Imagination Technologies has launched a CPU education infrastructure: the MIPSfpga 2.0, which represents a comprehensive set of materials for teaching computer architecture—including full, open access to a MIPS CPU to let students see the actual RTL code and study the inner workings of the processor.

MIPSfpga 2.0 includes two expanded packages: a Getting Started Guide and MIPSfpga Labs that gives students practical exercises that take them deep into the CPU design. The Getting Started Guide enables students and professors to set up the MIPS core on an FPGA platform, program it and debug it. This package contains the unobfuscated RTL of the MIPS microAptiv CPU, reference guides, an installer for Open OCD and Codescape Essentials, plus other essential elements. The MIPSfpga Labs package has 25 practical exercises—16 more than in the original MIPSfpga materials—including a look at how the pipeline works, an exploration of cache memory, and creating user defined instructions (UDIs). A third package, MIPSfpga SoC, focuses on Linux loading and configuration.

“With MIPSfpga 2.0, the number of practical exercises has increased considerably. The original MIPSfpga exercises focused on working with the core from the system level. With the new version, students can start modifying the core itself and explore and modify the memory system. For students trying to understand the cache, how the pipeline works, how stalling affects performance, plus many other things, they can now get inside the core and find out for themselves. They can test different strategies and truly learn by doing. This is a game changer for CPU architecture education because it brings the theoretical, practical and professional practice together for the first time," said Dr. Sarah Harris, associate professor, Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and co-author of the MIPSfpga 2.0 teaching infrastructure.

The MIPSfpga 2.0 CPU and related materials are available as free-to-download packages from the Imagination University Programme (IUP) website.