FAP reborn: the new I/O card

Previous article: CPU board, memory board, video card.

Github repo

We have finally come to the big one, the new I/O card.  This is the one I designed completely from scratch without influence of the half-assed old I/O card, so I’m going to go in details in this article.

So far, we have the backplane, CPU, memory, and video card. I can program FAP to display some messages on the screen but there is no way to do anything else because no input methods are available, and as a result FAP can’t communicate with the outside world. It needs some way of input/output and that’s why I’m designing the I/O card.

A quick recap of the the previous article about FAP I/O: Z80 uses in/out instruction for port  read/write. 256 ports are available and port address is the lower 8 bit of the address bus when in/out is executed. A port is read when both IORQ and RD signal goes low, and written when both IORQ and WR goes low. I’m also using interrupt instead of polling, Z80 has 3 interrupt modes, mode 0 is 8080 compatible mode that no one uses, mode 1 just jumps to 0x38, and mode 2 makes your head explode the first time you learn about it but is the most powerful, and is what my I/O board going to use.

The last time I worked on the I/O board I used an arduino just for reading PS/2 keyboard, an STM32F103 as the main I/O interrupt controller, and a bunch of 74 chips for the interface between STM32 and Z80 bus. The slap-together had 2 I/O ports and 2 interrupt vectors, but even with just that it accumulated 9 74 series chips, just look at this mess:


Notice the piggybacking everywhere and the general messiness, if I were to continue to design the new I/O board this way it will end up a horrendous board to route, no flexibility at all, high power consumption, possible noise problems, and one single bug means making a entire new board.

So instead I’m going to do it properly and go the modern route: Using a CPLD. CPLD stands for Complex Programmable Logic Device, like FPGA it has logic that can be configured via HDL, but unlike FPGA it has a built-in non-volatile configuration memory so it works right away when powered up. CPLD is also cheaper and less complex than FPGA, often only have hundreds of gate-equivalents instead of millions in the FPGA, as a result CPLD is often used as glue logic instead of an active device. Personally I feel that  FPGA is mainly for high speed high bandwidth active applications, and CPLD is basically a replacement for 74 series chips.

And replace 74 series chips it will. The CPLD I picked is Altera EPM570. It’s a slightly older part, but has plenty of pins and is cheap, there is a even cheaper version EPM240, exactly same but with less logic cells. Because EPM570 has 144 pins, the plan is just connect everything on the bus to the CPLD and figure it out in HDL. As for the I/O controller, I’m using a STM32F051C8T6 this time.

I went all out on the STM32 side, adding as much peripherals as possible, in the end I have SD card, I2C EEPROM, PS/2 Keyboard, RTC, ESP8266, and a general purpose UART header all hooked up to the STM32. It might be a bit overkill but I guess it’s better to have them just in case than not having them at all.

The STM32 will talk to the CPLD via a mini-bus with 4 bit of address, 8 bit of data, and a handful of control signals. While the CPLD contains all the glue logic to interact with the Z80 bus. Below is the diagram of the I/O board structure.

Screen Shot 2016-12-26 at 01.19.52.png

To program the CPLD I bought a cheap chinese knockoff programmer which seems work well enough, also needed is Altera Quartus Prime Lite, which is free. I’m going to use schematic capture for this instead of connecting everything in Verilog because I feel that being able to see and edit a schematic is more intuitive in this case. But first I need to write a couple of components that I’m going to use inside CPLD, chief among which is the 74HC573 8-bit transparent latch, a simple matter of  30 lines of code:

Another one we’re going to use is a 4-to-16 line decoder:

And with that, we can start laying out our glue logic inside the CPLD. Instead laying down physical 74 chips, we can just do it in software and watch the magic happen. This I/O board needs to handle interrupts, port write, and port read. So let’s start with the first one:

FAP I/O board Z80 interrupt logic

While it might look complicated at first, this is actually not that bad. The centrepiece is just a 8-bit latch. When the STM32 controller wants to start a Z80 interrupt, it first puts the interrupt vector on the STM32-CPLD data bus, then activates INTVECT_LOAD signal, this loads the vector into the latch. Then STM32 pulls down the INT line on the Z80 to start the interrupt, the Z80 will acknowledge the interrupt at the beginning of the next instruction, where both IORQ and M1 goes low. They are OR’ed together to give INTACK, which then activates the output enable of the latch, putting stored interrupt vector onto the CPU bus, which Z80 then combines with I register and jumps to that interrupt vector address. The INTACK also generates an interrupt on the STM32, upon which deactivates the INT line. Here is the STM32’s code snippet:

With that out of the way, next up is port write. It uses 2 transparent latches and it’s actually extremely similar as the interrupt above, only the data is loaded from Z80 side. When Z80 wants to write to a port, both IORW and WR goes low, which is OR’ed to give IOWR signal. When IOWR is low, there is valid port address and data on the CPU bus, so I made IOWR simply load the address and data into the corresponding latches. IOWR also fires an interrupt on the STM32, who will then activate the latch1 signal and read the data and address off the latches and process them. Below is the diagram and code snippet.

FAP I/O board port write logic

Next up is port read, this is the most complex of the three because of the timing constraints. Let’s look back at port write first: when CPU does a port write, the port address and data are loaded into two transparent latches, while STM32 is notified at the same time. So even if STM32 bogged down for some reason the port address and data will still be available in the latch, nothing is lost.

There is no such luxury in the case of port read, when Z80 wants to read a port, both IORQ and RD goes down, OR’ed together to give IORD. Port data must be valid the moment IORD goes active, otherwise the CPU gets garbage data. That means I can’t make STM32 respond to IORD as an interrupt since it would already be too late. So as you probably have guessed, transparent latches to the rescue again.

FAP I/O board port read logic

This is much more complicated than the first two so bear with me: There are 16 transparent latches, corresponding to 16 available Z80 ports. When Z80 wants to read one of these ports,  a valid port address will be present on the CPU bus, then the IORD signal goes active. When that happens a 4-to-16 decoder is activated and selects the corresponding latch out of the 16 based on the address on the CPU bus, this select signal along with IORD itself enables the output of that latch, putting its content onto the data bus instantly.

Of course we need be able to write data into those latches first for CPU to read. When STM32 wants to load data into a latch, it puts the address and data onto the STM32-CPLD bus, then activates the LATCH16 signal. This enables another 4-to-16 decoder inside CPLD that select the corresponding latch. The select signal together with LATCH16 signal loads the data into said latch, which will then be available for CPU to read. The STM32 code is actually pretty simple:

With all those out of the way, here is the finished board:



Again, I made some mistakes in the rush to get the board made, the footprint of PS/2 connector is flipped, the JTAG connector pinout is all wrong, and somehow I missed the TDO line. Those are all fixed in the repo. And with just one jumper wire, the board functions perfectly.


Previous article: CPU board, memory board, video card.

Github repo



4 thoughts on “FAP reborn: the new I/O card”

  1. Projects like this always get me thinking of how far we as human race have come. And how in reality we already live in world of abundance. Here you are – able to use your expertise to purchase 100s of way better machines than the one you are building… yet for some reason you are called to build computer completely on your own.

    I applaud you for following your calling and even more for sharing what you do with the world. I hope you inspire more people to follow whatever is their own inner calling for benefit of us all.


  2. Love the project – really inspiring. I’ve taken a break from my electronics hobby projects and this really gives me motivation to get back into them.


  3. Basically, you may use 16 bits I/O addressing.

    When you use IN A,(C), the whole BC register is put on the Address bus.

    This was used among other in the ZX spectrum which used ports XXFEh for the keyboard input, the XX being all bit high except one telling which keyboard half row should be read.
    The same 16 bits addressing was used on Spectrum 128K and following when addressing AY-3-8912 audio chip and MMU (low byte was FDh and high byte selected the device).

    Even the IN A,(N) and OUT (N),A instructions could be used for 16 bit I/O addressing. The content of A register is used as top part so LD A,DEh ; IN A,(ADh) wil result in port DEADh being read. OUT (N),A will use register A as both the data and the upper byte.


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