Hackaday Links: October 30, 2016

Diablo. Mech Warrior. Every LucasArts game. There are reasons to build an old PC, and no, emulation cannot completely capture the experience of playing these old games. [Drygol] set out to create a retro PC and succeeded brilliantly. The built features an old desktop AT case (when is the last time you saw one of them?), a 233MHz Pentium with MMX technology, an ancient PCI video card, and an old ISA Ethernet card (with AUI connector). Incoming upgrades will be an ATI 3D Rage PRO, PCI SoundBlaster, and hopefully Windows 98SE.

Right now, we’re gearing up for the Hackaday Superconference next weekend. It’s going to be awesome, and we’re going to announce the winner of the Hackaday Prize. We have another contest going on right now – the Enlightened Raspberry Pi Contest. The name of the game here is documentation. Build something, document it on hackaday.io, and you get some cool prizes.

It’s no secret to Hackaday readers that I’m a gigantic dumbass. A few weeks ago, I speculated Espressif’s ESP32 module won’t see out of stock issues unless someone figures out how to run a Nintendo emulator on it. [Sprite_tm] took this as a challenge and put an NES emulator on an ESP32 dev board as a test. Now, [Derek Lai] built the WiFiBoy32, a very simple PCB with a few buttons, speaker, LCD screen, and an ESP32 module built just to play old Nintendo games. Great, now the ESP32 will see Raspberry Pi Zero levels of adoption.

The VoCore is a tiny router SoC-based Linux computer that’s an acceptable solution in some cases. We’ve seen a few tutorials, and a few people playing Doom on it. Now there’s a VoCore2 on IndieGogo. There are two models, The VoCore 2 and VoCore 2 Lite, with the Lite model available for $4 + shipping. That’s really cheap, even if the ‘tiny board that runs Linux for under $10’ market is getting a little crowded.

@mwichary got lost in Spain and stumbled upon something fantastic. Instead of following the signs for the Dali museum, he found another sign for the ambiguously named Museu de la Tecnica. What was inside? The greatest collection of typewriters on the planet. There’s the original Sholes typewriter, a weird two-keyboard typewriter, a dual typewriter, bizarre ball typewriters, everything is typewriters, and it’s all in a tiny, tiny town in Spain. Thanks [Beth] for the tip.

The ATtiny85 is the new 555. Want proof? Here’s a ring watch, constructed out of nothing but some perf board, a few resistors, buttons, and an OLED. The ATtiny85 is the only active component in the project.

Your input requested. This is the Hackaday Retro Edition. Currently, it displays five random Hackaday posts every five minutes, stripped of all JavaScript, CSS, and Web 2.0 cruft. The idea is to make a destination on the Internet that is accessible from every computer, from Commodore 64s to computers running an Intel 4004 (this is possible, and it happened). The Retro Edition is my baby, and over the next few months, I’m going to take some time to fix it up. What would you like to see in an updated Hackaday Retro Edition?

60 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: October 30, 2016

  1. for that retro PC build I’d try to add an SSD through an ATA adapter, if only for access time, also I’d use Win2K server instead of 98, it’s stable as a rock and runs all games from that era, possibly M$ last version of windows before jumping the shark.

    1. I did this with an old HP convertible tablet that had used forever(it had a docking station, which was really a nice feature), that shipped with XP. Went on an upgrade spree a few years back when it was finally getting sluggish. More RAM, new battery and I found an IDE SSD that gave me more storage to boot. That thing was running Windows 8 with only the video drivers missing last I used it, good battery life too.

      All that to say, this is a good idea. IDE will not transfer data faster due to the SSD, but the seek times will be eliminated and you will discover the you spent way too much of your life waiting for a read head to be in the right position.

      1. Depends on what the interface is capable of. ATA133 interface, you’ll get double the speed you ever got out of a ATA133 drive apart from in very short cache emptying bursts. sustained speeds of 60MB/sec were only getting seen as a matter of course as SATA took over. For the era of this machine though 20MB/sec would have been high end, so SSD would be 5x as fast if you can get an ATA133 interface in it, but probably has ATA33 at best so just max that out. But losing that 12ms seek time is huge.

        1. They weren’t that bad on their own, problem was the PC with the Cyrix typically got the cheapest everything in, coulda taken it out and stuck in an Intel and you’d still have a flaky POS.

          1. I had ordered mine straight from Cyrix, and I thought it was great. Once the monitor quite, and separately the CD drive quite. I think it was while the company was in the process of selling out, and I just called them up and they sent me new stuff, no questions asked, no cost, and I didn’t have to send the broke stuff back. They never gave me anything to complain about, and I never played Quake, so I never had any problems.

        2. I went from a Pentium 166 MMX to a 300MHz Cyrix part (because it was the fastest available option that didn’t require an expensive new motherboard) and boy was that a mistake. Not using the right heatsink and fan on the Cyrix part (I re-used the one from the Pentium 166 MMX) was also a huge mistake. After that I moved to a Pentium III 800 and have been an Intel guy ever since.

  2. I’d really like to see the Hackaday Retro Edition as essentially a stripped-down version of the regular site. Then we could actually use ancient computers to read the latest Hackaday posts, instead of just loading some random ones to get on a list.

      1. There’s a problem with that. We need to make money. Like it or not, and despite you jackasses not whitelisting us in Adblock, we can’t simply provide *everything* without all this web 2.0 cruft.

        Now, is that the final word on a ‘live’ retro version? No. There are ways it could happen, so long as we disincentivize the retro edition enough to make it viable only for people who are testing out retrocomputing rigs. We could only put up the headline and first 100 words. We could strip out all links. We could take out all pictures. There are ways this could happen, but now we’re in territory where it’s not my decision. Even if it were my decision, I don’t know if I’d do it.

        This isn’t a, ‘no, we can’t strip down the front page for the retro edition’. This is a statement of fact that what you’re asking *might* take away views from the thing we make money on. It’s not impossible, and I’ll bring it up with the overlords, but this is the ultimate problem with a ‘live’ retro edition. Maybe we can do it, maybe we can’t. Maybe we can do an experiment. But this is the issue your request presents.

        1. Thank you for your application to be whitelisted in adblock, please provide indemnification against advertisers executing malicious code, absorbing inordinate amounts of RAM or CPU time or accessing audio without permission. Such overages will be charged at “industry standard” ( i.e. as if invented by a cellphone company) rates.

          1. Actually HaDs advertising network is pretty good. No annoying animations, no major flash use, just amazingly relevant ads. Easily scrolled past but ever so often I catch myself and go “hmmm” and then carry on.

            Honestly Hack-a-day would be one of the sites I would hold up as a site that gets advertising right. Do us all a favor, whitelist it for a week and see what happens. If you are worried about exploits, A) use a modern browser, B) disable flash. I whitelisted it a long time ago when they politely asked and have not had a single issue. No noise, no flashing images, just a few chip adverts and that is about all.

            Brian, if you guys just used static image ads I betcha them old PCs and the like could display them. Just work with the ad network to let you download the image and the include it in the W1.0 page stream rather than JS inject them later.

          2. @Hal H – I doubt any advertiser is going to let the site download the image and include it on the page. The problem is that if they did that then they would have to trust the site (in this case HaD) to tell them how many eyes viewed it.

            I do wish they would though. My prefered method of ad blocking is hostfile lists. I don’t know what domains to unblock to make HaD’s ads work again. But.. other sites I go to make it necessary for me to block ads. I supose I will have to switch to a browser plugin but my preferred browser does not make that method easy.

          3. Used to do hosts file blocking, but the publicly available ones got stupid, like blocking ebay images and a lot of amazon stuff, so if you actually wanted to use those sites they were not fully functional. There didn’t seem to be a balance between hyper paranoid ones that broke stuff and more lax ones that neglected to include nasty eastern european/russian and chinese networks that are among the more dangerous.

  3. I have a 386 that was my first computer. 1992 model from a tiny local company that’s still somehow around (although they now do primarily wholesale stuff). 3 rebuilds and it eats through drive controller cards like candy (very strangely) — but it runs :D AM386SX/25 (that last pair of digits is the speed in MHz — for the “lastest=greatest” crowd, divide by 1024 to get fractional GHz). Four megabytes (again, divide by 1024 to get fractional GB) of RAM. The original hard drive was 85MB — smaller than a MiniCD! It’s a Quantum ProDrive ELS and it still spins up… not bad for a drive with a manufacture date of late 1991… I forget what size the current drive is that’s in there… oh, and I have a currently untested i387 math coproc I need to stuff in there at some point.

    I also have a WIP system (final assembly not yet completed) involving an Ampro Little Board/186.

    Neither system is or will be networked… sorry, Brian, that Retro Site’s not going to get my dust unless someone wants to loan me a PBX or something — I have an early-1990s Sharp Wizard PDA with a faxmodem that I’d love to get pulling up the site; it’s got a terminal program on there (like HyperTerm or MiniCom or whatever) but it positively insists on having a real dial tone and I don’t have a landline any more… not that it would be too useful if I did ;) (the era of the BBS or dialup or anything like that is long over… we know…) Anyone got a hardware modem they could loan me…? (If so, contact me through Hackaday[dot]io, please!)

        1. Erm… I’m sorry I hadn’t been more clear. What I want (need, really) to do is emulate a landline with a PC. I have some basic Linux skills (and a local friend who can help when my skills break down) — but what I need is a way of generating a dial tone with a computer and having the modem on the Sharp connect to the computer using that scheme. Once that happens, I’m more-or-less home free ;)

          Like I said… PBX. (For those not in the know — PBX = private branch exchange ~= phone tree machine.)

          I do have a 2g Nokia phone (one of the indestructible ones) — but all the cell networks have shut down their 2g service in this area so it’s not exactly useful any more :(

          1. Landline was $45/mo here (rural NC, USA) until we couldn’t pay it and then it was cancelled.

            Bear in mind, I’m disabled (mental issues) and so is my mother (physical issues), with whom I live. We have ~$2000 to live on a month, of which I get $50 as disposable income at my discretion.

            The other problem with doing it that way is — who the **** would I dial, to connect to the ‘Net…?! You can’t get dialup to pipe through a cellphone AFAIK. Even if I could… I’d have to build something like an old acoustic coupler to connect the phone to the Sharp’s modem — it has a telephone jack on it!

          1. Thank you! That scale has since (unfortunately) become inaccurate… probably time to give it the boot.

            I wish I could get help with that Sharp Wizard. I’d love to get it to load Hackaday Retro ;)

      1. I had a computer that used VLB for video and the hard drive controler. I also had the same chipsets on EISA cards in a computer with the same CPU and RAM. The VLB one was way better!

    1. It had a couple of years of glory in the mid 90s, but trying to figure where it “fits in” is like trying to figure where firewire fits in between USB 2.0 and 3.0… it coexisted.

    2. And I went back and looked, no EISA, that’s 16 bit ISA, EISA was a 32bit variation that was kind of double stacked inside the socket. 16 Bit ISA persisted into early Athlon boards, think it was dropped finally when DDR RAM came out.

        1. Wow! I want that! Two things, the word ‘Industrial’ and the fact you have to contact them for a price quote. No doubt this is WAY outside my price range. Oh well.

          There are those USB to ISA bridges that some company sells. Those are kind of pricey too, just pricey enough that I can’t justify buying one as opposed to just pulling an old PC out of a closet for hooking up old peripherals.

    3. VLB was mostly a 486 thing as it was basically an extension of the 486 memory bus which radically changed on the Pentium. It was very flakey anyway for compatibility and you couldn’t have many VLB cards either or you’d overload the bus. It just wasn’t worth the effort of getting a PCI -> VLB bridge chip onto the motherboard and then dealing with the compatibility nightmare.

  4. re: hidden typewriter museum. i can’t help but think there’s got to be a better format to type long messages with pictures on the internet then twitter. i just wish i was smart enough to come up with such a place.

  5. RE: Retro website –
    1) Smaller images
    2) Non-compressed image format like BMP or PNG (without compression) or a simple compression algorithm like LZH used in GIF.
    3) Reduced color palette – 256 colors or 16 colors (CGA)

      1. 5) 7 bit ASCII …. including text.
        6) Unless you really really want to support retro hardware, old old, then ITA-2
        7) I know what you’re thinking but unless you want to mail it out on Jaquard compatible punched cards no point.

  6. Re: the VoCore II, I can’t say I’m particularly enthusiastic after having picked up a pair of VoCores some months ago. One of them was alarmingly easy to brick while trying to enable the wired ethernet interface rather than the default WiFi interface – after rebooting, it no longer even pulls an IP from my router – and by default its USB controller doesn’t act as a serial bridge, so it’s toast unless I want to shell out for a USB-serial adapter. Fuck that.

    Furthermore, the only documentation out there is rife with barely-readable “Engrish”, and on top of that, their instructions for building for the VoCore on Windows amount to “Install VMWare” and “Install Linux on VMWare”. They don’t even bother shipping a cross-compiling toolchain using MinGW or Cygwin.

    Other than someone getting Doom and an NES emulator running on the original VoCore, and someone else getting an Apple AirPlay server running on it, I’m not aware of any articles anywhere detailing anything interesting that anyone has done with the VoCore.

    So it seems to me like the fly-by-night people running the original VoCore project are putting the cart way the hell before the horse if they’re expecting the VoCore II to have any more uptake (read: next to none) than the original VoCore.

  7. “[Derek Lai] built the WiFiBoy32, a very simple PCB with a few buttons, speaker, LCD screen, and an ESP32 module built just to play old Nintendo games. Great, now the ESP32 will see Raspberry Pi Zero levels of adoption.”

    Yes, too much hype… Within a couple of days, one talented employee of ESP32’s manufacturer company ported an old and lightweight NES emulator that originally didn’t supported sound to a new game-oriented dev board . Sure, it shows the potential of this new chip and that’s great communication geared towards the DIY community and the all the related “geek” blogs that are fond of such popular subjects.

    While this is certainly good for marketing, a well structured and commented code project would have proved much more useful to users than just another demo, like Espressif already did last year with its MP3 player for ESP8266 of github, and which serves until this day as a poor and cryptic example of I2S port usage, instead of providing a real and comprehensive documentation of the capability (despite the repeated and ignored demands for it from developpers on offical forums…).

    Now someone had made its own version of this new dev board, and published a video showing this nice custom-shaped, profesionnaly-produced PCB with big color buttons, nothing great but cool indeed. Sadly, its author will probably earn a lot more credit and publicity than the people whose long and arduous work provided the whole code base ( http://aminet.net/package/misc/emu/NofrendoWOS.lha ). Or of those who will add sound support, through some practically anonymous code commits, and who will stay in the dark unrewarded, while Derek and others will just recompile and post a Youtube video in less than 5 minutes.

  8. Nice to see that putting together a period-era PC gets so much attention in the comments… I do this every few years when I get a bout of terminal nostalgia. Thankfully (and alarmingly) I hoarded dozens of boxes of old PC parts so as long as I pull out working bits I can pick and choose most of the time. I should really write up some of this tinkering…

    The last machine was supposed to be mostly 1998 vintage (give or take) so I ended up with:

    Pentium MMX-166
    64 MB RAM
    Matrox Mystique 220 VGA adapter (PCI)
    SoundBlaster 16 (ISA)
    6 GB IDE HDD
    3.5″ and 5.25″ FDDs
    SMC EtherEZ network adapter (ISA)

    I have two drives for the thing, one with Windows 98SE and another with Windows 3.1 on it (no Workgroups). The 3.1 install runs like lightning.

    Was ultimately planning to have a multi-boot system running Red Hat 5.2, OS/2 Warp 4 and both versions of Windows but never got around to it (I had essentially this setup running on the first machine I ever built about 2003-ish, running off an old 9 GB Seagate Cheetah SCSI drive, with the addition of a Voodoo 3).

    I recall there was a big demand for ISA/PCI hybrid boards in certain fields at one point because PCI GPIB adapters were super expensive and ISA ones were still in wide use.

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