Hackaday Prize Entry: A Mess Of VGA On A Breadboard

Before all our video games came over the Intertubes, before they were on CDs, and before they were on cartridges, video games were all discrete logic. Pong was the first and you can build that out of several dozen logic chips. The great [Woz] famously built Breakout out of 44 simple chips.

For [Marcel]’s entry to the Hackaday Prize, he’s taking the single board microprocessor-less computer to the next level. He’s building a multi-Megahertz 64-color computer on a breadboard. What’s the capacitance of a breadboard? Just ask [Marcel].

The design of this disintegrated computer has just about everything you could want in a discrete CPU. There is no microcontroller or complex chips like the 74181 ALU, there’s pipelining with sometimes two instructions per clock, decoding with diodes, and a 60 Hz, 64 color VGA output and four sound channels. There’s only about 40 TTL chips on this board.

The project logs for this Hackaday Prize entry are a treat in themsleves, ranging from topics to the implementation of NES controllers to getting rid of the breadboard and turning this computer into something like a vintage game system, but with a custom CPU and instruction set. It’s an amazing build, and an awesome project for the Hackaday Prize.

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An Overly-Complicated Logic Chip Clock


When a normal alarm clock just won’t do, the only option is to build your own, entirely out of discrete logic chips. [jvok] built this alarm clock for last year’s 7400 Logic Competition. In a desire to go against the grain a little bit, [jvok] decided to use 4000-series logic chips. It was allowed under the rules, and the result is a wonderful example of what can be done without a microcontroller.

Most clock projects we’ve seen use a single button to increase each digit. [jvok] wanted to do something unique, so he is able to set his clock with a ‘mode’ button that allows him to independently set the hours, minutes, and seconds. He’s only ever seen this method of setting a clock’s time used with microcontroller-based projects, and translating even that simple code into pure circuitry is quite impressive.

This clock also includes an alarm function, set by a bunch of DIP switches in binary coded decimal. It’s a great piece of work, and deserving of much more attention than it received during the Open Logic Competition.

Building A 4-bit TTL Computer

When [GG] was 12 years old, he was introduced to BugBooks, the wonderful ‘introduction to digital design’ books from the early 1970s. It has always been a dream of [GG] to build the TTL computer featured in the BugBooks, and now that he has the necessary time and money available to him, the Apollo181 has become a reality.

[GG]’s computer is built around a 74181 ALU, an exceptionally old-school chip that provides the core of a computer in a neat 24-pin chip. With a 256-byte RAM and a few additional logic chips, [GG]’s computer is an exceptional piece of engineering able to perform 625,000 instructions per second when clocked at 2.5 MHz.

This isn’t [GG]’s first homebrew computer build; last year we saw his incredible Z80 minicomputer. Now we can’t wait to see what’s on tap for next year. After the break, you can check out [GG] loading in operands and operators into his computer and letting the Apollo181 churn away on its program.

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The Trials Of Digital Design Class

Late last week, we saw a rather clever combination lock build that used only a single 74xx logic chip. [J. Peterson] read this post, and in a battle royale of geek one upmanship sent us a write up of the logic chip computer he built nearly 30 years ago at the University of Utah.

Around 1982 or 1983, [J. Peterson] took the Digital Hardware Lab at the University of Utah. The class was split into two semesters; during the fall semester, students would build a four digit, stack-based calculator that could add and subtract. That may sound easy, but everything – including reading the keyboard, multiplexing LEDs, and performing the mathematical operations – was done with gates and latches.

After Christmas break, the poor souls who had just finished their calculator were presented with another challenge due in four short months. The calculator built during the fall would turn into a full-blown computer, functionally similar to a PDP-8.

After months of work, and seeing the 70 people who showed up on the first day of class in September dwindle down to a handful in late April, [J. Peterson]’s computer was complete. The test program ran through a couple iterations, and the computer was immediately disassembled.

An awesome tale of digital design from only a generation ago. And you thought Verilog was hard.

Building A Combination Lock With Logic Chips

The component gods must have smiled on [Darrell], because he recently ran into a cabinet full of 7400-series logic chips for sale at his local college surplus. All the regulars were there – flip-flops, logic gates, and SRAMs – in DIP packages. the 7400-series of logic chips gets very esoteric as the numbers increased, so when [Darrell] found a 74ALS679 address comparator, he didn’t quite realize what he had. After a quick review of the relevant datasheet he had a fairly good idea of the actual function of this chip and decided to make a combination lock.

From the datasheet, [Darrell] figured out how this small logic chip can compare two 12-bit addresses with only 20 pins: each of the 12 address pins are hardwired to match a single four-bit value. If the four-bit ‘key’ is set to 0110, the first six address pins are tied low, and pins 7-12 are tied high. After wiring up his address comparator to a trio of Hex dip switches, [Darrell] had a combination lock that used the word ‘FAB’ as a key.

In the 7400-series of logic chips, there are some oddballs; the 7447 seven-segment display driver is useful, but the 74881 ALU and 74361 bubble memory timing generator aren’t exactly something you would find in a random component stash. If you’ve got a weird logic chip build (there’s a 300-baud modem, you know), send it on in. You can check out an animated gif of [Darrell]’s lock after the break.

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Capacitive Sensing Tutorial

[Bertho]’s submission for the 74xx logic contest is really impressive. He designed a capacitive sensing touchpad using only 74xx and 40xx logic chips. We’re impressed with the build and his writeup is one of the best resources we’ve ever seen for capacitive sensing.

There are two ways to go about designing a capacitive touchpad. The first option is put a voltage through an RC circuit. Measure the voltage-time curve, and you have a measure of the capacitance of the circuit. The second method is setting up an RC circuit to change polarity after a threshold for C has been reached. Microprocessors only use one of these methods (AVR uses the first, PIC uses the second), but [Bertho] decided to implement both methods for unknown reasons we still respect.

The circuit [Bertho] designed has a 30MHz clock using only 74xx logic chips, an amazing feat in itself. An 8×8 channel panel was fabricated and the whole build connects to a computer over RS-232.

The finished build is good enough has 64 points of resolution and is able to detect proximity very well. The touchpad is even able to recognize when a pen is placed on the panel. Check out the video after the break for the walk through and demo of this amazing build.

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Knock Lock With Logic Chips

[Eric] needed a project for his digital logic design class, and decided on a lock that open in response to a specific pattern of knocks. This is a fairly common project that we’ve seen a few builds with ‘knock locks,’ but this one doesn’t use a microcontroller. Instead, it uses individual logic chips.

The lock senses the knocks with a piezo, just like every other build we’ve seen. Unlike the other builds, the knock pattern is then digitized and stored in an EEPROM. [Eric] only used 12 chip for this build, a feat he could accomplish with a few digital tricks, like making an inverter by tying one XOR input high.

We’ve seen a 555-based knock lock before, but getting the timing right with that seems a little maddening. [Eric]’s build seems much more user-friendly, and has the added bonus of being programmed by knocking instead of turning potentiometers. Check out [Eric]’s knock lock after the break.

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