The Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) is a powerful tool that is becoming more common across all kinds of different projects. They are effectively programmable hardware devices, capable of creating specific digital circuits and custom logic for a wide range of applications and can be much more versatile and powerful than a generic microcontroller. While they’re often used for rapid prototyping, they can also recreate specific integrated circuits, and are especially useful for retrocomputing. [nukeykt] has been developing a Sega Genesis clone using them, with some impressive results.
The Sega Genesis (or Mega Drive) was based around the fairly common Motorola 68000 processor, but this wasn’t the only processor in the console. There were a number of coprocessors including a Z80 and several chips from Yamaha to process audio. This project reproduces a number of these chips which are cycle-accurate using Verilog. The chips were recreated using images of de-capped original hardware, and although it doesn’t cover every chip from every version of the Genesis yet, it does have a version of the 68000, a Z80, and the combined Yamaha processor working and capable of playing plenty of games.
The project is still ongoing and eventually hopes to recreate the rest of the chipset using FPGAs. There’s also ongoing testing of the currently working chips, as some of them do still have a few bugs to work out. If you prefer to take a more purist approach to recreating 90s consoles, though, we recently featured a project which reproduced a Genesis development kit using original hardware.
Thanks to [Anonymous] for the tip!
[Robert Baruch] had something strange on his hands. He had carefully decapped 74LS189 16×4 static RAM, only to find that it wasn’t a RAM at all. The silicon die inside the plastic package even had analog elements, which is not what one would expect to find in an SRAM. But what was it? A quick tweet brought in the cavalry, in the form of chip analysis expert [Ken Shirriff].
[Ken] immediately realized the part [Robert] had uncovered wasn’t a 74 series chip at all. The power and ground pins were in the wrong places. Even the transistors were small CMOS devices, where a 74 series part would use larger bipolar transistors. The most glaring difference between the mystery device and a real LS819 was the analog elements. The mystery chip had a resistor network, arranged as an R-2R ladder. This configuration is often used as a simple Digital to Analog Converter (DAC).
Further analysis of the part revealed that the DAC was driven by a mask ROM that was itself indexed using a linear feedback shift register. [Ken] used all this information to plot out the analog signal the chip would generate. It turned out to be a rather sorry looking sine wave.
The mystery part didn’t look like any function generator or audio chip of the era. [Ken] had to think about what sort of commodity part would use lookup tables to generate an audio waveform. The answer was as close as his telephone — a DTMF “touch tone” generator, specifically a knockoff of a Mostek MK5085.
Most investigators would have stopped there. Not [Ken] though. He delved into the construction and function of the DTMF generator. You can find the full analysis on his site. This isn’t [Ken’s] first rodeo with decapped chips. He’s previously examined the Intel 8008 and presented a talk on silicon reverse engineering at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference. [Robert] has also shown us how to pop the top of classic ceramic integrated circuits.