Complete AVR based VGA game system up and running!

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Although it still needs a cabinet and the two joystick ports, the main part of AZ-641 is completed. This VGA system is built on a breadboard using only DIP parts, a pair of 8 bit AVRs, and some very common logic ICs. Total cost is about $25!

The system does 256x240 VGA with 256 colors using an RR-GG-BB-II pallette for even color mapping. Sound is 8 bit multi-voice capable and can generate sound much like the C64 SID.

Because of the transparent dual page buffer switching system, extremely fast and flicker free animations, full page scrolling, and large sprites complete with transparency and collision detection are possible. This easy to build system has about the same GFX capabilites as a Super Nintendo.

By using ANY microcontroller programmed in ANY language, you can write arcade quality classic games or retro style 8 bit demos. Even a basic stamp could generate PacMan or similar style games.

This project was for me a way to learn AVR assembly and VGA signal generation, and I am going to add complete build details, source code and game demos to my website soon. I will also post the project here for other AVR Freaks interesting in video generation.

Here is a demo video of the completed breadboard version booting and running a simple car and ball demo directly from a Mega324p. The entire demo code and graphics data are all stored in the 324p, which is basically a game cartridge.

AZ-640 demo (12mb)...
http://www.lucidscience.com/lazarus/temp/az641.wmv

Again, thanks to all who take time to answer questions on this great forum!

Cheers!
Brad

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

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Nice project!

Quit an undertaking.

I'd like to order a pre-assembled version with the original Donkey-Kong, or perhaps Dig-Dug...

Either that, or wait for a PCB'd version :D

JC

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OMG!
What kind of earth creature are you ?
That's real cool. i'm imagining how was that thing made..
I mean not only programming in ASM but also making the hardware using veroboard. and oh yeah, a lot! yes, a real lot wires on that!! Just can't get it how did you made that. AArrghh!!! :shock: :shock: :shock:

KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid!

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You know, most people flash an LED for their first project. Instead of "hello world" you've written a novel. Maybe a Russian novel.

Very nice work!

Chuck Baird

"I wish I were dumber so I could be more certain about my opinions. It looks fun." -- Scott Adams

http://www.cbaird.org

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amazing stuff! looking forward to the detailed information

very nicely done

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That is ridiculously impressive! Well done man!

Are you going to add an edge connector for plugging in cartridges?

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zbaird wrote:
Instead of "hello world" you've written a novel. Maybe a Russian novel.
So instead of "Atomic Zombie", you're saying his user name should be "Warren Peace"? :lol:

Darn good show, Brad! I don't know what's in the water up there in Thunder Bay, but you should bottle and sell it! I look forward to seeing your future projects!

Stu

Engineering seems to boil down to: Cheap. Fast. Good. Choose two. Sometimes choose only one.

Newbie? Be sure to read the thread Newbie? Start here!

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Outstanding Brad!!!!
Way too cool! 8)
To just say I’m impressed, is a vast understatement!

What’s next, I can't wait!
John

Resistance is futile…… You will be compiled!

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There isnt any chance we are all being hornswoggled is there?

Imagecraft compiler user

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Thanks everyone!!
Hornswoggled? - Ah, the best compliment of them all.

When I first started this project, I would have not imagined it would work this good, but that car demo does not even show 1/4 of the available power that this thing is capable of.

The SYNC AVR (324P) could actually be replaced with a much smaller AVR, as it does nothing but count addresses and issue a sync pulse. I had a bunch of 324s and sockets, which is why I used them. A Mega88 would be better. I was actually thinking about using a few 12 bit counters and a bunch of 688 magnatude comparators to replace the SYNC AVR completely, but then the board would really become crowded.

I might have some time to finish my webpage detailing this project this weekend, and it will show how simple this system really is.

The entire breadboard is just a pair of SRAMs running through an AB "Gate" made of 12 74HC157s and a pair of 74LS245s. The AVR does nothing but count, and the sound AVR is just a simple 8 bit DDS with an 8 bit DAC hanging off PORTA.

Parts List...
12 x 74HC157
2 X 74LS245
4 X 62256 32K SRAM
1 X Any Avr with 18 IO lines for SYNC counter
1 X Any AVR for sound (optional)
Many wires and a lot of patience.

That's all there is to it!

The real magic happens in the "cartridge", but due to the dual video buffer, timing is not a concern, so even a basic program would generate a great game. The cartridge uC needs 28 IO lines (8 data, 16 address, and 4 control), which is why the 4 port AVRs or PICs are needed.

I am now adding the joystick ports to the console and working on a simple game.

Cheers!
Brad

bobgardner wrote:
There isnt any chance we are all being hornswoggled is there?

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

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Sounds easy when you say it fast.
But Most Impressive and useful!
This is one Freak who really can’t wait to play with one!!!
Thanks for posting it and way to go,
John

Resistance is futile…… You will be compiled!

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Any technology sufficiently advanced will appear to those that dont understand it as magic. This guy at work got one of those magnet things at Harbor Freight to put on the gas line to his carburetor... supposed to line up all the hydrocarbon molecules so they go thru the jet easier or something... we just kept adding a gallon or so to his tank everyday... then ask him what kind of mileage he was getting on this tank....

Imagecraft compiler user

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Can't wait to build one for myself! What are you planning on using for controllers/joysticks?

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For joysticks, I am going to make my own pair using a plastic box with 5 switches - staying with the complete DIY theme.

Of course, a PS2 controller could also be used, but then the cost goes up.

The joysticks are read directly off the address lines by sending a LOW out of the AVR pin that is connected to the common ground between all the buttons. This is much faster than using a shift register.

Here is a copy of the code that runs the car and ball demo directly form the 324p cartridge...

http://www.lucidscience.com/lazarus/temp/cardemo.asm

Like I said, I am no ASM expert by any stretch, and this demo was coded in one night while on a cafene high. The code is not at all optimized or well commented!

Cheers!
Brad

ezcomp wrote:
Can't wait to build one for myself! What are you planning on using for controllers/joysticks?

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

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Looking forward to building one of these myself. Well done Brad!

Bob, Let me guess, you're on the spirit committee at work :)

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First person to see this work with their own eyes, get right back to us. Grumble. Heck, I wouldnt even believe my eyes if David Blaine was giving the demo.

Imagecraft compiler user

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LOL! The only magic that occured when I built this thing is the fact that only two of the 500+ wires were out of place!

It took 2 days to add all the wires, and almost a week to find out that 2 bus wires were reversed.

Brad

bobgardner wrote:
First person to see this work with their own eyes, get right back to us. Grumble. Heck, I wouldnt even believe my eyes if David Blaine was giving the demo.

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

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If we change AtomicZombie to "Warren Peace" as suggested (a good one, BTW), then we'll have to change bobgardner to "Doubting Thomas". Apparently, that is, until he thrusts his finger into the wound....errr, too near the flyback transformer.

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.

I've never met a pig I didn't like, as long as you have some salt and pepper.

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theusch wrote:
...change bobgardner to "Doubting Thomas".

Hey Lee, I agree, that works pretty good.

You can avoid reality, for a while.  But you can't avoid the consequences of reality! - C.W. Livingston

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bobgardner wrote:
This guy at work got one of those magnet things at Harbor Freight to put on the gas line to his carburetor... supposed to line up all the hydrocarbon molecules so they go thru the jet easier or something... we just kept adding a gallon or so to his tank everyday... then ask him what kind of mileage he was getting on this tank....

That's evil
but really funny
and expensive.

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bobgardner wrote:
Any technology sufficiently advanced will appear to those that dont understand it as magic. This guy at work got one of those magnet things at Harbor Freight to put on the gas line to his carburetor... supposed to line up all the hydrocarbon molecules so they go thru the jet easier or something... we just kept adding a gallon or so to his tank everyday... then ask him what kind of mileage he was getting on this tank....
Now that's fun-keen,
Right Therrrrr!
A Wives friend of mine and I did a similar prank to a car nut right after he bought a new Jaguar.
The 1st two weeks we added gas. The next two we siphoned it out. He took it to the dealer to complain they thought he was crazy as they explained to him that it was impossible for any of there cars to get 40 mpg unless coasting down hill.

Back OT
Please post the Website once you have it up.
Thanks,
John

Resistance is futile…… You will be compiled!

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With your current hardware, is there any headroom left for higher resolution and/or color depth, or have you pretty much hit the max?

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It would be best if you didn't put out a schematic or board design for this. Just a pin for pin wiring chart. Make us work for it you know.

Hey Lee (theusch), I miss your "cool rabbit" avatar... where'd he go?

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Quote:

Hey Lee (theusch), I miss your "cool rabbit" avatar... where'd he go?

Well, it's kind of a long story. When I was approaching the recent post milestone, the "regulars" were angling for me to post a portrait as my avatar and I decided to appease them, at least for a short while. However, unbeknownst to me, avatar posting has been busted for a few months. As one trial, I tried deleting the existing avatar before attempting to post the new one. Result: no avatar.

Lee

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.

I've never met a pig I didn't like, as long as you have some salt and pepper.

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Getting more than 256 horizontal pixels out of a 20MHz AVR sync generator would be impossible without an external counter to help with the low address bus. This system can do 256x480, but then you get into 128K per video page, and I don't think there are any 128K DIP SRAMs available.

As for color, 256 is the max for 8 bit, but in one design I tried 32769 colors by "stacking: the SRAM. This gave 5 bits per color, but also required two bytes to be set per pixel. It wasn't worth the complexity in this simple design.

When I get up to 640x480 in the second version, I may go for the 15 or even 24 bit color, as SRAM will not be a problem. V2 will have a 25MHz sync generator and access to 1MB of video SRAM.

The goal of this version was to keep it all DIP parts, no CPLD or FPGA, and only common logic. I find that FPGAs are often thrown at a problem like RAM is thrown at windows these days! I miss the good old days! (Damn - I'm old!).

For the record, the CPLD that I would need to replace all the logic would cost 3 times as much as the locic parts, and require a 100 PIN device - not exactly a hobby friendly way to go!

V2 will probably have an XC2C on the board as a sync generator, but I don't plan on soldering that beast by hand.

Brad

ezcomp wrote:
With your current hardware, is there any headroom left for higher resolution and/or color depth, or have you pretty much hit the max?

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

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FYI, both Jameco and Futurlec carry 128kB and 512kB static RAMs in 32-pin DIPs.

Last Edited: Sun. Apr 6, 2008 - 02:52 AM
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Quote:
The goal of this version was to keep it all DIP parts, no CPLD or FPGA, and only common logic. I find that FPGAs are often thrown at a problem like RAM is thrown at windows these days! I miss the good old days! (Damn - I'm old!).

You are a man after my own heart, and would probably enjoy the Zombie CPU - see the 'I gloat' thread. :mrgreen:

I'd love to see your circuits - I was designing this kind of thing years ago - though to interface with PAL broadcast TV systems, and using 6502 to drive the image working at 750kHz or 1MHz. O tempores, O mores... ;)

Neil

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Just thinking out loud here... have you thought about an ARM based sync generator for V2? Perhaps it would be fast enough you could integrate audio and sync functionalities into one chip?

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Yes indeed, I did a version several months ago with an LPC2148 as a sync gen. I decided that when I go SMD, I might as well "mop up" all the other logic with a single Xilinx XC2C256 as well. I will also add a programmable VGA "standard" color pallette into the CPLD.

This is of course, next year's project. Summer is now on the way here, and my bikes are calling. Time to put away the soldering iron and take out the welder!

Brad

ezcomp wrote:
Just thinking out loud here... have you thought about an ARM based sync generator for V2? Perhaps it would be fast enough you could integrate audio and sync functionalities into one chip?

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

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Assuming I'm understanding everything correctly, someone could come along and replace the sync AVR with something designed to drive an LCD (like this for example) and voila, you have a handheld system. Pretty cool if you ask me.

I wonder how much more complex it would be to design the system such that games are loaded off an SD card. Hmm...

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The issue I see with an SD card is that AVRs don't execute external code, which means you'd have to create a program to interpret the data and produce a game from that data on the SD card.

EDIT: Do AVR32s execute external code?

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It's actually not that complex. All the sync AVR does is count address lines and issue a sync. A few 75hc4040s and some 74hc688s could replace it completely. Any uC with 18 available IO that can toggle pins at 10MHz would work. Here is an FPGA example of a VGA sync controller that does exactly the same thing...

http://faculty.lasierra.edu/~ehwang/pubs/Hwang-172.pdf

I was actually thinking of having V2 run a program from external sources. It's true that the AVR cannot execute its native code from an external source, but by creating a kind of "graphics" language based on some of the sprite and text routines I already have, a very fast interpreted language could be made. I would copy the entire program from an EEPROM or SDCard into the SRAM so it can execute faster.

After I write a few games and some more demos, I will have a nice collection of ASM GFX routines that I can use as a basis for the interpreted language in V2.

Brad

ezcomp wrote:
Assuming I'm understanding everything correctly, someone could come along and replace the sync AVR with something designed to drive an LCD (like this for example) and voila, you have a handheld system. Pretty cool if you ask me.

I wonder how much more complex it would be to design the system such that games are loaded off an SD card. Hmm...

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

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The fast interpreted language is a cool idea Brad. Looking back on some of the older console systems (Turbo Grafx, SNES, etc) their designs were pretty complicated...! I often wonder why they didn't come up with a simple, flexible system similar to what you are describing.

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ezcomp wrote:
The fast interpreted language is a cool idea Brad. Looking back on some of the older console systems (Turbo Grafx, SNES, etc) their designs were pretty complicated...! I often wonder why they didn't come up with a simple, flexible system similar to what you are describing.

I believe they did'nt have the memory and speed for it at that time.

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Yes, the SRAM would have cost a few dabloons back in the 80s.

I have 4 32K SRAMs on the board as each buffer needs 64K, but other than the cost of SRAM being high, everything else I did with my game system is certainly old-skool.

This system could have easily been built in the 1980s!

I have started the DIY website, but only have weekends to work on it...

http://www.lucidscience.com

Also started an Arkanoid/Crystal Hammer type of game as well.

Thanks again, for all the comments / help.

Brad

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

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any progress on this one? I've been checking the website but there have been no updates since the last post (as far as I can tell).

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Here is the status...

I have been writing a collection of graphics routines in assembly so that creating games/demos will be easy for anyone just starting with assembly. Common registers have been created to make things more logical. For instance, to move a sprite, you would set sx,sx (screen location) and zl,zh (sprite data pointer) and fc (transparency color). Then simply issue the line Call Sprite, and the magic is done!

I have the frameworks for a few basic games done, and have started improving the basic sound system as well. I am still on the hunt for a good AVR assembly example of Bresenham's line drawing code so I can modify it into a polygon drawing routine. If anyone knows of such code, it would sure help.

McGraw-Hill has asked me to write a complete book on this project for their "Evil Genius" series, and it will also include several simplified versions, a few joystick hardware designs, and a full stand up console design. Code will also be presented for Pic as well as AVR, since both are popular and easy to use.

A complete logic based sync generator is also in the works for those who would rather have the entire Game System build from only common logic parts (mainly counters and 74hc688 magnitude comparators). The only non-74ls part would be the actual uC that contains the game or demo code.

This is the working console so far...

But I do plan to redo it using two larger breadboards to make building the unit a little easier. The sync and IO system will be on one board and the SRAM gate on the other.

I am still going to post details and make the system open source on my site, but summer has finally come to my backyard, and I don't spend a great deal of time indoors.

Next time I make a decent amount of progress, I will post more photos on my site and leave a message in this great forum.

frankort wrote:
any progress on this one? I've been checking the website but there have been no updates since the last post (as far as I can tell).
[url]
[/url]

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

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Congratulations on the book deal (or potential book deal)! I look forward to buying it at my local Barnes and Noble. And ordering the pcb (surely you'll have a source?) and building one.

Great work!

Chuck Baird

"I wish I were dumber so I could be more certain about my opinions. It looks fun." -- Scott Adams

http://www.cbaird.org

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Thanks! McGraw is great to work with and, the Evil Genius series is a lot of fun to write for.

Yes, I am hoping to make a deal with McGraw on some boards for the video system. I am planning to get them made no matter what, but a joint venture would be nice.

After soldering all those wires to the breadboard prototype, I realize how nice a real PCB would have been.

Brad

zbaird wrote:
Congratulations on the book deal (or potential book deal)! I look forward to buying it at my local Barnes and Noble. And ordering the pcb (surely you'll have a source?) and building one.

Great work!

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

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Just an update for anyone who may be interested in the VGA system I have been working on for such a long time.

Sorry to revive such an old thread, but it is fun to see the evolution, and has been a great learning experience.

After realizing that a kit version of my logic/AVR system would be very expensive and complex, I have reduced and improved V2 to live in a single CPLD with only 2 ICs, and hope to have boards available in the next few months.

AVR is still my favorite platform, and I have been working on converting many of my ASM graphics routines to CodeVision as well.

When my first productions\ boards are for ready, I will be on the hunt for some PIC, AVR, and ARM coders to create some great games, demos, and applications for the system.

The final version has many extras, will be very inexpensive, and about half the size of a playing card.

Here is a little more info, and some older photos of the huge logic/AVR version...

http://www.lucidscience.com/az641/

Thanks again to everyone keeping this forum alive, and kudos to the "UzeBox" creator... nice work!

Brad

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

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Back from the dead... my project and this thread!

Since I only have a few hours per month to work on this project, I thought it would be fun to resurrect this thread with an update.

The entire goal of Lazarus-64 was to learn how to generate video and sound using 8 bit technologies. Originally, I used an Atmega324 as a sync generator to allow another AVR (Host) to have access to a dual buffer (64K x2) bank of SRAM so that the Host could write one buffer while the other was showing on the monitor (VGA originally). This actually worked quite well, and was my first exposure to assembly programming.

As with many projects, the thirst for more speed and power took me into the land of FPGAs and CPLDs, where I added an entire graphics language and megs of ram to the project, making it chew up an entire 1 million gate Xilinx FPGA!

...Sad times.

The same bad feeling of bloat and inefficiency started ruining the fun of my original project, much the same way the computer industry ruined it for me after the C64. Yah, I could make an entire 1024x768 video system in a day using a core generator and Verilog, but I swear I was learning less, allowing myself to become spoon fed. Click a few buttons and make a computer… hmmm.

So it was back to the basics... the "real" basics this time!

I deleted every schematic and tore all the wires out of my FPGA prototype, and started right from scratch, but this time I wanted to do it the same way my Idols such as Steve Wozniak and Jay Miner would have had to – using the technologies of their times.

My goal was to create the same powerful double-buffered video system using ONLY chips that were available in 1980, so that would mean a large breadboard full of 74 logic and a few 32K memory chips. Even the analog NTSC system had to be logic, no custom solutions such as the Propeller or AD724 IC to do all of the hard work.

After a few weekends, the basic sync generator was working, and was nothing more than a few 74HC4040 counters, and a bunch of 74HC688 comparators. Weeks, later, the banks of memory were working and then the actual analog NTSC subsystems. The color generator is based on some old Atari documents, and is similar to the system used on the older XGS Game Station by Andre Lamothe.

Being a die-hard AVR freak, my goal was still to program games, demos and apps in the ATMega series DIP parts wit 32 IO lines, so the M324p was used for all testing so far.

Since Lararus-64 is a giant digital state machine, the Host can be any processor and run at any clock speed, so an AVR at 20 MHz programmed in assembly will be able to keep up to a SNES for graphics power. Even a PIC using basic will be able to pull off something as simple as PacMan, so the original goal was still intact. Every IC on the board was available in 1980, and they are still available today, for pennies a piece.

Anyhow, cheers to all freaks, and I do hope to find some more time to get all of the documents online as well as some great arcade conversions soon. If anyone out there wants to wind the clock back 30 years to a better time and see how it was done in the days of the pioneers, please have a visit to my site...

http://www.lazarus64.com

The entire project will be open source, including schematics, parts lists, and source codes as soon as I am done with the sound subsystem.

Thanks for this website, it is one of the best!
Brad

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

Last Edited: Sun. Feb 28, 2010 - 11:29 PM
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There's a book or two in all this as well, Brad. I hope you write it/them.

In your spare time...

Chuck Baird

"I wish I were dumber so I could be more certain about my opinions. It looks fun." -- Scott Adams

http://www.cbaird.org

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I hope to start making detailed notes this year, and everything will be on the website. It's been a fun journey so far!

Brad

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

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bobgardner wrote:
Any technology sufficiently advanced will appear to those that dont understand it as magic. This guy at work got one of those magnet things at Harbor Freight to put on the gas line to his carburetor... supposed to line up all the hydrocarbon molecules so they go thru the jet easier or something... we just kept adding a gallon or so to his tank everyday... then ask him what kind of mileage he was getting on this tank....

LOL Bob :lol:

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Sometimes, when these large projects actually work, I also think magic might have been involved. 8 cups of java and 3 sleepless nights also helps!

Brad

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

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AtomicZombie wrote:

[snip]

My goal was to create the same powerful double-buffered video system using ONLY chips that were available in 1980, so that would mean a large breadboard full of 74 logic and a few 32K memory chips. Even the analog NTSC system had to be logic, no custom solutions such as the Propeller or AD724 IC to do all of the hard work.

After a few weekends, the basic sync generator was working, and was nothing more than a few 74HC4040 counters, and a bunch of 74HC688 comparators. Weeks, later, the banks of memory were working and then the actual analog NTSC subsystems. The color generator is based on some old Atari documents, and is similar to the system used on the older XGS Game Station by Andre Lamothe.

Being a die-hard AVR freak, my goal was still to program games, demos and apps in the ATMega series DIP parts wit 32 IO lines, so the M324p was used for all testing so far.

Since Lararus-64 is a giant digital state machine, the Host can be any processor and run at any clock speed, so an AVR at 20 MHz programmed in assembly will be able to keep up to a SNES for graphics power. Even a PIC using basic will be able to pull off something as simple as PacMan, so the original goal was still intact. Every IC on the board was available in 1980, and they are still available today, for pennies a piece.

Anyhow, cheers to all freaks, and I do hope to find some more time to get all of the documents online as well as some great arcade conversions soon. If anyone out there wants to wind the clock back 30 years to a better time and see how it was done in the days of the pioneers, please have a visit to my site...

http://www.lazarus64.com

The entire project will be open source, including schematics, parts lists, and source codes as soon as I am done with the sound subsystem.

Thanks for this website, it is one of the best!
Brad

Hi! Very impressive! I think your project sounds like a natural fit for the N8VEM home brew computer project. It follows a similar design method (DIP parts in the style of late 1970's/early 1980's) for easy and reliable construction.

You are welcome to stop by the N8VEM wiki/mailing list and check it out. If you are interested in making a PCB for the N8VEM project or even just a prototype that would be great.

Best of luck with your project. It is very interesting! Thanks and have a nice day!

Andrew Lynch

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Hi,

Where the link to this project? http://www.lucidscience.com shows nothing. Thanks!

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unebonnevie wrote:
Hi,

Where the link to this project? http://www.lucidscience.com shows nothing. Thanks!

Ah....It's http://www.lazarus64.com/

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AtomicZombie wrote:
[snip]

http://www.lazarus64.com

The entire project will be open source, including schematics, parts lists, and source codes as soon as I am done with the sound subsystem.

Thanks for this website, it is one of the best!
Brad

Hi! Would you be interested in making PCBs of your project? I am willing to help with making some ECB boards for the N8VEM project. I think it would be a natural fit for your project. I've helped several people build PCBs of their prototypes.

Thanks and have a nice day!

Andrew Lynch

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A plan has already been formulated, but thanks for the offer!

Brad

I Like to Build Stuff : http://www.AtomicZombie.com

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Hi! Thanks! Well that's good news! Please keep us posted!

Thanks and have a nice day!

Andrew Lynch

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