Emulating a GameBoy Advance Inside of a Gameboy Advance

[Ryzee119]’s GBA might not look so different at first glance. The screen is way better than you remember, but that may just be your memory playing tricks on you. The sound comes out of the speakers. It feels the right weight. It runs off AA batteries. Heck, even the buttons feel right.

emulating-gba-inside-gbaIt’s not until you notice that it really shouldn’t be playing any games without a cartridge inserted that you know something is not right in the Mushroom Kingdom. When you look inside you see the edge of a Raspberry Pi Zero instead of the card edge connector you expected.

It took a lot of work for [Ryzee119] to convert a dead, water damaged, GBA to a thriving emulation station based around a Pi Zero. The first step was desolder the components he couldn’t find anywhere else. The LR buttons, the potentiometer, and even the headphone jack. The famously hard to see screen, of course, had to go.  It was replaced by a nice TFT. Also, the original speaker was too corroded from the water and he sourced a replacement.

Custom replacement PCB
Custom replacement PCB

Next he took a good photo of the GBA’s circuit board. We wonder if he used the scanner method mentioned in the comments of this article? He spent a lot of time in Dassault’s DraftSight, a 2D CAD program, outlining the board. Then, after thoroughly verifying the size of the board for the Nth time he imported the outlines to EagleCAD.

He managed to cram quite a bit onto the board while remaining inside the GBA’s original envelope. The switches, potentiometer, and jack went back to their original locations. Impressively, he made his own pad traces for the A, B, and D-Pad buttons. The mod even handles slowly decreasing battery voltages better than the original.

In the end it all snaps together nicely. He’s configured it to boot into the emulator right at start-up. If you’d like one for yourself, all his files are open source. 

Creating A PCB In Everything: Eagle DRC and Gerber Files

For the next post in the Creating A PCB series, we’re going to continue our explorations of Eagle. In Part 1,  I went over how to create a part from scratch in Eagle. In Part 2, we used this part to create the small example board from the Introduction.

This time around I’ll be going over Design Rule Check (DRC) — or making sure your board house can actually fabricate what you’ve designed. I’ll also be covering the creation of Gerber files (so you can get the PCB fabbed anywhere you want), and putting real art into the silkscreen and soldermask layers of your boards.

The idea behind this series is to explore different EDA suites and PCB design tools by designing the same circuit in each. You can check out the rest of the posts in this series right here.

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Creating A PCB In Everything: Eagle, Part 2

In the last (and first) post in this series, we took a look at Eagle. Specifically, we learned how to create a custom part in Eagle. Our goal isn’t just to make our own parts in Eagle, we want to make schematics, boards, and eventually solder a few PCBs.

The board we’ll be making, like all of the boards made in this Creating A PCB In Everything series, is the Nanite Wesley, a small USB development platform based on the ATtiny85. This board has less than a dozen parts, most of which are through-hole. This is the simplest PCB I can imagine that has sufficient complexity to demonstrate how to make a board.

With that said, let’s get onto the second part of our Eagle tutorial and lay out our circuit board.

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Creating A PCB in Everything: Eagle, Part 1

For the first in a series of posts describing how to make a PCB, we’re going with Eagle. Eagle CAD has been around since the days of DOS, and has received numerous updates over the years. Until KiCad started getting good a few years ago, Eagle CAD was the de facto standard PCB design software for hobbyist projects. Sparkfun uses it, Adafruit uses it, and Dangerous Prototypes uses it. The reason for Eagle’s dominance in a market where people don’t want to pay for software is the free, non-commercial and educational licenses. These free licenses give you the ability to build a board big enough and complex enough for 90% of hobbyist projects.

Of course, it should be mentioned that Eagle was recently acquired by Autodesk. The free licenses will remain, and right now, it seems obvious Eagle will become Autodesk’s pro-level circuit and board design software.

Personally, I learned PCB design on Eagle. After a few years, I quickly learned how limited even the professional version of Eagle was. At that point, the only option was to learn KiCad. Now that Eagle is in the hands of Autodesk, and I am very confident Eagle is about to get really, really good, I no longer have the desire to learn KiCad.

With the introduction out of the way, let’s get down to making a PCB in Eagle.

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Books You Should Read: The Soul of A New Machine

If there was one book that describes what it means to be in the trenches of a cutting edge design, that book is The Soul Of a New Machine. Tracy Kidder’s Pulitzer prize-winning book has been an inspiration to thousands over the years.

Soul is the story of the creation of the Data General Eclipse MV/8000, code-named Eagle. Eagle was Data General’s first 32-bit minicomputer. If you’re not a retrocomputing aficionado, minicomputers were a major industry back in the 70’s and 80’s. Starting in 1964 with the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) PDP-8, minis provided a low-cost means for companies to get a computer. The only other option was a huge mainframe from companies like IBM. Minicomputers chugged along until the 1990s when microprocessor-based PCs and workstations passed them by. The market, and the industry evaporated.

Today, more than 30 years later, minicomputers are all but forgotten. Data General itself is long gone, purchased by EMC in 1999. DG’s mark on the landscape has all but been erased by the swiftly moving sands of technical progress. All except for the snapshot Kidder set down in Soul.

An MV/8000 installation (from DG literature)
An MV/8000 installation (from DG literature)

The technical side of designing a new computer is just one part of this book. The Soul of a New Machine is three stories: the story of the engineers, the story of the managers, and the story of the machine they built. For this reason, the book has found itself on the reading list of engineering schools and management institutes alike.

The thing that makes this book appeal to the masses is Kidder’s uncanny ability to explain incredibly complex topics in layman’s terms. He manages to explain the inner workings of a 32-bit CPU, all the way down to the level of microcode. He delves into Programmable Array Logic (PALs), forerunners of the CPLD and FPGA devices you read about on our pages today. PALs were a hot new technology back in the late 70’s. They allowed the Eagle team to make changes quickly — without pulling out their wire wrapping tools.

Kidder manages to explain these things in a way that doesn’t leave the average Joe scratching their head, yet doesn’t bore the technically savvy. If he ever decides to stop writing non-fiction, Tracy Kidder would have a career writing user manuals.

The Soul of a New Machine starts in a very unlikely place – on the deck of a sailing ship during a rough storm. The scene is our introduction to the star of the book – Tom West, a manager at Data General. West is multifaceted and enigmatic to say the least. A folk guitarist who was inspired to work on electronics by the Apollo program. He was a few years too late for NASA though. Eventually he found himself travelling the world building and adjusting incredibly accurate clocks at astronomical observatories for the Smithsonian. This meandering path eventually led him to DG, where he was hired as a computer engineer and quickly worked his way up the ranks.

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The Future Of Eagle CAD

Last week, Autodesk announced their purchase of CadSoft Eagle, one of the most popular software packages for electronic design automation and PCB layout.

Eagle has been around for nearly thirty years, and has evolved to become the standard PCB design package for electronic hobbyists, students, and engineering firms lead by someone who learned PCB design with Eagle. The reason for this is simple: it’s good enough for most simple designs, and there is a free version of Eagle. The only comparable Open Source alternative is KiCad, which doesn’t have nearly as many dedicated followers as Eagle.  Eagle, for better or worse, is a standard, and Open Source companies from  Sparkfun to Adafruit use it religiously and have created high-quality libraries of parts and multiple tutorials

I had the chance to talk with [Matt Berggren], former Hackaday overlord who is currently serving as the Director of Autodesk Circuits. He is the person ultimately responsible for all of Autodesk’s electronic design products, from Tinkercad, 123D, Ecad.io, and project Wire, the engine behind Voxel8, Autodesk’s 3D printer that also prints electronics. [Matt] is now the master of Eagle, and ultimately will decide what will change, what stays the same, and the development path for Eagle.

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The EAGLE has landed: at Autodesk!

The selloffs continue at Farnell! We’d previously reported that the UK distributor of electronics parts was being sold to a Swiss distributor of electronics parts. Now it looks like they’re getting rid of some of their non-core businesses, and in this case that means CadSoft EAGLE, a popular free-for-limited-use PCB layout suite.

But that’s not the interesting part: they sold EAGLE to Autodesk!

Autodesk had a great portfolio of professional 3D-modeling tools, and has free versions of a good number of their products. (Free as in beer. You don’t get to see the code or change it.) By all accounts, the professional versions of their tools are very professional if you can afford them, and the trial versions are still useful. This makes EAGLE slot very nicely into their business model, filling a hole (PCB design) in their toolchain.

What does this mean for those of you out there still using EAGLE instead of open-source alternatives? (We haven’t used EAGLE since KiCAD got good a couple years back.) Beats us! Care to speculate wildly? That’s why we have a comments section. Go! In the mean time we hope to have more info for you directly from Autodesk soon so stay tuned to the front page.