A cricket bat!
Twelve years, and four psychiatrists!
Four?
I kept biting them!
Why?
They said you weren't real.

Sunday, August 11

Geek

Daily News Stuff 10 August 2019

Late Final Extra Edition

Tech News

  • The feud between Japan and South Korea has settled down a bit with Japan approving shipments of chemicals for chip fabrication.  (AnandTech)

    I know why there are lingering tensions, but there's almost no-one left alive from when that stuff happened, so maybe cool it, guys?

  • Samsung has announced its own PCIe 4.0 SSD.  (Tom's Hardware)

    This one goes up to 8GB per second - but that's the version that uses a x8 PCIe slot, not M.2.

  • Arm and Global Foundries are partnering on a new 3D chip design.  (Tom's Hardware)

    That is, not a chip that renders 3D graphics, but a chip that is itself built in three dimensions.  Global Foundries process allows a million interconnects between layers per square millimetre.  That's rather a lot.  On a circuit board you might get one.

  • 2019 sucks for smartphones.  (ZDNet)

    Apple is a fashion company, not a tech company.  Samsung wants to be a fashion company.  And Huawei has found there's a downside to being a subsidiary of the Chinese military.

    Xiaomi and Oppo and other smaller players haven't been doing so badly though.


Retrocomputing Journal

I've started work on the circuit design for the A750, and the first step in that is nailing down the pinout for the H750 at its core.

Unlike traditional CPUs like the Z80, where each pin had a well-defined function, each pin on a modern microcontroller like the H750 can be configured to perform multiple different tasks: Act as a timer trigger, send I2C serial data, feed an analog-to-digital converter, or be a simple output pin switched on or off by software.

In the H750, each pin can have up to 16 pre-defined functions, only one of which can be active at any given time.  While they're configured by software, they also have to be reflected in your circuit design.  If you change an ADC input into a QSPI clock while the analog signal is still coming in, it's not going to work terribly well.

The reason this matters is that you can't route any signal to any pin the way you can with an FPGA.  You have some choice, but it's not completely free.  And as it turns out, the function-to-pin mappings in the TQFP-100 version of the STM32H750 are a doubly-indirect dog's breakfast.

I mentioned the idea of using the camera input as a screen capture device.  That's impossible on this version of the chip: The camera input uses the same pins as the LCD output.

Worse, Ethernet and QSPI, both functions I need, steal critical pins from the LCD controller.  You weren't using the third bit of the R part of RGB, were you?  Oh, oops.

It's possible to work around this in indexed colour modes - that is, display modes where (for example) you have a palette of 256 colours from 32,768 - because in that mode the byte you store doesn't mean anything in itself, and as long as I have 15 pins left from the 24 available to the LCD controller I can wire them up and neither users nor programmers will know anything is amiss.  (Unless they look directly at the hardware LUT encoding.)

But direct colour mode - where you write 16-bit pixels and they get fed out to the matching pins by the LCD controller - is a non-starter, because a good number of those matching pins simply aren't there if you also want Ethernet.  Which is a pain because I had some ideas for using that behind the scenes to expand on what the hardware can deliver directly.

An option would be to move Ethernet off to a separate chip, but QSPI also interferes with some of the LCD pins, and the whole point of that is that it allows you to memory-map NOR flash and run code straight out of cheap external ROMs.

There is a fix that solves everything, but it introduces its own problems.  There's a 265 pin BGA package of this chip that has all the LCD controller signals on their own dedicated pins.  No conflicts with anything at all.  And physically it's the same size as the 100-pin version.

But (a) BGA packages are a huge pain to prototype with, (b) it costs 50% more, and (c) it would likely require a 6-layer board just to route out all those signals.  It would be cheaper to add two more of the 100-pin version than to do that.

Well, I'll keep plugging away.


Disclaimer: LCD_B2 or RMII_TX0, that is the question.

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Friday, August 09

Geek

Daily News Stuff 9 August 2019

A Wiseguy Eh Edition

Tech News

  • Intel is preparing a workstation-class NUC called Quartz Canyon.  (Tom's Hardware)

    Up to 8 core Xeon CPUs, ECC RAM, dual Thunderbolt and dual Ethernet, room for a full-size graphics card, and a 500W power supply.

    In what sense is that a NUC?

  • Seriously guys, check that you have everything with you before you get out of the car.  (Tech Crunch)

    It was only three months ago that you lost a billion dollars, Uber, and now you've done it again?

  • Left-wing crazies were camped out on Senator McConnell's lawn threatening bloody mayhem.  McConnell's communications team posted a video of these activities to Twitter.

    Twitter suspended their account.  No, not the violent crazy people, the communications team.



  • Phison, the company that had PCIe 4.0 SSDs ready to go the day PCIe 4.0 landed on the desktop, has announced their second generation PCIe 4.0 SSD controller chips.  (AnandTech)

    These won't hit the retail channel until this time next year, but when they do they'll be capable of 7GB per second read and write speeds, not the miserable 5GB per second of current models.  Random I/O will increase from 750K IOPS to 1M for both read and write.


Retrocomputing Journal

I've found an alternate source selling the H750 CPU for A$6 in qty 5.  I thought at first it was an error and that was the US price (which would be about right) but it seems to be real.  That's just over half what I was looking at for qty 1, and I'll go through five in zero time once I start making prototypes.  Particularly if I do the soldering.

Still a markup on the volume price (US$3.30) but they can't be making a lot of money. 

So, anyway, this means I could use two of them.  And still come out cheaper, now that I've eliminated the FPGA.  That would let me zap the two CPLDs as well, because one was serving as the console output and with two CPUs I'd have two LCD controllers, and the other was a port multiplexer, and with two CPUs I'd have (almost) twice as many ports.

I still need to put the pinout into a spreadsheet and work out which ports conflict with which other ports.  The configuration for pin 5 on the TQFP-100 package, for example, is:
TRACED3, TIM1_BKIN2, SAI1_D1, TIM15_CH2, SPI4_MOSI, SAI1_SD_A, SAI4_SD_A, SAI4_D1, SAI2_MCLK_B, TIM1_BKIN2_COMP12, FMC_A22, DCMI_D7, LCD_G1, EVENTOUT
You get to pick exactly one of those functions.  Since I'm using the LCD controller, I need LCD_G1, so SPI4 is disabled - or at least, I can't use it on that pin.  Some peripherals can be routed to more than one pin.  I need the LCD controller and Ethernet - there's only one of each - and then at least two of the SPI ports and two of the I2C ports.  And both the USB ports, and one of the MMC ports if at all possible.  I expect some juggling to be involved.

If I use two CPUs I can drop the internal USB hub as well.  That will reduce the total number of ports from five to four, but that's okay.  External USB hubs are not hard to find.

Let me throw that all into the BOM tool...  A$34.58 each for qty 5.  A$29.85 in qty 50.  I use a bunch of tiny surface-mount resistors and capacitors, and those are expensive if you're only buying five or ten; you really need to buy hundreds at a time, and they want you to buy thousands.  But since I use a bunch of them, qty 50 is enough to push through several price breaks.

But $35 in tiny volumes with dual processors and dual video displays - and double the RAM and ROM; I budgeted that in as well - is not bad at all.  I like the Renesas RZ/A1M partly because it has dual LCD controllers, but so do two H750s, and they're a lot cheaper.


Back before the Amiga 1500, there was something called the A1500 from Checkmate, a tiny computer reseller in the UK.  They didn't make computers; what they did was make desktop cases, buy Amiga 500s, and put the motherboard into the desktop case.

Then Commodore stomped on them.

Years later Commodore is gone but Checkmate is back.



It looks a lot like the A3000 in fact.  It takes both classic motherboards from the A500, A600, and A1200, and modern Amiga clone boards, or Raspberry Pi emulators, or mini ITX or micro ATX PC motherboards.


Video of the Day



Disclaimer: Tea.  Can't stand tea.

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Geek

Daily News Stuff 8 August 2019

It's An AMD AMD AMD AMD World Edition

Tech News

  • AMD has launched its eagerly awaited second-generation Epyc server CPU, codenamed "Rome".  (AnandTech)

    Does it deliver on all the heady promises?

    Basically, yes.

    A pair of the top of the line 64-core parts will set you back $13,900 ($6950 each), but will not just compete evenly with, but actually outperform four of Intel's $10,009 Xeon Platinum 8260 processors.  (Serve the Home)

    Faster and 65% cheaper.

    If you don't need 128 cores in one server, the single-socket 64-core model is only $4000 and is still faster than a pair of $10,000 Intel CPUs.

    The pick of the litter from my perspective is the 24-core 7402P at $1250.  The base clock of 2.8GHz sounds low, but with the 15% IPC boost in Zen 2 it's actually faster than the 3.0GHz base clock of my Ryzen 1700.

    For a long time dual-socket servers have made up 80% of the market, with 10% one socket and 10% four or more.  That might change now that the fastest dual-socket servers from Intel can be replaced with a single socket from AMD.

  • Samsung announced the battery-life-at-any-price Galaxy Book S.  (AnandTech)

    It's based on the Qualcomm 8cx CPU, which has four A76 cores running at 2.8GHz.  That would be blazingly fast for Android, but how it copes with Windows is something we'll have to wait and see.

  • Samsung also announced the Note 10 and Note 10+.  (AnandTech)

    Highlights of the Note 10 are a smaller, lower-resolution screen, no headphone jack, and no microSD slot.

    Samsung clearly has Apple envy.

  • Oh my God, it's full of idiots.  (TechDirt)

    Classic correction from the referenced New York Times article:
    An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the law that protects hate speech on the internet. The First Amendment, not Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, protects it.
  • Liz Warren publicly threatened to reduce US internet access speeds to Australian levels.  (Tech Crunch)

  • Hobo and human shit detection startups in 3... 2... 1...  (Tech Crunch)

  • Fascist activists posing as journalists got Amazon to shut down Gab's investor website.  (One Angry Gamer)

    I had Amazon marked as one of the few big tech companies still run by adults.  Maybe they are - they haven't shown the internal chaos demonstrated by Google - but they are at best spineless adults and I would not by choice host anything with them, ever.

    Don't read the comments.  99% sure it's just trolling, but still.

  • Disqus is shutting down its channels service at the end of the month.  (One Angry Gamer)

    Channels are - were - a feature that let you set up your own forums within the Disqus platform, alongside blog comments or whatever.

    So, how do you save your channel?

    The answer appears to be ha ha fuck you.

    Disqus does support exporting site comments.  In a format it cannot, itself, read.

  • Slytherine has acquired the rights to Master of Magic so maybe we'll finally see a sequel after (mumble) years.  (One Angry Gamer)


Disclaimer: No, seriously, don't read the comments.

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Wednesday, August 07

Geek

Daily News Stuff 7 August 2019

Imagine A Croc Stamping On A Human Face Edition

Tech News


Retrocomputing Journal

Well there's a thought: 960x540 is kind of a standard video mode.  Televisions interpret it as 1080i, and monitors interpret it as 960x540.  The pixel clock would be 37.125 MHz - manageable - and in "high resolution" mode it wouldn't require any internal line or pixel doubling.

Pixels have a 1:1 aspect ratio, and it's an integer fraction of 1080p or higher so there's no scaling artifacts.  Sub-resolutions of 480x270 and 320x180 would work, and with a little fiddling, a 640x270 text mode where the pixels weren't square.  My originally planned 640x360 high-res mode would not work, but you'd have something better.

Text mode would offer up to 120 columns by 45 lines (8x12 character cell).

I should be able to do that without needing an FPGA at all, and all I need to test it is the developer kit (which I have), a handful of resistors, a VGA cable that no-one wants anymore (I'm sure I have a few of those), and a soldering iron.  And solder.  And maybe a little breadboard or something.  And some breadboard wires.  And at least a multimeter with frequency measurement so I can check the output voltage and HSYNC.

Still, if I can do this without an FPGA it's at least twice as likely that something will actually happen with this project.



Disclaimer: Rule One: Don't read the comments.

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Tuesday, August 06

Geek

Daily News Stuff 6 August 2019

Ooflets Everywhere Edition

Tech News


Retrocomputing and Makery Stuff Journal


Looking for an Arm single-board computer to run Linux?  Unfortunately there's not really all that much on the market right now, with only twenty or thirty new boards coming out each week.



Want to screen capture your little SBC?  Well, you could loop the digital video output back into the microcontroller's camera interface.  Or if you have HDMI out, you can just shove it into an Orange Pi.


Or...  Maybe not.  That board looks pretty annoying actually.  It does have a lot of different ports, the problem is getting them to work reliably.  But if you want to record HDMI, the alternative is a full-scale PC with a separate HDMI capture card.


Video of the Day



Irresistible life with monster girls.


Picture of the Day

http://ai.mee.nu/images/CureFrootloop.jpg?size=720x&q=95

Via Brickmuppet, it's Cure White, Cure Black, and Cure Frootloop.



Disclaimer: There's no telling where the money went.

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Geek

Daily News Stuff 5 August 2019

Two Chips And Gravy Edition

Tech News


Retrocomputing Journal

If Pascal and Modula-2 were too baroque for your tastes, there was always Oberon.  Actually, I kind of like it.  Better than the plague of curly bracket languages.

Meanwhile I've stripped the design for the A750 prototype down to two chips and a voltage regulator.  And a bunch of resistors.  And some bypass capacitors even though as we all saw yesterday it will work fine without them.  And probably one or two other little items once I finish reading the design guide for the two chips.  And connectors for USB in, USB out, audio out, VGA, and a cough MMC card cough.

The real board will have two external flash chips, a USB hub, Ethernet, two CPLDs, internal and external expansion buses, a console port, audio in, and a board at least four times the size and still be cheaper.  The parts I'm using for the prototype are standalone but significantly more expensive because of that.

Also, I was trying to figure out a way to video-capture the board so I can post YouTube videos.  Without running the VGA into an actual video capture board.

Then I realised that the H750 chip has a camera input right next to the video output, a hardware JPEG codec, and dual SDMMC controllers, all fast enough to keep up with my (relatively) low resolution video.  So I simply feed the digital video signals back into the camera port, turn them into a series of JPEG files at 30 FPS, and write them to a FAT-formatted card.  Which I can then plug into my PC, or read off over USB at a speedy 12 Mbits per second.  And then convert to some real video format.  There must already be code to do that.  Yep.


Disclaimer: The video output connected to the FPGA.  The FPGA connected to the camera port.  The camera port connected to the JPEG codec.  The JPEG codec connected to the SDMMC controller.  The SDMMC controller connected to the USB upstream port.  The USB upstream port connected to the JPG-to-AVI conversion software.  Dem screenshots dem screenshots gonna animate...

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Sunday, August 04

Geek

Daily News Stuff 4 August 2019

It Was Still Behind The Painting Edition

Tech News



Retrocomputing Journal

Had lunch with my brother today (found a very nice and reasonably priced local Thai restaurant with gluten free dishes), picked up my developer kit for the A750, and took a tour of his new workshop / office, which I think I did visit briefly once before but had forgotten.  (I'd dropped by his previous space plenty of times.)

He showed me his test equipment and current customer projects and tools and bins of parts. 

And he has a pick-and-place machine.

That's the device PCB assemblers use to assemble PCBs.

It's second hand and only a 25-reel baby unit with minimal intelligence, but it's a few minutes drive from my house rather than being in China.  And it should do fine for assembling a small pre-production run of A750 boards.

I'll still need to outsource getting the boards printed - no-one sane does that by hand anymore - but that's relatively cheap and straightforward.

Of course, first I have to do something useful with the developer board - get some code running and see what happens when I hack the LCD control registers.  The results of that experiment will determine whether I need an FPGA to make the whole thing work.  If I can just do it in software everything becomes cheaper, easier, and more reliable.  I added the idea of a separate monochrome console port to the project precisely because any mistake on the FPGA would mean losing your video output.

But step one is the same as always: Use a 480MHz superscalar RISC processor to make an LED blink.

Speaking of picking and placing, there is an open-source pick-and-place-machine project.



"So apparently this is a ninety-seven step assembly process, and I'm up to step...  Three."


Video of the Day



Episode #1081: How to Kill a Computer.

Actually this method doesn't work very well.  Stick with the tried-and-true approach of teleporting space junk directly into the main memory core.


Disclaimer: I want one, but I don't want to do all that assembly.  I think there's a gap in the market for a pick and place assembly machine that assembles pick and place machines.

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Geek

Daily News Stuff 3 August 2019

One Law Part Two Edition

Tech News


Retrocomputing Journal

I'm picking up my developer board for the A750 project today.  My brother, who does this sort of nonsense for a living, added it to his latest parts order to save me on shipping which was nearly as much as the board.

Speaking of nearly as much as the board, the NuXT is a new XT - IBM PC XT, that is.

It has an NEC V20 CPU, which can run both 8088 and 8080 code (so you can boot regular CP/M) at up to 9.55MHz.  832K main memory, a 256K VGA or 512K SVGA card, optional 8087 coprocessor, serial and floppy controllers, and a Compact Flash slot to substitute for a hard drive.



It is hand-assembled and costs $340, but it does pop into any standard microATX case.

Genuine 8088s are still available today - as are Z80s, 6502s, and with a little searching, 6809s as well - but they're not cheap compared to their modern equivalents.  $10-$15 a piece, where in that same price range you can get something that not only runs at 100 times the clock speed, but has everything on that motherboard built in and also running 100 times faster.

Well, the developer kit was $40, but for just the chip it's $11.  And US$3.30 in volume.

I found another Amiga-on-a-chip too, the Microchip SAMA5 family.  It's cheap. starting at A$9.84 with external memory or A$14.86 with 16MB built in, and it has crazy 2D video capabilities, with overlays within overlays and all sorts of blending modes.  Two problems: No internal flash so it needs a boot ROM (like the RZ/A1 series), and worse, it's only available in BGA so it would be a real pain to prototype.

The developer kit is $150, which slots geometrically in between the little Nucleo board I already bought for the H750 ($40) and the spartan but nonetheless rather expensive kit for the RZ/A1 ($750). 

Compared to the Nucleo board, though, the SAMA5 board has 128 times as much flash and 256 times the RAM, so you can see where some of that money went.  The only problem is that it has too much memory.  I want to keep things simple, and 256MB of RAM is not conducive to simplicity.


Video of the Day



A simple old-school square-wave electronic keyboard, with a quick demo of how PWM changes the sound of the wave.  I'm planning to use wavetables on the A750, so you can have any basic wave shape you want, but then on top of that it will have programmable AM, FM, and PWM effects.  Output will be through the built-in 12-bit DAC, so it won't be CD quality, but it will do.



Disclaimer: One law for left and right alike, that forbids them equally from posting memes that don't suck.

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Friday, August 02

Geek

Daily News Stuff 2 August 2019

As You Wish Edition

Tech News



Disclaimer: The cow is of the bovine ilk: One end is moo, the other milk.

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Thursday, August 01

Geek

Daily News Stuff 1 August 2019

Must Not Lesnerize Edition

Tech News



Disclaimer: Protection begets the need of further protection. That is a universal constant.

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