A Raspberry Pi SID Player

Of all the vintage chiptune machines out there, the Commodore 64 is the most famous. Even 30 years later, there are still massive gatherings dedicated to eeking out the last cycle of processing power and graphics capability from the CPU and the infamous synth-on-a-chip, the SID. [Bob] wanted to build a SID jukebox. A C64 is capable of the job, but if you want to have every SID composition on an SD card and connect that to a network, a Raspberry Pi is the way to go.

The SID chip, in its 6581 or 8580 versions, is controlled directly by poking registers on the chip through the address and data busses. This means a lot of pins, too many for the original Raspi expansion header. That’s not a problem that can’t be solved with a few shift registers, though. The rest of the circuit is an LM386 audio amplifier, an LCD that displays the current song, and a can crystal oscillator for the SID.

Right now everything is wired up on a breadboard, but making this a Raspberry Pi hat would be a rather simple proposition. It’s only a matter of finding a SID with working filters, and if you can manage that, it’s a pretty easy build to replicate. Video below.

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Reproducing A DSKY

This is a project that is about a year and a half in the making, but [Fran] is finally digging into the most iconic part of the Apollo Guidance Computer and building the most accurate reproduction DSKY ever.

The Apollo Guidance Computer was a masterpiece of engineering and is frequently cited as the beginning of the computer revolution, but it didn’t really look that interesting – it looks like a vastly overbuilt server blade, really. When everyone thinks about the Apollo Guidance Computer, they think about the DSKY, the glowey keypad interface seen in the blockbuster hit Apollo 13 and the oddly accurate disappointment of Apollo 18. It’s the part of the Apollo Guidance Computer the Apollo astronauts actually interacted with, and has become the icon of the strange, early digital computers developed for NASA in the 60s.

There are a few modern DSKY replicas, but all of them are exceedingly anachronistic; all of these reproductions use seven-segment LEDs, something that didn’t exist in the 1960s. A true reproduction DSKY would use custom electroluminescent displays. These EL segments are powered by AC, and transistors back then were terrible, leading to another design choice – those EL segments were turned on and off by relays. It’s all completely crazy, and aerospace equipment to boot.

Because of the custom design and engineering choices that seem insane to the modern eye, there isn’t much in the way of documentation when it comes to making a reproduction DSKY. This is where [Fran] tapped a few of the contacts her historical deconstruction cred earned when she reverse engineered a Saturn V Launch Vehicle Digital Computer to call upon anyone who would have access to a real Apollo-era DSKY.

The first contact was the Kansas Cosmosphere who was kind enough to send extremely detailed photographs of the DSKYs in their archives. It would have been extremely nice to have old documentation made when the DSKYs were rolling off the assembly line, but that information is locked away in a file cabinet owned by Raytheon.

[Fran] got a break when she was contacted by curators at the National Air and Space Museum’s Garber facility who invited her down to DC. She was given the grand tour, including the most elusive aircraft in the museum’s collection, the Ho 229, the dual-turbojet Nazi flying wing. At the Garber facility, [Fran] received permission to take apart two DSKYs.

The main focus of [Fran]’s expedition to the Air and Space Museum was to figure out how the EL displays were constructed. The EL displays that exist today are completely transparent when turned off because of the development of transparent conductors.

The EL displays in the DSKY were based on earlier night lights manufactured by Sylvania. After looking at a few interesting items that included Gemini hardware and early DSKYs, this sort of construction was confirmed.

With a lot of pictures, a lot of measurements, a lot of CAD work, and some extremely tedious work, [Fran] was able to create the definitive reference for DSKY display elements. There are 154 separate switchable element in the display, all controlled by relays. These elements are not multiplexed; every element can be turned on and off individually.

Figuring out how the elements were put together was only one part of [Fran]’s research. Another goal was to figure out the electrical connections between the display and the rest of the DSKY. There, [Fran] found 160 gold pins in a custom socket. It’s bizarre, and more like a PGA socket than like the backplane connector [Fran] found in the Saturn V computer.

Even though [Fran]’s research was mostly on the EL panel inside the display, she did get a few more insights with her time with the DSKYs. The buttons are fantastic, and the best keys she’d ever used. This is just part one of what will be an incredibly involved project, and we’re looking forward to what [Fran] looks into next.

[Mike] Shows Us How to Use an Armature Growler

[Mike] has put up a great video  on his [SmallEngineMechanic] YouTube Channel about a tool we don’t see very often these days. He’s using an armature growler (YouTube link) to test the armature from a generator. Armature growlers (or just growlers for short) were commonplace years ago. Back when cars had generators, just about every auto mechanic had one on hand. They perform three simple tests: Check armature windings for shorts to other windings, for open windings, and for shorts to the armature body. [Mike’s] particular growler came to him as a basket case. The wiring was shot, it was rusty, and generally needed quite a bit of TLC. He restored it to like new condition, and uses it to help with his antique engine and genset addiction hobby.

Growlers essentially are a transformer primary with a V-shaped frame. The primary coil is connected to A/C mains. The armature to be tested sits in the “V” and through the magic of induction, some of the windings become the secondary coils (more on this later). This means some pretty high voltage will be exposed on commutator of the armature under test, so care should be taken when using one!

Testing for shorts to the ground or the core of the armature is a simple continuity test. Instead of a piezo beep though, a short will trigger the growler to turn on, which means the armature will jump a bit and everything will emit a loud A/C hum. It certainly makes testing more interesting!

Checking for open windings is a matter of energizing the growler’s coil, then probing pairs of contacts on the commutator.  Voltage induced in the windings is displayed on the growler’s meter. Open windings will show 0 volts. Not all the armature’s windings will be in the field of the growler at once – so fully testing the armature will mean rotating it several times, as [Mike] shows in his video.

The final test is for shorted coils. This is where things get pretty darn cool. The growler is switched on and a thin piece of ferrous metal – usually an old hacksaw blade, is run along the core of the armature. If a short exists, the hacksaw blade will vibrate against the core of the armature above the shorted windings. We’re not 100% clear on how the coupling between the growler’s primary and two windings causes the blade to vibrate, so feel free to chime in over in the comments to explain things.

Most commercial shops don’t troubleshoot armatures anymore, they just slap new parts in until everything works again. As such the growler isn’t as popular as it once was. Still, if you work with DC motors or generators, it’s a great tool to have around, and it’s operation is a pretty darn cool hack in itself.

Click past the break for [Mike’s] video!

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Building A Modern Retro Console

There are a few dozen classic re-imaginings of classic game consoles, using hardware ranging from the ATMegas of the Uzebox to everyone’s favorite, stuffing some ROMs on a Raspi and calling it a day. You don’t necessarily learn anything doing that, which puts [Mike]’s custom game console head and shoulders above the rest.

The build started off as a plan for a Z80 computer with a dual ATMega GPU. He progressed far enough in the design where it would have been a masterpiece, but the inability to mill double-sided boards at home killed the design. Plans then moved on to an FPGA, then to an ATMega with the Analog Device AD725 PAL/NTSC encoder chip. That idea had a similar architecture to the Uzebox, but [Mike] wanted more power. He eventually settled on a PIC32 with the AD725.

This setup was capable of pumping out some impressive graphics, but for moving bits to a screen, you need DMA. [Mike] ran into a problem where the DMA timer runs at a maximum rate of 3.7 MHz. It’s a problem documented in a few projects, leading [Mike] to change his plan once again, this time to the STM32F4.

The bugs are worked out, and now [Mike] can stream a whole lot of pixels to a screen while still having some processing power left over to play a game. It’s a project that’s more than a year and a half old at this point, and so far he’s learned a lot.

Resurrecting Capcom’s Kabuki

About a dozen old Capcom arcade titles were designed to run on a custom CPU. It was called the Kabuki, and although most of the core was a standard Z80, a significant portion of the die was dedicated to security. The problem back then was arcade board clones, and when the power was removed from a Kabuki CPU, the memory contents of this security setup were lost, the game wouldn’t play, and 20 years later, people writing emulators were tearing their hair out.

Now that these games are decades old, the on-chip security for the Kabuki CPU is a problem for those who have taken up the task of preserving these old games. However, now these CPUs can be decuicided, programming the chip and placing them in an arcade board without losing their memory contents.

Earlier we saw [ArcadeHacker] a.k.a. [Eduardo]’s efforts to resurrect these old CPUs. He was able to run new code on the Kabuki, but to run the original, unmodified ROMs that came in these arcade games required hardware. Now [ArcadeHacker] has it.

The setup consists of a chip clip that clamps over the Kabuki CPU. With a little bit of Arduino code, the security keys for original, unmodified ROMs can be flashed, put into the arcade board (where the contents of the memory are backed up by a battery), and the clip released. [ArcadeHacker] figures this is how each arcade board was programmed in the factory.

If you’re looking for an in-depth technical description of how to program a Kabuki, [ArcadeHacker] has an incredibly detailed PDF right here.

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DIY 6502 Laptop Computer Looks and Works Great

Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of DIY retro computers, but [Dirk Grappendorf] has created one of the most polished looking 6502 systems to date. His battery-powered portable machine utilizes a 4 line by 40 character LCD, and a modified USB keyboard. Cover all that in a slick 3D printed case, and you have a machine that reminds us quite a bit of the venerable TRS-80 Model 100.

homecomputer-6502-v8-via-bread[Dirk] has some great documentation to go with his computer. He started with a classic MOS 6502 processor. He surrounded the processor with a number of support chips correct for the early 80’s period. RAM is easy-to -use static RAM, while ROM is handled by UV erasable EPROM. A pair of MOS 6522 Versatile Interface Adapter (VIA) chips connect the keyboard, LCD, and any other peripherals to the CPU. Sound is of course provided by the 6581 SID chip.  All this made for a heck of a lot of wires when built up on a breadboard. The only thing missing from this build is a way to store software written on the machine. [Dirk] already is looking into ways to add an SD card interface to the machine.

homecomputer-6502-final-4The home building didn’t stop there though. [Dirk] designed and etched his own printed circuit board (PCB) for his computer. DIY PCBs with surface mount components are easy these days, but things are a heck of a lot harder with older through hole components. Every through hole pin and via had to be drilled, and soldered to the top and bottom layers of the board. Not to mention the fact that both layers had to line up perfectly to avoid missing holes! To say this was a lot of work would be an understatement.

homecomputer-6502-final-5[Dirk] designed a custom 3D printed case for his computer and printed it out on his Ultimaker. To make things fit, he created his design in halves, and glued the case once printing was complete.

If awesome hardware and a case weren’t enough, [Dirk] also spent time designing software for the machine. He wrote his own abbreviated BASIC interpreter along with several BASIC programs. You can find everything over on his GitHub repository.

We always love writing up well-documented, and just generally awesome projects like [Dirk’s]. If you know of any retro computers like this one, drop us a tip!

[Thanks MicroHex!]

A Portable KIM-1

The KIM-1 was the first computer to use the 6502, a CPU that would later be found in the Apple, Ataris, Commodores, and the Nintendo Entertainment System. Being the first, the KIM-1 didn’t actually do a whole lot with only 1k of ROM and a bit more than 1k of RAM. This is great news for anyone with an Arduino; you can easily replicate an entire KIM-1, with a keypad and 7-segment display. That’s what [Scott] did, and he put it in an enclosure that would look right at home in a late 70s engineering lab.

The impetus for this build was [Scott]’s discovery of the KIM-Uno, a kit clone of the KIM-1 using an Arduino Pro Mini. The kit should arrive in a few weeks, so until then he decided to see if he could cobble one together with parts he had sitting around.

Inside a handheld industrial enclosure is an Arduino Uno, with a protoshield connecting the keypad and display. The display is an 11-digit, seven-segment display [Scott] picked up at a surplus shop, and the metal dome keypad came from a hamfest.

Getting the software working took a bit of work, but the most important parts are just modifications to the standard Arduino libraries.

Now that [Scott] has a KIM-1 replica, he can program this virtual 6502 one hex digit at a time, run Microchess, or use the entire thing as a programmable calculator.