Computer and Microcontroller Architectures - EENG8960

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2024 to 2025
Combined Autumn and Spring Terms 7 15 (7.5) Yong Yan checkmark-circle


This module focuses on the basic principles of modern computer architecture and how they are mapped onto modern (32-bit) microcontrollers. The course uses the ARM processor core as an exemplar of a modern processor architecture that is now ubiquitous in embedded systems. The course will cover classic topics in architecture (CPU and ALU structure, Instruction sets, memory and memory) and performance metrics for evaluating the relative performance of different architectures such as RISC vs CISC and also VLIW, SIMD, MIMD, ASSP and DSP devices.

The NXP 1786 (mbed) microcontroller is used as an example microcontroller development platform and industry standard IDE's from Keil/IAR are used to program, test and debug them. The course includes a comprehensive presentation of typical microcontroller peripherals: ADCs and DACs, Timers and Input Capture, communication using IIC, SPI, UART. Displays. Interrupts and Interrupt Service Routines (ISRs).

The course also provides an introduction to the C and C++ programming languages and their use with microcontroller based systems. This material will include: Variables, data-types and arithmetic expressions. Strings, Loops, Arrays. Functions, Structures, Pointers, bit operators. The pre-processor. I/O operations in C. Debugging Programs. Object-Oriented Programming. The Standard C Library.

Issues such as software testing and testing strategies are discussed. Compiling and downloading code onto the mbed using commercial Integrated Development Environments such as Keil® and IAR®. GNU based toolchains for Microcontroller development.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 76
Private study hours: 74
Total study hours: 150

Method of assessment

Workshop Assessments - 40%
Examination - 60%

Indicative reading

• Martin, T. (2013) The Designers Guide to the Cortex-M Processor Family. Elsevier (Newnes) ISBN: 978-0-08-098296-0
• Yiu, J. (2010) The Definitive Guide to the ARM Cortex-M3. Elsevier (Newnes). ISBN: 978-1-85617-963-8
• Kochan, S. G. (2005) Programming in C: A Complete Introduction to the C Programming Language. Developers Library. ISBN: 978-0672326660
• Peckol, J. K. (2008) Embedded Systems: A Contemporary Design Tool. John Wiley ISBN: 978-0-471-72180-2
• Oshana, R and Kraeling, M. (2013) Software Engineering for Embedded Systems: Methods, Practical Techniques and Applications Elsevier (Newnes) ISBN: 978-0-12-415917-4
• Harris, David Money and Harris, Sarah L., 2012. Digital Design and Computer Architecture. San Francisco, Calif: Morgan Kaufmann. ISBN 9780123944245
• Hennessy, John L., Patterson, David A. and Asanovic´, Krste, Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach. Waltham, MA: Morgan Kaufmann/Elsevier. ISBN 012383872X
• Keller, Rainer, Kramer, David and Weiss, Jan-Philipp, 2010. Facing the Multicore-Challenge: Aspects of New Paradigms and Technologies in Parallel Computing. Berlin, Heidelberg: s.n. ISBN 9783642162329
• Nisan, Noam and Schocken, Shimon, 2008. The Elements of Computing Systems: Building a Modern Computer from First Principles. Cambridge, Mass: MIT. ISBN 9780262640688
• Patterson, David A. and Hennessy, John L., Computer Organization and Design: The Hardware/Software Interface. Amsterdam: Morgan Kaufmann. ISBN 9780123747501
• Stallings, William, Computer Organization and Architecture: Designing for Performance. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0135064171

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1) Systematically and comprehensively understand of fundamental computer architectures and the basic building blocks (i.e. ALU, CPU, Registers, Program and Data memory) used to build them.
2) Appreciate and critically appraise alternative processor architectures such as RISC, CISC, VLIW, SIMD, MIMD and DSP. Application Specific Signal Processing (ASSP) and Multi-Core Processors.
3) Comprehensively understand the structure of a typical microcontroller and associated peripherals. An ability to make an informed decision about the choice of microcontroller for a particular application(s).
4) Compile and download code onto a microcontroller using commercial Integrated Development Environments
5) Systematically and comprehensively understand Microcontroller Peripherals: ADCs and DACs, Timers and Input Capture. Communication using the IIC, SPI, UART, Displays. Interrupts and Interrupt Service Routines.
6) Program microcontrollers using C and C++ Programming.
7) Critically appraise software development and Software testing techniques.


  1. Credit level 7. Undergraduate or postgraduate masters level module.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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