Old Style 1802 Computer Has MMU

When you think of an MMU — a memory management unit — you probably think of a modern 32-bit computer. But [Jeff Truck] has a surprise. His new RCA 1802 computer has bank switching, allowing the plucky little processor to address 256K of RAM. This isn’t just the usual bank-switching design, either.

The machine has several unique features. For example, an Arduino onboard can control the CPU so that you can remotely control the bus. It does not, apparently, stand in for any of the microprocessor support chips. It also doesn’t add additional memory or control its access.

The 256K of memory is under the control of the MMU board. This board generates two extra address bits by snooping the executing instruction and figures out what register is involved in any memory access. Memory in the MMU stores a table that lets you set different memory pages for each register. This works even if the register is not explicit and also for the machine’s DMA and instruction fetch cycles. If you know about the RCA “standard call and return technique,” which also needed a little patching for the MMU. [Jeff] covers that at the end of the video below.

This is a very simple version of a modern MMU and is an impressive trick for a 50-something-year-old CPU. We were surprised to hear — no offense to [Jeff] — that the design worked the first time. Impressive! There’s also some 3D printing and other tips to pick up along the way. But we were super impressed with the MMU. You might never have to do this yourself (although you could), but you can still marvel that it can be done at all.

We have a soft spot for the 1802s, real or emulated. The original ELF was great, but 256K is a lot better than the original 256 bytes!

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Vintage COSMAC Elf Is Pretty Close To Original

Popular Electronics was famous for the article introducing the Altair 8800 back in 1975 (well, the cover date was 1975; it really came out in late 1974). That was so popular (no pun intended), that they ran more computer construction articles, including the SWTPC 680 late in 1975. But in 1976 a very popular article ran on building a very simple computer called the COSMAC ELF. [Youtubba] had an Altair, but always wanted a “cute” COSMAC ELF. Now, forty-something years later, he finally got around to it. He made the very detailed video about his experience, below.

Surprisingly, he didn’t have to look very hard for too many of the components as most of them were available from Digikey. He had to get compatible RAM chips, the 1802 CPU and LED displays. He also couldn’t find a look-alike crystal, so he used a fake one and a hidden oscillator. The result looks awfully close to the original. He even did a nice front panel using Front Panel Express.

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