How CMOS Works: MOSFETs, JFETs, IGFETS and More

CMOS opened the door for many if not most of the properties needed for today’s highly integrated circuits and low power portable and mobile devices. This really couldn’t happen until the speeds and current drive capabilities of CMOS caught up to the other technologies, but catch up they did.

Nowadays CMOS Small Scale Integration (SSI) logic families, I.E. the gates used in external logic, offer very fast speeds and high current drive capability as well as supporting the low voltages found in modern designs. Likewise the Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) designs, or Very Very Large Scale if you like counting the letter V when talking, are possible due to low power dissipation as well as other factors.

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Gates to FPGAs: TTL Electrical Properties

On the path to exploring complex logic, let’s discuss the electrical properties that digital logic signals are comprised of. While there are many types of digital signals, here we are talking about the more common voltage based single-ended signals and not the dual-conductor based differential signals.

Simulated "Real Life"
Single-ended Logic Signal

I think of most logic as being in one of two major divisions as far as the technology used for today’s logic: Bipolar and CMOS. Bipolar is characterized by use of (non-insulated gate) transistors and most often associated with Transistor Transistor Logic (TTL) based logic levels. As CMOS technology came of age and got faster and became able to drive higher currents it began to augment or offer an alternative to bipolar logic families. This is especially true as power supply voltages dropped and the need for low power increased. We will talk more about CMOS in the next installment.

TTL was a result of a natural progression from the earlier Resistor Transistor Logic (RTL) and Diode Transistor Logic (DTL) technologies and the standards used by early TTL became the standard for a multitude of logic families to follow.

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A TTL timer project of yore

[Viktor] just pulled out another one of his decades-old projects. This time around it’s a timer he built using 7400 logic chips. It was a great way for him to learn about electronics, and ended up serving as his alarm clock every morning.

Two pieces of copper clad board were cut to the same size. One of them was etched to act as the circuit board. The other was outfitted as a face plate. The same type of transfer sheets used to mask the traces of the circuit were also used to apply labels to the face plate. It was then coated with acrylic spray to protect it and stave off corrosion. The clock keeps time based on a half-wave rectified signal. The source is from a transformer which steps mains voltage down to a safe level for the 7805 regulator that supplies the clock’s power bus.

We’re glad [Viktor] has been showing off these old projects. We’ve also enjoyed seeing a TV sleep timer he built. If you’ve got something neat for yester-year why not dust it off, post the details, and send us a tip about it?

Breadboarding a 4-bit ALU

[TGTTGIT] recently took the plunge and decided to build his own computer using logic chips. He just completed a 4-bit ALU which can compute 18 functions. It took a long time to get the wiring right, but in true geek fashion his build was accompanied by an alternating Chapelle’s Show and Star Trek: TNG marathon playing in the background.

This project is the stepping stone for a larger 16-bit version. The experience of wiring up just this much of it has convinced him that an FPGA is the only way to go for the future of the build. But since he had already ordered the chips it was decided that the only thing to do was to see this much through. He used the truth table from The Elements of Computing Systems for the design and posted several times about the project before arriving at this stopping point so you may be interested in clicking through the other post on his blog. There’s also a lot of other TTL computer projects around here worth checking into.

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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 4-bit TTL computer

When [GG] was 12 years old, he was introduced to BugBooks, the wonderful ‘introduction to digital design’ books from the early 1970s. It has always been a dream of [GG] to build the TTL computer featured in the BugBooks, and now that he has the necessary time and money available to him, the Apollo181 has become a reality.

[GG]’s computer is built around a 74181 ALU, an exceptionally old-school chip that provides the core of a computer in a neat 24-pin chip. With a 256-byte RAM and a few additional logic chips, [GG]’s computer is an exceptional piece of engineering able to perform 625,000 instructions per second when clocked at 2.5 MHz.

This isn’t [GG]’s first homebrew computer build; last year we saw his incredible Z80 minicomputer. Now we can’t wait to see what’s on tap for next year. After the break, you can check out [GG] loading in operands and operators into his computer and letting the Apollo181 churn away on its program.

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Build an 8-bit TTL computer

Very rarely do we see an Instructable so complete, and so informative, that it’s a paragon of tutorials that all Instructables should aspire to. [8 Bit Spaghetti]’s How to Build an 8-bit computer is one of those tutorials.

[8 Bit Spaghetti]’s build began on his blog. He originally planned to build a 4-bit computer but decided a computer that could only count to 15 would be too limiting. The build continued by programming an NVRAM as the ROM on a breadboard and finally testing his bundle of wires.

What really makes [8 Bit Spaghetti]’s special is the Instructable – he covers just about all the background information like the definition of a Turing machine, a brief introduction to electronics and logic chips, and binary numbers. Even though he’s doing some fairly complicated work, [8 Bit Spaghetti]’s tutorial makes everything very clear.

The computer isn’t quite done yet – there’s still a few nixie tubes to add – but we couldn’t imagine a better project for the budding electronic hacker.