Introduction to Computer Systems

Module aims

In this module you will study the fundamental principles and devices used in the design of digital computers, and to the way in which primitive control logic can be organised to construct a programmable machine.

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module you will be able to:
- Explain combinatorial circuit design and synchronous sequential circuit design
- Design a CPU using Boolean algebra and functional design
- Describe the basic architecture of a CPU and its components and explain how to map CPU control to hardware
- Compare and be able to use different number representations

Module syllabus

Number representations and computer arithmetic
Boolean algebra
Combinatorial logic functions
Principles of semiconductor devices and logic gates
Adders subtractors and multipliers
Bistable storage devices
Flip-flop design
Multiplexers and decoders
Finite state machines
Static and dynamic RAM
Register transfer descriptions
ALU and CPU design

Teaching methods

The module starts from first principles with no assumed previous knowledge of digital circuit design. The emphasis is on how digital systems work and how they can be designed and the module strikes a balance between theory and practice.

Each week there will be two lectures and one supervised turorial. During the tutorials you will be given a problem sheet comprising unassessed, formative, exercises with space for you to complete the solution. The tutorials are primarily intended to reinforce the lecture material using practical design examples, although they also provide examples of the types of question that will be found in the written exam.  Solutions to the tutorial problem sheets will be posted online. In addition to helping you with the problem sheets, the tutors will be pleased to answer any other questions on the material covered during lectures.

Support is given by the Course Leader and Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs), and through carefully selected software for the coursework. The Piazza Q&A web service will be used as an open online discussion forum for the module. 


There will be two assessed exercises (small, focussed, practical, exercises) undertaken alone which count for 15% of the final mark. The first coursework task can be solved with pen and paper, while the second one makes use of professional hardware and design software. There will be a final written exam, testing fundamental knowledge on an individual basis. This exam counts for the remaining 85% of the marks for the module.  

There will be the opportunity to receive feedback as you work through the formative tutorial exercises in class. Feedback for the assessed exercise is provided by written feedback through the online system CATE.                 

Reading list

Module leaders

Dr Lluis Vilanova
Professor Bjoern Schuller

Suggested reading