How many instructions does [agp.cooper’s] computer have? Just one. How many strip boards does it use? Apparently, 41 five 41-track boards. While being one shy from the answer to life, it is still a lot of boards for a single instruction. The high board count is due to the use of 1970’s vintage ICs including TTL parts, 2114 RAM chips, and 74S571 PROMs.
There are several different architectures for single instruction computers and [agp’s] uses what is technically at TTA (transfer-triggered architecture). That is, the one instruction is a move and the destination or source of the move determines the operation. For example, the Wierd CPU (that’s the name of it) has a P and Q register. If you load those registers and then the ADD register will contain the sum of the two numbers.
CMOS opened the door for many if not most of the properties needed for today’s highly integrated circuits and low power portable and mobile devices. This really couldn’t happen until the speeds and current drive capabilities of CMOS caught up to the other technologies, but catch up they did.
Nowadays CMOS Small Scale Integration (SSI) logic families, I.E. the gates used in external logic, offer very fast speeds and high current drive capability as well as supporting the low voltages found in modern designs. Likewise the Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) designs, or Very Very Large Scale if you like counting the letter V when talking, are possible due to low power dissipation as well as other factors.
On the path to exploring complex logic, let’s discuss the electrical properties that digital logic signals are comprised of. While there are many types of digital signals, here we are talking about the more common voltage based single-ended signals and not the dual-conductor based differential signals.
I think of most logic as being in one of two major divisions as far as the technology used for today’s logic: Bipolar and CMOS. Bipolar is characterized by use of (non-insulated gate) transistors and most often associated with Transistor Transistor Logic (TTL) based logic levels. As CMOS technology came of age and got faster and became able to drive higher currents it began to augment or offer an alternative to bipolar logic families. This is especially true as power supply voltages dropped and the need for low power increased. We will talk more about CMOS in the next installment.
TTL was a result of a natural progression from the earlier Resistor Transistor Logic (RTL) and Diode Transistor Logic (DTL) technologies and the standards used by early TTL became the standard for a multitude of logic families to follow.
[Viktor] just pulled out another one of his decades-old projects. This time around it’s a timer he built using 7400 logic chips. It was a great way for him to learn about electronics, and ended up serving as his alarm clock every morning.
Two pieces of copper clad board were cut to the same size. One of them was etched to act as the circuit board. The other was outfitted as a face plate. The same type of transfer sheets used to mask the traces of the circuit were also used to apply labels to the face plate. It was then coated with acrylic spray to protect it and stave off corrosion. The clock keeps time based on a half-wave rectified signal. The source is from a transformer which steps mains voltage down to a safe level for the 7805 regulator that supplies the clock’s power bus.
[TGTTGIT] recently took the plunge and decided to build his own computer using logic chips. He just completed a 4-bit ALU which can compute 18 functions. It took a long time to get the wiring right, but in true geek fashion his build was accompanied by an alternating Chapelle’s Show and Star Trek: TNG marathon playing in the background.
This project is the stepping stone for a larger 16-bit version. The experience of wiring up just this much of it has convinced him that an FPGA is the only way to go for the future of the build. But since he had already ordered the chips it was decided that the only thing to do was to see this much through. He used the truth table from The Elements of Computing Systems for the design and posted several times about the project before arriving at this stopping point so you may be interested in clicking through the other post on his blog. There’s also a lot of other TTL computer projects around here worth checking into.
If you’re going to build your own computer, it probably wouldn’t do you well to exactly emulate the computer you’re looking at right now. The modern x86 and x64 chips that power your desktop or laptop contain hundreds of individual instructions, and the supposed RISC CPUs found in ARM-powered devices contain nearly as many. No, if you’re going to build your own computer you should make it easy on yourself, just as [Jack Eisenmann] did when he built the DUO Compact, a one-instruction set computer made on a breadboard.
Instead of dozens or hundreds of individual instructions, a one instruction computer has – like its name implies – only one way of manipulating bits. For the DUO Compact, [Jack] chose a NOR and fork conditionally instruction. Each line of assembly written for the DUO Compact has four memory instructions: a source address, destination address, skip address 1, and skip address 2. [Jack] explains exactly how this operation can allow him to compute everything:
Three steps occur when executing the instruction:
Load the byte at the first and second address. NOR these bytes together.
Store the result of step 1 in the second address.
If the result of step 1 was zero, then skip to the instruction at the fourth address; otherwise, skip to the instruction at the third address.
As if designing a one instruction computer built using only basic logic and memory chips wasn’t impressive enough, [Jack] went as far as writing an emulator for his system, a compiler, an operating system, and even a few programs such as a square root calculator and a text-based adventure game.
By any measure, [Jack] has finished an amazing build, but we’re blown away by the sheer amount of documentation he’s made available. He’s even gone so far as to write a tutorial for building your own DUO Compact.
You can check out a few videos of the DUO Compact after the break. Of course, if you’re looking for a project to tackle, you’re more than welcome to design a PCB from the DUO Compact schematic. We’d certainly buy one.
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.