Building an 8-bit TTL computer sounds like a daunting and complicated task, or at least it did to me when I started out on my journey to understand the architecture of a basic CPU. When it comes down to it, a CPU is fairly simple in operation once you learn the fundamentals behind all of its processes. This project is intended to help anyone interested in building their own computer and gaining the wonderful knowledge that comes along with the process. Don't be afraid to try, you can only learn.

This project will start off by describing the basics of electronics. After that, the fundamentals of binary and boolean logic will be described. Lastly we will then move onto the function of the various parts of a simple-as-possible computer (with a few modifications) as described in Malvino's text Digital Computer Electronics. This means that the end product of this Instructable will be a computer that you can program with a unique instruction set. This project also leaves many of the design aspects of the computer up to you and serves as a guide for building your own computer. This is because there are many ways to approach this project. If you already have a sound understanding of boolean logic and the workings of binary feel free to skip to the meat of the project. I hope that you all enjoy and get something out of a build like this, I know that I sure did.

For this project you will need:

1.) A power supply
2.) Breadboards + lots of wires
3.) LED's for output
4.) Various logic IC's (discussed later)
5.) Free time
6.) A willingness to mess up and learn from mistakes
7.) A lot of patience

Optional (but very useful):

1.) Oscilloscope
2.) Digital multimeter
3.) EEPROM programmer
4.) Sonic screwdriver

Useful Links for a Project Like This:

Digital Computer Electronics: 
TTL Cookbook: http://www.amazon.com/TTL-Cookbook-Understanding-Transistor-Transistor-Integrated/dp/B0049UUV38

Step 1: What Is a Computer?

This may seem like a very simplistic question that does not need answering when, in fact, it is a question that many people do not know the true answer to. Computers have existed a lot longer than the transistor in mechanical and theoretical form. The actual definition of a computer was thought up by a very intelligent individual by the name of Alan Turing. He described a machine that was termed the Turing Machine. Every computer that we use today, from the computer or cell phone that you are reading this on to supercomputers all can be classified as a Turing Machine at their most simplistic level.

What is a Turing Machine? A Turing Machine consists of 4 parts: the tape, head, table and state register. To visualize the operation of such a machine you first have to imagine a film strip spanning infinitely in each direction. Now imagine that each cell of this film strip can contain only one of a defined set of symbols (like an alphabet). For this example let us imagine that each cell can only contain either a "0" or a"1". These cells can be rewritten an infinite amount of time but retain their information indefinitely until they are changed again. The part of the Turing Machine known as the head can write symbols to the cells as well as either increment or decrement its position on the film strip by a given integer (whole number) of cells. The next part is the table which holds a given set of instructions for the head to execute such as "move right 4 cells" and "set cell to 1". The fourth and final part of a Turing Machine is its state register whose purpose is to hold the current state of the machine. The state includes the instruction as well as the current data on the tape.

That is how simple the operation of a computer is. When your computer operates, it is actually operating as a turing machine. It processes data held on your computer by a given set of instructions and algorithms. The computer described in this Instructable is a very simplistic model of a computer, but it still operates as one that you can program with a set of instructions that it will follow and execute.

Useful Links:

Wikipedia on Turing Machines: 

About This Instructable


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Bio: All of my life I have been interested in learning the way things work. It was always hard for me to use something and just ... More »
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