How Computers Work / Edition 9

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Overview

Having sold more than 2 million copies over its lifetime, How Computers Work is the definitive illustrated guide to the world of PCs and technology. In this new edition, you’ll find detailed information not just about every last component of hardware found inside your PC, but also in-depth explanations about home networking, the Internet, PC security, and even how cell phone networks operate. Whether you’re interested in how the latest graphics cards power today’s most demanding games or how a digital camera turns light into data, you’ll find your answers right here.

Ron White is a former executive editor and columnist for PC Computing, where he developed the visual concept behind How Computers Work. Founder of one of the

earliest PC user groups, he has been writing about computers for 25 years and is known for building wildly extreme computers.

Timothy Edward Downs is an award-winning magazine designer, illustrator, and photographer. He has directed and designed several national consumer, business, technology, and

lifestyle magazines, always infusing a sense of “how it works” into every project.

A full-color, illustrated adventure into the wonders of TECHNOLOOGY

This full-color, fully illustrated guide to the world of technology assumes nothing and explains everything. Only the accomplished Ron White and award-winning Tim Downs have the unique ability to meld descriptive text with one-of-a-kind visuals to fully explain how the electronic gear we depend on every day is made possible. In addition to all the content you’ve come to expect from prior editions, this newly revised edition includes all-new coverage of topics such as:

• How tablet PCs put the power of a PC quite literally in your hands

• How Windows Vista makes your Windows desktop translucent and makes your PC more secure

• How advances in optical disc technology such as dual-layer DVD, HD-DVD, and Blu-Ray discs continue to push the envelope

• How Apple’s new iPhone is revolutionizing what cell phones can do

• How BitTorrent technology enables anyone to share information with everyone

For a decade, How Computers Work has helped newbies understand new technology, while at the same time hackers and IT pros have treasured it for the depth of knowledge it contains. This is the perfect book about computing to capture your imagination, delight your eyes, and expand your mind, no matter what your technical level!

Category: General Computing

Covers: PCs/Hardware

User Level: Beginning–Intermediate

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Imagine yourself a "zero." Or if you prefer, a "one." Tiny as you've just become, you're perfectly sized to go inside your computer, zip from one device to the next, skitter across a network, and ultimately discover how all these technologies work.

Too fantastic a voyage for you? Get How Computers Work instead. Ron White takes you under the hood of virtually every contemporary computer technology, showing you how everything works -- with a major assist from hundreds of full-color illustrations. This Sixth Edition's not merely updated, and not merely bigger: It also includes a CD-ROM containing a "up-close virtual reality tour" of the innards of your PC. (Watch out for that fan!)

How Computers Work illuminates everything related to your PC: processors and memory; disks (including compression and defragging); software and programming languages; DVD players; joysticks, mice, and touchpads; the Web and email; streaming media, LANs, wireless, Palms, color printing, scanning and OCR, speech recognition, uninterruptible power supplies...we could go on. The explanations are exceptionally relevant, accurate, brief, and readable. This is a book that ought to be in every library. Starting with yours. (Bill Camarda)

Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer with nearly 20 years' experience in helping technology companies deploy and market advanced software, computing, and networking products and services. He served for nearly ten years as vice president of a New Jersey-based marketing company, where he supervised a wide range of graphics and web design projects. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks For Dummies®, Second Edition.

Stephanie Zvirin
Ever wonder what the guts of those familiar PCs look like? If you're curious but fear computerese might get in the way, this book's the answer. Although not entirely without technical terminology, it's an accessible, informative introduction that spreads everything out for logical inspection. Carefully sequenced captioned diagrams do most of the work. Scattered throughout the book, they conduct readers on a visual tour of PC terrain that begins with the bootstrap--the permanent coding that launches PC operations--and ends with explanations of how different kinds of printers handle the information PCs send. In between comes information about such things as RAM, a mouse, CD-ROM, and tape backup. To make everything even clearer, White introduces the explanatory diagrams with a few concise, lucid paragraphs of text. Readers will come away knowing not only what everything looks like but also what it does.
Booknews
A book/CD-ROM tour through the workings of the personal computer. Sections on microchips, data storage, input/output devices, multimedia, networks, and printers contain overviews of how and why technological processes work. The color diagrams explaining details are clearer and more interesting than the companion CD-ROM's interactive displays, video interviews, and computing tips. This second edition contains updated material on multimedia. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
New York Times Book Review
For many computer users, the notion of probing beneath the covers of these expensive machines and noodling with their innards is not appealing. Even if someone works up the nerve to look around in there or dares to make some useful upgrades, poking around motherboards and expansion cards will probably feel like a perilous walk in the dark. But if knowledge is the light of the world, then the contents of the 292-page book "How Computers Work," which comes with a complementary CD-ROM, will certainly illuminate much about the inner workings of today's home and business computers-without requiring the user to look under the hood. Unlike instruction manuals that often come with computers and are either so laden with jargon or so simplified that they read like maps without street names, this large, well-illustrated book strikes a good balance between the needs of the beginner and those of the more experienced user. Its author, Ron White, a senior editor at PC Computing magazine and founder of one of the first PC online user groups, is an old hand at these kinds of books. A patient teacher, he writes in a clear and well-informed voice that says, "You, too, can understand this stuff." In the opening of chapter six, "How Windows Uses Memory," for example, White writes, "Memory is the staging area for the processor, the place where the processor receives the instructions and data it needs to do its job." And yes, this book, while conveying some information that is universal to practically all computers, is more or less aimed at explaining the ins and outs of Windows-based PC's with Intel chips, commonly known as Wintel computers. There is no mention, for example, of Macintosh computers. Windows 95 and Windows NT figure prominently in the book's explanations of software, and Intel's Pentium Pro chip gets its own chapter. To its credit, the book covers some of the most common computer peripherals, like printers, scanners, joysticks and even digital cameras. And "How Computers Work" delves into the unseen world of what is actually going on inside, say, a transistor, the building blocks of computer chips-the kind of exploration that is a must for any computer book worth a tree's life and limbs. Interested in the interplay of electrons on P-type silicon? White tries to make it seem oh so simple-most of the time. The generous use of large, colorful illustrations practically turns "How Computers Work" into a picture book. And the CD-ROM that comes tucked in a pocket inside the back cover is an imaginative interactive guide into the hardware of multimedia computers. Through sound and animation, the CD-ROM offers a 3-D vision, rather than the book's X-ray vision, of how computers work-for example, what happens when a floppy disk is formatted. In the face of this book-and-CD-ROM combination, the computer might have a tough time holding on to the mystery of its inner workings.
From Barnes & Noble
From the boot-up process to data storage to how the Internet works, this long-standing bestseller on computers takes the reader through the neural pathways and vital organs of a personal computer. Follow PC/Computing senior editor and computer expert Ron White as he guides you through pages and pages of eye-catching full-color illustrations that make even the most complex subjects easy to understand. Makes clear such cutting-edge technologies as the Internet, multimedia sound and video, Pentium processors, digital cameras, color printing processes, and more.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780789736130
  • Publisher: Que
  • Publication date: 12/7/2007
  • Series: How It Works Series
  • Edition description: Revised
  • Edition number: 9
  • Pages: 452
  • Sales rank: 173,514
  • Product dimensions: 8.06 (w) x 9.98 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Author

RON WHITE is the former executive editor of PC Computing magazine, where he developed the popular How It Works illustration to explain the new technologies that were emerging in computing at a prodigious rate. He is also the author of the best-selling How Digital Photography Works, and books on software, MP3, and digital cameras. His writing and photography have appeared in some of the leading magazines in the nation. He can be reached at ron@ronwhite.com.

About the Illustrator

TIMOTHY EDWARD DOWNS is the national award-winning illustrator of How Computers Work and How Digital Photography Works. Tim has been involved in all facets of graphic design in his illustrious career. From illustrator to creative director, Tim has led teams of artists and designers in advertising agencies, marketing communications firms, and consumer magazines to better tell their stories through illustration, photography, typography, and design. “Our job doesn’t start when the writer hits Save. In order to effectively communicate the tone or the concept of the piece, we need to know and understand the story from the original brainstorm all the way through final execution,” reminds Tim. Examples of Tim’s design, illustration, and photographic work can be seen at http://www.timothyedwarddowns.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Arthur C. Clarke

SORCERERS have their magic wands—powerful, potentially dangerous tools with lives of their own. Witches have their familiars—creatures disguised as household beasts that could, if they choose, wreak the witches' havoc. Mystics have their golems—beings built of wood and tin brought to life to do their masters' bidding.

We have our personal computers.

PCs, too, are powerful creations that often seem to have a life of their own. Usually, they respond to a wave of a mouse or a spoken incantation by performing tasks we couldn't imagine doing ourselves without some sort of preternatural help. But even as computers successfully carry out our commands, it's often difficult to quell the feeling that there's some wizardry at work here.

And then there are the times when our PCs, like malevolent spirits, rebel and open the gates of chaos onto our neatly ordered columns of numbers, our carefully wrought sentences, and our beautifully crafted graphics. When that happens, we're often convinced that we are, indeed, playing with power not entirely under our control. We become sorcerers' apprentices, whose every attempt to right things leads to deeper trouble.

Whether our personal computers are faithful servants or imps, most of us soon realize there's much more going on inside those silent boxes than we really understand. PCs are secretive. Open their tightly sealed cases and you're confronted with poker-faced components. Few give any clues as to what they're about. Most of them consist of sphinx-like microchips that offer no more information about themselves than some obscure code printed on their impenetrable surfaces. The maze of circuit tracings etched on the boards is fascinating, but meaningless, hieroglyphics. Some crucial parts, such as the hard drive and power supply, are sealed with printed omens about the dangers of peeking inside—omens that put to shame the warnings on a pharaoh's tomb.

This book is based on two ideas. One is that the magic we understand is safer and more powerful than the magic we don't. This is not a hands-on how-to book. Don't look for any instructions for taking a screwdriver to this part or the other. But perhaps your knowing more about what's going on inside all those stoic components makes them a little less formidable when something does go awry. The second idea behind this book is that knowledge, in itself, is a worthwhile and enjoyable goal. This book is written to respond to your random musings about the goings-on inside that box you sit in front of several hours a day. If this book puts your questions to rest—or raises new ones—it will have done its job.

At the same time, however, I'm trusting that knowing the secrets behind the magician's legerdemain won't spoil the show. This is a real danger. Mystery is often as compelling as knowledge. I'd hate to think that anything you read in this book takes away that sense of wonder you have when you manage to make your PC do some grand, new trick. I hope that, instead, this book makes you a more confident sorcerer.

© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

Introduction.....xii

Part 1: Boot-Up Process.....2

Chapter 1 Getting to Know the Hardware.....10

Chapter 2 How Circuits Juggle Data.....20

Chapter 3 How a PC Comes Alive.....30

Chapter 4 How an Operating System Controls Hardware.....36

Part 2: How Microchips are the PC’s Brain.....46

Chapter 5 How Transistors Manipulate Data.....52

Chapter 6 How a Microprocessor Works.....62

Part 3: How Software Works.....80

Chapter 7 How Programming Languages Work.....94

Chapter 8 How Windows Works.....104

Chapter 9 How Software Applications Do Your Work.....118

Part 4: Data Storage.....146

Chapter 10 How a Computer’s Long-Term Memory Works.....154

Chapter 11 How Disk Drives Save Information.....166

Chapter 12 How Little Things Make Drives Faster and Bigger.....176

Chapter 13 How PCs Use Light to Remember Data.....184

Part 5: Input/Output Devices.....194

Chapter 14 How Data Gets Into Your PC.....202

Chapter 15 How Scanners Capture Words and Images.....212

Chapter 16 How Computers Use Power.....220

Chapter 17 How Serial Ports Triumph.....228

Chapter 18 How a Computer Display Works.....242

Chapter 19 How Digital Photography Works.....252

Part 6: Games and Multimedia.....260

Chapter 20 How Multimedia Sound Works.....266

Chapter 21 How Multimedia Video Works.....278

Chapter 22 How Game Hardware Puts You In the Action.....286

Chapter 23 How Games Create 3D Worlds.....296

Part 7: How the Internet Works.....306

Chapter 24 How Local Area Networks Work.....314

Chapter 25 How PCs Connect to the Internet.....324

Chapter 26 How the Internet Moves Data.....332

Chapter 27 How We Reach Each Other Through the Net.....338

Chapter 28 How Wireless Sets PCs Free.....350

Chapter 29 How the Net Provides Video and Audio on Demand.....360

Chapter 30 How the World Wide Web Works.....366

Chapter 31 How Internet Security Fights Off PC Invaders.....378

Part 8: How Printers Work.....398

Chapter 32 How Black-and-White Printing Works.....404

Chapter 33 How Color Printing Works.....414

Index.....426

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Preface

Introduction

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Arthur C. Clarke

SORCERERS have their magic wands—powerful, potentially dangerous tools with lives of their own. Witches have their familiars—creatures disguised as household beasts that could, if they choose, wreak the witches' havoc. Mystics have their golems—beings built of wood and tin brought to life to do their masters' bidding.

We have our personal computers.

PCs, too, are powerful creations that often seem to have a life of their own. Usually, they respond to a wave of a mouse or a spoken incantation by performing tasks we couldn't imagine doing ourselves without some sort of preternatural help. But even as computers successfully carry out our commands, it's often difficult to quell the feeling that there's some wizardry at work here.

And then there are the times when our PCs, like malevolent spirits, rebel and open the gates of chaos onto our neatly ordered columns of numbers, our carefully wrought sentences, and our beautifully crafted graphics. When that happens, we're often convinced that we are, indeed, playing with power not entirely under our control. We become sorcerers' apprentices, whose every attempt to right things leads to deeper trouble.

Whether our personal computers are faithful servants or imps, most of us soon realize there's much more going on inside those silent boxes than we really understand. PCs are secretive. Open their tightly sealed cases and you're confronted with poker-faced components. Few give any clues as to what they're about. Most of them consist of sphinx-like microchips that offer no more information about themselves than some obscure code printed on their impenetrable surfaces. The maze of circuit tracings etched on the boards is fascinating, but meaningless, hieroglyphics. Some crucial parts, such as the hard drive and power supply, are sealed with printed omens about the dangers of peeking inside—omens that put to shame the warnings on a pharaoh's tomb.

This book is based on two ideas. One is that the magic we understand is safer and more powerful than the magic we don't. This is not a hands-on how-to book. Don't look for any instructions for taking a screwdriver to this part or the other. But perhaps your knowing more about what's going on inside all those stoic components makes them a little less formidable when something does go awry. The second idea behind this book is that knowledge, in itself, is a worthwhile and enjoyable goal. This book is written to respond to your random musings about the goings-on inside that box you sit in front of several hours a day. If this book puts your questions to rest—or raises new ones—it will have done its job.

At the same time, however, I'm trusting that knowing the secrets behind the magician's legerdemain won't spoil the show. This is a real danger. Mystery is often as compelling as knowledge. I'd hate to think that anything you read in this book takes away that sense of wonder you have when you manage to make your PC do some grand, new trick. I hope that, instead, this book makes you a more confident sorcerer.

© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

Read More Show Less

Introduction

Sorcerers have their magic wands-powerful, potentially dangerous tools with a life of their own. Witches have their familiars-creatures disguised as household beasts that could, if they choose, wreak the witches' havoc. Mystics have their golems-beings built of wood and tin brought to life to do their masters' bidding.

We have our personal computers.

PCs, too, are powerful creations that often seem to have a life of their own. Usually, they respond to a wave of a mouse or a spoken incantation by performing tasks we couldn't imagine doing ourselves without some sort of preternatural help. But even as computers successfully carry out our commands, it's often difficult to quell the feeling that there's some wizardry at work here.

And then there are the times when our PCs, like malevolent spirits, rebel and open the gates of chaos onto our neatly ordered columns of numbers, our carefully wrought sentences, and our beautifully crafted graphics. When that happens, we're often convinced that we are, indeed, playing with power not entirely under our control. We become sorcerers' apprentices, whose every attempt to right things leads to deeper trouble.

Whether our personal computers are faithful servants or imps, most of us soon realize there's much more going on inside those silent boxes than we really understand. PCs are secretive. Open their tightly sealed cases and you're confronted with poker,faced components. Few give any clues as to what they're about. Most of them consist of sphinx-like microchips that offer no more information about themselves than some obscure code printed on their impenetrable surfaces. The maze of circuit tracings etched on the boards is fascinating, but meaningless, hieroglyphics. Some crucial parts, such as the hard drive and power supply, are sealed with printed omens about the dangers of peeking inside; omens that put to shame the warnings on a pharaoh's tomb.

This book is based on two ideas. One is that the magic we understand is safer and more powerful than the magic we don't. This is not a hands,on how-to book. Don't look for any instructions for taking a screwdriver to this part or the other. But perhaps your knowing more about what's going on inside all those stoic components makes them all a little less formidable when something does go awry. The second idea behind this book is that knowledge, in itself, is a worthwhile and enjoyable goal. This book is written to respond to your random musings about the goings-on inside that box that you sit in front of several hours a day. If this book puts your questions to rest-or raises new ones-it will have done its job.

At the same time, however, I'm trusting that knowing the secrets behind the magician's legerdemain won't spoil the show. This is a real danger. Mystery often is as compelling as knowledge. I'd hate to think that anything you read in this book takes away that sense of wonder you have when you manage to make your PC do some grand, new trick. I hope that, instead, this book makes you a more confident sorcerer.

Before You Begin

This book has been written with a certain type of personal computer in mind-the "Wintel," a PC most often built around an Intel processor and running Microsoft Windows. Many of the specifics in these explanations apply only to that class of computer and those components. For Mac users, I suggest John Rizzo's How the Mac Works, and that you do some serious thinking about switching.

In more general terms, the explanations also may apply to Macintosh computers, UNIX workstations, and even minicomputers and mainframes. But I've made no attempt to devise universal explanations of how computers work. To do so would, of necessity, detract from the understanding that comes from inspecting specific components.

Even so, there is so much variety even within the Intel/Microsoft world of PCs that, at times, I've had to limit my explanations to particular instances or stretch the boundaries of a particular situation to make an explanation as generic as possible. If you spot anything that doesn't seem quite right in this book, I hope that my liberties with the particulars is the only cause.

Ron White
San Francisco, California

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2003

    Pretty Good

    This book was pretty long and went in depth. I liked how Ron explained some titles that un-used-to cyber freaks would enjoy. Matthew 2 Degrees

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2001

    One of the Greatest Computer Books

    How comptures work by Ron White is one of the best computer books ever. It had great pictures and in depth study on every thing from windows to SCSI.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2014

    cool

    cool

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 10, 2012

    Is this a new edition, or the same as the 2007/2008 9th edition?

    Is this a new edition, or the same as the 2007/2008 9th edition? Why do book publishers misrepresent what is going on???????????

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 15, 2011

    Awsome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This was the most detailed and best computer book I have ever seen!!!!!!!!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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