Hardware Systems Teaching Laboratory

The UNC Department of Computer Science believes that understanding basic hardware system design issues will enable our students, after graduation, to be more effective members of design teams consisting of specialists from many disciplines. We, therefore, set the goal of expanding the computer science graduate and undergraduate programs beyond a software-only focus to include instruction in the art and science of building complete information processing systems. In working toward this goal, the Department of Computer Science has added a teaching faculty position in this area, created a three-course series on hardware systems, and opened the Hardware Systems Teaching Laboratory.

The three-course series is designed: 1) to acquaint students with little or no previous hardware background with the issues and practice of designing computing hardware, 2) to further advance their understanding of the current practice of computer systems design with an emphasis on providing a grounding in the fundamentals on which future team leaders can build, and 3) to mentor the students through the development of a complete hardware-software computing system, not as a toy project but rather as a functioning system to support their research.

The University committed space for the lab and funds to staff it and equip it with workbenches, cabinets, and supplies. The Hardware Systems Teaching Laboratory opened its doors in the fall of 1997, coinciding with the first course offering in hardware systems. This course far exceeded enrollment predictions.

Intel's Technology for Education 2000 program donated computers to provide both the experimental platforms and the CAD tools for this new laboratory. Each workbench in the lab now has two computer systems--one to be used as an experimental testbed and the other as a CAD/instrument system.

Student projects include a wide variety of information sensing, processing, and display elements with a combination of special-purpose and conventional hardware and a strong software component. Using Intel computers with WindowsNT operating system software, students become acquainted with interface issues on the systems they are most likely to encounter in future designs.

The CAD software and instrumentation hardware runs on a separate Intel-donated computer at each workbench. We believe that the combination of design and simulation software with standard data acquisition hardware and software at each station will: 1) draw in students who are naturally more familiar and comfortable with software-based tools, and 2) represent the sort of design and test tools they are most likely to use when working on future design teams.

The second course in the three-part series will be offered during the spring semester 1999.

Last content review: 19 July 2001
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