Buying - San Jose IBM PC Club

Buying - San Jose IBM PC Club
Thanks for picking up this book. I appreciate the lift.
This is the only book whose author is weird enough to try to
reveal everything important about computers — and also
tricky living — all in one book. You can learn part of this info
yourself, without this book, by just asking weird friends &
experimenting & sloshing through the Internet’s drivel, but
reading this book will save you lots of time and teach you tricks
you can’t find elsewhere. You can also call the author’s cell
phone, 603-666-6644, for free help, day or night. He’s usually
available. He’s me. Go ahead: bug me now!
Earlier editions were rated “the best,” praised by
The New York Times and thousands of other major newspapers,
magazines, and gurus worldwide, in many countries; but this
33rd edition is even better! It adds the world’s newest
crap achievements: Windows 10, Python programming, Trump,
and other fantastic goodies/baddies: over 40,000 updates!
It explains clearly, without wasting your time:
How to buy computers & smartphones smartly
How to use modern Windows, iPads, iPhones, and Androids pleasantly
How to use the Internet, email, Microsoft Office, and more, beyond competence
How to write programs in many computer languages, to launch your career
Everything important about life, beginning with health, ending with sex, and
getting intellectual & artistic along the way, with survival tips and candid
chat about the no-no’s (religions, politics, and international cultures)
No other book comes close.
Hop to whatever topic you like. Page 3 shows them all.
Tricky Living begins on page 330 and often gets bizarre. Sex jokes
hide on pages 500-506, higher than kids can count.
Free phone help
Whenever you have a question about computers or anything else
in your life, call me, Russ, on my cell phone, 603-666-6644,
for free help. Yeah, call day or night, around the clock, 24 hours.
I’m usually available, and I sleep just lightly.
I’ve answered hundreds of thousands of phone calls about
computers (how to buy, use, fix, and program them), careers, and
the rest of life (health, dating, other relationships, schools, foreign
cultures, God, and beyond).
I answer most questions directly. If your question’s too tricky
for a quick answer, I’ll teach you how to find the answer yourself
and which people & resources to use. Try me. I’m free.
When you phone, begin by saying your name, city,
how you got my number (“from the 33rd edition”), and
your question’s one-sentence summary. Then we’ll have a
pleasant chat — unless I’m in the middle of another call or
meeting, in which case I’ll call you back free!
I occasionally travel to other countries, to better learn to think
non-American. During those jaunts I might be harder to reach.
We must follow these rules:
For help about your computer, phone when you’re at the computer. For
help with your career or life, sob before calling, then tell me what to analyze.
To handle many calls each day while juggling other responsibilities, I must
keep the average call to 7 minutes but sometimes go longer. You can call often.
If the answer’s in this book, I’ll tell you the page but you must read it yourself.
I can’t help you do baddies (such as taking illegal drugs, using pirated
software, or bombing the USA).
If you’re a kid, get your parents’ permission to phone.
I wish everything in this book were 100% true, but computers
& the world change faster than any human can write, so you’ll
occasionally bump into a paragraph that’s outdated or otherwise
ill-advised, for which I humbly apologize, o master.
I’m your slave. Phone me anytime at 603-666-6644 to whip
me into improving. I’m all ears, to improve my tongue.
Come visit
When you visit New Hampshire, drop in & use my library,
free, anytime, day or night! In case I’m having an orgy with my 50
computers, phone first to pick a time when we’re cooled down.
Visit It reveals any hot news about us, gives
you useful links, and lets you read parts of this book online, free.
I read all email sent to [email protected] I guarantee to
reply, but just by phone, so then phone me at 603-666-6644.
Mail the coupon
Mail us the coupon on this book’s last page. It gets you
our free Secret Brochure, plus discounts on extra copies of
this edition and other editions.
Love your librarian
These details will save your librarian from getting fired.
Author & publisher:
Street address:
Internet addresses:
Secret Guide to Computers & Tricky Living, 33rd edition
Russ Walter at 603-666-6644 (24 hours, usually in)
this is the top-rated book about computers & life
January 2017 by Russ Walter
Internat. Standard Book Number is 978-0-939151-53-0
196 Tiffany Lane, Manchester NH 03104-4782, [email protected]
Elfish fun
I wrote most of this book myself, but over the years I’ve been
helped by many elves, especially these:
My wife (Donna Walter) wrote the “Donna’s comments” section.
Useful tidbits came from Irene Vassos, Len Pallazola, and Lili Timmons.
Priscilla Grogan and Kira Barnum slavishly helped me for many years.
Thousands of readers told me how to improve earlier editions.
Family & friends supported me when life got yukky.
Don’t read this
My editor told me to put this stuff in. You don’t have to read it.
Dedication I dedicate this book to the computer, without
whom I’d be unemployed.
Acknowledgment I’d like to thank:
my many friends (whose names I’ve gladly forgotten)
my students (who naturally aren’t my friends)
my word processor (which has a mind of its own)
all others who helped make this book impossible
I’d especially like to thank:
God (for influencing this book somehow)
Satan (for torturing me to write this book)
Bill Gates (for making software confusing, so I get paid to explain it)
Adolph Hitler (for making my dad flee Germany and meet my mom)
Donald Trump (for making the world bad enough to be worth writing about)
buyers of previous editions (for supporting this dying voice)
Prerequisite Before reading this book, you must pass this
test: count to ten but (here’s the catch!) without looking at your
fingers. To remove the temptation, cut them off.
What this book will do for you It’ll make you even
richer than the author! Alas, he’s broke.
Apology Any original ideas in this book are errors.
Copyright Copying this book is all right! Make as many
copies as you like, and don’t pay us a cent. Just follow the “free
reprints” instructions on page 9.
Forward because it’s too late to turn back.
Buying: use this book
What’s in this book?
Feast your eyes on the massive table of contents, splashed
across the next page. It reveals that the Guide includes all 8 parts
of computer life:
Tricky tech:
Tricky living:
how to buy great computers and smartphones, cheaply
how to use Windows to handle life & the Internet
how to use tablets and smartphones
how to use Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.)
arts, Web-page design, games, and robots
life beyond computers, from the practical to the naughty
how to program in Basic, Python, Java, C#, and beyond
our past, your future, and what to do next
Have fun:
Hardware details too hard to understand? Get electrified, starting on page 10.
Wanna buy modern computers? Their wrestling match starts on page 53.
Windows gotcha worried? Get your brain untangled, starting on page 65.
Oh-oh! Problems with security, maintenance, repairs? Fixes start on page 171.
Got an Apple thingy but still feel dumb about its details? Undumb on page 189.
Got an Android thingy instead? Undumb, starting on page 203.
Word, Excel, and the rest of Office giving you hell? Make heaven on page 230.
Scared about your health & how you’ll die? Page 330 starts your glow.
Talk real intellectual-like by taking the hey-hey hayride bumps from page 362.
Become an artiste without being teased? Emoting starts on page 381.
Political elephants & donkeys both emit piles of shit. Savor them on page 400.
Oh no! Trump? His rise, pratfalls, & the battles to down him start on page 406.
Make fun of lawyers before they make funk of you? Giggles start on page 418.
War ain’t bad, it’s fun — at least according to page 421.
Can you speak American? Which region? Dialects start on page 425.
Become the world’s master! Foreign cultures & tongues start on page 435.
Being good can be fun. So can evil. They start on 476.
Want sex? It starts on page 500.
Learn not just one but all popular programming languages, starting on page 507.
The buying section gives you tricks to use this book then
explains how to shop for a computer. It covers all popular
computers: the towers, all-in-ones, notebook computers, tablets,
and smartphones. It teaches you hardware & software jargon,
reveals lots of dirt about the companies, and tells you how to get
the best deals. It turns you into a German nun, who knows the
difference between what’s blessed and what’s wurst.
It analyzes each of the computer’s parts (the chips, disks,
I/O devices, and software) and reveals the best way to buy
complete systems.
The Windows section explains how to use the newest
Windows (Windows 10) and its predecessors (Windows 7, 8,
and 8.1).
It explains how to make Windows access the Internet (the Web
and e-mail), using all the popular Web browsers (Edge, Internet
Explorer, and Chrome) and email programs (Windows 10 Mail,
Windows Live Mail, Yahoo Mail, and Gmail).
It explains how to protect your computer’s security, make
your computer run better (by doing maintenance and repairs),
and give it advanced commands (using the command prompt,
which lets you give sneaky DOS commands).
The handhelds section explains how to use popular tablets &
It begins with Apple’s handhelds: the iPad & iPhone. Then it
explains the popular alternative (Android) in its 2 good forms:
pure Android and Samsung’s Android.
Buying: use this book
The Office section explains how to use Microsoft Office’s
5 best parts: Word (for word processing), Excel (for spreadsheets),
PowerPoint (for slide shows), Publisher (for desktop publishing),
and Access (for databases). It also reveals when to use antiMicrosoft software instead!
Tricky tech
The tricky tech section covers tricky computer applications
that earlier sections didn’t dare touch.
You learn to create great pictures and do Web-page design
(using templates and HTML). You get into computer games. You
discover how to turn computers into humans, by giving computers
the gift of humanity.
Tricky living
There’s more to life than just computers! The tricky living
section explains everything beyond computers.
It begins on page 330. It digs into health (nutrition, exercise,
maladies, and funny doctors), daily survival (housing,
transportation, and money), intellectuals (educators, researchers,
math, and science), arts (painting, music, movies, and writing),
government (politics, economy, law, and war), American cultures
(craziness in New England and beyond), foreign cultures,
(Canadian, German, Spanish, French, Japanese, and Chinese),
Donna’s comments (about the Chinese and crazy Americans),
morals (ethics, prejudice, religions), and sex (its laughs & groans).
Its candid discussions of politics, religion, and sexual relations include
comments from both sides of the aisle. If you’re a parent who wants to shelter
your kids from controversies, review this material before handing it to your
kids; but it’s milder than what’s on TV and in high-school chitchat.
Our world is split into 3 classes of people:
(who fear and loathe computers and avoid them)
(who use computers but don’t really understand them)
programmers (who understand computers and can teach them new tricks)
The Guide elevates your mind to the heights of class 3: it turns
you into a sophisticated programmer.
To program the computer, you feed it instructions written in a
computer language, which is a small part of English. The Guide’s
programming section explains all the popular computer languages.
It begins on page 507. It explains classic Basic (QBasic & QB64),
modern Basic (Visual Basic), Python (version 3), the J
languages (JavaScript & Jscript, plus Java), and modern C
(Visual C#). It compares oodles of other exotic languages and
gives you the history of them all. For the grand finale, you learn
about programming in assembler.
The parting section is such sweet sorrow. It explains how the
computer industry arose (our past) and how to raise yourself
(your future). It gives you helpful resources (an index and
Secret Guide coupons).
Excuses from the editor, me!
Punctuation Previous editions wrote “e-mail”; but English gradually drops
hyphens, so this edition shows the new style: “email.” I still capitalize
“Internet” & “Web,” even though most news reporters have become too
lazy to capitalize. The Tricky Living section obeys tradition: it puts the
period (to end a sentence) inside any quotation marks; but computer sections,
when quoting a word or phrase, put the period after the closing quotation
mark, to indicate the period isn’t part of what I’m quoting; same for commas.
Footnotes Are you an assoholic professor who gripes I have no footnotes?
Note the two feet at the next page’s bottom. They’re my footnotes for “Sex.”
Use this book
What’s in this book?
Praised by reviewers
Fan mail
Who’s the author?
Special services
How to shop
Kinds of computers
The 3 wares
Form factors
Prices drop
Discount dealers
Chip technology
Floppy disks
Hard disks
I/O devices
Pointing devices
Operating systems
Software companies
Buying software
Complete systems
IBM’s early computers 51
Search for perfection
Best Buy, Staples, others 53
Classic brands
Other IBM clones
Windows 10
Tiles we love
Hidden apps we love
Advanced techniques
Nifty features
Explore your computer 92
Manipulate a file
Windows 8 & 8.1
Tiles we love
Hidden apps
Advanced techniques
Nifty features
Explore your computer 115
Manipulate a file
Windows 7
Set up the computer 121
Finish installing
Use the Start menu 122
Advanced techniques
Nifty features
Explore your computer128
Manipulate a file
How the Internet arose 134
Modern providers
Browser choices
Install your browser
Start browsing
3 ways to search
Best sites
Simple email
Multiple people
Back up your work
Protect your hardware 159
Send email cautiously 160
Beware of evil email 160
Clean your hardware 171
Clean your software
Strategies for repair
Booting problems
Windows problems
Mouse problems
Keyboard problems
Internet problems
Printer problems
No sound
CD drive
Command prompt 181
See command prompt 181
Simple commands
Edit your disks
Batch files
iPad & iPhone
Phone calls
Apple ID
Further help
Pure Android
Easy apps
Alarm clock
Play Store
Further help
Samsung’s Android 213
Phone calls
Text messages
Play Store
Further help
Tricky living
How word proc. began 230
Versions of Word
File-office button
Font group
Select text
Clipboard group
Paragraph group
Styles group
Editing group
Tab bar
How spreadsheets arose 250
What to do
Hop far
Adjust rows & columns 254
After you’ve finished 256
Beautify your cells
Launch PowerPoint
Type your outline
View different slides 263
Font Size
Watch the show
Advanced features
Famous programs
Versions of Publisher 271
Launch Publisher
Quick publications
Pre-written publications
Greeting cards
Other categories
Blank publications
Famous programs
Versions of Access
Launch Access
Create a database
Edit the table
File-office button
Advanced techniques
Improve the fields 283
Data types
Fats in your blood 331
Measuring protein 333
Get thin
Best foods
Nutrition newsletters 339
Disgusting foods
Daily survival
Snow removal
No bell prize
Monk-Penn art
Picasso’s advice
Stoppard’s rebuke
How to write
Quick wits
Weird writing
Political philosophies 400
Presidents we’ve had 404
2016 election
Economic policy
American cultures 423
New Hampshire
New York boroughs
Foreign cultures
China’s importance 440
Chinese language
Chinese history
New Chinese culture 449
Donna’s comments 457
East versus West
I don’t recognize China 460
Americans’ helping hands 470
Tricky languages
Chinese way to succeed 472
My silly husband
Christian fun
Bible translations
Old Testament
New Testament
Search for pleasure
Men versus women
Tricky tech
Famous programs
Classic computer art
3-D drawing
Digital cameras
Professional retouching
Web-page design
Create your own .com
Board games
Adventure games
Fall in love
Replace people
Be poetic
Analyze writing
Artificial intelligence
QBasic & QB64
Going & stopping
Using variables
Helpful hints
Pretty output
Fancy calculations
SUB procedures
Visual Basic
Pop-up boxes
Control commands
Property list
Helpful hints
Tricky programming
Places for output
Word processor
Special numbers
Fancy calculations
Types of data
Random numbers
Data structures
JavaScript & JScript
Simple program
Longer example
Fancier arithmetic
Pop-up boxes
Control statements
Visual C#
Windows forms
Exotic languages
Mainstream languages
Number systems
Character codes
Sexy assembler
Inside the CPU
Intel’s details
Our past
Ancient history
Micro history
Rise & fall
Your future
Become an expert
Computer careers
Change your personality 692
Teach your kids
Avoid dangers
Share our knowledge 696
Coupon for friends
Coupon for you
Buying: use this book
Praised by reviewers
If you like this book, you’re not alone.
Praised by magazines
All the famous computer magazines call Russ Walter the
“computer guru” and praise him for giving free consulting even
in the middle of the night. Here’s how they’ve evaluated
The Secret Guide to Computers.
PC World “Russ is a PC pioneer, a trailblazer, the user’s
champion. Nobody does a more thorough, practical, and
entertaining job of teaching PC technology. It’s a generous
compendium of industry gossip, buying advice, and detailed,
foolproof tutorials — a wonderful bargain.”
PC Magazine “The Guide explains the computer industry,
hardware, languages, operating systems, and applications in a
knowledgeable, amusing fashion. It includes Russ’s unbiased
view of the successes & failures of various companies, replete
with inside gossip. By reading it, you’ll know more than many
who make their living with PCs. Whether novice or expert, you’ll
learn from it and have a good time doing so. No other computer
book is a better value.”
Christian Computing Magazine “The Guide is the
most comprehensive reference in the industry. What planet is
Russ from? It must be populated with nice people. You’ll learn
more from his Guide than from any 10 computer books you’ve
ever read. To say this book is ‘comprehensive’ is a staggering
understatement: nothing else in the industry even comes close.
It’s worth triple what Russ charges for it.”
Infoworld “Russ is recognized and respected in many parts
of the country as a knowledgeable, effective instructor. His Guide
is readable & outrageous and includes a wealth of info.”
Scientific American “The Guide is irresistible. Every step
leads to a useful result. Russ’s candor shines; he clarifies the
faults & foibles others ignore or are vague about. The effect is
that of a private chat with a friend who knows the inside story. It
reads like a talented disc jockey’s patter: it’s flip, selfdeprecatory, randy, and good-humored. His useful frank content
& coherent style are unique. He includes first-rate advice. No
room with a small computer and an adult beginner is well
equipped without the Guide.”
Kiplinger’s Personal Finance “Russ is a computer whiz
whose mission is to educate people about computers. He lets
strangers call him in the middle of the night for help with
diagnosing a sick computer. His Guide covers all you ever wanted
to know.”
Computerworld “The Guide by unconventional computer
guru Russ is informative, entertaining.”
Computer Shopper “The Guide covers the entire
spectrum. It’s incredibly informative and amusing.”
Barron’s “Russ is an expert who answers questions for free
and has been inundated by calls.”
Esquire “The handy Guide contains lots of fact & opinion
untainted by bias.”
Buying: use this book
Classic magazines The Guide’s earlier editions were
praised by the classic magazines.
Popular Computing: “Russ is king of the East Coast computer cognoscenti.
His Guide is the biggest bargain in computer tutorials in our hemisphere. If
CBS ever decides to replace Andy Rooney with a ‘60 Minutes’ computer
pundit, they’d need to look no further than Russ. His wry observations
enliven his book. His Guide is the first collection of computer writings that
one might dare call literature.”
Personal Computing: “The Guide is bulging with information. You’ll enjoy
it. Russ’s approach to text-writing sets a new style that other authors might
do well to follow. It’s readable, instructive, and downright entertaining. If
more college texts were written in his style, more college students would
Creative Computing: “The Guide is fascinating, easy to understand, an
excellent book at a ridiculously low price. We especially endorse it.”
Byte: “The Guide is amazing. If you’ve had difficulty understanding
computers, or must teach other people about computers, or just want to read
a good computer book, get the Guide.”
Computer Currents: “Your computer literacy will come up short unless you
know something about Russ. He’s a folk hero. He knows virtually everything
about personal computers and makes learning about them fun. If you’ve
given up in disgust and dismay at reading other computer books, get the
Guide. It should be next to every PC in the country. PC vendors would do
themselves and their customers a big favor by packing a copy of the Guide
with every computer that goes out the door. The Guide deserves the very
highest recommendation.”
Abacus: “Russ provides the best current treatment of programming
languages. It’s irreverent, like the underground books of the 1960’s. It’s
simple to read, fast-paced, surprisingly complete, full of locker-room
computer gossip, and loaded with examples.”
The Whole Earth Catalog in its “Coevolution Quarterly”: “The personal-
computer subculture was noted for its fierce honesty in its early years. The
Guide is one of the few intro books to continue that tradition and the only
intro survey of equipment that’s kept up to date. Russ jokes, bitches,
enthuses, condemns, and charms. The book tells the bald truth in
comprehensible language.”
Omni: “Guru Russ sympathizes deeply with people facing a system crash at
midnight, so he broadcasts his home phone number and answers calls by the
light of his computers, cursors winking. He’s considered an excellent teacher.
His Guide is utterly comprehensive.”
Cider Press: “The Guide should be given to all beginners with the purchase
of their computers.”
Softalk: “The Guide fires well-deserved salvos at many sacred cows. It’s
long been a cult hit.”
Computer Bargain Info: “The Guide is widely acclaimed by experts as brilliant.”
Mac User: “It’s an everything-under-one-roof computer technology guide.”
Eighty Micro: “Theatrical, madcap Russ is a cult hero.”
Interface Age: “The Guide is a best buy.”
Enter: “It’s the best book about computer languages.”
Microcomputing: “Plan ahead; get the Secret now.”
Compute: “Russ is an industry leader.”
Praised by librarians
Librarians have called the Guide the best computer book ever
School Library Journal “The Guide is a gold mine of
information. It’s crystal clear, while at the same time Russ
delivers a laugh a paragraph along with a lot of excellent info. It’s
accessible even to kids, who’ll love its loony humor. Buy it;
you’ll like it.”
Wilson Library Bulletin “The Guide is distinguished by
its blend of clarity, organization, and humor. It cuts through the
techno-haze. It packs more simple, fresh explication per page
than anything else available.”
BookLovers Review “It’s the best computer intro you can
buy, a miracle, a must-have tutorial & reference.”
Net BookWatch “Many experts around the world agree this
is the best single intro to computers. It’s well organized, easy to
understand, comprehensive, interesting, updated. Complex
subjects are explained expertly. Every paragraph is easy to
understand. With Russ as your guide, learning about hardware,
software, and the Internet becomes pure fun. The Guide is
essential reading for beginners and professionals.”
Praised by computer societies
Computer societies, in their newsletters, newspapers, and
magazines, have called the Guide the best computer book.
Boston Computer Society “The Guide is cleverly
graduated, outrageous, funny. Russ turns computerese into plain
speaking while making you giggle. He’s years ahead of the pack
instructing computer novices. His unique mix of zany humor &
step-by-step instruction avoids the mistakes of manuals trying to
follow his lead.”
Connecticut Computer Society “Russ’s books have
been used by insiders for years. He’s a special teacher because of
3 factors: his comprehensive knowledge of many computer
topics, his ability to break complicated processes into the smallest
components, and his humor. The Guide includes his valuable,
candid comments about various computers & software. He’s one
of the few people able to review languages, machines, and
software, all in a humorous, clear manner, with the whole
endeavor set off by his sense of industry perspective, history, and
culture. If you’re ever struck with a computer problem, give him
a call.”
New England Computer Society “Russ is considered
one of the few true computer gurus. His Guide is the world’s best
tutorial, the best present for anyone who wants to learn about
computers without going crazy.”
New York’s “NYPC” “The Guide is the perfect book for
any computer beginner because it covers a range of subjects
otherwise requiring a whole reference library. It’s even better for
the experienced computer user, since it includes many advanced
concepts, which one person could hardly remember. But one
person apparently remembered them all: Russ. He’s a fountain of
computer knowledge and can even explain it in words of one
syllable. His Guide reads like a novel: you can read simply for
fun. It’s recommended to anyone from rank beginner to seasoned
power user.”
Texas’s “Golden Triangle PC Club” “Buy this book!
You’ll be glad! The marvelous Guide explains just about all
computer topics in a way anyone can understand. In these days of
having to use voice mail or email to reach tech support, it’s
amazing you can call Russ for help and he’ll actually talk with
you when you call. This book gives you extreme value for
minimal cost. Russ is famous for his comprehensive knowledge
of computers, his ability to simplify complicated processes, and
his wry wit. Reading the Guide’s a joy. He translates highly
technical material into easily understandable language. He’s the
finest example of the preeminent computer professional. He’s
condensed so much material, in a way that never seems
disorganized or cluttered. Anyone working with or interested in
computers will find this book a must-have. The Guide stands
above the crowd of computer books that just can’t compete.”
Sacramento (California) PC Users Group “The
Guide is the best collection of computer help ever written. It
includes just about everything you’d want to know about
computers. You’ll find answers for all the questions you thought
of and some you didn’t think of. No holds barred, Russ even tells
you who in the industry made the mistakes & rotten computers
and who succeeded in spite of themselves. The Guide is
Tucson (Arizona) Computer Society “Wonderful
stuff! Recommended. Very well done.”
Praised around the world
The Guide’s been praised by newspapers around the world.
Australia’s “Sydney Morning Herald” “The Guide is
the best computer intro published anywhere in the world. It gives
a total overview of personal computers. It’s stimulating,
educational, provocative, a damn good read.”
The Australian “The Guide’s coverage of programming is
intelligent, urbane, extremely funny, full of great ideas.”
England’s “Manchester Guardian” “Russ is a
welcome relief. The internationally renowned computer guru
tries to keep computerdom’s honesty alive. His Guide’s an
extraordinary source of info.”
Silicon Valley’s “Times Tribune” “The Guide invites
you to throw aside all rules of conventional texts and plunge into
the computer world naked & unafraid. This book makes learning
not just fun but hilarious, inspiring, addicting.”
Dallas Times Herald “Easily the best beginners’ book
seen, it’s not just for beginners. Its strength is how simple it
makes everything, without sacrificing what matters.”
Detroit News “Russ is a legendary teacher. His fiercely
honest Guide packs an incredible amount of info. It’s the only
book that includes all. He gives you all the dirt about the
companies and their hardware, evaluates their business practices,
and exposes problems they try to hide. Phone him; you’ll always
get a truthful answer.”
Chicago Tribune “The Guide is the best computer book.
It’s a cornucopia of computer delights written by Russ, a great
altruist & dreamer.”
Kentucky’s “Louisville Courier” “Russ’s Guide will
teach you more computer fundamentals than the typical
bookstore’s thick books. The Guide gives his no-bull insights.
The Guide’s biggest appeal is its humor, wit, personality.”
Buying: use this book
Florida’s “Hometown News” The Guide is thoroughly
entertaining. It brings intimidating tech issues down to everyday
language. And boy, does it cover the topics! Everything from old
systems to new modern workhorses is hit upon. If you’re looking
for a book that touches on just about every aspect of computers
and is easy to read, the Guide’s for you.”
Philadelphia Inquirer “Russ is the Ann Landers for
computer klutzes, a high-tech hero. His wacky, massive Guide is
filled with his folksy wit.”
New Jersey’s “Asbury Park Press” “Most computer
books, especially the good ones, are expensive — except the best
one. The best computer book is the Guide. It’s the only book that
covers just about everything in computers.”
New York Times “The computer-obsessed will revel in
Russ’s Guide. He covers just about every subject in the
microcomputer universe. It’s unlikely you have a question his
book doesn’t answer.”
Wall Street Journal “Russ is a computer expert, a guru
who doesn’t mind phone calls. He brings religious-like fervor to
the digital world. His students are grateful. His Guide gets good
reviews. He’s influential.”
Connecticut’s “Hartford Courant” “If you plan to buy
a personal computer, the best gift for yourself is the Guide. It’s
crammed with info. It became an instant success as one of the few
microcomputer books that was not only understandable &
inexpensive but also witty — a combo still too rare today.”
New Hampshire’s “Hippo” “Very impressive.”
Boston Globe “Russ is a unique resource, important to
beginning and advanced users. His Guide is practical, down-toearth, easy to read.”
Boston Phoenix “Russ has achieved international cult
status. He knows his stuff, and his comprehensive Guide’s a great
Buying: use this book
Fan mail
From our readers, we’ve received thousands of letters and
phone calls, praising us. Here are examples.
Our books make readers go nuts.
Get high “I’m high! Not on marijuana, crack, or cocaine, but
on what I did at my computer with your Guide.” (Beverly,
Strange laughs “I enjoy the Guide immensely! My fellow
workers think I’m strange because of all my laughing while
reading it. Whenever I feel tired or bored, I pick up the Guide. It’s
very refreshing!” (Acton, Massachusetts)
Poo-poo “I finished the book at 2:30 AM and had to sit down
and send you a big THANK-YOU-poo. A poet I am not, crazy I
was not, until I started 18 months ago with this computer and then
came poo who sealed my lot.” (Hinesville, Georgia)
Computer dreams “Wow — I loved your book. My
husband says I talk about computers in my sleep.” (Los Altos
Hills, California)
Bedtime story “The book’s next to the bed, where my wife
and I see who grabs it first. The loser must find something else to
do, which often seriously degrades reading comprehension.”
(Danville, New Hampshire)
Sex “Great book. Better than sex.” (Worcester, Massachusetts)
Devil “This book is great. It soars with the eagles and dances
with the devil.” (Chicago)
Even beginners can master the Guide.
Godsend “You’re a godsend. You saved me from being
bamboozled by the local computer store.” (Boston)
Saint “You should be canonized for bringing clarity and
humor to a field often incomprehensible and dull.” (Houston)
Computer disease “I was scared to go near a computer. I
thought I might catch something. Now I can’t wait.” (Paterson,
New Jersey)
Face-off “I used to be an idiot. Now I can stare my computer
in the face. Thanks.” (San Antonio, Texas)
Amaze the professor “I love the Guide! I’ve read it
before taking a programming course, and I amaze my professor
with my secret skills!” (Olney, Illinois)
Granny’s clammy “I’m a 58-year-old grandma. My
daughter gave me a PC. After weeks of frustration I got your
Guide. Now I’m happy as a clam at high tide, eager to learn more
& more. Wow!” (Seattle)
Bury the Book of Songs “This is the microcomputer
book that should be buried in a time capsule for future
archaeologists. By reading it, I’ve made my computer sing. My
wife recognizes the melodies and wants to read the book.” (Park
Forest, Illinois)
Experts love the Guide.
PC Week reporter “I write for PC Week and think the
Guide is the best book of its kind. I’m sending a copy to my little
brother, who’s a budding byte-head.” (Boston)
Math professor “I’m a math professor. The Guide’s the
best way in the universe to keep up to date with computers.
People don’t have to read anything else — it’s all there.” (New
York City)
Diehard consultant “It’s really neat! I’ve been a computer
consultant for many years, and when your book came yesterday I
couldn’t put it down.” (Cleveland Heights, Ohio)
Research center “Our research center uses and misuses
gigabytes of computers. The Guide will improve our use/misuse
ratio.” (Naperville, Illinois)
The Guide’s propelled many careers.
Land a first job “Last month, I bought your Guide. I’ve
never seen so much info, packed so densely, in so entertaining a
read. I was just offered a computer job, thanks to a presentation
based on your Guide. I’m very, very, very happy I bought your
book.” (San Francisco)
Land a top job “Thanks to the Guide, I got an excellent
job guiding the selection of computers in a department of over
250 users!” (New York City)
Found Wall Street “8 years ago, I took your intro
programming course. Now I run the computer department of a
Wall Street brokerage firm. I’m responsible for 30 people and
millions of dollars of computer equipment. The Guide’s always
been my foremost reference. Thank you for the key to wonderful
new worlds.” (Long Beach, New York)
Consultant’s dream “Inspired by your book, your love for
computers, and your burning desire to show the world that
computers are fun and easily accessible, I entered the computer
field. Now I’m a computer consultant. Your ideas come from the
heart. Thanks for following your dream.” (Skokie, Illinois)
Kid who grew up “Years ago, I saw you sell books while
wearing a wizard’s cap. I bought a book and was as impressed as
a 16-year-old could be. Now I’ve earned B.A.’s in Computer
Science and English, and I’m contemplating teaching computers
to high school students. I can think of no better way to plan a
course outline than around your Guide.” (Pennington, New Jersey)
Better late than never
Readers wish they’d found the Guide sooner.
1 year “I learned more from the Guide than from a year in the
computer industry.” (Redwood City, California)
5 years “I’ve fumbled for 5 years with computers and many
books, all with short-lived flashes of enthusiasm, until I found
your Guide. It’s the first book that showed a light at the end of
the tunnel, even for one as dull-brained as I.” (Boise)
17 years “Though in a computer company for 17 years, I
didn’t learn anything about computers until I began reading the
Guide. I love it! I always thought computer people were
generically boring, but your book’s changed my mind.”
(Hopkinton, Massachusetts)
Prince Charming arrives “Where have you been all my
life? I wish I’d heard of your Guide long ago. I’d have made far
fewer mistakes if it had been here alongside my computer.”
(White Stone, Virginia)
Hacker “Great book. I’m 14 and always wanted to hack.
Thanks to your Guide, I laughed myself to death and look forward
to gutting my computer. Yours is the friendliest, funniest book on
computers I’ve seen. If I’d started out with the Guide, I’d have
saved 5 years of fooling around in the dark.” (Northport,
Readers pass the Guide to their friends.
Round the office “Send 150 books. I passed my Guide
around the office, and just about everyone who saw it wants
copies.” (Middleburg Heights, Ohio)
Coordinating the coordinators “Your book is amazing!
I’m telling the other 50 PC coordinators in my company to be
sure they’re in on the secret. Bless you for your magnanimous
philosophy!” (Morristown, New Jersey)
Hide your secrets “I thought the Guide marvelous and
proudly displayed it on my desk. A friend from South Africa saw
it and said our friendship depended on letting her take it home
with her. What could I do? You’ve gone international. I’m
ordering another copy. Should I hide the book this time?”
(Cinnaminson, New Jersey)
Cries and anger “I made the mistake of letting several
friends borrow my copy of the Guide. Each time I tried getting it
back, it was a battle. (I hate to see grown people cry.) I promised
to order them copies of their own. I delayed several months, and
now I’ve got an angry mob outside my door. While you process
my order, I’ll try pacifying them by reading aloud.” (WinstonSalem, North Carolina)
Round the house “Dad bought your Guide to help him
understand my computer. It’s become the most widely read book
in our house. We love it!” (Boca Raton, Florida)
Squabble with Dad “I love the Guide. Dad & I squabble
over our only copy. Send a second so I can finish the Guide in
peace.” (New York City)
Make your guru giggle “I showed the Guide to my guru.
Between laughs, chuckles, and guffaws, he agreed to use it to
teach his high-school computer class. He even admitted he’d
learned something, and that’s the most unheard of thing I ever
heard of.” (Arivaca, Arizona)
Advancing secretary “I’m ordering an extra copy for my
secretary, to start her on the path to a higher paying and better
regarded position.” (Belleville, Illinois)
Compared with other publishers
The Guide’s better than any other book.
Better than 10 “I learned more from your Guide than from
a total of 10 books read previously.” (Honolulu)
No big bucks “Your book is great! Its crazy style really
keeps the pages turning. I appreciate someone who doesn’t try to
make big bucks off someone trying to learn. Thanks.”
(Vancouver, Washington)
Rip-off “If you can break even at your book’s low price, lots
of guys are ripping us off.” (Choctaw, Oklahoma)
Buying: use this book
Who’s the author?
This section reveals who wrote this book — even if you’d
rather not know.
Interview with Russ
In this interview, Russ explains what’s behind this book.
Why did you write the Secret Guide? I saw my
students trying too hard to take notes, so I made my own notes to
hand them. Over the years, my notes got longer. For each new
edition, I try harder to make it the kind of book I wish I had when
I was a student.
What does the Guide cover? Everything about
computers and life. Every topic is touched on; the most important
topics are covered in depth.
Who reads the Guide? All sorts. Kids read it because it’s
easy; professionals read it because it contains secret tidbits you
can’t find elsewhere.
Why do you charge so little? I’m not trying to profit.
I’m just trying to make people happy — by charging as little as
possible, while still covering expenses. Instead of “charging as
much as the market will bear,” I try to “charge so little the people
will cheer.”
Do you really answer the phone 24 hours? When
do you sleep? I sleep by my cell phone. When folks call in the
middle of the night, I wake up, answer their questions, then go
back to snooze. If you get my voice mail, I’m in a meeting but
will try to call you back within an hour.
Why do you give phone help free? Are you a
masochist, a saint, or a nut? I give free help for 3 reasons:
to be nice, keep in touch with readers (who suggest
improvements), and please callers enough so they’ll tell their
friends about me (so I don’t have to advertise).
At computer shows, you appeared as a witch? I
like to wear a witch’s black hat and red kimono over a monk’s
habit and roller skates, with my white gloves caressing an Afro
spear. It’s fun.
What’s your background? I got degrees in math &
education from Dartmouth & Harvard, taught at many colleges
(Wellesley, Wesleyan, Northeastern, and beyond), and was a
founding editor of Personal Computing magazine. But most of
my expertise comes from spending many hours every day reading
books, magazines, and Internet articles, discussing computer
lifestyle questions on the phone, and analyzing life.
About the so-called author
Since the author is so lifeless, we can keep his bio short.
Birth of a notion The author, Russy-poo, was conceived
in 1946. So was the modern (“stored-program”) computer.
9 months later, Russy-poo was hatched. The modern computer
took a few years longer, so Russ got a head start. But the computer
quickly caught up. Ever since, they’ve been racing against each
other, to see who’s smartest.
The race is close, because Russ and the computer have a lot in
common. Folks say the computer “acts human” and say Russ’s
personality is “as a dead as a computer.”
Junior Jews Russ resembles a computer in many ways. For
example, both are Jewish.
The modern computer was fathered by John von Neumann, a
Jew of German descent. After living in Hungary, he fled the Nazis
Buying: use this book
and became a famous U.S. mathematician.
Russ’s father was Henry Walter, a German Jew who fled the
Nazis and became a famous U.S. dental salesman. To dentists, he
sold teeth, dental chairs, and balloons to amuse kids.
The race for brains To try outsmarting the computer,
Russ got his bachelor’s degree in math from Dartmouth in
yummy ’69 and sadly stayed a bachelor for many years.
He got an M.A.T. in math education from Harvard. Since he
went to Harvard, you know he’s a genius. Like most genii, he
achieved the high honor of being a junior-high teacher. After his
classes showered him with the Paper Airplane Award, he moved
on to teach at a private school for exclusive girls. (“Exclusive”
means everyone can come except you.)
After teaching every grade from 2 through 12 (he taught the
2nd-grade girls how to run the computer, the 12th graders less
intellectual things), he fled reality by joining Wesleyan
University’s math Ph.D. program in Connecticut’s Middletown
(the middle of Nowhere), where after 18 months of highbrow
hoopla he was seduced by a computer to whom he’s now happily
Married life After the wedding, Russ moved with his
electrifying wife to Boston’s Northeastern University, where he
did a hilarious job of teaching in the naughty Department of
“Graphic Science.” After quitting Northeastern and also
editorship of Personal Computing, he spends his time now
happily losing money by publishing this book.
To provide company for his electronic wife, he bought her 40
computers, hid them in a van, and drove them around the country,
where they performed orgies and did a strip tease, to show
students a thing or two about computer anatomy. Banned in
Boston, Russ and his groupies moved north, to Somerville, until
it became slumville in 1998, when they moved further north, to
New Hampshire, the “granite state,” since Russ has rocks in his
That year, Russ became a bigamist: though still married to a
computer, he also married a human. She’s a Chinese philosopher
even stranger than Russ. The couple is called “Russy-poo old and
Egg-foo young.”
Russ’s body Here are Russ’s stats, from head to toe:
head in the clouds, hair departing, brow beaten, eyes glazed, lashes 40,
nose to the grindstone, mouth off, smile bionic, tongue bitten,
teeth remembered, cheeks in a royal flush, chin up, shoulders burdened,
wrists watched, hands some, thumbs up, heart all, back got everyone on it,
buns toasted, knees knocked, heeled well, arches gothic, toes stepped on
He wears a stuffed shirt and sacramental socks — very holy!
Russ’s résumé We told Russ to write this book because
when he handed us this résumé, we knew he was the type of
author that publishers long for: nuts enough to work for free!
Age: too. Sex: yes! Race: rat. Religion: Reformed Nerd.
Address: wear pants instead. City: Zen. State: distressed. Zip: up fly.
Birthplace: in my mom. Citizenship: US, not THEM.
Father: time. Mother: earth. Spouse: Brussels. Kids: you often.
Social security: 007-vs-666. Phone home: E.T. Cell phone: no, buy phone.
Occupation: vegetable. Career goal: play dead. Objective: yes, not biased.
Work experience: giggle. Military experience: salute my dad.
Language experience: Frenching. Education: Ph.Uk.
Hobbies: sleep & cry. Sport: dodge tomatoes. Desire: hide under sink.
Disabilities: have dis ability & dat ability. Preferred seat: first ass.
Favorite food: thought. Dietary restriction: can’t eat people, unless fried.
Humor: less.
About our headquarters
Come visit our Home Office, in Russ’s home. It includes our
Production Department, near or in Russ’s bed. Russ gave birth to
this book himself; nobody else would dare!
Special services
We do everything possible to make you happy.…
We give you a 20% discount for buying 2 copies of this edition, 40% for 4 copies,
and 60% for 60 copies (so you pay just $10 per copy). To get the discounts, use the
coupon on the back page (or phone Russ at 603-666-6644).
Use your past You’re reading the 33rd edition. To compute your discount, we
count how many copies of the 33rd edition you’ve ordered from us so far. For example, if
you previously ordered 10 copies of the 33 rd edition and order 50 more, we say “Oh,
you’re up to 60 copies now!” and give you a 60% discount on the second order.
If you got a discount on the 32nd edition because you bought many copies, we’ll give you
the same discount on the 33rd edition even if you’re buying just one copy.
To get a discount based on past orders, mail the coupon on the back page. Near your
name, write your phone number and “Discount because of past orders.”
Cheap or free shipping We’re in New Hampshire. We ship books to the USA
by standard mail, free! We usually ship promptly, so you get books quickly.
If you’re in the U.S. and in a rush, add $5 to your order to get your books even faster: we’ll use a faster
shipping method or move your order to the front of the line.
If you want us to ship to a different country, add $10 per book to Canada, $15 per book to other countries.
We charge less than the post office usually charges us, but we don’t mind losing money on shipping,
since we’re computer lifestyle missionaries who don’t care about profit.
Free reprints
You may copy this edition free. Copy as many pages as you like, make lots of copies,
and don’t pay us a cent! Just phone Russ first (at 603-666-6644) and say which pages
you’re going to copy. Put this notice at the beginning of your reprint:
Much of this material comes from The Secret Guide to Computers & Tricky Living, 33rd edition,
copyright 2017 by Russ Walter and reprinted with permission.
Get free literature about the newest complete Guide, in 4 ways:
 call Russ’s cell phone, 603-666-6644, day or night, 24 hours; he sleeps just lightly
 visit the official Secret website,
 send email to [email protected]
 mail a note to Russ Walter, 196 Tiffany Lane, Manchester NH 03104-4782
Then send us a copy of your reprint.
You may give — or sell — the reprints to anybody. Go distribute them on paper, on disk, by e-mail, or
by your own Web postings. The Guide’s been distributed by thousands of teachers, consultants, and
stores and translated to other languages. Join those folks! Add your own comments, call yourself a
co-author, and become famous! It’s free!
Book on disk
You can order this edition printed on a CD-R disk instead of on paper. The disk
includes files in Microsoft Word format and also in Acrobat PDF format. The CD will help
you write your own books and develop material to put on Internet Websites.
If you order this edition on CD, we recommend you order it on paper also, since the
CD is more awkward to read than the printed book.
advanced DOS commands
Windows 3 & 95
Windows 98
Windows 98SE & Me
Windows XP
Windows Vista
Windows 7
Windows 8 & 8.1
Windows 10
Microsoft Office 2003
Microsoft Office 2007
Microsoft Office 2010
Microsoft Office 2013
Microsoft Office 2016
Apple Mac
Apple iPad basics
Apple iPad details & iPhone
Android 4.1 & 4.2 & 4.3
Android 5.1 & 6
Samsung Galaxy S3 & S4
Samsung Galaxy S7
Netscape Navigator
Mozilla Firefox
Chrome & Safari
Internet Explorer 9
Internet Explorer 10 & 11
Microsoft Edge
Outlook Express
Windows Mail & Yahoo Mail
Windows Live Mail & Gmail
Kindle, Nexus, Nextbook
tablets by Samsung
Insignia Flex tablet
Front Page
advanced HTML
JavaScript & JScript
QBasic’s advanced tricks
QBasic’s essentials
Visual Basic
Visual C++
Visual C#
Fortran, Cobol, Logo
numerical analysis
dBase, FoxPro, Q&A
computer-jargon dictionary
WordPerfect & Quattro Pro
Linux & Palm
newest advice on buy&fix
tricky living in same book
2016 presidential election
27 28 29
27 28 29 30
28 29 30
28 29 30 31 32
30 31 32
31 32 33
32 33
29 30 31
30 31 32 33
31 32 33
32 33
27 28 29 30
31 32 33
32 33
27 28
30 31 32
31 32 33
31 32 33
32 33
27 28 29 30 31 32
30 31 32 33
31 32 33
32 33
27 28 29
28 29 30 31 32 33
29 30 31 32 33
27 28 29
27 28 29 30 31
28 29 30 31 32 33
31 32 33
27 28 29 30
27 28 29 30 31 32
31 32 33
27 28
27 28
27 28
27 28 29
28 29 30
30 31 32
31 32 33
Visit our Secret Fun site, It reveals new secrets about our
books & services & discounts, includes links to other secret fun Internet sites, and lets
you read parts of our books online free. You can send email to [email protected]
Classic editions of Tricky Living include
thousands of other differences. For example,
the first & second editions of Tricky Living
include a discussion of prostitution; the
current book discusses the Bible instead.
To get classic editions, use the coupon on
the back page.
Get the classics
Get more intense
You’re reading the 33rd edition. To squeeze so many new topics into it, we had to
leave out older topics, which you can still get in our classic books. To let you get those
lovely old classics easily, we’ve dropped their prices. We’ve dropped edition 32 to just
$7, edition 31 to $5, edition 30 to $3, all other classics to $2 per book. At those prices,
with free U.S. shipping, we lose money on every book we sell, but that’s fine. Grab a
whole bunch for yourself, friends, schools on tight budgets, and your favorite charities.
Here are the biggest differences among the last seven editions of the Secret Guide:
We’re developing more editions and
events. Join our mailing list by using the
back page’s coupon. Russ answers
questions, quickly & free, on his cell phone
at 603-666-6644. He can also meet you
for intense face-to-face tutoring, counseling,
consulting, and seminars, cheaply; phone
for details.
Buying: use this book
How to shop
Here’s how to shop for a computer — and deal with the jargon
that’s involved.
Kinds of computers
Hey kid, wanna getta computer? You got lotsa choices, and
they keep changing.
How computers changed
The definition of “computer” has changed.
Before 1940, dictionaries said a “computer” was “a person
who computes.” If you could add, subtract, multiply, and divide
quickly, in your head, you were called “a good computer.”
Astronomers hired computers who computed the positions of
heavenly bodies, though not my wife’s.
In the 1940’s, engineers invented giant electronic machines
that could compute fast, so a “computer” meant “a giant
electronic machine that can compute fast.” The typical computer
was huge (it consumed a whole room), weighed several tons, and
cost millions of dollars. During World War 2, American engineers
built computers to do ballistics (figure out how to aim a rocket
to bomb the Germans), while German engineers built computers
to figure out how to bomb Americans back.
In the 1950’s, computers got slightly cheaper. Big companies
bought them to do accounting and other clerical tasks, such as
alphabetizing and looking up customer records. A “computer”
meant “a machine that can do intellectual tasks, such as math and
clerical stuff.”
In the 1960’s, engineers figured out how to make electronics
be smaller and cheaper. That led to smaller computers, called
minicomputers. In the 1970’s, engineers invented even
smaller computers, called microcomputers. By the end of the
1970’s, you could buy all 3 sizes of computers:
A maxicomputer filled a room
and typically cost between $300,000 and $20,000,000.
A minicomputer fit in a room’s corner
and typically cost between $10,000 and $300,000.
A microcomputer fit on a desk
and typically cost between $100 and $10,000.
The typical big company owned a maxicomputer; but each
department also had its own minicomputer (to handle the
department’s special needs), and each clerk had a
personal microcomputer (to pretend to do specialized work
and also play games). A microcomputer used mainly by just one
person is called a personal computer (PC).
Nowadays, the typical company is run by a collection of
microcomputers, all communicating with each other, because that
collection costs less than buying a maxicomputer or
minicomputers. “Maxicomputers” and “minicomputers” have
become obsolete, and those terms aren’t used anymore. The
typical computer, which is a microcomputer, costs between $100
and $1,000, though some computers fall slightly outside that price
Now computers do a wide variety of intellectual tasks, so the
definition of “computer” has become “a machine that can do
intellectual tasks.” Popular intellectual tasks include math, clerical
10 Buying: how to shop
organizing (such as alphabetizing and looking up records),
playing games, editing your writing, communicating with folks
in other states & countries, controlling other machines, and
helping make jokes about people who read this book.
If your employer bought a computer years ago (such as an old
minicomputer or maxicomputer) and refuses to replace it with
something more modern (because switching takes too much
effort), the polite way to describe your situation is to say that
you’re stuck using a legacy system, because your employer’s
computer is a legacy handed down from the folks who preceded
you; a legacy system is an outdated computer system.
Embedded computers
If a computer hides inside a machine and controls it, the
computer is called hidden and embedded. It’s called an
embedded system.
For example, a computer’s embedded in your digital watch,
microwave oven, pocket calculator, home thermostat, car
dashboard, videogame machine, and advanced sex toys. There’s
even an embedded computer in your bed, if you bought a massager.
Such a computer dedicates its entire life to performing just one
task (such as “telling the time” or “controlling the oven”), so it’s
also called a dedicated computer and a dedicated controller.
Most such computers can be made for under $10 each — after the
manufacturer has spent many thousands of dollars to research
how to make them!
If you meet a person whose career is “developing embedded
systems”, that person invents computers that hide inside other
The typical cell phone includes an embedded computer. If that
computer is advanced, the phone is called smart, so it’s a
smartphone. You can buy 3 kinds of cell phones:
Kind of cell phone What kind of computer it contains
basic phone
computer is stupid
feature phone
smart enough to give you a few fun features
computer is absolutely brilliant about many things
If a computer isn’t hidden, it’s visible.
This book explains how to buy & use visible computers. It also
explains how to buy & use smartphones, so you too can become
a smart-ass, not just a plain phony.
The 3 wares
To build a complete computer system, you need hardware,
software, and liveware.
Computer equipment is called hardware because it’s built
from wires, screws, and other parts you can buy in hardware &
electronics stores. Cynics say it’s called “hardware” because it’s
hard to fix and because, when you try to buy hardware, you’ll get
screwed and go nuts.
The computer’s parts are called its components. You want
several kinds of computer components.
I/O A component showing you the answer is called an output
device. The most popular output devices are:
a screen (which is also called a display or monitor); it looks like a TV
a pair of stereo speakers
a printer (which can print on paper)
A component letting you give the computer a command is
called an input device. The most popular input device is a
keyboard, which resembles a typewriter’s keyboard.
Another input device is a mouse, which is a little box you slide
across your desk, to move a pointer that’s on your screen. Instead
of a mouse, you can use a touchpad (a pad your finger rubs
across) or touch-sensitive screen (touchscreen), which
looks like an ordinary screen but can sense where your finger taps
the screen.
You can also get a microphone (so you can talk & sing to the
computer), a camera (so the computer can see what you look
like), and an optical scanner (which can look at a sheet of paper
and copy its info into the computer).
An all-in-one printer is a printer that includes an optical
scanner, so it can imitate a Xerox copying machine. Some all-inone printers can also imitate a fax machine.
Input & output devices are together called I/O devices.
Computerists sing “I/O, I/O, it’s off to work I go!”
Processor The component that thinks is the processor. The
central processing unit (CPU). The most popular kind of
processor is a microprocessor chip (little square onto which is
stamped a fancy electric circuit).
Memory Components that remember are called memory.
The most popular memory is made of memory chips (little
squares that can retain a magnetic or electric charge). Another
kind of memory is a disk (a rotating circular platter, such as a
CD, that holds a code made of scratches or magnetic charges).
Disks are slower than memory chips but have more capacity
(can hold more info).
Why those 3? For a computer to do useful thinking, you
must buy all 3 of those types of hardware:
The processor does the thinking itself; it processes info.
The memory remembers the computer’s thoughts.
The I/O devices communicate those thoughts.
Each type is important and useful. A computer without memory
is as useless as a person who says “I had a great idea but can’t
remember it.” A computer without an input/output system is as
useless as a person who says, “I had a great idea and remember it
but won’t tell you.”
When you’re buying a computer, check all 3 types and make
sure they’re good. This book explains how to judge them.
computer communicate with other computers is called a
communication device.
The most popular communication device is a
modulator/demodulator (modem, pronounced “Moe dem”),
which is a box that connects your computer to a phone system or
cable-TV system. Another communication device is a router
(pronounced so it rhymes with “chowder”), which lets several
computers share routes to a modem (or share a similar device).
System unit The computer’s main box is the system unit,
in which hide the processor, memory, and many other electronics.
The system unit’s outer surface is the case.
Cables A cable (insulated bunch of wires) can connect one
component to another.
The most popular kind of cable is the Universal Serial Bus
cable (USB cable). For example, a USB cable typically runs
from the printer to the system unit.
The info that the computer deals with is called software,
because you can’t feel it: it flows through the computer’s circuits
as coded pulses of electricity.
Some software sits in your computer’s memory (in memory
chips & disks). When your computer is turned on, other software
flows into & out of your computer’s memory, through the
computer’s wires.
For example:
Software (info) gets into the computer
when you insert disks or type on the keyboard.
You can copy software (info) from the computer’s memory
to your printer & screen.
Software (info) gets transferred into and out of your computer
by communicating with other computers.
Hardware consists of physical objects. You can hold them in
your hand; you can feel hardware. You can’t feel software,
which is just information, an abstract concept, though you can
feel the disks or memory chips it comes on.
The info you put into the computer is called input. What the
computer puts out (onto your screen & printer) is called output.
When a computer gives wrong answers, it’s usually because
somebody fed it wrong input. Wrong input & wrong output are
called garbage.
If you feed the computer wrong software — wrong facts or
wrong instructions — the computer will print wrong answers.
Wrong stuff is called garbage. If you feed the computer some
garbage, the computer spits out garbage answers.
If a computer prints wrong answers, the computer might not be
broken; it might just have been fed wrong data or programs. If
you tell a technician to fix it, the technician might reply, “Hey,
the computer’s fine! Don’t blame the computer! It’s your fault for
feeding it garbage! If you put garbage in, you get garbage out!”
That principle is called “garbage in, garbage out” (which is
abbreviated GIGO, pronounced “guy go”, as a woman says on a
bad date). The technician will say, “It’s just a case of GIGO”.
Your computer wants 2 kinds of software:
(lists of names, addresses, numbers, words, and facts)
programs (lists of instructions that tell the computer what to do)
Your computer wants 3 kinds of programs:
The basic input-output system (BIOS) tells the computer how to begin
handling input & output when you turn the power on. For example, it tells
the computer how to deal with the keyboard and screen. The BIOS hides in
the computer’s memory chips.
The operating system (OS) tells the computer what to do afterwards. It
gives the computer its personality. The most popular operating system for
normal computers is Microsoft’s Windows. Though “PC” usually means
“personal computer,” a more restrictive definition of “PC” is: a computer that
resembles IBM’s Personal Computer and uses Windows. The main competitor
to Windows is Apple’s macOS, made for Apple’s Mac computers. The most
popular operating systems for tinier computers & for smartphones are
Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.
Application programs (apps) tell the computer how to do specialized tasks,
such as play a specific game or do a specific kind of advanced math.
When you buy a computer, the advertised price usually
includes the important hardware, the BIOS, the OS, and applets
(little apps that accomplish a little), but you must pay extra to add
apps that are bigger & better.
Apps that are crappy (because they consist mainly of just ads)
are called crapps. Too many computers are full of crapps.
When you buy a computer, you’ll cry, because it typically
comes full of crapplets (little apps that are crapps).
Buying: how to shop 11
How good is a computer system? That depends on the quality
of 3 wares:
Hardware (computer equipment)
Software (info in the computer)
Liveware (an alive human sitting at the computer)
The liveware is called the user or operator. That’s you!
If you’re stupid, your colleagues will call you a meathead
(because your head is made of meat instead of wires). You’ll also
be called meatware, wetware (because your brain is wetter
than a computer’s), and jellyware (because your brain cells are
jiggly, like jelly).
For example, if you make a mistake and try to blame the
computer, your boss can say:
The problem isn’t in the computer. The problem’s in the wetware.
Your boss can also write:
PICNIC: Problem In Chair, Not In Computer.
The problem’s an “I D ten T”: you’re an ID IO T, an IDIOT!
Here’s when creative stupidity began:
The term “meathead” was popularized by the TV character Archie Bunker
in 1971, though used as early as 1863.
The term “liveware” was popularized by Garry Trudeau in a 1982
Doonesbury cartoon, though invented by others in 1966.
For a complete computer system, you need all 3 wares: the
hardware (equipment), software (info), and liveware (people).
Beware of the 3 wares! You can spend lots to buy hardware
(and repair it), buy software (and improve it), and hire helpers
(and train them). Make sure you’ve budgeted for all 3 wares!
Congratulations! Now you know the 3 ways that buying a
computer can suck up your money. Yes, buying a computer can suck.
Form factors
Like people, computers come in many shapes & sizes. You can
get computers that are tall or short, fat or thin, mature-looking or
A computer’s size & shape is called its form factor. Here are
the 5 most popular form factors, listed from biggest to smallest:
tower, all-in-one, laptop, tablet, smartphone
Let’s look at the details.…
In a typical tower computer, the system unit is a 15-inch-tall
tower that includes the processor & memory.
The system unit sits on or under your desk. Many wires run
from the system unit’s rear to the screen, keyboard, mouse,
speakers, and optional devices (printer, microphone, and camera),
which all sit separately on your desk.
Cynics say a tower computer looks & smells bad, since it sits
on your desk while a lot comes out of its rear.
The typical tower computer is either old (invented before the
other 4 form factors improved) or owned by a rich big-shot jerk
(who likes big computers and plans to buy expensive super-fast
electronics to put inside the tower).
You can vary the tower’s system unit:
If you lay a tower computer’s system unit on its side, so it looks wide instead
of tall, it’s called a traditional desktop computer. In that position, if it’s
no more than 3½ inches tall, so it’s basically flat like a Domino’s pizzadelivery box, it’s called a pizza-box computer. It’s called 1-unit tall (1U)
12 Buying: how to shop
if it’s just 1¾ inches tall. It’s called 2-units tall (2U) if it’s 3½ inches tall.
In a huge company, the main computer room contains many 1U and 2U pizzabox computers, all sitting in a cabinet full of shelves (racks) to hold them;
they’re called rack-mounted computers.
In a typical all-in-one computer, the system unit includes
almost everything in one case. Besides including the processor &
memory, the system unit also enjoys (built into its front) a screen
(typically 20-inch, measured diagonally from corner to opposite
corner), speakers, a microphone, and a camera.
Wires run from the system unit to 3 other devices (the
keyboard, mouse, and optional printer), unless those devices are
wireless (communicate without wires, by using radio waves).
Your desk is less cluttered than with a tower computer,
especially because the all-in-one’s system unit is miniaturized
and hides inside the screen. It’s nice! I love mine!
Manufacturing such a system unit is easy! Just grab a fancy
screen (that’s thin and has built-in speakers, microphone, camera,
and a stand), then on the screen’s back just glue a traditional
system unit (in a thin case). Voilà! An all-in-one!
Unfortunately, an all-in-one computer is harder than a tower
computer to open up (to repair, modify, or expand), but it’s good
enough so you probably won’t need to open it up anyway.
The best moderately-priced all-in-one computer is
Hewett-Packard’s Envy 20. It has a 20-inch touchscreen, uses
Windows, and comes with a wireless keyboard and wireless
Tower computers and all-in-one computers are both called
desktop computers, because they typically sit on your desk and
are too big to carry around easily.
In a typical laptop computer, the system unit is small enough
to fit on your lap (though it works better on your desk) and
includes everything important (processor, memory, screen,
speakers, microphone, camera, and even a keyboard & touchpad).
Wires run just to two optional devices: a mouse and a printer.
When you look at a typical laptop computer, you see mainly
the screen and the keyboard. Most of the other electronics are
hiding inside the screen & keyboard.
The keyboard is attached to the screen by a hinge, so you can
pick up the keyboard and screen by a single handle. Having a
hinge is called a clamshell design: opening and closing the
laptop is like opening and closing a clam’s shell. Open the laptop
to use it; close the laptop to transport it.
A laptop computer is smaller than an all-in-one computer and
therefore easier to transport. It’s also easier to use outside your
home, since it includes a built-in battery that can run several hours
without being plugged into a wall socket.
Unfortunately, a laptop computer is harder to use than an allin-one computer, because:
The laptop computer’s smaller screen (typically 15.6-inch) shows less info.
Its smaller keyboard is harder to type on.
Its smaller speakers produce worse sound.
Its advertised price includes an awkward touchpad instead of a mouse.
A modern laptop computer is also called a notebook computer,
since it’s about the size of a student’s notebook.
The best low-priced notebook is Hewlett-Packard’s
Notebook 15-ay091ms. It has a 15.6-inch touchscreen and uses
If a laptop’s so small it can fit in a woman’s clutch purse, it’s
called a netbook (because it’s the minimum size to handle the
Internet well, though the Internet is more pleasant if you use a
bigger computer instead). The typical netbook screen is just 10.1inch (which is much smaller than a notebook’s 15.6-inch).
In a typical tablet computer, the system unit is small enough
to fit in your pair of hands (though it works better on your desk)
and includes almost everything important (processor, memory,
touchscreen, speakers, microphone, 2 cameras, and battery) but
not a keyboard, mouse, or printer.
Its screen is typically just 7-inch or 10-inch, so it’s smaller than
a laptop. It’s easier to carry than a laptop but more awkward to
view (since its screen is smaller) and much more awkward to type
on (since you must typically type on the touchscreen instead of a
real keyboard).
The most popular tablet computer is Apple’s iPad. It uses iOS.
Its current versions are the iPad Air 2 (whose touchscreen is 9.7inch), the cheaper iPad mini 2 (whose touchscreen is 7.9-inch,
which sounds like 9.7 if you’re dyslexic), and the rich-dude
iPad Pro (whose touchscreen is 9.7-inch or 12.9-inch, depending
on your wealth).
Other tablet computers use Android instead of iOS. Some
folks prefer Android; others prefer iOS. Android tablet computers
are made by companies such as Samsung (which makes the
Galaxy Tab).
If a tablet’s main purpose is just to read electronic books
(ebooks), it’s called an ebook reader (or e-reader). The most
popular e-readers are Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s
If a tablet computer is small enough to hold in one hand
(because its screen is just 5-inch), it’s called a handheld computer.
If you’re not sure which is better for you — laptop or tablet —
you can try this compromise:
If a laptop computer has a touchscreen you can rotate or detach, so the
touchscreen acts like a tablet, it’s called a convertible (or 2-in-1).
A typical smartphone resembles a tablet computer but is even
smaller (with a touchscreen that’s about 4½-inch). It has 2
advantages: it can fit in your pocket and handle phone calls.
The most popular smartphones are Apple’s iPhone (which
uses iOS) and Samsung’s Galaxy S7 (which uses Android).
If a smartphone has a bigger touchscreen (about 5½-inch), so
it’s almost as big as the typical tablet, the smartphone is called a
phablet (because it’s a phone tablet and, if you like big phones,
you think it’s phabulous!). The most popular phablet is
Samsung’s Galaxy Note.
Laptops, tablets, and smartphones are all called
portable computers and mobile devices that let you do
mobile computing, because they’re easy to carry around (using
just one arm or even just one hand) and contain batteries (so you
can use them even when you’re not near an electrical socket). By
contrast, towers and all-in-ones are harder to carry (they require
both arms) and have inadequate batteries (so they’re useless
unless plugged into an electrical outlet), but when sitting on your
desk they’re superior (because they have bigger, better screens,
keyboards, speakers, chips, and disks).
Which form factor to buy
Which form factor should you buy? That depends on your
priorities. Here are the grades, from A (which is the best) to F:
Easy to carry?
Can run unplugged? F
Includes phone?
Has big memory? A
Has big screen?
Good keyboard?
All-in-1 Laptop
Notice that for each form factor, the “AVERAGE” grade is
approximately C. That’s why each form factor is still being used.
Which form factor is best for you? That depends on your
Since I was stupid enough to write this book, I had to buy all 5
form factors, to try them out. Each form factor has its own joys
— and its own form of hell.
Instead of buying a big computer, the typical big company
buys many little computers and lets them communicate with each
other, to form a network.
If the computers communicate with each other through cables
of wires, the network is called a hard-wired network. If the
computers communicate with each other by using radio waves
instead, the network is called a wireless network.
If the network’s computers all sit in the same office building,
the network is called a local-area network (LAN). If the
computers are farther apart, the network is called a wide-area
network (WAN).
Each computer in the network is called a node.
A special person, called the network supervisor, manages
the network by controlling the network’s main computer, called
the server. Ordinary folks (called users) sit at the network’s
lesser computers (called workstations), which all communicate
with the server.
The most famous wide-area network is the Internet. It began
in the 1950’s as a small network (a few universities
communicating with each other), but later it expanded
dramatically, so now it includes millions of computers all over the
world: most of the world’s visible computers are part of the
Internet. When you buy a typical computer, it communicates with
the Internet wirelessly (by using radio waves) or through an
ordinary phone line (called dial-up) or through a speeded-up
phone line called a digital-subscriber line (DSL) or through a
cable-TV line (called cable). An ordinary phone line (dial-up) is
ridiculously slow; the other methods (wireless, DSL, and cable)
are reasonably fast and called broadband. So if a computerist
says “I want broadband,” the computerist wants fast Internet
access, not a band of female musicians!
You can mix technologies. For example, the typical laptop
computer communicates with the Internet by sending a radio
wave (wirelessly) to a little box, called a wireless router
(usually pronounced so the “rou” rhymes with “cow”), which
then passes the signal to the rest of the Internet by using cable or
DSL, with the help of a converter box called a
modulator/demodulator (modem, pronounced “Moe dem”).
You can buy a wireless router (and modem) for your home or
When the wireless router is turned on (and attached to a
modem), it creates a wireless access point (WAP), which is
also called a hot spot. While you’re traveling with your laptop
computer, you can use the hot spots that are in many
coffeehouses, restaurants, public libraries, and other public
locations. You can use them even while you’re driving by in your
car; that’s called wardriving. While wardriving, keep your eyes
on the road as well as on your laptop!
Buying: how to shop 13
white-box computer, since the system unit
is a typically a plain white metal box that
has no manufacturer’s name written on it.
Who makes computers?
The most famous computer manufacturer is IBM, which stands for International
Business Machines Corporation.
Too often, it also stood for “Incredibly Boring Machines”, “Inertia Breeds
Mediocrity”, “International Big Mother”, “Imperialism By Marketing”, “Idolized By
Management”, “Incompetents Becoming Managers”, “Intolerant of Beards &
Mustaches”, “It Baffles Me”, “It’s a Big Mess”, and “It’s Better Manually”. But those
negative comments apply just to IBM’s past: in the 1990’s IBM switched; it became
open-minded and friendly.
IBM is based in New York State.
During the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s, IBM was famous mainly for selling huge
computers (called maxicomputers or mainframes or powerful servers).
Later, IBM started selling small computers also. IBM’s first successful small
computer was a desktop computer called the IBM Personal Computer (IBM PC).
Then other companies made imitations, called IBM-compatible computers or
IBM PC clones. Now most desktop and laptop computers are IBM-compatible.
Recently, IBM’s stopped making cheap computers for consumers: instead, IBM sells
just expensive computers (powerful servers) to big businesses. For example, IBM used
to make a laptop computer called the ThinkPad, but IBM sold its ThinkPad division to
a Hong Kong company called Lenovo (which is mainly in Hong Kong but recently
created a headquarters office in North Carolina, to look American).
A California company called Hewlett-Packard (HP) has made more computers
than any other company. It’s made many kinds of computers: powerful servers, tower
computers, laptop computers, tablet computers, and hidden computers. Most of them
were sold under the name “HP”; others were sold under the names “Compaq” and
“Palm” which are companies that Hewlett-Packard acquired. Many of HP’s computers
are sold in chain stores such Best Buy, Staples, and Walmart. In 2015, HP split into
2 companies:
HP Incorporated sells cheap computers & printers.
Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Company manages huge systems for huge businesses.
A Texas company called Dell sold computers through mail-order but now also sells
computers through chain stores (such as Staples and Best Buy). It mainly makes
desktop computers and laptop computers, though it dabbles in other kinds of computers
also. Dell used to have a reputation for high quality, but now Dell’s computers are
unexceptional or problematic.
Acer’s Gateway
A California company called Apple
makes Macintosh (Mac) computers (allin-ones & laptops), the iPad (a tablet
computer), and the iPhone (a smartphone).
They’re all beautiful to look at, creatively
designed, fun & easy to use, reliable, and
come with good free help by phone.
Apple’s Mac computers are particularly
popular among graphic artists and
magazine publishers.
Alas, Apple’s computers cost more than
the competition, and Apple’s computers
aren’t completely compatible with other
computers: if you buy an Apple computer,
you must learn to do things differently and
buy different accessories for it.
What’s popular?
Here’s the surprising truth.
Of all the normal computers (not tablet, not phone,
not embedded) sold today in the world,
22% are by Lenovo (mainly for China & India)
20% are by HP
16% are by Dell
8% are by Asus
8% are by Apple (and called “Macs”)
6% are by Acer
2% are by IBM (mainly powerful servers)
18% are by a wide variety of other manufacturers
Since percentages bob up and down by 2%
each month, I’ve rounded all those
percentages to the nearest 2%.
In the U.S., different brands are stronger:
Of all the normal computers (not tablet, not phone,
not embedded) sold today in the U.S.,
28% are by HP
26% are by Dell
14% are by Lenovo
12% are by Apple (and called “Macs”)
6% are by Acer
4% are by Asus
2% are by IBM (mainly powerful servers)
8% are by a wide variety of other manufacturers
For tablet computers, Apple is strongest:
An Iowa company called Gateway was famous for selling desktop computers
through mail-order. Gateway acquired a company called “eMachines”, which was
famous for selling desktop computers cheaply through chain stores, especially Circuit
City and Best Buy. Now Gateway and its eMachines division sell tower & laptop
computers through mail order & stores. Gateway moved from Iowa to South Dakota
but now is headquartered in California. The entire Gateway company was bought by a
Taiwan company called Acer.
Of all the tablet computers sold today in the world,
26% are by Apple (and called “iPads”)
16% are by Samsung
6% are by Lenovo
6% are by Huawei
4% are by Amazon
42% are by a wide variety of other manufacturers
Asian laptops
Of all the smartphones sold today in the world,
22% are by Samsung
12% are by Apple (and called “iPhones”)
10% are by Huawei
6% are by Oppo
4% are by Vivo
4% are by Lenovo
4% are by Xiaomi
38% are by a wide variety of other manufacturers
Many companies in Asia make laptop computers. The most famous are Acer (from
Taiwan), Asus (from Taiwan and means “Pegasus but let’s begin with A”), and Lenovo
(mainly from Hong Kong, though headquartered in North Carolina). Japanese
companies (Sony & Toshiba) used to make laptop computers but quit in 2016.
White-box computers
Many tiny computer stores build their own “generic” desktop computers by throwing
together parts from many suppliers. Such an unbranded computer is called a
14 Buying: how to shop
For smartphones, Samsung is strongest:
Prices drop
On average, computer prices drop
3% per month. That price decline’s been
in effect ever since the 1940’s, and there’s
no sign of it stopping.
Suppose for a particular computer item
the average price charged by dealers is
$100. Next month, that item’s average price
will probably drop 3%, to $97. After two
months, its average price will have dropped
about 3% again, so its price will be 97% of
$97, which is $94.09.
Here’s how the math works out:
On the average, computer prices drop
about 3% per month,
30% per year,
50% every two years,
90% every six years,
99% every twelve years.
If a computer item’s average price is $100 today,
it will probably be $97 next month,
$70 a year from now,
$50 two years from now,
$10 six years from now,
$1 twelve years from now.
The typical computer system costs about
$1000 (by the time you get done paying for
all the extras & accessories). Here’s what
the math looks like for a $1000 system:
If a computer system costs you $1000 today,
it will probably cost you
$970 if you buy a month from now,
$700 if you buy a year from now,
$500 if you buy 2 years from now,
$100 if you buy 6 years from now,
$10 if you buy 12 years from now.
Does that mean computer stores will be
selling lots of computers for $10 twelve
years from now? No! Instead, computer
stores will still be selling computers for
about $1000, but those $1000 systems will
be much fancier than the systems sold
today. By comparison, today’s systems will
look primitive — much too primitive to run
the programs-of-the-future — so they’ll be
sold off as old, quaint, primitive junk in
garage sales.
Find that hard to believe? To become a
believer in rapidly dropping prices, just try
this experiment: walk into a garage sale
today, and you’ll see computer systems
selling for $10 that sold for $1000 twelve
years ago!
So the longer you wait to buy a
computer, the less you’ll pay. But the longer
you wait, the longer you’ll be deprived of
having a computer, and the further behind
you’ll be in computerizing your life and
becoming a computer expert. Don’t wait.
Begin your new computerized life now!
A computer has many parts.
Tower computer’s parts
A tower computer’s main part is the box called the system unit, which is a tower
that’s 15 inches tall (and 15 inches from front to back) but just 7 inches wide.
7 cables Out of the system unit’s rear come 7 cables.
One of those cables is the power cord. It goes to a source of electricity (the electrical
outlet socket in the room’s wall — or a power strip connected to that outlet). That cable
feeds power to the computer.
One cable goes to the keyboard, which looks like a typewriter’s keyboard. To send
a message to the computer, type the message on the keyboard. A standard computer
keyboard contains 104 keys, which let you type all the letters of the alphabet, all the
digits, all the punctuation symbols, and other symbols too. Some of the keys are for
editing: they help you edit what you typed.
One cable goes to the monitor, which looks like a TV set: it contains a screen that
shows the words you typed, the computer’s answers, and pictures.
One cable goes to the mouse, which is a small box about the size of a pack of
cigarettes. If you slide the mouse across your desk, an arrow moves across your
monitor’s screen; so to move the screen’s arrow, slide the mouse! To manipulate an
object on the monitor’s screen, slide the mouse until the screen’s arrow moves to that
object; then press the mouse’s left button.
One cable goes to the printer, which is a box that prints on paper.
One cable goes to stereo speakers, so the computer can produce sound effects,
play music, sing, and talk to you!
The final cable goes toward other computers (or a modem), to form a network (such
as the Internet). That cable is called a network cable. If you’re accessing the Internet
by dial-up, the network cable is an ordinary phone line (which goes to your wall’s phone
jack); if you’re accessing the Internet by broadband instead, the network cable is a
fattened phone line, called an Ethernet cable, which goes to a modem.
If you’re accessing the Internet by dial-up, you can add an optional 8th cable, to attach
to an ordinary phone, so your computer and phone can share using the wall’s phone
Altogether, the typical tower computer includes:
the system unit
a keyboard, monitor, mouse, printer, speakers, and cables from them to system unit
power cords from wall (or power strip) to the system unit, monitor, and printer
a network cable to let the computer communicate with other computers
Advertised price When you buy a computer, the advertised price includes most
of those items: it typically includes the system unit, computer keyboard, mouse, and
pair of stereo speakers. But the printer is usually excluded from the advertised
price: it costs extra.
Does the advertised price include the monitor? To find out, read the ad carefully!
If you’re lucky, the ad says “monitor included”. If the ad says “monitor optional”
instead, the monitor is not included in the advertised price and costs extra.
Extras If your computer is extra-fancy, 3 extra cables come out of the system unit:
A cable goes to a microphone (mike), which lets you feed sounds into the computer. If you talk and
sing into the mike, the computer can make digital recordings of your speech and performance, analyze
them, and react accordingly!
A cable goes to a scanner, which is a box that you can shove a sheet of paper into; the scanner reads
what’s on the paper and tells the computer what the paper said. If you rip an article out of a newspaper
and feed it into the scanner, the scanner will transmit the newspaper’s article to the computer, so the
computer can analyze what’s in the newspaper’s article and become a smarter computer! If you feed a
photo into the scanner, the scanner will transmit the photo to the computer, and the photo will appear
on the computer’s screen.
A cable goes to a digital camera, which takes photos and feeds them to the computer.
Summary In a typical tower computer, the main box is called the system unit,
from which cables run out to other computer devices, called external peripherals,
such as the keyboard, monitor, mouse, printer, speakers, and — if your system is fancy
— a microphone, scanner, and digital camera.
Buying: how to shop 15
Ports On the system unit’s back wall, you’ll see many sockets to plug cables into.
Each of those sockets is called a port. Here’s what the 11 most important ports look
like (on a traditional tower computer):
Whose cable goes to port
Port’s name
keyboard port
Port’s appearance
circle, with 5 round pinholes in it
video port
D shape, with 15 round pinholes in it
modern printer, camera, or mouse
traditional printer
traditional mouse
very old mouse
USB port
parallel printer LPT1 port
PS/2 mouse port
9-pin serial COM1 port
rectangular hole with 4 wires in it
D shape, with 25 round pinholes in it
circle, with 6 round pinholes in it
D shape, with 9 pins in it
phone on your desk
phone jack on room’s wall
another computer or fast Internet
phone jack
modem port
RJ-45 Ethernet port
square hole (4 wires in it) labeled “PHONE”
square hole (4 wires in it) labeled “LINE”
slightly widened square hole (8 wires in it)
speaker jack
microphone jack
big round pinhole, next to loudspeaker picture
big round pinhole, labeled “MIC”
Traditionally, all those ports are on the system unit’s back wall; but if your system
unit is modern, some of those ports are on the system unit’s front wall instead, so you
can reach them more easily.
Unfortunately, the speaker jack has the same shape as the microphone jack. Make
sure you don’t mix them up! If you accidentally plug a speaker into the microphone
jack, you’ll hear a loud buzz!
The phone jack has the same shape as the modem port, but many computers still
work even if you mix up those ports.
All the other ports are safer: they have different shapes to prevent mix-ups.
A connector (a port or a cable’s end) that has pins sticking out of it is called male
(because the pins look like little penises). A connector that has holes instead is called
female (because it’s eager to have a male connector plugged into it).
Setup Setting up the computer is easy! Just plug the cables into the components
and ports, and you’re done!
Laptop computer’s parts
The typical laptop computer uses a clamshell design: it opens, like a clamshell, to
reveal 2 parts:
The bottom part (¾" high) contains the main system-unit circuitry with a built-in keyboard, built-in
pair of stereo speakers, built-in touchpad (square pad you rub with your finger instead of using a
mouse), and built-in rechargeable battery.
The top part (½" thick) pries up to become a screen (made of the same materials used in screens of
pocket calculators and digital watches).
The laptop computer can get power from its built-in battery; but if you plug the
computer into a wall’s electrical outlet, the computer will use the wall’s power instead
while the battery recharges.
Once the laptop computer gets electrical power, you can operate the laptop computer
without attaching anything to it. But the laptop computer includes ports to let you attach
optional extras. To its USB ports, you can attach a mouse (to use instead of the
awkward built-in touchpad), printer, scanner, and digital camera. You can use the laptop
computer’s other ports to attach an external keyboard (to use instead of the awkward
tiny built-in keyboard), an external monitor (to use instead of the awkward built-in
screen), headphones (to use instead of the built-in speakers), and network cables
(Ethernet cable or ordinary phone line).
Inside the system unit
The system unit is a magical box you’ll probably never need to open. But someday,
you’ll get curious about what’s inside.
How to peek Here’s how to peek inside the system unit of a tower (or desktop)
Make sure the computer’s turned off.
Remove the screws from the 4 corners of the system unit’s back wall. Notice how
big those screws are. Remove any other screws that size from the back wall’s edges.
16 Buying: how to shop
Then remove the system unit’s cover:
If the unit’s a tower, pull the cover back slightly,
then lift it.
If the unit’s a desktop that’s not a tower, slide the
cover forward — or if it refuses, try sliding the
cover back — then lift it slightly.
If the cover doesn’t quite come off, jiggle it
slightly, and also double-check whether you’ve
removed all the screws holding it in place.
Finally, peek into the system unit and
admire the goodies within! To be safe,
avoid touching them.
Circuit boards Inside the system
unit, you see several green plastic boards,
called circuit boards (because they have
electric circuits on them). On each circuit
board, you see many black rectangular
objects, called chips: each chip contains a
miniature electronic circuit inside!
Mobo The biggest circuit board is
called the motherboard (or, more briefly,
mobo). It’s about the size of sheet of paper
(8½"  11"). In the typical desktop
computer (which is a tower), the mobo is
vertical, attached to the tower’s right edge.
CPU On the mobo, the biggest chip is
the one that does most of the thinking. That
chip is called the central processing unit
(CPU). It’s also called the microprocessor.
A standard computer uses a brand of
microprocessor called a Pentium,
manufactured by an intelligent California
company called Intel.
Yes, in a microcomputer, most of the
thinking is done by a single chip, called the
In older, bigger computers, the thinking
is done by a gigantic collection of chips
working together, instead of a single
microprocessor chip. That collection is
called the processor. The term
microprocessor was invented by folks
amazed that a processor could be made
small enough to fit on a single chip.
Expansion cards Besides the
motherboard, the system unit contains
expansion cards) that snap into slots in
the motherboard.
The most important expansion card is the
video card. It manages the monitor. It
includes the video port, which attaches to
the cable that comes from the monitor.
Another expansion card is the
sound card. It manages the stereo speakers
and microphone and attaches to the cables
that comes from them.
Another expansion card is the modem
(pronounced “mode em”). It manages
phone signals and attaches to cables that
come from the phone and the phone jack.
If your computer is part of a local-area network, your computer
includes a network interface card (NIC), which attaches to the
network cable that comes from the network’s other computers.
The keyboard does not have its own expansion card. Instead,
the keyboard’s cable plugs directly into the motherboard.
Memory The 3 most popular kinds of memory are
ROM chips, RAM chips, and disks.
ROM chips remember info permanently. Even if you turn off
the computer’s power, ROM chips continue to remember what
they’ve been told. The most important ROM chips are on the
RAM chips remember info temporarily. They’re electronic
scratchpads that the CPU uses to store temporary reminders. For
example, they remember what problem the computer’s working
on at the moment. They get erased when you switch to a different
computer problem or turn the computer off.
In an old computer, most RAM chips are on the motherboard,
where the RAM chips are arranged in rows, 8 or 9 RAM chips
per row. In a new computer, the RAM chips are instead on tiny
expansion cards, which snap into tiny slots on the motherboard:
each tiny RAM cards is called a single in-line memory module
(SIMM) and holds 3, 8, or 9 RAM chips.
Disks work slower than ROM chips and RAM chips but can
hold more info. Like ROM chips, disks can remember info
permanently: unplugging the computer does not erase the disks.
To use a disk, you must put it into a disk drive, which reads
what’s on the disk.
In a traditional computer, the system unit includes 3 disk
drives, to handle 3 kinds of disks:
A CD-ROM disk looks like a Compact Disk (CD) that music comes on, but
a CD-ROM disk contain computer data instead of just music.
A floppy disk is made of flimsy material but comes encased is a sturdy
square jacket, which is typically 3½ inches on each side (though older disks
come in 5¼-inch jackets instead). You can insert the floppy disk (including
its jacket) into the floppy-disk drive. You can also remove the floppy disk
(including its jacket) from the drive.
The typical hard disk is made of hard material, hides in the hard-disk drive
permanently, and never comes out, so you never see it.
Each of those 3 types has its own advantages:
CD-ROM and floppy disks can be removed from their drives.
The typical hard disk cannot.
You can edit info if it’s on a hard disk or floppy disk,
but not if it’s on a typical CD-ROM disk.
The typical hard disk can hold lots of info.
The typical CD-ROM disk holds less.
A floppy disk holds even less.
The newest computers can also handle DVD disks (which hold
movies and computer data) but don’t bother handling floppy disks.
Power supply The power cord comes from your office’s
wall and goes into the back of the system unit. Look inside the
system unit, at the back wall, where the power cord goes in. There
you see, inside the system unit, a big metal box, called the
power supply.
If you look in a tower, the power supply is usually at the back wall’s top.
If you stand in front of a desktop computer and look down into it, so you see
an aerial view, the power supply is usually in the back right corner.
The power supply is an AC/DC transformer: it converts the
alternating current (coming from your office’s wall) to the direct
current that your computer requires.
Computers are like drugs: you begin by spending just a little
on them but soon get so excited by the experience — and so
hooked — that you wind up spending more and more to feed your
Your first computer experience seems innocent: you spend just a little
money for a cute little computer. You turn the computer on and suddenly the
computer’s screen shows dazzling superhuman colors, swirling hypnotically.
You say “Wow, look at all those colors!” and feel a supernatural high.
But after 2 months of freaking out with your new computer, the high wears
off and you wonder, “What can I buy that’s new, exciting, and gives me an even
bigger high?” So you buy more stuff to attach to your computer. Now you’re
in really deep, financially and spiritually. You’re hooked. You’ve become
addicted to computers. Each month you return to your favorite computer
store to search for an even bigger high — and spend more money.
Look at me. I’m a typical computer junkie. I’ve already bought 50
computers, and I’m still going. Somebody help me! My computers have
taken over my home. Whenever I try to go to sleep, I see those computers
staring at me, their lights winking, tempting me to spend a few more hours
in naughty fun, even if the sun’s already beginning to rise.
Computerists use the same lingo as druggies: to buy a
computer, you go to a dealer; and when you finally start using
your computer, you’re called a user.
As your addiction deepens and you search for greater highs, you squander
even more money on computer equipment, called hardware. You stay up
late (playing computer games or removing errors), so next morning you go
to work bleary-eyed. Your boss soon suspects your computer habit, realizes
you’re not giving full attention to your job, and fires you.
Jobless while your computer bills mount ever higher, you run out of money
to spend on computers, but your computer addiction still runs through your
brain. To support your habit, you write or buy programs and try to resell them
to friends. That makes you a pusher. You turn your friends into addicts too,
and you all join the increasing subculture of computer junkies.
Drugs differ from computers in just one way: if you’re into
drugs, people call you a “washout”; but if you’re into computers,
people say you have a “wonderful career” — and they’re right!
As a computer pusher, you can make lots of dough, but just if
instead of calling yourself a “pusher” you call yourself a
computer consultant. Yes, a computer consultant is a person
who gives computer advice to other victims — and pushes them
into buying more computers!
A computer consultant who gives free help seems kind, but the
truth is revealed in these lines of Tom Lehrer’s song,
“The Old Dope Peddler”:
He gives the kids free samples
Because he knows full well
That today’s young innocent faces
Will be tomorrow’s clientele.
Your marriage
The computer will fascinate you. It’ll seduce you to spend
more time with it. You’ll fall in love with it. You’ll start buying it
presents: exotic foods (expensive programs to munch on) and
expensive jewels (a printer and fancier speakers).
Then the computer will demand you give it more. While you
enjoy an exciting orgy with your computer and think it’s the most
joyous thing that ever happened to you, suddenly the computer
will demand you buy it more memory. It’ll refuse to continue the
orgy until you agree to its demand. And you’ll agree — eagerly!
The computer’s a demanding lover. You’ll feel married to it.
Marrying a computer is much groovier than marrying a person: computers
are good at “getting it on” (they make you feel all electric and tingly) and they
never argue (they’re always ready to “do it”, except when they “have a headache”).
Buying: how to shop 17
I wanted to call this book “The Sexual Guide to Computers”
and put a photo of my computer wife and me on the cover; but
since some communities prohibit mixed marriages, I had to play
cool and say “Secret” Guide to Computers. But here’s the real
secret: this book’s about sex.
If you marry a computer but already married a human, your
human spouse will call you a “bigamist” and feel jealous of the
computer. Your marriage to that human can deteriorate into divorce.
Several women got divorced because they took my computer
course. Their husbands had two complaints:
“You spend most of your time with the computer instead of with me.
When you do spend time with me, all you want to talk about is the computer.”
To prevent such marital problems, coax your spouse to play a
game on the computer. Your spouse will get hooked on the game,
become as addicted to the computer as you, enjoy blabbing about
the computer with you, and encourage you spend money on your
habit. Sociologists call that technological progress.
Why buy a computer?
The average American has 3 goals: to make money, have fun,
and “become a better person”. Making money is called business;
having fun is called pleasure; and becoming a better person is
called personal development. The computer will help you do
all 3: it’ll improve your business, increase your pleasure, and help
you grow into a better person.
The reasons why people buy computers are emotional:
Teenager: “Computers are a blast: sci-fi come true!”
Parent: “My kids must become computer-competent to survive! If I buy my
kids a computer, they’ll explore it (instead of sex & drugs), wonder how it’s
programmed, become programmers, get straight A’s in school, become
computer consultants, and make lots of dough, so they can support me in my
old age and I can brag about them to my neighbors.”
Grandparent: “The world’s becoming computerized, and I don’t want my
grandkids to say I’m out of it. I wouldn’t blow money on this stuff myself,
but my kids are giving me a computer so grandkids can send me mail and
photos electronically, using the Internet. Those grandkids are so cute!
Computers are so much fun!”
Kindergartner: “Grandma, I wanna computer for my birthday! And if you
don’t buy it, they say I’ll never go to Harvard.”
Social climber: “Now that big cars are passé, the computer’s the only status
symbol left. I’m sick of being intimidated by neighbors and bosses spouting
computer jargon and tired of the guys at the bar bragging how big their
computers are. I’m gonna learn that mumbo-jumbo myself so I can get back
at those pompous asses and intimidate them!”
Worried worker: “My company’s computerizing. If I don’t master
computers, they’ll master me and steal my job! If I learn about computers, I can
keep my job, get promoted, then quit and become a rich computer consultant!”
Middle-aged: “My life’s a bore. I need a fun hobby — a computer! I could
fondle that cute toy when my company retires me then start my own business,
advertise on the Internet, and become internationally famous!”
Adventurer: “The computer’s a challenge. If I can master it, that proves I’m
not as stupid as people say!”
Wanting what’s due: “I’ve been treated like shit all my life; I deserve a
computer! I’m gonna get my hands on that machine and make it my slave.”
Subversive: “If Big Brother has Big Blue watching me, I’ll turn my
When you buy a new computer for your business, you’ll have
lots of hassles.
Repairs Since a complete computer system includes so many
parts (CPU, ROM, RAM, disks, keyboard, screen, mouse, printer,
stereo speakers, modem, microphone, scanner, network card,
software, etc.), at least one of them won’t work properly, and
you’ll need to fix it. Since the manufacturer or store typically
provides free repairs during the first year, you’ll lose nothing but
your temper.
Instructions You won’t completely understand the
instructions for your hardware & software, so you’ll ask your
friends & me for help. You can also try getting help from the
manufacturers and dealers; but if your question’s long-winded,
their answers will be curt.
If the dealer who sold you the computer is honest, he’ll say:
“I don’t know how to run all the hardware & software I sold you. To learn
how, read the instructions and buy books in bookstores. No, I haven’t read
them myself, because they’re too long-winded, complicated, and vague. If
you don’t like those instructions, take our courses: they’re expensive and
won’t teach you as much as you need, but they’ll make you feel you’re
making some progress.”
Most dealers aren’t that candid.
Programs If you try writing your own programs, you’ll
discover Murphy’s law: no matter how long you think a program
will take to write, it will take you longer. If you’re wiser and try
to buy a finished program from somebody else, you’ll find the
program works worse than advertised, its manual is missing or
unintelligible, and you’ll need to modify the program to meet
your personal needs.
Data entry If you figure out how to use the program, your
next torture is to type the data you want the program to process.
The typing is sheer drudgery, but you must do it.
Worthwhile? Those headaches are just the beginning of
what can become an extended nightmare. Buying a computer
starts by being exciting but quickly becomes nerve-racking.
Eventually, you’ll pass that nerve-racking transition stage and
be thrilled.
That painful transition is worth the effort if you plan to use the
computer a lot. If you plan to use a computer just occasionally,
you’d be better off not buying a computer at all: continue doing
your work manually.
Promises Salespeople wanting you to buy fancy hardware or
software say “it will be great”, but computer stuff never turns out
as good as promised.
For example, here’s the tale of the woman who was
married 3 times but remained a virgin:
Her first husband, on his wedding night, discovered he was impotent. Her
second husband, on his wedding night, decided he was gay. Her third husband
was a computer salesman who spent the whole night saying how great it was
going to be. Computer salesmen make great promises but don’t deliver.
Here’s the story of the programmer who died and went to
Heaven’s gate, guarded by St. Peter, who let the programmer
computer into Big Mama and scramble their waves!”
choose between Heaven and Hell:
Doctor: “Playing with the computer’s anatomy is like playing God — and
The programmer peeked at Heaven and saw angels singing boring songs.
He peeked at Hell and saw a beach full of beautiful bodies sunbathing and
frolicking, so he chose Hell. Suddenly the beach vanished, and he was
dragged to a chamber of eternal torture. When he asked “What happened to
the beach?”, the devil replied “Oh, that was just the demo.”
Though hot technologies look beautifully enticing, when you try to
experience them you’ll have a devil of a time!
the computer could make my patients pay their bills!”
Social-studies teacher: “The Internet’s amazing! So much info is published
there about current events, history, and the future! I’ll make my students do
research using the Internet and publish their papers there, so they’ll become
internationally famous and make me famous for being their teacher!”
18 Buying: how to shop
Discount dealers
great as we imply”.
Fine-print phrases In many computer ads, the fine print
contains these phrases.…
“Monitor optional” means this price does not include a monitor. The monitor
In newspapers & magazines and on the Internet, many ads
offering big discounts. And if you buy from a dealer who isn’t in
your state, the dealer won’t charge you sales tax.
Discount dealers change prices every month. Examine their
most recent ads then phone to confirm prices. Usually, prices go
down every month, but sometimes they rise.
Before buying, ask whether the product’s in stock, how long
the dealer will take to fill your order, how it will ship, and what the
shipping charge is: many dealers overcharge! Ask whether there’s
a surcharge for using a credit card. Since products are improved
often, make sure the dealer is selling you the newest version.
If the product you get is defective, the dealer or manufacturer
will fix or replace it. But if the product is merely “disappointing”
or doesn’t do what you expected or isn’t compatible with the rest
of your computer system, tough luck!
Many discount dealers say “all sales are final.” Other dealers
let you return computers but not printers, monitors, or software.
Some dealers let you return products but charge you a “restocking
fee”, which can be up to 25% of the purchase price!
So before you buy, ask questions about the product’s abilities
to make sure it will do what you expect. Tell the dealer what
hardware and software you own, and ask the dealer whether the
product’s compatible with your system.
The typical product comes in a cardboard box. On the back of
the box (or on some other side), you’ll usually see a list of the
system requirements. That’s a list of what hardware and
software you must already own to make that product work with
your computer.
Use your credit card
Pay by credit card rather than a check.
If you pay by credit card and have an unresolved complaint about what you
bought, Federal laws say that the credit-card company can’t bill you!
Moreover, if the mail-order company takes your money, spends it, and then
goes bankrupt before shipping your goods, the credit-card company gets
stuck, not you!
The nicest credit cards (such as Citibank’s) double the manufacturer’s
warranty, so a “one-year warranty” becomes a two-year warranty! Does your
credit card give you that warranty extension? Ask your bank!
What’s missing?
When buying computer equipment, find out what the
advertised price does not include.
For example, the advertised price for a “complete computer
system” might not include the screen. Ask! In a typical printer ad,
the price does not include the cable that goes from the printer to
your computer.
Read the fine print
When reading an ad, make sure you read the fine print at the
bottom of the ad. It contains many disclaimers, which admit that
the deal isn’t quite as good as the rest of the ad implies.
Asterisk In the middle of an ad, next to an exciting price or
feature or warranty, you’ll often see an asterisk (*). The asterisk
means: “for details, read the fine print at the bottom of the ad”.
That fine print contains disclaimers that will disappoint you. In
long multi-page ads, the fine print is often buried at the bottom of
just one of the ad’s pages, far away from the page where the
asterisk appeared, in the hope that you won’t notice the fine print.
So if you see what looks like a great deal, but the deal has an
asterisk next to it, the asterisk means “the deal is not really as
costs extra, even though the ad shows a photo of a computer with a monitor.
“Upgrade price” means you get this price just if you already own an older
version of this stuff.
“With system purchase” means you get this price just if you’re stupid
enough to also buy an overpriced full computer system at the same time.
“Reflects cash discount” means you get this price just if you’re stupid
enough to pay cash instead of using a credit card. (By paying cash, you can’t
complain to a credit-card company if you get ripped you off.) If you use a
credit card, the seller will charge you about 3% above the advertised price.
“Includes rebate” means you must pay more, then request a rebate from the
manufacturer. (You’ll probably never get that rebate, since you’ll forget to
ask for the rebate form or forget to mail the rebate form, or the rebate form
will have already expired, or you’ll lose the receipt or code number you must
mail with the rebate form to get the rebate, or you can’t mail the receipt
because you already used it to apply for a rebate on a second item you bought
simultaneously, or the manufacturer loses your paperwork or is a jerk who
waits many months to send the rebate or goes bankrupt.)
“Manufacturer’s warranty” means that if the stuff breaks, don’t ask the seller
for help. Phone the original manufacturer instead (who’ll probably ignore you).
“Factory serviced” means another customer bought this stuff, didn’t like it,
and returned it to the factory, which examined it and thinks it’s good enough to
resell (after jiggling it a bit), so now you’re getting stuck with this lemon.
“For in-stock items” means that although the seller promised to ship
immediately, the seller won’t if you order stuff that’s not yet in the warehouse.
“25% restocking fee” means that if you return the stuff, you won’t get your
money back. Instead, the seller will keep 25% of your money (as a restocking
fee) and return just 75% to you.
If you need hardware or software fast and can’t wait for mailorder dealers to ship, go to the local computer stores that advertise
in your local newspaper.
To encourage a store to give you a discount, mention low
prices from competitors and agree to buy many items at once. Say
that if you don’t get a discount, you’ll shop elsewhere. Many
stores do price-matching: they’ll match the price of any other
local store, though not the prices of mail-order dealers. Some
stores let salespeople give 10% discounts, which are subtracted
from the salesperson’s commission.
IBM and Apple give educational discounts to schools,
teachers, and some college students. To find out whether you can
get educational discounts, ask your school’s administrators and
your town’s computer stores.
For low prices, visit a chain of huge superstores, such as
Micro Center.
It has 23 superstores (in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois,
Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Texas, and California).
It’s the most pleasant place to browse, since the staff is friendly and the
selection is huge: the typical Micro Center store contains 45,000 square feet
displaying 36,000 products. A gigantic room is devoted to books, a gigantic
room is devoted to Macs, a gigantic room is devoted to I/O devices (such as
printers and scanners), etc. To find the store nearest you, phone 800-743-7537.
In California’s Silicon Valley, visit a chain of superstores
called Fry’s Electronics, which has been a local favorite for
many years. In New York City, visit a superstore called
J&R Music & Computer World, which is run by Joe & Rachelle
Friedman near Wall Street (15 Park Row, New York City NY
10038, 800-221-8180 or 212-238-9000).
For many computer items, the lowest prices are now at 4
chains: Best Buy, Staples, Walmart, and Target. Check your
Sunday newspaper for flyers advertising their weekly specials.
Buying: how to shop 19
The computer is full of chips. Let’s examine them.
Chip technology
If you unscrew the system unit (the box containing the CPU
and memory) and peek at the circuitry inside, you’ll see a green
plastic board, on which is printed an electrical wiring diagram.
Since the diagram’s printed in copper (instead of ink), the
diagram conducts electricity; so it isn’t just a diagram of an
electrical circuit; it is an electrical circuit!
The green plastic board — including the circuit printed on it
— is called a printed-circuit board (PC board). Each wire
that’s stamped onto the PC board is called a trace.
The typical computer contains several PC boards.
Motherboard & babies
In your computer, the largest and most important PC board is
called the motherboard (or, more briefly, mobo).
The motherboard lies flat, on the system unit’s bottom, in a laptop or tablet
or smartphone or traditional desktop computer.
In an all-in-one computer, the motherboard is vertical, behind the screen.
In a tower computer, the motherboard is vertical, attached to the tower’s right
The other PC boards are smaller. Those little baby boards
(about the size of a postcard) are called PC cards.
The typical motherboard has several slots on it. Into each slot,
you can put a PC card.
On each PC board, you’ll see black rectangles. If you look
closely at a black rectangle, you’ll see it has tiny legs, so it looks
like a black caterpillar.
The “caterpillars” come in many sizes. In a typical computer,
the shortest caterpillars are ¾ of an inch long and have 7 pairs of
legs; the longest are 2 inches long and have more legs.
Though each black caterpillar has legs, it doesn’t move. It’s
permanently mounted on the PC board.
Each leg is made of tin and called a pin.
Hidden inside the caterpillar is a metal square, called a chip,
which is very tiny. The typical chip is just an eighth of an inch
long, an eighth of an inch wide, and a hundredth of an inch thick!
On that tiny metal chip are etched thousands of microscopic
electronic circuits! Since all those circuits are on the chip, the
chip’s called an integrated circuit (IC).
4 purposes
Each chip serves a purpose.
If the chip’s purpose is to “think”, it’s called a processor chip.
If the chip’s purpose is to “remember” info, it’s called a memory chip.
If the chip helps devices communicate with each other, it’s an interface chip.
If the chip acts as a slave & helper to other chips, it’s a support chip.
So a chip is either a processor chip, a memory chip, an
interface chip, or a support chip — or it’s a combination chip that
accomplishes several purposes.
20 Buying: chips
How chips are designed
To design a chip, the manufacturer hires an artist, who draws
on paper a big sketch of what circuits are to be put onto the chip.
It helps if the artist also has a degree in engineering — and knows
how to use another computer to help draw all the lines.
After the big sketch is drawn, it’s photographed.
Have you ever photographed your friend and asked the photography store
for an “enlargement”? To produce a chip, the chip’s manufacturer does the
opposite: it photographs the sketch but produces a “reduction” to just an
eighth of an inch on each side! Whereas a photo of your friend is made on
treated paper, the tiny photo of the chip’s circuitry consists of metal and
semiconductors on treated silicon so the photo’s an actual working circuit!
That photographic process is called photolithography (or photolith).
Many copies of that photo are made on a large silicon wafer. Then a cutter
slices the wafer into hundreds of chips. Each chip is put into its own caterpillar.
The caterpillar’s purpose is just to hide and protect the chip inside it; the
caterpillar’s just a strange-looking package containing the chip. Since the
caterpillar’s a package that has 2 rows of legs, it’s called a dual in-line package
(DIP). That DIP’s only purpose is to house the chip.
Computer hobbyists are always talking about chips & DIPs, serve chips &
dips at parties, and are called “dipchips”.
Buying chips
If you ask a computer dealer to sell you a chip, the dealer also
gives you the chip’s DIP (the entire caterpillar). Since you’ve
asked for a chip but also received a DIP, you might get confused
and think that the caterpillar (the DIP) is the chip. But that
caterpillar’s not the chip; the chip hides inside the caterpillar.
The typical caterpillar-and-chip costs $3. You might pay
somewhat more or somewhat less, depending on how fancy the
chip’s circuitry is.
You can get chips from this famous mail-order chip supplier:
JDR Microdevices
1850 S. 10th St., San Jose CA 95112, 800-538-5000 or 408-494-1400
How chips chat
The chip inside the caterpillar acts as the caterpillar’s brain.
The caterpillar also contains a “nervous system”, made of thin
wires that run from the brain (the chip) to the legs (the pins). The
wires in the caterpillar’s nervous system are very thin: each
wire’s diameter is about half of a thousandth of an inch.
If one caterpillar wants to send electrical signals to another
caterpillar, the signals go from the first caterpillar’s brain (chip)
through the caterpillar’s nervous system to its legs (pins). Each
pin is attached to a trace (wire) on the PC board. The signals travel
through those traces, which carry the signals across the PC board
until the signals reach the second caterpillar’s pins. Then the
signals travel through the second caterpillar’s nervous system to
that caterpillar’s brain (chip).
Binary code
To communicate with each other, the caterpillars use a secret
code. Each code is a series of 1’s and 0’s. For example, the code
for the letter A is 01000001; the code for B is 01000010; the code
for the number 5 is 101; the code for 6 is 110.
That’s called the binary code, because each digit in the code
has just two possibilities: it’s either a 1 or a 0. In the code, each 1
or 0 is called a binary digit.
A binary digit is called a bit. So in the computer, each bit is a
1 or a 0.
When a caterpillar wants to send a message to another
caterpillar, it sends the message in binary code.
To send a 1, the caterpillar sends a high voltage through the wires; to send
a 0, the caterpillar sends little or no voltage through the wires.
So to send the number 5, whose code number is 101, the caterpillar sends
a high voltage (1), then a low voltage (0), then a high voltage (1). To send
those three bits (1, 0, and then 1), the caterpillar can send them in sequence
through the same leg (pin); or for faster transmission, the caterpillar can send
them through three pins simultaneously: the first pin sends 1, while the next
pin sends 0 and the third pin sends 1.
The speed at which bits are sent is measured in
bits per second (bps).
The part of the computer that thinks (“the brain”) is called the
processor (or central processing unit or CPU).
In a maxicomputer or minicomputer, the processor consists of
several chips, which are processor chips.
In a microcomputer, the processor is so small it consists of just
a single chip, called a microprocessor. It sits on the motherboard.
Yes, in a typical microcomputer, the part that does all the thinking
is just a tiny square of metal, less than ¼" on each side!
Intel’s designs
In IBM-compatible PCs, the microprocessor uses a design
invented by Intel. Intel has gradually improved that design by
putting more circuitry on the chip:
Chip’s name
Intel 8088
Intel 286 (also called 80286)
Intel 386 (also called 80386)
Intel 486 (also called 80486)
Intel Pentium
Year invented Transistors on chip
29,000 transistors
134,000 transistors
275,000 transistors
1,200,000 transistors
3,100,000 transistors
The Intel Pentium could have been called the “Intel 586”, but
Intel called it the “Pentium” instead so Intel can trademark the
name and prevent companies from copying it. It’s the first
computer chip that sounds like a breakfast cereal: “Hey, kids, to
put zip into your life, try Penti-yumms. They build strong
computer bodies, 5 ways!”
The Intel 8088 was used in the original IBM PC and in a fancier computer
called the IBM PC XT. Any IBM-compatible PC containing that chip is called
an XT-class computer.
The Intel 286 was used in a computer called the IBM AT. Any IBMcompatible PC containing that chip is called an AT-class computer.
The 8088, 286, 386, and 486 chips are all outdated; they’re no longer actively
marketed. All new IBM-compatible PCs contain Pentiums — or
imitations of it made by Intel’s competitors.
Most programs require you to have a Pentium-class chip (Pentium or
imitation). Those programs won’t run if your computer is so old that it
contains an 8088, 286, 386, or 486.
In an army, when soldiers march, they’re kept in step by a drill
sergeant who yells out, rhythmically, “Hup, two, three, four! Hup,
two, three, four! Hup, two, three, four!”
Like a soldier, the microprocessor takes the next step in
obeying your program just when instructed by the computer’s
“drill sergeant”, which is called the computer clock. The clock
rhythmically sends out a pulse of electricity; each time the clock
sends out a pulse, the microprocessor does one more step in
obeying your program.
The clock sends out millions of pulses every second, so the
microprocessor accomplishes millions of steps in your program
every second!
Each pulse is called a clock cycle. The clock’s speed is
measured in cycles per seconds.
A “cycle per second” is called a hertz (Hz), to honor German physicist
Heinrich Hertz.
A “million cycles per second” is called a megahertz (MHz).
1000 megahertz is called a gigahertz (GHz). It’s a billion hertz. Intel has
invented fast Pentiums that go at 1, 2, 3, and even 3.9 gigahertz.
Slower than a Pentium
The Pentium’s an amazing chip: while it thinks about one part
of your program, it simultaneously starts getting the next part of
your program ready for processing. That chip’s ability to do
several things simultaneously is called parallel processing.
The Pentium is smarter than old chips (the 8088, 286, 386, and
486): the Pentium can perform more tasks simultaneously; it
performs more parallel processing.
Old chips seem slower: too often during a clock cycle in earlier
chips, part of the chip “does nothing” while waiting for the other
chip parts to catch up. Those earlier chips therefore accomplish
less useful work during a clock cycle than a Pentium.
During a clock cycle, a 486 accomplishes half as much useful work as a
Pentium. We say the 486’s usefulness factor (UF) is ½.
During a clock cycle, a 386 accomplishes a quarter as much useful work as
a Pentium, so the 386’s UF is ¼. A 286’s UF is 1/5. An 8088’s UF is 1/20.
Old chips accomplish less useful work during a clock cycle
than a Pentium; moreover, they accomplish fewer clock cycles
per second than a Pentium; they have fewer megahertz:
Intel 8088
Intel 286
Intel 386
Intel 486
4.77, 7.18
6, 8, 10, 12
16, 20, 25, 33
20, 25, 33, 50, 66, 75, 100
60, 66, 75, 90, 100, 120, 133, 150, etc., up through 3900
For example, suppose you buy an Intel 486 going at 100megahertz. Since it suffers from a UF of ½, it accomplishes just
½ as much useful work per cycle as a 100-megahertz Pentium, so
it acts about as fast as a 50-megahertz Pentium.
The slowest chip is a 4.77-megahertz 8088. Since it suffers
from a UF of 1/20, it acts about as fast as a 0.2385-megahertz
Pentium. That’s 16,352 times slower than the fastest Pentium,
which goes at 3900 megahertz. Yes, the fastest IBM-compatible
computers think over 16,000 times faster than the slowest ones!
That’s progress!
The usefulness factor (UF) is just an approximate average.
During a cycle, for example, a 486 accomplishes about ½ as much
useful work as a Pentium, on the average; but on certain tasks a
486 accomplishes more than “½ as much”, and on other tasks it
accomplishes less.
Variant chips
Old chips have variants:
The Intel 8088 comes in 2 versions. One version (called simply the “8088”)
goes slightly slower than the other version (called the 8086).
The Intel 386 comes in 2 versions. One version (the 386SX) goes slightly
slower than the other version (the 386DX).
The Intel 486 comes in 2 versions. One version (the 486SX) goes slower
than the other version (the 486DX). Moreover, the 486DX comes in 3
varieties: the original 486DX, the 486DX2, and the 486DX4.
Buying: chips 21
The Pentium comes in many versions. Here are the most
popular, listed from slowest to fastest:
Pentium classic
Pentium MMX
Pentium 2
Pentium 3
Pentium 4
Pentium D
Pentium Core Duo 2006
Pentium Core 2 Duo 2006
Pentium Core i3
Pentium Core i5
Pentium Core i7
Pentium Pro is a faster variant
understands 57 more instructions
resembles Pentium MMX but 30% faster
understands 70 more instructions
Pentium 4M uses less electricity, for latops
D means dual: caterpillar contains 2 chips
1 chip contains 2 cores, so acts like 2 chips
1 chip contains 2 cores, so acts like 2 chips
1 chip contains 2 cores, so acts like 2 chips
crude version in 2009, but now 2 or 4 cores
crude version in 2008, but now 4 or 6 cores
To help low-income folks, Intel eventually decided to make
cheaper Pentiums, called Celeron. They go slower.
The first Celeron, invented in 1998, was a cheaper, slower version of the
Pentium 2. The newest Celeron is a cheaper, slower version of the
Pentium Core 2 Duo.
For very low-income folks, Intel makes a version that’s even
cheaper & slower, called the Atom. It’s used in netbook computers.
What’s available
Intel has stopped marketing the oldest chips (8086, 8088, 286,
386, 486 and oldest Pentiums). Modern computers use these
new Pentiums: the Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7.
Here are prices of various Pentium chips:
Intel Pentium chip Cores Cache memory
Celeron G1620
½ megabyte
Pentium G3260
3 megabytes
Core i3-4170
3 megabytes
Core i5-3330
6 megabytes
Core i5-3470
6 megabytes
Core i5-3570
6 megabytes
Core i7-3770
8 megabytes
Core i7-4820
10 megabytes
Core i7-990x
12 megabytes
The chart shows the price charged by a discount dealer
(JDR Microdevices) for a single chip when this book went to
press in September 2016. By the time you read this, prices might
be lower, since Intel drops prices frequently (about every 2
months). If you buy 1000 chips at a time directly from Intel, you
pay less. That chart also shows how much cache memory
(fast-access internal memory) is included inside the Pentium chip.
Intel’s competitors have imitated Intel’s chips. Some
imitations go faster than Intel’s originals!
Intel’s chip
8088 (4.77 or 7.18 MHz) NEC’s V20 chip goes faster: 10 MHz.
8086 (8 or 10 MHz)
NEC’s V30 chip goes fast: 10 MHz.
286 (6-12 MHz)
Harris’s 286 goes faster: 16 & 20 MHz versions.
386 (16-33 MHz)
AMD’s 386 goes faster: 40 MHz.
486 SX (20-33 MHz)
Cyrix’s 486SLC goes slower (UF is just 1/3).
486 DX (25-100 MHz)
AMD’s 486 goes faster: 66-120 MHz versions.
Pentium classic (60-200) AMD’s 586 & Cyrix’s 586 go slower (UF just 2/3).
Pentium 2 (233-450)
AMD’s K6 & K6-2 go slightly slower (UF just 7/8).
Pentium Celeron (266-2800) AMD’s Duron & Sempron go the same speed.
Pentium 3, etc. (450-3600) AMD’s Athlon II & Phenom II & A go the same.
AMD’s A chip is popular, because it’s a CPU chip that includes
graphics processing on the same chip. Here are the prices charged
by a discount dealer (JDR Microdevices):
AMD A chip
Cache memory
1 megabyte
1 megabyte
1 megabyte
1 megabyte
1 megabyte
4 megabytes
4 megabytes
4 megabytes
4 megabytes
4 megabytes
Gigahertz Price
2.5 GHz
2.7 GHz
3.4 GHz
3.6 GHz
3.9 GHz
2.1 GHz
2.7 GHz
2.9 GHz
3.6 GHz
3.8 GHz
Half-assed systems
While a chip waits for your commands, the chip accomplishes
nothing useful during the wait: it just mumbles to itself.
To make full use of a fast Pentium, make sure you know what commands
to give the computer. To let the chip reach its full potential, buy lots of RAM,
big disk drives, and a quick printer. Otherwise, the Pentium will act as idiotic
as if it’s in the army: it will just “hurry up and then wait” for other parts of
the system to catch up and tell it what to do next.
A mind’s a terrible thing to waste! To avoid wasting the computer’s mind
(the CPU), make sure the other computer parts are good enough to match the
CPU and keep it from waiting.
If you get suckered into buying a computer that has a fast Pentium chip but
insufficient RAM, insufficient disk drives, and a slow printer, you’ve bought
a computer that’s just half-fast: it’s half-assed.
Total cost
When you buy a microcomputer, its advertised price includes
a microprocessor, motherboard, and other goodies. Pay for the
microprocessor separately just if you’re inventing your own
computer, buying parts for a broken computer, or upgrading your
computer by switching to a faster microprocessor & motherboard.
Though the microprocessor is cheap, the computer containing
it can cost many hundreds or thousands of dollars. That’s because
the microprocessor is just a tiny part of the computer. In addition
to the microprocessor, you want memory chips, interface chips,
support chips, PC boards (to put the chips on), I/O devices (a
keyboard, screen, printer, speaker, and mouse), disks, and software.
Math coprocessor
Each Pentium chip includes math coprocessor circuitry,
which handles advanced math fast. That circuitry can multiply &
divide long numbers & decimals and compute square roots,
logarithms, and trigonometry.
Primitive chips — the 8088, 8086, 286, 386SX, 386DX, and
486SX — do not include such circuitry.
To make a primitive chip do advanced math, you must feed the chip a
program that teaches the chip how to break the advanced problem down into
a series of simpler problems. That program runs slowly — nearly 100 times
slower than if a math coprocessor were present!
The slowness will annoy you if you’re a scientist trying to do advanced
math — or an artist trying to rotate a picture, since the computer computes
the rotated image’s new coordinates by using trigonometry. For example, if you
draw a 3-D picture of a house and then ask the computer to show how the house
looks from a different angle, you need a math coprocessor to avoid a long delay.
Here’s the only difference between a 486DX chip and a 486SX
The 486DX chip (and 486DX2 and 486DX4) includes math-coprocessor
circuitry; the 486SX does not. Intel invented the 486DX, then later invented
the 486SX by using this manufacturing technique: Intel took each 486DX
whose math coprocessor was faulty and called it a 486SX. So a 486SX was
just a defective 486DX.
If your CPU lacks math-coprocessor circuitry (because your
CPU is an 8088, 8086, 286, 386, or 486SX), here’s how to do math
quickly: buy a math coprocessor chip. Put it next to the CPU
chip on the motherboard. It contains the math-coprocessor
circuitry that the CPU lacks.
22 Buying: chips
Intel CPU
8088 or 8086
Which Intel math coprocessor to buy
Better yet, give up and buy a new computer, containing a Pentium!
Although the CPU (the computer’s brain) can think, it can’t
remember anything. It can’t even remember what problem it was
working on!
Besides buying a CPU, you must also buy memory chips,
which remember what problem the CPU was working on. To find
out what the problem was, the CPU looks at the memory chips
frequently — millions of times every second!
You need two kinds of memory chips: RAM and ROM.
The RAM chips remember info temporarily.
The ROM chips remember info permanently.
Let’s begin by looking at RAM chips.
If a chip remembers info just temporarily, it’s called a randomaccess memory chip (RAM chip). When you buy RAM chips,
they contain no info yet; you tell the CPU what info to put into
them. Later, you can make the CPU erase that info and insert new
info instead. The RAM chips hold info just temporarily: when
you turn the computer’s power off, the RAM chips are
automatically erased.
Whenever the CPU tries to solve a problem, the CPU stores
the problem in the RAM chips, temporarily. There it also stores
all instructions on how to solve the problem; the instructions are
called the program.
If the computer doesn’t have enough RAM chips to hold an
entire problem or program, you (or a programmer) must split the
problem or program into several shorter ones instead and tell the
CPU to work on each short problem temporarily.
How RAM is measured
A character is any symbol you can type on the keyboard, such
as a letter or digit or punctuation mark or blank space. Examples:
The word HAT consists of 3 characters. The phrase MR. POE consists of 7
characters: M, R, the period, the space, P, O, and E. The phrase LOVE 2 KISS
U consists of 13 characters.
Instead of saying “character”, hungry programmers say byte.
So the phrase LOVE 2 KISS U consists of 13 bytes. If you store
that phrase in the RAM, that phrase occupies 13 bytes of the RAM.
RAM chips are manufactured by a process that involves doubling. The most
popular unit of RAM is “2 bytes times 2 times 2 times 2 times 2 times 2 times
2 times 2 times 2 times 2”, which is 1024 bytes, which is called a kilobyte.
It’s about a quarter as many characters as you get on a typewritten page
(assuming the page is single-spaced with one-inch margins and elite type).
The abbreviation for kilobyte is K. For example, if a salesperson says an old
computer has a “512K RAM”, the salesperson means the main circuitry
includes enough RAM chips to hold 512 kilobytes of information, which is
slightly over 512,000 bytes.
A megabyte is 1024 kilobytes. Since a kilobyte is 1024 bytes, a megabyte
is “1024 times 1024” bytes, which is 1,048,576 bytes altogether,
which is slightly more than a million bytes. It’s about how much you can fit
in a 250-page book (assuming the book has single-spaced typewritten pages).
The abbreviation for megabyte is meg or M.
A terabyte is 1024 gigabytes. It’s slightly more than a trillion bytes. The
abbreviation for terabyte is T.
In honor of the words “kilobyte”, “megabyte”, “gigabyte”, and
“terabyte”, programmers name their dogs Killer Byte, Make A
Byte, Giggle Byte, and Terror Byte.
Rows of RAM chips
In a primitive microcomputer (such as the Commodore 64), the
RAM is a row of eight chips on the motherboard. That row of
chips holds a total of 64 kilobytes (64K). That row of chips is
called a 64K chip set. Each chip in that set is called a “64K
chip”, but you need a whole row of those 64K chips to produce a
64K RAM.
If your computer is slightly fancier (such as the Apple 2c), it has two rows
of 64K chips. The two rows together total 128K.
If your computer is even fancier, it has many rows of 64K chips. For
example, your computer might have 4 rows of 64K chips. Since each row is
a 64K RAM, the 4 rows together total 256K.
During the 1980’s, computer engineers invented 256K and 1M chips.
If your computer has very little RAM, you can try to enlarge
the RAM by adding extra rows of RAM chips to the motherboard.
But if the motherboard’s already full, you must buy an extra PC
card to put the extra chips on. That extra PC card is called a
RAM memory card.
Parity chip
The original IBM PC contained an extra chip in each row, so
each row contained 9 chips instead of 8. The row’s ninth chip is
called the parity chip. It double-checks the work done by the
other 8 chips, to make sure they’re all working correctly!
So for an original IBM PC (or imitations of it), you must buy
9 chips to fill a row.
Strips of RAM chips
If your computer is modern and you want to insert an extra row
of RAM chips, you do not have to insert 8 or 9 separate chips into
the motherboard. Instead, you can buy a strip (tiny memory card)
that contains all 8 or 9 chips and just pop the whole strip into the
computer’s motherboard, in one blow.
If the strip is classic,
it contains a single row of chips, pops into one of the motherboard’s slots,
and is called a Single In-line Memory Module (SIMM).
If the strip is modern,
it contains two rows of chips (one row on each side of the strip)
and is called a Dual In-line Memory Module (DIMM).
If the strip is old-fashioned and weird,
it pops into a series of pinholes instead of a slot
and is called a Single In-line Pin Package (SIPP).
Staples charges $15 for a 2-gigabyte DIMM, $27 for a 4gigabyte DIMM, $46 for an 8-gigabyte DIMM.
Some computers use SIMMs containing a set of just 2, 3, or 4
chips. That set of special chips imitates 8 or 9 normal chips.
In old-fashioned computers,
each SIMM fits into a motherboard slot by using 30 big pins.
In computers that are more modern, each SIMM uses 72 big pins instead.
The typical DIMM uses 168, 184, or 240 big pins.
A nanosecond is a billionth of a second. The typical SIMM
contains chips that are fast: they retrieve info in 60 nanoseconds.
Some SIMMs and DIMMs contain chips that are even faster: 10
A gigabyte (pronounced “gig a bite”) is 1024 megabytes. It’s slightly more
than a billion bytes. The abbreviation for gigabyte is gig or G.
Buying: chips 23
Dynamic versus static
A RAM chip is either dynamic or static.
If it’s dynamic, it stores data for just 2 milliseconds. After the
2 milliseconds, the electrical charges that represent the data
dissipate and become too weak to detect.
When you buy a PC board containing dynamic RAM chips, the
PC board also includes a refresh circuit. The refresh circuit
automatically reads the data from the dynamic RAM chips, then
rewrites the data onto the chips before 2 milliseconds go by.
Every 2 milliseconds, the refresh circuit reads the data from the
chips and rewrites the data, so that the data stays refreshed.
If a chip is static instead of dynamic, the electrical charge
never dissipates, so you don’t need a refresh circuit. (But you
must still keep the power turned on.)
In the past, computer designers used just static RAM because
they feared dynamic RAM’s refresh circuit wouldn’t work. But
now refresh circuits are reliable, and the most popular kind of
RAM is dynamic.
Dynamic RAM is called DRAM (pronounced “dee ram”).
Static RAM is called SRAM (pronounced “ess ram”).
Faster circuitry
The circuitry on SIMM and DIMM cards has improved, to let
a stream of data get from the memory card to the CPU chip faster.
Such improvements have fancy names:
In 1987 came the first improvement, called Fast Page Mode (FPM).
In 1995 came Extended Data Output (EDO), which went even faster.
In 1996 came Synchronous DRAM (SDRAM), which went even faster.
In 1999 came Rambus DRAM (RDRAM), which went even faster.
In 2000 came Double Data Rate SDRAM (DDR SDRAM),
which had 184 pins and went about as fast as RDRAM but cost less.
In 2003 came DDR2 SDRAM,
which has 240 pins and transfers data twice as fast as DDR SDRAM.
Early versions of DDR2 SDRAM didn’t work well;
but at the end of 2004, DDR2 SDRAM improved enough to be practical.
In 2007 came DDR3 SDRAM,
which has 240 pins and transfers data twice as fast as DDR2 SDRAM.
RAM chips remember, temporarily, info supplied by you.
ROM chips remember, forever, info supplied by the manufacturer.
The typical computer includes many RAM chips (arranged in
rows) but just a few ROM chips.
What kind of info is in ROM?
In your computer, one of the ROM chips contains instructions
that tell the CPU what to do first when you turn the power on.
Those instructions are called the ROM bootstrap, because they
help the computer system start itself going and “pull itself up by
its own bootstraps”.
In the typical microcomputer, that ROM chip also contains
instructions that help the CPU transfer information from the
keyboard to the screen and printer. Those instructions are called
the ROM operating system or the ROM basic input-output
system (ROM BIOS).
In the typical IBM-compatible PC, the motherboard contains a ROM BIOS chip.
That chip contains the ROM BIOS and also the ROM bootstrap. If your
computer’s made by IBM, that chip is typically designed by IBM; if your
computer’s made by a company imitating IBM, that chip is an imitation
designed by a company such as Phoenix. Such a chip designed by Phoenix
is called a Phoenix ROM BIOS chip. Other companies that designed ROM
BIOS chips for clones are Quadtel (which was recently bought by Phoenix),
Award (which was recently bought by Phoenix), and American Megatrends
Incorporated (AMI) (which remains independent).
How ROM chips are made
The info in a ROM chip is said to be burned into the chip. To
burn in the info, the manufacturer can use two methods.
One method is to burn the info into the ROM chip while the
chip’s being made. A ROM chip produced by that method is
called a custom ROM chip.
An alternate method is to make a ROM chip that contains no
info but can be fed info later. Such a ROM chip is called a
programmable ROM chip (PROM). To feed it info later, you
attach it to a device called a PROM burner, which copies info
from a RAM to the PROM.
Info burned into the PROM can’t be erased, unless the
PROM’s a special kind: an erasable PROM (EPROM). You can
buy 3 types of erasable PROMs:
If you want to buy an extra SIMM or DIMM to put in your
computer, make sure you buy the same kind as what’s already in
your computer. Make sure the extra SIMM or DIMM has the same
number of pins (30, 72, 168, 184, or 240?), the same number of chips
on it (2, 3, 4, 8, 9, or more?), operates at the same number of
nanoseconds (10 or 80?), and uses the same technology (FPM,
An ultraviolet-erasable PROM (UV-EPROM) gets erased by shining an
intense ultraviolet light at it for 5 minutes (or leaving the chip in sunlight for
2 weeks). That technique erases the entire chip.
That technique erases a whole 64-kilobyte block at once, “in a flash”.
It’s the most popular type of erasable PROM. It’s used in digital cameras (to
store pictures), cell phones, and reprogrammable BIOS chips. If the flash
memory pretends to be an extra hard disk & drive, it’s called a
solid-state drive (SSD) and runs faster than a traditional hard disk & drive.
A solid-state drive that plugs into the system unit’s USB port is called a
USB flash drive (and is about the size of your thumb); it costs $5 for 16
gigabytes, $8 for 32 gigabytes, $12 for 64 gigabytes, $20 for 128 gigabytes,
at Best Buy.
The original IBM PC came with just 16K of RAM, but you
could add extra RAM to it.
To run modern Windows software, you need at least 4G
of main RAM; but many people still use older software that can
run on 1G, 512M, 256M, or even less RAM.
If a chip remembers information permanently, it’s called a
read-only memory chip (ROM chip), because you can read the
information but can’t change it. The ROM chip contains
permanent, eternal truths and facts put there by the manufacturer,
and it remembers that info forever, even if you turn off the power.
Here’s the difference between RAM and ROM:
24 Buying: chips
An electrically erasable PROM (EEPROM) gets erased by sending it a 25volt shock for a tenth of a second. That technique erases just one byte in the
chip: to erase many bytes, you must perform that technique many times.
Flash memory gets erased by sending it a 3-volt shock for 1 second.
Those numbers (for erasure time, voltage, and block size) are
typical; but for your chip the numbers might be different,
depending on how the chip was manufactured. After you erase an
erasable PROM, you can feed it new info.
If you’re a manufacturer designing a new computer, begin by
using an erasable PROM, so you can make changes easily. When
you decide not to make any more changes, switch to a nonerasable PROM, which costs less to manufacture. If your
computer becomes so popular that you need to manufacture over
10,000 copies of the ROM, switch to a custom ROM chip, which
costs more to design and “tool up for” but less to copy.
Memory comes in 3 popular forms: RAM chips, ROM chips,
and disks.
You already learned about RAM chips and ROM chips. Let’s
examine disks. Disks are becoming less popular (because chips are
becoming cheaper than before), but many computers still use disks!
A computer disk is round, like a phonograph record.
Computers can handle 4 kinds of disks:
Those 3 sizes have nicknames:
An 8-inch floppy disk is called a large floppy.
A 5¼-inch floppy disk is called a minifloppy.
A 3½-inch floppy disk is called a microfloppy.
Here’s their history:
8-inch floppies were invented in the early 1970’s by IBM.
5¼-inch floppies were invented in the late 1970’s by Shugart Associates,
which later became part of Xerox.
3½-inch floppies were invented in the 1980’s by Sony. They’ve become
A floppy disk is made of flimsy material. It’s permanently encased in a
sturdy, square dust jacket.
the most popular size because they’re the smallest, cutest, and sturdiest.
They’re small enough to fit in your shirt’s pocket, cute enough to impress
your friends, and sturdy enough to survive when you fall on your face.
They’re also easy to mail, since they’re small enough to fit in a standard white
business envelope and sturdy enough to survive the U.S. Postal System. Yup,
nice things come in small packages!
A hard disk is made of firmer material. It typically hides in your computer
permanently, unseen.
Jacket colors
A CD is the same kind of compact disk that plays music.
A DVD is the same kind of digital video disk that plays movies.
Each kind has its own advantages and disadvantages.
The jacket of a 5¼-inch or 8-inch floppy disk is usually black.
The jacket of a 3½-inch floppy disk is usually black, blue, white,
or beige (very light grayish brown). If you pay a surcharge, you
can get jackets that have wilder colors.
Floppy disks are the easiest to mail to your friends: just stick the floppy disk
in an envelope, perhaps with some padding. Unfortunately, floppy disks work
the most slowly, and they hold the least data: the typical floppy disk holds
about 1 megabyte, while the typical CD-ROM can hold many hundreds of
megabytes, and the typical hard disk can hold a billion megabytes!
Hard disks work the fastest — over 20 times faster than the other kinds! But
hard disks are also the most expensive. Moreover, they typically can’t be
removed from your computer and so can’t be mailed to your friends.
CDs and DVDs are the best value: they cost less than 1¢ per megabyte to
manufacture. But they have a frustrating limitation: the info on those disks is
hard to edit. A DVD can hold more megabytes than a CD and therefore costs
more to manufacture.
Since each kind of disk has its own advantages and
disadvantages, you’ll wish you had all 4 kinds.
Computer experts argue about spelling. Some experts write
“disk”, others write “disc”.
Most manufacturers write “disk” when referring to floppy disks or hard
disks, but write “disc” when referring to CDs and DVDs. That inconsistency
annoys me.
To be more consistent, I’ll always write “disk”, even when referring to
CDs. Most computer magazines (such as PC Magazine and PC World) feel
the same way I do: they always write “disk”. The growing tendency is to
always write “disk”.
Floppy disks
I’ll start with floppy disks, because they’re the easiest to
understand (though they’re becoming less popular).
A floppy disk (or diskette) is round but comes permanently
sealed in a square dust jacket. (Don’t try to remove the floppy
disk from its square jacket.)
The floppy disk is as thin and flimsy as a sheet of paper but is
protected by the sturdy, square jacket that encases it.
3 standard sizes
Floppy disks come in 3 standard sizes.
Magnetized iron
The round disk (which hides inside the square jacket) is coated
with rust, so it looks brown. Since the rust is made of iron, which
can be magnetized, the disk stores magnetic signals. The pattern
of magnetic signals is a code representing your data.
To use a floppy disk, you must buy a floppy-disk drive, which
is a computerized record player.
If the drive is external, it’s a box sitting near the system unit.
If the drive is internal, it’s built into the system unit. If your
computer is standard, the drive is internal, but some Macs have
external drives instead.
The drive has a slit in its front side. To use the drive, push the
disk (including its jacket) into the slit.
When you push your disk into the slit, don’t push the disk in
backwards or upside-down! Here’s how to push the disk in
The disk’s jacket has a label on it and a big oval cutout. (If the disk is 3½inch, the cutout is covered by a metal slider.)
Insert the disk so the oval cutout goes into the drive before the label
does. If the drive’s slit is horizontal, make sure the label’s on the jacket’s top
side; if the drive is vertical, make sure the label’s on the jacket’s left side
If the disk is 5½-inch or 8-inch, close the drive’s latch, to cover the slit and
hold the disk in place. (If the disk is 3½-inch, there’s no latch.) Since the slit
and latch act as a door, closing the latch is called closing the door.
Then the disk drive automatically positions the disk onto the
turntable that’s hidden inside the drive. The turntable’s called the
spindle. It can spin the disk fast.
Like a record player, the disk drive contains an arm with a
“needle” on it. The needle’s called the read-write head, because
it can read what’s on the disk and also write new info onto the disk.
To transfer info to the disk, the computer lowers the read-write
head onto the disk. An electrical charge passes through the head.
The charge creates an electromagnetic field, which magnetizes
the iron on the disk’s surface. Each iron particle has its own north
pole & south pole; the patterns formed by the north & south poles
are a code that stands for the info you’re storing.
The most popular size is called a 3½-inch floppy disk, because it comes
in a square jacket that’s about 3½ inches on each side. (Each side of the jacket
is slightly more than 3½ inches, and the disk’s diameter is slightly less.)
An older size, used just on older computers, is called 5¼-inch; it comes
in square jacket that’s exactly 5¼ inches on each side. An even older size,
8-inch, is used just on ancient computers that are no longer built.
Buying: disks 25
Tracks As the disk spins, the head remains stationary, so that
the head draws a circle on the spinning disk’s surface. The circle’s
called a track.
To draw the circle, the head doesn’t use ink; instead, it uses a pattern of
magnetic pulses. Since your eye can’t see magnetism, your eye can’t see the
circle; but it’s there!
When you start using a blank disk, the arm puts the head near the disk’s
outer rim, so that the head’s track (circle) is almost as wide as the disk. That
track’s called track 0.
Then the arm lifts the head, moves the head slightly closer to the virgin
disk’s center, and puts the head back down onto the disk again. The head
draws another circular track on the disk, but this new circular track is slightly
smaller than the previous one. It’s called track 1.
Then the head draws track 2, then track 3, then track 4, and so on, until the
head gets near the center of the disk, and draws the last circular track (which
is smaller than the other tracks).
To organize the info on a track, the computer divides the track
into sectors. Each “sector” is an arc of the circle.
Single-sided versus double-sided drives A
modern disk drive has 2 read-write heads. One head uses the
disk’s top surface, while the other head uses the disk’s bottom, so
that the drive can use both sides of the disk simultaneously. That’s
called a double-sided disk drive.
The drive puts info onto the disk by first using track 0 of the main side,
then track 0 of the flip side, then track 1 of the main side, then track 1 of the
flip side, etc.
If a drive’s so old and primitive that it has just one read-write head, it uses
just one side of the disk and is called a single-sided disk drive.
Double-sided is also called DS and 2-sided and 2S. Single-sided is also
called SS and 1-sided and 1S.
Capacity How many kilobytes can you fit on a floppy disk?
The answer depends on which kind of drive you have.
The most popular kind of floppy-disk drive is called a 3½inch high-density floppy drive. Here’s how it works:
It holds a 3½-inch floppy disk. It writes on both sides of the disk
simultaneously, since it’s a double-sided disk drive. It writes 80 tracks on
each side. It divides each track into 18 sectors. Each sector holds “512 bytes”,
which is half a kilobyte, ½K.
Since the disk has 2 sides, 80 tracks per side, 18 sectors per track, and ½K
per sector, the disk’s total capacity is “2 times 80 times 18 times ½K”, which
is 1440K. So altogether, the disk holds 1440K. That’s called 1.44M (where
an M is defined as being 1000K). That’s why a 3½-inch high-density floppy
drive is also called a 1.44M drive. The kind of disk you put into it is called
a 1.44M floppy disk (or a 3½-inch high-density floppy disk). Since the
disk holds 1.44M (which is 1440K), and since a K is 1024 bytes, the disk
holds “1440 times 1024” bytes, which is 1,474,560 bytes altogether. That’s a
lot of bytes!
Although the disk holds 1440K, some of those K are used for “bureaucratic
overhead” (such as holding a directory that reminds the computer which data
is where on your disk). A Mac uses just 1 sector (½K) for bureaucratic
overhead. An IBM-compatible computer uses 33 sectors (16½K) for
bureaucratic overhead, leaving just 1423½K (1,457,664 bytes) for your data.
When you buy a blank disk to put in a 1.44M drive, make sure the disk is
the right kind. Make sure the disk is 3½-inch; and to get full use of what the
drive can accomplish, make sure the disk is high-density! The abbreviation
for “high-density” is HD. A high-density 3½-inch disk has the letters HD
stamped in white on its jacket; but the H overlaps the D, so it looks like this:
HD. Also, a high-density 3½-inch disk has an extra square hole cut through
its jacket.
Old computers use inferior floppy drives, whose capacities are
below 1.44M.
A capacity below 150K
is called single-density (SD).
A capacity above 150M but below 1M is called double-density (DD).
A capacity above 1M
is called high-density (HD).
Anything below high-density is called low-density.
Although the jacket of a high-density 3½-inch disk has “HD”
stamped on it and an extra hole punched through it, the jackets of
other kinds of disks can lack any distinguishing marks. Too bad!
26 Buying: disks
Popular IBM-compatible drives For IBM-compatible
computers, four kinds of floppy drives have been popular:
IBM drive’s name Capacity
5¼-inch double-density 360K
40 tracks per side, 9 sectors per track
5¼-inch high-density 1200K(=1.2M) 80 tracks per side, 15 sectors per track
3½-inch double-density 720K
80 tracks per side, 9 sectors per track
3½-inch high-density 1440K(=1.44M) 80 tracks per side, 18 sectors per track
Each of those IBM-compatible drives is double-sided and has
½K per sector. They’re manufactured by companies such as NEC,
Teac, Chinon, Epson, and Alps. The fanciest drives (3½-inch
high-density) used to be expensive, but now you can buy them
for just $29 from mail-order discount dealers.
Mac drives For Mac computers, three kinds of floppy drives
have been popular:
Mac drive’s name
1-sided double-density
2-sided double-density
1 side, 8-12 sectors per track
2 sides, 8-12 sectors per track
2 sides, 18 sectors per track
Each Mac drive is 3½-inch and has 80 tracks per side, ½K per
On a disk, the inner tracks have smaller diameters than the
outer tracks. Mac double-density drives puts fewer sectors onto
the inner tracks and put extra sectors onto the outer tracks, as
follows: the outer 16 tracks are divided into 12 sectors, the next
16 tracks into 11 sectors, the next 16 into 10, the next 16 into 9,
and the inner 16 into 8.
Speed In the disk drive, the disk spins quickly.
Low-density 5¼-inch disks revolve 5 times per second.
8-inch disks and high-density 5¼-inch disks revolve faster: 6 times per second.
3½-inch disks revolve even faster: between 6½ and 10 times per second.
Buying disks
When you buy a floppy disk, make sure its size matches the
size of the drive. For example, a 3½-inch disk will not work in a
5¼-inch drive.
If your drive is single-density or double-density, it can’t handle
high-density disks at all.
Formatting the disk Before you can use a blank floppy
disk, its surface must be formatted (divided into tracks and
sectors). Buy a disk that’s been formatted already, or buy an
unformatted disk and format it yourself (by typing a command on
your computer’s keyboard or by using the mouse).
After the disk’s been formatted, you can put whatever info you
wish onto the disk. Don’t tell the drive to format that disk again.
If you accidentally make the drive format the same disk again, the
drive will create new tracks & sectors on the disk by erasing all
the old tracks & sectors and all your old data!
If a disk is blank, make sure it’s formatted before you use it.
If a disk already contains info, don’t format it; it’s been formatted already.
What’s a disk worth? Though you can buy a blank floppy
disk for under 50¢, a disk containing info costs much more. The
price depends on how valuable the info is.
Protect your disks
Most parts of a computer system are sturdy. For example, even
if you bang on the keyboard, you probably won’t do any harm.
Just one part of a computer system is delicate: the disk!
Unfortunately, magnetic signals on a disk are easy to destroy.
One way to accidentally destroy them is to put your disk near
a magnet; so keep your disk away from magnets! For
example, keep your disk away from:
paper clips that have been in a magnetized paper-clip holder
speakers in your stereo, TV, and phone (because speakers contain magnets)
electric motors (because motors generate an electromagnetic field)
To be safe, keep your disk at least 6 inches away from paper clips,
stereos, TV’s, phones, and motors.
Keep your disk away from heat, because heat destroys the
disk’s magnetism and “melts” your data:
Don’t leave your disk in the hot sun, or on a sunny windowsill, or in the back
of your car on a hot day. If your disk drive or computer feels hot, quickly
lower the temperature, by getting an air conditioner or a fan.
A 3½-inch floppy disk comes in a strong jacket.
If you’re using a 5¼-inch or 8-inch floppy disk instead, beware! Its jacket is
too weak to protect it from pressure. Don’t squeeze it. Don’t put it under a
heavy object (such as a paperweight or book). To write a note on the disk’s
jacket, don’t use a ballpoint pen (which crushes the disk); use a soft felt-tip
pen instead.
Keep the disk away from dust. For example, don’t smoke
cigarettes near the disk, because the smoke becomes dust that
lands on the disk and wrecks the data.
Keep the disk dry. If you must transport a disk during a
rainstorm, put the disk in a plastic bag. Never drink coffee or soda
near the disk: your drink might spill.
To handle the disk, touch just the disk’s jacket, not the
brown disk itself. Holes in the jacket let you see the brown disk
inside; don’t put your fingers in the holes.
Write-protect notch When you buy a blank 5¼-inch or
8-inch floppy disk, the disk comes in a square black jacket. Since
the jacket’s square, it has four sides; but one of the sides has a
notch cut into it.
You can cover the notch, by sticking a plastic tab over it. The tab has a
gummed back, so you can stick it on the disk easily and cover the notch. You
get the tab free when you buy the disk.
For a 3½-inch disk, the notch is different:
It’s a square hole near the jacket’s corner but not on the jacket’s edge. To
cover it, you use a black slider instead of a tab. On old Apple Mac disks, the
slider was red instead of black.
Whenever you ask the computer to change the info on the disk,
the drive checks whether you’ve covered the notch.
For a 5¼-inch disk, the normal situation is for the notch
to be uncovered. For a 3½-inch or 8-inch disk, the normal
situation is for the notch to be covered.
If the situation’s normal, the computer will obey your
command: it will change the info on the disk as you wish. But if
the situation’s abnormal (because the notch is covered
when it should be uncovered, or is uncovered when it
should be covered), the computer will refuse to change
the disk’s info.
If your disk contains valuable info and you’re afraid some idiot
will accidentally erase or alter that info, make the situation
abnormal (by changing whether the notch is covered), so the
computer will refuse to change the disk’s info. It will refuse to
erase the disk, refuse to add new info to the disk; refuse to alter
the disk, refuse to write onto the disk. The disk is protected from
being changed, protected from being written on; the disk is
write-protected (locked). Since the tab affects whether the disk
is write-protected, the tab is called a write-protect tab, and the
notch is called a write-protect notch.
When you buy a disk that already contains info, the disk
usually comes write-protected, to protect you from accidentally
erasing the info.
If you buy a 5¼-inch floppy disk that already contains info, it might come
with a write-protect tab already covering the notch, to write-protect the disk.
Instead of creating a notch then covering it with a tab, some manufacturers
save money by getting special disks that have no notch. The computer treats
a notchless disk the same way as a disk whose notch is covered.
Backup Even if you handle your disk carefully, eventually
something will go wrong, and some info on your disk will get
wrecked accidentally. To prepare for that inevitable calamity, tell
the computer to copy all info from the disk onto a blank disk, so
the blank disk becomes an exact copy of the original. Store the
copy far away from the original: store it in another room, or —
better yet — another building. The copy is called a backup. Use
the backup disk when the original disk gets wrecked.
Making a backup disk is like buying an insurance policy: it
protects you against disasters.
When you buy a floppy that already contains software, try
copying the floppy before you begin using it.
If you’re lucky, the computer will make the backup copy without any hassles.
If you’re unlucky, the software company put instructions on the floppy that
make the computer refuse to copy the disk, because the company fears you’ll
illegally make copies to your friends. A floppy the computer refuses to copy
(and so is protected against illegal copying) is called copy-protected. A
floppy you can copy is called copyable (or unprotected).
Super-capacity floppies
Though a standard floppy disk holds up to 1.44M,
super-capacity floppy disks hold more and come in three styles:
Zip disk
Zip 250 disk
LS-120 disk
$89 drive by Iomega, $11 disk
$187 drive by Iomega, $17 disk
$100 drive by Imation, $10 disk
Super-capacity floppy disks used to be popular, but newer
computers use CD disks instead, which cost less and hold more.
Hard disks
Hard disks are better than floppy disks in 3 ways:
Hard disks are sturdier than floppies.
Hard disks are hard and firm; they don’t flop or jiggle.
They’re more reliable than floppies.
Hard drives hold more info than floppy drives.
The typical floppy drive holds 1.44 megabytes.
The typical hard drive holds 1 terabyte (which is 1,000,000 megabytes).
Hard drives work faster than floppies.
The typical floppy disk rotates between 5 and 10 times per second.
The typical hard disk rotates between 90 and 167 times per second.
Unfortunately, the typical hard disk can’t be removed from its
drive: the hard disk is non-removable, stuck inside its drive
permanently. (Hard disks that are removable are rare.)
Since the typical hard disk is stuck forever inside its drive, in
one fixed place, it’s called a fixed disk.
Though the typical floppy-disk drive holds just one disk at a
time, the typical hard-disk drive holds a whole stack of disks and
handles all the stack’s disks simultaneously, by using many arms
and read-write heads.
For example, a 1-terabyte hard drive holds a non-removable stack of disks,
and the entire stack totals 1 terabyte. Each disk in the stack is called a platter.
If your hard drive is the rare kind that holds a removable stack
of disks, the stack comes in a cartridge or pack that you can
remove from the hard drive.
Buying: disks 27
Back in 1977, the typical hard disk had a 14-inch diameter and
was removable. The hard-disk drive was a big cabinet (the size of
a top-loading washing machine), cost about $30,000, held 0.1
gigabytes, and required a minicomputer or mainframe.
Life’s gotten smaller!
Now the typical desktop computer’s hard disk has a diameter of just 3½
inches, a height of just 1 inch, costs $55, holds 1000 gigabytes (which is a
terabyte), and fits in a desktop computer. Notebook computers use hard disks
whose diameter is just 2½ inches.
IBM drive letters
The typical IBM-compatible computer has both a floppy drive
and a hard drive. The floppy drive is called drive A; the hard drive
is called drive C.
If the computer has two floppy drives, the main floppy drive is called drive A;
the other floppy drive is called drive B.
If the computer has two hard drives, the main hard drive is called drive C;
the other hard drive is called drive D.
Copy between disks
When you buy a program, it might come on a floppy disk (or
CD or DVD). Put that disk into its drive then copy the program
from that disk to the hard disk. (To find out how to copy, follow
the program’s instructions.) Then use just the copy on the hard
disk (which holds more info and works faster than a floppy disk
or CD or DVD).
Like floppy disks, hard disks are coated with magnetized iron.
Floppy disks & hard disks are both called magnetic disks. Like
floppy disks, hard disks are in constant danger of losing their
magnetic signals — and your data!
Protect yourself! Every week, take any new info that’s on your
hard disk and copy it onto a pile of floppy disks (or CDs or DVDs
or a USB flash drive), so you’ve created a backup copy of what
was new on your hard disk.
To avoid giant disasters, avoid creating giant files. If you’re
writing a book and want to store it on your hard disk, split the
book into chapters, and make each chapter a separate file, so if
you accidentally say “delete” you’ll lose just one chapter instead
of your entire masterpiece.
How the head works
In a floppy drive, the read-write head (the “needle”) touches
the spinning floppy disk. But in a hard drive, the read-write head
does not touch the spinning hard disk; instead, it hovers over the
disk, very close to the disk (just a tiny fraction of an inch above
the disk), so close that the read-write head can detect the disk’s
magnetism and alter it.
Since the head doesn’t actually touch the disk, there isn’t any
friction, so the head and the disk don’t suffer from any wear-andtear. That’s why a hard-disk system lasts longer than a floppydisk system and is more reliable.
Winchester drives In all modern hard drives, the head acts
as a miniature airplane: it flies above the disk.
It flies at a very low altitude: a tiny fraction of an inch. The
only thing keeping the head off the rotating disk is a tiny cushion
of air — a breeze caused by the disk’s motion.
When you unplug the drive, the disk stops rotating, so the
breeze stops, and the head comes to rest on a landing strip,
which is like a miniature airport.
Such a drive is called a flying-head drive. It’s also called a
Winchester drive, because “Winchester” was IBM’s secret
code-name for that technology when IBM was inventing it.
28 Buying: disks
The head flies at an altitude that’s extremely low — about a ten-thousandth
of an inch! That’s even smaller than the width of a particle of dust or cigarette
smoke! So if any dust or smoke lands onto the disk, the head will smash
against it, and you’ll have a major disaster.
To prevent such a disaster, the entire Winchester drive is sealed airtight, to
prevent any dust or smoke from entering the drive and getting onto the disk.
Since the drive is sealed, you can’t remove the disks (unless you buy an
extremely expensive Winchester drive that has a flexible seal).
Here’s how the computer retrieves data from the drive.
First, the drive’s head moves to the correct track.
The time that the head spends moving is called the seek time. Since that
time depends on how far the head is from the correct track, it depends on
where the correct track is and where the head is moving from.
According to calculus, on the average the head must move across a third
of the tracks to reach the correct track. That’s why the time to traverse a third
of the tracks is called the average seek time.
A millisecond (ms) is a thousandth of a second. In a typical hard drive,
the average seek time is about 9 milliseconds. (In older hard drives that are
no longer made, the average seek time was 28 milliseconds.)
After the head reaches the correct track, it must wait
for the disk to rotate, until the correct sector reaches the head.
That rotation time is called the latency. On the average, the head must wait
for half a revolution; so the average latency time is a half-revolution. The
typical cheap hard drive rotates 5400 times per minute, which is 90 times per
second, so a half-revolution takes half of a 90th of a second, so it’s a 180th of
a second, so it’s about .006 seconds, which is 6 milliseconds.
If you add the average seek time to the average latency time, you get the
total average access time. So for a typical cheap hard drive, the average
access time = 9 milliseconds seek + 6 milliseconds latency = 15 milliseconds.
For a higher quality hard drive, the rotation speed is 7200 rpm (instead of
5400), giving 120 rotations per second (instead of 90), an average latency of
4 milliseconds (instead of 6), and an average access time of 13 milliseconds
(instead of 15).
During the last few years, hard drive manufacturers have become
dishonest: they say the “average access time” is 9 milliseconds, when they
should actually say the “average seek time” is 9 milliseconds.
After the head finally reaches the correct sector, you must wait
for the head to read the data. If the data consumes several sectors,
you must wait for the head to read all those sectors.
For many years, most hard drives for microcomputers were
built by 4 American companies: Seagate Technology (ST),
Quantum, Western Digital, and Conner:
Seagate was the first of those companies to make hard drives for
microcomputers. It set the standard that the other companies had to follow. New
Seagate drives work fine, though Seagate’s old models were noisy &
Quantum became famous by building the hard drives used in Apple’s Mac
computers. Quantum also built drives for IBM PC clones. Quantum drives
are excellent.
Western Digital invented hard drives that cost less. They’re popular in
cheap clones and discount computer stores.
Conner was the first company to invent hard drives tiny enough to fit in a
laptop computer. Seagate had ignored the laptop market too long, and
Conner’s popularity zoomed up fast. Conner became the fastest-growing
company in the history of American industry!
Other manufacturers of hard drives were America’s Maxtor &
Micropolis, Japan’s Toshiba & Fujitsu & Hitachi & NEC, and
Korea’s Samsung.
Companies merged:
Toshiba bought Fujitsu’s hard-drive business.
Western Digital bought Hitachi’s hard-drive business.
Maxtor bought Quantum’s hard-drive business; then Seagate bought the
hard-drive businesses of Maxtor, Conner, and Samsung.
Micropolis & NEC gave up and left the hard-drive business.
Now just 3 hard-drive manufacturers remain:
Western Digital (44% of all hard drives)
Seagate (40%)
Toshiba (16%)
To use a hard drive, you need a hard-drive controller, which
was a card you had to buy separately but nowadays is included
on the hard drive’s card and in the hard drive’s price.
How many sectors?
How many sectors do you get on a track?
Early schemes Back in the 1980’s, the typical hard-drive
controller for IBM-compatible computers put 17 sectors on each
That scheme was the Seagate Technology 506 with Modified
Frequency Modulation (ST506 MFM).
An improved scheme squeezed 26 sectors onto each track and was the
ST506 with Run Length Limited (ST506 RLL). A further improvement
squeezed 34 sectors onto each track and was the Enhanced Small Device
Interface (ESDI).
Squeezing extra sectors onto each track increases the drive’s capacity
(total number of megabytes) and the transfer rate (the number of sectors
that the head reads per rotation or per second).
All those schemes — MFM, RLL, and ESDI — have become obsolete.
IDE Now the most popular scheme is called Integrated
Drive Electronics (IDE). Like ESDI, it squeezes 34 sectors onto
each track; but it uses special tricks to transfer data faster.
The original version of IDE was limited to small drives: up to 528M.
Western Digital invented an improved version, Enhanced IDE (EIDE),
which could handle bigger drives and went faster: it transferred 16.6
megabytes per second MB/s. Seagate invented competing methods
(Fast ATA-2 and Fast ATA-3), which also transfer 16.6 MB/s.
Those technologies (Enhanced IDE, Fast ATA-2, and Fast ATA-3) all got
replaced by Ultra, which transfers twice as fast: 33.3 MB/s. The Ultra version
of EIDE is Ultra IDE; the Ultra version of Fast ATA is Ultra ATA.
Then an even faster Ultra ATA was invented, Ultra ATA-100: it transfers
100 MB/s. Maxtor invented an even faster Ultra ATA, Ultra ATA-133,
transferring 133 MB/s.
All those ATA technologies (Fast ATA-2, Fast ATA-3, Ultra ATA, Ultra
ATA-100, and Ultra ATA-133) are called Parallel ATA (PATA). They’ve
been replaced by an even faster type, Serial ATA (SATA). The first SATA
controllers, SATA/150, transferred 150 MB/s. Newer SATA controllers,
called SATA 2 or SATA/300, transfer 300 MB/s (3 gigabits per second). The
newest SATA controllers, called SATA 3 or SATA/600, transfer 600 MB/s (6
gigabits per second).
SCSI A totally different fast scheme is the Small Computer
System Interface (SCSI, which is pronounced “scuzzy”).
A fast version of SCSI, Ultra 160 SCSI, transfers 160 MB/s.
During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, SCSI was used on most Mac hard
drives and the biggest IBM-compatible hard drives, because IDE drives were
too slow and held just a few megabytes. But during the late 1990’s, IDE
drives became faster, bigger, and cheaper, so SCSI drives became unpopular.
IBM-compatible drives Modern, popular IBMcompatible hard drives cost about $50 per terabyte. When
discussing hard drives, a gigabyte (gig or G) is defined to mean
“1000 megabytes”; a terabyte (T) is defined to mean “1000
Here are the prices charged by Best Buy for desktop-computer
drives when this book went to press in September 2016:
7200 rpm
7200 rpm
7200 rpm
5400 rpm
5900 rpm
7200 rpm
Manufacturer Price
Western Digital
Western Digital
Western Digital
Western Digital
Western Digital
The drive’s cache (or buffer) is RAM chips holding copies of
the sectors you used recently — so if you want to look at those
sectors again, you can read from the RAM chips (which are fast)
instead of waiting for the disk to spin (which is slow).
External drives A hard drive’s price depends on whether
the drive is internal (fits inside the computer) or external
(comes in a separate box that you put next to the computer).
Internal drives are faster; but if your computer is small or filled
up, you must buy an external drive instead. The typical external
drive plugs into a USB port.
When this book went to press in December 2016, here’s what
Best Buy charged for external USB drives:
Western Digital
Western Digital
Western Digital
History During the past 21 years, hard-drive prices dropped
— and hard-drive capacities grew — dramatically! Here’s what
size hard drive you could get for about $100, $200, $300, and
$1000 each year:
20 G
40 G
60 G
80 G
120 G
160 G
200 G
250 G
320 G
500 G
1000 G
2000 G
2000 G
3000 G
3000 G
3000 G
3000 G
13 G
30 G
80 G
120 G
180 G
200 G
300 G
400 G
500 G
640 G
1000 G
2000 G
12 G
20 G
46 G
Buy a big drive Buy a drive that holds several terabytes.
It will give you more peace of mind than a smaller drive, and it
will also act faster.
For example, suppose you want to store a terabyte of info, and you’re
debating whether to buy a 1-terabyte drive or a 2-terabyte drive. Suppose
each drive is advertised as having a 9-millisecond seek time. The 2-terabyte
drive will nevertheless act faster. Here’s why.…
Suppose you buy the 2-terabyte drive and use just the first terabyte of it.
Since you’re using just the first half of the drive, the head needs to move just
half as far as usual; so over the 1-terabyte part you’re using, the effective
average seek time is just half as much as usual: it’s 4½ milliseconds!
Buying: disks 29
If you need lots of terabytes, attach several hard drives
together, and make the drives all act simultaneously. The group
of drives is called a drive array and acts as one huge drive. That
technique is called RAID (which originally stood for Redundant
Array of Inexpensive Disks but now stands for Redundant
Array of Independent Disks).
Here are RAID’s most popular versions:
RAID level 0, called data striping, is the fastest. It divides each long file
into several stripes. A stripe’s first part is put onto drive 1, second part onto
drive 2, third part onto drive 3, etc., simultaneously, so that the stripe spans
across all the drives. Each drive therefore has to handle just part of each stripe
and just part of each file and finishes faster.
RAID level 1, called data mirroring, is the safest. It uses just 2 drives. It
puts each file onto drive 1 and simultaneously puts a backup copy of the file
onto drive 2, so drive 2 always contains an exact copy of what’s on drive 1.
That way, if drive 1 ever fails, the computer can get the info from drive 2.
RAID level 3, called shared data parity, is more sophisticated: it’s a clever
compromise between RAID level 0 and RAID level 1. Like RAID level 0, it
divides each long file into stripes, puts a stripe’s first part onto drive 1, second
part onto drive 2, third part onto drive 3, etc.; but onto the final drive it puts
parity info instead, which is info that the computer uses to double-check the
accuracy of the other drives.
RAID level 5, called distributed data parity, is the most sophisticated. It
resembles RAID level 3; but instead of putting all the parity info onto the last
disk, it puts the first stripe’s parity info onto the first disk, the second stripe’s
parity info onto the second disk, etc., so that the parity info is distributed
among all the disks, to prevent the last disk from getting overworked and
bogging down the whole system.
Instead of buying a program on a floppy disk, you can buy a
program on the same kind of compact disk (CD) that holds music.
A CD that holds music is called a music CD (or audio CD).
A CD that holds computer data instead is called a computer CD (or data
CD). Since the computer data on it cannot be erased, a computer-data CD is
also called a CD read-only memory (CD-ROM).
To make your computer read the CD-ROM disk, put the disk
into a CD-ROM drive, which is a souped-up version of the kind
of CD player that plays music.
Like an ordinary CD player, a CD-ROM drive uses just optics.
No magnetism is involved. The drive just shines a laser beam at
the shiny disk and notices, from the reflection, which indentations
(pits) are on the disk. The pattern of pits is a code that represents
the data. So a CD-ROM drive’s an example of an optical disk
To put the disk into the drive, press a button on the drive.
That makes the drive stick its tongue out at you! The tongue is
called a tray. Put the disk onto the tray, so that the disk’s label is
face-up. (If the drive is old-fashioned, you must put the disk into
a caddy first; but the most modern drives are caddyless.) Then
push the tray back into the drive. Finally, use the keyboard or
mouse to give a command that makes the computer taste what
you’ve put on its tongue.
IBM drive letters
Here’s how a modern IBM-compatible computer assigns the
Drive A is a 3½-inch floppy drive (1.44M).
Drive B is a 5¼-inch floppy drive (1.2M).
Drive C is a hard drive (about 1T).
Drive D is typically a CD-ROM drive (or a drive that’s even fancier).
If your computer has two hard drives, here’s what happens
instead: the first hard drive is C, the second hard drive is D, and
the CD-ROM drive is the next letter (E).
If you bought just one hard drive but plan to buy a second hard
drive later, you can leave “drive D” empty and make the CDROM drive be E.
The standard CD-ROM disk has a diameter of 12 centimeters
(which is about 5 inches) and holds 650 megabytes.
The CD-ROM disk is single-sided: all the data is on the disk’s
bottom side — the side that doesn’t have a label.
The disk contains 2 billion pits, all arranged into a single spiral
(like the groove on a phonograph record). If you were to unravel
the spiral, to make it a straight line, it would be 3 miles long!
On a CD, each “song” is called a track; it can hold music or
computer data. Each “song” (track) can be as long or as short as
you wish. The CD can hold 99 tracks, totaling an hour of music
(for an audio CD) or 650 megabytes (for a CD-ROM disk).
650 megabytes is a lot! It’s about 450 times as much as a highdensity 1.44M floppy! Yes, a single CD-ROM disk can hold as
much info as a stack of 450 high-density 1.44M floppies!
Since a CD-ROM disk holds so much, a single CD-ROM can
hold a whole library (including encyclopedias, dictionaries, other
reference materials, famous novels, programs, artwork, music,
and videos). It’s a great way to distribute massive quantities of
info! Moreover, a CD-ROM disk costs less than $1 to
manufacture (once you’ve bought the appropriate CD-ROMmaking equipment, which costs several hundred dollars).
CD-ROM disks store info differently than floppy & hard disks:
On a CD, each track is part of a spiral. On a floppy disk or hard disk, each
track is a circle.
On a CD, different tracks have different lengths and hold a different
number of bytes. On a typical floppy disk or hard disk, all tracks have the
same number of bytes as each other.
When buying a CD-ROM drive, the most important factor to
consider is the drive’s speed.
Transfer rate The speed at which the drive spins is called
the transfer rate. The higher, the better!
On the first CD-ROM drives that were invented, the transfer rate
was the same speed as a music CD’s: 150 kilobytes per second.
That speed is called 1X.
Then came drives that could spin twice as fast (300 kilobytes per second).
That’s called double speed or 2X. Then came 3X drives, then 4X, then
4½X, then 6X, then 8X, then 10X, then 12X. Then came even faster drives,
called 24X/12X (or 24X maximum or 24X max), that read outer tracks at
a maximum speed of 24X, though the inner tracks are read at just 12X. Now
you can buy drives that go much faster: 56X max!
Seek time The average time it takes for the head to move to
the correct track is called the average seek time.
The lower the average seek time, the better! In modern CDROM drives, the average seek time is 100 milliseconds or less.
30 Buying: disks
Caring for your CD-ROM disks
A CD-ROM disk’s main enemy is dirt.
Like a music CD, a CD-ROM disk comes in a clear square box, called the
jewel box. To use the CD-ROM disk, remove it from the jewel box and put
the disk into the drive. When you finish using the disk, put it back into the
jewel box, which keeps the dust off the disk.
When putting the CD-ROM disk into or out of a drive, don’t put your
fingers on the disk’s surface: instead, hold the disk by its edge, so your
greasy fingerprints don’t get on the disk’s surface.
Once a month, gently wipe any dust off the CD-ROM disk’s bottom
surface (where the data is). While wiping, be gentle and don’t get your greasy
fingerprints on the disk. Start in the middle and wipe toward the outer edge.
For example, my assistant and I were getting lots of error messages when
using a CD-ROM disk we bought from Microsoft. I was going to phone
Microsoft to complain, but my assistant asked, “What about dust?” I flipped
the CD-ROM disk over and sure enough, a big ball of dust was on the disk’s
bottom side. I wiped it off. That CD-ROM disk has worked perfectly ever since.
Don’t put fluids on the disk. Fluids that clean phonograph
records will wreck CD-ROM disks.
If you want to write on the disk, use a felt-tipped pen (not a
ballpoint or pencil). Don’t stick any labels on the disk.
The typical CD-ROM disk will last about 12 years. Then
the aluminum on its surface will start to oxidize (corrode), and
the CD will become unreadable.
You can create your own CD’s, in the privacy of your home, if
you buy a CD-Recordable drive (CD-R drive). It can write onto
blank CD-R disks, which used to be expensive but now are cheap.
You can buy 100 blank CD-R disks for $20 at Walmart, $17 at
Sam’s Club, so the disks cost you just 17¢ each.
Although a CD-R drive can write onto a disk, it cannot erase
or edit what you wrote.
For more flexibility, you can buy a CD-ReWritable drive
(CD-RW drive), which can write onto a blank CD-RW disk and
then edit what you wrote. CD-RW drives used to be expensive,
but now they’ve become nearly as cheap as CD-R drives, so
nobody bothers selling CD-R drives anymore.
You can buy 50 blank CD-RW disks for $33 at Walmart, so the
disks cost you just 17¢ each.
Creating your own CD (by using a CD-R or CD-RW drive) is
called CD burning (because the data is burned into the CD), so
CD-R and CD-RW drives are called CD burners.
In 1997, the electronics industry began selling an improved
kind of CD, called a Digital Versatile Disk (DVD). It looks like
a standard-size CD but holds more info.
Unlike a standard CD, which holds just an hour of music or
650M of data, a standard DVD can hold a 2-hour movie
(including the video and sound) or 4.7G of data. Since it can hold
a movie, some movie lovers call it a “Digital Video Disk”, but it’s
more versatile than just that!
Improved DVD
A DVD can be recorded on just the bottom side (like a CD) or
on both sides. (To use the second side, you must remove the disk
from the drive and flip the disk upside down, like you’d flip a
phonograph record.) A dual-sided DVD can hold 9.4G of data.
An improved technology, called dual-layer DVD, puts nearly
two layers of data on each side, so you get 8.5G per side, 17G total.
A DVD that contains computer data (instead of a movie or
music) is called a DVD-ROM disk. To use it, put it in a
DVD-ROM drive, which costs just slightly more than a CD-ROM
drive. Every DVD-ROM drive can read DVD-ROM disks and
standard CD-ROM disks; just modern DVD-ROM drives can
also read CD-R and CD-RW disks.
Create your own DVD
To create and edit your own DVDs in your own home, buy a
DVD+RW drive. It can read & write DVD+RW disks, DVD+R
disks, CD-RW disks, and CD-R disks.
Get a DVD+RW drive, not a DVD-RW drive (which uses
different disks, called DVD-RW disks), or get a DVDRW drive
(which can handle both DVD+RW and DVD-RW disks).
Here’s what stores charged in December 2016:
an internal DVDRW drive
an external DVDRW drive (using USB)
30 blank DVD+RW disks
100 blank DVD+R disks
$24 at Best Buy
$35 at Best Buy
$19 at Best Buy (so 64¢ each)
$20 at Sam’s Club (so 20¢ each)
Buying: disks 31
I/O devices
To get info into and out of the computer, you need
input/output devices (I/O devices). Here they are.…
The computer’s screen is also called the display. It resembles
a TV screen but lacks an antenna and a dial to change channels.
It gives you just one channel: computer!
Kinds of screens
You have many choices.
Built in? Is the screen attached?
If the screen is permanently attached to the front of the computer’s main part,
the screen is called built-in. For example, the screen is built-in if you have a
laptop computer or tablet computer or smartphone or all-in-one.
If the screen is a separate box, with a cable running from it to the computer’s
main part (the system unit), the screen is called stand-alone and a
computer monitor. For example, the screen is a computer monitor if you
have a tower computer. Typically, a tower computer’s price does not include
the computer monitor, which costs extra, though sometimes you’ll see a
bundle price that includes both the tower computer and the computer
monitor in the bundle. The computer monitor’s price includes the cable that
goes to the tower.
Touch-sensitive? If the screen can sense where you touched
the screen, it’s called a touch-sensitive screen (touchscreen).
Every smartphone has a touchscreen.
The typical tablet computer has a touchscreen (though old Kindle and
Nook e-readers do not).
If a laptop computer or all-in-one computer uses a new operating system
(such as Windows 8 or 8.1 or 10), it expects you to have a touchscreen; it’s
awkward to use without a touchscreen; using it without a touchscreen feels
like torture. Older operating systems (such as Windows 7, Windows Vista,
Windows XP, and Mac OS X) don’t know how to handle touchscreens
(unless you add extra software). For example, Apple’s laptop computers and
all-in-one computers do not use touchscreens.
The typical tower computer does not have a touchscreen (because
touchscreen monitors are pricey and hard to connect).
CRT or LCD? Technology has improved.
If the computer’s screen is old-fashioned, it resembles an old TV: it’s bulky
(many inches thick), heavy, and consumes lots of electricity, because it
contains a picture tube. The technical name for “picture tube” is
cathode-ray tube (CRT).
If the computer’s screen is modern, it resembles a modern TV: it’s thin (less
than an inch thick), lightweight, and consumes just a modest amount of
electricity, because it contains a liquid-crystal display (LCD). The cost of
manufacturing an LCD has dropped, so now an LCD costs much less than
a CRT; hardly anybody buys a CRT anymore. They typical LCD screen is
supplemented by light-emitting diodes (LED) and called an LED screen.
Flat? Is the screen flat?
An LCD screen is typically flat (not bent or curved).
A CRT screen is based on a picture tube whose screen is typically curved, but
if you pay extra you can get a CRT whose screen is flat. The flat screen has
2 advantages:
It displays horizontal and vertical lines more accurately (without curving).
It reflects light from fewer angles (so you see fewer annoying reflections).
32 Buying: I/O devices
Color? The typical screen is color (which means it can show
all the colors of the rainbow). Cheaper screens are monochrome
(which meant they’re limited to just black-and-light).
Monochrome LCD screens are used in cheap gadgets that don’t require color
and must run on minimal electricity. For example, monochrome LCD screens
are used in digital wristwatches and solar pocket calculators. They display
black and white.
Monochrome screens were also used long ago, in the cheapest CRT monitors.
4 types of CRT monochrome monitors were common:
A paper-white monitor displayed black and white.
An amber monitor
displayed black and yellow.
A green-screen monitor displayed black and light green.
A gray-scale monitor
displayed many shades of gray.
How colors are produced
On the screen, the picture shown is made of thousands of tiny
dots. Each tiny dot is called a picture’s element (pixel or pel).
In a color screen, each pixel’s color is made by aiming 3
colored lights (red, green, and blue) all at the same pixel.
If just the red light shines at the pixel, the pixel looks red.
If just the green light shines at the pixel, the pixel looks green.
If just the blue light shines at the pixel, the pixel looks blue.
If all 3 lights shine at the pixel, the pixel looks very bright: white!
If all the lights are turned off, the pixel looks black.
To make the pixel look cyan (greenish blue), just the green & blue lights shine.
To make the pixel look magenta (purplish red), just the red & blue lights shine.
To make the pixel look yellow, just the red and green lights shine (which produce
a color that’s brighter and lighter than red or green alone).
That’s how to produce 8 colors: red, green, blue, white, black, cyan, magenta,
and yellow.
Although a primitive screen produces just those 8 colors, a modern screen
can produce extra colors by varying the light’s intensity. For example, instead
of the red light being either “on” or “off”, it can be “completely on”, “partly
on” (so it looks dim), or “off”.
Here are the names for the different levels of color monitors:
A primitive RGB monitor produces just 8 colors. Its cable to the computer
includes a red-light wire, a green-light wire, and a blue-light wire. Each
wire’s current has 2 choices (on or off), so the total number of color choices
is “2 times 2 times 2”, which is 8.
A Color Graphics Adapter monitor (CGA monitor) can produce
16 colors. Its cable to the computer includes a red-light wire, a green-light
wire, a blue-light wire, and an intensity wire. Each wire’s current has 2
choices (on or off), so the total number of choices is “2 times 2 times 2 times
2”, which is 16.
An Enhanced Graphics Adapter monitor (EGA monitor) can produce
64 colors. Its cable to the computer includes 2 red-light wires (generating a
total of 4 levels of red-light intensity), 2 green-light wires, and 2 blue-light
wires, so the total number of choices is “4 times 4 times 4”, which is 64.
A Video Graphics Array monitor (VGA monitor) can produce
over 16 million colors. Its cable to the computer includes 1 red-light wire,
1 green-light wire, and 1 blue-light wire, and each wire can handle 256 levels
of intensity, so the total number of choices is “256 times 256 times 256”,
which is 16,777,216.
A High-Definition Multimedia Interface monitor (HDMI monitor) uses
a cable containing more wires, to produce even higher quality. HDMI was
invented in 2002. The first HDMI was called HDMI 1; afterwards came
improvements, called HDMI 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, and 2. For example, the
current version, HDMI 2, can also handle sounds (like a TV) and many pixels
on the screen (“40962160 pixels”, totaling 8,847,360 pixels), and each pixel
can show “248 colors”, totaling 281,474,976,710,656 colors.
The standard is now HDMI (any version from 1 through 2).
Primitive RGB, CGA, and EGA monitors are obsolete and no
longer built. VGA is still available but obsolescent.
Here’s how a cable connects a monitor to the system unit:
The typical HDMI cable contains 19 wires. Some of them transmit codes
about colors and sounds; the others help administer the signals.
For a VGA monitor, the cable to the system unit includes 1 red-light wire, 1
green-light wire, 1 blue-light wire, and several other wires to help administer
the signals. Altogether, the VGA cable contains 15 wires.
CGA and EGA cables each contain just 9 wires. If you see a monitor whose
cable contains just 9 wires, the monitor is either CGA or EGA, so it’s obsolete.
How are the 3 lights (red, green, and blue) produced?
In an LCD screen, a backlight (at the screen’s back wall) constantly shines
at you through 3 colored filters (a red filter, a green filter, and a blue filter).
In a CRT screen (which is a picture tube), a gun shoots electrons at colored
phosphors, to wake them up and make them glow temporarily. The gun
shoots at the first pixel (which is at the screen’s top-left corner), then the
second pixel (which is to the right of the first pixel), etc., until the entire first
row’s been shot; then the gun shoots lower rows. Before the phosphors fade
much, the gun returns to the screen’s first pixel and shoots them all again, to
keep them awake (“refresh” them). How long do you have to wait until the
gun shoots the first pixel again? That’s called the refresh rate. You want a
refresh rate that’s fast: at least 85 times per second (which is called
“85 cycles per second”, “85 “Hertz”, “85 Hz”). If the refresh rate is
slower, your eye notices the phosphors are flickering, so you get a headache
and want to puke. Flicker is noticeable especially if you look at the screen
out of the corner of your eye, since your eye’s peripheral vision is most
sensitive to flicker. More precisely:
85 hertz is excellent, seems flicker-free.
75 hertz is rather good. It’s acceptable to most folks, annoying to some.
60 hertz is rather bad. It’s annoying to everybody but still usable.
Below 60 hertz is terrible, unusable.
Computer screens come in many sizes.
CRT monitors The typical CRT monitor produces VGA
color and is 17-inch (17"). That means the distance from the
picture tube’s top-left corner to the picture tube’s bottom right
corner is 17 inches, measured diagonally.
Although the picture tube’s diagonal size is 17-inch, you see
just 16 inches, because 1 inch is hidden behind the plastic that
makes up the monitor’s case.
Most CRT monitors are made by companies whose US
headquarters are in California. Consumers complained to
California’s attorney general that such a monitor shouldn’t be
called “17-inch”, since just 16 inches are viewable. California
now requires all ads for “17-inch” CRT monitors to include a
comment, in parentheses, saying that the viewable image size
(vis) is just 16 inches, so the ad looks like this:
17" monitor (16" vis)
Instead of buying a 17-inch CRT monitor, you can buy a bigger
one (19-inch or 21-inch) or a smaller one (15-inch or 14-inch). In
each case, the viewable image size is about an inch less than the
size of the tube.
Each position on the screen is a pixel. The pixels are arranged
in rows and columns, to form a grid. In a primitive VGA monitor,
the screen is wide enough to hold 640 columns of pixels, and the
screen is tall enough to hold 480 rows of pixels, so altogether the
number of pixels in the grid is “640 times 480”, which is written
“640480”, which is pronounced “640 by 480”. That’s called the
screen’s resolution.
If you buy a big VGA or HDMI monitor (such as 21-inch), the
screen is big enough to hold lots of pixels. You can use such a
screen in two ways: you can make the screen either show lots of
tiny pixels or show a smaller number of fat pixels.
Here’s how many pixels the typical CRT screen can display:
If screen is 14" (13" viewable), it handles 640480 well, 800600 poorly.
If screen is 15" (14" viewable), it handles 800600 well, 1024768 poorly.
If screen is 17" (16" viewable), it handles 1024768 well, 12801024 poorly.
If screen is 19" (18" viewable), it handles 12801024 well, 16001200 poorly.
If screen is 21" (20" viewable), it handles 16001200 well, 18001440 poorly.
Those resolutions have nicknames:
minimal VGA
Super VGA (SVGA)
eXtended GA (XGA)
Super XGA (SXGA)
Ultra XGA (UXGA)
Alternative nicknames
VGA Plus
nice SVGA or Ultra VGA (UVGA)
For most of those resolutions, the first number (which
represents the screen’s width) is 4/3 as big as the second number
(which represents the screen’s height). Such a screen is called a
“4:3 screen” and a standard-ratio screen. (An old-fashioned
TV also has a 4:3 screen.) Exception: 12801024 has a ratio of
5/4 (written “5:4”) instead of 4:3.
The typical cheap 17" CRT monitor can show 1024768
resolution well (at 85 hertz) but shows 12801024 resolution poorly
(at 60 hertz). The ad for such a monitor typically begins by
bragging that it can display 12801024 but then admits it handles
that resolution poorly and should be used at just 1024768; it says:
12801024 @ 60Hz, 1024768 @ 85Hz
LED monitors Best Buy sells LED monitors (which are a
type of LCD monitor) in these sizes & resolutions:
Resolution’s name
HD (high definition)
full HD
full HD
ultra-wide full HD
quad HD
full HD
ultra-wide full HD
4K ultra HD
quad HD
ultra-wide quad HD
4K ultra HD
Those are the prices when this book went to press in December 2016.
A ratio of 16:9 means the width is 16/9 as big as the height. That’s called
A ratio of about 21:9 means the with is about 21/9 as big as the height. That’s
called “ultra-wide screen”.
Widescreen & ultra-wide screen monitors are good for
watching movies but bad for reading text, since text needs more
height and less width. Some monitors can pivot 90 degrees, so
16:9 becomes 9:16, which is better for text.
LCD projectors An LCD projector resembles an LCD
monitor but projects the image onto a huge movie screen (or your
room’s white wall), so the image is many feet wide and can be
seen by a big audience in a movie theater (or big conference room).
Built-in LCD screens LCD screens are built into all-inone computers, laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones.
Where to put a monitor According to researchers such
as the government’s National Institute of Occupational Safety
and Health (NIOSH), here’s where you should put a monitor so
you’ll be comfortable while you’re working at the computer:
Put the monitor slightly lower than your eyes, so you look down at the
monitor (instead of looking up, which would strain your neck). When you’re
looking at the center of the monitor’s screen, you should be looking down
slightly (at an angle that’s 15 degrees below horizontal).
Put the monitor a moderate distance from your face. NIOSH recommended
that the distance from your eyes to the center of the monitor’s screen be 17 inches;
but that recommendation was made several years ago, when the typical monitor
screen was just 12-inch. Now screens are bigger, so you need to sit farther from
the screen to see the whole screen: a distance of 23 inches feels good to me.
Keep the room rather dark, to avoid having light reflected off the monitor’s
surface. Put the monitor perpendicular to any light source, so no light source
shines directly onto the monitor’s screen (which would create an annoying
reflection) and no light source shines directly onto the monitor’s back (since such
a light source would also be shining into your eyes and create an annoying glare).
Buying: I/O devices 33
The usual way to communicate with the computer is to type messages on the computer’s keyboard.
In 1981, IBM invented a keyboard containing 83 keys. That keyboard is called the XT keyboard, because it was used on the original IBM PC and the IBM PC XT.
In 1986, IBM began selling a fancier keyboard, containing 101 keys. It’s called the AT keyboard, because it was used on the IBM PC AT.
In 1995, Microsoft began selling an even fancier keyboard, containing 104 keys. It’s called the Windows keyboard, because it contains extra keys for Windows.
“104 keys” became the standard. Microsoft, IBM, and competitors all sold keyboards containing 104 keys, arranged like this:
┌───┬───┬───┬───┐ ┌───┬───┬───┬───┐ ┌───┬───┬───┬───┐
│F1 │F2 │F3 │F4 │ │F5 │F6 │F7 │F8 │ │F9 │F10│F11│F12│
└───┴───┴───┴───┘ └───┴───┴───┴───┘ └───┴───┴───┴───┘
│ ~ │ ! │ @ │ # │ $ │ % │ ^ │ & │ * │ ( │ ) │ _ │ + │
│ ` │ 1 │ 2 │ 3 │ 4 │ 5 │ 6 │ 7 │ 8 │ 9 │ 0 │ - │ = │Backspace│
│LeftTab│ Q │ W │ E │ R │ T │ Y │ U │ I │ O │ P │ { │ } │
│ [ │ ] │
│ A │ S │ D │ F │ G │ H │ J │ K │ L │ : │ " │
│ ; │ ' │
│ Z │ X │ C │ V │ B │ N │ M │ < │ > │ ? │
│ , │ . │ / │
│ Insert │ Home │ PageUp │
│ Delete │ End
Numeric keypad
│NumLock│ / │ * │ - │
│ 8 │ 9 │
│ Home │ ↑ │PgUp│
│ 5 │ 6 │
│ → │ + │
│ 2 │ 3 │
│ End │ ↓ │PgDn│
│ . │
│Del │Enter│
Later, an Fn key was added, squeezed between the Ctrl and Windows keys (which are at the bottom-left corner).
Those keys are for desktop computers. Laptop computers are smaller, so they have fewer keys. Good classic laptop computers (such
as the Hewlett-Packard G71-340US) have 101 keys, arranged like this:
┌──┬──┬──┬──┐ ┌──┬──┬──┬──┐ ┌──┬───┬───┬───┐ ┌──────┬──────┐
│F1│F2│F3│F4│ │F5│F6│F7│F8│ │F9│F10│F11│F12│ │Insert│Delete│
└──┴──┴──┴──┘ └──┴──┴──┴──┘ └──┴───┴───┴───┘ └──────┴──────┘
│ ~ │ ! │ @ │ # │ $ │ % │ ^ │ & │ * │ ( │ ) │ _ │ + │
│ ` │ 1 │ 2 │ 3 │ 4 │ 5 │ 6 │ 7 │ 8 │ 9 │ 0 │ - │ = │
│LeftTab│ Q │ W │ E │ R │ T │ Y │ U │ I │ O │ P │ { │ } │
│ [ │ ] │
│ A │ S │ D │ F │ G │ H │ J │ K │ L │ : │ " │
│ ; │ ' │
│ Z │ X │ C │ V │ B │ N │ M │ < │ > │ ? │
│ , │ . │ / │
│ │
│ ↑ │
│Alt│Menu│Ctrl│ ┌───┼───┼───┐
│ │
│ │ ← │ ↓ │ → │
└────┴──┴───────┴───┴──────────────────┴───┴────┴────┘ └───┴───┴───┘
│ Home │End │PgUp│PgDn │
Numeric keypad
│NumLock│ / │ * │ - │
│ 8 │ 9 │
│ Home │ ↑ │PgUp│
│ 5 │ 6 │
│ → │ + │
│ 2 │ 3 │
│ End │ ↓ │PgDn│
│ . │
│Del │Enter│
Smaller laptop computers (such as the Compaq CQ5-110US) have just 86 keys, arranged like this:
│ ~ │ ! │ @ │ # │ $ │ % │ ^ │ & │ * │ ( │ ) │ _ │ + │
│ ` │ 1 │ 2 │ 3 │ 4 │ 5 │ 6 │ 7 │ 8 │ 9 │ 0 │ - │ = │ Backspace │Home │
│LeftTab│ Q │ W │ E │ R │ T │ Y │ U │ I │ O │ P │ { │ } │
│ [ │ ] │
│PgUp │
│ A │ S │ D │ F │ G │ H │ J │ K │ L │ : │ " │
│ ; │ ' │
│PgDn │
│ Z │ X │ C │ V │ B │ N │ M │ < │ > │ ? │
│ , │ . │ / │ Shift
│ ↑ │ End │
│Ctrl│Fn │Windows│Alt│
│ ← │ ↓ │ → │
34 Buying: I/O devices
Each keyboard can print all the letters of the alphabet (from A
to Z), all the digits (from 0 to 9), and these symbols:
The keyboard contains special keys that help you do special
activities (such as moving around the screen while you type):
Symbol Official name Nicknames
. period
dot, decimal point, point, full stop
, comma
 or 
 or 
 or 
 or 
Usual purpose
move up, to the line above
move down, to the line below
move left, to the previous character
move right, to the next character
Page Up or PgUp
Page Down or PgDn
move back to the beginning
move ahead to the end
move back to the previous page
move ahead to the next page
Print Screen or PrtSc
hop to the next field or far to the right
finish a command or paragraph
pause until you press the Enter key
copy from screen onto paper or computer’s clipboard
capitalize a letter
Caps Lock
Num Lock
Scroll Lock or ScrLk
Insert or Ins
change whether all letters are automatically capitalized
change whether keyboard’s right side produces numbers
change how text moves up & down
change whether extra characters inserted in text’s middle
dots, double stop
exclamation point bang, shriek
question mark
ques, query, what, huh, wildchar
quotation mark
grave accent
quote, double quote, dieresis, rabbit ears
single quote, acute accent, prime
left single quote, open single quote, open quote
caret, hat
squiggle, twiddle, not
is, gets, takes
dash, hyphen
underscore, under
at sign
dollar sign
number sign
percent sign
star, splat, wildcard
amper, amp, and, pretzel
at, whorl, strudel
dollar, buck, string
pound sign, pound, tic-tac-toe
percent, grapes
vertical line
forward slash, rising slash, slant, stroke
reverse slash, falling slash, backwhack
vertical bar, bar, pipe, enlarged colon
open paren & close paren, left paren & right paren
open bracket & close bracket, square brackets
curly brackets, curly braces, squiggly braces
angle brackets, less than & greater than, from & to
For example, the symbol * is officially called an “asterisk”.
More briefly, it’s called a “star”. It’s also called a “splat”, since it
looks like a squashed bug. In some programs, an asterisk means
“match anything”, as in a card game where the Joker’s a
“wildcard” that matches any other card.
In the diagram, I wrote the words “Shift”, “Backspace”,
“LeftTab”, “Tab”, “Enter”, “Windows”, and “Menu” on some
keys. To help people who don’t read English, keyboard
manufacturers usually put symbols on those keys.
The Shift key shows a fat arrow pointing up.
The Backspace key shows an arrow pointing left.
The Tab key shows arrows crashing into walls.
The Enter key shows an arrow that’s bent (going down and then left).
The Menu key shows a diagonal arrow pointing up at a menu.
The Windows key shows a flying window (having 4 curved windowpanes).
Stare at your computer’s keyboard and find these keys:
Where to find it
the Tab key is left of the Q key
Backspace 104 keys: the Backspace key is left of the Insert key
101 keys: the Backspace key is left of the Num Lock key
86 keys: the Backspace key is left of the Home key
the left Shift key is left of the Z key
the right-hand Shift key is right of the question-mark key
the Enter key is above the right-hand Shift key
usually, any Windows keys are next to Alt keys
(if 86 keys but weird, the Window key is next to the Pause key)
usually, the Menu key is next to the right-hand Ctrl key
(if 86 keys but weird, the Menu key is in the top-right corner)
Delete or Del
delete the current character
Backspace or BkSp delete the previous character
Escape or Esc
escape from a mistake
show you Windows’ Start menu
show you a shortcut menu
F2, F3, etc.
Control or Ctrl
Alternate or Alt
get help from the computer
do special activities
do special activities
do special activities
The Caps Lock, Num Lock, Scroll Lock, and Insert keys are
called toggle keys: they create special effects, which end when
you press the toggle key again.
Shift key
If a key has two symbols on it, the key normally uses the
bottom symbol. To type the top symbol instead, press the key
while holding down the Shift key.
Number keys
To type a number easily, use the keys in the top row of the
keyboard’s main section. (For example, to type 4, press the key
that has a 4 and a dollar sign.)
Numeric keypad On a desktop computer or big laptop
computer, the keyboard’s far-right keys are in a rectangle called
the numeric keypad, which begins with the NumLock key and
includes all the numbers. If you’re a beginner, I recommend
keeping your hands off the numeric keypad: use the other
number keys instead.
If you insist on using the numeric keypad, here’s how it works:
The keys on the numeric keypad work normally (generating numbers) just
while the Num Lock light glows. (The Num Lock light is usually near the
Num Lock key and labeled “Num Lock”, but on some computers the light is
farther away and labeled “1”.) Usually that light glows, and you should let it
keep glowing. If you want to turn that light off (or turn it back on again), tap
the Num Lock key. When the Num Lock light is off, the keys on the
numeric keypad don’t generate numbers; instead, they imitate the
edit keys (Home, End, PgUp, PgDn, Ins, Del, and arrows).
Buying: I/O devices 35
Fn or multimedia confusion
While holding down the Fn key, you can tap another key. The
result depends on which computer you have.
Here’s what happens on my laptop computer made by Acer
(the “Aspire V5-571P-6866”):
What the computer will do
Fn with F3 turn off wireless communication (or turn it back on)
Fn with F4 sleep (until you press a key)
Fn with F5 use (or stop using) external monitor instead of built-in screen
Fn with F6 turn off the screen’s backlight (until you press a key)
Fn with F7 turn off the touchpad (or turn it back on)
Fn with F8 turn off the speakers (or turn them back on)
Fn with F9 turn off the keyboard’s backlight (or turn it back on)
Fn with F12 turn on the scroll lock (or turn it back off)
Fn with  increase the speaker volume
Fn with  decrease the speaker volume
Fn with  increase the screen’s brightness
Fn with  decrease the screen’s brightness
Fn with Home play (or pause the playing of) a music CD (or a DVD movie)
Fn with Pg Up stop playing a music CD (or a DVD movie)
Fn with Pg Dn play the previous track of a music CD (or DVD movie)
Fn with End
play the next track of a music CD (or DVD movie)
most folks prefer to use a mouse instead of tapping those keys. If
you wish, you can substitute other keys instead:
Instead of tapping the Menu key,
tap the F10 key while holding down the Shift key.
Instead of tapping a Windows key,
tap the Esc key while holding down the Ctrl key.
If your desktop’s keyboard is ancient, it has just 83 keys and
you suffer:
Your keyboard is missing the Menu key and the two Windows keys.
Your keyboard is missing the F11 and F12 keys. (The F1 through F10 keys
are arranged in two columns down the keyboard’s left edge, instead of being
spread out across the keyboard’s top.)
Your keyboard is missing the second Ctrl key, the second Alt key, the second
Enter key, and the second / key.
Your keyboard is missing the Pause key. (Instead, you must tap the NumLock
key while holding down the Ctrl key.)
The PrintScreen key is labeled “PrtSc” and works just while holding down
the Shift key. (If you don’t hold down the Shift key, the PrtSc key acts as a
second * key.)
Here’s what happens on my old laptop computer made by
Hewlett-Packard (the “HP G71-340US”):
Your keyboard is missing the 4 arrow keys and these 6 editing keys: Insert,
Delete, Home, End, PageUp, and PageDown. (To perform those functions,
you must press number keys after you’ve turned off the NumLock.)
What the computer will do
Fn with Esc give details about your computer’s hardware & software
Fn with F1 explain how to use the computer
Fn with F2 help you print onto paper
Fn with F3 access the Internet (by running Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge)
Fn with F4 use (or stop using) external monitor instead of built-in screen
Fn with F5 sleep (blank the screen until you tap the power button)
Fn with F6 lock (hide the screen’s info until a password is typed)
Fn with F7 decrease the screen’s brightness
Fn with F8 increase the screen’s brightness
Fn with F9 play (or pause the playing of) a music CD (or DVD movie)
Fn with F10 stop playing a music CD (or a DVD movie)
Fn with F11 play the previous track of a music CD (or DVD movie)
Fn with F12 play the next track of a music CD (or DVD movie)
Fn with numeric keypad’s + increase the speaker volume
Fn with numeric keypad’s decrease the speaker volume
Fn with numeric keypad’s * turn off the speakers (or turn them back on)
83-key keyboards work just with outdated computers. If you’re
using an 83-key keyboard, that’s proof your computer is
outdated! Buy a new computer system!
But the Fn key has changed:
On new computers by Microsoft, HP, Lenovo, and Toshiba, the Fn key
works the opposite way: to control multimedia (volume, tracks, and extra
devices), press keys F1 through F12 without holding down the Fn key; if you
hold down the Fn key, the computer will perform older tricks instead (such
as run a program you wrote). That new method is not used yet by Acer, Asus,
or Dell.
For example, here’s what happens on my new laptop computer
made by Hewlett-Packard (the “HP Notebook 15-ay091ms”):
Kinds of keyboards
When buying a keyboard, you have many choices.
You can buy an XT keyboard (83 keys), AT keyboard (101 keys), augmented AT
keyboard (101 keys plus an extra copy of the backslash key), or Windows
keyboard (101 keys plus 3 special keys that help run software called “Windows”).
You can buy a standard-size keyboard (with a ledge above the top row, for
placing your pencil or notes), compact keyboard (which has no ledge and
consumes less desk space), foldable keyboard (which folds in half, as if
you’re closing a book, so it consumes half as much desk space when not in
use), or split keyboard (whose left third is separated from the rest, so you can
have the comfort of typing while your forearms are parallel to each other).
You can buy a tactile keyboard (which gives you helpful feedback by
making a click whenever you hit a key), silent keyboard (which helps your
neighbors by not making clicks), or spill-resistant keyboard (which is silent
and also doesn’t mind having coffee or soda spilled on it).
Pointing devices
What the computer will do
explain how to use the computer
decrease the screen’s brightness
increase the screen’s brightness
use (or stop using) external monitor instead of built-in screen
turn off the speakers (or turn them back on)
decrease the speaker volume
increase the speaker volume
play the previous track of a music CD (or DVD movie)
play (or pause the playing of) a music CD (or DVD movie)
play the next track of a music CD (or DVD movie)
use (or end) airplane mode (which shuts down all wireless signals)
Method 1 Point a traditional video camera (or camcorder) at the object,
In this book, when I say to tap keys F1 through F12, try
tapping them with or without the Fn key, to discover whether
to the computer. Of the optical scanners that cost under $150, the best are
Microtek’s X6 (which handles colors the best) and Visioneer’s One Touch
(which is much easier to use and reads words the best but handles colors less
pressing the Fn key helps or hurts what you wish to accomplish.
Missing keys
If your keyboard is missing the Menu key and the two
Windows keys, don’t worry: those 3 keys are unimportant, since
36 Buying: I/O devices
If you feed the computer a picture (such as a photograph,
drawing, or diagram), the computer will analyze the picture and
even help you improve it. To feed the computer a picture of an
object, you can use 4 methods.
while the camera is wired to the computer.
Method 2 Take a picture of the object by using a digital camera (which
contains a disk or RAM chips that record the image) then transfer the image
to a computer.
Method 3 Draw on paper, which you then feed to an optical scanner wired
Method 4 Draw the picture by using a pointing device wired to the computer.
The pointing device can be a touchscreen, graphics tablet, mouse,
trackball, or joystick.
Let’s look at method 4 more closely.…
A touchscreen is an invisible overlay that covers the screen
and lets you draw with your finger.
Graphics tablets
A graphics tablet is a computerized board that lies flat on
your desk. To draw, you move either a pen or your finger across
the board. Modern laptop computers include a tiny graphics tablet
(called a touchpad or glidepad), stroked with your finger and
built into the keyboard (in front of the Space bar).
A mouse is a computerized box that’s about as big as a pack
of cigarettes. To draw, you slide the mouse across your desk, as if
it were a fat pen.
When you slide a traditional mouse, a ball in its belly rolls on
the table. The computer senses how many times the ball rotated
and in what direction.
A newer kind of mouse, called an optical mouse, has no ball
in its belly. Instead, the mouse shines a light down onto your desk,
radar-like, and notices how the mouse moved.
The first mouse was invented at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research
Center (PARC). The first company to provide mice to the
general public was Apple, which provided a free mouse with
every Lisa and Mac computer. Now a free mouse comes with each
desktop IBM PC and clone, too.
Microsoft Mouse The nicest mouse for the IBM PC is the
Microsoft Mouse. Its first version was boring, but then came an
improved version, nicknamed “The Dove Bar” because it was
shaped like a bar of Dove soap. It felt great in your hand; but
trying to draw a picture by using that mouse — or any mouse —
was as clumsy as drawing with a bar of soap.
Then came a further improvement, nicknamed “The Dog’s
Paw” because it was shaped like a dog’s lower leg: it was long
with an asymmetrical bump (paw) at the end. It felt even better
than The Dove Bar, if your hand was big enough to hold it.
The next improvement, nicknamed “The Wheel Mouse”,
looked like The Dog’s Paw but added a wheel you could rotate
with your fingers.
A newer version, nicknamed “The Sneaker” and officially
called the Intellimouse Pro, resembles the Wheel Mouse but its
left side is taller, like the raised arch of a fancy sneaker.
Mice from no-name manufacturers cost under $10. Microsoft
made a cheap mouse too, called the Home Mouse, in the shape
of a home, with the mouse’s cord coming out of the chimney.
Microsoft’s newer cheap mouse is called the Basic Mouse; it’s
small enough to be used by kids, lefties, and short people.
The newest mice have no cords: they’re wireless.
A trackball is a box that has a ball sticking out the top of it.
To draw, just put your fingers on the ball and rotate it. Some
laptop computers have a trackball built into the keyboard.
Technologically, a trackball’s the same as a typical mouse:
each is a box containing a ball. For a trackball, the ball sticks up
from the box and you finger it directly; for a traditional mouse,
the ball hides underneath and gets rotated when you move the
box. The mouse feels more natural (somewhat like gripping a
pen) but requires lots of desk space (so you can move the box).
The trackball was invented first. The mouse came later and has
become more popular — except on laptop computers, which use
touchpads and sometimes trackballs, to save space.
A joystick is a box with a stick coming out of its top. To draw,
you move the stick in any direction (left, right, forward, back, or
diagonally) as if you were the pilot of a small airplane.
You can make the computer hear and produce sounds.
To produce sounds, the standard computer includes speakers.
One tiny speaker hides inside the system unit. It’s called the
internal speaker. That speaker’s main purpose is to beep at you
if you make a mistake.
A pair of stereo speakers are bigger and can produce good,
loud stereo music. Hey, baby, let’s rock!
Those stereo speakers are usually separate boxes that sit
outside the system unit. (Exception: some Compaq and Mac
computers hide the stereo speakers in the monitor; most laptop
computers hide the stereo speakers in the keyboard.)
If your computer is fancy, it includes a trio of stereo speakers:
the third speaker is called the subwoofer and produces a big,
loud, booming bass.
If your computer is extra-fancy, it gives you surround sound,
where you’re surrounded by 4 normal speakers (front left, front
right, back left, and back right) plus a subwoofer, making a total
of 5 speakers. Since that system includes 4 normal speakers plus
1 subwoofer, it’s called a 4.1 speaker system.
If your computer is even fancier (super-duper fancy), it gives
you 5 normal speakers (front left, front right, back left, back right,
and center) plus a subwoofer, making a total of 6 speakers. Since
that system includes 5 normal speakers plus 1 subwoofer, it’s
called a 5.1 speaker system.
Sound card
To handle the stereo speakers, a standard computer’s system
unit contains a sound card.
The most popular sound card is the Sound Blaster, made by
a company called Creative Technology, founded by Mr. Sim
Wong Hoo in Singapore. It’s still run by him there, and he owns
35% of the stock, making him rich. Creative Technology is called
“the Singapore surprise” because it surprises novices who think
the best hardware companies are all based in the US & Japan. It
was the first Singapore company to be listed on the Nasdaq stock
exchange. Its US division is based in California and called
Creative Labs.
Fancy computers speak words by including circuitry called a
speech synthesizer.
The newest computers come with a microphone (mike). By
using the mike, you can make the computer record sounds. For
example, you can make the computer record the sound of your
voice and imitate it, so the computer sounds just like you!
Buying: I/O devices 37
A computer usually displays its answers on a screen. If you
want the computer to copy the answers onto paper, attach the
computer to a printer, which is a device that prints on paper. The
computer transmits your request through a cable of wires running
from the back of the computer to the back of the printer.
A computer’s advertised price usually does not include a
printer and cable. The cable costs about $10; the typical printer
costs about $100.
Printers are more annoying than screens. Printers are noisier,
slower, consume more electricity, need repairs more often, and
require you to buy paper and ink. But you’ll want a printer
anyway, to copy the computer’s answers onto paper to hand to
your computerless friends. Another reason to get a printer is that
a sheet of paper is bigger than a screen and lets you see more info
at once.
To get a printer cheaply, walk into chains of discount
superstores, such as Staples (which sells all kinds of office
supplies and some computer equipment) and OfficeMax (which
resembles Staples but charges less for printers and is now owned
by Office Depot).
Kinds of printers
Three kinds of printers are popular.
An inkjet printer contains tiny hoses that squirt ink at the
paper. It typically costs about $50.
A laser printer looks like a photocopier. Like a photocopier,
it contains a rotating drum and inky toner. It prints faster and more
beautifully than an inkjet printer. Like a photocopier, it’s
expensive: it typically costs about $250.
A dot-matrix printer contains tiny pins that put ink onto
paper by smashing against an inked ribbon. It prints slower &
uglier than the other kinds of printers but has one big advantage:
its ink costs less. This kind of printer typically costs about $250.
Paper You must buy paper, which costs about 1 cent per sheet
if you buy a small quantity (such as a ream, which is 500 sheets),
or a half a cent per sheet if you buy a large quantity (such as a
case, which is 5000 sheets). For low prices on paper, go to
OfficeMax, Sam’s Club, or Staples.
Electricity You must pay for electricity to run the printer;
but the electricity’s cost is negligible (much less than a penny per
page) if you turn the printer off when you’re not printing.
Warning: if you leave a laser printer on even when not printing,
its total yearly electric cost can get high, since the laser printer
contains a big electric heater. (You might even notice the lights in
your room go dim when the heater kicks on.)
Inkjet printers
An inkjet printer contains tiny hoses that squirt ink at the
paper. The hoses are called nozzles. They’re in a device called a
print head. The typical print head contains 144 nozzles.
When you use an inkjet printer, the print head moves across the paper, from
left to right, its nozzles squirting ink at the paper, until it reaches the paper’s
right edge. Then the paper jerks up slightly, the print head moves back to the
left again, and the process is repeated.
When using an inkjet printer, you hear the ink squirting at the paper, the
print head moving across the paper, and the paper jerking up.
When you run out of ink, you’re supposed to buy another
ink cartridge, which is a tank containing ink.
Most inkjet printers can print in color. They mix together the
three primary ink colors (red, blue, and yellow) to form all the
colors of the rainbow.
3 main manufacturers The first popular inkjet printers
were made by Hewlett-Packard (HP). Later, Epson and Canon
started making inkjet printers also.
The inkjet printers from all 3 of those companies are excellent.
Each company makes a wide variety of inkjet printers, at prices
ranging from about $25 to about $1000. Canon’s inkjet printers
are the best: all major reviewers rate Canon’s Pixma printers
tops, for printing color photos (and ordinary stuff, too) with high
quality, inexpensively.
Each manufacturer has its own brand names:
HP’s inkjet printers are called Deskjets and Officejets.
consumables: ink, paper, and electricity.
Besides paying for the printer, you must also pay for
Epson’s old inkjet printers were called Styluses. Its new inkjet printers are
called Expressions and WorkForces.
Ink After you’ve bought the printer and used it for a while, the
ink supply will run out, so you must buy more ink.
Canon’s old inkjet printers are called Bubble Jets. Its new inkjet printers,
which print photos better, are called Pixmas.
In the typical dot-matrix printer,
the inked ribbon costs about $5 and lasts about 1000 pages,
so it costs about a half a penny per page. That’s cheap!
Most printers are designed for the IBM PC but can also handle the Mac.
Special Mac-only models are also available: HP’s Mac-only models are
called DeskWriters; Canon’s Mac-only models, called Stylewriters, were
marketed by Apple.
In the typical inkjet printer,
the ink cartridge costs about $20 and lasts about 500 pages,
so it costs about 4 cents per page. That’s expensive!
In the typical laser printer,
the toner cartridge costs about $80 and lasts about 4000 pages,
so it costs about 2 cents per page. That’s moderate!
Those prices assume you’re printing black text. If you’re
printing graphics or color, the cost per page goes up drastically.
For example, full-color graphics on an inkjet printer cost about
50¢ per page.
If you use your printer a lot, you must buy ink often: every few
The cost adds up: after a few years, you’ll discover that the total cost of all
the ink you’ve bought is more than the cost of the printer! If a printer is
advertised at a low price, beware: the “almost free” printer is just a ruse to
get you to spend lots of money on ink. (It’s like buying an “almost free” razor,
which is just a ruse to get you to spend lots on blades.)
38 Buying: I/O devices
How does the ink get out of the nozzle and onto the paper?
In inkjet printers by HP and Canon, a bubble of ink in the nozzle gets heated
and becomes hot enough to burst and splash onto the paper. Epson’s inkjet
printers use a different technique, in which the nozzle suddenly constricts and
forces the ink out.
When using an inkjet printer, try different brands of paper.
Some brands of paper absorb ink better. If you choose the wrong brand, the
ink will wick (spread out erratically through the strands of the paper’s fiber).
Start by trying cheap copier paper, then explore alternatives. The paper brand
you buy makes a much bigger difference with inkjet printers than with dotmatrix or laser printers. Canon’s printers are the best at tolerating paper
differences, but Canon’s ink is water-based and smears slightly if the paper
or envelope gets wet (from rain or a sweaty thumb).
3 new competitors HP, Canon, and
Epson are being attacked by 3 aggressive
competitors (Lexmark, Brother, and
Lexmark printers cost the least but require
expensive ink cartridges, so Lexmark printers are a
good deal just if you print rarely.
Brother printers always offer good value (good
quality at low prices).
Xerox was a dying company but has improved
recently, so don’t ignore it!
color Inkjet
printers come in several styles. The most
popular style is dual-cartridge color. If
you buy this style of inkjet printer, you can
insert two ink cartridges simultaneously,
side by side.
One cartridge contains black ink. The
other cartridge contains the color trio (red,
blue, and yellow). The computer mixes
together all 4 (black, red, blue, and yellow)
to form all possible colors. That method is
called the 4-color process.
Epson’s most famous such printer was
the Stylus Color 777, which discount
dealers sold for $89.
It prints precisely: the resolution is 2880 dots per
inch vertically, 720 dots per inch horizontally, and
the dots are squirted onto the paper neatly, without
splatter. It prints fast: up to 8 pages per minute for
black, 6 pages per minute for color. Those high
speeds are obtained just while printing text in low
resolution (360 dots per inch). To print a color
photo in high resolution takes 1½ minutes for
4"6", 3 minutes for 8"10". It comes with a 1-year
warranty. The cartridges are long-lasting: they’ll
print 600 pages of black text, 300 pages of color
text; before the ink runs out and you must insert
new cartridges. The black print head contains 144
nozzles; the color print head contains 144 nozzles
(48 per color).
To compete against that printer and
Epson’s newer printers, Canon offered
several competitors. Canon’s cheapest was
the Bubble Jet Color 2100 (BJC-2100),
which listed for $100 but came with a $50
rebate, bringing the final cost down to just
It prints 720360 dpi, 5 ppm black, 2 ppm color, 1year warranty. The price includes a cartridge
containing all 4 colors. An all-black cartridge costs
extra and is needed to achieve the “5 ppm black”
HP offers this now:
HP Printer
Deskjet 1010
20 ppm, 600 dpi, 6.2¢
16 ppm, 600 dpi, 15.9¢
Duty cycle
1,000 pages/month
In that chart, “price” is the list price (discount dealers charge less), duty cycle is how
many pages per month the printer can reasonably handle (without overheating and
without “worn or loose” parts or “slow speed” making you curse excessively). The
number of cents is the cost of the ink to print a typical page:
That cost assumes you play list price for an extended-life (XL) cartridge (which costs more than the
standard cartridge but includes more ink). It assumes you cover just 5% of the page with black ink, or
30% of the page with colored ink, so most places on the paper remain white. That cost includes just
the cost of the ink, not the cost of the paper.
Single-cartridge color A cheaper style is single-cartridge color. This
category lets you insert either a black cartridge or a color cartridge, but you cannot
insert both cartridges simultaneously.
If you try to print black while the color cartridge is in, the computer tries to imitate
“black” by printing red, blue, and yellow on top of each other. That produces a “mud”
instead of a true black, and it’s also very slow. If you try to make such a printer
reproduce a photograph, the image produced looks slightly “muddy”, “washed-out”,
with poor contrast.
But the price is deliciously low!
The most famous such printer was the Canon’s BJC-1000., which sold for $75
minus a $30 rebate, bringing the cost down to $45.
It comes in a box that includes one color cartridge (to get you started) but no black cartridge (which
costs extra). The printer produces just 720360 black, 360360 color. The printer is very slow: just 4
ppm black, 0.6 ppm color. Its black print head contains just 64 nozzles; it color print head contains just
48 nozzles (16 per color).
It was discontinued when Canon invented a better printer, the BJC-2100.
Lexmark’s Z-12 Color Jetprinter was a single-cartridge color printer that was
better than the BJC-1000. It cost $50.
Like the BJC-1000, its price included a color cartridge but no black cartridge (which cost extra).
Lexmark claims “1200 dpi” and “6 ppm black, 3 ppm color”. Lexmark also includes discount coupons
so you can get good software cheap.
Portable You could buy these portable inkjet printers, which are tiny and weigh
little: Brother’s MP-21C ($240, 2 pounds), Canon’s BJC-80 ($190, 4 pounds), and
Canon’s BJC-50 ($305, 2 pounds, prints slower and more crudely than the BJC-80 but
has the advantage of weighing less). They all work slowly, print less beautifully than
desktop printers, and can’t handle big stacks of paper.
Instead of buying a portable printer, consider buying Canon’s BJC-1000. At 4.8
pounds, it weighs just slightly more than a portable printer and tends to work faster,
print more beautifully, handle paper better, and cost less!
Wide-carriage Most inkjet printers handle just normal-width paper, which is 8½
inches wide. Canon, Epson, and HP all make expensive inkjet printers that can print
wider. To print colors on wider paper, get Canon’s BJC-4550 ($269, 11"-by-17" paper)
or Epson’s Stylus 1520 ($449, 17"-by-22").
4-cartridge color Suppose you’re printing a picture that contains lots of red but
not much blue or yellow. When you use up all the red ink in a tricolor cartridge, you
must throw the whole cartridge away, even though blue and yellow ink remain in the
cartridge. What a waste!
Canon’s BJC-3000 prevents such waste and sold for just $99.
It uses 4 separate cartridges (a black cartridge, a red cartridge, a blue cartridge, and a yellow cartridge),
so when the red ink runs out you can discard the red cartridge without having to discard any blue or
yellow ink. It prints 9ppm black, 4ppm color.
HP offers these now:
HP printer
Officejet 6100
Officejet 8100
Officejet X451dn
Duty cycle
12,000pages/month $80
25,000pages/month $150
50,000pages/month $150
Buying: I/O devices 39
Laser printers
A laser printer, like an office
photocopier, contains a drum and uses toner
made of ink. The printer shines a laser beam
at the drum, which picks up the toner and
deposits it on the paper.
LaserJet 5 For the IBM PC, the most
popular laser printers are made by HewlettPackard (HP), whose laser printers are
called LaserJets. After inventing its first
LaserJet, HP invented a better version (the
LaserJet 2), then an even better version
(the LaserJet 3), then an even better
version (the LaserJet 4).
Finally, in 1996, HP invented a truly
great version: the LaserJet 5. I used it to
print earlier editions of this book. It’s
terrific! Here are its specs:
It can print 12 pages per minute (12 ppm). It can
print 600 dots per inch (600 dpi); and it uses a trick
called Resolution Enhancement Technology
(RET), which can shift each dot slightly left or right
and make each dot slightly larger or smaller. That
makes the printing nearly as beautiful as if there
were twice as many dots per inch (1200 dpi).
Its ROM contains the definitions of 45 fonts
(typestyles). Each of those fonts is scalable: you
can make the characters as big or tiny as you wish.
You also get a disk containing the definitions of 65
additional scalable fonts: put that disk into your
computer, copy those font definitions to your
computer’s hard disk, then tell your computer to
copy those font definitions to the printer’s RAM.
So altogether, the printer can handle two kinds of
fonts: the 45 internal fonts that were inside the
printer originally plus soft fonts that are copied
into the printer’s RAM from the computer’s disks.
The printer contains 4 megabytes of RAM, so it
can handle lots of soft fonts and graphics on the
same page. Moreover, the printer uses a trick called
data compression, which compresses the data so
that twice as much data can fit in the RAM (as if
the RAM were 8 megabytes).
Discount dealers were selling it for $988.
Cheaper LaserJets For folks who
couldn’t afford a LaserJet 5 at $988, HP
invented a cheap Personal version (called
the LaserJet 5P) and an even cheaper
Lower-cost version (called the LaserJet
Afterwards, HP invented an improved 5P
(called the 6P) and an improved 5L (called
the 6L).
New LaserJets HP has stopped
selling all those LaserJets (the LaserJet 1, 2,
3, 4, 5, 5P, 5L, 6P, and 6L). Now HP sells
new LaserJets that are even better and cost
These print just monochrome (black):
LaserJet P1102w
LaserJet P1606dn
LaserJet M401n
LaserJet P3015n
LaserJet M601n
LaserJet M602n
600 dpi
600 dpi
1200 dpi
1200 dpi
1200 dpi
1200 dpi
19 ppm
26 ppm
35 ppm
42 ppm
45 ppm
52 ppm
RAM Processor Duty cycle
8M 266MHz
5,000 pages/month
32M 400MHz
8,000 pages/month
128M 800MHz
50,000 pages/month
128M 540MHz
100,000 pages/month
512M 800MHz
175,000 pages/month
512M 800MHz
225,000 pages/month
14 ppm
21 ppm
33 ppm
35 ppm
42 ppm
These can print in color:
LaserJet Color M251nw
LaserJet Color M451nw
LaserJet Color M551nw
LaserJet CP4025n
LaserJet CP4525n
600 dpi
600 dpi
1200 dpi
1200 dpi
1200 dpi
Processor Duty cycle
30,000 pages/month
40,000 pages/month
75,000 pages/month
100,000 pages/month
120,000 pages/month
All those LaserJets are better than the charts imply, since they use RET (to make the
resolution seem nearly twice as high as what’s in the chart) and data compression (to
make the RAM hold twice as much data as what’s in the chart).
Those are the prices advertised by HP. Discount dealers charge less.
Duty cycle In that chart, duty cycle means how many pages per month the printer
can print reliably (without overheating and without “worn or loose” parts making you
curse excessively).
If the duty cycle is under 20,000 pages/month, the printer “looks flimsy”.
If the duty cycle is between 20,000 and 60,000, the printer “looks solid”.
If the duty cycle is over 60,000,
the printer “looks invincible, built like a tank”.
Processor When your computer’s system unit sends data to the LaserJet, the
LaserJet handles that data with the help of a printer processor chip, which hides
inside the printer. The charts show how fast the printer processor chip can think.
Paper size Each LaserJet printer in the charts can handle letter-size paper (8½
inches wide, 11 inches tall) and legal-size paper (8½ inches wide, 14 inches tall). If
you want to handle tabloid-size paper instead (11"x17"), you must buy a
wide-format printer, which costs more and goes slower.
Printer codes When your computer wants to give the printer an instruction (such
as “draw a diagonal line across the paper” or “make that scalable font bigger”), the
computer sends the printer a code.
HP’s LaserJets understand a code called Printer Control Language (PCL),
invented by HP.
The newest versions of PCL are PCL 5e (which is plain), PCL 5c (which can handle colors), and
PCL 6 (which can handle 1200 dpi). They’re understood by the new LaserJets. Older LaserJets
understand just older versions of PCL and can’t perform as many tricks.
Most IBM-compatible laser printers understand PCL, so that they imitate HP’s laser printers, run
the same software as HP’s laser printers, and are HP-compatible.
Some laser printers understand a different code, called PostScript (PS), invented
by a company called Adobe.
Back in the 1980’s, when PCL was still very primitive, Postscript was more advanced than PCL. The
fanciest laser printers from HP’s competitors used PostScript. The very fanciest laser printers were
bilingual: they understood both PCL and PostScript.
Now that PCL has improved, it’s about as good as PostScript. PCL printers cost less to manufacture
than PostScript printers.
In PostScript, each command that the computer sends the printer is written by using
English words. Unfortunately, those words are long and consume lots of bytes. In PCL,
each command is written as a brief series of code numbers instead. Since PCL
commands consume fewer bytes than Postscript commands, the computer can transmit
PCL commands to the printer faster than Postscript commands, and PCL commands
can fit in less RAM.
Some Apple Mac programs require a PostScript printer.
Most new LaserJet printers understand both PCL and PostScript.
HP’s competitors HP has many competitors.
NEC’s printers tend to go faster.
Lexmark’s printers tend to go faster and print more dpi (to produce finer text and photographs).
Printers from Panasonic, Brother, and Oki tend to cost less; they’re bargains.
Printers from Kyocera cost less to run, because their toner (ink) cartridges last longer & cost less per page.
But I recommend buying from HP, because people who own HP LaserJets are very
happy, including me!
40 Buying: I/O devices
HP LaserJets are more reliable than other brands, need repairs less often than
other brands, cause fewer software headaches than other brands, cost just
slightly more than other brands, and let you buy more toner from your local
store more easily. The only exception to my “buy HP” advice is HP’s Color
LaserJets, which always get worse ratings than Magicolor laser printers,
which are made by Konica Minolta. But you shouldn’t buy a color laser
printer anyway: color laser printers are too expensive; and they’re much
slower than black-only laser printers, even when printing just black! To get
color, buy a nice, cheap color inkjet printer instead!
Dot-matrix printers
A dot-matrix printer contains a few guns, as if it were a
super-cowboy whose belt contains several holsters.
Each gun shoots a pin at a ribbon that’s covered with ink.
When the pin’s tip hits the ribbon and smashes the ribbon against
the paper, a dot of ink appears on the paper. Then the pin retracts
back into the gun that fired it.
Since each gun has its own pin, the number of guns is the same as
the number of pins.
9-pin printers If the printer is of average quality, it has 9
guns — and therefore 9 pins. It’s called a 9-pin printer.
The 9 guns are stacked on top of each other, in a column that’s called the
print head. If all the guns fire simultaneously, the pins smash against the
ribbon simultaneously, so the paper shows 9 dots in a vertical column. The
dots are very close to each other, so that the column of dots looks like a single
vertical line. If just some of the 9 pins press against the ribbon, you get fewer
than 9 dots, so you see just part of a vertical line.
To print a character, the print head’s 9 guns print part of a vertical line; then
the print head moves to the right and prints part of another vertical line, then
moves to the right again and prints part of another vertical line, etc. Each
character is made of parts of vertical lines — and each part is made of dots.
The pattern of dots that makes up a character is called the dot matrix.
That’s why such a printer’s called a 9-pin dot-matrix printer.
Inside the printer is a ROM chip that holds the definition of each character.
For example, the ROM’s definition of “M” says which pins to fire to produce
the letter “M”. To use the ROM chip, the printer contains its own CPU chip
and its own RAM.
When microcomputers first became popular, most dot-matrix printers for
them were built by a New Hampshire company, Centronics. In 1980, Japanese
companies took over the marketplace. Centronics went bankrupt. The 2
Japanese companies that dominate the industry now are Epson and Panasonic.
Epson became popular because it was the first company to develop a
disposable print head — so that when the print head wears out, you can throw
it away and pop in a new one yourself, without needing a repairman. Also,
Epson was the first company to develop a low-cost dot-matrix impact printer
whose dots look “clean and crisp” instead of looking like "fuzzy blobs”.
Epson was the main reason why Centronics went bankrupt.
Epson is part of a Japanese conglomerate called the Seiko Group, which
became famous by timing the athletes in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. To time
them accurately, the Seiko Group invented a quartz clock attached to an
electronic printer. Later, the quartz clock was miniaturized and marketed to
consumers as the “Seiko watch”, which became the best-selling watch in the
whole world. The electronic printer, or “E.P.”, led to a better printer, called
the “son of E.P.”, or “EP’s son”. That’s how the Epson division was founded
and got its name!
Epson’s first 9-pin printer was the MX-80. Then came an improvement,
called the FX-80. Those printers are obsolete; they’ve been replaced by
Epson’s newest 9-pin wonders, the FX-880 (which costs $250) and the FX1180 (which can handle extra-wide paper and costs $380). Epson’s cheapest
and slowest 9-pin printer is the LX-300+ ($190). You can get those prices
from discount dealers (such as Tri State).
For a 9-pin printer, I recommend buying the Panasonic 1150 instead,
because it prints more beautifully and costs just $149 from discount dealers.
Too bad it can’t handle extra-wide paper!
Besides Epson and Panasonic, four other Japanese companies are also
popular: NEC, Oki, Citizen, and Star.
7-pin printers Although the average dot-matrix printer
uses 9 pins, some older printers use just 7 pins instead of 9.
Unfortunately, 7-pin printers can’t print letters that dip below the
line (g, j, p, q, and y) and can’t underline. Some 7-pin printers
print just capitals; other 7-pin printers “cheat” by raising the
letters g, j, p, q, and y slightly.
24-pin printers Although 9 pins are enough to print
English, they’re not enough to print advanced Japanese, which
requires 24 pins instead.
The first company to popularize 24-pin printers was Toshiba. Its printers
printed Japanese — and English — beautifully. 24-pin Toshiba printers
became popular in America because they print English characters more
beautifully than 9-pin printers.
Epson and all the other Japanese printer companies copied Toshiba. The
best cheap 24-pin printers are the Panasonic 2130 ($230 at Office Depot)
and the Epson LQ-590 (which is sturdier, easier to operate, and costs $280
at OfficeMax). The cheapest 24-pin printer that handles wide paper is the
Epson LQ-2090 ($460 at Office Depot).
24-pin printers print more beautifully than 9-pin printers but print slower,
are less rugged, and don’t bang hard enough to print multiple copies on thick
multi-part forms.
In standard 24-pin printers, the even-numbered pins are slightly to the right
of the odd-numbered pins, so you see two columns of pins. After firing the
even-numbered pins, the print head moves to the right and fires the oddnumbered pins, whose dots on paper overlap the dots from the evennumbered pins. The overlap insures that the vertical column of up to 24 dots
has no unwanted gaps.
In fancier 24-pin printers, the 24 pins are arranged as a diamond instead of
two columns, so that the sound of firing pins is staggered: when you print a
vertical line you hear a quiet hum instead of two bangs.
Beyond 24 pins The fastest dot-matrix printers use multiple
print heads, so they can print several characters simultaneously.
Fights about printer technology
Now let’s plunge into technical details of printer technology.
Impact versus non-impact A printer that smashes an
inked ribbon against the paper is called an impact printer.
The most popular kind of impact printer is the dot-matrix printer. Other
impact printers use daisy wheels, thimbles, golf balls, bands, chains, and
drums. They all make lots of noise, though manufacturers have tried to make
the noise acceptable by putting the printers in noise-reducing enclosures
and by modifying the timing of the smashes.
A printer that does not smash an inked ribbon is called a non-
impact printer.
Non-impact printers are all quiet! The most popular non-impact printers are
inkjet printers and laser printers. Other non-impact printers are thermal
printers (whose hot pins scorch the paper), and thermal-transfer printers
(which melt hot colored wax onto the paper). Unfortunately, thermal printers
require special “scorchable” paper; thermal-transfer printers require
expensive ribbons made of colored wax.
Resolution If a printer creates characters out of dots, the
quality of the printing depends on how fine the dots are — the
“number of dots per inch”, which is called the print resolution.
A traditional laser printer prints 300 dots per inch. Modern laser printer can
print 1200 dots per inch.
The typical inkjet printer can print 600 dots per inch. That’s not quite as
good as a modern laser printer but still adequate.
A 24-pin dot-matrix printer prints just 180 dots per inch. It’s okay for
writing letters to people you’re trying to impress, but it’s not as impressive
as an inkjet or laser printer.
A 9-pin dot-matrix printer is the ugliest of all: it usually prints just 72 dots
per inch vertically.
Paper Laser printers and most inkjet printers accept a stack
of ordinary copier paper. You put that paper into the printer’s
paper tray (which is also called the paper bin and also called
the cut-sheet paper feeder).
Some dot-matrix printers can handle stacks of ordinary copier
paper, but most dot-matrix printers handle paper differently. To
pull paper into the printer, dot-matrix printers can use 2 methods.
The simplest method is to imitate a typewriter: use a rubber roller that grabs
the paper by friction. That method’s called friction feed. Unfortunately, friction
Buying: I/O devices 41
is unreliable: the paper will slip slightly, especially when you get near the
sheet’s bottom edge.
A more reliable method is to use paper that has holes in the margins. The
typical dot-matrix printer has feeder pins that fit in the holes and pull the
paper up through the printer very accurately. That method, called pin feed,
has just one disadvantage: you must buy paper having holes in the margins.
If your printer uses pin feed and is fancy, it has a clamp that helps the pins
stay in the holes. The clamp (with its pins) is called a tractor. You get 2
tractors: one for the left margin and one for the right. A printer having tractors
is said to have tractor feed. Usually the tractors are movable, so you can
move the right-hand tractor closer to the left tractor, to handle narrower paper
or mailing labels.
A dual-feed printer can feed the paper both ways — by friction and by
pins — because it has a rubber roller and also has sets of pins. The printer’s
left edge has a lever: if you pull the lever one way, the paper will rub against
the roller, for friction feed; if you pull the lever the other way, the paper will
rub against the pins instead, for pin feed.
Most dot-matrix printers have dual feed with movable tractors.
Paper having holes in it is called pin-feed paper (or tractor-feed paper).
Like a long tablecloth (folded up and stored in your closet), pin-feed paper
comes in a long, continuous sheet that’s folded. Since it comes folded but
can later be unfolded (“fanned out”), it’s also called fanfold paper. It’s
perforated so you can rip it into individual sheets after the printer has printed
on it. If the paper’s fancy, its margin is perforated too, so after the printing
you can rip off the margin and its ugly holes, leaving you with what looks
like ordinary typing paper.
The fanciest perforated paper, called micro-perf, has a perforation so fine
that when you rip along the perforation, the edge is almost smooth.
Most printers can use ordinary typing paper (or copier paper),
which is 8½ inches wide. Pin-feed paper is usually an inch wider
(9½ inches wide), so that the margins are wide enough to include
the pinholes.
Some printers can handle pin-feed paper that’s extra-wide
(15 inches). Those wide-carriage printers typically cost about
$130 more than standard-width printers.
Speed The typical printer’s advertisement brags about the
printer’s speed by measuring it in characters per second (cps)
or lines per minute (lpm) or pages per minute (ppm). But
those measurements are misleading.
Don’t trust the speed of a laser printer:
To justify a claim of “8 pages per minute”, Apple salesmen noticed that their
LaserWriter 2 NT printer took a minute to produce 8 extra copies of a page.
They ignored the wait of several minutes for the first copy! Like Apple, most
other laser-printer manufacturers say “8 pages per minute” when they should
really say: “1/8 of a minute per additional copy of the same page”.
Don’t trust the speed of a dot-matrix printer:
The advertised speed ignores how long the printer takes to jerk up the
paper. For example the typical “80-cps” printer will print 80 characters within
a second but then take an extra second to jerk up the paper to the next line,
so at the end of two seconds you still see just 80 characters on the paper.
Epson advertised its LQ-850 dot-matrix printer as “264 cps”, but it achieved
that speed just when making the characters small and ugly (few dots per inch).
To print characters that were large and pretty, the speed dropped to 73 cps.
Panasonic advertised its KX-P1091 dot-matrix printer as “192 cps”, but it
achieved that speed just if you threw an internal switch that made the
characters even uglier than usual!
So don’t trust any ads about printer speed! To discover a printer’s
true speed, hold a stopwatch while the printer prints many kinds
of documents (involving small characters, big characters, short
lines, long lines, draft quality, letter quality, and graphics).
Some modern printers can communicate with computers
But if a printer is traditional, a cable of wires runs from the
printer to the computer’s main part (the system unit). The cable
costs about $8 and is not included in the printer’s advertised price:
the cable costs extra.
One end of the cable plugs into a socket at the back of the
printer. The cable’s other end plugs into “a socket at the back of
42 Buying: I/O devices
the system unit”, called the computer’s printer port.
When the computer wants the printer to print some data, the
computer sends the data to the printer port. Then the data flows
through the cable to the printer.
Serial versus parallel The cable from the system unit to
the printer contains many wires. Some are never used: they’re in
the cable just in case a computer expert someday figures out a
reason to use them. Some of the wires in the cable transmit info
about scheduling: they let the computer and printer argue about
when to send the data.
If the computer’s port is serial, just one of the wires transmits the data itself.
If the computer’s port is parallel, 8 wires transmit the data simultaneously.
A parallel port tends to be faster than a serial port, since a parallel port
transmits 8 streams of data simultaneously. Unfortunately, a parallel cable is
limited to shorter distances (about 12 feet instead of 50 feet), since it’s hard to
keep 8 signals strong and synchronized over long distances.
Classic cables Back in the 1970’s, the typical serial cable
contained 25 wires (1 of which transmitted the data). That cable
was called the recommended standard 232C serial cable
(RS-232C cable). At that time, the typical parallel cable
contained 36 wires (8 of which transmitted the data), using a
scheme invented by a printer manufacturer called Centronics
and called the industry-standard Centronics-compatible
parallel cable (Centronics cable).
IBM printer cable In 1981, when IBM invented the IBM
PC, IBM decided the 36-wire parallel cable was silly, since just 8
of the wires transmitted data; so IBM switched to a 25-wire cable
instead; but to be compatible with the 36-wire printers already
invented, IBM glued a 36-pin connector to the printer’s end of the
cable; so the cable has 36 pins on the printer’s end but just 25 pins
on the system unit’s end. That weird cable is called an IBMcompatible parallel printer cable (IBM printer cable).
If that cable is fancy enough to handle transmissions in both directions, it’s
called a bidirectional IBM printer cable. If it’s even fancier and can handle
transmissions quickly in both directions, it’s called an Institute of Electrical
& Electronics Engineers standard 1284 cable (IEEE 1284 cable).
If the system unit’s circuitry for handling the IBM printer cable
is ordinary, you have a standard parallel port (SPP).
If that port’s circuitry is faster, you have an enhanced parallel port (EPP). If
that port’s circuitry is even faster, it’s called an extended capability port (ECP),
which transmits data about 10 times as fast as SPP. Most new computers have
ECP ports. To make full use of an IEEE 1284 cable, you need an ECP port
and an ECP-capable printer.
USB cable In 1988, when Apple invented the iMac
computer, Apple decided the 25-wire serial cable was silly, so
Apple switched to a 4-wire serial cable instead, called the
Universal Serial Bus cable (USB cable). Later, manufacturers
of IBM-PC compatible computers copied Apple’s idea of using
the USB cable for printing.
Old printers for IBM-compatible PCs used the IBM printer cable.
New printers for IBM-compatible PCs use the USB cable instead.
The USB cable can be used for many other purposes, too:
The USB cable is the most popular cable for attaching a scanner. You can
also use a USB cable to attach a keyboard and mouse. The typical smartphone
comes with a USB cable, to attach to a charger and to communicate with a
bigger computer.
The USB cable is hot-swappable: you can plug and unplug
USB devices from the USB cable, even while they and the system
unit are turned on, without damage. The system unit
automatically figures out which USB devices are plugged into it
at the moment.
The first version of USB was called USB 1. Later came faster
versions, called USB 1.1, USB 2, and USB 3. Then came a
compact (tiny) version, called USB-C.
The information stored in the computer is called software.
Most software stays in RAM temporarily and is erased from
RAM when you no longer need it. But some software stays in the
computer’s circuits permanently: it hides in the ROM and is
called firmware.
To feed firmware to the computer, put extra ROM chips on the
motherboard or insert a ROM cartridge. To feed other kinds of
software to the computer, use the keyboard, disk, or tape: type the
info on the keyboard, or insert a disk or tape containing the info.
You can feed the computer four kinds of software: an
operating system, a language, application programs, and
data. Let’s look at them.…
Operating systems
An operating system (OS) is a set of instructions that
explains to the CPU how to handle the keyboard, the screen,
printer, disk drives, and mouse.
BIOS versus DOS
In a standard IBM-compatible PC, the operating system is
divided into two parts.
The operating system’s fundamental part is in the motherboard’s
ROM chips and called the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS,
pronounced “buy oss” or “buy us”). The operating system’s
advanced part is on a disk and is called the disk operating system
(or DOS, which is pronounced “doss”).
From MS-DOS to Windows
The first DOS for the IBM PC was invented by IBM and a
company called Microsoft (MS). That DOS was called IBM PC-DOS
or MS-DOS. It came on a floppy disk.
Version 1 came on a floppy disk and stayed there.
Version 2 came on a floppy disk but could be copied to a hard disk.
After Windows 95, Microsoft invented further improvements.
Here are the years:
In 1995 came Windows 95.
In 1998 came Windows 98.
In 1999 came Windows 98 Second Edition (Windows 98 SE).
In 2000 came Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me).
In 2001 came Windows eXPerience (Windows XP).
In 2006 came Windows Vista.
In 2009 came Windows 7.
In 2012 came Windows 8.
In 2013 came Windows 8.1.
In 2015 came Windows 10.
Most computer programs require Windows XP or later.
Such programs refuse to run if you bought just earlier Windows
or MS-DOS.
Corporate Windows Big corporations running big
networks used a fancy “corporate” version of Windows called
Windows New Technology (Windows NT), invented in 1993.
The year 2000 brought an improved version, called
Windows 2000. In 2001, Windows XP replaced them and made
them obsolete, but later Microsoft invented another corporate
version, called Windows Server.
AT&T’s Bell Laboratories invented an operating system called
It’s pronounced “you nicks”, so it sounds like “eunuchs”, which are castrated
men. (Be careful! A female computer manager who seems to be saying “get
me eunuchs” probably wants an operating system, not castrated men.)
“Unix” is an abbreviation for “UNICS”, which stands for
“UNified Information & Computing System”.
The original version of Unix ran just on DEC minicomputers
used by just one person at a time. Newer versions of Unix can
handle any manufacturer’s maxi, mini, or micro and even handle
networks of people sharing computers simultaneously.
Linux A Finnish programmer named Linus Torvalds (whose
first name is pronounced “lee nuss”) invented a Unix imitation
called “Linus Unix” or Linux (pronounced “lee nucks”). It’s free!
It runs on 386, 486, and Pentium computers and also on Atari
and Commodore Amiga computers. The most popular way to get
it is as part of a distribution (which includes Linux plus extras),
published by Ubuntu (pronounced “oo-BOON-too”) or
Mandrake or SuSE or Red Hat.
(Version 1 couldn’t handle hard disks.)
Ubuntu’s distribution, which comes from England, is free.
Versions 3, 4, 5, and 6 were even better: like version 2, they came on floppy
Mandrake’s distribution, which comes from France, is cheap and nice.
disks and could be copied to the hard disk but could also be supplemented by
Windows (a set of extra floppy disks, invented by Microsoft, which let the
computer perform tricks, such as dividing the screen into “windows of info”
and letting you use a mouse instead of just a keyboard).
SuSE’s distribution, which comes from Germany and the USA, is the easiest
Windows’ first version (Windows 1) and its early
improvements (Windows 2 and Windows 3) were just
supplements to MS-DOS. To use them, you had to buy MS-DOS
first. They were supplements (called shells) that tried to hide
MS-DOS’s ugliness (just like a clamshell hides an ugly clam);
they made MS-DOS look prettier. People bought the ugly
operating system (MS-DOS) plus the operating-system shell
(Windows) to create a new operating environment.
In 1995, Microsoft invented a better version of Windows,
called Windows 95, which performed more tricks and was a
complete operating system: it did not require you to buy MS-DOS
first; it was not just a shell.
Windows 95 came on a floppy disk plus a CD-ROM disk. To
use Windows 95, you (or the dealer) had to copy the floppy disk
and CD-ROM disk to the hard disk.
and most pleasant.
Red Hat’s distribution, which comes from the USA, includes the most features
for setting up a network.
Most tablets and smartphones run Android, which is a soupedup version of Linux. Amazon’s Kindle is an e-reader that runs a
modified version of Android.
Solaris Sun Microsystems (which was recently bought by
Oracle) makes Sparc minicomputers, which are used as
graphics/engineering workstations and Internet servers. Sparc
minicomputers use the Solaris operating system, which is a
souped-up version of Unix. Though Solaris is intended for Sparc
minicomputers, you can get a version of Solaris that runs on
microcomputers containing an Intel CPU.
Unix versus Windows Though many programmers adore
Unix, it won’t outsell Windows, since Unix is harder to learn and
had its main features stolen by MS-DOS & Windows. But Unix
networks are more reliable than Window networks and form the
basis of the Internet.
Buying: software 43
From Mac OS to macOS
Apple’s Mac computers have used its own operating system,
called Mac OS.
To invent Windows, Microsoft copied many features from Mac
OS, so Windows is very similar to Mac OS.
Versions 1-9 of Mac OS were invented completely by Apple. Version 10 of
Mac OS is based on Unix instead: it’s a version of Unix modified to resemble
and surpass Mac OS 9. To emphasize Mac OS 10’s Olympic greatness, Apple
writes it in Roman numerals (like this: Mac OS X), which Apple says to
pronounce as “Mac oh ess ten”. Apple will forgive you if you say “Mac oh
ess ex”, which sounds like “Mac — oh! — is sex!”, since Mac OS X is the
sexy operating system that makes the Mac gorgeously appealing.
Recently, Apple changed the name from Mac OS X to just OS X
and now macOS.
Apple’s tablet (the iPad), smartphone (the iPhone), and
modern music player (the iPod Touch) use an operating system
called iOS, which is based on Mac OS but has this advantage: it
can handle touchscreens.
Old computers
Old computers used old operating systems:
Operating system
Apple 2
Apple DOS or Pro DOS
Radio Shack’s TRS-80 TRSDOS (pronounced “triss doss”)
DEC’s Vax minicomputers Virtual Memory System (VMS)
Ancient microcomputers Control Program for Microcomputers (CP/M)
IBM maxicomputers
Multiple Virtual Storage (MVS) or Virtual Machine
with Conversational Monitor System (VM with CMS)
Languages that humans normally speak — such as English,
Spanish, French, Russian, and Chinese — are called
natural languages. They’re too complicated for computers to
understand easily.
To communicate with computers, programmers use
computer languages instead. The most popular computer
languages are Basic, Visual Basic, Python, Java, JavaScript,
C, C++, C#, Perl, and PHP.
Each is a tiny part of English — a part small enough for the
computer to master. To teach the computer one of those tiny
languages, you feed the computer a disk (or ROM chips or copy
software from the Internet) containing definitions of that tiny
language’s words.
Of those computer languages, Basic is the easiest to learn.
Python resembles Basic but tries to be more modern. JavaScript
is the best for creating small programs on the Internet. The other
languages are harder to learn but can perform different tricks.
Although those languages have become the most popular,
many others were invented.
Back in the 1960’s, the most popular languages were Fortran (which let
computers do advanced calculations for engineering and scientific research)
and Cobol (which let computers do accounting for big corporations).
During the 1980’s, most schools taught elementary-school kids to program
in Logo, high-school kids to program in Basic, college kids to program in
Pascal, graduate computer-science students to program in C (which was the
forerunner of C++), and business students to program in Cobol (for
maxicomputers) and dBase (for microcomputers).
Later, colleges switched to teaching college kids Java instead of Pascal.
Now colleges have switched to teaching Python instead.
44 Buying: software
This book discusses many languages, so you become a virtuoso!
The Internet is an international network of computers that
share info. You can make your computer become part of the
Internet too!
Web The most popular part of the Internet is the World Wide
Web (WWW), where people publish Web pages that everybody
using the Internet can view. To view Web pages and browse
through them, you need a program called a Web browser. The
most popular Web browsers are Microsoft’s Edge, Microsoft’s
Internet Explorer (IE), Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari, and
Mozilla’s Firefox. They’re all free.
Some Web pages let you copy software from the Internet to
your own computer’s hard disk. Copying from the Internet is
called “downloading from the Internet.” Copying to the Internet
is called “uploading to the Internet.”
E-mail If you attach your computer to the Internet, you can
send electronic mail (email) to another computer on the
Internet, if you have an email program.
The most popular email programs are Gmail (by Google),
Yahoo Mail, and several by Microsoft (Windows Mail,
Windows Live Mail, Outlook, and Outlook Express).
The computer will do whatever you wish — if you tell it how.
To tell the computer how to do what you wish, you feed it a
program, which is a list of instructions written in a computer
language. To feed the computer a program, type the program on
the keyboard, or buy a disk containing the program and put that
disk into the drive, or download the program from the Internet, or
buy ROM chips containing the program.
Before buying a program, make sure it will work with your
computer. For example, if a disk says “for Windows”, it will work
with a modern IBM-compatible PC but not with the typical Apple
Mac computer.
A person who invents a program is called a programmer.
Becoming a programmer is easy: you can become a programmer in just a few
minutes! Becoming a good programmer takes longer.
You can buy two kinds of programs. The most popular kind is
called an application program (app): it handles a specific
application, such as payroll or psychotherapy or chess. The other
kind of program is called a system program: it teaches the
computer how to handle various kinds of hardware and various
computer languages. An operating system (such as Windows or
Unix) is mainly a collection of system programs, bundled
together to form a nice package. Application programs are usually
purchased separately, though a few apps are included in the
operating system’s price.
You’ll want several kinds of apps. Here are the most popular.…
Word processing
A word-processing program helps
you write memos, letters, reports, research
papers, articles, and books. It also helps you
edit what you wrote.
As you type on the keyboard, the screen
shows what you typed. By pressing buttons
(on the keyboard or the mouse), you can
edit what’s on the screen and copy it onto
paper and onto a disk.
Most operating systems include a simple
word-processing program.
Operating system
Classic Windows
Modern Windows
Simple word-proc.
program included
Windows Write
Mac OS 6
Mac OS 7, 8, 9
Mac OS X
Android for Samsung
Those simple word-processing programs
are very limited. For example, those wordprocessing programs for Windows & Mac
aren’t smart enough to correct your spelling.
Most businesses use a fancier wordprocessing program instead, called
Microsoft Word. It can correct your
spelling and perform many other tricks.
Versions are available for Windows & Mac.
Its main competitor is WordPerfect,
which costs less and is published by a
company called Corel.
Instead of saying “word-processing
program”, it’s shorter to say just “word
processor”, but beware: “word processor”
can mean a program, a person, or a
machine. Yes, “word processor” can mean
3 things:
“A word-processing program.” Example: “Does
this computer’s hard disk include a word processor,
such as Microsoft Word?”
“A person who knows how to use a wordprocessing program.” Example: “I’d like to hire a
word processor (such as Joan Smith) who’ll type
my book for $12 per hour.”
“A computerized typewriter whose only purpose is
to run a word-processing program.” Example:
“Instead of buying a full computer, I want a cheaper
machine, such as the Brother Word Processor.”
To analyze a company, accountants
examine the company’s financial data (each
month’s expenses and revenues) and
arrange all those numbers to form a huge
“table of numbers”, spread across a big
sheet of paper. That’s called a
spreadsheet. A spreadsheet is a table of
numbers, spread across a sheet of paper —
or across the computer’s screen.
A spreadsheet program lets you create a table of numbers on the computer screen.
You can type any numbers you wish. For example, you can type amounts of money (for
accounting) or scores (from sports or student exams) or measurements (from sciencelab experiments or sociology surveys) or your ratings of members of the opposite sex.
The typical spreadsheet program is powerful. It can automatically do these things:
compute “the total, average, percentages, and other statistics” for each row & column
rearrange the data (to put the topics in alphabetical order or from “best” to “worse”)
draw pretty graphs summarizing the results
copy all that to paper and disk
automatically change all the sums, averages, percentages, and graphs whenever you edit the original data
It’s great for analyzing budgets, scientific experiments, statistics, and you!
Most businesses use a spreadsheet program called Microsoft Excel. It requires
Windows or a Mac. Its main competitor is Corel’s Quattro Pro, which requires Windows.
Danger: compulsive perfectionism
The most successful business programs are the ones that make work become fun, by
turning the work into a video game. That’s why word processing programs and
spreadsheet programs are so successful — they let you move letters and numbers
around the screen, edit the errors by “zapping” them, and let you press a button that
makes the screen explode with totals, subtotals, counts, and other info.
Sometimes, word processing can be too much fun. Since it’s so much fun to edit on
a word processor, people using word processors edit more thoroughly than people using
typewriters or pens. Word processing fosters compulsive perfectionism.
Word-processed documents wind up better-written than non-electronic documents but take longer to
finish. According to a survey by Colorado State, people using word processors take about 30% longer
to generate memos than people using pens, and the word-processed memos are needlessly long.
Danger: intimidation
Word-processing and spreadsheet programs can become weapons that mesmerize
people into believing everything you say — even if what you’re saying is wrong.
For example, suppose you want to submit a budget. If you scribble the budget on a scrap of paper,
nobody will take you seriously; but if you put your data into a spreadsheet program that spits out
beautifully aligned columns with totals, subtotals, percentages, bar charts, and pie charts, your
audience will assume your budget’s carefully thought out and applaud it, even though it’s just a pretty
presentation of the same crude guesses you’d have scribbled on paper.
Similarly, if you want to talk somebody into believing your idea, scribbling it on a scrap of paper
won’t impress anybody. Instead, print the idea beautifully, using a word processor to create headlines,
footnotes, etc. That will make the idea seem carefully thought out, even if the thought is actually the
same garbage.
Try it! If you’re a kid, write a formal report on why your dessert tonight should be strawberry ice
cream instead of vanilla. After submitting it to your Mom, submit it to an ice-cream company and watch
yourself get praised, quoted, and hired! That’s what marketing is all about: bad ideas, nicely packaged.
A graphics program helps you create pictures that are pretty or bizarre or whatever
else you want! You’ll want to get several types of graphics programs.
One type is called a paint program. It lets you draw pictures easily. These paint
programs are the most famous:
Mac Paint
Deluxe Paint
Windows Paint
Corel Painter
Kid Pix
the first paint program; ran on Mac OS; no longer marketed
best early paint program; ran on Commodore Amiga and MS-DOS; no longer marketed
came free as part of Windows 3, which is no longer marketed
comes free as part of modern Windows (Windows 95 and later)
fanciest paint program; imitates oil painting, charcoal, etc.; for Mac and Windows
best paint program for kids; lots of fun; includes stars and many other kid shapes
Another type is called a drawing program. It resembles a paint program but
specializes in drawing straight lines instead of squiggles. It’s best for drawing pictures
of things that have straight lines, such as buildings, machines, and charts for technical
illustrations. These drawing programs are the most famous:
Microsoft Draw
Corel Draw
Adobe Illustrator
included free as part of Microsoft Word and some other Microsoft products
the fanciest drawing program for Windows
an old program; still the professional standard; expensive; for Mac and Windows
Buying: software 45
Another type is called a computer-aided drafting & design program (CAD
program). It resembles a draw program but does more math.
For example, it can print mock blueprints, showing the lengths of all parts. It can compute the surface
area (square feet) of any shape, so you can compute how much material to buy to build your structure
and cover it. It lets you give fancy geometric commands, such as “draw a 37-degree angle, but make
the point be round instead of sharp, so nobody gets hurt” or “draw a circle that goes through these three
points” or “draw a line that grazes these two circles, so it’s tangent to them”.
The most famous CAD program is AutoCAD, which is extremely expensive ($1400
per year, after your free 30-day trial). AutoCAD LT is a “light” version that costs less
($360 per year). TurboCAD Deluxe is much cheaper (just $130 total, not per year).
A photo editor lets you put a photo into the computer (by using a digital camera or
scanner) and see the photo on the computer’s screen. Then it lets you edit the photo: it
lets you crop out the irrelevant parts, cover scratches and embarrassing details, improve
the contrast and brightness and colors, remove red-eye (caused when eyes become
accidentally red from the flashbulb), and add special dramatic effects. On smartphones,
tablets, and other modern computers, the Camera app includes a photo editor. For
fancier editing of photos, professionals use Photoshop (for Windows & Mac) or a
stripped-down version called Photoshop Elements.
A video editor lets you edit the home movies a camcorder creates. On smartphones,
tablets, and other modern computers, the Camera app includes a video editor. For
fancier editing of photos, professionals use Adobe Premiere (for Windows & Mac) or
a stripped-down version called Adobe Premiere Elements or Pinnacle Studio
(which is easier). Windows XP & Vista (which are no longer marketed) included
Windows Movie Maker, which is even easier.
A presentation program lets you create a slide show, to accompany your speech.
In the slide show, each slide can include photos, charts, and notes. The most famous
presentation program is PowerPoint, by Microsoft.
Desktop publishing
A desktop-publishing program resembles a word-processing program but lets
you more easily create newsletters, newspapers, magazines, posters, and signs, by
letting you more easily include pictures, captions, multiple columns, and jumps (such
as “continued on page 5”). These desktop-publishing programs are the most famous:
Quark XPress
the first desktop-publishing program, for Mac & Windows, expensive, by Adobe
from Adobe, newer and better than PageMaker
competed against PageMaker and became the most popular, but then InDesign beat it
Microsoft Publisher cheap, easy to learn, the best for beginners, lacks advanced features, for Windows
Print Shop
cheap, easy; was popular in 1980’s but too limited, beaten by Microsoft Publisher
A database program helps you manipulate long lists of data, such as names,
addresses, phone numbers, and comments about your acquaintances (friends,
customers, suppliers, employees, students, and teachers).
As you type the list of data, the database program automatically copies it to the hard disk. Then the
program lets you edit that data. For example, you can insert extra data in the middle of the list. The
program lets you view the data in any order you wish (such alphabetical order, ZIP-code order, or
chronological order) and print that view onto paper.
The program can search through all that data and find, in just a few seconds, the data that’s unusual.
For example, it can find everybody whose birthday is today, or everybody who’s blond and under 18,
or everybody who lives out-of-state and has owed you more than $100 for over a year.
Most businesses use a database program called Microsoft Access. It requires
Windows. Unfortunately, it’s hard to master.
You might be happier with an easier database program instead, such as FileMaker Pro, which is
published by a division of Apple and runs on Macs and Windows. Other famous database programs
are Approach (for Windows and published by IBM’s Lotus division), Oracle (for large corporations),
Q&A (for beginners using MS-DOS), Sesame (which imitates Q&A but handles Windows), dBase
(for MS-DOS or Windows), and FoxPro (which resembles dBase but is fancier).
Office suites
Instead of buying a word-processing program, a spreadsheet program, and other
programs separately, you can buy an office suite, which includes them all!
MS Office The best and most popular office suite is Microsoft Office (MS Office).
The newest version, MS Office 2016, requires Windows 7, 8, 8.1, or 10. The list price
is $400 because Microsoft wants rich people & companies to pay that, but Microsoft
has invented many schemes to squeeze a few bucks out of normal folks too. Here are
46 Buying: software
the schemes for you to take advantage of:
The $400 price is for the Professional edition,
which includes 7 programs: Word, Excel,
PowerPoint, OneNote (for organizing your
materials), Outlook, Publisher, and Access.
Just $230 gets you the Home & Business edition
instead, which omits Publisher & Access, so you
get 5 programs.
Just $150 gets you the Home & Student edition,
which resembles the Home & Business edition but
omits Outlook (so you get just 4 programs) and is
illegal to use for anything serious: you’re not
licensed to use it for any business work,
government work, non-profit work, or in schools;
it’s licensed just for doing homework & fun stuff at
your home, though Microsoft doesn’t have much
ability to enforce that restriction.
You can buy programs individually (a la carte)
instead of a suite, for $110 per program.
If you buy any of those deals, you’re restricted to
using it on just 1 computer: you’re not allowed to
copy it to a second computer. If you want to use it
on a second computer, you must buy a second copy.
A popular alternative, which is what Microsoft
really wants you to do, is to rent MS Office instead
of buying it. The most popular rental program is
called Office 365 Home and is an amazingly good
deal! The rental fee is just $10 per month or $100
per year. It includes all 7 programs plus 2 extra
features (extra OneDrive online storage & some
free Skype videoconferencing calls). The license
includes the right for 5 people to use the software
simultaneously, and each person can use it on 3
devices (a normal computer plus a tablet plus a
phone), for a total of 15 devices. It also gives you
free upgrades to all future versions of MS Office!
There’s just one “catch”: like the Home & Student
edition, it’s illegal to use for anything serious,
though most users ignore that restriction.
Here’s a cheaper deal, called Office 365 Personal:
it’s the same as Office 365 Home, except the rental
fee is just $7 per month or $70 per year, and is for
just 1 person (not 5), on 3 devices (a normal computer
plus a tablet plus a phone). Special deal: if you’re
graduating from college about now, you pay just
$35 for the first year of rental (instead of $70).
Microsoft offers special deals for colleges: college
students, teachers, staff, and recent graduates can
get parts of Office cheaply or even free! Those
deals are called Office 365 Education,
Office 365 Education E5, and Office 365
University. Ask your college’s computer
department which choices apply to your college.
You can get a free 1-month trial version of Office
365 Home from Microsoft’s Website. But you must
tell Microsoft your credit-card number, and your
credit card will be billed for additional months
unless you cancel before the first month ends.
If you buy Microsoft Office at the same time as a
computer, dealers often charge $20 less. For
example, dealers often sell the Home & Student
edition (which is the most popular) for just $130
(instead of $150) and sell the first year of the 365
Personal edition for $50 (instead of $70).
If you have a Mac instead of Windows,
you must use Microsoft Office’s Mac
versions, which omit Publisher & Access.
WordPerfect Office The main competitor to Microsoft
Office is Corel’s WordPerfect Office. The newest version is
called WordPerfect Office X8; it costs $400 for the Professional
edition, $250 for the Standard edition, $100 for the Home &
Student edition. You can get a stripped-down version, called
Corel Office, for just $50.
OpenOffice Another competitor to Microsoft Office is
Apache’s OpenOffice, which is put together by volunteers who
let you download it free from the Internet. It imitates an old
version of Microsoft Office. It used to be called Star Office and
was a commercial product, but now it’s free.
LibreOffice Similar to OpenOffice, LibreOffice is free.
Recently, LibreOffice has improved faster than OpenOffice.
Many people have switched from OpenOffice to LibreOffice.
Integrated programs
Instead of buying an office suite, you can pay less by getting a
cute little program, called an integrated program, which does
a little bit of everything!
The best integrated programs have been iWork, Microsoft
Works, and Q&A.
iWork is the best integrated program for handling desktop
publishing. It also handles word processing, spreadsheets,
databases, presentations, painting, and drawing. It’s published by
Apple, which used to call it AppleWorks and Claris Works. You
get it free if you buy a new Mac, iPad, or iPhone.
Microsoft Works was the best integrated program for
handling word processing and spreadsheets, but Microsoft
stopped making it.
Q&A was the best integrated program for handling databases.
(Unfortunately, it handled word processing poorly, didn’t handle
spreadsheets and all, and ran best just if you had the DOS
operating system.) Symantec stopped making it, but I still use it
& love it — which is why is still use DOS instead of Windows
for my databases! If you’ve been using the DOS version but need
to switch to Windows, try Sesame Database Manager, which
imitates the database part of Q&A, runs in Windows & Linux,
and can be downloaded from Lantica Software (in
Pennsylvania at 800-410-6315) for $79.
You can get a checkbook program. It helps you balance your
checkbook, track your expenses (and categorize them so you can
get tax deductions), manage your credit cards, track your
investments (stocks, bonds, and bank accounts), and compute
your net worth.
The first program to do that well was Quicken, published by
Intuit. Then Microsoft invented a competing program, called
Microsoft Money, which was easier, but recently Microsoft gave
up trying to sell it. Quicken and Microsoft Money are fine for
personal use or to run tiny businesses.
If your business has lots of employees, you’ll want a program
that’s better at “paying your employees” and “billing your
customers”. The easiest powerful program is Intuit’s
QuickBooks, which is a souped-up version of Quicken. Other
accounting programs, which are even more powerful (and slightly
harder to learn how to use), are Sage 50c Accounting (formerly
called Peachtree Complete Accounting) and Mind Your Own
Business (which is called MYOB and was invented in Australia).
Vertical software
Software that can be used by a wide variety of businesses is
called horizontal software. Programs for word processing,
spreadsheets, and databases are all examples of horizontal software.
Software targeted to a specific industry is called
vertical software. Programs specifically for doctors, lawyers,
and real-estate management are all examples of vertical software.
Vertical software is expensive because it can’t be massmarketed to the general public and isn’t available from discount
dealers. The typical vertical-market program costs about $1000,
whereas the typical horizontal-market program costs about $100
from discount dealers.
Until the price of vertical software declines, use horizontal
software instead. With just a few hours of effort, you can
customize horizontal software to fit your own specific needs.
Nasty programmers have invented computer viruses, which
are programs that purposely damage your other programs and can
sneakily copy themselves onto every disk and e-mail message
that you share with friends. Some viruses also try to steal your
identity, especially your passwords and credit-card numbers. To
avoid catching a virus, protect yourself in 5 ways:
Update your versions of Windows and other software, since new software
contains more built-in protections against viruses. For example, Windows 10
includes more anti-virus protections than previous Windows. One of
Windows 10’s built-in protections is Windows Defender (which was
previously called Windows Security Essentials).
If you wish, buy extra anti-virus programs, such as Norton AntiVirus. But
the protections built into the newest update to Windows 10 are good enough
to cover most situations.
Don’t trust any phone calls or on-screen messages saying you’re infected.
Those claims often come from crooks (pretending to be banks or Microsoft).
They try to scare you into revealing your password or paying for “protection.”
Don’t trust any emails that claim to be from a friend and tell you to click
something exciting but are written generically without mentioning your name.
They might mention your friend’s name, but that name was stolen by crooks.
Read this book’s Security chapter, which has more info about kinds of viruses.
The typical program comes on a CD-ROM disk. To use the
program, put its CD-ROM disk into the CD-ROM drive. Then
copy the program to your hard disk.
The CD-ROM disk containing the program might also contain
lots of music, video, and other data. If the data is too big to fit on
the hard disk, you must keep the CD-ROM disk in the drive while
running the program, so the computer can access whatever part
of the CD-ROM’s data is needed at the moment.
Some programs let you create your own data, by typing the
data at your keyboard. The computer stores that data on the hard
disk. You should occasionally copy that data onto a floppy disk,
as a backup copy, to protect yourself in case the hard disk gets
Software companies
Will your computer be pleasant to use? The answer depends
mainly on which software you buy. Software companies will
influence your life more than any hardware manufacturer.
Here are some dominant software companies.
The most important software company is Microsoft, which
takes in about 85 billion dollars of revenue per year. It makes the
Buying: software 47
most popular operating system (Windows) and the most popular
office suite (Microsoft Office).
The company’s main founder is Bill Gates.
Because of Microsoft’s success, when he was 30 he became a billionaire
and appeared on the cover of Time magazine. When he turned 40 (on October
28, 1995), he was worth 14.7 billion dollars.
At the beginning of 1997, he was worth 24 billion dollars. Seven months
later, at the end of July, he was worth 40 billion dollars. 2 years later, in mid1999, he was worth 100 billion dollars! He became the world’s richest person.
100 billion dollars is a lot of money! For example, even if you earn 100
million dollars per year, you’d have to work 1000 years to get what Bill had.
100 billion dollars was enough to give $360 to each American, or $16 to each
person on the planet. 100 billion one-dollar bills, if laid end-to-end, would
stretch to the moon and back, 20 times. Programmers often measure their
salaries in microbills, where a microbill is defined as being a millionth of
Bill Gates’ worth, so a microbill became $100,000.
Bill didn’t have 100 billion dollars cash in his pocket: most of his billions
were just on paper, invested in Microsoft stock: he owned 12% of Microsoft,
whose stock was overpriced.
Bill promised to donate 95% of his wealth to worthy causes. To start that
process, he and his wife Melinda created the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,
which has given big grants to libraries, schools, and third-world health
agencies. When I was writing this book in November 2016, Bill was still rich:
Bill’s net worth was 82.7 billion dollars, even though he’d already given
away many billions. He’s still the richest person in the world, though nearly
tied with Amancio Ortega (who’s worth 71.2 billion dollars and owns Zara
clothing stores), Warren Buffett (who’s worth 70.9 billion dollars, owns
Berkshire Hathaway, and has donated to Bill’s non-profit), and Jeff Bezos
(who’s worth 67.3 billion dollars and owns Amazon). They’re the 4 richest
people in the world!
Bill is semi-retired from Microsoft. Now he devotes just ⅓ of his time to
Microsoft, where he gives advice to the new CEO (Satya Nadella); he spends
the other ⅔ of his time giving his money away — by helping Melinda run
their non-profit.
Microsoft is the most diversified software company:
It’s sold operating systems (MS-DOS and Windows), a word-processing
program (Microsoft Word), a spreadsheet program (Excel), a desktoppublishing program (Microsoft Publisher), database programs (Access and
FoxPro), an integrated program (Microsoft Works), a computerized
encyclopedia (Encarta), programming languages (Visual Basic, Visual C#,
and others), and a wide variety of other software. It’s the main software
publisher for the IBM PC & Mac. It also wrote the versions of Basic used by
primitive computers (such as the Apple 2 family, Radio Shack TRS-80,
Commodore 64, and Commodore Amiga).
It also sells hardware (such as mice, keyboards, Surface
computers, and Xbox game-playing system) and Internet services
(such as the Bing search engine and MSN).
Microsoft continually develops new products because of
pressure from competitors. For example, Microsoft was forced to
improve Microsoft Word because of competition from
WordPerfect and improve Microsoft C because of competition
from Borland’s C. Those continual pressures to improve keep
Microsoft a vibrant, dynamically changing company.
Novell & Corel
Novell invented Netware & Intranetware, which are
programs that help create computer networks.
In 1994, Novell bought WordPerfect Corporation (which
made the most popular word-processing program, WordPerfect).
Novell’s purchase was natural, since both companies were in Utah.
WordPerfect Corporation sold out to Novell because WordPerfect
Corporation was having financial trouble, since many customers were
switching to Microsoft Word, which had improved dramatically.
In 1994, Novell also bought Quattro Pro (a top-rated
spreadsheet program invented by a company called Borland).
Borland sold Quattro Pro to Novell because Borland was having
financial trouble competing against Microsoft.
Novell was founded by Ray Noorda. Novell’s next CEO,
Robert Frankenberg, tried to make the company smaller and more
manageable, so in 1996 he sold WordPerfect and Quattro Pro to
48 Buying: software
a Canadian company, Corel, which was famous for inventing a
graphics program called Corel Draw.
In 2004, Novell bought a German company called SuSE
(which made the nicest version of Linux, SuSE Linux).
In 2011, Attachmate bought Novell. In 2014, Micro Focus
bought Attachmate. Now Micro Focus plans to buy (“merge with”)
the software part of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Company,
to form a new company that will take in about 4½ billion dollars
per year.
Microsoft bought 25% of Corel’s stock.
Lotus & IBM
Lotus made the most popular spreadsheet program (which was
1-2-3). For too many years, Lotus sat on its laurels, and
customers gradually began to switch to competitors such as
Microsoft Excel and Quattro Pro. We expected Lotus to die.
But during the 1990’s, Lotus displayed good taste and made
wise moves: it dramatically improved 1-2-3; it bought a company
called Samna, which made the nicest word-processing program
(Ami Pro), so Ami Pro became a Lotus product; it began selling
an easy-to-use presentation-graphics program, Freelance; and it
began selling a product called Notes, which helps people send
electronic mail to each other and edit each other’s documents.
In 1995, IBM bought Lotus, so now Lotus is part of IBM,
which takes in 82 billion dollars per year.
Borland & Micro Focus
Borland was started by Philippe Kahn, who grew up in France.
To study math, Philippe went to a university in Zurich, Switzerland, where
he got curious about computers and decided to take a computer class.
The university offered two introductory classes: one explained how to
program using a language called PL/I, the other explained how to program
by using a language called Pascal instead. Since Pascal was brand new then,
nobody had heard of it, so 200 students signed up for PL/I and just 5 students
signed up for Pascal. Philippe signed up for Pascal because he hated big
classes. His professor was Pascal’s inventor, Niklaus Wirth.
In 1983, Philippe went to California and started a computer company.
Since he was an illegal alien, he tried to pretend he was thoroughly American
and named his company Borland, in honor of the land that produced
astronaut Frank Borman. His first product was Turbo Pascal, which he’d
created back in Europe with the help of two friends.
Most other versions of Pascal were selling for hundreds of dollars. Philippe
read a book saying people buy mail-order items on impulse only if priced
under $50, so he charged $49.95. The book and Philippe were right: at
$49.95, Turbo Pascal became a smashing success.
Later, Philippe improved Turbo Pascal and raised its price to $149.95. He
also bought other software publishers and merged them into Borland, so
Borland became huge.
Philippe occasionally experimented with dropping prices. For example, he
dropped the price of Borland’s spreadsheet program, Quattro Pro, to just
$49.95, even though Quattro Pro was in some ways better than 1-2-3, which
Lotus was selling for about $300. Microsoft’s head, Bill Gates, said that the
competitor worrying him the most was Borland, because he feared Philippe
would pull another publicity stunt and drop prices below $50 again, forcing
Microsoft to do the same.
During the 1980’s, Borland bought 2 companies that invented
wonderful database programs: Reflex and Paradox. Borland
eventually stopped selling Reflex, but Paradox lived on longer.
Paradox’s main competitor was dBase, published by a
company called Ashton-Tate. Philippe decided to win the
competition against Ashton-Tate the easy way: he bought AshtonTate, so Borland published both Paradox and dBase.
Philippe said he bought Ashton-Tate mainly to get his hands on AshtonTate’s mailing list, so he could sell dBase users on the idea of converting to
But Philippe paid too much for Ashton-Tate, whose products, employees,
and mailing lists were all becoming stale. Since Ashton-Tate was bigger than
Borland, Philippe had to borrow lots of money to buy Ashton-Tate, and he
had trouble paying it back. Buying Ashton-Tate was his biggest mistake.
By 1994, he was having trouble competing against Microsoft’s
rapidly improving products and trouble repaying the money he’d
borrowed to finance the takeover of Ashton-Tate. Financially
strapped, he sold Novell his crown jewel, Quattro Pro, and gave
Novell the right to make a million copies of Paradox.
Novell’s founder, Ray Noorda, said candidly he wasn’t thrilled
by Quattro Pro but wanted to buy it anyway, just as an excuse to
give Philippe some money, so Philippe could stay in business and
scare Microsoft, so Bill Gates would devote his energy to fighting
Philippe instead of fighting Novell.
In 1995, Philippe stepped down from heading Borland.
He spent most of his time running a start-up company called
Starfish Software, which Motorola bought in 1998 then resold to Nokia,
which made cell phones using Starfish Software’s patents. Nokia eventually
sold its phone business to Microsoft.
Borland changed its name to “Inprise”, then changed back to
“Borland” again, then became part of Micro Focus, which takes
in ¾ of a billion dollars per year.
Why fight?
The heads of computer companies still act like a bunch of
tussling toddlers. I’m waiting for their mama to say, “Boys, will
you please stop fighting, shake hands, and make up!”
Why can’t Bill Gates make peace with his competitors?
Answer: they’re all greedy — and Bill is brash. (For example,
during an interview with CBS’s Connie Chung, he walked out
when she mispronounced “Dos” and asked a pointed question
about a competitor.)
But Bill’s actually somewhat glad at his competitors’
successes, since Microsoft needs to have enough successful
competitors to prevent the Justice Department from declaring that
Microsoft’s too big a monopoly. By letting several competitors
invent new ideas and bring them all to market, we consumers get
to choose for ourselves which ideas are best — and vote on them
with our dollars — rather than kowtow to a single dictator.
My favorite database program, Q&A, is published by Symantec.
Like Lotus, Symantec shows good taste in acquisitions: it
bought 2 companies making good versions of the C programming
language (Lightspeed and Zortech) and also bought 2 companies
making DOS utility programs that fix DOS’s weaknesses
(Peter Norton Software and Central Point Software). Now
Symantec takes in 3½ billion dollars per year.
Symantec tries hard to improve all those acquired products, but
I wish it would improve Q&A instead! I’m sad to see Q&A, the
world’s best database program, be neglected and fall into
Specialized companies
Oracle and CA make software that runs on computers of all
sizes: maxicomputers, minicomputers, and microcomputers.
Oracle’s software handles databases. Oracle takes in 9 billion dollars per
year. Oracle was founded by Larry Ellison, who still runs the company. Since
he owns 24% of Oracle’s stock, he’s a multibillionaire, nearly as rich as Bill
Gates, and yes, he’s still single!
CA’s software handles accounting (such as bill-paying, bill-collecting,
inventory, and payroll). CA was founded by a Chinese immigrant on Long
Island, New York: Charles Wang (pronounced “wong”, not “wang”). Try
saying this sentence fast: “wong” is right, “wang” is wrong. In August 2000,
Charles Wang retired and turned the company over to another immigrant
(Sanjay Kumar, who came from Sri Lanka when he was 14 years old). CA’s
software is so boring that consumers don’t know it exists, but CA is huge,
though shrinking: it used to take in 5 billion dollars per year but now takes
in just 4½ billion. 25% of CA’s stock is owned by a single rich man: Swiss
billionaire Walter Haefner.
Intuit makes programs that handle accounting
microcomputers. Intuit’s programs are cheap: under $100.
Intuit’s most popular accounting programs are Quicken (which tracks
expenses and balances your checkbook), QuickBooks (which handles all
major business accounting), and Turbo Tax (which helps you fill in your
1040 income-tax form for the IRS). Turbo Tax used to be published by a
company called Chipsoft, but Intuit bought Chipsoft in 1994.
In 1995, Microsoft tried to buy Intuit — and Intuit agreed — but Microsoft
changed its mind when the Justice Department accused Microsoft of
becoming too big a monopoly.
Intuit takes in 4 billion dollars per year.
Adobe makes Postscript software (used in many laser
printers), Photoshop (which edits photographs), and Acrobat
(which does desktop publishing and lets you easily transmit the
results by Internet). In 1994, Adobe bought Aldus (the company
that invented the first desktop-publishing program, PageMaker).
Adobe takes in 4 billion dollars per year.
Autodesk publishes AutoCAD, which is the fanciest program
for handling computer-aided design (CAD). Autodesk takes in 2
billion dollars per year.
Electronic Arts (EA) makes excellent educational games and
low-cost tools for budding young artists and musicians. It’s also
the world’s biggest producer and distributor of video games for
computers and for video-game machines (such as Sony’s
PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox). It takes in 4 billion dollars
per year.
Buying software
You’ll want 4 kinds of software:
an operating system (which teaches the CPU how to handle the keyboard,
screen, printer, and disks)
a computer language (such as Basic)
application programs (such as a word-processing program, a spreadsheet
program, and a database program)
When shopping for a computer, beware: its advertised price
usually does not include all 4 kinds of software. Check which
software is included.
The typical program has a high list price, which is called the
manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP). But the
typical computer store will charge often charge a lower price (the
street price), and mail-order dealers charge an even lower price,
the mail-order price. Another way to get a low price is to visit
a discount store, such as Best Buy or Staples or Sam’s Club, when
that item is on sale, or check their Websites.
Version upgrades
If you already own an older version of the program, you can
switch to the new version cheaply, by asking for the
version upgrade, which costs less than the full price. You can
order the version upgrade at your local computer store, or from
mail-order dealers, or directly from the program’s publisher.
To qualify for the version upgrade, you must prove that you
already own an older version of the program. You can do that in
several ways:
If you’re ordering directly from the program’s publisher, the program’s
publisher will check its records to verify that you had sent in your registration
card for the previous version. If you’re ordering at a local computer store,
bring in the official instruction manual that came with the old version: the
store will rip out the manual’s first page (the title page) and mail it to the
publisher. If you lost that manual, you can instead give the store Disk 1 of
the old version’s set of disks. The store needs the original title page or disk;
copies are not accepted. If you’re ordering from a mail-order dealer, send the
Buying: software 49
dealer the title page by mail or fax.
Some manufacturers (such as Microsoft) use a simpler way to qualify you
for the version upgrade: when you install the new version, it automatically
searches your computer’s hard disk for the old version and refuses to run if
the old version is missing.
If you bought the old version shortly before the new version
came out, you can get the new version free! Just phone the
publisher and ask for the free version upgrade.
Here’s how you prove you bought the old version shortly before the new
version came out (where “shortly before” is usually defined as meaning
“within 60 days”): mail either your dated sales slip or a “free version-upgrade
certificate” that came in the old version’s box. Though the upgrade is “free”,
you must pay for shipping the disks, unless the upgrade is available by
downloading from the Internet.
Competitive upgrades
If you don’t own an older version of the program, you can’t get
the version-upgrade price. Here’s the best you can do:
If you already own a competing program (such as a different brand of word
processor that competes against the word processor you’re trying to buy), ask
for the competitive-upgrade price. It’s usually slightly higher than the
version-upgrade price. Get it from your local store, mail-order dealer, or
directly from the publisher.
Copying software
If you buy a program on disks, you should make backup copies
of the disks. Use the backup copies in case the original disks get
You’re not allowed to give copies of the disks to your friends.
That’s against the law! If your friends want to use the program,
they must buy it from the software publisher or a dealer, so the
programmer receives royalties.
If you give copies to your friends and become a lawbreaker,
you’re called a pirate; making the copies is called piracy; the
copies are called pirated software or hot software. Don’t be
a pirate! Don’t distribute hot software!
Some software publishers use tricks that make the computer
refuse to copy the program. Those tricks are called
copy protection; the software is copy protected. But even if
the software publisher doesn’t use such tricks, it’s still against the
law to make copies of the program for other people, since the
program is still copyrighted.
If your friends want to try a program before buying it, don’t give them a
copy of the program! Instead, tell your friends to visit you and use the
program while they sit at your computer. That’s legal, and it also lets you
help your friends figure out how to use the software.
If you buy a version upgrade, you’re not allowed to give the older version
to a friend to use on a different computer. You must destroy the older version —
or keep it just for emergencies, in case the newer version stops working.
Trial versions
Besides sitting at a friend’s computer, another way to “try
before you buy” is to phone the program’s publisher and ask for
a free demo disk.
Although some demo disks are just useless animated ads, the best
publishers provide useful demo disks (called trial-size versions)
that closely imitate the full versions. For example, the typical
trial-size version of a word-processing program has nearly all the
features of the full version but refuses to print memos that are
more than a page long and refuses to copy your writing onto a
disk. Trial-size versions are nicknamed crippled software,
because each trial-size version has one or two abilities cut off.
Playing with crippled software is a great way to give yourself a
free education!
Another type of trial version is the limited-time version,
which is free for the first month or two then requires you to pay
if you want to continue using it afterwards.
50 Buying: software
Software you’re allowed to copy and use freely is called
freeware. For example, most demo disks and trial-size versions
are freeware.
Most software invented by schools, government agencies, and
computer clubs is freeware. Ask!
Shareware is software that comes with a plea: although the
author lets you copy the software and try it, you’re encouraged to
mail the author a contribution if you like what you tried.
The suggested contribution, typically $25, is called a
registration fee. It makes you a registered user and puts you
on the author’s mailing list, so the author can mail you a printed
manual and newer versions of the software.
Though most shareware authors merely “ask” for
contributions, other shareware authors “demand” that you send a
contribution if you use the software for longer than a month.
Software for which a contribution is “demanded” is called
guiltware — because if you don’t send the contribution, the
author says you’re guilty of breaking the law.
To get shareware, copy it from a friend or download it from the
Beta versions
After inventing a program, its publisher must test it, to make
sure it works on many kinds of computer equipment and in many
situations. At first, the publisher’s employees test the program on
their own computers: that’s called alpha testing. Next, the
publishing company lets outsiders try the still-not-quite-perfected
program: that’s called beta testing.
The outsiders who try it are called beta testers; the version
being tested by outsiders is called a beta version. Beta versions
are sometimes distributed for free or at a reduced price; but if you
use a beta version, don’t rely on it, since it hasn’t been perfected
yet; and it might be programmed to automatically stop working
when the final version is invented.
Special deals
If your office wants many employees to use a program, ask the
publisher for a site license, which permits your company to
make copies for all employees in the office. Typically the
employees are not allowed to take the copies home: the copies
must all be used at the same site.
If you’re in a school and trying to teach kids how to use a program,
ask the publisher for a trial-size version or academic version or
educational site license.
If you own 2 computers and want to put the same program on
both, you must typically buy 2 copies of the program. For
example, if you want to put Windows on 2 computers, you must
buy 2 copies of Windows (to avoid piracy), unless both computers
are on the same site and you have a site license. Microsoft and
some other major software publishers permit this exception,
called the portable-computer rule:
If you’re sitting at a computer, and you’re the main person who uses that
computer (so no other human uses it more than you), you’re allowed to copy
application programs from that computer to a portable computer (so you can
work while you’re traveling and take your work from office to home and to
client sites); but just you are allowed to run that program on your portable
computer (not other colleagues, not other family members, not friends). This
rule lets you copy just application programs (such as Microsoft Word), not
operating systems (such as Windows), not programming languages (such as
C). Moreover, the application programs must have been purchased normally
(not site-licensed).
Complete systems
Let’s see how to put all the pieces together and create a complete system.
IBM’s early computers
During the 1950’s, 1960’s, and most of the 1970’s, IBM’s computers were all big.
IBM ignored the whole concept of microcomputers for many years.
Eventually, IBM created microcomputers. But IBM’s first microcomputers, the IBM
5100 and IBM System 23, weren’t taken seriously — not even by IBM.
When many IBM customers began switching to Apple 2 microcomputers to handle
spreadsheets, IBM got alarmed, so IBM decided to develop an improved
microcomputer, called the IBM Personal Computer (IBM PC), which would be more
powerful than Apple 2 computers.
To invent the IBM PC, IBM created 3 secret research teams who competed against
each other. The winner was the research team headed by Philip “Don” Estridge in Boca
Raton, Florida. His team examined everything created by the other microcomputer
companies (Apple, Radio Shack, Commodore, etc.) and combined their best ideas, to
produce a relatively low-cost computer better than all competitors.
Don’s team developed the IBM PC secretly. IBM didn’t announce it to the public
until August 12, 1981.
The IBM PC was a smashing success: IBM quickly became the #1 microcomputer
company — and Apple dropped to #2.
Improved versions
After inventing the IBM PC, IBM invented improved versions:
Computer’s long name Short name
1981 August IBM Personal Computer
1983 March IBM PC eXTended
1984 August IBM PC AdvancedTechnology IBM PC AT
1987 April IBM Personal System 2
Nickname Main new feature
hard drive (instead of just floppy)
faster CPU (286 instead of 8088)
better color video
After 1987, IBM invented many other improved versions.
While IBM was inventing improvements, IBM’s competitors invented imitations
called clones, which were often better than IBM’s originals. Here’s how they all
Hard drive
The PC didn’t have a hard drive. Here’s what happened afterwards:
The XT included a 10M hard drive.
The AT included a 20M hard drive. AT clones typically included a 40M hard drive.
Modern computers include hard drives that hold 12,500 times as much: 500G or even more!
RAM has grown:
The PC typically came with 64K, 128K, or 256K of RAM.
The XT typically came with 256K, 512K, or 640K of RAM.
The AT typically came with 512K, 1M, or 2M of RAM.
The PS/2 typically came with 1M, 2M, or 4M of RAM.
Modern computers come with 1,000 times as much RAM: 4G or even more!
The PC and XT each contained an Intel 8088 CPU chip at 4.77MHz. Most XT clones
ran twice as fast (and thus called turbo XT clones) because they contained an 8088-1
chip at 10MHz.
The AT contained an Intel 286 chip (which works more efficiently than an 8088) at
6MHz. In 1986, IBM switched to 8MHz. AT clones ran at 12MHz.
The PS/2 came in many models:
depending on how wealthy you were, you
could choose an 8086 chip at 8MHz, a 286
chip at 10MHz, a 386SX chip at 16MHz, a
386DX chip at 16, 20, or 25 MHz, or
several 486 models.
Modern computers contain an Intel
Pentium chip or AMD Athlon chip. They
run at about 2800MHz (which is 2.8GHz).
The PC’s keyboard contained 83 keys:
26 keys contained the letters of the alphabet.
10 keys (in the top row) contained the digits.
10 keys (on the keyboard’s right side) contained the
digits rearranged to imitate a calculator.
13 keys contained symbols for punctuation & math.
14 keys gave you control. They let you edit your
mistakes, create blank spaces and capitals, etc.
10 function keys (labeled F1 through F10) could be
programmed to mean whatever you wished!
The keyboard was designed by Don
Estridge personally. To fit all those keys on
the small keyboard, he had to make the
Enter and Shift keys smaller than typists
Above the top row of keys, he put a shelf
to hold pencils. To make room for that
shelf, he put the 10 function keys at the left
side of the keyboard, even though it would
have been more natural to put the F1 key
near the 1 key, the F2 key near the 2 key, etc.
The XT’s keyboard was the same, but XT
clones rearranged the keys to make the
Enter and Shift keys bigger.
The AT’s keyboard made the Enter and
Shift keys bigger and included 1 extra key
(making a total of 84 keys). In January
1986, IBM began selling a bigger AT
keyboard that included 101 keys and put the
function keys in the top row (near the pencil
ledge) instead of at the left.
Modern computers include 3 extra
keys to handle modern Windows (making a
total of 104 keys) and often include even
more keys, to handle the Internet!
Removable disks
For the PC, IBM used 5¼-inch floppy
disks holding just 160K. Then IBM
switched to 180K, then 360K. The XT used
360K disks also. The AT used 1.2M disks.
All those disks were 5¼-inch.
The PS/2 used 3½-inch disks instead,
because they were sturdier, more reliable,
easier to carry, and permitted the drive &
computer to be smaller. Those 3½-inch
disks typically held 1.44M. (Exceptions:
the cheapest PS/2 models handled just
720K; some experimental models could
handle 2.88M.)
Modern computers use CD and DVD
disks instead of floppy disks.
Buying: complete systems 51
The PC’s base price didn’t include a monitor — or even a
video card to attach the monitor to.
Color versus monochrome When IBM announced the
PC, it announced two kinds of video cards. One kind attached to
a color monitor and was called the Color Graphics Adapter (CGA).
The other kind attached to a monochrome monitor and was called
the Monochrome Display Adapter (MDA).
Which was better: CGA or MDA?
CGA had 2 advantages: it could handle colors and graphics.
MDA had 2 advantages: it could produce prettier characters (though no
graphics) and could underline.
CGA could handle these display modes:
a graphic showing 4 colors, at a resolution of 320200
a graphic in black-and-white, at a resolution of 640200
characters (each an 88 matrix, 80 characters per line, 25 lines per screen, 1 of 16
colors per character)
MDA could handle this display mode:
characters (each a 914 matrix, 80 characters per line, 25 lines per screen, 1 of
4 styles per character)
Hercules A company called Hercules invented the
Hercules graphics card, which resembled the MDA but could
also display black-and-white graphics on the monochrome
monitor. Several companies made video cards imitating the
Hercules card; those imitations were called Herculescompatible graphics cards.
Hercules could handle these display modes:
a graphic in black-and-white, at a resolution of 720350
characters (each a 914 matrix, 80 characters per line, 25 lines per screen, one
of 4 styles per character)
EGA In September 1984, IBM invented the Enhanced
Graphics Adapter (EGA) and an EGA monitor to go with it.
That combination was better than CGA: it produced more colors
and higher resolution. It could handle these display modes:
a graphic showing 16 colors, at a resolution of 640350
characters (each an 814 matrix, 80 characters per line, 25 lines per screen, one
of 16 colors per character)
Unfortunately, it was too expensive for most folks.
VGA The PS/2 came with an even better color monitor,
called a Video Graphics Array color monitor (VGA color
monitor), and a VGA chip on the motherboard to go with it. That
combination produced even more colors and even higher
resolution. It could produce many thousands of colors (262,144
colors!), though you could display just 256 of them simultaneously.
IBM figured out a way to make the VGA chip cheaply, so it
became popular. It could handle these display modes:
a graphic showing 16 colors, at a resolution of 640480
a graphic showing 256 colors, at a resolution of 320200
characters (each a 916 matrix, 80 characters per line, 25 lines per screen, one
of 16 colors per character)
characters (each an 816 matrix, 80 characters per line, 30 lines per screen, one
of 16 colors per character)
VGA downgrades For folks too poor to afford the
VGA chip, IBM invented an cheaper good chip, called the
Multi-Color Graphics Array chip (MCGA chip), which
produced fewer simultaneous high-resolution colors. It could
handle these display modes:
a graphic in black-and-white, at a resolution of 640480
a graphic showing 256 colors, at a resolution of 320200
characters (each an 816 matrix, 80 characters per line, 25 lines per screen, one
of 16 colors per character)
52 Buying: complete systems
For folks who couldn’t afford a VGA color monitor, IBM
invented a cheaper VGA monitor, which displayed shades of gray
instead of colors.
VGA upgrades Modern computers come with better
VGA monitors and chips, producing a resolution of 1024768 or
even higher.
Power supply
Inside the system unit, the PC contained a power supply, which
transformed AC current to DC and could produce 63½ watts of
power. It also contained a fan that acted as a farting ass: it sucked
hot air from inside the computer and blew it out the computer’s
The XT contained a stronger power supply that could produce
135 watts, to help it handle the hard drive.
The AT contained an even stronger power supply: 192 watts.
AT clones contained an even stronger power supply: 200 watts.
Modern computers use modern circuitry, which is more
energy-efficient and doesn’t require so much power. Some
modern computers get by with just 135 watts. Tall towers
containing extra circuitry sometimes contain bigger power
supplies: 200 or 300 watts.
In modern computers, the power supply does not act as a
farting ass. Instead, it pushes the air in the opposite direction. It
sucks in air from outside the computer, so it acts as a nose: it
breathes in fresh air.
Don’t put your new computer back-to-back with an old
computer. If you do, the new computer will breathe in the old
computer’s hot farts!
A computer’s motherboard contains slots, to hold printedcircuit cards.
8-bit PC bus The PC’s motherboard contained 5 slots, to
hold printed-circuit cards. The motherboard’s 62 wires running to
and through the slots were called the bus. Since it was in the PC,
it was called the PC bus.
Of the 62 wires, just 8 carried data. The other 54 wires were
“bureaucratic overhead” that helped control the flow.
Since just 8 wires carried data, the bus was called an
8-bit data bus, its slots were called 8-bit slots, and the printedcircuit cards you put into the slots were called 8-bit cards.
The XT’s motherboard used the same PC bus but included 8
slots instead of 5.
16-bit AT bus The AT’s motherboard used a wider bus: 98
wires instead of 62. Of the 98 wires, just 16 carried data, so the
bus was called a 16-bit data bus. It was called the AT bus. That
98-wire technique was called the Industry Standard Architecture
(ISA, pronounced “eye suh”). The bus was therefore also called
the ISA bus, its slots were called ISA slots, and the printedcircuit cards you put into the slots were called ISA cards.
32-bit bus Later computers used an even wider bus: a
32-bit data bus!
If you had a PS/2 computer based on a 386 or 486 chip, it used
a 32-bit bus called the Micro Channel. That technique was called
Micro Channel Architecture (MCA). Into its slots, you put
MCA cards.
If you had a clone containing a 386 or 486, and the clone was
fancy, it used a 32-bit bus technique called Extended ISA (EISA,
pronounced “ee suh”). Its bus was called the EISA bus; into its
slots, you put EISA cards.
If your computer is modern (containing
a Pentium or Athlon or Sempron or Duron
or K6), it uses a 32-bit bus technique called
Peripheral Component Interconnect
(PCI). Its bus is called the PCI bus; into its
slots, you put PCI cards. The nice thing
about PCI cards is that the computer can
automatically figure out what each card’s
purpose is, so you can just plug the card into
the slot and start using the card immediately:
that feature is called plug & play, though
sometimes it works imperfectly (which is
why cynics call it plug & pray).
1-bit USB bus If your computer is
very modern, it contains a 32-bit PCI bus
but also contains a second bus, called the
Universal Serial Bus (USB), which is a 1bit bus that’s slow but has 3 nice properties:
all USB devices are plug-&-play,
external (so you can install them without
opening the system unit’s case), and
hot-swappable (so you can insert,
remove, or swap the devices safely even
while the power is still on). The typical
modern computer has 1, 2, 3, or 4 USB
slots, which are on the system unit’s back
wall and called USB ports.
The PC’s price included no mouse, no
microphone, no modem, no speakers
(except for a tiny internal speaker that just
beeped), and no CD or DVD drive, because
all those devices were too expensive then.
The XT, AT, and PS/2 had the same
Modern computers come with a mouse,
a microphone, a modem, stereo speakers (2
of them or 3 or 5!), and a DVD drive.
Search for
I’d like to tell you about a company that
makes reliable, powerful computers,
charges you very little, and is a pleasure to
call if you ever need technical help.
That’s what I’d like to tell you, but I haven’t found
such a company yet! If you find one, let me know!
Each month, I falsely think I’ve finally found my
hero company. I give its name to folks like you who
call me for advice. But my hoped-for hero
eventually gets accused by my customers of
degenerating into despicable behavior. How
depressing! I’ve been writing this book for over 30
years and have yet to find a company I still feel
proud about. I’m disgusted.
Hero companies rise but then fall because they suffer through this business cycle:
When the company begins, it’s new and unknown, so it tries hard to get attention by offering low
prices. It also tries to help its customers by offering good service.
When news spreads about how the company offers low prices and good service, the company gets
deluged with more customers than it can handle — and it’s also stuck answering phone calls from old
customers who still need help but aren’t buying anything new.
To eliminate the overload, the company must either accept fewer customers (by raising prices — or
lowering them slower than the rest of the industry), or offer less service per customer (by refusing to
hire enough good staff to handle all the questions). In either case, the company becomes less pleasant.
Its heroism is relegated to history, and the company becomes just one more inconsequential player in
the vast scheme of computer life.
What’s in store for you
This chapter portrays the players.
Warning: these portraits are anatomically correct — they show some companies are pricks.
The computer industry’s a soap opera in which consumers face new personal horrors daily. I wrote
this in September 2016, but you can get the newest breathtaking episode of the computer industry’s
drama, How the Screw-You Turns, by phoning me anytime. I’ll tell you the newest dirt about wannabe
and were-to-be hero companies. So before buying a computer, phone me at 603-666-6644 to get
my new advice free. Tell me your needs, and I’ll try to recommend the best vendor for you. Before
phoning me, become a knowledgeable consumer by reading this chapter.
Best Buy, Staples, and competitors
To get the lowest prices for decent computers, buy from Best Buy, Staples,
Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target, or the online Microsoft Store.
Here’s what they charged when this book went to press in December 2016. Every
Sunday, prices change and usually drop, so you’ll probably pay less!
Laptop computers
Here’s what those outlets charged for laptop computers with Windows 10:
Screen size
14" 1366×768
15.6" 1920×1080 touch 8G
15.6" 1920×1080 touch 12G
flash drive 32G
hard drive 1T
Intel Celeron
Intel Core i5
Intel Core i7
flash drive 32G
hard drive ½T
hard drive 1T
hard drive 1T
Intel Celeron
Intel Pentium N3700
Intel Core i5
Intel Core i7
$200 at Best Buy
$250 at Staples
$300 at Staples
$379 at Microsoft
$900 at Best Buy
Here are examples of that pricing:
Screen size
14" 1366×768
15.6" 1366×768
15.6" 1366×768
15.6" 1920×1080 touch 8G
15.6" 1920×1080 touch 12G
All-in-one computers
Here’s what those outlets charged for all-in-one computers with Windows 10:
Screen size
19.5" 1920×1080
23" 1920×1080 touch 6G
27" 2560×1440 touch 16G
hard drive ½T
hard drive 1T
Intel Celeron
Intel Core i3
Intel Core i7
hard drive ½T
hard drive 1T
hard drive 1T
hard drive 1T
hard drive 2T
hard drive 1T
hard drive 1T
hard drive 1T
Intel Celeron N3150
Intel Pentium J3710
Intel Core i3
Intel Core i3
Intel Core i5
Intel Core i5
Intel Core i7
Intel Core i7
Intel Core i7
Here are examples of that pricing:
Screen size
19.5" 1920×1080
21.5" 1920×1080
23.8" 1920×1080
23" 1920×1080 touch
23" 1920×1080 touch
23.8" 1920×1080 touch
23.8" 1920×1080 touch
27" 3840×2160 touch
27" 2560×1440 touch
$349 at Walmart
$380 at Staples
$500 at Staples
$649 at Walmart
$699 at Microsoft
$783 at Best Buy
$900 at Best Buy
$1399 at Microsoft
$1500 at Best Buy
Buying: complete systems 53
Tablet computers
Here’s what those outlets charged for tablet computers (having touchscreens):
Screen size
7" 1024×600
9.7" 2048×1536
12.9" 2732×2048
Flash memory
Here are examples of that pricing:
E Fun
Model name System
7" Voyager
Android 6
7" Voyager
Android 6
TGH 1051
Android 5.1
8" Flex
Android 6
Galileo Pro 11.5" Android 6
Nextbook Ares 10A Android 6
Windows 10 8" 1280×800
Windows 10 10.1" 1280×800
Windows 10 11.6" 1920×1080
Surface Pro 4
Surface Pro 4
Surface Pro 4
Surface Pro 4
Surface Pro 4
Windows 10
Windows 10
Windows 10
Windows 10
Windows 10
12.3" 2736×1824
12.3" 2736×1824
12.3" 2736×1824
12.3" 2736×1824
12.3" 2736×1824
Core i5
Core i5
Core i7
Core i7
Core i7
7.9" 2048×1536
9.7" 2048×1536
9.7" 2048×1536
9.7" 2048×1536
9.7" 2048×1536
12.9" 2732×2048
12.9" 2732×2048
iPad mini 2
iPad Air 2
iPad Air 2
iPad Pro 9.7
iPad Pro 9.7
iPad Pro 12.9
iPad Pro 12.9
Screen size
7" 1024×600
7" 1024×600
10.1" 1024×600
8" 1280×800
11.5" 1024×600
10.1" 1280×800
CPU Price
1.2GHz $35
1.2GHz $40 k
1.6GHz $60
Atom x3 $60
1.3GHz $80 k
1.8GHz $82
Best Buy
1.3GHz $50 Best Buy
1.8GHz $108 Walmart
Atom x5 $200 k Best Buy
$1199 k
$1299 k
$1899 k
$2399 k
Best Buy
In the “Price” column, “k” means the price includes a detachable keyboard (which
makes the system resemble a laptop).
That chart shows AT&T is the most
expensive, Verizon is cheaper, T-Mobile is
even cheaper, and Sprint is the cheapest.
The typical person uses just 1 or 2
gigabytes per month, so pays between $40
and $55 per month in service fees. If you
use more gigabytes than you paid for, you
either pay a penalty (for “overage”) or
suffer reduced speed. Gigabytes transferred
by WiFi instead of by cell-phone towers are
free (since you’re not using the towers).
On top of those monthly service fees,
you must add federal taxes, state taxes, and
fake taxes (which the carriers call “fees”).
If you haven’t paid for the phone itself yet,
you must also pay a monthly installment
(typically 1/24th of the phone’s cost). The
first time you turn on the phone, you must
also pay an activation fee (typically $20).
Some of those carriers give you a
discount if you’re switching from a
competitor. Some of those carriers give you
a discount if you have several phones on
your account and share gigabytes.
Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Compaq
were 2 separate companies, but in 2002 HP
bought Compaq.
Here’s what Verizon Wireless charged for smartphones (having touchscreens):
Screen size
Flash memory Rear camera
5 megapixels
8 megapixels
12 megapixels
Here are examples of that pricing:
Maker Model name System
Optimus Zone 3 Android 5.1
Motorola Moto G Play Droid Android 6
Screen Flash Rear camera CPU
5 megapixels 1.1 gigahertz $70
8 megapixels 1.2 gigahertz $85
Samsung Galaxy S6
Android 5
Samsung Galaxy S7
Android 6
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Android 6
16 megapixels 1.6 gigahertz $576
12 megapixels 2.1 gigahertz $672
12 megapixels 2.1 gigahertz $792
12 megapixels
12 megapixels
12 megapixels
12 megapixels
12 megapixels
iPhone SE
iPhone 6s
iPhone 6s Plus
iPhone 7
iPhone 7 Plus
Apple A9
Apple A9
Apple A9
Apple A10
Apple A10
For phones by Samsung, Microsoft, and Apple, you can pay the entire cost
immediately or pay 1/24th of that for 24 months. Those are the prices charged by
Verizon Wireless, but its competitors & resellers sometimes charge less (or give rebates
or free extra goodies, such as a free extra-memory card).
Besides paying for the phone, you must also pay a monthly fee for service. You might
also have to sign a 2-year service contract, though Verizon Wireless & competitors are
in the process of dropping that requirement.
Here’s the service fee, which gets you unlimited U.S. phone calls, unlimited U.S.
texting, and some gigabytes of data; the exact price depends on how many gigabytes of
data you’re allowed to transfer during the month:
Carrier Monthly service fee (including basic service and this many gigabytes)
1G 2G 3G 4G 6G 10G 12G 14G 16G 18G 24G 25G 26G 40G
$80 $100
54 Buying: complete systems
How HP arose
Hewlett-Packard (HP) was started by
two young Stanford University graduates
— Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard —in
1938, in a garage in Palo Alto, California,
where they built their first product: an audio
oscillator (electronic test instrument used
by sound engineers), which they sold to
several customers, including Walt Disney,
who used 8 of them to test the sound in
movie theaters showing the movie Fantasia.
Those boys weren’t sure whether to call
the company “Hewlett-Packard” or
“Packard-Hewlett”, so they flipped a coin.
Hewlett won. They formalized the
partnership on January 1, 1939.
The company grew:
During World War 2, HP sold the U.S.
Navy devices that generated microwaves
and jammed radar. Later, HP made other lab
equipment, medical equipment, plotters,
printers, minicomputers, and pocket
calculators but was scared to enter the field
of personal computers. HP developed a
reputation for making equipment that was
high-quality and pricey.
How Compaq arose
The first company that made high-quality IBM clones was
Compaq. Compaq began selling them back in 1983. (Before
Compaq, the only IBM clones available were crummy.)
Compaq began in a restaurant. While eating at a House of Pies
restaurant, two engineers drew on the paper placemat their picture
of how the ideal IBM clone would look. Instead of being a
desktop computer, it would be a luggable having a 9-inch built-in
screen and a handle, the whole computer system being small
enough so you could pick it up with one hand. Then they built it!
Since it was compact, they called it the Compaq Portable
Computer and called the company Compaq Computer
They began selling it in 1983, helped by venture-capital
funding from Ben Rosen. They charged about the same for it as
IBM charged for the IBM PC.
They sold it just to dealers approved by IBM to sell the IBM
PC. That way, they dealt just with dealers IBM said were reliable
— and they competed directly against IBM in the same stores.
They succeeded fantastically. That first year, sales totaled 100
million dollars.
In 1984, they added a hard drive into the computer and called
that souped-up luggable the Compaq Plus. They also built a
desktop computer called the Deskpro. Like Compaq’s portable
computers, the Deskpro was priced about the same as IBM’s
computers, was sold just through IBM dealers, and was built well
— a marvel of engineering, better than IBM’s.
Later, Compaq expanded: it built IBM clones in all sizes, from
gigantic towers down to tiny handheld computers. Compaq
computers got the highest praise — and ridiculously high prices.
On many technological issues, Compaq was the first company
to innovate. For example, when Intel invented the 386 chip, the
first company to use it was Compaq, not IBM.
If you phoned Compaq for help, Compaq’s staff asked for your credit-card
number first, then listened to your question. Unless your difficulties were
caused by a mistake made by Compaq Corporation, you were charged $35
per question.
Eventually, Compaq dropped that nasty policy: tech-support
calls became free during the “initial period” (1 year on hardware
questions, 3 months on software questions, longer if your
Compaq was expensive).
HP Pavilion
In 1995, HP began manufacturing an IBM clone called the
Pavilion, sold through local computer stores, electronics stores,
office-supply stores, and department stores. Here’s why the
Pavilion became popular:
HP’s Pavilion cost less than Compaq’s desktop computers.
HP’s service was slightly better than Compaq’s.
Compaq’s reaction
Compaq started having financial difficulties, for 2 reasons:
Compaq’s CEO, Eckhard Pfeiffer, made Compaq buy Digital Equipment
Compaq was having trouble competing against IBM clones priced under
$700 (from companies such as HP and Packard Bell).
So in 1998, Compaq’s board of directors fired Eckard.
In 1999, the board finally decided to make Compaq’s next CEO
be Michael Capellas, a low-key friendly computer technician that
everybody liked. Most important, he was liked by Ben Rosen (the
venture capitalist who funded the Compaq’s founder and was still
chairman of the board).
Michael created computers that were low-cost but exciting. By
the year 2000, Compaq was selling more computers than
any other manufacturer. Yes, it was selling more computers
than IBM, Gateway, HP, Dell, and the rest of the gang.
How Compaq cheapened
Compaq was founded by Rod Canion. Under his leadership,
Compaq developed a reputation for high quality and high prices.
Engineers said Compaq’s computers were overdesigned (built
more sturdily than necessary for average use and therefore too
Worried about Compaq’s high prices, some Compaq
employees went on a secret mission, without telling Rod: they
sneaked into a computer show, pretended they weren’t from
Compaq, pretended they were starting a new computer company,
and tried to buy computer parts from Compaq’s suppliers.
Compaq’s suppliers offered them lower prices than the suppliers
were offering Compaq — because Compaq had developed a
reputation as an overly fussy company to do business with.
The secret missionaries went back to Compaq and reported
their findings to the board of directors, who were becoming upset
at Compaq’s astronomically high prices; so in 1991 the board
fired Rod and replaced him with a cost cutter, Eckhard Pfeiffer
(from Germany). So Pfeiffer became the new CEO. He lowered
Compaq’s prices, gave up the idea that Compaq should have
super-high quality, and began selling through a greater variety of
dealers and through mail-order.
His low-price wide-distribution strategy worked well. More
people bought Compaq computers. Sales zoomed, though
Compaq’s “quality reputation” declined. To compete against a
company called “Packard Bell” (which sold junky computers
cheaply through department stores), Compaq imitated Packard
Bell: Compaq lowered its prices and its service.
In February 1995, Compaq started this nasty new service policy:
The Compaq-versus-HP debate ended in 2002, when HP
bought Compaq, with approval from Michael Capellas and Ben
Rosen. The combo was called a “merger”. The combined
company is called “Hewlett-Packard”, though Compaq lovers
prefer to call it “Hewlett-paq” or “Hewpaq”.
Michael Capellas became the assistant to HP’s CEO and got
the title “President”, but a few months after the merger he quit HP
and took on a new challenge: he became the new head of
WorldCom, which had gone through a scandal. WorldCom picked
him because it wanted to be led by somebody who’s reputable!
In 2015, Hewlett-Packard split into 2 companies:
HP Incorporated is the famous part: it sells normal computers & printers,
to consumers & businesses.
Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Company sells stuff just for huge businesses
(enterprises): servers, storage devices, and business software.
In the rest of this book, when I say “HP” or “Hewlett-Packard,”
I mean “HP Incorporated.”
I recommend computers by HP. That’s the brand I prefer,
because less goes wrong with HP computers that with computers
by Toshiba, Dell, Acer, and other companies.
HP tests its computers more before selling them, includes less
weird junk in them, and sells them at low prices. HP’s keyboards
have better layouts, and HP’s built-in speakers produce better
Buying: complete systems 55
Though Compaq was the first company to make good IBM
clones, its clones were expensive. The first company that sold fast
IBM clones cheaply was PC’s Limited, founded in 1984 by a 19year-old kid, Michael Dell. He operated out of the bedroom of his
condo apartment, near the University of Texas in Austin.
At first, his prices were low — and so were his quality & service.
Many of the computers he shipped didn’t work: they were dead on arrival
(DOA). When his customers tried to return the defective computer equipment
to him for repair or refund, his company ignored the customer altogether. By
1986, many upset customers considered him a con artist and wrote bitter
letters about him to computer magazines. He responded by saying that his
multi-million-dollar company was growing faster than expected and couldn’t
keep up with demand for after-sale service.
In 1987, Dell raised his quality and service — and prices. In
1988, he changed the company’s name to Dell Computer
He charged almost as much as IBM and Compaq.
His quality & service became top-notch. They set the standard for the rest
of the computer industry. In speed & quality contests, his computers often
beat IBM and Compaq.
In 1997, Dell officially became the top dog in the computer-quality wars:
according to PC World magazine’s surveys of its readers, Dell’s computers
were more reliable than any other brand, and Dell’s tech-support staff did the
best job of fixing problems promptly.
Dell’s ads bashed Compaq for having higher prices than Dell
and worse policies about getting repairs — since Dell offered onsite service and Compaq didn’t.
For example, in 1991 Dell ran an ad calling Dell’s notebook computer a
“road warrior” and Compaq’s a “road worrier”. It showed the Dell screen
saying, “With next day on-site service in 50 states, nothing’s going to stop
you.” It showed the Compaq screen saying, “Just pray you don’t need any
service while you’re on the road, or you’re dead meat.”
His ads were misleading. His prices were much lower than Compaq’s list
price but just slightly less than the discounted price at which Compaq
computers were usually sold. Though Compaq didn’t provide free on-site
service, you could sometimes get your Compaq repaired fast by driving to a
nearby Compaq dealer.
Dell tried selling through discount-store chains but gave up
and decided to return to selling just by mail. While HP/Compaq
stayed king of retail sales, Dell became king of mail-order sales.
Dell computers came with this guarantee: if Dell doesn’t
answer your tech-support call within 5 minutes, Dell will give
you $25! Dell doesn’t make that guarantee anymore.
Dell gave lifetime toll-free technical support for hardware
questions and usually answered its phones promptly.
Unfortunately, Dell reduced Windows technical support from
“lifetime” to “30 days”.
Dell’s downfall
Though Dell’s tech support used to be good, now it’s terrible
— because Dell decided to save money by sending most techsupport calls to Bangalore, India, where your call is answered by
a person whose English is hard to understand, who doesn’t
understand American slang, and whose computer knowledge is
minimal. After receiving many complaints from business
customers, Dell’s adopted this new policy: if you buy an
expensive “business” computer from Dell, Dell will have your
call answered in the USA; but if you buy a cheap “consumer”
computer from Dell, Dell’s gonna still treat you like dirt and have
your call answered in India.
56 Buying: complete systems
Carly Fiorina, who was HP’s CEO, laughed at Dell and asked
“Is Dell really a computer company?” since Dell doesn’t really
research, invent, manufacture, or service computers anymore: it
just rebrands and markets computers built by others and gives
hardly any support. What a disappointment!
Alienware is a company that makes high-speed computers, for
use in playing high-speed action games and doing high-speed
video editing. In 2006, Dell bought Alienware, so Alienware is
now wholly owned by Dell.
How to get Dell
If you want a free Dell catalog or want to chat with a Dell sales
rep, phone 800-BUY-DELL.
If you want to buy a Dell computer, don’t react to the first ad
you see: Dell sells the same computer at many different prices.
For example, prices in Dell’s catalogs, magazine ads, and Web
sites all differ from each other. The cheapest way to buy a Dell
computer is often at Costco warehouse clubs. Another way to
buy a Dell computer cheaply is at Walmart.
Acer, Gateway, and eMachines used to be 3 separate
“Gateway” computers were sold mainly through mail-order.
“eMachines” computers were sold mainly through chain stores such as Best
Buy and Circuit City.
“Acer” computers were sold mainly through small computer stores.
In 2004, Gateway bought eMachines. In 2007, Acer bought
Gateway. So now Acer, Gateway, and eMachines are all under the
same ownership.
Here are the details.…
eMachines was the first major company that advertised
modern computers for under $400 and let you buy them in many
History Here’s how the eMachines company began…
Tandy Corporation owned Radio Shack and a chain of discount
computer superstores called Computer City. Tandy had trouble
running Computer City and sold that chain to CompUSA.
Computer City’s president (Stephen Dukker) was dismayed at
becoming a CompUSA vice-president, so he quit. In September
1998, he started his own company, eMachines, which invented
cheap computer systems (under $500) and sold them to retail stores
such as CompUSA. To start eMachines, he used money invested
by 2 Korean companies: Trigem (which made eMachines’
computers) and Korea Data Systems (KDS) (which made
eMachines’ monitors).
He was wildly successful. 9 months later, in June 1999, his
company become the third-biggest seller of desktop&tower
computers in retail stores: just Compaq and Hewlett-Packard sold
more desktop&tower computers than he. In the next month, July
1999, he shipped his 1 millionth computer. In March 2000,
eMachines went public, with stock selling for $8 per share. In
September 2000, he shipped his 3 millionth computer.
But afterwards, eMachines fell on hard times. For example, in
January 2001, eMachines’ revenues (sales figures) were just half
of the previous January’s. That was because the prices of fancy
computer decreased, so consumers decided to buy them instead
of the crummy computers that eMachines sold.
Its board of directors got worried. In February 2001, the board
fired Stephen Dukker and hired, as the new head, Wayne Inouye,
who was Best Buy’s senior vice president in charge of computer
merchandising. In May 2001, the company was delisted from
Nasdaq, because the shares were selling for less than $1 each. In
November 2001, the board agreed to sell the whole company to
KDS’s owner, Lap Shun “John” Hui, and his private company,
called EM Holdings, for $1.06 per share, 161 million dollars total.
By April 2002, eMachines had sold a total of 4 million
computers since the company began. That wasn’t much more than
the 3 million sold by September 2000.
eMachines became number 2 in retail U.S. sales, far behind
Hewlett-Packard (which sold the Hewlett-Packard and Compaq
brands). Analysts worried that eMachines might go bankrupt; but
in 2001, eMachines improved its computers (which had been
miserable) and its tech support (which had been atrocious before
Wayne Inouye spent 20 million dollars extra on tech support and
customer service in 2001). Then eMachine computers became
finally worth getting: they were good computers at rock-bottom
prices. Consumer surveys show that computers from eMachines
were more reliable and better serviced than computers from most
other computer brands.
To guard eMachines from going bankrupt, the company
accepted no returns from computer stores and kept few computers
in stock: it repeatedly waited for small shipments to arrive by boat
from its suppliers in Asia, so it occasionally ran out of computers.
When I went to buy a computer in 2001, I found myself buying
an eMachines computer, because eMachines offered much lower
prices than any other computer manufacturer. eMachines lived up
to its new slogan, which was “the best computer and service little
money can buy”.
The computer I bought came with one “defect”: whenever I
moved the mouse, the computer made a buzzing sound. I finally
figured it out: the eMachines company was too cheap to include
a microphone and too stupid to remember to turn off the
microphone jack, which picked up interference from mouse &
monitor motions. I solved the problem by giving the computer a
command to disable the microphone jack.
eMachines improved. In 2003, the eMachines company’s
revenue was 1.1 billion dollars (a huge number!), even though
eMachines had just 138 employees.
eMachines computers remained popular for many years
afterwards. They were sold in Walmart, Best Buy, and many other
stores. The eMachines contribution to the world of cheap
computers was: distribution!
“Free” computer Back in 1999, eMachines offered an extra
$400 rebate if you’d sign a 3-year contract to make Compuserve
your Internet service provider. The cheapest eMachines computer
would cost you “$474 minus a $75 rebate minus a $400
Compuserve rebate”, making the final price be about $0. Stores
advertised it as being a “free computer”. That kind of ad was
popular in November 1999 and sold many eMachine computers.
Such ads neglected to mention that the price did not include a
monitor and that you had to sign a 3-year Compuserve contract,
at a cost of $21.95 per month, so the contract would cost you a
total of “36 months times $21.95”, which is $790.20. Those ads
were declared “misleading” by many state governments in the
year 2000 — and banned.
Gateway was the first company to sell lots of computers by
mail. Gateway became the mail-order king — until Gateway
stumbled and Dell zoomed ahead. Gateway’s stumbling is what
motivated Gateway to buy eMachines.
How Gateway arose Gateway began because of cows. In
the 1800’s, George Waitt began a cattle company. According to
legend, he got his first herd by grabbing cattle that jumped off
barges into the Missouri River on the way to the stockyards. His
cattle business passed to his descendants and eventually to his
great-grandson, Norm, who built the Waitt Cattle Company into
one of the biggest cattle firms in the Midwest. The company was
on the Missouri River, in Iowa’s Sioux City (where Iowa meets
South Dakota and Nebraska).
Norm’s sons — Norm Junior and Ted — preferred computers
to cows, so on September 5th, 1985, they started the “Gateway
2000” company in their dad’s office. They told him computers
are easier to ship than cows, since computers can take a long
journey without needing to be fed and without making a mess in
their boxes.
22-year-old Ted was the engineer and called himself “president”;
Norm Junior was the businessman and called himself “vice
president”. Their main investor was their grandma, who secured
a $10,000 loan. They hired just 1 employee: Mike Hammond.
At first, they sold just parts for the Texas Instruments
Professional Computer. Soon they began building their own
computers. By the end of 1985, they’d sold 50 systems, for which
customers paid a total of $100,000.
Gateway grew fast:
Computers sold
50 computers
300 computers
500 computers
4,000 computers
25,000 computers
100,000 computers
225,000 computers
even more computers!
even more computers!
even more computers!
1,338,000 computers
1,909,000 computers
2,580,000 computers
even more computers!
even more computers!
even more computers!
even more employees!
That chart shows how many computers were sold during the year,
the total money customers paid for them and for add-ons, and how
many employees Gateway had at year’s end.
Here are highlights from the history of Ted Waitt and his
employees during those years:
In 1986, they moved to a bigger office in the Sioux City Livestock
Exchange Building.
In 1988, Ted began a national marketing campaign by designing his own
ads and running them in Computer Shopper magazine. His most famous ad
showed a gigantic 2-page photo of his family’s cattle farm and the headline,
“Computers from Iowa?” The computer industry was cowed by the ad’s huge
size and the low prices it offered for IBM clones. In the ad, Ted emphasized
that Gateway was run by hard-working, honest Midwesterners who gave
honest value. (At that time, most clones came from California or Texas; but
Californians had a reputation for being “flaky”, and Texans had a reputation
for being “lawless”). Cynics called Gateway “the cow computer”, but it was
a success. In September, the company moved a few miles south to a larger
plant in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa. Gateway’s operations there began with 28
In the summer of 1989, Gateway grew to 150 employees, so Gateway
began building a bigger plant. To get tax breaks and business grants, Gateway
built it upriver at North Sioux City, South Dakota, and moved there in
January 1990.
Buying: complete systems 57
In 1990, Gateway became more professional. In 1989, the “instruction
manual” was 2 pages; in 1990, it was 2 books. In 1989, the “tech support
staff” (which answers technical questions from customers) consisted of just
1 person, and you had to wait 2 days for him to return your call; in 1990, the
tech support staff included 35 people, and you could get through in 2 minutes.
In 1990, Gateway switched to superior hard drives and monitors. In 1990,
customers paid Gateway 275½ million dollars, generating a net profit of $25
By early 1992, Gateway was selling nearly 2,000 computers per day and
had 1,300 employees, including over 100 salespeople and 200 tech-support
specialists to answer technical questions. Not bad, for a company whose
president was just 30! Since Gateway was owned by just Norm Junior and
Ted, those two boys got rich!
In March 1993, Gateway hired its 2000th employee. In April 1993,
Gateway sold its one millionth computer. In December 1993, Gateway went
public, so others could buy Gateway stock. By May 1995, Gateway had
become so big that it answered over 12,000 tech-support calls in one day.
On September 5th, 1995, Gateway’s 6000 employees celebrated the
company’s 10th anniversary.
Gateway became huge, with offices worldwide in France,
Germany, Ireland, Australia, and Japan, but it was still
headquartered in North Sioux City, a small town that was behind
the times: it didn’t have any traffic lights yet.
Gateway got along well with its neighbors: in fact, two former
mayors of Sioux City became Gateway employees!
Gateway became a rapidly growing cash cow, full of moo-lah!
But Gateway didn’t lose its sense of humor: each Gateway
computer shipped to customers in a box a box painted to look like
a dairy cow: white with black spots.
Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream sued Gateway for copying the idea
of putting cow spots on packages. Meanwhile, Gateway sued a
shareware distributor called Tucows for using spotted cows to
sell computer products. Those suits were finally settled.
Gateway’s ads Gateway became famous because of the
amazing photography in its ads.
In early ads, the photos showed individuals in beautiful landscapes. Later
ads showed hordes of Gateway employees dressed as Robin Hood’s men in
Sherwood Forest, top-hatted performers in Vegas cabarets, teenagers in a
nostalgic 1950’s diner with glowing neon, and movie directors applauding a
ship full of pirates.
Those eye-popping photos grabbed attention. Their captions related the
photos to Gateway’s computers. Finally, after all that multi-page imagebuilding nonsense, came the ad’s finale, which reveals Gateway’s great
technical specifications (specs), great service policies, and low prices.
That way of building an ad — fluff followed by stuff — succeeded. Idiots
admired the photos, techies admired the specs, and everybody wanted to buy!
Gateway was the first big mail-order manufacturer to give
honest pricing: the advertised price includes everything except
shipping. The price even included a color monitor. All
components were high-quality. A Gateway system was a dream
system, with dreamy ads and a low price. Gateway had a friendly
slogan: “You’ve got a friend in the business.”
How Gateway fell On Millennium Day (January 1, 2000),
Ted Waitt decided to semi-retire: he turned Gateway’s day-to-day
operations over to Jeff Weitzen, who’d worked at AT&T for 18
years then Gateway for 2. Jeff became Gateway’s President and
Chief Executive Officer (CEO), though Ted remained Chairman
of Gateway’s Board of Directors.
Jeff was proud to be chosen as the man to take Gateway past
the millennium. He had many inspired ideas — most of which
were wrong.
He moved Gateway’s executive offices to downtown San
Diego, to attract executive talent who wouldn’t put up with South
Dakota’s remoteness and harsh winters. Then Ted moved
Gateway’s executive offices to a San Diego residential suburb
called Poway, so employees living in San Diego’s suburbs
wouldn’t have to commute into the city. Meanwhile,
manufacturing was still back in South Dakota. The company was
58 Buying: complete systems
Another example of corporate schizophrenia was Jeff’s
decision to “think outside the box”: sell not just a box full of
hardware but also sell service.
He called it the “beyond-the-box initiative”. To accomplish that, he set up
Gateway Country Stores in hundreds of cities — and also inside Office Max
stores — so customers could walk in and get local service.
But the Gateway Country Stores were confusing, since customers there
could stare at sample computers but typically couldn’t walk out the door with
them; classes were offered just rarely; and phoning those stores for “tech support”
got you a recorded message to call headquarters instead, since the store’s
“tech support” was mainly restricted to selling upgrades and installing them.
The cost of running the Gateway Country Stores forced Gateway to raise
computer prices, so Gateway started charging even more than HP, Compaq,
Dell, and IBM. Gateway was wasting so much energy running stores that
Gateway started lagging behind Dell in making manufacturing efficient.
Gateway was no longer a low-priced discounter. Gateway had forgotten its
Gateway’s new high prices and still-substandard tech support made
Gateway a company to avoid: Gateway was charging more than Dell and
giving worse service than Dell.
Gateway’s revenues plummeted, Gateway’s profits turned into
losses, shares of Gateway stock became nearly worthless, and Ted
Waitt became non-rich.
I can’t blame all of Gateway’s problems on Jeff: the whole
computer industry had a tough year in 2000, when consumers
decided the new computers weren’t different enough from old
computers to be worth upgrading to. But Jeff’s moves were in the
wrong direction.
In January 2001, a year after Jeff took over, he resigned, and
Ted Waitt became the CEO again — but too late: Gateway had
lost its luster. The prince and king of mail-order had become a
pauper. Upon becoming CEO again, Ted’s first act was to run an
ad bragging that Gateway would match the prices of 6 big
competitors: IBM, HP, Compaq, Sony, Toshiba, and Dell. That ad
was stupid. Gateway was supposed to be a mail-order discounter:
all it could brag about was that it wasn’t more expensive than
retail? The ad bombed. So did the company. In 2001, Gateway
made no profit: it lost a billion dollars. Here’s how Gateway fell:
$428,000,000 profit
$241,000,000 profit
$1,034,000,000 loss
Then Ted laid off employees, closed international sales offices,
closed Gateway Country Stores, made Gateway a tiny company,
and reduced Gateway’s reliance on mail-order computer sales: he
tried to diversify into selling big-screen TV sets, digital cameras,
and DVD players. Details:
By July 2002, Ted had cut half the staff, so the number of employees was
down to 12,000. In 2003, the company was even smaller: revenue was just
$3,402,400,000, employees were just 7,407, and the company lost “just”
$514,800,000. In March 2004, Gateway bought eMachines. In April 2004,
all Gateway Country Stores were shut down, and the number of Gateway
employees dropped to 4,000.
I felt sad about Gateway. I was one of the first journalists to
recommend Gateway. I was sorry to see Gateway go downhill.
The seeds of Gateway’s downfall were already planted back in
December 1993, when Gateway went public. That’s when
Gateway first lost sight of its roots, raised prices (to make the
stockholders happy), and I stopped recommending Gateway: I
switched to other, hungrier companies instead.
When Gateway bought eMachines in March 2004 (for 30
million dollars plus 50 million shares of Gateway common
stock), the eMachines CEO (51-year-old Wayne Inouye) became
the Gateway’s CEO. He replaced 41-year-old Ted Waitt (though
Ted remained chairman of the board of directors). That move was
easy for Wayne, since Gateway’s headquarters (in Poway,
California) was just 50 miles from the eMachines headquarters
(in Irvine, California).
These 24 industrial nuts have gone out of business:
Acer itself
Acer is a huge consortium of Taiwanese computer companies.
It makes “Acer computers” and “Acros computers”. They’re
particularly popular in Southeast Asia and Latin America.
They’ve also been sold in the U.S., through computer stores and
department stores.
Acer’s split In 2001, Acer split into 3 companies:
The main company is still called Acer.
The Communications & Multimedia Division is now a separate company
called BenQ. It’s Taiwan’s biggest cell phone manufacturer. It also makes
CD-RW drives, CD-RW disks, printers, scanners, and screens, under its own
name and also secretly for Motorola & NEC.
The Design, Manufacturing, and Services Division is now called Wistron. It
secretly designs, manufactures, and repairs computers for Dell, HP, Fujitsu,
and Hitachi. Acer owns 40% of Wistron’s stock.
Combo & shut-down In 2007, Acer bought Gateway (and
Gateway’s eMachines division); but in 2013, Acer shut down the
eMachines division.
Other IBM clones
Here are other choices to consider.…
Micro Express
Walmart, Best Buy, and Staples sell normal computers. If you
want a fancier computer, consider Micro Express, which is a
mail-order company that sells high-speed computers less
expensively than Alienware. Micro Express sells cheaper
computers also. Micro Express has a good reputation.
To configure your own favorite combination, phone Micro
Express at 800-989-9900 or 949-460-9911 or write to Micro Express
(at 8 Hammond Drive #105, Irvine CA 92618) or better yet, visit
its Website at
Micro Center
Though eMachines sold computers for under $500, the first
major company to sell good computers for under $500 was Micro
Electronics Incorporated (MEI), which runs a chain of stores
called Micro Center. It manufactures a computer called the
PowerSpec and sells the system unit for under $500. It also sells
fancier versions at higher prices.
You can buy PowerSpec computers at a Micro Center
superstore (a pleasant place to shop!) or mail-order (800-382-2390).
Industrial nuts
To get the lowest computer prices, many people phoned a
secret group of amazing companies that advertised in Computer
Shopper. The group is called the industrial nuts because the
employees are industrious, the prices are nutty, and the location
is these two Los Angeles suburbs: “City of Industry” and
“Walnut”. The owners and employees seem mostly Chinese.
Most of those companies have shut down, but 2 are still in
ProStar Computers,
phone 888-576-6776 or 626-839-6472
837 S. Lawson St., City of Industry CA 91748
A+ Computer, All Computer, Altus, Atlas Micro Logistic, Bit Computer,
Comtrade, Cornell Computer Systems, CS Source, Cyberex, Digitron,
EDO Micro, Enpower, Hyperdata Technology, Multiwave, Nimble,
PC Channel, Premio, Professional Technologies, Quanson, Royal,
Syscon Technology, Tempest Micro, Wonderex, Zenon
In many towns, entrepreneurs sell computers for ridiculously
low prices in computer shows and tiny stores. Before buying,
check the computer’s technical specifications and dealer’s
reputation. If the dealer offers you software, make sure the dealer
also gives you official materials from the software’s publisher;
otherwise, the software might be an illegal hot copy.
For further advice, phone me anytime at 603-666-6644.
What’s the most important computer company? IBM?
No! The most important computer company is actually Apple.
That’s the company that’s had the greatest influence on how we
deal with computers today.
Apple was the first computer manufacturer to popularize these
ideas successfully:
screens showing colors (instead of just black-and-white)
3½-inch floppy disks (instead of 5¼-inch, which are flimsy and less reliable)
CD-ROM disks (instead of just floppy disks, which hold less data)
solid-state drives (instead of hard drives, which are slower & eat up more watts)
using a mouse (instead of just the keyboard’s arrow keys and Tab keys)
using pictures (called icons) instead of just words
pull-down menus (coming down from a menu bar, which is at the screen’s top)
touch screens
tablet computers (such as the iPad)
smart phones (such as the iPhone)
laser printers (instead of just dot-matrix printers, which print in an ugly way)
desktop publishing (instead of word processing, which can’t handle beauty)
pretty fonts (instead of typewriter-style fonts, which are monospaced and ugly)
paint & draw programs (so you can create graphics easily, without math)
Apple didn’t invent any of those ideas, but Apple was the first
company to popularize them, make people want them, and
thereby change our idea of what a computer should do.
3½-inch disks were invented by Sony. The first mouse was invented by the
Stanford Research Institute. The first good mouse software was invented by
Xerox. The first personal laser printers were invented by Hewlett-Packard.
The first modern desktop-publishing program was invented by a software
company, Aldus. But it was Apple’s further product development and
marketing that made those products desirable.
Though just 4% of the computers sold today are made by
Apple, we all owe a big debt to Apple for how that company
improved our world.
Here’s how Apple arose and changed our lives.…
Original Apple
The original Apple computer was invented by Steve Wozniak,
who was an engineer at Hewlett-Packard. In 1975, he offered the
plans to his boss, who said Steve’s computer didn’t fit into
Hewlett-Packard’s marketing plan and suggested Steve start his
own company. Steve did.
phone 800-669-1624 or 626-964-8682
18005 Cortney Ct., City of Industry CA 91748
They sell mainly notebook computers.
Buying: complete systems 59
He worked with his friend, Steve Jobs. Steve Wozniak was the
engineer; Steve Jobs was the businessman. Both were young:
Steve Wozniak was 22; Steve Jobs was 19. Both were college
drop-outs. They’d worked together before: while high-school
students, they’d built and sold blue boxes (which attach to
phones to illegally make long-distance calls free). Steve & Steve
had sold 200 blue boxes at $80 each, totaling $16,000 in illegal
To begin Apple Computer Company, Steve & Steve invested
just $1300, which they got by selling a used Volkswagen Micro
Bus and a used calculator.
They built the first Apple computer in their garage. They sold
it by word of mouth, then by ads saying the price was $666.66.
The first Apple computer was primitive: it had none of the
features for which Apple is now famous. (No color, no 3½-inch
floppy disks, no CD-ROM disks, no mouse, no icons, no pulldown menus, no touch screens, no laser printers, no desktop
publishing, no pretty fonts, no paint & draw programs.)
Apple 2
In 1977, Steve & Steve invented a slicker version, called the
Apple 2. Unlike the original Apple, the Apple 2 included a
keyboard and displayed graphics in color. It cost $970. It became
popular because it was the first computer for under $1000 that
could display colors on a TV. It was the only such computer for
many years, until Commodore finally invented the Vic, which
was even cheaper (under $300).
At first, folks used the Apple 2 just to play games and didn’t
take it seriously. But two surprise events changed the world’s
feelings about Apple.
MECC The first surprise was that a Minnesota government
agency decided to buy lots of Apple 2 computers, put them in
Minnesota schools, and write programs for them. That agency,
called the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium
(MECC), then distributed the programs free to other schools
across America, so schools across America discovered that
personal computers could be useful in education. Since the only
good educational programs came from Minnesota and required
Apples, schools across America bought Apples, then wrote more
programs for the Apples they’d bought. Apple became the
“standard” computer for education — just because of the chain
reaction that started with a chance event in Minnesota. The chain
reaction spread fast, as teachers fell in love with the Apple’s color
VisiCalc The next surprise was that a Harvard Business
School student and his friend at M.I.T. got together and wrote the
first spreadsheet program, called VisiCalc. They wrote it for the
Apple 2 computer, because it was the only cheap computer that
had a reliable disk operating system. (Commodore’s computers
didn’t have disks yet, and Radio Shack’s disk operating system
wasn’t reliable yet. Apple’s success was due to Steve Wozniak’s
brilliance: he invented a disk-controller card that was amazingly
cheap and reliable.)
The VisiCalc spreadsheet program was so wonderful that
accountants and business managers all over the country bought it
— and had to buy Apple computers to run it on.
VisiCalc was niftier than any other accounting program. VisiCalc proved
little Apples had more ability than even gigantic IBM mainframes.
Eventually, VisiCalc became available for other computers; but at first,
VisiCalc required an Apple. VisiCalc’s success led to Apple’s.
In a typical big corporation, the corporate accountant wanted to buy an
Apple with VisiCalc. Since the corporation’s data-processing director liked
big computers and refused to buy microcomputers, the accountant who
wanted VisiCalc resorted to an old business trick: he lied. He pretended to
spend $2000 for “typewriters” but bought an Apple instead. He snuck it into
the company and plopped it on his desk. That happened all across America, so
60 Buying: complete systems
all big corporations had thousands of Apples sitting on the desks of
accountants and managers but disguised as “typewriters” or “word processors”.
Those Apple computers infiltrated American corporations by subversion, an
underground movement that annoyed IBM so much that IBM eventually
decided to invent a personal computer of its own.
Apple 2+ In 1979, Apple Computer Corporation shipped an
improved Apple 2, called the Apple 2+.
Its main improvement was that its ROM chips contained a
better version of Basic, called Applesoft Basic, which could
handle decimals. (The old Apple 2’s ROM chips handled just
Another improvement was how the Reset key acted.
On the old Apple 2, pressing the Reset key would abort a program, so the
program would stop running. Too many consumers pressed the Reset key
accidentally and got upset. On the Apple 2+, pressing the Reset key aborted
a program just if you simultaneously held down the Control key.
Slots In the Apple 2+ and its predecessors, the motherboard
had eight slots, numbered from 0 to 7, which could hold printedcircuit cards.
Slot 0 was for a memory card (containing extra RAM). Slot 1 was for a
printer card (containing a parallel printer port). Slot 2 was for an
internal modem (to attach a phone). Slot 3 was for an 80-column card (to
make the screen display 80 characters per line instead of 40). Slot 6 was for
a disk controller. Cards in slots 4, 5, and 7 were more exotic.
Apple 2e In 1983, Apple shipped a further improvement,
called the Apple 2 extended, expanded, enhanced (Apple 2e).
Most programs written for the Apple 1, 2, and 2+ also ran on the
Apple 2e.
Unlike the Apple 2+ keyboard (which contained just 52 keys),
the Apple 2e keyboard contained 11 extra keys, making a total
of 63.
The extra keys helped you type lowercase letters, type special symbols,
edit your writing, and control your programs.
For example, the Apple 2e keyboard contained 4 arrow keys (, , , and ),
so you could move around the screen in 4 directions easily. (The  and  keys
were missing from the Apple 2+ keyboard.)
The Apple 2e keyboard contained a Delete key, so you could delete an error
from the middle of your writing easily. (The Delete key was missing from
the Apple 2+ keyboard.)
Unlike its predecessors, the Apple 2e omitted slot 0, because
the Apple 2e’s motherboard contained lots of RAM (64K) and
didn’t need a RAM card.
The Apple 2e contained an extra slot, called slot 3A. It
resembled slot 3 but held a more modern video card that came in
two versions: the plain version let your Apple display 80
characters per line; the fancy version did the same but also
included a row of 64K RAM chips, so your Apple contains 128K
of RAM altogether.
The Apple 2e was invented in 1983, the same year as the IBM
XT. Which computer was better?
An Apple 2e was generally worse than an IBM XT or an IBM XT clone.
For example, the Apple 2e system had less RAM (128K instead of 640K),
fewer keys on the keyboard (63 instead of 83), worse disk drives (writing just
140K on the disk instead of 360K), and a crippled version of BASIC
(understanding just 114 words instead of 178).
Though worse than an IBM XT, the Apple 2e became popular in 1983,
because more educational programs and games were available for the
Apple 2e than for any other computer. Fewer educational programs and
games were being written for the IBM XT and clones, because the IBM XT
was too expensive for schools to buy. Though the IBM XT became the
standard computer for business, the Apple 2e became the standard computer
for schools and kids.
Apple 2c In 1984, Apple created a shrunken Apple 2e called
the Apple 2 compact (Apple 2c). It was smaller and lighter than
the Apple 2e, cost less, and consumed less electricity.
Advanced hobbyists spurned the 2c — and stayed with the 2e
instead — because the 2c didn’t have slots for adding cards. But
the typical consumer didn’t need extra cards anyway, since the
2c’s motherboard included everything a beginner wanted: 128K
of RAM, 80-character-per-line video circuitry, a disk controller,
and two serial ports. You could run cables from the back of the 2c
to a serial printer, modem, second disk drive, and joystick.
When the 2c first came out, its ROM was fancier than the 2e’s,
so that the 2c could handle Basic and a mouse better than the 2e.
But in February 1985, Apple began putting the fancy ROM chips
in the 2e also, so every new 2e handled Basic and a mouse as well
as the 2c.
Apple invented an improved Apple 2c, called the Apple 2c+,
whose disk drive was 3½-inch instead of 5¼-inch. Apple’s
3½-inch drive was technically superior to Apple’s 5¼-inch drive
but angered users, since most educational software still came on
5¼-inch disks and wasn’t available on 3½-inch disks yet.
Apple 2GS In 1986, Apple created an improved version of
the Apple 2e and called it the Apple 2 with amazing graphics
& sound (Apple 2GS).
Apple 2 family All those computers resembled each other,
so most programs written for the Apple 2 also worked on the
Apple 2+, 2e, 2c, 2c+, and 2GS.
Apple has stopped marketing all those computers, but you can
still buy them as “used computers” from your neighbors.
Clones Instead of buying Apple computers, some folks
bought imitations, such as the Pineapple, the Orange, the Pear,
and the Franklin. The imitations were popular in the United
States, Hong Kong, and especially the Soviet Union. Apple sued
most of those companies (because they illegally copied Apple’s
ROM) and made them stop building clones.
Apple permitted one clone to remain: the Laser 128, because
that clone’s designer imitated the functions of Apple’s ROM
without exactly copying it.
The Laser 128 imitated the Apple 2c. Like the Apple 2c, the Laser 128
included 128K of RAM, a disk drive, and a serial port. In 3 ways, it was
better than an Apple 2c: it included a parallel printer port (so you could attach
a greater variety of printers), a numeric keypad (so you could enter data into
spreadsheets more easily), and a slot (so you could add an Apple 2e
expansion card). It ran most Apple 2c programs perfectly: just 5% of the
popular Apple 2c programs were incompatible.
A souped-up version, called the Laser 128EX, went three times as fast.
The Laser 128 and 128EX were built by the Laser Computer division of
VTech, a company that also made IBM clones.
Apple 3
Back in 1980, shortly after the Apple 2+ was invented, Apple
began selling the Apple 3. It was fancier than the Apple 2+ but
too expensive (it listed for $4995, plus a monitor and hard drive)
and couldn’t run some of the Apple 2+ software. Few people
bought it.
When the IBM PC came out and consumers realized the PC
was better and cheaper than the Apple 3, interest in the Apple 3
vanished. Apple gave up trying to sell the Apple 3 but
incorporated the Apple 3’s best features into later, cheaper
Apples: the Apple 2e and the Apple 2GS.
Back in 1963, when Steve & Steve were kids in elementary
school, Doug Engelbart invented the world’s first computer
mouse. He was at the Stanford Research Institute. During the
1970’s, researchers at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center
(Xerox PARC) used his mouse as the basis of a fancy computer
system, called the Alto. Xerox considered the Alto too big and
expensive to sell well but invited the world to see it.
In 1979, Apple employees nudged Steve Jobs to go to Xerox
and see the Alto. Steve was impressed by the Alto and decided to
invent a smaller, cheaper version, which he called the Lisa,
because that was his daughter’s name.
The Lisa changed the computer world forever. Before the Lisa,
personal computers were awkward to use. The Lisa was the first
affordable personal computer that made good use of a mouse,
icons (pictures & symbols you can click with the mouse),
horizontal menus (lists of topics that appear across the screen’s
top), and pull-down menus (which you see when you click
items on the horizontal menus). Those features made the
computer easier to learn — and fun! The Lisa was the first
computer whose business programs were truly fun to run.
Because it was so easy to learn to use, customers could start using
it without reading the manuals. Everybody praised the Lisa and
called it a new breakthrough in software technology.
Though the Lisa was “affordable”, it was affordable by just the
rich: it cost nearly $10,000. For the Lisa, Apple invented special
business programs that were fun and easy to use; but the Lisa
could not run Apple 2 programs, since the Lisa had a completely
different CPU.
Independent programmers had difficulty developing their own programs for
the Lisa, since Apple didn’t supply enough programming tools: Apple never
invented a Lisa version of Basic, delayed introducing a version of Pascal, and
didn’t make detailed manuals available to the average programmer. And
though icons and pull-down menus are easy to use, they’re difficult for
programmers to invent.
Apple gradually lowered the Lisa’s price.
Early Macs
In January 1984, Apple introduced the Macintosh (Mac),
which was a stripped-down Lisa. Like the original Lisa, the Mac
uses a mouse, icons, horizontal menus, and pull-down menus.
The Mac’s price was low enough to make it popular.
The Mac’s even more fun and easy than the Lisa! It appeals to
beginners scared of computers. Advanced computerists like it
also, because it feels ultra-modern, handles graphics quickly, and
passes data from one program to another simply.
The Mac’s original version ran too slowly, but later versions
run faster. Since the Mac was so easy to use and priced low
enough, many people bought it. Lots of software was developed
for it — much more than for the Lisa.
To run Mac software well, you must buy a Mac. Since popular
Mac software does not run well on the Lisa, Apple stopped selling
the Lisa and stopped selling a compromise called the Mac XL.
Let’s take a closer look at the various early Macs.…
Original Mac Apple began selling the Mac for $2495. The
Mac’s original version included 3 parts: the mouse, the keyboard,
and the system unit.
The system unit contained a 9-inch black-and-white screen (whose resolution
was 512 by 384), a 3½-inch floppy disk drive, and a motherboard. On the
motherboard sat an 8-megahertz 68000 CPU, 2 ROM chips (containing most
of the operating system and many routines for drawing graphics), rows of
RAM chips, a disk controller, and 2 serial ports (for attaching a printer and a
That Mac was called the original 128K Mac because it included
128K of RAM (plus 64K of ROM).
Buying: complete systems 61
Then Apple invented an improvement called the 512K Mac because it included
512K of RAM. Apple wanted to call it the “Big Mac” but feared that customers would
think it a hamburger.
Mac Plus In January 1986, Apple shipped an improved Mac, the Mac Plus, which
had a bigger RAM (1 megabyte instead of 512K), bigger ROM (128K instead of 64K),
better disk drive (double-sided instead of single-sided), bigger keyboard (more keys),
and a port that let you add a hard-disk drive more easily. The improved ROM, RAM,
disk drive, keyboard, and port permitted hardware & software tricks that let Mac
programs run faster.
Mac SE In 1987, Apple shipped an even fancier Mac, the Mac SE. It ran software
15% faster than the Mac Plus because it contains a cleverer ROM (256K instead of
128K) and fancier support chips. It was also more expandable: it let you insert extra
circuitry more easily. The keyboard cost extra: you could buy the standard keyboard
(which had 81 keys) or the extended keyboard (which had 105 keys).
Mac 2 When Apple introduced the Mac SE, Apple also introduced a luxury model,
the Mac 2. It contains a faster CPU (a 16-megahertz 68020) and 6 slots for inserting
printed-circuit cards.
Instead of sticking you with a 9-inch black-and-white monitor, it let you use any kind
of monitor you wish: you could choose big or small, choose black-and-white or grayscale or color. The monitor cost extra; so did the keyboard (standard or extended) and
video card (which you put into a slot and attached the monitor to).
Since the Mac 2 let you choose your own monitor, the Mac 2 was called a modular
Mac. When buying a modular Mac, remember that the monitor costs extra!
Performas versus Quadras In 1990, Apple stopped selling all Macs I’ve
mentioned so far — the 128K Mac, 512K Mac, Mac Plus, Mac SE, and Mac 2. Apple
switched to Macs that are more modern.
Apple’s first great modern Mac came in 1991. It was called the Quadra. It contained a 68040 CPU.
It was called the Quadra because of the “4” in “68040”. The Quadra was intended for folks smart
enough to know that “quadra” is the Latin word for “4”. It was intended to be sold by expert salespeople
to expert customers.
In 1992, Apple invented a “simplified Quadra”, called the Performa, for beginners. It was intended to
be sold to idiotic customers who think the word “performer” should be pronounced “performa”.
Then customers could choose between the Performa (for beginners) and the Quadra
(which was still available, for experts).
Performa computers were sold mainly by idiots in office-supply stores (such as Staples & Office Max).
Quadra computers were sold just by computer experts in computer stores (such as CompUSA).
A Performa’s price included lots of software — especially games and tutorials for beginners.
A Quadra’s price included very little software. You bought your own — or invented it yourself!
For help with a Performa computer, you phoned “babysitters” at Apple’s headquarters (800-sos-Apple).
To repair a Quadra, you phoned the computer technicians at the computer store where you bought it.
A Performa’s price was simple: it included a keyboard, monitor, & fax/modem; no surcharges or choices!
For a Quadra, you had to decide which keyboard, monitor, and fax/modem you wanted; they cost extra.
Though Performas were idiotic, they were the best values: they gave you more
hardware & software per dollar than Quadras (which were just for fussy nerds who
insisted on customizing, making their own decisions about which keyboard, monitor,
and fax/modem to use).
At first, the rule was simple: Quadras were sold just at computer stores; Performas
were sold just at general stores. At the end of 1994, Apple began letting computer stores
sell both kinds of computers (Quadras and Performas), to handle both kinds of
customers (experts and idiots). Non-computer stores (such as Staples) were still
restricted to selling to idiots: they sold just Performas.
Performas came in several varieties: you could choose a normal CPU (a 68030), a
faster CPU (a 68040), or an even faster CPU (a Power PC chip).
Power Macs After watching the Performa-versus-Quadra war, Apple decided on
a compromise: all new Macs would include a keyboard (like a Performa), but you could
typically choose your own monitor (like buying a Quadra).
In 1994, Apple began selling powerful Macs, called Power Macs. Each contained a
fast CPU chip (called the Power PC), but the price didn’t include a monitor.
Mac clones In 1995, Apple’s executives began letting other companies make
clones of Macs, in return for a licensing fee. The most successful clone maker was
Power Computing, whose clones ran much faster than Apple’s originals! Clones were
also made by Radius, Motorola, and Umax.
62 Buying: complete systems
But in 1997, Apple had a change of heart
and withdrew the licenses of all the clone
makers except Umax. Apple restricted
Umax to making just clones that are “junk”
(priced under $1000).
Umax no longer bothers to make Mac
In 1998, Apple began selling simplified
Macs, to help beginners use the Internet.
Each simplified Mac is called an Internet
Mac (iMac).
Apple sold it in 4 styles. Here are the
Classic iMac The classic iMac
looked out-of-this-world!
It looked like an airplane’s nose cone —
or an ostrich egg from outer space. It was
translucent — which means you could
almost see through it, like trying to look
through a frosted shower-stall door to see
the sexy woman inside. Intriguing! Every
reviewer who saw the classic iMac loved it,
and so did Apple’s customers. I bought one
myself. It’s great!
It included a 15-inch CRT, pair of stereo
speakers, and fax/modem. The price also
included a keyboard, mouse, and software.
The translucent case was tinted in a wild
color. The first iMac was in a color called
Bondi Blue (named after Australia’s Bondi
beach); later iMacs were in colors called
Blueberry, Strawberry, Grape, Lime,
Tangerine, Indigo (blue), Graphite (black),
Snow (white), Blue Dalmatian (white spots
on a blue background), and Flower Power
(a floral print inspired by the 1960’s).
Apple got lots of praise for creatively
avoiding beige, and many companies
imitated Apple’s wild color schemes.
The eMac After inventing the classic
iMac, Apple invented the eMac, which was
an iMac with a bigger screen: 17-inch
instead of 15-inch. It was designed for
schools; “eMac” means “educational Mac”.
It was originally sold just to schools, but
Apple later let everybody buy it. It came in
just one color: white.
New iMac Next came the new iMac,
which looked totally different: even more
It was a white hemisphere (so it looks
like a mound of mashed potatoes), with an
arm coming out of its top. At the arm’s end,
instead of a hand, you saw an LCD thinscreen monitor. (The original version’s
screen was 15-inch; Apple later offered 17inch and 20-inch versions also.) The
monitor hovered in front of the arm and hid
the arm from your view, so the monitor
seemed to hover by itself mysteriously in
the air, like a UFO propelled by aliens.
People who used the new iMac were said to “do the mashed
potato”, “play with their hovercraft”, and “kiss aliens”.
Since the new iMac looked so mysteriously intriguing, many
IBM-clone manufacturers copied Apple’s idea of using a flatscreen LCD monitor. Those companies bought so many 15-inch
LCD screens from suppliers that Apple could no longer get
enough supplies for itself, and suppliers raised their prices,
forcing Apple to raise its prices by $100. But eventually prices
came back down.
Newest iMac Apple has stopped selling the classic
iMac, the eMac, and the new iMac. Now Apple sells instead
the newest iMac. It resembles the new iMac but has no white
hemisphere; instead, all the system-unit circuitry hides inside the
LCD monitor. The first version of the newest iMac was white
plastic; the current version (introduced in August 2007) is
aluminum instead.
Modern Mac prices
Now Apple sells just 4 kinds of normal computers.
MacBook Back in 1991, Apple began selling a laptop called
a PowerBook. In 1999, Apple began selling a cheaper laptop,
called an iBook.
Apple’s stopped selling the PowerBook and iBook. Instead,
Apple sells a newer laptop, called the MacBook.
Here’s how the MacBook was priced when this book went to
press in December 2016:
13.3" 1440900
13.3" 1440900
Main RAM Flash drive Intel CPU chip Price
Core i5 at 1.6 GHz $999
Core i5 at 1.6 GHz $1199
13.3" 25601600
13.3" 25601600
13.3" 25601600
13.3" 25601600
Core i5 at 2.7 GHz
Core i5 at 2 GHz
Core i5 at 2.9 GHz
Core i5 at 2.9 GHz
15.4" 28801800
15.4" 28801800
15.4" 28801800
15.4" 28801800
15.4" 28801800
15.4" 28801800
Core i7 at 2.6 GHz
Core i7 at 2.6 GHz
Core i7 at 2.7 GHz
Core i7 at 2.7 GHz
Core i7 at 2.9 GHz
Core i7 at 2.9 GHz
In that list, the first 2 MacBooks are called the “MacBook Air”;
the others are called the “MacBook Pro with Retina Display”.
Built into each MacBook, you’ll find a touchpad, a pair of
stereo speakers, a microphone, and a video camera. The price also
includes this software:
the operating system (OS X)
a photo editor (iPhoto), movie editor (iMovie), and music editor (GarageBand)
a word processor (Pages), spreadsheet program (Numbers), and
slide-show creator (Keynote)
The iMac Apple’s all-in-one computer is called the
Here’s how it’s priced:
21.5" 19201080 8G
21.5" 19201080 8G
Hard drive Intel CPU chip Price
Core i5 at 1.6 GHz $1099
Core i5 at 2.8 GHz $1299
21.5" 40962304
Core i5 at 3.1 GHz $1499
51202880 8G
51202880 8G
51202880 16G
51202880 16G
51202880 16G
Core i5 at 3.2 GHz
Core i5 at 3.3 GHz
Core i5 at 3.3 GHz
Core i7 at 4 GHz
Core i7 at 4 GHz
Each iMac’s hard drive is fast (7200 rpm).
Built into each iMac you’ll find a pair of stereo speakers, a
microphone, and a video camera. The price also includes the
Apple Keyboard, the Magic Mouse, and the same software as
the MacBook.
Mac mini The Mac mini is a system unit that’s cheap
because its price doesn’t include a keyboard, mouse, screen,
speakers, microphone, or video camera. If you already own a
keyboard, mouse, and screen from an older Mac computer (or
even from an IBM-compatible computer), you can attach them to
the Mac mini to build your own computer system.
Here’s how the Mac mini is priced:
Hard drive
Intel CPU chip
Core i5 at 1.4GHz
Core i5 at 2.6GHz
Core i5 at 2.8GHz
Core i5 at 2.8GHz
Core i5 at 2.8GHz
Core i7 at 3 GHz
The Mac mini’s price includes the same software as the
MacBook and the iMac. Apple sells a keyboard and mouse for
$49 each ($98 total), but that still doesn’t get you a screen,
speakers, microphone, or video camera.
Mac Pro The Mac Pro is a tower that’s a 10-inch tall
cylinder. It acts like the Mac mini but is much faster and costs
much more. Like the Mac mini, its price doesn’t include a
keyboard, mouse, screen, speakers, microphone, or video camera;
attach your own.
Here’s how the Mac Pro is priced:
Main RAM
Flash drive
Intel CPU chip
Xeon E5 4-core at 3.7 GHz
Xeon E5 6-core at 3.5 GHz
Xeon E5 6-core at 3.5 GHz
Xeon E5 6-core at 3.5 GHz
Xeon E5 6-core at 3.5 GHz
Xeon E5 6-core at 3.5 GHz
Xeon E5 8-core at 3 GHz
Xeon E5 12-core at 2.7 GHz
The MacBook and iMac include a screen, but the Mac mini
and Mac Pro don’t.
Apple used to sell a huge monitor (27") called the
Thunderbolt Display, but it was overpriced, so it became
unpopular. Apple doesn’t bother trying to sell it anymore. Apple
tells you to buy monitors elsewhere.
You can buy directly from Apple by phoning 800-MY-APPLE
or using the Internet to go to or visiting
Apple’s stores (which are in just a few cities). You can also buy
Apple’s computers from chain stores (such as Best Buy,
Walmart, and Target), local Apple dealers, and these mail-order
Mac Mall
Mac Connection
Internet address
Phone number
Mac Mall usually has more exciting ads, but Mac Connection
usually charges less for shipping and installation.
I’ve been showing you Apple’s list prices. Unlike IBM clones,
whose prices drop each month, Apple’s list prices stay constant
for many months, then drop suddenly. But while Apple’s list
prices stay “constant”, Apple secretly gives bigger discounts to
dealers, who in turn give “deals” to customers. The deals usually
involve getting $20 off, or paying full price but getting a free $50
gift card, or getting $100 off because it’s an outdated model that
Apple no longer sells or will replace by a better model a few
weeks from now.
Buying: complete systems 63
When you buy a Mac, you get 3 months of phone support
(so you can phone Apple for free help answering questions about
how to use your Mac) and a 1-year limited warranty (which
says Apple will fix the hardware if it breaks during the first year
and you carry your Mac to an Apple-authorized repair center).
Most of your questions and difficulties will be during the first
3 months, when Apple’s help is free. After the first 3 months, pay
consultants and repair shops when necessary.
Should you buy a Mac?
When the Mac first came out, computer experts loved it and
praised it for being easier than an IBM PC.
Then Microsoft invented Windows, which made the IBM PC
resemble a Mac.
The first version of Windows was terrible, much worse than a Mac.
Nobody took that version of Windows seriously. But over the years,
Microsoft gradually improved Windows.
When Windows 3.0 came out, it was good enough to be useable. Though
still not as nice as a Mac, it became popular because it ran on IBM PC clones,
which cost much less than Macs.
When Windows 3.1 came out, some folks even liked it.
When Windows 95 came out in 1995, the Mac became doomed. Most
critics agreed that Windows 95 was better than a Mac. Windows 98,
Windows Me, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8,
Windows 8.1, and Windows 10 were further improvements. Moreover, a
computer running Windows 10 costs less than a Mac.
Apple faces a new problem: since practically everybody has
switched to buying Windows computers instead of Macs, most
programmers aren’t bothering to write Mac programs anymore.
So if you have a Mac, you’re stuck running old programs written
long ago, in versions less pleasant than new Windows versions.
As a result, the Mac has actually become harder to use than a
Windows computer!
The big exception to Mac’s downfall is the graphics-art
community. Years ago, before Windows became good, the Mac
became the standard for folks in the graphics-arts community
(such as ad agencies, newspapers, magazines, artists, and
companies running printing presses). They still use Macs.
Some universities standardized on Macs because Apple
Computer Inc. gave those universities a discount. When the
discounts expired, many of those universities shifted to buying
Windows computers instead.
iPod, iPhone, iPad
After inventing the Mac (in 1984) and the iMac (in 1998),
Apple invented the iPod in 2001. It’s a handheld box that plays
Then Apple invented the iPhone, in 2007. It became the most
popular smartphone.
Then Apple invented the iPad, in 2010. It became the most
popular tablet.
64 Buying: complete systems
Who runs Apple?
After being founded by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs,
Apple’s leadership changed.
Steve Wozniak got in an airplane crash that hurt his head and
gave him amnesia, so he left the company and enrolled in college
under a fake name (“Rocky Clark”). After he graduated, he
returned to Apple Computer Company quietly. Steve Jobs
managed the company.
Though Apple was successful, Steve Jobs’ strategies upset
some computerists.
For example, Apple’s ads claimed that the Apple was the first
personal computer (it was not the first!); Apple launched a big
campaign to make businessmen buy Apple Pascal (though Apple
Pascal didn’t help the average businessman at all); Apple
prohibited its dealers from displaying games (though Apple later
relented); and Apple prohibited authorized dealers from selling
Apples by mail order.
Apple Computer Inc. donated computers to schools for three
reasons: to be nice, get a tax write-off, and lure schools into
buying Apples (to be compatible with the Apples that the schools
received free). But if Apple were really nice, it would have
lowered prices to let low-income consumers afford them. Apple
sold just to the “chic”, not the poor.
Steve & Steve both left Apple and went separate ways.
Apple’s next head was John Sculley, a marketer who used to
be a vice-president of Pepsi. He made Pepsi the #2 soft drink (just
behind Coke) and kept Apple the #2 microcomputer company
(just behind IBM).
In 1993, he had Apple invent and sell a handheld computer
called the Newton. Instead of including a keyboard, it included
a tablet you could write on with a pen. The computer tried to read
handwritten words but couldn’t read handwriting accurately
enough. Apple’s board of directors ousted him for spending too
much effort on the Newton and not enough on the Mac.
Apple’s next head was Michael Spindler, an efficient German
who dropped Apple’s costs and prices. But in 1995, Apple’s
profits plunged for 3 reasons:
Microsoft began selling Windows 95 (which let IBM clones become nearly
as pleasant as Macs).
Intel dramatically dropped prices on the Pentium chips used in IBM clones.
Spindler guessed wrong about which Macs would sell well, so Apple got
stuck with unsold inventory of some models, parts shortages for others.
In 1996, Apple’s board of directors fired Michael and replaced
him with Gil Amelio. To cut costs, Gil fired lots of employees. In
1997, the board fired him and put Steve Jobs back in charge. In
2011, Steve died from cancer.
Now Apple is run by Tim Cook, who’s popular and gay. He’s
successful: he’s made Apple become even more profitable than
when Steve Jobs was in charge, though Apple’s latest
improvements are undramatic, boring.
Was this manual useful for you? yes no
Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the work of artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Download PDF