Fundamentals of Microelectronics and Communications

Course summary

  • Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PJ
  • This unit can only be taken as part of the MSc in Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Communications.
  • Course code O18C002H6Y
  • +44 (0)1865 283263
  • Applications not yet being accepted

Fundamentals of Microelectronics and Communications


This is the first unit of the part-time MSc in Microelectronics, Optoelectronics, and Communications and includes the following topics:


Programme details

Microcontroller Systems

Topics covered:

  • Components of a CPU, registers, buses
  • Instructions and instruction cycle
  • Memory and memory maps
  • I/O
  • Interfacing I/O
  • Applications to data acquisition
  • Closed loop control

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. Gain an understanding of the notion of a finite state machine, and appreciate the need to separate data from control in a state machine with many registers.
  2. Understand how both the layout and functionality of register circuitry can be specified using a register transfer language.
  3. Describe the von Neumann architecture in terms of memory, buses, and CPU, and to give a detailed account of the organization of the CPU in terms of its data registers, control unit and arithmetic logic unit.
  4. Know that programs comprise instructions and data, and be able to explain how an instruction is fetched from memory, how its opcode reaches the control unit, and how the execution phases of various instructions are defined by successions of register transfers.
  5. Explain the designs of a one-hot control unit, a simple ALU, and memory.
  6. Define addressing modes and the broad principles of timing transfers between memory and CPU.
  7. Describe aspects of programmed Input and Output, including port-mapped and memory-mapped I/O, polled and interrupt-driven I/O.
  8. Analyse the operation of I/O in given microcontroller applications, particularly using an ADC and DAC with hold for digital control.

Analogue Communications

Topics covered:

  • Linear time-invariant (LTI) systems
  • Linear time-varying systems
  • Input/output signal spectrum
  • Communication channel
  • Signal and channel bandwidth
  • Multiplexing, analogue modulation schemes (single/double-sideband modulation, quadrature amplitude modulation, frequency modulation, phase modulation)
  • Modulation index and efficiency
  • Demodulation and detection
  • Basic superheterodyne receiver architecture

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. Understand and be able to analyse time/frequency-domain properties of LTI systems.
  2. Have an appreciation for basic communication channels and the physical limitations they impose on practical systems.
  3. Understand what meant by signal and channel bandwidth, and describe how multiplexing (in frequency and time) improve channel usage.
  4. Understand analogue modulation schemes (transmission, detection of AM and FM) and modulated signal spectra.

Microelectronic Systems

Topics covered:

  • Digital design: discrete implementation, ASICs, gate arrays, field-programmable logic
  • PLDs, CPLDs, FPGAs
  • CAD tools for field-programmable logic
  • VHSIC Hardware Description Language (VHDL)
  • CAT and design for testability
  • Combining analogue and digital circuits: switched-capacitor filters; phase-locked loops, clock & data recovery

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. Understand the various architectures for programmable logic devices and design issues.
  2. Appreciate the effort that goes into the testing of integrated circuits and to have exposure to some of the simpler techniques.
  3. Home rudimentary introduction to hardware design by computer codes, such as VHDL.
  4. Explore various circuits that exploit both digital and analogue characteristics, such as the PLL.

Digital Communications

Topics covered:

  • Digital communication system overview, sampling, baseband transmission and line codes
  • Passband digital modulation schemes (amplitude shift keying, frequency shift keying, phase shift keying, quadrature amplitude modulation, continuous-phase modulation)
  • Signal spectra
  • Demodulation
  • Detection
  • Signal-to-noise ratio
  • Error probability analysis in additive Gaussian channels

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. Be able to describe the parts of a digital communication system and explain the purpose of each component.
  2. Be able to determine the bandwidth of a random data stream in simple cases.
  3. Understand the principles of digital modulation and be able to describe the trade-offs between different schemes.
  4. Know how to calculate the spectrum of modulated baseband and passband signals and apply the results to issues of system design.
  5. Understand how a receiver can demodulate and recover a transmitted message in simple systems.
  6. Be able to calculate the signal-to-noise ratio for different modulation schemes.
  7. Be able to estimate the error rate of a simple data stream from the signal-to-noise ratio of the communications channel.

Integrated Circuit Technology and Design

Topics covered:

  • CMOS – Deep Sub Micron Technologies, structured logic design
  • Delay and Speed - Inverter Delay, RC delay model, Interconnects and related parasitics
  • Power - Static and dynamic power, low power designs, noise margins
  • Logic Design - Adders, counters, shifters, Multipliers, Latches and flip-flops Memories – SRAM, DRAM, ROM
  • Addressing circuitry
  • Area, delay and power analysis
  • IC Design - Input/Output, Pads and ESD Protection
  • Clock systems, power distribution, charge pumps, packaging
  • Reliability and testing - Scaling, design economics
  • Design for Manufacturing
  • Logic verification, design for testability
  • Embedded System Design – Architectures
  • Multi and many-core systems
  • Real Time Operating Systems

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. Have an appreciation of modern digital circuit design options.
  2. Understand the key parameters of elementary logic and sequential elements and how they constrain the design and dictate the performance of digital design.
  3. Understand the main types of digital architecture that are used and when each is appropriate.
  4.  Analyse the speed, power, area and scaling of simple combinatorial and sequential logic circuits.
  5.  Understand basic digital building blocks including adders, counters and multipliers.
  6.  Understand the power dissipation in integrated circuits and its effect on logic performance.
  7. Describe the need and parasitics attached to the input and output schemes of an integrated circuit.
  8. Describe random addressable and read only memories along with their addressing and sensing schemes.
  9. Understand the importance of clock design and techniques to control clock skew.
  10. Understand the importance and difficulties of testing modern electronic systems, and the importance of using a fault model and of getting good fault coverage.
  11. Understand and avoid common CMOS circuit pitfalls and reliability problems including variability.
  12. Describe building blocks of an embedded system.

Information Theory and Coding

Topics covered:

  • Information theory: mutual information, entropy, asymptotic equipartition property, typical sequences, fixed-length and variable-length source coding
  • Shannon’s source coding theorem, binary symmetric channel, discrete input AWGN channel, band-limited AWGN channel, parallel channel, channel capacity
  • Shannon’s noisy channel coding theorem
  • Error detection and correction: linear block codes (construction, dual codes, systematic codes, Hamming weight, Hamming distance, error detection, error correction, syndrome decoding, Hamming codes, repetition codes, single-parity-check codes, BCH codes, Reed-Solomon codes, low-density parity-check codes), trellis codes (convolutional codes, turbo codes, decoding)

Learning outcomes. Students will:

  1. Understand how information theory underpins the design of modern communication systems.
  2. Be able to calculate the capacity of simple channel models and describe what this means in a practical setting.
  3. Understand the use of source coding and compression and be able to apply simple source coding mechanisms in practice.
  4. Understand the use of error correction coding and be able to apply basic techniques to simple examples.


 Please note that the programme is subject to change.


Recommended reading

You will be issued with a reading list and exercises to work through before your first residential week via the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to help prepare you for the MSc course.

This online material will cover:

  1. Charge conservation, Kirchhoff’s laws, mesh/nodal analysis;
  2. Concepts of ideal voltage and current sources, and impedances;
  3. Thévenin and Norton theorems with emphasis on the concepts of input and output impedances;
  4. Frequency response of a.c. networks including Bode diagrams, second-order and resonant circuits, damping and Q factors;
  5. Laplace transform methods for transient circuit analysis with zero initial conditions. Impulse and step responses of second-order networks and resonant circuits;
  6. Probability theory and stochastic processes.

You must work through this material before the course begins in earnest. If you have a Physics background you may find parts of the content familiar, but there will be new contexts and content. If you have a background in Mathematics you may find most of this material new. 



Accommodation is not included in the course fee but may be available at your college and at Rewley House.

Bed and breakfast accommodation at other University colleges can also be booked on the Oxford Rooms website.



Radcliffe Science library

The Radcliffe Science Library (RSL) is the main science research library at the university. The library holds copies of all of your reading list items, and most of your engineering library research will be done using this library’s resources. The library is located less than 5 minutes away from the Engineering Science department, at the corner of Parks Road and South Parks Road.

The subject librarian responsible for Engineering Science is Alessandra Vetrugno (, based at the RSL.


The Department for Continuing Education

The Department for Continuing Education is based at Rewley House in Wellington Square, only five minutes walk from the Department of Engineering Science (Thom Building).

In addition to supporting the various aspects of the course that involve online learning, the Department has facilities available to students during their attendance in Oxford. In particular, the Department has a Graduate Room - a study space dedicated to graduate students with lockers, printing facilities and refreshments. The Graduate Room is accessible from 8.00am to 10.00pm (24hrs for students using the Department’s overnight accommodation). The Continuing Education Library, also located at Rewley House, has quiet study space and a ‘Reading Room’.


IT requirements

In order to participate in the pre-course material you will need access to the internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification, which can be found online at



This unit can only be taken as part of the MSc in Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Communications.

Teaching methods

Each of the six taught units will typically follow the structure below:

  1. Online material and exercises using the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). We would expect you to take 12 weeks to work through this material.  We will expect you to read specific material online and be familiar with the necessary pre-requisites of the course before each residential week in Oxford.
  2. A residential week in Oxford during which you will attend classes, complete tutorial exercises, participate in tutorial classes, meet your personal tutor and, where necessary, complete practical assignments.
  3. Assignments which are available online and which must be completed and submitted by the deadlines (see Key Dates).

This course is taught by members of the Engineering Science Faculty, who you will as lecturers, as tutors for classes, or as your dissertation supervisor. One member of faculty will be assigned to you as a ‘personal tutor’ at the start of the course. He or she will provide advice and guidance, and discuss your academic progress. Your personal tutor will meet with you at each of the residential weeks, and you can contact him or her by email.

Your course supervisor will write a formal report on your progress three times a year on the online Graduate Supervision System ( You will be able to view that report and will be asked to reflect on your progress as well. 

Virtual Learning Environment

This course uses a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), which is a web-based application using WebLearn.

Access to the course VLE is via an internet browser using your University Single Sign-On account. When the course has started and you have activated your Single Sign-On under “My Active Sites” you will have access to the student forum, information about student support, course documents and examiner reports.  If you are unable to access WebLearn, please email the Registry with details of your Single Sign-On (

You will be given access to an 'Induction' VLE which houses supporting materials for the MSc on Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Communication at the start of the academic year, and to separate sites for each unit as and when you are due to take them.

During the course you will also be required to submit work through our online Moodle Assignment Submission System. A link to the online Submission System can be found here.


Assessment methods

There will be two problem sheets - neither of which are formally assessed - that will be provided during the residential week. These first two assignments will not contribute to your overall degree outcome. You will receive verbal feedback from the tutor on your work for both problem sheets at the tutorial classes during the residential week and written feedback via the VLE.  At the end of the residential week, two further example sheets will be made available that will accompany the material to be covered via the VLE. Again, they will not contribute to your overall degree outcome, and written feedback will be provided.

Finally, there will be two examinable papers that will be provided towards the end of the 12 week course. These papers will be formally assessed with the outcome providing the mark for the completed unit. They will be distributed online and must be submitted for assessment online. You must gain a pass in both of these examinable assignments in order to pass the whole unit.

If you fail one of the assignments but pass the other, the mark from the assignment that you passed will be carried forward (further information can be found in the Exam regulations and conventions). For the assignment you failed, you will be set a new assignment and must re-submit this. Additional worked examples and problems may also be provided via the VLE. 


This unit can only be taken as part of the MSc in Microelectronics, Optoelectronics and Communications.