LEADER IN RISC CONCEPT
Major and graduation year: Electrical Engineering: BS ’78; Computer Science: BS ’78
Meet an alum: Alumnus David R. Ditzel currently serves as vice president of the Digital Enterprise Group and chief architect for Hybrid Parallel Computing at Intel Corporation. He is best known for coauthoring “The Case for the Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC)” and founding Transmeta Corporation.
A head start: Ditzel was introduced to computer architecture by his favorite professor at Iowa State, Roy Zingg (BSEE ’58; MSEE ’61; PhDEE ’68). “Professor Zingg hired me to work as a programmer on the SYMBOL computer research project in the Cyclone Computer Laboratory. I worked on the project throughout my undergraduate education, spending every spare hour in the lab,” Ditzel says.
Simplifying computers: Ditzel’s 1980 paper “The Case for RISC” was partially inspired by his experience with the SYMBOL computer, a Complex Instruction Set Computer that was intended to reduce costs of software, but ended up being so complicated that it took years to debug. It became clear to Ditzel that it was possible to make hardware too complicated. Ditzel wrote several papers on SYMBOL for technical conferences, and eventually joined forces with colleagues looking at simplifying computers, resulting in his paper, “The Case for RISC.” “The idea caught on and nearly every major computer company ended up using microprocessors with the RISC techniques,” he says.
Exciting accomplishment: The accomplishment Ditzel says he is most proud of is founding Transmeta in 1995. “I was the CEO through its successful initial public offering in 2000. Transmeta used software as part of the microprocessor as a way to lower the power requirements of the microprocessor and extend battery life for notebook PCs. Helping build the team of engineers to take on this joint hardware and software co-design was one of the most exciting aspects of my career.”