24 September 2011

I’ve always been interested in working with computers and have been fascinated by them for most of my life. How can something as simple as a transistor be built into something as powerful as a computer?

My background is heavily Commodore centric with a C64 followed by an Amiga 1200. The Amiga was a fantastic machine and the things it could do in just 2MB of RAM remains amazing. The Amiga 500 had some very nice games and it only had 512KB of RAM. The CPU in the Amiga 1200 was a Motorola 680EC20 processor clocked in at 14Mhz. Yeah, that’s not a typo. Compare that to the Macbook Pro that I’m writing this post on that runs at 2,660Mhz.

Now, I know full well that clock speed is not the be all and end all. I spent well over five years explaining this to PC users who couldn’t grasp that my 14Mhz Amiga could kick the crap out of their 66Mhz 486…

Anyway the point I wanted to make was that I was used to seeing the Amiga do so much with so little. Now we have computers with 8GB of RAM, Intel i7 processors with speeds measured in gigahertz… But where is the quantum leap in performance that should have accompanied this massive improvement?

Frankly it’s been squandered. The Amiga had a perfectly usable GUI called Workbench and it worked really well. If you had a bit of extra RAM you could run Directory OPUS which was awesome. When I say a bit of extra RAM, I of course mean 8MB or 16MB. These days operating systems required at least 512MB of RAM before they can even boot into a graphical interface.

So, I want to get back to basics. The module I’m studying at the moment on computer architecture is fascinating and I’m learning a lot - but I want to do more. I’m also interested in working with very high throughput data feeds, feeds that even a powerful computer has trouble processing. I’ve found a solution to both.

The NetFPGA Project is an open source FPGA platform that’s been designed for academic and research purposes. It comes with everything you need to get started and loads of tutorials. There’s also a large community around the project so help should always be at hand.

I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty :)

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