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Thread: Can a retro-computer be a useful way to learn computer-architecture fundamentals?

  1. #31

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    Ibm's graphics offerings were bland initially. It wasn't intended for gaming. Millions of compatibles were sold that as stock had far better graphics then the c64. If you were lucky your c64 lasted a year (my original one didn't last but a month). This isn't a discussion about the merits of either, but rather where one's time is better spent. I wouldn't discourage the op from exploring the c64. It's just when it blows parts are way more difficult to find then an ibm or compatible. That's certainly something to keep in mind.

  2. #32
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    Year? The one I bought new lasted ten years until I decided I didn't need it anymore and cannibalised it for parts. The ones I use now are 35 years old. I never knew anyone back then that had trouble with them. Else I'd never have bought one.

    You can learn a LOT from ENIAC. It really was an amazing architecture. I spent a lot of time programming it in simulation. I learnt a lot.

  3. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2icebitn View Post
    No, but neither is the op going to learn about computers on any of those. I was referring to consumer items.
    You don't learn about computers just by fiddling with consumer items. You only learn about fiddling with consumer items.
    The original poster wrote:
    I've been reading about the fundamentals of computer architecture, but I think I could get a better grasp of the basics if I could could have an actual device to play with.
    So this is about learning the fundamentals of computer architecture. And that's what the discussion is about. For that, the 6502 or any other plain, but fundamentally complete microprocessor is ideal.
    Omg please. Who said anything anywhere about Xeons???
    Merely an example of something newer than the 6502! But if you really want to play games with words, be my guest.

  4. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2icebitn View Post
    Ibm's graphics offerings were bland initially. It wasn't intended for gaming. Millions of compatibles were sold that as stock had far better graphics then the c64. If you were lucky your c64 lasted a year (my original one didn't last but a month). This isn't a discussion about the merits of either, but rather where one's time is better spent. I wouldn't discourage the op from exploring the c64. It's just when it blows parts are way more difficult to find then an ibm or compatible. That's certainly something to keep in mind.
    https://www.retroleum.co.uk/commodore-64
    http://www.unitechelectronics.com/comm64parts.htm
    There are others as well.
    Last edited by Caluser2000; April 18th, 2018 at 05:27 AM.
    Thomas Byers (DRI)- "You'll have a million people using the A> [MS-DOS prompt] forever. You'll have five million using [nongraphic] menu systems such as Topview, Concurrent PC-DOS, Desq, and those types. But there'll be 50 to 100 million using the iconic-based interfaces."

  5. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by Caluser2000 View Post
    So what? The basics ideas are still the same no matter what architecture you're using-ie getting as close to the hardware as possible.
    I agree there... Learning the basics of CPUs and machine language doesn't have much to do with job opportunities in writing x86 asm.
    You can learn the basics on a variety of CPUs, x86 being one of them. The main thing x86 has going for it is its omnipresence.... x86 CPUs everywhere, and consequently also tools, documentation and other people who can assist you.

    Having said that, I do believe that going down to the basics of digital circuits may be a better place to start. As in, learning about simple AND, OR, NOT, XOR gates and such, and how to string them together to perform basic addition, subtraction and all that.
    Using an actual CPU is a logical progression from there (and bonus points for the 6502 since it only has addition and subtraction in hardware, if you want more complex stuff, like multiply, divide, square root, etc... let alone floating point, you have to do it yourself).

  6. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2icebitn View Post
    So what is the context whereby older far more obsolete architectures are more relevant?
    The relevance when learning computer architecture is that an older processor like the 6502 has a very direct mapping between instructions executed and bus cycles. Modern architectures do speculative fetching, fufill reads from cache (and defer writes) and have all kinds of other tricks to improve performance and functionality (with control registers and instructions to manage those features) and it just makes the processor manual thicker and harder to understand. Once you know what you're doing it's easy to identify the parts of the instruction set and register set that you can safely ignore for 'simple' programming, but when you're new it's easy to get lost in all the complexity. You and I both know that on the 80386 the EAX register is important, but CR3 is not, but for a beginner this isn't so clear.

    The other relevance is in learning what is essential in a computer, versus what is simply nice to have. Notable examples here are lots of registers, lots of addressing modes, and useful (but not critical) instructions like multi-bit shifts and rotates, hardware integer multiply/divide, and of course all floating point instructions.
    Last edited by kgober; April 18th, 2018 at 06:10 AM.

  7. #37

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    I think if one is to learn about computer architecture one needs to see various types of computers. My list would be: 68K, 1802, F8, 8051, x86 and NC4000. Each brings a different perspective about what is involved with how data is handled. It is not that I would design a computer like any of them but it helps to see the different ways problems were solved in each. One should apply different types of problems to each. Things like string processing, vector handling, simple switch statement and such.
    Dwight

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    I very much agree. But I think it would be good to get a firm footing in one first.

  9. #39

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    If a person has limited time (don't we all) I would recommend bypassing every bit of history and delving into something that will allow them to accomplish something. As I've said the 68k is a totally worthwhile chip family to investigate. So much of programming and microcomputer construction is an abstraction anyway (thank goodness). We don't have to know machine language to program in assembler. If we're constructing a single board computer say, we aren't building things up from individual gates (and yes you will certainly need to learn digital circuitry in order to design your own computer board, but not to simply build one from say plans). Personally I'd rather build and be able to utilize something on the modern side shall we say. Tons of software and docs for the 80x86 in particular.

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