C2 The Small Computer


I felt that I should concentrate on what lies outside the computer for this book, for example, how it has a major power to disrupt. However, there will be readers who will be interested in how the computer works and what its main components are. This chapter addresses this need. It describes: the basic architecture of the computer, computer circuits, computer memory, computer file storage, how a computer architecture is mapped to silicon and, briefly,  the problems that the computer designer has to face when pushing more and more electronic components onto a piece of silicon.

Chapter Links

  • The And gate is not the only piece of computer circuitry. This tutorial looks at others. Be warned its a bit technical.
  • Grace Hopper and bugs. The Wikipedia article contains a photograph of the first bug.
  • The Clive Maxfield book can be found at Amazon here. It’s quite technical but is so well written.
  • The description of the fabrication of a typical integrated circuit is somewhat brief and I felt somewhat frustrated writing it, here are some other descriptions. The first is from Answers.com.  The second is a site which contains a partially written book. The third source is on the web site of the Nobel prize. It consists of a history and a description of the processes.   I also recommend the Maxfield book as a source. It’s one of the best technical electronics books that has been published. Warning: its quite technical. A good source that I came across is a pdf document that contains pictures and describes the final packaging using lead frames.
  • This is a good site that contains material on swarm computing and artificial intelligence.

Blog Posts

Speed Disparity and Multitasking

In this chapter I describe the disparity in speeds between the hardware processor of a computer and file storage technology: the former operates in microseconds, while the latter operates in milliseconds. There is potentially a major waste of processor hardware when a processor makes a request for some file storage data and has to wait for a long time to receive it. One option is for the processor to idle: effectively doing nothing. The other option is for the operating system of the computer, for example Windows, to ask the processor to carry out some other task; this is a process known as multi-tasking. In Chapter 4 you will meet a concept known as grid computing. This is a technology that connects a number of processors together in such a way that they take advantage of this slack resource. This article describes another use for slack resources on a home PC: running computational programs that help into biomedical research. Your home computer will use slack processor resource to carry out computations while you are, for example, retrieving word-processed files.

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