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The ACCU passes on review copies of computer books to its members for them to review. The result is a large, high quality collection of book reviews by programmers, for programmers. Currently there are 1949 reviews in the database and more every month.
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Architecture of Computer Hardware and Systems Software
Irv Englander
0 471 36209 3
Alyn Scott
internals and hardware
Appeared in:
Many people who use computers do not know how they work internally and indeed, it is not essential to do so. This book is aimed at IT degree students to teach them about the architecture of computer systems and explains, in great detail, how every part of a computer functions. It goes into great depth on the subject but the author, Irv Englander, is able to explain things in an easy to understand way without dumbing the subject down.

It is, not surprisingly, heavily US-biased. In the section on the history of computers it mentions the American ABC and ENIAC computers and their importance in WW2 research, but misses out the British Colossus which was used to break German ciphers. Similarly, IBM mainframes are used as examples in several chapters but this emphasis on American technology does not detract from making this an excellent book on the subject.

The presentation of the subject matter is very clear and well structured. Each chapter has an introductory section and concludes with a summary of what you have learnt and a quiz to test your understanding. The main body is copiously illustrated with diagrams and photographs.

It starts at the lowest level, describing the binary number system and the internal representation of real-world data, e.g. integer and floating point numbers, alphabetic codes (ASCII, unicode, etc.), sound and graphics. Each chapter builds on this knowledge in a logical way. It goes on to describe the internal workings of the microprocessor and the external components, the busses, memory, etc.

It is not all about hardware. The software component is also introduced at the appropriate sections of the book. The author starts with a description of machine code programming and how this is closely tied to the internal organisation of the CPU and the historical development of particular designs, notably the X86 series and the Motorola RISC series used in the PowerPC.

The subjects are very comprehensively covered in just 764 pages. There are chapters on peripheral devices, computer communications and networks, applications software and operating systems. Two supplementary chapters are a new feature of this edition and introduce sequential logic circuits and communication channels and signalling.

This is a highly technical book and the information needs to be accurate. I could find only two faults. The networking chapter wrongly states that the data link layer is responsible for ensuring that the packets are re-assembled in the correct order. It is the transport layer that performs this function in the TCP protocol. The chapter on Windows 2000 uses screenshots that are actually from Windows 98.

My background is in electronics, but I learnt quite a lot from reading this book. I would thoroughly recommend it. It is extremely easy to read even though it is presenting quite complex subjects. Some readers could choose to skip certain chapters such as the one on machine code programming and still gain a good understanding of how computers work.