Laptops--call them notebooks, portable computers, or whatever else you like--are tightly engineered items. It's hard to get all the required components to obey stringent performance and power-management requirements, and still fit into a small case. The job usually requires a custom motherboard and other specialized components, and so the laptop owner who wants to upgrade his or her machine faces a much more difficult task than the owner of a desktop machine with a similar wish. One can swap out the hard drive, add more RAM, and make tweaks in software, but almost everything else requires the addition of external components, which kind of defeat the purpose of a laptop. That's the message the reader takes away from Scott Mueller's Upgrading and Repairing Laptops. It's not Mueller's fault that such computers are hard to do much with, and that your best upgrade procedure is often a visit to an auction site.
That said, Mueller does a great job of explaining how laptops work--how the engineers went about cramming all those heat-generating components into those miniature chassis in the first place. He also explains a lot of interesting component theory, such as how magnetic hard drives store data and how various DVD standards differ. The information makes for good reading, and comes in handy when you're shopping. He also demonstrates his skill--long well-reputed among builders and repairers of desktop machines--in teaching diagnostics. He explains, for example, how to test a laptop power supply, and why you should consider it a prime suspect in a malfunctioning computer even if the LEDs come on and the cooling fan spins. A CD-ROM features videos that show disassembly procedures--a strategy that works better than photographs and numbered steps. --David Wall
Topics covered: How portable computers work (and sometimes fail to work), and how to diagnose their woes. Sections address general troubleshooting concepts, system disassembly, and various subsystems such as memory, CPU, storage, and video. Coverage of PCMCIA (PC Card) is particularly good.