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register configurations. Second, application experience was not available. For example, the early constraints often created computing designs with what we now consider weaknesses:

1. Limited addressing capability, particularly of larger core sizes.

2. Few registers, general registers, accumulators, index registers, base registers.

3. No hardware stack facilities.

4. Limited priority interrupt structures, and thus slow context switching among multiple programs (tasks).

5. No byte string handling.

6. No read-only memory (ROM) facilities.

7. Very elementary I/O processing.

8. No larger model computer, once a user outgrows a particular model.

9. High programming costs because users program in machine language.

In developing a new computer, the architecture should at least solve the above problems. Fortunately, in the late 1960s, integrated circuit semiconductor technology became available so that newer computers could be designed that solve these problems at low cost. Also, by 1970, application experience was available to influence the design. The new architecture should thus lower programming cost while maintaining the low hardware cost of minicomputers.

The DEC PDP-11 Model 20 is the first computer of a computer family designed to span a range of functions and performance. The Model 20 is specifically discussed, although design guidelines are presented for other members of the family. The Model 20 would nominally be classified as a third generation (integrated circuits), 16-bit word, one central processor with eight 16-bit general registers, using two's complement arithmetic and addressing up to 216 8-bit bytes of primary memory (core). Though classified as a general register processor, the operand accessing mechanism allows it to perform equally well as a 0- (stack), 1- (general register), and 2- (memory-to-memory) address computer. The computer's components (processor, memories, controls, terminals) are connected via a single switch, called the Unibus.

The machine is described using the processor- memory-switch (PMS) notation of Bell and Newell [1971] at different levels. The following descriptive sections correspond to the levels: external design constraints level; the PMS level - the way components are interconnected and allow information to flow; the program level - the abstract machine that interprets programs; and finally, the logical design level. (We omit a discussion of the circuit level, the PDP-l1 being constructed from TTL integrated circuits.)


The principal design objective is yet to be tested; namely, do users like the machine? This will be tested both in the marketplace and by the features that are emulated in newer machines; it will be tested indirectly by the life span of the PDP-11 and any offspring.

Word Length

The most critical constraint, word length (de fined by IBM), was chosen to be a multiple of 8 bits. The memory word length for the Model 20 is 16 bits, although there are 32- and 48-bit instructions and 8- and 16-bit data. Other members of the family might have up to 80-bit instructions with 8-, 16-, 32- and 48-bit data. The internal, and preferred external character set, was chosen to be 8-bit ASCII.

Range and Performance

Performance and function range (extendability) were the main design constraints; in fact, they were the main reasons to build a new computer. DEC already has four computer

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