EECS 213 Introduction to Computer Systems -- Fall 2014

Last Updated on Sunday, 21 September 2014 22:31


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Administrative Information


Mario A. Sánchez
Ford Design Building, 2-217
+1 847 467-3250
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Office Hours: Mon, 3-4 (in office)


George Tziantzioulis
Technological Institue, L466
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TA Session: Tue 5-6PM in Wilkinson
Office Hours: Tue 3:30-4:30

Ali Murat Gök
Technological Institue, L466
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TA Session: Tue 5-6PM in Wilkinson
Office Hours: Wed 3:30-4:30

Course Description

This course has four purposes:

  1. You will learn about the hierarchy of abstractions and implementations that comprise a modern computer system. This will provide a conceptual framework that you can then flesh out with courses such as compilers, operating systems, databases, networks, security, real-time systems, and others.
  2. We will demystify the machine and the tools that we use to program it. This includes telling you the little details that students usually have to learn by osmosis. In combination, these two purposes will give you the background to understand many different computer systems.
  3. This course will bring you up to speed in doing systems programming in a low-level language (C) in the Unix (Linux/GCC/GDB/etc.) environment.
  4. This course will prepare you for upper-level courses in systems.

This is a learn-by-doing kind of class. You will write pieces of code, compile them, debug them, disassemble them, etc.

This course is ideally taken after EECS 211 early in your academic career.

Location and Time

In compliance with Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Northwestern University is committed to providing equal access to all programming. Students with disabilities seeking accommodations are encouraged to contact the office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) at +1 847 467-5530 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . SSD is located in the basement of Scott Hall. Additionally, I am available to discuss disability-related needs during office hours or by appointment.

Course Prerequisites

EECS 213 is a required core course in the Computer Science curriculum in both McCormick and Weinberg. It is also a required course for CS minors in Weinberg. EECS 213 can also be taken for credit within the Computer Engineering curriculum. Most 300-level systems courses have EECS 213 as a prerequisite.

Communication Channels

There are a number of communication channels set up for this class:

Textbook and Other Readings

Course Organization

The course is organized as a series of lectures, Lab and homework assignments and exams:


There will be two kinds of homework assignments given throughout the class: reading assignments and textbook-style questions. You should have finished the assigned reading before coming to lecture. In addition, there will be a set of written homework assignments that must be done alone and turned in by midnight on the due date (see course policies below).

To submit your assignments use the following page: SUBMISSIONS.

HW AssignmentOutInNews
1: Ints & Floats 9/25 10/4 11:59PM CST --
2: Decoding assembly 4/18 4/27 11:59PM CST --
3: From Memory to Virtual Memory 5/2 5/11 11:59PM CST New due date: 5/16
4: Exceptions and Signals 5/28 6/1 11:59PM CST New dates!


As you can deduce from the allocation of weights for grading, programming projects make up a major portion of this class. Their goal is to make you apply the concepts you've learned and to gain familiarity with Unix tools that can help you apply them.

There will be four (4) projects. All projects are to be done by teams of two (2) people. Both partners should work cooperatively on the design, implementation, and testing of their solution.

The following table of deadlines should serve you as a guideline for planning your quarter. You are given about two weeks per project. This should be plenty of time if managed carefully.

1: Data Lab 9/27 9/8 11:59PM CST
2: Bomb Lab 4/13 4/24 11:59PM CST
3: Malloc Lab
Extra credit addendum
5/4 5/15 11:59PM CST New due date: 5/21 5/23
Competition Scoreboard
4: Shell Lab 5/21 6/4 11:59PM CST New dates!

You wil be able to do the programming assignments on any modern Linux machine. You should have an account on the TLab and/or Wilkinson Lab computers. If this is not the case, contact root@eecs .... The Wilkinson Lab has recently been renovated and is now quite a nice place to meet to work together. It should be possible to do some of the assignments using the Cygwin environment on Windows or in Mac OS X, but they will be graded in a Linux environment, so be sure your code works on the TLab machines.

Prof. Dinda has put together some great material on Using Unix Remotely Without the Excruciating Pain and a Introduction to Unix (Real, Part 1, Real, Part 2)

An alternative is to, instead, install a VMM and run any Linux distribution on it. I run Ubuntu on a VMWare Player (free). Remember to use a 32b configuration.


There will be a midterm and a final exam. Exams will be in-class, closed-book, and will cover materials from lectures, homework assignments and projects. The final exam will not be cumulative.


I use a criterion-referenced method to assign your grade; in other words, your grade will be based on how well you do relative to predetermined performance levels, instead of in comparison with the rest of the class. Thus, if a test has 100 possible points, anyone with a score of 90 or greater will get an A, those with scores of 80 or greater will get a B, those with scores of 70 or greater will get a C, and so on. Notice that this means that if everyone works hard and gets >90, everyone gets an A.

Total scores (between 0 and 100) will be determined, roughly, as follows:

Course Outline and Approximate Dates

Because one has to be an optimist to begin an ambitious project, it is not surprising that underestimation of completion time is the norm.
-- Fernando J. Corbató, ``On Building Systems that Will Fail'', 1990 Turing Award Lecture.

Here's a link to the online calendar for the course, including lectures, assignments, exams, etc.

09/23 Introduction 1
09/25 Bits and Bytes 2.1
09/30 Integers 2.2, 2.3
10/02 Floating point 2.4
10/07 Mach-level programming - Introduction 3, 3.1-3.5
10/09 Mach-level programming - Condition and Control 3.5-3.6
10/14 Mach-level programming - Procedures 3.7
10/16 Mach-level programming - Data 3.8-3.10
10/21 Mach-level programming - Data 3.8-3.10
10/23 Mach-level programming - Miscellaneous 3.12-3.14
10/28 Midterm
10/30 Memory hierarchy 6.1-6.3
11/04 Cache 6.4-6.6
11/06 Memory allocation 9.9-9.11
11/11 Memory allocation 9.9-9.11
11/13 Virtual memory 9.1-9.8
11/18 Linking 7
11/20 Exceptions 8.1-8.4
11/25 Signals 8.5-8.7
11/27 Thanksgiving
12/2 Input/Output 10
12/4 Network programming and wrap-up 11
12/? Final


Late policy:

Unless otherwise indicated, homework assignments and projects are due by midnight on their due date. If you hand in an assignment late, we will take off 10% for each day (or portion thereof) it is late. No points will be granted for assignments submitted more than five days late.

Cheating vs. Collaboration:

Collaboration is a really good thing and we encourage it. On the other hand, cheating is considered a very serious offense. When in doubt, remember that it's OK to meet with colleagues, study for exams together, and discuss assignments with them. However, what you turn in must be your own (or for group projects, your group's own) work. Copying code, solution sets, etc. from other people or any other sources is strictly prohibited.