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Introducing Graphics Processing from a Systems Perspective: A Hardware/Software Approach

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

ECE Curriculum Improvement

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.842.1 - 25.842.16

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Paper Authors


Michael Steffen Iowa State University

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Michael Steffen is a Ph.D. candidate in computer engineering and NSF Graduate Research Fellow. His research interests include computer architecture, graphics hardware, computer graphics, and embedded systems, and specifically he focuses on improving SIMT processor thread efficiency using a mixture of custom architectures and programming models. He received a B.S. degrees in both mechanical engineering and electrical engineering from Valparaiso University in 2007.

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Phillip H. Jones III Iowa State University

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Phillip H. Jones received his B.S. degree in 1999 and M.S. degree in 2002 in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He received his Ph.D. degree in 2008 in computer engineering from Washington University in St. Louis. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University, Ames, where he has been since 2008. His research interests are in adaptive computing systems, reconfigurable hardware, embedded systems, and hardware architectures for application specific acceleration. Jones received Intel Corporation sponsored Graduate Engineering Minority (GEM) Fellowships from 1999-2000 and from 2003-2004. He received the best paper award from the IEEE International Conference on VLSI Design in 2007.

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Joseph Zambreno Iowa State University

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Joseph Zambreno has been with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University since 2006, where he is currently an Assistant Professor. Prior to joining ISU, he was at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., where he graduated with his Ph.D. degree in electrical and computer engineering in 2006, his M.S. degree in electrical and computer engineering in 2002, and his B.S. degree summa cum laude in computer engineering in 2001. While at Northwestern University, Zambreno was a recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a Northwestern University Graduate School Fellowship, a Walter P. Murphy Fellowship, and the EECS department Best Dissertation Award for his Ph.D. dissertation titled "Compiler and Architectural Approaches to Software Protection and Security."

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Introducing Graphics Processing from a Systems Perspective: A Hardware / Software ApproachTypical courses in computer graphics focus mainly on the core graphics rendering algorithmsand software interfaces – hardware and system-level issues are addressed, if at all, throughclassroom lectures of industrial case studies. We have recently introduced a senior technicalelective which introduces graphics processing from the perspective of the software developer,hardware architect, and system integrator. Towards this end, lecture topics are designed forstudents with no computer graphics background, and focus on solving specific computingproblems using skills learned from a variety of computer engineering courses (e.g. digital logic,computer architecture, software design, embedded systems). As part of the laboratorycomponent, students are presented with a series of bi-weekly design challenges that are gearedtowards implementing a particular module in the 3D graphics pipeline (with both hardware andsoftware support) using an FPGA-based hardware prototyping platform. Although the mainfocus of the labs is on architectural design, hardware implementation, and hardware / softwareverification, each challenge also involves both a functional correctness as well as an optionalperformance optimization component. Only by analyzing the interactions between the graphicsapplication, middleware, architecture, and logic levels can the performance optimization goal beachieved. Each subsequent challenge builds upon those previous, such that by the end of thesemester students will have designed and implemented a fully-functional OpenGL-compliantgraphics processor, capable of running significant applications. The course was introduced in theSpring of 2011 and the results from the final course project indicated that many of our intendedlearning objectives were met; student feedback was also positive.

Steffen, M., & Jones, P. H., & Zambreno, J. (2012, June), Introducing Graphics Processing from a Systems Perspective: A Hardware/Software Approach Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas.

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