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Inside the Machine: An Illustrated Introduction to Microprocessors and Computer Architecture [Hardcover]

Jon Stokes

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Book Description

Dec 11 2006 1593271042 978-1593271046 1

Computers perform countless tasks ranging from the business critical to the recreational, but regardless of how differently they may look and behave, they're all amazingly similar in basic function. Once you understand how the microprocessor-or central processing unit (CPU)-works, you'll have a firm grasp of the fundamental concepts at the heart of all modern computing.

Inside the Machine, from the co-founder of the highly respected Ars Technica website, explains how microprocessors operate-what they do and how they do it. The book uses analogies, full-color diagrams, and clear language to convey the ideas that form the basis of modern computing. After discussing computers in the abstract, the book examines specific microprocessors from Intel, IBM, and Motorola, from the original models up through today's leading processors. It contains the most comprehensive and up-to-date information available (online or in print) on Intel's latest processors: the Pentium M, Core, and Core 2 Duo. Inside the Machine also explains technology terms and concepts that readers often hear but may not fully understand, such as "pipelining," "L1 cache," "main memory," "superscalar processing," and "out-of-order execution."

Includes discussion of:

  • Parts of the computer and microprocessor
  • Programming fundamentals (arithmetic instructions, memory accesses, control flow instructions, and data types)
  • Intermediate and advanced microprocessor concepts (branch prediction and speculative execution)
  • Intermediate and advanced microprocessor concepts (branch prediction and speculative execution)
  • Intermediate and advanced computing concepts (instruction set architectures, RISC and CISC, the memory hierarchy, and encoding and decoding machine language instructions)
  • 64-bit computing vs. 32-bit computing
  • Caching and performance

    Inside the Machineis perfect for students of science and engineering, IT and business professionals, and the growing community of hardware tinkerers who like to dig into the guts of their machines.

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    About the Author

    Jon M. Stokes is co-founder of and Senior CPU Editor for Ars Technica. He has written extensively on microprocessor architecture and the technical aspects of personal computing for a variety of publications. Stokes holds a degree in computer engineering from Louisiana State University and two advanced degrees in the humanities from Harvard University. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.

    Inside This Book (Learn More)
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    Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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    Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
    36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars Fills a gap in current books on microprocessors Dec 10 2006
    By calvinnme - Published on
    This book is an introduction to computers that fills the gap between classic and challenging books like Hennesy and Patterson's, and the large number of "How Your Computer Works" books that are too basic for engineers.

    The first four chapters lay the conceptual groundwork for later chapters' studies of real-world microprocessors. These chapters use a simplified example processor, the DLW, to illustrate basic and intermediate concepts like the instructions/data distinction, assembly language programming, superscalar execution, pipelining, the programming model, and machine language. This section is essential reading for those who are new to the world of microprocessors.

    The middle section of the book consists of detailed studies of two popular desktop processor lines: the Pentium line from Intel and the PowerPC from IBM and Motorola. These chapters walk the reader through the chronological development of each processor line, describing the evolution of the microarchitectures and instruction set architectures under discussion. Along the way, more advanced concepts such as speculative execution, vector processing, and instruction set translation are introduced and explored via a discussion of one or more real microprocessors. Throughout the middle part of the book the approach is to explain each new processor's features in terms of how they differ from analogous features found in predecessors or competitors. The comparative part of the book culminates in chapters 7 and 8 which consists of detailed comparisons of two starkly different and important processors: Intel's Pentium 4 and Motorola's MPC7450, popularly known as the G4e.

    After a brief introduction to 64-bit computing and the 64-bit extensions to the popular x86 instruction set architecture in chapter 9, the microarchitecture of the first mass-market 64-bit processor, the IBM PowerPC 970, is treated in chapter 10. The study of the 970, the majority of which is also directly applicable to IBM's POWER4 mainframe processor, concludes the book's coverage of PowerPC processors. Chapter 11 covers the organization and functioning of the memory hierarchy found in almost all modern computers.

    The final chapter contains a detailed examination of the latest generation of processors from Intel: the Pentium M, Core Duo and Core 2 Duo. This chapter contains the most detailed discussion of these processors available online or in print, and it contains some new information not previously released and specially granted by Intel for printing in this book.

    I found this book a great read - it is both accessible and enlightening, even for someone with many years experience of working with microprocessors. I really liked how the author used 4-color diagrams to illustrate whatever point he was trying to make. I also appreciate that unlike Patterson's classic book, you don't need to review your combinatorics and discrete math before and after opening the book. The following is the table of contents:

    Chapter 1: Basic Computing Concepts

    Chapter 2: The Mechanics of Program Execution

    Chapter 3: Pipelined Execution

    Chapter 4: Superscalar Execution

    Chapter 5: The Intel Pentium and Pentium Pro

    Chapter 6: PowerPC Processors: 600 Series, 700 Series, and 7400

    Chapter 7: Intel's Pentium 4 vs. Motorola's G4e: Approaches and Design Philosophies

    Chapter 8: Intel's Pentium 4 vs. Motorola's G4e: The Back End

    Chapter 9: 64-Bit Computing and x86-64

    Chapter 10: The G5: IBM's PowerPC 970

    Chapter 11: Understanding Caching and Performance

    Chapter 12: Intel's Pentium M, Core Duo, and Core 2 Duo
    16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars Inside the Machine or Microprocessors for the rest of us April 11 2007
    By Benjamin Gerber - Published on
    Jon Stokes' Inside the Machine falls somewhere between Computer Science textbook and Popular Science reading. It's packed with a lot of information that is very technical, while not quite going to the technical depth of a classroom textbook. It does make heavy use of analogy to render some hard to grasp concepts a bit easier for the non CS major.

    Inside the Machine is fairly dense with both content and color. Lots of information is available here with colorful diagrams and illustrations to back it up. You'll need a more than basic understanding of computers and at least a bit of programming experience under your belt to get the most out of it. With that, the average computer enthusiast can pick up this book and find themselves in possession of a clear and concise guide to basic processor theory and real processor architecture. if you are interested in how microprocessors really work and why they were developed as they were but not interested in obtaining a CS degree this book is your first, best stop.

    The book is divided into 12 chapters, with a bibliography and index following. The first four chapters lead the reader through basic computing concepts, discussing how a program actually executes when it arrives at the processor and brings us through pipelined and superscalar execution, ways to increase speed and throughput of processors.

    Once a basic understanding of how the microprocessor works is reached, Stokes then disects a number of popular processors that have existed in the last decade and a half. These chapters cover the Intel's Pentium and Pentium Pro, the 600. 700 and 7400 Power PC processors, Intel's P4 vs Motorola's G4, 64-bit and x86-64 processors, the G5 and IBM's PowerPC 970 and finally Intel's Pentium M, Core Duo and Core 2 Duo processors. If you do want to delve deeper into the world of microprocessors the bibliography supplied in the book is a great resource.

    If anything in that last paragraph sounded really interesting to you or made you say "Oh I loved that processor!" than this book should go on your to-read list.

    I was not a CS major and though I do work in IT I'm not an expert on microprocessor architecture. I knew what I needed to know about the products to do my job. When this book came along it was a real joy for me to read it. I've looked at a number of popular text books concerned with microprocessors and while reading this book won't get you a job with Intel it will certainly be a bit easier to digest and thus offer a lot more to readers like myself.

    Don't expect to breeze through this if you're going to pick it up though. You should glance through it first if you have a chance. If everything you're reading in the first four chapters is causing you to say "uh huh" and "oh yeah" then you're ready for some more advanced material and won't really need this unless you're into historical data about microprocessors. If you're familiar with some of the concepts and would like a solid grounding in current architecture based on understanding popular prior models then this book is certainly for you.

    For me a broad understanding of how these things worked and a bit of programming was all I needed to enjoy this book and what it has to offer. While you won't be up late a few nights glued to the page (well, okay I was up late one night. I was really digging into the differences between the P4 and the G4 and thinking "Finally, that's what all this meant" when my wife told me in no uncertain terms to shut the light out and go to bed. That's just me though.) You will find just about every page full of useful theory or practical knowledge that will increase your understanding and prepare you for the next section of the book until you find yourself reading about processors being sold right now.
    27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars What happens once you power on your PC... Jan. 10 2007
    By Thomas Duff - Published on
    It's possible to say you know how your computer works. But do you really know how your microprocessor does what it does? Without forcing you to take a crash course in engineering, Jon Stokes does a great job in uncovering the mysteries in the book Inside the Machine: An Illustrated Introduction to Microprocessors and Computer Architecture. It's an excellent read if you want to know what happens after you press the power button...

    Contents: Basic Computing Concepts; The Mechanics of Program Execution; Pipelined Execution; Superscalar Execution; The Intel Pentium and Pentium Pro; PowerPC Processors - 600 Series, 700 Series, and 7400; Intel's Pentium 4 vs. Motorola's G4E - Approaches and Design Philosophies; Intel's Pentium 4 vs. Motorola's G4E - The Back End; 64-Bit Computing and x86-64; The G5 - IBM's PowerPC 970; Understanding Caching and Performance; Intel's Pentium M, Core Duo, and Core 2 Duo; Bibliography and Suggested Reading; Index

    Normally, books like this are endless pages of painfully detailed descriptions of technology that only a true engineering geek could understand and love. For the rest of us mere mortals, we have to make do with simplistic descriptions of the chip that runs our computers. All the details are taken on faith. Stokes successfully bridges the gap between textbook details and real-life analogies to make the work of the CPU understandable. He starts off with the basics of how a CPU works and how instructions are executed. From there, he introduces the concept of pipelined instructions, and shows how that creates a much faster chip. But there are drawbacks, and when you're done reading you readily understand those limitations. Once the general groundwork is in place, the discussion moves to specific microprocessors in the market and how they are designed. Yes, those chips are highly complex, but Stokes lays a solid foundation that makes it possible to actually grasp what's going on without a Masters in chip design. By the time you're done with the book, you are well-equipped to understand why a 2.8 GHz processor may be infinitely faster than a 3.2 GHz processor, depending on how the design was implemented. The graphic illustrations are colorful and clear, and coupled with a conversational teaching tone, this book is... dare I say... "fun" to read.

    Definitely a recommended read for anyone who wants to delve into microprocessor design without taking a four year degree program prior to doing so.
    10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars Great book on computer architecture for technical readers May 29 2007
    By Richard Bejtlich - Published on
    Let me say that I wish I could give this book 4 1/2 stars. It's just shy of 5 stars, but I couldn't place this book alongside some of my favorite 5-star books of all time. Still, I really enjoyed reading Inside the Machine -- it's a great book that will answer many questions for the devoted technical reader.

    Inside the Machine benefits from several strong features. First, the book's color illustrations are a treat, nicely explaining many topics. Second, the comparative approach taken by author Jon Stokes is a powerful and enlightening educational tool. By comparing aspects of different processors (G4e as "wide and shallow" vs P4 as "narrow and deep") I learned more than reading about the processors individually. Third, the author "builds" processors feature-by-feature, starting with the hypothetical DLW-1, continuing with the DLW-2, and then showing how his constructs compare against real processors. Modern processors are very complicated, and a powerful way to learn how they work is to start simple and progress from there. Fourth, astute readers might use Inside the Machine as a simple introduction to assembly language. The book doesn't teach assembly, but it shows, instruction by instruction, how it maps to machine language (bit by bit).

    A few minor aspects of Inside the Machine caused me to not give the book five stars. First, I would have liked at least some coverage of the 386 and 486, prior to the Pentium. The i386 at least seems to be the least common denominator for many Unix variants, even though some now use the Pentium for that role. Second, some of the material seemed a little unorganized. For example, a chapter on caching (ch 11) appears to have been thrown after ch 10, but doesn't seem to fit there. Elsewhere, I have to wait to ch 10 to learn about the front side bus, in the middle of a discussion of the G5. I would have also liked to have learned a little more terminology associated with motherboards and the like. Finally, each chapter lacks a summary or conclusion. A few times I felt like the chapter just ended full-stop, with no sense of what had been discussed.

    I think addressing these shortcomings would make for an excellent second edition. Perhaps including an appendix with a processor summary would help. I guess if I really want more details, I can turn to Scott Mueller's Upgrading and Repairing PCs; the 18th edition arrives this summer. Inside the Machine is the book that will help you understand how the components of a modern microprocessor function.
    8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars If you are an educator or a student, you'll wish all textbooks were written this clearly Jan. 10 2007
    By Elle Cayabyab Gitlin - Published on
    I received this book with a lot of apprehension; after all, I dropped the introductory CS course in college because it was a little too overwhelming for my business-major brain. My fears were unfounded, and as someone who works in training, I can also appreciate the care with which the concepts of microprocessors and computer programming are explained and developed in a logical fashion. Although I've read Jon's articles over the years, the added and expanded material in the book helped me to connect the ideas that I previously didn't have a firm grasp on. The text and examples begin on an introductory level, but still manage to go into considerable depth without losing their readability.

    But what really impressed me as an instructional designer was the fact that it could not only function as a textbook in a college-level course, but also as a standalone reference. In evaluating course materials, one needs to consider its reference capacity and one's ability to learn via self-study from it. The reference value of this book for students will remain extremely helpful after they have used it in a course, and their ability to teach themselves from it will be critically important during the class. Because of the nature of textbooks, which focus primarily on teaching, the clarification and explanation of intermediary steps can be quite tedious and decrease the book's reference value. However, Jon does an excellent job and is one of the few who deftly balances these two needs; I was, and remain, impressed with "Inside the Machine," both as a learner and an instructor.

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