T223 Microprocessor-based computers

Level: 2        Credit points: 30


After an introductory survey we outline the process of developing programs and introduce the C programming language so that you can perform simple experiments. Next come methods of representing numbers and quantities in a form suitable for a computer. We describe the operation of a simple computer processor, and introduce some real processors. The advantages and disadvantages of different programming languages are discussed. A substantial section deals with input and output. We briefly consider microcontrollers and their applications in consumer devices, taking the computer in the home kit as an example, and end with a look at past, present and future developments.


Desktop and portable computers are now used for many tasks, but what is going on inside them as they perform these tasks? Many products are described as ‘microprocessor-based', but what is the role of a microprocessor in such a product? Computer programs are written to get computers to perform specific tasks, but how does a computer make use of a program? These are just some of the questions to do with microprocessor-based computers that this course will enable you to answer. It gives you an introduction to the components and operation of both general-purpose and dedicated microprocessor-based computers, that is, both computers like a personal computer and computers used in small dedicated control applications such as washing machines or central-heating controllers. Although the emphasis of the course is on the components and operation of the computers, some simple programming ideas are included and in particular the C programming language is introduced.

This is not simply a computer awareness course; it goes beyond an introductory level in its explanation of the operation of computers. By the end of it you should be able to understand and explain the general principles and operation of microprocessor-based computers, both hardware and software. You will also have some important additional skills such as being able to:

Read and understand, in general terms, technical literature on microprocessor-based computers and their components.

Use a program development system (Turbo C) that includes a Windows-based editor.

Read and understand the function of simple programs in the C language and modify them.

Computing is used extensively throughout the course to reinforce ideas introduced in the texts. A temperature-measuring system is used as an example application to demonstrate many of the principles. This application, which uses a small experiment kit together with your computer, is studied in increasing detail as the course progresses and you will make small enhancements to its operation to reinforce your understanding of the principles.

The course begins with an introduction to the main components of a microprocessor-based computer system. The temperature-measuring system is also introduced.

The program development process for computers is outlined and the C programming language is introduced. Then methods of representing numbers and physical quantities in a form suitable for a computer are examined, and the basic operation of a simple computer processor is studied. We also introduce some real processors, and mention situations where it is advantageous to program with the basic processor instructions (assembly language).

A substantial part of the course is devoted to input and output (data transfers), often the most complicated part of a computer system. Four basic methods of initiating and controlling data transfers are explained and the ways in which the computer's operating system can assist with data transfers are examined.

Microcontrollers and their incorporation into small control applications are examined briefly, and the computer in the experiment kit (which is part of the temperature-measurement system) is used as one of the example control applications.

There are practical activities associated with all the early parts of the course. The last part looks briefly at the history of computers, introduces some areas that are at the centre of current development activities, and includes a brief look at computer networks.