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Section1.3How the Subsystems Interact

The buses shown in Figure 1.2.1 indicate logical groupings of the signals that must pass between the three subsystems. You can think of a bus as a communication pathway with a protocol specifying exactly how the pathway is used. The buses shown here are logical groupings of the signals that must pass between the three subsystems. A given bus implementation might not have physically separate paths for each of the three types of signals. For example, the PCI bus standard uses the same physical pathway for the address and the data, but at different times. Control signals indicate whether there is an address or data on the lines at any given time.

A program consists of a sequence of instructions that is stored in memory. When the CPU is ready to execute the next instruction in the program, the location of that instruction in memory is placed on the address bus. The CPU also places a “read” signal on the control bus. The memory subsystem responds by placing the instruction on the data bus, where the CPU can then read it. If the CPU is instructed to read data from memory, the same sequence of events takes place.

If the CPU is instructed to store data in memory, it places the data on the data bus, places the location in memory where the data is to be stored on the address bus, and places a “write” signal on the control bus. The memory subsystem responds by copying the data on the data bus into the specified memory location.

If an instruction calls for reading or writing data from memory or to memory, the next instruction in the program sequence cannot be read from memory over the same bus until the current instruction has completed the data transfer. This conflict has given rise to another stored-program architecture. In the Harvard architecture the program and data are stored in different memories, each with its own bus connected to the CPU. This makes it possible for the CPU to access both program instructions and data simultaneously. The issues should become clearer to you in Chapter 8.

In modern computers the bus connecting the CPU to external memory modules cannot keep up with the execution speed of the CPU. The slowdown of the bus is called the von Neumann bottleneck. Almost all modern CPU chips include some cache memory, which is connected to the other CPU components with much faster internal buses. The cache memory closest to the CPU commonly has a Harvard architecture configuration to achieve higher throughput of data processing.

CPU interaction with I/O devices is essentially the same as with memory. If the CPU is instructed to read a piece of data from an input device, the particular device is specified on the address bus and a “read” signal is placed on the control bus. The device responds by placing the data item on the data bus. And the CPU can send data to an output device by placing the data item on the data bus, specifying the device on the address bus, and placing a “write” signal on the control bus. Since the timing of various I/O devices varies drastically from CPU and memory timing, special programming techniques must be used. Chapter 18 provides an introduction to I/O programming techniques.

These few paragraphs are intended to provide you a very general overall view of how computer hardware works. The rest of the book will explore many of these concepts in more depth. Most of the discussion is at the ISA level, but we will also take a peek at the hardware implementation. In Chapter 6 we will even look at some transistor circuits. The goal of the book is to provide you with an introduction to computer hardware as seen from a software point of view.