It has been a while since my last update. I have been working on the USB stuff for Pano Logic G1, mainly for connecting to joysticks and flash drives. I was concerned that my LPDDR and cache would cause me some trouble when the code is being executed in RAM, but so far they are holding up well. I will talk more about them in the next log. In this log I would like to talk a little about some debugging utilites, namely, the UART and the hard fault.
UART is very handy when you want to see logs from the device. At first I thought I can get away just by using VGA text terminal, but it soon turns out that 80x30 text is simply not enough. Unfortunately the Pano Logic doesn't have any serial ports. From the schematics, it seems that they originally have one, but was removed after some revisions. But anyway, I have to repurpose the IOs to create myself a serial port to use.
This is not new to Pano Logic, Skip Hansen from PanoMan project has already done this: he soldered a wire to the LED pin and get the serial output from there. For me, as mentioned in one previous log, I do not have soldering iron with me currently, so I need to find some other way.
As an alternate, I used the wire clip come with my logic analyzer. They can be attached to through-hole components easily, such as this VGA connector.
I am using VGA SCL pin for the serial port. I wrote an extremely simple UART transmitter to transfer the data: https://github.com/zephray/VerilogBoy/blob/refactor/target/panog1/fpga/simple_uart.v. Why I don't just use Skip's UART transmitter core for Pano Logic G1? Or why I don't just work on top of Tom and Skip's project? Well, the (stupid) answer is the same regarding why I picked PicoRV32 rather than VexRiscv: I have decided (long ago) to call this project VerilogBoy, so all the source code should be written in Verilog, not SpinalHDL. Yes I am also aware there are tons of better open-source UART controller written in Verilog available online. I am probably just too lazy to find one considering I don't need other fancy functions anyway.
Back in the last century, when the CRT was still the most common technology for computer monitors. It was quite common to see such an argument: the LCD will probably evolve and produce better images, but it is never going to replace the CRTs. CRTs are just objectively way superior in terms of image quality, and LCDs are only suitable for applications requires absolute low profile and low power consumption. Several decades later, we all know what happened in the end. I think it was be fun to take a look at the LCDs at that time, are they really that bad? What it would be like to use that kind of screen in 2019?
There were several different types of display being used on portable PCs last century. The very first portable PC in the last century usually comes with CRT displays, like Compaq Portable (1983) or IBM 5155 (1984). Of course, it is clear that CRTs just too heavy to be used on these portable devices. Later they switch to TN LCDs, like on IBM 5140 (1986) and Toshiba T1000 (1987). These TN displays has very low contrast and very poor viewing angles.
Later some companies experimented other technologies like Gas Plasma screens on Toshiba T3200 (1987) or IBM PS/2 P70 (1991). Gas Plasma screens provides perfect contrast, but the color was limited to different shades of orange, and was very expensive to produce.
Finally, in the early 90s, the industry switched to the STN LCD screens. These STN screens provided not too bad contrast (typically 1:5 to 1:50), and few shades of gray. Given these laptops are mainly for business uses, STN screens was good enough. But what if one want color display? There were two choices, CSTN and Color TFT. The first laptop with a color TFT screen was the NEC PC9801NC, came out in 1990. The TFT screen provided much higher contrast ratio and much lower response time, with one drawback: it was expensive to manufacture. CSTN, on the other hand, was basically a STN screen plus a color filter. Cheap to manufacture but the performance was limited. As a result, STN and CSTN continues to dominate the market, and being used widely on low-end laptops. Today we can still see CSTN screens being used on New York subway trains.