Hardware Lisp?

Levi Pearson levi at cold.org
Fri Jun 30 14:42:41 MDT 2006

On Jun 30, 2006, at 11:25 AM, Daniel C. wrote:

> How hard would it be to pick up a handfull of Atmel chips (probably
> the 8051's) and a programmer for them and make them execute Lisp code?
> http://www.atmel.com/products/8051/
> Anyone have any experience with this?

I don't personally have experience with this, but I've read a bit  
about Lisp Machines.

Those 8051s are microcontroller chips, which means they're CPUs with  
general purpose instruction sets designed for embedded systems.  In  
other words, making them execute Lisp code is essentially the same  
process as making a desktop CPU execute Lisp code.  You write a Lisp  
interpreter or compiler for the chip, and there you go.

Lisp Machines, on the other hand, had instruction sets and CPU  
architectures optimized for Lisp features.  Typically a lot of the  
higher-level instructions were microcoded rather than being fully  
hardware-defined.  There are some papers describing how they were  
designed, as well as some more recent designs for Lisp and Scheme  
CPUs, out there just a google search away.

There are also a few Lisp Machine emulators that you might want to  
check out.

If you really want to build your own Lisp machine, the cheapest/ 
easiest way would be to create it in a FPGA.  There are some  
companies like Microtronics that make little development boards with  
FPGA-based CPUs.  This would involve a lot of research and  
programming work to complete, and there would be no performance  
benefit over Lisp on a fast general-purpose CPU.


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