A simple Forth development board

forth

Forth is a very interesting programming language. It’s very flexible and is extremely efficient on low powered hardware, but unfortunately not very popular simply due to the fact that it’s not very popular. There were a few Forth-based microcomputers built in the 1980s, but these were largely unsuccessful.

[Leon] is a Forth aficionado and came up with his own Forth development board in the hopes of Forth making a comeback. It’s a very small and cheap board – only about $12 in parts – but it’s still extremely powerful and a fun platform for investigating Forth.

Compared to other programming languages found in 80s microcomputers, Forth is just weird. It’s a stack-based language, so instead of adding two numbers like 3 + 4, Forth uses postfix notation (or Reverse Polish Notation) so the same statement is expressed as 3 4 +. It’s a much more efficient way for computers to handle data, and some claim it’s more efficient for humans as well.

[Leon] created his own board able to be programmed in Forth, shown above, that uses an ATMega328 microcontroller. He’s using AmForth to put Forth on his system, but also extended the base AmForth install with his own floating point version. making this version of Forth at least as powerful as any 80s microcomputer or ATMega development board is today.

[Leon] put together a great demo of the capabilities of Forth and his dev board. You can check that out below.

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Rekindling Forth with a Propeller Jupiter Ace

Jupiter

The Jupiter Ace was a small membrane keyboard, cassette tape drive computer akin to the ZX Spectrum released in 1982. Priced at £90, it was a little more expensive than its home computer contemporaries, but had a very interesting feature: instead of BASIC, the Ace ran Forth. This interpreted stack-based language is far more capable than the BASIC variants found on home computers of the day, but unfortunately the Ace failed simply because Forth was so foreign to most consumers.

Not wanting to let a good idea die, [prof_braino] is bringing Forth back into the modern age. He’s using a Parallax Propeller to emulate a simple home computer running Forth. Instead of a book-sized computer, the new Propeller version runs on a single chip, with 8 CPU cores running 24 times faster than the original, with 32 times more RAM and an SD card for basically unlimited storage.

J1: a small, fast, CPU core for FPGA

[James Bowman] of the Willow Garage published a paper on his J1 CPU core for field-programmable gate arrays. This was originally developed and used for the Ethernet cameras on the PR2 (you know, that incredibly expensive beer delivery system?) robot. It uses a 16-bit von Neumann architecture and lacks several processor features you’d expect a CPU to have such as interrupts, multiply and divide, a condition register, and a carry flag. None-the-less, its compact at just 200 lines of Verilog and it can run at 80 MHz. [James] compares the J1 to three different FPGA CPU Cores commonly used and discusses how the system is built in his 4-page paper that has the details you’re interested in but won’t take all day to dig through.

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