The Mead-Conway VLSI Chip Design Revolution:

An Annotated List of References

 

 

Compiled by Lynn Conway

[Update of 1-11-06]

 

Following is an annotated list of references that provide an overview of the Mead-Conway VLSI chip-design revolution of the late 1970's and early 80's (see summary list below)

 

 

1. "THE MPC ADVENTURES: Experiences with the Generation of VLSI Design and Implementation Methodologies", by Lynn Conway; Transcribed from an Invited Lecture at the Second Caltech Conference on Very Large Scale Integration; Xerox PARC Technical Report VLSI-81-2, January 19,1981.

 

This is an invited paper that Lynn Conway gave at Caltech in 1981, in which she presented an overview of the early history of the Mead-Conway innovations and the susequent unfolding of the Mead-Conway VLSI chip-design revolution.

 

 

2. "The 1981 Achievement Award: For optimal VLSI design efforts, Mead and Conway have fused device fabrication and system-level architecture", by Martin Marshall, Larry Waller, and Howard Wolff, Electronics, October 20, 1981.

 

In 1981, Electronics magazine awarded Carver Mead and Lynn Conway the magazine's annual Award for Achievement. Electronics was very widely read and highly regarded in the industry at the time. This award article documents the story of the Mead-Conway work, and indicates the major impact their work was having within just 2 years of emerging from Xerox PARC and Caltech.

 

 

3. "THE M.I.T. 1978 VLSI SYSTEM DESIGN COURSE", by Lynn Conway, LynnConway.com.

 

This page describes in detail the prototype VLSI Design course that Lynn Conway taught at MIT in the fall of 1978. This was the course that set the pattern for the VLSI design courses later taught at over 100 universities. [Note: Lynn has bound hardcopies of her original hand-written lecture notes in her VLSI archives, and hopes to post these on the internet sometime too].

 

  

4. 'MEAD-CONWAY COURSE INSTRUCTORS, AS OF '82-'83'; Tabulations by Lynn Conway, LynnConway.com.

 

The tables in this page contain detailed listings of the Mead-Conway VLSI design course instructors as of the 1982-83 school year. The first such course was offered at Lynn Conway MIT in 1978. During 1979-'80 there were 12 universities offering such courses. By 1982-'83 there were 113 universities offering VLSI courses that used the Mead-Conway textbook. In many cases, the instructors at those universities used Lynn's MIT '78 very detailed, hand-written lecture notes as their "instructor's notes."

 

 

5. 'Impact of the Mead-Conway VLSI Chip Design Innovations, and of the MOSIS Service based on Lynn's MPC prototype'; Overview by Lynn Conway, LynnConway.com.

 

This page overviews the impact of the Mead-Conway work.  The page includes figures published by the National Academy Press that illustrate how that Mead-Conway blended with other key innovations to provide the foundations of modern computing:

 

(i) "Figure II.13 Technological Developments in Computing", in Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology, National Academy Press, 1995, page 75.

(ii) "Figure 1.2 Government-sponsored computing research and development stimulates creation of innovative ideas and industries", in Evolving the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative to Support the Nation's Information Infrastructure, National Academy Press, 1995, page 20.

 

 

6. Funding a Revolution:  Government Support for Computer Research, Committee on Innovations in Computing and Communications: Lessons from History, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council, NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS, Washington, D.C. 1999
 

The Mead-Conway VLSI systems work occurred in a complex context. An important dimension of that context was the nature of government-university-industry collaboration and support for computer research at the time. The National Academies published a book on that topic in 1999, and the Mead-Conway VLSI work and impact is used in that book as one of its historical examples. Key aspects of the Mead-Conway contributions were vetted by Academy scholars and are discussed in Chapter 4 in this book.  That chapter also contains a table showing the early spin-off technologies that resulted from the Mead-Conway work (Table 4.2: Representative VLSI Technologies and Resulting Commercial Products).

 

 

7. Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age, by Michael Hiltzik, HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.

 

This 1999 book by Michael Hiltzik is the definitive history of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center's tremendous contributions to modern computing technology. It presents in-depth stories of the innovators, and of the great adventure that was PARC.  One of the chapters is about the Mead and Conway innovations in VLSI design methodology:

 

 

8. "ABOUT THE ISSUE:  Electronic Design Turns 50 Years Old - This golden anniversary commemorative issue is the culmination of our year-long celebration and the official opening of our Engineering Hall Of Fame", Lucinda Mattera, Electronic Design, October 21, 2002.

 

Over the subsequent decades, Mead and Conway received many high national-level awards for their work - and their contributions became seen as foundational in electrical engineering and computer science ' as when in 2002 they were inducted into the Electronics Design Hall of Fame among the pioneers of electronics, with the following citation:

 

 "Carver A. Mead, Lynn Conway:  By the mid-1970s, digital system designers eager to create higher-performance devices were frustrated by having to use off-the-shelf large-scale-integration logic. It stymied their efforts to make chips sufficiently compact or cost-effective to turn their very large-scale visions into timely realities. In 1978, a landmark book titled Introduction to VLSI Systems changed all of that. Co-authored by Mead, the Gordon and Betty E. Moore professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology, and Conway, research fellow and manager of the VLSI system design area at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, the book provided the structure for a new integrated system design culture that made VLSI design both feasible and practical. Introduction to VLSI Systems resulted from work done by Mead and Conway while they were part of the Silicon Structures Project, a cooperative effort between Xerox and Caltech. Mead was known for his ideas on simplified custom-circuit design, which most semiconductor manufacturers viewed with great skepticism but were finding increasing support from computer and systems firms interested in affordable, high-performance devices tailored to their needs. Conway had established herself at IBM's research headquarters as an innovator in the design of architectures for ultrahigh-performance computers. She invented scalable VLSI design rules for silicon that triggered Mead and Conway's success in simplifying the interface between the design and fabrication of complex chips. The structured VLSI design methodology that they presented, the 'Mead-Conway concept,' helped bring about a fundamental reassessment of how to put ICs together.'

 

 

 


 

Summary List of Mead-Conway References:

 

1. "THE MPC ADVENTURES: Experiences with the Generation of VLSI Design and Implementation Methodologies", by Lynn Conway; Transcribed from an Invited Lecture at the Second Caltech Conference on Very Large Scale Integration; Xerox PARC Technical Report VLSI-81-2, January 19,1981.

2. "The 1981 Achievement Award: For optimal VLSI design efforts, Mead and Conway have fused device fabrication and system-level architecture", by Martin Marshall, Larry Waller, and Howard Wolff, Electronics, October 20, 1981.

 

3. "THE M.I.T. 1978 VLSI SYSTEM DESIGN COURSE", by Lynn Conway, LynnConway.com.

 

4. 'MEAD-CONWAY COURSE INSTRUCTORS, AS OF '82-'83'; Tabulations by Lynn Conway, LynnConway.com.

 

5. 'Impact of the Mead-Conway VLSI Chip Design Innovations, and of the MOSIS Service based on Lynn's MPC prototype'; Overview by Lynn Conway, LynnConway.com.

5.1  "Figure II.13 Technological Developments in Computing", in Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology, National Academy Press, 1995, page 75.

5.2  "Figure 1.2 Government-sponsored computing research and development stimulates creation of innovative ideas and industries", in Evolving the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative to Support the Nation's Information Infrastructure, National Academy Press, 1995, page 20.

 

6. Funding a Revolution:  Government Support for Computer Research, Committee on Innovations in Computing and Communications: Lessons from History, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council, NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS, Washington, D.C. 1999. (See in particular Chapter 4).

 

7. Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age, by Michael Hiltzik, HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.
 

8. "ABOUT THE ISSUE:  Electronic Design Turns 50 Years Old - This golden anniversary commemorative issue is the culmination of our year-long celebration and the official opening of our Engineering Hall Of Fame", Lucinda Mattera, Electronic Design, October 21, 2002. (See this link and this link re induction of Mead and Conway into the Electronics Design Hall of Fame).

 

 

LynnConway.com > Lynn's VLSI Archives > Annotated References