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Chip Letter Links No. 9 : RISC-V, Tank Simulation, Unix History, IBM Research, Fred Brooks and more.
Great links, reading and images for 18 November 2022
Hi everyone and thanks for subscribing. This is one of a regular series of posts with links, images and articles of interest, inspired by Adam Tooze’s excellent Chartbook.
Each edition starts with a beautiful die image. This week we have an Intel Raptor Lake CPU courtesy of Fritzchens Fritz.
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RISC-V: The Last ISA?
Consistent with my promise not to clutter your inbox (which means no more than two emails a week!) I posted, but did not email, a short article earlier this week where I ponder whether we will ever need another ISA after RISC-V.
I am ready for the successor, Risc-6, already. It can retain most details of RISC-V while fixing its more glaring deficiencies. It is not a mistake to optimize an ISA for use in undergraduate courses, but probably is one to use identically the same ISA industrially.
As an experiment I’m starting a chat on the topic of RISC-V today. If you’re on one of the Substack Apps with chat then do turn to the chat tab and tell me what you think about RISC-V.
Sad to learn, as I was drafting this post, that Fred Brooks has died at the age of 91. He was a hugely significant figure in the development of computing at IBM in the 1960s and 1970s. From Wikipedia:
Frederick Phillips "Fred" Brooks Jr. (born April 19, 1931, died November 17, 2022) was an American computer architect, software engineer, and computer scientist, best known for managing the development of IBM's System/360 family of computers and the OS/360 software support package, then later writing candidly about the process in his seminal book The Mythical Man-Month.
Brooks made the decision to use 8-bit rather than 6-bit bytes in the S/360. He also coined the term ‘computer architecture’.
What a remarkable and outstanding legacy. There is a two hour long interview with Brooks following the award of a Turing Award in 1999.
And here he is at the age of 86, still active, discussing his seminal paper ‘No silver bullet’ with a group of young programmers and enjoying his pizza on the way.
Tank Virtual (Actual) Reality
With the fashion for immersive environments it’s interesting to look at attempts to achieve this in earlier years.
From Switzerland we have the refurbishment of a tank training system that flies a camera over a small scale model of the training terrain.
When the system was refurbished the only part that needed replacing completely was the computer which has now been replaced with a Raspberry PI!
No operating system has been more influential than Unix so it’s amazing to see the recreation of the history of Unix on GitHub. From the README:
The history and evolution of the Unix operating system is made available as a revision management repository, covering the period from its inception in 1970 as a 2.5 thousand line kernel and 26 commands, to 2018 as a widely-used 30 million line system. The 1.5GB repository contains about half a million commits and more than two thousand merges. The repository employs Git system for its storage and is hosted on GitHub. It has been created by synthesizing with custom software 24 snapshots of systems developed at Bell Labs, the University of California at Berkeley, and the 386BSD team, two legacy repositories, and the modern repository of the open source FreeBSD system. In total, about one thousand individual contributors are identified, the early ones through primary research. The data set can be used for empirical research in software engineering, information systems, and software archaeology.
Here’s a sample of PDP-7 assembly complete with an icon of Dennis Ritchie, who created Unix along with Ken Thompson.
The full GitHub repo is here.
Refurbished ASML Systems
ASML may make the most advanced lithography systems in the world but that doesn't mean that they neglect their older systems. You can buy refurbished ASML products direct from the manufacturer.
These even include the PAS 5500 from as early as 1991. Here is a comment from ASML:
May 9, 2021 marks 30 years since the first-ever PAS 5500 platform was shipped. PAS 5500 shaped ASML’s market success and technology leadership – becoming our longest-lived lithography platform and one of our most versatile product lines.
And here is a short video on the PAS 5500.
Incredible to see that you can still buy one of these today.
Just in case you want one the link is here (non affiliate link!).
IBM Research Photostream
My photo find of the week. The Flickr feed from IBM research in Zurich. Lots of photos of quantum computing machinery.
And of EUV lithography equipment.
Just to highlight a couple of posts coming soon. Firstly, a two-part history of the founding of ASML. Slight spoiler alert: it’s a remarkable and unlikely story.
Then the story of the Zilog Z8000, the CPU that Federico Faggin designed after the famous Z80. Why did it never compete successfully against the Intel 8086 and the Motorola 68000? It’s a story with lots of lessons. Do subscribe for these and lots of other material.
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If you’re hungry for more ASML related content before out next update I can recommend the excellent series of videos from Asianometry.
And the documentary on ASML from Dutch broadcaster VPRO.
Elon may have locked the doors but I’m still on Twitter. Do pop over and say hello whilst it still exists!
That’s it for this edition. Have a great weekend everyone!