Homemade Computer from 1970s Chips

Sometimes it starts with a 555 timer and an op-amp. Other times with a small microcontroller. But the timing’s not so great and needs a dedicated timing crystal circuit. And maybe some more memory, and maybe the ATtiny should be swapped out for some 74LS-series chips. And now of course it needs video output too. Before you know it, you’re staring at a 40-chip computer that hearkens back to a simpler, yet somehow more complex, time of computing. At least that’s where [Marcel] is with his breadboard computer based on 1970s-era chips.

For what it does, this homebrew computer is relatively simple and straightforward. It gets 8 bits of processing power from 34 TTL chips. Another 6 round out the other features needed for the computer to operate. It is capable of rendering 64 colors in software and has more than enough memory for a computer of this sort. So far the only recurring problem [Marcel] has had has been with breadboard fatigue, as some of the chips keep popping out of the sockets.

This is a great project for anyone interested in homebrew or 8-bit computing, partially because of some of the self-imposed limitations that [Marcel] imposed on himself, like “only chips from the 70s”. It’s an impressive build on its own and looks to get much better since future plans call for a dedicated PCB to solve the issue with the worn-out breadboards. If you’re already invested in a project like this, don’t forget that the rabbit hole can go a little deeper: you can build a computer out of discrete transistors as well.

Processor built with Transistor-Transistor Logic


[Donn] wanted know exactly what is going on inside of a processor so naturally he built a CPU out of TTL components. He had previously built a couple of versions of a computer based on the Z80 processor. Using the troubleshooting skills he learned and a second-hand textbook, he set to work using 74LS series chips connected using the wire-wrap method we’re familiar with from other cpu projects.

The finished product runs well at 1.8 megahertz, but he also included a 2 hertz clock and a step clock for debugging. At the slower speeds, the register board (seen at the left in the picture above) lights LEDs and can be used to tell what the CPU is currently working on. Programming is accomplished through eitherĀ  a dumb terminal or a PC running a terminal emulator.

His writeup is from about five years ago but that didn’t prevent us from getting that fuzzy feeling in the geek-center of our brain when we read about it. It is well written and thorough so if you’re into this kind of thing there’s plenty to enjoy.

[Thanks Raleigh]