Wednesday 24th of November, the results of this autumn's Computer Design Project (TDT4295) were presented. Ten students have collaborated in constructing the aMac dataflow computer.
This year, the project task was to contruct a dataflow computer. The dataflow concept was a hot topic in the 1970s and 1980s, and it is still a hidden part of high performance processors. The computation in dataflow computers is guided by data dependencies instead of program counters. This has the important advantage that the parallelism in the program is made explicitly available. Now, in the era of the multi-core, the dataflow concept is making a comeback at all system levels. Dataflow is an excellent example that as technology evolves, ideas from the past can make their way back to the present.
Before the students held their presentation, Professor Lasse Natvig presented a greeting to the students from Professor Ian Watson at the University of Manchester. Ian is a pioneer of dataflow processors, and he participated in the development of the Manchester Dataflow Machine (MDM). The MDM architecture was a considerable inspiration for this year’s project students.
The students started without prior knowledge of dataflow and hardware design, but they grew fond of the dataflow idea, and worked very hard. The construction took three months with tough deadlines, but all important functionality worked in the end.
The work has consisted of a large number of tasks. For instance, the students have designed the printed circuit board, developed a dataflow computer for a Xilinx FPGA, developed code for an Atmel microcontroller, integrated hardware and software, and made a simulator to carry out early design space exploiration. The final prototype is able to execute some simple dataflow-programs.
The students whom constructed aMac were: Stian Fredrikstad, Andreas Hammar, Jon Emil Jahren, Trond Klakken, Vegar Kåsli, Leif Tore Rusten, Ole Magnus Ruud, Knut Halvor Skrede, Gunnar Inge Gjøvik Sortland and Frederik Magnus Johansen Vestre. The students have been supervised by Magnus Jahre (coordinator), Konstantinos Antonakopoulos, and Dag Rognlien. Gunnar Tufte aided with his PCB and FPGA experience.
Photos from the aMac presentation (Flickr).
Previous Computer Design Projects (in Norwegian).