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I want to build a computer from scratch

USSEnterprise

Experienced Member
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Jan 3, 2006
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253
Location
Jackson, New Jersey
No, I do not mean by going out and buying a P4, a motherboard, and a video card. I want to completely build a functioning computer from scratch, as a learning experience in both computer and electrical engineering, so that when I start applying for colleges next year, I can say that I built my own computer (without lying :)
After looking at an online project called the Magic 1, I believe I want to build the processor from scratch as well out of transistor-transistor logic circuits. I'd want it to be able to hook up to a terminal, possibly to something similar to the TV typewriter, and eventually, be able to program it. I know, its a big project, but I believe this is something I could really learn from. Does anyone have any suggestions, book recommendations, etc?

Thanks
Joe

By the way, I would be open to using a pre-packaged processor, such as a 6502 or a Z80. Honestly, I have to think about it some more and get some more information on the whole thing.
 
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NobodyIsHere

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Dec 21, 2006
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Hi,

You too can build your own Z80 or 6502 computer from scratch. It is a lot of fun and best of all there are many examples on the internet to help out.

The hard part is deciding what you want to build. There are many examples such as this

http://www.cs.ucr.edu/~ehwang/courses/cs61/ez80.pdf

There is a book on just the EZ-80 design (I forget the title but have it at home).

I am in a Yahoo! group dedicated to building Z80 computers to run CP/M and have built my own.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/alpaca_designers/

Of course, you could do S-100 machines or follow the example of Steve Ciarcia's "build your own Z80 computer".

Of course, there is the whole 6502 world as well which is just as good. They claim to have 30 homebuilt projects on that sight alone. There are at least that many Z80 projects kicking around in one form or another.

6502.org

My advice, think about what you want to do and then start doing it. Get a breadboard/prototype board and some simple circuit designs and build out from there. Honestly, it is not that hard and a lot of fun.

Jump in! Best of luck!

Andrew Lynch
 

USSEnterprise

Experienced Member
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Jan 3, 2006
Messages
253
Location
Jackson, New Jersey
On a serious note, I really need to do some reading on the subject to fully understand things. I'd like to eventually be able to connect it to a terminal and fiddle with it through a full keyboard, as opposed to through a hex keypad. If it could run something Like CP/M, or possibly some form of UNIX, that would be terrific. I suppose I could code my own OS, but not until after quite a while machine language. I know some, but not much.
 

atari2600a

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May 26, 2006
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Schwarzeneggerville, CA
Thrashbarg built an 8086 breadboard computer. If that's the path you go, you might be able to get some firmware from him, although you'd also have to use the same IC's & memory map...

Also, learn ASM. It's virtually required.
 

nige the hippy

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Apr 7, 2006
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Luton UK
I built a minimal BBC micro on breadboard, it worked, sometimes ;-(>

For starters, especially if you haven't done any assembler I'd start messing around with a cheap kit, or possibly a microcontroller development kit (e.g. Pic or Atmel) It's minimal parts count, and all the "support chips" are on the one device in the same package as a tested system
Believe me, getting a complete microcomputer designed, built, tested, programmed, and debugged can leave you wishing you had never started, and that's with lots of test equipment & experience.

To start with, leave only one variable quantity, i.e. yourself, and once you've tested that, move on to a more adventurous project:- gentler learning curve!
 

UART

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MadHeights, MI.
It's an old thread however topic NEVER ages...

It's an old thread however topic NEVER ages...

I remember the countless times uttering words about creating my very own Puter... yep, 16+ years now...

It started b4 the days of ITT Tech and is currently 'Active' this day. "I MUST BUILD ME A COMPUTER!! FROM SCRATCH!" Even if it takes all my life.

I loooove.asm and loooove hardware too so I'm torn in between the two. Dunno if you found some new leads my patient friend, or just altogether changed your tune about the whole thing but hang in there. I know I'm committed, because I know you get such a rush out of it that cannot be described, to actually conquer the PC in your Engineering feat is the ultimate high; Nothing comes closer!

Here is a small list I compiled for you to understudy:

Assembly Language (FASM & TASM)
C
CPU (including socket)
ALU (typically built-inside CoProcessor or CPU)
PLU (logic controller, usually software-rendered)
Memory (including sockets and all types +x86 addressing)
Cache (L1 & L2)
Registers (Cache-Registers is where its at :)
Interrupts and IRQs
PIC (helpful when you want HW2talk2gethr)
ACPI
DMI (Desktop Management Interface)
PCI(E) (encoding and decoding)
AGP
USB
DMA (controller)
Frontside Bus
Northbridge Bus
South bridge bus
Latency :[~ (the MOBO squiggly lines and such)
Hard Disk Drive
Floppy Disk Drive
CD-ROM Drive
USB Controller
HDD Controller (SATA & IDE)
System Bus
BIOS
Firmware
CMOS
Parallel
Serial
Infrared
Firewire
IEEE 1394 Connector
Audio card
Modem card
Video card
Video controller
Clock
Timer & TPU (Time Processing Unit)
Watchdog
Thermo protection
and Yours truly, the UART.

You see, it's not that much, right?
Yea you can cheat like everyone else and BUY you a built one (HP,Vaio, etc.) however, it'd better be for research though because you're smarter than that so be one of us, k?

I've been where you're going several times, and love every minute of it. Currently working on a ~Customputer with a 68332 cpu core processor for enjoyment now because these are so stable under heavy loads (math-wise) and hang out with the guys at menuetos.net/ as well. God I hate M$FT.

dUART>_My2¢
 

NobodyIsHere

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Dec 21, 2006
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Hi! Well, if building your own home brew computer is your interest then you've come to the right place! Over on the N8VEM home brew computing project there is a home brew system you can build yourself (Not a kit!). It is a Z80 with CP/M, RAM/ROM drives, floppy drives, IDE, serial, parallel, RTC, bus monitor, prototyping boards, backplanes, video boards, and all the other stuff you'd like to work on.

We're always recruiting new builders to help work on stuff so please if you find your itching to build your own home brew computer please come over and find something to work on over here! The new video board is out and it needs some enterprising builders to help test it and write some fancy new software for it. Sharpen those Z80 ASM skills up! Break out the oscilloscope!

Right now my current project is building an IO mezzanine board for the 6809 host processor board. Hopefully with some decent IO the 6809 can be its own standalone computer to help get an OS ported to it like FLEX or CUBIX. Then it can use the N8VEM Z80 SBC to support advanced IO like disk and video.

Thanks and have a nice day!

Andrew Lynch

PS, just type N8VEM in your favorite search engine and it should send you to the wiki and mailing list.
 

Chuck(G)

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Jan 11, 2007
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Pacific Northwest, USA
Well (he said, ducking the shoes that are bound to be shied in his direction), if you want to design your own system, you could always sit down and write some Verilog or VHDL and stick it into an FPGA. Don't like it? Write a new design and load it in.

I guess the question really is "Are you in love with soldering or do you really want to play with computer design?"

If you love SSI TTL and want to do something with it, you could always combine some CPLDs with some TTL just to preserve the feeling.
 

laxmann31

Member
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Oct 28, 2009
Messages
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Location
Indianapolis, IN
hardware built . . . just program

hardware built . . . just program

When I was taking electronics in college we used the Altera program to build logic circuits. You would build digital logic circuits and send them to the Altera development board (there is a chip on there that will simulate the logic).

We would use the buttons and switches to give outputs through the LED Panel and lights. Our final project was to build a calculator.... We had to design all the chips, all the way down to the decoder for the LED screen. talk about hours of trouble shooting logic circuits :D

The boards are a little pricey. I was going to buy a whole computer on a board, but it was around $300, But it has everything, USB, Ethernet, PS/2. If you want to design just the logic thats the way to go. Since youre a student you should be able to get a free license.

But building a machine entirely from scratch sounds really cool. Good Luck!
 

Chuck(G)

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Joined
Jan 11, 2007
Messages
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Location
Pacific Northwest, USA
When I was taking electronics in college we used the Altera program to build logic circuits.

Otherwise known as an FPGA development system? (Although I suppose it could also be a CPLD).

There are plenty of FPGA development systems out there for under $200 that will let you design and implement fairly complex CPUs (will run Linux), complete with memory and display.
 
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