Nick Mudge Ignition Software Consulting & Development

I'm currently working on the logic design of the ALU in the book The Elements of Computing Systems.

It has occurred to me that in this ALU and in all combinational circuits or chips that all operations that it can do happen all the time whether you ask for it or not. If you have a combinational circuit that can AND things, can ADD things, can OR things etc. etc. and if you give it some input values then it will perform all operations that it can do on that input data but only provide the output of the specified operation that you ask for (all other operations eventually computing to 0).

I've never read anything about this, but wonder about it. It seems that a combinational chip operates as a single whole, doing everything it can all the time but only a part of it being of any use at any time.

This concept gives me the idea of a bunch of people all singing in a choir at the same time. The song is the input data. Each person is a different part of the chip performing some calculation with the input data. So some people are singing the song beautifully, some are singing it backwards, some are singing softly and others are singing it loudly. And you the user just select one person to listen to out of this cacophony at any given time -- though everyone is singing it all the time in there own special way.

But it is more than that. The parts and functions of a chip do not operate independently, they operate together. Any function is the result of operations of lots of parts of a chip. The output of one part of the chip becoming the input of another.

So the cacophony of the chip isn't each part doing it's own thing, it's each part doing things in many combinations with other things. Tons of combinations of logic running, some of which may be of use to the current function asked for, most of which is not.

This is much different than the typical programming I'm used to. In programming you make a conditional and then choose logic to peform depending on the conditional. In logic design you perform all calculations and then use conditionals to choose which result you want.