Triple Monitor Travel Battlestation

[AbyssalUnderlord’s] schedule has him packing up and moving between school, home, and internships every three months. Not an easy task when your computer is a triple monitor CAD and gaming powerhouse. To make his moves easier, he built this portable computer / monitor frame.

The design started with a CAD model. The basic materials for the build are aluminum angle and steel-slotted angle stock. There was no welding involved in this build. Pop rivets, nuts, and bolts hold just about everything together. An angle grinder was used for all of the cutting. [AbyssalUnderlord] used drawer slides to move his monitors from stored to deployed position. The small red extensions at the end of the drawer slides allow the monitors to be positioned in a standard 3 wide triple monitor setup. It’s a clever design.

This schedule isn’t going to last forever so [AbyssalUnderlord] didn’t want to make any permanent mods to his tower or monitors. Blue camping foam acts as a cushion between the hardware and the new case.

We’ll admit that this isn’t the prettiest of builds, but it looks plenty rugged and it gets the job done. As mentioned in the Reddit thread, a few coats of spray paint would go a long way toward improving the aesthetics. Just don’t spend too much time playing Overwatch, [AbyssalUnderlord].

If you like DIY portable setups, check this Transformers-themed portable workbench, or our Hacklet all about portable work stations and toolboxes.

42,300 Transistor Megaprocessor Is Complete

As it turns out, the answer is not 42, it’s 42.3 — thousand. That’s how many discrete transistors spread across the 30 m2 room housing this massive computation machine. [James Newman’s] Megaprocessor, a seriously enlarged version of a microprocessor, is a project we’ve been following with awe as it took shape over the last couple of years.

[James] documented his work in great detail, and by doing so, took us on a journey through the inner workings of microprocessors. His monumental machine is now finished, and it’s the ultimate answer to how a processor – and pretty much everything that contains a processor – works.

Continue reading “42,300 Transistor Megaprocessor Is Complete”

A 150MHz 6502 Co-Processor

If you are familiar with ARM processors, you may know of their early history at the 1980s British home computer manufacturer Acorn. The first physical ARM system was a plug-in co-processor development board for Acorn’s BBC Micro, the machine that could be found in nearly every UK school of the day.

For an 8-bit home computer the BBC Micro had an unusually high specification. It came with parallel, serial and analog ports, built-in networking using Acorn’s proprietary Econet system, and the co-processor interface used by that ARM board, the Tube. There were several commercial co-processors for the Tube, including ones with a 6502,  a Z80 allowing CP/M to be run, and an 80186.

As with most of the 8-bit generation of home computers the BBC Micro continues to maintain a strong enthusiast following who have not stopped extending its capabilities in all directions. The Tube has been interfaced to the Raspberry Pi, for instance, on which an emulation of original co-processor hardware can be run.

bbc-tube-screenshotAnd thus we come to the subject of this article, [Hoglet] and [BigEd]’s 150MHz 6502 coprocessor for the BBC Micro. Which of course isn’t a 6502 at all, but a 6502 emulated in assembler on an ARM which is in a way the very distant descendant of the machine it’s hosted upon. There is something gloriously circular about the whole project, particularly as the Pi, like Acorn, the BBC Micro, and modern-day ARM, has its roots in Cambridge. How useful it is depends on your need to run 8-bit 1980s software in a tearing hurry, but they do report it runs Elite, which if you were there at the time we’re sure you will agree is the most important application to get running on a BBC Micro.

We’ve featured the Tube interface before when we talked about an FPGA co-processor with a PDP/11 mode that was definitely never sold by Acorn. And we’ve also featured an effort to reverse engineer the primordial ARM from that first BBC Micro-based co-processor board.

BBC Micro image: Stuart Brady, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Feel Extreme Workbench Envy After Seeing The Tempel

For those of us with space to spare, our workbenches tend to sprawl. The others who are more space limited will certainly feel envy at [Love Hultén]’s beautiful Tempel workbench.

The workbench appears at first to be a modern interpretation of a secretary’s desk. There are some subtle hints that it is no ordinary piece of furniture. The glowing model of our solar system on the front, for example.

With the front folded down, rather than the expected leather writing pad and letter sized drawers, a few more oddities become apparent. The back is a pegboard which holds a small selection of tools. To the left, a checkered grid obscures speakers. Knobs control volume There are even USB ports. On the right sits another speaker. Banana jacks let you use the analog voltmeter. Most appealingly, the indestructible Hakko 936 soldering iron has been entirely integrated into the structure of the desk.

If you press the right button on the front, the desk will reveal its last secret. It contains an entire workstation somewhere behind the array of drawers on the front. A linear actuator pushes a computer monitor up from inside the cabinet, covering the pegboard in the back. Awesome.

There is a build log, but unfortunately it’s been imageshacked and only the words remain. We think [Love Hultén] has finally managed to build a soldering station that’s welcome in every room of the house except for the garage.

Refurbishing Armored Tablets

Who can resist the insane deals on bizarre hardware that pop up on auction websites? Not [Dane Kouttron], for sure. He stumbled on Armor X7 ruggedized tablets, and had to buy a few. They’d be just perfect for datalogging in remote and/or hostile locations, if only they had better batteries and were outfitted with a GSM data modem… So [Dane] hauled out his screwdrivers and took stuff apart. What follows is a very detailed writeup of the battery management system (BMS), and a complete teardown of this interesting tablet almost as an afterthought.

First, [Dane] tried to just put a bunch more batteries into the thing, but the battery-management chip wouldn’t recognize them. For some inexplicable reason, [Dane] had the programmer for the BMS on-hand, as well as a Windows XP machine to run the antiquated software on. With the BMS firmware updated (and the manufacturer’s name changed to Dan-ger 300!) everything was good again.

Now you may not happen to have a bunch of surplus X7 ruggedized tablets lying around. Neither do we. But we can totally imagine needing to overhaul a battery system, and so it’s nice to have a peek behind the scenes in the BMS. File that away in your memory banks for when you need it. And if you need even more power, check out this writeup of reverse-engineering a Leaf battery pack. Power to the people!

Bridging the Air Gap; Data Transfer via Fan Noise

When you want to protect a computer connected to the Internet against attackers, you usually put it behind a firewall. The firewall controls access to the protected computer. However, you can defeat any lock and there are ways a dedicated attacker can compromise a firewall. Really critical data is often placed on a computer that is “air gapped.” That is, the computer isn’t connected at all to an insecure network.

An air gap turns a network security problem into a physical security problem. Even if you can infect the target system and collect data, you don’t have an easy way to get the data out of the secure facility unless you are physically present and doing something obvious (like reading from the screen into a phone). Right? Maybe not.

Researchers in Isreal have been devising various ways to transmit data from air walled computers. Their latest approach? Transmit data via changing the speed of cooling fans in the target computer. Software running on a cellphone (or other computer, obviously) can decode the data and exfiltrate it. You can see a video on the process below.

Continue reading “Bridging the Air Gap; Data Transfer via Fan Noise”

Restoring The Groundbreaking Xerox Alto

The Xerox Alto was a minicomputer that had a lot of firsts to its name: first GUI, first Ethernet connection, and first computer to use a laser printer. This is the computer that inspired Steve Jobs to build the Lisa. And this was built all back in 1973! So when [Ken Shirriff] and a team of other old-computer aficionados got their hands on one, you know they’d get to work.

[Ken]’s blog describes the start of what’s sure to be a long journey. It mostly describes the Alto system and locates its place in computer history, but there are some interesting sidelines as well — like how [Alan Kay] also basically outlined all of the functionality of the modern laptop / tablet along the way to the Alto; it was supposed to be an interim Dynabook.

Work on this grandfather-of-modern-computers is just getting started, and [Ken] and crew are dusting off the power supplies and cataloguing memory boards. You can be sure that we’ll follow along with this restoration project, and keep you informed.