The Computer Itself
During the several years I spent on the phone in tech support, it
was common for people to call in with no idea of what kind of computer they had.
I remember one conversation with a customer in which he answered "I don't
know" to every questioned I asked about his hardware. Finally, he got so
frustrated and said, "Look! Im not a computer person. I just want you to
tell me what's wrong with my system."
Imagine calling your mechanic to
say there is something wrong with your car. He asks you whether the car has four
or eight cylinders, whether it has fuel injection, whether it is automatic or
manual, and whether it uses unleaded or leaded gas. You finally get frustrated
and say, "Look. I'm not a engine person. I just want you to tell me what's
wrong with my car."
The solution is to drive your car to the
mechanic to have it checked. However, you can't always do that with your computer
system. Dozens of people rely on it to do their work. Without it, the business
stops. To better track down and diagnose hardware problems, you need to know
what to look for.
This section should serve as a background for many
issues I've covered elsewhere. This chapter is designed to familiarize you
with the concepts rather than make you an expert on any aspect of the hardware.
If you want to read more about PC hardware, an excellent book is the
Winn Rosch Hardware Bible from Brady Books (its more than 1000 pages and, as of
this writing (March 2005), it's in it's sixth edition).
In the following sections, I will be
talking primarily about PC hardware. Many of the concepts are the same as on
Alpha machines or Macs, but when I talk about specific interactions with the
hardware, they probably only apply to the PC, for two reasons. Despite the fact
that Linux runs on several platforms, it was first developed on the PC and only
recently successfully ported to the other architectures. The second reason is
that my expertise is in PCs. I have several of them myself and have worked with
them for years, so I have the experience to know what I am talking about.
In addition, the first commercial port to the Alpha is fairly recent.
Therefore, there are not as many people using them. However, keep in mind that
although the DEC Alpha is a different processor, the rest of the hardware is
usually the same.