Using an FPGA to drive the 80386 CPU on a real motherboard

I use SN74CBTD3384 on a board I produce. I prefer the TSSOP (PW) package, but that will depend on how you wish to layout the board. There is a smaller package, the TVSOP (DGV) and some larger. No DIPs I'm afraid.
If you want to get a board made, you need to use a layout package. I don't know of any PCB fab houses that will work with custom art. It has to be a layout package format or Gerber files.
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Rick
Reply to
rickman
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Understood. The idea of the image format would be to present to you my initial work, so you could scrutinize it and give me notes. I would adjust it, and then once it's in final form, translate it to a layout tool.
I have long-term goals to write a software program called Logician, which is a logic layout tool which will include routing abilities. So, this would be an early implementation of that algorithm so the bitlines are not trumped by their neighbors. :-)
I envision a 4- or 6-layer board with vias.
Best regards, Rick C. Hodgin
Reply to
Rick C. Hodgin
To start, I suggest you take a look at FreePCB. It has an easy learning curve and support in a Yahoo group. Stick to a 4 layer board for cost. I can't see any reason why this would not be easy. Pick an FPGA in a non-BGA package if you can. I don't recall how many I/O you need, but there are 144 pin QFPs (~110 I/Os) and I think some 208 pin QFPs around. Even if you go with an older FPGA like a Spartan 3A the wider pitch package is worth it. If you have to use a BGA, pick one with a wide ball spacing like 1.0 mm.
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Rick
Reply to
rickman
FreePCB looks good. How much should a board like this cost?
I had planned on using my Altera Cyclone V GX dev board with this FPGA:
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I have an adapter coming which leverages the HSMC port to GPIO ports:
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I'm going to begin working on my Logician tool off-and-on this year. It will allow me to program logic gates and handle translation to a physical process, along with wire routing. It will include a full simulator, and an export-to-Verilog module, which I will use for the general purpose logic.
Best regards, Rick C. Hodgin
Reply to
Rick C. Hodgin
I didn't really mean quirks as in things that didn't work, or work right. I just meant that each tool chain has a lot of features to learn, where the optional settings are hidden, how to quickly configure the simulator, how to set up to generate configuration PROM images, etc. There is a lot to learn before you get fully productive.
Jon
Reply to
Jon Elson
Also, the 74LVC8T245 is a good bidirectional translator, 8 bits in a 24-pin package. Or, the 74ALVC164245DL, two independent 8-bit translators in a 48- pin package. I've used a bunch of both of these in some gear I have produced, mostly to connect between FPGAs with 3.3 V I/O and 5V systems. I also used the former to connect 5 V systems to the old Beagle Board computer, which had 1.8 V I/O.
Jon
Reply to
Jon Elson
I'll get the pinouts
Complex designs like this require GOOD schematic and PCB layout tools. I use an old one, Protel 99SE, but that is no longer available, and was pretty expensive when it was. I have used Kicad a little, it shows REAL promise, but is not yet as good as Protel. It runs on Windows AND Linux! And, it is free, open-source software. The advantage of these packages is you can do copper pours, inner power plane layers, and it checks the correctness of the PCB layout against the schematic. No human could EVER be sure that a complex PCB layout was correct, no matter how long they looked at it. Software DRC takes just a couple seconds.
Jon
Reply to
Jon Elson
I have learned how to solder QFPs down to 0.4mm pitch, but it takes a TINY soldering tip, a stereo zoom microscope and a STEADY hand! 0.65 mm pitch is pretty easy, at least for me.
Jon
Reply to
Jon Elson
Yeah, I guess so. Is Xilinx still using their own simulator? I seem to recall it compiled to machine code so the compile was slow, but the simulation itself was fast. Still true?
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Rick
Reply to
rickman
I was under the impression I'd use some kind of solder paste over a solder mask the PCB maker sends, place the parts, and then simply bake in some kind of high-heat oven.
Best regards, Rick C. Hodgin
Reply to
Rick C. Hodgin
You can do that. But if you are using QFPs, a soldering iron works pretty well I am told. The solder stencil is not so easy to use but works ok. If you have BGAs or land grid array parts you have to use the solder stencil.
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Rick
Reply to
rickman
Yes. For the designs I do, the compile only takes a few seconds, and the sim runs pretty fast, although not blazingly. Sometimes I need to run 10's of ms of simulated time to get out to the interesting part, and it takes a minute or so. I can't imagine how some of the people simulating gigantic systems manage.
But, the GUI aspects of Xilinx' sim is SO much better than that ghastly Modelsim product which I never really got competent at running.
Jon
Reply to
Jon Elson
I don't do this for one-offs or prototypes. There is a big trick to the stencils. You need to reduce the area of the stencil apertures, or the excessive solder paste clumps together and bridges between the leads. As the lead pitch gets finer, this gets more and more critical.
Another trick is to place solder blobs on two diagonal pads, and tack the chip down. You can view the alignment on all 4 sides and "walk" the chip by melting the solder on one of the tacked-down pins at a time until alignment is good. Then, apply liquid flux down all the rows of pins, and drag a soldering iron down the rows. The solder plate on the board is usually enough to solder the pins.
Jon
Reply to
Jon Elson
Can you be more specific? I got used to Modelsim and then paid for a package from Lattice when I got some work using their part. Between the time I ordered the package with Modelsim and the time it was shipped to me, they switched to using the Aldec product. I raised hell with them over the phone and email, but they insisted there was nothing they could do. So I got over it and found the Aldec simulator didn't crash periodically like the Modelsim product did. Otherwise it used a compatible scripting interpreter and overall worked very similarly. It has been a while since I've done much with it, but I don't recall anything that is too awkward. What is so bad that you find Modelsim to be "ghastly"?
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Rick
Reply to
rickman
I have yet to deal with hand soldering of anything this fine, but I'm told you can put a blob of solder on the iron tip to do the swipe you are referring to. *Very* little solder is needed to make a good connection. Many follow up the solder swipe by a solder braid and iron to remove the excess which may not be easy to see between or behind the pins. Someone who was hand soldering one of my boards told me he had a fit trying to remove a short once because it was so fine he couldn't see it even *with* a magnifier. Eventually he just passed a sharp point between all the leads on the connector and the short was gone. I guess it was virtually like a tin whisker (but before RoHS).
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Rick
Reply to
rickman
Yesterday I remembered an additional thing that can go wrong, and almost certainly will go wrong.
The system you are hacking (the motherboard) almost certainly uses DRAM as its main memory. DRAM needs to be refreshed every so often. This is done by the memory controller toggling a particular command to the chip when it wants the chip to refresh the memory. The question is how does the memory controller know when to order a refresh. Almost 100% certainly, it has a counter that responds to the clock signal driven by or derived from the main system clock. The system clock you underclock.
So if you slow the clock enough, you are certain to violate the refresh timing of the DRAM and ruin its contents.
And you can't have a computer without a functional main memory. :)
Reply to
Aleksandar Kuktin
I'm in. :)
Although, for the time being, I'm fine with using FPGAs.
I've been thinking about building a completely open-source computer, down to the atoms, but it's really a group project. There's literally no point in building a computer that will not be used outside of a single family or "close knit community". A bunch of villages and a city would be the smallest user base I would target.
Yet, so far, I seem to be the only person I ever met off the Internet to have such interests.
Oh, ok.
Ouch, ouch, ouch, too much - unless you're good at it. :)
I designed and implemented a 16-bit soft CPU from scratch, and I can tell you it's seriously difficult to make it work. Right now, I'm hacking a 32- bit CPU (aeMB, to be very specific) and interfacing it to a SoC I plan to publish eventually and again, it's seriously difficult to make it work.
If you add a bit to the word or address size, you are not just doubling the CPUs capabilities, you are also doubling the number, size and scope of problems you have to deal with.
Now, if you already did work on this, or have a working Verilog/VHDL model, it's probably OK - taking into account your time horizon. But if you are at the stage of an idea, I would suggest making up your mind between x86 and ARM and just focusing on one untill you make it work.
Oh. OK. :) Works for me.
Did you publish any of your work?
Verily, I shall review this. I'm starting to get the impression that all the stuff I'm making on my own has already been solved, but hasn't been advertised. I'm working on my dream computer, but these solved systems constantly keep popping up. Maybe all of it has already been solved?
At any rate, this implementation is an absolute MONSTER, clocking in at 36k gates (and providing a passe 30 MHz of x86). Just how the fuck am I supposed to fit that in a sane chip? You know, the ones for which you can get synthesizers for free, instead of paying several thousand dollars for them.
But the HDD or VGA *might* be salvageable, depending on the implementation.
Reply to
Aleksandar Kuktin
There is a 14.31 MHz clock on the main board that is used to time various activity including the refresh. I believe this was divided by 3 to get the original CPU clock rate (8088) and further divided to get the clock to the 8253 timer chip which controlled the refresh as well as the speaker logic and generated the time of day clock. The clock rate to the CPU changed as PCs ran faster, but the clock to the timer chip remained. The 14.31 MHz clock was used on the backplane connectors to be used by the video cards when needed.
Refresh needs to be done on DRAM, but if you aren't using DRAM, then you don't need refresh.
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Rick
Reply to
rickman
I expect trying to get anything remotely like a critical mass is virtually impossible. There is an open source chip similar in size and capability to the ARM processors called RISC-V that is getting wide attention and will produce a chip soon.
It will never be possible to include an ARM ISA unless a license fee is paid. I recall some years back a student produced an HDL version of an ARM 7TDMI. ARM spoke to him and the core was withdrawn. He also got a job with them. Win/win
I'm surprised that you say it is hard to make it work. Do you mean it is hard to build all the infrastructure? I have designed my own CPUs before and found that part easy. It is creating the software support that is hard, or at least a lot of work. I use Forth which helps make things easier.
??? My CPU design did not specify the data size, only the instruction size. I didn't have a problem adjusting the data size to suit my application.
Exactly what is your dream computer?
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Rick
Reply to
rickman
Never underestimate the power of a project given over to God. :-) He can guide people down paths that don't seem to make sense, but because He can see what's coming in the future, has them right where they need to be when that time comes.
FWIW, I've been considering photonic circuits lately. I've devised an entire methodology for how they would operate in theory. They cannot yet be built (to my knowledge), but the circuits I'm creating perform the necessary logic ops, and do more than existing circuits because they general almost no heat.
It's been a nice mental exercise actually, and it's helped me think about those things in the low-level "building sand castles" arena, as though I am a builder on the silicon, creating things up from there.
It's why all patents and copyrights should be abolished, and the fruit of man's ideas should be given to mankind, with the people then only being paid for their labor, as the ideas and ingenuity they possess are gifts from God, given not just for them to use to their profit, but as part of that fabric of man God put here upon this world.
We should not oppress people, but work with them and encourage those who have special and unique abilities, letting them thrive.
Best regards, Rick C. Hodgin
Reply to
Rick C. Hodgin

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