Electronic Design

Inside The Machine

By Jon StokesISBN: 1-59327-104-2

In embedded systems, a number of processor architectures come into play. Two of those at the higher end include the x86 and Power architectures. Inside The Machine takes a close look at these architectures that are distinctly different. As such, understanding them provides a good basis for understanding other platforms. The book provides a good overview starting with basic computing concepts through pipelined and superscalar execution units. This provides a basis for understanding actual implementations. Chapters alternate between the Intel x86 and Power architectures. The latter address Motorola and IBM chips. The process starts with the earliest implementations and progresses to the latest and greatest ending with Intel’s Core 2 Duo. Stokes delves into the details of each design, highlighting their advantages and disadvantages. He gets into the technical aspects without being intimidating and does an excellent job of comparing one chips features versus alternatives taken in others. This is an especially good reason for mixing the x86 and Power architectures so the differences can be compared. It is interesting to watch the historical progression and the different approaches take with each family. Stokes makes good use of color in describing complex aspects of an architecture, which is especially handy when dealing with things like the 64-bit x86 mode and virtual machine architectures. Students learning about computer architecture will find this a useful tome. Developers using the latest crop of chips will learn something as well, since understanding the tradeoffs of the past and present can be helpful in future designs.

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