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Dec Digital

November 14th, 2010

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How do drivers communicate with the hardware?

I have been thinking about his question lately and I really can't come up with a good explanation for how the drivers work with the hardware. How are the drivers or the operating system inlaid on the hardware and what did they do for the first computer? They couldn't have written software or an os on a different machine.
"the hardware is assigned a block of memory that it can read and write to by the OS
the driver software is told by the OS where this block of memory is"

But, when hardware is first developed in a factory, how to they put the operating system on it. How does the driver itself know/find the piece of hardware and know it to be the unique piece it needs?

When the hardware is developed, they don't put the operating system on it - the operating system loads from the hard drive and runs in the CPU. The hardware device is assigned addresses (memory and port) by the operating system. It then runs the driver at its "enter the port address here" or "enter the memory address here" address (a driver has to have a certain "header" that's determined by the operating system - these are published and the driver programmer has to follow the published specs), so the driver knows what addresses have been assigned to the hardware.

The first computers didn't have drivers. We wrote the BIOS (basic input/output system) software to talk to the specific hardware that was being used. The hardware designer and the software designer worked together (or was the same person) so that the software talked to the hardware. MacOSX is like that. No drivers. Apple knows the addresses and architectures of all hardware that can be used with a Mac, and it all has to be where MacOSX is looking for it.

The only reason for drivers is that the "clear the screen" may not be the same command, or may not go to the same place, for all graphics cards you can plug into a Windows or Linux PC. In a Mac, all graphics cards take the same command, sent to the same place. If a card doesn't, Apple doesn't certify it for use in a Mac, and you void the warranty by using it.

The software was *definitely* written on a different machine, back in the day. You had a computer that worked, on which you wrote software, and another, new, computer, for which you had to write software. On the computer that worked. (There are still "cross-assemblers" and "cross-compilers" available - they run on one architecture and create code for a different architecture - but since almost all microcomputers [personal computers] are x86 these days, that's not so common any more. But x86 assemblers that ran on 68000 computers, 6502 assemblers that ran on 8080 computers, etc., were once common.)

Remember, back in the days of the "first computers", the "large" companies (other than IBM, which didn't get involved in "toys") were worth hundreds of dollars. Maybe even a thousand or two. They demanded and we ignored (I built my own Altair with not one single "official Altair" part.). Everyone designed his own hardware and wrote his own operating system. We were inventing everything but the chips themselves. How to use them? Any way you wanted. My software wouldn't work on your computer.

The people who got "bloody fingers" doing those things are the ones who invented drivers and how hardware could be non-standard, but still be talked to by a standard operating system. Making a 6502 run CP/M transparently [if about as quickly as a dead snail] was a different level of "inventing", but there were no books that said "you can't", so we did because we didn't know it was impossible.

How do you put an operating system on a new piece of hardware? Well ... you need a new computer with a CD drive that can read CDs, and a BIOS that can read the CD and put the first block of code it reads where it's supposed to go. You write that BIOS (and the firmware in the CD drive) in another - working - computer. It's turtles all the way down? No, the first computers (not small ones either) were programmed" by moving wires on large cards. No internal BIOS or "boot ROM". They were used to produce programmable computers. (The history of DEC is a large part of it. Wikipedia has a page on DEC - Digital Equipment Corporation.)

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DIGITAL DEC DECSERVER 90L+ SERVER SOLD AS IS
DIGITAL DEC DECSERVER 90L+ SERVER SOLD AS IS
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Vintage Set Of DEC Digital RT 11 PDP 11 User Language System Fortran Manuals
Vintage Set Of DEC Digital RT 11 PDP 11 User Language System Fortran Manuals
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DEC Digital DE500 XA 5024186 01 54 24187 10 100 PCI NIC Network Adapter Card
DEC Digital DE500 XA 5024186 01 54 24187 10 100 PCI NIC Network Adapter Card
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DEC Digital 54 23252 01 Ethernet Card
DEC Digital 54 23252 01 Ethernet Card
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DEC Digital 30 37197 02 Alpha Power Supply
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DEC Digital H7821 00 Power Supply
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Lot of 3 Vintage DEC Digital Equipment Corporation Answers Mouse Pad Mousepads
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL COMPAQ 29 34651 01 4 FAN TRAY MODULE
VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL COMPAQ 29 34651 01 4 FAN TRAY MODULE
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL VT1000 MAIN SYSTEM BOARD 50 19782 01 5419783
VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL VT1000 MAIN SYSTEM BOARD 50 19782 01 5419783
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SET OF 2 VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL ALL IN 1 USER HANDBOOK + ADMINISTRATION MANUALS
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL 54 18100 01 50 18099 01 DEMSA DAUGHTER BOARD
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL LP25 LINE PRINTER MAINTENANCE GUIDE 255083B
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL DECCOMM SITE PREPARATION AND PLANNING GUIDE EK DECOM SP 001
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL M7164 5015777 01 C1 P2 QDA PROCESSOR BOARD
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LOT OF 2 DEC DIGITAL INTRODUCTION TO VMS SYSTEM SERVICES PROGRAMMING VOL 4A B
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VINTAGE NEW NOS DEC DIGITAL VMS MASTER INDEX VOLUME 1 WITH GLOSSARY AA LA03B TE
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL INTRODUCTION TO VMS SYSTEM ROUTINES MANUAL AA LA66B TE
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DEC DIGITAL FAN TRAY W 3 FANS 74 49203 01 FOR PRIORIS HX6000 HX 6000 SERVER
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DEC DIGITAL POLYCENTER SOLUTIONS GUIDE OPEN CLIENT SERVER ENVIRONMENTS
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL NETWORK TROUBLESHOOTING GUIDE EK 339AB GD 002
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL NETWORKS CONFIGURATION GUIDE FOR DIGITAL CSOS
VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL NETWORKS CONFIGURATION GUIDE FOR DIGITAL CSOS
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DEC DIGITAL 50 23383 01 C01 DUAL SCSI BACKPLANE BOARD FOR PRIORIS HX 6000 SERVER
DEC DIGITAL 50 23383 01 C01 DUAL SCSI BACKPLANE BOARD FOR PRIORIS HX 6000 SERVER
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DEC DIGITAL 50 24589 01 5424590 PROCESSOR BOARD FOR PRIORIS HX 6000 SERVER
DEC DIGITAL 50 24589 01 5424590 PROCESSOR BOARD FOR PRIORIS HX 6000 SERVER
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL B2111 AA BACKPLANE BOARD FOR ALPHASERVER 2000
VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL B2111 AA BACKPLANE BOARD FOR ALPHASERVER 2000
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL B2023 BA MEMORY CARRIER BOARD W 64MB FOR ALPHASERVER 2000
VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL B2023 BA MEMORY CARRIER BOARD W 64MB FOR ALPHASERVER 2000
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL VMS MASTER INDEX GENERAL USER VOLUME 1 MANUAL
VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL VMS MASTER INDEX GENERAL USER VOLUME 1 MANUAL
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL VMS VAX MACRO INTRODUCTION SET REFERENCE MANUAL AA LA89B TE
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL VMS MASTER INDEX MANUAL AA LA01C TE
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL 5017768 01 F1 P2 SERVO M  5017770 01 F1 P5 I O WRITE CARDS
VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL 5017768 01 F1 P2 SERVO M 5017770 01 F1 P5 I O WRITE CARDS
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL 5019372 01 5419373 DECBRIDGE 500 BOARD MODULE
VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL 5019372 01 5419373 DECBRIDGE 500 BOARD MODULE
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL 5019374 01 5419375 DECBRIDGE 500 BOARD MODULE
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL DEFGP AA 54 22118 01 GIGASWITCH SCP MODULE
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL 5019370 01 5419371 DECBRIDGE 500 BOARD MODULE
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL 5419369 01 5019368 01 DECBRIDGE 500 BOARD MODULE
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL ZYTEC 600 WATT POWER SUPPLY 22921500 H7893 AA
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VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL CONDUCTIVE PROTECTIVE CONTAINER BOARD CARRIER 155X18X2
VINTAGE DEC DIGITAL CONDUCTIVE PROTECTIVE CONTAINER BOARD CARRIER 155X18X2
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