Skip to main content

Unit information: Overview of Computer Architecture in 2021/22

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



COMSM1201 Programming in C

School/department Department of Computer Science
Faculty Faculty of Engineering

Description including Unit Aims

This unit introduces students to how a computer works, linking high-level programming languages to the hardware on which programs are executed. The unit starts from basic digital electronics and gradually builds up to the design of a simple computer system.

The major topics covered are:

1. Fundamentals: Data representation, Boolean algebra and digital electronics, using transistors to build simple logic gates, historical background.

2. Building blocks: Arithmetic operations, storage, building flip-flops, registers, multiplexors etc., memory organization and types.

3. Simple controllers: Finite State Machines, counter machines, logic optimization using Karnaugh maps, controller implementation.

4. Processor design: Designing a processor to execute programs, including von Neumann and Harvard architectures, instruction set design with an introduction of CISC and RISC, the fetch-decode-execute cycle, data and control path.

5. Assembly languages and compilers: Assembly code, control structures including branching and loops, functions, stacks, assemblers, compiler phases, grammars, syntax and semantics of programming languages, typing and intermediate representation, optimization and code generation.

At this point students will be able to understand how a computer functions as a whole. They will be expected to design, build and test a simple computer system.

6. Energy aware computing: Energy consumption of computing, energy transparency, measuring energy of computing, basic introduction to static analysis for energy consumption, latest research on energy-aware computing.

Intended Learning Outcomes

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

1. Demonstrate a basic understanding of digital electronics and the components used in the design of computer systems.

2. Explain the design and operation of the principal components of a computer, including both hardware as well as software and how they interact.

3. Show how high-level programs are executed in hardware, by performing simple computations at various levels of abstraction in the machine.

4. Appreciate the impact of ICT on energy consumption and realize how important a good understanding of computer architecture is for programmers to develop more energy efficient code.

Teaching Information

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions, including lectures and programming activities supported by help sessions, problem sheets and/or self-directed exercises.

Assessment Information

2 in-class tests (60% and 40%)


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. COMSM1302).

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.