PC Hardware in a Nutshell. An oxymoron, as it turns out. When Robert began work on the first edition of this book in late 1998, he planned to write a 300-page book in five months. Barbara joined the project early, at first as the researcher and later as the full co-author. After more than 18 months of working seven days a week, including last-minute rewrites to make everything as current as possible, we finally completed the first edition.
Robert decided to write the first edition because he couldn't find a good answer to what seemed to be a simple question. Robert, who has extensive PC experience, wanted to buy his first CD burner but didn't know much about them. He needed information about how to choose, install, configure, and use a CD burner. It would have been easy to check articles about CD burners in hardware-oriented magazines and enthusiast web sites, but Robert didn't trust them to provide accurate and unbiased information.
He next checked the shelf of PC hardware books he owns. What he found in those books was lots of interesting information, but a surprising dearth of useful information. For example, one very popular title devoted fewer than five of its 1500+ pages to CD-R and CD-RW, and most of those few pages described the history and low-level functioning of these devices. Advice on how to choose a CD burner? Advice on how to install it, configure it, use it, or troubleshoot it? Next to none. That same book devoted nearly 70 pages to a list of vendors information easily accessible on the Web so the shortage of information couldn't have been a result of page count constraints.
We were determined to write a book filled with useful information. You won't find tables of drive parameters for hundreds of obsolete disk drives, instructions on how to change the interleave by low-level formatting an XT hard drive, charts of keyboard scan codes, and so on. As interesting as those things might be, they fail the useful test. Pruning stuff that was merely interesting was painful, because we like to read interesting stuff as much as the next person. But we quickly found out why there's so much interesting information and so relatively little useful information in most PC hardware books. Interesting is quick and easy to write. Useful is slow and hard, because you actually have to do all the stuff.
We found numerous errors repeated nearly verbatim in more than one book things that were clearly wrong, but that an author had simply repeated without verifying it rather than taking the time to check for himself. We're guilty of that at times, too. When we list the pinouts for a gameport, for example, we get that information from published sources. But surprisingly often, we found that these sources disagreed, and so were forced to check for ourselves.
And, boy, did we expend an incredible amount of time and effort checking things for ourselves. Rather than simply repeating what others have said about CD burners, for example, we decided to find out for ourselves. Doing that required building four computers two IDE and two SCSI, one each with Windows 98 and Windows NT and testing each configuration with different drive models by burning numerous CDs with each. About ten 14-hour days and 400 CD blanks later, we finally had a handle on CD burners. All that work turned into just a few pages and some specific product recommendations. But all that work was necessary if we wanted to write something more than just a me-too book.
Our efforts were rewarded. The first edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell sold well, and was widely acclaimed by readers and reviewers alike. For example, Barnes & Noble had this to say:
Given the success of the first edition, we considered doing just a quick update, but we decided that our readers deserved better. So we spent nearly a year building this second edition. Once again, we've done all the hard work so that you don't have to. We spent weeks on end doing detailed testing and comparisons of numerous products, the results of which often boil down to a couple of paragraphs of advice or a single product recommendation. We greatly expanded both the breadth of topics covered and the level of detail presented. This edition is, in every respect, twice the book that the first edition was.
We wouldn't have started this project unless we thought we could write the best PC hardware book available. We think this second edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell meets that goal, and we hope you will think so too.