When you work with hardware, it’s hard to remember every device, every specification, and every configuration on every machine. What you need are good references to help you. In this Daily Feature, I’ll review two books you’ll want to include in your IT library. One is an indispensable complete guide. The other is a quick reference.

Upgrading and Repairing PCs
TechProGuild contributor Faithe Wempen recommended this book to me when I was studying for my A+ exams. She said I would never regret either the price ($49.99 U.S.) or the size, which at 1,628 pages is big enough to double as a hand weight if I can’t make it to the gym. She was correct. Scott Mueller’s book is more than a reference; it’s a lifeline. It’s authoritative, opinionated, and complete—to say it’s well designed is to do the book an injustice. Now, I use it as my chief hardware fact-checking tool when editing contributions and when writing my own articles. This is the best book I have ever seen published by Que, and it rises far above its other titles, in my humble opinion.
Title: Upgrading and Repairing PCs 12th EditionAuthor: Scott MuellerPublisher: QuePages: 1,628Date Published: September 2000ISBN: 0789723034Price: $49.99 U.S.

Figure A
Buy this book. Better yet, get your company to purchase a copy for you.

What it covers
There’s so much that you, as an IT professional, are going to appreciate about this encyclopedia of hardware. The line drawings are crisp and clear. Charts and tables, when used, present the information that was covered in more detail in the chapters. The pinout diagrams for connectors reach a new level of comprehensibility. Black and white photos are presented with such a degree of clarity that all features are visible. This is one of the few books about which I’d say that color photos would have been distracting. There’s a companion CD and even a Web site.

Consider the companion CD (Figure B). Often, these CDs are nice but not necessary. This one is both nice and necessary. On this CD, you get 90 minutes of video on general hardware topics such as Form Factor Recommendation, Processor Sockets, Mounting a Motherboard, and Tools of the Trade. There are 28 topics in all. The CD also includes an electronic library with the complete text of four previous editions, 13 Technical Reference documents, including BIOS error and beep codes, and a Hard Drive Database. You’ll also appreciate the Vendor Database, Web Resources (a Web site at Que listing helpful links), and the Ultimate Companion, a Web site containing the latest hardware information, where you can send hardware questions directly to the author.

Figure B
At last, a companion CD that’s a companion you can count on.

Opinions you can use
Mr. Mueller gives opinions you can count on, even to use for justifying computer purchases to your boss. For example, in Chapter 4, “Motherboard Form Factors,” the author had this to say about proprietary motherboards: “Unless there are special circumstances, I do not recommend purchasing systems with proprietary board designs. They will be virtually impossible to upgrade and very expensive to repair later…I call proprietary form factor systems ‘disposable’ PCs, since that’s what you must normally do with them when they are too slow or need repair out of warranty.”

As you can see from this example, there’s no dry prose in this book. It’s an “I”-centered approach that’s refreshing in the technical book industry. Compared to other similar technical references, the price is quite reasonable. When I checked online, 30-percent discounts were available at Fatbrain.com.

PC Hardware in a Nutshell
I consider O’Reilly one of the venerable publishers of technical books. I purchase anything it prints without reservation, just by the title. Who hasn’t enjoyed the knowing title, Outlook Annoyances, or depended upon Web Design in a Nutshell? This hardware offering, shown in Figure C, is subtitled A Desktop Quick Reference, and that’s what it is. It’s not a competitor to Upgrading and Repairing PCs, but it’s a book you grab when you need quick facts.

Figure C
O’Reilly’s titles are nutty, and their content gets right to the nut, too.

PC Hardware in a Nutshell uses O’Reilly’s familiar tabbed design to help you quickly locate the required information. Like Upgrading and Repairing PCs, early sections are background overviews, such as “PCs Defined,” “Rules to Upgrade By,” and my favorite: “Things to Do with Old PCs.” I’m not sure that one of their choices, “Give it to an elderly neighbor or relative,” is the best advice. Sure, they’ll be too old to know they’re getting a cruddy, out-of-date PC. But it’s better than what many people do—put it in the landfill. You won’t find as many graphics, tables, and monochrome photos here but what you do find works well. Chapters do give complete overviews. For instance, the section on Power Supplies gave me good tips for troubleshooting and good knowledge of some of the factors affecting voltage. I also appreciated the description of the various power supply connectors.

The book covers all the standard hardware and concludes with chapters on designing a PC and building a PC. What you won’t find is the kind of fine-grained technical detail, such as pinouts, that a field technician will need. It’s clearly for an intermediate reader. The language, too, is a bit dryer than in Scott Mueller’s book. If you need a book on that level (perhaps as an overview before delving into deeper specifications), I recommend PC Hardware in a Nutshell. It covers the basic facts, and you don’t need training to lift it.
Title: PC Hardware in a NutshellAuthors: Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman ThompsonPublisher: O’ReillyPages: 526Date Published: October 2000ISBN: 1565925998Price: $29.95 U.S.