PC Hardware Annoyances
How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Computer Hardware

by Stephen J. Bigelow
Book review by Yves Avérous

When my cousin eventually decided to buy a PC after weeks of my twisting his arm to get a Mac, I told him: “I’m sorry, you are on your own. After years of troubleshooting my PCs I have not switched to the Mac only to plunge back into ‘dll hell’ again.”

Still, I try to be considerate towards my fellow PC users. Not all of you have a choice—especially if you have been enslaved by single-platform solutions or still believe, against all odds, that it’s more convenient to use a PC. And some of you cannot even be swayed by the fact that there aren’t any known viruses for the Mac operating system and that the system is immune to spyware! So what’s a good friend to do when facing so much resistance to common sense? Offer the next best thing to his own helping hand: PC Hardware Annoyances from O’Reilly, by longtime tech guru Stephen J. Bigelow.

As suggested by its title, PC Hardware Annoyances deals with the most common computer issues in the area of home office computing, with close to 600 questions overall (dare I say “plug and play?”). Drivers, connectors, cards, ports, settings, graphics (cards, monitors, etc.), sound (cards, microphone, speakers, even iPod,), hard drives, CD/DVD drives, networks, printers and scanners … how many times have you wished you could make sense (or better sense) out of those? With 17 years of experience talking about computers to the lay public, Bigelow knows how to make things light and simple. Of course, some areas, such as the BIOS, cannot always be dealt with elegantly: “… the Phoenix/Award BIOS version used with the Tyan Tomcat i7210 (S5112) Pentium 4 “Northwood” or “Prescott” motherboard provides a Quick Power On Self Test option in the Advanced BIOS Features menu …” Poetry not quite in motion. Fortunately, this comes with an illustration.

The question-and-answer approach — sort of a printed FAQ — is not my favorite format, but the publishers of this book have implemented it brilliantly, with easy-to-read “tip” and “warning” boxes, short definitions inserted strategically, and a plethora of screenshots and illustrations. It all conspires to make this smart and friendly book a valuable tool for the average to experienced Windows XP user. In the end, PC Hardware Annoyances can not only help you, but also help you help others.

Even though I tend to generally pick the big “bible” kind of manual when I choose a tech book—well-organized hierarchical opuses like the Missing Manual collection from O’Reilly, for example, for my critical apps like OS X or Office (Mac)—I must admit that PC Hardware Annoyances does a good job at corralling most of the support you might need in a manner that is logically organized and easily digestible.

Another virtue of this book is to remind me how fortunate I am now, as a Mac user, not to need this kind of extensive help anymore.

PC Hardware Annoyances: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Computer Hardware;
by Stephen J. Bigelow, 268 pages, O’Reilly Media, 2005, ISBN: 0596007159.

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