Sunday, November 27, 2016

Working on the MEGA65 IDE

It's been a bit of a while since the last post, and there are some good reasons for that.  Chief among those is that I have been busy temporarily moving to Germany with my family for work.  We are staying just long enough that we have to go through all the formalities as though we were staying forever, but not long enough to be able to settle properly.  The net result is even less time available than normal.  However, on the upside, I am located nearby to most of the other MEGA folks for a few months, which is very nice.

What I have been working on in the meantime in what spare moments I can find, is the beginning of the MEGA65 IDE.  This IDE will integrate with the m65dbg debugger, and will run mostly from within LGB's MEGA65 emulator.  That is, the user interface will in fact be a C65 program.  While this might sound strange, it has the added benefit that we will end up with a (hopefully rather nice) native text editor/viewer for the MEGA65.

I have a large part of the editor working now, including the ability to load multiple files (even if they don't all fit in RAM at the same time), switch between them, and even display multiple files on screen at the same time, as the following screen-shot shows, showing some of the C source code of the editor itself loaded (it is being written using the cc65 6502 C compiler):

The idea of the split-screen mode is to make it easier for debugging: The current stack-trace could be displayed visually showing the recent call graph.  Also it is handy to be able to look at two files at once when programming.

The editor also natively uses ASCII instead of PETSCII, so that it is easier to work on source files intended for cross-compilers and cross-assemblers (or in the future at some point, cc65 or ca65 running natively on the MEGA65)

Here is a more ordinary looking screen-shot with a single file in view:

You can see here that we have curly-braces as part of our ASCII-goodness.

The next step is to finish cursor movement functions, and then work on editing functions.  The editor controls are based rather loosely on Emacs and the UNIX shell conventions, e.g., control-A and control-E to jump to start and end of line, respectively.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

MEGA65 Emulator can run kickstart and disk menu

Just a quick post while I am on the road to share Gábor's latest progress on the MEGA65 emulator: It can now run kickstart and supports hypervisor traps and SD card access, sufficient to boot, and run the disk menu program (which makes heavy use of hypervisor DOS calls):


Monday, August 22, 2016

Double-tap RESTORE to enter Hypervisor "freezer"

After a lot of little bug fixing, I finally got the keyboard based trap-to-Hypervisor function working.  While this might sound dull at first, it is actually super important, and enables a bunch of really interesting and fun features.

The best way to think of this, is as an integrated "freeze" button, that is triggered by tapping the RESTORE key twice in quick succession (between 50ms and 800ms apart).  When this occurs, it triggers a transparent trap to the Hypervisor. That is, the running program doesn't have the slightest idea that it has happened.  This allows the Hypervisor to run some arbitrary routine, before exiting back to the running program.  In other words, it really is just an integrated freeze function. Right now, that routine just toggles between slow and fast CPU speed, which is kind of fun, but not really that exciting.  Here is the current Hypervisor RESTORE trap routine:

double_restore_trap:
; For now we just want to toggle the CPU speed between 48MHz and
; 1MHz

; enable 48MHz for fast mode instead of 3.5MHz
lda $D054
eor #$40
sta $D054

; enable FAST mode,
lda $D031
ora #$40
sta $D031

; bump border colour so that we know something has happened
lda $D020
inc
and #$0f
sta $D020

; return from hypervisor
sta hypervisor_enterexit_trigger

There isn't anything really to exciting to see there: It just fiddles a couple of registers to toggle the CPU speed between normal and 48MHz, increments the border colour as a bit of a debug aid, and then exits from the hypervisor.

For the technically inclined, what you might be noticing what isn't there.  As I have talked about previously, the Hypervisor trap process is super efficient: The entire CPU state is saved to shadow registers, resulting in a 1 cycle entry and exit time from the Hypervisor, because you don't need to save or restore any CPU or memory mapping registers.  The CPU is automatically set to a known configuration on entry to the Hypervisor, and restores the running program's configuration on exit.  Thus, this entire Hypervisor trap takes only about 40 cycles, or about 850 nanoseconds.  Most modern desktop processors probably would have trouble beating that.  Indeed, as previously mentioned, a minimalistic Hypervisor trap can complete in under 200 nanoseconds.

Anyway, back to the story at hand...


Like on a freeze cartridge, we will implement a freeze menu, that will allow a number of useful operations.  The usual staples will be there, including memory monitor, the option to reset the machine, probably some poke finder type functions, the option to freeze the currently running program to disk, and so on.

However, the MEGA65 has been designed from the outset to do much more in the freeze menu.

First up, you will be able to switch tasks, by browsing through the list of tasks, complete with 80x50 pixel thumbnails that are drawn using the previously described hardware thumbnail generator, that continuously generates little screen captures of the running program.

Similarly, you will be able to delete tasks and start new ones.

So, for example, if you have a sudden need to show off your BASIC programming prowess half-way through a game of Ghosts and Goblins, you can just double-tap RESTORE, choose the menu option to create a new C64-mode task, demonstrate your elite status by typing something like:

10PRINT"I RULE!!! ";:GOTO10
RUN

and then when you have demonstrated your mastery over coding to whoever was doubting it, you can double-tap RESTORE again, and switch back to Ghosts and Goblins, which you can easily find from the thumbnails.

Similarly, when approaching a hard part of a game, you could freeze it, make a back up of the game where you are up to, and then go on to play that hard level, and reload the saved state until you can conquer it.  In this way, mere mortals should be able to get a score of at least 7 in Flappy Birds without too much trouble.

While these use-cases might be a bit simplistic and contrived, it is hopefully not too hard to see how the Hypervisor freeze menu will likely play a central role in the use and experience of the MEGA65 for many.  Thus it is really nice to have the hardware side of it implemented.  The next step is to start working on the menu program itself, the freeze/unfreeze routines, and getting saving to the SD card actually working, so that things can get saved.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Tutorial Video for m65dbg

Gürçe who has been working on the very nice m65dbg symbolic debugger for the MEGA65 has released a nice video providing an introduction to the current feature-set of m65dbg:


Saturday, August 13, 2016

We can include GEOS with the MEGA65

Just a very quick but super exciting note to say that we have received permission to include GEOS with the MEGA65, provided that we do not charge any extra for doing so.  Since we are creating our software suite as open-source, this is no problem at all for us, and means that we can potentially use GEOS to make the MEGA65 configuration menus etc using GEOS, which would make them look nice, and probably be much quicker to write as well.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Booting GEOS on the MEGA65

Ralph Egas, CEO of Abstraction Games has been helping to port GEOS to the MEGA65, using the disassembly of the GEOS 2.0 Kernal by Maciej Witkowiak.

This has been super exciting, because we have been wanting for some time to get GEOS running on the MEGA65, partly because we know that it should be VERY fast on the MEGA65, even without a RAM expander, because the SD card interface can transfer data faster than the REU on a C64 or C128 can.

However, we weren't sure that it would be easy to do, because GEOS is infamous for its horrible copy protection, which I hadn't realised JUST how horrible/clever it was until I read several pages at that link.

However, Maciej's disassembly of the GEOS kernal removes all such problems for us, and presents the disk drivers as nice discrete modules.  Thus, in theory, all that was needed, was to write a C65/MEGA65 disk routine.

For simplicity and speed of development, Ralph decided to make a version of GEOS that would access the floppy drive(s) via the normal CBM DOS routines,  without any fast loader. This allowed him to test that version under VICE, for very a rapid development cycle, especially since VICE could be run in warp mode, without having to exactly emulate the floppy drive, since it was only being accessed using the official C64 KERNAL routines.

Once Ralph had that working, the plan was to start implementing the MEGA65 SD card routines.  However, he decided to try this de-fast-loaded version on the MEGA65, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it worked:



This is because, like in VICE, by using only the official KERNAL disk routines, the C65's 1581 emulation DOS was able to service the sector reads. He only hit trouble at this point, when trying to write sectors, because the MEGA65's emulation of the C65's floppy controller currently has some problems with writing sectors to the SD card.  We'll fix that as soon as we get the chance to do so.

My first comment to Ralph, after congratulating him, of course, was how slow it was to load.  This was slightly tongue in cheek, because it clearly loads VERY fast.  However, it is still using the C65's 1581 DOS emulation routines, which context switch (very slowly!) on every byte read or written to the internal drive. This costs hundreds of cycles per byte, yielding a maximim disk speed of somewhere around 15 - 30KB/sec.  In contrast, the SD interface is capable (currently) of a theoretical maximum of 3MB/sec, and speeds in the 100s of KB/second are quite easy to achieve. Also, GEOS doesn't know about the MEGA65's DMA controller, and so memory fills are much slower than they could be*.  Thus, I think it should be possible to speed up the loading time by an order of magnitude or so, so as to seem instantaneous after hitting "return" after loading the program.

You can see the current state of the source code on github.  Ralph hopes to implement the native SD card routines soon, which would get us a fully working, and much faster booting GEOS.  He might then look into using MEGA65/C65 features, such as the extra RAM, DMA controller, and improved screen resolutions and colour depths.

* Probably "only" 1MB - 2MB/second using a typical 6502 memory copy routine.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

We finally have the new disk menu mostly working

Finally we have the new disk menu (mostly) working on the MEGA65:


This is no small milestone, because it doesn't touch the SD card directly at all.

It uses Hypervisor calls to do everything: to check that it is running on a MEGA65, to list the files on the SD card, and then to ask the Hypervisor to mount the disk image, which in turn does some checks to make sure the disk image is fit for mounting. We can now proceed to implementing more Hypervisor calls with confidence.

Also, by using the Hypervisor, the program is able to be quite compact: less than 2KB, despite having a full screen browser to select the disk images, and a (currently disabled) sort routine to show the images in the right order. Indeed, almost 1/4 of the size is text messages.

This now sets the scene for us to progress all of the other previously blocked progress on the Hypervisor, to make the whole machine pleasant to use.