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On The Use Of A Soft Core Processor In Junior Microprocessors Course

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Laboratory Development in ECE Education

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.946.1 - 13.946.12



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Paper Authors

author page

Arlen Planting Boise State University

author page

Sin Ming Loo Boise State University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Use of Soft-core Processor in a Junior Level Microprocessors Course Abstract

Traditionally, microprocessor courses are taught using discrete microprocessors. With the availability of field-programmable gate array and associated soft-core processors, this traditional approach can be changed to provide added educational benefits. The junior level microprocessors course at Boise State University was recently updated using the Altera Nios II soft-core processor. The goal of this course is to teach the basics of microprocessors and peripheral interfacing techniques. Along with replacing the traditional discrete microprocessor with a soft-core processor, the course was modified with the addition of the C programming language. The course used assembly language to teach the features and capabilities of the Nios II processor (instructions, registers and memory) and quickly migrate to the C programming language using a task-oriented approach rather than an exhaustive coverage of the language. Both instructors and students gained valuable experience through this process.

Course Objective

The ECE 332/332L Microprocessors course at Boise State University covers microprocessor architecture, software development tools, and hardware interfacing with emphasis on 16- and 32- bit microprocessor systems. Machine and assembly language programming, instruction set, addressing modes, programming techniques, memory systems, I/O interfacing, and interrupt handling are among the topics studied with practical applications in data acquisition, control, and interfacing. This course was reported to be a favorite of many students, largely because of the interesting devices that could be played with by the end of the course (such as the magnetic card reader). The intent was to retain and potentially enhance this characteristic of the course with the changes implemented.

One impetus to update the Microprocessors course came from experiences teaching advanced computer engineering courses with field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). Since at that time the students had not previously been exposed to FPGAs and soft-core processors, valuable time was spent teaching basic concepts that could reasonably be learned in lower level classes. Updating lower level courses such as the Microprocessors course was undertaken to advance the process of providing a foundation for the advanced level curriculum. It was also observed that seasoned hardware engineers from the local computer engineering community were returning to school to improve their software skills. Enhanced software development skills would not only benefit students in advanced digital courses that require a higher level of proficiency in programming, but would also increase the students’ future value in the workplace.


Since the ECE 332/332L Microprocessors course is a requisite for both electrical and computer engineering (ECE) and computer science students, the course must endeavor to address the disparate interests and needs of students in both disciplines. In addition to those specializing in computer engineering, the ECE group includes students interested primarily in other areas such as integrated circuits, communication and signal processing, control systems, power and energy


Planting, A., & Loo, S. M. (2008, June), On The Use Of A Soft Core Processor In Junior Microprocessors Course Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3805

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