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New programming language for designers

Posted: 13 Dec 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:programming  hardware designers  computer code 

The tech world is now moving from the desktop to handheld device which is putting new demands on chip designers. Keeping this in mind, MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a new system that enables mobile device designers to specify, in a single programming language, all the functions they want a device to perform.

Designers can, thereafter, designate which functions should run in hardware and which in software; and the system will automatically churn out the corresponding circuit descriptions and computer code. "Revise the designations, and the circuits and code are revised as well. The system also determines how to connect the special-purpose hardware and the general-purpose processor that runs the software, and it alerts designers if they try to implement in hardware a function that will work only in software, or vice versa."

MIT stated, "A hardware designer creating a new device needs to decide early on which functions will be handled in hardware and which in software. Halfway through the design process, however, it may become clear that something allocated to hardware would run much better in software, or vice versa. At that point, the designer has two choices: Either incur the expense—including time delays—of revising the design midstream, or charge to market with a flawed device."

The new system is an extension of the chip-design language BlueSpec, whose theoretical foundations were laid in the 1990s and early 2000s by MIT computer scientist Arvind, who is also a co-founder of BlueSpec in 2003.

For the new paper, Arvind, his PhD student Myron King, and former graduate student Nirav Dave (now a computer scientist at SRI International) expanded the BlueSpec instruction set so that it can describe more elaborate operations that are possible only in software. They also introduced an annotation scheme, so the programmer can indicate which functions will be implemented in hardware and which in software, and they developed a new compiler that translates the functions allocated to hardware into Verilog and those allocated to software into C++ code.

MIT will present this system at the Association for Computing Machinery's 17th International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems.

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