A Proof of Concept Flash Cart for the WonderSwan

Unless you’ve been to Japan or are fairly deep into the retro game collecting, you’ve probably never heard of the WonderSwan. It’s a handheld console, released after the Game Boy Color was beginning to show its age, and a bit before the introduction of the Game Boy Advance. It sold rather well in the only country it was released in, the game library is somewhat impressive, and there are quite a few homebrew games. Actually running these homebrew games is a challenge, though: each WonderSwan has a memory controller that maps the game ROM into the CPU’s memory. Without knowing how this controller chip works, the only way to run a homebrew cartridge is to turn on the machine with a real cart, go to the system menu, and swap the carts out. It turns out there’s a better solution, that includes programming CPLDs and looking at the output of a logic analyzer.

The first step towards [Godzil]’s efforts to create a Flash cart for the WonderSwan is to figure out the pinout of the cartridge connector – something that isn’t well documented for a system without a homebrew hardware scene. This was done in the usual way; with a lot of ribbon cable and patience This only provided an incomplete picture of how the WonderSwan interfaced with its carts, but after digging up an official development board, [Godzil] was able to make sense of all the signals.

After building a breakout board for the cartridge port, [Godzil] connected a DE0 Nano FPGA board and looked at all the signals. With just a little bit of VHDL, the memory controller could be reverse engineered and reimplemented. [Godzil] has his proof of concept working – video below – and the next part of his project will be to turn this into a proper Flash cart.

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A PC Engine to TurboGrafx-16 Converter

The PC Engine was pretty popular in Japan, but only the coolest kids in America had the US edition, the TurboGrafx16. These two systems weren’t exactly the same; the TurboGrafx-16’s data bus was flipped so the games were made to be incompatible, and the US games have a region lockout. [Kaz] looked at the existing hacks for running Japanese games on US systems, and every single one of them required modding a console. Thinking he could do better, he came up with the PC-Henshin, an adapter and CPLD that allows Japanese game to run on US consoles.

To take care of the mixed up lines on the PC card connector between the US and Japanese variants, a few adapter cards are available. That’s great, but they only solve one part of the compatibility problem. The region lockout routine found on nearly every American title mean PC Engine consoles can’t run TurboGrafx-16 games. [Kaz] used a small, cheap CPLD to read the data bus, patch everything as it is read out, and turns a Japanese console into something that can play American games.

Video below.

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THP Entry: A CPLD Video Card With VGA And NTSC


[PK] is working on a very simple video card, meant to output 640×480 VGA with a cheap CPLD. The interface will be 5 Volt SPI, meaning there’s a ton of potential here for anyone wanting put a reasonable (and cheap) display in a microcontroller project. The project has come a long way, and his latest update showcases something that has only been done once before: color NTSC with programmable logic

The brains of the outfit is a $5, 100-pin CPLD from Xilinx. Apart from that, the rest of the components are a crystal, PLL, and an almost hilarious number of resistors for the R2R ladder. The one especially unique component is the 25.056815 MHz crystal – multiply by that by two, and it’s fast enough to drive a VGA monitor. Divide the crystal by seven, it’s the 3.579545 MHz you need for an NTSC colorburst frequency. That’s VGA and NTSC in a single programmable logic project, something the one FPGA project we could find that did color NTSC couldn’t manage.

The next step in the project is designing a PCB and figuring out the code for the framebuffer. [PK] put up a demo showing off both VGA and NTSC; you can check that out below.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.

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An Online Course For FPGA And CPLD Development


Over on the University of Reddit there’s a course for learning all about FPGAs and CPLDs. It’s just an introduction to digital logic, but with a teacher capable of building a CPLD motor control board and a video card out of logic chips, you’re bound to learn something.

The development board being used for this online course is an Altera EMP3032 CPLD conveniently included in the Introduction to FPGA and CPLD kit used in this course. It’s not a powerful device by any measure; it only has 32 macrocells and about 600 usable gates. You won’t be designing CPUs with this thing, but you will be able to grasp the concept of designing logic with code.

Future lessons include building binary counters, PWM-controlled LEDs, and a handheld LED POV device. In any event, it’s a great way to learn about how programmable logic actually works, and a fairly cheap way to get into the world of FPGAs and CPLDs. Introductory video below.

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Programmable Logic II – CPL

There is a wide assortment of cheap development (dev) boards for Complex Programmable Logic Devices (CPLD), the smaller cousin of the Field Programmable Logic Array (FPLA)

Using an inexpensive board and the development software that’s free to download from the major programmable companies such as Xilinx and Altera, the only additional thing needed is a programmer module. Cheap ones are available on Ebay but I am hoping that someone takes the time to teach an ARM/Arduino to step in as a programmer.

I have a small collection of dev boards including some Ebay specials and also designs I did a few years ago to choose from. For today I am grabbing a newer board that has not been fully checked out yet; an Altera Max V device. I have stuffed the CPLD, the clock oscillator, some LED’s and part of the onboard power supply along with the JTAG header needed to program the CPLD and that’s about it.


Herdware CPLD 5M570ZT
Herdware CPLD 5M570ZT dedicated PCB with SRAM.


CPLD Schematic
CPLD Schematic showing an Altera CPLD 5M570T144

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CPLD Tutorial: Learn Programmable Logic the Easy Way


The guys over at hackshed have been busy. [Carl] is making programmable logic design easy with an 8 part CPLD tutorial. Programmable logic devices are one of the most versatile hardware building blocks available to hackers. They also can have a steep learning curve. Cheap Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA) are plentiful, but can have intricate power requirements. Most modern programmable logic designs are created in a Hardware Description Language (HDL) such as VHDL or Verilog. Now you’ve got a new type of device, a new language, an entirely new programming paradigm, and a complex IDE to learn all at once. It’s no wonder FPGAs have sent more than one beginner running for the hills.

The tutorial cuts the learning curve down in several ways. [Carl] is using Complex Programmable Logic Devices (CPLD). At the 40,000 foot level, CPLDs and FPGAs do the same thing – they act as re-configurable logic. FPGAs generally do not store their configuration – it has to be loaded from an external FLASH, EEPROM, or connected processor. CPLDs do store their configuration, so they’re ready as soon as they power up. As a general rule, FPGAs contain more configurable logic than CPLDs. This allows for larger designs to be instantiated with FPGAs. Don’t knock CPLDs though. CPLDs have plenty of room for big designs, like generating VGA signals.

[Carl] also is designing with schematic capture in his tutorial. With the schematic capture method, digital logic schematics are drawn just as they would be in Eagle or KiCad. This is generally considered an “old school” method of design capture. A few lines of VHDL or Verilog code can replace some rather complex schematics. [Carl’s] simple designs don’t need that sort of power though. Going the schematic capture route eliminates the need to learn VHDL or Verilog.

[Carl’s] tutorial starts with installing Altera’s Quartus II software. He then takes the student through the “hardware hello world” – blinking an LED.  By the time the tutorial is done, the user will learn how to create a 4 bit adder and a 4 bit subtractor. With all that under your belt, you’re ready to jump into big designs – like building a retrocomputer.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]

Fail of the Week: CPLDs That Release Blue Smoke


The card you see above is a floppy drive emulator for Macintosh. [Steve Chamberlain] has been hand assembling these and selling them in small runs, but is troubled by about a 4% burn-out rate for the CPLD which has the red ‘X’ on it. He settled into figure out what exactly is leading to this and it’s a real head-scratcher.

He does a very good job of trouble-shooting, starting with a list of all the possible things he thinks could be causing this: defective part, bad PCB, bad uC firmware, damage during assembly, solder short, tolerance issues, over-voltage on the DB connector, or bad VHDL design. He methodically eliminates these, first by swapping out the part and observing the exact same failure (pretty much eliminates assembly, solder short, etc.), then by measuring and scoping around the card.

The fascinating read doesn’t stop with the article. Make sure you work your way through the comments thread. [Steve] thinks he’s eliminated the idea of bad microcontroller code causing damage. He considers putting in-line resistors on the DB connector but we wonder if clamping diodes wouldn’t be a better choice (at least for testing purposes)? This begs the question, why is he observing a higher voltage on those I/O lines during power-up? As always, we want to hear your constructive comments below.

2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Wednesday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.