Making a core rope read-only memory

[Kos] tipped us about an article he made presenting his experiences in designing and implementing a core rope memory. This magnetic read-only memory (ROM), contrary to ordinary coincident-current magnetic core memories (used for RAM), uses the ferrite cores as transformers. If you look at the picture above, you’ll count 7 of them. This sets the memory word size (7bits).  A new word is added to the memory by passing (or not) a wire through the ferrite holes. If you then pass an alternating current through this wire, a current will be induced (or not) in the other wire turned 30 times around the ferrite (alias transformer secondary).

In [Kos]’s setup, an input pulse of 5V generates output pulses of 15V. For demonstration purposes, he “wrote” a simple program that lights up digits in a seven segment display. Therefore, different numbers will light up depending on which wire he uses to pass the AC current.

These days core memory hacks are few and far between. But looking at this one, and the one we saw in August, makes want more. If you know of any others don’t hesitate to send us a tip.

24 thoughts on “Making a core rope read-only memory

    1. That reminds me of the old magnetic bubble memory where magnetic bubbles were propagated across a ferro magnetic material. As the bubble was read at one side of the chip it had to be re-written on the other side so as to re-enter the propagation cycle.

  1. Wow that is a Rube-Goldberg way to make read-only memory! I think you can make a bit of memory using a blob of solder– connect to Gnd for a 0, Vcc for 1. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is cool to recreate old and bygone technologies, but in this case, if you are going to all the trouble of hand wrapping coils, make it RAM, not read-only.

      1. There’s many nifty uses for a core ROM, because you’re not limited to how many read wires you can pass through.

        You can, for example, use 7 cores and 128 wires to produce a keyboard where each individual keyswitch has a wire attached that loops through the cores corresponding to the binary code of that key. Pressing the button down will produce a pulse that generates a corresponding binary code pulse at the output. The pulse will go one way in polarity when the key is pressed, and another way when it’s lifted, allowing you to separate events. Passing DC through the cores won’t produce a pulse, so you can have all the keys down for n-key rollover. (Although the cores may saturate with enough keys down)

        To capture the events, you rectify them to DC, and add an eight bit to denote whether the polarity was up or down. This eight bit also serves as a clock pulse to a buffer that catches the signal and stores it for later use.

    1. Lot of people never heard of core memory!

      The RAM version was the type invented first. In this, a small core is magnetised by wires wrapped through it in an X-Y grid. North or south. To read it, you have to write it! To read a core, you try and set it to south. If it was north, the field will change and that will induce a pulse in a “sense” wire, If it was already south to start with, nothing happens and there’s no pulse. The sense wire is wired thru the cores just like the X-Y grid wires are.

      Obviously reading it in this way destroys the information, since you end up with a south whatever it was. So you need to store your result in an electronic buffer, then re-magnetise the core before you’re finished. That’s core RAM.

      Core ROM is similar, an X-Y grid of wires going through cores. Only the sense wires vary. To make a 1, you run the sense wire thru the core as usual. For a 0, the sense wire misses that core out. So a pulse at X-Y will or will not generate a pulse on sense, depending.

      Core “rope” is essentially a grid, but for some reason it suited them to knit it in a rope shape. Yep, knit, once they had the design mastered, lots of old women hand-knit megabytes of the stuff, over the years.

      1. It is not only the shape, it is the way that works different. The RAM variand works by setting the core magnetization to right or left. That is, it saturates the core completely. The ROM variant uses transformers in their normal (non-saturated_ operation. That is the main difference (and wiring style of course)

  2. IBM 360/40 (circa 1964) used transformer core as its microprogram ROS. (there are some pictured on the web)
    S/360/30 used capacitive ROS; similar idea, but using a card as a bunch of capacitors.

  3. Hello guys,
    Yes indeed this is a core rope memory. It is a ROM not a RAM, as magnetic core memory is.
    The 7-bit word size was chosen to drive a 7 segment display, there is no other reason.
    The word size can be more, by adding more cores. There may be a situation where is lots of cores exist, the last cores cannot be driven so hard, so another design with inhibit wires is needed. But for low number of cores no inhibit wires found to be needed and this simplifies design.
    The number of words can be increased by simply passing more wires through the cores.
    Note, this is only the “storage” array, there is no address decoder.

  4. I think that this is a splendid retro hack. If it was good enough for Apollo, then that’s good enough for me. Imagine your code being hard wired. How good would it have to be ? That’s my definition of ROM. I had the pleasure of working on the GEC 40/80 in the 80’s and we’d lift the lid on the core RAM, take a breath and look upon that grid with great reverence. All core work is devastating in its detail.

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