New Caps And RAM Save Another Poly-1

1980s American teenagers, if they were lucky enough to attend a school with a computer lab, would have sat down in front of Apple IIs or maybe Commodore VIC20s. Similarly, their British cousins had BBC Micros. Solid and educational machines with all sorts of wholesome software, which of course the kids absolutely preferred to run in preference to playing computer games.

New Zealanders, at least a few of them, had the Poly-1. A footnote in the 8-bit microcomputer story, this was a home-grown computer with a built-in monitor clad in a futuristic one-piece plastic shell. Non-Kiwis never had the chance to encounter its 6809 processor and 64k of RAM, the global computer business being too great a challenge for a small New Zealand technology company, especially one whose government support had evaporated.

Decades after the end of Poly-1 production, some survive in the hands of enthusiasts. [Terry Stewart] has two of them, and has posted details of how he brought life back to one that was dead on arrival. It’s a story first of a failed electrolytic capacitor and tricky-to-dismantle PSU design, then of an almost-working computer whose random crashes were eventually traced to a faulty RAM chip. It seems swapping out that quantity of DIL RAM chips is rather tedious, and of course it had to be the final chip in the final bank that exhibited the problem.

Meanwhile it’s interesting to see the design of this unusual machine. A linear power supply contrasts with the switcher you’d have found in an Apple II at the time, and the motherboard is a huge affair. it’s easy to see why this was a relatively expensive machine.

We brought you [Terry]’s first Poly-1 last year, but so far he’s the only owner whose machine we’ve seen. More mainstream 8-bit machines are a common sight here, so for something else a bit esoteric read our coverage of home computers behind the Iron Curtain, and its companion piece on peripherals behind the Iron Curtain.

[via Hacker News]

Resurrecting the Retro-futuristic Poly-1


[Tez] has acquired and resurrected a piece of New Zealand computing history, the Poly-1. To anyone who went to school in 1980s Britain, the Poly-1 appears to be a cooler, mirror universe version of Acorn’s BBC Micro. Like the humble Beeb, the Poly-1 was designed primarily for educational use. It also used a related, but superior, microprocessor (the Motorola 6809).

However while the legacy of Acorn lives on in the ARM architecture, only a few thousand Poly-1s were ever sold and it appears to have been largely forgotten.


The Poly-1’s demise was likely in part due to its high price tag — around $5,000 USD — its lack of support within New Zealand, and the difficulty that the small New Zealand company had breaking into international markets: issues which eventually killed off many similar 1980s computer companies in the UK, Japan and elsewhere.

But it’s still fascinating to look back, not just in nostalgia, but in admiration of the intrepid 1980s hackers who created these beautiful machines and the dream of a world that might have been.

Multi-target IDE for 8-Bit CPUs

A long time ago, [Martin] played with old 8-bit computers. Recently, he’s been honing his assembly skills again, and the idea of an IDE for a boatload of old systems came to him. After a year of work, he announced a multitarget IDE for 8-bit computers that works in your browser.

The project is called ASM80, and includes a code editor, a workspace to put all your code, compilers for the 8080/8085, Z80, 6502, 6800 and 6809 CPUs, emulators for all these CPUs, and emulators for a few Czech computers, the ZX Spectrum, and a few of [Grant Searle]’s single board computers.

What makes this project interesting is the syntax for all the different CPUs is pretty much the same. It’s a real, modular code editor that supports macros and everything you would expect for a code editor for ancient computers.

You can check out an assembler description here. [Martin] also has an offline, desktop-based version of ASM80 called IDE80, with a video demo of that below.

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A Pick-And-Mix FPGA Retrocomputer


Cheap FPGA boards are readily available, as are VHDL implementations of classic CPUs like the 6502, 6809, and Z80. Up until now, we haven’t seen anyone take these two parts and combine them into a complete system that turns an FPGA board into a complete 8-bit retrocomputer. Thanks to [Grant]’s work, it’s now possible to do just that (server on fire, here’s a google cache) with a $30 FPGA board and a handful of parts.

In its full configuration, the Multicomp, as [Grant] calls his project, includes either a 6502, 6809, Z80, or (in the future) a 6800 CPU. Video options include either monochrome RCA, RGB VGA, or RGB via SCART. This, along an SD card interface, a PS2 keyboard, and the ability to connect an external 128kB RAM chip (64k available) means it’s a piece of cake to build a proper and complete portable retrocomputer.

What’s extremely interesting about [Grant]’s project is the fact the data and address lines are fully exposed on the FPGA board. This means it’s possible to add whatever circuit you’d like to whatever retrocomputer you can imagine; if you want a few NES gamepads, an IDE interface, or you’d like to design your own primitive video card, it’s just a matter of designing a circuit and writing some assembly.

If you’d like to build your own, search “EP2C5T144C8N” on the usual sites, grab a few resistors and connectors, and take a look at [Grant]’s documentation and upcoming examples.

Via forums

Giving an old Atari computer a much needed upgrade

As a kid, [Boisy] cut his teeth on the TRS-80 Color Computer. It was a wonderful machine for its day, featuring a relatively powerful Motorola 6809 CPU. Although his CoCo was theoretically more powerful than its Commodore and Apple contemporaries, the graphics and sound capabilities of [Boisy]’s first love paled in comparison to his friends 6502-based machines. A little jealously and thirty years go a long way, because now [Boisy] is adding a 6809 microprocessor to the 6502-based machines Atari put out.

[Boisy]’s goal for his Liber809 project was simple: Put a 6809 CPU in an Atari XEGS and get NitrOS-9, the Unix-like OS for the TRS-80 CoCo running on his Frankenputer. After a few months of work, [Boisy] completed his goal and more so: the Liber809 also works on the Atari 1200XL.

To put [Boisy]’s work in perspective, it’s like he took a Macintosh from 1993 and made it run on an Intel 486. While that’s not a terribly accurate analogy, we hope our readers will understand the fortitude needed to make a computer run on a completely different processor.

After the break, you can check out a neat demo app written by [SLOR] from the AtariAge forums showcasing a 6809 running in a machine designed for a 6502. Awesome work for all involved

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Update: 6809 computing

[Matt Sarnoff] is designing his own 8-bit computer from scratch. This means not only designing the hardware but also writing his own kernel and custom libraries. Since we last saw this 8-bit machine hes added both video and sound output which has allowed him to start developing some software for his computer (see it play Conways game of life after the break).

Sticking with the retro theme of his computer he uses a TMS9918 chip to output the video and a YM2149 for audio. The YM2149 was the audio chip used in the Atari ST allowing him to play songs generated for that system with a little bit of hacking to account for the fact that the Atari ST ran at 8MHz where his Motorola 6809 only runs at 2MHz.

Via [Retro Thing]

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