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Build a Modern Computer from First Principles: From Nand to Tetris (Project-Centered Course)

Coursera · Hebrew University of Jerusalem · 110 HN points · 25 HN comments

HN Academy has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention Coursera's "Build a Modern Computer from First Principles: From Nand to Tetris (Project-Centered Course)" from Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Course Description
What you’ll achieve: In this project-centered course* you will build a modern computer system, from the ground ...
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This course is offered by Hebrew University of Jerusalem on the Coursera platform.
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Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this course.
+1 for Nand to Tetris.

As someone who came to computing through high level software and a little later than many (I wasn't dismantling appliances at age 5 like you hear in a lot of people's origin stories) this was a really empowering ground-up introduction to hardware architecture.

One of the few Coursera courses [1] I actually finished and found rewarding, challenging and fun throughout.

1. https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer

The first half of nand2tetris[1] (projects 1-6), which corresponds to their first Coursera course[2] is a great introduction to the digital side of electronics. The second half is more general purpose computer and OS specific but probably still pretty useful. I've only finished up to chapter 5 as of right now, so I can't say anything definite.

[1] https://www.nand2tetris.org/

[2] https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer

The best MOOC course I have taken this year is the one I'm currently doing. It is called nand2tetris [1] where you actually build a 16 bit computer all the way from nand gate. Along the journey you will be building the memory, operating system and also writing a compiler. You can follow my journey in tweets [2].

Another great course I'd recommend is Big History[3]. Like nand2tetris,it gives you a great overview of the entire history of our being. From Big Bang to 2018.

Also, I am looking for some great online courses on Distributed systems. It would be good if assignments are challenging and where you have to write a lot of code.

[1] Nand2tetris: https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer

[2] My Nand2tetris journey in tweets: https://twitter.com/abiduzz420/status/1076192382398357505

[3] Big History Project: https://polymathgoodies.xyz/big-history-project/

Edit: added extra spaces

I have spent a lot of time taking online courses. Here are my favorites.

CS50 (https://www.edx.org/course/cs50s-introduction-computer-scien...) - Best Intro to Computer Science

Nand2Tetris I and II (https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer) - Build a computer from logic gates up to a compiler, this is the best class I've ever taken.

Agile Development Using Ruby on Rails (https://www.edx.org/professional-certificate/agile-developme...) - Great introduction to web development and software engineering principles

I've also been reading some technical books. Would definitely recommend

Modern Operating Systems - Tanenbaum Designing Data-Intensive Applications - Kleppmann

I'm also a self-taught web dev, trying to learn more about the fundamentals. I've been trying to get through this course, and while the going is slow, it has been pretty incredible:

https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer

I'm not familiar with low-level, so I'm not sure how "low" you mean, but I've begun the NAND2Tetris course on coursera and it's pretty great so far. You basically implement a VM from scratch: https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer
SilasX
I actually took that early this year and LOVED it, and was looking for a good followup course. I was toying around with CS140e (also uses RPi 3 and Rust)[1] but this one looks more appropriate.

[1] https://web.stanford.edu/class/cs140e/

jamesmcm
Wow I just did the same course this week too.

It's a great course. Though I ended up writing the assembler in Python rather than C.

This might seem like a roundabout way to start, but I'd recommend Code by Charles Petzold[0].

It starts out with just wires, switches, and relays, and as the book progresses he goes through the process of building up a simple CPU and RAM one step at a time. The book even walks you through coming up with opcodes and assembly language.

Even if you already know this stuff, I found the book was helpful in developing an intuitive feel for how everything works and fits together.

After reading it, you'd probably have a good mental model of how you'd want to approach writing an emulator.

The Nand to Tetris courses and their accompanying textbook would probably be helpful here too[1][2].

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Code-Language-Computer-Hardware-Softw... [1] https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer [2] https://www.coursera.org/learn/nand2tetris2

There is a book "The Elements of Computing Systems: Building a Modern Computer from First Principles"[0] that is often called "From NAND to Tetris". This has you building a computer simulator from the ground up (NAND to Tetris). There is a website[1] and a Cousera course[2]. And a TED talk[3].

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Elements-Computing-Systems-Building-P...

[1] http://nand2tetris.org/

[2] https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer

[3] https://www.ted.com/talks/shimon_schocken_the_self_organizin...

Nand 2 Tetris[1] is a good starting place. You should get a good view of how the different level interact. Coursera have two cources [2][3] that cover the same material as the book

[1] http://nand2tetris.org/ [2] https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer [3] https://www.coursera.org/learn/nand2tetris2

indigochill
I second this course. It's awesome. The next step from there is probably Coursera's VLSI course, starting with https://www.coursera.org/learn/vlsi-cad-logic. It's all about how real-world VLSI CADs work.
fstephany
Thanks! I finished Nand2Tetris and was wondering where to look for a good next step.
I'll take a stab at a newb-friendly explanation, bearing in mind I'm only slightly less of a newb, but have at least studied this stuff to some extent and have played with https://microcorruption.com, which is a game about maliciously editing machine instructions. Onwards!

CPUs have a fixed instruction set. Add, subtract, increment by 1, and so on. These instructions in turn are represented in machine language as a binary string, which represents signals that get sent to the CPU's processing center, the ALU (Arithmetic Logic Unit). The ALU has a number of input ports, with each one corresponding to a different fundamental operation.

There are a number of programs capable of taking an executable and providing a step-by-step breakdown in machine language (which makes sense intuitively because the machine has to do this for itself anyway in order to execute the program). So once you have the machine language instructions, you then study it to see what different sets of instructions are doing. This is made somewhat easier by the fact that computers run through instructions linearly (with the exception of jumps, but you also know that jumps represent some sort of logic operating on input, so those are informative as well).

Although this would take forever to do manually, there are programs that aid in breaking machine language into easier-to-understand chunks, like IDA.

Anyway, once you understand what different chunks of instructions are doing, then you can decide how you want to alter the program. You can use a hex editor for the actual editing (I assume professionals use something different, but some game modders use hex editors), which simply lets you change the individual bits on your drive (if this sounds impressive, realize that every time you save a file or something, that's what's going on at a large scale).

If you want a gentle, newbie-friendly introduction to CPUs which will make a lot of this stuff click better, I highly recommend the NAND to Tetris course, which has a video series on Coursera: https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer

Pretty sure that's part of the first course (https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer), and this one starts above the hardware.
+1 to Code (Petzold). I would absolutely start with that. One of my favorite books. The build a computer course from coursera (https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer) is the natural next step after reading code.
Jun 02, 2017 · indigochill on Network Protocols
Depending on how deep you want to go:

https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer - This is a fantastic no-prerequisites course that has you actually implementing a functional CPU in 6 weeks starting from building basic logic gates out of NAND gates. There's a hands-on project every week to help you solidify your understanding of the lectures. The resources are also all available at their site: http://www.nand2tetris.org/. In case that sounds intimidating, I have no formal CS education either and couldn't implement any of the basic logic gates before I took the course, and I built a CPU by the end so I'm confident others can too. They have a "Part 2" to this course which has you build from the CPU to a functional operating system which would get you an introduction to how kernels work in general, although they recommend some programming experience for that part.

Hacking: The Art of Exploitation - Despite the name, this book is actually an excellent introduction to low-level behavior both on the CPU and on networks (it's split into distinct sections to cover each topic). I would recommend picking this up after the course linked above, because it's somewhat brief with its explanation of CPU architecture. A beginner's course in C programming might also be advisable since this does use some basic C code which might be challenging if you've never been exposed to it before.

I am taking a great coursera course on the very basics of a computer (uses a hardware simulator to build the chipsets necessary to build a computer). It is VERY intro-friendly and gentle, including teaching basic Boolean algebra. Also can be very hands on, which is what I really like about it. Might be a good fit!

https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer/

+1, along with the author's course "Build a Modern Computer from First Principles: From Nand to Tetris" https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer
Working through the class on Coursera now, and it's a lot of fun. https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer
petra
I wonder if, in that same spirit, it's possible to make building, together , a complex microcontroller , a fun project ?
Dangeranger
Well there is the FAP80 now. https://github.com/dekuNukem/fap80 https://dekunukem.wordpress.com/
Graziano_M
That classes basically builds a microcontroller. It's Harvard Architecture with a split iROM and dRAM. Simple ALU, 16 bit CPU. You'd need one hell of a bread board to physically build it, though.
Dec 19, 2016 · 94 points, 17 comments · submitted by ravanpao
rkachowski
Sadly it looks like the course stops at week 6 after the assembler has been implemented. The next steps in the book are to implement the VM, compiler and develop programs in the high level language you've implemented.

I started the book back in August and got as far as implementing the lexical analysis in the compiler, I was kinda hoping this course would give the the push to finish everything.

dx034
They say in the first video that the software part (from week 7) will follow in a second Coursera course.
ChrisRR
I've been waiting for that second course for years now...
jwhitlark
If you are self taught, you owe it to yourself to take this course. It's the best tie together class I've ever seen, and made a world of difference to me.

Note that this is one the first half of the coursework, I'm still waiting for the second part.

Seriously, if you're self taught, and have been writing code for a while, this and a great compiler course will take you to a new level.

ellius
I'm self-taught. This was the first book that actually answered my question "but how does it work?". I'd been getting incomplete and misguided answers for years when I finally stumbled across this book in an HN thread, and I was finally able to put the full picture together.
wccrawford
I did a course based on this book a while back, and while I didn't quite finish it, I did get a lot of enjoyment from it.

I think I probably did it here. Or at least used this page as reference.

http://www.nand2tetris.org/course.php

bbayer
For some background https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iE7YRHxwoDs
throwaway2016a
I had avery similar course to this in college. We build a 4-bit machine (with a very limited instruction set) from scratch (well from basic logic gates and RAM). For the final project grade the professor ran a test program through it and saw if the output matched what was expected.

We actually physically built it on a breadboard.

It was fun and I learned a lot. Hopefully this is a similar experience for those who take it.

ioseph
Looks like an interesting course, though the submission process seems unpleasant compared to other courses I've taken in the past.
temp-defualt
Amazing... I really love this course. I teach it to my students it is great!
busterarm
I've been going through the book and it's been great fun so far.

Recommend!

fieryskiff
Interesting. Anyone know if it's updated from [0]? Wonder if it'll just use the same Software. The book [1] was interesting.

[0] http://nand2tetris.org/

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Elements-Computing-Systems-Building-P...

guiambros
I finished it a couple of months ago. It uses the exact same structure and software as described in the book (HACK language, etc).

The included hands-on projects made it more fun and interesting. Basically you'll build a simple computer from the ground up, starting with flip-flops and going all the up up to ALU, memory and CPU.

The grader works well, so you can submit your code and it'll grade you in realtime. You can finish it in less than a month, if you have experience with electronics and Boolean logic.

Patrick_Devine
I've gone through the book and got as far as building the computer, writing the assembler and running some programs on it. Does the course go beyond this? I haven't built the virtual machine or written the compiler, but it looked like from the description of the course, they didn't do that either.
dan1234
According to the Nand2Tetris site[0], this is just part 1 and only covers chapters 1-6. Part 2 will cover chapters 7-12 but looks to be still in development.

[0]http://nand2tetris.org/

ioseph
Looks like it's still the same course although with video lectures added
chairmanwow
> Course by Hebrew University of Jerusalem

> Project 1 due December 25th

Nov 23, 2016 · 3 points, 0 comments · submitted by stpapa
The authors also created a course on Coursera [1] which is also worth a look. Although it only covers the first half of the book (up to Assembler Language.) The authors have promised part 2 but it hasn't been released yet.

[1] https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer

I really like nand2tetris [1] in which one builds a computer from NAND gates upwards. You build the ALU etc., an assembler, compiler, a OS and VM on which you can run your own version of tetris, snake, whatever. It doesn't teach programming directly, but could be used to teach programming when the first parts are reached that require programming (I believe it was Chapter 6 - Assembler).

The hardware part of the course is also available on coursera now. [2] Previous discussion on hn [3].

[1] http://www.nand2tetris.org/

[2] https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5888705

Thanks to the author for the heads up, would be real shame if these courses are removed without someone downloading all the material first (I don't care if it's against the ToS, I still think a torrent is the way to go, free education has a greater value than copyright protection).

I'm a bit confused about which courses will be removed and which ones will stay. Is there a list of courses that are present on the old platform but not on the new platform? Also, I don't know where I'd access the old platform and where I'd access the new platform. Am I right in thinking this is a course on the new platform?

https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer

If so, where do I go to see the old platform?

Cool, haven't thought about that. I probably need to get an FPGA. Really liked the book "The Elements of Computing Systems" [1][2] in which one builds a computer from NAND gates upwards, a compiler, vm and finally a simple OS with applications. The hardware part of the course seems to be on coursera now as well. [3]

[1] https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/elements-computing-systems

[2] http://www.nand2tetris.org/

[3] https://www.coursera.org/learn/build-a-computer

nickpsecurity
That's some really neat stuff that I somehow missed in prior research. Thanks for the links. I'm particularly going to have to take another look at the paper that details their methodology for building systems ground up. The abstraction process and samples.
Jun 23, 2015 · e19293001 on Megaprocessor
I just finished the course from coursera https://www.coursera.org/course/nand2tetris1. It is a very good start learning from the course or from the book for those who are interested to build something like this. I highly recommend it.
Sometimes I do find programmers that do not know how to, say, install a linux distro, or at a lower level, don't understand what a data bus is, or how one bit of information is actually stored in a computer.

> Learning how to make car parts from scratch gives younger workers insights they otherwise wouldn’t get from picking parts from bins and conveyor belts, or pressing buttons on machines.

This is also the spirit of the nand2tetris [1] course, currently running on coursera [2]. The book is a really entertaining read too. Depending on how familiar you are with electronics you may be able to outpace the video course quite a bit.

Also,

> “Fully automated machines don’t evolve on their own,”

not yet... :p

1: http://www.nand2tetris.org/

2: https://www.coursera.org/course/nand2tetris1

gregpilling
I know a computer science professor that asked me how to make a website as recently as 2007
kwhitefoot
Not entirely sure what your point is here but I assume that you mean he should have known.

Can't imagine why a computer SCIENCE professor would be expected to know how to make a website any more than my Newtonian mechanics professor would have been expected to know how to build a car.

Apr 12, 2015 · 2 points, 0 comments · submitted by pykello
Mar 24, 2015 · 3 points, 0 comments · submitted by AlexeyBrin
Mar 24, 2015 · 7 points, 0 comments · submitted by signa11
Feb 17, 2015 · 1 points, 0 comments · submitted by ludicast
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