Build a Modern Computer from First Principles: A Nand2Tetris Course Review 2023

If you’ve been programming for awhile in a higher-level language, such as JavaScript, and never experimented with any other field outside of web development, you probably feel like you’re missing something.

What are you missing? A lower-level understanding of how a computer actually works, of course. The Nand2Tetris course will pull you into the light, revealing the inner workings of a computer system to you.

The Nand2Tetris course is a unique and comprehensive program that provides an immersive learning experience in computer science and digital electronics. The course is designed to take students from the very basics of computer science and guide them through the process of building their own functioning computer, complete with an operating system and a suite of software applications.

One example project from the course is building an Assembler program that can translate assembly language code into machine language code that the computer can understand and execute.

The Assembler is built in several stages, starting with a basic parser that can read assembly language code and break it down into its component parts (such as labels, instructions, and arguments).

Once the parser is working, you will move on to building a code generator that can translate the assembly language instructions into the equivalent machine language instructions. Finally, you will integrate the parser and code generator into a complete Assembler program that can translate entire assembly language programs into machine language programs that can be executed by the computer.

This project is just one example of the many challenging and rewarding projects that students tackle in the nand2tetris course. By the end of the course, you will have built a fully functional computer system from scratch, giving them a deep understanding of how computers work at the lowest levels.

One of the strengths of this course is the way in which it is structured. The program is divided into 12 modules, each of which builds upon the concepts learned in the previous modules. This incremental approach to learning is effective in helping students develop a deep understanding of the underlying principles of computing.

Another aspect of the course that I found valuable is the way in which it encourages hands-on experimentation and exploration. The course provides a software suite that allows students to design and simulate digital logic circuits, as well as an assembler and virtual machine that allow them to write and test software programs. This practical experience is essential for solidifying the theoretical concepts covered in the course.

In addition to the technical content, the course also includes numerous resources to support students' learning. These resources include video lectures, slides, assignments, and a community forum where students can collaborate and ask questions.

One potential downside of the course is that it can be quite challenging, particularly for those who are new to computer science. However, the incremental approach to learning, combined with the extensive resources and supportive community, make it possible for motivated students to succeed.

What topics are covered?

  • Boolean logic and digital circuits
  • The Nand gate as a universal building block
  • Combinational logic: building basic gates and circuits
  • Sequential logic: flip-flops, registers, and memory
  • The von Neumann architecture and machine language
  • Assembly language programming
  • Writing an assembler
  • Virtual machine design and implementation
  • Writing a compiler for the Jack programming language
  • Operating system design and implementation
  • Higher-level programming in the Jack language
  • Building an integrated software development environment (IDE)

By the end of the course, you will have built a complete computer system, starting from the basic building blocks of digital logic and progressing through a high-level programming language, an operating system, and an IDE. The course is designed to provide a comprehensive understanding of computer systems from the ground up.

Who should take Nand2Tetris?

The “Nand2Tetris” course is suitable for anyone who is interested in learning about computer science and digital electronics. This includes:

  • Students who are pursuing a degree in computer science or a related field.
  • Professionals who are looking to expand their knowledge of computer systems and software development.
  • Hobbyists who are interested in building their own computer or learning how computers work at a low level.
  • High school and college students who are interested in STEM fields and want to gain a deeper understanding of computer science.
  • Anyone who is curious about the inner workings of computers and wants to learn more about digital logic circuits, hardware design, and software development.

To sum it up, anyone who is interested in technology in even the slightest bit should take this course.

Conclusion

The Nand2Tetris course is an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning computer science and digital electronics. The comprehensive and structured approach to learning, combined with the practical experience and supportive community, make this course a valuable resource for students at all levels of technical expertise.

The course is free to audit, so there’s no reason not to take it.

Resources

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