Maximite harkens back to the days of BASIC

Any self-identified geek that spent some time in the 80s will tell you how they used to type out programs into their ‘microcomputer’ with BASIC. It was a simpler time when a computer’s raison d’etre was simply being a BASIC interpreter. These days are long past us now; you can’t simply turn on a computer and have it load a BASIC prompt anymore. This is where [Geoff]‘s Maximite single board computer comes in. It’s a tiny little box that whose only purpose is to play around with BASIC.

[Geoff]‘s used a PIC32MX microcontroller with 128k of RAM for the CPU of his Maximite. Unlike an Apple ][ or TRS-80, the Maximite version of BASIC can do floating point arithmetic out of the box. To connect to the outside world, the Maximite has VGA or composite out to display the BASIC interepreter. A PS/2 keyboard port provides the input, and a USB port and SD card can be used to load and save programs from a PC.

The Maximite includes a 20-pin breakout for whatever IO you can imagine. This is duplicated on [Geoff]‘s mini Maximite that is designed to be the retro throwback of an Arduino. We though those were called BASIC stamps, but if it gets kids programming, we’ll let it slide.

Comments

  1. Bob says:

    It seems to me as if making something like this is more fun than actually using it once it’s made.

    Though I must admit, some of the projects I’ve done are the same (e.g. I had fun making my MAME cabinet, but I never use it).

  2. Vince Mulhollon says:

    Anyone know where to buy one if you’re not Australian? A US distributor or … ?
    I’m just looking to avoid paying more for shipping than for the device itself. I my dream, Mouser would stock them…

  3. Stephen says:

    I love it, but I’d never want one. I always felt so limited by BASIC, even on a fast computer.

    • Dax says:

      There were compilers to turn the BASIC code into real binaries. I tried it once and made a little sprite engine that ran 70 frames per second on a 486DX2

      • yetihehe says:

        If you are using compiler, you can use C/C++. Unless you don’t want to learn. It’s not really that hard.

      • Colecoman1982 says:

        @yetihehe: I’ve programmed in BASIC (very briefly in highschool) and spent a lot of time programming in C/C++. As much as I like C/C++, I’m realistic enough to acknowledge that there are times when BASIC is a better choice. It’s faster/easier to program in; easier to Debug; and harder to seriously shoot yourself in the foot with things like pointers and memory management. It’s not the right tool if you’re trying to optimize a project for maximum performance or to save as much money as possible on each unit in a mass production situation but if you’re just prototyping or working on a hobby project it has definite advantages.

      • Dax says:

        “If you are using compiler, you can use C/C++. Unless you don’t want to learn. It’s not really that hard.”

        But the point of BASIC is that you can run it straight without compiling first, and single-step your way through the code in the editor, and actually change the code while it’s running to test out different things.

        And it’s dead simple. No need to worry about special symbols and escape characters or hunting for the missing semicolon.

    • ScottInNH says:

      At the time, most BASIC languages severely flawed in a way that doomed BASIC to eternal low-expectations, and even disrespect.

      All mainstream BASIC variants lacked a compiler, and did not even provide just in time compiler (JIT) to speed up the interpreted runtime.

      It was awful.

      In 1985, I remember seeing just how GOOD a “micro” BASIC could be when I downloaded Frank Ostrowski’s Turbo Basic XL for the Atari 8-bit. Turbo BASIC XL would speed up previously sluggish BASIC apps by 300%, making it bearable.

      (Although it should be stated, it did not extend Atari BASIC with any new features… which at 7 years old Atari BASIC really needed)

      Sadly, by the time Turbo BASIC XL was released, I had already jumped ship to the more powerful Atari ST.

      To this day, there is a STRONG case for a novice-friendly, tinkering language which is STANDARD across all platforms… it’s called PYTHON. :-)

  4. Hirudinea says:

    Check out this article on a $10 computer for the Third World…

    http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/the-10-computer-for-education

    I think this little bugger could be it, and they could teach the kids how to assemble them too.

    • ScottInNH says:

      Nice idea, but for the third world, I wouldn’t assume there’s a free VGA monitor available. It needs RF modulation.

      (we commonly trash our CRTs in the first world, and they’re long destroyed before they can ever get to the 3rd world).

      That said, I really like this, especially how it uses a low cost chip and doesn’t resort to FPGA. A hobbyist could actually hand-solder this.

    • NewCommentor1283,ihatetorx says:

      first of all i have to say i like, well no, LOVE that S.B.Computer

      but no matter how hard you try, no matter how good or “better” of a website you could possibly come up with, no matter how much love is poured into coding it,,,

      THIRD WORLD WILL NEVER SEE YOUR WEBPAGE,

      they have no outlets let alone a real house,,,
      let alone a webbrowser to “run”/”interpret” your beautiful website. lol thats why all those projects destined for third world countries never catch on! web advertising?

      IF, and ONLY IF, they use a webbrowser, they’ll be doing hotmail paypal and ordering other such things to stay alive, not googling solarcells FOR africa when they are in africa and have nothing to eat or wear… and 10 minutes on the computer (and paying 1/10 month salary to get onto said computer) and no they dont make 500$ a month… like us USA welfare that get paid 750$ for nothing. paying 2$/30mins @ ICafe for them actually means that they get on a computer for 15 mins, they wouldnt even know W.B. has a website or that H.A.D. even exists and if they did,,, they’d have like 3 mins to read everyting after writing a hotmail message to family members or paypal for like 5 mins (ppl use paypasl to send money overseas) the WHOLE family has 15 mins on one computer each get 7.5 mins or less!

      if they had money for a house and electricity then they can afford a used pentium one computer for like 10 bucks already, and dont need/want a $10 S.B.C.
      THAT REQUIRES YOU TO BUY A 20$ SOLDERING IRON AND A 25$ TUBE-VGA WHEN THEY MAKE 50$ OR LESS A MONTH!
      … when they are almost starving or no cell mins left.

      and if we really ARE talking about a SCHOOL ordering something computer-ish,,, they’ll be ordering the straight chips @ 2$ each and using (ripping off) your software,,, which may feel good u can help, but no sales of your product will ever make it over there, i bet

      they are using cardboard, not circuit board … and yes the cardboard and marker is “class materials cost”

      ive seen SECOND world and the ones without internet arent looking into coding BASIC on a tv, theyr looking to be able to afford a cellphone/tel.line, whichever is cheaper (usually cellphone over there)

      the THIRD world would be logically poorER.
      the SECOND world might already have the 2$ chips
      … and want your firmware for free.
      end of non-angry rant

      PS: as a first world person i MIGHT buy your very interesting SBC but dont waste your time marketing it over the internet to someone that cant afford the money to be put in front of ANY IAds.

      • NewCommentor1283,ihatetorx says:

        when i said cardboard, i was referring to the practisce of building a circuit with cardboard instead of circuitboard,,, as previously featured on H.A.D.

        … “jail radio transmitter built from radio reciever, cardboard, mic from mp3player /w voice record and lighter and nail instead of soldering iron”

  5. MaxHeadroom says:

    Mini Maximite put me in mind of the Intel Basic 52 chip.

  6. DainBramage1991 says:

    A pretty cool little device. Makes me want to dig out my old copy of QuickBASIC and play around with it again.

  7. Simon27 says:

    Sorry – I thought that Applesoft on the Apple ][ could do floating point?

    Woz’s original BASIC was integer only.

    • Yes. Applesoft was floating point. Although that only came standard with the Apple ][+ and beyond rather than the original Apple ][.

      • Phil says:

        Qualified yes. The first thousand or so Apple IIs came with Integer BASIC on the motherboard and Applesoft I BASIC on cassette. That was just a licensed copy of Microsoft 6502 BASIC with Apple graphics added (when Microsoft was a 5 employee company in New Mexico). It was extremely buggy.

        Applesoft II BASIC was a more refined version and available on cassette for the early Apple IIs. A version which ran in high memory ($D000-$F7FF) became available as the Applesoft ROM card and then became standard with the Apple II Plus with the same ROMs on the motherboard.

        There were software floating point routines available for the original Integer BASIC (Woz Pack and the Sweet 16 routines).

        I still have the manuals and cassettes for most of these items in a junk box.

  8. DanJ says:

    Seems like both a great teaching tool as well as a nice gadget to quickly put together some one-off device. Plus you can reuse your old VGA monitor!

    It would open all kinds of other interesting capabilities if this thing could end up with a network interface and set of functions accessible within basic to put it on the net.

  9. VengefulTacos says:

    Most of the Apple ][‘s sold had floating point BASIC. It was just the original model that had integer basic in ROM. Just about all of the “type it in yourself” programs from the various computer magazines assumed you were using the floating-point enabled AppleSoft. I blame the current state of my eyesight on alternately staring at screens and magazine code listings printed in tiny type through most of the 80’s.

    I took a gander at the manual for the BASIC, and it definitely old-school. No named functions that I could see. It did at least do away with mandatory line numbers, allowing you to use labels.

    Personally, for a serious stab at a “boot into a programming environment” computer, I think it would be cool to use something like JavaScript. A little bit more modern, and lacks the deadly GOTO that makes Edsger (“GOTO Considered Harmful”) Dijkstra spin in his grave. It also gives people a leg up on learning Java or C++.

    The same could be said for using Python as well.

  10. ken segler says:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/sincityhacker/videos

    some things i have done with that hardware ..
    TRS-80 emulator , Space Invaders Emulator and a GameDuino Emulator
    ken

  11. Jac Goudsmit says:

    For those who had the same “deja vu” as me…

    http://hackaday.com/2011/06/22/build-a-standalone-basic-interpreter/

    Still a great project!

    :-)

  12. fartface says:

    “These days are long past us now; you can’t simply turn on a computer and have it load a BASIC prompt anymore.”

    Oh hell yes you can.

    I have ran programs from the Netboot Eprom space on a network chipset. and yes I have installed GWBASIC on one and it booted directly to basic.

    • Don McKenzie says:

      But will it have 20+ GPIO lines, serial UART comms, CAN bus, SPI, I2C, USB-OTG, full battery backup, Industrial temperature range design -25C+85C, low power design, and all from a $30 board?

      OH, and boots before the blink of an eye.

      Cheers Don…

  13. Daniel Dugger says:

    You might want to change the last line to this:

    We thought those were called BASIC stamps, but if it gets kids programming, we’ll let it slide.

  14. kukuta says:

    …or you could go on an alternative route : http://eluabrain.blogspot.com

  15. uzerzero says:

    10 PRINT “HELLO WORLD”
    20 GOTO 10

    My first computer program at six years old. BASIC was a great first language for a kid. I remember making a Donkey Kong clone and a Helicopter clone on it. With the help of some computer magazines and library books. The librarians always looked at me funny because I was the only kid who checked out thick computer reference manuals. Funny that they hired me years later to help migrate from their old monochrome displays to the PINES system.

  16. aztraph says:

    ah the good old days

  17. erich says:

    it was quick to build, uses hardly any juice, and works a treat on an LCD TV with VGA in and old PS2 keyboard.

    A great option for teaching a young child to code and flip bits on an IO port to turn things on an off in the real world; better even than an arduino for this I reckon.

  18. Mikey says:

    My TRS-80 Model 4’s BASIC had decimal math, not sure if it was floating point or fixed, but it never had any issues with non-whole numbers.

  19. NewCommentor1283,ihatetorx says:

    the only reason ppl grumble about the lack of compiler support is actually rooted to the PARTIAL abandonment of the REAL i.d.e. by you-know-who …

    normally when software is abandoned its completely abandoned, and when it isnt abandoned but old, they still sell it or somthing better, microsoft technically abandoned the REAL basic (the one with the compiler built-in) but they STILL BROWSE GOOGLE AND SEND LAYERS AFTER YOU! even for a 25 year old disk… a disk that was never even sold on the oh-so-modern 3 1/2 in. disks or should i say diskETTES! IT IS FROM THE DAYS OF 5 1/4 in. DISKS!!! and they STILL SEND LAYERS AFTER YOU TO Cease&Desist ORDERS! assuming your supplying it on a publicaly googleable website.

    and its not even for sale anymore, because that might convince u that u dont need .NET 1.0 and 2.0 and 3.0 and 4.0 and 4.5 … how many GIGAbytes? 2? 3? 4? unlimited? lol J.K.
    ^&(^$#_(#&%)(@# !!!!!?!?!?!?!!!!!!!!!!
    BASIC is 1.32mb MEGAbytes

    ps it was still on google a few years ago…
    most websites, ones with plenty of “abandonware” all say the same thing, we got a C&D order from a judge for this 25 year old disk… so we took it down, all other abandoned but still technically copyrighted works are still here CUZ THEY ARE ABANDONED AND DONT MAKE THEM MONEY ANYMORE.

    translation: microsoft is a bully and a mennie

    took me years to find this ancient site, I WAS DESPERATELY SEARCHING FOR YEARS! this site must have been there for a long time, was only text and files, optimized for sub 14.4k connections :P
    i guareentee its gone now… :(
    and im talking about the one WITH the built-in compiler… the one thats NOT free with DOS.

    and no im not posting it for you. well maybe theoreticaly for someone, but DEFINATELY NOT RIGHT AFTER MAKING THIS PUBLIC COMMENT ABOUT HOW PEOPLE WANT IT! … and companies DO read the interwebs ya know …

    hmm, time to change my IP? so much for free speach

    • NewCommentor1283,ihatetorx says:

      i know i cant spell layWer and the modern equivelent of basic requires THREE FULL CD’s ! imagine that. and it didnt even install the one time i tried it, after downloading/waiting TWO hours for the .NET download and after waiting for two MORE *****n hours to read CD’s and decompress, it gave me an error. f*)(&*)(* you. ASIC or some shit works just as good and is FREE.

      ASIC is free, BASIC will get you in jail, who’s your friendly software retailer now eh? &^$&^$(&%

  20. Cyberteque says:

    This is cool!

    one thing I should point out, the TRS-80 had floating point “out of the box”.

    On the Apple II, integer basic was only shipped for a few months, maybe a year, when the disk II (floppies) came out, we had Applesoft in ROM.

    The thing with integer basic on the Apple II and why I still use it, is when you type a line of code, as soon as you hit return, it gets tokenised and kinda “pre interpreted”.
    This made it so damn fast!

    • Phil says:

      Yup, one of the reasons I continued to program in Integer BASIC even after Applesoft II became the “standard” was Integer BASIC was so damn efficient and fast. It was quite simple to do simple floating point math in Integer BASIC like financial calculations – just calculate everything in pennies, and for your display divide by 100 for the dollars, and then do a MOD function to display the pennies. The first checkbook program for the Apple II was written in Integer BASIC. Of course if you had a balance of more then $32767 dollars you’d be in trouble …

      When your RAM is measured in Kilobytes you can’t have code bloat.

  21. Don McKenzie says:

    Did I mention Arduino?
    The main reason the DuinoMite version was designed, was to offer an Arduino shield foot print right on board.

    See:

    http://www.duinomite.com/duinomite-a-maximite-compatible-from-olimex/

    So it has become the world’s First Arduino Computer.

  22. Mace says:

    So… does it run gorilla?

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