Surfing The Web With 7400 Logic

We see more computers built from logic gates than you might expect. However, most of them are really more demonstration computers and can’t do much of what you’d consider essential today. No so with [Alastair Hewitt’s] Novasaur. Although built using 34 TLL chips (and a few memory and analog chips, too, along with one PAL), it boasts some impressive features:

  • Dual Processor CPU/GPU (Harvard Architecture).
  • 33 MHz dot clock, 16.5 MHz data path, 8.25 MHz per processor (~3.5 CPU MIPs)
  • 256k ROM: 96k ALU, 64k native program, 64k cold storage, 32k fonts.
  • 128/512k RAM: 1-7 banks of 64k user, 60k display, 4k system.
  • 76 ALU functions including multiply/divide, system, and math functions.
  • Bitmapped Graphics: Hi-res mode up to 416×240 with 8 colors and 4 dithering patterns. Lo-res mode up to 208×160 with 256 colors, double-buffered.
  • Text Mode: 8 colors FG/BG, 256 line buffer, up to 104×60 using 8×8 glyphs, 80×36, and 64×48 rows using  8×16 glyphs.
  • Audio: 4 voice wavetable synthesis, ADSR, 8-bit DAC, 8Hz-4.8kHz.
  • PS2 Keyboard: Native interface built-in.
  • RS232 Serial Port: Full duplex, RTS/CTS flow control, 9600 baud.
  • Expansion Port: 7 addressable 8-bit register ports, 4 interrupt flags

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TTL Simulator In JavaScript

How do you celebrate your YouTube channel passing the 7400 subscriber mark? If you are [Low Level JavaScript], the answer is obvious: You create a 7400 TTL logic simulator in JavaScript. The gate simulations progress from simple gates up to flipflops and registers. You could probably build a 7400-based computer virtually with this code.

In addition to just being fun and interesting, there were a lot of links of interest in the video (see below) and its comments. For one, someone watching the channel took the code and made a Verilog-like IDE that is impressive.

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Super-Simple VGA Adapter Sports Low-Res Output With Only Four TTL Chips

Here at Hackaday we cast a wary eye at tips that come in with superlative claims. Generally, if we post something that claims to be the fastest or the smallest of all time, we immediately get slapped down in the comments by someone who has done it faster or smaller. So we present the simplest TTL video card ever knowing the same thing will happen, but eager to see how anyone might scale things down.

To be fair, [George Foot] does qualify his claim to the simplest usable VGA adapter, and he does note that it descends from [Ben Eater]’s “world’s worst video card”, which he uses for his 6502 breadboard computer. But where [Ben]’s VGA adapter uses about 20 TTL chips and an EEPROM, [George] has managed to decrease the BOM to just four TTL chips along with the memory and a crystal oscillator. This required a fair number of compromises, of course; the color depth is fairly low, as is the resolution. Each pixel appears as a thin horizontal bar rather than a small square, leading the images to be smeared out across the screen. They’re still surprisingly viewable, though, which probably says more about the quality of the pattern-recognition wetware between our ears than anything about the quality of the adapter. [George] gives a tour of the circuit in the brief video below.

It looks like [George] has posted a few improvements to the project since we first spotted it, so we’re looking forward to seeing how much the parts count went up. We’re also keen to see if anyone can outdo the simplicity of this effort — be sure to let us know if you give it a shot.

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Discrete-Logic UART Keeps 8-Bit TTL Computer Connected

Pity the poor TTL computer aficionado. It’s an obsession, really — using discrete logic chips to scratch-build a computer that would probably compare unfavorably to an 80s era 8-bit machine in terms of performance. And yet they still forge ahead with their breadboards full of chips and tangles of wire. It’s really quite beautiful when you think about it.

[Duncan] at Shepherding Electrons has caught the TTL bug, and while building his 8-bit machine outfitted it with this discrete logic UART. The universal asynchronous receiver-transmitter is such a useful thing that single-chip versions of the device have been available since the early 1970s. [Duncan]’s version makes the magic of serial communications happen in just 12 chips, all from the 74LS logic family.

As if the feat of building a discrete logic UART weren’t enough, [Duncan] pulled this off without the aid of an oscilloscope. Debugging was a matter of substituting the 2.4576 MHz crystal oscillator clock with a simple 1 Hz 555 timer circuit; the reduced clock speed made it easier to check voltages and monitor the status of lines with LEDs. Once the circuit was working, the full-speed clock was substituted back in, allowing him to talk to his 8-bit computer at up to 38,400 bps. Color us impressed.

For more TTL computer goodness, and to see where [Duncan] got his inspiration, check out [Ben Eater]’s many discrete logic projects — his scratch-built 6502, a low-end video card, or even his take on serial communications.

Gigatron Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, June 24 at noon Pacific for the Gigatron Hack Chat with Walter Belgers!

There was a time when if you wanted a computer, you had to build it. And not by ordering parts from Amazon and plugging everything together in a case — you had to buy chips, solder or wire-wrap everything, and tinker endlessly. The process was slow, painful, and expensive, but in the end, you had a completely unique machine that you knew inside out because you put every bit of it together.

In some ways, it’s good that those days are gone. Being able to throw a cheap, standardized commodity PC at a problem is incredibly powerful, but that machine will have all the charm of a rubber doorstop and no soul at all. Luckily for those looking to get back a little of the early days of the computer revolution or those that missed them entirely, there are alternatives like the Gigatron. Billed as a “minimalistic retro computer,” the Gigatron is a kit that takes the builder back even further in time than the early computer revolution since it lacks a microprocessor. All the logic of the 8-bit computer is built up from discrete 7400-series TTL chips.

The Gigatron is the brainchild of Marcel van Kervinck and Walter Belgers. Tragically, Marcel recently passed away, but Walter is carrying the Gigatron torch forward and leading a thriving community of TTL-computer aficionados as they extend and enhance what their little home-built machines can do. Walter will stop by the Hack Chat to talk all things Gigatron, and answer your questions about how this improbably popular machine came to be.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, June 24 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
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Emulating A 6502 In ROM

The Gigatron TTL microcomputer is an exercise in alternative history. What if, by some bizarre anomaly of invention and technology, the 1970s was not the age of the microprocessor? What if we could have had fast, high density ROM and RAM in the late ’70s, but the ability to put a microprocessor in silicon was beyond our comprehension? Obviously we would figure out a way to compute with this, and the Gigatron is the answer. It’s a computer from that era that’s designed with a CPU that’s entirely made of microcode.

While the Gigatron is a popular product in the world of weird electronics kits, the creator, [Marcel van Kervinck], is going beyond what anyone thought possible. Now the Gigatron is emulating a 6502 processor, the same CPU found in the Apple II and almost every other retrocomputer that isn’t running a Z80.

There’s a thread over on the Gigatron forums for this. Although it’s still very early in development, the Gigatron can now run 6502 machine code,  and in doing so the Gigatron is now the only dual-core computer without a CPU. All of the addressing modes have been implemented, along with half of the instructions and most of the status flags. All of this interacts with the Gigatron’s existing video subsystem, and all code can switch in between the Gigatron’s virtual CPU and 6502 code with just a few instructions.

This opens the door to a wide variety of software that’s already written. MicroChess is possible, as is MS Basic. This is great; the biggest downside of the Gigatron is that there was no existing code for the machine when it was first designed. That changed when the Gigatron got a C compiler, but now somehow we’ve got a logic chip implementation of a 6502 in far fewer chips than are found in an Apple II. It’s not fast ( about 1/8th the speed of a 1 MHz 6502), but in the video below you can see a munching squares demo.

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Logic And EEPROMs Bring VGA To Life, Sans Microcontroller

For whatever reason, the Video Graphics Array standard seems to attract a lot of hardware hacks. Most of them tend to center around tricking a microcontroller into generating the signals needed to send images to a VGA monitor. We love those hacks, but this one takes a different tack – a microcontroller-free VGA display that uses only simple logic chips and EEPROMs.

When we first spied this project, [PH4Nz] had not yet shared his schematics and code, but has since posted everything on GitHub. His original description was enough to whet our appetite, though. He starts with a 27.175-MHz clock and divides that by 4 with a 74HCT163, which has the effect of expanding the 160×240 pixels image stored in one of the EEPROMs to 640×480. Two 8-bit counters keep track of horizontal and vertical positions, while the other EEPROM takes care of generating the Hsync and Vsync signals. It’s all quite hackish, but it works. [PH4Nz] tells us that the whole thing is in support of a larger project: an 8-bit computer made from logic chips. We’re looking forward to seeing that one too.

This isn’t the first microcontroller-less VGA project we’ve seen, of course. Here’s a similar one also based on EEPROMs, and one with TTL logic chips. And we still love VGA on a microcontroller such as the ESP32; after all, there’s more than one way to hack.

Thanks to [John U] for the tip.