Getting Inside the Case

Lots of guts, not very much glory

That fateful question kids always ask....

How does the seed get into the mommy?

Well, the equivalent here is how the computer, fresh from the factory, gets the seeds that tell it what to do, possibly first having to go through puberty and adolescence.

 There are four major steps. The view inside the computer case just deals with the pieces you need to follow here. Inside the computer are the central processing unit, which has a little Read Omly Memory in it. Think of the ROM as its genetic code.

When the CPU powers up [Step 1], it has just enough programming in the ROM to pull in instructions that should be in some sort of special memory that remembers things when the power goes off. That memory can be of several different kinds, so the drawing just refers to what has to be in it: the Basic Input-Output System, known as the BIOS.

Just like the seed and the mommy, the BIOS has to get into the womb...umm, the special memory. This is something the computer should have done to it before you ever see it. The factory normally has to get the BIOS loaded.

There are circumstances where the manufacturer realizes there is a bug in the BIOS, and releases a new version. There are some failure conditions that cause the BIOS to get erased or corrupted. In those situations, it is possible, using the limited intelligence in the ROM, to pull in a new BIOS. Most often, the replaement BIOS will be on a floppy drive or CD-ROM. Depending on the state of the computer -- perhaps caused by the bug that the new BIOS is intended to fix -- loading [step 2] the new BIOS can be tricky. Doing it wrong may not burn out your computer, but it may get it confused enough that it has to be opened up and reset.

Assuming the BIOS is there and does its job, and you have a brand-new computer,  in [Step 3], to mix a metaphor or two, the real seeds get into the mommy. Getting the BIOS into the motherboard is more like entering puberty. 

The BIOS will first go to the hard drive, of which there should be at least one, and try to "boot" in from the "front" of the disk. If the operating system software hasn't yet been loaded, the BIOS will then look for an installation copy of the operating system, which is usually on a read-only removable disk such as a CD-ROM or DVD. If we have to install it, we may already have it on a computer and load it through an Ethernet cable -- situations vary. 

In a new computer, assuming it's Windows, the installation disk will check some things, do some thinking that may take a while, and then ask you some questions. One of those questions is defined by what Microsoft, whose sense of humor is something like a rubber crutch, laughingly calls "Windows Genuine Advantage". That means that it will ask you to type in a 29-character (or  so) code that, on a brand-new Windows CD-ROM, is on a label on the front of the envelope that contains the CD-ROM. Please don't lose that label. Copy the code and store it in several different places. Yes, you can get Microsoft to give you a new one, but this may take long waits on the phone and trying to speak to someone that sounds like they are in the bottom of a well halfway around the world. In fact, they may be halfway around the world, in a place that English is not the first language. LINUX doesn't do this to you, but, unfortunately, LINUX won't run most of the software applications you need.

Incidentally, just so the comedy routine is really funny to Microsoft, if you change some magic subset of your hardware, for perfectly legal reasons, Windows Genuine Advantage may decide that since it thinks it might be on a new computer, you need to prove your innocence that you're not a pirate. No, Captain, not that kind of pirate. Microsoft doesn't understand "Arrrrr...yo ho ho.". At Beachwerks, we have gotten used to their sense of humor, just like the bartender in an amateur comedy club doesn't groan any more.

Anyway, when Microsoft code or its minions decide you are indeed innocent of flying the software Jolly Roger, there will be some more questions, and then, depending on the speed of your computer and its disk, it will sit muttering for a good part of an hour...or several hours, putting the appropriate software onto the hard dizk [Step 4]. Hopefully, you will get a computer from us or someone else who has done all this. We haven't even touched the gymnastics that get added when you are upgrading the operating system, or changing to a new one (please! not unless you must!) like Vista.

Operating System, Applications, CPU and Memory

For most fishing vessels, your computer will run Microsoft Windows XP Pro, which needs at least 512K, and preferably 1 GB, of RAM. A 2 to 3 GHz single-core processor from AMD or Intel should be more than powerful enough for applications on the boat. The big question is whether you will be running one or more applications that draw three-dimensional graphics. If so, you might need a faster processor, but you might also need a separate video processor and video memory. Check with the software manufacturer (or us) to find what is needed to draw those graphics. We would note that it's quite hard, if not impossible, to put extra video processing in a laptop, and your only option, if you have decided on a laptop, is to be sure the main processor is fast enough. . 

As you saw in the boot process, there needs to be at least a CD-ROM/DVD read-only drive, preferably a floppy drive, and a main hard drive.

Full system and application software has long ago passed the size where it could be distributed on floppy disks, and usually now comes on CD-ROMs, which hold approximately 650 megabytes.  More and more, large software packages come on DVD.   In speaking of DVD here, the reference is to standard, not high-definition (HD) disks.  Standard DVDs hold 4.7 gigabytes on(single layer) or 8.5 gigabytes (dual layer).  If you want to watch high-definition TV on your computer, be aware that the format is still undecided; there is a competition between formats called Blu-Ray and HD-DVD.  Either high definition drive can read standard DVDs.

Even though its 1.4 megabyte storage is tiny by today's standards, you may want a floppy drive. There are some Windows recovery modes that need a floppy disk, and it is occasionally useful for hand-transfer of small amounts of data. When buying your computer, try to find out if it can do an emergency boot from a floppy, which will be a characteristic of the motherboard. Ideally, the PC will be able to boot from a USB-connected floppy, although this is something to confirm, if possible, with the technical staff of the vendor.

Now it's time to look inside the case.