Hook Any Mouse to an Acorn

Acorn was one of the great IT giants that rose high and then fell to obscurity during the rise of personal computing. However, for many hobbyists these computers are as important and as loved as the Commodore 64. [Simon Inns] has made a great adapter to interface modern USB mice to these old boxes. 

After thirty years of interaction with people, one might be hard pressed to find a working mouse for an older computer. On top of that, even if you did, these mice are likely a lackluster experience to begin with. They were made long before industrial designers were invited to play with computers and are often frustrating and weird. Cotton swabs and alcohol are involved, to say the least.

[Simon]’s box converts a regular USB HID compliant mouse to a quadrature signal that these 8-bit computers like. The computer then counts the fake pulses and happily moves the cursor around. No stranger to useful conversion boxes, he used an Atmel micro (AT90USB1287) with a good set of USB peripherals. It’s all nicely packed into a project box. There’s a switch on the front to select between emulation modes.

If you’d like one for yourself the code and schematics are available on his site. As you can see in the video below, the device works well!

15 thoughts on “Hook Any Mouse to an Acorn

  1. Cotton swabs and alcohol are involved, to say the least.

    Ohh come now, I have a SGI-branded PS/2 mouse sitting on my desk at work which is mechanical (not optical), and I rarely have trouble with it getting gunked up. And it’s out-lived several PS/2 and USB mice I’ve had over the years…

    1. Did vary a lot by design of the mouse. The worst ones were actually the ones where they tried to box in most of the roller and encoder to keep it clean. …. which meant it stayed dirty.

      Also a factor were the mousepads in use, the fabric coated ones probably did more to incessantly exfoliate your hand and transfer dead skin and gunk to mouseball than smoother finish types.

      1. Worst were the mice that IBM RS6000s shipped with in the mid ’90s. I occasionally have flashbacks of cleaning the funk out the ones in our student lab. Comparatively, the Sun type 4 optical mice were reliable provided that nobody wrecked the patterned reflective pad.

      1. To be fair the only reason we have ARM (Acorn RISC Machine originally) architecture today is because Acorn were disheartened by the performance of various 16 and 32 bit processors of the time when they ran them as ‘second processors’ on the BBC Micro. They decided they could do better. And did. The original ARM1 CPU was prototyped in BBC Basic I believe, and the first iteration ran successfully.

        Without Acorn there would be no ARM.

    1. Acorn Computers carried on after the formation of ARM, gave up on making desktop computers and turned to STBs, eventually renaming themselves as Element 14 Ltd before being gobbled up by Broadcom.
      So yeah, it’s fair to say the name (and company) has faded to obscurity.

      Oh and being a completely pedantic arse, it was Advanced RISC Machines that turned into ARM holdings ;)

  2. “They were made long before industrial designers were invited to play with computers ”

    A very basic knowledge of microcomputer history will reveal that fact to be false, for instance apple contracting an industrial designer for the apple ][s case. Maybe a better statement would be “before the more widespread application of industrial design to computers.” … though there’s been plenty of products that you’d figure weren’t designed by anyone with half a clue.

    1. Indeed. The original ‘mouse’ for the Acorn machines was a Marconi trackball on the BBC. Extremely well designed. Those things will survive WW3 along with the cockroaches.

      1. That’s what the ‘RB2’ mode is for on SmallyMouse – it emulates the Marconi RB2 trackball so you can use it with a BBC Domesday system. Since the RB2 is needed for Domesday set-ups, they are very hard to come by. The AMX mouse was a lot more common, but not quite as robust.

  3. And I’m sure this has been mentioned before – but there’s a beautiful bit of circularity going on in the Acorn 8-bit world now.
    http://www.sundby.com/index.php/project/pitubedirect/?lang=en
    Is a project that lets you connect your Raspberry Pi (from Zero to 3B) to the Tube Second processor interface on a Model B, Master etc. and the Pi will emulate a 65C02, Z80, 32016 etc. second processor. No need for the Tube ULA either – it’s all done by the Pi in software. The only hardware is the level shifter to get between BBC Micro 5V land and Raspberry Pi 3.3V land.

    There is also another project over at stardot to get Pis to act as external hard drives on a Beeb too.

    1. Nice! Can it work in native ARM too? Would be a shame to see a second processor for the BBC Micro, running on an ARM, but not able to run the ARM code of it’s great-great-grandchild.

      Nice thing also about the BBC, AFAIK, was the driver structure. If you implement the right functions in machine code, you can access any old device in BASIC. The ZX Spectrum had the same thing, you just need an input routine, an output routine, and initialisation. BASIC calls these, your routine returns a byte at a time, and it’s all integrated.

      Only shortcoming would be the terrible, awful, 32K RAM it’s limited to, at least in the BBC’s base configuration. A full-colour screen can take up 20K of that. Leaves games a bit limited. That, and 4 bits per pixel, but wasting the extra bit on a stupid “flashing” attribute instead of adding more than 8 colours.

      Wouldn’t have made the machine much more suitable for games, limited and expensive as it was, but it’d have helped. Then again, with all the built-in chips that other machines left to peripheral interfaces, it was more intended for science and education. At the time, early 1980s, the industry thought people would buy computers to learn BASIC (for some reason…) and “balance their chequebooks”, whatever that is. Wasn’t long before the first enormous wave of home computer games came along.

      The project might also be nice to work as a printer interface, and whatever other things you might want to connect to a BBC through USB. Connected to The Tube port it can connect anything at decent speed. As for this mouse one, I suppose it’s connected to the BBC’s User Port? So, slower (through a PIA chip), but still pretty versatile. I suppose you don’t need a lot of speed to shift 32K of data about anyway.

      1. Think the project linked to here effectively emulates an older hardware mouse / trackball (Atari trackballs designed for the Atari XLs were remaindered at low cost due to low sales around the time that mice started to appear for BBC Micros. It was possible to repurpose an Atari trackball quite easily as they were both quadrature based, though there were ‘direction issues’ ISTR). They all used the user port to send their X/Y Quadrature stuff into the Beeb.

        I suspect this project is taking USB mouse information and converting it to Quadrature signals to feed into the BBC – effectively emulating an old mouse.

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