@bobdvb: "...but a lookup table for the speed? Was that really the most efficient mechanism?"
"Somewhere in the basement" I have an old book on "Assembly Level Programming for Small Computers" (back when a "small" computer would have been a TTL mini with 4K or so of memory). It has routines for using lookup tables to do multiplication or trig functions for systems that didn't have multiply or divide instructions or were just plain too slow. Of course, the 50MHz clock on that FPGA should be fast enough for math, but sometimes a lookup takes a lot less cycles than carrying out the calculation. The blinding speed and surfeit of memory available these days has for the most part done away with the need for really tight code, but if you're on a budget ... .
Back in Ancient Times I remember a piece of telecomm troubleshooting gear that used Nixies instead of 7-segment displays. They advertised that when there were quick changes in the low-order digit you could see the change on the Nixie as two or more digits were displayed in the same tube, but on a 7-segment you might only see an "8". I think it was call the Range Rider, doing Bit Error Rate tests and so on.
Some surplus place used to sell a tube with multiple segments and they included a circuit to display segments at random to create random patterns, like a random blinking light circuit.
@antedeluvian...They had some funny old displays in those days. My dad used to work for Burroughs and I got some out of some defunct desk calculators. They were made by Itron. Alas, I foolishly got rid of them when I left Zimbabwe :-(
I remember reading about integrated injection logic a long time ago....like ECL it could not compete with the behemoth of TTL. Another case of good technology getting sidelined by a more popular but inferior technology.
they had 10 segments and you could make most letters with them as well as numbers.
I remember doing some work with those "star burst" VF displays. The ones I used had 18 segments including the decimal point and the second point to make up a colon. I was trying to make a cash register for the dry-cleaning industry. I think I still have a display sitting in a drawer. To drive it (at least to decode from binary the the display format) I used a brand new chip from TI- the AC5947N (I probably have a couple of those in my drawer as well) made in a brand new technology (I2L, that is I squared L for Integrated Injection Logic). Neither the chip nor the technology lasted in the market and I had to look for alternatives. But I'm not bitter.
Thanks Victor. I used to have a bunch of those old green VFD displays - they had 10 segments and you could make most letters with them as well as numbers. You find them a lot in old video recordersas well - as you say they are multi-digit in one glass envelope - but they are usually special purpose ones and difficult to use.
Like you I find the old displays very pleasing - much nicer than the angular 7-segment LEDs that are everywhere these days.
@victor... "I specially like those green nixies from the old casio calculators"
They're actually vacuum fluorescent displays (VFDs), not Nixies as such, but I'm being a bit pedantic. They are very nice. I was lucky enogh to get a few huge (like 9 by 5 inch) 16 char x 4 line dot matrix VFDs not long ago and am working on driving one with a PICAXE soon.
I also have some Sperry 7-segment displays which work like Nixies (neon gas discharge) but with segments instead of the complete numbers that Nixies have.
There are certainly some tasty displays out there.....