How The Dis-integrated 6502 Came To Be

I made a bee line for one booth in particular at this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire; our friend [Eric Schlaepfer] had his MOnSter 6502 on display. If you missed it last week, the unveiling of a 6502 built from discrete transistors lit the Internet afire. At that point, the board was not fully operational but [Eric’s] perseverance paid off because it had no problem whatsoever blinking out verification code at his booth.

I interviewed [Eric] in the video below about the design process. It’s not surprising to hear that he was initially trying to prove that this couldn’t be done. Unable to do so, there was nothing left to do but devote almost six-months of his free time to completing the design, layout, and assembly.

What I’m most impressed about (besides just pulling it off in the first place) is the level of perfection [Eric] achieved in his design. He has virtually no errors whatsoever. In the video you’ll hear him discuss an issue with pull-up/pull-down components which did smoke some of the transistors. The solution is an in-line resistor on each of the replacement transistors. This was difficult to photograph but you can make out the soldering trick above where the 3-pin MOSFET is propped up with it’s pair of legs on the board, and the single leg in the air. The added resistor to fix the issue connects that airborne leg to its PCB pad. Other than this, there was no other routing to correct. Incredible.

The huge schematic binder includes a centerfold — literally. One of the most difficult pieces of the puzzle was working out the decode ROM. What folds out of this binder doesn’t even look like a schematic at first glance, but take a closer look (warning, 8 MB image). Every component in that grid was placed manually.

I had been expecting to see some tube-based goodness from [Eric] this year. That’s because I loved his work on Flappy Bird on a green CRT in 2014, and Battlezone on a tube with a hand-wound yoke last year. But I’m glad he stepped away from the tubes and created this marvelous specimen of engineering.

Hackaday Links: May 22, 2016

Lulzbot’s TAZ 6 has been released. Lulzbot’s printers consistently place in the top three of any 3D printing list, and the TAZ 6 will likely be no exception. [James Bruton] was one of the lucky ones who got a review unit, and first looks are promising. The TAZ 6 has the auto bed leveling found in the Lulzbot Mini, and a ‘power tower’ for all the electronics. There are completely unconfirmed rumors (or someone told me and I forgot who) that the power tower will be available separately at some point.

The most impressive circuit we’ve seen this week month year is the dis-integrated 6502. It’s a discrete 6502 CPU, about a square foot in size. It’s slow, but it works. RAM and ROM is easy to make embiggened, which means someone needs to build a dis-integrated 6522 VIA. Who’s game?

[Jeremy Cook] wanted to learn another CAD package, in this case Onshape. Onshape is the ‘first cloud-only CAD package’, which has one huge bonus – you can run it anywhere, on anything – and one huge minus – it’s in the cloud. He designed a bicycle cupholder.

Last week, several thousand Raspberry Pi Zeros shipped out to retailers in the US and UK. For a time, Pi Zeros were in stock in some online stores. Now? Not so much. Where did they all go? eBay, apparently. It’s called arbitrage, and it’s the only risk-free form of investment.

Remember those ‘bed of nails’ toys, that were basically two sheets of plastic, with hundreds of small pins able to make 3D impressions of your face and hands. No, there is no official name for these devices, but here’s a Kickstarter for a very clever application of these toys. You can use them to hold through hole parts while soldering. Brilliant.

You should not pay attention to 3D printers on Kickstarter. Repeat after me: you should not give money to 3D printers on Kickstarter. Here’s a 3D printer on Kickstarter, promising a 3D printer for $74. I own several hats, and will eat one if this ships by next year.

Remember bash.org? It’s being reimplemented on hackaday.io.

A Dis-Integrated 6502

The 6502 is the classic CPU. This chip is found in the original Apple, Apple II, PET, Commodore 64, BBC Micro, Atari 2600, and 800, the original Nintendo Entertainment System, Tamagotchis, and Bender Bending Rodriguez. This was the chip that started the microcomputer revolution, and holds a special place in the heart of every nerd and technophile. The 6502 is also possibly the most studied processor, with die shots of polysilicon and metal found in VLSI textbooks and numerous simulators available online.

The only thing we haven’t seen, until now, is a version of the 6502 built out of discrete transistors. That’s what [Eric Schlaepfer] has been working on over the past year. It’s huge – 12 inches by 15 inches – has over four thousand individual components, and so far, this thing works. It’s not completely tested, but the preliminary results look good.

The MOnSter 6502 began as a thought experiment between [Eric] and [Windell Oskay], the guy behind Evil Mad Scientist and creator of the discrete 555 and dis-integrated 741 kits. After realizing that a few thousand transistors could fit on a single panel, [Eric] grabbed the netlist of the 6502 from Visual6502.org. With the help of several scripts, and placing 4,304 components into a board design, the 6502 was made dis-integrated. If you’re building a CPU made out of discrete components, it only makes sense to add a bunch of LEDs, so [Eric] threw a few of these on the data and address lines.

This is the NMOS version of the 6502, not the later, improved CMOS version. As such, this version of the 6502 doesn’t have all the instructions some programs would expect. The NMOS version is slower, more prone to noise, and is not a static CPU.

So far, the CPU is not completely tested and [eric] doesn’t expect it to run faster than a few hundred kilohertz, anyway. That means this gigantic CPU can’t be dropped into an Apple II or commodore; these computers need a CPU to run at a specific speed. It will, however, work in a custom development board.

Will the gigantic 6502 ever be for sale? That’s undetermined, but given the interest this project will receive it’s a foregone conclusion.

Correction: [Eric] designed the 555 and 741 kits

Hackaday Links: January 24, 2016

The RepRap wiki was spammed this week. Everything is fine now, but I feel I should call attention to the fact that the RepRap wiki needs some people to contribute, organize, and maintain everything. The wikis for obscure anime shows are better than the RepRap wiki, so if you’re looking to contribute to an important open source project, there ‘ya go.

The 200cc, 5.5HP, 4-stroke OHV Honda GX200 engine is found in a whole lot of tools, and is a fantastic power plant to build a go-kart around. It also costs about $350. There are clones of this engine available direct from China for about $100. Here’s how you add a turbo to one of these clone engines.

Freescale makes some pretty cool sensors and [Juan Ignacio Cerrudo] figured they needed breakout boards. He has some boards for a low-power three-axis accelerometer, an accelerometer and magnetometer, and a pressure sensor.

The Tektronix TDS744A is an older but still extremely capable 500MHz, 2Gsps, 4-channel scope. You can upgrade it to the 1GHz TDS784A by desoldering a few resistors. Very cool if you’re looking for a cheap-ish 1GHz scope.

[TheBackyardScientist] hung out with some cub scouts a few weekends ago and launched a high altitude balloon over Florida. The payload included a game camera, APRS tracker, GoPro, and a few other bits and bobs. The balloon reached 106,000 feet and landed only a few miles from Cape Canaveral.

Big RC planes – UAVs especially – are a pain to launch. Flying wings above a certain size are just dangerous to launch by hand, and landing gear is heavy and for the most part unnecessary. What’s the next best solution? A trebuchet, of course. It mounts on a car and is able to give a UAV a little bit of altitude and some speed. A pretty good idea that could be easily implemented with some load-bearing PVC pipe.

Everybody likes the Game of Life, so here’s one built with a 6502. It’s built around a Western Design Center 65c816 board we’ve seen before, nine MAX7219 LED controllers mapped to the VIA, and nine 8×8 LED matrix displays. Here’s a video of it in action.

About a month ago, a search of AliExpress turned up Apple’s A8 CPU. I bought one. Here’s what I got. It’s a stupidly small pitch BGA, and I don’t have a datasheet. What am I going to do with it? Make a non-functioning board with a few ports, resistors, no traces, and the A8 chip planted square in the middle.

A Teensy Logic Analyzer For A 6502

[John] has an interesting, if old piece of tech sitting on his workbench. It’s an Ohio Scientific C3-8P computer from the late 70s by way of a few garages, basements, and attics. As with most tech of this vintage, there are some problems, and [John] found debugging a little frustrating without the ability to trace and watch the programs. He needed a logic analyzer, and found one in an unlikely piece of hardware. [John] built one using a Teensy microcontroller, and further refinement of this project could turn it into a full in-system emulator.

The old Ohio Scientific computer [John] is trying to bring back from the dead is based on the 6502 CPU. That’s sixteen address lines to monitor, eight data lines, and four control lines. These were wired directly to a Teensy 3.1.

Reading and controlling all the signals from a 6502 is a task that falls to Linux. A command line program controls the Teensy and is capable of reading memory, setting trigger addresses, dumping the entire address space to a file, or just recording the last 5,000 clock cycles. This kind of tech existed back in the late 70s and early 80s. It also cost a fortune. Now, with a $20 Teensy and probably another $30 in ribbon cables and test clips, anyone can build a logic analyser for a very old computer system.

Videos below.

Continue reading “A Teensy Logic Analyzer For A 6502”

Upgrade Your Computer the 1985 Way

Today when you want to upgrade your computer you slap in a card, back in the early 80’s things were not always as simple.  When [Carsten] was digging around the house he found his old, and heavily modified Rockwell AIM 65 single board computer, flipped the switch and the primitive 6502 machine popped to life.

Added to the computer was a pile of wires and PCB’s in order to expand the RAM, the I/O to form a “crate bus” and of course tons of LED blinkenlights! On that bus a few cards were installed, including a decoder board to handle all the slots, a monitor controller, a massive GPIO card, and even a universal EEPROM programmer.

If that was not enough there was even a OS upgrade from the standard issue BASIC, to a dual-boot BASIC and FORTH. Though again unlike today where upgrading your OS requires a button click and a reboot, making all these upgrades are planned out on paper, which were scanned for any retro computer buff to pour through.

[Carsten] posted a video of this computer loading the CRT initilization program from a cassette. You can watch, but shouldn’t listen to that video here.

Vulcan 74: A Masterpiece of Retro Engineering

[Radical Brad] has played around with FPGAs, video signals, and already has a few astonishing projects of bitbanged VGA on his resume. Now he’s gone insane. He’s documenting a build over on the 6502.org forums of a computer with Amiga-quality graphics built out of nothing but a 65C02, a few SRAM chips, and a whole pile of logic chips.

The design goals for this project are to build a video game system with circa 1980 parts and graphics a decade ahead of its time. The video output is VGA, with 400×300 resolution, in glorious eight-bit color. The only chips in this project more complex than a shift register are a single 65c02 and a few (modern) 15ns SRAMs. it’s not a build that would have been possible in the early 80s, but the only thing preventing that would be the slow RAM chips of the era.

So far, [Radical] has built a GPU entirely out of 74-series logic that reads a portion of RAM and translates that to XY positions, colors, pixels, and VGA signals. There’s support for alpha channels and multiple sprites. The plan is to add sound hardware with support for four independent digital channels and 1 Megabyte of sample memory. It’s an amazingly ambitious project, and becomes even more impressive when you realize he’s doing all of this on solderless breadboards.

[Brad] will keep updating the thread on 6502.org until he’s done or dies trying. So far, it’s looking promising. He already has a bunch of Boing balls bouncing around a display. You can check out a video of that below.

Continue reading “Vulcan 74: A Masterpiece of Retro Engineering”