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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Microelectronics and computer science

  • Author(s): Arvind
  • Gostelow, Kim P.
  • et al.

Technology has a profound influence on computer science. In the past, technology has always been a constraint and has required computer designers to organize computers around what was feasible rather than what was desired. Whenever new technology arrived (e.g., transistors in place of tubes) the line of feasibility simply moved. However, microelectronics has brought far more severe changes and the line of feasibility has not only moved drastically, even moving beyond what computer scientists were prepared for, but is now requiring us to reconsider the basic conceptual precepts upon which (almost) all computers have rested. That is, computer scientists have been confined totally to the so-called von Neumann class of computers and their three basic attributes: low-level machine language, centralized sequential control, and linear memory organization. Machines based upon these characteristics have worked fairly well in the past (the last 30 years), but recent developments in LSI technology have changed these attributes themselves into inappropriate constraints. For example, LSI favors distributed and asynchronous computer operation — a principle incompatible with von Neumann machines. Also, since basic components are far more complex, and thorough testing is economically unfeasable, achieving reliability must be a primary design consideration.

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