Getting Back Into Electronics

After a 25+ year hiatus, I started to get back into electronics about a year ago. It started around the 2012 Vancouver Mini Maker Faire with the purchase of an Arduino Uno. After creating a couple of basic LED projects, I then purchased a strip of RGB LED’s along with a video remote and wrote a program that displayed a variety of patterns and to be controlled remotely. From there, I created a project whereby the LED’s would respond to sound, followed by a small Sumo Bot.

Other items I’ve recently acquired include:

  • Raspberry Pi (a tiny Linux computer)
  • Bora Binary Explorer (Xilinx based CPLD development kit)
  • Altera DE1 FPGA development kit
  • Cypress SoC 3 development kit
  • Cypress SoC 4 development kit

It’s been a while since I was working with electronics at this level, as I’ve been in IT for so long. Back in the 80’s, I worked with various processors, including:

  • 8080
  • 6502
  • 6800 and 6802
  • Z80
  • 8088
  • 68000
  • Z8000

My first ‘computer’, in 1980, was a Motorola 6802 D3 evaluation kit. It included some built-in ROM, a hex keyboard/display as well as 128 bytes of RAM. If you wanted anything else, you had to either make it or buy it at a horrific cost. I ended up designing and wire-wrapping additional memory (which worked), and a cassette interface, which almost worked. After a while, I thought about my end goal, which was to program some graphics and create more hardware. As a result, in December of 1981, I purchased an IBM PC for $5,500, which was almost 1/3 of my gross income at the time. I enjoyed programming the PC in assembly language and wrote some nice graphics programs for it, including a 3D starfield, a small 3D’ish star game as well as a CGA hack for Microsoft Flight Simulator.

I purchased an Amiga 1000 in 1985 as it was significantly ahead of any other platform at the time. It had:

  • Motorola 68000 CPU
  • Graphical user interface
  • Multi-tasking
  • Command line interface
  • Dedicated chips for colour graphics
  • Dedicated chips for sound
  • System documentation and development tools

What was not to like.

Getting back to the old CPU’s, the challenge with them is that they all ran at speeds under 10Mhz. In order to go faster, you required either:

  • AMD 2900
  • Motorola 10800

I spent some time reading about the AMD2900, but had neither the technical background, the time nor the funding to implement that in any fashion. With the development of FPGA’s (field programmable gate arrays) in the 90’s, engineers have been able to create their own CPU’s without requiring a series of dedicated chips to do so. With the use of my recently acquired FPGA development kits, I hope to re-learn some of the basics of hardware design and possibly develop a simple CPU. I don’t, however want all the muss and fuss of wire-wrapping 7400 series components like the old days.

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