Inside the Machine

Inside the Machine

An Illustrated Introduction to Microprocessors and Computer Architecture
by Jon Stokes
December 2006, 320 pp.

"Jon's approachable style, the full color diagrams, and his use of modern architectures to give example to theory, continue to delectate. Highly recommended."
Robert Love, Chief Architect, Linux Desktop, Novell Corporation (Read more)

Computers perform countless tasks ranging from the business critical to the recreational, but regardless of how differently they may look and behave, they're all amazingly similar in basic function. Once you understand how the microprocessor—or central processing unit (CPU)—works, you'll have a firm grasp of the fundamental concepts at the heart of all modern computing.

Inside the Machine, from the co-founder of the highly respected Ars Technica website, explains how microprocessors operate—what they do and how they do it. The book uses analogies, full-color diagrams, and clear language to convey the ideas that form the basis of modern computing. After discussing computers in the abstract, the book examines specific microprocessors from Intel, IBM, and Motorola, from the original models up through today's leading processors. It contains the most comprehensive and up-to-date information available (online or in print) on Intel’s latest processors: the Pentium M, Core, and Core 2 Duo. Inside the Machine also explains technology terms and concepts that you often hear but may not fully understand, such as "pipelining," "L1 cache," "main memory," "superscalar processing," and "out-of-order execution."

Includes discussion of:

  • Parts of the computer and microprocessor
  • Programming fundamentals (arithmetic instructions, memory accesses, control flow instructions, and data types)
  • Intermediate and advanced microprocessor concepts (branch prediction and speculative execution)
  • Intermediate and advanced computing concepts (instruction set architectures, RISC and CISC, the memory hierarchy, and encoding and decoding machine language instructions)
  • 64-bit computing vs. 32-bit computing
  • Caching and performance

Inside the Machine is perfect for students of science and engineering, IT and business professionals, and the growing community of hardware tinkerers who like to dig into the guts of their machines.

Author Bio 

Jon "Hannibal" Stokes is co-founder of and Senior CPU Editor of Ars Technica. He has written for a variety of publications on microprocessor architecture and the technical aspects of personal computing. Stokes holds a degree in computer engineering from Louisiana State University and two advanced degrees in the humanities from Harvard. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.

Table of contents 

Chapter 1: Basic Computing Concepts
Chapter 2: The Mechanics of Program Execution
Chapter 3: Pipelined Execution
Chapter 4: Superscalar Execution
Chapter 5: The Intel Pentium and Pentium Pro
Chapter 6: PowerPC Processors: 600 Series, 700 Series, and 7400
Chapter 7: Intel's Pentium 4 vs. Motorola's G4e: Approaches and Design Philosophies
Chapter 8: Intel's Pentium 4 vs. Motorola's G4e: The Back End
Chapter 9: 64-Bit Computing and x86-64
Chapter 10: The G5: IBM's PowerPC 970
Chapter 11: Understanding Caching and Performance
Chapter 12: Intel's Pentium M, Core Duo, and Core 2 Duo

Bibliography and Suggested Reading


"This is, by far, the most well written text that I have seen on the subject of computer architecture. The writing is clear, logically organized, well illustrated, and is contemporary . . . A work that will be viewed as essential to any student or professional in need of education on the subject."
John Stroman, Technical Account Manager, Intel

"Jon's approachable style, the full color diagrams, and his use of modern architectures to give example to theory, continue to delectate. Highly recommended."
Robert Love, Chief Architect, Linux Desktop, Novell Corporation (Read more)

"What we like about Inside the Machine is the way the book is constructed, leading the interested reader on to advanced concepts illustrated with some nice graphics . . . will give you a sound grounding in the ideas behind a modern CPU."
The Inquirer (Read more)

"Pretty geeky material, certainly, but Stokes knows his stuff, and, better yet, actually makes a lot of it interesting, even to lesser geeks like myself. I've enjoyed a number of his CPU pieces on Ars, dense as they are."
MacWorld (Read more)

"Book Tells All On Intel Processors"
EE Times (Read more)

Author posted pre-release info about his book, Inside the Machine; many enthusiastic reader comments in response.
Ars Technica (Read more)

"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."
Electronic Design (Read More)

"You won't get more detailed, in-depth explanations and descriptions of the most famous and popular computer architectures, or such a great introduction into microprocessor architecture as [Inside the Machine]."
Dev Hardware (Read more)

"The introduction that will get anyone ready to fully understand and appreciate the very detailed concepts presented in more advanced texts. . . Indeed, if you are at all involved, or simply interested, in the operations of computers, [Inside the Machine] is a must have." (Read More)

"The diagrams throughout are very clear, and it really lives up to its billing as an 'illustrated guide.'". . . This book may well be the best passport to the otherwise inaccessible city of transistors just below your fingertips."
Technovelty (Read more)

"For a complicated subject, the book is very readable with excellent diagrams, if you are a newbie or experienced enthusiast with a strong interest in knowing how microprocessors actually work—this is a great book for your library."
PC Clubhouse (Read more)

"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. . . 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."
CertForums (Read more)

"It's a very readable text, which doesn't cross that common boundary between a regular read & the sort of book you have to study line by line to grasp the concepts it's trying to explain . . . full of lovely diagrams, with points explained well."
Everyday Happenings of a Techie (Read more)

"This book helped revive in me an interest in CPU architectures and I hope Jon will consider doing a sequel . . . Definitely a good buy."
TheGlide's blog (Read more)

Author Jon Stokes interviewed on live radio program
Geek Speak (Download and listen)


View the latest errata.