Getting Started on the Internet, 07/28/97: Internet 103

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Getting Started on the Internet

Michael Devitt

Internet 103: Setting up Your New PC (Part 3 of 5)

In our last article, we described the components that make up today's computer systems and gave some suggestions as to what type of computer to buy. If you've bought a new system (or even if you're still thinking about getting one), here are some thoughts on how to set up a new computer with a minimal amount of suffering.

Time and Space

When unpacking your new PC, you should find an area that offers plenty of space to set things up. By the time you unpack everything, there'll be enough boxes, cables, bags, manuals, and packing material to fill a good-sized room. Did I forget to mention the computer?

Set up all the main parts of your computer system in a location that's well lit, and where you can work comfortably. In addition, make sure that you can get behind all of the computer's components if necessary. This will make it a lot easier to attach computer cables, and it will also save time if you need to remove part of your system for some reason.

As for the time factor, set aside a couple of hours where you can be free to concentrate and where you won't be disturbed. As an alternative, some stores now offer to deliver your computer to your home or office, set it up, connect all the major components and perform a few minor tests for a slight fee. If you're really antsy about working on your computer, this option might be worth looking into.

Boxes and Books

Most of the major brand-name PCs come in a huge, heavy box. When you open that up, you'll usually find more boxes (a big surprise there), in addition to packing material and numerous plastic bags filled with disks, cables, and manuals. If you're lucky, you may find a materials list or packing sheet that shows everything that should be contained in the boxes. If so, check off the items as you discover and unpack them.

When unpacking the items, don't just tear into everything like a kid and then throw away the bags or packing material. You'll need everything if there's something wrong with the PC and it has to be returned -- and that means everything. Once all the items have been removed, put all the packing material and opened bags back in one of the boxes. And don't fill out any warranty cards or registration forms yet; make sure the computer is functioning first.

Making Connections

Getting all the cables hooked up to the right place on your personal computer is usually the most time-consuming part of setting up your system. Most major manufacturers clearly mark the various jacks and ports on the rear of their computer (for instance, the jacks on Packard Bell computers are color-coded). Sometimes, however, the jacks are unlabeled or have undecipherable icons instead. Take your time and check the user manuals before making connections.

There are about a half-dozen or so connections that you'll need to make to your computer, depending on what devices you've purchased and what items are already installed on your system. Some of the more typical connections are:

1. Monitor -- hooks to a jack that's labeled "Video" or "VGA." The jack is usually a three-prong device similar to an electric outlet.

2. Mouse -- most mice have a small round connector that hooks up to a similar-sized jack. A mouse jack is usually marked with a mouse icon. Some computers use serial mice; usually, they connect to a serial port marked "COM1" or "COM2". If this is the case, check your manual and see which port the mouse should be connected to.

3. Keyboard -- keyboard connectors come in two basic sizes. One is similar in design to a mouse connector; the other is slightly larger.

4. Microphone -- this attaches to the rear of your computer's sound card. The jack should be labeled "microphone" or "in," or it may be represented by a symbol.

5. Printer -- printers are attached via a large rectangular connecter. It will usually be marked "printer," "parallel" or "LPT1."

6. Modem -- most modems have a pair of phone jacks on the rear of them. One of them is usually named "line" or "wall," the other "phone." Plug your telephone line into the "wall" or "line" jack; plug your telephone into the jack marked "phone." This allows your modem and telephone to share the same line; however, you can't use both devices simultaneously.

7. Speakers -- speakers are usually the most difficult product to connect because of the wiring involved. Most speaker sets have their own power connection, as well as cables that connect the speakers and a cable that connects to the computer's sound card. On the sound card, you'll plug the speakers into a small jack. The jack is usually labeled "speakers" or "out."

If a cable doesn't want to connect into the jack you're trying, don't panic. Odds are that you've got the cable upside down, or you're trying to attach the wrong cable to the wrong jack. Check the jack and cable again. Once you've connected everything, recheck your connections just to make sure.

In addition, it is highly recommended that you plug your computer in to a power strip that has a built-in surge protector. Surges in electricity are known to cause damage to a PC's processing chips and other components. Having a surge protector (or even better, an uninterruptable power supply) will give you those few extra moments to save data and shut down your computer before anything bad happens.

The Moment of Truth

After everything has been connected and checked, turn on the monitor, speakers (if necessary), and the main computer unit. You should hear a slight hum and a whirring noise; these sounds are the system's cooling fan spinning and the hard drive starting up. A few moments later, you should see a series of miscellaneous messages displayed on the monitor.

Since almost all new computers come with software preinstalled on the hard drive, these messages usually relate to preinstalled programs. Your PC will most probably boot directly into the computer's operating system; however, it may send you to a license screen or a system tutorial as well. Follow whatever instructions you get on screen.

At this point, one of three events has probably occurred:

1. The computer appears to be functioning like it's supposed to.

2. Your screen displays error messages, or other problems are apparent.

3. Nothing happens.

If Everything Looks All Right

If your PC seems to be working correctly, make sure by giving it a little test drive. Run some programs, especially CD-ROM programs. Dial out on the modem, print some documents (if you've got a printer), and test out the microphone and sound card.

If you're satisfied that everything's running well, store all those boxes, bags and packing material in a safe place; you'll still need them if something bad happens later. You can also fill out the warranty and registration cards. And read the manuals before doing any serious work with your PC; it'll save you some possible headaches in the future.

Strange Error Messages and other Problems

Occasionally, when you first boot up a PC you may encounter error messages or other problems. Unfortunately, most error messages flash on the screen so briefly that you can't read them or write anything down. If nothing else, the computer may just be acting erratically.

One of the most common problems is a cable or connection that came loose during shipping. You can check this by unplugging your PC opening it up and taking a look inside. Your user manual should contain instructions on removing the system's cover, as well as any tools you may need. If not, don't be afraid to pick up the phone or return the system to the dealer.

The first thing to do after removing the cover is to check for obvious disconnections. Make sure to check the ribbon-shaped cables that are connected to the motherboard and drives. Sometimes the cables work themselves partially off at the connectors, which is just enough to cause a little havoc with your computer.

Make sure that the cables are securely connected by pressing on them firmly. After you're sure everything's connected correctly, reinstall the cover on your PC and plug it back in. Try turning it back on. If it works and you don't see any more error messages, you've solved the problem.

What If My PC is DOA?

A completely dead, brand new personal computer is a rare occurrence, but it does happen. If nothing happened when you first turned on the system, go for the obvious. Check all the connections that you've made. Are all the cables connected properly? Is the PC plugged in to the power strip? Is the power strip turned on? And are the power outlets in the wall live?

If your computer still doesn't work, pick up the phone and call your computer dealer or the manufacturer's technical support number. Don't be shy about calling; after all, you paid good money for this system. However, you should be warned that when you call most of the major computer makers' tech support lines, being kept on hold for an extended period of time is the rule rather than the exception, and it's even worse around the holiday season.

In our next issue, we will discuss the importance of antivirus software and review some of the best products currently out on the market. Future articles will discuss how to set up your computer's basic input output system (BIOS) and the problems of fraudulent advertising on the Internet.

As always, we welcome your questions. Please contact me if you have any comments or suggestions about this column.

Michael Devitt
Huntington Beach, California

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