FPGA Retrocomputer: Return To Moncky

Part of the reason that retrocomputers are still so popular despite their obsolescence is that it’s possible to understand the entire inner workings of a computer like this, from the transistors all the way up to the software. Comparatively, it will likely be a long time (if ever) before anyone is building a modern computer from discrete components. To illustrate this point, plenty of 8-bit computers are available to either restore from original 80s hardware or to build from kits. And if you’d like to get even deeper into the weeds you can design your own computer including the instruction set completely from the ground up using an FPGA.

This project, called the Moncky project, is a step above the usual 8-bit computer builds as it is actually a 16-bit computer. It is built around an Arty Spartan-7 FPGA dev board running around 20 MHz and has access to 2 x 128 kB dual-port RAM for memory. To access the outside world there is a VGA output, PS/2 capability, SPI, and uses an SD card as a hard drive. This project really shines in the software, though, as the project creator [Kris Demuynck] builds everything from scratch in order to illustrate how everything works for educational purposes, and is currently working on implementing a C compiler to make programming the computer easier.

All of the project files, as well as all of the code, are available on the project’s GitHub page if you’d like to follow along or build on this homebrew 16-bit computer. It’s actually the third iteration of this computer, with the Moncky-1 and Moncky-2 being used to develop the more basic building blocks for this computer. While it’s not the first 16-bit computer we’ve seen implemented on an FPGA, it is one of the few that builds its own RISC instruction set and associated software rather than cloning a known existing processor. We’ve also seen some interesting x86 implementations on an FPGA as well.

Thanks to [koen-ieee] for the tip!

Ask Hackaday: What’s Your Favourite Build Tool? Can Make Ever Be Usurped?

What do you do whilst your code’s compiling? Pull up Hackaday? Check Elon Musk’s net worth? Research the price of a faster PC? Or do you wonder what’s taking so long, and decide to switch out your build system?

Clamber aboard for some musings on Makefiles, monopolies, and the magic of Ninja. I want to hear what you use to build your software. Should we still be using make in 2021? Jump into the fray in the comments.

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C++ Compiler Targets The Web

It is a common problem these days. You have a piece of code in C or C++. Maybe it is older code. Or maybe you prefer prototyping your ideas using C. But, inevitably, someone now wants your code to run in a Web browser. The options for making this happen have expanded quite a bit lately and one possibility is Cheerp, an open-source compiler that handles up to C++ 17 and can output to WebAssembly, JavaScript, or asm.js.

The compiler is free to use for GPLv2 projects. If you aren’t open yourself, it looks like you have to cut a deal to use Cheerp with its maker, Learning Technologies.

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Learn Compilers Online From Cornell

It sounds like the start of a joke, but what’s the difference between taking Cornell’s CS6120 online and in-person? The instructor, [Adrian Samspon] notes that the real class has deadlines, an end-of-semester project, and a discussion board that is only open to real-life students. He also notes that you only earn “imagination credits.”

Still, this is a great opportunity to essentially audit a PhD-level computer science class on a fascinating topic. The course consists of videos, papers, and open source projects using LLVM and a custom internal representation based on JSON that is made for the class. It is all open source, too. You do however need access to the papers, some of which are behind paywalls. Your local library can help if you can’t otherwise find copies of the papers.

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All You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Compilers

They say that in order to understand recursion, you must first understand recursion. Once you master that concept, you might decide that it’s time to write your own compiler that can compile itself as a fun side project. According to [Warren] aka [DoctorWkt], who documented every step of writing this C compiler from scratch, a true compiler will be able to do that.

Some of the goals for the project included self-compiling, focusing on a real hardware platform, practicality, and simplicity. [Warren] outlines a lot of the theory of compilers as well, including all the lexical, grammar, and semantic analysis and then the final translation into assembly language, but really focuses on making this compiler one for practical use rather than just a theoretical implementation. He focuses on Intel x86-64 and 32-bit ARM platforms too, which are widely available.

This project is a long read and very thoroughly documented at around 100,000 words, so if you’ve ever been interested in compilers this is a great place to start. There are a lot of other great compiler tools floating around too, like the Compiler Explorer which shows you generated code as you write in a higher level language.

[via Hackaday.io]

Tony Brooker And Autocode – The First High-level Language

The field of computer science has undeniably changed the world for virtually every single person by now. Certainly for you as Hackaday reader, but also for everyone around you, whether they’re working in the field themselves, or are simply enjoying the fruits of convenience it bears. What was once a highly specialized niche field for a few chosen people has since grown into a discipline that not only created one of the biggest industry in modern times, but also revolutionized every other industry, some a few times over.

The fascinating part about all this is the relatively short time span it took to get here, and with that the privilege to live in an era where some of the pioneers and innovators, the proverbial giants whose shoulders every one of us is standing on, are still among us. Sadly, one of them, [Tony Brooker], a pioneer of the early programming language concept known as Autocode, passed away in November. Reaching the remarkable age of 94, the truly sad part however is that this might be the first time you hear his name, and there’s a fair chance you never heard of Autocode either.

But Autocode was probably the first high-level computer language, and as such played a fundamental role in the development of whatever you’re coding in today. So to honor the memory of [Tony Brooker], let’s remember the work he did with Autocode, and the leap in computer science history that it represented.

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Peek Into The Compiler’s Code — Lots Of Compilers

We don’t know what normal people argue about, but we know we spend a lot of time arguing about the best microcontroller, which editor is the best, and what language or compiler does the best job. The problem with all those compilers is getting them loaded and digging into the generated code. If you too spend your time thinking about those things, you ought to have a look at [Matt Godbolt’s] Compiler Explorer. We know that hosting an IDE-like web page and compiling code is old hat — although [Matt’s] site has been around quite some time. But [Matt’s] doing it differently. The code you build on the left hand pane shows up as assembly language on the right hand side.

There are plenty of options, too. For example, here’s a bit of C code from the site’s example:

int square(int num) {
   return num * num;
}

Here’s the corresponding assembly from gcc 9.2 for x86-64:

square:
  push rbp
  mov rbp, rsp
  mov DWORD PTR [rbp-4], edi
  mov eax, DWORD PTR [rbp-4]
  imul eax, eax
  pop rbp
  ret

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