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Books describing how computers work

  1. Feb 26, 2014 #1
    I don't mean coding, but on a more fundamental and physical level. What happens in all the hardware of a computer that allows it to do all that it does and display it on your screen? Essentially, what happens in a computer that allows it to tell you that 1+1=2.

    I wasn't sure where to put this, so I apologize if it's in the wrong section.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 26, 2014 #2


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    Check out the HowStuffWorks website -- they have some pretty good introductory articles on this... :smile:
  4. Mar 1, 2014 #3
    I wanted the exact same goal when I knew nothing about computers and I achieved it by reading monographs. There were monographs explaining how specific computer components looked like and worked so I took a not working computer, opened it and began matching components with their descriptions. I can tell you it works wonders.

    But if you really want a book go for Digital Design. Once you are done with the exercises the way you see computers will definitely be different. I can give you my syllabus if you want for there are some exercises that are not worth doing. (Ignore the programming part)
  5. Mar 5, 2014 #4


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    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  6. Mar 17, 2014 #5
    This is where a 'Windows-type' interface is less beneficial. When I was Learning computers we had to do the math for the and/or logical gates etc. Point-and-click computer courses no longer (or rarely) teach this.
  7. Mar 17, 2014 #6
    You should look for books in:-
    1) Electronics
    2) Digital Design
    3) Computer System Organisation
  8. Apr 26, 2014 #7
    I, too, approach software from largely a hardware perspective probably because I learned electronics way back in analog days. When I needed to learn more about how computers function I bought a superb (and very large) book entitled The Hardware Bible. I found it eminently readable (even found it's way into the bathroom a few times) informative and completely fascinating in it's description of the evolution of computing hardware which has to include software since it is an integral part, thus making an for excellent in-depth view on an entire world and it's struggle to grow up.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2014
  9. May 6, 2014 #8


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    Wikipedia is a good start, you can look up just about any component you want and get a fairly decent article on the mechanics of it. and if that does not hit the spot you can also look up their references at the bottom of the page.
  10. Jun 29, 2015 #9

    Could you hook me up with where you found those monographs?
  11. Jun 30, 2015 #10
    FWIW that link to Digital Design does not work.
  12. Jul 3, 2015 #11


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    Assuming you are interested in the innards of the processor system itself:

    You could start with the wikipedia article

    Start clicking on links reading about specific sub categories, like microarchitecture.


    Also, there are MANY "free online computer architecture courses". I don't know which is best

    Or, search for "how does a computer work"
  13. Jul 11, 2015 #12
    For the core CPU itself, you would want to understand the basic x86 architecture. Think of this as a single cylinder engine where as modern computers are multi cylinder engines. Understand the basics first.

    x86 Registries

    Then for getting information to and from the CPU you would want to look at I/O Addressing and Interrupts which is controlled by the bridge controllers on the motherboard. You can think of the I/O addresses as a post office box (where as large packages are controlled via DMA instead) and the Interrupt Controller is the guy that sorts all the mail.

    Interrupt Requests

    I/O Addressing
  14. Jul 11, 2015 #13
    To understand them, you may need to understand this first.

    You can also look at topics of courses available online like this of known schools in the US and google each of them that interests you.
  15. Jul 12, 2015 #14
    One thing to remember is that a computer in the sense of a PC, or tablet device etc is actually not one device, but is a system of different components which work together.
    All computers have a CPU of some sort, which does the arithmetic and logic.
    Most devices have many peripherals as well as the CPU, for instance the GPU which is responsible for processing everything graphics related.
    Then you have memory chips used for holding data that the system is currently working with.
    Long term storage devices like hard drives and flash drives.
    Sound chips, cameras, USB ports etc, ... the whole list is long.
    Each of these subsystems is full bag of technological wizardry just in itself.
  16. Jul 18, 2015 #15
    For more of the bigger picture, especially if you are of a more mathematical, conceptual mindset, you might be interested in the theory of computation.

    When I understood this stuff and how it relates to all the stuff about logic gates and flip-flops and multiplexers, I began to feel like I had real insight into the underlying principles of how such a device could be constructed. If you read a lot of how stuff works material, it may be more from a reverse-engineering perspective where you understand what's there, but not so much why it's there.
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