Making Circuit Boards.

So one of my goals of my series “Introduction To Digital Computers” is to show the design of a computer that can be built entirely out of NPN transistors. The idea is that by showing the design of a digital computer from the absolute ground up–from something you can hold in your hands rather than from some theoretical abstraction–it makes the design of a digital computer a concrete thing. And hopefully that makes the entire process of designing a digital computer more “real” rather than some abstraction in some textbook somewhere.

But I’m beginning to realize that if I’m going to design something from NPN transistors, I need to build the circuits to make sure they work. After all, there are a lot of designs purportedly showing designing gates using NPN transistors that simply will not work.

So I’ve started relying more on MacSpice and iCircuit to verify my designs.

That doesn’t go far enough.

So the other day I’ve spent some time building the final ALU.

The circuit diagrams (from Eagle) were translated into two 100mm by 100mm boards (since the 61 transistors and countless resistors don’t fit on one board), one board which contains the logic for the ‘S’ output line (the sum/difference, and AND/OR/XOR/NOT logic) and one board which contains the logic for the ‘C’ output line (the carry/borrow/shift logic). Both schematics as PDF files can be downloaded here: BitALU.zip

Carry Board

And the reason for the 100mm by 100mm boards is that Seeed Studio has an amazingly cheap deal on 100mm by 100mm boards. (But make the board a millimeter above the given size, the price jumps from $5/board to $50/board.) I think the way they can offer this deal is that they’re manufacturing their own boards for their own products–and they are selling leftover space on those sheets.

Hopefully the design is correct; after assembling one board and verifying it works correctly I plan to run off a set of 10, populate 8 of them, and assemble a fully working 8-bit ALU in order to verify the design.

I also plan to verify the design of the register circuits from the prior video, and actually assemble them.


The target, in the end, is a computer which has 6 8-bit registers: an accumulator, a flags register, and four additional intermediate 8-bit registers B, C, D and E. This is similar to the 8080 MPU, though instead of an H/L register, the ultimate design will use a 16-bit IX register, a 16-bit PC register, a 16-bit stack pointer, and internal registers for processing microcode and latching intermediate results to and from main memory. (The design of the IX register will be limited only to those instructions necessary to maintain a call stack for C–which means we only really need instructions to push and pop IX from the stack, to copy SP to IX and back, and to access memory at a fixed 8-bit and 16-bit offset from IX. Of course this also implies that the B and C registers as well as the D and E registers can be combined to form a 16-bit address.)

But baby steps, baby steps.

So this means the next video may be delayed another few weeks so I can verify my designs.

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