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New Project: NGS CPU Architecture

August 30, 2014 Leave a comment

For those looking at the scarcity of posts on this blog and wondering what in the world happened to me, I can offer the following explanation: personal (health) issues, as well as the embarking on writing this one book for Packt Publishing on AndEngine game development have taken up most of my time recently. Unfortunately I haven’t had much opportunity to write on this blog for that reason. Fortunately, however, I have not been sitting completely idle and have begun a new project which at least some may find interesting.

The project is a custom CPU architecture I have been wanting to develop for a while now. ‘Great’, I can hear some of you think, ‘Another CPU architecture, why would we need another one?!’ The short version is that this is a pretty experimental architecture, exploring features and designs not commonly used in any mainstream CPU architectures. Consider it a bit of a research project, one aimed at developing a CPU architecture which may be useful for HPC (high-performance computing) as well as general-purpose computing.

The project’s name is ‘Nyanko Grid-scaling System’, or NGS for short. Currently I’m working on the first prototype – a simplified 16-bit version of NGS – featuring only a single ALU. This prototype is referred to as ‘NGS-16’. Even then it has many of the essential features which I think make this into such an interesting project, including:

– unclocked design: all components work without a central clock or pipeline directing them.
– task scheduler: integrating the functionality of the software-based scheduler of an OS.
– virtual memory management: virtual memory management done in hardware.
– driver management: drivers for hardware devices are either in hardware, or directly communicate with the CPU.

Essentially this means that there’s no software-based operating system (OS) as such. A shell will be required to do the actual interfacing with human beings and to instruct the NGS task scheduler to launch new processes, but no OS in the traditional sense. While this also means that existing operating systems cannot be ported to the NGS architecture in any realistic fashion, it does not mean that applications can not be compiled for it. After porting a C/C++ toolchain (GCC or LLVM) to NGS, the average C/C++-based application would only be some library-wrangling and recompile away from functioning.

Moving back to the present, I’m writing NGS-16 in VHDL, with the Lattice MachX02-7000 [1] as the target FPGA. The basic structure has been laid out (components, top entities, signals), with just the architecture implementations and debugging/simulation left to finish. While this prototype is taking the usual short-cuts (leaving out unneeded components, etc.) to ease development, it should nevertheless be a useful representation of what the NGS architecture can do.

The FPGA board I’ll be using is actually produced by a friend, who called it the FleaFPGA following the name of his company: Fleasystems [2]. As you can see on the FleaFPGA page [3], it offers quite a reasonable amount of I/O, including VGA, USB (host), PS/2, audio and an I/O header. The idea is to use as much of this hardware as possible with the initial range of prototypes. I also have another FPGA board (Digilent Nexys 2, Spartan 3E-based), which offers similar specifications (LEs and I/O). Depending on how things work out I may also run NGS-16 on that board. Ultimately I may want to build my own FPGA board aimed specifically at running NGS.

Over the coming months I’ll be blogging about my progress with this NGS-16 prototype and beyond, so stay tuned 🙂

Maya

[1] http://www.latticesemi.com/en/Products/FPGAandCPLD/MachXO2.aspx
[2] http://fleasystems.com/
[2] http://www.fleasystems.com/fleaFPGA.html

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Categories: NGS, VHDL Tags: , , , , ,