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You can live a long, fruitful life even if you don t know much about what happens inside your computer However, if you want to be a savvy consumer of PC products and reach your personal computing potential, there are a few things you should know Consider this excerpt from the system requirements printed on the box for Microsoft Office 2003:
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Pentium PC with Pentium 233 MHz or higher processor Pentium III
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recommended 128MB of RAM or above recommended 400MB of available hard disk space Super VGA (800 600) or higher resolution monitor
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Personal Computing Demystified
If you don t understand what s on the box, you might have difficulty with what s in the box This chapter has more tech talk than any other chapter, but, trust me here all of it is absolutely essential to demystifying personal computing The personal computing world revolves around the personal computer, and to understand it, you will need a working knowledge of PC terminology and its parts After reading these few pages, you ll be talking megahertz, DIMM slots, RAM, expansion cards, USB ports, AGP slots, motherboards, and so on As you will soon see, the mysteries of the PC are not all that mysterious When talking about the inside of a PC, it s important to understand that each in crement in speed and capacity will improve system performance, but it will cost extra For each of us there is a trade-off between the level of system performance we want and what we are willing to spend This chapter is about demystifying the guts of a PC so you can optimize performance and cost for your computing environment If you get more PC than you need, you ll waste money and never use the excess capacity If you purchase an overly slow system, the unnecessary wait periods can accumulate to an hour or two a day That s as much as a workweek each month! In this and the next three chapters, we ll look at the nuts and bolts of hardware, the things you need to know to become an informed consumer and an effective PC user I offer specific suggestions on what to buy in Part Three, Buying and Using a PC
Going Digital: Bits and Bytes
That light switch on your wall is a good representation of the electronic nature of computers on and off Computers use these two digital states to represent letters, numbers, colors, sounds, images, shapes, and even odors anything that can be digitized or converted to digital format An on or off electronic state is represented by a bit, short for binary digit In the binary numbering system (base 2), the on bit is a 1 and the off bit is a 0 That s why you see only 1 s and 0 s floating around computers in abstract technology images Computers don t actually store the color blue, the words Beam me up, or a C chord on a piano Everything entered into the computer, whether text, audio, graphics, or video, is converted to a combination of bits (1 s and 0 s) according to an encoding system For example, ANSI (pronounced AN-see ) is a common 8-bit encoding system for converting text and special characters to the language of computers 1 s and 0 s In ANSI, a string of eight 1 s and 0 s describes 256 (28) letters or characters For example, an ANSI 01000011 represents a C inside a computer ANSI evolved from its popular 7-bit cousin, ASCII ( AS-key ) The True Color 24-bit encoding system enables the display of 16,777,216 (224) different colors and brilliant photo-quality images The typical display is made up of
CHAPTER 1 Processing Information: Inside the PC
about a million dots, called pixels (picture elements) Each pixel displays one of the 167 million colors associated with its 24-bit code For example, code consisting of all 0 s is black, all 1 s is white, and 001100110000000010011001 is a shade of blue In data storage lingo, 8 bits equates to a byte Each 8-bit ANSI character requires a byte of storage, and the 24-bit True Color code for each pixel requires 3 bytes The terms kilobyte (KB) and megabyte (MB), about 1000 and 1,000,000 bytes, respectively, are common measures of hardware capacities Kilobit (Kb) and megabit (Mb) are used to express the rate at which data are transferred between devices and computers (for example, kilobits per second) Table 1-1 summarizes these and other higher-order measures On output, these binary representations of written text, colorful images, and music are converted back to a form we humans can understand, such as a printed page, a graphic display, or played music
Measure Kilobyte (KB) Kilobit (Kb) Megabyte (MB) Megabit (Mb) Gigabyte (GB) Gigabit (Gb) Terabyte (TB) Terabit (Tb) Approximate No of Bytes/Bits 1000 1,000,000 1,000,000,000 1,000,000,000,000 Actual No of Bytes/Bits 2 = 1024 2 = 1,048,576 2 = 1,073,741,424
40 30 20 10