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What a time for a book about computers! Machines are faster than ever, with some systems clocking in at more than three gigahertz. Yet, amazingly, they cost less than ever before, too. You can buy a new personal computer for less than $300—at least if you turn over rocks for the best prices and look for a free operating system (which is sort of like buying a car and curb-surfing for tires).

But there's another side to the story. Engineers shudder in corners hoping their jobs will exist next week. High-tech manufacturers jump as high as they can in a not-always-successful effort to keep their nostrils above the rising waters of ruin. How can you make sense of this out-of-kilter world?

One way is by reading the book you hold in your hand. It's designed to help you understand all the technologies that underlie the modern personal computer and all its peripherals that help make it useful. Although you won't be able to design a computer when you're finished (that is, unless you already knew how to when you started), you will know what it takes to design one, how computers work, and how you can work better with them—and get them to do more for you. It doesn't matter if you regard a screwdriver as a tool, an instrument of torture, or a new curiosity you've never before encountered. Even if you have no technical background whatsoever, this book will guide you to a level of understanding that will let you buy, use, and upgrade your computer with confidence. At the same time, you'll find all the technical information that you need to do a school report or business presentation on nearly any current computer topic.

If this book has any weakness, it's that I don't know what the future holds. If I did, I might still have a retirement plan—but that's another story. What I know—and what this book relates—is what's happening in the present.

To put it plainly, we're in a time of change. No one seriously doubts that the entire computer industry is changing radically. It has matured and shifted from growth mode to a sustaining mode. Both businesses and homes are stuffed nearly to capacity with personal computers.

On the other hand, computers have become an essential part of our lives. Rather than exotic and revered machines serving as centerpieces to hobbies and business plans, the computer is something you use every day for chores as mundane as looking up an address, typing a school report, or printing a picture of the kids. As much as computers are used for business, they're also used for fun—for making movies or playing games that test the limits of both your imagination and current technology.

But that's not the end of it. New technologies continue to sweep through the industry. Both still and video cameras have gone digital. Wireless networking is sweeping through both businesses and homes, along with some novel wired systems that use your existing telephone or electrical wiring. Direct digital connections to the Internet—stuff with names like digital subscriber lines and cable modems—are now in the mainstream. The digital versatile disc is in nearly everyone's home, and your computer can now burn your own DVDs. The universal serial bus connection system has matured, and its latest incarnation, version 2.0, will make it the choice for most computer peripherals. Speeds of everything, from those USB ports to microprocessors and disk drives, is going in only one direction: up.

This new edition of the Hardware Bible covers all these new developments to help you keep up with the changes in the personal computer industry. Indeed, the industry has been dominated by such changes—dramatic movements from one technology to another, from one generation to the next. Each has marked a major stage in its evolution, and each has brought a new, invigorating era of innovation—and a new edition of this book.

One such change was the move between computer buses. When the last edition of the Hardware Bible appeared, the computer industry was finally moving to throw off one of its last links with its origins, now more than two decades old: Industry Standard Architecture (ISA). The innovation of Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI), with its improved performance and ease of configuration, made mainstream computers possible. Without it, for example, you could never edit video on a desktop computer; burning your own CDs would be chancy; and computer games would be stuck somewhere between Pong and PacMan.

We are at the very beginning of another period of change. You'll see the rising forces inside this book—Intel's new Itanium processor and AMD's response, the Opteron. The Itanium breaks with the Intel architecture that makes Windows possible. It will require a new Windows, and new software. The Opteron hedges its bets and gives the potential for new 64-bit performance but with backward-looking compatibility that has been so essential at helping us across cusps.

In either case, the transition to 64-bit computing will have an effect that you can see. Edit a snapshot, and big changes will happen fast, almost instantly. You won't grow old making a home movie. Easy animation will be something anyone can do as easily as making a business card from a template.

This new edition of the Hardware Bible looks forward to the next generation of computing while retaining its past roots. The good news is that the only thing I've eliminated from this Sixth Edition is redundancy. Nothing has fallen on the cutting room floor. Achieving the contradictory ends of including everything while trimming length is possible thanks to the Web. I've tried to exploit both print and the Internet to put each to work at what it does best.

This book is designed in conjunction with the Hardware Bible Web site at www.hardwarebible.com. At the Web site, you'll find additional material—in fact, more than is in the physical book—to enhance the printed edition. In particular, you'll find updates too recent to be printed, as well as discussions of older technologies that are no longer relevant to today's computers, more detailed explanations of the operation of interfaces, and interesting things to know that didn't quite mesh with the narrative of this book.

The selection process was based on making this book something you can readily read. After all, what good is a book if you don't want to read it? To prevent the Web site from interfering with your reading experience, we're not going to flag every tiny instance where you can find more details on the Web site—you'd get the reading equivalent of driving down a rutted road too fast with doubtful shock absorbers. In other words, this book is designed to be a standalone book; you can read it without reference to the Web.

Go to the Web, and it becomes better. You get more. But you can select what you want, when you want. The Web site is keyed to individual chapters, but an overall slick navigation system will help you target what you want. Later in this foreword I've included a listing of the supplementary files posted at the time the printed book was published (more than 140 files), along with the chapters they are meant to accompany. As new technologies develop in the computer industry, the Web site will add them.

To preserve the reference value of the Hardware Bible, the Web site also includes a reference to all the popular industry connectors and the signals assigned to each pin. I called it Connectorama. You'll also find many of the tables deemed too ungainly or of too little general interest to include in the printed version of the text.

What a time for a book about computers, indeed! In this age of change and exciting new technologies, it's the perfect time for a book. I've tried to make this edition of the Hardware Bible the perfect book for the times.

WLR, 12 December 2002

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