Forth System-On-Chip Takes Us Back to the 80s

For anyone who has dealt with the programming language Forth, odds are good that you picked it up back in the 80s. Since the language is still in use for many applications, though, you might not have this sort of nostalgic feeling for the language that some might have. For that, though, you might want to try out [Richard]’s implementation which simulates the microcomputers of the 80s using this unique language.

The system has an FPGA-based CPU written in Verilog. It runs on a Nexys-3 board and features PS/2 Keyboard input, a VGA output with a VHDL VT100 terminal emulation module, access to the Flash and onboard SRAM, and a UART. With all of that put together it’s virtually a Forth-based time machine. It’s also extremely well documented even if you’re just curious how it works and aren’t planning on building your own.

The project also includes a CPU simulator written in C which can model the entire computer if you don’t have the hardware for building the actual computer. [Richard] also released everything that you’d need to roll out your own Forth computer on the GitHub page. There are other ways of heading way back to the 1980s, though, like using the quirky Parralax Propeller.

Catching the (PCIe) Bus

If you are trying to learn about FPGAs, there is only so far you can go with the usual blinking lights and VGA outputs. Eventually, you want to do something more. Although not terribly cheap, you can get FPGA boards in a PCIe form-factor and use them directly with PC software. Is it easy? Well, it isn’t flashing an LED, but there are tools to help. [Angelos Kyriakos] did a Master’s thesis on the very subject and used a project known as RIFFA to help with the task.

RIFFA (Reusable Integration Framework for FPGA Accelerators) is a simple framework for communicating data from a host CPU to an FPGA via a PCI Express bus. The framework requires a PCIe enabled workstation and an FPGA on a board with a PCIe connector. RIFFA supports Windows and Linux, Altera and Xilinx, with bindings for C/C++, Python, MATLAB, and Java. With proper design, RIFFA can transfer quite a bit of data in a short period of time between your computer and your FPGA.

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Hackaday Links: January 28, 2018

In case you haven’t heard, we have a 3D printing contest going on right now. It’s the Repairs You Can Print Contest. The idea is simple: show off how you repaired something with a 3D printer. Prizes include $100 in Tindie credit, and as a special prize for students and organizations (think hackerspaces), we’re giving away a few Prusa i3 MK3 printers.

[Drygol] has made a name for himself repairing various ‘home’ computers over the years, and this time he’s back showing off the mods and refurbishments he’s made to a pile of Amiga 500s. This time, he’s installing some new RAM chips, fixing some Guru Meditations by fiddling with the pins on a PLCC, adding a built-in modulator, installing a dual Kickstart ROM, and installing a Gotek floppy adapter. It’s awesome work that puts all the modern conveniences into this classic computer.

Here’s an FPGA IoT Controller. It’s a Cyclone IV and a WiFi module stuffed into something resembling an Arduino Mega. Here’s the question: what is this for? There are two reasons you would use an FPGA, either doing something really fast, or doing something so weird normal microcontrollers just won’t cut it. I don’t know if there is any application of IoT that overlaps with FPGAs. Can you think of something? I can’t.

Tide pods are flammable.

You know what’s cool? Sparklecon. It’s a party filled with a hundred pounds of LEGO, a computer recycling company, a plasmatorium, and a hackerspace, tucked away in an industrial park in Fullerton, California. It’s completely chill, and a party for our type of people — those who like bonfires, hammer Jenga, beer, and disassembling fluorescent lamps for high voltage transformers.

A few shoutouts for Sparklecon. The 23b Hackerspace is, I guess, the main host here, or at least the anchor. Across the alley is NUCC, the National Upcycled Computing Collective. They’re a nonprofit that takes old servers and such, refurbishes them, and connects them to projects like Folding@Home and SETI@Home. This actually performs a service for scientists, because every moron is mining Bitcoin and Etherium now, vastly reducing the computational capabilities of these distributed computing projects. Thanks, OSH Park, for buying every kind of specialty pizza at Pizza Hut. I would highly encourage everyone to go to Sparklecon next year. This is the fifth year, and it’s getting bigger and better every time.

Arrow’s $30 FPGA Board Reviewed

We like cheap FPGA boards. It isn’t just that we’re cheap — although that’s probably true, too — but cheap boards are a good way to get people started on FPGAs and we think more people should be using FPGAs more often. One inexpensive board is the Max-1000 from Trenz and Arrow. At $29, it is practically an impulse buy. [ZipCPU] did a great write up on his experience using the board. He found that some of it was good, some was bad, and some was just plain ugly. Still, for $30, it seems like this might be a nice board for some applications or for getting started.

Billed an IoT Maker Board, the tiny board sports a Intel (formerly Altera) MAX10 device with 8,000 logic elements, a USB programming interface onboard, 8 MB of SDRAM, and both PMOD and Arduino MKR headers. The MAX10 has an analog to digital conversion block (with an analog mux for up to nine channels) and the ability to host a 32-bit soft controller onboard, too.

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34C3: Reverse Engineering FPGAs

We once knew a guy who used to tell us that the first ten times he flew in an airplane, he jumped out of it. It was his eleventh flight before he walked off the plane. [Mathias Lasser] has a similar story. Despite being one of the pair who decoded the iCE40 bitstream format a few years ago, he admits in his 34C3 talk that he never learned how to use FPGAs. His talk covers how he reverse engineered the iCE40 and the Xilinx 7 series devices.

If you are used to FPGAs in terms of Verilog and VHDL, [Mathias] will show you a whole new view of rows, columns, and tiles. Even if you don’t ever plan to work at that level, sometimes understanding hardware at the low level will inspire some insights that are harder to get at the abstraction level.

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Tips on Building the BlackIce BBC Micro

You can look at pictures and video of the Grand Canyon, Paris, New York City or anywhere else, and yet when you finally see those places with your own eyes it is somehow different. Fielding an old computer like the BBC Micro on an FPGA has been done before. But there’s always something to learn when you do it yourself. [Machina] took a BlackIce board and made a BBC Micro replica, but he learned a few things along the way and decided to share them for our benefit.

He used the BlackIce board with [Dave’s] BBC Micro implementation that we’ve covered before. [Machina] was impressed that the board takes PMOD plug ins, so it was easy — almost — to add a VGA and keyboard port. Although both gave him some unexpected problems.

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Spite, Thrift, and the Virtues of an Affordable Logic Analyzer

[Larry Wall], the father of Perl, lists the three great virtues of all programmers: Laziness, Impatience, and Hubris. After seeing that Saleae jacked up the prices on their popular logic analyzers to ludicrous levels, [CNLohr] added a fourth virtue: Spite. And since his tests with a Cypress FX3 over the last few days may lead to a dirt-cheap DIY logic analyzer, we may soon be able to add another virtue: Thrift.

The story begins a year or two ago when [CNLohr] got a Cypress FX3 development board for $45. The board sat unused for want of a Windows machine, but after seeing our recent article on a minimalist logic analyzer based on an FX2, he started playing with the board to see if it could fan the flames of his Saleae hatred. The FX3 is a neat little chip that has a 100-MHz General Programmable Interface (GPIF) bus that basically lets it act like an easy to use FPGA.

Prepared to spend months on the project, he was surprised to make significant progress on his mission of spiteful thrift within a few days, reading 16 bits off the GPIF at over 200 megabytes per second and dumping it over the USB 3.0 port. [Charles]’ libraries for the FX3 lay the foundation for a lot of cool stuff, from logic analyzers to SDRs and beyond — now someone just has to build them.

The search for a cheap but capable logic analyzer is nothing new, of course. Last year, both [Jenny List] and [Bil Herd] looked at the $22 iCEstick as a potential Saleae beater.

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