Verilog HDL to Teach Computer Architecture Concepts
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19-10-2010, 11:38 AM

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Verilog HDL to Teach Computer Architecture Concepts

Dr. Daniel C. Hyde
Computer Science Department
Bucknell University
Lewisburg, PA 17837, USA


Students in computer architecture courses, especially undergraduates, need to design computer components in order to gain an in-depth understanding of architectural concepts. For maximum benefit, students must be active learners, engage the material and design, i. e., produce components to meet a specific need. Unfortunately, computers have become so sophisticated that designing architectural components, e. g., a cache memory, in hardware is not feasible in a one semester course. This paper describes an approach where students use a hardware description language (HDL), Verilog HDL and an associated simulator, to design components of computer systems and explore architectural concepts. To support this approach, the author has developed web-based course materials which include a manual on Verilog HDL, a paper on how to realize his Verilog-based computational model in digital circuits and twelve structured laboratory exercises. Other engineering educators have used hardware description languages in their courses before, but at a lower level, e. g., digital circuit design or VLSI design. What is distinctive about the author’s approach is the use of an industrial standard HDL in a computer architecture course. Students, especially the ones who consider themselves software-types, are able to design and test hardware, for example, a CPU with instruction look ahead or a floating point adder. Further, they gain valuable insight into the power of computer-aided-design tools used by hardware designers in industry. In the course, we stress that our goal is to formulate a computational model in the Verilog notation so we no longer need to think in digital circuits. That is, we develop a higher level of abstraction to think about digital systems that is much more concise than digital circuits, e. g., sequential machines. A few lines of Verilog code may translate into hundreds of flip flops, AND, OR and NOT gates. This Verilog model is precise and concise -- the Verilog notation supplies the information for both the data unit and the control unit associated with the control sequence. This approach is basically the one used in industry to design digital integrated circuits, such as microprocessor chips. The students are told that with automated tools, the Verilog code could be translated to the integrated circuit masks, say, for CMOS.

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