Xorg and a Barco monitor

I’ve added a nice big Barco MDCC-6230 6 megapixel monitor to my work computer. The monitor comes from a radiology diagnostic workstation that was being taken out of commission, so I managed to get the monitor and an nVidia Quadro P1000 video card to drive it.

Out of the box, I had a hard time getting Fedora to use the resolutions the monitor was capable of and it would only run the Barco monitor at 1024×768.

Thanks to the collective knowledge of the Internet, I figured out how to use xrandr to get the video card to drive the monitor at its full resolution (3280×2048) and arrange the displays the way I wanted them.

# Create a new display mode.  Modeline info came from the Xorg log file.
# (II) NOUVEAU(0): Modeline "1640x2048"x49.9  188.50  1640 1688 1720 1800  2048 2051 2061 2097 +hsync -vsync (104.7 kHz UP)
xrandr --newmode "1640x2048" 188.50  1640 1688 1720 1800  2048 2051 2061 2097 +hsync -vsync

# Add the new modes to the video card outputs connected to the Barco
xrandr --addmode DP-1 1640x2048
xrandr --addmode DP-2 1640x2048

# Configure the video card outputs
xrandr --output DP-2 --mode 1640x2048 --pos 0x0 --primary
xrandr --output DP-1 --mode 1640x2048 --right-of DP-2
xrandr --output DP-3 --mode 1600x1200 --pos 3280x848

Unfortunately, whenever I logged out or rebooted, the computer reverted to the original 1024×768 configuration. Getting the display configuration to persist across logins and reboots meant getting X Windows configured properly. It took a while, but I figured out a working set of xorg.conf configuration directives that worked (placed in /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/10-monitor.conf).

Section "Device"
    Identifier     "Device0"
    Driver         "nouveau"
    VendorName     "NVIDIA Corporation"
    BoardName      "Quadro P1000"
    Screen         0
    Option         "Monitor-DP-1" "Monitor0"
    Option         "Monitor-DP-2" "Monitor1"
    Option         "Monitor-DP-3" "Monitor2"

Section "Monitor"
    Identifier     "Monitor0"
    Option         "Monitor-DP-1" "Monitor0"
    VendorName     "Barco"
    ModelName      "BDS MDCC-6230"
    ModeLine       "1640x2048"  188.50  1640 1688 1720 1800  2048 2051 2061 2097 +hsync -vsync
    Option         "PreferredMode" "1640x2048"
    Option         "DPMS"
    Option         "Position" "1640 0"
    Option         "DisplaySize" "327 409"

Section "Monitor"
    Identifier     "Monitor1"
    Option         "Monitor-DP-2" "Monitor1"
    VendorName     "Barco"
    ModelName      "BDS MDCC-6230"
    ModeLine       "1640x2048"  188.50  1640 1688 1720 1800  2048 2051 2061 2097 +hsync -vsync
    Option         "PreferredMode" "1640x2048"
    Option         "DPMS"
    Option         "Primary"
    Option         "Position" "0 0"
    Option         "DisplaySize" "327 409"

Section "Monitor"
    Identifier     "Monitor2"
    Option         "Monitor-DP-3" "Monitor2"
    VendorName     "Planar Systems"
    ModelName      "PX212M"
    ModeLine       "1600x1200"  162.00  1600 1664 1856 2160  1200 1201 1204 1250 +hsync +vsync
    Option         "PreferredMode" "1600x1200"
    Option         "DPMS"
    Option         "Position" "3280 848"
    Option         "DisplaySize" "432 324"

Section "Screen"
    Identifier     "Screen0"
    Device         "Device0"
    Monitor        "Monitor0"
    Monitor        "Monitor1"
    Monitor        "Monitor2"
    DefaultDepth    24
    SubSection     "Display"
        Depth       24
    Option         "metamodes" "DP-2: 1640x2048 +0+0, DP-1: 1640x2048 +1640+0, DP-3: 1600x1200 +3280+848"

The Xorg log tells me some of the configuration directives aren’t used, but everything works so I’ll leave it alone for now.

Now my work computer desktop has a total of 3280×2048 + 1600×1200 pixels (across two monitors) of workspace for me to do stuff in. I wonder if I can get Xorg set up so that the Barco gets used as a single monitor instead of two virtual monitors.

Building an emacs config

I have a long history of dabbling with emacs, having discovered it during my latter undergrad years (the emacs 18 era). I’d pick it up for a while, and then go back to whatever editor I happened to be using at the time. I liked emacs, but using it wasn’t anything that ever really stuck with me. Part of the reason was that I didn’t really have a solid use case for something like emacs. Emacs also has a not-so insignificant learning curve and getting into it can be pretty overwhelming and intimidating.

When I started on the PhD, I made a concerted effort to make emacs one of my primary tools, having learned about things like org-mode and distributions like spacemacs and doom-emacs from other people.

Org-mode makes setting up something like a research notebook pretty easy, and getting started is pretty simple. The basics are pretty easy to learn and when you want to do something more advanced, the documentation is very good.

Now, after spending the past couple of years of using emacs routinely, I’ve decided it’s time to learn more and start crafting my own emacs configuration. I’ll get to learn a little more elisp and dive into some of the packages I’ve become used to using. Might be something I keep and continue to evolve, or I might go back to spacemacs. Maybe I’ll try something else later.

It feels kind of like when a Jedi reaches the point in their training when they make their own light saber.

Peeking inside the Altair 680

Let’s have a look inside the Altair 680 that I acquired at the hamfest a couple years ago.

Undoing four screws at the back of the unit releases the back (surprise!) and top cover to reveal the inside.

Inside the Altair 680 showing the power supply at the bottom, and circuit boards
Inside the Altair 680

The back plate has the power supply consisting of two chunky transformers, a fan, and DB25 connector. There’s also an empty spot for another DB25 connector. Thanks to the two transformers, the rear panel is fairly hefty. The DB25 connector looks like it only has 4 wires. Not sure what would be connected to it, but probably something serial terminal related. There’s not a lot of clearance between the transformers and the SRAM chips on the main board when the rear panel is in place.

Removing the expansion board (I’ll get to that in a bit) reveals the main board.

The Motorola MC6800 CPU that powers the 680 is up toward the expansion board connector. Toward the bottom rear of the main board are 8 1kbit Intel P2102 SRAM chips that provides the 680 with 1 kB of RAM. Above the RAM is an EPROM (looks like an AM 1702A EPROM). The empty sockets seem like they would provide space for 3 more EPROMs. The other notable chip on the main board is the MC6850 asynchronous communications interface adapter.

Over in the front corner of the board by the big 3.3 mF filtering capacitor, the silk screen says this 680 main board is Rev 1-6.

680 Main board Rev 1-6
680 Main board Rev 1-6

The only expansion board in this 680 appears to be a RAM expansion board. The riser card has room for 3 slots, but the two other spots are unpopulated.

Altair 680 expansion board with one connector and two unpopulated connector spaces.
Altair 680 expansion board connector

The RAM board contains an 8×4 bank of Semi 4200UCP chips. A Google search didn’t yield a whole lot of information about them, but they appear to be 4kbit SRAM chips, so this board provides the Altair with a whopping 16 kB of additional memory to play with.

Photo of the Altair 680 memory board.  A 8x4 bank of 4 kbit static RAM chips provides 64k of RAM.
RAM board

When I plugged it in and turned it on, the fan spun up and some lights came on!

Altair 680 front panel showing some data LEDs turned on.
Altair 680 front panel showing some data LEDs turned on.

No smoke released, but the data lights turning on even though most of the switches were in the down position indicates something’s not quite right. Changing the switch positions didn’t affect anything either. The Run light on even though the switch is in the HLT position also suggests something isn’t quite right. Toggling the HLT/RUN switch made the HLT LED blink on once. Toggling the RESET switch didn’t seem to affect anything. The address line switches all seem to work, but LEDs started blinking when A13 was switched on.

Looks like this unit might need some work to restore it to a functioning state. I’ll also need to do some more research to learn about how the 680 works.

Back into the closet it goes for now.

Motorola MC6809 trainer

One of the items donated to the radio club by an SK estate last year (now I’ve forgotten which one) was this microprocessor training laboratory (MTL-1) from Cleveland Institute of Electronics (CIE).

Presumably, if you had an interest in learning computer hardware and programming, you’d enroll in a class and get one of these along with class materials.  I’ve seen similar trainers in the past, but never had the opportunity to use them.  The breadboard area lets you wire up circuits that let you do things with the 6809.

This one is based on a Motorola MC6809, a contemporary of the 6502 and Z80 microprocessors.  After watching the one YouTube video I’ve found along with a bit of random button pressing, I’ve managed to figure out how to to go to different addresses and enter assembly code.  I haven’t entered anything that runs though.  I’ll have to find some time to learn 6809 assembly first.

Aside from the copyright date on the back, there’s no other indication of when this particular unit dates to.  Fun fact: 1984 was my first year of high school,

Surprisingly, I’ve found very little documentation about this particular trainer online.  I’ve found one video on YouTube where someone used it to demonstrate testing a RAM chip, and a few photos of similar units on auction sites, but nothing in the way of manuals or even course materials that might have used the trainer.

This seems like it would be a fun thing to play with, especially for anyone with a retro-computing fetish. The hunt for documentation continues. I’ve already found a few PDFs about programming the 6809, so maybe I’ll be able to figure out enough do fun things with this.

Blinking LEDs with a Z80

In the parts bins that I acquired long ago, four of the many ICs in one of the bins were Z80 microprocessors. At the time, I thought it would be neat to try to do something with them, but had no time and no levels in low level hardware design.

Fast forward to post-PhD time and inspired by Ben Eater‘s 8-bit CPU and 6502 projects and videos, I learned enough about microprocessors and what connections to make with them to try doing something with the Z80. YouTube also presented me with a variety of Z80 related videos to watch. This one by Julian Ilett was one I found particularly informative.

Flashing LEDs – Z80 Style by Julian Ilett

The date codes on the Z80 chips indicates they’re 1987-1988 era chips, and not knowing how they were stored before I got them, I had no idea if any of them even worked. Grabbed one of the Z80 chips, plunked it into a breadboard and started wiring it up.

Off in the corner of the breadboard is a 555 set up as an astable oscillator and functions as the clock for the Z80. The clock goes runs between 6 – 475 Hz depending on the potentiometer setting.

After getting things wired up and applying power, some LEDs would light up, but then all the address bus LEDs would blink on and off but not in the expected binary counting pattern. Seemed like I had everything wired up correctly.

After studying Julian’s video and wiring some more, I tried triggering the reset pin and boom! LEDs blinked off, then came back on and the address bus LEDs started the expected binary counting pattern! Yay, it worked! Added a button for the reset pin to make resetting the Z80 easier.

Getting this going was fun, and a good learning experience. Gained a few XPs.

What next? Well, I could continue on and try to add enough to make a functional computer out of the Z80 and following the techniques in Ben’s 6502 video series. I’ll definitely need some more breadboards, and a few more components. I’ve got a few RAM chips I could try, but no idea of any of them actually work.

It’s kind of cool just turning it on and watching the LEDs blink though.

Making a breadboard based Z80 computer would be a fun project.

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