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Review of "MINICOMPUTER SYSTEMS..." Eckhouse & Morris

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    MINICOMPUTER SYSTEMS
            ORGANIZATION, PROGRAMMING, AND APPLICATIONS (PDP-11)" - Second Edition

Richard H. Eckhouse, Jr.
L Robert Morris

Prentice-Hall
ISBN 0-13-583914-9
On the cover: Diagram of the "Antikythera Mechanism" [1][2][3] 
491 Pages including Appendices and Index
This book would have been very useful had it been known to me in my early PDP-11 career. Not for programming, but for it's appeal to me as an Architect of several operating systems.

It is a Computer System "Designer's" view of the PDP-11's instruction set with a general appreciation of the issues and decisions of it's implementation and use.

It delves into "Intermediate Level" topics such as data types, algorithms, linked lists, stacks, relocation, I/O, interrupts, reentrancy, recursion, and organization by examining use in example Realtime programs, including a "Modest" OS.

Examples frequently include opcode, but don't focus on it for the most part. It would be difficult to concieve of learning many of these techniques without having a MACRO-11 compiler to practice on. There is a brief examination of High Level Language vs Assembly, and another on debugging, but coverage is light and not advanced enough for my taste.

A more advanced section discusses PDP-11/60 "Microcode". This won't be interesting to everyone, but it provides an "internals view" of how this was accomplished which is hard to come by.

Overall - this book won't help you much on your PDP-11 fundamentals. It's definitely targeted at those with ambition to move beyond entry level assembly programing by providing a foundational understanding.

It could also be a supplemental resource as a reference book to those who might be interested in systems level topics, without the need to fully utilize them yet.

Readability - it doesn't really speak easily to anyone but us aliens who might already be familiar with what the authors are getting at. Novices should expect to have several other books open at the same time, the deeper they get into it's carefully "woven" structure. Even then, it might be a frustrating experience.

I can't say it's an RT-11 "Primmer", but I expect it could be a reasonable introduction into OS topics that would make a nice prep for an RT-11 specific book/course and a prerequisite if you want to examine the sources. Less so for UNIX or RSX, but nonetheless useful to get one "on the road".

I am afraid it won't be directly useful to get a novice up and coding for the PDP-11 in opcode. It does include a Console Switch register operation overview that might come in handy and a treatment on UNIBUS. Here and there there are other desirable details, but it's not really organized for this group.

Conclusion:

I like this book for my own reasons. I am not sure it will be immediately useful to others. It may be one of those purchases you appreciate better in a few years, if you stick with PDP-11 programming. It's cheap enough to buy on that basis, and take the chance.

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