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Quest for the smallest Turing-complete core (2-3G)

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When teaching EDA-tools to students, it is hard to find well-suited example applications. Ad-hoc and synthetic examples, like a simple shift register, are not complex enough and frankly just boring whereas fully-developed IPs, like a processor core, consists of tens to hundreds of thousands gates. Even our smallest core so far, the Snitch core, consists of approximately 20’000 gates.

We are therefore seeking a Turing-complete core with the smallest number of gates possible. You are free to choose a suitable instruction set architecture (ISA) for the task.

Project Content

The project can be divided in the following sub tasks:

  • Explore already existing (esoteric) ISAs to find a suitable candidate or define one of yourselves
  • Design a core. Try to see if you can “synthesize” it to a gate-level netlist by hand
  • Use an industry-grade hardware synthesizer to synthesize your core
  • Evaluate and improve both the ISA and your core to shrink it in size
  • Stretch goal: Create a simple assembler / compiler to execute code on your core


  • Interest in computer architecture
  • Preferably: Experience with HDLs as taught in VLSI I


  • 30% Exploration
  • 30% Implementation
  • 40% Evaluation

Project Supervisors