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Unit information: Advanced Computer Architecture (Teaching Unit) in 2020/21

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 Advanced Computer Architecture (Teaching Unit)
Unit code COMS30046
Credit points 0
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. McIntosh-Smith
Open unit status Not open

COMS10016 Imperative and Functional Programming and COMS10017 Object-Oriented Programming and Algorithms I or equivalent.

COMS10015 Computer Architecture or equivalent.

COMS20008 Computer Systems A and COMS20012 Computer Systems B or equivalent.

COMS20010 Algorithms II or equivalent.

Strong programming skills.

Good knowledge of computer architecture.


EITHER Undergraduate students in Year 3 must choose Assessment Unit COMS30047

OR M-level students must choose the M-Level Assessment Unit COMSM0053.

Please note, COMS30046 is the Teaching Unit for Advanced Computer Architecture. Students can take this unit in either their third or fourth year, and must also choose the Assessment Unit for their year group.

School/department Department of Computer Science
Faculty Faculty of Engineering


This unit aims to introduce a range of advanced topics in computer architecture, focusing mainly on high performance processors but including recent or hot topics (e.g., low-power design, wide vector units etc.). A student completing the unit should gain an understanding of how most modern processors work. They will also gain an appreciation of how various design decisions can improve quality (according to a metric such as performance, area or power consumption) which extends the output of previous units that focus mainly on functionality. Due to the unit remit, the syllabus is somewhat flexible, and could include:

  • High performance processors: pipelining, hazards, bubbles, branch prediction, delay slots, target buffers, separate instruction units, superscalar, multiple issue, out of order completion, instruction reordering, register renaming, register windows, data parallel execution.
  • Other forms of parallelism: multi-core, multi-threading via SMT and HyperThreading.
  • Application specific processors: graphics processors, neuromorphic processors, stack processors, vector processors, VLIW, DSP, instruction set extensions for multimedia and cryptography.
  • Specific processor designs: x86, Arm, SPARC, MIPS.
  • Selected topics: security, virtualisation, advanced computer arithmetic, bridging the memory gap.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate understanding of how modern computer architectures work.
  2. Demonstrate understanding of the issues in high performance processor design.
  3. Appreciate alternative, domain-specific processor design challenges.
  4. Write a simulator, and understood how this differs from almost all other software development tasks.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions, including lectures and self-directed exercises.

Assessment Details

50% coursework, 50% summer timed assesment.

Reading and References

Essential reading:

  • Sima, Dezsō, Fountain, Terence and Kacsuk, Peter, Advanced Computer Architectures: A 'Design Space Approach (Addison Wesley, 1997) ISBN: 978-0201422917
  • Hennessy, John L. and Patterson, David A., Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach, 5th Edition (Morgan Kaufmann, 2011) ISBN: 978-8178672663