrade a part.
Two sealed components deserve an even wider berth: your computer’s power
supply and 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 uncovered.
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Chapter 18: Ten PC Pitfalls to Avoid Like the Plague
Don’t Lease a PC for the Long Haul
Maybe you’re considering leasing a PC instead of building your own system. Or perhaps you decided to lease a PC while you save up the cash to build your dream
machine. 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. Oh, and don’t forget the “rent-to-own” stores that allow you
to start leasing a new PC for a pittance.
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. As for “rent-to-own”
PCs, make sure you check the bottom line to see just exactly how much the total
cost (plus fees) will set you back. You’re likely to find that you’re paying far more
in the end than you would by buying a new PC outright or assembling a PC from
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.
I should note, however, that some PC owners prefer older versions of some software.
For example, one of my editors for this book absolutely abhors Office 2007 and still
prefers to use Office 2003 unless she has to use the newer version. If you need to
buy a particular program and you have a preference for an earlier version (say,
Photoshop CS3 instead of CS4), then by all means buy what you prefer! Just keep
abreast of any industry-specific software to make sure you can work well with others.
If you’re unsure about the latest version number of a particular program, talk with a
vendor or research it online at the manufacturer’s Web site.
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Part V: The Part of Tens
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Part VI
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In this part . . .
tart out by reading about the companion DVD for this
book. As handy as this book is, just wait until you play
the DVD and watch it while I walk you through building
your dream machine step by step. There’s nothing quite
like seeing someone do something, and that’s why I
wanted to create this video for you to follow. Use the book
and DVD together; the parts of the DVD follow the same
structure as the book. I take it nice and slow so you can
really see what to do, when, and how to check your
Also, I include a PC builder’s glossary here you can refer
to time and time again.
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Appendix A
About the DVD
System Requirements
ake sure that your computer meets the minimum system requirements
shown in the following list. If your computer doesn’t match up with most
of these requirements, you might have problems using the DVD.
A PC running Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Vista
A Macintosh running Apple OS X or later
A DVD-ROM drive
A sound card and speakers
512MB of RAM or greater
If you need more information on the basics, check out these books published by
Wiley Publishing, Inc.: PCs For Dummies, by Dan Gookin; Macs For Dummies, by
Edward C. Baig; iMac For Dummies by Mark L. Chambers; Windows XP For Dummies,
by Andy Rathbone; and Windows Vista For Dummies, also by Andy Rathbone.
Using the DVD
On a PC running Windows XP or Vista: If you have more than one media
player installed on your computer, Windows might ask you to choose one to
play the DVD. After you do, the DVD should start in that media player.
To navigate through the DVD, use your mouse to select from the menu
system instead of using your media player’s navigation pane. Depending on
the media player you choose, you might need to click once to select a menu
item and then click again to play it.
On a Macintosh running Mac OS X: When you put this DVD into the DVD
drive on your Mac, the DVD Player pops up, complete with on-screen
remote control.
You can use the on-screen remote controls, your keyboard’s arrow keys, or
your mouse to navigate through the DVD’s menu system.
On a DVD player connected to your television: Use your player’s remote
control to navigate through the DVD’s menu system.
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278 Build Your Own PC Do-It-Yourself For Dummies
What You’ll Find on the DVD
The following sections are arranged by category and provide a summary of the software and other goodies you’ll find on the DVD.
Installing Your Motherboard
Installing Your CPU
Installing Your RAM
Installing Your Ports
Installing Your Video Card
Installing Your Hard Drive
Installing Your Optical Drive
Installing Your Sound Card
Maintaining Your Hard Drive
If you have trouble playing the DVD, close all running programs. The more programs
you have running, the less memory is available to other programs. Running video
files can use a lot of memory, so if you keep other programs running, the videos
might not play smoothly.
If the DVD does not automatically run after you insert it, here are some fixes:
On a PC: Open My Computer and double-click the DVD icon on your
On a Mac: The DVD icon should appear on your Desktop after you inserted
it in the drive. Open DVD Player from the Applications folder to run the
Customer Care
If you have trouble with the DVD-ROM, please call the Wiley Product Technical
Support phone number at (800) 762-2974. Outside the United States, call (317)
572-3994. You can also contact Wiley Product Technical Support at http:// John Wiley & Sons will provide technical support only
for installation and other general quality control items.
To place additional orders or to request information about other Wiley products,
please call (877) 762-2974.
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Appendix B
The PC Builder’s Glossary
access time: How long a hard drive, an optical
drive, or a 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): An older bus
standard for 3-D video cards. 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. The
AGP video card has been supplanted by the faster
PCI-Express video standard. See also PCI-Express.
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
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 uses an
AT-class 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 Phenom: The fastest Advanced Micro
Devices (more popularly called AMD) processor
available at this time. The Phenom is the darling of
gamers and also graphics professionals who edit
digital video and create 3-D images. (It’s also far
more expensive than the Athlon 64 X2.)
Athlon Sempron: A lower-cost AMD Athlon
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 XP: An older processor series from AMD.
The Athlon XP is still a good choice for an inexpensive PC, but it’s rapidly disappearing from the
market and no longer offers the best performance
for power user applications and computer games.
Athlon 64 FX: An older version of the Athlon 64
processor designed for games and high-end 3-D
rendering applications. (64-bit operation allows
you to add more memory and also provides faster
disk and network access.) The FX series is being
phased out in favor of the Athlon Phenom.
Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core: The current mid-range
Athlon processor, using two CPU cores that allow
far superior efficiency and speed (especially when
multitasking among more than one application).
The X2 Dual-Core offers 64-bit processing.
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 case.
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bank: Another term for a RAM module socket on
your motherboard. Most motherboards have at
least two RAM banks. See also RAM.
BIOS (basic input-output system): Resides on one
or two computer chips on your motherboard. 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.
bit: The smallest unit of information used by a
computer. It can have a value of either 1 or 0.
Blu-ray: The latest standard in recordable optical
discs. Blu-ray discs were developed to hold highdefinition (HD) movies. Although Blu-ray recorders
are still expensive compared with a mundane DVD
recorder, they’re likely to fall in price quickly,
offering up to a whopping 50GB of storage (perfect
for backups).
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 dial-up analog
modem connection. Common Internet broadband
connections include DSL, cable, and satellite. See
also DSL.
bus: A slot on your motherboard that accepts
adapter cards. Bus slots on Athlon/Intel 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 8 bits that represents a single
character of text or data stored in your computer’s
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 external analog modem, it looks like
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 data 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 a
disc; they can only read data.
CD-RW drive: Also called a CD recorder. Enables
you to record (and re-record) 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
Celeron: A less-expensive processor produced by
Intel for the home market. Although a Celeron chip
lacks the performance of a full Core 2 Duo-class
CPU, it’s a popular processor for low-end PCs.
CGA (color graphics adapter): The original IBM
PC color standard. Programs with CGA support
could display a stunning four colors at a time.
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.
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CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor): CMOS RAM stores configuration data about
your PC’s hardware even after your PC is turned
coax: Standard Ethernet coaxial 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 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.
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
DDR2: An improved standard for RAM modules
developed by Intel, offering increased bandwidth
and better performance with 64-bit hardware over
DDR RAM. DDR2 modules are common on today’s
digital camera: A camera that looks and operates
much like a traditional film camera except that its
finished images are saved in a digital format and
uploaded directly to a computer rather than celluloid- (film-) based and 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 current
Intel and AMD-based PCs.
Core 2 Duo: The current version of the midrange
Intel CPU, offering dual-core performance. The
Core 2 Duo is a good pick for any budget or
family PC.
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.
Core 2 Extreme Edition: The latest, fastest, and
most expensive Core 2 CPU from Intel, offering the
best results while multitasking applications or
playing games.
DirectX: An extension to Windows XP and
Windows Vista that enables fast animation
and graphics display in game and multimedia
Core 2 Quad: A quad- (four-) core version of the
Intel Core 2 CPU, offering faster performance for
gamers and power users.
distinctive ring: A service from your telephone
company that enables more than one telephone
number to use the same physical telephone line.
Distinctive ring is often used by PC owners who
receive faxes using their computer’s faxmodem.
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.
DL DVD (dual layer digital video disc, or digital
versatile disc): A dual-layer recordable disc with
twice the storage capacity of the older 4.7GB
media. DVDs can hold computer data, full-length
movies, and several hours of audio in MPEG
format. Dual-layer DVDs are often used for backing
up larger hard drives.
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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.
EDO (extended data output): A standard type of
RAM module used on older 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 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.
DSL (digital subscriber line): A high-speed connection to the Internet offering top speeds of
around 4–10 Mbps. Although DSL uses regular
copper telephone line and is always on, it’s still
not available in some rural areas of the country.
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
DSL modem: An external device that connects
your computer to a DSL line. The modem looks
like a traditional external analog telephone modem
but delivers data much faster.
DVD (Digital Versatile Disc or Digital Video Disc):
The replacement for the older CD-ROM format. A
single DVD can hold from 4.7–17GB. DVDs can hold
computer data, full-length movies, and several
hours of audio in MPEG format.
DVD-RW/DVD+RW drive: A DVD recorder that
enables you to record (and re-record) DVDs. DVDRs 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
DVI (digital visual interface, or digital video
interface): A high-performance port that connects
your video card to the latest flat-panel LCD and
older 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.
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. Windows
Vista (and XP) has a built-in Firewall.
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
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Appendix B: The PC Builder’s Glossary
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’s especially well suited
for connecting digital camcorders and external
hard drives to your PC. The latest FireWire 800
standard (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
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 the standard 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: An internal component that can save
program and data files to floppy disks, which can
be stored as backups or loaded on other PCs.
Computers once used 31⁄2-inch floppy disks that
stored as much as 1.44MB of data on a single disk.
However, floppies are unreliable and might not be
readable on other PCs, and floppies have been rendered obsolete by USB Flash drives.
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
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.
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 printer.
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, or SATA interfaces. Some interface types
refer to adapter cards; others refer to ports and
cables. See also EIDE, FireWire, SATA, 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): Type of
bus slots that 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 slot.
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joystick: An input device (for games) 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-and-metal crossover.
Jumpers are commonly found on motherboards,
components such as hard drives, and adapter
keyboard port: Where the cable from your keyboard connects to your computer. Most keyboards
now use a USB connection, but older keyboards
used the standard round PS/2 port.
KB (kilobyte): A unit equal to 1024 bytes.
LAN (local area network): See network.
laser: A printer technology in which a powder is
bonded to paper to print text and graphics. Laser
printers are fast and produce excellent print
Linux: A 32-bit (or 64-bit) operating system similar
to Unix; 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
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface):
Hardware standard that enables computers of all
types to play MIDI music, enabling interaction
between the computer and the instrument. MIDI
music files are common on the Internet as “background music” on Web sites, and they are a very
popular method of sharing music between
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.
modding: Customizing a PC case or its internal
hardware with lights, gauges, and other nonessential “eye candy.” Modding can also refer to overclocking (where you make your CPU run faster
than its rated speed to boost performance).
Hard-core PC gamers are fond of modding their
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 program.
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.
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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
recordable CD and play them in any standard
audio CD player.
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 spam).
OCR (optical character recognition): Software
that can “read” the text from a fax or a document
scanned by a digital scanner and “type” (or convert) that text into your computer word processing program.
overclocking: The process of increasing the
memory and CPU speed on a motherboard or
graphics card past the normal rate to improve performance. Overclocking requires special software,
and is often used by gamers to deliver the best
possible computing and video speed from a PC.
Overclocking generates a significant amount of
extra heat from your components, which can
result in a shortened operational life for your PC’s
CPU and graphics card.
parallel port: A standard connector still found on
most PCs that enables you to add peripherals.
Parallel ports are still sometimes used to connect
printers to PCs, but the parallel port has been
almost completely replaced by the modern USB
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 bus
slot that 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 and sound
cards. See also ISA.
PCI-Express: The high-performance successor for
a standard PCI slot. A PCI-Express bus is most
commonly used these days for adding the latest
and fastest video card to your PC. PCI-Express
cards have largely replaced the AGP video card
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. Manufactured
by Intel, successive versions include the Pentium
II, III, and 4. The latest Pentium standard is the
dual-core Pentium CPU.
Pentium Xeon: A version of the Pentium 4 CPU
designed for network server computers and highpowered 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.
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.
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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 technology.
PS/2 mouse port: A special port that first
appeared on the IBM PS/2 computer (hence the
name). Although mice and keyboards are rapidly
moving to USB connections, today’s motherboards
still feature a port reserved especially for your
mouse or pointing device.
RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks):
A configuration in which drives work together to
boost read/write speed (and therefore performance) or provide an automatic “mirrored” backup
on a second hard drive. Most of today’s motherboards allow multiple hard drives to be configured
as a RAID array.
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 being phased out in
favor of DDR2 memory.
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 Pixar films Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and
Wall-E 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, SATA hardware is
slowly replacing EIDE hardware in today’s PCs.
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.
SDRAM (synchronous DRAM): 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 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 was once generally used to connect
an external modem to your computer, but today’s
modems use a USB connection.
SIMM (single inline memory module): A specific
type of RAM chip usually used with original
Pentium-class computers.
SLI (Scalable Link Interface): Linking video cards.
Two NVIDIA video cards can be installed in the
same PC and linked via a special cable to boost
performance and provide the best quality 3-D
graphics for games and high-end applications.
Your motherboard must use an SLI-capable NVIDIA
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.
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Appendix B: The PC Builder’s Glossary
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 body.
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.
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.
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
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 graphics.
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 2008 Server: The latest server version
of the Windows operating system from Microsoft.
The direct descendant of Windows 2000 and
Windows 2003 Server, it comes in a number of
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flavors designed to appeal to small businesses.
Windows 2008 Server makes a great network
server or Internet server but, like 2003 before it,
is more expensive than Windows Vista.
Windows Vista: The latest home and business PC
version of the Windows operating system from
Microsoft, offering superior graphics and a
number of improvements over Windows XP.
Windows is a multimedia, graphical operating
system that relies heavily on a pointing device,
such as a mouse. Unfortunately, Vista requires
cutting-edge hardware to operate, so older PCs or
slower processors may not be able to support all
of Vista’s features. Vista is available in both 32and 64-bit versions.
Windows XP: The popular 32-bit operating system
for the PC, replaced in 2007 by Windows Vista.
Windows Me, the predecessor to Windows XP, had
fewer features and lacked support for the latest
Windows XP x64: An advanced version of Windows
XP designed to support the current generation of
64-bit processors from Intel and AMD. 64-bit functionality allows faster and more efficient multitasking, as well as faster hard drive performance.
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.
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3-D spatial sound, 170, 172
3-D video card, 31, 95, 97
3DMark Vantage utility, 94
802.11g wireless networking standard, 217
802.11n wireless connection, 199
802.11n wireless networking standard, 217
AAC format, 171
AC line noise, 252
accelerated card, 94
accelerated graphics port (AGP)
adapter card, 22
slot, 101, 279
video card, 94
access point, 216
access time
Blu-ray drive, 157
defined, 279
DVD drive, 157
hard drive, 119
adapter card
AGP, 22
basic description of, 21
common sense assembly rules, 13
defined, 279
installation, 86–88
ISA, 87
PCI, 22, 87
PCI-Express, 22, 101, 285
Advanced Micro Device. See AMD
AGP (accelerated graphics port)
adapter card, 22
slot, 101, 279
video card, 94
AIFF format, 171
airflow rating, fan, 240
algorithm, 227
AMD (Advanced Micro Device)
Athlon 64 X2 processor, 64
basic description of, 18
Phenom processor, 64–65
Sempron processor, 63–64
amplified power, speaker, 176
analog dial-up technology, 189
analog plug, 176
animated GIF, 256
Antec Twelve Hundred tower case, 51
antiglare coating, 104
antistatic strip, 51
APC Biometric Biopod USB device, 141
defined, 279
uninstall program, 267–268
archival storage
optical drive, 150
removable storage drive, 121
case, 261
common sense assembly rules, 12–14
experience, 2
instructions, reading first, 257
resources, 259–260
taking your time, 261
workspace considerations, 257–258
ASUS P5N-D LGA775 motherboard, 51
AT-class, 279
Athlon Phenom, 279
Athlon processors, 64–65
Athlon Sempron, 279
Athlon 64 FX, 279
Athlon 64 FX Dual-Core, 279
Athlon 64 X2 motherboard, 49
Athlon 64 X2 processor, 64
Athlon XP, 279
ATX-class, 279
AU format, 171
audio. See sound card
audio controls, 157
audiophile sound card, 31
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automated backup, 253
automatic configuration, NIC, 214
AVerTV Combo PCI-E TV card, 100
background image, 264
automated, 253
mirror, 241
regular, 253
tape backup drive, 287
Baig, Edward C. (Macs For Dummies), 277
ball-bearing fan, 47
bank, 56, 72, 116, 280
bargain shopping, 35
basic input-output system. See BIOS
beep code descriptions, 75
binder, CD, 255
Biopod USB device, 141
BIOS (basic input-output system)
basic description of, 50
defined, 280
Flash, 50, 283
bit, 280
bit rate, 170
bits per second (bps), 280
Blu-ray drive
access time, 157
audio controls, 157
CD and DVD compatibility, 160
cost, 162
defined, 280
memory, 157
quality, 160
support, 157
transfer rate, 156
boom microphone, 174, 177, 186
boot drive, 145
boot password, 141
boxes, saving, 13
bps (bits per second), 280
CPU, 18
retail packages versus building your own, 3–4
bridge connector, video card, 238
Briere, Danny (Wireless Home Networking For
Dummies, 3rd Edition), 217
basic description of, 187
cost, 191–192
defined, 280
determining if needed, 188
ISP sources, 192
Bruce, Walter (Wireless Home Networking For
Dummies, 3rd Edition), 217
bubble jet printer, 230
buffer, 120
building your own versus retail package
brand consideration, 3–4
common myths, 12
cost consideration, 1, 3
ease of building, 8
foolish assumptions, 5–6
repair consideration, 2–3
built-in speaker, 104
burning CDs, 155
bus slot, 101
defined, 280
speed, 63
Business edition (Vista operating system), 138
buttons, case, 47
byte, 280
CA (Commonsense Assembly), 12–14, 280
checking connection of, 261–262
coax, 281
flat-ribbon cable connector, 124
network, 214–215
patch, 215
Pin 1 Rule, 261–262
SATA, 117
twisted-pair, 213, 287
twisted-pair crossover, 213
VGA, 112, 287
Y power cable adapter, 259
Y-splitter, 240
cable modem, 189–190, 280
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Blu-ray drive, 157
controllers and, 121
defined, 280
DVD drive, 157
hard drive, 120
memory, 63
cage, fan, 239
caller ID, voice modem, 196
camera, digital
compression, 228
cost, 227
defined, 281
flash RAM memory, 227–228
pictures, loading into computer, 228
point-and-shoot, 228
resolution, 228
special effects, 228
Web cam, 229
zoom control, 228
canned air, 48
carpal tunnel syndrome, 84
assembly, 261
bare-bones computer requirements, 26
buttons, 47
cleaning, 256
color, 42, 245
cooling fan, 42
custom case example, 15–16
customizing, 244–245
defined, 280
desktop, 44–45
digital readout, 47
dusting, 48
front cutout, 42
gaming PC, 244–245
with hinged doors, 42
lighting, 47
midrange computer requirements, 27
minitower, 45
pizza-box type, 42–44
power supply, 46
selection consideration, 41–42
shoe-box, 43–44
shuttle box, 43–44
sizes, 16
slot covers, installing, 52–53
space-saver, 41–45
speaker, 47
top-of-the-line computer requirements, 28
tower, 45, 51
with transparent panel, 245
binder, 255
Blu-ray drive compatibility, 160
burn, 155
care and maintenance, 155
computer needs assessment, 31
laser, 159
racks, 255
CD-R (compact disc-recordable), 155
CD-ROM drive, 156, 280
CD-RW drive, 280
Celeron processor
basic description of, 63–64
defined, 280
central processing unit (CPU)
bare-bones computer requirements, 26
Celeron processor, 63–64
comparison between, 63
Core 2 Duo processor, 64
Core 2 Quad processor, 64–65
CPU socket, 68
defined, 18, 281
installation, 67–69
midrange computer requirements, 27
Phenom processor, 64–65
popular brands, 18
RAM and, 61
Sempron processor, 63–64
speed, 18
top-of-the-line computer requirements, 28
ZIF (zero insertion force) socket, 68, 288
cfm (cubic feet per minute), 240
CGA (color graphics display), 280
Chambers, Mark
iMac For Dummies, 277
PCs All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies,
4th Edition, 138
Scanners For Dummies, 2nd Edition, 224
Check Disk feature, 266–267
chipset, 95
circuit board, 13
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clean install, 242
computer components, 256
Disk Cleanup program, 268
client, 211
client-server network, 211, 280
clip-on microphone, 174, 186
CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor), 132, 281
CNET Web site, 32
coax cable, 281
case, 42, 245
color configuration support, monitor, 104
printing in, 231
color depth
defined, 281
scanner, 226
video card, 94, 96
color graphics display (CGA), 280
color-coded connections, 20
COM port, 81, 281
commands, 4–5
Commonsense Assembly (CA), 12–14, 280
communication, network, 210
compact disc-recordable (CD-R), 155
compatibility, RAM, 66
complementary metal-oxide semiconductor
(CMOS), 132, 281
components. See computer components
defined, 281
digital camera, 228
computer case. See case
computer components
careful use of, 13
case, 15–16
common connection concerns, 20–21
monitor, 18
motherboard, 17–18
ordering, 33–35
ports, 18–19
researching, 32–33
standardized, 15
storage, 19–20
video card, 18
warranty for, 34
computer needs assessment (what type to
bare-bones computers, 25–26
discussed, 23
drawing tablet, 29
gaming, 31
high-quality video, 24
home office, 30
midrange designs, 26–27
music files, 30–31
primary application consideration, 24
secondary application consideration, 24
top-of-the-line computers, 27–28
computer store, as assembly resource, 260
hardware-auto configuration, 136
NIC, 214
System Configuration Utility, 265
connection. See also port
built-in port, 89–90
bus slot, 101
color-coded, 20
common concerns about, 20–21
double checking all, 14
drive controller, 123–124
female connector, 81
flat-ribbon cable, 124
light, 58–59
male connector, 81
microphone, 185–186
monitor, 112–113
motherboard power supply, 57
speaker, 58–59, 181–182
switch, 58–59
testing, 85
cache, 121
gaming, 31
hard drive, connecting, 123–124
controller card, 120–121
network, 210
operation system selection, 36
shared Internet connection, 196
cookie, Web, 142
cooling fan
additional, 42
ball-bearing, 47
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extended overheating, 46
heatsink combination, 70–71
installation, 70–71
troubleshooting, 75
guidelines, 229
hidden, 229
violation, 271
core clock
defined, 94
speed, 236
Core 2 Duo motherboard, 49
Core 2 Duo processor
basic description of, 64
defined, 281
Core 2 Extreme Edition processor, 281
Core 2 Quad processor
basic description of, 64–65
defined, 281
Corel Web site, 256
Blu-ray drive, 162
broadband, 191–192
bundled software, 3
digital camera, 227
inkjet printer, 230
joystick, 246
laser printer, 230
modem, 194
operating system, 135
PCI bus sound card, 169
retail packages versus building your own, 1, 3
scanner, 223
CPU (central processing unit)
bare-bones computer requirements, 26
Celeron processor, 63–64
comparison between, 63
Core 2 Duo processor, 64
Core 2 Quad processor, 64–65
CPU socket, 68
defined, 18, 281
installation, 67–69
midrange computer requirements, 27
Phenom processor, 64–65
popular brands, 18
RAM and, 61
Sempron processor, 63–64
speed, 18
top-of-the-line computer requirements, 28
ZIF (zero insertion force) socket, 68, 288
CPU chip, 17
Creative Labs Web site, 170
credit card purchases, mail-order, 33
CRT monitor, 18, 103–104
cubic feet per minute (cfm), 240
data buffer, 157
data packet, 215
data transfer, 264
DDR2 (double data rate) memory, 65–66, 281
DDR3 (double data rate) memory, 65–66
defragmentation, 263–264
case, 44–45
Linux operating system, 139
Vista operating system, 137
DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol),
diagnostics package, 253
dial-up technology, 189
dictation, voice, 173
digital camera
compression, 228
cost, 227
defined, 281
flash RAM memory, 227–228
pictures, loading into camera, 228
point-and-shoot, 228
resolution, 228
special effects, 228
Web cam, 229
zoom control, 228
digital controls, monitor, 104
digital data, optical drive, 158
digital effects and encoding, sound card, 173
digital photo album, 154
digital plug, 176
digital readout feature, 47
digital subscriber line (DSL)
basic description of, 190
defined, 282
splitter, 190–191
digital visual interface (DVI), 98, 282
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DIMM (dual inline memory module), 281
DIP (dual inline packaging) switch, 56, 86, 281
DirectX program, 137, 281
checking for errors, 266–267
Disk Cleanup program, 268
disk operating system (DOS), 266, 282
disk-scanning utility, 253
display power management signaling (DPMS),
99, 282
distinctive ring, 281
DL (dual-layer) media, 156
DL DVD (dual layer digital video disc), 281
Dolby DTS playback, 170
DOS (disk operating system), 266, 282
dot pitch, 282
double data rate (DDR2) memory, 65–66, 281
double data rate (DDR3) memory, 65–66
dpi (dot per inch), 231
DPMS (display power management signaling),
99, 282
drawer, keyboard, 254
drawing tablet
computer needs assessment, 29
defined, 282
freehand drawing, 83
as pointing device, 83, 251
drive bay, 16
drive cage, 120
drive controller, 50
keeping updated, 266
video card support, 95
DriverZone Web site, 95
DSL (digital subscriber line)
basic description of, 190
defined, 282
splitter, 190–191
dual display features, video card, 99
dual inline memory module (DIMM), 281
dual inline packaging (DIP) switch, 56, 86, 281
dual layer digital video disc (DL DVD), 281
dual-layer (DL) media, 156
dusting, 48
DVD (Build Your Own PC Do-It-Yourself For
system requirements, 277
technical support, 278
troubleshooting, 278
DVD drive
access time, 157
audio controls, 157
Blu-ray drive compatibility, 160
care and maintenance, 155
digital data, 158
external, 161–162
internal, 160–161
laser, 159
memory, 157
quality, 160
support, 157
transfer rate, 156
DVD recorder, 155–156
DVD+RW drive, 282
DVD-RW drive, 282
DVI (digital visual interface), 98, 282
Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP),
EDO (extended data output), 282
EIDE (Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics)
business end of, 116
controller, 50
defined, 282
hard drive installation, 125–127
master/slave jumper, 116
optical drive, 161
SATA hard drive comparison, 118–119
802.11g wireless networking standard, 217
802.11n wireless connection, 199
802.11n wireless networking standard, 217
e-mail, 173
emulator, 136
encoding and digital effects, sound card, 173
Energy Star/DPMS compliance, 104
Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics. See EIDE
ergonomic keyboard, 19, 84, 254
error, 266–267
eSATA port, 80
Ethernet network, 211–215
Ethernet port, 19
extended data output (EDO), 282
external DVD drive, 161–162
external modem installation, 202–203
external peripheral, 282
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external ports, installing, 89–90
external speaker, 175
extra parts, 260–261
additional, 42
airflow rating, 240
ball-bearing, 47
cage, 239
CPU, 240
extended overheating, 46
gaming PC, 230–231, 238–239
heatsink combination, 70–71, 241
installation, 70–71
lighted, 242
multiple use, 240
power supply, 240
troubleshooting, 75
fax modem, 282
fax support, 195
female connector, 81, 282
file server, 211
file size, removable storage drive, 121
filter, Norton, 142
fingerprint scanner, 141
fingertip mouse, 251, 282
defined, 282
Symantec Norton Internet Security 2008, 142
Vista operating system, 141
FireWire port
basic description of, 19
defined, 282–283
external optical drive, 161
standard, 80
Flash BIOS
basic description of, 50
defined, 283
Flash drive, 283
flash RAM memory, 227–228
flatbed scanner, 224–225
flat-panel monitor, 102–104, 283
flat-ribbon cable connector, 124
floppy disk drive
alternatives to, 120
basic description of, 19–20
defined, 283
disadvantages of, 271
installation, 129–131
magnetic fields, 270
shelf life, 270
top-of-the-line computer requirements, 28
formatting hard drive, 134
fps (frames per second), 236
frame rate, 94
freehand drawing, 83
freeware, 277
Futuremark Web site, 94
game port
as optional port, 81
defined, 283
PCI bus sound bard, 170
gaming PC
audiophile sound card, 31
broadband needs assessment, 188
case customization, 244–245
computer needs assessment, 31
controllers, 31
DirectX program, 137
fan, 230–231, 238–239
GPU performance, 236
joystick, 245–246
lighted fan, 242
lighted feet, 243
modding, 235
RAID array, 241–242
rope light, 242
sound card, 31
speaker, 31
temperature gauges, 243
textures (graphic designs), 236
3D video card, 31
UV light, 242
video card, 31, 235–237
visual extras, 242–243
gateway, Internet, 211
GB (gigabyte), 20, 283
GeForce 8400 GS video card, 94
GeForce GTX 200-series chipset, 95
general information about this book, 4
GHz (gigahertz), 18, 62, 283
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GIF (graphic interchange format), 256
gigabyte (GB), 20, 283
glare, monitor, 104
GNU software, 277
Gookin, Dan (PCs For Dummies), 277
GPU (graphics processing unit)
graphics functions, 94
speed, 236
graphic interchange format (GIF), 256
graphics, 36. See also video card
grounding, 14
GUI (graphical user interface), 139
hacker, 283
hard drive
access time, 119
bare-bones computer requirements, 26
basic description of, 20, 115
cache, 120
controllers, connecting, 123–124
defined, 283
defragmentation, 263–264
drive cage kit, 126
floppy disk drive, 120, 129–131
formatting, 134
midrange computer requirements, 27
partitioning, 134
PC configuration, 132–133
removable storage drive, 121
REV cartridge drive, 122
rpm, 119
size, 120
storage capacity, 119
storage capacity, scanner, 224
top-of-the-line computer requirements, 28
USB Flash drive, 122
warranty, 120
WD3000GLFS, 122
auto-configuration, 136
network, 213–215
operating system selection considerations, 36
refurbished, 269–270
support, 136
voice modem, 196
HD LED, 59
HD support, TV card, 109
HDD light, 59
headphone speaker, 175
headset microphone, 174
heatsink and fan combination, 70–71, 241
high-speed access. See broadband
Home Basic edition (Vista operating system),
Home Networking For Dummies, 4th Edition
(Ivens), 211
home office
computer needs assessment, 30
home phone line network, 215
modem, 30
printer, 30
scanner, 30
Home Premium edition (Vista operating
system), 138
HomePNA network, 215–216
hub, USB, 216
Hurley, Pat (Wireless Home Networking For
Dummies, 3rd Edition), 217
icons, about this book, 7
ICS (Internet Connection Sharing), 204
IDG Web site, 32
iMac For Dummies (Chambers), 277
image editor, 256
image-acquisition software, 224
image-editing software, 224
Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) slot,
50, 283
infrared port, 81, 283
ink cartridge, 230–231
inkjet printer
advantages of, 230–231
color printing, 231
cost, 230
defined, 283
ink cartridges, 230
multifunction printer, 230
bare-bones computer requirements, 26
midrange computer requirements, 27
top-of-the-line computer requirements, 28
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adapter card, 86–88
CPU, 67–69
EIDE hard drive, 125–127
external modem, 202–203
external port, 89–90
fan, 70–71
floppy disk drive, 129–131
internal modem, 200–201
keyboard, 91
Linux operating system, 147–150
motherboard, 54–56
mouse, 92
NIC (network interface card), 218–219
optical drive, 163–166
pointing device, 92
printer, 232–233
RAM, 72–73
SATA hard drive, 128
scanner, 232–233
slot cover, 52–53
sound card, 178–180
TV card, 109–111
video card, 106–108
Vista operating system, 143–146
instructions, reading first, 257
integrated audio hardware, sound card, 170
Celeron processor, 63–64
Core 2 Duo processor, 64
Core 2 Quad processor, 64–65
Intel Core 2 series, 18
interface, 283
internal DVD drive, 160–161
internal modem installation, 200–201
broadband needs assessment, 188
parts research, 32–33
router, 211
Satellite Internet connection, 190
shared network, 196–199, 206
telephone, 174
Internet Connection Sharing (ICS), 204
Internet gateway, 211
Internet service provider. See ISP
interpolated resolution, 227
ISA adapter card, 87
ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) slot,
50, 283
ISP (Internet service provider)
Internet telephone and, 174
locating, 192
Ivens, Kathy (Home Networking For Dummies,
4th Edition), 211
cost, 246
defined, 284
game-dependent, 246
Logitech Force 3D Pro, 245
resistance/movement in, 245
defined, 284
settings, 116
KB (kilobyte), 284
cleaning, 256
desk space, 84
drawer, 254
ergonomic, 19, 84, 254
extra keys, 84
installation, 91
Logitech Cordless Trackman Wheel, 85
Logitech G15 Gaming, 85
mouse combination, 85
multifunction buttons, 84
PS/2 standard connector, 78–79
shelves for, 84
standard, 84
trying before buying, 85
wireless, 84
keyboard port, 78, 284
keying, 127
kilobyte (KB), 284
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LAN (local area network), 209, 284
laser printer
advantages of, 231
cost, 230
defined, 284
ink cartridges, 231
toner, 230–231
LCD monitor
basic description of, 18
size, 102–103
widescreen format, 102
leasing, 273
legacy applications, 136
licensing, 144
assembly rules, 13
case, 47
gooseneck lamp, 257–258
power, 58–59
well-equipped workspace, 257
LightScribe drives and media, 158
linked cards, 238
Linux operating system
advantages of, 139
defined, 284
desktop, 139
history of, 138–139
installation, 147–150
Linux Kernel Archive, 139
Mandriva, 135, 140
Linux operating system
Red Hat Enterprise, 135, 140
shell, 135, 139
TCP/IP support, 139
Unix operating system, 138
X graphical user interface, 139
liquid, keeping away from computer and
components, 15
LITE-ON 20X Dual-Layer DVD Burner optical
drive, 162
local area network (LAN), 209, 284
lockups, 253
Logitech Cordless Trackman Wheel, 85
Logitech Force 3D Pro joystick, 245
Logitech G15 Gaming keyboard, 85
Macs For Dummies (Baig), 277
magazine, as parts research, 32–33
magnetic screwdriver, 14, 260
mail-order, 33–34
background image, keeping it simple, 264
Check Disk feature, 266–267
data transfer, 264
defragmentation, 263–264
Disk Cleanup program, 268
driver, keeping updated, 266
hidden programs, removing, 264–265
native file system, 266
resident programs, removing, 264–265
System Configuration Utility, 265
system registry, 268
male connector, 81, 284
Mandriva operating system, 135, 140
manual, storing for easy reference, 13
manufacturer, as assembly resource, 260
master/slave jumper, EIDE hard drive, 116
MB (megabyte), 284
megahertz (MHz), 62, 284
memory. See also RAM
Blu-ray drive, 157
cache, 63
DDR2, 65–66, 281
DDR3, 65–66
DVD drive, 157
troubleshooting, 278
TV card, 100
video card, 94–96, 235–236
message base, 210
messages, 5
MHz (megahertz), 62, 284
boom, 174, 177, 186
clip-on, 174, 186
connection, 185–186
headset, 174
Internet telephone, 174
placement, 186
USB Desktop, 177
voice command and dictation, 173
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voice e-mail, 174
voice recording application, 173
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface)
defined, 284
instrument, 30
MIDI port, 81
port, 284
millisecond (ms), 119
minitower case, 45
mirror backup, 241
MLC Books Online Web site, 34
modding, 235, 284
basic description of, 193
cable, 189–190
cost, 194
defined, 284
fax support, 195, 282
home office, 30
installing external, 202–203
installing internal, 200–201
midrange computer requirements, 27
speed, 193–194
status light, 194
top-of-the-line computer requirements, 28
voice modem hardware and software, 195–196
antiglare coating, 104
bare-bones computer requirements, 26
basic description of, 18
cleaning, 256
color configuration support, 104
connecting, 112–113
CRT, 103–104
defined, 284
digital controls, 104
elevating, 105
Energy Star/DPMS compliance, 104
flat-panel, 102–104, 283
LCD, 18, 102–103
midrange computer requirements, 27
placement, 105
response time, 104
size, 102–103
speaker, built-in, 104
SVGA, 226, 287
top-of-the-line computer requirements, 28
troubleshooting, 114
ViewSonic 20-inch Widescreen LCD, 105
warranty, 105
widescreen display, 102
ASUS P5N-D LGA775, 51
AT-class, 279
Athlon 64 X2, 49
bare-bones computer requirements, 26
BIOS chip, 50
contents of, 17–18
Core 2 Duo, 49
CPU socket, 68
defined, 284
DIP switch, 56
drive controller, 50
features, 49–50
Flash BIOS, 50
installation, 54–56
midrange computer requirements, 27
PCI slot, 50
PCI-Express slot, 50
populated, 61
power supply connection, 57
RAM, 50
size, 48
cleaning, 256
defined, 284
fingertip, 251, 282
installation, 92
keyboard combination, 85
optical, 252
pointing device versus, 251–252
standard, 82
wireless, 82, 252, 288
mouse port, 79
movies, 154
Moving Pictures Expert Group (MPEG), 97, 285
MP3 file
defined, 285
as digital music standard, 171
handheld personal players, 31
popularity of, 30
MPEG (Moving Pictures Expert Group), 97, 285
ms (millisecond), 119
multifunction keyboard buttons, 84
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multifunction printer, 230
multiple drive
master unit, 125, 163
slave unit, 164, 166
music file, computer needs assessment, 30–31
Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI)
defined, 284
instrument, 30
MIDI port, 81
port, 284
native file system, 266
native resolution, 97
needs assessment, computers (what type to
bare-bones computers, 25–26
discussed, 23
drawing tablet, 29
gaming, 31
high-quality video, 24
home office, 30
midrange design, 26–27
music file, 30–31
primary application considerations, 24
secondary application considerations, 24
top-of-the-line computers, 27–28
negative/slide scanner, 226
cable, 214–215
client-server, 211, 280
communication advantage, 210
convenience of, 210
data packets, 215
defined, 285
Ethernet, 211–215, 282
groupware system advantage, 210
hardware needed for, 213–215
home phone line, 215
HomePNA, 215–216
Internet connection advantage, 210–211
LAN (local area network), 209, 284
message base, 210
operating system, 136
peer-to-peer, 212
powerline, 216
software, 213
switches, 213
twisted-pair cable, 213
twisted-pair crossover cable, 213
USB, 216
uses for, 209
wireless, 216–217
network interface card. See NIC
Newegg Web site, 32, 34
as parts research, 32–33
defined, 285
NIC (network interface card)
automatic or software configuration, 214
basic description of, 213
driver support, 214
installation, 218–219
testing, 220–221
noise, AC line, 252
Norton AntiVirus 2008 software, 254
Norton Internet Security 2008 firewall, 142
Norton SystemWorks Premier Edition diagnostic
package, 253
Nuance Communications Web site, 173
NVIDIA GeForce 8400 GS video card, 94, 237
NVIDIA Web site, 95
OCR (optical character recognition) feature
defined, 285
memory requirements, 29
scanners and, 224
old software, 273
online ordering, 34
onscreen display (OSD) controls, 104
operating system (OS). See also Linux operating
system; Vista operating system
cutting-edge technology, 136
DL (dual-layer media), 156
hardware auto-configuration, 136
hardware support, 136
installation preparation, 140–141
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legacy applications, 136
networking, 136
security, 136, 141
selection consideration, 36–37, 135–136
software compatibility, 136
speed, 135
stability, 136
technical support, 141
optical character recognition (OCR) feature
defined, 285
memory requirements, 29
scanners and, 224
optical drive
archival storage, 150
bare-bones computer requirements, 26
care and maintenance, 155
cleaning, 256
digital data, 158
EIDE technology, 161
installation, 163–166
LightScribe drives and media, 158
LITE-ON 20X Dual-Layer DVD Burner, 162
midrange computer requirements, 27
SATA technology, 161
speed, 156
testing, 167
top-of-the-line computer requirements, 28
optical mouse, 252
optical trackball, 82, 252
ordering parts/components, 33–35
organization, about this book, 6–7
OS. See operating system
OSD (onscreen display) controls, 104
basic description of, 236
defined, 285
RivaTuner utility, 237
settings, testing, 238
when to overclock, 237
packaging, saving, 13
Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 image editor, 256
panning features, video card, 98
paper, printer, 230–231
parallel ATA (PATA) device, 116
parallel printer port, 80, 285
partitioning, 134
parts. See also computer components
ordering, 33–35
researching, 32–33
saving extra, 13
storage box, 259–261
warranties, 34
parts manual
boot, 141
Linux installation, 149
unnecessary use of, 271
Vista installation, 145
PATA (parallel ATA) device, 116
patch cable, 215
PC, configuring to accept hard drive, 132–133
PC Magazine Web site, 32
PC World Web site, 32
PCI adapter card
basic description of, 22
defined, 285
FireWire port, 87
PCI bus sound card, 169–170
PCI slot, 50
PCI-Express adapter card, 22, 101, 285
PCI-Express slot, 50
PCI-Express video card, 94
PCs All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies,
4th Edition (Chambers), 138
PCs For Dummies (Gookin), 277
peer-to-peer network, 212, 285
Pentium 4 design, 270
defined, 16
external, 282
personalized mailbox, 196
Phenom processor, 64–65
phishing, 142
photo album, digital, 154
photo scanner, 226
Photoshop Elements image editor, 256
Pin 1 Rule, 261–262
pirated software, 272
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pitfalls to avoid
copyright violation, 271
floppy disk, 270–271
leasing, 273
old architecture and components, 270
old software, 273
passwords, unnecessary use of, 271
pirated software, 272
power supply, 272
refurbished hardware, 269–270
young children using PC, 272
defined, 285
resolution and, 96
pizza-box type case, 42–44
analog, 176
digital, 176
powerline adapter, 216
PNY GeForce 9800 GX2 card, 105
point-and-shoot digital camera, 228
pointing device
cleaning, 256
drawing tablet, 251
installing, 92
mouse versus, 251–252
selection considerations, 82–83
touchpad, 251, 287
trackball, 251–252, 287
populated motherboard, 61
port. See also connection
adapter card, installing, 86–88
bare-bones computer requirements, 26
basic description of, 77
built-in, connecting, 89–90
COM, 81
defined, 18, 285
eSATA, 80
Ethernet, 19
external, installation, 89–90
FireWire, 19, 80, 282–283
game, 81
infrared, 81, 283
keyboard, 78, 284
label marking, 82
MIDI, 81, 284
midrange computer requirements, 27
mouse, 79
printer, 80
serial, 81
top-of-the-line computer requirements, 28
USB, 19, 79
portability, removable storage drive, 121
power connector, SATA, 117, 128
power LED, 59
power light, 75
power supply
AC line noise, 252
defined, 286
fan, 240
loss of power, 252
motherboard, 57
pitfalls to avoid, 272
preinstallation, 46
recommended, 46
surge protector, 252
UPS, 252
power user
computer needs assessment, 41
experienced, 251
powering up, 74–75
powerline adapter plug, 216
powerline network, 216
preinstallation power supply, 46
Price Watch Web site, 1, 32, 34, 102
bubble jet, 230
defined, 286
home office, 30
inkjet, 230–231, 283
installation, 232–233
laser, 230–231, 284
multifunction, 230
paper, 230–231
usefulness of, 229
printer port, 80
Athlon 64 X2, 64
Celeron, 63–64
Core 2 Duo, 64, 281
Core 2 Quad, 64–65
Phenom, 64–65
Sempron, 63–64
product key, Vista installation, 144
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PS/2 mouse port, 286
PS/2 standard keyboard connector, 78–79
public domain, 229
rack, CD, 255
RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks)
defined, 286
performance variety, 241
support, 121
RAM (random access memory). See also
bare-bones computer requirements, 26
compatibility, 66
CPU and, 61
defined, 17, 286
flash, 227–228
installation, 72–73
midrange computer requirements, 27
motherboard, 50
top-of-the-line computer requirements, 28
troubleshooting, 278
rambus dynamic random access memory
(RDRAM), 66, 286
random access memory. See RAM
Rathbone, Andy
Windows Vista For Dummies, 277
Windows XP For Dummies, 277
raw resolution value, 227
RDRAM (rambus dynamic random access
memory), 66, 286
ReadMe file, 140
receipt, saving, 13
recorder, personal video, 100
recording, voice, 173
Red Hat Enterprise operating system, 135, 140
Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID)
defined, 286
performance variety, 241
support, 121
refresh, 286
refund, mail-order, 33
refurbished hardware, 269–270
Registry cleanup utility, 268
removable storage drive, 121
rendering, 286
researching parts, 32–33
Reset button, 59
resident programs, 264–265
defined, 286
digital camera, 228
higher, 96–97
interpolated, 227
lower, 96
medium, 96
native, 97
pixel, 96
raw value, 227
scanner, 227
video cards, 94, 96–97
resources, assembly, 259–260
response time, monitor, 104
restocking fee, 33
retail packages versus building your own
brand considerations, 3–4
common myths, 12
cost considerations, 1, 3
ease of building, 8
foolish assumptions, 5–6
repair considerations, 2–3
REV cartridge drive, 122
RivaTuner utility, 237
rope light, 242
router, Internet, 211
rpm (revolutions per minute), 119, 286
salespeople, avoiding computer sales experience, 3
SATA (serial ATA) hard drive
advantages of, 117
cable, 117
defined, 286
drive controller, 50
EIDE hard drive comparison, 118–119
installation, 128
interface, 117
optical drive, 161
power connector, 117, 128
support, 121
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Satellite Internet connection, 190
Scalable Link Interface (SLI)
configuring for video card, 247–248
defined, 286
linked cards, 238
color, 223
color depth, 226
cost, 223
defined, 286
desktop publishing application, 224
fingerprint, 141
flatbed, 224–225
hard drive storage capacity, 224
home office, 30
image-acquisition software, 224
image-editing software, 224
installation, 232–233
memory requirements, 29
negative/slide, 226
OCR feature, 29
photo, 226
resolution, 227
sheetfed, 225
software, 224
true color advertised, 226
uses for, 223
Scanners For Dummies, 2nd Edition (Chambers),
magnetic, 14, 260
need for, 12
Phillips, 260
SDRAM (synchronous DRAM) memory, 65
boot password, 141
operating system, 141
operating system selection considerations,
36, 136
removable storage drive, 121
shared Internet connection, 197
Symantec Norton Internet Security 2008 firewall, 142
seek time, 119
Sempron processor, 63–64
serial ATA (SATA) hard drive
advantages of, 117
cable, 117
defined, 286
drive controller, 50
EIDE hard drive comparison, 118–119
installation, 128
interface, 117
optical drive, 161
power connector, 117, 128
support, 121
serial port, 81, 286
server, 211
shared Internet connection
advantage of, 196–197
ICS (Internet Connection Sharing), 204
security, 197
through hardware, 206
wired sharing device, 197–198
wireless sharing device, 197
shareware, 277
sheetfed scanner, 225
shell, Linux operating system, 135, 139
shoe-box case, 43–44
Shopper Web site, 34
shuttle box case, 43–44
SIMM (single inline memory module), 286
single drive, master unit, 125, 163
site. See Web site
computer case, 16
hard drive, 120
LCD monitor, 102–103
monitor, 102–103
motherboard, 48
SLI (Scalable Link Interface)
configuring for video card, 247–248
defined, 286
linked cards, 238
slide show, 154
slot cover installation, 52–53
bundled software cost, 3
diagnostics package, 253
GNU, 277
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network, 213
old, pitfalls to avoid, 273
operating system compatibility, 136
pirated, 272
scanner, 224
sound card, 170
unneeded, removing, 267–268
video card, 98
voice modem, 196
software configuration, NIC, 214
Sound Blaster X-Fi Elite Pro sound card, 170
Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme PCI sound card, 177
sound card
audiophile, 31
bare-bones computer requirements, 26
bit rate, 170
defined, 286
encoding and digital effects, 173
format, 171
installation, 178–180
integrated audio hardware, 170
midrange computer requirements, 27
PCI bus, 169–170
software, 170
Sound Blaster X-Fi Elite Pro, 170
Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme PCI, 177
surround sound, 172
testing, 183–184
3-D spatial sound, 170, 172
top-of-the-line computer requirements, 28
voice command and dictation, 255
space-saver case, 41–45
amplified power, 176
analog plug, 176
case, 47
connection, 58–59, 181–182
controls, 176
digital plug, 176
external, 175
flat-panel design, 177
headphone, 175
monitor, 104
subwoofer, 31, 177
USB plug, 176
volume control, 176
X-540 5.1 speaker system, 177
speakerphone, voice modem, 196
special effects, digital camera, 228
bus, 63
core clock, 236
CPU, 18
GPU, 236
modem, 193–194
operating system selection considerations,
36, 135
optical drive, 156
video card, 94
splitter, DSL, 190–191
Spybot Search & Destroy application, 255
spyware removal program, 255
stability, operating system, 136
standard mouse, 82
standardized computer components, 15
antistatic strip, 51
defined, 287
status light, modem, 194
stereo positioning, 31
storage capacity, hard drive, 119
subwoofer speaker, 31, 177, 287
super video graphics array (SVGA) monitor,
226, 287
Blu-ray drive, 157
DVD drive, 157
hardware, 136
NIC, 214
RAID, 121
video card, 98
Wiley Product Technical Support, 278
surge protector, 252
surround sound, 172
SVGA (super video graphics array) monitor,
226, 287
connection, 58–59
network, 213
Norton Internet Security 2008 firewall, 142
Norton SystemWorks Premier Edition diagnostic package, 253
Web site, 142, 253
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synchronous DRAM (SDRAM) memory, 65
System Configuration Utility, 265
system registry maintenance, 268
system requirements, 277
tape backup drive, 287
TB (terabyte), 20, 119
TCP/IP communications protocol, 139
technical support, operating system, 141
technician, as assembly resource, 260
telephone, Internet, 174
temperature gauges, 243
terabyte (TB), 20, 119
connection, 85
NIC (network interface card), 220–221
optical drive installation, 167
overclock settings, 238
sound care, 183–184
texture (graphic designs), 236
3-D spatial sound, 170, 172
3-D video card, 31, 95, 97
3DMark Vantage utility, 94
throughput, 264
time zone setting
Linux installation, 148
Vista installation, 146
Tom’s Hardware Web site, 32, 95, 236
toner, 230
topology, 287
touchpad pointing device, 251, 287
tower case, 45, 51
trackball pointing device
cleaning, 256
defined, 287
ease of use, 251–252
optical, 82, 252
transfer rate, 156
fan, 75
monitor, 114
power light, 75
video card, 114
true color advertised scanner, 226
TV card
basic description of, 98
installation, 109–111
tuner card, 100–101
TV output, as video card feature, 98
TweakNow RegCleaner Professional utility, 268
twisted-pair cable, 213, 287
twisted-pair crossover cable, 213
Ultimate edition (Vista operating system), 138
uninstall program, 267–268
Unix operating system, 138, 287
UPS (uninterruptible power supply), 252
USB connector, 287
USB Desktop microphone, 177
USB Flash drive
advantage of, 122
basic description of, 20
ease of use, 122
USB hub, 216
USB network, 216
USB port
basic description of, 19, 79
external optical drive, 161
user group, as parts research, 32–33
UV light, 242
VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association),
VGA cable, 112, 287
VGA-to-DCI converter, 112
video card
accelerated card, 94
AGP, 94
bare-bones computer requirements, 26
basic description of, 18, 93
bridge connector, 238
bundled software features, 98
color depth, 94, 96
defined, 287
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DPMS support, 99
driver support, 95
dual display features, 99
DVI output, 98
features adding value to, 98–99
frame rate, 94
GPU performance, 236
installation, 106–108
manufacturer, 94–95
memory, 94–96, 235–236
midrange computer requirements, 27
MPEG format, 97
NVIDIA GeForce 8400 GS, 94, 237
overclocking, 236–238
panning features, 98
PCI-Express, 94
personal video recorder, 100
resolution, 94, 96–97
reviews and benchmarks, 95
running multiple, 238
selection consideration, 94–95
SLE (Scalable Link Interface), 238
SLI configuration, 247–248
speed, 94
support, 98
3D, 31, 95, 97
top-of-the-line computer requirements, 28
troubleshooting, 114
TV output, 98, 100
Windows utilities features, 98
Video Electronics Standards Association
(VESA), 104
videoconferencing, 188
ViewSonic 20-inch Widescreen LCD monitor, 105
virtual private network (VPN), 191
Norton AntiVirus 2008 software, 254
signature update, 254
Spybot Search & Destroy application, 255
spyware removal program, 255
Vista operating system
automatic hardware detection feature, 137
Business edition, 138
clean install, 242
defined, 288
desktop, 137
ease of use, 137
firewall, 141
Home Basic edition, 138
Home Premium edition, 138
installation, 143–146
new features, 137
Ultimate edition, 138
voice command and dictation, 173, 255
voice e-mail, 173
voice modem, 287
voice modem hardware and software, 195–196
voice recording application, 173
VoIP (Voice-over-IP), 174
volume control, speaker, 176
VPN (virtual private network), 191
WAN (wide area network), 191
computer component, 34
hard drive, 120
monitor, 105
WAV format, 171, 287
wavetable, 287
WD3000GLFS hard drive, 122
Web cam, 229
Web cookie, 142
Web site
CNET, 32
Corel, 256
Creative Labs, 170
documents for, 229
DriverZone, 95
Futuremark, 94
IDG, 32
MLC Books Online, 34
Newegg, 32, 34
Nuance Communications, 173
PC Magazine, 32
PC World, 32
Price Watch, 1, 32, 34, 102
Shopper, 34
Symantec, 142, 253
Tom’s Hardware, 32, 95, 236
ZDNet, 32
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Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB hard
drive, 122
wide area network (WAN), 191
Wiley Product Technical Support, 278
Windows 2008 server, 287
Windows utilities
Registry cleanup utility, 268
video cards support, 98
Windows Vista For Dummies (Rathbone), 277
Windows Vista operating system
automatic hardware detection feature, 137
Business edition, 138
clean install, 242
defined, 288
desktop, 137
ease of use, 137
firewall, 141
Home Basic edition, 138
Home Premium edition, 138
installation, 143–146
new features, 137
Ultimate edition, 138
Windows XP For Dummies (Rathbone), 277
wired sharing device, 197–198
wireless access point, 216
wireless base station, 216
Wireless Home Networking For Dummies, 3rd
Edition (Briere, Bruce, and Hurley), 217
wireless keyboard, 84
wireless mouse, 82, 252, 288
wireless network, 216–217
wireless sharing device, 197
WMA format, 171
assembly rules, 13
extension lamp, adjustable, 257
importance of well-equipped workspace,
smooth surface, 258
X graphical user interface (Linux), 139
X-540 5.1 speaker system, 177
Y power cable adapter, 259
Y-splitter, 240
ZDNet Web site, 32
ZIF (zero insertion force) socket, 68, 288
zoom control, digital camera, 228
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Wiley Publishing, Inc.
End-User License Agreement
READ THIS. You should carefully read these terms and conditions before opening the software
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Wiley Publishing, Inc. “WPI”. By opening the accompanying software packet(s), you acknowledge that
you have read and accept the following terms and conditions. If you do not agree and do not want to
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2. Ownership. WPI is the owner of all right, title, and interest, including copyright, in and to the
compilation of the Software recorded on the disk(s) or CD-ROM “Software Media”. Copyright
to the individual programs recorded on the Software Media is owned by the author or other
authorized copyright owner of each program. Ownership of the Software and all proprietary
rights relating thereto remain with WPI and its licensers.
3. Restrictions On Use and Transfer.
(a) You may only (i) make one copy of the Software for backup or archival purposes, or (ii)
transfer the Software to a single hard disk, provided that you keep the original for backup or
archival purposes. You may not (i) rent or lease the Software, (ii) copy or reproduce the
Software through a LAN or other network system or through any computer subscriber
system or bulletin-board system, or (iii) modify, adapt, or create derivative works based on
the Software.
(b) You may not reverse engineer, decompile, or disassemble the Software. You may transfer
the Software and user documentation on a permanent basis, provided that the transferee
agrees to accept the terms and conditions of this Agreement and you retain no copies. If the
Software is an update or has been updated, any transfer must include the most recent
update and all prior versions.
4. Restrictions on Use of Individual Programs. You must follow the individual requirements and
restrictions detailed for each individual program in the About the DVD appendix of this Book.
These limitations are also contained in the individual license agreements recorded on the
Software Media. These limitations may include a requirement that after using the program for a
specified period of time, the user must pay a registration fee or discontinue use. By opening the
Software packet(s), you will be agreeing to abide by the licenses and restrictions for these individual programs that are detailed in the About the DVD appendix and on the Software Media.
None of the material on this Software Media or listed in this Book may ever be redistributed, in
original or modified form, for commercial purposes.
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Page 310
5. Limited Warranty.
(a) WPI warrants that the Software and Software Media are free from defects in materials and
workmanship under normal use for a period of sixty (60) days from the date of purchase of
this Book. If WPI receives notification within the warranty period of defects in materials or
workmanship, WPI will replace the defective Software Media.
(c) This limited warranty gives you specific legal rights, and you may have other rights that
vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
6. Remedies.
(a) WPI’s entire liability and your exclusive remedy for defects in materials and workmanship
shall be limited to replacement of the Software Media, which may be returned to WPI with a
copy of your receipt at the following address: Software Media Fulfillment Department, Attn.:
<BOOK TITLE>, Wiley Publishing, Inc., 10475 Crosspoint Blvd., Indianapolis, IN 46256, or call
1-800-762-2974. Please allow four to six weeks for delivery. This Limited Warranty is void if
failure of the Software Media has resulted from accident, abuse, or misapplication. Any
replacement Software Media will be warranted for the remainder of the original warranty
period or thirty (30) days, whichever is longer.
(b) In no event shall WPI or the author be liable for any damages whatsoever (including without
limitation damages for loss of business profits, business interruption, loss of business information, or any other pecuniary loss) arising from the use of or inability to use the Book or
the Software, even if WPI has been advised of the possibility of such damages.
(c) Because some jurisdictions do not allow the exclusion or limitation of liability for consequential or incidental damages, the above limitation or exclusion may not apply to you.
7. U.S. Government Restricted Rights. Use, duplication, or disclosure of the Software for or on
behalf of the United States of America, its agencies and/or instrumentalities “U.S. Government”
is subject to restrictions as stated in paragraph (c)(1)(ii) of the Rights in Technical Data and
Computer Software clause of DFARS 252.227-7013, or subparagraphs (c) (1) and (2) of the
Commercial Computer Software - Restricted Rights clause at FAR 52.227-19, and in similar
clauses in the NASA FAR supplement, as applicable.
8. General. This Agreement constitutes the entire understanding of the parties and revokes and
supersedes all prior agreements, oral or written, between them and may not be modified or
amended except in a writing signed by both parties hereto that specifically refers to this
Agreement. This Agreement shall take precedence over any other documents that may be in
conflict herewith. If any one or more provisions contained in this Agreement are held by any
court or tribunal to be invalid, illegal, or otherwise unenforceable, each and every other provision shall remain in full force and effect.
10:52 PM
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10:45 PM
Page 312
Accounting For Dummies, 4th Edition*
E-Mail Marketing For Dummies
Six Sigma For Dummies
Bookkeeping Workbook For Dummies †
Job Interviews For Dummies, 3rd Edition*†
Small Business Kit For Dummies,
2nd Edition*†
Commodities For Dummies
Personal Finance Workbook For Dummies*†
Telephone Sales For Dummies
Doing Business in China For Dummies
Real Estate License Exams For Dummies
Access 2007 For Dummies
PowerPoint 2007 For Dummies
Quicken 2008 For Dummies
Excel 2007 For Dummies
Project 2007 For Dummies
978-0-470-03651-8 For Dummies,
2nd Edition
Office 2007 For Dummies
QuickBooks 2008 For Dummies
Word 2007 For Dummies
Outlook 2007 For Dummies
African American History For Dummies
ASVAB For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Geometry Workbook For Dummies
Algebra For Dummies
British Military History For Dummies
The SAT I For Dummies, 6th Edition
Algebra Workbook For Dummies
Calculus For Dummies
Series 7 Exam For Dummies
Art History For Dummies
Canadian History For Dummies, 2nd Edition
World History For Dummies
Bridge For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Drawing For Dummies
Knitting Patterns For Dummies
Coin Collecting For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Etiquette For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Living Gluten-Free For Dummies †
Cooking Basics For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Gardening Basics For Dummies* †
Painting Do-It-Yourself For Dummies
Anger Management For Dummies
Horseback Riding For Dummies
Puppies For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Anxiety & Depression Workbook
For Dummies
Infertility For Dummies †
Thyroid For Dummies, 2nd Edition †
Type 1 Diabetes For Dummies* †
Dieting For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Meditation For Dummies with CD-ROM,
2nd Edition
Dog Training For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder For Dummies
* Separate Canadian edition also available
† Separate U.K. edition also available
Available wherever books are sold. For more information or to order direct: U.S. customers visit or call 1-877-762-2974.
U.K. customers visit or call (0) 1243 843291. Canadian customers visit or call 1-800-567-4797.
10:45 PM
Page 313
AdWords For Dummies
eBay Business All-in-One Desk Reference
For Dummies
iPod & iTunes For Dummies, 5th Edition
Blogging For Dummies, 2nd Edition
MySpace For Dummies
eBay For Dummies, 5th Edition*
Digital Photography All-in-One
Desk Reference For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Podcasting For Dummies
eBay Listings That Sell For Dummies
Digital Photography For Dummies, 5th Edition
Facebook For Dummies
Search Engine Optimization
For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Digital SLR Cameras & Photography
For Dummies, 2nd Edition
The Internet For Dummies, 11th Edition
Second Life For Dummies
Investing Online For Dummies, 5th Edition
Starting an eBay Business For Dummies,
3rd Edition†
Adobe Creative Suite 3 Design Premium
All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies
Creating Web Pages For Dummies,
8th Edition
Photoshop CS3 For Dummies
Photoshop Elements 5 For Dummies
Adobe Web Suite CS3 All-in-One Desk
Reference For Dummies
Dreamweaver CS3 For Dummies
SolidWorks For Dummies
Flash CS3 For Dummies
AutoCAD 2008 For Dummies
Visio 2007 For Dummies
Google SketchUp For Dummies
Building a Web Site For Dummies,
3rd Edition
Web Design For Dummies, 2nd Edition
InDesign CS3 For Dummies
Web Sites Do-It-Yourself For Dummies
Photoshop CS3 All-in-One
Desk Reference For Dummies
Creating Web Pages All-in-One Desk
Reference For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Web Stores Do-It-Yourself For Dummies
Arabic For Dummies
Chinese For Dummies, Audio Set
French For Dummies
German For Dummies
Hebrew For Dummies
Ingles Para Dummies
Italian For Dummies, Audio Set
Italian Verbs For Dummies
Japanese For Dummies
Latin For Dummies
Portuguese For Dummies
Russian For Dummies
Spanish Phrases For Dummies
Spanish For Dummies
Spanish For Dummies, Audio Set
The Bible For Dummies
Catholicism For Dummies
The Historical Jesus For Dummies
Islam For Dummies
Spirituality For Dummies,
2nd Edition
ASP.NET 3.5 For Dummies
Java For Dummies, 4th Edition
C# 2008 For Dummies
Microsoft® SQL Server™ 2008 All-in-One
Desk Reference For Dummies
Hacking For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Networking All-in-One Desk Reference
For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Wireless Home Networking
For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Home Networking For Dummies, 4th Edition
Networking For Dummies,
8th Edition
SharePoint 2007 For Dummies
10:45 PM
Page 314
iMac For Dummies, 5th Edition
Mac OS X Leopard For Dummies
Windows Vista All-in-One
Desk Reference For Dummies
Laptops For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Macs For Dummies, 9th Edition
Windows Vista For Dummies
Linux For Dummies, 8th Edition
PCs For Dummies, 11th Edition
Windows Vista Security For Dummies
MacBook For Dummies
Windows® Home Server For Dummies
Mac OS X Leopard All-in-One
Desk Reference For Dummies
Windows Server 2008 For Dummies
Coaching Hockey For Dummies
GarageBand For Dummies
iPod & iTunes For Dummies,
5th Edition
Coaching Soccer For Dummies
Golf For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Music Theory For Dummies
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Guitar For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Stretching For Dummies
Football For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Home Recording For Musicians
For Dummies, 2nd Edition
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* Separate Canadian edition also available
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Available wherever books are sold. For more information or to order direct: U.S. customers visit or call 1-877-762-2974.
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10:45 PM
Page 315
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10:54 PM
Page 316
Making everything easier!™
Build the custom PC you want —
just the way you want it —
and have fun doing it!
Are you frustrated because you can’t
buy the PC you want? Have you ever
wanted to create your own custom
PC but were unfamiliar with all of the
parts and terminology? This book is
your new best friend!
This illustrated, hands-on guide will
help you choose the best components
for the PC that’s right for you. Inside
the book, we walk you through the
assembly process in simple, can-do
language. Plus, you get a bonus DVD
containing 45 minutes of step-by-step
video instructions that show you how
to build your own PC. It’s like having an
expert right beside you all the way!
Mark L. Chambers
has been building, customizing, and repairing PCs for
over 20 years for himself and clients. As a consultant,
he helps everyday folks update, maintain, and
troubleshoot PCs.
Build Your Own PC
ISBN 978-0-470-19611-3
⻬ Design and build your dream PC
⻬ Choose and install the
components that fit your needs
⻬ The tools and parts you need
⻬ What you need to know about
operating systems
⻬ Super-charge your graphics,
crank up your sound, and install
the memory you need
⻬ How to test your progress
Bonus DVD
Features 45 minutes
of step-by-step video
$29.99 US • $32.99 CAN • £19.99 UK
Hardware/Personal Computers
196113 cover.indd 1
Discover how to:
Stuff You
to Know
⻬ How to make your PC ready for the
Internet and connect to a network
Making Everything Easier! ™
Mark L. Chambers
Author of PCs All-In-One Desk
Reference For Dummies
12/11/08 2:50:02 PM
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