Computer Architecture and Operating Systems

Home Admissions Course Guide Computer Architecture and Operating Systems

This Course Guide has been taken from the most recent presentation of the course. It would be useful for reference purposes but please note that there may be updates for the following presentation.


Computer Architecture and Operating Systems

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Welcome to COMP S260 Computer Architecture and Operating Systems.

Technologies for computing architecture, operating systems and distributed systems continue to advance at a rapid pace. The use of these technologies is vital in today's competitive environment. Professionals in the information technology field need a firm foundation in understanding the requirements, structures, techniques and applications of computer architecture, operating systems and distributed systems. They should be adequately equipped with the knowledge and skills to participate in the specification, design, operation and evaluation of these systems.

COMP S260 Computer Architecture and Operating Systems is a full-year, ten-credit, middle-level course. This course is compulsory in the
BComp / BComp Hons in Internet Technology, BSc / BSc Hons Degree in Computing and Networking, and BSc / BSc Hons in Computer Engineering. Students can also take it as a free choice course.

COMP S260 is designed for those who have taken COMP S201 Computing Fundamentals with Java (or COMP S210 Computing Fundamentals that COMP S201 replaces) or COMP S258 Computer Programming and Problem Solving, or have an equivalent level of knowledge.

As this course might be the first one that you have taken through Hong Kong Metropolitan University (HKMU), you might not be aware of both the study skills required for distance learning and the organization of HKMU courses. In this case, it is recommended that you read this Course Guide thoroughly before looking at the study units or your textbooks. If you have taken HKMU courses before, you should be able to skim through this guide in a matter of minutes.

The Course Guide tells you briefly what the course is about and how you can work your way through the material. It suggests the amount of time you will likely need to spend to complete each unit (and the course), and it gives you a general idea of when your assignments are due. For detailed information on assignments, presentation schedules and so on, please visit the OLE (Online Learning Environment) at Under the Assignments heading click Assignment File to obtain the assignments, and under the Schedules section click Course Schedules to obtain the course presentation schedule.

The overall aim of the course is to develop knowledge and skills in the specification, design, operation and evaluation of computer systems and operating systems. Specifically, the course aims to:

  • Develop your knowledge and understanding of the fundamental theory and techniques of computer architecture and operating systems.
  • Provide you with the means to evaluate computer systems and operating system products and services.
  • Enable you to apply knowledge in computer architecture and operating systems to issues such as system and programming performance.

On completion of this course, you should be able to:

  • Explain data representations in computer systems.
  • Review the overall hardware architecture of computer systems.
  • Compare various design and implementation approaches to hardware architecture.
  • Explain operating systems and their major components.
  • Compare various resource management approaches for computing systems.
  • Describe current computing architecture and virtualization.

COMP S260 Computer Architecture and Operating Systems is designed to provide a structured, stimulating, environment in which to learn the concepts and techniques of computer systems.

The course is organized into nine study units. These study units guide your learning. Each unit contains three to four weeks of work and includes directions for study, commentaries on the material presented in the text and how to apply them.

To help you review what you have learned, the units include self-tests related to the text. You can also find supplementary multimedia components on HKMU's Online Learning Environment (OLE) to support your study of each unit.

The course includes 10 two-hour coaching surgeries, in which course concepts are explained and reviewed. Besides this, there are 12 two-hour tutorials for practical exercises and group discussions. Tutorials that are not effective are those in which learners make no input. Your tutor will lead discussions, and needs your help to make these sessions successful. Neither tutorials nor surgeries are compulsory but you are strongly recommended to attend them. Some of the tutorials and surgeries are recorded and can be viewed through the OLE.

The table on the following page provides an overview of the course. It suggests the amount of time you should allow for completing units. These times are intended as a guide only. The times needed to complete the study units, work through the self-tests and assignments and complete the rest of the course vary from learner to learner. You can adjust the times to fit your personal needs more closely. You will need to plan your own work and study schedule carefully. The average estimated time that you need to spend in this course is about ten hours per week. This estimation includes time for reading the study units and textbooks, completing self-tests, practice exercises and online activities, completing your assignments, undertaking the suggested reviews, attending tutorials and sugeries, and preparing for your final examination.

One final reminder is needed. Although you can adjust study times to suit yourself, it is important that you complete and hand in your written assignments on time. You need to bear this in mind when you are planning your study time.


Course overview


UnitTitleWeeksAssessment activity
(end of unit)
1Data in the computer4 
2Computer architecture, CPU and memory4Assignment 1
3CPU design and organization4 
4Input, output and computer peripherals4Assignment 2
5Operating systems and the user's view 4 
6Process management4Assignment 3
7Memory management4 
8Input/output and file systems3 
9Distributed computing architectures and virtualization3Assignment 4

In addition to this Course Guide are the following important components of the course. Please ensure that you have all of these materials available and can identify the various components in the course. If you do not have the appropriate HKMU-produced materials, you should contact HKMU immediately. The textbooks, however, are your own responsibility. 


Study units

Each of the nine units in this course contains three to four weeks' work. Make sure that you have planned your own study schedule. It is important that you complete self-tests, assignments and the examination successfully and on time.

The course is structured so that each unit builds on previous knowledge. Each unit includes at least five different ways to help you study. These are:

  1. reading the study units;
  2. reading the textbook;
  3. completing the self-tests and exercises that appear throughout the units (These will require you to think, observe or undertake some activity that is designed to help you apply the knowledge you have gained.);
  4. working through the multimedia components on the OLE; and
  5. completing the assignments.

Set textbooks

There is one compulsory textbook for this course:

Englander, I and Wong, W (2021) The Architecture of Computer Hardware, Systems Software, and Networking: An Information Technology Approach, 6th edn, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

There is one reference (optional) textbook for this course:

McHoes, A and Flynn, I M (2018) Understanding Operating Systems, 8th edn, Cengage Learning.

All units of this course contain readings from the compulsory textbook.


Computer hardware and software

You need to have at least the following equipment for the course:



  • PC with Intel Pentium III 800 MHz processor (recommended 2.6 GHz Pentium IV)
  • 512 MB RAM (recommended 1GB RAM)
  • 1 GB of free disk space
  • Internet access
  • Video display resolution at 800 × 600 or higher
  • Sound card (recommended)


  • English Windows XP or above
  • Web Browser: Firefox 3, Internet Explorer 7, or compatible
  • Java 6 (Instructions for downloading and installation will be provided in the course material.)

Assignment file

Assignment details for this course are contained in the Assignment File, which can be found under the Assignments heading on the OLE. The nature of these assignments is described in the section on assignments of this Course Guide. You are required to complete your assignments and submit the document files through the OLE. Please refer to the self-explanatory Instructions under the Assignments heading on the OLE.


Presentation schedule

The Presentation Schedule for this course is available on the OLE. Remember, you are required to submit all your assignments by the dates given. Do not fall behind in your work!

You should pay particular attention to this Course Guide and all instructions in the study units.


Study units

Each study unit is organized into a number of sections. The first section provides an overview of the unit. It explains how the unit is organized and what you are to study in it. The overview indicates the number of sections contained in the study unit. These sections guide your learning and direct you to complete self-tests. The concluding section contains a summary of the unit and the suggested answers to the self-test questions.

Again, you must read both the study units and the textbooks. It is also useful to read as widely as possible. Try to read articles in newspapers and journals, other books on the topics, and related cases if possible. Do remember to use the HKMU Electronic Library for up-to-date electronic references. The more widely you read, the better your appreciation and understanding of computer architecture and operating systems.



Throughout the study units, you will find non-assessed self-tests. The questions are usually short and provide immediate feedback on your understanding of a technique or principle you have just read about. By attempting to answer these questions, you will have instant feedback on your progress. The answer key for the self-tests is included at the end of the unit, but you should attempt to answer all the questions before looking at the key.


Checking your understanding

Some of the concepts in this course will be new to you, and you might have to make quite an effort to understand them. Technical terms are explained in the textbooks or study units. Make a note of any problems and raise them with your tutor as soon as possible. Be specific about the problem so that your tutor can help you more easily.


Online and multimedia materials

HKMU's Online Learning Environment (OLE) will be used to disseminate the supplementary multimedia components associated with each unit, example programs, the latest course information, course announcements and course scheduling. Assignments for the course will also be uploaded to the OLE.

In addition, explanations of course materials and answers to frequently asked questions will be provided on the OLE.

This course is designed to help you move easily from the course readings to the assignments and examination. You are expected to apply information and techniques presented during the course when completing the assignments.


Assessment scheme

The total marks allocated to the assignments and to your final examination are tabulated below. This should remind you just how important the assignments are to your final result and to your performance in the examination.


Assignments (best 3 of 4)3 × 10% = 30%
Final examination70%



In this course there are four assignments, of which the best three (3) count towards the final assessment. The assignments generally consist of essay-style questions, problem-solving programming exercises and case examples. You must submit the assignments to your tutor for marking on or before the corresponding due dates. You will be able to complete all forms of assessment from the information and material contained in your study units and textbooks. However, it is preferable in all degree-level education to demonstrate that you have read and researched more widely than the required minimum. Using other references gives you a slightly different viewpoint and may give you a deeper understanding of the subject.

You can see your schedule of assignments in the 'Course overview' section of this Course Guide. Your assessed assignments are due at the end of Units 2, 4, 6 and 9. Your tutor will mark these assignments. Each assignment has a weighting of 10%. You may submit three out of the four assignments or all four assignments. If you submit four assignments, the best three scores will count towards your final course grade. The assignment component is worth 30% of the total course mark.

The self-tests in the study units are, by definition, not part of your formal assessment, but it is very important that you complete them as you work through the units. They expose you to the types of problem you are required to complete for the assignments, and are designed to help you understand and apply the principles covered in the units.


How to do your assignments

For each assignment, first read quickly through the description of the problem in the Assignment File. Make brief notes on what you believe are the key points raised. Next, carefully read the description two or three times while referring to your notes. Make sure that you have identified all of the key points. Then, read the instructions that accompany the problem. These explain what you are required to do. Make sure you understand what is required and that your assignment provides what is required.

When you have completed the assignment, submit your work through the Submission and Extension system on the OLE under Assignments. Make sure that each assignment is submitted before the due date. Marks may be deducted for work that is late without prior authorization. If, for any reason, you cannot complete your work on time, contact your tutor before the assignment is due. This is to discuss the possibility of an extension. Extensions will not be granted after the due date unless there are extremely exceptional circumstances.

You should use references other than your textbooks when researching the answers for your assignments. Make sure that you reference your work properly. If you do not, you commit plagiarism, and will be penalized severely. Plagiarism is the theft of someone else's work or ideas. This applies just as much to using the work of other students as it does to the authors of books. If you use someone else's ideas in your work, give the person credit for it. You do this by referencing. In the body of the work, this appears as (Stallings 2010) for example. At the end of your assignment, list all of your references alphabetically in a section called 'References'. Include the full name, title and date and place of publication. For instance, one way to cite a reference is:

Stallings, W (2010) Computer Organization and Architecture, 8th edn, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.


Final examination

The final examination for COMP S260 Computer Architecture and Operating Systems is three hours long and has a value of 70% of the total course grade. Use the time between finishing the last unit and the examination to review the entire course. You might find it useful to review your self-tests, assignments and your tutor's comments on them before sitting for the examination.

The examination will be a three-hour, closed book written exam involving essay-type questions. It covers information from all parts of the course. The examination will not contain trick questions or try to confuse you. That would not be consistent with the clear, open approach HKMU takes to helping its learners succeed in their studies. You will be provided with a specimen examination, similar in format to the final examination, although, of course, with different questions.

To earn a passing grade for the course you must attain a passing grade on your assignments and on your final examination. Therefore, you must earn aggregate marks of 40% or better in each assessment component (assignments and exam) to pass COMP S260.

A tutor supports your study of COMP S260 Computer Architecture and Operating Systems via tutorials, surgeries, assignment feedback, electronic mail and telephone tutoring. There is also online support using HKMU's Online Learning Environment (OLE).



There are 12 two-hour tutorial sessions, which are held with a group of students. At these sessions, group and individual exercises are conducted, topical issues discussed, individual student questions answered and assistance provided relative to assignments. Tutorials are not compulsory, but you are strongly advised to attend them.



There are 16 two-hour surgery sessions. Some of the surgeries are coaching sessions where course concepts are explained and reviewed. Some of the surgeries are mainly for the revision of course materials and consultation on study units, assignments and specimen examination paper. Although the surgeries are not compulsory, you are strongly recommended to attend them. All the surgeries are recorded and can be reviewed on the OLE.


Assignment feedback

Your tutor will mark and comment on your assignments, keep a close watch on your progress and on any difficulties you might encounter, and will try to help you during the course. Your assignments should be submitted to your tutor before the corresponding due dates given in your Presentation Schedule. Your tutor will mark them and return them to you as soon as possible.


Electronic mail and telephone tutoring

Do not hesitate to contact your tutor by telephone (within the designated hours) or by email if you need help! For example, contact your tutor if:

  • you do not understand any part of the study units or the assigned readings;
  • you have any difficulty with the self-tests; or
  • you have a question about or problem with the assignments, with your tutor's comments or the grading of an assignment.

You will be notified of the dates, times and location of the tutorials and surgeries, together with the name and phone number of your tutor, as soon as you are allocated a tutorial group.


Online Learning Environment

This course is supported by the Online Learning Environment (OLE). The OLE provides an interactive learning environment for communication among students, tutors and Course Coordinators. For this course, you are required to use this online tool for your studies. Supplementary multimedia components will be provided on the OLE for each unit to support your learning.

The OLE is easy to use, especially if you know how to use a Web browser. However, you still need to read the OLE User Guide carefully before you try it. It is also a good idea to practise using the OLE tools as you read the User Guide.

You can get the assignment questions under Assignments on the OLE. You The OLE is easy to use, especially if you know how to use a Web browser. However, you still need to read the OLE User Guide carefully before you try it. It is also a good idea to practise using the OLE tools as you read the User Guide. must submit your assignments through the OLE.

Make sure that you log into the OLE and read the COMP S260 News every few days to see what is going on. For this course we will not send you print copies of supplementary mailings such as Stop Press and Change of tutorial schedules. So, it is important to log into the OLE frequently to keep in touch.

The OLE Discussion Board is the main forum for communication in the course. You can discuss any study problems with your tutor and other students on the discussion board. Your tutor may not always answer your problem immediately, but you can expect that your tutor will also log into the OLE every few days.

COMP S260 Computer Architecture and Operating Systems is intended to develop your understanding of the concepts and issues in the specification and design of computer systems. This includes computer architecture and operating system principles. The course also provides you with knowledge and skills to participate in the development and evaluation of computer systems and distributed architectures.

You will not only learn a range of conceptual models and skills, but you will also learn to apply your own judgement. To understand the contents of this course, you will need to analyse the course materials and apply the concepts and techniques you are learning. We hope that you will find Computer Architecture and Operating Systems both interesting and enjoyable, and you will be able to use the knowledge and skills from this course throughout your career. Good luck and enjoy the course!


A note about the course developers

Kendrew Lau Chu-man has developed various types of systems in his career, ranging from visualization and simulation applications to wireless telephone systems. He received his Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) and Master of Philosophy, both in Information Engineering and from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and holds Java certifications of SCJP, SCWCD, SCBCD, SCDJWS, and SCSNI. Recently, he has taught Java programming and computing subjects at City University of Hong Kong and other universities, and operates a consulting company in system development.