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Book Review - Bigelow's PC Hardware Desk Reference

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Tom Bair
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Joined: 10 Aug 2002
Posts: 16776955
Location: Portland, Oregon USA


PostPosted: Sun Feb 15, 2004 10:48 pm    Post subject: Book Review - Bigelow's PC Hardware Desk Reference Reply with quote

Bigelow's PC Hardware Desk Reference

Authors:Stephen J. Bigelow
Publisher: Osborne http://mcgraw-hill.co.uk/securityforums/
Date Published:December 24, 2002
Book Specifications:Hardcover, 1552 pages
Category: PC / Hardware
Publisher's Suggested User Level: Not Rated
Reviewer's Recommended User Level: Intermediate/Advanced
Suggested Publisher Price:$59.99 US / $89.95 CDN
Amazon.com US: Bigelow's PC Hardware Desk Reference US
Amazon.co.uk UK: Bigelow's PC Hardware Desk Reference UK
Security Forums Discounted URLhttp://mcgraw-hill.co.uk/securityforums/

Blurb from back cover:

The Answer Book for True Technicians

Looking for answers to difficult PC questions? This expertly written manual provides hundreds of tables, charts, and illustrations on device drivers, chipsets, cable connectors, interfaces, support functions, and much more. Everything professional PC technicians or hard-core enthusiasts need to build, troubleshoot, repair, and maintain their hardware--and key software--is supplied by world-renowned author Steven Bigelow. From desktops and towers, to monitors, busses, hard drives, keyboards and joysticks, chipsets, media drives, sound cards, and video adapters, Bigelows PC Hardware Desk Reference is the serious troubleshooting reference that covers all the latest technology and hardware.


Gone are the old days of using logic probes and soldering tools to repair a PC. Today's PC is largely a collection of inexpensive subassemblies which provide the unit with a modular design. Something fails and it is only a matter of unplugging and replacing a component.

Yet PCs still fail. They will continue to fail in ways that will exhaust even the most patient mind. Effective troubleshooting requires more than simply swapping out boards and drives. Efficient and cost-effective troubleshooting requires an understanding of the hardware and Operating System in use, along with a keen knowledge of symptoms and diagnostics. The technician will also need a solid understanding of setting up, optimizing, and upgrading a PC.

If you are looking for an explaination of computer theory -- then don't buy this book. However, if you need a hands-on desktop reference for PC repair, maintenance, and upgrading, you will want to add this one to your shelf. It covers quite well the symptoms and problem areas that occur in today's modern PC, as well as showing you a proper diagnosis of the problem. The book contains a huge collection of PC problems which are fully detailed and explained. There are references to hundreds more POST and diagnostic codes to help you identify even the most obscure problems.

Review Comments

Every symptom you can think of is covered in this book. There are even a few which you may not know about. For example, I'd not known that there were a number of Y-adapters on the market which were incorrectly wired. These Y-adapters consist of a clear plastic plug with four metal prongs on an end that attaches to an existing power connector from the power supply. There are also two sets of wires leading to two plugs with female connections on the other ends, which are attached to internal devices such as hard drives, CD-ROM drives, and so forth. The problem with some of these newer connectors is that the wires are attached incorrectly on one of the female connectors.

The solution is to examine both female connectors -- making certain that both of the female connectors are lined up with the two rounded corners facing up and that both of the squared corners are facing down. The four wires attached to the female connectors should now be in the following order from left to right: Yellow, Black, Black, and Red. If you find the order is reversed on one of the connectors, then your Y-adapter is faulty and should not be used.

At the end of each chapter, is what I believe to be a complete and up-to-date list of URLs under the header, Further Study. Although I suspect the header is miss-named (I would think Further Reseach would be more fitting), it points you to locations on the Internet where you can acquire additional, more in-depth information concerning the topic or problem which you are troubleshooting. This has proven very useful many times for me over the years and volumes of this book.

I believe every technician should completely read chapter 26 concerning Motherboard Troubleshooting. Bigelow does an excellent job in explaining right off the differances between Active, Passive, and Modular motherboards (often referred to as active backplanes by PC purists). The sockets and slots are explained along with the styles of various motherboards. Not only is this chapter complete in detail, but easily understood.

I was disappointed to find that coverage of FireWire was tossed into chapter 32 (SCSI Systems and Troubleshooting) and not given a chapter of it's own. Although complete, it will prove a bit hard to locate the first time a technician needs to read up on FireWire. And we all know that time is money in this business.

You are going to love the error code tables given in chapter 17. They are complete, and easy to referance. You indeed will be able to understand and interpret the beep codes produced by major BIOS makers by referring to these tables. Also discussed is the use of a POST Code Reader Card, of which there are two versions today; the ISA and PCI. Not only does Bigelow explain how to use the Reader, but he also goes into detail interpreting the LEDs which accompany current POST boards. Hardware Geeks are going to want to copy this section and hang it on the wall over their work benches, it is that useful.

There is a companion CD which comes with the book. It contains 15 diagnostic and benchmark utilities from leading software makers which will assist you in locating trouble spots most efficiently. Plus there are 8 videos created by the author which show you how to install most typical hardware components.

I really didn't find the videos to be that useful, to be honest. They seemed to be geared toward a novice. Yet, they may someday prove useful in being able to show them to a customer or student who wishes to tackle an upgrade on his own. But again, they seemed to be over-simplified for the level of reader who would be making use of this book.

The software utilites is the meat of the CD. You can turn to Appendix A of the book to obtain a complete listing of the utilities provided, along with a description of that utility and when/how to use it. This proves to me that Bigelow took his CD software inclusions seriously and not as just a whim to add incentive for buyers to grab up this book. I've found many companion CDs from other books to be a great disappointment in the past. But not so here.

You will also find information on the CD relating to the latest chipsets, DDR, SDRAM, Windows XP, and cable/DSL modems. Plus there are additional book chapters on video capture, USB, and Windows 9x/ME/XP troubleshooting. This is certainly one CD you will want to look over.

Style and Detail

This book was not written to be read from cover to cover, but instead; to be referred to as needed. Therefore, the most important portion of the book would be the Contents At A Glance, Contents, and Symptoms At A Glance. Although I found the first two to be excellent, I must comment on the third.

Symptoms At A Glance is presented in a format of the Symptom number, description, chapter, and page number. This is fine as it stands. But the symptoms are listed in order of appearance in the book, from front to back. I would like to have seen bold sub-headers added into the listing, showing at a glance that the following symptoms were related to Modems, or CD-ROMs, PnP devices, Operating Systems ... you get the idea.

Aside from this one very minor nit-pik, the book is excellent. You will not find any cartoon drawings or displays shown in the book. But there are large amounts of screen-shots, figures, charts, listings, URL addresses for further research, photos, diagrams, tables, etc., and right were you need them.

Useful too is the Chapter At A Glance box which appears at the beginning of every chapter in the book. It shows the Headers with their associated page numbers, and the sub-headers. Useful to quickly navigate to your topic of concern.


Whether new to the field of PC upgrading/repair, or an experienced old hand with years of experience behind your name; you will certainly find this book worth the money. It will be, and should be -- the first reference you turn to as you work on a PC. It is also an excellent source to use to refresh your knowledge.

Overall, I have found that if the author doesn't go into much detail on a given topic, he does provide you with a source to allow you to discover more in-depth information on said topic. This goes a bit farther than some books which give out a blanket statement of "we will only touch on this topic here, for more information refer to books which cover this topic specifically". It's almost as if this issue is a pet peeve with Stephen Bigelow because he goes far out of his way to attempt to provide the reader with quality references.

I only wish the entire book was provided in electronic format on the companion CD so that I might have it on my laptop as I go out on location to work on systems. This would prove to be very useful, and place this tome a step further above the others. Instead of waiting and wishing for it to happen, I e-mailed the author with this request for his next edition. Hopefully we may see it the next time around?

This book receives an honored SFDC Rating of 10/10.

--Tom Bair
Security Forums Dot Com

Keywords: PCWriter,Stephen Bigelow, PC, Hardware, Desk, Reference, manual, Osborne, review

This review is copyright 2004 by the author and Security-Forums Dot Com, and may not be reproduced in any form in any media without the express permission of the author, or Security-Forums Dot Com.

Last edited by Tom Bair on Mon Feb 16, 2004 2:12 am; edited 1 time in total
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