CS107E Computer Systems from the Ground Up
Curious about the course? Below we answer some of the questions commonly asked by prospective students.
What is CS107E?
Both CS107 and CS107E introduce students to the fundamental concepts of computer systems, exploring how these five concepts come together: hardware, architecture, assembly code, the C language, and software development tools. Our classic CS107 course is taught on a hosted Linux system using a full complement of libraries and tools. The CS107E course is a novel alternative that explores the same concepts through bare-metal programming on the Raspberry Pi. CS107E students do all programming with a Raspberry Pi kit and hardware add-ons such as LEDs, buttons, and sensors.
What are the course topics for CS107/CS107E?
Both CS107 and CS107E cover the C programming language, data representation, machine-level code, computer arithmetic, compilation, memory organization and management, program execution, debugging, and performance. Additionally, CS107E includes topics in hardware and I/O.
What are the differences between CS107 and CS107E? What factors should I consider to determine which course is right for me?
We think both courses are great and either will serve as an excellent introduction to computer systems. They cover the same core concepts and both require significant programming in C/asm. The major difference is the system being explored. CS107 students work on linux running on the x86 architecture. This modern, hosted system provides the advantages of sophisticated libraries and tools, but it puts you at arms' length away from the hardware (no direct access to processor, I/O, or framebuffer). CS107E runs bare-metal (no OS or libraries) on a Raspberry PI ARM architecture. There is nothing standing between you and the hardware, but the environment is somewhat more primitive and edit/compile/debug must be done via cross-system tools.
Here are a few other issues you may want to consider in comparing the two options:
- Assignments: The CS107E assignments incrementally build up an implementation of simple console, allowing students to experience constructing a working computer system from scratch. The CS107 assignments explore various aspects of systems programming with a more software-centric focus.
- Final project: CS107E ends with a significant final project where students work in teams on an ambitious project of their own design that implements a complete hardware/software system. There is no project component to CS107.
- Exams: There are no exams in CS107E. CS107 has a midterm and final exam.
- Difficulty: The intention is to maintain comparable difficulty and workload for CS107 and CS107E. In either course, the set of programming assignments is demanding, and we are committed to these invaluable exercises that will strengthen your programming skills.
- Tools: Both courses use similar gcc toolchain (CS107E is cross-compile), but CS107 students have access to richer suite of tools (gdb/valgrind/callgrind) and the linux/x86 mileage may have a more direct payoff in subsequent projects due to the ubiquity of such systems.
- CS vs EE: Because CS107E touches on both hardware and software, it serves a mix of EE and CS students. CS107E might be a better fit for EE students who are interested in low-level software and embedded systems, while CS107 is a better fit for EE students who are interested in more traditional software engineering. Either CS107 or CS107E applies to the systems core requirements for the CS undergrad major.
- History: CS107 has existed in its current form for several years, whereas CS107E is a relatively new offering. CS107's longer history has given the course time to mature and you can expect more widespread "institutional knowledge", e.g. upperclass students in your dorm who could advise you when stuck :-). CS107E being the young upstart welcomes a spirit of adventure, but there may be the occasional surprise or lack of polish. Your flexibility and self-sufficiency will be assets in working through any unexpected obstacles.
- Materials: Take a look at recent course materials to get additional information: CS107 is at cs107.stanford.edu and CS107E is at cs107e.github.io. Reviewing the syllabus, labs, and assignments will give you a better feel and allow you to consider the fit of each course in relation to your experience and own learning goals.
Whether you take CS107 or CS107E, you'll learn how a computer system operates and work hard to gain mastery over these topics and advance from a novice programmer to an effective practitioner. Students who do well in either course are excellently positioned to apply these powerful skills to future CS, EE, or ME projects!
Axess says that CS107E has limited capacity and enrollment requires instructor consent. What does this mean?
Students who are interested in CS107E must attend the first class meeting. We will distribute a questionnaire for you to complete where you can share your prior experience and interest in the course. If we have more interested students than our enrollment cap, we will use the questionnaire responses to select students. Priority will be given to freshmen and sophomores.
What equipment will I need to participate in CS107E?
Each CS107E student will be given a kit containing a Raspberry Pi, breadboard, jumpers, LEDs, transistors, and other parts. There is $75 lab fee for the parts kit. We can arrange a scholarship for any student for whom the fee is hardship-- please contact the instructors. You will also need a laptop (Mac OS, Linux, or Windows) on which you can install the needed cross-development tools. The laptop will need a USB 3.0 port (USB-C with adapter also ok). Access to an HDMI display is a nice-to-have, but there are shared monitors available for student use in our lab room.
When is CS107E offered?
CS107E is scheduled for winter and spring quarters of the 2019-20 academic year. The weekly schedule consists of two lectures and one lab session. The winter quarter lecture schedule will be Monday and Friday 11:30am-12:50pm and lab sessions will meet Tuesday and Wednesday evening. Lecture attendance is expected and participation in lab is mandatory.
Will the CS107E lectures/labs be recorded? Is attendance required?
CS107E is not being offered via SCPD and lectures will not be recorded. Lecture attendance is expected and participation in lab is mandatory. (An ode to "did I miss anything"?) If your schedule doesn't permit you to consistently attend lecture/lab, we recommend choosing a different course than this one.
What are the course prerequisites for CS107/CS107E?
Successful completion of CS106B/X (or equivalent) and eagerness to advance to the next level. You should be an accomplished programmer who has practical C/C++ skills using recursion, dynamic data structures (pointers, linked lists, trees), data abstraction, classic data structures (lists, stacks, queues, sets, maps), and standard algorithms (searching, sorting, hashing). You should have an appreciation of the intrinsic value of good engineering and design and you will be expected to produce well-decomposed, readable code. If you feel on the fence in determining your placement between CS106B/X and CS107/107E, our strong recommendation is to pursue CS106B/X -- we love this course! It is lots of fun, supremely well-taught, and produces thoughtful and accomplished apprentice programmers. You will exit CS106B/X well-prepared to go on to a satisfying and successful experience in CS107/CS107E.
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