Weird Processing Unit only has 4 instructions

[Tomáš], a.k.a. [Frooxius] is playing around with computational theory and processor architectures – a strange hobby in itself, we know – and has created the strangest CPU we’ve ever seen described.

The Weird Processing Unit, or WPU, isn’t designed like the Intel or ARM CPU in your laptop or phone. No, the WPU is a thought experiment in computer design that’s something between being weird for the sake of being weird and throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.

The WPU only has four instructions, or attoinstructions, to change the state of one of the 64 pins on the computer – set to logical 1, set to logical 0, invert current state, and halt. These instructions are coded with two bits, and the operand (i.e. the wire connected to the computer) is encoded in another six bits.

These 64 wires are divided up into several busses - eight bit address and control busses make up the lowest 16 bits, a 32-bit data bus has a function akin to a register, and a 16-bit ‘Quick aJump bus’ provides the program counter and attocode memory. The highest bit on the WPU is a ‘jump bit’, implemented for unconditional jumps in code.

We’re not even sure the WPU can even be considered a computer. We realize, though, that’s probably not the point; [Tomáš] simply created the WPU to do something out of the ordinary. It’s not meant to be a real, or even useful, CPU; it’s simply a thought experiment to see what is possible by twiddling bits around.

Tip ‘o the hat to [Adam] for sending this one in.

Mess of wires is actually a one instruction computer

If you’re going to build your own computer, it probably wouldn’t do you well to exactly emulate the computer you’re looking at right now. The modern x86 and x64 chips that power your desktop or laptop contain hundreds of individual instructions, and the supposed RISC CPUs found in ARM-powered devices contain nearly as many. No, if you’re going to build your own computer you should make it easy on yourself, just as [Jack Eisenmann] did  when he built the DUO Compact, a one-instruction set computer made on a breadboard.

Instead of dozens or hundreds of individual instructions, a one instruction computer has – like its name implies – only one way of manipulating bits. For the DUO Compact, [Jack] chose a NOR and fork conditionally instruction. Each line of assembly written for the DUO Compact has four memory instructions: a source address, destination address, skip address 1, and skip address 2. [Jack] explains exactly how this operation can allow him to compute everything:

Three steps occur when executing the instruction:

  1. Load the byte at the first and second address. NOR these bytes together.
  2. Store the result of step 1 in the second address.
  3. If the result of step 1 was zero, then skip to the instruction at the fourth address; otherwise, skip to the instruction at the third address.

As if designing a one instruction computer built using only basic logic and memory chips wasn’t impressive enough, [Jack] went as far as writing an emulator for his system, a compiler, an operating system, and even a few programs such as a square root calculator and a text-based adventure game.

By any measure, [Jack] has finished an amazing build, but we’re blown away by the sheer amount of documentation he’s made available. He’s even gone so far as to write a tutorial for building your own DUO Compact.

You can check out a few videos of the DUO Compact after the break. Of course, if you’re looking for a project to tackle, you’re more than welcome to design a PCB from the DUO Compact schematic. We’d certainly buy one.

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Building a one-instruction computer

[Hasith] sent in this project where he goes through the process of designing a one instruction CPU in Verilog. It may not win a contest for the coolest build on Hack A  Day, but we really do appreciate the “applied nerd”  aspect of this build.

With only one instruction, an OISC is a lot simpler than the mess we have to deal with today. There are a few instructions that by themselves are Turing-complete (like Subtract and branch if negative, and Move). Designing an OISC with one of these instructions means it can also emulate a Turing machine.

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