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Unit information: Computer Systems A in 2021/22

Unit name Computer Systems A
Unit code COMS20008
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Hannuna
Open unit status Not open

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

COMS10014 Mathematics for Computer Science A and COMS10013 Mathematics for Computer Science B or equivalent.

COMS10012 Software Tools or equivalent.

Software development using low-level languages (e.g., C and assembly language, per Prog. Paradigms A and Computer Systems A) and tools.

Computer architecture (e.g., properties of instruction execution).



School/department Department of Computer Science
Faculty Faculty of Engineering

Description including Unit Aims

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 integrated introduction to two related sub-fields:

  • Concurrency, i.e., the coordination of multiple parties, each simultaneously performing computation in order to achieve a collective task or goal, and
  • Communication, i.e., the transfer of data between said parties.

The aim is to equip students with understanding and skills that enable use (i.e., design, implementation, deployment, and analysis) of these sub-fields within computer systems, when addressing real-world (e.g., industrially relevant) problems. The content spans both small- (e.g., a single multi-core processor, using a network-on-chip) and large-scale (e.g., a collection of clients and servers, using the Internet) instances; for the latter sub-field, the content offers a segue into the wider field of distributed computing.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Within the context of and challenges related to concurrency and digital communication, successful completion of this unit will enable students to:

  1. Identify and understand relevant constraints and requirements, such as the need for efficiency, scalability and robustness.
  2. Demonstrate understanding of specific techniques and technologies that are relevant, plus any more general, fundamental concepts or theory which underpin them.
  3. Apply appropriate formalisms to analyse problems and potential solutions, making an appropriate selection based on associated metrics and trade-offs between them.
  4. Apply appropriate techniques, technologies, and tools in releasing concrete, effective solutions to said problems.

Teaching Information

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.

Assessment Information

20% Exam (January);

80% Coursework, completed in groups - the mark will be informed by a viva.


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. COMS20008).

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 Faculty 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. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.