Archive for the 'Boards and Systems' Category

May 27th, 2018 ~ by admin

Mainframes and Supercomputers, From the Beginning Till Today.

This article is provided by guest author max1024, hailing from Belarus.  I have provided some minor edits/tweaks in the translation from Belarusian to English.

Mainframes and Supercomputers, From the Beginning Till Today.


We all have computers that we like to use, but there are also more productive options in the form of servers with two or even four processor sockets. And then one day I was interested, but what is even faster? And the answer to my question led me to a separate class of computers: super-computers and mainframes. How this class of computer equipment developed, as it was in the past and what it has achieved now, with what figures of performance it operated and whether it is possible to use such machines at home, I will try to explain all this in this article.


First you need to determine what the super-computer differs from the mainframe and which is faster. Supercomputers are called the fastest computers. Their main difference from mainframes is that all the computing resources of such a computer are aimed at solving one global problem in the shortest possible time. Mainframes on the contrary solve at once a lot of different tasks. Supercomputers are at the very top of any computer charts and as a result faster than mainframes.

The need for mankind to quickly solve various problems has always existed, but the impetus for the emergence of superfast machines was the arms race of well-known superpower countries and the need for nuclear calculations for the design and modeling of nuclear explosions and weapons. To create an atomic weapon, colossal computational power was required, since neither physicists nor mathematicians were able to calculate and make long-term forecasts using the colossal amounts of data by hand. For such purposes, a computer “brain” was required. Further, the military purposes smoothly passed into biological, chemical, astronomical, meteorological and others. All this made it necessary to invent not just a personal computer, but something more, so the first mainframes and supercomputers appeared.

The beginning of the production of ultrafast machines falls on the mid-1960s. An important criterion for any machine was its performance. And here on each user speaks of the well-known abbreviation “FLOPS”. Most of those who overclock or test processors for stability are likely to use the utility “LinX”, which gives the final result of performance in Gigaflops. “FLOPS” means FLoating-point Operations Per Second, is a non-system specific unit used to measure the performance of any computer and shows how many floating-point arithmetic operations per second the given computing system performs.

“LinX” is a benchmark of “Intel Linpack” with a convenient graphical environment and is designed to simplify performance checks and stability of the system using the Intel Linpack (Math Kernel Library) test. In turn, Linpack is the most popular software product for evaluating the performance of supercomputers and mainframes included in the TOP500 supercomputer ranking, which is made twice a year by specialists in the United States from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee.

When correlating the results in Giga, Mega and Terra-FLOPS, it should be remembered that the performance results of supercomputers always are based on 64-bit processing, while in everyday life the processors or graphics cards producers can indicate performance on 32-bit data, thereby the result may seem to be doubled.

The Beginning

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November 22nd, 2017 ~ by admin

CPU of the Day: DEC LSI-11 Chipset

LSI-11 Chipset with EIS/FIS Chip – 1976-1977

Back in 2014 we discussed the Western Digital WD/9000 Pascal Microcomputer system.  Today we’ll look at the LSI-11 chip set, the basis of the Pascal.  Back in 1974 DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) contracted Western Digital to design and build a 16-bit chipset to emulate the Bipolar PDP-11/05 Minicomputer.  Western Digital was paid $6.3 million for the work, and would be allowed to market and sell the resulting chipset themselves, as well as grant license to it to others (including DEC).

The LSI-11 was to be a 16-bit chipset, but was based around a 8-bit Data chips (the 1611).  The 1611 has an 8-bit ALU , 26 8-bit registers and a microinstruction register.  This is controlled by the 1621 control chip, which interprets macroinstructions from handles all the timing, as well as interrupts.  The 1621 control chip is what allows the 8-bit 1611 to be used as a 16-bit processor.  The chips are connected by an 18-bit  microinstruction bus, and a 16-bit address/data bus handles access to the rest of the system (memory/I/O).  Each microm is a 512 Word by 22-bit ROM, which can hold 80 instructions.  It is these MICROMs that allow the WD MCP1600 to function as a PDP-11/05.  The instructions in the the MICROMs (2 are required for the LSI-11) emulate the PDP-11 instructions.

DEC M7264 LSI-11 KD11-L Board from PPD- 11/03

First production of the LSI-11 chipset began in March of 1975 with shipments commencing that year.  The PDP-11/03 based on this chipset was released later that year.  The KD-11 M7264 board formed the hear of the 11/03 (as well as other DEC systems).  In typical DEC fashion it came in many flavors with different amounts of memory, as well as different instruction support.  This was completely due to the design of the LSI-11 chipset and its MICROMs .  The basic LSI-11 need 2 MICROMs to handle the basic PDP-11 instructions, the chipset however supported 4.  This mena that more instructions could be added.  One of the most common and useful additions was the EIS/FIS (Extended Instruction Set/Floating Point Instruction Set) microm.  This added 8 more instructions including MUL, DIV, FADD, FSUB, FMUL, FDIV and 2 register shifts (ASH, ASHC).  Adding the EIS/FIS chip to a standard KD-11-F board turned it into a KD-11-L (like the one pictured).

Western Digital 1611 Die –
Pauli Rautakorpi

There were other MICROMs available as well.  This included a set of 2 for support of DIBOL (Digital Business Oriented Language), a DEC language similar to COBOL.  Since the DIBOL chipset needed 2 chips a system could support DIBOL, OR EIS/FIS but not both.  MICROMs were revised as bugs were found, or faster ways of handing an instruction were made.  MICROMs revisions could also be made to support different PCB revisions.  In some ways they played the part of firmware to the PCB, as well as the instruction set for the processor.  In this way many MICROMs are specific to PCB etch revisions and other revisions of the system outside of the processor itself.  Matching the correct MICROMs, as well as Control and Data chips to the correct board is a bt of a task, and take several dozen pages of the LSI-11 maintenance manual.

Here are a few part #s to help sort things out

Data Chip
DEC 1611
Control Chip
DEC 2007C
MICROM 1 3010D/A
MICROM 2 3007D
21-11549-01 23-008B5-00 STD INST 1
21-15579-00 (1611H) 23-003C4-00 23-007B5-00 STD INST 2
21-16890-00 (1611H) 23-002C4-00 23-003B5-00 EIS/FIS
23-001C3 CP1621B14 23-009B5-00 EIS/FIS
23-001C2-01 CP1621B451 23-001B5-00 CP1631B103 STD INST 1
23-002B5 CP1631B073 STD INST 2
 23-091A5-01 CP1631B153 EIS/FIS
23-004B5 DIBOL 1
23-005B5 DIBOL 2
23-008A5-01 CP1631B-10 STD INST 1
23-007A5-01 CP1631B-07 STD INST 2

DEC M7270 LSI-11 – 1982 – All WD Chips

There are more to be found as DEC and Western Digital made many versions.  In early 1976 Western Digital licensed the MCP1600 chipset design to National Semiconductor, in exchange for some RAM technology licensing.  It is unclear if National actually made any of the MCP1600 chipset.  By 1977 DEC had started to produce the LSI-11 chip itself while continuing to source parts from Western DIgital as well.  It is common to see LSI-11 boards with DEC and WD chips mixed well into 1982.

The popularity of the PDP-11 in the 1970’s resulted in many customers for the LSI-11 based PDP’s, and their use continued well into the 1990’s with many systems continuing to be used today.  As with many such systems, they found use in industrial control and automation, where they continue to work.

March 29th, 2017 ~ by admin

TeraNex: Filling the GAPP

Teranex Piranha TN3260B – 1024 PE Array @ 64-90MHz

The GAPP (Geometric Arithmetic Parallel Processor) was designed in 1981 at Martin Marietta, which later became Lockheed Martin Electronics & Missiles.  It was funding in large part by the US Dept. of Defense as a way to develop technologies for ultra high-speed image processing.  There was a strong need for image processing, in near real time for military applications, in particular pattern recognition.  Being able to process a moving image and match its features to known patterns was very useful for targeting of many weapons system.

The GAPP processor was a massively parallel SIMD (Single Instruction Multiple Data) processor.  SIMD works very well on large sets of data that are processed in the same way.  In the design of GAPP, this data set was the 2D-array of an image, or frame, from a video.  The GAPP is at its core a very large array of simple processors, called processor elements (PE).  Each PE is relatively simple, containing a single bit ALU and registers/memory.  Each PE handles a single pixel of the image/frame, and is connected in a 2-D mesh to its 4 nearest neighbors.  This allows arrays of these PE’s to scale very well.  By 1992 Lockheed had GAPP systems with 82,944 elements and by the 2000’s systems were available with nearly 300,000.

In 1998 TeraNex was formed to commercialize this technology, and in 1998 there was a looming problem in television, one that the GAPP, and newly formed TeraNex were well suited to solve.

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March 15th, 2017 ~ by admin

MC6801/6803 Expansion Now Available for the 680x/650x Test System

6801/6803 Expansion Board and PCP

After several months of development an expansion for the 680x/650x Test system is now available to support the very popular and widely used 6801 and 6803 MCUs.  The Motorola 6801 was one of the first (with the 6802) MCU’s that Motorola made based on the MC6800 8-bit processor.  It includes RAM/ROM, Serial I/O and timers.  The test board tests the function of the base CPU, the timers/data capture, and the Serial I/O.  The MC6803 is a 6801 without the built-in ROM and with less I/O.

The expansion supports both types as well as their copies/derivatives made by Hitachi, Fujitsu, SGS and others.  The expansion is included in the complete 680x/650x Test system, bringing its total supported processors to well over 35.  The expansion does require updated firmware, which is included in all new systems (and available to upgrade previously sold systems.)

February 14th, 2017 ~ by admin

Matrox SX-900: x86 Accelerated GPU

Matrox SX-900: Serial# 266 – Nov 1984

In today’s age of GPU’s the GPU is often used to offload the x86 processor.  Many tasks are well suited for the thousands of GPU cores on modern graphics cards, tasks that would be a large burden on an x86 processor.  In 1984 though, Matrox took a different approach to high-end GPU design.  Matrox was founded in Canada in 1976, and has been making graphics cards since they first released the S-100 bus ALT-256 in 1978.  Matrox kept up with the hardware changes of the time, released MULTIBUS boards, Q-Bus boards, and eventually PC compatible cards.

The SX-900 was the value (around $2000) version of their 2 board GXB-1000 (that was $3000-4000).  The Matrox SX-900 was a standard MULTIBUS card with support for 640x480x8bit graphics.  It supported a fill rate of 20 MPixels/sec which was very impressive in 1984.  By comparison, the Nvidia NV1 (STG-2000) released in 1995, was only capable of a 12MPixel/sec fill rate, albeit at a richer color depth.  So how did Matrox, in 1984, achieve such performance?

Matrox SX-900: Powered by a 80286-4 Processor and upD7220 Graphics Primitives Processor

Matrox used an Intel 80286 processor, running at 4MHz (the slowest 286 made) as a Display List Processor.  It handles all high level commands (256+) and then controls the rest of the cards hardware, including the NEC uPD7220 Graphics primitive processor and a advanced pixel processor (implemented in PALs/TTL).  Together they bring rather impressive performance.  The board supports up to 4096 colors (in a Lookup Table) but can only display 16 at a time. Interestingly the board has 512K of 150ns DRAM for use as video memory, more than enough for 640×480 graphics.  Also included is 640 bytes of 25ns ECL SRAM (5x AM9122-25PC), and 16K of 120ns CMOS SRAM implemented with 2 HM6264s.  Firmware (the same firmware used for the GXB-1000) is held in 4 27128 EPROMs for simple updating as needed.

The SX-900 was used in CAD systems, industrial automation, processor control, and other applications where data needed to be shown the user graphically, rather then on a green glowing monochrome text display.  One of the more famous applications was the University of Milan (in Italy) where the SX-900 (supported by Intel iSBC286 computing boards) controlled the K800 Superconducting Cyclotron, a 100MeV particle accelerator.  THis cyclotron ended up being moved and completed at Catania, also in Italy.

Many of these boards are still in use, dutifully displaying graphics and providing user interfaces to thousands of processor control systems in factories and institutions around the world.

January 6th, 2017 ~ by admin

HP 1000 A600: The Lighting Processor

HP A600+ Processor Board. 4x AMD AM2901CDC (1820-3117) 1x AMD AM2904DC and 1x AMD AM2910 (1820-2378). Some versions used 2901’s from National Semiconductor.

In the early 1960’s HP was exploring connecting computers to its various instruments, for control, monitoring, and logging.  The DEC PDP-8 had come out in 1965 as perhaps the first mini-computer and could be used to control HP’s instrument’s.  However, HP determined that it would actually be easier, and faster to design and build their own computers rather than work with DEC.  DEC probably didn’t see HP’s interest as important enough to make it easy (some interfacing for I/O etc would have to be done).  It worked out well for HP however, as this pushed them into an entirely new, and emerging market.

In 1966 HP released the 16-bit HP 2100 (later to be renamed the HP 1000 series).  It was a design that had begun under Union Carbide’s Data Systems Inc, a company HP had recently acquired.  This gave HP a head start, and allowed them to evolve the design to meet their needs (at the time mostly to control instruments).  When released it included not only the hardware but a completely function software suite as well, including a FORTRAN compiler.  They initially ran with a 10MHz clock and a 1.6usec memory cycle time.

Throughout the 1970’s the design evolved, and would lead to many computers.  The 98xx desktop systems using HP’s NMOS BPC Hybrid processor were based on the HP 1000 series.  The design was a fairly simple accumulator based architecture with 2 16-bit accumulators (A and B) and a 15-bit PC and 68-base instructions.  The first version was directly programmed but all subsequent versions were microprogrammed, making alterations and additions to the instruction set much easier, a feature that became important in keeping the HP 1000 around.

The A series were the HP 1000’s of the 1980’s.  Development began around 1980 and the first computers, the A600 and A700, were released in 1982.  These were some of the first LSI based processors for the line.  THe A600 processor was called the ‘Lightning.’  The name “Lightning” came from the Mark Twain quote “Thunder is good, thunder is great, but it is lightning that does all the work.” “Thunder” was a reference to the PDP 11/23, one of DEC’s newer machines at the time.  HP had went from considering using DEC’s computers to run instruments, to the 4th largest maker of such computers in only a decade.  Certainly a fact not lost on either company.

The A600 is an interesting design, it is of course microprogrammed, and is based on AMD AM2901B bit-slice processors, supported by a 2910 microsequencer, and the 2904 status/shift control unit.  The rest of the board is Schottky TTL, PALs, FPLAs. and ROMs.  Each HP 1000 instruction is microcoded into a 56-bit instruction for controlling the 2901’s 2904 and 2910.  These 56-bit instructions directly operation on the processor.  Certain bits interface with certain parts of each chip, so they are directly executed.

A600 – 56-bit microinstruction word directly operates on the hardware (click for LARGE version)

A series of PAL’s contain the microcoding, allowing for easy updating (at the time).  A standard A600 executed 182 standard HP 1000 instructions.  It could do so at a rate of 1 MIPS, with a cycle time of 227 nanoseconds.

Each 2901 is a 4-bit slice processor, and contains 4-bit registers and ALU’s.  The HP 1000 A and B registers are mapped directly to the R0 and R1 registers of the 2901’s and the Program counter resides in R15.  The PAL’s determine what HP 1000 instruction is being executed, and decode it into the proper 2901 assembly code, building the 56-bit instruction word.  This is one of the best examples of how the AMD 2901 (and other bit slicers) were designed to be used.  The end user has no idea, or need to know what is executing their HP 1000 code.  Its is decoded and send to the bit slicers for processing which then return the results to the proper place.  If new functions are needed a new processor does not need to be designed, simply add additional PAL code to decode the new instructions.  And that is exactly what HP did….

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May 16th, 2016 ~ by admin

National Semiconductor SC/MP Test Boards Now Available

National Semi SC/MP Test Board

National Semi SC/MP Test Board

National Semiconductor released the SC/MP (aka the SCAMP or ISP-8A-500) in 1974 as a low cost PMOS 8-bit processor.  Later the design was moved to an NMOS process resulting in higher clock speeds and simpler power supply requirements.  This version was known as the SC/MP II or the ISP-8A-600.  It was used well into the 1980’s.

This test board is designed to test with the PMOS or the NMOS versions of this chip.  It has power supplies and clocking for both the PMOS and NMOS versions and requires only the slide of a switch to change between them.

I have a couple in stock, $94.95 with FREE shipping.

More info and purchasing info on the SC/MP Test Board page.

October 8th, 2015 ~ by admin

AMD 20 Processor Test Board – A Gang of Athlons

AMD Socket A Test Board

AMD Socket A Test Board

Processors are tested at many steps in the manufacturing process.  Automated visual inspections are done at several steps during the wafer lithography stage, the individual chips are tested and marked on the wafer before slicing, and then final testing and speed grading during the assembly process.

This board is part of that final test stage,  It is designed to test Socket A (462) CPU’s, 20 at a time.  The board was made by a company called DynaVision in June of 2000, coinciding with the release of AMD’s first Socket A processors.  The board would be used in a test machine, and likely manually loaded with up to 20 processors.  This cannot be a FULL test of the processor as not all signals are brought out (so it may miss a package defect).  All the test, debug and JTAG signals are brought out from each socket, as well as the necessary voltages and CLK signals provided.

A connector by each socket supports, PS_ON, PWERON, ANODE and CATHODE signals, though I am not entirely sure what there are for.  Best guess is thermal management.  Also next to this is 2 signals labeled TEC1 and TEC2, naming that may suggest Peltier junction cooling.

AMD 20 socket test board, circa 2000

AMD 20 socket test board, circa 2000

The board is labeled AMD 317-S6300 and FAB 30-21041B.  Fab 30 could suggest AMD’s Dresden Germany Fab, which would make this board even more interesting, as only a very few processors were assembled/tested at the fabs themselves.  Most production AMD processors were assembled and tested in Penang, Malaysia (since 1972).

Someone at AMD was certainly intimately familiar with the design and use of this board, and its part in AMD’s success in the market.  Now it occupies a few square feet of a wall at the CPU Shack Museum keeping its secrets to itself.