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Review Review: Inside the Machine

Discussion in 'Articles, Reviews and Interviews' started by tripwire45, Jan 23, 2007.

  1. tripwire45
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    Inside the Machine
    Author: Jon Stokes
    Format: Hardback: 320 pages
    Publisher: No Starch Press (November 30, 2006)
    ISBN-10: 1593271042
    ISBN-13: 978-1593271046

    Review by James Pyles
    January 23, 2007

    I started out my career in the technical arena as basically a mechanic. As a freelance technician, I found myself taking jobs that involved installing PCs, Servers, Switches, and Routers. Most of these jobs were heavily scripted so it was just a matter of following the directions. If I ran into problems, I'd ask the crew chief (if I was working with a team) or I'd call the NOC (if I was working alone). I've replaced SCSI drives, upgraded RAM and installed CPUs like a kid putting together a bunch of Legos. I could do my job very competently without ever knowing how any of those components worked electronically or programmatically.

    These days I work with a bunch of software engineers so my understanding of computing has taken a completely different direction. That's where Jon Stokes' Inside the Machine comes in. It bridges the gap between mechanic and programmer by letting the reader into "the secret world of microprocessors". Ever wonder what really happens between the keyboard and the monitor? You'll find out by reading this text.

    I was preparing to have my brain completely numbed as I picked up this book. I expected it to contain a long litany of endless technical and mathematical jargon that would act like an overdose of Valium on even the most die hard geek. I was very happily mistaken. While there is no doubt that Stokes is well versed in this realm (and as co-founder and Senior CPU Editor at Ars Technica, why shouldn't he be?), he describes the development, evolution, and operation of microprocessors in a plain, linear fashion. This really appealled to my "diode" mind where current only flows in one direction and that must follow instructions one-step-at-a-time.

    This book might well have been called Everything you wanted to know about computer architecture but were afraid to ask. It takes you from a firm foundation of the basics of computing and executing code, through the history and anatomy of Intel and PowerPC processors, into the worlds of 32 and 64 bit computing and beyond. Every person entering into a career in programming would benefit from reading and re-reading this book. Inside the Machine is the antidote for the anxiety every freshman in a beginning Computer Science class feels when reading the course syllabus for the first time.

    Yes, this is a textbook, so expect to see it in the classroom. However, it's the textbook you won't be selling back to the bookstore after you've finished the class. It's just that handy to have around. If you aren't going to school, buy a copy anyway. Like I said, if you are a programmer or just want to be, this book is handy to have around. Ever wonder what really happens between the keyboard and the monitor? Pick up a copy of Jon Stokes' Inside the Machine and find out for yourself.
     
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