Sunday, February 22, 2009

ACIA fixed, S3E SK sucks

In the last two weeks, I was making good progress with my attempt to fully support the Spartan-3E starter kit by Maisforth. I had to improve my SPI controller slightly so that it works better for programming the serial Flash, worked on implementing the (ancient) standard Block I/O vocabulary so that the serial Flash can be used like a floppy disk in the old days and almost got the beautiful vibe full screen block editor to work.

One thing that was began to bother me a lot was the development cycle for Forth programs: I use Emacs to edit stuff, then copy and paste it to the real hardware. As my programs grow, this begins to take considerable time, but for some reason I could not send the data through the serial port at full speed: Maisforth reproduceably lost characters, and I had to insert a small delay after each character sent which made uploads slow. Too slow.

Thus, I went to pinpoint the reason for this character loss. At first, I thought that what I saw was a problem related to the lack of flow control. The serial port on the Spartan-3E Starter Kit is only equipped with RX and TX signals, so no hardware flow control is possible and software flow control is not implemented. After some investigation and experiments it became clear to me, though, that the problem was not flow control related. Both hardware (RTS/CTS) and software (XON/XOFF) flow control work under the assumption that data is buffered in larger chunks, but my character loss happened even when I sent short bursts at full speed to the FPGA.

The problem really was related to the lack of double buffering in the transmitter of the System09 UART. This meant that the transmitter signalled the "transmit buffer full" condition for the whole duration of the actual send operation, even though the data had already been copied from the transmit buffer to the shift register. As the serial port echo in Maisforth is generated by Forth itself, processing of every character and sending it back out through the serial port introduced a pause between every character echoed, which quickly caused problems when characters to be echoed came in at full serial port speed.

The fix for the problem was to introduce double buffering. As soon as the character to be transmitted has been copied over to the transmitter shift register, the UART module now signals the host that the transmit buffer is available for the next character to be sent. This made the problem disappear as Forth echo processing can now take place while the previous character echo is transmitted. Given the slow serial port and the high clock rate of System09, there now is plenty of time for all processing needed.

The Spartan-3E Starter Kit sucks

Well, not really. It is a nice cheap board with a good load of on-board peripherals, useful documentation and nice example designs, but it also has severe limitations: The on-board FPGA is a XC3S500E, which has 40 kByte of block RAM. In my current Maisforth setup, I use 16k for the Forth kernel ROM, 16k for RAM, and 6k for the VGA controller. This leaves only 2k free, so that makes playing with table based waveform synthesis really hard. What I hoped for was that I could put the Forth kernel and the board support Forth library into the parallel NOR flash of the S3ESK and map the Flash into the 6809 address space.

The show stopper for this plan is the fact that data bit 0 of the NOR flash is shared with the SPI bus data signal. Thus, one can either access the flash or the SPI, but not both at the same time. Seemingly, the idea is to copy the contents of the NOR flash into SDRAM and then run from there, but I'm still reluctant to try getting the SDRAM to work. The easy path is blocked, though, and maybe using SDRAM is the best option.


1 comment:

  1. Lets always keep ourselves updated.Thanks for sharing this information.Good Day!