GR8CPU Rev2, an 8-bit breadboard computer.
GR8CPU is my project to build a fully functional computer on breadboards.
The first version i built, GR8CPU revision 2,
has easily over 600 wires, 74 integrated circuits and 79 LED lights. It is an 8-bit architecture with
simplicity and processing power in mind. The CPU has access to 256 bytes of RAM,
and i have written a fully functional
As of now, I'm working on building my second one, GR8CPU Rev3. The first CPU was loads of fun to work on, but my ambitions are higher: with 65536 bytes of memory, improved arithmetic and a much higher speed by design, this CPU is a contender for the most complex breadboard CPU ever made.
Whereas the flagship program for GR8CPU Rev2 is a game of
More about that here.
Despite this project having fallen inactive (mainly because I got bored with manual wiring),
I will be showing it at MCH2022.
On site, it will be in a protective case made of wood and an acrylic cover and shown at
(location on map).
If you visit there, you can interact with it by using the controller, and you can select programs to run.
The goal was originally to allow visitors to write their own programs, but due to the actual complexity of programming, that seems unlikely to happen. If for whatever reason you do want to program it, talk to me (or email if you can't find me).
One of the first photos made of the build.
The building of GR8CPU isn't just copying from the design to breadboards. For practically all modules (except maybe the registers), I took the effort of transferring the design to paper, with all the logic gates and combinations laid out. With my design and datasheets as my guide, I start building. Here you see one of the first photos of the build i made, the RAM module. The RAM module contains all the memory for the CPU, both data and program. The blue lights indicate the selected address and the yellow lights indicate the data at that address (here not hooked up yet).
The RAM module, finished.
Here you see the RAM module, finished. I added some batteries to keep the RAM's content when the CPU is off.
I also added an arduino used to load programs made on my computer into memory.
This arduino would turn out to be a great idea, given the complexity of some of my programs.
Later, I would go to make a game of
The beginnings of the ALU.
The ALU, finished and connected to the bus.
The next thing i started work on is the ALU.
The Arithmetic and Logic Unit is the part of a CPU that does all the calculations.
The ALU has four basic operations:
- Add / Subtract,
- Shifting left / right,
- AND / OR.
Add and subtract are what you expect, with the limit of 255 that an 8-bit number imposes. AND, OR and XOR are bitwise operations, which means the operation is performed separately on every bit. From here it's pretty obvious: AND turns the output on if both inputs are on, OR if at least one is on, XOR when exactly one input is on (for two inputs).
With all of these calculations and some optimisations, I was just barely able to fit a complete game of
Here is a picture of GR8CPU, finished.
Finishing up the video generation circuitry.
Now, i didn't build my CPU just to look at it, because it can do more than that!
The image shows the video card with the video generation circuitry working, the point at which a monitor recognises the signal.
The screen is a character display, written one at a time, displaying up to 18 rows and 24 columns. The screen can accept up to 37.680 characters per second, at a steady rate. This is one character per row of pixels on screen.
The color of the character on screen can be set to Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Purple, Light blue or white. The background is always black.
Early work on the TTY functionality.
Over time, more circuitry gets added. This image shows the video card with some testing circuitry, so i can figure out how i would like to write characters to video memory.
Demonstration of the TTY screen in action.
Just for fun, here is a picture created by the video card. The font would later be changed.
The first register of the new design.
Right now I'm building GR8CPU Rev3.
It is also an 8-bit CPU, with a 16-bit address space, interrupts and position-independent execution.
It will likely have over twice the integrated circuits, and be approximately 50% bigger.
The improved architecture allows the new version to be much faster than the old one, sometimes as extreme as
increasing speed by over 300%.
Shown here is one 8-bit register, finished and tested. It works. I would go to build three additional registers right after this.
Two of the four registers, finished.
Shown here is more progress on the registers. The registers store values for calculations and moving data. More specifically, the "A" register stores values and can have all operations performed with it. This includes bitwise AND, OR and XOR, arithmetic addition of numbers, any number of bytes long and comparisons. The X and Y registers take on a more utilitarian role. They function the same way in most cases: as an optional offset to memory addresses, to store more data temporarily, and having an instruction to compare them to the A register.
The ALU, with the B register connected th the input.
Right now, i'm starting to build the actual calculating part of the ALU, responsible for adding, subtracting, AND, OR, and XOR.
Now, i have the B register connected to the ALU's inputs, and merely 16 more wires before i can start building the calculation bits.
My next step is to connect the registers to the ALU's inputs, and then to build the individual calculation bits.
As a general overview, after completing the ALU, i will: