Yes, that’s right. In three days (quite busy, I have to admit), I have constructed a working 16-bit computer from Nand gates, that is able to manage I/O with memory mapped keyboard and monochrome screen. Am I a genius? Not even close. I have just been walking in the footsteps of Noam Nisan and Shimon Schocken, two wonderful professors who are currently giving me for free a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the category construct-a-simple-and-yet-powerful-computer-from-scratch! Their design is so elegant that every project step mostly consists in putting together pieces of a puzzle that just fall into place.
A few highlights:
- Gluing together the RAM with the keyboard and screen gave for some interesting muxing/demuxing, due to the different sizes of their respective memory areas.
- When it comes to the CPU, I had first planned to construct some separate control logic chip, but the pieces fit together so well that I finally didn’t think it was necessary.
- Lastly, composing the computer from ROM, RAM + I/O and CPU was almost as easy as building the first logic chips of chapter 1.
Certainly if it is so easy, I cannot have learned that much, right? Wrong. I guess pedagogy could be defined as the ability to provide the highest teaching value per unit of of time spent by the student. And Noam Nisan and Shimon Schocken are certainly masters of pedagogy. No wonder Shimon Shocken is currently working on a program to revolutionize math teaching for young children.
A couple of additional details about his module:
- Test scripts are for the first time in this module coming in two flavors: the regular ones and the “external” ones. I have not found an explanation about what the external ones could be all about (I might have overlooked some information in my hungry book and web site browsing), so I diffed the CPU scripts, and found that the only difference was an explicit reference to the DRegister chip in the non-external script. My implementation did not use that chip, it just used the regular Register as a D-Register. I think that the DRegister chip really is a regular Register, with an additional GUI-side effect allowing one to see its contents – presented as the D-register’s contents – while running. When it comes to the non-external test script, I think the point is that it is not only testing the outputs of the tested chip, but also some internal state (in this case the D-register). Anyway, when using DRegister instead of just Register for the D-Register, both test scripts run successfully on my implementation.
- When I run the CPU test script for the first time, I had two control bit bugs (as it turned out). The first one made the output file comparison fail on the 2nd result row. That pretty much indicated an obvious bug. But the second bug made the script fail at the 62nd result row, which I found really surprising. That bug was more nasty, which can happen in a design that after all is not that trivial. Comparing the result rows did however allow a bug resolution within minutes.
Next step: writing an assembler for the machine. I cannot wait.