Retromaster’s Electronics Projects

…related to old computers and other assorted stuff…

Overclocked the TFE+ ATmega644

Posted by retromaster on April 1, 2010

After getting TFE+ floppy read emulation to work, I fixed some bugs and made improvements. Afterwards, I started working on write support. As an optimization that could help with SD card I/O performance, I implemented the multiple block read/write access modes. The idea was to read/write in 2 or 3 sectors at a time instead of just 1. This way, SD card access time overhead is effectively reduced (at least) by half.

The idea worked, but during performance measurements, I noticed that the access time is not the biggest overhead (contrary to what I initially expected). Instead, data transfer time is significantly higher. In my case approximate numbers for read operation would be about 0.5ms to 1ms access time and about 4ms transfer time (for 1024 bytes). This works well for read emulation, but probably not near well enough to get write emulation working.

With some clever optimization of the read routines, I managed to get the transfer time down by about 20-25%. There is even more room for optimization, but the improvement would remain marginal at best. So, I turned to a far more radical solution: Overclocking the ATmega644. This was successfully done in other projects (such as the Uzebox) so I decided to give it a try. I disabled the system clock prescaler and directly used the host ~28Mhz clock instead of dividing it by two.

The results are quite good. The transfer time went down to about 1.5ms, making the total SD card read time around 2ms. After quite a bit of testing, there do not seem to be any stability problems, but it may be a good idea to test with other ATmega644s to see how far this goes. A nice side effect of overclocking was that I was able to implement 80 columns text video display as the image above shows.

It is not all quite so rosy, however. I’ve encountered an interesting problem. All the time during testing, I had my oscilloscope’s ground clip attached to the Amiga’s RF shield. With this, TFE+ runs great, but as soon as detach the clip, TFE+ becomes very unstable, and sometimes does not even boot. I do not think it is related to overclocking, as I’ve seen it before. It probably points to a strange grounding problem somewhere, perhaps something to do with the PCB layout. I’ll investigate this problem further.

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