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Unit information: Computer Architecture in 2023/24

Unit name Computer Architecture
Unit code COMS10015
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Tom Deakin
Open unit status Not open
Units you must take before you take this one (pre-requisite units)


Units you must take alongside this one (co-requisite units)


Units you may not take alongside this one
School/department School of Computer Science
Faculty Faculty of Engineering

Unit Information

Using a set of fundamental techniques and technologies, the computer systems theme broadly explains how computing platforms work: it does so a) at various levels of abstraction, including both software and hardware, and by bridging between theory and practice, and b) both in isolation, and in combination, i.e., considering large, diverse, complex systems vs. individual platforms.

Forming part of said theme, this unit delivers an introduction to computer architecture: the focus is on bridging the gap between high-level programming languages and the hardware (e.g., micro-processors) on which associated programs execute. The unit content can be described as three main topics, which gradually build from lower to higher level concepts:

1. From Mathematics and Physics to digital logic:

  • Boolean algebra, integer representation and arithmetic,
  • physical design of logic components (e.g., logic gates from transistors),
  • use of combinatorial logic components (e.g., Karnaugh maps),
  • use of sequential logic components (e.g., state machines)

2. From digital logic to computer processors:

  • processor paradigms: counter, accumulator, and register machines; von Neumann vs. Harvard architecture; RISC vs. CISC,
  • memory paradigms: von Neumann bottleneck, memory hierarchy; cache memories,
  • instruction set design: instruction classes; addressing modes; instruction encoding and decoding,
  • processor design: buses; control and data paths; ALU; microcoded vs. hardwired control; fetch-decode-execute cycle.

3. From computer processors to software applications:

  • development tools: assembly language; assembly and linkage processes; debuggers,
  • support for structured programming (e.g., function calls),
  • support for operating systems (e.g., interrupts, protection).

Your learning on this unit

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

  1. Recall and apply basic fundamental principles that support the design of computer systems,
  2. Explain the design, implementation, integration, and configuration of principal components within a typical computer system, including both hardware and software and any trade-offs involved, and
  3. Demonstrate how high-level (e.g., C) programs are executed by and interact with the underlying hardware, and therefore how to use said hardware in the most effective manner.

How you will learn

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions, including lectures, practical activities supported by drop-in sessions, problem sheets and self-directed exercises.

How you will be assessed

Exam (January, 100%)


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. COMS10015).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the University Workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. For appropriate assessments, if you have self-certificated your absence, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (for assessments at the end of TB1 and TB2 this is usually in the next re-assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any exceptional circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.