Syllabus for MCS-284: Computer Organization (Fall 2013)


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 arithmetic operations are performed. 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. We'll study pipelining and instruction-level parallelism, the key organizational principles at work in present-day processor cores. 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 see how multiple processor cores are joined in Central Processing Units and Graphics Processing Units and how multiple computers are joined in networks. 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.

Office hours

I welcome visitors to my office (OHS 306) on a drop-in basis as well as by appointment. You may send me electronic mail at

World Wide Web

All course materials will be available through my World Wide Web page. The URL for this course is After this syllabus I will give hardcopy handouts only to those students who want them.


Our text will be the revised fourth edition of Computer Organization and Design: The Hardware/Software Interface by David A. Patterson and John L. Hennessy, published by Morgan Kaufmann. Note that the revised fourth edition is not quite the same as the original fourth edition. Be sure not to buy one of the international editions such as the "ARM edition." Preordering the fifth edition would also be a mistake.

Homework assignment policy

I will assign a collection of homework problems for each chapter. You may turn in by email or hardcopy 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. The reason why I won't write much on the work I turn back to you is because I would like to talk with you face-to-face. If a problem needs more work, 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.

The final deadline for rewrites of homework problems is at the start of class on October 8th for Chapters 1-3, November 14th for Appendix C and Chapters 4-5, and December 12th for Chapter 6-7 and Appendix A.

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.

You must show your work; a numerical answer is not an acceptable solution to a homework problem.


There will be two intra-term take-home tests as shown on the schedule below and a final exam as scheduled by the registrar. If you have a conflict with a testing time, please contact me as soon as possible to make an alternative arrangement.

My default assumption is that students will take the final together. Therefore, I would ask you to please be respectful and quiet, even after completing your exam, so that your fellow students have a good test-taking environment. However, if you prefer to take the exam in a separate room, please contact me in advance and I will try to arrange it.

Tests will be closed-book and mostly closed-notes. You may, however, use a single 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper with hand-written notes for reference. (Both sides of the sheet are OK.)


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 dishonorable.

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 action.

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 report.

You are expected to be familiar with the college academic honesty honor code policy and to comply with that policy. If you have any questions about it, please ask.

Late lab assignments

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.

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.

Grade changes

Please point out any arithmetic or clerical error I make in grading, and I will gladly fix it. You may also request reconsideration if I have been especially unjust.


The course components will contribute to your grade in the following proportion: 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.

Style guidelines

All assignments should be readily readable, and should not presuppose that I already know what you are trying to say. Use full English sentences 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.


Gustavus Adolphus College is committed to ensuring the full participation of all students in its programs. If you have a documented disability (or you think you may have a disability of any nature) and, as a result, need reasonable academic accommodation to participate in class, take tests or benefit from the College's services, then you should speak with the Disability Services Coordinator, for a confidential discussion of your needs and appropriate plans. Course requirements cannot be waived, but reasonable accommodations may be provided based on disability documentation and course outcomes. Accommodations cannot be made retroactively; therefore, to maximize your academic success at Gustavus, please contact Disability Services as early as possible. Disability Services ( is located in the Academic Support Center.

Support for English Language Learners and Multilingual students is available through the Academic Support Center and the Multilingual/English Language Learner Academic Support Specialist, Laura Lindell ( or x7197). If you fall into one of these categories, she can meet individually with you for tutoring in writing, consulting about academic tasks, and helping you connect with the College’s support systems. In addition, you can seek help from peer tutors in the Writing Center. Please let me know if there is any accommodation in the course that would enable you to more fully show your abilities; for example, I would consider allowing extra time on tests, as well as allowing a dictionary in an otherwise closed-book test.


The two topics or activities shown for each date correspond approximately to the two halves of the class period with a brief stretching break in between. However, we will divide the time to meet our needs rather than necessarily at the halfway point.

Sections shown in italics are on the CD-ROM accompanying the textbook. The CD-ROM files are also available for download.

1.1-1.3Computer abstractions and technology

2.1-2.4Instructions, especially arithmetic

9/102.5-2.7More instructions
2.8-2.9Procedures and strings in assembly

9/12No class

9/172.10-2.12More on assembly programming
B.1-B.6,B.9Assembly programming tools

9/19Lab 1: Elementary assembly programming
2.13-2.14Assembly programming examples

9/24Lab 1 (continued)
2.16-2.19Yet more on assembly language

9/26Lab 1 (continued)

10/1No class (attend Nobel Conference)

10/3Lab 2: More advanced assembly programmingLab 1
3.5-3.6Floating point arithmetic

10/8Lab 2 (continued)HW rewrites (1-3)
Review; catch-up; take-home 1 out

10/10Lab 2 (continued)
C.1-C.3Combinational logic

10/15Lab 2 (continued)Take-home test 1
C.7-C.11Sequential logic

10/17Lab 2 (continued)
4.1-4.3A simple datapath

10/244.4A single-cycle processorLab 2

10/294.6Pipelined datapath and control
4.10-4.11Advanced instruction-level parallelism

5.3Cache performance

11/57.10Roofline performance model
Pre-lab activity for Lab 3

11/7Lab 3: Memory system performance
5.4Virtual memory

11/12Lab 3 (continued)
5.5-5.6Memory hierarchies and virtual machines

11/14Lab 3 (continued)HW rewrites (C,4-5)
5.10-5.12Review; catch-up; take-home 2 out

11/19Lab 3 (continued)Take-home test 2
5.8Cache coherence

11/217.1-7.5Multiprocessors and multithreadingLab 3
Class discussion of lab 4

11/26Lab 4: Multiprocessor performance
7.6-7.7,7.12-7.13SIMD, vector, and graphics processors

12/3Lab 4 (continued)
A.1-A.7Graphics processing units

12/5Lab 4 (continued)
A.8-A.10Programming GPUs

12/10Lab 4 (continued)

12/12More on networksLab 4
Review; catch-up; evaluationHW rewrites (6-7,A)

Course web site:
Instructor: Max Hailperin <>