Microprocessors Lecture 15

Interrupts (continued)

An interrupt is a signal to the processor which causes it to discontinue the current program sequence and start running a different program often called the interrupt service routine.

To find this program the processor fetches an address from predefined (by the hardware) locations. There may be just one of these interrupt vector locations but generally there are several which allow different types of response.

In the case of the 6809 there seven interrupt vectors

          FFFE/F    Reset      Reset signal for startup and reinitialisation
          FFFC/D    NMI        Non Maskable Interrupt
          FFFA/B    SWI        Software Interrupt
          FFF8/9    IRQ        Interrupt Request
          FFF6/7    FIRQ       Fast Interrrupt  Request
          FFF4/5    SWI2       Software Interrupt 2
          FFF2/3    SWI3       Software Interrupt 3
The 'normal' interrupt input is IRQ. The sequence of events when an IRQ signal is received (logic 0) is:-
  1. The processor continues to the end of the current instruction so that it is not left in an ill-defined state.
  2. If the interrupt mask is set nothing happens. If the mask is not set (i.e. zero) then ...
  3. The complete processor status is stored on the system stack ...
  4. The interrupt mask is set to prevent further interrupts until the programmer decides it is safe to re-enable them. I.e. the source of the interrupt has been indentified and the signal cancelled.
  5. The contents of memory locations $FFF8 and $FFF9 is loaded into the Program Counter and normal program execution resumed.

Interrupt Service Routine

This is the name given to the program which runs as a result of the occurrence of an interrupt. Its task is to identify the source of the interrupt (there may be many possible souces e.g. the VIA can generate interrupts for seven different reasons). The routine will then call up a program which handles that particular interrupt. These are often referred to as device handlers. Thus there will be a printer device handler which is called when the printer causes an interrupt. The interrupt may be for a variety of reasons, the most common will be that it is ready for more data. The handler will read more data from a buffer area of memory and send it to the printer. Similarly there will a device handler for the mouse. When the mouse is moved an interrupt is caused. The mouse handler will read the new position and update the screen display to reflect the change of position.

The first task is finding the source of the interrupt. There are a variety of ways in which this can be achieved.

Software Polling - The ISR contains program which looks at flags in each of the interfaces in turn to see whether it is the one causing the interrupt. If it is then a branch is executed to the relevant device handler, if not the next interface is examined. This is why the VIA (or PIA) has a single flag to indicate if it is causing an interrupt for whatever reason. Obviously a priority can be built into this process so that high priority devices are checked first so that if two devices interrupt simultaneously (i.e. within the same instruction period) then the one with higher priority is the one which is serviced first.

Hardware Polling - The processor, either automatically or under program control, sends out an interrupt acknowledge signal which tells the device causing the interrupt to put its device code on the the data bus so that the processor can read it. Again a priority structure can be included by daisy chaining the acknowledge signal so that an interrupting device does not send it on to subsequent devices. Thus the first interrupting device in the chain will respond with its code. Special interface devices are required for this as they need to be programmed with the appropriate device code in the initialisation part of the software. This technique is not used by the M6809.

Hardware Vectoring - This effectively means that there are different interrupt inputs for each device and different vector locations. Thus when a device interrupts the processor goes directly to the device handler. The 68000 allows this approach provided there are not more than seven devices in the system. External Interrupt Controller chips are available which provide this facility for processors which don't have it built in. They work by modifying the address sent out by the processor when it responds to an interrupt depending upon which device caused the interrupt. This technique is not available to the M6809.

In practice a combination of techniques may be used with a few devices sharing each of a few interrupt inputs. Thus software polling is kept to a minimum whilst keeping hardware to a minimum as well. This is the approach used in 6809 systems where we have two other interrupt inputs although they work slightly differently.

NMI - Non-maskable Interrupt

This is a separate input to the processor and has its own vector locations. The only difference in the way the processor responds is that the interrupt flag is not checked first. in other words the processor always responds, even if it is already in the middle of responding to an IRQ interrupt. Thus is therefore a high priority interrupt and would be used for power-failure, memory parity error or other important and not to be ignored event. Another hardware difference is that IRQ is level sensitive, which means an interrupt is caused whenever a low level is detected (this allows interrupts to be interrupted when the mask is cleared and allows queuing). If NMI was level sensitive it would continually interrupt itself. Thus since it cannot be masked out it has to be edge sensitive i.e. it is the 1 to 0 transition which causes the interrupt. The result of this is that you cannot sensibly have more that one device connected to it unless they are mutually exclusive or you have special hardware to sort out contentions.

FIRQ - Fast Interrupt Request

This again is a separate input with its own vector location. It is very similar to the IRQ interrupt in that it can be inhibited by setting the F flag in the Condition Code register. Again this happens automatically when the processor responds to a FIRQ input. It is also higher priority than IRQ since a FIRQ will set the I flag as well but a IRQ does not set the F flag. Thus an FIRQ interrupt will interrupt an IRQ but not vice-versa. The other difference is that the processor does not store the complete processor status only the Program Counter and Condition Code register. Thus the interrupted program can only be resumed provided none of the other registers have been modified. It the job of the interrupt is simply to transfer a byte of data to/from memory then perhaps only one accumulator will be involved. The programmer can arrange for that to be stacked and retrieved. Thus the advantage of this input is that the response is much faster since you don't have to wait for all the processor registers to be stacked. The disadvantage is that the programmer has to remember to stack any registers that are used.

Software Interrupts

This sounds like a contradiction in terms. Interrupts are by definition external events which occur at unpredicatable times and therefore interrupt the software. However there are situations where a program may wish to generate an interrupt-like response, that of storing the processor status and calling up another program. One such situation is the one we have in the lab where we have a two levels of program, a monitor or supervisory program, and a user program. The monitor program is running when you switch on and is responsible for allowing the user to enter data into memory, examine memory etc. At some point the user will want to run his/her program. Obviously this could be done by a simple jump instruction. At the end of the program we want some simple way of getting back to the monitor, again this could be a jump but then the user would have to remember the address for the start of the monitor.

A more satisfactory approach is to make returning to the monitor an interrupt-like situation. Effectively we interrupt the user program to return temporarily to the monitor. Moreover since interrupts cause the processor status to be stored on the stack the monitor can then examine the stack directly and show us what was in the processor registers when the program stopped.

So we use the SWI instruction to get back to the monitor. It stacks all the registers and starts running the program whose address appears in the SWI vector locations i.e. the monitor. To run the user program the monitor executes a Return From Interrupt instruction. This restores all the registers from the stack. The monitor first arranges that the PC stack locations contain the starting address of the user program. This has the added advantage that all the other registers are restored to the values they had when the user program stopped. Thus you can continue a program from the point it was stopped without loss of data.

We find in any computer system that there are these levels of program. The equivalent of the monitor may be the operating system which allows us to communicate with the system and enter commands to load and run programs from disc. When a user program wishes to read data from a disc file you don't have to write the necessary sofware since it already exists in the OS. All you do is call up the OS and tell it to read a file by putting a code for the appropriate action in, say, AccA and a pointer to the area of memory the data should be put in in X. Again SWI makes a useful way of calling up the OS without having to specify any addresses.

The 6809 has three such SWIs. They all work the same way, they just have different vector locations allowing different programs to be run. Usually these are just different entry points in the same monitor or O.S. For example a different entry point may be needed when errors occur. If there is a disc read error then the program may have to abort with a suitable error message. A different SWI could be used in this case. In the 68000 several such instructions are provided although they have a different name, they are called traps, and some of them have specific uses, e.g. an attempt to use an illegal instruction code.

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