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How does a computer work? need book suggestions

  1. May 4, 2013 #1
    I have always been irritated that I don't really know how and why a computer works.
    I would like to change that now and need book suggestions. The text has to be as thorough as possible. I don't want descriptive books for a layman. I need scientific textbooks.

    If you know a good book please let me know. Help is much apprecieated.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 5, 2013 #2
  4. May 5, 2013 #3
    For a survey, try here:


    It's a good place to start...for example it has many links with additional details and terminology galore which you may wish to pursue in depth.....say "Turing machine" for example .....and the GLOSSARY OF COMPUTER TERMS.....you might find a few areas of particular interest to you...

    Computers are one of those entities that touches just about anything you can imagine....
    [except maybe cosmology]....from quantum theory to the speed of light to solid state devices to information theory to video to...well....you get the idea....
  5. May 5, 2013 #4
    A book on computing, a book on digital circuit design, and a book on computer architecture, if read together, will give you a thorough understanding of how computers work.

  6. May 8, 2013 #5

    jim hardy

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  7. May 11, 2013 #6
    The most important thing to understand is that it is layered. Computers exist and work on at least a half dozen different levels. Like biological system that have Physiology and then cells and then bio-chem and then physics.

    You can understand a computer as a colloection of software or as the gross level parts of the hardware ,like CPU, RAM, Disk drive and cooling or you can look inside the CPU as a very complex state machine or you can look at transistors. To really understand it you have to know how all the layers work and the above was a huge simplification. You have to accept that you will never be an expert at each layer.

    Look for a "computer Science 101" level test book that is used for university freshmen level "intro" classes. NOT a "how to write programs" book. Althogh the CompSci 101 book might have a chapter or two on programming.

    The best thing is to look at Amazon and buy a edition one or two back from the current one. I've gotten some grad biology texts for literally $0.99 plus shipping where the current ed. is $125.

    I notice Amazon has "Balanced Introduction to Computer Science" by D. Reed for $1.90 if you get the 2005 ed. At that price even if you only read 1/2 the book it is a bargain
  8. May 11, 2013 #7


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    Very well said.

    EDIT: xiMy, I would add to the above that your concept of "scientific" texts is a bit misdirected. Unless you plan on studying semiconductor physics, all of the concepts in computer are more ENGINEERING than science.
    Last edited: May 11, 2013
  9. May 11, 2013 #8
    No, that is learning a fairly deep level. I think the OP needs to learn about the gross level parts of the computer first. Like what is a CPU and what is RAM. What is the funtion of an operating system.

    Today even people who write Kernel level code, way down in the guts of the OS don't write i assembly language. Unix is "C" even in the interrupt handlers. Modern compilers are VERY good.

    If you want to understand hardware at the hands on Level in 2013 look up "Arduino" that 8080 manual was state of that art in 1978, 30+ years ago. You can buy an Arduino for about $30 and write all kinds of software for it and blink LEDs and control motors and such. But first learn the big picture.
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