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How Computers Work (9th Edition) [Paperback]

Ron White , Timothy Downs
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)

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How Computers Work (10th Edition) (How It Works) How Computers Work (10th Edition) (How It Works)
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Book Description

November 24, 2007 0789736136 978-0789736130 9

Having sold more than 2 million copies over its lifetime, How Computers Work is the definitive illustrated guide to the world of PCs and technology. In this new edition, you’ll find detailed information not just about every last component of hardware found inside your PC, but also in-depth explanations about home networking, the Internet, PC security, and even how cell phone networks operate. Whether you’re interested in how the latest graphics cards power today’s most demanding games or how a digital camera turns light into data, you’ll find your answers right here.


Ron White is a former executive editor and columnist for PC Computing, where he developed the visual concept behind How Computers Work. Founder of one of the

earliest PC user groups, he has been writing about computers for 25 years and is known for building wildly extreme computers.


Timothy Edward Downs is an award-winning magazine designer, illustrator, and photographer. He has directed and designed several national consumer, business, technology, and

lifestyle magazines, always infusing a sense of “how it works” into every project.


A full-color, illustrated adventure into the wonders of TECHNOLOOGY


This full-color, fully illustrated guide to the world of technology assumes nothing and explains everything. Only the accomplished Ron White and award-winning Tim Downs have the unique ability to meld descriptive text with one-of-a-kind visuals to fully explain how the electronic gear we depend on every day is made possible. In addition to all the content you’ve come to expect from prior editions, this newly revised edition includes all-new coverage of topics such as:


•    How tablet PCs put the power of a PC quite literally in your hands

•    How Windows Vista makes your Windows desktop translucent and makes your PC more secure

•    How advances in optical disc technology such as dual-layer DVD, HD-DVD, and Blu-Ray discs continue to push the envelope

•    How Apple’s new iPhone is revolutionizing what cell phones can do

•    How BitTorrent technology enables anyone to share information with everyone


For a decade, How Computers Work has helped newbies understand new technology, while at the same time hackers and IT pros have treasured it for the depth of knowledge it contains. This is the perfect book about computing to capture your imagination, delight your eyes, and expand your mind, no matter what your technical level!


Category: General Computing

Covers:    PCs/Hardware

User Level:    Beginning–Intermediate


Frequently Bought Together

How Computers Work (9th Edition) + Absolute Beginner's Guide to C (2nd Edition) + Programming in C (3rd Edition)
Price for all three: $78.09

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

About the Author

RON WHITE is the former executive editor of PC Computing magazine, where he developed the popular How It Works illustration to explain the new technologies that were emerging in computing at a prodigious rate. He is also the author of the best-selling How Digital Photography Works, and books on software, MP3, and digital cameras. His writing and photography have appeared in some of the leading magazines in the nation. He can be reached at


About the Illustrator

TIMOTHY EDWARD DOWNS is the national award-winning illustrator of How Computers Work and How Digital Photography Works. Tim has been involved in all facets of graphic design in his illustrious career. From illustrator to creative director, Tim has led teams of artists and designers in advertising agencies, marketing communications firms, and consumer magazines to better tell their stories through illustration, photography, typography, and design. “Our job doesn’t start when the writer hits Save. In order to effectively communicate the tone or the concept of the piece, we need to know and understand the story from the original brainstorm all the way through final execution,” reminds Tim. Examples of Tim’s design, illustration, and photographic work can be seen at

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.



"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Arthur C. Clarke

SORCERERS have their magic wands—powerful, potentially dangerous tools with lives of their own. Witches have their familiars—creatures disguised as household beasts that could, if they choose, wreak the witches' havoc. Mystics have their golems—beings built of wood and tin brought to life to do their masters' bidding.

We have our personal computers.

PCs, too, are powerful creations that often seem to have a life of their own. Usually, they respond to a wave of a mouse or a spoken incantation by performing tasks we couldn't imagine doing ourselves without some sort of preternatural help. But even as computers successfully carry out our commands, it's often difficult to quell the feeling that there's some wizardry at work here.

And then there are the times when our PCs, like malevolent spirits, rebel and open the gates of chaos onto our neatly ordered columns of numbers, our carefully wrought sentences, and our beautifully crafted graphics. When that happens, we're often convinced that we are, indeed, playing with power not entirely under our control. We become sorcerers' apprentices, whose every attempt to right things leads to deeper trouble.

Whether our personal computers are faithful servants or imps, most of us soon realize there's much more going on inside those silent boxes than we really understand. PCs are secretive. Open their tightly sealed cases and you're confronted with poker-faced components. Few give any clues as to what they're about. Most of them consist of sphinx-like microchips that offer no more information about themselves than some obscure code printed on their impenetrable surfaces. The maze of circuit tracings etched on the boards is fascinating, but meaningless, hieroglyphics. Some crucial parts, such as the hard drive and power supply, are sealed with printed omens about the dangers of peeking inside—omens that put to shame the warnings on a pharaoh's tomb.

This book is based on two ideas. One is that the magic we understand is safer and more powerful than the magic we don't. This is not a hands-on how-to book. Don't look for any instructions for taking a screwdriver to this part or the other. But perhaps your knowing more about what's going on inside all those stoic components makes them a little less formidable when something does go awry. The second idea behind this book is that knowledge, in itself, is a worthwhile and enjoyable goal. This book is written to respond to your random musings about the goings-on inside that box you sit in front of several hours a day. If this book puts your questions to rest—or raises new ones—it will have done its job.

At the same time, however, I'm trusting that knowing the secrets behind the magician's legerdemain won't spoil the show. This is a real danger. Mystery is often as compelling as knowledge. I'd hate to think that anything you read in this book takes away that sense of wonder you have when you manage to make your PC do some grand, new trick. I hope that, instead, this book makes you a more confident sorcerer.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Que Publishing; 9 edition (November 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0789736136
  • ISBN-13: 978-0789736130
  • Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful, but outdated December 12, 2012
I have used this book for a introductory high school technology course, but it is getting very dated. Many refernces are to technology my students have never seen (because they are old) and leaves out many newer technologies. Any chance of an updated version anytime soon?
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Explains EVERYTHING you have questioned! May 26, 2012
This book was exactly for me when I got it. Before when I had this book, I had questions! I mean how do PCB makes so fantastic clear pictures on desktop and many many many more questions in my mine! If you can't stand using a device and not knowing what's going on inside, WELL THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU. Plus it explains about IP adresses, wireless access point, modems, subnet mask, NIC,ect. really well. Now I can't even stand putting it down. I'm telling you again, all your questions about modern day technology will be answered!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Less for more... March 25, 2008
This is my third purchase of "How Computers Work." The first editions included an excellent CD that worked with Windows 3.11 and later with Windows95 and 98. The CD was excellent and an wonderful teaching tool. (I teach an A+ Computer Repair-type class at the high school level.)

My second purchase included a CD that was somewhat useful -- sort of a lame interactive presentation.

This edition no longer includes the CD, which is why I made this purchase. The lesson here is not to order something on-line late at night when one is not paying attention -- my fault.

On a positive note, I had our high school librarian order several copies for my students to check out.

The book has good, up-to-date info, great illustrations, but I miss the original CD.

Alvin Kroon
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book November 29, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've worked in computer support for 6 years, but since I haven't been to class on most topics, I have gaps in my knowledge. This book gives 2 pages for each topic, and is great for me, or for a curious person just wanting to learn more about computers. You can read just the topics you are interested in, in any order, or the entire book. Great charts, precise and helpful explanations, and lots of colorful diagrams. I rec it for all levels of computer users!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Popular science category September 29, 2009
By AS63
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is for people who like to know what is going on, but not for applying this knowledge. You won't be able to upgrade; or troubleshoot your computer if you read it, and you won't be able fix your software either. The reason for the 4 stars is that the title is somewhat misleading. Otherwise, if you belong to the audience above, then it does a good job. On the other hand, if you want to do something specific, don't buy it, it won't move you in that direction, it is too shallow for practical purposes.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Illustrated April 11, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you're looking for a book that will bring your computer literacy up to date this is it. A great book to bring seasoned users up to speed with current mobile technology and great for understanding how things work from component level to system level.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Broad and useful introductory overview of computers June 17, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a great value for anyone seeking a general understanding of how computers work. The author and illustrator effectively cover a tremendous breadth of material with simple text and excellent visual aids, but without being silly or so simplistic as to be meaningless. The material is broken up into logical chapters, but is served up in 2-page increments, so the book is easy to pick up for a few minutes, learn about a concept or method, and then go about other activities. It also flows in an incremental manner that builds from the basics of hardware and software all the way up to the internet and complicated graphics programs. It pays about equal attention to hardware and software, and introduces common but often misunderstood terms and principles. I would highly recommend the book to non-subject-matter-experts seeking an architectural or conceptual view of computers. While one will not be able to build a computer or write code after reading only this book, he or she will certainly have a much better idea of how all the hardware and software components of a computer and network work together to perform a myriad of functions. Topics are as diverse as transistor operation, boolean algebra, spreadsheets, digital photography, computer games, printers, Google, eBay, viruses, security, data storage, local area networks, power supplies, joysticks, operating systems, and many subjects in between. I have enjoyed and appreciated this book. My thanks to the author and illustrator--they've helped me a great deal!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Publishers did authors no justice. September 16, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I purchased this book because it had such high ratings. However, the publisher (Kindle Version) did the authors no justice because they did not follow instructions for incorporating graphics in ebooks. All graphics in the Kindle edition are virtually useless.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Looks brand new!
Everything I expected it to be. Very helpful especially for beginners or people who just liked to know more about computers.
Published 19 days ago by sarai
5.0 out of 5 stars Get!
Great intro book for those interested in how computers work. I'd recommend to anyone interested in computer forensics. Great basic guide to how it works.
Published 1 month ago by James P.
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Book
You can learn a lot from the material in this book. The book came in okay condition. It was not new, but it was not old. It was still in good shape to read and use.
Published 1 month ago by Niceperson
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book to introduce young people to computers
I got this for my teenage grandson as a way of helping him learn about computers before we start his build-your-own-computer project. Read more
Published 4 months ago by saltwaterdave
4.0 out of 5 stars Look inside the metal cover
I bought this book because I was curious about what was going on inside my computer. I now understand what happens when I turn it on and how simple it really is.
Published 4 months ago by Harold W. Wheeler
5.0 out of 5 stars Great IT resource.
The author takes the reader on a detailed exploration of the guts of IT hardware, It is thorough and written at a level which makes the subject matter easy to understand for the... Read more
Published 5 months ago by M. Rarick
3.0 out of 5 stars Understanding computers
This book will help you to understand how and why a computer works and will give you a better understanding on one of the treasures of the day.
Published 6 months ago by Pat Evans
5.0 out of 5 stars Pictures Good.
I'm no IT expert, but I feel like one now! I don't do good with words, so sometimes (most times) I need to resort to pictures so I can learn new things. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Chad Choban
4.0 out of 5 stars Very understandable guide to a great mystery
THis is excellent in providing a time line for the critical advances in Maths or electronics which allowed the computer to develop
The graphics are very good. Read more
Published 10 months ago by JCF
5.0 out of 5 stars college helper
This was one book that I needed for my IT class and I am very happy with the fact that I do not need to borrow the book from the library.
Published 10 months ago by Ms Constance M. Ferro
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