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The Memotech MTX Series      





These pages were written as I attempted to gain a better understanding of how the CPU and RAM interact in a Memotech MTX series computer. The notes here are very much focused on DRAM technology of the 1980s and some statements and "facts" may not hold true for more modern implementations of DRAM. The information here will likely evolve as I learn more, but it is not guaranteed to be accurate and may contain glaring errors, obvious to anyone who knows about these things - if you spot any, please let me know.

[ Skip the basics and Goto   Next Page  >  Z80 Processor DRAM Interface ]

DRAM - Overview

Dynamic RAM is based on a relatively simple design, only requiring a single transistor and capacitor for each bit of storage in the memory chip, the charged state of the capacitor representing a logic "1" and the discharged state, logic "0". As a result of this "simplicity", DRAM has a higher density and is cheaper than static RAM (SRAM).

The penalty for this simplicity is related to the inherent characteristics of the capacitors, whereby the charge gradually dissipates, in the case of the microscopic capacitors in a DRAM, the charge dissipates in a matter of milliseconds. In addition, the action of just reading the state of the stored bit also discharges the memory cell. To retain the "memory", the charge must be periodically "refreshed", the memory is therefore described as dynamic, rather than static.


Some History to illustrate basic principles . . .


Some of the earliest DRAMs had a memory capacity of only 1024 bits, they are referred to as 1k x 1-bit memories. The 1024 memory cells were arranged in a 32 x 32, two dimensional, square matrix as shown in the diagram :-

In order to address each cell by its x and y co-ordinates, external address lines needed to be able to carry 32 unique row and column addresses, i.e., 25 for each, requiring a total of 10 address lines.

Including the power and control signals (discussed later), it can be seen that the footprint of the RAM was relatively large, requiring a total of 16 pins to include all of the required address lines for a 1024-bit memory.

As memory sizes increased, this would have become increasingly costly and/or impractical.

To overcome this problem, Mostek designed a method of multiplexing the address lines so that the same pins on the chip could transfer both the column and row addresses from the bus to the RAM.

These footprints for 1k x 1-bit and 4k x 1-bit RAMs demonstrate how the number of address lines has been reduced and two additional signals added, RAS and CAS.



Multiplexing of the address lines was a key milestone in the development of DRAM. The number of address lines, and hence the chip footprint, is reduced by multiplexing the row and column address lines - the same address lines are used to access the row and column addresses by setting them separately using the Row Address Strobe (RAS) and Column Address Strobe (CAS) signals.

DRAM data sheets include timing diagrams for the various modes of operation of the RAM such as Read, Write and Refresh. A simplified diagram for a Read is shown here to illustrate the principle :-

When a memory access is initiated for a Read or Write operation, the memory controller first puts the row address of the target memory cell on the address bus and strobes the RAS signal low. The RAM latches this address and a short time later, the memory controller puts the column address of the target memory cell on the address bus and strobes the CAS signal low while RAS is still low. Finally, the RAM decodes the Row and Column addresses to identify the target memory cell.

The RAM in Memotech MTX computers operates on this principle, they are all 1-bit RAMs using RAS / CAS multiplexing.

The Video RAM in all Memotech computers is ITT 4116, the main memory in MTX500/512 and RS128 models is usually the OKI version of the 4164 (with half working 64k RAMs in the MTX500) and the RAM in the MTX512S2 are various supplier's versions of the 41256. As the diagrams show, the footprint of all of these RAMs is the same, although the pin-outs vary as the number of address lines increases and the voltage requirements are different between the 4116 and the larger RAMs. As these are 1-bit memories, 8 of each are required to provide storage for byte (8-bit) sized storage.

16k x 1-bit Video RAM

64k x 1-bit  Main Memory 256k x 1-bit  Main Memory


Although not relevant to a discussion Memotech MTX computers, higher capacity DRAMs can be formed by creating a 3-dimensional matrix as illustrated by the simple example of a 16 x 4-bit memory structure (lower layer address lines omitted for clarity) :-

16 x 1-bit

16 x 4-bit



Adding a little more detail to the 16 x 1-bit RAM above :-


Internal to the RAM, there would be 4 row address lines and 4 column address lines, using RAS / CAS multiplexing, this would require 2 external address lines


As described earlier, the logical state ("1" or "0") of each memory cell depends on the stored charge in capacitors and DRAMs need to have their memory periodically refreshed on a frequent basis, this only requires that power is applied to each row of addresses in turn.

Using a technique called RAS Only Refresh; the memory controller puts the required row address on the address bus and strobes the RAS signal low, the CAS signal remains high and the RAM interprets this as an instruction to refresh the memory cells on the row number present on the address bus. This process is repeated for each row under the direction of the memory controller. In the simplistic example above, to fully refresh the memory, the 4 x 4 matrix would require 4 refresh operations, a 64 x 1 bit memory arranged as an 8 x 8 matrix would require 8 refresh operations and a 64k x 1 bit memory arranged as a 256 x 256 matrix would require 256 refresh operations.

By rearranging the layout of the memory cells, refresh operations can be significantly reduced, e.g., as illustrated below, by just changing the matrix from 4 x 4 to 8 x 2, the number of required refresh operations is halved for the same number of addresses.


Read / Write Operations

Adding, but not getting too deeply into, the additional electronics required to Read and Write the memory cells,


That concludes my overview of DRAM basics, to see how DRAMs work in a Z80 processor environment, see the Next Page.


 MTX Memory Maps  <  Previous Page   Goto   Next Page  >  Z80 Processor DRAM Interface



References used in creating the RAM pages on this site


Phoenix MTX Operators Manual

Memotech MTX500/512 Service Manual

The Memory section of Andy Key's Memotech MTX Hardware page

Build Your Own Z80 by Steve Ciarcia

OKI Semiconductor MSM3764 Datasheet

Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering  Advanced Computer Architecture, ECE4100/6100, Hsien-Hsin S. Lee

      - Links to Introduction to DRAM. Source: Book Excerpt DRAM Circuit Design : A Tutorial, from Wiley Publishers ISBN:0780360141

Tim Olmstead


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