Let's experiment: NEC V20 + FPGA

What happens when you connect a NEC V20 to an FPGA? Let's find out!

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I have an NEC V20 and an unused Intel Cyclone II FPGA board lying in the drawers. How would these two interact together to become a functional, simple and primitive x86 mini-computer? Let's find out!

This experiment is an attempt to connect an NEC V20 chip to an FPGA board.  This is inspired by a few of the webpages I've read :

Initially, I had planned to connect the V20 to the supporting logic chips for memory decoding and etc., but it could be an extremely difficult approach as many things could go wrong in between. In order to save time, I directly connect this V20 to the FPGA board I have. Lucky for me, this FPGA board has a 32MB SDRAM which I could load up a small BIOS inside and as a frame buffer for the video generator.

As a start, some of the experiment will be done in SignalTap II to verify the operations of the decoders are correct or not.

  • 1 × NEC V20
  • 1 × FPGA board with SDRAM with many I/Os too!

  • AD0-7: Address grabbed.

    uncle-yong21 hours ago 0 comments

    I have added a 74373 into the Quartus 2 BDF on the inputs of the 74245. And yes - it grabs the first 8 bits of the address.

    I have even placed a 0x90 opcode for the processor to read - and at least, it looks like it now starts from the reset vector.

    The top bits of the address - gonna connect these afterwards. Hopefully it's the 0xFFFF0. :)

  • AD0-7: Me trying to grab its address first!

    uncle-yong3 days ago 0 comments

    Lucky me I have a bit of a long holiday here and I managed to have the FPGA to grab the address from the AD0-7 first. The bad news is, the FPGA couldn't grab anything on the address. Going back to the basics and to further understand how this 8088 works, I wired up the extra 74373 on top of the 74245,  with reference to

    And when I connected the first four bits on the 373's Q0-Q3, I'm getting this:

    I'm suspecting that it's working alright, since the address is counting upwards (the 8088 starts at address FFFF0).

    The more tough part is I do not have enough pins on the FPGA board's connector to even connect that latched address A0-A7, so I'm cooking up some method on how I could effectively make this run properly without adding even more stuff on top of it!

  • Back to the drawing board!

    uncle-yong05/12/2019 at 14:03 0 comments

    After another weekend on fumbling on why the ASTB that wasn't strobing, I had to take apart the FPGA and the V20, and did some research on it. 

    Referring to the page:, seems that to get the ASTB to strobe, I had to connect this to a 74LS245. The other port of the 74LS245 is a bit pattern 0b10010000 (x86 NOP instruction). Without the ASTB strobing, the rest of it will not work even if I connect the FPGA to it (this schematic is made using EasyEDA):

    With all the trial-and-error again, I breadboarded everything and connected the clock to the Analog DIscovery 2's waveform generator. Also, the supply is +3.3V because I wanted it to be compatible with the FPGA board.

    And there's the ASTB strobing! Unfortunately, the noise was terrible and I'm planning to get rid of it as much as possible!

    Well, it's at least working, but the challenge is to put this back into that FPGA! No easy task, I'm expecting a lot of roadblocks ahead! :)

  • Oscillator!

    uncle-yong04/28/2019 at 15:06 0 comments

    As the title said. Here we are trying to write up a simple oscillator for the V20. It looks like the V20 allows a square wave with 50% duty cycle, as long as you exceed these minimum values:

    (NEC V20 Datasheet)

    Here is a simple Verilog code for the oscillator:

    module oscillatorV20(input clk, output reg clkV20);
    reg [31:0] counter = 0;
    always @(posedge clk) begin
    	if (counter == 8'd5) begin
    		counter <= 0;
    		clkV20 <= !clkV20;
    	else begin
    		counter <= counter + 1;

     And using SignalTap 2, we see this as an output (this is an example 1 MHz square wave, and I'll tune to the 2 MHz after this):

    The problem with the little time bar was, I have to manually key in the "Time Units" (right click on the time bar, and click "Time Units"). Enter 100ns inside:

    As this is working, my next step will be wiring the thing up to the FPGA board (ASK2CB) and check whether the ALE pin are pulsing or not.

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Enjoy this project?



uncle-yong wrote 3 days ago point

Yes, on-chip resources for latch are available on any FPGA - however, trying to write it in Verilog is an extremely tricky task. I couldn't have this FPGA grabbing that lower address from AD0-7 at the first cycle despite following the "inout" examples online. I might have left out something, or I might need to look harder! 

So to have all the basic stuff working, I will have to add that 373 on top of it, and fully isolate all the address and the data so that the FPGA can work on its decoding and mapping (which is my main intention) to different peripherals and the memory.

  Are you sure? yes | no

K.C. Lee wrote 3 days ago point

You could use a D F/F to replace the transparent latch.  D F/F is essentially free at the I/O pin.  The clock needs to be inverted (i.e. /ALE) and you'll lose a bit of timing because of the differences but FPGA is fast enough to make up for that.

Transparent latch can't be that difficult to write though.  It is essentially a MUX with data input on one and output feedback on other with select from LE.

FPGA people prefer to use D F/F.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Ken Yap wrote 05/12/2019 at 14:55 point

👍 because I have six V20 chips which should be good, providing I didn't damage them when I pulled them out of PCs years ago. Plus quite a few 8088 and 8086 chips. I came to the conclusion some time ago that a CPLD or FPGA would be the way to interface to them and still retain my sanity.

But even after you have shown the way, what can I do with them afterwards? Making any real use of them would cost more than using a modern MCU.

Anyway I'll enjoy the journey vicariously through your project for now.

  Are you sure? yes | no

uncle-yong wrote 7 days ago point

Hello Ken Yap,

Thanks for the compliment! :) 

I must admit that working with these cost more than a modern MCU. As I had worked with 32-bit systems a lot nowadays, these can outrun any of those x86s without much effort! However, since I kept a lot of old stuff at home, I plan to use whatever available and try to get it working. 

One of the motivations of building this was to write my own BIOS. Yes - many would think it's much more easier getting an emulator and just run the binaries on it. But here's also another motivation - I want to see what happened when something that old (Intel 8088/V20) mixes with something that is new (Intel Cyclone 2). It could be an amusing journey as I will mess it up one by one, and eventually, I'll get it to run a simple program. This whole project is just for me to learn more about Verilog and the x86 and I'm gonna document it here.

As a start, directly connecting the 8088 to the FPGA didn't work that well. It could be something I have missed out inside the Verilog code, or I really need that transceiver for that ALE to strobe. :)

  Are you sure? yes | no

Ken Yap wrote 7 days ago point

I saw that log. I think like other Intel CPUs and MCUs with muxed buses, the strobe lines are important for the recipient to know when the bits on the bus are the right ones (address/data). Surely a Cyclone 2 would have on-chip resources for a latch?

  Are you sure? yes | no

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