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Computation Structures 2: Computer Architecture

Learn the basic principles of computer architecture in this interactive computer science course from MIT.
Computation Structures 2: Computer Architecture
This course is archived
Estimated 10 weeks
6 hours per week
Instructor-paced
Instructor-led on a course schedule
Free
Optional upgrade available

About this course

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Digital systems are at the heart of the information age in which we live, allowing us to store, communicate and manipulate information quickly and reliably. This computer science course is a bottom-up exploration of the abstractions, principles, and techniques used in the design of digital and computer systems. If you have a rudimentary knowledge of electricity and some exposure to programming, roll up your sleeves, join in and design a computer system!

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on digital systems, teaching the fundamentals of computer architecture and is based on a course offered by the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Topics include instruction set architectures and assembly language, stacks and procedures, 32-bit computer architecture, the memory hierarchy, and caches.

Using your browser for design entry and simulation, you’ll implement a 32-bit computer using our gate library and write assembly language programs to explore the hardware/software interface.

Learner Testimonial

“If you look back, we've done sooooo much: assembly programming, stack crawling (detective work), building a 32-bit computer, for crying out loud, and also learnt about caches as the cherry on top (which really helped me because I always had trouble understanding how temporary memory worked). And to top it off, they're promising us more exciting courses in the future.” -- Previous Student

At a glance

  • Language: English

What you'll learn

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  • The design of a processor instruction set architecture
  • How to translate high-level programs into sequences of computer instructions
  • The design of the datapath and control logic for a 32-bit processor
  • The role of caches in the memory hierarchy
  • Instruction Set Architectures: datapaths and FSMs, programmable datapaths, the von Neumann model, storage, ALU instructions, constant operands, memory access, branches, jumps.  
  • Assembly Language: from assembly language to binary, symbols and labels, instruction macros.
  • Models of Computation: computability, universality, uncomputable functions.
  • Compilers: interpretation vs. compilation, compiling expressions, compiling statements, compiler frontend, optimization and code generation.
  • Procedures and Stacks: procedural abstraction, activation records and stacks, stack frame organization, compiling a procedure, stack detective.
  • Building the Beta: circuit building blocks, ALU instructions, load and store, jumps and branches, exceptions.
  • The Memory Hierarchy: memory technologies, hierarchical memory systems, the locality principle and caching, direct-mapped caches, block size, cache conflicts, associative caches, write strategies.
  • Labs: simple assembly programming, Quicksort procedure, designing the 32-bit Beta processor.

About the instructors

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