You can’t fake that feeling when a $4 microcontroller dev board can stand in as cutting-edge 1980s technology. Such is the case with the working transputer that [Amen] has built using a Raspberry Pi Pico.
For a thorough overview of the transputer you should check out [Jenny List’s] longer article on the topic but boiled down we’re talking about a chip architecture mostly forgotten in time. Targetting parallel computing, each transputer chip has four serial communication links for connecting to other transputers. [Amen] has wanted to play with the architecture since its inception. It was expensive back then and today, finding multiple transputers is both difficult and costly. However, the RP2040 chip found on the Raspberry Pi Pico struck him as the perfect way to emulate the transputer design.
The RP2040 chip on the Pico board has two programmable input/output blocks (PIOs), each with four state machines in them. That matches up perfectly with the four transputer links (each is bi-directional so you need eight state machines). Furthermore, the link speed is spec’d at 10 MHz which is well within the Pico’s capabilities, and since the RP2040 runs at 133 MHz, it’s conceivable that an emulated core can get close to the 20 MHz top speed of the original transputers.
Bringing up the hardware has been a success. To see what’s actually going on, [Amen] sourced some link adapter chips (IMSC011), interfacing them through an Arduino Mega to a computer to use the keyboard and display. The transputer architecture allows code to be loaded via a ROM, or through the links. The latter is what’s running now. Future plans are to figure out a better system to compile code, as right now the only way is by running the original INMOS compiler on DOS in a VM.
Listen to [Amen] explain the project in the first of a (so far) six video series. You can find the links to the rest of those videos on his YouTube channel.