Computer Architecture

Module code: CO1104

While modern computers and computer-controlled devices are complex, there are key components from which these are built. In particular they have a processor which might be thought of as the heart of a computer. The way components fit together to form a processor is called the processor architecture. To understand a processor you need to know about hardware and software.

This module provides a broad picture of key hardware and software components: Very roughly speaking, hardware refers to physical artefacts such as a capacitive OLED screen or memory board, and software to programs which are stored using magnetic or electrical systems - and what are programs? These are instructions which are executed on the processor.

The module will teach details of computer arithmetic (arithmetic calculations take place when almost any program runs), the processor, and low-level software programs that execute on the processor hardware. In doing so we overview the hardware components such as memory, an arithmetic and logic unit, data-selectors and so on. We look at different formulations of the software and how to write simple programs, and we study an architecture in detail.

At the end of the module you will have a good understanding of how state-of-the-art processors work, how they are built, and will be able to read about and understand more advanced topics in architecture. You will be able to learn more about operating systems and networks, and knowledge of binary, hex, and how computers work will be useful in many other applications areas, especially graphics and GPUs.

In this module, you will:

  • Explain and discuss an overview of datapath and control of a modern processor; outline how it fits within a computer
  • Explain fundamental binary systems, digital hardware and logic and solve simple problems
  • Discuss and critique a high level view of current processors or a detailed view of a simple model processor, including the ISA
  • Solve simple problems


  • 24 hours of lectures
  • 16 hours of tutorials
  • 110 hours of guided independent study


  • Coursework (20%)
  • Exam, 2 hours (80%)