The Full Wiki

More info on Microprocessor Design/Print Version

Microprocessor Design/Print Version: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection

< Microprocessor Design

Microprocessor Design/Cover

This book serves as an introduction to the field of microprocessor design and implementation. It is intended for students in computer science or computer or electrical engineering who are in the third or fourth years of an undergraduate degree. While the focus of this book will be on Microprocessors, many of the concepts will apply to other ASIC design tasks as well.

The reader should have prior knowledge in Digital Circuits and possibly some background in Semiconductors although it isn't strictly necessary. The reader also should know at least one Assembly Language. Knowledge of higher-level languages such as C or C++ may be useful as well, but are not required. Sections about soft-core design will require prior knowledge of Programmable Logic, and a prior knowledge of at least one HDL.


About This Book

Computers and computer systems are a pervasive part of the modern world. Aside from just the common desktop PC, there are a number of other types of specialized computer systems that pop up in many different places. The central component of these computers and computer systems is the microprocessor, or the CPU. The CPU (short for "Central Processing Unit") is essentially the brains behind the computer system, it is the component that "computes". This book is going to discuss what microprocessor units do, how they do it, and how they are designed.

This book is going to discuss the design of microprocessor units, but it will not discuss the design of complete computer systems nor the design of other computer components or peripherals. Some microprocessor designs will be implemented and synthesized in Hardware Description Languages, such as Verilog or VHDL. The book will be organized to discuss simple designs and concepts first, and expand the initial designs to include more complicated concepts as the book progresses.

This book will attempt to discuss the basic concepts and theory of microprocessor design from an abstract level, and give real-world examples as necessary. This book will not focus on studying any particular processor architecture, although several of the most common architectures will appear frequently in examples and notes.

How Will This Book Be Organized?

The first section of the book will review computer architecture, and will give a brief overview of the components of a computer, the components of a microprocessor, and some of the basic architectures of modern microprocessors.

The second section will discuss in some detail the individual components of a microcontroller, what they do, and how they are designed.

The third section will focus in on the ALU and FPU, and will discuss implementation of particular mathematical operations.

The fourth section will discuss the various design paradigms, starting with the most simple single cycle machine to more complicated exotic architectures such as vector and VLIW machines.

Additional chapters will serve as extensions and support chapters for concepts discussed in the first four sections.


This book will rely on some important background information that is currently covered in a number of other local wikibooks. Readers of this book will find the following prerequisites important to understand the material in this book:

All readers must be familiar with binary numbers and also hexadecimal numbers. These notations will be used throughout the book without any prior explanation. Readers of this book should be familiar with at least one assembly language, and should also be familiar with a hardware description language. This book will use both types of languages in the main narrative of the text without offering explanation beforehand. Appendices might be included that contain primers on this material.

Readers of this book will also find some pieces of software helpful in examples. Specifically, assemblers and assembly language simulators will help with many of the examples. Likewise, HDL compilers and simulators will be useful in the design examples. If free versions of these software programs can be found, links will be added in an appendix.

Who Is This Book For?

This book is designed to accompany an advanced undergraduate or graduate study in the field of microprocessor design. Students in the areas of Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, or Computer Science will likely find this book to be the most useful. The basic subjects in this field will be covered, and more advanced topics will be included depending on the proficiencies of the authors. Many of the topics considered in this book will apply to the design of many different types of digital hardware, including ASICs. However, the main narrative of the book, and the ultimate goals of the book will be focused on microcontrollers and microprocessors, not other ASICs.

What This Book Will Not Cover

This book is about the design of micro-controllers and microprocessors only. This book will not cover the following topics in any detail, although some mention might be made of them as a matter of interest:


Throughout the book, the words "Microprocessor", "Microcontroller", "Processor", and "CPU" will all generally be used interchangeably to denote a digital processing element capable of performing arithmetic and quantitative comparisons. We may differentiate between these terms in individual sections, but an explanation of the differences will always be provided.

Microprocessor Basics



Microprocessors are the devices in a computer that make things happen. Microprocessors are capable of performing basic arithmetic operations, moving data from place to place, and making basic decisions based on the quantity of certain values.

The components of a PC computer. Part number 3 is the CPU.

Types of Processors

The vast majority of microprocessors are embedded microcontrollers. The second most common type of processors are common desktop processors, such as Intel's Pentium or AMD's Athlon. Less common are the extremely powerful processors used in high-end servers, such as Sun's SPARC, IBM's Power, or Intel's Itanium.

Historically, microprocessors and microcontrollers have come in "standard sizes" of 8 bits, 16 bits, 32 bits, and 64 bits. These sizes are common, but that does not mean that other sizes are not available. Some microcontrollers (usually specially designed embedded chips) can come in other "non-standard" sizes such as 4 bits, 12 bits, 18 bits, or 24 bits. The number of bits represent how much physical memory can be directly addressed by the CPU. It also represents the amount of bits that can be read by one read/write operation. In some circumstances, these are different; for instance, many 8 bit microprocessors have an 8 bit data bus and a 16 bit address bus.

  • 8 bit processors can read/write 1 byte at a time and can directly address 256 bytes
  • 16 bit processors can read/write 2 bytes at a time, and can address 65,536 bytes (64 Kilobytes)
  • 32 bit processors can read/write 4 bytes at a time, and can address 4,294,967,295 bytes (4 Gigabytes)
  • 64 bit processors can read/write 8 bytes at a time, and can address 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 bytes (16 Exabytes)

General Purpose Versus Specific Use

Microprocessors that are capable of performing a wide range of tasks are called general purpose microprocessors. General purpose microprocessors are typically the kind of CPUs found in desktop computer systems. These chips typically are capable of a wide range of tasks (integer and floating point arithmetic, external memory interface, general I/O, etc). We will discuss some of the other types of processor units available:

General Purpose
A general purpose processing unit, typically referred to as a "microprocessor" is a chip that is designed to be integrated into a larger system with peripherals and external RAM. These chips can typically be used with a very wide array of software.
A Digital Signal Processor, or DSP for short, is a chip that is specifically designed for fast arithmetic operations, especially addition and multiplication. These chips are designed with processing speed in mind, and don't typically have the same flexibility as general purpose microprocessors. DSPs also have special address generation units that can manage circular buffers, perform bit-reversed addressing, and simultaneously access multiple memory spaces with little to no overhead. They also support zero-overhead looping, and a single-cycle multiply-accumulate instruction. They are not typically more powerful than general purpose microprocessors, but can perform signal processing tasks using far less power (as in watts).
Embedded Controller
Embedded controllers, or "microcontrollers" are microprocessors with additional hardware integrated into a single chip. Many microcontrollers have RAM, ROM, A/D and D/A converters, interrupt controllers, timers, and even oscillators built into the chip itself. These controllers are designed to be used in situations where a whole computer system isn't available, and only a small amount of simple processing needs to be performed.
Programmable State Machines
The most simplistic of processors, programmable state machines are a minimalist microprocessor that is designed for very small and simple operations. PSMs typically have very small amount of program ROM available, limited scratch-pad RAM, and they are also typically limited in the type and number of instructions that they can perform. PSMs can either be used stand-alone, or (more frequently) they are embedded directly into the design of a larger chip.
Graphics Processing Units
Computer graphics are so complicated that functions to process the visuals of video and game applications have been offloaded to a special type of processor known as a GPU. GPUs typically require specialized hardware to implement matrix multiplications and vector arithmetic. GPUs are typically also highly parallelized, performing shading calculations on multiple pixels and surfaces simultaneously.

Types of Use

Microcontrollers and Microprocessors are used for a number of different types of applications. People may be the most familiar with the desktop PC, but the fact is that desktop PCs make up only a small fraction of all microprocessors in use today. We will list here some of the basic uses for microprocessors:

Signal Processing
Signal processing is an area that demands high performance from microcontroller chips to perform complex mathematical tasks. Signal processing systems typically need to have low latency, and are very deadline driven. An example of a signal processing application is the decoding of digital television and radio signals.
Real Time Applications
Some tasks need to be performed so quickly that even the slightest delay or inefficiency can be detrimental. These applications are known as "real time systems", and timing is of the upmost importance. An example of a real-time system is the anti-lock braking system (ABS) controller in modern automobiles.
Throughput and Routing
Throughput and routing is the use of a processor where data is moved from one particular input to an output, without necessarily requiring any processing. An example is an internet router, that reads in data packets and sends them out on a different port.
Sensor monitoring
Many processors, especially small embedded processors are used to monitor sensors. The microprocessor will either digitize and filter the sensor signals, or it will read the signals and produce status outputs (the sensor is good, the sensor is bad). An example of a sensor monitoring processor is the processor inside an antilock brake system: This processor reads the brake sensor to determine when the brakes have locked up, and then outputs a control signal to activate the rest of the system.
General Computing
A general purpose processor is like the kind of processor that is typically found inside a desktop PC. Names such as Intel and AMD are typically associated with this type of processor, and this is also the kind of processor that the public is most familiar with.
Processing of digital graphics is an area where specialized processor units are frequently employed. With the advent of digital television, graphics processors are becoming more common. Graphics processors need to be able to perform multiple simultaneous operations. In digital video, for instance, a million pixels or more will need to be processed for every single frame, and a particular signal may have 60 frames per second! To the benefit of graphics processors, the color value of a pixel is typically not dependent on the values of surrounding pixels, and therefore many pixels can typically be computed in parallel.

Abstraction Layers

Computer systems are developed in layers known as layers of abstraction. Layers of abstraction allow people to develop computer components (hardware and software) without having to worry about the internal design of the other layers in the system. At the highest level are the user-interface programs that people use on their computers. At the lowest level are the transistor layouts of the individual computer components. Some of the layers in a computer system are (listed from highest to lowest):

  1. Application
  2. Operating System
  3. Firmware
  4. Instruction Set Architecture
  5. Microprocessor Control Logic
  6. Physical Circuit Layout

This book will be mostly concerned with the Instruction Set Architecture (ISA), and the Microprocessor Control Logic. Topics above these are typically the realm of computer programmers. The bottom layer, the Physical Circuit Layout is the job of hardware and VLSI engineers.


The Instruction Set Architecture is a long name for the assembly language of a particular machine, and the associated machine code for that assembly language. We will discuss this below.

Assembly Language

An assembly language is a small language that contains a short word or "mnemonic" for each individual command that a microcontroller can follow. Each command gets a single mnemonic, and each mnemonic corresponds to a single machine command. Assembly language gets converted (by a program called an "assembler") into the binary machine code. The machine code is specific to each different type of machine.

Common ISAs

Wikibooks contains books about programming in multiple different types of assembly language. For more information about Assembly language, or for books on a particular ISA, see Assembly Language.

Some of the most common ISAs, listed in order of popularity (most popular first) are:

  • ARM
  • IA-32 (Intel x86)
  • MIPS
  • Motorola 68K
  • PowerPC
  • Hitachi SH

Moore's Law

A common law that governs the world of microprocessors is Moore's Law. Moore's Law, originally by Dr. Carver Mead at Caltech, and summarized famously by Intel Founder Gordon Moore. Moore's Law states that the number of transistors on a single chip at the same price will double every 18 to 24 months. This law has held without fail since it was originally stated in 1965. Current microprocessor chips contain millions of transistors and the number is growing rapidly. Here is Moore's summarization of the law from Electronics Magazine in 1965:

The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year...Certainly over the short term this rate can be expected to continue, if not to increase. Over the longer term, the rate of increase is a bit more uncertain, although there is no reason to believe it will not remain nearly constant for at least 10 years. That means by 1975, the number of components per integrated circuit for minimum cost will be 65,000. I believe that such a large circuit can be built on a single wafer.

— Gordon Moore

Moore's Law has been used incorrectly to calculate the speed of an integrated circuit, or even to calculate it's power consumption, but neither of these interpretations are true. Also, Moore's law is talking about the number of transistors on a chip for a "minimum component cost", which means that the number of transistors on a chip, for the same price, will double. This goes to show that chips for less price can have fewer transistors, and that chips at a higher price can have more transistors. On an economic note, a consequence of Moore's Law is that companies need to continue to innovate and integrate more transistors onto a single chip, without being able to increase prices.

Moore's Law does not require that the speed of the chip increase along with the number of transistors on the chip. However, the two measurements are typically related. Some points to keep in mind about transistors and Moore's Law are:

  1. Smaller Transistors typically switch faster then larger transistors.
  2. To get more transistors on a single chip, the chip needs to be made larger, or the transistors need to be made smaller. Typically, the transistors get smaller.
  3. Transistors tend to leak electrical current as they get smaller. This means that smaller transistors require more power to operate, and they generate more heat.
  4. Transistors tend to generate heat as a function of frequencies. Higher clock rates tend to generate more heat.
Moore Law diagram (2004).png

Moore's law is occasionally misinterpreted to mean that the speed of processors, in hertz will double every 18 months. This is not strictly true, although the speed of processors does tend to increase as transistors are made smaller and more compact. With the advent of multi-core processors, some people have used Moore's law to mean that processor throughput increases with time, which is not strictly the case either (although it is a likely side effect of Moore's law).

Clock Rates

Microprocessors are typically discussed in terms of their clock speed. The clock speed is measured in hertz (or megahertz, or gigahertz). A hertz is a "cycle per second". Each cycle, a microprocessor will perform certain tasks, although the amount of work performed in a single cycle will be different for different types of processors. The amount of work that a processor can complete in a single cycle is measured in "cycles per instruction". For some systems, such as MIPS, there is 1 cycle per instruction. For other systems, such as modern x86 chips, there are typically very many cycles per instruction.

The clock rate is equated as such:

\mbox{Clock Time} = \frac{1}{\mbox{Clock Rate}}

This means that the amount of time for a cycle is inversely proportional to the clock rate. A computer with a 1MHz clock rate will have a clock time of 1 microsecond. A modern desktop computer with a 3.2 GHz processor will have a clock time of approximately 3× 10-10 seconds, or 300 picoseconds. 300 picoseconds is an incredibly small amount of time, and there is a lot that needs to happen inside the processor in each clock cycle.

Basic Elements of a Computer

There are a few basic elements that are common to all computers. These elements are:

  • CPU
  • Memory
  • Input Devices
  • Output Devices

Depending on the particular computer architecture, these elements may be available in various sizes, and they may be accompanied by additional elements.

Computer Architecture

Von Neumann Architecture

Early computer programs were hard wired. To reprogram a computer meant changing the hardware switches manually, that took a long time with potential errors. Computer memory was only used for storing data.

John von Neumann suggested that data and programs should be stored together in memory, it is now called Von Neumann architecture. Programs are fetched from memory for executions by a central unit that is what we call the CPU. Basically programs and data are represented on memory in the same way. The program is just data coded for special meaning.

A Von Neumann microprocessor is a processor that follows this pattern:

An instruction and the necessary data is obtained from memory.
The instruction and data are separated, the necessary components and pathways to execute the instruction are activated.
The instruction is performed, the data is manipulated, and the results are stored.

This pattern is typically implemented by separating the task into two components, the control, and the datapath.


The control unit reads the instruction, and activates the appropriate parts of the datapath.


The datapath is the pathway that the data takes through the microprocessor. As the data travels to different parts of the datapath, the command signals from the control unit cause the data to be manipulated in specific ways, according to the instruction.

Harvard Architecture

In a Harvard Architecture machine, the memory of the computer system is separated into two distinct parts: the data and the instructions. In a pure Harvard system, the two different memories will occupy separate memory modules, and instructions can only be executed from the instruction memory.

In a "Princeton Architecture" machine, the memory of the computer system is one uniform address space: data and instructions may be placed anywhere in the one memory.

Many DSPs are modified Harvard Architectures, designed to access 3 distinct memory areas simultaneously: the program instructions, the signal data samples, and the filter coefficients (often called the P, X, and Y memories).

In theory, such 3-way Harvard architectures can be 3 times as fast as a Princeton architecture that is forced to read each of these things one at a time.

In modern systems, the instructions and data are stored in the same physical memory module, but are stored in different locations in memory. Several common computer security problems arise because modern processors are not pure harvard systems, and are allowed to manipulate instructions as if they were data, and vice-versa.


There are two different types of ISA, the reduced instruction set computers (RISC) and the complex instruction set computers (CISC). It is a common misunderstanding that RISC systems typically have a small ISA (fewer instructions) but make up for it with faster hardware. RISC system actually have "reduced instructions", in the sense that each instruction does so little that it takes very little time to execute it. It is a common misunderstanding that CISC systems have more instructions, but typically pay a steep performance penalty for the added versatility. CISC systems actually have "complex instructions", in the sense that at least one instruction takes a long time to execute -- for example, the "double indirect" addressing mode inherently requires two memory cycles to execute, and a few CPUs have a "string copy" instruction that may require hundreds of memory cycles to execute. MIPS and SPARC are examples of RISC computers. Intel x86 is an example of a CISC computer.

Some people group stack machines with the RISC machines; others[1] group stack machines with the CISC machines; some people [2] describe stack machines as neither RISC nor CISC.

We will discuss these terms and concepts in more detail later.

Microprocessor Components

Some of the common components of a microprocessor are:

  • Control Unit
  • I/O Units
  • Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU)
  • Registers
  • Cache

We will give a brief introduction to these components below.

Control Unit

The control unit, as described above, reads the instructions, and generates the necessary digital signals to operate the other components. An instruction to add two numbers together would cause the Control Unit to activate the addition module, for instance.

I/O Units

A processor needs to be able to communicate with the rest of the computer system. This communication occurs through the I/O ports. The I/O ports will interface with the system memory (RAM), and also the other peripherals of a computer.

Arithmetic Logic Unit

The Arithmetic Logic Unit, or ALU is the part of the microprocessor that performs arithmetic operations. ALUs can typically add, subtract, divide, multiply, and perform logical operations of two numbers (and, or, nor, not, etc).


In this book, we talk about lots of different kinds of registers. Hopefully it will be obvious which kind of register we are talking about from the context.

The most general meaning is a "hardware register": anything that can be used to store bits of information, in a way that all the bits of the register can be written to or read out simultaneously. Since registers outside of a CPU are also outside the scope of the book, this book will only discuss processor registers, which are hardware registers that happen to be inside a CPU. But usually we will refer to a more specific kind of register.

programmer-visible registers

The programmer-visible registers, also called the user-accessible registers, also called the architectural registers, often simply called "the registers", are the registers that are directly encoded as part of at least one instruction in the instruction set.

The registers are the fastest accessible memory locations, and because they are so fast, there are typically very few of them. In most processors, there are fewer than 32 registers. The size of the registers defines the size of the computer. For instance, a "32 bit computer" has registers that are 32 bits long. The length of a register is known as the word length of the computer.

There are several factors limiting the number of registers, including:

  • It is very convenient for a new CPU to be software-compatible with an old CPU. This requires the new chip to have exactly the same number of programmer-visible registers as the old chip.
  • Doubling the number general-purpose registers requires adding another bit to each instruction that selects a particular register. Each 3-operand instruction (that specify 2 source operands and a destination operand) would expand by 3 bits. Modern chip manufacturing processes could put a million registers on a chip; that would make each and every 3-operand instruction require 60 bits just to select the registers, not counting the bits required to specify what to do with those operands.
  • Adding more registers adds more wires to the critical path, adding capacitance, which reduces the maximum clock speed of the CPU.
  • Historically, CPUs were designed with few registers, because each additional register increased the cost of the CPU significantly. But now that modern chip manufacturing can put tens of millions of bits of storage on a single commodity CPU chip, this is less of an issue.

Microprocessors typically contain a large number of registers, but only a small number of them are accessible by the programmer. The registers that can be used by the programmer to store arbitrary data, as needed, are called general purpose registers. Registers that cannot be accessed by the programmer directly are known as reserved registers[citation needed].

Some computers have highly specialized registers -- memory addresses always came from the program counter or "the" index register or "the" stack pointer; one ALU input was always hooked to data coming from memory, the other ALU input was always hooked to "the" accumulator; etc.

Other computers have more general-purpose registers -- any instruction that access memory can use any address register as a index register or as a stack pointer; any instruction that uses the ALU can use any data register.

Other computers have completely general-purpose registers -- any register can be used as data or an address in any instruction, without restriction.

microarchitectural registers

Besides the programmer-visible registers, all CPUs have other registers that are not programmer-visible, called "microarchitectural registers" or "physical registers".

These registers include:

  • memory address register
  • memory data register
  • instruction register
  • microinstruction register
  • microprogram counter
  • pipeline registers
  • extra physical registers to support register renaming

There are a wide variety of ways to implement any one instruction set. The vast majority of these microarchitectural registers are technically not "necessary". A designer could choose to design a CPU that had almost no physical registers other than the programmer-visible registers. However, many designers choose to design a CPU with lots of physical registers, using them in ways that make the CPU execute the same given instruction set much faster than a CPU that lacks those registers.


Cache is memory that is located on the chip, but that is not considered registers. The cache is used because reading external memory is very slow (compared to the speed of the processor), and reading a local cache is much faster. In modern processors, the cache can take up as much as 50% or more of the total area of the chip. The following table shows the relationship between different types of memory:

smallest largest
Registers cache RAM
fastest slowest

Cache typically comes in 2 or 3 "levels", depending on the chip. Level 1 (L1) cache is smaller and faster than Level 2 (L2) cache, which is larger and slower. Some chips have Level 3 (L3) cache as well, which is larger still than the L2 cache (although L3 cache is still much faster than external RAM).


Different computers order their multi-byte data words (i.e., 16-, 32-, or 64-bit words) in different ways in RAM. Each individual byte in a multi-byte word is still separately addressable. Some computers order their data with the most significant byte of a word in the lowest address, while others order their data with the most significant byte of a word in the highest address. There is logic behind both approaches, and this was formerly a topic of heated debate.

This distinction is known as endianness. Computers that order data with the least significant byte in the lowest address are known as "Little Endian", and computers that order the data with the most significant byte in the lowest address are known as "Big Endian". It is easier for a human (typically a programmer) to view multi-word data dumped to a screen one byte at a time if it is ordered as Big Endian. However it makes more sense to others to store the LS data at the LS address.

When using a computer this distinction is typically transparent; that is that the user cannot tell the difference between computers that use the different formats. However, difficulty arises when different types of computers attempt to communicate with one another over a network.

With a big-endian 68K sort of machine,

       address increases > ------ >
       data   : 74 65 73 74 00 00 00 05

is the string "test" followed by the 32-bit integer 5. The little-endian x86 sort of machine would interpret the last part as the integer 0x0500_0000.

When communicating over a network composed of both big-endian and little-endian machines, the network hardware (should) apply the Address Invariance principle, to avoid scrambling text (avoiding the NUXI problem). High-level software (should) format packets of data to be transmitted over the network in Network Byte Order. High-level software (should) be written as "endian clean" -- always reading and writing 16 bit integers as whole 16 bit integers, 32 bit integers as whole 32 bit integers, etc. -- so no changes are needed to re-compile it for big-endian or little-endian machines. Software that is not "endian clean" -- software that writes integers, but then reads them out as 8 bit octets or integers of some other length -- usually fails when re-compiled for another computer.

A few computers -- including nearly all DSPs -- are "neither-endian". They always read and write complete aligned words, and don't have any hardware for dealing with individual bytes. Systems build on top of such computers often *do* have a particular endianness -- but that endianness is written into the software, and can be switched by re-compiling for the opposite endianness.


A stack is a block of memory that is used as a scratchpad area. The stack is a sequential set of memory locations that is set to act like a LIFO (last in, first out) buffer. Data is added to the top of the stack in a "push" operation, and the top data item is removed from the stack during a "pop" operation. Most computer architectures include at least a register that is usually reserved for the stack pointer.

Some microprocessors include a small hardware stack built into the CPU, independent from the rest of the RAM.

Modern Computers

Modern desktop computers, especially computers based on the Intel x86 ISA are not Harvard computers, although the newer variants have features that are "Harvard-Like". All information, program instructions, and data are stored in the same RAM areas. However, a modern feature called "paging" allows the physical memory to be segmented into large blocks of memory called "pages". Each page of memory can either be instructions or data, but not both.

Modern embedded computers, however, are typically based on a Harvard architecture. Instructions are stored in a different addressable memory block than the data is, and there is no way for the microprocessor to interchange data and instructions.

further reading

Instruction Set Architectures


The instruction set or the instruction set architecture (ISA) is the set of basic instructions that a processor understands. The instruction set is a portion of what makes up an architecture.

Historically, the first two philosophies to instruction sets were: reduced (RISC) and complex (CISC). The merits and argued performance gains by each philosophy are and have been thoroughly debated.


Complex Instruction Set Computer (CISC) is rooted in the history of computing. Originally there were no compilers and programs had to be coded by hand one instruction at a time. To ease programming more and more instructions were added. Many of these instructions are complicated combination instructions such as loops. In general, more complicated or specialized instructions are inefficient in hardware, and in a typically CISC architecture the best performance can be obtained by using only the most simple instructions from the ISA.

The most well known/commoditized CISC ISAs are the Motorola 68k and Intel x86 architectures.


Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC) was realized in the late 1970s by IBM. Researchers discovered that most programs did not take advantage of all the various address modes that could be used with the instructions. By reducing the number of address modes and breaking down multi-cycle instructions into multiple single-cycle instructions several advantages were realized:

  • compilers were easier to write (easier to optimize)
  • performance is increased for programs that did simple operations
  • the clock rate can be increased since the minimum cycle time was determined by the longest running instruction

The most well known/commoditized RISC ISAs are the PowerPC, ARM, MIPS and SPARC architectures.


We will discuss VLIW Processors in a later section.

Vector processors

We will discuss Vector Processors in a later section.

Computational RAM

Memory Arrangement

Instructions are typically arranged sequentially in memory. Each instruction occupies 1 or more computer words. The Program Counter (PC) is a register inside the microprocessor that contains the address of the current instruction. [1] During the fetch cycle, the instruction from the address indicated by the program counter is read from memory into the instruction register (IR), and the program counter is incremented by n, where n is the word length of the machine (in bytes).

In addition to fetches of the executable instructions, many (but not all) instructions also fetch data values from memory ("load") into a data register, or write data values from a data register to memory ("store"). The address of the particular memory word accessed in such a load or store instruction is called the "effective address". In the simplest instruction sets, the effective address always contained in some address register. Other instruction sets have more complex "effective address" calculations — we will discuss such "addressing modes" later.

Common Instructions

Arithmetic Instructions

The Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU) is used to perform arithmetic and logical instructions. The capability of the ALU typically is greater with more advanced central processors, but RISC machines' ALUs are deliberately kept simple and so have only some of these functions. An ALU will, at minimum, perform addition, subtraction, NOT, AND, OR, and XOR, and usually also bit rotates and shifts. Many CISC machine ALUs can also perform integer multiplication and division. While many modern CPUs can also do floating point mathematical operations, these are usually handled by the FPU, a different part of the machine.

Branch and Jump

Branching and Jumping is the ability to load the PC register with a new address that is not the next sequential address. In general, a "jump" occurs unconditionally, and a "branch" occurs on a given condition. In this book we will generally refer to both as being branches, with a "jump" being an unconditional branch.

Move, Load, Store

Move instructions cause data from one register to be moved or copied to another register. Load instructions put data from an external source, such as memory, into a register. Store instructions move data from a register to an external destination.

Input / Output

Input instructions fetch data from a specified input port, while output instructions send data to a specified output port. There is very little distinction between input/output space and memory space, the microprocessor presents an address and then either accepts data from, or sends data to, the data bus, but the sort of operations available in the input/output space are typically more limited than those available in memory space.


NOP, short for "no operation" is an instruction that can be executed like normal, except it produces no result and it causes no side effects. NOPs are useful for timing and preventing hazards.

Further reading

  1. there are processor architectures, for instance the CDP1802, that do not have a single Program Counter; instead, one of the general purpose registers is used as a program counter, and which register that is can be changed under program control.


Memory is a fundamental aspect of microcontroller design, and a good understanding of memory is necessary to discuss and processor system.

Memory Hierarchy

Memory suffers from the dichotomy that it can be either large or it can be fast. As memory becomes more large, it becomes less fast, and vice-versa. Because of this trade-off, computer systems typically have a hierarchy of memory types, where faster (and smaller) memories are closer to the processor, and slower (but larger) memories are further from the processor.

Hard Disk Drives

Hard Disk Drives (HDD) are occasionally known as secondary memory or nonvolatile memory. HDD typically stores data magnetically (although some newer models use FLASH), and data is maintained even when the computer is turned off or removed from power. HDD is several orders of magnitude slower then all other memory devices, and a computer system will be more efficient when the number of interactions with the HDD are minimized.

Because most HDDs are mechanical and have moving parts, they tend to wear out and fail after time.


Random Access Memory (RAM), also known as main memory, is a volatile storage that holds data for the processor. Unlike HDD storage, RAM typically only has a capacity of a few megabytes to a few gigabytes. There are two primary forms of RAM, and many variants on these.


Static RAM (SRAM) is a type of memory storage that uses 6 transistors to store data. These transistors store data so long as power is supplied to the RAM and do not need to be refreshed.

A single bit of storage in SRAM, showing 6 transistors.

SRAM is typically used in processor cache, not main memory because it has a faster speed despite it's larger area.


Dynamic RAM (DRAM) is a type of RAM that contains a single transistor and a capacitor. DRAM is smaller than SRAM, and therefore can store more data in a smaller area. Because of the charge and discharge times of the capacitor, however, DRAM tends to be slower than SRAM. Many modern types of Main Memory are based on DRAM design because of the high memory densities. Because DRAM is simpler than SRAM, it is typically cheaper to produce.

A popular type of RAM, SDRAM, is a variant of DRAM and is not related to SRAM.

As digital circuits continue to grow smaller and faster as per Moore's Law, the speed of DRAM is not increasing as rapidly. This means that as time goes on, the speed difference between the processor and the RAM units (so long as the RAM is based on DRAM or variants) will continue to increase, and communications between the two units becomes more inefficient.

Other RAM


Cache is memory that is smaller and faster than main memory and resides closer to the processor. RAM runs on the system bus clock, but Cache typically runs on the processor speed which can be 10 times faster or more. Cache is frequently divided into multiple levels: L1, L2, and L3, with L1 being the smallest and fastest, and L3 being the largest and slowest. We will discuss cache in more detail in a later chapter.

A computer system may have between several kilobytes to a few megabytes of available cache.


Registers are the smallest and fastest memory storage elements. A modern processor may have anywhere from 4 to 256 registers.

Control and Datapath

Most processors and other complicated hardware circuits are typically divided into two components: a datapath and a control unit. The datapath contains all the hardware necessary to perform all the necessary operations. In many cases, these hardware modules are parallel to one another, and the final result is determined by multiplexing all the partial results.

The control unit determines the operation of the datapath, by activating switches and passing control signals to the various multiplexers. In this way, the control unit can specify how the data flows through the datapath.

The width of the data path ...

"There is only one mistake that can be made in a computer design that is difficult to recover from: not providing enough address bits for memory addressing and memory management." -- Gordon Bell and Bill Strecker, 1975[1]
  1. there are processor architectures, for instance the CDP1802, that do not have a single Program Counter; instead, one of the general purpose registers is used as a program counter, and which register that is can be changed under program control.


Clock Cycles

The clock signal is a 1-bit signal that oscillates between a "1" and a "0" with a certain frequency. When the clock transitions from a "0" to a "1" it is called the positive edge, and when the clock transitions from a "1" to a "0" it is called the negative edge.

The time it takes to go from one positive edge to the next positive edge is known as the clock period, and represents one clock cycle.

The number of clock cycles that can fit in 1 second is called the clock frequency. To get the clock frequency, we can use the following formula:

\mbox{Clock Frequency} = \frac{1}{\mbox{Clock Period}}

Clock frequency is measured in units of cycles per second.

Cycles per Instruction

In many microprocessor designs, it is common for multiple clock cycles to transpire while performing a single instruction. For this reason, it is frequently useful to keep a count of how many cycles are required to perform a single instruction. This number is known as the cycles per instruction, or CPI of the processor.

Because all processors may operate using a different CPI, it is not possible to accurately compare multiple processors simply by comparing the clock frequencies. It is more useful to compare the number of instructions per second, which can be calculated as such:

\mbox{Instructions per Second} = \frac{\mbox{Clock Frequency}}{CPI}

One of the most common units of measure in modern processors is the "MIPS", which stands for millions of instructions per second. A processor with 5 MIPS can perform 5 million instructions every second. Another common metric is "FLOPS", which stands for floating point operations per second. MFLOPS is a million FLOPS, GFLOPS is a billion FLOPS, and TFLOPS is a trillion FLOPS.

Instruction count

The "instruction count" in microprocessor performance measurement is the number of instructions executed during the run of a program. Typical benchmark programs have instruction counts in the millions or billions -- even though the program itself may be very short, those benchmarks have inner loops that are repeated millions of times.

Some microprocessor designers have the freedom to add instructions to or remove instructions from the instruction set. Typically the only way to reduce the instruction count is to add instructions such that those inner loops can be re-written in a way that does the necessary work using fewer instructions -- those instructions do "more work" per instruction.

Sometimes, counter-intuitively, we can improve overall CPU performance (i.e., reduce CPU time) in a way that increases the instruction count, by using instructions in that inner loop that may do "less work" per instruction, but those instructions finish in less time.

CPU Time

CPU Time is the amount of time it takes the CPU to complete a particular program. CPU time is a function of the amount of time it takes to complete instructions, and the number of instructions in the program:

\mbox{CPU time} = \mbox{Instruction Count} \times CPI \times \mbox{Clock Cycle Time}

Sometimes we can improve one of the 3 components alone, reducing CPU time. But quite often we find a tradeoff -- say, a technique that increases instruction count, but reduces the clock cycle time -- and we have to measure the total CPU time to see if that technique makes the overall performance better or worse.


Amdahls Law

Amdahl's Law is a law concerned with computer performance and optimization. Amdahl's law states that an improvement in the speed of a single processor component will have a comparatively small effect on the performance of the overall processor unit.

In the most general sense, Amdahl's Law can be stated mathematically as follows:

\Delta = \frac{1}{\sum_{k=0}^{n}{\big(\frac{P_k}{S_k}\big)}}


  • Δ is the factor by which the program is sped up or slowed down,
  • Pk is a percentage of the instructions that can be improved (or slowed),
  • Sk is the speed-up multiplier (where 1 is no speed-up and no slowing),
  • k represents a label for each different percentage and speed-up, and
  • n is the number of different speed-up/slow-downs resulting from the system change.

For instance, if we make a speed improvement in the memory module, only the instructions that deal directly with the memory module will experience a speedup. In this case, the percentage of load and store instructions in our program will be P0, and the factor by which those instructions are sped up will be S0. All other instructions, which are not affected by the memory unit will be P1, and the speed up will be S1 Where:

P1 = 1 − P0
S1 = 1

We set S1 to 1 because those instructions are not sped up or slowed down by the change to the memory unit.


Assembly Language



Assembly Language Constructs

There are a number of different assembly languages in existance, but all of them have a few things in common. They all map directly to the underlying hardware CPU instruction sets.

CPU instuction set 
is a set of binary code/instruction that the CPU understands. Based on the CPU, the instruction can be one byte, two bytes or longer. The instruction code is usually followed by one or two operands.
Instruction Code operand 1 operand 2

How many instructions there are depends on the CPU.

Because binary code is difficult to remember, each instruction has as its name a so-called mnemonic. For example 'MOV' can be used for moving instructions.

MOV A, 0x0020

The above instruction moves the value of register A to the specified address.

A simple assembler will translate the 'MOV A' to its CPU's instruction code.

Assembly languages cannot be assumed to be directly portable to other CPU's. Each CPU has its own assembly language, though CPU's within the same family may support limited portability

Load and Store

These instructions tell the CPU to move data from memory to a CPU's register, or move date from one of the CPU's register to memory.

is a special memory located inside the CPU, where arithmetic operations can be performed.


Arithmetic operations can be performed using the CPU's registers:

  • Increment the value of one of the CPU's registers
  • Decrement the value of one of the CPU's registers
  • Add a value to the register
  • Subtract value from the register
  • Multiply the register value
  • Divide the register value
  • Shift the register value
  • Rotate the register value


During a jump instruction, the program counter is loaded with a new address that is not necessarily the address of the next sequential instruction. After a jump, the program execution continues from the new location in memory.

Relative jump 
the instruction's operand tells how many bytes the program counter should be increased or decreased.
Absolute jump 
the instruction's operand is copied to the program counter; the operand is an absolute memory address where the execution should continue.


During a branch, the program counter is loaded with one of multiple new values, depending on some specified condition. A branch is a series of conditional jumps.

Some CPUs have skipping instructions. If a register is zero, the following instruction is skipped, if not then the following instruction is executed, which can be a jumping instruction. So Branching can be done by using skipping and jumping instructions together.

Further reading

Design Steps

When designing a new microprocessor or microcontroller unit, there are a few general steps that can be followed to make the process flow more logically. These few steps can be further sub-divided into smaller tasks that can be tackled more easily. The general steps to designing a new microprocessor are:

  1. Determine the capabilities the new processor should have.
  2. Lay out the datapath to handle the necessary capabilities.
  3. Define the machine code instruction format (ISA).
  4. Construct the necessary logic to control the datapath.

We will discuss each of these steps below:

Determine Machine Capabilities

Before you start to design a new processor element, it is important to first ask why you are designing it at all. What new thing will your processor do that existing processors cannot? Keep in mind that it is always less expensive to utilize an existing chip then to design and manufacture a new one.

Some questions to start:

  1. Is this chip an embedded chip, a general-purpose chip, or a different type entirely?
  2. What, if any, are the limitations in terms of resources, price, power, or speed?

With that in mind, we need to ask what our chip will do:

  1. Does it have integer, floating-point, or fixed point arithmetic, or a combination of all three?
  2. Does it have scalar or vector operation abilities?
  3. Is it self-contained, or must it interface with a number of external peripherals?
  4. Will it support interrupts? If so, How much interrupt latency is tolerable? How much interrupt-response jitter is tolerable?

We also need to ask ourselves whether the machine will support a wide array of instructions, or if it will have a limited set of instructions. More instructions make the design more difficult, but make programming and using the chip easier. On the other hand, having fewer instructions is easier to design, but can be harder and more costly to program.

Lay out the basic arithmetic operations you want your chip to have:

  • Addition/Subtraction
  • Multiplication
  • Division
  • Shifting and Rotating
  • Logical Operations: AND, OR, XOR, NOR, NOT, etc.

List other capabilities that your machine has:

  • Unconditional jumps
  • Conditional Jumps (and what conditions?)
  • Stack operations (Push, pop)

Once we know what our chip is supposed to do, it is easer to lay out the framework for our datapath

Design the Datapath

Right off the bat we need to determine what ALU architecture that our processor will use:

  • Accumulator
  • Stack
  • Register
  • A combination of the above 3

This decision, more then any other, is going to have the largest effect on your final design. Do not proceed in the design process until you have made this decision. Once you have your ALU architecture, you create your memory element (stack or register file), and you can lay out your ALU.

Create ISA

Once we have our basic datapath, we can start to design our ISA. There are a few things that we need to consider:

  1. Is this processor RISC, CISC, or VLIW?
  2. How long is a machine word?
  3. How do you deal with immediate values? What kinds of instructions can accept immediate values?

Once we have our machine code basics, we frequently need to determine whether our processor will be compatible with higher-level languages. Specifically, are there any instructions that can be used for function call and return?

Determining the length of the instruction word in a RISC is a very important matter, and one that is worth a considerable amount of thought. For additional flexibility you can utilize a CISC machine instead, at the expense of additional—and more complicated—instruction decode logic. If the instruction word is too long, programmers will be able to fit fewer instructions into memory. If the instruction word is too small, there will not be enough room for all the necessary information. On a desktop PC with several megabytes or even gigabytes of RAM, large instruction words are not a big problem. On an embedded system however, with limited program ROM, the length of the instruction word will have a direct effect on the size of potential programs, and the usefulness of the chips.

Each instruction should have an associated opcode, and typically the length of the opcode field should be constant for all instructions, to reduce complexity of the decoder. The length of the opcode field will directly impact the number of distinct instructions that can be implemented. if the opcode field is too small, you won't have enough room to designate all your instructions. If your opcode is too large, you will be wasting precious bits in your instruction word.

Some instructions will need to be larger then others. For instance, instructions that deal with an immediate value, a memory location, or a jump address are typically larger then instructions that only deal with registers. Instructions that deal only with registers, therefore, will have additional space left over that can be used as an extension to the opcode field.

Example: MIPS R-Type

In the MIPS architecture, instructions that only deal with registers are called R type instructions. With 32 registers, a register address is only 5 bits wide. The MIPS opcode is 6 bits wide. With the opcode and the three register addresses (two source and 1 destination register), an R-type instruction only uses 21 out of the 32 bits available.

The additional 11 bits are broken into two additional fields: Shamt, a 5 bit immediate value that controls the amount of places shifted by a shift or rotate instruction, and Func. Func is a 6 bit field that contains additional information about R-Type instructions. Because of the availability of the Func field, all R-Type instructions share an opcode of 0.

Build Control Logic

Once we have our datapath and our ISA, we can start to construct the logic of our primary control unit. These units are typically implemented as a finite state machine, and we can try to map the ISA to the control unit in a logical way.

Verify the design

People who design a CPU often spend more time on functional verification than all other steps combined.

Further reading

Microprocessor Components

Basic Components

Basic Components

There are a number of components in a common microprocessor that designers should be familiar with before attempting a design. For an overview of these components, see the Digital Circuits wikibook.


A register is a storage element typically composed of an array of flip-flops. A 1-bit register can store 1 bit, and a 32-bit register can hold 32 bits, etc. Registers can be any length.

A register has two inputs, a data input and a clock input. The clock input is typically called the "enable". When the enable signal is high, the register stores the data input. When the clock signal is low, the register value stays the same.

Register File

A register file is a whole collection of registers, typically all of which are the same length. A register file takes three inputs, an index address value, a data value, and an enable signal. A signal decoder is used to pass the data value from the register file input to the particular register with the specified address.


Multiplexer 2-to-1.svg

A multiplexer is an input selector. A multiplexer has 1 output, a control input, and several data inputs. For ease, we number multiplexer inputs from zero, at the top. If the control signal is "0", the 0th input is moved to the output. If the control signal is "3", the 3rd input is moved to the output.

A multiplexer with N control signal bits can support 2N inputs. For example, a multiplexer with 3 control signals can support 23 = 8 inputs.

Multiplexers are typically abbreviated as "MUX", and will be abbreviated as such throughout the rest of this book.

Multiplexer 4-to-1.svg
Multiplexer 8-to-1.svg
A 4 input Multiplexer with 2 control signal wires An 8 input Multiplexer with 3 control signal wires
Multiplexer 16-to-1.svg
A 16 input Multiplexer with 4 control wires

There can be decoders implemented in the components.Decoder

Decoder ( inverse functionality of Encoder) can have multiple inputs and depending upon the inputs one of the output signals can go high.

For a 2 input decoder there will be 4 output signals.

       /|- O0
 i0---| |- O1
 i1---| |- O2
       \|- O3
 suppose input i is having value 00  then output signal O0 will go high and remaining other threee lines O1 to O3 will be low.
  In same fashion if i is having value 2 then output O2 will be high and remaining other three lines will be low.


Program Counter

The Program Counter (PC) is a register structure that contains the address pointer value of the current instruction. Each cycle, the value at the pointer is read into the instruction decoder and the program counter is updated to point to the next instruction. For RISC computers updating the PC register is as simple as adding the machine word length (in bytes) to the PC. In a CISC machine, however, the length of the current instruction needs to be calculated, and that length value needs to be added to the PC.

Updating the PC

The PC can be updated by making the enable signal high. Each instruction cycle the PC needs to be updated to point to the next instruction in memory. It is important to know how the memory is arranged before constructing your PC update circuit.

Harvard-based systems tend to store one machine word per memory location. This means that every cycle the PC needs to be incremented by 1. Computers that share data and instruction memory together typically are byte addressable, which is to say that each byte has its own address, as opposed to each machine word having its own address. In these situations, the PC needs to be incremented by the number of bytes in the machine word.

PC Simple.svg

In this image, the letter M is being used as the amount by which to update the PC each cycle. This might be a variable in the case of a CISC machine.

Example: MIPS

The MIPS architecture uses a byte-addressable instruction memory unit. MIPS is a RISC computer, and that means that all the instructions are the same length: 32-bits. Every cycle, therefore, the PC needs to be incremented by 4 (32 bits = 4 bytes).

Example: Intel IA32

The Intel IA32 (better known by some as "x86") is a CISC architecture, which means that each instruction can be a different length. The Intel memory is byte-addressable. Each cycle the instruction decoder needs to determine the length of the instruction, in bytes, and it needs to output that value to the PC. The PC unit increments itself by the value received from the instruction decoder.


Branching occurs at one of a set of special instructions known collectively as "branch" or "jump" instructions. In a branch or a jump, control is moved to a different instruction at a different location in instruction memory.

During a branch, a new address for the PC is loaded, typically from the instruction or from a register. This new value is loaded into the PC, and future instructions are loaded from that location.

Non-Offset Branching

A non-offset branch, frequently referred to as a "jump" is a branch where the previous PC value is discarded and a new PC value is loaded from an external source.

PC Branch.svg

In this image, the PC value is either loaded with an updated version of itself, or else it is loaded with a new Branch Address. For simplification we do not show the control signals to the MUX.

Offset Branching

An offset branch is a branch where a value is added (or subtracted) to the current PC value to produce the new value. This is typically used in systems where the PC value is larger then a register value or an immediate value, and it is not possible to load a complete value into the PC. It is also commonly used to support relocatable binaries which may be loaded at an arbitrary base address.

PC Offset Branch.svg

In this image there is a second ALU unit. Notice that we could simplify this circuit and remove the second ALU unit if we use the configuration below:

PC Offset Branch 2.svg

These are just two possible configurations for this circuit.

Offset and Non-Offset Branching

Many systems have capabilities to use both offset and non-offset branching. Some systems may differentiate between the two as "far jump" and "near jump", respectively, although this terminology is archaic.

PC Branch Jump.svg

Instruction Decoder

The Instruction Decoder reads the next instruction in from memory, and sends the component pieces of that instruction to the necessary destinations.

RISC Instruction Decoder

The RISC instruction decoder is typically a very simple device. Because RISC instruction words are a fixed length, the positions of the fields are fixed. We can decode an instruction, therefore, by simply separating the machine word into small parts using wire slices.

CISC Instruction Decoder

Decoding a CISC instruction word is much more difficult than the RISC case, and the increased complexity of the decoder is a common reason that people cite when they choose to use RISC over CISC in their designs.

A CISC decoder is typically set up as a state machine. The machine reads the opcode field to determine what type of instruction it is, and where the other data values are. The instruction word is read in piece by piece, and decisions are made at each stage as to how the remainder of the instruction word will be read.

Register File

The register file is the component that contains all the general purpose registers of the microprocessor. The register file may not contain some of the reserved registers, such as the PC, the status register, or other special registers.

Register File

A simple register file is a set of registers and a decoder. The register file requires an address and a data input.

Register File Simple.svg

However, this simple register file isn't useful in a modern processor design, because there are some occasions when we don't want to write a new value to a register. Also, we typically want to read two values at once and write one value back in a single cycle. Consider the following equation:

C = A + B

To perform this operation, we want to read two values from the register file, A and B. We also have one result that we want to write back to the register file when the operation has completed. For cases where we do not want to write any value to the register file, we add a control signal called Read/Write. When the control signal is high, the data is written to a register, and when the control signal is low, no new values are written.

Register File Medium.svg

In this case, it is likely advantageous for us to specify a third address port for the write address:

Register File Large.svg

Register Bank

Consider a situation where the machine word is very small, and therefore the available address space for registers is very limited. If we have a machine word that can only accommodate 2 bits of register address, we can only address 4 registers. However, register files are small to implement, so we have enough space for 32 registers. The solution to this dilemma is to utilize a register bank which consists of a series of register files combined together.

A register bank contains a number of register files or pages. Only one page can be active at a time, and there are additional instructions added to the ISA to switch between the available register pages. Data values can only be written to and read from the currently active register page, but instructions can exist to move data from one page to another.

Register Bank.svg

As can be seen in this image, the gray box represents the current page, and the page can be moved up and down on the register bank.

If the register bank has N registers, and a page can only show M registers (with N > M), we can address registers with two values, n and m respectively. We can define these values as:

n = log2(N)
m = log2(M)

In other words, n and m are the number of bits required to address N and M registers, respectively. We can break down the address into a single value as such:

Register Bank Address.svg

Where p is the number of bits reserved to specify the current register page. As we can see from this graphic, the current register address is simply the concatenation of the page address and the register address.

Memory Unit

Microprocessors rely on memory for storing the instructions and the data used by software programs. The memory unit is responsible for communicating with the system memory.

Memory Unit

Memory Unit.svg

Actions of the Memory Unit

In a harvard architecture, the data memory unit and the instruction memory unit are the same. However, in a non-Harvard architecture the two memory units are combined into a single module. Most modern PC computer systems are not Harvard, so the memory unit must handle all instruction and data transactions. This can serve as a bottleneck in the design.

Timing Issues

The memory unit is typically one of the slowest components of a microcontroller, because the external interface with RAM is typically much slower then the speed of the processor.


ALU symbol.svg

Microprocessors tend to have a single module that performs arithmetic operations on integer values. This is because many of the different arithmetic and logical operations can be performed using similar (if not identical) hardware. The component that performs the arithmetic and logical operations is known as the Arithmetic Logic Unit, or ALU.

The ALU is one of the most important components in a microprocessor, and is typically the part of the processor that is designed first. Once the ALU is designed, the rest of the microprocessor is implemented to feed operands and control codes to the ALU.

Tasks of an ALU

ALU units typically need to be able to perform the basic logical operations (AND, OR), including the addition operation. The inclusion of inverters on the inputs enables the same ALU hardware to perform the subtraction operation (adding an inverted operand), and the operations NAND and NOR.

A basic ALU design involves a collection of "ALU Slices", which each can perform the specified operation on a single bit. There is one ALU slice for every bit in the operand.

ALU Slice

Example: 2-Bit ALU

This is an example of a basic 2-bit ALU. The boxes on the right hand side of the image are multiplexers and are used to select between various operations: OR, AND, XOR, and addition.

2-bit ALU.png

Notice that all the operations are performed in parallel, and the select signal ("OP") is used to determine which result to pass on to the rest of the datapath. Notice that the carry signal, which is only used for addition, is generated and passed out of the ALU for every operation, so it is important that if we aren't performing addition that we ignore the carry flag.

Example: 4-Bit ALU

Here is a circuit diagram of a 4 bit ALU.


Additional Operations

Logic and addition are some of the easiest, but also the most common operations. For this reason, typical ALUs are designed to handle these operations specially, and other operations, such as multiplication and division, are handled in a separate module.

Notice also that the ALU units that we are discussing here are only for integer datatypes, not floating-point data. Luckily, once integer ALU and multiplier units have been designed, those units can be used to create floating-point units (FPU).

ALU Configurations

Once an ALU is designed, we need to define how it interacts with the rest of the processor. We can choose any one of a number of different configurations, all with advantages and disadvantages. Each category of instruction set architecture (ISA) -- stack, accumulator, register-memory, or register-register-load-store -- requires a different way of connecting the ALU. [2] In all images below, the orange represents memory structures internal to the CPU (registers), and the purple represents external memory (RAM).



An accumulator machine has one special register, called the accumulator. The accumulator stores the result of every ALU operation, and is also one of the operands to every instruction. This means that our ISA can be less complicated, because instructions only need to specify one operand, instead of two operands and a destination. Accumulator architectures have simple ISAs and are typically very fast, but additional software needs to be written to load the accumulator with proper values. Unfortunately, accumulator machines are difficult to pipeline.

One example of a type of computer system that is likely to use an accumulator is a common desk calculator.



One of the more common architectures is a Register-to-register architecture, also called a 3 register operand machine. In this configuration, the programmer can specify both source operands, and a destination register. Unfortunately, the ISA needs to be expanded to include fields for both source operands and the destination operands. This requires longer instruction word lengths, and it also requires additional effort (compared to the accumulator) to write results back to the register file after execution. This write-back step can cause synchronization issues in pipelined processors (we will discuss pipelining later).

Register Stack


A register stack is like a combination of the Register-to-Register and the accumulator structures. In a register stack, the ALU reads the operands from the top of the stack, and the result is pushed onto the top of the stack. Complicated mathematical operations require decomposition into Reverse-Polish form, which can be difficult for programmers to use. However, many computer language compilers can produce reverse-polish notation easily because of the use of binary trees to represent instructions internally. Also, hardware needs to be created to implement the register stack, including PUSH and POP operations, in addition to hardware to detect and handle stack errors (pushing on a full stack, or popping an empty stack).

The benefit comes from a highly simplified ISA. These machines are called "0-operand" or "zero address machines" because operands don't need to be specified, because all operations act on specified stack locations.

In the diagram at right, "SP" is the pointer to the top of the stack. This is just one way to implement a stack structure, although it might be one of the easiest.



One complicated structure is a Register-and-Memory structure, like that shown at right. In this structure, one operand comes from a register file, and the other comes from external memory. In this structure, the ISA is complicated because each instruction word needs to be able to store a complete memory address, which can be very long. In practice, this scheme is not used directly, but is typically integrated into another scheme, such as a Register-to-Register scheme, for flexibility.

Some CISC architectures have the option of specifying one of the operands to an instruction as a memory address, although they are typically specified as a register address.

Complicated Structures

There are a number of other structures available, some of which are novel, and others are combinations of the types listed above. It is up to the designer to decide exactly how to structure the microprocessor, and feed data into the ALU.

Example: IA-32

The Intel IA-32 ISA (x86 processors) use a register stack architecture for the floating point unit, but it uses a modified Register-to-Register structure. All integer operations can specify a register as the first operand, and a register or memory location as the second operand. The first operand acts as an accumulator, so that the result is stored in the first operand register. The downside to this is that the instruction words are not uniform in length, which means that the instruction fetch and decode modules of the processor need to be very complex.

A typical IA-32 instruction is written as:


Where AX and BX are the names of the registers. The resulting equation produces AX = AX + BX, so the result is stored back into AX.

Example: MIPS

MIPS uses a Register-to-Register structure. Each operation can specify two register operands, and a third destination register. The downside is that memory reads need to be made in separate operations, and the small format of the instruction words means that space is at a premium, and some tasks are difficult to perform.

An example of a MIPS instruction is:

ADD R1, R2, R3

Where R1, R2 and R3 are the names of registers. The resulting equation looks like: R1 = R2 + R3.


  1. Engineering Education "Today in History" PDP-11 minicomputer introduced by Gordon Bell 2009; referring to "What we learned from the PDP-11" by Gordon Bell and Bill Strecker, 1975. Early version of the PDP-11 had a 16-bit address space. ... also quoted in the book "Electronics"
  2. "Instruction Set Principles: Basic ISA Classes" by Dr. Sofiène Tahar


Similar to the ALU is the Floating-Point Unit, or FPU. The FPU performs arithmetic operations on floating point numbers.

An FPU is complicated to design, although the IEEE 754 standard helps to answer some of the specific questions about implementation. It isn't always necessary to follow the IEEE standard when designing an FPU, but it certainly does help.

Floating point numbers

This section is just going to serve as a brief refresher on floating point numbers. For more information, see the Floating Point book.

Floating point numbers are specified in two parts: the exponent (e), and the mantissa (m). The value of a floating point number, v, is generally calculated as:

v = m \times 2^e

IEEE 754

IEEE 754 format numbers are calculated as:

v = (1 + m) \times 2^e

The mantissa, m, is "normalized" in this standard, so that it falls between the numbers 1.0 and 2.0.

General floating point.svg

Floating Point Multiplication

Multiplying two floating point numbers is done as such:

v_1 \times v_2 = (m_1 \times m_2) \times 2^{(e_1 + e_2)}

Likewise, division can be performed by:

\frac{v_1}{v_2} = \frac{m_1}{m_2} \times 2^{(e_1 - e_2)}

To perform floating point multiplication then, we can follow these steps:

  1. Separate out the mantissa from the exponent
  2. Multiply (or divide) the mantissa parts together
  3. Add (or subtract) the exponents together
  4. Combine the two results into the new value
  5. Normalize the result value (optional).

Floating Point Addition

Floating point addition—and by extension, subtraction— is more difficult than multiplication. The only way that floating point numbers can be added together is if the exponents of both numbers are the same. This means that when we add two numbers together, we need first to scale the numbers so that they have the same exponent. Here is the algorithm:

  1. Separate the mantissa from the exponent of each number
  2. Compare the two exponents, and determine the difference between them.
  3. Add the difference to the smaller exponent, to make both exponents the same.
  4. Logically right-shift the mantissa of the number with the smaller exponent a number of spaces equal to the difference.
  5. Add the two mantissas together
  6. Normalize the result value (optional).

Floating Point Unit Design

As we have seen from the two algorithms above, an FPU needs the following components:

For addition/Subtraction
  • A comparator (subtracter) to determine the difference between exponents, and to determine the smaller of the two exponents.
  • An adder unit to add that difference to the smaller exponent.
  • A shift unit, to shift the mantissa the specified number of spaces.
  • An adder to add the mantissas together
For multiplication/division
  • A multiplier (or a divider) for the mantissa part
  • An adder for the exponent prts.

Both operation types require a complex control unit.

Both algorithms require some kind of addition/subtraction unit for the exponent part, so it seems likely that we can use just one component to perform both tasks (since both addition and multiplication won't be happening at the same time in the same unit). Because the exponent is typically a smaller field than the mantissa, we will call this the "Small ALU". We also need an ALU and a multiplier unit to handle the operations on the mantissa. If we combine the two together, we can call this unit the "Large ALU". We can also integrate the fast shifter for the mantissa into the large ALU.

Once we have an integer ALU designed, we can copy those components almost directly into our FPU design.

Further Reading

Control Unit

The control unit reads the opcode and instruction bits from the machine code instruction, and creates a series of control codes to activate and operate the various components to perform the desired task.

Simple Control Unit

In it's most simple form, a control unit can take the form of a lookup table. The machine word opcode is used as the index into the table, and the various control signals are output to the respective destinations.

Complex Control Unit

A more complex version of a control unit is implemented as a finite state machine (FSM). Multi-cycle, Pipelined, and other advanced processor designs require an FSM-based control unit.

ALU Design

Add and Subtract Blocks

Addition and Subtraction

Addition and subtraction are similar algorithms. Taking a look at subtraction, we can see that:

ab = a + ( − b)

Using this simple relationship, we can see that addition and subtraction can be performed using the same hardware. Using this setup, however, care must be taken to invert the value of the second operand if we are performing subtraction. Note also that in twos-compliment arithmetic, the value of the second operand must not only be inverted, but 1 must be added to it. For this reason, when performing subtraction, the carry input into the LSB should be a 1 and not a zero.

4-bit ripple carry adder-subtracter.svg

Our goal on this page, then, is to find suitable hardware for performing addition.

Bit Adders

Half Adder

A half adder is a circuit that performs binary addition on two bits. A half adder does not explicitly account for either a carry in signal, or an overflow (carry out).


In verilog, a half-adder can be implemented as follows:

module half_adder(a, b, c, s)
   input a, b;
   output s, c;
   s = a ^ b;
   c = a & b;

Full Adder

Full adder circuits are similar to the half-adder, except that they do account for a carry input and a carry output. Full adders can be treated as a 3-bit adder with a 2-bit result, or they can be treated as a single stage (a 3:2 compressor) in a larger adder.

Full-adder.svg1-bit full-adder.svg

As can be seen below, the number of gate delays in a full-adder circuit is 3:

Full-adder with gate delay.svg

We can use verilog to implement a full adder module:

module full_adder(a, b, cin, cout, s);
   input a, b, cin;
   output cout, s;
   wire temp;
   temp = a ^ b;
   s = temp ^ cin;
   cout = (cin & temp) | (a & b);

Serial Adder


A serial adder is a kind of ALU that calculates each bit of the output, one at a time, re-using one full adder (total). This image shows a 2-bit serial adder, and the associated waveforms.

Serial adders have the benefit that they require the least amount of hardware of all adders, but they suffer by being the slowest.

Parallel Adder

A parallel adder is a kind of ALU that calculates every bit of the output more or less simultaneously, using one full adder for each output bit. The 1947 Whirlwind computer was the first computer to use a parallel adder.

Ripple Carry Adder

4-bit ripple carry adder.svg

Numbers of more than 1 bit long require more then just a single full adder to manipulate using arithmetic and bitwise logic instructions. A simple way of operating on larger numbers is to cascade a number of full-adder blocks together into a ripple-carry adder, seen above. Ripple Carry adders are so called because the carry value "ripples" from one block to the next, down the entire chain of full adders. The output values of the higher-order bits are not correct, and the arithmetic is not complete, until the carry signal has completely propagated down the chain of full adders.

If each full adder requires 3 gate delays for computation, then an n-bit ripple carry adder will require 3n gate delays. For 32 or 64 bit computers (or higher) this delay can be overwhelmingly large.

Ripple carry adders have the benefit that they require the least amount of hardware of all adders (except for serial adders), but they suffer by being the slowest (except for serial adders).

With the full-adder verilog module we defined above, we can define a 4-bit ripple-carry adder in Verilog. The adder can be expanded logically:

wire [3:0] c;
wire [3:0] s;
full_adder fa1(a[0], b[0], 1'b0, c[0], s[0]);
full_adder fa1(a[1], b[1], c[0], c[1], s[1]);
full_adder fa1(a[2], b[2], c[1], c[2], s[2]);
full_adder fa1(a[3], b[3], c[2], c[3], s[3]);

At the end of this module, s contains the 4 bit sum, and c[3] contains the final carry out.

Carry Skip Adder

Carry Lookahead Adder

4-bit carry lookahead adder.svg

Carry-lookahead adders use special "look ahead" blocks to compute the carry from a group of 4 full-adders, and passes this carry signal to the next group of 4 full adders. lookahead units can also be cascaded, to minimize the number of gate delays to completely propagate the carry signal to the end of the chain. Carry lookahead adders are some of the fastest adder circuits available, but they suffer from requiring large amounts of hardware to implement. The number of transistors needed to implement a carry-lookahead adder is proportional to the number of inputs cubed.

The addition of two 1-digit inputs A and B is said to generate if the addition will always carry, regardless of whether there is an input carry (equivalently, regardless of whether any less significant digits in the sum carry). For example, in the decimal addition 52 + 67, the addition of the tens digits 5 and 6 generates because the result carries to the hundreds digit regardless of whether the ones digit carries (in the example, the ones digit clearly does not carry).

In the case of binary addition, A + B generates if and only if both A and B are 1. If we write G(A,B) to represent the binary predicate that is true if and only if A + B generates, we have:

G(A,B) = A \cdot B

The addition of two 1-digit inputs A and B is said to propagate if the addition will carry whenever there is an input carry (equivalently, when the next less significant digit in the sum carries). For example, in the decimal addition 37 + 62, the addition of the tens digits 3 and 6 propagate because the result would carry to the hundreds digit if the ones were to carry (which in this example, it does not). Note that propagate and generate are defined with respect to a single digit of addition and do not depend on any other digits in the sum.

In the case of binary addition, A + B propagates if and only if at least one of A or B is 1. If we write P(A,B) to represent the binary predicate that is true if and only if A + B propagates, we have:

P(A,B) = A + B

Cascading Adders

The power of carry-lookahead adders is that the bit-length of the adder can be expanded without increasing the propagation delay too much. By cascading lookahead modules, and passing "propagate" and "generate" signals to the next level of the lookahead module. For instance, once we have 4 adders combined into a simple lookahead module, we can use that to create a 16-bit and a 64-bit adder through cascading:

The 16-Bit carry lookahead unit is exactly the same as the 4-bit carry lookahead adder.
the 64-bit carry lookahead unit is exaclt the same as the 4-bit and 16-bit units. This means that once we have designed one carry lookahead module, we can cascade it to any large size.

Generalized Cascading

A generalized CLA block diagram. Each of the turquoise blocks represents a smaller CLA adder.
We can cascade the generalized CLA block above to form a larger CLA block. This larger block can then be cascaded into a larger CLA block using the same method.

Shift and Rotate Blocks

Shift and Rotate

Shift and rotate blocks are essential elements in most processors. They are useful on their own, but they also are used in multiplication and division modules. In a binary computer, a left shift has the same effect as a multiplication by 2, and a right shift has the same effect as a division by 2. Since shift and rotate operations perform much more quickly then multiplication and division, they are useful as a tool in program optimization.

Logical Shift

Rotate left logically.svg Rotate right logically.svg
A left logical shift A right logical shift

In a logical shift, the data is shifted in the appropriate direction, and a zero is shifted into the new location.

Arithmetic shift

Rotate right arithmetically.svg
A right arithmetic shift

In an arithmetic shift, the data is shifted right so that the sign of the data item is preserved. This means that the MSB is the value that is shifted into the new position. An arithmetic left shift is the same as a logical left shift, and is therefore not shown here.


Rotate left.svg Rotate right.svg
A left rotation A right rotation

A rotation is like a shift, except the bit shifted off the end of the register is then shifted into the new spot.

Fast Shift Implementations

The above images in each section help to indicate a method to shift a register more quickly, at the expense of requiring additional hardware. Instead of having one register that attempts to shift in place, we have have two registers in parallel, with wires connecting the various blocks together. When a shift is indicated, gates open that allow the data to pass from one register to the next, the proper number of spaces forward or backward.

In practice, fast shift blocks are implemented as a "barrel shifter". The barrel shifter includes several "levels" of multiplexers, each connected to the previous one by straight wires (wires that transfer the data without a shift), and wires that cause a shift by successive powers of two. For instance, the first level of shift would be 4 spaces, the next level would be 2 spaces, and the last level would be 1 space. In this way, the value of each shift level corresponds to the binary representation of the number of spaces to shift. This implementation makes for very fast shifters that can shift an arbitrary number of spaces in a single clock cycle.

Further reading

32-Bit Barrel Shifter Implementation Using 74-Series Integrated Circuits

Multiply and Divide Blocks

Multiply and Divide Problems

Multiplication and Division operations are significantly more complicated then addition or subtraction operations. This additional complexity leads to more hardware, more complicated hardware, and longer processing time.

In hardware, multiplication and division are performed by a series of sequential additions and arithmetic shifts. for this reason, it is imperative that we have efficient adders and shifters at our disposal.

Multipliers and dividers are composed of shifters and adders. It is typically not possible, or not desirable to to use the main adder and shifter units of the ALU, so a microprocessor will typically have multiple ALU units (a primary unit for addition and subtraction, and units embedded in the multiplication and division units). These are other good reasons why our ALU and shifters need to be small and fast.

Multiplication Algorithms

Booth's Algorithm

Cascaded Multiplication

Division Algorithm

Multiply and Acculumulate

Multiply and accumulate (MAC) operations perform a multiplication and an addition in a single instruction. For instance, the instruction:


Would perform the operation:

A = A + (B × C)

This is valuable for math-intensive processors, such as graphics processors and DSPs.

An MAC tends to have a long critical path, so if your processor has an MAC operation it is probably possible to include other complicated arithmetic operations.

In a processor with an accumulator architecture, MAC operations will use the accumulator as the destination register, so the instruction:


Will perform the operation:

ACC = ACC + (B × C)

Fused Multiply-Add

A fused multiply-add operation is a floating-point operation that is similar to the MAC. However, in the fused operation, the floating-point values are not rounded between the multiply and the add, they are rounded afterwards. For more information about floating-point rounding, see Floating Point.

ALU Flags

For a number of reasons, it can be important to export a number of status codes from the ALU, for detecting errors, and for making decisions.


Comparisons between two values are typically performed by subtracting them. We can determine the relationship between the two values by examining the difference:

  • If the first is larger than the second, the result will be positive
  • If the second is larger than the first, the result will be negative
  • If the two are equal, the result will be zero.

Zero Flag

Determining whether two values are equal requires the ALU to determine whether the result is zero. This can be accomplished by feeding each bit of the result into a NOR gate. The beauty of this is that a single multi-port NOR gate requires less hardware then an entire array of equivalent 2-port gates.

Overflow Flag

It is good to know when the result of an addition or multiplication is larger than the maximum result size. Likewise, it is also good to know if the result of a subtraction or a division is smaller than possible, and thus creates underflow. Either two separate flags can be used for these conditions, or one flag can be interpreted in different ways, depending on the input operation.

Carry/Borrow flag

This flag indicates when an operation results in a value larger than the accumulator can represent (carry/overflow) or smaller than the accumulator can represent (borrow/underflow). It can be used by software to implement arbitrary-width arithmetic, such as a "bignum" library.


Many ALUs need to compare data items, and determine if a particular value is greater than or less than another value. In these cases, the ALU will also export flags for these values.

A comparison in a processor can typically be performed by a subtraction operation. If the result is a positive number, the first item is greater than the second item. If the result is a negative number, the first item is less than the first. If the numbers being compared are unsigned, the value of the carry flag will serve the same purpose as the greater-than or less-than flag.

Latch ALU flags or not?

Some instruction sets refer to the ALU flags from some previous instruction:

 CMP R1,R2 // compare
 BEQ equal_routine // branch if equal

Such instruction sets force the CPU designer to latch those ALU flags in some sort of "status register", and to be very careful to make sure it is possible to preserve those flags during an interrupt routine.

Other instruction sets never refer to previous ALU flags -- they always use the results from the ALU in the same instruction that they are calculated:

 BEQ R1,R2,equal_routine // compare and branch if equal


 SKEQ R1,R2 // compare and skip next instruction if equal
   JMP equal_routine

Some CPU designers prefer such instruction sets that never refer to previous ALU flags. Such instruction sets make out-of-order execution much simpler. Many of Chuck Moore's CPU designs never refer to the ALU flags from any previous instruction.

Design Paradigms

Single Cycle Processors

Single-cycle processors are what we have been studying so far: an instruction is fetched from memory, it is executed, and the results are stored all in a single clock cycle.

The benefits of single-cycle processors is that they tend to be the most simple in terms of hardware requirements, and they are easy to design. Unfortunately, they tend to have poor data throughput, and require long clock cycles (slow clock rate) in order to perform all the necessary computations in time.

Cycle Times

The length of the cycle must be long enough to accommodate the longest possible propagation delay in the processor. This means that some instructions (typically the arithmetic instructions) will complete quickly, and time will be wasted each cycle. Other instructions (typically memory read or write instructions) will have a much longer propagation delay.


As this image shows, an instruction is not over until all 5 components have acted. This means that the length of the cycle must be the length of the longest instruction. The longest path from one end of the processor to the other is called the critical path and is used to determine the cycle time.

Redundant Hardware

Single cycle processors typically require a number of ALUs (or a single master ALU, and smaller ALUs) to handle the increment operations on the instruction pointer, and the memory address calculations for the data memory. When resources are at a premium, having multiple ALU units in your design can be costly and pointless. It requires nearly as many resources to construct an adder that adds a constant value as it does to construct a more general purpose adder unit.

Single Cycle Designs

It is very rare, if not completely unheard of, for a modern processor unit to have a single-cycle design. The reasons for this are the long cycle times, the wasted resources, and the large amount of wasted time in each cycle. What the single-cycle lacks in timing and efficiency, it makes up for in simplicity and elegance. It is for this reason that single-cycle processors work as a good teaching tool, but are not often employed in actual designs.

Multi Cycle Processors

Single-cycle processors suffer from poor speed performance. Control and data signals must propagate completely through the processor in a single cycle, which means that cycle times need to be long, and many parts of the hardware tend to be dormant for much of the cycle.

Multi-Cycle Stages =

Multi-cycle processors break up the instruction into it's fundamental parts, and executes each part of the instruction in a different clock cycle. Since signals have less distance to travel in a single cycle, the cycle times can be sped up considerably.

Typically, an instruction is executed over at least 5 cycles, which are named as such:

Fetch the instruction from memory
Decode the instruction, and generate the necessary control signals
Feed the necessary control signals into the ALU and produce a result
Read from memory, if specified
Write the result back to the register file or to memory.

This is just a textbook example, and modern processes tend to use many more steps then this to execute an instruction.

Example: MicroChip PIC16 Microcontroller

The PIC Microcontroller, manufactured by MicroChip Technology Inc, is a family of embedded microcontrollers. The PIC units vary, but execute an instruction every 2-4 clock cycles. All instructions typically execute in the same number of cycles, except for branch instructions.

Hardware Reuse

The primary benefit to a multicycle design is to be able to share hardware elements, specifically the ALU, among various tasks. In a multicycle processor, a single ALU can be used to update the instruction pointer (in the IF cycle), perform the operation (in the EX cycle), and calculate a necessary memory address (in the MEM cycle). Multicycle processors also allow computers that have a single memory unit, instead of the two separate instruction and data memory units of the traditional harvard machine. This is because the instructions are loaded on one cycle, and the data memory is interfaced on another cycle.

Multi-cycle processors are typically used in applications where resources are at a premium, and speed is not as important.

Pipelined Processors

Pipelining Introduction

Let us break down our microprocessor into 5 distinct activities, which generally correspond to 5 distinct pieces of hardware:

  1. Instruction fetch (IF)
  2. Instruction Decode (ID)
  3. Execution (EX)
  4. Memory Read/Write (MEM)
  5. Result Writeback (WB)

Any given instruction will only require one of these modules at a time, generally in this order. The following timing diagram of the multi-cycle processor will show this in more detail:


This is all fine and good, but at any moment, 4 out of 5 units are not active, and could likely be used for other things.

Pipelining Philosophy

Pipelining is concerned with the following tasks:

  • Use multi-cycle methodologies to reduce the amount of computation in a single cycle.
  • Shorter computations per cycle allow for faster clock cycles.
  • Overlapping instructions allows all components of a processor to be operating on a different instruction.
  • Throughput is increased by having instructions complete more frequently.

We will talk about how to make these things happen in the remainder of the chapter.

Pipelining Hardware

Given our multicycle processor, what if we wanted to overlap our execution, so that up to 5 instructions could be processed at the same time? Let's contract our timing diagram a little bit to show this idea:


As this diagram shows, each element in the processor is active in every cycle, and the instruction rate of the processor has been increased by 5 times! The question now is, what additional hardware do we need in order to perform this task? We need to add storage registers between each pipeline state to store the partial results between cycles, and we also need to reintroduce the redundant hardware from the single-cycle CPU. We can continue to use a single memory module (for instructions and data), so long as we restrict memory read operations to the first half of the cycle, and memory write operations to the second half of the cycle (or vice-versa). We can save time on the memory access by calculating the memory addresses in the previous stage.


The registers would need to hold the data from the pipeline at that point, and also the necessary control codes to operate the remainder of the pipeline.

Our resultant processor design will look similar to this:

Pipeline MIPS.png

If we have 5 instructions, we can show them in our pipeline using different colors. In the diagram below, white corresponds to a NOP, and the different colors correspond to other instructions in the pipeline. Each stage, the instructions shift forward through the pipeline.

Pipeline 3.png


Superpipelining is the technique of raising the pipeline depth in order to increase the clock speed and reduce the latency of individual stages. If the ALU takes three times longer then any other module, we can divide the ALU into three separate stages, which will reduce the amount of time wasted on shorter stages. The problem here is that we need to find a way to subdivide our stages into shorter stages, and we also need to construct more complicated control units to operate the pipeline and prevent all the possible hazards.

It is not uncommon for modern high-end processors to have more than 20 pipeline stages.

Example: Intel Pentium 4

The Intel Pentium 4 processor is a recent example of a super-pipelined processor. This diagram shows a Pentium 4 pipeline with 20 stages.



Commons:Pipeline (computer)

Superscalar Processors

In a superscalar design, the processor actually has multiple datapaths, and multiple instructions can be exectuted simultaneously, one in each datapath. It is not uncommon for a superscalar CPU to have multiple ALU and FPU units, for each datapath.


In this image, all the stages highlighted in green are executing simultaneously. As we can see from this image, there are two execution cores operating simultaneously.

VLIW Processors

Very Long Instruction Words (VLIW) can be used to simultaneously specify multiple instructions in parallel with one another.

VLIW Vs Superscalar

In a superscalar design, the microprocessor will have multiple independant execution units. An instruction scheduler determines which instructions will be executed on which execution unit, at what time. This scheduler unit requires large amounts of additional hardware complexity.

VLIW is similar to superscalar architecture except that instead of using scheduling hardware to map instructions to available execution units, instructions for all units are provided in every instruction word. The scheduling is performed by the compiler at compile time.

The term VLIW comes from the fact that multiple instructions typically requires large instruction words. If each instruction is 32 bits (including opcode, source and destination registers, etc), and the processor has 4 execution cores, then the total instruction word length is 128 bits long!


Similar to the VLIW design, a multi-issue processor will issue an unfixed number of instructions per cycle, and each will be executed simultaneously.

Vector Processors

Vector processors, or SIMD processors are microprocessors that are specialized for operating on vector or matrix data elements. These processors have specialized hardware for performing vector operations such as vector addition, vector multiplication, and other operations.

Modern graphics processors and GPUs tend to be vector-based processors. Modern Intel-based chips also have SIMD capabilities known as SSE or MMX operations.

Parallel Execution

Vector processors which perform an instruction on all data elements simultaneously are said to execute in parallel.


Each EX in this image shows a separate execution core (typically an ALU) operating in parallel with one another.

Non-Parallel Execution

Vector processors which reuse a single ALU for a vector operation look like this:


As this diagram shows, each EX stage is a new set of data from the first instruction being loaded into the execution core. The next instruction will not be fetched until all the data has been acted upon.

Multicore Processors

Taking the idea of superscalar operations to the next level, it is possible (and frequently desirable) to put multiple microprocessor cores onto a single chip, and have the cores operate in parallel with one another.

Symmetric Multicore

A symmetric multicore processor is one that has multiple cores on a single chip, and all of those cores are identical.

Example: Intel Core 2:

The Intel Core 2 is an example of a symmetric multicore processor. The Core 2 can have either 2 cores on chip ("Core 2 Duo") or 4 cores on chip ("Core 2 Quad"). Each core in the Core 2 chip is symmetrical, and can function independantly of one another. It requires a mixture of scheduling software and hardware to farm tasks out to each core.

Example: Parallax Propeller:

The Parallax Propeller is an example of a symmetric multicore processor. The Parallax Propeller has 8 cores on chip, each one a 32-bit RISC processor. Each core in the Parallax Propeller chip is symmetrical, and can function independently of one another.

Asymmetric Multicore

An asymmetric multicore processor is one that has multiple cores on a single chip, but those cores might be different designs. For instance, there could be 2 general purpose cores and 2 vector cores on a single chip.

Example: Cell Processor

IBM's Cell processor, used in the Sony PlayStation 3 video game console is an asymmetrical multicore processor. The Cell has 9 processor cores on board, one general purpose processor, and 8 data-processing cores. The one multipurpose core, known as the Power Processor Element (PPE) controls the communication between the other cores, and distributes computing tasks to the other cores for processing. The other 8 cores are known as Synergistic Processor Elements (SPE), and are specially designed to have high floating-point throughput, especially with vector operations.

Example: Kilocore

Rapport's Kilocore processor, is an asymmetrical multicore processor. The Kilocore has one general purpose processor, a PowerPC processing core, and either 256 or 1024 data processing cores on-chip. The cores are designed to run at extremely low power, so the overall chip is faster and yet uses less power than typical desktop CPUs[1].

Symmetric Multicore

The Intel Core 2 Duo

A symmetric multicore processor is a processor which has multiple cores that are all exactly the same. Every single core has the same architecture and the same capabilities. An example of a symmetric multicore system is the Intel Core 2 Duo processor.

Each core has the same capabilities, so it requires that there is an arbitration unit to give each core a specific task. Software that uses techniques like multithreading makes the best use of a multi-core processor like the Intel Core 2.

Asymmetric Multicore

In an asymmetric multicore processor, the chip has multiple cores onboard, but the cores might be different designs. Each core will have different capabilities.

Example: IBM Cell Processor

An example of an asymmetric multicore processor is the IBM Cell processor.

SPE (cell).png
PPE (Cell).png
Block diagrams of the IBM Cell processor. The Cell processor has 8 SPE cores (left) and 1 PPE core (right). The PPE core is the primary core, and controls the behavior of the SPE cores.

The IBM Cell processor has 1 PPE that controls the chip, and 8 SPEs that are designed for high mathematical throughput. The IBM Cell processor is designed as follows:

IBM Cell Block Diagram.svg

Notice how the SPE cores only connect to the PPE, and not to each other. Notice also that the PPE core is much larger then the individual SPE cores.

further reading

  1. there are processor architectures, for instance the CDP1802, that do not have a single Program Counter; instead, one of the general purpose registers is used as a program counter, and which register that is can be changed under program control.

Execution Problems


Exceptions, are situations where the processor needs to stop executing the current code because of an error. In these cases, the processor typically begins running an exception handling routine to resolve the error, and then returns to the normal program flow. For instance, if the ALU attempts to divide by zero, or if an addition causes overflow, an exception might be triggered. The processor needs to stop operation and fix the error before the program can be resumed.

Some common examples of exceptions are arithmetic overflow or underflow, division by zero, or attempting to access a memory location that does not exist.


An interrupt is a condition that causes the microprocessor to temporarily work on a different task, and then later return to its previous task. Interrupts can be internal or external. Internal interrupts, or "software interrupts," are triggered by a software instruction and operate similarly to a jump or branch instruction. An external interrupt, or a "hardware interrupt," is caused by an external hardware module. As an example, many computer systems use interrupt driven I/O, a process where pressing a key on the keyboard or clicking a button on the mouse triggers an interrupt. The processor stops what it is doing, it reads the input from the keyboard or mouse, and then it returns to the current program.

The image below shows conceptually how an interrupt happens:


The grey bars represent the control flow. The top line is the program that is currently running, and the bottom bar is the interrupt service routine (ISR). Notice that when the interrupt (Int) occurs, the program stops executing and the microcontroller begins to execute the ISR. Once the ISR is complete, the microcontroller returns to processing the program where it left off.

What happens when external hardware requests another interrupt while the processor is already in the middle of executing the ISR for a previous interrupt request?

When the first interrupt was requested, hardware in the processor causes it to finish the current instruction, disable further interrupts, and jump to the interrupt handler.

The processor ignores further interrupts until it gets to the part of the interrupt handler that has the "return from interrupt" instruction, which re-enables interrupts.

If an interrupt occurs while interrupts were turned off, some processors will immediately jump to that interrupt handler as soon as interrupts are turned back on. With this sort of processor, an interrupt storm "starves" the main loop background task. Other processors[citation needed] execute at least one instruction of the main loop before handling the interrupt, so the main loop may execute extremely slowly, but at least it never "starves".

further reading


A hazard is an error in the operation of the microcontroller, caused by the simultaneous execution of multiple stages in a pipelined processor.

There are three types of hazards: Data hazards, control hazards, and structural hazards.

Data Hazards

Data hazards are caused by attempting to access data or modify data simultaneously. In the MIPS design, the result is written back to the register file at the same time that another instruction decode stage is reading the register file. There are three basic types of data hazards:

Read After Write (RAW)
In these hazards, the read process happens after the write process, although both processes happen in the same clock cycle. If the write process takes a long time, it may not complete by the time the read occurs, which will produce incorrect data.
Write After Read (WAR)
In a WAR hazard, the write from a previous instruction will not complete before the successive read instruction. This means that the next value read will be a previous value, not the correct current value.
Write After Write (WAW)
WAW hazards occur when two processes try to write to a data storage element at the same time. If this occurs in a single clock cycle, there will be no time in between to read the intermediate value. If the instructions execute out of order, the incorrect value may be left in the register.

Race Conditions

If data hazards are not explicitly accounted for, a race condition can arise where the proper execution of the processor is a matter of timing. If things occur in the proper times and the proper sequence, there might be no problems. However, In a race condition it is frequently likely that things will occur out of order, or at different time intervals, and this will cause a problem.

Control Hazards

Control hazards occur when a branch instruction is processed. While the branch instruction is traveling through the pipeline, the instruction fetch module will continue to read sequential instructions from the instruction memory. The problem is that because of the branch, the next instructions might execute out of order, which will cause problems.

Structural Hazards

A structural hazard occurs when two separate instructions attempt to access a particular hardware module at the same time.

Fixing Hazards

There are a number of ways to avoid or eliminate hazards.


A stall, or a "bubble" in the pipeline occurs when the control unit detects that a hazard will occur. When this happens, the control unit stops the instruction fetch mechanism and puts NOPs into the pipeline instead. In this way, the sensitive instructions will be forced to occur alone, without any other instructions being processed at the same time.

Pipeline 5.png

In this image we can see "bubbles" drawn where data hazards occur. A bubble signifies that the instruction has stalled in the pipeline until a previous instruction completes. Once the previous instruction has completed, the stalled instruction continues moving.

Notice in this image that the yellow instruction stops at the ID stage for 2 cycles, while the red instruction continues.


When an result from one instruction is to be used as the input to the ALU in the next instruction, we can use forwarding to move data directly from the ALU output into the ALU input of the next cycle, before that data has been written to the register. In this way, we can avoid the need for a stall in these situations, but at the expense of adding an additional forwarding unit to control this mechanism.

Register renaming

Instead of having fixed numbers for registers, registers can be renamed or renumbered. Consider the following ADD instruction:

add R1, R2, R1

We are adding the values in R1 and R2, and we are storing the result back in R1. What if the name "R1" pointed to two different physical storage areas, that is the value is read from one location, the "old R1", and is written to a new storage area, the "new R1".

Register renaming can be used to prevent hazards caused by out-of-order execution (OOOE).

Speculative execution

During a branch, it is frequently possible to "guess" about the outcome of the branch. By guessing about the destination, instructions can be executed speculatively. If the guess is wrong, the pipeline will need to be emptied, which takes the same amount of time as a stall. However, if the guess is right, no time is wasted and the processor continues operation as normal.

The process of guessing which way the branch will take is a complicated subject and is beyond the current scope of this book.

Branch delay

A branch delay is an instruction written in the assembly source code after the branch, that is designed to execute whether the branch is taken or not. If there are no instructions that can be executed without a dependency on the branch, then a NOP should be inserted instead. Some assemblers are capable of rearranging code in this fashion, although other assemblers that use this technique require the programmer to handle branch delays manually.

Branch Predication

In a branch predication scheme, all instructions, or most instructions in the ISA may be conditionally executed based on some condition. In other words, the instruction will be loaded from memory, decoded, and then the processor will determine whether or not to execute it. In the event of a branch, for instance, the instructions in the pipeline after the branch can be turned off if the branch went the other direction. Branch predication is very closely related to speculative execution.

Branch Prediction

Branch Prediction is the act of guessing about the direction a branch instruction will take. Typically, branch predictors base these decisions off register values, and past branch history. In a large loop, for instance, a particular program may branch back to the top of the loop many many times before the loop terminates. Consider this high-level pseudo code:

    do this

Which roughly translates to this assembly pseudo code:

top of loop:
compare condition and 0.
branch to end of loop if equal
do this
branch to top of loop
bottom of loop:

This loop will continue to repeat until the condition flag is 0. This code will likely loop many times before the one time that it exits. In a while structure like this, it takes the branch every time except for the last time, and it only doesn't take the branch once. It makes good sense to assume, therefore, that every branch that we come to will be taken, which can increase the accuracy of our speculative execu tion.

Example: Loop Optimization

In modern processors, branch prediction will frequently look at the history of recent branches to determine how to guess the outcome of a future branch. Consider the following loop structure with a nested conditional:

while(loop condition)
   if(branch condition)
      do this
      do that

If we know statistically that the branch condition will be false (0) 90% of the time, and that the loop condition will be true (1) nearly 100% of the time. We can decompose this into assembly pseudo code:

1) compare loop condition and 0
2) branch to end of loop if equal
3) compare branch condition and 0
4) branch to branch true if not equal
5) do that
6) branch to end of if
7) branch true
8) do this
9) end of if
10)branch to top of loop

If we look at this loop structure, we can see that the branch on line 10 is taken most of the time. We can also see that the branch on line on line 4 only occurs if the branch condition is 1. We know that the branch condition is true only 10% of the time, so this loop will have bad branch prediction. A better loop in this case would be:

while(loop condition)
   if(not branch condition)
      do this
      do that

so that the branch in the conditional is taken 90% of the time, so that the branch predictor will be more accurate.

A branch predictor typically acts like a counter. Every time a branch is taken, the counter is incremented, and every time a branch is not taken, the counter is decremented. Consider a 2-bit predictor. If the predictor is 0 or 1, the branch is not taken, but if the predictor is 2 or 3, the branch is taken.

A 2-bit branch predictor with 4 stages.

We can treat a branch predictor like a finite-state-machine (FSM) like in the diagram above. This FSM has 4 stages, corresponding to the following "guesses":

  • q0:Strong Take
  • q1:Weak Take
  • q2:Weak Not Take
  • q3:Strong Not Take

The zeros in this diagram refer to a branch not being taken, and a 1 corresponds to a branch being taken. If many branches are taken, the state moves towards the right. If branches are not taken, the stage moves towards the left.

Benchmarking and Optimization

Performance Metrics

Performance Metrics

Performance metrics are measurements of a microprocessor that help to determine how well a microprocessor performs.

For many years, computers were excruciatingly slow. Much time and effort were dedicated to finding ways of getting typical batch programs to run faster -- to reduce runtime or, in other words, to improve throughput. In the process, many other things were sacrificed.


Runtime is the time it takes to run a program.

We will discuss some of the subtleties of accurately measuring runtime in a later Benchmarking section.

For now, let us note that, for any program running on any computer,

time per program = clock period * cycles per instruction * instructions executed per program

You see there are 3 different factors involved in the total time. If you can reduce any one of those factors, then the time will be shorter, making your users happier.

Alas, all too often attempts at making one factor shorter result in making some other factor larger. Sometimes a CPU designer will focusing on only one factor, trying to make it as small as possible, and hoping that the resulting increases in the other factors will be small enough that there is still a net improvement.

Clock rate

Clock rate (often called "clock speed") is one of the easiest to measure performance metrics, and the most over-emphasized.

As of 2008, clock rate of most CPUs is measured in MHz. A typical FPGA soft processor runs at about 10 MHz (a clock period of 100 ns), but later in this book we will explain techniques for increasing the clock rate of a FPGA soft processor to over 100 MHz (a clock period of less than 10 ns).

Cycles per Instruction

Historically, all early computers used many clock cycles during the execution of even the simplest instruction. During the RISC revolution, many designers focused on reducing this factor closer to the apparent minimum of 1 cycle per instruction. We will discuss some of the techniques used later in this book. Since then, CPUs that use techniques such as superscalar execution and multicore computing have reduced this even further. Such CPUs can (on average) use less than 1 cycle per instruction.

"CPI" is a throughput measure of how many instructions are completed (on average) for a given number of clocks. A CPU that can complete, on average, 2 instructions per cycle (a CPI of 0.5) may have a 20 stage pipeline, which inevitably causes a 20 cycle latency between an instruction fetch to the completion of that instruction. We ignore those 20 cycles when we calculate CPI.

instructions executed per program

If the program you need to run is a binary executable, this number can't be changed.

However, some CPU designers have the freedom of designing a new instruction set (or at least adding a few instructions to an old instruction set).

Early CPU designers attempted to reduce this number by adding new, more complicated instructions, that did more work. (Later this idea was retroactively called "CISC"). When a given program (perhaps a benchmark program) is re-compiled for this new instruction set and executed, it requires fewer total executed instructions to finish. Alas, these more complicated instructions often require more cycles to execute -- or worse, a longer clock period, which slows down every instruction -- so the net benefit was not as great as was hoped. In a surprising number of cases, such "RICH" instructions actually made the runtime worse (longer). Benchmarking is required to see if such changes to the instruction set are worthwhile.

Some examples where it did turn out to be worthwhile:

More complicated instructions that do more work include the "load multiple" and "store multiple" instructions of the ARM processors, the "multimedia extensions" of other processors, the MAC instructions used by most DSPs, etc.

Sometimes a CPU can be tweaked in ways that fewer instructions need to be executed in a program, without adding complexity -- the "every instruction is conditional" technique used by ARM processors (the "conditional logic" was needed anyway for conditional branches); the "add more registers" and "register windowing" ideas, each of which attempts to reduce the number of register spill/reload instructions; widening the width of the data bus, so more data can be transferred per "load" or "store" instruction (also enabling wider instructions); etc.

There are a few chips that do things in a few cycles of a single "instruction" that any von Neumann CPU would require hundreds of cycles to implement -- such as content-addressible RAM.

Processor Time


When building a computer cluster, the raw MIPS of any one chip is irrelevant. When someone needs a teraflop of performance, no one chip can do it. The person is forced to keep adding CPUs until he gets the performance he wants. There are many tricks (that we will discuss later) that slightly reduce the runtime of one program on one CPU, but make that CPU much more expensive. Rather than build a teraflop system out of a few of the lowest-runtime chips, usually people build such a system out of CPUs that take slightly longer to perform any particular task, but then these people simply use a lot more of them.

In such systems is useful if the CPUs are specifically designed to coordinate their work and synchronize rapidly.


In hard real-time systems, low latency is critical.



Most CPUs in mobile electronics -- PDAs, cell phones, laptops, wireless keyboards, MP3 players, etc. -- are underclocked.

Why do people deliberately clock them at a rate far below their potential runtime performance? Because clocking them any faster squanders battery life.

Every clock tick to a particular CPU uses up (approximately) some fixed amount of energy. If it takes (hypothetically) 900,000 clock ticks on that CPU to decode one second worth of MP3, then we maximize battery life by clocking the CPU at 0.9 MHz while playing MP3s.

Say we have some other CPU that requires 4,000,000 clock ticks to decode one second worth of MP3. Which CPU should we use? The absolute fastest MIPS rating at the maximum speed is irrelevant. The "clock ticks required to decode one second worth of MP3" is irrelevant. The better CPU for a MP3 player is the one that gives the maximum battery life, assuming we are smart enough to underclock each CPU to give its maximum battery life. Or in other words (since the amount of "work" done decoding an MP3 is fixed, and the amount of energy stored in a battery is fixed), the better CPU is the one with more MIPS/mW.

Further reading

  1. Tom's hardware: "IBM says Kilocore technology will outrun today's mobile processors" 2006
  2. "CISC, RISC, and DSP Microprocessors" by Douglas L. Jones 2000 "Most quoted numbers for DSP uPs not MIPS, but MIPS/$$, MIPS/mW" "Why have RISC/CISC converged?"



Common Benchmarks

  • block move
  • Eratosthenes sieve
  • matrix multiply

interrupt latency ... it scales down to the lowest PICs ... and up to the scary fast GPUs ..." -- Gwenhwyfaer 2008 [3]

Benchmark Problems

Further reading


Once the microprocessor is designed, there is typically a large amount of room for that design to be made more efficient through optimization. The control unit specifically can be subject to logical minimizations.

As the specific requirements of each component are understood better, through simulation and prototyping, the clock speed of the system can be increased to reduce waste.

The most common operations, memory loads, memory stores, and basic arithmetic can be laid out in such a way that they can be performed quickly and easily.

The word "optimization" is likely a misnomer because it is unlikely that the best possible solution will ever be found to the complex problems that arise during microcontroller or microprocessor design. However, there are typically ways to make things better, even if they can't be made optimal.

Parallel Processing

Multi-Core Systems

Taking the idea of superscalar operations to the next level, it is possible (and frequently desirable) to put multiple microprocessor cores onto a single chip, and have the cores operate in parallel with one another.

Symmetric Multicore

A symmetric multicore processor is one that has multiple cores on a single chip, and all of those cores are identical.

Example: Intel Core 2:

The Intel Core 2 is an example of a symmetric multicore processor. The Core 2 can have either 2 cores on chip ("Core 2 Duo") or 4 cores on chip ("Core 2 Quad"). Each core in the Core 2 chip is symmetrical, and can function independantly of one another. It requires a mixture of scheduling software and hardware to farm tasks out to each core.

Example: Parallax Propeller:

The Parallax Propeller is an example of a symmetric multicore processor. The Parallax Propeller has 8 cores on chip, each one a 32-bit RISC processor. Each core in the Parallax Propeller chip is symmetrical, and can function independently of one another.

Asymmetric Multicore

An asymmetric multicore processor is one that has multiple cores on a single chip, but those cores might be different designs. For instance, there could be 2 general purpose cores and 2 vector cores on a single chip.

Example: Cell Processor

IBM's Cell processor, used in the Sony PlayStation 3 video game console is an asymmetrical multicore processor. The Cell has 9 processor cores on board, one general purpose processor, and 8 data-processing cores. The one multipurpose core, known as the Power Processor Element (PPE) controls the communication between the other cores, and distributes computing tasks to the other cores for processing. The other 8 cores are known as Synergistic Processor Elements (SPE), and are specially designed to have high floating-point throughput, especially with vector operations.

Example: Kilocore

Rapport's Kilocore processor, is an asymmetrical multicore processor. The Kilocore has one general purpose processor, a PowerPC processing core, and either 256 or 1024 data processing cores on-chip. The cores are designed to run at extremely low power, so the overall chip is faster and yet uses less power than typical desktop CPUs[1].

Symmetric Multicore

The Intel Core 2 Duo

A symmetric multicore processor is a processor which has multiple cores that are all exactly the same. Every single core has the same architecture and the same capabilities. An example of a symmetric multicore system is the Intel Core 2 Duo processor.

Each core has the same capabilities, so it requires that there is an arbitration unit to give each core a specific task. Software that uses techniques like multithreading makes the best use of a multi-core processor like the Intel Core 2.

Asymmetric Multicore

In an asymmetric multicore processor, the chip has multiple cores onboard, but the cores might be different designs. Each core will have different capabilities.

Example: IBM Cell Processor

An example of an asymmetric multicore processor is the IBM Cell processor.

SPE (cell).png
PPE (Cell).png
Block diagrams of the IBM Cell processor. The Cell processor has 8 SPE cores (left) and 1 PPE core (right). The PPE core is the primary core, and controls the behavior of the SPE cores.

The IBM Cell processor has 1 PPE that controls the chip, and 8 SPEs that are designed for high mathematical throughput. The IBM Cell processor is designed as follows:

IBM Cell Block Diagram.svg

Notice how the SPE cores only connect to the PPE, and not to each other. Notice also that the PPE core is much larger then the individual SPE cores.

further reading

  1. there are processor architectures, for instance the CDP1802, that do not have a single Program Counter; instead, one of the general purpose registers is used as a program counter, and which register that is can be changed under program control.

Memory-Level Parallelism

Memory-Level Parallelism

Memory-Level Parallelism (MLP) is the ability to perform multiple memory transactions at once. In many architectures, this manifests itself as the ability to perform both a read and write operation at once, although it also commonly exists as being able to perform multiple reads at once. It is rare to perform multiple write operations at once, because of the risk of potential conflicts (trying to write two different values to the same location).

Notice that this is not the same as vectorized memory operations, such as reading 4 separate but contiguous 8-bit values in a single 32-bit read.

Out Of Order Execution

In a superscalar or similar processor design, there are multiple execution units that can be used to process pieces of data simultaneously. However, these execution units are not always used at the same time, and some processing power is lost. Sometimes, it is possible to feed instructions to all the execution units if we take the instructions out of their original order. Out of order execution (OOOE) is when a processor is capable of executing instructions out of their original order, in an attempt to do more work in parallel, and execute programs more quickly.


OOOE comes with some significant hazards, and the hazard detection units in these processors are not trivial. The dependencies of all instructions need to be determined, and instructions cannot execute before or at the same time as instructions on which they are dependent.

Example: Intel Hyperthreading

Hyperthreading is the name for a technology developed by Intel for use in the Pentium 4 chip. Hyperthreading works by duplicating some architectural components of the processor, such as the status flags, the control registers, and the general purpose registers. Hyperthreading does not, however, duplicate any of the execution units.

In a hyperthreaded system, it appears to the operating system that there are two separate processors, when there is only one processor. The OOOE engine feeds instructions from the two separate execution threads to the execution cores, to try and keep all of the cores simultaneously busy. In general hyperthreading increases performance, although in some instances this additional complexity actually decreased performance.

Support Software


Simply having a new microprocessor is not much of a benefit, unless you have a way to program it. The most simple and direct way to program a microprocessor is through the use of an assembler. An assembler converts mnemonics into corresponding machine code instructions. Once you have an ISA, it's a trivial task to map mnemonics to the various instruction opcodes.

Once an ISA is finalized, the design work can usually be split into two teams: a hardware team to design the datapath and control units, and a software team to write an assembler and other programs, such as a simulator and a compiler. This is not the way it is always done, however, as a single group of people is perfectly capable of doing both sets of tasks.


Simulators are software programs that have grown in popularity among design groups in recent years. Once an ISA is finalized, and the basics of the datapath are mapped out (especially the timing and delays), a simulator can be a very valuable project to work on.

A simulator allows software for your new microprocessor to be tested on a separate computer. This means that people can write and test software for your new processor even before you have finished designing it!

Simulators have lead to a fascinating new realm of productivity known as hardware software co-design.


With an assembler written, it is typically a good idea (although not always) to write a high-level language compiler for your new processor. Typically the high-level language in these situations is C because of its small number of builtin constructions, and the close relationship that C shares with the underlying assembly language.

Compilers help to speed up the development process, so that more complicated software can be written without the tedium of writing large assembly language programs. Another benefit to this is that there are a number of pre-existing tools for use with higher-level languages, such as simulators and debuggers that can increase the efficiency of your software team.

Further reading

Microprocessor Production


For more information about FPGAs, Verilog and VHDL, see Programmable Logic.

Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA) are programmable logic elements. FPGAs can be designed using a hardware description language (HDL) such as Verilog or VHDL, and that design can be mapped to a hardware design by the HDL synthesizer. FPGAs are the successors of their previous similar components, PLAs and PALs, used at the first steps of the programmable logic era.

FPGAs are quick to design, and because they are reprogrammable, troubleshooting is quick and easy.

FPGAs are useful for designing microcontrollers, which is why we have discussed HDL implementations of various components in the text of this book. In this chapter we will will discuss the implementation of a microcontroller in HDL, and some of the consequences of that implementation.


The current state-of-the-art process for manufacturing processors and small ICs in general is to use photolithography. Photolithography is a complicated multi-step process.


A wafer is a large circular disk, typically made of doped silicon. Each wafer can hold multiple chips arranged like tiles. The number of chips per wafer is known as the yield.

Basic Photolithography

In photolithography, there are typically two important chemicals: an acid and a resist. A photo-negative of the design is exposed to light, and the pattern is projected onto the wafer. Resist is applied to the wafer, and it sticks to the portions of the wafer that are exposed to light. Once the resist is applied to the wafer, it is dipped in the acid. The acid eats away a layer of everything that is not covered in resist. After the top layer has been disolved, the wafer is washed (to remove any remaining acid and resist), and a new layer of doped silicon is applied to the top of the wafer. Once the new layer of silicon has been applied, the process is repeated again.

The first two applications of resist are used to convert thin, carefully shaped regions of the base silicon wafer into n-type and p-type w:doping (semiconductor) (no net material is added or taken away after these steps). Wait up -- I thought doping occurred after the polysilicon was added? Is that an additional doping stage, or is doping not really the first 2 stages?

After that, layers of polysilicon, silicon oxide, and metal are added, coating the entire wafer. After each layer of desired material is added, resist and acid are used to "pattern" the layer, keeping the desired regions and removing the undesired regions of that layer.


After all the layers specified by the design have been applied, the wafer is "diced" into individual rectangular "die". Then each die packaged.

... does testing happen before the wafer is diced? Before and after? ...

further reading

Sockets and interfacing

Form Factors

A Sharp Z80 microprocessor, with a Dual-Inline Package (DIP) with 40 pins.

A matter that is peripheral to the subject of microprocessor design, but not wholely unrelated is the subject of form factors, sockets, and interfacing. When it comes to microprocessors and microcontrollers there is no standard size or shape, no standard connectors, etc. An Intel Pentium chip cannot plug into the same socket as an AMD Athalon chip, even though they are both IA32 chips, and both of them can run the same software. The size, shape, number of connectors and orientation of the connectors are known collectively as the form factor of the chip. Each separate form factor requires a specific interface for the chip to connect to called a socket.


The underside of an AMD Athlon processor, showing the connector pins.


A Socket 479, one of many different and incompatible socket types.

Advanced Topics


RISC units are typically faster and more efficient than CISC units. For this reason, many CISC processors have complicated instruction decoders that actually convert the CISC machine code into a RISC-like set of internal instructions known as microcodes. These microcodes are then fed into the internal core of the processor, which is based on the RISC design.

The most common way[citation needed] to implement memory-memory architecture CPUs (even with single-chip microprocessors, not just wire-wrapped machines) uses a small "control store" ROM. The output data bits of the control store drive a "pipeline register". The clock signal determining the cycle time of the system primarily clocks this pipeline register. The bits stored in the pipeline register directly control everything that goes on in the CPU.

Some of the bits in the pipeline register do nothing but drive some of the address bits of the control store. Those bits -- that sub-field of the pipeline register -- is sometimes called the "microprogram counter", even though it is merely a latch -- typically the control store is programmed such that those bits increment on every clock cycle, and reset to zero when a new instruction is loaded into the instruction register. The instruction register directly drives some of the address lines of the control store ROM. A few more address lines of the control store ROM are driven by status bits such as the Z flag and the C flag.

Some CPUs, such as the ECOMIPS[2], the Intel Core 2 and the Intel Xeon,[3] use "writable microcode" -- rather than storing the microcode in ROM or hard-wired logic, the microcode is stored in a RAM called a Writable Control Store or WCS.

further reading

  • "Viktor's Amazing 4-bit Processor" has microcode that he says *could* have been implemented with about 90 diodes in a traditional diode matrix; but instead he implemented microcode with a Flash memory chip he can re-program in-circuit using manual switches.
  • MT15 by Dieter Mueller uses transistors instead of diodes in a big AND-OR PLA (programmable logic array) matrix to implement the microcode.
  1. Tom's hardware: "IBM says Kilocore technology will outrun today's mobile processors" 2006
  2. "ECOMIPS: An Economic MIPS CPU Design on FPGA" by Xizhi Li and Tiecai Li
  3. Wikipedia: microcode#Writable_control_stores

Register Renaming

Microprocessor Design/Register Renaming



Cache is a small amount of memory, usually located on the die with the processor, which operates more quickly then external RAM. Data is moved from the main memory to the Cache, so that it can be accessed faster. Modern chip designs allocate a large amount of chip area to cache. Increasing chip performance is typically acheived by increasing the speed and efficiency of chip cache.

Cache works by storing a small subset of the external memory contents, typically out of it's original order. Data and instructions that are being used frequently, such as a data array or a small instruction loop, are stored in the cache and can be read quickly without having to access the main memory. Cache runs at the same speed as the rest of the processor, which is typically much faster then the external RAM operates at. This means that if data is in the cache, accessing it is faster then accessing memory.

Cache helps to speed up processors because it works on the principal of locality.

Principal of Locality

There are two types of locality, spatial and temporal. Modern computer programs are typically loop-based, and therefore we have two rules about locality:

Spatial Locality
When a data item is accessed, it is likely that data items in sequential memory locations will also be accessed. Consider the traversal of an array, or the act of storing local variables on a stack. In these cases, when one data item is accessed, it is a good idea to load the surrounding memory area into the cache at the same time.
Temporal Locality
When data item is accessed, it is likely that the same data item will be accessed again. For instance, variables are typically read and written to in rapid succession. If is a good idea to keep recently used items in the cache, and not over-write data that has been recently used.

Hit or Miss

A hit when talking about cache is when the processor finds data in the cache that it is looking for. A miss is when the processor looks for data in the cache, but the data is not available. In the event of a miss, the cache controller unit must gather the data from the main memory, which can cost more time for the processor.

Flushing the Cache

When the processor needs data, it looks in the cache. If the data is not in the cache, it will then go to memory to find the data. Data from memory is moved to the cache and then used by the processor. Sometimes the entire cache contains useless or old data, and it needs to be flushed. Flushing occurs when the cache controller determines that the cache contains more potential misses then hits. Flushing the cache takes several processor cycles, so much research has gone into developing algorithms to keep the cache up to date.

Cache Hierarchy

Cache is typically divided between multiple levels. The most common levels are L1, L2, and L3. L1 is the smallest but the fastest. L3 is the largest but the slowest. Many chips do not have L3 cache. Some chips that do have an L3 cache actually have an external L3 module that exists on the motherboard between the microprocessor and the RAM.

Size of Cache

The Pentium Pro chip was one of the largest microprocessors ever manufactured. It was so large because it contained the largest cache of any chip at the time.

There are a number of factors that affect the size of cache on a chip:

  1. Moore's law typically provides more transistors on a chip then a designer can use to make a chip. These extra transistors are easily converted to large caches.
  2. Processor components become smaller as transistors become smaller. This means there is more area on the die for additional cache.
  3. More cache means fewer delays in accessing data, and therefore better performance.

Because of these factors, chip caches tend to get larger and larger with each generation of chip.

Cache Tagging

Cache can contain non-sequential data items in no particular order. A block of memory in the cache might be empty and contain no data at all. In order for hardware to check the validity of entries in the cache, every cache entry needs to maintain the following pieces of information:

  1. A status bit to determine if the block is empty or full
  2. The memory address of the data in the block
  3. The data from the specified memory address

When the processor looks for data in the cache, it sends a memory address to the cache controller. the cache controller checks the address against all the address fields in the cache. If there is a hit, the cache controller returns the data. If there is a miss, the cache controller must pass the request to the next level of cache or to the main memory unit.

A diagram of cache showing non-sequential data

The memory address of the data in the cache is known as the tag.

Cache Writing

Write operations take as long to perform as read operations in main memory. Many cached processors therefore will perform write operations on the cache as well as read operations. When data is written to memory, a write request is sent simultaneously to the main memory and to the cache. This way, the result data is available in the cache before it can be written (and then read again) from the main memory. When writing to the cache, it's important to make sure the main memory and the cache are synchronized and they contain the same data.

Memory Stall Cycles

If the cache misses, the processor will need to stall the current instruction until the cache can fetch the correct data from a higher level. The amount of time lost by the stall is dependant on a number of factors. The number of memory accesses in a particular program is denoted as Am. The rate of misses, the probability that any particular access will miss) is denoted rm. The amount of time lost for each miss is known as the miss penalty, and is denoted as Pm. We can calculate the amoung of time wasted because of cache miss stalls as:

\mbox{stall time} = A_m \times r_m \times P_m

Likewise, if we have the total number of instructions in a program, N, and the average number of misses per instruction, MPI, we can calculate the lost time as:

\mbox{stall time} = N \times MPI \times P_m

If instead of lost time we measure the miss penalty in the amount of lost cycles, the calculation will instead produce the number of cycles lost to memory stalls, instead of the amount of time lost to memory stalls.

Read Stall Times

To calculate the amount of time lost to cache read misses, we can perform the same basic calculations as above:

\mbox{read-stall time} = A_r \times r_r \times P_r

Ar is the average number of read accesses, rr is the miss rate on reads, and Pr is the time or cycle penalty associated with a read miss.

Write Stall Times

Determining the amount of time lost to write stalls is similar, but an additional additive term that represents stalls in the write buffer needs to be included:

\mbox{write-stall time} = A_w \times r_w \times P_w + T_{wb}

Where Twb is the amount of time lost because of stalls in the write buffer. The write buffer can stall when the cache attempts to synchronize with main memory.

Hierarchy Stall Times

In a hierarchical cache system, miss time penalties can be compounded when data is missed in multiple levels of cache. If data is missed in the L1 cache, it will be looked for in the L2 cache. However, if it also misses in the L2 cache, there will be a double-penalty. The L2 needs to load the data from the main memory (or the L3 cache, if the system has one), and then the data needs to be loaded into the L1. Notice that missing in two cache levels and then having to access main memory takes longer then if we had just accessed memory directly.

Design Considerations

L1 cache is typically designed with the intent of minimizing the time it takes to make a hit. If hit times are sufficiently fast, a sizable miss rate can be accepted. Misses in the L1 will be redirected to the L2 and that is still significantly faster then accesses to main memory. L1 cache tends to have smaller block sizes, but benefits from having more available blocks for the same amount of space. In order to make L1 hit times minimal, L1 are typically direct-mapped or even narrowly 2-way set associative.

L2 cache, on the other hand, needs to have a lower miss rate to help avoid accesses to main memory. Accesses to L2 cache are much faster then accesses to memory, so we should do everything possible to ensure that we maximize our hit rate. For this reason, L2 cache tends to be fully associative with large block sizes. This is because memory is typically read and written in sequential memory cells, so large block sizes can take advantage of that sequentiality.

L3 cache furter continues this trend, with larger block sizes, and minimized miss rate.


In order to increase the read speed in a cache, many cache designers implement some level of associativity. An associative cache creates a relationship between the original memory location and the location in the cache where that data is stored. The relationship between the address in main memory and the location where the data is stored is known as the mapping of the cache. In this way, if the data exists in the cache at all, the cache controller knows that it can only be in certain locations that satisfy the mapping.


A direct-mapped system uses a hashing algorithm to assign an identifier to a memory address. A common hashing algorithm for this purpose is the modulo operation. The modulo operation divides the address by a certain number, p, and takes the remainder r as the result. If a is the main memory address, and n is an arbitrary non-negative integer, then the hashing algorithm must satisfy the following equation:

a = p \times n + r

If p is chosen properly by the designer, data will be evenly distributed throughout the cache.

Cache Block Basic.svg

In a direct-mapped system, each memory address corresponds to only a single cache location, but a single cache location can correspond to many memory locations. The image above shows a simple cache diagram with 8 blocks. All memory addresses therefore are calculated as n mod 8, where n is the memory address to read into the cache. Memory addresses 0, 8, and 16 will all map to block 0 in the cache. Cache performance is worst when multiple data items with the same hash value are read, and performance is best when data items are close together in memory (such as a sequential block of program instructions, or a sequential array).

2-Way Set Associative

In a 2-way set associative cache system, the data value is hashed, but each hash value corresponds to a set of cache blocks. Each block contains multiple data cells, and a data value that is assigned to that block can be inserted anywhere in the block. The read speeds are quick because the cache controller can immediately narrow down its search area to the block that matches the address hash value.

2 way skewed associative

The 2-way skewed associative cache is "the best tradeoff for .... caches whose sizes are in the range 4K-8K bytes" -- André SeznecAndré Seznec. A Case for Two-Way Skewed-Associative Caches. Retrieved on 2007-12-13.</ref>[1]

Fully Associative

In a fully-associative cache, hash algorithms are not employed and data can be inserted anywhere in the cache that is available. A typical algorithm will write a new data value over the oldest unused data value in the cache. This scheme, however, requires the time an item is loaded or accessed to be stored, which can require lots of additional storage.

Cache Misses

There are three basic types of misses in a cache:

  1. Conflict Misses
  2. Compulsary Misses
  3. Capacity Misses

Conflict Misses

Cache Block Basic Conflict.svg

A conflict miss occurs in a direct-mapped and 2-way set associative cache when two data items are mapped to the same cache locations. In a data miss, a recently used data item is overwritten with a new data item.

Compulsary Misses

Cache Block Conflict Compulsary.svg

The image above shows the difference between a conflict miss and a compulsary miss. A compulsary miss is an instance where the cache must miss because it does not contain any data. For instance, when a processor is first powered-on, there is no valid data in the cache and the first few reads will always miss.

The compulsary miss demonstrates the need for a cache to differentiate between a space that is empty and one that is full. Consider when we turn the processor on, and we reset all the address values to zero, an attempt to read a memory location with a hash value of zero will hit. We do not want the cache to hit if the blocks are empty.

Capacity Misses

Capacity misses occur when the cache block is not large enough to hold the data item.

Write Policy

Data writes require the same time delay as a data read. For this reason, caching systems typically will write data to the cache as well. However, when writing to the cache, it is important to ensure that the data is also written to the main memory, so it is not overwritten by the next cache read. If data in the cache is overwritten without being stored in main memory, the data will be lost.

It is imperative that caches write data to the main memory, but exactly when that data is written to the main memory is called the write policy. There are two write policies: write through and write back.

Write Through

In a write through system, data that is written to the cache is immediately written to the main memory as well. If many writes need to occur is sequential instructions, the write buffer may get backed up and cause a stall.

Write Back

In a write back system, the cache controller keeps track of which data items have been synchronized to main memory. The data items which have not been synchronized are called "dirty", and the cache controller prevents dirty data from being overwritten.

The cache controller will synchronize data during processor cycles where no other data is being written to the cache.

Stale Data

It is possible for the data in main memory to be changed by a component besides the microcontroller. For instance, many computer systems have memory-mapped I/O, or a DMA controller that can alter the data. It is important that the cache controller check that data in the cache is correct. Data in the cache that is old and may be incorrect is called "stale".


  1. Micro-Architecture "Skewed-associative caches have ... major advantages over conventional set-associative caches."

Further reading

  • simulators available for download at University of Maryland: Memory-Systems Research: "Computational Artifacts" can be used to measure cache performance and power dissipation for a microprocessor design without having to actually build it. This makes it much quicker and cheaper to explore various tradeoffs involved in cache design. ("Given a fixed size chip, if I sacrifice some L2 cache in order to make the L1 cache larger, will that make the overall performance better or worse?" "Is it better to use an extremely fast cycle time cache with low associativity, or a somewhat slower cycle time cache with high associativity giving a better hit rate?")

Virtual Memory

Virtual Memory is a computer concept where the main memory is broken up into a series of individual pages. Those pages can be moved in memory as a unit, or they can even be moved to secondary storage to make room in main memory for new data. In essence, virtual memory allows a computer to use more RAM then it has available.


Virtual memory can be implemented both in hardware and (to a lesser degree) in software, although many modern implementations have both hard and soft components. We discuss virtual memory here because many modern PC and server processors have virtual memory capabilities built in.

Pageing systems are designed to be transparent, that is the the programs running on the microprocessor do not need to be explicitly aware of the paging mechanism to operate correctly.

Many processor systems give pages certain qualifiers to specify what kinds of data can be stored in the page. For instance, many new processors specify whether a page contains instructions or data. Data pages may not be executed as instructions.

Memory Accessing

Memory addresses correspond to a particular page, and an offset within that page. If a page is 212 bytes in a 32-bit computer, then the first 22 bits of the memory address are the page address, and the lower 12 bits are the offset of the data inside that page. The top 22 bits in this case will be separated from the address, and they will be replaced with the current physical address of that page. If the page does not exist in main memory, the processor (or the paging software) will retrieve the page from secondary storage, which can cause a significant delay.


A page is a basic unit of memory, typically several kilobytes or larger. A page may be moved in memory to different locations, or if it is not being used frequently it can be moved to secondary storage instead. The area in the secondary storage is typically known as the page file, or as a "scratchpad" or something similar.

Page Table

The addresses of the various pages are stored in a paging table. The paging table itself can be stored in a memory unit inside the processor, or it can reside in a dedicated area of main memory.

Page Faults

A page fault occurs when the processor cannot find a page in the page table.

Translation Look-Aside Buffer

The translation look-aside buffer (TLB) is a small structure, similar to a cache, that stores the addresses of the most recently used pages. Looking up a page in the TLB is much faster then searching for the page in the page table. When the processor cannot find a particular page in the TLB, it is known as a "TLB Miss". When the TLB misses, the processor looks for the page in the page table. If the page is not in the table either, there is a page fault.

Notice that even though the TLB is similar to the cache mechanism, the two are not related.

Power Dissipation

In addition to power and performance, another useful metric for examining processors is in terms of the amount of power used. Power is a valuable commodity, especially in mobile or embedded environments, and in server farms. Processors that utilize less power are more highly prized in these areas then processors with more capability and better performance.

Gene's Law

Less well known then Moore's law is Gene's Law, named after Gene Frantz. According to Gene's law, the power dissipation in embedded DSP processors will decrease by half every 18 months.

Two reasons to reduce power

The power used by a microprocessor causes 2 problems. Some techniques reduce only peak power; some other techniques reduce only average power.

The peak power problem

  • All the power used by a microprocessor is eventually converted to heat energy. If too much heat energy is allowed to build up inside the microprocessor, the temperature will rise high enough to destroy the microprocessor.

This problem is solved by the cooling system, which replaces that problem with another problem:

  • The higher the peak power used by a microprocessor, the more expensive the up-front cost of the cooling system necessary to keep that processor from destroying itself.

The average power problem

  • The higher the average power used by a microprocessor, the higher the cost to the person who uses that microprocessor. That person must not only pay for the electric power going into the microprocessor, but also pay for cooling to pump waste heat energy all the way from the microprocessor to the outside environment.

In some situations, there are other reasons to reduce power:

  • Laptop designers want a small, lightweight laptop. The higher the average power used by a microprocessor, the heavier the battery must be to prove a given runtime.


In microprocessors, power is mostly dissipated as heat energy. This conversion to heat energy is a function of the size of the wires and transistors, and the operating frequency of the processor.

As transistors get smaller, the depletion region gets smaller, and current leaks through the transistor even when it is off. This leakage produces additional heat, and wastes additional power.

Heat can also cause materials to expand, which can alter the electrical characteristics of the tiny transistors and wires.

Many small microcontrollers don't need to worry about heat because they generate so little, but larger modern general purpose processors typically need to be accompanied by heat sinks and fans to help cool the processor. If a processor is running too hot, typically it can be slowed down to a lower clock rate to help prevent heat build up.

As power is a function of the square of the voltage, approximately, if you can reduce the power supply voltage by half, you can reduce the power dissipation by possibly three quarters. Because of this, microprocessor chips are quite often designed to run at what were once considered impossibly low voltages. The initial microprocessor chips, the Intel 8080 and the Motorola MC6800, were designed to run at 5.0 volts. More modern microprocessors, like the AMD Athlon K7 chips, are designed to run at 1.65 volts or even lower.

It should be noted that, in order to prevent uncontrollable heat buildup, many modern general-purpose microprocessors dynamically turn off parts of the chip. A computer that is being used for purely integer calculations does not need its floating point unit, and so power to the entire FPU, except possibly the register stack, is turned off. Major sections of the microprocessor, then, can be turned on and off several times per millisecond. While this does cut down average power draw and heat dissipation, it does put extraordinary demands on the power supply for the chip, which can see power requirements that jump 50% in microseconds.

further reading


  • Frantz, G., "Digital signal processor trends", IEEE Micro, Vol.20, Iss.6, Nov/Dec 2000, Pages:52-59


Further Reading

Related Wikibooks

Wikipedia Articles

Wikiversity Courses

Commons Image Categories

External Links


  • Patterson and Hennessy, Computer Organization and Design, 3rd Edition, Morgan Kaufman, 2005. ISBN 1558606041
  • ... should we list the other design books recommended by John Doran ? ...




Most images are located on wikimedia commons, and the licensing information for each individual image is available on that site.

GNU Free Documentation License

Version 1.2, November 2002

Copyright (C) 2000,2001,2002  Free Software Foundation, Inc.
51 Franklin St, Fifth Floor, Boston, MA  02110-1301  USA
Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies
of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.


The purpose of this License is to make a manual, textbook, or other functional and useful document "free" in the sense of freedom: to assure everyone the effective freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifying it, either commercially or noncommercially. Secondarily, this License preserves for the author and publisher a way to get credit for their work, while not being considered responsible for modifications made by others.

This License is a kind of "copyleft", which means that derivative works of the document must themselves be free in the same sense. It complements the GNU General Public License, which is a copyleft license designed for free software.

We have designed this License in order to use it for manuals for free software, because free software needs free documentation: a free program should come with manuals providing the same freedoms that the software does. But this License is not limited to software manuals; it can be used for any textual work, regardless of subject matter or whether it is published as a printed book. We recommend this License principally for works whose purpose is instruction or reference.


This License applies to any manual or other work, in any medium, that contains a notice placed by the copyright holder saying it can be distributed under the terms of this License. Such a notice grants a world-wide, royalty-free license, unlimited in duration, to use that work under the conditions stated herein. The "Document", below, refers to any such manual or work. Any member of the public is a licensee, and is addressed as "you". You accept the license if you copy, modify or distribute the work in a way requiring permission under copyright law.

A "Modified Version" of the Document means any work containing the Document or a portion of it, either copied verbatim, or with modifications and/or translated into another language.

A "Secondary Section" is a named appendix or a front-matter section of the Document that deals exclusively with the relationship of the publishers or authors of the Document to the Document's overall subject (or to related matters) and contains nothing that could fall directly within that overall subject. (Thus, if the Document is in part a textbook of mathematics, a Secondary Section may not explain any mathematics.) The relationship could be a matter of historical connection with the subject or with related matters, or of legal, commercial, philosophical, ethical or political position regarding them.

The "Invariant Sections" are certain Secondary Sections whose titles are designated, as being those of Invariant Sections, in the notice that says that the Document is released under this License. If a section does not fit the above definition of Secondary then it is not allowed to be designated as Invariant. The Document may contain zero Invariant Sections. If the Document does not identify any Invariant Sections then there are none.

The "Cover Texts" are certain short passages of text that are listed, as Front-Cover Texts or Back-Cover Texts, in the notice that says that the Document is released under this License. A Front-Cover Text may be at most 5 words, and a Back-Cover Text may be at most 25 words.

A "Transparent" copy of the Document means a machine-readable copy, represented in a format whose specification is available to the general public, that is suitable for revising the document straightforwardly with generic text editors or (for images composed of pixels) generic paint programs or (for drawings) some widely available drawing editor, and that is suitable for input to text formatters or for automatic translation to a variety of formats suitable for input to text formatters. A copy made in an otherwise Transparent file format whose markup, or absence of markup, has been arranged to thwart or discourage subsequent modification by readers is not Transparent. An image format is not Transparent if used for any substantial amount of text. A copy that is not "Transparent" is called "Opaque".

Examples of suitable formats for Transparent copies include plain ASCII without markup, Texinfo input format, LaTeX input format, SGML or XML using a publicly available DTD, and standard-conforming simple HTML, PostScript or PDF designed for human modification. Examples of transparent image formats include PNG, XCF and JPG. Opaque formats include proprietary formats that can be read and edited only by proprietary word processors, SGML or XML for which the DTD and/or processing tools are not generally available, and the machine-generated HTML, PostScript or PDF produced by some word processors for output purposes only.

The "Title Page" means, for a printed book, the title page itself, plus such following pages as are needed to hold, legibly, the material this License requires to appear in the title page. For works in formats which do not have any title page as such, "Title Page" means the text near the most prominent appearance of the work's title, preceding the beginning of the body of the text.

A section "Entitled XYZ" means a named subunit of the Document whose title either is precisely XYZ or contains XYZ in parentheses following text that translates XYZ in another language. (Here XYZ stands for a specific section name mentioned below, such as "Acknowledgements", "Dedications", "Endorsements", or "History".) To "Preserve the Title" of such a section when you modify the Document means that it remains a section "Entitled XYZ" according to this definition.

The Document may include Warranty Disclaimers next to the notice which states that this License applies to the Document. These Warranty Disclaimers are considered to be included by reference in this License, but only as regards disclaiming warranties: any other implication that these Warranty Disclaimers may have is void and has no effect on the meaning of this License.


You may copy and distribute the Document in any medium, either commercially or noncommercially, provided that this License, the copyright notices, and the license notice saying this License applies to the Document are reproduced in all copies, and that you add no other conditions whatsoever to those of this License. You may not use technical measures to obstruct or control the reading or further copying of the copies you make or distribute. However, you may accept compensation in exchange for copies. If you distribute a large enough number of copies you must also follow the conditions in section 3.

You may also lend copies, under the same conditions stated above, and you may publicly display copies.


If you publish printed copies (or copies in media that commonly have printed covers) of the Document, numbering more than 100, and the Document's license notice requires Cover Texts, you must enclose the copies in covers that carry, clearly and legibly, all these Cover Texts: Front-Cover Texts on the front cover, and Back-Cover Texts on the back cover. Both covers must also clearly and legibly identify you as the publisher of these copies. The front cover must present the full title with all words of the title equally prominent and visible. You may add other material on the covers in addition. Copying with changes limited to the covers, as long as they preserve the title of the Document and satisfy these conditions, can be treated as verbatim copying in other respects.

If the required texts for either cover are too voluminous to fit legibly, you should put the first ones listed (as many as fit reasonably) on the actual cover, and continue the rest onto adjacent pages.

If you publish or distribute Opaque copies of the Document numbering more than 100, you must either include a machine-readable Transparent copy along with each Opaque copy, or state in or with each Opaque copy a computer-network location from which the general network-using public has access to download using public-standard network protocols a complete Transparent copy of the Document, free of added material. If you use the latter option, you must take reasonably prudent steps, when you begin distribution of Opaque copies in quantity, to ensure that this Transparent copy will remain thus accessible at the stated location until at least one year after the last time you distribute an Opaque copy (directly or through your agents or retailers) of that edition to the public.

It is requested, but not required, that you contact the authors of the Document well before redistributing any large number of copies, to give them a chance to provide you with an updated version of the Document.


You may copy and distribute a Modified Version of the Document under the conditions of sections 2 and 3 above, provided that you release the Modified Version under precisely this License, with the Modified Version filling the role of the Document, thus licensing distribution and modification of the Modified Version to whoever possesses a copy of it. In addition, you must do these things in the Modified Version:

A. Use in the Title Page (and on the covers, if any) a title distinct from that of the Document, and from those of previous versions (which should, if there were any, be listed in the History section of the Document). You may use the same title as a previous version if the original publisher of that version gives permission.
B. List on the Title Page, as authors, one or more persons or entities responsible for authorship of the modifications in the Modified Version, together with at least five of the principal authors of the Document (all of its principal authors, if it has fewer than five), unless they release you from this requirement.
C. State on the Title page the name of the publisher of the Modified Version, as the publisher.
D. Preserve all the copyright notices of the Document.
E. Add an appropriate copyright notice for your modifications adjacent to the other copyright notices.
F. Include, immediately after the copyright notices, a license notice giving the public permission to use the Modified Version under the terms of this License, in the form shown in the Addendum below.
G. Preserve in that license notice the full lists of Invariant Sections and required Cover Texts given in the Document's license notice.
H. Include an unaltered copy of this License.
I. Preserve the section Entitled "History", Preserve its Title, and add to it an item stating at least the title, year, new authors, and publisher of the Modified Version as given on the Title Page. If there is no section Entitled "History" in the Document, create one stating the title, year, authors, and publisher of the Document as given on its Title Page, then add an item describing the Modified Version as stated in the previous sentence.
J. Preserve the network location, if any, given in the Document for public access to a Transparent copy of the Document, and likewise the network locations given in the Document for previous versions it was based on. These may be placed in the "History" section. You may omit a network location for a work that was published at least four years before the Document itself, or if the original publisher of the version it refers to gives permission.
K. For any section Entitled "Acknowledgements" or "Dedications", Preserve the Title of the section, and preserve in the section all the substance and tone of each of the contributor acknowledgements and/or dedications given therein.
L. Preserve all the Invariant Sections of the Document, unaltered in their text and in their titles. Section numbers or the equivalent are not considered part of the section titles.
M. Delete any section Entitled "Endorsements". Such a section may not be included in the Modified Version.
N. Do not retitle any existing section to be Entitled "Endorsements" or to conflict in title with any Invariant Section.
O. Preserve any Warranty Disclaimers.

If the Modified Version includes new front-matter sections or appendices that qualify as Secondary Sections and contain no material copied from the Document, you may at your option designate some or all of these sections as invariant. To do this, add their titles to the list of Invariant Sections in the Modified Version's license notice. These titles must be distinct from any other section titles.

You may add a section Entitled "Endorsements", provided it contains nothing but endorsements of your Modified Version by various parties--for example, statements of peer review or that the text has been approved by an organization as the authoritative definition of a standard.

You may add a passage of up to five words as a Front-Cover Text, and a passage of up to 25 words as a Back-Cover Text, to the end of the list of Cover Texts in the Modified Version. Only one passage of Front-Cover Text and one of Back-Cover Text may be added by (or through arrangements made by) any one entity. If the Document already includes a cover text for the same cover, previously added by you or by arrangement made by the same entity you are acting on behalf of, you may not add another; but you may replace the old one, on explicit permission from the previous publisher that added the old one.

The author(s) and publisher(s) of the Document do not by this License give permission to use their names for publicity for or to assert or imply endorsement of any Modified Version.


You may combine the Document with other documents released under this License, under the terms defined in section 4 above for modified versions, provided that you include in the combination all of the Invariant Sections of all of the original documents, unmodified, and list them all as Invariant Sections of your combined work in its license notice, and that you preserve all their Warranty Disclaimers.

The combined work need only contain one copy of this License, and multiple identical Invariant Sections may be replaced with a single copy. If there are multiple Invariant Sections with the same name but different contents, make the title of each such section unique by adding at the end of it, in parentheses, the name of the original author or publisher of that section if known, or else a unique number. Make the same adjustment to the section titles in the list of Invariant Sections in the license notice of the combined work.

In the combination, you must combine any sections Entitled "History" in the various original documents, forming one section Entitled "History"; likewise combine any sections Entitled "Acknowledgements", and any sections Entitled "Dedications". You must delete all sections Entitled "Endorsements."


You may make a collection consisting of the Document and other documents released under this License, and replace the individual copies of this License in the various documents with a single copy that is included in the collection, provided that you follow the rules of this License for verbatim copying of each of the documents in all other respects.

You may extract a single document from such a collection, and distribute it individually under this License, provided you insert a copy of this License into the extracted document, and follow this License in all other respects regarding verbatim copying of that document.


A compilation of the Document or its derivatives with other separate and independent documents or works, in or on a volume of a storage or distribution medium, is called an "aggregate" if the copyright resulting from the compilation is not used to limit the legal rights of the compilation's users beyond what the individual works permit. When the Document is included in an aggregate, this License does not apply to the other works in the aggregate which are not themselves derivative works of the Document.

If the Cover Text requirement of section 3 is applicable to these copies of the Document, then if the Document is less than one half of the entire aggregate, the Document's Cover Texts may be placed on covers that bracket the Document within the aggregate, or the electronic equivalent of covers if the Document is in electronic form. Otherwise they must appear on printed covers that bracket the whole aggregate.


Translation is considered a kind of modification, so you may distribute translations of the Document under the terms of section 4. Replacing Invariant Sections with translations requires special permission from their copyright holders, but you may include translations of some or all Invariant Sections in addition to the original versions of these Invariant Sections. You may include a translation of this License, and all the license notices in the Document, and any Warranty Disclaimers, provided that you also include the original English version of this License and the original versions of those notices and disclaimers. In case of a disagreement between the translation and the original version of this License or a notice or disclaimer, the original version will prevail.

If a section in the Document is Entitled "Acknowledgements", "Dedications", or "History", the requirement (section 4) to Preserve its Title (section 1) will typically require changing the actual title.


You may not copy, modify, sublicense, or distribute the Document except as expressly provided for under this License. Any other attempt to copy, modify, sublicense or distribute the Document is void, and will automatically terminate your rights under this License. However, parties who have received copies, or rights, from you under this License will not have their licenses terminated so long as such parties remain in full compliance.


The Free Software Foundation may publish new, revised versions of the GNU Free Documentation License from time to time. Such new versions will be similar in spirit to the present version, but may differ in detail to address new problems or concerns. See

Each version of the License is given a distinguishing version number. If the Document specifies that a particular numbered version of this License "or any later version" applies to it, you have the option of following the terms and conditions either of that specified version or of any later version that has been published (not as a draft) by the Free Software Foundation. If the Document does not specify a version number of this License, you may choose any version ever published (not as a draft) by the Free Software Foundation.


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address