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Adventures in Computer Architecture: Lattice Gas Automata

Tuesday December 3, 2002
Hamerschlag Hall D-210
4:00 p.m.

Andreas Nowatzyk

Associate Professor of ECE and RI, Carnegie Mellon University

Computer architecture is a maturing discipline with established criteria to evaluate new ideas. Developing a competitive microprocessor keeps hundreds of engineers busy for years. The development costs for computing platforms that include I/O, memory and storage structures are even higher. Hence it is no surprise that this discipline is dominated by small, evolutionary refinements. Gone are the days of bold, radically different, innovative ideas. Instead, mainstream computer architecture is concerned with improving branch predictors, find a some more instruction level parallelism, add a bit more speculation, tweak the cache hierarchy a little more or perhaps address some reliability problems. Research and innovation along these lines requires a very costly infrastructure and familiarity with the myriad of technology constraints and design trade-offs. Thus nearly all of this work is happening behind the closed doors of Intel, IBM, AMD, Sony... However computer architecture research in academia is far from dead. Our strength is not having to worry about a billion lines of Windows code. We can think about how to solve important, REAL problems that do not fit the current microprocessor paradigm. There are solutions to important problems that are completely alien to a mainstream computer architect. Lattice Gas Automata (LGA) are one such example: without any floating point arithmetic, LGA can solve fluid-dynamic problems more efficiently than a traditional supercomputer. LGA are a special class of cellular automata (CA). More commonly known CA include John Conway's game of life, John von Neumann's self-replicating computer and the-new-kind-of-science's rule 110 by that impossible to remember fellow. In 1976 Hardy, de Pazzis and Pomeau proposed a CA in which each bit of the state of a cell only affects the next state of a distinct neighbor. Such CA can model discretized versions of a billiard ball table where collisions occur only at the cells of a certain, regular lattice. Collisions may maintain certain properties, such as the number of balls, the total momentum, etc. Since then, LGA have been refined to model a wide range of physical problems. In this talk, I will give a brief overview of LGA and other cellular automata machines from the perspective of a traditional computer architect. LGA research is a highly developed, quite subtle field of research that can't be covered in an hour. But it should be fun to take a look at it to provoke some out-of-the-box thinking.

After receiving his PhD in Computer Science from CMU, Andreas Nowatzyk developed distributed shared memory multiprocessors at Sun Microsystems. allowed all workstation within a building to be interconnected to form one distributed multiprocessor that efficiently shared all computing resources. He and his team at Sun developed the first single chip router with multiple, integrated serial interfaces operating at >1 Gb/sec. His work on processor/memory integration at Sun predates similar work at Berkeley and resulted in several basic patents. At Digital/Compaq's Western Research Laboratory, he worked on the Piranha chip multiprocessor, which refined several of the innovations from Even though the nearly completed Piranha CMP was canceled along with the Alpha microprocessor, it influenced projects under development at Intel and Sun. After working for 10 years in industry on scalable MP systems for commercial application, he is now an associate professor at CMU's ECE department and the Robotics Institute. Besides computer architecture, his research interests include optics, high resolution imaging, signal processing, and computational biology.



Department of Electrical and Computer EngineeringCarnegie Mellon UniversitySchool of Computer Science