Learning with Computer Chip That's Inside Portable Devices Designed to Give UB Students Competitive Edge in Job Market

Release Date: September 24, 2002 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. - While computer-chip makers race against the competition to turn out ever-more powerful microprocessors, professors educating the chip designers of tomorrow face a different struggle, searching for a microprocessor that is appropriate for teaching undergraduates and used in enough consumer products to give students a competitive edge when they enter the job market.

Faculty at the University at Buffalo said they were "in the right place at the right time" when two years ago UB became one of the first universities in the U.S. to select the ARM Ltd. microprocessor for introductory microprocessor courses that are required for junior computer-engineering majors.

"We looked at a number of processors, trying to decide what was best for the students," said Ramalingam Sridhar, Ph.D., UB professor of computer science and engineering who has taught introductory microprocessor courses at UB since 1979.

"The ARM chip seemed ideal, so in 2000 we took a gamble and decided to go with ARM. It was a gamble because we were practically the only ones doing it, and because there was virtually no teaching material available."

Since then, the ARM microprocessor has popped up in increasing numbers in portable devices, including cell phones, personal digital assistants, handheld games and digital cameras. It's estimated that ARM microprocessors are used in more than two-thirds of the products in the portable device market.

"That makes a difference to our students," Sridhar said. "They tell us that their friends at other schools are envious of their advantage in having learned the ARM microprocessor at this level."

Sridhar, who recently was awarded a seed grant from UB to develop course material and an interactive Web site for students, has been working closely with ARM to develop course material and manuals. In June, he gave an invited talk on how he uses the ARM microprocessor to

teach undergraduates at the David C. Evans Conference on Computer Engineering Education in Homestead, Utah.

"ARM is pleased to have the opportunity to work with professor Sridhar and the University at Buffalo faculty," said Andrew Sloss, ARM's strategic support manager.

"This group of professionals has truly taken the lead among the academic community in developing students' computer-science and electrical-engineering skills, enhancing their marketability in today's competitive job environment. We're proud to support the UB program by providing the tools needed to prepare graduates to work with today's most widely used computing applications, as well as drive future technological advances and progress."

Sridhar said that during the past four years, driven in part by new requirements from the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology, many universities have been looking to make a switch to a new microprocessor to teach introductory microprocessor courses and courses in embedded hardware.

The old Intel chips, the 8085 and 8086, were the mainstays of those courses beginning in the early 1980s when the field was in its infancy. While some schools have opted to "upgrade" to Intel's Pentium processor, Sridhar said there are drawbacks to that strategy.

"The Pentium is a great processor, and it's a bit less of a learning curve for the faculty since we've all been very familiar with the Intel architecture," he said, "but at the same time, it's also an extremely complex chip, which many of us believe to be inappropriate for a junior-level course."

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