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Unit information: Overview of Computer Architecture in 2016/17

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Overview of Computer Architecture
Unit code COMSM1302
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Eder
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Computer Science
Faculty Faculty of Engineering


This unit covers a range of different computer related topics, including historical material, digital electronics and gradually build up to the design of a computer system. The major topics we will cover are: Fundamentals: The history of the transistor. An introduction to digital electronics, building from simple logic gates into flip- flops, registers, multiplexer etc, number systems (binary numbers and arithmetic). Basics of computer architecture: Buses, the Von Neumann vs Harvard architectures, memory, data representation, arithmetic operations, the ALU, the fetch-execute cycle. Control: Data path layout, controlling the fetch-decode-execute cycle. Parallelism in the processor, basics of pipelines, multi-processors. Instruction set design: Designing a processor to execute programs. Instruction types, addressing modes. Assembly languages and compilers, requirements for operating systems, including interrupts and I/O. At this point we will be able to look at how the computer as a whole works.

Intended learning outcomes

Successful completion of this unit will enable you to: Demonstrate a a basic understanding of digital electronics and the components used in the design of computer systems. Explain the design and operation of the principal components of the both hardware and software, and how they fit together. Show how high level programs are executed in hardware, by performing simple computations at various levels in the machine.

Teaching details

There are 24 lectures and 48 hours of supervised laboratory session. Coursework consists of in-lab activities involving both simulation and real hardware, combined with write-up outside of the labs. A further 140 hours are nominally set aside for coursework, private study, etc.

Assessment Details

Coursework (50%), Viva (50%). The coursework will include structured labs and associated write-up. The viva will be an oral examination at the end of the unit.

Reading and References

M Morris Mano. Computer System Architecture. Pearson Higher Education. 1992. ISBN: 0131757385 Essential A. Tanenbaum. Structured Computer Organization. Prentice Hall, 2005. ISBN: 0-131-48521-0 Background