I recently completed my thesis while pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at the University of Bristol. The thesis, titled Integrated Hardware Garbage Collection for Real-Time Embedded Systems, is shared below under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

The thesis is related to garbage collection, computer architecture, memory management, among other topics. I continue to be interested in the subject, so please feel free to reach out with questions, comments, ideas, thoughts, etc. My contact details are here and at the bottom of this page.

NOTE: A lot of the articles in this blog are about findings or ideas that I came across while working on my PhD thesis!


Modern programming languages, like Python and C#, provide productivity and trust benefits that are key in managing the growing complexity of computer systems. However, modern language implementations rely on software garbage collection which imposes high overheads and unpredictable pauses. This is tolerable in large computer systems, like desktops and servers, but impractical for real-time embedded systems. Hence modern languages are rarely used to program embedded devices.

This thesis investigates a shift in architecture towards hardware garbage collection to better support modern languages in embedded devices while meeting their unique performance and real-time requirements. We present an Integrated Hardware Garbage Collector (IHGC) that demonstrates this approach: a collector that is tightly coupled with the processor and runs continuously in the background. Our design allocates a memory cycle to the collector when the processor is not using the memory. The IHGC achieves this by careful subdivision of collection work into single-memory-access steps that are interleaved with the processor’s memory accesses. We also introduce a static analysis technique to guarantee that real-time programs are never paused by the IHGC. As a result, our collector eliminates run-time overheads and is suitable for real-time embedded systems.

The IHGC is evaluated through simulation based on a hardware implementation model using modern fabrication technologies. Our experiments indicate that the IHGC offers 1.5-7 times better performance compared to a conventional processor running a software garbage collector. In addition, our static, real-time analysis technique was evaluated through practical use cases showing that an IHGC system meets specific timing constraints. This thesis concludes that the IHGC delivers in real-time the benefits of garbage collected languages without the complexity and overheads inherent in software collectors.


You can download the thesis from here.

Related Publications

The following publications are related to the contents of the thesis:

  • A. Amaya García, D. May and E. Nutting, Garbage Collection for Edge Computing, in 2020 IEEE/ACM Symposium on Edge Computing (SEC), 2020, pp. 319-319. Accessible here.
  • A. Amaya García, D. May and E. Nutting, Integrated Hardware Garbage Collection, ACM Transactions on Embedded Computer Systems (TECS), 2021. Accessible here.