Category Archives: Transputer Interfacing

Inmos B004

I’d call the Inmos B004 the “mother of all Interface cards”, simply because it was the first ISA card sold by INMOS. And it wasn’t just the card but it also defined the (PC) standard of the software interface, mostly called the “B004-interface”. What a surprise 😉

So being the first card, it is quite big (full ISA length) while not offering really impressing specs: 8bit XT Bus, just one Transputer –TRAMs weren’t invented yet- and a max. of 2MB RAM (DILs). To do it justice, the manual rightfully calls it “Evaluation Board” and for that purpose it’s totally fine – remember that 2MB were quite an amount of RAM back in 1984.
To create a multi-Transputer network you had to either plug-in multiple B004s or connect an external network to the onboard connectors (the blue ones in the picture below).

As mentioned, the B004 software interface is what makes this card a keystone in the Transputer universe. All communication to the host (i.e. the XT/AT compatible PC) is done through a port range normally beginning at 0x150 (base, can be moved by some cards).
With certain offsets the host software can communicate with the Transputer, or the C011 to be precise:

Base Address Register Comment
+0x00 C011/12 input data  read
+0x01 C011/12 Output data write
+0x02 C011/12 input status register read = returns input status
write = set input interrupt on/off
+0x03 C011/12 Output status register read = returns output status
write = set output interrupt on/off
+0x10 Reset/Error register write: Reset Transputer & C011/12 and possibly subsystem (check manual)
read: Get Error status
+0x11 Analyse register  (un)set analyse

This mapping was used by more or less all ISA interface cards and extended by other more sophisticated interface cards later.

Clones

Needless to say, that very soon there were a couple of “inspired” models from other manufacturers. AFAIK all of them support Transputers up to 30MHz, which the B004 didn’t… so they’re actually better.

This example is from Microway (yes, those guys who later build the i860 Number Smasher), named Monoputer and dated 1987. Up to 2MB could be used on it. Mind the connectors being accessible from the outside:

Microway-B004

Later they produced the “Monoputer 2” which was more modern and used SIMM RAM modules instead of DIL parts. The Transputer and Linkinterface moved into the middle of the card and the link connectors were moved inside the pc case again – the connectors are the very same used on the NumberSmasher860:

monoputer2

And here’s the one Transtech made, calling it TMB04 mind the SIMM banks which enable the card to give home up to 16MB RAM (at 3 cycle speed!):

Transtech TMB04

Hema TA2

The Hema TA2 is some very special specimen of ISA interface cards. IMHO it’s the last and most sophisticated interface you can run in an ISA bus. These are the feature highlights:

  • 16 bit ISA interface
  • half-size card
  • 4 TRAM sockets
  • TTL and RS422 link connectors (if RS422 drivers are fitted, TTL is not usable)
  • B004 compatible ‘Fast Mode’ as well as 100% vanilla ‘Slow Mode’

The TA2 implements an Idea which can be found in some documents from those days, about getting the maximum speed from the sluggish ISA bus and a link-interface chip like the IMS C011/012:
Overlapping acknowledge by using FIFO buffers and a controlling FPGA.

This is how the TA2 looks like:

HemaTA2

I’ve marked the the important parts with colors/arrows:

  • red arrow – the IMS C012
  • orange arrow – the IMS C011 connected to
  • blue – two 1KB FIFOs controlled by
  • yellow – a MACH 110 CPLD and
  • green arrow – a PAL
  • purple – a XILINX 3030 FPGA doing the control logic
  • cyan & magenta – TTL and RS422 link connectors

And here’s the block-schematic using the same colors:

TA2_Block

The schematic also mentioned the two other cool features of the Hema TA2:
Four TRAM slots and the “hema LINK-Bus”, a proprietary two row DIN 41612 connector which provides all links/subsystem which were used otherwise by the 4 TRAMs.
Finally there is a 4-bit microswitch (upper right corner) to set a unique ID for the card so you can identify up to 16 cards in a single system.

Software

Using the provided control program “CTA2” everything can be set by software, e.g.

  • Base addresses for the fast- and slow link (0x150/0x158 by default)
  • Swapping fast/slow link configuration
  • Linkspeed for every link (fast/slow/TRAM/hema-bus)
  • Up- /Down-subsystem control
  • Interrupts per link
  • Waitstates

All the hardware wise ‘jumping through hoops’ still doesn’t do the job alone. To reach the ultimate ISA speed (the docs are talking about up to 1mbps) the communication needs to be tuned, too.
Lets talk a bit x86 assembler here (ahhhh), and DOS-only for sure:
It’s not enough to use simple in and out port instructions and constantly poll the C011/12 status register – that’s way too slow. You’ll need to go for the string variant(s) ins[b|w|d] combined with the rep instruction. Here’s an example for a C insb wapper function:

void insb(UINT16 port, void *buf, int count)
{
   _ES = FP_SEG(buf);   /* Buffer Segment */
   _DI = FP_OFF(buf);   /* Buffer Offset  */
   _CX = count;         /* Bytes to read  */
   _DX = port;          /* from Port xy   */
   asm   REP INSB;
}

Same goes for outs[b|w|d] respectively.  But there’s another extra to care for: The TA2 provides special  registers to give you deeper insight into its status, e.g. FiFo fill-rate (empty, half-full, full), FiFo interrupt settings.
So in effect, you couple the fast ins/outs instructions with interrupts attached to e.g. input half-full and output full.

That said, there are some caveats. ins[b|w] and outs[b|w] are supported from the i8018x and V20 on.  insd and outsd needs a 386.
And then there are possible speed penalties with 32nit processors (i.e. 386 and up) as they optimized the port instructions for virtualization (Virtual 8088 mode, not todays VM!) resulting in 100+ cycles per call.

So when everything is 100% optimal, hema says in its documents these are the possible transfer speeds to reach:

Function/Array size 1K 10K 100K 1MB
Read FiFo 150kB/s 390kB/s 570kB/s 615kB/s
Read Polled 160kB/s 160kB/s 160kB/s 160kB/s
Read Direct 600kB/s 610kB/s 610kB/s 610kB/s
Write FiFo 565kB/s 600kB/s 610kB/s 610kB/s
Write Polled 160kB/s 160kB/s 160kB/s 160kB/s
Write Direct 610kB/s 610kB/s 610kB/s 610kB/s

FiFo – Using interrupts and syncing status of fill level.
Polled: Each byte is synchronized with the C012 status
Direct: Like FiFo but no syncing.

Well, this has to be proved yet. Seem I need to write a benchmark… someday 😉

Other Transputer interfaces

This is the collection of other Transputer interface cards (i.e. not from the usual suspects) I came by here and there. And no, I don’t actually own them all.
Some are rare, some are odd, may are cool and most are all three of them 😉

This post will be irregularly updated as new finds come along…

Pixar Transputer Card

Yes, that’s true. Pixar built its own Transputer interface back in the days, simply called “Render Accelerator”. Nomen es omen 😉
In constant search of raw computing power they tried out everything, eg. Intels i860 and others. It was just another logical step to try speeding-up Pixars Renderman package by using a Transputer farm. As an early adopter, they had to build their own stuff to suit their demands. Here’s a very interesting read about the long way Renderman came from and which hardware they’re were using. This article about texturing techniques is mentioning this card on pp.16.
The mentioned Jeffrey Mock was also quite busy during his Pixar days in helping Logical Systems (LSC) by writing a concurrency library for their C-Compiler.

Here’s the front of the full-size 8bit ISA card – filled up to the brim.
It features two T800-20 Transputers, each having its own 4MB of RAM. Two links are facing the outside-world – I presume it’s been meant like a up- and down-link to the next card.
The rest is standard early-days ISA bus, C012, Transputer DRAM design.

pixar_transputer_card1

No much to say about the back side. The silkscreen is a bit uncommon, but it’s nice when it comes down to repairing… and some “burning” shows, that seemed to be the case with this specific card.

pixar_transputer_card2

The Quintek T9

This is a very manly approach into transputing matters… don’t give me that step-by-step upgrading of an Transputer array. Just do it once and do it right 😉

Quintek_9T

Yes, that’s 9 Transputers, each with 1 or 4MB RAM and a C004 all directly soldered onto that 8-bit ISA card. It sure was expensive…
While there’s a C004 (the 6th golden IC from left), there’s no T2xx to control it. So I assume that one of the T800 is in charge to configure it… or this is done through the ISA link-interface as there are two C012 on the card,

 

The YARC ProTran

This is a fullsize 16-bit ISA card from YARC. It features 4 Transputers with the option of supporting them with a (for the time) big amount of RAM.

YARC-ProTran

The ProTran board can be equipped with 1 to 4 Transputers. The root Transputer (the rightmost) can have acces to 1-16 megabytes of RAM – it’s 8 in this picture. Each of the other three can be configured with 1 to 8 MB. That was very serious stuff back then.
What’s most interesting about this card is that YARC  didn’t gave much about standards and went a proprietary route in many places:

  • A proprietary bus interface is said to provide a peak I/O speed exceeding 1 MB/sec
  • All links, event inputs and subsystem control signals are fed to a proprietary pin-field array.
  • The memory design uses a multibank and interleaving technologies to achieve zero wait state performance

All this explains the excessive use of GALs in the lower half of the card. Beside the proprietary approach the ProTran offered a compatibility mode (read: B004 interface) to use standard INMOS tools.

CSA

CSA (Computer Systems Architects) was big in the educational market and produced smaller, better integrated B004 compatible Transputer cards. The higher integration of DRAM parts allowed half-length ISA cards meant for evaluation or as a starting point for building bigger systems later.
(The following pictures are courtesy “the PCPUTER” page. Permission to repost them were kindly granted)

Meet the “Transputer Kit PC Card” –  They came bundled with a slightly restricted version of the Transputer Toolset, together with a great manual which described lots of different programming and hardware interfacing lab-type experiments.  These cards used standard multi-pin circular DIN connectors/cables to route the link and reset signals, and provided the first hands-on introduction to distributed parallel processing for many people.  They included a “budget” T400A 32 bit non-floating point processor, and off-processor memory was an option

CSA Kit Board

This is th PART.1 four processor board – mainly a carrier for CSAs proprietary Transputer Modules (like INMOS’ TRAMs), and the single processor PART.2 board featuring a PC interface.

CSA PART1 and PART2 System

The “Gerlach card”

The card from the book “Das Transputerbuch” from A. Gerlach is a typical example. It has its own post on this page.<
Very simple design but only 2 layers and completely documented in the book.

Gerlach

 

 

Inmos B008

Introduced at the sunset of the Transputer era, the INMOS B008 was the successor of the B004 of which it dramatically differed:

  • 16-bit ISA connector (for Interrupts/DMA, it’s still an 8 bit data path)
  • 10 TRAM slots
  • C004 and T2xx on board

The usual source provides the full manual/documentation… down to the GAL equations.
All these enhancements enabled the B008 to create simple, yet powerful Transputer networks on a single expansion card and still makes it the perfect platform for todays Transputer retro experiments/fiddlings.

Here’s a late “Rev.F” version of the IMSB008:

IMSB008E

The previous revision E had a ceramic version of the T2xx and used GALs instead of the CPLD you can stop in aboves picture.

B008_revE

Clones

Obviously the Inmos B008 had clones as the B004 did.

Transtech TMB08

Well, I guess there’s nothing which Transtech did not clone and/or improve…
In this case they used a AMD MACH CPLD from the beginning, a PLCC version of the T225 and everything else was SMD.

TMB08

Alta SuperLink/XL Transputer PC Card

Alta Technology was a spin-off of Computer System Architects (CSA).
The SuperLink/XL board used TRAM modules like the Inmos B008, but featured a 20 MHz IMST225 Transputer to handle external interfacing and a beefed-up host interface design. Like the B008 it supported 10 TRAM’s

Altacor SuperLink XL

ARADEX TransAT Plus

Actually I wasn’t aware that ARADEX also made TRAM carriers… One of my first TRAMs was an ARADEX one, so this is a first for me, too.
Their interpretation of the B008 theme features just 8 TRAM slots (vs. the 10 “standard”) which are strangely enough sorted in ascending order (0-7) and not like the B008 order of 1, 5, 6, 2, 0, 4, 7, 3, 8, 9. Also the TransAT provides two 9pin D-subminiature connectors in contrast to the B008s 37pin connector – most likely its layout is the so called Aalener Link-Interface. That includes the RS-422 differential drivers and receivers next to the connector (AM26LS23’s and AM26LS33’s).

Concerning other parts, besides an C012 they used some sort of CPLD – presumably to control the 16 bit bus – in the photos I have, I can clearly see the traces coming form the ISA Bus’ D[8-15].
It also uses the IRQs 10-12.

Last fun bit: They named the two GALs with their JED filenames. Very handy 😉

aradex_transat-plus