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« on: October 27, 2004, 07:40:27 PM »

Every journey begins with a single step.  The quote is trite but is most appropriate for someone who has decided to pursue a career in Cisco networking.  In order to begin the Cisco journey, the first step real step is the CCNA exam.  Unless they are extremely fortunate and have someone (an employer or educator) to offer guidance, chances are the beginning networker will be taking this first exam on their own.  The CCNA exam certification guides from Cisco Press offer the guidance they need to take that first step.  In recent years, Cisco has made it even easier on the novice by dividing the material into two separate exams.  CCNA candidates also have the money-saving option of getting their CCNA the good old-fashioned way: as a single exam.

I chose the Cisco Press books because I‘«÷d learned that if you want to get the right material weighting for a Cisco exam, it‘«÷s best to pick your apples right off of the tree.  In my previous experience, Cisco Press books had a tendency to be somewhat dry but I quickly learned that this misconception is no longer true.  I found that the author, Wendell Odom, brings a friendly approach to the material that makes it quite readable.  His examples are handled very well and his explanations are good.  He doesn‘«÷t write in the ‘«£just-the-facts-ma‘«÷am‘«ō way that tends to be the norm in technical books, so I will definitely be looking for titles by him in the future.  

As the name implies, the CCNA INTRO Exam Certification Guide ISBN: 1-58720-094-5) covers the material required for the INTRO exam (640-821), which covers basic-yet-essential networking theory.  The book, which is about 600 pages, is divided into 6 parts:  Networking Fundamentals, Operating Cisco Devices, LAN Switching, TCP/IP, Wide-Area Networking and Final Preparation.  The book approaches this material in a very shallow way.  Without going into too much depth on most topics, it covers a very broad range of material.  If you are studying for the single CCNA exam, you can bounce back and forth between this book and the ICND book, reading the basics in this book then going to the ICND book for the nitty-gritty details.  The one exception to the rule is the topic of IP Addressing, which is covered entirely within this title.  Probably the most important topic in this book, it is very well explained and there are plenty of practice IP addressing exercises on the CD.  This book covers the material adequately for a beginner who is just learning the networking principals.

The CD included with the book has an excellent test bank.  I found it to be very useful in preparing for the test and working through the book.  There were a few answers that were just plain wrong, but I‘«÷ve come to expect a little inaccuracy with my test banks.  The questions are not overly easy, but they‘«÷re also not all that tricky.  They‘«÷re about the right level of difficulty for this exam.  One especially cool feature is the ‘«£Study Saver‘«ō which makes the question bank your screen saver.  Cisco has an affinity for simulation questions on their exams, so it‘«÷s good that they also included the Boson Netsim LE on the CD.  The bad news is that all the functions and labs are not unlocked unless you go through the ‘«£upgrade process‘«ō which consists of downgrading your wallet to the tune of $125, which is supposed to be a great deal compared to what they usually charge.  I didn‘«÷t want to spend a lot of time with what is essentially a simulator demo, but feel free to give it a try.  However, if the interface doesn‘«÷t really make you comfortable, try something else like the Cisco Interactive Mentor CD‘«÷s or one of the many other simulator options out there before shelling out your hard-earned money.  One option that I recommend is finding a few routers (nothing fancy) for a few hundred bucks.  Sure, they‘«÷re more expensive than buying a simulator, but they‘«÷re also more powerful and you can use them as building blocks towards having a live CCNP lab and maybe even a CCIE lab much further down the road.  In addition to the test banks and Netsim, the CD‘«÷s also include PDF versions of the books and 25 IP subnetting practice exercises.

I read this book in preparation for my CCNA recertification.  Since the book is intended for someone fairly new to networking, I experienced a bit of the ‘«£duh‘«ō factor.  However, I was still able to learn a few interesting facts and reinforced a lot of what I already knew.  I used this book in tandem with its ICND counterpart to prepare for the single CCNA exam (640-801).  I was pleased to see that, although the CCNA has been split into 2 books, the author has included a reading plan that allows you to read the 2 books in a back-and-forth order that makes it easy to use the same set of books to study for the single test version.  In closing, I found this book to be very well written and in invaluable tool in preparing for my CCNA recertification.  On my 5 ping scale, I give it 4 pings.

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