How Computers Work

How Computers Work

by Ron White

Take a trip through the neural pathways and vital organs of your personal computer with the newest edition of this long-standing bestseller. Glorious full color illustrations make even the most complex subjects easy to understand. Follow PC/Computing senior editor and computer expert Ron White as he shows you the cutting edge technologies, including the Internet,… See more details below


Take a trip through the neural pathways and vital organs of your personal computer with the newest edition of this long-standing bestseller. Glorious full color illustrations make even the most complex subjects easy to understand. Follow PC/Computing senior editor and computer expert Ron White as he shows you the cutting edge technologies, including the Internet, multimedia sound and video, Pentium processors, local bus architecture, Plug and Play, CD-ROM, digital cameras, color printing, and more in new chapters on the hottest, and coolest, PC components.

Editorial Reviews

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.
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 (
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.

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Product Details

Ziff-Davis Press
Publication date:
How It Works Series

Read an Excerpt


"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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