TitleIntroducing Graphics Processing from a Systems Perspective: A Hardware / Software Approach
Publication TypeConference Papers
AuthorsM. Steffen, P. Jones and J. Zambreno
Conference NameProceedings of the Annual Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)
Date PublishedJune

Typical courses in computer graphics focus mainly on the core graphics rendering algorithms and software interfaces - hardware and system-level issues are addressed, if at all, through classroom lectures of industrial case studies. We have recently introduced a senior technical elective which introduces graphics processing from the perspective of the software developer, hardware architect, and system integrator. Towards this end, lecture topics are designed for students with no computer graphics background, and focus on solving specific computing problems using skills learned from a variety of computer engineering courses (e.g. digital logic, computer architecture, software design, embedded systems). As part of the laboratory component, students are presented with a series of bi-weekly design challenges that are geared towards implementing a particular module in the 3D graphics pipeline (with both hardware and software support) using an FPGA-based hardware prototyping platform. Although the main focus of the labs is on architectural design, hardware implementation, and hardware / software verification; each assignment also involves both a functional correctness as well as an optional performance optimization component. Only by analyzing the interactions between the graphics application, middleware, architecture, and logic levels can the performance optimization goal be achieved. Each subsequent challenge builds upon those previous, such that by the end of the semester students will have designed and implemented a fully-functional OpenGL-compliant graphics processor, capable of running significant applications. The course was introduced in the Spring of 2011 and the results from the final course project indicated that many of our intended learning objectives were met; student feedback was also positive.