Atari Archaeology Without Digging Up Landfill Sites

We are fortunate to live in an age of commoditized high-power computer hardware and driver abstraction, in which most up-to-date computers have the ability to do more or less anything that requires keeping up with the attention of a human without breaking a sweat. Processors are very fast, memory is plentiful, and 3D graphics acceleration is both speedy and ubiquitous.

Thirty years ago it was a different matter on the desktop. Even the fastest processors of the day would struggle to perform on their own all the tasks demanded of them by a 1980s teenager who had gained a taste for arcade games. The manufacturers rose to this challenge by surrounding whichever CPU they had chosen with custom co-processors, ASICs that would take away the heavy lifting associated with 2D graphics acceleration, or audio and music synthesis.

One of the 1980s objects of computing desire was the Atari ST, featuring a Motorola 68000 processor, a then-astounding 512k of RAM, a GUI OS, high-res colour graphics, and 3.5″ floppy drive storage. Were you to open up the case of your ST you’d have found those ASICs we mentioned as being responsible for its impressive spec.

Jumping forward three decades, [Christian Zietz] found that there was frustratingly little information on the ST ASIC internal workings. Since a trove of backed-up data became available when Atari closed down he thought it would be worth digging through it to see what he could find. His write-up is a story of detective work in ancient OS and backup software archaeology, but it paid off as he found schematics for not only an ASIC from an unreleased Atari product but for the early ST ASICs he was looking for. He found hundreds of pages of schematics and timing diagrams which will surely take the efforts of many Atari enthusiasts to fully understand, and best of all he thinks there are more to be unlocked.

We’ve covered a lot of Atari stories over the years, but many of them have related to their other products such as the iconic 2600 console. We have brought you news of an open-source ST on an FPGA though, and more recently the restoration of an ST that had had a hard life. The title of this piece refers to the fate of Atari’s huge unsold stocks of 2600 console cartridges, such a disastrous marketing failure that unsold cartridges were taken to a New Mexico landfill site in 1983 and buried. We reported on the 2013 exhumation of these video gaming relics.

A tip of the hat to Hacker News for bringing this to our attention.

Atari ST image, Bill Bertram (CC-BY-2.5) via Wikimedia Commons.

Laser-cut Album Released

In some alternate universe, where laser cutters and phonographs are more common than MP3 players, it makes a ton of sense to release laser-cutter files for your band’s new album (Translated). In this universe, it’s wacky and awesome.

The new EP from ASIC, alias [Patric] from Fablab Zürich, is out as PDF before it’s out in other forms of digital download, and the trailer video (embedded below the break) looks fantastic.

The release draws on this Instructable by Amanda Ghassaei to turn the music into PDFs suitable for feeding into a laser cutter, and we think it’s classy that she gets a shout-out on the label’s release page.  Everything else about the album will be released under a Creative Commons license to boot.

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Hackaday Links: July 20, 2014

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Etch-a-Sketch spray-painted silver with electronics bolted onto the side? Sign us up! This art installation adds one thing that we don’t often see in these types of hacks, eerie audio.

If you’re still mining bitcoin you need to do it faster than anyone else… that’s pretty much how the whole thing works. [Lewin] has been using the Antminer USB ASIC and toyed around with overclocking to 2.2 GH/s (gighashes per second) but to make sure his hardware holds up to the overwork he hacked his own water cooling system for the dongle.

Smart phones are the best bang for your buck on portability and power. Better yet you can get slightly broken ones for a song. If you manage to find an Android device with a broken touch screen but functioning LCD try this trick to add a mouse to it. There must be another life for this in a future hack!

We have a love-hate relationship with this particular crowd-funding campaign. First this hate: It’s basically a 100% clip-art video presentation with an $800,000 ask. Yeah… good luck buddy. On the other hand, this is the type of stuff we actually want to see as crowd funding. The idea is to use modern materials and techniques to build [Nikola Tesla’s] Wardenclyffe Tower, which was designed and built to research wireless energy (both as a means of communication and actual energy transfer). It was never fully functional and ended up being demolished. Wouldn’t it be great if teams of highly skilled and motivated people took grand ideas like this, crossing every theoretical “t” and dotting every theoretical “i”, and then proposed a crowd funding campaign to build a test platform? Oh wait, that sounds very much like a government research grant. Anywhoo… check out the Global Energy Transmission’s campaign.

Raspi Bitcoin miner may just pay for itself eventually

We’re sure a lot of people out there have a Raspberry Pi or two lying around waiting for a project to come to mind.  [Dave] has an interesting solution to this orphaned hardware – use it to mine Bitcoins and perhaps put a few extra bucks in your pocket at the end of the year.

[Dave] is using a Raspberry Pi, powered USB hub, and an ASICMiner Block Erupter to do Bitcoin mining at 330 Megahashes per second. There are a few ancillary items such as a case and USB fan, but if you already have a Raspberry Pi, you’re only looking at a $50 USD investment to have a dedicated Bitcoin miner.

According to this Bitcoin mining profitability calculator, with a $50 investment that can mine at 330 MH/s, you’re looking at a hardware break even point of about 120 days. You could cut that down to just a few months if you overclock your ASICMiner, but it’s still relatively late in the game for amateur Bitcoin miners to make a substantial amount of money. Think of Bitcoin mining as more of hobby, and you’ll hopefully be more realistic about your goals.