To do the job of hardware support effectively, technicians need to be aware of past, current, and future hardware components. These hardware components will oftentimes be integrated into the same system, and the technician needs to make them work. In many cases, this can be a somewhat daunting task, especially when a certain interface board or component needs to work with a software application that has recently been upgraded.
As discussed previously, those choosing a career in hardware support need to learn a reasonable amount about computer operating systems, and in many cases, a certain amount about application software packages. Even so, the software element only constitutes part of the PC support persons role, and brings with it an advantage. PC hardware is largely generic. No one company controls the technologies available, meaning that the skills of a PC hardware technician are largely vendor independent. This is a benefit in one respect because it means that the PC hardware support person can work in almost any environment. On the other hand, it is a disadvantage in that it can sometimes be harder to quantify his or her skills.
To get an idea of the job of hardware support, it is necessary to review the technologies technicians will be working with.
Hardware Support Issues
All computer systems are comprised of some common hardware components. Hardware support technicians can expect to become very familiar with the following components, which will become part of your daily routine:
- BIOS (Basic Input Output System)-The BIOS provides the instructions needed to boot the computer, processing the steps the computer needs at start up.Technicians can expect to be working with and troubleshooting BIOS settings. BIOS settings are stored on a special chip called a CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor). Most PCs come with a built in utility that allows technicians to access the BIOS settings of the PC. The boot sequence, hard drive settings, and other crucial setup information is set in the BIOS. PC support technicians will become very familiar with the BIOS settings.
- Microprocessors-Microprocessors are the heart of the computer system. Technicians will not be involved in repairing microprocessors and very rarely need to replace malfunctioning ones.Technicians will however find themselves upgrading systems with faster or even additional processors. As clients and customers install new peripherals and applications, the processor may not meet the new demands. Technicians will need to find bottlenecks in processor speed and make recommendations as required. Technicians will also need to keep up with advances in microprocessor technology. Newer microprocessors vary not only in speed, but also in the cache memory available on the chip.
- Peripherals-Peripherals are the components that are added on to a computer system.There are numerous peripheral devices ranging from printers and Zip™ drives to scanners and joysticks. Peripheral devices provide the PC technician with many challenges. Printers, for instance, can be purchased from various vendors and come in a variety of models: inkjet, laser, bubble jet, or dot matrix. Hardware support requires knowledge of current and future peripheral devices, as technicians will be involved with the installation and configuration of them.
- Video Cards-In most cases, a video card, or display adapter, is an expansion board that determines the resolution, number of colors, and refresh rate of the picture displayed by the computer.Video cards are not a component technicians repair, rather, when a video problem is a result of the card, it is simply replaced. Video cards are also frequently replaced to meet the demands of software applications that require higher resolution and enhanced color capabilities. In addition to replacing a video card, technicians must be aware of the capabilities of the card to ensure it meets the demands of the customer or client. In the majority of cases replacement of the video card also requires new software drivers to be configured and installed.
- Network Cards-Network cards, as you might have guessed, are expansion boards that allow the computer to connect to a network. Network cards are available for different network mediums and in different speeds. As a hardware device, network cards are not difficult to physically install and rarely require upgrading or replacing. The challenge for network cards comes in their configuration after being installed. Networks have become very common, and hardware technicians need to be able to configure and manage a network card from within an operating system.
- Memory-RAM is a popular area of upgrade for computer owners, and hardware support technicians will replace and upgrade RAM often. In fact, of all the upgrades performed on computers, the addition or replacement of RAM may be the most common. In addition to upgrading RAM, technicians may find that it is the cause of malfunctioning systems. Hardware, support technicians need to know the signs and symptoms of bad RAM. For the most part, this is learned on the job. There are different types of RAM that technicians will be required to work with including the older RAM, known as 30 or 72 pin SIMM RAM, as well as the more current technologies.
- Hard Disk Drives-As far as upgrades go, hard drives may run a close second to RAM. Hard drives have increased significantly in storage size in trying to keep pace with applications that are requiring more and more storage space. In addition to upgrading hard drives, hardware support involves the configuration of hard drives, and in some cases controller cards, which may include changing BIOS settings and partitioning the drive. In some cases, it may also require adding drives to create fault-tolerant configurations.
- Operating Systems-Hardware support technicians cannot do the job with only hardware knowledge; they need to know how to configure this hardware in relation to operating systems. Therefore, hardware support requires extensive knowledge of operating systems as well.