How Computers Work

How Computers Work

by Ron White
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Overview

How Computers Work by Ron White

How Computers Work shows you how chips, software, memory, and hardware work using detailed four-color drawings. An interactive game-like CD-ROM takes you directly inside your computer. This book is completely updated and revised to include the latest technology developments.

An updated introduction to the workings of the computer explores the basics of microchips, hardware, software, and computer memory, providing an entertaining and informative tour of every part of the computer, from hard drive and processor to mouse, monitor, and keyboard. Also takes you through the workings of digital cameras, ebooks, Bluetooth, and much more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781562760946
Publisher: Ziff-Davis Press
Publication date: 11/28/1992
Series: How It Works Series
Edition description: Older Edition
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 8.47(w) x 10.87(h) x 0.57(d)

About the Author

Ron White is a former executive editor and columnist for PC Computing, where he created the concept behind How Computers Work. He also is the author with Michael White of MP3 Underground. How Computers Work has won as award for best nonfiction computer book from the Computer Press Association, and White's magazine work has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award (Maggie).

Timothy Edward Downs is the creative director of InfoWorld Media Group, and former art director of Smart Business magazine and PC Computing magazine, a two-time National Magazine Award winner. By tapping his vast computer system and process knowledge, Tim has developed the richly illustrative style that is unique to How Computers Work.

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.

Table of Contents

Part 1Boot-Up Process2
Chapter 1Getting to Know the Hardware10
Chapter 2How a Disk Boot Works18
Chapter 3How an Operating System Controls Hardware24
Part 2How Software Works34
Chapter 4How Programming Languages Work48
Chapter 5How Windows Works56
Chapter 6How Software Applications Work68
Part 3Microchips92
Chapter 7How a Transistor Works98
Chapter 8How RAM Works102
Chapter 9How a Microprocessor Works108
Part 4Data Storage120
Chapter 10How Disk Storage Works128
Chapter 11How Disk Drives Work140
Chapter 12How Disk Drives Increase Speed and Storage146
Chapter 13How Optical Storage Works154
Chapter 14How Removable Storage Works164
Part 5Input/Output Devices172
Chapter 15How Energy Turns into Data180
Chapter 16How a Bus Works190
Chapter 17How Computer Ports Work198
Chapter 18How a Keyboard Works210
Chapter 19How a Computer Display Works214
Chapter 20How Pointing Devices Work222
Chapter 21How Game Controllers Work228
Chapter 22How a Modem Works234
Chapter 23How Scanners and Optical Character Recognition Work242
Chapter 24How Portable Computers Work248
Chapter 25How High-Tech Input/Output Works256
Part 6Multimedia264
Chapter 26How Multimedia Sound Works270
Chapter 27How Multimedia Video Works280
Chapter 28How Virtual Reality Works284
Part 7How the Internet Works294
Chapter 29How Local Area Networks Work302
Chapter 30How a PC Connects to the Internet312
Chapter 31How Wireless Works322
Chapter 32How E-Mail Works328
Chapter 33How Internet Video and Audio Work332
Chapter 34How the World Wide Web Works338
Part 8How Printers Work348
Chapter 35How Basic Printing Works354
Chapter 36How Color Printing Works364
Index374

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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How Computers Work (B&N Exclusive Edition) 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
cool
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SocraJesus More than 1 year ago
Is this a new edition, or the same as the 2007/2008 9th edition? Why do book publishers misrepresent what is going on???????????
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.