Motivation for Creating the Kestrel 2DX

Once upon a time, I had built a computer called the Kestrel 2. This computer had 48KB of RAM, which was divided into two major sections: 16 KiB for video frame buffer, and 32 KiB for programs. This computer had no ROM at the time; rather, initial orders were provided by the FPGA programming bit-stream. The processor was built around a simple, stack architecture with a 16-bit data path. As a result, it could not address anything beyond 64 KiB of memory.

As I gained more experience with this computer, I quickly realized I was running out of memory making even the simplest of programs. The CPU instruction set density wasn't all that great, comparing to a processor with 48-bit instructions. No wonder I was running out of memory so quickly!

I felt it was time to move on: to widen the data path and to incorporate more memory. The Digilent Nexys-2 allowed me up to 16MB of pseudo-SDRAM, so that seemed a reasonable next step. So, I figured replacing the 16-bit stack CPU with a 32-bit stack (later, 64-bit RISC) processor was the way forward.

Thus, the Kestrel 3 concept was born. However, as I worked on this platform, I ran into a non-stop parade of issues. The one that pushed my hand, however, was access to external memory.

Most FPGA development systems have some kind of external RAM which a synthesized CPU can use to store data or execute software from. However, each FPGA board has a different amount of RAM, a different kind of RAM (e.g., static, SDRAM, pseudo-SDRAM, et. al.), and sometimes a different port width to that RAM. Each FPGA board is different, and requires its own memory controller to use this resource.

Bringing up the 16MB of pseudo-SDRAM on a Digilent Nexys-2 proved impossible for me, causing me to start a multi-year cycle of down-specs ultimately culminating in a design focusing on using Lattice iCE40HX8K FPGAs with CPU and static RAM only. (More on that in the Kestrel 3 repository though.) With a configuration like this, the computer shares its architecture more with IBM System/360 computers than with the Amiga or Atari ST computers I originally wanted to build. I wasn't pleased.

So, I hit the Reset button. After taking a year off, I decided to revisit the Kestrel 2, and retrofit the Kestrel 3 processor into it. In addition, to help reclaim some of the built-in RAM resources for loaded programs, I introduced a ROM into the design which included the most frequently used code from the original Kestrel 2 software.

The Kestrel 2DX computer originally started life as my very first attempt at a Kestrel 3. It ended up as the ultimate Kestrel 2 architecture. Strongly influenced by the Jupiter ACE since the original Kestrel 2 design, the 2DX has evolved into a fully usable home computer all to itself. The rest of this site is dedicated to documenting the Kestrel 2DX as it currently is. I hope you enjoy working with this computer as much as I do.