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I've been working with computers for more than 20 years now. The first machines I used were big and slow and very finicky, and as far removed from “user friendly” as you can imagine. It took a lot of trial and error (and blood, sweat, and tears) to get those early PCs to do anything, so users got used to opening up the case and replacing this or the other part just to keep things up and running.

Computers then were kind of like the technological equivalent of an old Model T—in a world where everyone had to be their own mechanic.

Fortunately for all of us, computers got smaller and faster and easier to use. They also got more reliable, although they're still far from perfect. Not a week goes by that I don't get a call from some friend or family member telling me that their PC won't do this or that, and pleading for just a little bit of help.

Well, that's what this book offers—a bit of help.

Absolute Beginner's Guide to Upgrading and Fixing Your PC will help you in lots of ways. This book will help you better understand how your PC works, so that you can more easily get it to do what you want it to do. This book will also help you upgrade some or all of the components of your computer system, so that it will run faster or more reliably or just be able to do more things better. And, finally, this book will help you when things go wrong—you'll learn how to track down and fix all sorts of pesky PC problems.

This book will help you do all those things, even (and especially) if you're an absolute beginner where computers are concerned. You don't have to be a techie to keep your computer up and running. The advice I give you is simple and practical and easy to do—for anyone.

That means, of course, that there are some more advanced upgrades and repairs that I don't go into. That's okay; my motto is if you need anything more than a screwdriver, let a professional do it. The good news is that there's a lot of cool and useful stuff you can do with just a screwdriver—or even your bare hands!

(By the way, if you're interested in more technically advanced hardware issues than what I cover in this book, I heartily recommend what is now a classic in the computer book publishing industry: Que's Upgrading and Repairing PCs, a 1000+ page tome by the extremely knowledgeable Scott Mueller. It picks up where this book leaves off—and then some!)

How This Book Is Organized

Absolute Beginner's Guide to Upgrading and Fixing Your PC is organized into six main parts, as follows:

  • Part 1, Before You Upgrade, gives you a quick refresher course on computer hardware basics and shows you how to prepare your system for an upgrade.

  • Part 2, Essential Hardware Upgrades, provides step-by-step instructions on how to upgrade your PC's key pieces of hardware: system inputs, hard disk, CD/DVD drives, memory, mice, keyboards, printers, video cards and monitors, and sound cards and speakers.

  • Part 3, Upgrading for Specific Applications, helps you decide what components of your system to upgrade for different uses—downloading and listening to music, storing and editing digital pictures, watching and editing movies and home videos, and playing the latest PC games.

  • Part 4, Upgrading Your Entire System, is all about the really big upgrades; you'll learn how to connect and configure a small wired or wireless network, speed up your Internet connection, install Windows XP, and upgrade to a brand new computer.

  • Part 5, Preventing PC Problems, discusses essential system maintenance, and what you can do to avoid computer viruses and Internet attacks.

  • Part 6, Troubleshooting Common Problems, presents a huge number of common PC problems—along with probable causes and likely solutions.

Taken together, the 30 chapters in this book will help anyone—even absolute beginners—get the most out of their computer systems, and keep their PCs up and running. Just read what you need, and before long you'll have one of the best-performing computer systems on the block!

Conventions Used in This Book

I hope that this book is easy enough to figure out on its own, without requiring its own instruction manual. As you read through the pages, however, it helps to know precisely how I've presented specific types of information.

Menu Commands

Most computer programs operate via a series of pull-down menus. You use your mouse to pull down a menu and then select an option from that menu. This sort of operation is indicated like this throughout the book:

Select File, Save


Click the Start button and select All Programs, Accessories, Notepad.

All you have to do is follow the instructions in order, using your mouse to click each item in turn. When there are submenus tacked onto the main menu (as in the All Programs, Accessories, Notepad example), just keep clicking the selections until you come to the last one—which should open the program or activate the command you want!

Shortcut Key Combinations

When you're using your computer keyboard, sometimes you have to press two keys at the same time. These “two-key” combinations are called shortcut keys and are shown as the key names joined with a plus sign (+). For example, Ctrl+W indicates that you should press the W key while holding down the Ctrl key. It's no more complex than that.

Other Commands

Some of the operations in this book involve entering a command at the Windows command prompt. (This is virtually identical to entering MS-DOS commands, if you've been around computers long enough to remember a world before Windows.) When there's a command to enter, it will be noted like this:


You should enter the command, as written, at the command prompt, and then press the Enter key on your keyboard to execute the command.

Web Page Addresses

There are a lot of Web page addresses in this book. (That's because you'll probably be spending a lot of time on the Internet.) They're noted as such:


Technically, a Web page address is supposed to start with http:// (as in http://www.molehillgroup.com). Because Internet Explorer and other Web browsers automatically insert this piece of the address, however, you don't have to type it—and I haven't included it in any of the addresses in this book.

Special Elements

This book includes a few special elements that provide additional information not included in the basic text. These elements are designed to supplement the text to make your learning faster, easier, and more efficient.


A tip is a piece of advice—a little trick, actually—that helps you use your computer more effectively or maneuver around problems or limitations.


A note is designed to provide information that is generally useful but not specifically necessary for what you're doing at the moment. Some are like extended tips—interesting, but not essential.

“Mike Sez”

This element is my personal opinion or recommendation regarding the topic at hand. Remember—I might not always be right, but I'll always have an opinion!


A caution will tell you to beware of a potentially dangerous operation. In some cases, ignoring a caution could cause you significant problem—so pay attention to them!

Let Me Know What You Think

I always love to hear from readers. If you want to contact me, feel free to email me at upgrade@molehillgroup.com. I can't promise that I'll answer every message, but I will promise that I'll read each one!

If you want to learn more about me and any new books I have cooking, check out my Molehill Group Web site at www.molehillgroup.com. Who knows—you might find some other books there that you'd like to read.

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