The Oldest Known Surviving PC Operating System

You’ll all be familiar with the PC, the ubiquitous x86-powered workhorse of desktop and portable computing. All modern PCs are descendants of the original from IBM, the model 5150 which made its debut in August 1981. This 8088-CPU-driven machine was expensive and arguably not as accomplished as its competitors, yet became an instant commercial success.

The genesis of its principal operating system is famous in providing the foundation of Microsoft’s huge success. They had bought Seattle Computer Products’ 86-DOS, which they then fashioned into the first release version of IBM’s PC-DOS. And for those interested in these early PC operating systems there is a new insight to be found, in the form of a pre-release version of PC-DOS 1.0 that has found its way into the hands of OS/2 Museum.

Sadly they don’t show us the diskette itself, but we are told it is the single-sided 160K 5.25″ variety that would have been the standard on these early PCs. We say “the standard” rather than “standard” because a floppy drive was an optional extra on a 5150, the most basic model would have used cassette tape as a storage medium.

The disk is bootable, and indeed we can all have a play with its contents due to the magic of emulation. The dates on the files reveal a date of June 1981, so this is definitely a pre-release version and several months older than the previous oldest known PC-DOS version. They detail an array of differences between this disk and the DOS we might recognise, perhaps the most surprising of which is that even at this late stage it lacks support for .EXE executables.

You will probably never choose to run this DOS version on your PC, but it is an extremely interesting and important missing link between surviving 86-DOS and PC-DOS versions. It also has the interesting feature of being the oldest so-far-found operating system created specifically for the PC.

If you are interested in early PC hardware, take a look at this project using an AVR processor to emulate a PC’s 8088.

Header image: (CC BY-SA 3.0 DE).

Hackaday Prize Entry: A PC-XT Clone Powered By AVR

There is a high probability that the device on which you are reading this comes somehow loosely under the broad definition of a PC. The familiar x86 architecture with peripheral standards has trounced all its competitors over the years, to the extent that it is only in the mobile and tablet space of personal computing that it has not become dominant.

The modern PC with its multi-core processor and 64-bit instruction set is a world away from its 16-bit ancestor from the early 1980s. Those early PCs were computers in the manner of the day, in which there were relatively few peripherals, and the microprocessor bus was exposed almost directly rather than through the abstractions and gatekeepers we’d expect to see today. The 8088 processor with an 8-bit external bus though is the primordial PC processor, and within reason you will find software written for DOS on those earliest IBM machines will often still run on your multiprocessor behemoth over a DOS-like layer on your present-day operating system. This 35-year-plus chain of mostly unbroken compatibility is both a remarkable feat of engineering and a millstone round the necks of modern PC hardware and OS developers.

Those early PCs have captured the attention of [esot.eric], who has come up with the interesting project of interfacing an AVR microcontroller to the 8088 system bus of one of those early PCs. Thus all those PC peripherals could be made to run under the control of something a little more up-to-date. When you consider that the 8088 ran at a modest 300KIPS and that the AVR is capable of running at a by comparison blisteringly fast 22MIPS, the idea was that it should be able to emulate an 8088 at the same speed as an original, if not faster. His progress makes for a long and fascinating read, so far he has accessed the PC’s 640KB of RAM reliably, talked to an ISA-bus parallel port, and made a CGA card produce colours and characters. Interestingly the AVR has the potential for speed enhancements not possible with an 8088, for example it can use its own internal UART with many fewer instructions than it would use to access the PC UART, and its internal Flash memory can contain the PC BIOS and read it a huge amount faster than a real BIOS ROM could be on real PC hardware.

In case you were wondering what use an 8088 PC could be put to, take a look at this impressive demo. Don’t have one yourself? Build one.

The DIY Luggable PC

If you haven’t gone laptop shopping recently, you’re in for a big shock when you do. Recent consumer laptops are thin, powerful, surprisingly inexpensive, and Apple’s latest MacBook Pros even have a fantastic ‘Touch Bar’ – a touch-sensitive OLED display where the function keys should be. The greatest laptops ever made are available right now, and they don’t cost much, either.

Unfortunately, the laptop as a platform is inherently a compromise. If you want a discrete CPU, or if you simply want to choose your own parts, you’re relegated to a desktop build. The middle ground between extensibility and portability isn’t really covered by case manufacturers, and even the rare ‘LAN party’ cases rarely have a handle.

[Roger] is taking steps to solve this problem. He’s designed a 3D printable luggable PC. Yes, now you can have a GTX 1080 and a 22-core Xeon in a form factor you can carry around. It’ll fit in the overhead bin on your next flight, and yes, the monitor is included.

The construction of this DIY luggable PC should be familiar to anyone who built a 3D printer in 2011. It’s made out of threaded rods, with brackets for an LCD panel, ATX power supply, motherboard, and SSDs. Since this is effectively a modular system, you can load this case up with hardware. The included monitor in [Roger]’s build is taken from an old laptop and driven through an eBay “LCD Controller Board”.

While a luggable PC might be a very niche use case, it is still one that’s vastly underserved. I recently built a new battlestation, and after searching for a case like this for a few months, I eventually gave up, caved in, and bought whatever Linus told me to buy. You simply cannot buy an ATX case that has a monitor bolted to the side, and [Roger]’s build is the first DIY solution we’ve seen.

All the files to replicate this project are linked to on the [Roger]’s Hackaday.io project, and this would be an excellent basis for a community-based project to build an Open Hardware luggable PC enclosure. A few days ago, [Roger] brought this PC out to the Hackaday LA January meetup. He brought to the meetup on the train, providing more than enough evidence this is a truly portable PC. Check out the pics from the meetup below.

Beautiful DIY Ambilight Display

A proper battlestation — or more colloquially, computer desk — setup can sometimes use a bit of technical flair to show off your skills. [fightforlife2] has shared their DIY ambilight monitor backlighting that flows through different colours which mimic what is displayed on the screen.

[fightforlife2]’s setup uses fifty RGB LEDs with individual controllers that support the FastLED library, regulated by an Arduino Nano clone — although any will suffice. The power requirement for the display was a bit trickier, ultimately requiring 3 amperes at 5V; an external power brick can do the trick, but [fightforlife2] also suggests the cavalier solution of using your computer power supply’s 5V line — adding the convenience of shutting off the ambilight display when you shut down your PC!

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Make Any PC A Thousand Dollar Gaming Rig With Cloud Gaming

The best gaming platform is a cloud server with a $4,000 dollar graphics card you can rent when you need it.

[Larry] has  done this sort of thing before with Amazon’s EC2, but recently Microsoft has been offering a beta access to some of NVIDIA’s Tesla M60 graphics cards. As long as you have a fairly beefy connection that can support 30 Mbps of streaming data, you can play just about any imaginable game at 60fps on the ultimate settings.

It takes a bit of configuration magic and quite a few different utilities to get it all going, but in the end [Larry] is able to play Overwatch on max settings at a nice 60fps for $1.56 an hour. Considering that just buying the graphics card alone will set you back 2500 hours of play time, for the casual gamer, this is a great deal.

It’s interesting to see computers start to become a rentable resource. People have been attempting streaming computers for a while now, but this one is seriously impressive. With such a powerful graphics card you could use this for anything intensive, need a super high-powered video editing station for a day or two? A CAD station to make anyone jealous? Just pay a few dollars of cloud time and get to it!

Staying In and Playing Skyrim Has Rarely Been This Healthy

Looking to add some activity to your day but don’t want to go through a lot of effort? [D10D3] has the perfect solution that enables you to take a leisurely bike ride through Skyrim. A standing bicycle combines with an HTC Vive (using the add-on driver VorpX which allows non-vr enabled games to be played with a VR headset) and a Makey Makey board to make slack-xercise — that’s a word now — part of your daily gaming regimen.

The Makey Makey is the backbone of the rig; it allows the user to set up their own inputs with electrical contacts that correspond to keyboard and mouse inputs, thereby allowing one to play a video game in some potentially unorthodox ways — in this case, riding a bicycle.

Setting up a couple buttons for controlling the Dragonborn proved to be a simple process. Buttons controlling some of the main inputs were plugged into a breadboard circuit which was then connected to the Makey Makey along with the ground wires using jumpers. As a neat addition, some aluminium foil served as excellent contacts for the handlebars to act as the look left and right inputs. That proved to be a disorienting addition considering the Vive’s head tracking also moves the camera. Continue reading “Staying In and Playing Skyrim Has Rarely Been This Healthy”

Turn Your $10 Dollar Mouse Into A Fancy $10 Dollar Mouse With CNC

We feel it’s healthy to cultivate a general desire for more neat tools. That’s just one of the reasons we like [doublecloverleaf]’s retro PC mouse. It certainly meets the requirement, the first computer mouse was wooden, and the mouse he used as the guts for this is so retro it belongs in the dollar bin at the thrift store.

To begin with, [doublecloverleaf] took a picture of the footprint of his aged, but trustworthy laser mouse. Using the photo in SolidWorks he built a model of the circuit board, and with that digitized, a mouse that suited his aesthetics around it. The final model is available on GrabCAD.

Edit: Woops, looks like we accidentally slandered a great Slovenian community CNC project. Check out the comments for more info. Original text in italics. 

Next came the CNC. It looks like he’s using one of those Chinese 3040 mills that are popular right now. The electronics are no good, but if you luck out you can get a decent set of mechanics out of one. He did a two side milling operation on a wood block, using four small holes to align the gcode before each step, and then milled the bottom out of aluminum. Lastly, he milled the buttons out of aluminum as well, and turned a knurled scroll wheel on his lathe.
The end result looks exceedingly high end, and it would be a hard first guess to assume the internals were equivalent to a $10 Amazon house brand mouse.

Continue reading “Turn Your $10 Dollar Mouse Into A Fancy $10 Dollar Mouse With CNC”