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Getting Your Hands on a Manual

August 26, 1996|RICHARD O'REILLY | Richard O'Reilly is The Times' director of computer analysis

Q. I am virtually a self-taught computer user for business and pleasure. Is there a manual or dictionary that explains things such as bits, RAM and Pentium that isn't too laborious?

--Doug Streff, Los Angeles


A. The best dictionary I've come across is "The McGraw-Hill Illustrated Dictionary of Personal Computers," by Michael F. Hordeski ($24.95, McGraw-Hill). The fourth edition was published in 1995 and goes beyond merely defining terms to put them in perspective.

For instance, the entry for PCI not only tells us it stands for peripheral component interconnect but explains its relationship to the microprocessor and compares it with the local bus and VESA bus of the 486 era.

A different approach that works fairly well is found in "PCs in Plain English," by Bryan Pfaffenberger ($19.95, MIS Press, 1995). It is organized by major components of a computer such as motherboard, memory and hard drive.

Excellent introductory books that concentrate on all the stuff you really ought to know, while leaving out the details you don't need, are "The Little PC Book," by Lawrence J. Magid ($18.95, second edition) and "The Little Mac Book," by Robin Williams ($17.95, fourth edition). Both are from Peachpit Press.

If you have access to the Internet, there is a superb set of tutorials at Yale University's PC Lube and Tune. They use easily understood analogies from everyday life to explain computing concepts but don't treat you like a dummy. You'll find it at

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