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Anyone ever heard of RSC-FORTH? (and video cards!)


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  • 68kMLA Supporter

Well this is interesting!

 

About two weeks ago a guy swung by my house with a bunch of old PC stuff that he was cleaning out, and he said he'd be by again soon with a bunch more, once he saw how positive my reaction was. Most of it was pretty basic, four brand new ISA Etherlink II cards, couple video cards, baby AT mobo with a Pent Pro, basic 90s PC stuff.

 

But today he came by with something really cool. A little (and I mean little, this thing is maybe 2" thick, 4" wide, and 6" long!) black box and a manual. A big manual. The box has a single RS232 db25 port and a reset switch (and an external PSU, rated at 9v 300ma). Nothing else. According to the guy, and the manual, this is an RSC-FORTH computer, something I've never heard of in my life. The manual is dated 83, so it's pretty old. It was made by a company called "Rockwell International" and is apparently an entirely self sustained computer. It boots from ROM and has RAM and a microprocessor, and has it's own entire little operating system and programming language.

 

If my manual matches my box, then I have an RSC-FORTH version 1.5. It's got a 1Mhz R65F11 (R1100-11) FORTH Microcomputer chip, in socket, 128 pins or so, and an R65FR1 (R2952-12) Development ROM, also running at 1MHz. There was also an RSC-FORTH v1.6 and v1.7, which fixed a few "problems" in the v1.5, which I can (according to the subtext) easily fix on my own, looks like either typos or someone forgot to implement something, for example it says you can't use NOT in programming because it's linked to the Development ROM, so you have to use 0= instead. This looks like a lot of fun. :D

 

Also according to the manual, the FORTH programming language is made to be like high and low level programming languages. It's fast like an assembler and very efficient and easy to use like a high level programming language. To quote the manual:

 

FORTH is a unique programming system that is well suite to a variety of applications. Because it was originally developed for real-time control applications, FORTH has features that make it ideal for machine land process control, data acquisition, energy and environmental management, automatic testing, and other similar applications. The speed performance of assembly language is required in many of these applications, however a high-level language is often desired to improve program development productivity and program reliability. FORTH is designed to satisfy both speed and programming efficiency requirements.

 

FORTH can be called a computer language, and operating system, and interactive compile, and data structure, or an interpreter, depending on your point of view. It was designed to combine the strengths of both compilers and interpreters. The result is a unique language based on pre-defined operations that minimizes software development time and costs, supports structured programming and program modularity, compiles interactively to ease debugging and reduce programming errors, compacts into small object code, and executes extremely fast. Additional words may be defined to allow usage by non-programmers.

 

Wow. For 1983 this sounds like a pretty revolutionary system, especially considering it has about six total chips! It also has one empty 28pin socket, and two headers with no pins, one is two by ten, the other is two by seventeen. There are also a few jumper headers, some with jumpers, most without. I'll have to do some more manual cursing before I know what these all are.

 

Now, I did just get this thing and run up here to tell you guys, I haven't even turned it on yet! Also, my camera's battery is pooped so the second it's done charging I'm going to take a bazillion pictures. I have a feeling this thing is going to be my summer project! :D

 

The other things I got today are pretty simple; two video cards and what looks like a TV out card. All are very very awesome. The first one is a full length behemoth. It's plastered in what looks like 9 GPUs, two are XILINX the rest are "SRU ITI" all the same kind, TC17G042ATs. It has seven non-removable RAM boards, each with eight NEC D4146AL-BD chips. It has four nice header sockets on the top edge, four of them are ten pin, one is 26. Made by Imaging Technology, inc. model VP1300-AT. Has a DB25 connector on the slot, then there is a detachable DB25 to 4x BNC dongle. Weighs about half a pound. Usefulness = 0%. Awesomeness = 100% Has a manual and software.

 

The other card is an MicroImage Video Systems Co. Model I RGB. This is one of those awesome two-cards-mushed-together setups. It has two ports, both female, DB15 and DB9. Included is a rather interesting cable; it has two connectors (DB15 and DB8) that are both wired together, and then out of the DB15 cable are four coax cables that run about a meter to BNC connectors. This one looks a good bit older than the previously mentioned card, from 1985. It doesn't hav ethe same kind of obviously dedicated GPU chips on it, but it has eight of those vertical boards, with room for, get this twenty four more! This one probably weighs about a pound, also full length. Very cool.

 

The last video card is a little lest interesting to me, but still cool. It's a TECHMAR PC-Mate Video Van Gough card, surprisingly sparse chips-wise. Has two RCA connectors, labeled in and out. The out has what looks like some sort of RCA terminator on it, with a resistor on it. Very interesting. From 1982.

 

Again, as soon as the battery charges I'm going to get pictures of all this stuff, just hold tight.

 

BTW, you deserve a cookie for managing to read this far! :)

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  • 68kMLA Supporter

Okies, so I got some pictures! http://picasaweb.google.com/john8520/RSCFORTHVideoCards

 

Now, the RSC-FORTH seems to work fine, though it's incredibly picky. If you as much as type backspace and retype a command, it might not go through and you'll have to reset it. Other than that, it works fine and is lots of fun to play on. A very interesting development platform.

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That Forth box sounds cool. If I recall correctly, Raskin originally wanted the Macintosh (i.e. the pre-GUI Macintosh) to be based upon a similar processor and be programmable in Forth. Forth was once viewed as the pancea for computers for the masses: an easy programming language for anyone. Not that I've had much luck learning stack based languages like Forth and PostScript. There are a couple of cool Forth interpreters for the Mac though. One of which is MOPS (and PowerMops for the PowerPC).

 

Have fun.

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  • 68kMLA Supporter

Apparently the chip that this board uses, the R65F11, is an "enhanced" version of the 6502; can have up to 3kB built in instructions and 192B of RAM, in the chip. I'm not terrible at stack based languages, but then again my main calculator (HP-28s) is of course RPN base so I know how to handle it pretty well. Would you happen to have a link to MOPS? I'd like to try it on the SE and see if its code is portable to my RSC box. The RSC is incredibly picky about errors and doing as much as shifting a key will send it tumbling down, requiring a terminal based reset.

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  • 68kMLA Supporter

Input and Output are so easy! That DB25 port is a standard serial port, so I just connect my DB25 to DE9 adapter, plug in my USB to serial adapter, set hyperterm to 1200 baud, 7 bits, no parity, 2 stop bits, and away I go! This is what it looks like when it's all fired up:

 

http://i26.tinypic.com/2ia8m7b.jpg

 

The Hello World stuff is pretty self explanatory, the rest is a bit weird. First, all of the OKs simply mean that the line entered when I pressed return was ok, and not invalid. The same as getting a new prompt in a terminal. The HEX command puts it into hexadecimal mode, and decimal puts it in decimal mode. I can technically put it in any base I want with BASE command. The ' command loads the program's starting location into the stack, which is then viewed with the .S command, as 419, meaning location $419 in the RAM, in hexadecimal.

 

So in a nutshell, using this thing is the exact same as using a serial terminal on any other computer.

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  • 68kMLA Supporter

well, I can either do that, or I can photograph the pages. The latter is much easier for me because I don't have a scanner handy. I've already taken pictures of all the pages in the small board-specific handout I got, taking ones of the main book would be fine, just a bit challenging since there are so many pages, but I can give it a shot. :)

 

Here's the pages I've gotten done already, two/three pictures per page depending on the amount of text or graphics. http://picasaweb.google.com/john8520/RSCFORTHPapers

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Isn't Open Firmware written in and programmable in Forth?

 

True, but it is a tad inconvenient to use. (MOPS provides higher level functions, and having Mac OS around allows you to run a web browser to access documentation.)

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two video cards / The first one is / plastered in what looks like 9 GPUs, two are XILINX

 

Xilinx make Field Programmable Gate Arrays. Probably some custom glue logic to tie it all together.

 

the rest are "SRU ITI" / TC17G042ATs. It has seven non-removable RAM boards, each with eight NEC D4146AL-BD chips. / Made by Imaging Technology, inc. model VP1300-AT. /

 

The other card is an MicroImage Video Systems Co. Model I RGB. / The last video card is / TECHMAR PC-Mate Video Van Gough

 

Searching part numbers on Google is an exercise in futility these days, so if you want to do some research on those ICs, I suggest http://www.octopart.com.

 

They sound like very high end cards for the day. Any idea what bus they're made for? The dates are pre Nubus, PCI and probably ISA as well. Maybe S-100? Apple II?

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  • 68kMLA Supporter

Alright, I added a few fancy features to the front: a power socket and a switch.

 

http://i26.tinypic.com/30jl9ig.jpg

 

Ok, I just totally 1-Upped myself with the interface panel. Check this out- http://i28.tinypic.com/2z7ik5y.jpg Doesn't that totally just scream 1980s? I mean who doesn't love green plastic imprint based sticky labels?

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  • 68kMLA Supporter

No, when I first wired the switch I wrote the labels first (stupid mistake) and then found out the switch actually works backwards from that! Rotating isn't much of an option because of how tightly I have it wired.

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  • 12 years later...

Hi John,

 

I'm bumping your old post as there is very little documentation about the New Micros RSC-FORTH board online.

 

I have no documentation for my board but I found your description above very helpful in connecting it to my MacBook Pro via an FTDI USB to TTL cable to access the command line. However I am not quite sure that I have exactly the same model board as you because your description seems to describe possibly a slightly different version than mine and I can't compare as all the photo links above seem to have expired.

 

Could you please let me know if you have of these?

 

 

 

 

NMIX0011_landscape.jpg

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