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Teaching Microarchitecture through Metaphors

Eum, Julianna; Sethumadhavan, Simha

Students traditionally learn microarchitecture by studying textual descriptions with diagrams but few analogies. Several popular textbooks on this topic introduce concepts such as pipelining and caching in the context of simple paper-only architectures. While this instructional style allows important concepts to be covered within a given class period, students have difficulty bridging the gap between what is covered in classes and real-world implementations. Discussing concrete implementations and complications would, however, take too much time. In this paper, we propose a technique of representing microarchitecture building blocks with animated metaphors to accelerate the process of learning about complex microarchitectures. We represent hardware implementations as road networks that include specific patterns of traffic flow found in microarchitectural behavior. Our experiences indicate an 83% improvement to understanding memory system microarchitecture. We believe the mental models developed by these students will serve them in remembering microarchitectural behavior and extend to learning new microarchitectures more easily.

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Academic Units
Computer Science
Publisher
Department of Computer Science, Columbia University
Series
Columbia University Computer Science Technical Reports, CUCS-006-14
Published Here
June 17, 2014
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