Learn Digital Electronics With Me

I was looking to do some online learning as that’s something I like to do from time to time to keep the synapses firing. So I started thinking ‘well, what’s interesting and something I haven’t done before?’ I realised that even though I’ve been using, playing and working with computers for nearly my entire life, I didn’t really understand how computers actually worked. I mean at the chip level, at the electronics and electricity level. Sure I sort of have an understanding of binary and I’ve made some simple circuits with an arduino. But I really didn’t understand exactly what was happening under the hood of a computer.

What I found out is amazing. I fell down a fantastically interesting rabbit hole of information as I dug into the subject. When you understand, even at a very basic level, what an achievement digital circuitry and miniaturisation are, it’s incredible to believe the human ingenuity that built these devices. These incredible accomplishments are built on the shoulders of giants going back centuries to pioneers in mathematics, physics and electrical research. Absolutely fascinating subject and makes the little boy in me wish I had gone into electrical engineering.

I put together a series of links for anyone who’s interested in learning more about how computers and digital electronics work through from early history to transistors and logic gates to some heavy geekery about silicon foundries pumping out chips and a lot more in between. Enjoy perusing these links.

I started with the Computer Science Crash Course series of videos on Youtube. This series is a great (but very fast) intro to really every aspect of computing from earliest to origins to modern software development. This really piqued my interest, particularly how computing evolved in its infancy with Babbage and Lovelace then on to the Turing Machine.

I found the section on logic gates really interesting and fishing around for some more information, I came across this phenomenal article called Using Basic Logic Gates – With & Without Arduino with really good explanations of all the types of logic gates. The article also has a tutorial for wiring up an arduino as a logic gate emulator that looks really interesting and is on my list of things to do.

I came across another really interesting series of videos on Youtube called The Evolution of CPU Processing Power. This was also a really fascinating series that had a lot of good information on how CPUs are built but also a lot of additional information on the instructions sets and operating systems that are built on top of the CPU.

I found another great series of article called How CPUs are Desgned and Built. Lots of great info here as it goes into a lot of detail. Of particular interest are some photos of the chips with an electron microscope so you actually get a sense of how incredible it is that these devices have been miniaturised to the extent they have. We just sort of nod our heads when we hear about billions of transistors on a chip but the engineering and science behind the fabrication is incredible.

Next I found some great learning resources from SparkFun on Digital Logic and What is Electricity?

Here are another two reference resources for learning electronics and digital circuits:

I took a little historical aside to learn more about Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace.

Then I found probably what has been the best resource for me personally to really understand how computers work. This course from the Raspberry Pi Foundation called How Computers Work is really clear, concise and graspable for a lay person to really grok on to (like the title says) how computers work, down to the transistor and electricity level. I highly recommend it.

Through this course I found this great tool from Circuitverse for designing logic gates of your own. It’s real fun to play with.

Also through the RPi course, I found this fantastic emulator of the little man computer trainer from the ‘70s. Actually see the computer work at bits and bytes level in binary, awesome learning tool!! I actually wrote some simple assembly code for the first time in my life. This is one of the coolest things I found on this exploration. Here’s an even more advanced version

Finally (and roughly at the time of this writing) I’ve found the mac daddy of all DIY home electronics projects… Build an 8-bit computer from scratch A series of youtube tutorials about building an 8 bit computer entirely by hand on breadboards. You can see the computer work at the electrical circuit level that you build yourself. This would be a dream project for me. I’m just watching the video series and that’s super interesting and I’d love to build one myself some day.

I hope you enjoy these links if you like learning about electronics.