ALU is complete!

A project log for ECM-16/TTL homebrew computer

16 bit Computer made from ttl logic chips

PavelPavel 04/03/2021 at 20:524 Comments

Today I finished the building of Arithmetic-Logic Unit (with modifications, other modifications, and yet other modifications) for my CPU! 

It took almost 3 months, 7 big perfboards and 124 logic chips (logic gates, multiplexers and a couple of bus drivers).

It can operate at up to 5 MHz, and draws up to 200 milliamps of current.


List of boards for this ALU (in building sequence):

Fast Adder ( 2 big boards and 2 smaller ones),

Logic Operations board,

Multi-function board

Barrel rotator,

Function selector board,

Interface and indication board.


This ALU has five inputs:

1 -- microinstruction, which has 8 lines controlling the operation of the whole ALU:  

- ALU_enable line, which enables ALU operation result to the data bus,

- 3 lines selecting one of the eight types of ALU functions,

- Carry_in_enable line (controlling several function flavours),

- Arithmetic_shift line (used only when Shift function is selected),

- Subtract/Invert/Reverse line, which inverts the second operand in two-operand functions, and reverses the shift direction,

- Use_const line, which replaces second operand with 8-bit constant value sourced from instruction;

2 -- Carry_in, which has only 1 line and carries the value of carry_in, used in arithmetic operations;

3 -- Src1, 16-bit, the first operand;

4 -- Src2, 16-bit, the second operand;

5 -- Const, 8-bit , the substitute second operand, sourced from the instruction.

The ALU also has 2 outputs:

1 -- Result, 16-bit;

2 -- flags, 4 lines, the side effects, which are to be stored into status register and used in further ALU operations or in conditional jumps (branch operations):

- Carry_out,

- Overflow,

- Negative,

- Zero.


This ALU is capable of 8 types of functions most of which have several variants, all operating on 16-bit data:

1: Byte Sign Extend -- simple function which replaces high 8 bits of the Src1 input with copies of bit 7 of this input;

2: Shift -- shifts word given in the Src1 input by 1 bit, has several flavours:

  a) shift left (default),

  b) shift right,

  c) arithmetic shift right (preserves most significant bit),

  d) rotate left through carry (msb outputs as carry_out, while carry_in goes into lsb),

  e) rotate right through carry (lsb outputs as carry_out, while carry_in goes into msb);

3: Rotate -- rotates the word given in the Src1 input to the left by set amount of bits, has two flavours:

  a) rotate using amount encoded into instruction,

  b) rotate using amount given by Src2 input;

4: Invert: simply inverts all bits of the Src1 input;

5: ADD (more exactly, instruction which uses the adder), has several flavours:

  a) Add value of Src2 to the value of Src1,

  b) Add value of Src2 and Carry_in to the value of Src1,

  c) Add Const value to the value of Src1,

  d) Subtract value of Src2 from the value of Src1,

  e) Subtract value of Src2 with borrow (Carry_in) from the value of Src1,

  f) Subtract Const value from the value of Src1,

6: XOR, has 4 flavours:

  a) Src1 XOR Src2,

  b) Src1 XOR Const,

  c) Src1 XOR ~Src2,

  d) Src1 XOR ~Const;

7: OR, has 4 flavours:

  a) Src1 OR Src2,

  b) Src1 OR Const,

  c) Src1 OR ~Src2,

  d) Src1 OR ~Const;

8: AND, has 4 flavours:

  a) Src1 AND Src2,

  b) Src1 AND Const,

  c) Src1 AND ~Src2,

  d) Src1 AND ~Const.

9: Compare -- performs subtraction of Src2 from Src1, without saving result to register, only Flags are updated.


Machine instructions controlling these ALU functions are described in detail in the dedicated project.


I have measured signal delay of the whole circuit -- well, the worst case delay, or the delay of the longest path, to be exact. 

This worst delay is incurred in following situation: when Src1 has value 0xFFFF, and Src2 has value 0x0000 (which is changed to 0x0001), and operation is addition. Measured output is the Zero flag. 

On the scheme below it is the path, outlined by orange line:

The signal change needs to propagate through Incrementor, Negator, Fast Adder ( actually, all 4 four-bit sections of it), function selector and finally, zero detector. As per the model, this is 19 gate delays.

The propagation time was measured to be 76 to 80 nanoseconds, which is consistent with the model and spec gate delays of ~5 ns for HC logic chips. These timings give me hope that the full CPU could operate at up to 5 MHz clock frequency, if ALU operations will turn out to be the longest.

More pictures

(A bit messy) process of measuring circuit delay:


View from the top:


All of the ALU parts before assembly:


Yann Guidon / YGDES wrote 04/21/2021 at 14:57 point

Impressive !

One remark though : "Subtract/Invert/Reverse" on the constant input data makes no sense, since the constant could be reversed at the assembly level.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Pavel wrote 04/23/2021 at 07:40 point

May be...  But as the selection between Src2 and Const is going before the possible negation, this is the side effect which is baked into ALU structure, and does not incur any costs as per part count. Additionally, the constant itself is an unsigned 8-bit value, and this negation is needed for subtraction of constant value from value in Src1. For bitwise logical operations this is not so important, but it is just enabled because the ALU structure. Besides, it is all makes instructions more regular and straightforward for decode.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Yann Guidon / YGDES wrote 04/23/2021 at 11:29 point

I understand :-)

I addressed this differently in the #YGREC8 : the src/immediate operand goes through the MUX while the other src goes through XOR, to balance the propagation time.

I'm looking forward to seeing the whole machine run its first program !

  Are you sure? yes | no

zpekic wrote 04/13/2021 at 02:51 point

Truly a labor of love... 3 months but one very powerful ALU! I think it could easily compete with the ones in PDP-11/70 or similar.

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