The TMS34010:Two Generations Too Soon?

Recently I received an out of the blue inquiry from a hobbyist requesting some information on the TMS34010. Interestingly a few days prior I had run across my design notes for the TMS34010 where I had detailed the port of the Media Cybernetics Halo graphics kernel onto the 34010 for an upcoming trade show. Talk about deja vu all over again.

The TMS34010 was a fully independent processor that ran in it's own address space, a relatively small memory window being mapped into the host adress space for data transfer and control. You could program the word size from 1 to 32 bits. You could also read or write the arbitrary word size from or to an arbitrary bit address. Totally awesome! Quite an advantage in the mid-80s when pixels were smaller than bytes, and had to be read and written using shifts and bitwise logical operations. Processor speed on a high end PC AT was 10 mHz, so this provided a significant speed advantage.

Even though the herculean effort to design and port the Halo graphics kernel was a success, the TMS34010 never seemed to find widespread success in the graphics card market. I heard rumors of it being used in the unglamorous niche markets of fax machines and printers, where it's bit twiddling prowess would have provided a significant benefit. So to me the TMS34010 drifted out of thought, to be relegated to that twilight of yet another technology that was just too far ahead of its time.

So imagine my surprise when I heard the hobbyist was tinkering with an arcade game complete with 34010 processor on board. (Below are a closeup of the 34010 on the board and the entire arcade game board.) I've been meaning for years to transfer the 34010 compiler and other tools from the aging 5-1/4" floppies (with the gargantuan capacity of 360 KB!) Hopefully they still are readable. (I was told that VHS tapes would lose the image in a few years but I still have movies taped from HBO in 1984 that are still alive and well, so I'm optimistic.) I hope to make this page a resource for others trying to breathe life into an old 34010 system or trying to port 34010 code onto a more modern platform. I still have the 34010 programmer's manual (a fascinating architecture, a 32-bit word with Motorola like instructions and a scan line by scan line programmable palette) but whereas I may try to set up an old machine to read the floppies I can't see myself scanning the manual. Any links to a digital version of the programmer's manual would be awesome.


(Photos courtesy of Nicholas Caetano, September 2011.)


Avionics and the TMS34020