Golden Commodore C64 Brings the Bling to 8-Bit Computing

Sometimes, a hack is just a hack. And sometimes, a hack is nothing but a gold-plated Commodore C64.

Alright, it’s not gold-plated, it’s gilded. For the uninitiated, gilding is the process of gluing gold powder or gold leaf to an object. Gold is amazingly ductile – a tiny nugget 5mm in diameter can be hammered into a sheet of gold leaf that can cover about a half a square meter. It’s extremely thin and delicate and has to be handled very gingerly, and the gilder’s craft is therefore very meticulous. For more on gilding, see this post on signmaking with gold leaf.

[thefuturewas8bit], who runs a vintage Commodore web store, did a great job gilding a C64 case, just because. The attention to detail is fantastic – notice that even the edges of the keyboard cutouts are gilded and burnished. A nice finishing touch is swapping out the stock red power LED for a yellow one – red simply clashes too much. Lest you think there’s nothing to learn from a purely aesthetic hack, [thefuturewas8bit] shares a great tip for removing the metal badges from a plastic case – spray them with freeze-spray from the back to pop off the glue. No need to dig at them with a screwdriver and gouge or bend them. Nice trick.

Any hack can earn extra points for style, and we think that gold works well on the C64.  But if gold is a little too overstated for you, you can always try to score a colorful new injection-molded case for your vintage Commodore.

Commodore C16 Resurrection with a Raspberry Pi

[lactobacillusprime] had a non-working Commodore C16 and too many Raspberry Pi computers, so he decided to bring the C16 back to life by emulating it on the Pi. At the heart of the project is the Pi, along with a small board that converts the old style Commodore keyboards (and joysticks) to a USB port.

Once you have the keyboard as a USB port, the rest of the project is more or less mechanics and software. [lactobacillusprime] did a nice job of getting everything in the new case, along with all the I/O wires routed through the existing ports. For software, Emulation Station does the job of launching the Commodore emulation on the Pi.

Of course, there’s no reason to limit yourself to just the Commodore emulator. Emulation Station along with the right back end emulators will allow this machine to play games that no real Commodore C16 could.

Of course, we were happiest to see him boot up Commodore 64 BASIC. Perhaps we should complete all those half finished C64 BASIC projects we started back in the 1980’s. In general, we hate to see old computers gutted instead of repaired, but at least this one will continue running its software. If you are upset about seeing a machine gutted,  you can always switch over to our previous coverage of putting Commodore guts in a new box.

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A Revolutionary Input Device, 30 Years Too Late

Way before you kids had touch screens and mice, we had to walk uphill both ways to tell a computer where we were pointing at on the screen. I speak, of course, of light pens. When these photodiodes in a pen were pointed at a CRT, the display driver would tell the computer where the pen was pointing. It’s a pretty incredible video hack today, and these things were around in the 1970s. You could, of course, use a light pen with most of the old 8-bit home computers, including the Commodore 64.

[Jan] has a soft spot for the light pen on the C64. So much so he made a new input device using this tech. It’s great, and if this existed in 1985, all the cool kids would have known about it.

The build is called the LightHammer. It’s a light pen, inside the head of a plastic hammer, with a few springs, nuts, and washers to tell the computer to read the light pen input. The light pen itself is just a photodiode with a few transistors; it was a simple circuit in the 80s, and it’s a simple circuit today.

A new input device isn’t worth anything without an app to show off the tech, and [Jan] is about three steps ahead of us here. He wrote a game for this LightHammer – a digital version of Whac-A-Mole and Simon. They’re exactly what you think they are: the classic ‘repeat the computer’ and ‘murder rodents’ games.

If that’s not enough, [Jan] also built an arcade cabinet for his C64 setup, with the monitor, joysticks, a 1541, and a TV mounted in a cabinet that would look great in a bar. You can check out a video of that and the games using the LightHammer below.

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Hackaday Links: May 24, 2015

A few months ago, we heard about a random guy finding injection molds for old Commodore computers. He did what the best of us would do and started a Kickstarter to remanufacture these cool old cases. It’s the best story on retrocomputing this year, and someone else figured out they could remanufacture Commodore 64 keycaps. If you got one of these remanufactured cases, give the keycaps a look.

Remember this Android app that will tell you the value of resistors by reading their color code. Another option for the iOS crowd was presented at Maker Faire last weekend. It’s called ResistorVision, and it’s perfect for the colorblind people out there. An Android version of ResistorVision will be released sometime in the near future.

A few folks at Langly Research Center have a very cool job. They built a hybrid electric tilt wing plane with eight motors on the wing and two on the tail. It’s ultimately powered by two 8 hp diesel engines that charge Liion batteries. When it comes to hydrocarbon-powered hovering behemoths, our heart is with Goliath.

A bottom-of-the-line avionics panel for a small private plane costs about $10,000. How do you reduce the cost? Getting rid of FAA certification? Yeah. And by putting a Raspberry Pi in it. It was expoed last month at the Sun ‘N Fun in Florida, and it’s exactly what the pilots out there would expect: a flight system running on a Raspberry Pi. It was installed in a Zenith 750, a 2-seat LSA, registered as an experimental. You can put just about anything in the cabin of one of these, and the FAA is okay with it. If it’ll ever be certified is anyone’s guess.

Hackaday Retro Edition: The Second Most Valuable Home Computer

This will come to no surprise to anyone who has ever talked to me for more than a few minutes, but one of my guilty Internet pleasures is heading over to eBay’s ‘vintage computing’ category, sorting by highest price, and grabbing a cup of coffee. It’s really just window shopping and after a while you start seeing the same things over and over again; Mac 512s with a starting bid far more than what they’re worth, a bunch of old PC-compatible laptops, and a shocking amount of old software. For the last week I’ve been watching this auction. It’s a Commodore 65 prototype – one of between 50 and 200 that still exist – that has over 60 bids, the highest for over $20,000 USD. It’s the most successful vintage computer auction in recent memory, beating out the usual high-profile auctions like Mac 128s and Altair 8800s. The most valuable home computer is the Apple I, but if you’re wondering what the second most valuable one is, here you go.

C65 serialThe C65 is not a contemporary of the C64, or even our own [Bil Herd]’s C128. This was the Amiga era, and the C65 was intended to be the last great 8-bit machine. From a page dedicated to the C65, it’s pretty much what you would expect: the CPU is based on a 6502, with the on-die addition of two 6526 CIA I/O controllers. The standard RAM is 128kB, expandable to 8MB by an Amiga 500-like belly port. Sound would be provided by two SIDs, and the video is based on the VIC-III, giving the C65 a pallette of up to 4096 colors and a resolution of up to 1280×400.

There’s still a little over five hours to go in the auction, but the current $21000 price should go even higher in the final hour; a C65 auction from a few years ago fetched $20100 for ‘a computer with missing parts’. This auction is for a complete, working system that has remained intact since it was discovered during the Commodore closing.

Update: Auction finished for $22,862.01 USD. For historical purposes, here’s a flickr album, a video, and another video.

vt100normal The Hackaday Retro Edition is our celebration of old computers doing something modern, in most cases loading the old, no CSS or Javascript version of our site.

If old and rare computers are your sort of thing, Hackaday will be at the VCF East this year.

If you have an old computer you’d like featured, just load up the retro site, snap some pictures, have them developed, and send them in.

An Adventure into Android Makes the VIC-20 Speak

History and [Bil Herd] teaches us that Commodore begged, borrowed, or stole the engineers responsible for the Speak & Spell to add voice synthesis to a few of the computers that came after the C64. This didn’t quite work out in practice, but speech synthesis was something that was part of the Commodore scene for a long time. The Votrax Type ‘n Talk was a stand-alone speech synthesizer that plugged into the expansion port of the VIC-20. It was expensive, rare, but a few games supported it. [Jan] realized the state of speech synthesis has improved tremendously over the last 30 years, and decided to give his VIC a voice with the help of a cheap Android phone.

A few VIC-20 games, including [Scott Adams] adventure games, worked with the Votrax speech synthesizer by sending phonemes as text over the expansion port. From there, the Votrax would take care of assembling everything into something intelligible, requiring no overhead on the VIC-20. [Jan] realized since the VIC is just spitting out characters for each phoneme, he could redirect those words to a better, more modern voice synthesizer.

A small Bluetooth module was wired up to the user port on the VIC, and this module was paired with a cheap Android smartphone. The smartphone receives the serial stream from an adventure game, and speaks the descriptions of all the scenes in these classic adventure games.

It’s a unique experience judging from the video, but the same hardware and software can also be added to any program that will run on the VIC-20, C64, and C128. Video below.

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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!]