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Review of Horowitz / Hill: The Art of Electronics 3rd edition

Before you read on, you can take a look at this free sample, containing not only the Table of Contents, but also the complete chapter 9 about Voltage Regulation and Power Conversion. If it sounds too good to be true, please read this post by Winfield Hill where he states that "You can share the link [to the sample] and the file as well".

After 25 years, the 3rd edition of The Art of Electronics (AoE) has finally arrived. This epic work was created by 2 of the best experts in the field (with many others providing information). It defines the current state-of-the-art in electronics (at least for board level design, designing ICs is even more complex). Most parts of the book will continue to be relevant for several decades. The 1124 pages (even more densely packed with highly accurate information than the pages of the 2nd edition) will delight everyone who already knows about electronics - and possibly intimidate those who are beginners.

I will first give my opinion about who should buy the book. Then I will make a few remarks about some selected chapters and conclude with general comments on the book.

If you already have experience in electronics, you have probably heard of the book or even read the 2nd edition. It is almost certain that you will like the 3rd edition even more than the 2nd. A little fly in the ointment is the fact that some (advanced) material will only be available in the upcoming "x-Chapters" book (please see the last 2 paragraphs here on this page). But even the information that is now available in the book is absolutely fantastic, both the quality and the quantity, and you should get is as soon as you can.

If you are an EE student and have your focus on passing your tests, you are probably better served with the classical textbooks and their extensive exercises, e.g. progressing from Boylestead to Sedra/Smith. But if you get stuck with the latter, take a look at chapters 2-4 (BJTs, FETs and OpAmps) of The Art of Electronics - you might like the explanations better. An additional benefit is that AoE is written in a more informal style than your typical textbook, it is much more fun to read.

You should also get the book if you do not have the experience yet, but you are sure that electronics is the right thing for you (as a professional or an advanced hobbyist). Even if you are completely new to electronics, but you are determined to invest the necessary time to learn it, you should consider to get the book now. As you make progress (while learning from other sources, see the next paragraph), return to the book and see if you understand more of it. If, however, you are yet undecided and just want to take a look at electronics to find out whether it is the right subject for you, I would not recommend The Art of Electronics. The sheer amount of information might overwhelm or even scare you away.

To shortly digress, where could you start learning electronics if The Art of Electronics is (currently) too demanding for you? The free allaboutcircuits is the most gentle introduction for the absolute beginner that I know. More advanced is Practical Electronics for Inventors. If both do not suit your needs, try asking in your favorite electronics community. The forum that is associated with allaboutciruits and the forum of the EEVBlog are two big and friendly communities. Finally, an upcoming book that promises to be interesting for the beginner is "Learning the Art of Electronics" by Hayes and Horowitz. It is meant as a companion to the 3rd edition (just as the "Student Manual for Art of Electronics" was for the 2nd edition) and should be released in 2015.

So which parts of AoE are the easiest to access for the beginner? As soon as you have learned how to analyze basic electronic circuits, you could take a look at the first parts of chapter 4, dealing with the ideal operational amplifier (up to section 4.4 A detailed look at op amp behavior). Another good place to start is chapter 10 about digital logic (most parts of it, if some pages are too heavy in technical details just skip them). And last but not least chapter 15 about Microcontrollers. This is probably the area where a beginner can make the fastest progress and achieve amazing results with a modest investment of time, if you are not afraid of programming.

So here are a few remarks about some individual chapters:

Chapter 2 (Bipolar Transistors): The authors do an extremely good job of explaining complicated stuff as easily as possible (but still technically accurate) - considering that transistors are such highly non-linear and difficult beasts. The authors reject the h-parameter model as unnecessarily complicated and unintuitive (I fully agree with this, but if you are a student please note that your professor might not, and you may have to know how to do calculations with this model in a test). Instead they start with the simple current amplifier model ("Transistor Man") and show how to use it for circuit design. Then they introduce the more sophisticated Ebers-Moll model (Ic depending exponentially on Vbe) and use it for the rest of the chapter. Other than in the 2nd edition, they also discuss feedback and its benefits in the 2nd chapter (including a graph from Harold Black's patent from 1937 that started it all).

chapter 4 (Op Amps): Sections 4.1 - 4.3 contain a very good introduction to the ideal Op Amp and the basic circuits that you can build with it. The behavior of the (ideal) Op Amp is a lot easier to analyze than the behavior of a transistor, and the same is true for using it in a circuit design. If you know how to analyze basic linear circuits (both DC and AC), you should also be able to understand Op Amp circuits - if you read the 2 "Golden Rules" of the ideal Op Amp (p. 225). The Golden Rules and their consequences are very clearly explained by the authors . So this might be a good place to start designing electronic circuits. Admittedly, to fully understand real Op Amps, their characteristics and how to use them (the topic of the following sections), you first have to go back to chapters 2 and 3 and study transistors (BJTs and FETs) carefully. Very important is the last section 4.9 Feedback amplifier frequency compensation. One interesting detail: The authors choose the same "jellybean" (good all-around performer) Op Amp for their book as in the 2nd edition 25 years before: The LF411 (or, if you prefer the dual version, the LF412). Analog ICs age a lot better than digital ones.

Chapter 5 is about Precision Circuits. Maybe it is sufficient to tell you that the late Jim Williams had the highest praise for this 100 page chapter to convince you that it is one of the most important parts of the book (you can find his and other praise on the Amazon link at the top of this page, and of course the customer reviews too). This chapter contains lots of very detailed information about the influence of the different Op Amp parameters, also a discussion of instrumentation amplifiers. Very interesting is the discussion of the Agilent DMMs 34401A and 34420A, p.342-344. This chapter is not for the beginner.

Chapter 8 about Low Noise Techniques might have followed immediately after chapter 5, because both are logically closely connected - how could one hope to build a precision circuit without paying close attention to noise? Whith 120 pages it is even longer than chapter 5. The introduction to the different kinds of noise in section 8.1 is very good and readable, but in general this chapter is quite mathematical and not an easy read. This is not the fault of the authors, it is a very difficult subject. But one very interesting highlight of this chapter is the detailed discussion of the SR560 low-noise preamplifier, p.512 - 515.

Chapter 9 is about Voltage Regulation and Power Conversion. You can get it as a sample for free (see the link in the first paragraph on this page) and take a look at it, so I will just draw your attention to one highlight: Pages 665 -672 contain "A real-world switcher example", explaining every detail of such a switcher to you.

Chapter 10 is about Digital Logic, many parts of it should even be accessible for the beginner. Very interesting are the screenshot on p. 710, comparing the propagation delays of several logic families, and the short section and screenshot on metastability starting on p. 732. Using the standard logic ICs that are introduced in this chapter is both instructional and great fun. But do not forget that using the programmable logic discussed in the next chapter is more economical when digital circuits become more complex.

Chapter 11 (Programmable Logic Devices): Here you can find a design example of a pseudorandom byte generator (starting on p.770). The authors guide you through several options for implementing it: Using standard logic requires 9 ICs (and the number would quickly become prohibitively large for more complex designs), so obviously programmable logic is the better option. Here you can either use schematic entry, or a Hardware Description Language (HDL). In case of a HDL, you have to make one more choice between Verilog and VHDL. The authors show an implementation for each method and discuss the pros and cons.

Chapter 15 (Microcontrollers): The best about this final chapter are the 5 design examples. They not only give you very valuable technical insight, but may inspire you to think about what sort of crazy gadget you could implement with a microcontroller. And figure 15.20 on p. 1080 is great for the beginner: It gives you a quick overview about the peripherals that you can connect to a typical microcontroller, and references the sections in the book where you can get detailed information about each of them.

In Appendix J, the authors introduce you to a free demo of ICAP/4 (the SPICE variant of Intusoft). They say it is a convenient schematic entry and simulation environment that they have used for many years. If you already have some experience with SPICE, this might be interesting to try. If, however, you are new to SPICE, I would rather advice to try a variant that is more widely known - the free LTspice is very popular. If you get stuck with a problem and want to ask for help, it is very likely you will find someone with experience in LTspice in every electronics community. I am not so sure that this is true for ICAP/4. The situation is different if you are an EE student, obviously in this case it is best to get familiar with whatever SPICE variant is used in your classes and labs.

One great feature that is new in the 3rd edition are 90 scope screenshots, made with Tektronix TDS3044 and TDS3054. And in section 12.2 the authors explain a few probing tricks that helped them to get nice and clean traces of the digital signals.

Some chapters from the 2nd edition are not in the 3rd one because otherwise the book would have become too heavy to carry around with you: Chapter 12 Electronic Construction Techniques, Chapter 13 High Frequency and High Speed Techniques, Chapter 14 Micropower Design, Chapter 15 Measurements and Signal Processing. The same is true for some of the information in others chapters. I guess everybody who knows the 2nd edition will find a few of his personal favorite pages missing. One example for this is the "quickie guide" on capacitors in chapter 1 - one page describing qualitatively the most important properties of every type. I was even more shocked when I discovered that the "Bad Circuits" had gone. Luckily, the authors say in the preface that both the "Circuit Ideas" and the "Bad Circuits" will re-appear on their artofelectronics website. The site is quite new, so at the moment (6th April 2015) there are only a few of the bad circuits present. Also useful (if you own the book) is the errata page.

While talking about pages you might miss, I have to mention the "x-Chapters". If you browse through the book (or the free sample chapter 9, see the link in the first paragraph) you will occasionally notice references like this (chapter 9, p.634): "There's some interesting stuff going on here; you can read more about it (and see a dramatic example) in 9x.6.". The little x refers to the upcoming "x-Chapters" book (The full name is "The Art of Electronics: The x-Chapters"). Unfortunately, you will have to wait some time for it. Please see the link to the post by Winfield Hill (in the first paragraph), where he said (on 5th March 2015): "In a few years we'll be coming out with a companion volume, The x-Chapters, which will have more advanced material". Update, 10th April 2015: These are the chapters in which material from the upcoming book is referenced: Chapter 1: Foundations, Chapter 2: Bipolar Transistors, Chapter 3: Field-Effect Transistors, Chapter 4: Operational Amplifiers and Chapter 9: Voltage Regulation and Power Conversion.

Now there are two ways to look at this: You can be disappointed that you have to wait some more years to get this advanced material. Or you can be glad that the authors made the decision to split off the x-chapters, because otherwise there would have been no chance to release the book in March 2015. I, for one, am glad that I hold this heavy, golden book in my hands right now.

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