Big Daddy 68k

Making a games console from the ground-up

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With only a GCSE in electronics from 17 years ago, I'm going to learn how to make my own mini games console that you can hook up to your TV and get playing. I do low-level programming of consoles by I'm going to go a level deeper!

I owned an Amiga 1200 "back in the day" with a 40 MHz Motorola 68030 and 34 MB of RAM. I grew up using this computer and began learning to program on it. Now as a professional programmer I regret not having had the chance to apply the skills I have now to that old machine. However I do work with people who made games from that generation. They've told me the cool things they made these machines do, and the techniques they used.

So after randomly seeing a project somewhere showing a Motorola 68000 on a breadboard in "free running" code I was inspired to trying this simple circuit myself as a project for the winter.

This project is me going from that original circuit all the way to a mini games console. The current aim is making a 4 MHz 68008 powerhouse with 512 KB of RAM, a TV out and two joystick ports. An Arduino provides all the I/O.

(much of this build log is me writing a few months retrospectively...I started this in October 2016)

  • What video interface?

    SimonH07/16/2017 at 18:25 0 comments

      So having decided to add video, the next question would be: what kind of of output would be necessary to connect to the display? Again there are some choices depending on how much you want to do yourself and how much you want to hand off to a pre-made chip. Making this I wanted to learn as much as possible and do it all myself so I think this really boiled down to three options.

      1. Composite video. One signal wire which has the both control values and the actual video data modulated together. Interlaced. Colour is problematic. Upper resolution limit of 10 Mpix/s. One scanline required every ~64 us (512 clock cycles at 8 MHz). Input not present on my TV. Similar restrictions apply to S-Video.
      2. YPbPr component video. Three signal wires, with control plus signal combined with the Y signal. Complex encoding. Good image possible; interlace not required.
      3. VGA. Not present on most TVs. Good picture quality, high resolutions possible. Easy encoding. Lots of signal pins. 640x480 minimum standard nearer 20 Mpix/s. One scanline in ~32 us.

      I chose composite, but if I were to do it again I'm not sure I would make that choice. I have a composite to HDMI adaptor so that removes a lot of complexity (plus I only need to make the signal work with that one device). Also the Arduino tv-out library was an excellent starter for providing the carrier signal. Finally a number of other choices meant higher resolution and bit depth/colour were not relevant to me. Getting composite to work has been challenging enough!

      Looking a bit more in depth at these specs, YPbPr would be doable. You would just require the CPU to write data encoded in that fashion directly into memory. I'm not sure what circuit I would use to turn RGB into YPbPr!

      VGA is probably too fast for this CPU, assuming synchronised clocks. Or if a double-rate clock was used, the memory would need to be considerably faster. Though to be fair the pixel rate is flexible, but the vertical resolution is not. If the pixel clock were halved we could have 320x480. Or one quarter, it could be 160x480, but these strange rectangular pixels would not be very nice.

      Composite it is.

  • Adding video - decisions

    SimonH07/16/2017 at 10:17 0 comments

    It's time to add video-out to the circuit...but how! There are a lot of different options but - considering I've never done anything like this before - the simpler the better.

    There are three main choices:

    1. Have a framebuffer that the CPU can write into, which gets scanned out to the display by another piece of hardware. This is a bitmap, held in memory where each location's value represents the colour or luminosity for a particular pixel on the display.
      • Pros: complex images can be drawn with ease as the CPU can build up a picture independently of the display hardware. The CPU can take as long as it likes.
      • Cons: requires memory. If it's from the main pool of memory then a way needs to be made to arbitrate CPU/scan-out access. If it's an extra pool of memory, how does the CPU write into it?
    2. Have a one-line virtual framebuffer, like the Atari 2600. This design does not require any memory (or no more than one pixel's memory) and the CPU directly writes each pixel's value from registers straight to the TV.
      • Pros: requires no memory, simple circuit.
      • Cons: requires all the CPU time just to make the picture. Free time only available in the hblank or vblank. Hard to make complex images due to the limited time per pixel.
    3. Have an abstract command-based image generator. For example, you can buy LCD panels which have a simple GPU included. You write the "draw pixel at" or "draw circle at" commands to this GPU and it gets on and does it. This GPU manages the connection to the LCD itself.
      • Pros: requires no memory (in our circuit), simple circuit, complex images possible, high colour and high resolution possible. No need to worry about the actual video interface.
      • Cons: low performance...unless you just want to draw loads of lines and circles on the screen. Less fun - nothing to learn!

    So I have decided to go with #1. Having a framebuffer. Lots of stuff to learn, the most flexibility and the most CPU time free. We are trying to make a simple games console so getting useful graphics out onto a TV is a must!

    Next time: more decisions.

  • Some pictures

    SimonH07/16/2017 at 09:30 0 comments

    Assuming everything has gone to plan, and you've wired up the circuit as described, you're left with something looking like this!

    Along the top row: three 74-series logic gates performing the address decoding, the static RAM and then the Arduino.

    Along the bottom row: the quartz crystal oscillator and CPU. Also includes a dreadful reset circuit!

    Here's a video of it in motion so you can see the structure.

  • Address decoding

    SimonH05/17/2017 at 22:09 0 comments

    Two posts ago our CPU was demonstrated connected to an Arduino to provided memory-mapped I/O. This MMIO space could hold code, other board-level I/O functions or perform functions on the host PC. The 'memory' area of this MMIO space was slow - each access had to be interpretted by code running on the Arduino.

    In the next post the Arduino was taken away and replaced with memory that went as fast as the bus could drive it! But it had no I/O and no code to run on it.

    Let's combine the two. This is pretty easy. To recap the signals required for each device. The changes we need to make are highlighted in bold.


    • write-enable (WE) is connected directly to the CPU's R/W signal
    • output-enable (OE) is tied low
    • chip-enable (CE) was tied to the CPU's (address strobe) AS signal, to activate the read/write operation when all the inputs are ready. The CPU's AS signal will assert regardless of the address chosen. We need to restrict this CE signal to be only when the addresses we are interested in are in use
    • the 8-bit data bus is connected directly to both the CPU and SRAM. When the CE is not asserted the RAM's inputs will go into a high impedance state, allowing other devices on the same bus to drive a signal.
    • the 19-bit RAM address bus is connected to the CPU's A0-A18 address bus, continuing to leave A19 unused by the RAM.
    • the CPU has its DTACK signal grounded when the RAM is in use, to indicate no wait states. The RAM is fast enough to satisfy the CPU.


    • the CPU's R/W signal and a number of address lines are connected to a 74'165 shift parallel-in serial-out shift register. When the Arduino wants to read one of these signals, it captures them all in the register then shifts them in one at a time.
    • the 8-bit data bus is connected directly to eight of the Arduino's digital data pins. When the Arduino is not in use, these pins are in a high impedance state allowing another device to command the data bus.
    • the Arduino's interrupt pin was tied to the CPU's AS signal, to activate the read/write operation when all the inputs are ready. The CPU's AS signal will assert regardless of the address chosen. We need to restrict this signal to be only when the addresses we are interested in are in use
    • when the Arduino is in use, the CPU has its DTACK signal connected to an output from the Arduino. It holds it high until the operation is processes, then grounds it for one clock cycle.

    Address decoding

    So the set-up of two devices is pretty similar. We really only need to do two things - send AS to the right place and receive DTACK from the right place. This place will depend on which address is on the address bus.

    In the previous post, as only A0-A18 were connected to the RAM and A19 was left free this turned our 1 MB address space into two 512 KB mirrors of the same RAM. If for instance we only triggered the RAM's chip enable with AS when A19 was low - ie the low 512 KB of the address space - the upper 512 KB could be used for something else. Or vice versa - if the AS signal triggered CE when A19=1 then the 512 KB RAM would appear in the top 512 KB of the address space and the bottom 512 KB would be undefined. There would be no data on the bus and the CPU would read junk.

    The same thing applies to the Arduino. Suppose on our shift register we shift in the CPU R/W signal and eight bits of address (A0-A7), if the Arduino interrupt was triggered on every AS then the Arduino address space would mirror every 256 bytes from address zero to the top address: 1 MB. If this signal was only triggered when A19=0 then the Arduino MMIO space would only exist from address zero to the middle of the address space - 512 KB in. The top 512 KB would be undefined.

    With a tiny bit of logic we can make ourselves some address decoding. Let's map the Arduino into 256 byte mirrors in the bottom 512 KB and the 512 KB SRAM into the top 512 KB.

    Here's a truth table for the chip selects. Remember...

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  • Adding RAM

    SimonH03/13/2017 at 13:34 0 comments

    The last log entry showed a CPU connected to an Arduino, where the Arduino would act as both RAM and I/O, all running via a memory-mapped I/O interface. The address bus was completely connected to the Arduino's inputs. The software running on the microcontroller would then decode the address bus to figure out the intent of the load/store operation. This is great because it allows us to do anything we want from an I/O perspective but directing all traditional memory load/store operations through that route is slow - each bus cycle would take hundreds of 68k cycles.

    So let's add a real RAM chip to our system. Parallel static RAMs - the type used here - typically have a simple pin interface. Parallel ROMs are similar too.

    • read/write - do we want to read from the RAM or write to it? If write it consumes the data on the data bus; if read then it pushes data onto the data bus.
    • chip select - this enables the chip. If enabled then the data bus works as described above. If the chip select is disabled the data bus typically goes into a high impedance state and allows the device to be effectively ignored in the circuit.
    • address bus - the linear word address to be read or written
    • data bus - pushed by the CPU if a write, pushed by the RAM if a read, high-Z if the chip is disabled
    • some sort of 'ok, go' pin - for a read this says "the address set is valid, please now read out that address" or for a write "the address set is valid and the data to write has been loaded onto the data bus - now do the write".
    • there is typically no acknowledgement pin to say the action has been performed

    RAMs are organised into words and the address bus selects which word is read out on the data bus. The data bus has the same width as the word size. As the 68008 has an 8-bit data bus I'm going to use a RAM with an 8-bit word size. The address bus has the same width as the number of words (in binary bits).

    Picking a RAM

    I'm going to use an Alliance AS6C4008-55PCN. This is a 5v DIP static RAM with a word size of 8 bits and has 512k this is a 512 kilobyte RAM. Remember that the 68008 has a 1 megabyte address space - it can't trivially address larger than 1 MB without resorting to funny tricks, so this means the RAM can take up to half of my address space.

    This part has a ~55 ns max read cycle. This means that once the "ok, go" pin is asserted the operation will complete in ~55 ns. We're getting ahead of ourselves here a bit but this is fast enough for this CPU at the clock speeds we want to run at (at 4 MHz each clock cycle is 250 ns long and it takes four clock cycles to do a whole bus cycle...of which the RAM has roughly two clock cycles to do its thing. So ~9x more time than we require)

    Connecting the RAM

    This RAM has three interesting control signals: chip enable (/CE), output enable (/OE) and write enable (/WE). Here's the truth table and the waveform timing diagram.

    If we only want to connect the RAM directly to the CPU then this is easy.

    • The RAM's /WE is connected straight to the CPU's R/W signal. R/W is high for read, low for write which maps directly to the Dout and Din behaviour shown above.
    • The /OE is tied low
    • /CE is connected to the CPU's /AS. When /AS is low, the address on the address bus is valid. 55ns after /CE is changed the RAM will hold the data on the data bus (and will continue to do so as long as nothing changes). The CPU will latch the data from the data bus at the end of its bus cycle and then negate /AS once it has done this. The write waveform works in a similar fashion.
    • we connect the 8-bit RAM data bus directly to the CPU's 8-bit data bus.
    • we connect the 19-bit RAM address bus directly to the CPU's A0-A18 address bus. This leaves A19 floating.
    • notice the waveform is asynchronous - there is no clock driving any of this stuff.

    As we have no other device in the system - it's just the RAM and CPU, and no Arduino - and the RAM has an access time faster...

    Read more »

  • Making a basic system from a CPU and an Arduino

    SimonH02/23/2017 at 22:22 0 comments

    So you've done your free-runner, and you know your £2 CPU from ebay is not a brick. If you need a flashing LED in your home you now what to do. But now let's get busy programming this thing!

    A basic system needs compiled code to execute, some sort of I/O and a place to store the temporary data - RAM. If you remember from before, the CPU presents a very generic address/data bus to the outside world. This is its only real means of communicating; there are no I/O ports. All I/O needs to be memory mapped. The bus that comes out does not have any integrated logic for driving DRAM or more complex memories. It just says the address to please give me data. If you want more complex things attached to the bus (like DRAM) you've got to manage that with external component.

    A bus cycle

    The bus is really simple and requires minimal effort to do anything with it. There are discreet pins for address and data; pin functions are not multiplexed. There are really only three control signals:

    • /AS - address strobe. This says "the CPU has placed a valid on the address bus and I am waiting for data". It is active low (hence the slash)
    • R/W - read/write. This selects between the two bus modes: read or write. If read, the data bus is configured to receive a signal from an outside source. If write, the CPU places data on the bus ready for an external device to receive. 'R' is active high, 'W' is active low.
    • /DTACK - data transfer acknowledge. This is controlled by an external device to say the bus operation has completed. If it was a read from the CPU's point of view, the external device will assert /DTACK once data has been placed on the address bus. If it's a write, the external device will assert /DTACK once the data has been taken from the bus and the operation completed. /DTACK is active low.

    The bus take at least four CPU clock cycles to complete one bus transfer - read or write. Each clock cycle is broken into two half-cycles. This means there are eight stage to a bus cycle.

    For a read,

    1. R/W is asserted
    2. the address is written to the address bus
    3. /AS is asserted
    4. (no change)
    5. the CPU waits for /DTACK to be asserted. If it is not asserted, the CPU will insert whole clock cycles until it is asserted.
    6. (no change)
    7. data is read from the data bus into the CPU. Remember - the external device will have asserted /DTACK after it has placed data on the bus!
    8. this read data is latched, and /AS is negated

    A write works in a similar fashion:

    1. R/W is asserted
    2. the address is set
    3. R/W is negated
    4. data is written on the bus
    5. the CPU waits for /DTACK...inserting whole clock cycles if not received in this half-cycle
    6. (no change)
    7. (no change)
    8. /AS is negated, R/W is asserted

    A memory-mapped Arduino

    What we will ultimately do is construct a system with RAM, ROM and I/O - where all I/O is provided by an Arduino. However as mentioned, all I/O is done via memory-mapped I/O. We may as well temporarily get the Arduino to also become ROM and RAM!

    We can connect the address and data busses to the pins of our Arduino, in addition to the control signals. The Arduino can listen for /AS, then decode the address, read the data from the bus/write data to the bus, and then assert /DTACK. We can have a small byte array declared in the Arduino and this can represent the 'RAM' address space. The address decoded from the bus can just index into this array. Code and data can be stored in this array.

    Here's some pseudocode from what we'll do on the Arduino:

    void setup(void)
        //wait for the /AS
        attachInterrupt(AS_PIN, &address_strobe);
        write(DTACK, HIGH);
    //our megabyte address space
    unsigned char memory_array[1048576];
    void address_strobe(void)
        //read the R/W signal
        bool rw = read(RW_PIN);
        //read the address bus
        unsigned int addr = 0;
        for (int count = 0; count < 20; count++)
             addr |= (read(ADDR_PIN + count) << count);
        if (rw)
             unsigned char data = memory_array[addr & 1048575];
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  • Free-running!

    SimonH02/07/2017 at 21:39 0 comments

    This project started with me seeing an MC 68000 on a breadboard blinking an LED. It seems this is a rite of passage for 68k builds. Although a little bit of a challenge at the time, it's a great way of getting to know your way around the physical package of your CPU. It's also a great way to check the chip and your power supply work. That LED and your stopwatch are your only debugging info!

    It really is worth reading the manual rather than blindly copying a circuit off the 'net - I've provided mine to be consistent. Each site has a slight variation (especially for reset) and it's important to know what you are wiring up and why.

    (By Konstantin Lanzet (with permission) - CPU collection Konstantin Lanzet, CC BY-SA 3.0,

    The CPU provides both input and output signals, and some which can go both ways. Unlike a modern SoC, there is very little on-chip. You've got to connect everything to it yourself which makes things fun. The main signals include,

    • 20 bits worth of address bus (output)
    • 8 bits worth of data bus (bidirectional)
    • a mixture of in/out bus control signals for operating this bus
    • a mixture of peripheral control signals for legacy and more generic peripherals
    • interrupt triggering signals (input)
    • reset, halt signals (bidirectional)

    This is the 68008, the cut-down cheaper version of the 68000. The price nowadays is not important (I bought my CPU for £2 on ebay) but the most important difference is that the '008 has an 8-bit data bus rather than 16-bit. It also has 20 bits of address rather than 24. This limits the address space to 1 MB rather than 16 MB. For system designers these narrower busses mean less wires needed, making smaller, simpler and cheaper boards. Depending on the memory ICs you source, you need half as many too.

    Moving to 8-bit also pretty much halves the performance, but that's something for later!

    Back to free-running. This means allowing the CPU to run, without actually doing anything meaningful. What we're going to do is connect the whole data bus to ground and connect the bus control, peripheral and interrupt signals to say "everything is cool - keep running".

    Data pins are active high. What this means is: when a data pin is connected to ground it is interpreted as a logical zero. When it is pulled high it is a one. By connecting the whole data bus to zero we get a eight bits of zero.

    Both instructions and data are read over this data bus, with the address bus signalling which address to be read from its address space. We're going to ignore the address bus and always provide eight bits of zero regardless of which address is requested (the the bus control signals will be forced to say 'success' after every request).

    Ignoring something special which happens when the CPU is powered on, when instruction fetch begins it will receive zero bytes. Four zero bytes is translated as ORI.B #0, D0. This is the non-GNU assembly syntax, so the destination is on the right. It means logically OR zero with the lower byte of data register zero and store the result there too. The next four bytes will also read 0,0,0,0 and decode the same way. In fact the whole address space will decode to the same instruction.

    This means that when the CPU runs it will just walk through the whole address space running OR instructions and moving to the next one! When the program counter hits the top of the address space at 0xffffc it will wrap back round to 0x0 for the next instruction. This will continue forever - this is the free-running system.

    Here's how we connect our CPU.

    Notable connections

    • D0-D7 are pulled to ground - giving zeros on read on our data bus
    • A0-A18 is left unconnected, with A19 connected to an LED
    • /DTACK - which is active low - is pulled low. This acknowledges the success of our data transfer.
    • we have a 1 MHz crystal oscillator connected to our CPU's clock input.
    • we have some way of resetting the CPU on initial...
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SimonH wrote 07/16/2017 at 20:43 point

Ha yes I did indeed have 34 MB. The 2 MB chip which came on the motherboard and 'fast' 32 MB on the 030 accelerator card. People on classic Amigas nowadays often have 128 MB!

You are right though. Filling the memory can take a couple of seconds.

  Are you sure? yes | no

PixJuan wrote 07/16/2017 at 19:32 point

Is this a typo or did you really had 34 Mb of RAM on your A1200?
That would make a lot of memory to fill for a cpu running at 40 Mhz, and Alien Breed 3D wouldn't take advantage of it ;-)

  Are you sure? yes | no

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