Masquerading as MiST

Porting a Core, DeMiSTified – Part 5 – 2021-03-07

I’m not going to go into great depth regarding the substitute controller module which I’m using for this project, since I’ve covered much of that ground in previous posts (see the previous series about the ZPU-based control module, the TG68_MiniSoC project and also EightThirtyTwoDemos) – in all cases I have a soft CPU with a number of memory-mapped hardware registers, and I’m following much the same pattern this time around.

Briefly, I have a UART for serial debugging output, an SPI chip select register which allows one of several SPI channels to be selected, an SPI data transfer register, a simple interrupt controller, PS/2 keyboard and a simple timer in the form of a millisecond counter. I also have a joystick input register, since the controller will be responsible for relaying joystick events into the guest core.

So having created a CPU and peripheral module which we can connect to the guest core, all that remains is porting the firmware, yes?

Well…. no.

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Time to stop being lazy!

The EightThirtyTwo ISA – Part 15 – 2020-02-06

I’ve joked a few times in this series about being too lazy to write an assember – but it would be more true to say that the stop-gap solution I was using was adequate, so my time was better spent on the more enjoyable aspects of the project. I am now feeling the limitations of using the GNU assembler to produce a bytestream for a target it knows nothing about, and to improve either the performance or code density of the vbcc backend’s output any further, I need to address the problem I’ve had so far with cross-module references…

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Normal Service Will Resume Shortly…

…or, perhaps I should say eventually.

In case you wondered why things are so quiet here at the moment, it’s because a week and a half a go I finally took possession of my new home.  It’s going to be several weeks before I have internet access, and no doubt several more before I can turn my attention from decorating to geekiness!

Rest assured that I will eventually get back to tinkering with FPGAs and all things retro.


Stopping the Bit Rot

A few people have pointed out to me that the ZPU toolchain is becoming more difficult to build as time goes on.  It’s based around a specific version of GCC and hasn’t been updated in a while, so while technologies used in the build process move on and the incompatibilities that creep in are fixed in the GCC mainline, the ZPU toolchain is left out in the cold.

In an attempt to halt the bitrot, I’ve updated the patch on my “Setting Up the Toolchain” post, which while being workaround-laden rather than an actual fix, should render the toolchain buildable on a more modern Linux distro.

Some linker-script magic

In my last post I mentioned that I had to employ some ugly hacks in the boot firmware for my ZPU project, to make sure certain structures ended up in SDRAM rather than the initial Boot ROM.

To illustrate the problem let’s look at a minimal test program:

short inconvenience;

int main(int argc,char **argv)

This little program declares a 16-bit word global variable, and then writes to it.  The assembly output produced by

zpu-elf-gcc -Os -S bsstest.c

is as follows:

    .file    "bsstest.c"
    .globl    main
    .type    main, @function
    im 291
    im inconvenience
    im 0
    im _memreg+0
    .size    main, .-main
    .comm    inconvenience,2,4
    .ident    "GCC: (GNU) 3.4.2"

Note the storeh instruction half way down.  That’s the source of my problem.  I’ve implemented storeh in hardware for SDRAM, but not for the BlockRAM-based Boot code, and I’d really like to avoid doing the latter if possible, because doing a 16-bit write to a 32-bit wide RAM is going to be messy and eat up logic elements.  The boot code is also rather on the large side, so it would be nice to avoid storing unitialised data in there at all if possible.
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Lest I be thought a hypocrite…!

I have a confession to make!

After my post about video game music and references – deliberate or otherwise – to pop music of the day, I remembered my old AMRWolf project and the ProTracker module I wrote to serve as its title music:

Wow – does that say *1996*?  Now I feel old!  Anyhow, bonus points to anyone who can identify the piece of 80s pop music that inspired the backing track…

The module itself, in case anyone’s interested, can be found here.  (Yes, imaginatively titled “Untitled2”.  I could occasionally come up with music tracks that were worth not deleting on the spot, but I never could come up with decent names for them!  I still can’t, for the very occasional pieces I come up with these days – “Ode to a Girl who Works in Lidl” *really* doesn’t cut it!)

The sampled breaks were themselves created in ProTracker, then rendered down to a single sample to squeeze as much from the 4-channel sound chip as possible.  Sadly I don’t have the source tracks any more.

Under attack!

This blog was offline for a while yesterday, and was running slow when it was up.  Apparently the reason was an internet-wide attack against WordPress sites, attempting to brute-force the admin passwords, and presumably litter any compromised blogs with spam.

Thankfully I used a nice secure password (Eight asterisks – no-one would *ever* guess that!) and RetroRamblings seems to have been spared any such indignity.