Thank you to everyone who has expressed interest in the ATX2AT Smart Converter!
After some major changes in my personal life in 2019, I’ve resumed the work on my projects to bring them to fruition. The ATX2AT Smart Converter is the first one to reach the production stage, and I’ve decided to go on Kickstarter to try the whole process as a creator. I’m a “Super Backer” there with 140+ projects backed, so I had some experience with the platform.
I would like to tell you that the Kickstarter Campaign will start tomorrow, Monday 25th October, at 18:00 UTC (19:00 CET / 10:00 PST / 13:00 EST).
While adding support for the Motorola 6800 on the Universal Chip Analyzer, I remembered the famous HCF instruction supposed to be present on that CPU. The Half & Catch Fire opcode is an undocumented and semi-mythical machine instructions with destructive side-effects, supposedly included for test purposes on several well-known architectures going as far back as the IBM System/360. The Motorola 6800 was the first – and almost only one – to have a HCF instruction well-known by the developers back in the 70s. It doesn’t really destroy the CPU, but makes it switch into a kind of debugging mode. Allegedly, HCF instruction on the 6800 should toggle the address lines in order very quickly. Legend added: up to the point that some support component might catch fire!
I read many resources online, including the Wikipedia page, about the HCF opcode and I found many contradictory information. It seems very few people actually tested the 6800’s behavior by themselves. Good news: the UCA has been created for this kind of experiment!
And here is another (different!) opcode matrix from here :
I have also investigated some other undocumented opcode (0xBD, 0xEB, 0xFB). All tests has been done on a Motorola MC6800P with a 1 MHz clock.
0x14 / 0x15
Inserting 0x15 opcode doesn’t seem to have any effect on the CPU at all. Both opcode seems to be treated as NOPs, wasting 2 machine cycles. Registers unchanged. 0x14 executes a AND between both accumulator (A & B) and stores the result in A. However, only the later MC6800P seems to support this. An early XC6800 prototype does not to fetch the 0x14 opcode correctly.
0xCD / 0xED
Both instructions crash the 6800 and make it unable to execute any more code until a full RESET is triggered. Exactly 64 ms after the opcode has been fetched, the CPU starts to toggle address line almost in order, but with many glitches and only for A0-A6. A7-A15 remain erratic.
But more interesting, I noticed a strange behavior on the upper address line. The 5 upper address line (A15-A11) started to count in reverse order from 0b11111 to 0b00000 at a very slow, human-readable, rate :
The whole process (similar with both instruction) takes ~8 seconds with the 0xCD opcode and much longer (~60 seconds) with the 0xED opcode. Has this been added for simple human debugging (without oscilloscope or logic analyzer, costly in the 70s), or is it just a glitch? Hard to tell.
0x9D / 0xDD
Here we find the expected “HCF” debug instructions. 64 ms after being fetched (which is quite long), the CPU starts to toggle all address lines in order, very fast (500 kHz for a 1 MHz clock) and with a clean square wave.
After the HCF has been fetched, the 6800 stops responding to interrupts. A hard RESET is the only way to resume operations.
While messing with invalid opcode, I found another HCF instruction on the 6800. This one seems to behave exactly like the 0x9D/0xDD HCF, but is twice slower : 250 kHz instead of 500 kHz.
It seems 0x9D/0xCD/0xDD/0xED/0xFD are all related to HCF, but only 0x9D, 0xDD and 0xFD produce a clean (glitch-free) output.
Finally, two years after a Intel 8088 (almost) booted for the first time on a very early UCA, I’m glad to announce the support for the last major 8-bit CPU : the famous Motorola 6800 !
The Motorola 6800, released in 1974, was one of the most advanced CPU in the 70s. Being TTL-compatible and only requiring 5V power, it was also easy to use for hobbyist (albeit a two-phase clock was mandatory). Unfortunately, its high price prevented the 6800 to reach the DIY “mainstream” market. Many computer pioneer preferred the MOS 6500 and the Intel 8080, but Motorola soon released a much cheaper, MCU-revision of the 6800 – the 6809 – that has been very successful.
The architecture of the 6800 is quite simple but efficient. It uses two accumulators, a 8-bit bidirectional data bus, a 16-bit stack pointer, and a 16-bit dedicated address bus that could address 64 KB of memory. Unlike the Intel 8080, the Motorola 6800 uses memory-mapped I/O : it doesn’t include specific instructions for I/O and they are handled as standard memory accesses.
Implementing support for the 6800 on the Universal Chip Analyzer (U.C.A.) wasn’t too difficult. The dual-phase clock was the main issue, as timings are usually tighter than with single-phase clock. Another issue was the UCA adapter. I designed it to support both MOS 65xx and Motorola 68xx, but the cheap chinese ZIF Socket (3M clone) I soldered on was crappy. The contact between the adapter and the main ZIF Socket wasn’t also very good, due to the standard 2.54mm pin header. Too thick, too square. So I build another adapter with a much more efficient Socket (an ARIES low-profile, burn-in ZIF Socket) and some new pin headers that mimic a real CPU :
Everything worked as expected and very reliably with that new adapter! Here is the UCA testing a Motorola MC6800P at 2 MHz and a very rare prototype (Motorola XC6800B) at 1 MHz :
Testing frequency can be set at 1.0 / 1.5 / 2.0 or 3.0 MHz to match the most popular 68xx.
Support for Motorola 6801/6802/6803/6808/6809 is planned soon.
More important, a brand new era is coming for the UCA, as I can now focus on much more advanced, 32-bit CPU. Many news planned soon!
Not really some big deal here, but I wanted to share some new “internal” tools I developed for the Universal Chip Analyzer. I ship them quite slowly due to long PCB assembly process, but the final testing process was also quite time-consuming. I used to test all U.C.A. with every supported CPU and, if something goes wrong, I inspected every IC and connector to find the issue.
I was a bit tired so I build that “calibration & test adapter” :
With a special test program loaded inside the FPGA, I’m now able to test every pins for stuck-to-0, stuck-to-1 and shorts in seconds! I have also added precision resistors to calibrate the internal shunt amplifier & ADC. Calibration data are now stored inside the internal EEPROM (and saved locally for any UCA serial#).
I’m also testing a new kind of “header” for Adapter’s pins. Previously, I used standard 2.54mm headers. They worked fine in most case, but the pins are much thicker than standard CPU’s pins. I was able to find these connectors that almost perfectly mimic CPUs pins :
They’re not cheap, but I will probably use them for active adapters like the 8080 Adapter.
Since the end of last year, I faced a lot of change in my personal
life: new job, new house, new car, etc. Except my girlfriend, almost everything
else changed in the last 3 months. Damn exciting, but I had very little time to
spend on side projects.
It’s now time to resume the work on the Universal Chip Analyzer! My next goal was to add support for the very successful MOS 6502, an 8-bit microprocessor released in mid-70s that was at the heart of many designs well into the 80s. The original 6501 (circa 1975) was pin-compatible with the M6800 while being much less expensive, but Motorola sued MOS almost instantly and the 6501 has been withdrawn very quickly. The 6502 shares the same internal micro-architecture with the original 6501 but uses a different pin arrangement. It’s a very simple CPU, with a 8-bit accumulator, two index registers and a 16-bit address bus (able to interface with a maximum of 64 KB of memory). The 6502, just like many other early CPU, doesn’t have a specific way to handle I/O: you must define an arbitrary memory-mapped I/O range and configure your hardware accordingly.
Several variants of the MOS 6502 has been launched through
the decade, some of the them with reduced addressable memory (6503 to 6507) and
some others with additional features (6508 to 6510, …). Many early computers
and consoles are based on a 6502: Apple IIe, Commodore 64, Atari 2600, Nintendo
NES, Oric Atmos, etc.
Adding support for the 6502 wasn’t as easy as I expected.
The main issue came from the timings. Usually, I drive all the logic inside the
FPGA with the the clock signal generated locally and sent to the CPU. That doesn’t
work with this particular CPU because it integrates an internal two-phase clock
generator used to sync external IC. So, I finally had to feed these two clocks
back in the FPGA and sync the internal logic with them. Some delays were needed
to match the original timings (FPGAs hate delays) but everything now seems to
Here is the UCA testing a NMOS Rockwell R6502P at 1 MHz and a much more modern CMOS Rockwell R65C02 at 4 MHz (overclocked from 3 MHz):
Testing frequency can be set at 1.0 / 2.0 / 3.0 or 4.0 MHz to match the most popular 65xx
I’m waiting to get some samples to support other 6502-based CPU like 6510 or 28-pin 6503 -> 6507. A Rockwell 65C112 has already been seen working properly. The passive adapter isn’t final now, because I still need to work on my next goal: the Motorola 6800! This CPU Is the last (but not least) big one I need to support with the UCA. Stay tuned!
Le numéro 38 de Canard PC Hardware marque la fin de mon règne despotique en tant que rédacteur en chef irascible : je quitte Presse Non Stop après 13 ans de journalisme total et plusieurs centaines d’articles scandaleux qu’aucun éditeur raisonnable n’aurait jamais dû accepter de publier. J’en profite également pour faire mes adieux à la presse en général.
Avant de rendre ma carte de journaliste, je voulais vous remercier sincèrement pour ces presque 10 ans où vous m’avez suivi sur CPC Hardware voire – pour les plus vieux d’entre vous – depuis 2001 sur x86-secret.com. Je souhaitais aussi vous expliquer une partie des raisons qui m’ont mené à cette décision.
A new milestone for the Universal Chip Analyzer (U.C.A.) : it now supports Intel 8080s, one of the very early CPU released by Intel in 1974! I originally planned to create a complete UCAS (UCA Shield) to support the 8080, but I was finally able to design a small UCA Adapter for the iAPX86 UCAS.
This is the first “active” UCA adapter (both the adapters for Zilog Z80 & Signetics 2650 are only passive). The biggest issue with the 8080 was the power requirements : unlike all CPU supported so far by the UCA, the 8080 doesn’t work with a single +5V supply rail. It also needs +12V & -5v. +12V has been created from +5V with a TI DC-DC Boost Converter and -5V is generated using a charge-pump IC.
Some signals like the two-phase clock are also not TTL compatibles and requires a true MOS voltage swing (0-12V). For the first alpha prototype, I tried some high-speed transistors as voltage translators, but I wasn’t able to meet the tight rise/fall time (~25 ns) expected by the 8080. I then tried a Dual MOSFET driver and it worked perfectly. All components are packed on a tiny adapter the size of the previous passive ones.
Testing frequency can be set at 2.0/2.6/3.1 or 4 MHz
The expected “retail” price for the 8080 UCAS Adapter is ~$25.
Some news about progress done on the Universal Chip Analyzer :
About the UCA itself (modded Mojo v3 board), I found a reliable source for assembled board and they will be modified soon. All firmware features are now implemented and working correctly. UCA FW v1.00 is close.
About the iAPX86 UCAS, a first batch has been ordered from Elecrow, but they soldered a wrong component on them (well, 50+ wrong components). So I had to send back the whole batch to China. Unfortunately, the package now seems frozen somewhere in China! Tracking is EW001348809FR if you want to check… If it get lost, I will lose $400 and I’ll have to order another batch. Sad.
Anyway, when I got the package from Elecrow, they added two unsoldered PCBs, so I was able to assemble one of them myself to validate the final 1.00 PCB. Good news: everything is working correctly! Signal integrity is much better than on ES/QS, up to 50 MHz, and all hardware bugs are solved. VERY good news. I tested quickly the new expansion port (dedicated for future uses) and it also works as expected.
I’m working on a new UCAS Adapter for the Intel 8080. The goal is to use the iAPX86 Shield to test Intel 8080. They requires +5/+12 & -5V, so the Adapter will be an active adapter, but the 8080 is TTL compatible. The design is done and proto PCB will be ordered soon.
I’m also working on 3 different UCA Shield :
The MOS/MOT UCAS for Motorola 68xx & MOS 65xx CPUs. There is no real technical difficulties on this one from the tech side.
The MCS-4/-40 UCAS for Intel 4004 & 4040. LOT of technical challenge here. Interfacing a 45+ years old PMOS CPU that requires -10V/+5V with a modern 3.3V FPGA is quite hard. Especially while using ONLY modern ICs. I’m still working on the schematics right now, messing with comparators, zeners and transistors. The HDL code will not be easy, but I have some ideas.
A new “Universal PGA Shield” (UPGA). I finally decided to cancel the iAPX-286 Shield that I already showed working on early stages. Why? Because having a 286 UCAS, a 386 UCAS, then a 486 UCAS and another 486 3.3V UCAS, and another 68000/68010/68020/etc. UCAS will be expensive. The UPGA UCAS will support all of them at once, with (quite cheap) interchangeable Sockets. The design have been done, focusing on the fastest 486DX/DX2/DX4. If my design works for them (not proven right now), it will also works with all slower CPUs like 386 or 286. Schematics are done and a nice 4-layer PCB has been designed. It’s a very complex PCB, so I don’t expect the Rev 0.10 to work without massive rework. Fingers crossed!
Now, let me introduce another concept for the UCA : the Xeon ID UCAS! I have big plans for the Universal Chip Analyzer as a truly “Universal” chip analyzer, and this is one of them. Xeons are sometimes hard to identify, especially Engineering Sample (ES are often unmarked, available in various flavor with the same part number, or unknown in databases). Xeon motherboard are also a nightmare to work with, expecting exotic RAM, 2- or 4- CPUs, with BIOS restricted to a few S-Spec. Fortunately, “True” Xeon – like MPs but not the rebranded Desktop CPUs – comes with an embedded “PIROM” chip, used by the motherboard to check their specs without booting the whole CPU. The “Xeon ID UCAS” uses that PIROM to ID the unknown Xeon.
The Shield interfaces with Socket probes to connect with the CPU. Right now, I have a working Socket 603/604 Probe and a LGA1567 Probe, but the UCAS should also work with Pentium II/III Xeon (Slot 2) and up to modern Xeon (LGA2011/3467).
Many information can be grabbed that way. Here is an example with a quite-old Xeon (Gallatin) QF75 ES :
And here with a later Xeon (Tulsa) QQBB ES (Intel Xeon 7140M) :
I also made a small video to let you see how it works:
That’s only a proof-of-concept right now, and the Socket Probe will not be cheap if ever sold, but it looks quite nice 🙂
Some weeks ago, I fried a nice 486 motherboard I got in a scrap lot at first boot. Some capacitors were shorted and my ATX PSU, coupled with a regular passive ATX2AT adapter, led to massive damage (burnt traces). That short was not “short enough” to trigger the (very large) PSU overcurrent protection. The motherboard was FUBAR by the time I noticed something went wrong and manually switched off the power (within 3/4 seconds).
So, while waiting for the first batch of Universal Chip Analyzer being assembled, I created a “Smart” ATX2AT Converter, featuring fully-programmable electronic fuses. I also added a small OLED display for monitoring purpose, a -5V regulator to regenerate that missing voltage (required by some sound cards) and some additional filtering capacitors. The project will ultimately be open-source and can be adapted for any other retro-platform that require -12/-5/+5 and/or +12V.
I’ll be happy to hear your thoughts and suggestions about this project. 🙂
Some friends already expressed an unexpected strong interest for this adapter. If we’re only a few to want one, I’ll assembled them manually, but if we’re more than a few, I can consider having them built by a fab to reduce costs.