Abstract : The CALICE collaboration is studying the design of high performance electromagnetic and hadronic calorimeters for future International Linear Collider detectors. For the electromagnetic calorimeter, the current baseline choice is a high granularity sampling calorimeter with tungsten as absorber and silicon detectors as sensitive material. A ``physics prototype'' has been constructed, consisting of thirty sensitive layers. Each layer has an active area of 18x18 cm2 and a pad size of 1x1 cm2. The absorber thickness totals 24 radiation lengths. It has been exposed in 2006 and 2007 to electron and hadron beams at the DESY and CERN beam test facilities, using a wide range of beam energies and incidence angles. In this paper, the prototype and the data acquisition chain are described and a summary of the data taken in the 2006 beam tests is presented. The methods used to subtract the pedestals and calibrate the detector are detailed. The signal-over-noise ratio has been measured at 7.63 +/- 0.01. Some electronics features have been observed; these lead to coherent noise and crosstalk between pads, and also crosstalk between sensitive and passive areas. The performance achieved in terms of uniformity and stability is presented.