APU Frame Counter

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The NES APU frame counter (or frame sequencer) generates low-frequency clocks for the channels and an optional 60 Hz interrupt. The name "frame counter" might be slightly misleading because the clocks have nothing to do with the video signal.

The frame counter contains the following: divider, looping clock sequencer, frame interrupt flag.

The sequencer is clocked on every other CPU cycle, so 2 CPU cycles = 1 APU cycle. The sequencer keeps track of how many APU cycles have elapsed in total, and each step of the sequence will occur once that total has reached the indicated amount (with an additional delay of one CPU cycle for the quarter and half frame signals). Once the last step has executed, the count resets to 0 on the next APU cycle.

Address Bitfield Description
$4017 MI--.---- Set mode and interrupt (write)
Bit 7 M--- ---- Sequencer mode: 0 selects 4-step sequence, 1 selects 5-step sequence
Bit 6 -I-- ---- Interrupt inhibit flag. If set, the frame interrupt flag is cleared, otherwise it is unaffected.
Side effects After 3 or 4 CPU clock cycles*, the timer is reset.
If the mode flag is set, then both "quarter frame" and "half frame" signals are also generated.

* If the write occurs during an APU cycle, the effects occur 3 CPU cycles after the $4017 write cycle, and if the write occurs between APU cycles, the effects occurs 4 CPU cycles after the write cycle.

TODO: describe PAL

The frame interrupt flag is connected to the CPU's IRQ line. It is set at a particular point in the 4-step sequence (see below) provided the interrupt inhibit flag in $4017 is clear, and can be cleared either by reading $4015 (which also returns its old status) or by setting the interrupt inhibit flag.

Mode 0: 4-Step Sequence (bit 7 of $4017 clear)

Step APU cycles Envelopes & triangle's linear counter (Quarter frame) Length counters & sweep units (Half frame) Frame interrupt flag
1 3728.5 Clock    
2 7456.5 Clock Clock  
3 11185.5 Clock    
4 14914     Set if interrupt inhibit is clear
14914.5 Clock Clock Set if interrupt inhibit is clear
0 (14915)     Set if interrupt inhibit is clear
  240 Hz (approx.) 120 Hz (approx.) 60 Hz (approx.)

In this mode, the interrupt flag is set every 29830 CPU cycles, which is slightly slower than the 29780.5 CPU cycles per NTSC PPU frame.

Some Nintendo arcade boards, even those not directly based on the NES, use the 2A03 CPU as a sound processor. Examples include Punch-Out!! and Donkey Kong 3. This IRQ allows the CPU to keep time even if no PPU is connected to the bus.

Mode 1: 5-Step Sequence (bit 7 of $4017 set)

Step APU cycles Envelopes & triangle's linear counter (Quarter frame) Length counters & sweep units (Half frame)
1 3728.5 Clock  
2 7456.5 Clock Clock
3 11185.5 Clock  
4 14914.5    
5 18640.5 Clock Clock
0 (18641)    
  192 Hz (approx.), uneven timing 96 Hz (approx.), uneven timing

In this mode, the frame interrupt flag is never set.