Carlin's unofficial guide to Personal Computers - 1997 edition!

Yeah, Sure. That all sounds great. But what does it Really Mean??

There's nothing worse than buying something that you don't really understand. Especially when you think you're the only person in the store who isn't following that slick sounding sales person. Don't worry, everyone starts somewhere. And besides, as long as you know how to do whatever you need to do, who cares how it really works??? In the mean time, here's a little list of what it all means. Hang in there, soon you can explain this to someone else, and then you'll think its pretty cool stuff, indeed.

What is this Pentium Thing??

Intel makes the Pentium. Its the Central Processing Unit (CPU) (Did I mention there would be some alphabet soup here?) The CPU is the main brain of the computer. Kind of the dude in charge, but it still needs the rest of the chips in there. You'll just have to look inside that box sometime. Some time ago there was the 8088 CPU, then the 80286, 80386, and 80486. Intel was pretty big then, like almost alone on the mountain. Then some other companies started to make chips that also were in the same class, and called them 286, 386, 486 etc. Well, when Intel got ready to release the 586, they got tired of everyone else copying the name (number?) so they called it the Pentium (penta means 5). Now there is a Pentium Pro, which is being called 686 by the others. So, who cares?? For the time being, the important thing is look for the Pentium name. Then there is that MHz number. MHz is MegaHertz (sounds like a cool place to rent a car?) Hertz is cycles per second, and Mega is lots of cycles per second. The higher the number, the faster its going. Sort of like RPM on your car. Just to further add confusion, since I started writing this piece, Intel has released the MMX Pentium, and after that was the Pentium II. MMX is able to handle multimedia programs easier, and faster. The word is that soon all Pentiums will be MMX, and the standard Pentium will be phased out. If you are familiar with the 386 & 486, some of them had a built in "co-processor" that was dedicated to math functions. (All Pentiums have built in math co-processors). The MMX is similar, but it has a co-processor dedicated to multimedia. The Pentium II is a step beyond the Pentium Pro, for now we'll consider that overkill to the extreme. Kind of like the 386 was when everyone was scraping money together to pay for their 286. As time goes by, I'm sure everyone will have one!

You'll likely run into some MB stuff too

That is MegaBytes. Again Mega is lots. Bytes are units of computer information. Sort of like letters. Memory and storage are measured in Bytes, but since the new computers have so much capacity, they started counting in KiloBytes (thousands) and then MegaBytes (millions) and now GigaBytes (Thousand Mega Billion?) Again, who cares, and how does it effect us? If the MB are referring to memory or RAM (random access memory) this is how much working space your computer has. In a Windows environment, this is how much you can do at the same time. If its referring to storage, like 1.44MB on a 3.5" floppy disk, or 1.2GB on a Hard drive, think of it as a bookshelf, storing information. Sort of like if you can't remember everything in yourmemory,you would write it down somewhere, like a notepad. The RAM is like your memory (somewhat temporary) and the notepad would be like the hard drive or floppy, somewhat permanent. Nothing lasts forever, and that's something to keep in mind!

CDROM looks suspiciously like a music CD

So what's the ROM part all about? It stands for Compact Disk - Read Only Media. This means you can Read information from it, but not Save or Write to it with your computer. Think of CD-ROM as a very efficient way to buy software. It is capable of holding up to 650MB of data, which makes it very cost effective for distributing programs and other data / info. Example would be an Encyclopedia on one disk, with color pictures, sounds, and short movies. Who has time for books anymore?? As a bonus, the CDROM drive can also play standard music CDs, as long as you have a sound card and speakers. That's why its smart if you buy the CDROM drive, you'll want speakers and sound card to!

There is a new development now, called DVD (and I've heard of DVD-ROM, and some others). That works sorta like CD-ROM, but holds even more. Its still pretty new, but I'm sure prices will come down enough that new systems will include them soon.

SVGA, Video Card, and why a 17" monitor isn't 17"

No matter how you stretch the tape. In no particular order, the Video Card is a computer circuit board that converts the signals from the computer into a picture on your display. The quality of the picture can depend as much on the Video Card as it can on your Monitor. Think of it as having an Awesome TV and getting poor reception. SVGA stands for Super Video Graphics Array (or some people say Adapter). It was an extension of VGA, only its able to handle higher resolution. Resolution on displays is described as dots across x dots high, for example 640x480, 800x600, etc. The higher the numbers, the more you can see on the screen, but the smaller the objects are. Sort of like a zoom lens on a camera. Now about that 17" monitor. Monitors are rated by the size of the actual picture tube, some of which isn't visible because of the case its in. Normally a 17" will probably have about 15.5 or so visible, and so on. Its also measured Diagonally, from opposite corners, again on the total size of the tube, not visible. You could complain about that, but I think its a little late to do much about it.

What about Windows 95?

Are they selling old stuff still??? Windows is a GUI (graphical users interface) that was designed to make computers less complicated to use. Just try to type this real fast sometime:

"xcopy c:stuffsubstuffothersub*.* a: /s/e/v" Oh, and remember, if you make a mistake, it could either tell you some strange error, or it may just do what you actually told it to do. Big Mess! Windows gives you the mouse, and with that you can now just click a couple of times and do sort of the same thing. Of course you still have to know why you would want to click that thing and you probably shouldn't try that xcopy thing without asking someone first, O.K.?

Why is it Windows 95? It was actually released sometime in 95, although it just barely made it! A lot of people thought it had problems, but mostly it was just misunderstood. Is there a new version coming out soon? Yup, and it was to be called Windows 97, but it doesn't look like it will make it. I think its being called Memphis, (I seem to remember Win95 being dubbed Chicago for a while). Just like there's always a new car coming out. Should you wait? You could wait your whole life for the next thing to come out, or you can just throw caution to the wind and get some work done in the mean time. In time you'll probably upgrade to what ever the newest thing is, but its still better than waiting and not doing.

Virus', Bugs, and other strange happenings

Back in the stone ages of computers, when they used to take up whole rooms, it wasn't uncommon for cockroaches to crawl around inside the computers. Probably attracted by the warmth, the bugs didn't do much for the computer, as they would tend to get zapped and die there. Eventually the computer wouldn't work so well, or at all, and the programmers would have to go "de-bug" the computer. It got to be a joke when ever a manager or other "bean counter" wanted to know why the computer wasn't working, the computer tech would say they needed to get the rest of the bugs out of the system. I'll bet you always wondered about that, right? Virus' are sort of the same, only most virus' are actually little programs that were written for the purpose of causing problems. Not a good thing! What makes them interesting (or dangerous even) is they act like a real virus, they can spread from computer to computer anytime there is contact. Example would be using someone else's disk, or files from the internet. The good news is there are Anti Virus programs available, and the cost is small compared to the time it takes to replace and reload your software. Sort of like a flu shot!

Printers: InkJets, BubbleJets, LaserJets, Dot Matrix, Daisy Wheels???

Huh? Exactly! Simple ones first. Daisy Wheel printers had a print head like some typewriters. They were a letter quality printer, in that the print quality looked as good as a letter typed on a typewriter. This being compared to the print quality of other printers of the time. The Daisy Wheel printer actually impacted the print head into the ribbon, again like the typewriter, so they made some of that clicking noise. Each character had its own "leaf" or pedal, which is where the Daisy thing came from. I haven't seen many Daisy Wheel printers lately, but I'm sure they're out there somewhere. The Dot Matrix printer works on a different idea, rather than having individual pieces to make different characters, it works a lot like a digital clock, with the Dots arranged in a Matrix, or pattern. There are two main types of printers in this family: 9 pin and 24 pin. The 9 pin leaves something to be desired in print quality, but is very good as a workhorse printer, usually referred to as Draft Quality. Its lacking in print image because there are less pins in the print head, and therefore less dots on the page, and more space between. The 24 pin is considered to be Near Letter Quality (NLQ), because there are more pins, and therefore better density. Both of the Dot Matrix printers are quite noisy, making an angry bee sort of sound. I find if there is a few pages to print on one of these, it's usually a good time to get a cup of coffee.

BubbleJets and InkJets are basically the same animal. The nice thing about them is they are very quiet! They work on the process of a very small ink nozzle (actually many of them, again arranged in a pattern) that spray ink onto the paper. On the new ones, the dots are smaller than most people get close enough to see, so the image quality is very good. They are also available in color printers, so are perfect for home use.

Laser printers work very much like a photocopy machine. I'm not going much into the theory on them, OK? A laser beam draws an image on the image drum, the toner gets attracted to the image (kinda like static cling), the image is transferred onto the paper, then it gets heat fused to the paper, so it doesn't smear. (Too Much Info??) That is the one advantage of Laser over Inkjet, the ink won't smear if it gets coffee on it (very common on my desk!) For the most part, Laser printers don't print color. I say it that way, because there is the Hewlett Packard Color LaserJet printer, which does print color. For a price! Say around $5000 now, or so. Not in home use price range, or most business for that matter!

Now that you've made it through this whole thing, Congratulations!

Hope you learned something, and that I didn't bore you to death. You are now ready for the Great Adventure. Computers are never boring. Sometimes it would be nice if they were! Hang in there, it sure beats not having them! I have a couple favors to ask: If you noticed anything that is wrong, please let me know. If I forgot something that you think should be included, again, tell me! I want this to be as useful as possible. Feel free to pass it to anyone who reads it, or make copies if you'd like. Or better yet, e-mail me and I'll mail you an updated version! I'm sure this will be improved in the future!

Forever At Your Service!

Carlin Comm

written originally in 1997

By Carlin Comm posted on 2009-03-12 17:09:34