I RTFM, but it’s still Greek to me

You’ve heard it from your geeky friends: RTFM, politely translated as “Read the Freaking Manual.” But what if the manual is unreadable?

It’s difficult enough to upgrade a motherboard or install new hardware, but it can become a disaster when the only help you’ve got is a poorly translated, barely legible photocopied manual loaded with vague definitions and unhelpful diagrams. And all too often, that’s the way it is.

Open computer power

Installing a graphics card isn’t brain surgery. If you need guidance, however, reading your documentation can be a big help. Or it can be an exercise in futility. AOpen Inc.’s documentation for its Aeolus FX5600S graphics card, which uses NVidia Corp.’s graphics chip set, is more the latter than the former. For instance, you’re asked to take the following steps when installing your VGA card (this is exactly as it was written):

1. Please make sure your computer power is off, then Open computer case.

2. Make sure AGP slot in M/B and plug in card properly.

3. Check the connectors type in VGA and properly connector to your monitor.Close computer case and Open computer power.

4. Please check Backside for “S/W Installation.”

The software side of the installation guide isn’t much help, either:

1. Open Coputer and enter window system.

2. Please press “Cancel” When screen show “NEW HARDWARE FOUND.”

3. Enter Window main screen and plug in “AOpen Driver CD.”

4. After pulg in AOpen Driver CD, AOpen installation wizard will appear then press “Install.”

That’s sure a big help! Luckily, you’ve got another option. Video card manufacturers can sometimes be a good resource if you find yourself in this situation. For example, in the case above, you could get assistance by going to the NVidia Web site, which provides an excellent animated walk-through for those who need a more detailed (and comprehensible) guide to installing a graphics card.

Being well written isn’t enough to make a manual useful, however. The prose in Albatron’s Gigi GeForce FX5900 series manual is comprehensible, but it leaves out some crucial information.

For example, in the third chapter, entitled “Troubleshooting,” this question is posed: “How do I know the drivers and BIOS version of my VGA card?” The answer is as follows: “You can determine the driver version of your VGA card by clicking the start button, pointing to Settings option, and selecting the Control Panel folder. In the Control Panel window, double-click on the Display icon to display the Display Properties window. And you will get more information.”

The critical bit of data that’s missing is that you’ve got to click the Advanced button to get to the BIOS and driver version and then click the tab with the name of your graphics card. If you know what you’re doing, this isn’t an issue; but if you don’t, this could be a royal pain.

Motherboard madness

Building a new PC is something most geeks relish. Hooking up those tiny connectors and changing jumper settings is more fun than a LAN party (not really). But if you’ve built enough PCs, you’re likely to cast your docs aside with disdain and dive into the case.

Inevitably, though, something will go wrong – and you’ll need to visit your documentation for help. Perhaps you just flashed your BIOS, but (uh-oh) your system won’t boot.

With so much tech support moving online, many vendors recommend going to a Web site for help. But if your system isn’t working, you can’t exactly do that. And of course, most vendors don’t list their phone numbers prominently. You’re stuck until you can get to work or another place where you can get online.

Sometimes documentation just makes me laugh. I found this description called “Support USB 2.0 Ports” in a motherboard manual: “There are one USB connector on the board for you to connect two USB devices and six other ports on the back panel. Compared to traditional USB 1.0/1.1 with the speed of 12Mbps, USB 2.0 has a fancy speed of up to 480Mbps which is 40 times faster than the traditional one.”

C’mon, is it so difficult to find someone who speaks English to just give those docs a read before they’re published?

Apparently, it is.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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