Computer Architecture (5th ed)

John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson

Published by

Morgan Kaufmann





Reviewed by

Danny Williams MBCS CITP


9 out of 10


Computer architecture is quite different to IT architecture. In 1987 John Zachman wrote ‘A framework for information systems architecture’, which introduced the concept of architecture to people who developed IT systems such as payroll programs and airline reservation systems.

Hennessy and Patterson have produced the fifth version of their book, which operates at a much lower level: the computer hardware, focussing primarily on the microprocessor.

This is an academic textbook that is also suitable for a far broader readership. Each chapter is organised in the same structure, with the main content supported by case studies and exercises.

I'll admit to not attempting most of the exercises during my review as the book is 856 pages long, with many of the appendices only available online! One slight word of warning: if you are totally unfamiliar with C and assembler, then you might struggle with some of the examples.

Having read this book I now have a far better understanding of why processors from all the different designers and manufacturers are so different. Memory hierarchies, multicore architectures and compiler optimisation are all covered in great detail. I was particularly interested in their discussion of graphical processing units and how they are suitable for far more than just graphical workloads.

In a time when many computer programs are written in high-level languages such as Java and Python, this book reminds us all how the computers that we rely on every day operate. If your job involves selecting server platforms this book can help you  navigate the sales and marketing messages and make well-informed decisions about which processor is most suitable for each application workload.

What is great about this book is that it moves with the times. There is a lot of content on processors for mobile computing, and power usage is a pervasive theme. At the other extreme there is an excellent chapter on warehouse scale computers, which offers tremendous insight into the cloud computing infrastructure provided by Google, Amazon and others.

If your job has anything to do with IT infrastructure then I recommend this book as a must-read. As an academic text book it has both depth and breadth. And if you're just interested in the topic you'll gain a huge amount of insight into the fundamentals of computer architecture.

Further information: Morgan Kaufman

March 2012