I had this idea, that I would connect up some 7 segment displays to show what all the registers where set to if I stepped through a Z80 program. Its a little bit ambitious at this stage of my journey, so I thought I would start by creating something to input Z80 commands directly onto the data bus. I bought some in-line 8 bit switches, however the data pins on the Z80 are split into two group by the fact that the +5V Vcc input sit between them. Not only that, they are not in order like the address pins. So I put some jump wires in to put them into the right order. Now it'd be great to have a hex display of the data that I am trying to put in, so I thought I could use two 7 segment displays. Easy right?
For each nibble (thats what 4 bits of a byte are called) I need a 7 segment display. One for the upper values of 0123456789ABCDEF and one for the lower. The displays have 8 inputs 7 for the segments and one for the decimal point. So I read that to convert 4 bits to 7 I needed a hex to 7 segment display driver. Cool, so I go surfing the web to find one. All I can can find are BCD to 7 segment display drivers (BCD is Binary Coded Decimal and basically allows the values 0123456789) such as the 7447. I eventually find some, the DM9368 and the MC14495. They don't make them any more, but if you hunt around you can find them for like £30 each.
Going back to my original idea of displaying the registers, I worked out I'd need 52. Ouch!
As I desperately try to find alternatives, one blogger mentions using a PIC microprocessor instead, and programming it to perform the same function. Hmm, could this work?
So I get diverted into looking at what these PIC things are. I soon discover that they're kind of like the ATMega that powers the Arduino, but can come in very small sizes, I mean some are only 8 pins. This diversion opens up a whole new world. New software, new machine code language, new software to program them and new programmers to, well, program them.
Needless to say, I have been reading numerous .pdf documents on how all this stuff works. I'm not even sure if it will work yet. I've initially plumbed for the PIC16F505. I was going to go with the PIC16C505 from Maplin for £1.89, but its a bit outdated, but the PIC16F505 is 79p from RS Components. Now it used to be that RS were only open to Businesses, but I believe they have now opened up their doors to the general public.
I found this USB PIC Programmer too for £35. So I am going to bite the bullet and give it a go because 79p x 52 is a lot easier to swallow. Of course I'll just try with 1 for now.
The software is free from Microchip and I've started writing some simple code so I can get the hang of it. At least its compiling ok.
So here I am programming a completely new and alien (to me) microprocessor so I can get some output (and input) from (to) a Z80 using some 7 segment displays. Kind of ironic really.
I may be a while....