Jason J. Gullickson

Jason J. Gullickson

RC2014 First Steps

I’m building a computer from the chips-up (don’t get too excited, it’s a kit, I didn’t design it).

When I met with the Cray engineer’s and learned that there’s no schematic for the Cray 1, I tried studying “the Boolean” (in place of schematics the entire machine is described in Boolean algebra) and it became apparent that I needed a stepping-stone between my current level of experience and building a computer from discrete logic gates.

So building a computer at the microprocessor-level of integration seemed like a reasonable next step.

I’ve studied computers at this level for a long time and have a basic understanding of how they work, but I’ve never actually built one. I could have started from scratch and designed a system around a microprocessor, but I’d run across the RC2014 a few years back and it seemed simple enough to provide the understanding I’m looking for without sending me down a year-long rabbit hole of doing everything from scratch.

I also have a personal connection to machines like this, as the first computers I ever touched were similar architecture. Grandpa built a SWTPC 6800, and dad had a Gimix Ghost (the first computer I ever programmed). The RC2014 fits nicely into this class of machine and while I was too young to turkey appreciate them at the time (favoring the integrated nature of my VIC-20), I now see what building, customizing and programming a machine like this can teach me.

In addition to assembling the kit, I plan on designed additional hardware including a video adapter and a cassette tape interface. I’m studying Z80 assembly programming and plan on writing some sort of operating system for the machine as well. I even have some more ambitious plans for a portable version, but one step at a time.

Right now I’m enjoying the relaxing process of through-hole soldering and learning in a visceral way how the abstract concepts of data/address/control busses work, how the insides of a microprocessor talk to them and what happens electrically on a cycle-by-cycle basis inside one of these machines.