VLSI Archive Main Links

Compiled by Lynn Conway

Copyright © 2008-13, Lynn Conway  [V 7-30-13]  


Lynn Conway, Alan Bell, Martin Newell and Dick Lyon,

with packaged chips from MPC79, Jan. 2, 1980


This page provides links into key documents and files regarding the 'Mead-Conway' VLSI design revolution. In many cases links are provided to scans of the original documents (in PDF format). 

The page is organized into three main sections. The first describes the innovation and exploratory development of the Mead-Conway design and implementation methods up through the publication of the Mead-Conway text and the successful large-scale demonstration trial called "MPC79". The second section describes the subsequent propagation, adoption, leveraging and commercialization of the methods. The third section provides some reflections on what happened and a summary of the impact of the revolution in VLSI design.

For a general overview of events, start with "The MPC Adventures" and then browse down the "Main Links" page. An overview of each document or file can be accessed by clicking its item-number at the left (such as 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.). Each overview then links to further pages in the archive.

Note that this archive is a work in progress, and is being continually updated as we uncover further documents and artifacts. Thus you might revisit from time to time, to track the latest progress. See also the "VLSI Archive Spreadsheet", which provides another means of accessing the archive's pages and following the updating.



Links to Key Overview References:

i.        The MPC Adventures  PDF (30p; 1.9mb)

ii.       Special issue of the IEEE Solid State Circuits Magazine, VOL. 4, NO. 4, FALL 2012


Section 1: Innovation and exploratory development of the design methods:

1.1.     Background and context

1.2.     The Xerox PARC/Caltech collaboration

1.3.     Draft versions of the Mead-Conway Text document to evolve the new methods

1.4.     A Guide to LSI Implementation, 1st Ed PDF (155p; 5.7mb)

1.5.     MIT'78 VLSI design course  PDF (32p; 3.1mb)

1.6.     Guidebook for the Instructor of VLSI System Design  PDF (275p; 12.2mb)

1.7.     A Guide to LSI Implementation, 2nd Ed PDF (182p; 7.0mb)

1.8.     MPC79: A large-scale demonstration of a new way to create systems in silicon  PDF (10p; 2.9mb)

1.9.     MPC79 messages, notes and files PDF (188p; 3.9mb)

1.10    MPC79 chip photos PDF (32p; 5.8mb)

1.11.   MPC79 Implementation Documentation PDF (51p; 2.2mb)

1.12.   MPC580 Implementation Documentation PDF (42p; 1.2mb)

1.13.   Electronics Award Article alerts the industry  PDF (6p; 3.7mb)


Section 2: Early propagation, adoption, leveraging and commercialization of the methods:

2.1.    Short Intensive VLSI Design Courses (...TBD...)

2.2.    Lambda - the Magazine of VLSI Design (see links)

2.3    The early VLSI Conferences (...TBD...see links)

2.4.    Implementation Services (MOSIS, AusMPC, NORCHIP, CMP, E.I.S., EUROCHIP) (see links)

2.5.    '82-'83 VLSI Instructors  PDF (6p; 195kb)

2.6.    The DARPA VLSI Program (..TBD..)

2.7.    Early Classic VLSI Design Tools (see links)

2.8.    Early Classic VLSI Designs (see links)

2.9.    The Emerging VLSI EDA Industry (...TBD...)

2.10.  The Emerging "Foundry Services" (see links)


III: Reflections on what happened:

3.1.    The Design of VLSI Design Methods (see links)

3.2     Mead-Conway Impact (TBD)

3.3.    Mead-Conway References (...TBD...)

3.4.    Lynn's VLSI Archive Spreadsheet  XLS


Links to Key Overview References:


i.  "The MPC Adventures PDF (30p; 1.9mb)

In January 1981, Lynn Conway gave an invited talk at the Second Caltech Conference on Very Large Scale Integration. Her talk provided a sketch of the early Mead-Conway work on VLSI design methodology, and the efforts to evolve, refine, test, debug and propagate the resulting VLSI design methods. Lynn's talk was transcribed and published as "The MPC Adventures", Xerox PARC Technical Report VLSI-81-2 It was also published in Microprocessing and Microprogramming - The Euromicro Journal, Vol. 10, No. 4, November 1982, pp
209-228. PDF
(20p; 8.0mb)

That report provides an overview of the Mead-Conway work, and is a good starting point for visualizing the unfolding of the VLSI design revolution.


ii.  Special issue of the IEEE Solid State Circuits Magazine, VOL. 4, NO. 4, FALL 2012, commemorating Lynn's VLSI research:

Front Cover; Table of Contents; Society Listing; Contributors; Editor's Note, by Mary Lanzerotti

Lynn Conway, “Reminiscences of the VLSI Revolution: How a series of failures triggered a paradigm shift in digital design” (SSCM Link, references, timeline)

Chuck House, “A Paradigm Shift Was Happening All Around Us” (SSCM Link)

Carlo Sequin,  “Witnessing the Birth of VLSI Design" (SSCM Link)

Ken Shepard,  ““Covering”: How We Missed the Inside-Story of the VLSI Revolution” (SSCM Link)



1: Innovation and exploratory development of the design methods:


This first section describes the innovation and exploratory development of the Mead-Conway design and implementation methods, from the formation of a collaboration between Xerox PARC and Caltech's Computer Science Department up through the publication of the Mead-Conway text and the successful large-scale demonstration trial called "MPC79".


1.1.   Background and Context:

In the early 70's, Bruce Hoeneisen and Carver Mead made important contributions to our understanding of the physical limits of MOS scaling (B. Hoeneisen and C. A. Mead, "Fundamental Limitations in Microelectronics-I. MOS Technology," Solid State Electronics 15:819-829, 1972.). Sensing the coming opportunity for exploiting increased circuit density, Mead began teaching a series of MOS-LSI integrated circuit design courses at Caltech, building upon the nMOS circuit design knowledge just then emerging at Intel Corporation.

In the mid-to-late '60's, Lynn Conway contributed to high-performance computer architecture, hierarchical multi-level simulation and the "design of the computer design process" at IBM Research and IBM-ACS, developing insights into key parts of the larger puzzle Mead and Conway would go on to solve.  In the early 70's Lynn undertook the design of a compound OCR/FAX system at Xerox PARC.  Becoming frustrated by the difficulty of implementing her architectural visions in off-the-shelf TTL, she became intrigued by the potential of the new MOS-LSI technology.

In 1975, DARPA commissioned a study by the Rand Corporation regarding the basic limitations of microelectronic fabrication, leading to publication of the Sutherland-Mead-Everhart 'ARPA Report' in '76. In parallel with that work, Bert Sutherland at Xerox-PARC and Ivan Sutherland at Caltech began exploring how they might join forces to undertake research on questions raised in the report.

The "Sutherland letter" - - -

1.2.   The Xerox PARC/Caltech collaboration:

In early '76 the Sutherland brothers established a formal collaboration between research teams at PARC (Lynn Conway and Douglas Fairbairn) and Caltech (Carver Mead, Jim Rowson, Dave Johannsen), to explore and develop design methods and tools that would enable complex digital system architectures to be more easily implemented in silicon than in the past.

Some of the research issues to explored by the Xerox/Caltech teams were those discussed in the Sutherland-Mead-Everhart ARPA report. Others were outlined by Sutherland and Mead in a Scientific American article, "Microelectronics and Computer Science", published later on in 1977.

Work got underway in mid '76 at PARC on the ICARUS LSI layout system and at Caltech on a data-path chip known as "OM" ("our machine"). Mead helped stimulate interest among a wider set of researchers at PARC by offering a short-intensive course on MOS LSI circuit design that summer, presenting methods then emerging in the pioneering work of Federico Faggin at Intel Corporation. The cross-fertilization of knowledge among PARC and Caltech researchers about device physics, MOS circuit design, computer architecture, design tool development and design-process design was exciting indeed, and the overall potential of the teams' collective knowledge soon became apparent to all involved.

In early '77, Conway invented a new form of scalable, dimensionless design rules, and this invention quickly led Mead and Conway to shift the work towards far more ambitious goals. Conway theorized that a methodology could be constructed that could be as easily learned as TTL design and used by digital designers in place of TTL design, thus positioning VLSI chip design for much wider participation and impact.

In a period of intense collaborative work during that spring, Mead and Conway formulated the basics of the new design methodology - which cut through and bypassed previously existing complexities at all levels of abstraction, carefully selecting what was necessary and sufficient for inclusion and then leaving out all the rest.

Conway began working up tutorial overviews of the new methods, in an effort to explain to others what she and Carver were up to - and these became the foundation for the textbook soon to come. At the same time, the new "Mead-Conway structured design methodology", including the new scalable layout design rules, was rigorously applied by Dave Johannsen to the design of the OM2 at Caltech, yielding many detailed examples of micro-processor subsystem design using the new methods.

Mead and Conway then faced a dilemma: What could they do with these promising, but as yet unproven, new design methods?  Writing journal papers hardly seemed a plausible way to disseminate a paradigm-shift in chip design!

In a Xerox/Caltech team meeting at PARC in the early summer of '77, Lynn suggested the idea of writing a book and self-publishing it using the Alto personal computers at Xerox PARC, as a way to document, disseminate, test and evolve the methods. Work began soon after, and a draft of the first three chapters was ready for testing in two courses in the fall of '77. By the spring of '78 five chapters were available for testing in more courses.

In parallel with development and documentation of the design methodology, work proceeded at PARC on improved tools for chip layout and implementation - tools specifically designed to support the new design methods and design rules:

Fairbairn and Rowson soon completed the development and implementation of ICARUS (see this video demonstration from '78-'79), while Bob Sproull and Dick Lyon began work on formal specification of what would become the CIF 2.0 layout interchange format. CIF 2.0 would go on to enable wide sharing of design files and design tools, especially via the then-new ARPAnet (internet).

All these developments found their way into the textbook to come, becoming part of the overall system of new VLSI design and implementation methods.

1.3.   Drafts of the Mead-Conway Textbook, Introduction to VLSI Systems

The evolving Mead-Conway VLSI design methodology was documented, tested and refined via a series of self-published drafts of what would become the textbook Introduction to VLSI Systems. The prepublication versions were used in a succession of integrated circuit and system design courses, in order to test and refine the design methods and their exposition in the text.

The first three chapters of the text (prepublication version 1, PDF; 118p;11.4mb) were used in the fall of '77 by Carver Mead at Caltech and Carlo Sequin at U. C. Berkeley, as course notes within courses on integrated circuit design. The first five chapters (prepublication version 2; PDF; 258p; 8.9mb) were used during the spring of '78 in courses by Ivan Sutherland and Amr Mohsen at Caltech, by Robert Sproull at Carnegie-Mellon University, by Dov Frohman-Bentchkowsky at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and by Fred Rosenberger at Washington University, St. Louis.

A draft of the full nine chapters of the text (prepublication version 3, PDF; 425p; 28.3mb) was used in courses at Caltech and U.C. Berkeley and by Lynn Conway in a new VLSI system design course at M.I.T, in the fall of 1978.  The final draft of the textbook itself was created from revisions of version 3 and published by Addison-Wesley in the fall of 1979, just in time for courses at many universities that fall (and thus in time for MPC79).

The prepublication drafts of the text were written and printed using the Alto personal computers and the laser printers at Xerox PARC.  The Alto's were locally networked and also connected to laser printers via ethernet (which had also been invented at PARC). They were also interfaced to the emerging Arpanet (internet) via a server (MAXC) at PARC, enabling PARC researchers to collaborate via e-mails and file transfers with faculty, students and researchers at many leading universities of the day.

Scans of the originals of all three prepublication drafts of the text are (or soon will be) posted online in this VLSI Archive (in PDF format), enabling readers to track progress on the evolving methods and text. Many pages in the drafts contain dated filenames for printed files, enabling changes to be tracked over time. You can access the three versions in PDF format at these links: Version1 (PDF; 118p; 11.4mb), Version 2 (PDF; 258p; 8.9mb), Version 3 single-sided format (best for on-line viewing: PDF; 425p; 28.3mb) and Version 3 double-sided format (best for two-sided printing: PDF; 570p; 28.5mb).

Access is also provided in the VLSI Archive Spreadsheet to all the individual chapters in these prepublication versions of the text. The spreadsheet also provides links to the front-matter of the final text, and to translations of the front matter into French (PDF; 22p; 6.4mb) and Japanese (PDF; 17p; 6.3mb).

For more about the technical culture and computing environment in which much of the Mead-Conway work was conducted and where the text was created, see Michael Hiltzik's book Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age (HarperCollins Publishers, 1999). Mike's book captures the youthful spirit of adventure in the air at PARC at the time, and tells the amazing story of how modern networked personal computing was born there during the 1970's. Access to this pioneering computing infrastructure provided the Mead-Conway team with access to 'secret weapons' for the rapid development of engineering knowledge in ways that were unknown elsewhere in that day.

1.4.   "A Guide to LSI Implementation", 1st Edition  PDF (155p; 5.7mb)

- - - documents has just been scanned and posted - - - background to be added soon - - -

1.5.   MIT'78 VLSI design course  PDF (32p; 3.1mb)

This course was an important milestone in the development, demonstration and evaluation of the Mead-Conway VLSI design methods, and it established the syllabus for modern VLSI design courses for years to follow. Lynn Conway conceptualized and planned the course during the late spring and summer of '78, and taught the course while serving as Visiting Associate Professor of EECS at MIT in the fall of '78. Prof. Jonathan Allen hosted Lynn's visit, and grad student Glen Miranker served as Lynn's TA.

The textbook for the course was a nearly-completed draft of Introduction to VLSI Systems by Mead and Conway (the 3rd and final pre-publication version), then being written and edited using the Alto computers at PARC. Copies of the draft text were printed for all course participants using the laser printers at PARC (with color plates reproduced on the new Xerox color copiers there).  In addition to the textbook, Conway developed very detailed lecture notes for this course, and taken together all these materials provided a comprehensive plan for such courses. Lynn compiled these materials into an "Instructors' Guidebook", and that guidebook was later used to implement similar courses by faculty members at many other universities during the following several years.

This new form of course was aimed at EECS seniors and grad students. The goal was for students to learn the basics of VLSI design in half a semester, and then undertake a design-project in the second half-semester using the basic computer-based tools available at the time (a text-based graphics language and HP pen-plotters for checking designs). The resulting design files were then to be transmitted via the Arpanet to PARC, merged into a multi-project chip file, and implemented at Micromask and HP via QTA mask and fab. The packaged, bonded chips were to be available about a month after the conclusion of the course.

The success of this experimental course was a demonstration-proof of the validity and potential of the new Mead-Conway VLSI system design methods . The course also played a key role in the development and demonstration of rapid-turnaround chip prototyping methods, methods later documented in the "A Guidebook to LSI Implementation" edited by Bob Hon and Carlo Sequin. The opportunistic use of the Arpanet for interaction with the "silicon foundry" at Xerox PARC and HP in Palo Alto, CA, provided key experiences leading to innovation in '79 of the network-server, multi-university chip prototyping infrastructure that was deployed and tested as part of "MPC79".  

1.6.  "Guidebook for the Instructor of VLSI System Design"  PDF (275p; 12.2mb)

This "Instructor's Guidebook" was developed by Lynn Conway for use by instructors, teaching assistants and project coordinators offering Mead-Conway VLSI design courses in the fall of 1979 and later. The guidebook was aimed at providing those instructors with all essential technical information required to offer a successful course in the new Mead-Conway VLSI design methods.

The guidebook was based on the handouts, lecture notes and results from Lynn Conway's M.I.T.'78 VLSI design course.  Being a bit shy at the time, Conway had "over-prepared" very detailed handwritten lecture notes for every lecture in the pioneering M.I.T. course. The notes included not only all equations, circuit diagrams and other sketches written on the classroom blackboard, but also the detailed talk notes about those items - recording almost everything presented in class.

Following her M.I.T. course, Conway was bombarded with requests for information from faculty at many universities.  Her shyness (and resulting over-preparation of the M.I.T. course) now turned out to be a blessing in disguise, for she was able to exploit those detailed lecture notes to help others wanting to offer similar courses.

Soon after the returning to PARC in early '79, Conway compiled the "Instructors' Guide" from all her notes and course files, and began self-publishing and sending copies to instructors who were planning courses for fall of '79, thus establishing the syllabus and course plan for modern VLSI design courses in universities around the world.

1.7.  "A Guide to LSI Implementation", 2nd Edition  PDF (182p; 7.0mb)

Edited by Robert Hon and Carlo Sequin, this guidebook was developed for use by students, student-project coordinators and instructors participating in the Mead-Conway VLSI design courses in the fall of 1979. Drafts of the guidebook were aimed at providing those involved with the essential technical information required for successfully implementing their chip design projects via the remote implementation service at Xerox PARC (accessed via the internet).

Soon after the success of MPC79, the guide was published as a Xerox PARC technical report (in January 1980), and thereafter used in almost all the universities offering Mead-Conway design courses in the early '80s (over 110 universities by '82-'83). It provided students and the courses' student-project coordinators with streamlined information on the interface to maskmaking and wafer fabrication services such as those used by the MPC79 and MPC580 multi-university multi-project chip runs.

The guidebook contained a wealth of knowledge about quick turnaround (QTA) chip prototyping - knowledge innovated by members of the Mead-Conway research teams at Xerox PARC and Caltech during the late 70's - especially during and immediately following Conway's MIT '78 VLSI design course in the period leading up to MPC79. 

Of special value were the formal specification of CIF2.0 (contributed by Robert F. Sproull and Richard F. Lyon) and the CIF 2.0 code and color plots of a basic library of cells (input-output pads, PLA's, etc.) designed by Richard F. Lyon, first for M.I.T '78 and then iterated for MPC79. The code and plots for the cells in Dick's cell library were widely transmitted via the Arpanet and heavily exploited by the designers participating in MCP79 and subsequent multi-project chip runs.

Hardcopies of the 2nd Edition of "A Guide to LSI Implementation" were sent along with Lynn Conway's "Guide to the Instructor of VLSI Design" to all the instructors offering VLSI design courses in the early 80's.

1.8.  "MPC79: A large-scale demonstration of a new way to create systems in silicon"  PDF (10p; 2.9mb)

Following the success of the M.I.T'78 course, Lynn Conway sought ways to dramatically scale up Arpanet (internet) access to quick-turnaround chip prototyping, in order to enable wider testing, refinement and evaluation of the Mead-Conway design methods. In the spring of 1979 she conceived of a new type of internet-based implementation infrastructure for this purpose. During that summer, Alan Bell and Martin Newell developed a software prototype of the new "MPC System" at Xerox PARC, and Conway widely announced its availability to faculty offering Mead-Conway courses in the fall of '79.

The students taking those courses, and the various university researchers also involved, all used the newly published Mead-Conway textbook Introduction to VLSI Systems.  Course instructors used Conway's "Instructor's Guidebook" (containing the detailed notes on how to run such a course), and all "project coordinators" (lab instructors) used the "Guide to LSI Implementation", 2nd Edition" to prepare their design tools and CAD labs (enabling students to prepare design project files in appropriate form for MCP implementation).

Conway and her team at PARC then used the new MPC system and the Arpanet (the early internet) to support the rapid prototyping of all the student design projects from those universities, in a large-scale experimental trial that fall called "MPC79". MPC79 was one of the earliest demonstrations of automated, internet-based electronic manufacturing commerce, and it played an vital role in the testing, evaluation and propagation of the Mead-Conway design methods and design courses.

The results of MPC79 were presented by Lynn Conway, Alan Bell and Martin Newell at the Conference on Advanced Research in Integrated Circuits at M.I.T. in January 1980 in a paper entitled "The Demonstration-Operation of a Prototype Remote-Entry Fast-Turnaround VLSI Implementation System". The results were also published by Conway, Bell and Newell in Doug Fairbairn's new VLSI design magazine, LAMBDA, in an article entitled "MPC79: A large-scale demonstration of a new way to create systems in silicon."

The successful operation of MPC79 and the follow-on MPC580 (and then the technology transfer to USC-ISI as the MOSIS service (see below)), along with the widespread circulation of the Mead Conway text and the two guidebooks in the universities, rapidly disseminated a common technical culture of VLSI design and implementation based on the Mead-Conway methods. The sudden spread of this technical culture among a new generation of university students (beginning in the fall of '79) triggered a revolutionary breakout of entrepreneurial activity in the '80's, as many young entrepreneurs seized opportunities for making major innovations in chip design, CAD tools and related foundry services.

MPC79 and the MOSIS service also became the pioneering prototypes for "e-commerce" back in the very early days of the internet, and thus eventually had impact well beyond the VLSI design revolution. 

1.9.   MPC79 archive of messages, notes and files  PDF (188p; 3.9mb)

The Archive of MPC79 messages, notes and files contains scans of many key documents from that event, including the MPC79 informational messages sent to participating universities, the information distribution lists, the university participation information as of 9-30-79 and 10-31-79, and some of Lynn's MPC79 handwritten MPC79 notes

The archive also includes area estimations as final design cutoff neared on Dec. 4, 1979, the files for university merges (decisions re which projects were in/out) prior to the final merge, and the final merge specifications identifying the location and area of each final project layout within the 12 MPC79 die-types and two wafer-types. Also included are the specifications for scribe lines and final MEBES Master Plate Specifications.

These implementation files provide detailed technical information about the MPC79 demonstration-trial, and information on the logistics effort involved in orchestrating the event.

1.10.   MPC79 Chip Photos  PDF (32p; 5.8mb)

This page links to scans of the original MPC79 chip photos. Also included are pages from the MPC79 Implementation Documentation that help locate and identify project die-types and individual projects within the two MPC79 wafer types. High resolution scans of each die-type can also be accessed via the VLSI Archive Spreadsheet.

1.11.   MCP79 Implementation Documentation  PDF (51p; 2.2mb)

The MPC79 chip set included a total of 82 VLSI system design projects created by a total of 124 participating designers. Implementation began at the design cutoff-time of 5:00 pm PST, 4 December 1979. Packaged chips, custom wire-bonded for each project were distributed to all participants on 2 January 1980. Thus the turnaround tune for the MPC79 chip-set was 29 days.

The "MPC79 Implementation Documentation" was sent out to each participating student. It provided basic information that the participating designers used (i) to determine the package-codes for their projects, so as to identify which of the boxed, packaged chips contains their project, (ii) to determine their project pinouts and prepare their chips for testing, (iii) to estimate the maximum clock rates for their projects, (iii) to study the details of the starting frame, and (iv) to learn more about the other participants and the general results of the MPC79 demonstration-test of the Mead-Conway methods, courses, design tools and implementation system.

Of particular interest to later observers is Section 3 of the documentation, which lists all the participating designers and their projects. We have broken out section 3 into a separate text-based webpage entitled "MPC79 Designers and Their Projects", enabling readers to search for and identify the many participants. MPC79 resulted in an amazing set of projects by an amazing group of people, many of whom went on to fame and fortune in high-technology - as you'll see if you browse through that list of designers and projects.

1.12.  MPC580 Implementation Documentation  PDF (42p; 1.2mb)

Following the success of MPC79, Bert Sutherland, Lynn Conway and Alan Bell at Xerox PARC coordinated with Keith Uncapther, Danny Cohen and George Lewicki at the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute (USC-ISI), to initiate the transfer of the promising new MPC implementation system technology to ISI, where it could be operated on an ongoing basis with government funding.  

A group was established at PARC under Ted Strollo to coordinate this tech transfer. As a first step, the MPC system was run again in the spring of '80 at PARC (with Danny Cohen of ISI as a participant and observer) to implement projects from many universities. This run, called  "MPC580", was highly successful and nvolved 171 design projects from 15 universities and research organizations. The technology transfer was completed during the following year, with ISI then taking over the ongoing operation of the service in support of university students and researchers.  This new chip prototyping infrastructure became known as the MOSIS service, and was supported by DARPA (and later NSF) funding for decades thereafter.

The MOSIS service has provided QTA prototyping of chip designs for university students and researchers ever since, playing an important role in the emergence of many innovative chip designs and design tools. The widespread adoption of the new internet-based implementation methods in the universities also triggered the emergence of many "silicon foundry services" in the 80's, for QTA prototyping and short-run manufacturing in the commercial sector.

1.13.  Electronics Award Article alerts the industry  PDF (6p; 3.7mb)

In 1981, Electronics Magazine (the premier trade magazine of the electronics field back then) gave Mead & Conway their Annual Achievement Award, writing about how the work had suddenly taken-off and was already impacting practice in industry:

"The impact of Carver Mead and Lynn Conway on the design of very large-scale integrated circuits is bringing about a fundamental reassessment of how ICs are put together. Mead, the Caltech professor, and Conway, the Xerox system designer, have optimized the VLSI process by melding the concepts of fabrication at the device level and architecture at the system level to produce truly integrated systems. . . . The work they have done, individually and together, brought to fruition in their seminal textbook, "Introduction to VLSI Systems," is truly monumental. In the area of structured IC-design methodology, they not only have helped spawn a common design culture so necessary in the VLSI era, but they have greatly increased interaction between university and industry so as to stimulate research by both."

The publication of this article, just a year after the successful running of MCP79, widely alerted the electronics industry about the Mead-Conway methods - escalating the rate of adoption of the new design culture in industry and academia.


2: Early propagation, adoption, leveraging and commercialization of the methods:


This second section describes the propagation, adoption, leveraging and commercialization of the Mead-Conway methods following the publication of the Mead-Conway text and the successful demonstration of the overall set of methods in MPC79.

As in the case of other major "new schools of thought" in art, architecture and engineering design, the Mead-Conway methods were a clear break with past practices. As such, it would have been meaningless to have presented and published results in the many traditional conferences and journals of the day, for they would have been lost in the maze of existing work.

Instead, as in the case of the "impressionists" who held their own separate exhibition in Paris in 1874 to suddenly bring their work forward and make it visible, the Mead-Conway work was suddenly brought forward in 1979 via its own set of courses, its own magazine and its own separate technical conferences. By taking this approach, the Mead-Conway team positioned the methods to be seen for what they were as a collective body of work - a completely new way to create systems in silicon.

The methods quickly attracted many brilliant followers who created classic early designs using the methods and classic design tools for applying the methods. The methods also attracted major patronage in the form of the DARPA VLSI Program, which in 1980 began funding research to extend the methods applications in VLSI architecture, design and design tools. These events soon led to a wide breakout of innovation and entrepreneurial commercialization of new chip designs, design tools, implementation services and foundry services.


2.1.  Short Intensive VLSI Design Courses  (...TBD...)

Short intensive VLSI design courses played an important role in the evolving the Mead-Conway methods, and in the rapid diffusion of the resulting methods.

Among these courses were early internal courses at Xerox PARC to develop interest among other research staff members and test-out methods of instruction for the evolving design methodology. The courses also helped to evolve and test the emerging QTA implementation methods. Later, in the run-up to MPC79, Carver Mead held an "instructors' course" in the summer of '79 at the University of Washington to train faculty members planning to run that fall (i.e., courses patterned on Lynn's 1978 MIT course). Following the success of MPC79 that fall, VLSI Technology Inc. (more), began offering short-intensive courses to train digital designers in industry in the new methods. These courses were organized and taught by Doug Fairbairn, along with Profs. Rob Mathews and John Newkirk of Stanford, and included guest lectures by many of the original VLSI innovators (Mead, Conway, Lyon, Rowson, Johannsen, Clark, Seitz, Newton and Holloway). Hellman Associates began offering intensive VLSI design courses by Carlo Sequin (1981), and HP, MIT, DEC and others soon organized similar courses.

2.2.   Lambda: The Magazine of VLSI Design (...TBD...) (see spreadsheet links)

This section links to information about and articles from Lambda, the Magazine of VLSI Design. Lambda (later known as VLSI Design Magazine) was founded by Doug Fairbairn and Jim Rowson in late '79.

Lambda/VLSI Design played a vital role in the early days of the VLSI design revolution by bringing news and information about the new PARC-Caltech paradigms of VLSI chip design and QTA prototyping to the digital design and CAD/EDA communities. The magazine quickly became a focal point in the VLSI  revolution - by spreading important news and detailed information about the latest innovations in VLSI chip design and CAD tools.

Links to scans of the covers and tables of contents of the key early issues, archived in this site:

1Q80, 2Q80, 4Q80, 1Q81, 2Q81, 3Q81, 4Q81, JF82, MA82, MJ82, JA82, SO82, ND82, JF83, MA83, MJ83

Jim Rowson has posted the complete first issue of Lambda on 1Q80.

Doug Fairbairn has published some reflections on the startup of Lambda. They make great reading:

"LAMBDA Fostered Structured Design Revolution", Guest blog: Doug Fairbairn, Electronic Design News, April 6, 2009.

2.3.   The early VLSI Conferences (...TBD...)

This section will link to information about the early VLSI conferences, initiated by Chuck Seitz at Caltech in 1979 to provide a means for community-building and information-sharing in the new VLSI design community building up around the Mead-Conway methods.  (...TBD...) (see spreadsheet links)

Caltech, Jan 1979  (Front)
MIT, Jan 1980  (Abstr)
Caltech, Jan 1981  (Front)
Edinburgh, Aug 81 (Front)
CMU, Oct 81  (Front)
MIT, Jan 1982  (PList)
IEEE Spring CompCon, Feb 82  (PList)
Caltech, Mar 83  (Front)

2.4.  Implementation Services (MOSIS, AusMPC, E.I.S., NORCHIP, CMP, EUROCHIP)  (...TBD...)

This section links to information about the rapid diffusion of MCP79-like internet-based chip-prototyping infrastructure. Following the successful demonstration in MCP79, the new infrastructure was first deployed in the United States as the MOSIS service, with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The new form of internet-based infrastructure then spread rapidly to Australia (AusMPC), the UKGermany (E.I.S. project), the Nordic countries (NORCHIP project), France (CMP) and Europe as a whole (EUROCHIP).

We are now locating and scanning documents regarding the startups of these services (...TBD...).

As an example, see the report "Australia's First Multi-Project Chip Implementation System", by J. C. Mudge and R. J. Clarke, Microelectronics '82: A National Conference on Microelectronics, Adelaide, South Australia, 12-14 May, 1982.  PDF (6p; 4.5mb)

As another example, see Prof. Reiner Hartenstein's "History of the E.I.S. Project", and learn how E.I.S. led to the EUROCHIP project.  See also "Early EDA Innovations in Europe driven by Lynn Conway’s Lambda Notation", by Reiner Hartenstein.

See also the information provided by Prof. Christer Svensson regarding the beginning of Mead-Conway courses at Linköping University in Sweden, and the formation of the NORCHIP project in the Nordic countries:

By documenting the rapid spread of the new implementation infrastructure, we can also track the international spread of the underlying VLSI design revolution. The new VLSI implementation services also spread technical knowledge and awareness of the possibilities of internet-based "e-commerce", which MCP79 and the subsequent MOSIS service had pioneered.

2.5.  Universities:

This section will discuss the propagation of the Mead-Conway methods in universities around the world (...TBD...)

The 'University Scene' column in Lambda (later VLSI Design Magazine) documents the rapid early progress in the universities (1Q80, 2Q80, 4Q80, 1Q81, MA82)

'82-'83 VLSI Instructors  PDF (6p; 195kb)

This page lists the instructors of Mead-Conway VLSI design courses at U. S. and foreign universities during the '82-'83 academic year.  The instructors are those that Lynn Conway was in direct contact with, and in most cases she had helped them initiate their courses by sending them her standard "VLSI Care Package", which included Conway's Instructor's Guide, the Guide to LSI Implementation, 2nd Edition by Hon and Sequin, and the Implementation Documentation from MPC'79. As a result, these courses were patterned on the modern VLSI design course first presented by Conway at MIT in the fall of 1978. By '79-'80 twelve universities offered such courses, and by 1982-'83 the total was 113 universities. The PDF at this link was scanned from the original printout of April 26, 1983.

2.6.  The DARPA VLSI Program (..TBD..)

This page will overview the onset and evolution of the DARPA VLSI Program, which funded many projects in VLSI computer architecture and design tools in the universities and research community. The new funding program was begun by Bob Kahn and Duane Adams of the Information Processing Techniques Office in the winter of '79-'80.

Kahn had been observing the progress of the Mead-Conway work during Conway's MIT '78 course and during the summer and fall of 1979 as MPC79 got underway, and immediately launched the DARPA program following the successful demonstration by MPC79 of the knowledge in the Mead-Conway text, the new university courses patterned on Lynn's MIT'78 course, the emerging university design tools and the QTA internet-based MPC chip implementation service at PARC.

The program was later led by Paul Losleben of DARPA, and in a major thrust funded the transfer of the internet-based QTA MPC service from PARC to USC-ISI (a DARPA contractor) where it became known as the MOSIS service.  The large-scale funding provided by the new program, and ongoing access by students and researchers to the MOSIS service, stimulated a rapid exploration and evolution of the potential reach of the new methods - leading to the innovation of many classic VLSI design tools and classic designs (see next sections, and also the history of the DARPA VLSI program provided in Chapter 4 of the NRC book Funding a Revolution).

2.7.   Early Classic VLSI Design Tools (...TBD...) (see spreadsheet links)

Scalable Design Rules: Lynn Conway
ICARUS: Doug Fairbairn & Jim Rowson
Silicon Compilation: Dave Johannsen
MOSSIM: Randy Bryant
DRC-CirctExtr-StatChk-TimSim: Clark Baker & Chris Terman
CAESAR: John Ousterhout
CRYSTAL: John Ousterhout
MAGIC: John Ousterhout

2.8.  Early Classic VLSI Designs (...TBD...) (see spreadsheet links)

The OM2: Dave Johannsen

The Geometry Engine: James Clark

RSA Cipher Chip: Ron Rivest, et al

Scheme-78, 79, 81: Guy Steele et al
Bit-Serial DSP: Dick Lyon

Optical Mouse: Dick Lyon

Pixel-Planes: Henry Fuchs & John Poulton

RISC: Dave Patterson, Carlo Sequin, et al
MIPS: John Hennessy, et al
SPARC: Andreas Bechtolsheim

2.9.   Emergence of the VLSI Electronic Design Automation (EDA) Industry (...TBD...)

VLSI Technology, HP, Cadence, Valid Logic, Daisy, Mentor Graphics, Viewlogic

2.10.   The Emerging "Foundry Services" (...TBD...)



3: Reflections on what happened:


3.1.   The Design of VLSI Design Methods (TBD)

This page will reflect on the deliberative process of designing, refining and evolving engineering design methods, as in the case of the M-C methods. (for now, see the above link to Lynn's 1983 paper re this process).

3.2.   Mead-Conway Impact (TBD)

This page (TBD) will discusses the impact of the Mead-Conway VLSI design revolution (see above link for now).

3.3   Mead-Conway References (...TBD...)

This page will provide a list of annotated references re the Mead-Conway methods (for now, see the above link for a brief list).

3.4.  Lynn's VLSI Archive Spreadsheet  XLS

This spreadsheet lists the main files in the VLSI Archive down its left-most column. Each row then contains active links to the detailed chapters, sections and pages within those files.  The two-dimensional tabulation enables at-a-glance overviews of the complete archive, and easy access to specific items of interest in the archive. We also use this spreadsheet to track progress, noting that unlinked entries are work in progress.                                                                      > Lynn Conway's VLSI Archive > Main Links