Yeah I am still a little pissed that the competition is still around and we aren’t, and by “we” I mean Commodore Business Machines (CBM). It was Commodore that had the most popular home computer ever in the C64 (27 Million) and it was a team of MOS engineers after all, that had the idea to make a “micro” processor out of a 12 square inch PCB.
Of course they did work at Motorola at the time and “Mot” did not want anything to do with a reduction of the profit margin on the pie-plate size processor. Of course MOS got sued by Motorola but that was an average Tuesday at MOS/CBM. I absolutely credit CBM with buying the MOS Technologies chip foundry, as together we could make our own processors, graphics chips, sound chips, memory controllers, and programmable logic.
With this arsenal at our call we didn’t have to make compromises the way other companies did such as conforming to the bus spec of an industrial standard 6845 or having to add extra logic when a custom extra pin would work. We could also make sprites.
The compromise we did have to make when designing was cost, and I mean the kind of cost reduction where finding a way to save a dollar ($1USD) saved millions in the production run. I knocked $.90USD out of a transformer one day and I couldn’t focus the rest of the day due to elation.
Cost reduction is a harsh mistress however as you can’t just do it a little some of the time or only when you want to. The mental exercise of multiplying anything times a million was always there, it made it hard to buy lunch — I’d be blocking the lunch line while figuring the cost of a million tuna sandwiches FOB Tokyo Continue reading “Programmable Logic I – PLA/PAL”→
This one has been a long time coming. We’re finally seeing an update to [Jaromir’s] retro gaming platform based around and ATmega chip. The thing that was novel about it back in 2009, and continues to be to this day, is the use of VGA output (PAL) from an AVR chip rather than composite video like most offerings.
Good projects never die and recently he picked the hardware up again, spinning a mostly surface mount board and putting together a new website to feature his work. Above you can see a demo of Commander Keen 4 running on the hardware (video below). He’s also has a rather trippy Super Mario port and adapted [Albert Seward’s] PacMan source for the hardware.
The chip is being clocked at 32MHz with VGA clock running at 19.6608 MHz. This gives him sixteen colors with a resolution of 192×144. He concedes that you get better resolution out of composite video, but who needs resolution for retro gaming?
Take a look at the image above to see his alterations to the mainboard. The jumpers soldered to the two chips at the top are by far the trickiest part of the project. Each of the pins he soldered to needed to first be lifted from the PCB pad so that they no longer make contact with the etched traces. The technique he used involves heating the pin with an iron, then gently lifting it with a pin or a razor knife/blade. If you’ve got some experience populating SMD boards with a handheld iron this shouldn’t prove too difficult. The rest of the hack involves adding a 3-position switch (along with a 2k2 resistor) to choose between output modes based on what format game is being played.
There are a lot of other hacks around that use composite video out with microcontrollers. But this is a ground-up approach which will help you understand the concepts behind these graphics. [Vinod] started by calculating the possible resolution. He needs to hold a frame buffer in memory, and since his chip has just 2 kilobytes of SRAM this will be the limiting factor. He settled on a display area of 128 by 64 pixels. This divides evenly by 8 so he’s not wasting any bits, and it totals 1k, leaving half of the SRAM for use in calculating the shapes which populate the buffer. An interrupt service routine runs ever 64 microseconds to feed data for each line of the display.
With the scanning in place, he moved on to fill the frame buffer. Two functions are used, one which sets a pixel the other clears a pixel. He compares these to using a pencil and an eraser. By calling these functions from his main program he is able to draw lines, boxes, and circles. A bit of creative looping and he’ll have animations as well, but that’s a concept for a different post.
Above is a new demo video called Phasor developed by [Lft]. It is run from an AVR ATmega88 and a few passive components, and the result is pretty amazing. [Lft] goes into detail about the tricks he used to get this up and running. The chip is clocked at 17.73447 MHz which is exactly four times the frequency of the PAL color carrier wave which allows him to fake a smooth signal. He also uses a timer trick to get the voltages that he needs. The work done here is beyond hardcore and quite frankly we can’t believe he managed to fit all of this into 8.5 KB of program space with just 1 KB or RAM. We wonder if there’s enough room there to add sound and color to the AVR Tetris project.