Syllabus for MCS-284: Computer Organization (Fall 2006)
MCS-284 will cover the architecture and organization of computer
hardware. We will look at the MIPS architecture as a representative
modern RISC architecture, and do some assembly language programming
for that architecture. We'll see how numbers are represented within a
computer and how the circuits that perform arithmetic operations on
those numerals are organized. With a high-level overview of digital
logic design to support us, we'll look at how the datapaths and
control circuits of processors are designed, and in particular we'll
look in some depth at pipelined processor design, which is the key
organizational principle at work in most present-day processors.
We'll examine the use of memory hierarchy (cache memory and virtual
memory) to provide the illusion of a large fast memory from the
reality of limited fast memory plus a larger but slower memory. We'll
look at input/output devices and buses, networking, and parallel computers.
Throughout the course there will be an emphasis on the quantitative
performance characteristics of computer systems; we'll look at the
influence of architecture and organization on performance, and take an
introductory look at the empirical and analytical tools appropriate to
the study of performance. Performance measurement will be one of the
main themes reinforced through the lab assignments; the other will be
assembly language programming.
All office, phone and schedule information will be maintained on my
web page. I'll try to keep it updated with any
temporary changes to my schedule as well. In short, if my office door
is open you are welcome; if I'm busy, we'll set up an appointment.
Email and phone calls work, too.
All course handouts will be available through my World Wide Web page,
and some supplementary materials such as code to use as a starting
point in assignments may be available there as well. The URL for this
course is http://www.gac.edu/~wolfe/284/.
Our text will be the second edition of
Computer Organization and Design: The Hardware/Software
Interface (3rd edition) by David A. Patterson and John
L. Hennessy, published by Morgan Kaufmann.
Normally labs will be held on Wednesdays and classes on the other four
days, but there are some exceptions; these are marked in the
syllabus. Labs will be held in the OHS 326 lab. Lab 0 will actually
be a special one-day demonstration experience not requiring a lab
report; only labs 1 through 4 will be ``real labs'' with reports.
Attendance is expected for all lab days. (If you turn in a lab
report early, you are excused from the remaining days devoted to that
lab.) I will excuse up to two absences per student, for any reason.
Use yours wisely. If you exceed this allowance, I may reduce your
course grade by one letter grade.
Homework assignment policy
I will assign a collection of homework problems for each chapter.
You may turn in any individual homework problem whenever you think you have it
solved. I will return it to you as quickly as I can, but normally
with only an indication of whether it is acceptable or needs more
work. (Sometimes I may give a brief indication of what area it needs
more work in.) If a problem needs more work, and you aren't sure what
sort of work it still needs, you should treat that as an invitation to
come talk with me about it. Once you've done the additional work, you
may turn the problem in again, attached to (or clearly marked on) the
original. In fact, you may turn each problem in as many times as you
like, until it is marked as acceptable. Your grade for the homework
portion of the course will be based on the fraction of homework
problems that you eventually did acceptably.
You are to submit your first attempt at a homework problem on the
listed due date. You may then attempt the homework problem again as
many times as you wish, up until the scheduled start of class
preceding the day of the next exam. So, if an exam is
scheduled for Tuesday, your homework is due at the start of class on
Monday, the day before.
Unless I indicate that a particular problem must be done individually,
you may work on any problem in a group of two or three students.
One copy of the solution produced by the team should
be turned in, with all team members names on it. Write "we all
contributed fairly to this solution" and have all team members sign
under that statement.
There will be two intra-term tests and a final exam, as shown on the
Each student will choose a processor for which he will become the
resident expert. Details of this assignment are on a separate handout.
Students are encouraged to discuss the course, including issues raised
by the assignments. However, the solutions to assignments
should be individual original work unless otherwise specified. If an
assignment makes you realize you don't understand the material, ask a
fellow student a question designed to improve your understanding,
not one designed to get the assignment done. To do otherwise is to
cheat yourself out of understanding, as well as to be intolerably
Any substantive contribution to your solution by another person or
taken from a publication should be properly acknowledged in writing.
Failure to do so is plagiarism and will necessitate disciplinary
The same standards regarding plagiarism apply to team projects as to
the work of individuals, except that the author is now the entire team
rather than an individual. Anything taken from a source outside the
team should be be properly cited.
One additional issue that arises from the team authorship of
project reports is that all team members must stand behind all reports
bearing their names. All team members have quality assurance
responsibility for the entire project. If there is irreconcilable
disagreement within the team it is necessary to indicate as much in
the reports; this can be in the form of a ``minority opinion'' or
``dissenting opinion'' section where appropriate.
Assignments and grading
All lab assignments are due at the beginning of class on
the day indicated. Late assignments will be penalized by one ``grade
notch'' (such as A to A- or A- to B+) for each weekday late or fraction
thereof. However, no late assignments will be accepted after graded
assignments are handed back.
If you are too sick to complete an assignment on time, you
will not be penalized. Simply write ``late due to illness'' at the
top of the assignment, sign your name and hand it in. Other circumstances
will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
The course components will contribute to your grade in the following
If you get 90% or more of the points, you will earn an A, 85% for an
A-, 80% for a B+ and down by 5 percentage points each to the lowest
passing grade of 45% for a D.
- Test 1: 15%
- Test 2: 15%
- Final exam: 20%
- Homework: 20% (based on fraction done: see above)
- Labs: 20% (4 @ 5% each)
- Processor: 10% (extra credit possible)
However, I reserve the right to
subjectively adjust your final grade. Please see me if you have any
question how you stand. Class participation is not graded; however,
it allows you to find and repair the gaps in your understanding before
doing the assignments, and thus can dramatically improve your grade.
You are responsible for all course material, whether or not you are
present when it was covered or distributed.
All assignments should be readily readable, and should
not presuppose that I already know what you are trying to say. Use
full English sentences where appropriate (namely almost everywhere)
and clear diagrams, programs, etc. Remember that your goal is to
communicate clearly, and that the appearance of these technical items
plays a role in this communication process. Be sure your assignments
are always stapled together and that your name is always on them.
Grade disputes should be made before the final exam.
I will fix obvious grading errors promptly (and will thank you for
pointing them out). For students especially fond of debate, I reserve
the right to regrade a whole homework or exam.