Computers Stink.

That's the name of a book that crossed my desk a couple of weeks ago. The title made me laugh, but as I read through the book, I found myself nodding in agreement with the author, Jack Bellis. Computers really do stink.

Who among us hasn't felt frustrated at the complexity of today's personal computers? They're too difficult to learn and use, they lock up and break down too often, and they and cost too much.

Sure, PCs and Macs provide us with enormous capabilities. But trying to tap into this richness can leave you sitting on the floor with big clumps of hair in your hands that you've yanked from your head.

Clean Up Your Act

Home PC market leader Packard Bell has been having problems making quality machines and in supporting them effectively, a situation that's come to light through a number of surveys in various computer magazines. Although it has the worst quality and service record of the major manufacturers, the industry as a whole needs to clean up its act.

According to the surveys, more than half of personal computer owners have experienced at least one problem with their machine, while 15 percent of all PCs needed service within the previous six months. Astonishingly, 12 percent of new PCs are received "dead on arrival."

PC makers typically explain that they've been growing very quickly and are going to double their efforts to address quality and service concerns. "We're doing everything possible to improve," they say, year after year.

But instead of improving, in some respects, things are getting worse. It now takes tech support an average of eight days to solve a problem for you, up from five and a half days a year ago, according to a survey by Home PC magazine.

Pain In The Motherboard

PCs can also be maddeningly difficult to upgrade. I've personally been trying to add more memory to my Micron Pentium 166 for the past two weeks, without success.

I've gone straight by the book. I made sure my computer's motherboard could support the extra RAM (random access memory). I bought the new RAM from a highly recommended and reputable mail-order outfit that specializes in memory (and offers it at great prices -- the Chip Merchant.)

I made sure the new RAM is the same type as my existing RAM. I was careful to avoid damaging the RAM modules with static electricity. I filled the second of two memory banks on my computer's motherboard. All to no avail.

With the extra RAM, every time Windows 95 loads, my system locks up. When I pull out the extra RAM, I have no problems. I tried switching the location of the RAM modules, exchanging the new modules for different ones, and using just the new modules. I made adjustments to Windows 95's virtual memory settings.

I received other, and sometimes conflicting, advice from the Chip Merchant, Micron and fellow computer users. Nothing helped.

Before throwing in the towel, I'll take a stab at other options, such as trying to find RAM from the same manufacturer as my current RAM. But doing something as simple as adding RAM shouldn't take two weeks of troubleshooting.

Many computer users have reported similar difficulties in adding hard drives, exchanging motherboards and increasing their computer's multimedia capacities. The Mac makes upgrading easier, but the Mac operating system, more complex than ever, crashes far more often than it should.

Connecting your computer to the Internet can also lead to a serious case of teeth gnashing.

To sign up with some Internet service providers you have to deal with scantily explained SMTP and NNTP settings. Surfing to slick Web sites can be excruciatingly slow. It's

Reid Goldsborough  |  Contributing Writer
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com.