CS 213: Introduction to Computer Systems, Fall, 2020

Instructors:Peter Dinda (Office Hours: Tuesdays, 4-7, Zoom (see Canvas), or by appointment)
Branden Ghena (Office Hours: Thursdays, 4-7, Zoom (see Canvas), or by appointment)
Teaching Assistant:Mohammad Kavousi (Office Hours: Tuesdays, 8-9:30 and Wednesdays, 11-12:30, Zoom (see Canvas) or by appointment)
Peer Mentors: Yihong Hu (Office Hours: Tuesdays, 11:30-1, and Fridays, 4-5:30, Zoom (see Canvas) or by appointment)
Finley Lau (Office Hours: Tuesdays, 10-11:30, and Fridays, 5:30-7, Zoom (see Canvas) or by appointment)
Mekki Rachedine (Office Hours: Mondays, 4-5:30, and Wednesdays 5:30-7, Zoom (see Canvas) or by appointment)
Jackson Schuster (Office Hours: Mondays, 9-10:30, and Fridays, 10-11:30, Zoom (see Canvas) or by appointment)
Brando Socarras (Office Hours: Mondays, 10:30-12, and Fridays, 11:30-1, Zoom (see Canvas) or by appointment)
Michael Waldman (Office Hours: Mondays, 5:30-7, and Wednesdays, 4-5:30, Zoom (see Canvas) or by appointment)
Dave Washington (Office Hours: Wednesdays, 9:30-11, and Wednesdays, 2-3:30, Zoom (see Canvas) or by appointment)
Lecture:Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:40-4pm, Zoom (see Canvas)
Optional Discussion: Tuesdays, 7pm, Zoom (see Canvas) and Friday, 9/25, 10am, Zoom (see Canvas)

CS 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 both schools. 213 can also be taken for credit within the Computer Engineering curriculum.

This version of CS 213 has an increased focus on (a) low-level hardware aspects, (b) C programming, (c) the Unix system call interface, and (d) threading/parallelism (including a lab). It will be of particular value in preparing for CS 343 (Operating Systems) and similar courses.

There are currently 114 students enrolled. We have let in everyone on the waiting list.


Lectures will "remote synchronous" over Zoom. The Zoom URLs can be found on Canvas. Lectures will also be recorded for students who are in timezones which make attendence impossible. Please note that all lecture recordings are copyright (c) 2020 by the lecturer.

We will use Canvas to report grades, and to make access to Zoom and recordings more straightforward, but for nothing else. For critical announcements, we will send email to the addresses that CAESAR maintains.

For discussion, we will use Piazza: CS 213 Piazza Site. Directing your questions to Piazza will likely produce the fastest response, and everyone else in the class will also benefit. Piazza is configured to allow anonymous posting.

Accounts, Remote Access, Getting Started with Unix

  • You will have a Linux account in the CS department. This will give you remote access to a range of machines, the most important of which are the servers on which the class runs. We will say more in lecture.
  • You will also have a Linux account on private servers we have set up. These accounts will be discussed in class.
  • We recommend you use ssh (remote login) or FastX (remote graphical desktop) to access the class servers. McIT has more info about FastX in our environment. You can also use X11 tunneled over SSH. You may also find tmux to be useful when working with partners. It allows multiple people to share the same session.
  • If you haven't used Linux or Unix before:
  • Introduction to the Linux environment on our server (Peter Dinda) (YouTube)
    Note that this video spends some time talking about using VNC for graphical remote access to the servers.
    We highly recommend that you instead use FastX. A URL for FastX is available in Piazza.
  • Introduction to Unix (James Whang and Adel Lahlou) (YouTube)
  • Discussion section will include Unix and C review
  • The book's student site (see below) has additional pointers
  • Handouts

  • Syllabus (pdf)

  • Physics To Logic (pdf)
  • Unix Systems Programming In A Nutshell (pdf)
  • Sockets In A Nutshell (pdf)
  • Concurency (pdf)
  • Parallelism (pdf)
  • Programming Assignments

  • Data Lab (pdf) (Out: 9/17, In: 10/6)
  • Bomb Lab (pdf) (Out: 10/6, In: 10/23 (extended 1 day))
  • Attack Lab (pdf) (Out: 10/22, In: 11/5)
  • SETI Lab (Parallelism Lab) (pdf) (Out: 11/5, In: 11/24)
  • Homework Assignments

  • HW 1: Integer and Floating Point Number Representations (pdf) (Out: 9/22, In: 10/1)
  • HW 2: De-compiling Assembly Code (pdf) (Out: 10/1, In: 10/15)
  • HW 3: Memory and Cache (pdf) (Out: 10/15, In: 11/10)
  • HW 4: Virtual Memory and I/O (pdf) (Out: 11/10, In: 11/24)
  • We will make solution sets for these homeworks available. Homeworks are important preparation for exams.


  • Midterm: October 21 (info in email/Piazza)
    Covers lectures 1-9 and related reading/materials in syllabus
    Midterm Review Session: October 19, 6pm, zoom
  • Final: Wednesday, December 2 (info in email/Piazza)
    Covers lectures 10-20, and related reading/materials in syllabus
    Final Review Session: November 30, 6pm, zoom
  • Resources

  • The Book's Student Site
    Contains many useful FAQs, Primers, etc.
  • Lecture slides, code, videos, and other materials for the CMU version of the class
  • Make Introduction (pdf)
  • Gdb commands (pdf)
  • Gdb manual (html)
  • An amazing online compiler
    This lets you easily see the assembly that results from C/C++ code
  • An amazing online disassembler
    This lets you easily decode object code back to assembly
  • The ELF Format (pdf)
  • Comparison with GAS format and Intel's assembler format (text)
  • The Intel Architecture Manuals and the AMD Architecture Manuals
  • Compare and contrast with the beautiful and much mourned DEC Alpha, and with the very much alive and kicking ARM architecture that powers your phone and tablet
  • Overview of the Linux Kernel (pdf) (This is very old, but still a good intro)
  • Windows Subsystem for Linux
  • Cygwin Unix Emulation Environment for Windows