Low-Level Computing with Entry-Level Difficulty: DUO Light

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The hardware can’t get much simpler. The DUO Light uses an ATmega328 (commonly found on Arduino boards) along with an external SRAM chip to provide a low-level computer programming experience that will suit those new to programming and some more experienced tinkerers.

At the time of writing the modest Kickstarter goal of $1100 was just $18 shy of success. We’d wager that this is partly due to the availability of so much support material on [Jack's] website. (fyi- a lot of the links on that page are zip files)

The SD card slot accepts a FAT16 card with byte code for the programs. The available Psuedo C compiler, and assembler let you pick your poison, or you can simply dig into the byte code directly. We didn’t see a schematic, but the firmware and BOM are both available. You should be able to easily figure out connections from those.

We’ve been a fan of [Jack's] work for quite some time. His TTL computer and 16-core ATmega-based offerings are sure to delight, even if you remember seeing them go by the first time. This isn’t his first stab at educational models either. Though we still found his logic chip computer a bit daunting.

 

Stepping Through Code on a Pace 4000 Set Top Box

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[Lee] wrote in to tell us about a Set Top Box he hacked. Before the cable industry lawyers get out their flaming swords… he’s not stealing cable, or really doing much of anything. This is a hack just for the adventure and thrill of making someone else’s hardware design do your bidding without any kind of instructions.

He posted about the adventure in two parts. The first is finding the JTAG header and identifying the pins. Arduino to the rescue! No really, and this is the type of Arduino use we love. Using a package called JTAGenum the board becomes a quick tool for probing and identifying JTAG connections.

The image above shows a different piece of hardware. From looking at it we’re pretty sure this is a Bus Blaster which is specifically designed for JTAG debugging with ARM processors. This is the beginning of the second part of his documentation which involves code dumping and stepping through lines code (or instructions) using OpenOCD and GDB. It’s a chore to follow all that [Lee] discovered just to write his name to the display of the box. But we certainly found it interesting. The display has a convoluted addressing scheme. We assume that there are cascading shift registers driving the segments and that’s why it behaves the way it does. Take a look for yourself and let us know what you think in the comments.

Building a Vector Monitor Controller

crt [fredkono] has a few vintage Atari arcade boards sitting around, and without the rest of the arcade machine – especially the XY CRT – these boards would continue to gather dust. The solution to this terrible shortage of vintage video games was to build a vector monitor from scratch. No, that doesn’t mean building a new CRT, but it does mean rewiring the yoke and building a CRT controller board for tubes salvaged from small, old TVs.

Nearly all the CRTs you’ll find at your local goodwill or surplus shop are raster displays. The CRTs used in the old Atari games were vector displays and extremely similar to the tubes found in old oscilloscopes. [fred] turned the CRT found in an old 9″ color TV into a vector monitor by rewinding the yoke.

With the tube rewired, it was only a matter of connecting the custom deflection circuit boards and getting the old arcade boards running. The images drawn with the new yoke deflector board are great and produce fine, crisp lines of some of the most famous video games in history.

Build Your Own Retrocomputer with Modern Chips

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If you’ve ever wanted to get started in retrocomputing, or maybe the Commodore 64 you’ve been using since the 80s just gave up the ghost, [Rick] aka [Mindrobots] has just the thing for you: a retrocomputer based on a PIC microcontroller and a Parallax Propeller.

The two chips at the heart of the computer are both open source. The Propeller is the perfect board to take care of the I/O, video, and audio outputs because it was purpose-built to be a multitasking machine. The microcontroller is either a PIC32MX150 or a PIC32MX170 and is loaded with a BASIC interpreter, 19 I/O pins, a full-screen editor, and a number of communications protocols. In short, everything you would ever want out of a retro-style minicomputer.

The whole computer can be assembled on a PCB with all the outputs you can imagine (VGA, PS/2, etc) and, once complete, can be programmed to run any program imaginable including games. And, of course, it can act as a link to any physical devices with all of its I/O because its heart is a microcontroller.

Retrocomputing is quite an active arena for hackers, with some being made from FPGAs and other barebones computers being made on only three chips. It’s good to see another great computer in the lineup, especially one that uses open chips like the Propeller and the PIC.

Repent! The Church of Robotron Accepts All!

cor-logo Are you the mutant savior? Are you prepared for the robot uprising of 2084? Have you accepted robotron into your life? The Church of Robotron is now conducting training, testing, and confession at the new window altar in downtown Portland.

The Church of Robotron is the fake totally legit religion based on the classic arcade game prophecy Robotron 2084. In keeping with the church’s views on community outreach and missionary work, a Robotron altar has been installed at the Diode Gallery for electronic arts.

The altar consists of a system running Robotron 2084 with capacitive sensing controls built by DorkbotPDX’s own [Phillip Odom]. He’s using the same techniques featured in his capacitive sensing workshop, allowing the game to be played 24 hours a day. There are also monitors displaying the leaderboard and tenants of the Church of Robotron.

The Church of Robotron has also been showing up at Toorcamp for a few years now, with an even more spectacular altar that triggers physical events in response to game events. That’s a very cool use of MAME’s debugger, and a story worthy of its own Hackaday post.

Video of the altar below.

[Read more...]

Raiders of the Lost ROM

ROM dump

Once upon a time, arcades were all the rage. You could head down to your local arcade with a pocket full of quarters and try many different games. These days, video arcades are less popular. As a result, many old arcade games are becoming increasingly difficult to find. They are almost like the artifacts of an ancient age. They are slowly left to rot and are often lost or forgotten with time. Enter, MAME.

MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) is a software project, the goal of which is to protect gaming history by preventing these arcade machines from being lost or forgotten. The MAME emulator currently supports over 7000 titles, but there are still more out there that require preservation. The hackers who work on preserving these games are like the digital Indiana Jones of the world. They learn about lost games and seek them out for preservation. In some cases, they must circumvent security measures in order to accurately preserve content. Nothing as scary as giant rolling boulders or poison darts, but security nonetheless.

Many of the arcade cabinets produced by a publisher called NMK used a particular sound processor labeled, “NMK004″. This chip contains both a protected internal code ROM and an unprotected external ROM that controls the sound hardware. The actual music data is stored on a separate unprotected EEPROM and is different for each game. The system reads the music data from the EEPROM and then processes it using the secret data inside the NMK004.

The security in place around the internal ROM has prevented hackers from dumping its contents for all this time. The result is that NMK games using this chip have poorly emulated sound when played using MAME, since no one knows exactly how the original chip processed audio. [trap15] found it ridiculous that after 20 years, no one had attempted to circumvent the security and dump the ROM. He took matters into his own hands.

The full story is a bit long and contains several twists and turns, but its well worth the read. The condensed version is that after a lot of trial and error and after writing many custom tools, [trap15] was able to finally dump the ROM. He was able to accomplish this using a very clever trick, speculated by others but never before attempted on this hardware. [trap15] exploited a vulnerability found in the unprotected external ROM in order to trick the system into playing back the protected internal ROM as though it were the sound data stored on the EEPROM. The system would read through the internal ROM as though it were a song and play it out through the speakers. [trap15] recorded the resulting audio back into his PC as a WAV file. He then had to write a custom tool to decode the WAV file back into usable data.

[trap15] has released all of his tools with documentation so other hackers can use them for their own adventures into hardware hacking. The project was a long time in the making and it’s a great example of reverse engineering and perseverance.

[Thanks Ryan]

Welcome to the Old School: Restoring Antique Radios

radio-restoration

Before the second world war Radio was a revolution in mass-communication much like the internet today. Fortunes were made and lost, empires built, epic patent battles ensued, all of which resulted in the world being more connected than ever before, which makes for a really great story (and a great Ken Burns documentary).

Last month we showed you how to modify a vintage radio to play your own audio source through it while re-using the existing electronics and maintaining its functionality. In this post we will show you how to restore any vacuum tube radio. You will learn basic repair/restoration procedures from a different era when it was actually worth repairing consumer electronics. Plug into history and get your hands on the most influential technology of the first-half of the 20th century!

[Read more...]

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