Hackaday Retro Edition: A 286 on the Internet


While not an issue now with our 64 bit (more accurately 48- or 52-bit) processors, there was a time when 32 bits of addressing space was impossibly large. For several decades, 4 Gigabytes of memory would be the absolute ceiling, and something only madmen or the protagonist of Pi would have to deal with. This convention began, at least for the Intel/PC world, with the 386. Earlier processors like the 8086 and the 286 were quite capable for their time, but doing anything modern with them, especially getting on the Internet, is a quixotic endeavor beyond comparison.

[Caulser] over on the Vintage Computer Forums has done just that. He recently acquired a Zenith Data Systems 286 system and loaded up what is quickly becoming the litmus test for old computers on the Internet: the Hackaday retro edition

When he first received the system, it was loaded up with a rather generous (for the time) 4MB of RAM. The 20MB hard drive was dead, but with a little fiddling about with the BIOS, [Caulser] was able to get the system working with an old Quantum IDE hard drive.

There’s no Windows or even Linux for this machine, so the system is just running MS DOS 5a, mTCP, Arachne, and the relevant drivers for the NIC (that has RJ45 and BNC connectors). After upgrading the RAM to 8MB, the box performs reasonably well without any pesky ads, and given the websites he visited, he’s not dealing with any overwrought Javascript or CSS, either.

Pics of the system below.

If you have an old computer sitting around, try to load our retro site with it. Take a few pictures, and we’ll put it up in one of our Retro Roundups

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Playing Doom (Poorly) on a VoCore

doomguy Last May brought the unastonishing news that companies were taking the Systems on Chip found in $20 wireless routers and making dev boards out of them. The first of these is the VoCore, an Indiegogo campaign for a 360MHz CPU with 8MB of Flash and 32MB or RAM packaged in a square inch PCB for the Internet of Things. Now that the Indiegogo rewards are heading out to workbenches the world over, it was only a matter of time before someone got Doom to run on one of them.

After fixing some design flaws in the first run of VoCores, [Pyrofer] did the usual things you would do with a tiny system running Linux – webcams for streaming video, USB sound cards to play internet radio, and the normal stuff OpenWrt does.

His curiosity satiated, [Pyrofer] turned to more esoteric builds. WIth a color LCD from Sparkfun, he got an NES emulator running. This is all through hardware SPI, mind you. Simple 2D graphics are cool enough, but the standard graphical test for all low powered computers is, of course, Doom.

The game runs, but just barely. Still, [Pyrofer] is happy with the VoCore and with a little more work with the SPI and bringing a framebuffer to his tiny system, he might have a neat portable Doom machine on his hands.

A PC Engine to TurboGrafx-16 Converter


The PC Engine was pretty popular in Japan, but only the coolest kids in America had the US edition, the TurboGrafx16. These two systems weren’t exactly the same; the TurboGrafx-16’s data bus was flipped so the games were made to be incompatible, and the US games have a region lockout. [Kaz] looked at the existing hacks for running Japanese games on US systems, and every single one of them required modding a console. Thinking he could do better, he came up with the PC-Henshin, an adapter and CPLD that allows Japanese game to run on US consoles.

To take care of the mixed up lines on the PC card connector between the US and Japanese variants, a few adapter cards are available. That’s great, but they only solve one part of the compatibility problem. The region lockout routine found on nearly every American title mean PC Engine consoles can’t run TurboGrafx-16 games. [Kaz] used a small, cheap CPLD to read the data bus, patch everything as it is read out, and turns a Japanese console into something that can play American games.

Video below.

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The Cassette MP3 Player


1994 was twenty years ago. There are people eligible to vote who vaguely remember only one Bush presidency. You can have a conversation with someone born after the millennium, and they think a 3.5 inch disk is called a save icon. Starting to feel old? Don’t worry, all the trinkets of your youth have now become shells for MP3 players, the cassette tape included.

[Britt] is aware you can pick up one of these cassette tape MP3 players through the usual channels, but she wanted her build to be a little different. She’s using ar real, vintage cassette tape for starters, and from the outside, looks pretty much like any other cassette tape: there’s a thin strip of tape at the bottom, and the clear plastic window shows the tape is at the beginning of side A.

Outside appearances are just that; inside, there is a small, repurposed MP3 player, with tact switches wired up to the old buttons, actuated by moving the spools back and forth. Yes, you actually play, pause, rewind and fast forward by sticking a pencil in the spool and moving it back and forth. Amazing.

It’s a great build, and considering both cassette tapes and cheap MP3 players can be found in the trash these days, it’s something that should be hard to replicate.

CP/M Source Code Released



To celebrate the 40th anniversary of CP/M, the Computer History Museum has released a package containing early source code for several versions of CP/M. Originally designed by [Gary Kildall] in 1973, Control Program for Microcomputers (CP/M) is an early operating system for microprocessor based computers. The OS was originally written for the Intel Intellec 8, an Intel 8008 based computer. Since it was on an Intel machine, CP/M was written in PL/M (Programming Language for Microcomputers), a language [Kildall] had previously developed for Intel .

CP/M pioneered the idea of a ROM based Basic Input Output/System (BIOS) for commonly used routines on a given computer. The use of BIOS made CP/M easy to port. Eventually it was ported to thousands of different machines and architectures, including the Altair, IMSAI 8080, C-64, and C-128 and Apple II systems.

Gary and his company Digital Research, were one of the top contenders for the operating system on IBM’s new personal computer. Ultimately, Microsoft got the job by purchasing 86-DOS from Seattle Computer Products. Somewhat ironically, 86-DOS itself was written based on the CP/M Application Programming interface (API).

The source itself is an amazing trip back in time. Included are portions of CP/M 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, and 2.0. Portions of CP/M have been released previously. As with the previous files, this version includes modifications performed by z80-pack author [Udo Munk] in 2007. Version 1.3 is especially interesting as it is primarily scanned copies of the CP/M source code.

If you’re into vintage computing, and know how important CP/M was to the early days of personal computers, check out the CP/M source. If you find any interesting or clever bits of code, be sure let us know about it in the comments.

[Image Source: CulturaInformatica]

Hackaday 10th Anniversary: Quinn Dunki and Veronica

In case you haven’t been reading Hackaday for the last few weeks, we just had an amazing 10th anniversary party in Pasadena this weekend, full of workshops, talks, and a party that reportedly went until four in the morning. One of the amazing hackers we invited to give a talk was [Quinn Dunki], creator of Veronica, the modern 6502 computer stuffed inside an old radio.

We first saw Veronica a few years ago, but [Quinn] figures she’s been building her computer for about five years now. She’s a software developer by trade that decided one day to dip her toes into the murky seas of hardware development and build a computer from the ground up. She chose the 6502 as the brains of her contraption, laid out everything on single-sided boards etched in a kitchen, and connected everything with a backplane. Right now it has a USB keyboard, (technically a PS/2 keyboard with a USB plug), NES controllers, a VGA display, and a monitor and Pong in ROM. [Quinn]‘s goal was to build a computer that could program itself, and after five years, she’s accomplished that goal.

[Quinn] admits her software background was responsible for a few of her admittedly bad design choices; the VGA is generated by an ATMega microcontroller, working under the theory that if she could clock the micro fast enough, she could do VGA. She now believes an FPGA would have been a better choice for video output, but now that the video circuit is done, she probably won’t revisit that problem.

There is one thing missing from Veronica, and something that [Quinn] will be working on in the future: mass storage. Right now every program Veronica can run is either stored in ROM or entered via the keyboard. A hard drive is the next problem to solve, either with an SD card, or a Compact Flash or IDE hard drive.

Split Flap Display: If You Can’t Find It, Built It


It’s pretty hard to deny that split-flap displays are incredibly awesome. This one has been a long time coming, and it’s not a refab or surplus build. [Tom] fabricated these beautiful alpha-numeric split flaps from scratch.

Having recently seen an alarm-clock split flap hack just a week or so ago we found ourselves wondering where in the world people manage to find this type of awesome mechanical hardware. If you can’t get it out of grampa’s attic, the next best thing is to build it from the ground up.

This was not a build to be taken lightly. [Tom] started years ago, and part way into the project we looked at some of the control hardware for the installation. Make sure that you dig deep into his blog posts. It’s the only way you’ll put together the whole picture of how he ended up with each belt and stepper motor driven character module.

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