Followed the datasheet and still, I cannot write even a single bit into the AT28C256 EEPROM :blobcatumm: I searched online and found everyone having the same problem was trying to make a homebrew computer, either Z80, 6502 or 8088. So I'm the latest victim in ? 🤣

The general conclusion seems to be that there's either a hidden timing issue somewhere (but I don't have a 32-channel logic analyzer to spot it...), or the chips are Shenzhen counterfeit... .

And now here's the Eureka moment! In the AT28C256 datasheet I've just noticed this humble and inconspicuous line.

> All command sequences must conform to the PAGE WRITE timing specifications.

Unlocking the chip requires a PAGE WRITE timing sequence, but I was doing all the debugging based on the more commonly used BYTE WRITE timing sequence! 😱

I just improved the timing up to the datasheet's standard for page write, but I'm still unable to write a single byte and keep getting 0xFF, perhaps the chips I got from two different vendors actually were coming from the same upstream, and are all fake?! 😡😡

TODO list:

1. Get some more chips directly from Microchip.

2. Use the logic analyzer to probe every single pin...

2. Use the logic analyzer to probe every single pin... ✅

Case closed! Original chips are real and working. But two jumper wires on the address bus were broken! When I was trying to check them on the scope, the probe would bend and reconnect them :blobfacepalm:

Lesson learned: Do NOT attempt to debug a parallel bus without a logic analyzer (if not possible, even downclocking the bus and using a program to sample from devboard GPIOs may still be better than a scope along), or you'll waste days of time!

I've just written the first test program in Z80 assembly. I hope it would blink some LEDs after I finish building the I/O logic on breadboards tomorrow...

Using the data bus to light the LED when there's no I/O controller (yet) turned out to be a bad idea. I modified the program to poke the high memory address instead.

After running the initial test, it's time to add proper address decoding logic. Before doing so, I decided to fully buffer the address/data bus to make them robust.

Now both buses have been fully buffered, but I'm now running out of wires... Need to order several hundreds more to build the decoder... 🤣

The address decoding logic is complete! Now my Z80 computer has 16 KiB of RAM (but untested). A latch is added to the data bus as a temporary I/O interface.Time to create a console by bitbanging some UART traffic for further development...

With nothing but a latch, the serial port is now alive. It turned out bitbanging the output is super easy even in assembly.

Well, the address decoder needs some debugging. It seems it isn't generating the correct chip select signal.

Found two bugs that prevented memory access. I've written down the wrong truth table that was responsible for the missing chip select, and I discovered an ENABLE pin was floating, that explained the random results.

But now the memtest routine would reports ~500 bytes of good RAM, then it suddenly freezes the Z80 CPU mysteriously :oh_no: . No M1 opcode fetch, no memory refresh, nothing at all...

Well, at least 500 bytes are more than enough to write a better diagnostic program.

My breadboard Z80 was freezing randomly after reading ~500 bytes of RAM. I probed the power supply, and saw THIS... No wonder why the system was crashing.

I knew breadboards have all sorts of problems, but you can never imagine how crazy it can become until you've built a computer on it. 🤣

Added some capacitors. Now the random crashes have disappeared. Decoupling is serious business!

Meanwhile, I'm now having predictable crashes instead... Must be another bug in my decoder.


I saw my Z80 was still glitching, and I found the NMI input was floating... Hard to keep track of every single pin on a breadboard. Presumably, spurious interrupts messed it up, simply pull it high has solved the problem.

I polished the test a bit as well. Finally, my Z80 has passed the complete memtest, full 16 KiB (*) of RAM is now operational! Next step is adding a TMS9928A video output.

(*) it only shows 16368 bytes, 16 bytes of RAM was reserved for the test routine itself.

:oh_no: The TI TMS9918/28 video chip needs a 10.738 MHz (± 0.005 MHz) clock... Those weird NTSC frequency multiples from the analog days. Good luck finding a crystal of this frequency in the toolbox nowadays (it's , no PLL/DSS synthesizer cheating :blobwink: ). I was able to find some vendors of this frequency but I doubt it has stocked for immediate shipping. Easier to just buy a 21.477 MHz crystal with a CD4017 counter to divide it by two.

I spent some time moving all the vintage chips to ESD-safe tubes for the peace of mind in future handling.

Most of them are older than me, here they are,

* TMS9928 video chip, NMOS, from Texas Instruments, made in 1982.

* Z80 CPU, CMOS 6 MHz version, 1999; PIO, 2002; SIO, revision 2, 1998, CTC, 1986.

* Yamaha 2608 sound chip w/ YM3016 DAC, 1993.

* M5M5165P 16-KiB SRAM, from Mitsubishi, production date unclear, but possibly from mid-80s before the Japaneses economic bubble burst.

I'm still waiting for more parts needed for the video chip, meanwhile it's a good idea to draw a schematic for the existing breadboard... And it seems drawing a simple buffered address/data bus already requires one to click the mouse :blocky_white_cursor: :blocky_white_cursor: :blocky_white_cursor: :blocky_white_cursor: :blocky_white_cursor: :blocky_white_cursor: 😵 few hundreds times and has taken 2/3 of an entire page. Time to reconsider to purchasing a trackball?

I'm reviewing the datasheet of YM2608 as I cannot understand what's the huge DIP-64 package doing here.

And... The SOUND CHIP has two groups of 8-pin GPIOs?! WTF?
So I can throw my Z80-PIO away now?

Well, I guess the decision was to reduce system integration costs and make it easier to add things like an audio interface to music synthesizers. But still looks unusual.

tired: control LEDs with Arudino
retired: flashing LEDs with a Z80.
inspired: flashing LEDs with a Yamaha sound chip.

Not dead yet, my breadboard Z80 project is still ongoing. Now I'm trying to code some example programs, and struggling to learn the proper way to crunch 24-bit numbers.

Z80 does not have an effective (base+offset) nor (pointer+offset) addressing mode. Even "uint16_t tmp = array[i]" is a challenge to C compiler in itself. In asm, to walk through a bunch of numbers, one has to arrange the order of computation carefully so that the crunching and looping can be done simultaneously. 🤔🤔🤔

I was trying to modify a Z80 ICE emulator to read user inputs via GNU readline. But all attempts have failed, BSD libedit doesn't work either.

Sometimes "ld" reports a mysterious error: unresolvable R_X86_64_PC32 relocation against symbol `SP'

Or program segfaults at: set_curterm_sp()

Wait... WTF is "SP"? 🤔

After debugging for two hours, I found the symbol "SP" is the "SCREEN pointer" in curses. Unluckily, the Z80 emulator defined the global variable "SP", for the Z80 "SP" register. :oh_no:

I'm about to finish the first program for my computer - a π calculating program, this naive algorithm based on arctan() series should be able to calculate π to 1000 digits and more. I'm not a 1337 assembly writer, the subroutine takes ~3500000 T-states (~1 second) to calculate a ONE decimal digit. I also need to implement a ring-buffer to handle repeated carry if the digit exceeds 10, so the actual program will be even slower, well, better to make it work first...

Fantastic. I got the ring-buffer working, now it handles results greater than 9. It's the first time that I've written ~30 lines of assembly which was not totally wrong, and worked like magic after correcting just 3 typos. Now it should calculate π to many digits. Time to try it on the real . It should take 20 minutes to compute 1000 digits, will be a good benchmark to uncover any hardware issues...

:oh_no: I loaded the π program to my breadboard , and the computer gives a different result on each run, none is correct... It must mean there's a hardware-level memory issue that corrupted some bytes, then got amplified by the algorithm. Let's hope the issue has a direct fix and not due to the signal integrity of the breadboard wiring, or I have to start making PCBs...

My π program accomplished its intended purpose at least, "uncover hardware issues", so it's a "successive failure"?

Okay, the breadboard is now completely impossible to debug. Even my design was divided to different functional blocks, with the board at the center being the "backplane", but now it's essentially unreachable for any probes as the bus wires are everywhere. Now I understand why was the S-100 bus invented, which meant to solve precisely this problem... Time to rewire everything to let the bus spreads vertically, not horizontally...

And no PCBs yet as the design is not complete.

Trying to rewire the breadboard based on a "bus-centric" approach - always dedicate a rightmost breadboard to the system bus for each functional block. At the expense of more board space and more wires, it should be easier to debug and build, let's see how it goes.

“Once, while hacking on a dedicated system, I was testing code by blowing EPROMs and plugging them in the system, then seeing what happened. One time, I plugged one in backwards. I only discovered that after I realized that Intel didn't put power-on lights under the quartz windows on the tops of their EPROMs — the die was glowing white-hot. Amazingly, the EPROM worked fine [...] Of course, this is because the magic smoke didn't get let out.” - Jay Maynard

@niconiconi Oh boy. I've liked them when I use them, but I never feel I have the accuracy of a mouse. On the other hand, I've only used centre-ball models, not thumb models as I bought them to deal with thumb pain.

I wonder if you could rig up a foot pedle to a switch and use that to do the clicking?

@Canageek Thanks for the suggestion. Anyway, I think the first thing I need to do is open the documentation and start memorizing all the hotkeys...

@niconiconi haven't a lot of sound chips from old computers got GPIOs included? I can think of some examples

@RafiX To be fair, even modern audio codec chips and sound chips usually come with a few GPIO pins (with lots of highly reconfigurable pins) as well.

But can your recall any other sound chips around the same era that have _16_ dedicated pins for GPIOs? I have only seen 8-pin maximum before... Comparing to the cost of large-scale integration, the cost of adding 16 extra pins was a low figure... I guess that's why they did this on 2608, which was meant to be an high-end PC chip...

@niconiconi @RafiX IIRC, the 16 GPIOs on the YM2149F in the Atari ST were being used for parallel port and various other bits and pieces that didn't fit on the MC68901 MFPs (though I have no idea why the chip had originally been designed that way).

@niconiconi I worked on a Game Boy game long ago. I was trying to figure out the fastest way to copy some data around (for a blitter type operation). If I remember correctly, I think I landed on using stack operations (pop) for the first half of the the copy operation. Fun times!

@cstanhope Yep. I've read many times that the fastest way to transfer data is using the stack operations. You may like this 6809 hacking story (if you haven't read it before), which took this technique to the extreme.

@niconiconi Thanks! I love this kind of stuff. Now I have some nice weekend reading material!

@niconiconi That was a good read. I always wanted to have a reason to work on a 6809. From what I've read, it seems like it took 8-bit CPUs about as far as you could.

@niconiconi On the topic of Z80's, I ran across a Z80 based device today that I think is still in use, a Hirsch Model 2.

@bikecurious Z80 (and its derivatives) is still in production today, and is still used in a great deal of legacy industrial and embedded devices, you can purchase the brand new Z80 chips, which is pretty much the same CMOS chip from 1980s.

@niconiconi Probably costs barely anything to manufacture a Z80 on an older fab, considering newer fabs like 28nm can produce sub-$10 chips like the Allwinner H6.

@uranther Short answer: never did this before, no idea, but long answer: use the oldest trick in the computer history - coredump. If I could see what's in the RAM, I can halt the program and compare the "core" side-by-side with the emulator. Using a commercial ICE (in-circuit emulator) hardware is not an option for homebrew and they are rare nowadays. Now the question is how to implement something similar... 🤔

@uranther Some options I'm now considering: 🤔

1. Dumping RAM to the serial port - It should work, but slow and ineffective.

2. Hook every lines and signals to the logic analyzer and attempt to "reconstruct the scene" from recordings - an exercise of frustration.

3. Write a microcontroller-based debugger. Send a BUSRQ signal to Z80, initialize a DMA. Z80 will temporarily halt and "disconnect" itself from the system bus, and you can inspect the RAM via the bus freely - but that's still a lot of wires...

@uranther I decided to start working on solution 3 since it solves others issues as well.

A significant problem is that the ZIP sockets I purchased have short pins so they're incompatible with a breadboard. Reprogram the computer requires me to pull the EEPROM out, insert it to another board, and pull it out again and reinstall. I've already killed one ROM chip (*) in this process. Building the online debugger would allow reprogramming on-the-fly.

(*) an ordinary AT28C256. No vintage chips were harmed.

@niconiconi I love that this is a thing I’m reading about on a social network

Maybe the ICE-T80 would be a useful tool here?

It's a pin-compatible FPGA setup which includes both a Z80 and a second processor which runs a debugger, accessible over serial (and therefore over USB.)

Can be in the form of a GODIL board or an inexpensive LX9 dev board.



@EdS Cool, with this ICE, one can debug everything :crt_w_prompt: . While I don't feel that I need it for now, but I'll definitely add it to my toolbox. Thanks.

@niconiconi as a software person how do you even do these wiring without going insane?

@fluff There is no secret. Basically, the methodology is, (a) The wires are complicated, but are not complex. Moth wires are just the system bus, 16 address lines, 8 data lines, and it repeats again and again, quickly adds up to a hundred wires but all one needs to do is just counting them one by one and compare it with a datasheet side-by-side, and (b) divide the circuits to functional blocks, preferably each board only does one function. So that you can wire one board a day, and (c), use tweezers.

@fluff and (d) the system bus is just a star topology, connected together at a single point. The most difficult wiring is those circuits with discrete components, even 10 wires can be a disaster, one misplaced wire can ruin everything and the mistakes wouldn't obivious. In this case, I found putting the circuit inside a CAD and routing the breadboard on a 2.54 mm grid as if it's a PCB, then build the circuit using that blueprint largely solves the problem. The computer can check the correctness.

@niconiconi that is still cool though, wish you the best of luck!

Back in the day, we did this with wirewrap; the connections were more reliable, and the pins were easy to probe.


@unused0 I'm seriously considering to purchase some wirewrapping tools. It's not the first time I was suggested to construct a wirewrap project. If bad connections and parasitic capacitance on the breadboards become intolerable, I guess I'll take this route.

@niconiconi @unused0 I second the wirewrap route. Wirewrapping also has its shortcomings, but the results look a little more clean and that helps with measuring/debugging.

@niconiconi will you make a video about this when you're done? it looks awesome :)

@rick_777 @unused0 These are useful but they only work if your connections are arranged in a "nice" order, which is something I don't have... Now I'm rewiring the boards as I mentioned here:

@rick_777 @unused0 I'll continue live-posting as the project goes, including all the demos if I managed to go that far.

@niconiconi that's why we don't have circular microchips; there's not just plugging them backwards... we could have dozens of ways to plug them wrong! 😅

@rick_777 It would also be a nightmare for PCB designers and automatic pick-and-place machines. But depending on how you see them, in fact there are circular ones. Just look at this Soviet NMOS chip. But ofc the pins are still rectangular.

The circular shape is the least disturbing thing on that.

Where's the plastic? Why on Earth... I can't even... :blob_dizzy_face:

@rick_777 This webpage has more pictures, see the button of the page:

Those are from the 1970s, my guess is the Soviet industry at that time did not master a good low-cost process for packaging those chips.

🤢 This is like watching an HR Giger horror movie but with electronics.

Now I feel the need to bath and scrub thoroughly. 😰

Don't read the thread, there's an even worse link below that. 😰

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