and the Hardware/Software Interface
To understand a program you must become both the machine and the program.— Alan Perlis
Computer architecture—sometimes called “computer organization”—is an important first look at computing from below the software surface. In our experience it is one of the most neglected area among self-taught software engineers.
The course is scoped as an introduction to the topic, designed for software engineers who wish to be better software engineers, rather than prospective hardware engineers.
The focus is on building a strong mental model of the actual execution of programs by a microprocessor, so that you can better reason about the code you write. This manifests most clearly as the ability to write faster code, whether by better understanding the available instruction set, by reasoning more clearly about branch prediction or cache coherence, or by understanding the limits of parallel execution.
- What Is a “Computer”? and What Does It Mean to “Program” It?
- “Machine” Programming and “Systems” Programming
- An Overview of C, the Portable Assembly Language
- Logic (computation) and State (memory) Circuits
- The Clock and the Datapath
- Improving Performance with Pipelining
- Improving Performance with Caching
- Improving Performance with Parallelism
Projects and exercises
The practical component of this course involves a number of small exercises, mostly writing C or assembly code to understand the hardware/software interface, or designing simple circuits to really understand what your microprocessor does. A favorite exercise among students involves profiling and refactoring a snippet of code to dramatically improve performance based on understanding CPU cache levels.
This course assumes confident general programming abilities. Some familiarity with C and/or assembly programming is advantageous but not required: both are covered in class.
Schedule and price
September and October sessions of Computer Architecture are now full. The next two available sessions are (1) 5:30pm-8:00pm Mondays and Thursdays from 6 November to 4 December, skipping 23 November for Thanksgiving; and (2) 5:30pm-8:00pm Tuesdays and Fridays from 14 November to 12 December, skipping 24 November. The total price is $1,800.Apply now Still have questions? Contact us.
I didn’t realize I needed to learn Computer Architecture until I attended Bradfield. In retrospect it should have been obvious—decisions at the transistor level have implications further up, for everything from databases to compilers. The abstractions we work on are nice, but if you want to be a great engineer you need to understand the tools you’re working with.
Trying to wrap my head around textbook discussions and video lectures on CPU data paths left me feeling overwhelmed, trying to break down a complicated system into its component functions. But Myles presented a logical progression, building up the data path one piece at a time, turning a mystifying topic into something clearly understandable.