A DiskVaccuum For Obsolete Disk Formats

drive

[Jim] has a box of disks for a very old Compucolor II computer, and with bit rot slowly setting in he figured it might be time to dump all those disks to a more permanent format. After reviewing the existing tools to read these disks, he decided to build his own floppy disk interface that he calls the DiskVaccuum.

The DiskVaccuum is based on a Papilio Pro FPGA board and a few chips worth of level conversion. The FPGA is able to read bits and move the head of the disk with ease, saving everything to the drive of a much more modern computer.

On the USB side of the Papilio board, [Jim] wrote a shell of sorts in Python to capture tracks on the disk, read out the track listing, save an image file, and do all the things a proper DOS should. Right now the project is only for the Compucolor II disk drive, but [Jim] played around with KiCAD enough to create a Papilio-to-disk-drive interface board with connectors for most of the disk drives of this particular vintage. The hope is to generalize the hardware and software to read disks for other systems, including those with 8-inch drives.

[Jim] put up a video describing the hardware and demoing his Python capture utility. You can check that out below.

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Breathing life into an old LCD

panel

Out of the depths of a junk drawer, [Alex]‘s friend pulled out an old monochrome LCD display. This is an older low-resolution display from ancient electronics that unfortunately doesn’t have its own controller chip. No worries, though, because with the help of an FPGA [Alex] figured out how to drive this display.

On the back of this display are eight Hitachi LCD drivers, six column shifters and two row shifters, allowing the LCD to display a 256×128 pixel image. Without an LCD controller, though, [Alex] couldn’t just send a static image to the LCD. Instead, he had to continuously refresh the display just like a VGA monitor.

With the help of a 1500-page PDF titled Hitachi LCD Controller/Driver LSI Data Book, [Alex] was able to dump pixels into the ICs on the display with the help of a Papilio One FPGA board. A lot of work just to display the beautiful [Lena], but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Building a 100 MHz frequency counter

The great thing about building with gates is the crazy speeds you can achieve by using hardware directly (as opposed to working with simple microcontrollers). This 100 MHz frequency counter is a great example. [Michael] just finished building it using a Papilio board.

Of course we’re not talking about discreet chips here. The Papilio is an FPGA development board which means he is building with hardware gates, but that is still done by writing code. Above, the rig is measuring a 25 MHz being generated by a second FPGA board. Using the Papilio’s on board 32 MHz clock the device is capable of counting a frequency up to 100 MHz. You can see it measuring a 96.875  MHz signal in the video after the break. One interesting thing about that clip is that near the end he touches the crystal’s case with his finger and the Hertz really jump for a moment.

If the 8-digit display looks familiar that’s because [Michael] recently published a library to use it with an FPGA.

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Laptop LCD resurrection gets some clean packaging

We love to see derivative works that take a great hack and make it even better. This LCD Laptop resurrection project is an excellent example. [Alex] took the work seen on this other FPGA LCD driver and delivered a leap forward on the final hardware packaging.

The link at the top drops you into the second page of [Alex's] project thread. But if you go back to the beginning you’ll see the protoboard and spaghetti wiring which started off the process. Obviously if he plans to use this for a length of time it needs to be fortified or he’ll be cracking it open and grabbing a soldering iron again before long. But rather than just tidying up he ended up spinning his own circuit boards that make the screen look like it was manufactured to be used in this way.

He was able to mount the add-on board inside the LCD bezel, cutting out a space for the HDMI connector, barrel jack, trimpot, and the head of the inductor which was just a bit too large to fit inside. The trimpot allows him to adjust the LCD brightness. As far as we can tell the HDMI connector is just an easy way for him to deliver the drive signals from the Papilio board (FPGA) to the screen.

Developing a better way to control 10,000 LEDs

The SoundPuddle project drives thousands of LEDs based on audio input. The team is working on a replacing the controller for this wire-filled setup with something more robust. They took the mess seen above to the Apogaea Festival and were plagued by loose wires and unreliable communications due to noise and interference. The aim of the new system is to reliably control up to 10,000 LEDs.

The red PCB seen at the center of the rats-nest is a Papilio FPGA board. They still want to use it to drive the installation, but a new hardware interface is necessary. The solution is to design what they call a megawing (wings are to Papilio as shields are to Arduino).  The LEDs will be in RGB strip form, so one of the requirements is to supply enough connectors to drive 16 channels of SPI devices. The wing will also include the 48V power source and connectors for the condenser microphone that serves as an input for the SoundPuddle. There are also two other options for audio input, one via a Bluetooth module (which can double as a control device) and the other via MIDI.

After the break you can see a lighting demo. Be ready with the volume controls as most of the sounds used in the test are quite annoying.

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Building an Arduino Chiptunes project inside an FPGA

From time to time we find ourselves in the mood for some Chiptunes. You know, the music that accompanied all of the best 8-bit console games? These days there are a lot of projects that use the audio chips of yore to recreate the sounds, but you’re always faced with the issue of sourcing those parts. [Jack Gassett] took some inspiration from one of those projects, but solved the rare hardware dilemma by building his own Chiptunes MIDI device in an FPGA.

He saw one of our features on an Arduino controlled YM2149 programmable sound generator. He realized that you can already find FPGA libraries out there that mimic this sound generation hardware, and he’s already done extensive work with an Arduino soft processor. Why not combine the two?

He’s using a Papilio FPGA with a wing that includes a MIDI connector and audio-out jack. As you can hear in the clip after the break this sounds just like the real thing. And he’s got plans to roll as many different types of sound generating chips into the mix as possible. You know, one FPGA synth to rule them all.

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Conway’s Game of Life in HD

We’re going to have to take [Mike's] word for it that he built Conway’s Game of Life with high-definition video output. That’s because this screenshot is his only proof and it looks a bit fuzzy to us. But we are interested in the project which used an FPGA to generate a 1080p VGA output of the classic programming challenge.

One of the biggest benefits of using an FPGA for this application is the hardware’s parallel processing ability. For every frame of the game, the area around each living cell must be analyzed to produce the next evolutionary step. Most of the time this means processing all of the pixels in the playing area, which is the case here. [Mike] is using VHDL to program a Papilio Plus which has a Spartan 6 chip on it. He separated his code into the different components when writing about it. This makes it easy to find the chunks relating to the game if that’s what you’re interested in. If you just want to see how he implemented the VGA interface that’s well documented as well.

If you’re not familiar, Conway’s Game of Life has simple rules regarding when a cell will live, die, or be reborn. As [Mike] points out, every programmer should give it a shot at some point. We’ve seen many iterations from the very large to the very small.