Computer Laboratory

Course pages 2013–14

Computer Design

Principal lecturer: Dr Simon Moore
Taken by: Part IB
Past exam questions: Computer Design, ECAD
Information for supervisors (contact lecturer for access permission)

No. of lectures: 18 (plus 4 via a web-based tutorial)
Suggested hours of supervisions: 5
Prerequisite course: Digital Electronics
Companion course: Electronic Computer Aided Design (ECAD)
This course is a prerequisite for the Part II courses Comparative Architectures and System-on-Chip Design.


The aims of this course are to introduce a hardware description language (SystemVerilog) and computer architecture concepts in order to design computer systems. The parallel ECAD practical classes will allow students to apply the concepts taught in lectures.

There are 18 lectures which cover design with hardware description languages, computer architecture and then computer implementation. A web based tutor (equivalent of 4 lectures) is used to teach much of the SystemVerilog hardware description language.


  • Introduction and motivation. Current technology, technology trends, ECAD trends, challenges.

  • Logic modelling, simulation and synthesis. Logic value and delay modelling. Discrete event and device simulation. Automatic logic minimization.

  • SystemVerilog FPGA design. Practicalities of mapping SystemVerilog descriptions of hardware (including a processor) onto an FPGA board. Tips and pitfalls when generating larger modular designs.

  • Chip, board and system testing. Production testing, fault models, testability, fault coverage, scan path testing, simulation models.

  • Historical perspective on computer architecture.

  • Early instruction set architecture. EDSAC versus Manchester Mark I.

  • RISC machines. Introduction to RISC processor design.

  • Building a simple RISC machine.

  • CISC machines and the Intel x86 instruction set.

  • Java Virtual Machine.

  • Memory hierarchy. Caching, etc.

  • Hardware support for operating systems. Memory protection, exceptions, interrupts, etc.

  • Pipelining and data paths.

  • Internal and external communication.

  • Introduction to many-core processors.

  • Data-flow machines. Future directions.

On-Line Learning Component: Cambridge SystemVerilog Tutor

  • The interactive web-based tutor teaches the synthesizable subset of SystemVerilog which is required to complete the laboratory sessions.


At the end of the course students should

  • be able to read assembler given a guide to the instruction set and be able to write short pieces of assembler if given an instruction set or asked to invent an instruction set;

  • understand the differences between RISC and CISC assembler;

  • understand what facilities a processor provides to support operating systems, from memory management to software interrupts;

  • understand memory hierarchy including different cache structures;

  • appreciate the use of pipelining in processor design;

  • understand the communications structures, from buses close to the processor, to peripheral interfaces;

  • have an appreciation of control structures used in processor design;

  • have an appreciation of how to implement a processor in SystemVerilog.

Recommended reading

* Harris, D.M. & Harris, S.L. (2007). Digital design and computer architecture: from gates to processors. Morgan Kaufmann.

Recommended further reading:

Hennessy, J. & Patterson, D. (2006). Computer architecture: a quantitative approach. Elsevier (4th ed.). ISBN 978-0-12-370490-0. (Older versions of the book are also still generally relevant.)
Patterson, D.A. & Hennessy, J.L. (2004). Computer organization and design. Morgan Kaufmann (3rd ed., as an alternative to the above). (2nd ed., 1998, is also good.)

Pointers to sources of more specialist information are included in the lecture notes and on the associated course web page.