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Teaching programme highlights FPGA-based MIPS CPU core

Posted: 28 Aug 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Imagination Technologies  FPGA  MIPS CPU  RTL  Android 

In April this year, Imagination Technologies, with flagship products that include PowerVR and MIPS, has made a ground-breaking announcement. As part of its university programme, the company would provide free and open access to a fully-validated, current-generation MIPS CPU in a complete teaching package.

CPU architecture is generally taught as part of electronic engineering, computer science and computer engineering courses. Until now, what's been missing from all of these curricula is access to real, un-obfuscated RTL code that will let professors and students study and explore an actual CPU.

Traditionally, the CPUs given to academia are locked down so that only certain software can be run. Meanwhile, the register transfer level (RTL) code is disguised in such a way as to make it practically impossible to reverse-engineer. Now, for the first time in the history of modern processors, a current CPU core has been opened up to universities.

MIPSfpga teaching programme

Imagination's programme, which goes by the name MIPSfpga, is designed to bring a new CPU architecture education paradigm to universities around the world. Through MIPSfpga, university professors, students, researchers and other members of the academic community will be able to see the actual RTL code and study the inner workings of this elegant RISC processor. Furthermore, this CPU has all the features (MMU, cache controllers, debug interfaces and so on) required to run a full OS such as Linux. CPUs in other university programmes are obfuscated, meaning they are effectively "black boxes" to the students. Until now, none of the major architectures were available in an open form.

MIPS is one of the major CPU architectures in commercial use, and is one of the three architectures supported by Google for the Android OS. MIPSfpga provides universities with a simpler configuration of the MIPS microAptiv CPU core that's optimised for teaching and projects.

microAptiv CPUs are used in many commercial products; for example, a high-performance microAptiv CPU sits at the heart of the PIC32MZ microcontroller from Microchip Technology, and two of them are in Samsung's "Artik1" IoT device.

Focus on MIPS CPU

The MIPS CPU is being offered as part of a complete free-to-download package for universities, together with a getting started guide, teaching guide for professors and examples designed to enable students to see how the CPU works and explore its capabilities. With these materials, students can configure a CPU and peripherals on a low-cost FPGA platform, then programme the device and run a full JTAG-supported debug.

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