FPGA Drives Old Laptop Screen

Every year, new models of laptops arrive on the shelves. This means that old laptops usually end up in landfills, which isn’t exactly ideal. If you don’t want to waste an old or obsolete laptop, though, there’s a way to reuse at least the screen out of one. Simply grab an FPGA off the shelf and get to work.

[Martin] shows us all how to perform this feat on our own, and goes into great detail about how all of the electronics involved work. Once everything was disassembled and the FPGA was wired up, it took him a substantial amount of time just to turn the display on. From there it was all downhill: [Martin] can now get any pattern to show up on the screen, within reason. The only limit to his display now seems to be the lack of external RAM. He currently uses the setup to drive an impressive-looking clock.

This is a big step from days passed where it was next to impossible to repurpose a laptop screen. Eventually someone discovered a way to drive these displays, and now there are cheap electronics from China that can usually get a screen like this running. It’s impressive to see it done from scratch, though, and the amount of detail in the videos are a great way to understand how everything is working.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: The Cheapest Logic Analyzer

There are piles of old 128MB and 256MB sticks of RAM sitting around in supply closets and in parts bins. For his Hackaday Prize project, [esot.eric] is turning these obsolete sticks of RAM into something useful – a big, fast logic analyzer. It’s cheap, and simple enough that it can be built on a breadboard.

If using old SDRAM in strange configurations seems familiar, you’re correct. This project is based on [esot.eric]’s earlier AVR logic analyzer project that used a slow AVR to measure 32 channels of logic at 30 megasamples per second. The only way this build was possible was by hacking an old stick of RAM to ‘free run’, automatically logging data to the RAM and reading it out with an AVR later.

This project expands on the earlier projects by using bigger sticks of RAM faster, with the ultimate goal being a 32-bit, 133MS/s logic analyzer that is more of a peripheral than a single, monolithic project. With a Raspberry Pi Zero, a stick of RAM, and a few miscellaneous logic chips, this project can become anything from a logic analyzer to a data logger to an oscilloscope. It’s weird, yes, but the parts to make this very handy tool can be found in any hackerspace or workshop, making it a great trick for the enterprising hardware hacker.

True Random Number Generator for a True Hacker

How can you generate random bits? Some people think it’s not easy, others will tell you that it’s pretty damn hard, and then there are those who wonder if it is possible at all. Of course, it is easy to create a very long pseudorandom sequence in software, but even the best PRNG (Pseudorandom Number Generator) needs a good random seed, as we don’t want to get the same sequence each time we switch on the unit, do we? That’s why we need a TRNG (True Random Number Generator), but that requires special hardware.

Some high-end microprocessors are equipped with an internal hardware TRNG, but it is, unfortunately, not true for most low-cost microcontrollers. There are a couple of tricks hackers use to compensate. They usually start the internal free running counter and fetch its contents when some external event occurs (user presses a button, or so). This works, but not without disadvantages. First, there is the danger of “locking” those two events, as a timer period may be some derivative of input scan routine timing. Second, the free running time (between switching on and the moment the unit requests a random number) is often too short, resulting in the seed being too close to the sequence start, and thus predictable. In some cases even, there is no external input before the unit needs a random seed!

Despite what has already been discussed, microcontrollers do have a source of true randomness inside them. While it might not be good enough for crypto applications, it still generates high enough entropy for amusement games, simulations, art gadgets, etc.

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Fail of the Week: Re-addressing Your RAM DIMM

It doesn’t work and we’re not surprised considering the can of worms that comes with RAM addressing. Right off the bat we assume timing problems due to variance in the trace lengths and EM issues. But you have to hand it to [cyandyedeyecandy] for even trying. The self-proclaimed upgrade seeks to readjust how the DIMM works without changing the edge pinout.

The stick shown here is a 512 MB module that, because of the computer using it (unspecified in the post), is only allowing access to 256 MB. The added chips and free-form circuit make up an AND for the chip-select line, and flip-flop for the bank address.

The post is a gorgeous cry for help. We already weighed in from the peanut gallery at the top (seriously, that’s somewhat baseless guessing) so step up to the computer-engineering plate and let us know what needs to be done to make this most-awesome-of-non-working hacks actually work.

Once you’ve figured this out, here’s another one to scratch at your brain with.

Reprogramming Super Mario World from Inside The Game

[SethBling] recently set a world record speed run of the classic Super Nintendo game Super Mario World on the original SNES hardware. He managed to beat the game in five minutes and 59.6 seconds. How is this possible? He actually reprogrammed the game by moving specific objects to very specific places and then executing a glitch. This method of beating the game was originally discovered by Twitch user [Jeffw356] but it was performed on an emulator. [SethBling] was able to prove that this “credits warp” glitch works on the original hardware.

If you watch the video below, you’ll see [SethBling] visit one of the first available levels in the game. He then proceeds to move certain objects in the game to very specific places. What he’s doing here is manipulating the game’s X coordinate table for the sprites. By moving objects to specific places, he’s manipulating a section of the game’s memory to hold specific values and a specific order. It’s a meticulous process that likely took a lot of practice to get right.

Once the table was setup properly, [SethBling] needed a way to get the SNES to execute the X table as CPU instructions. In Super Mario World, there are special items that Mario can obtain that act as a power up. For example, the mushroom will make him grow in size. Each sprite in the game has a flag to tell the SNES that the item is able to act as a power up. Mario can either collect the power up by himself, or he can use his friendly dinosaur Yoshi to eat the power up, which will also apply the item’s effects to Mario.

The next part of the speed run involves something called the item swap glitch. In the game, Mario can collect coins himself, or Yoshi can also collect them by eating them. A glitch exists where Yoshi can start eating a coin, but Mario jumps off of Yoshi and collects the coin himself simultaneously. The result is that the game knows there is something inside of Yoshi’s mouth but it doesn’t know what. So he ends up holding an empty sprite with no properties. The game just knows that it’s whatever sprite is in sprite slot X.

Now comes the actual item swap. There is an enemy in the game called Chargin’ Chuck. This sprite happens to have the flag set as though it’s a power up. Normally this doesn’t matter because it also has a set flag to tell the game that it cannot be eaten by Yoshi. Also, Chuck is an enemy so it actually hurts Mario rather than act as a power up. So under normal circumstances, this sprite will never actually act as a power up. The developers never programmed the game to properly handle this scenario, because it was supposed to be impossible.

If the coin glitch is performed in a specific location within the level, a Chargin’ Chuck will spawn just after the coin is collected. When the Chuck spawns, it will take that empty sprite slot and suddenly the game believes that Yoshi is holding the Chuck in his mouth. This triggers the power up condition, which as we already know was never programmed into the game. The code ends up jumping to an area of memory that doesn’t contain normal game instructions.

The result of all of this manipulation and glitching is that all of the values in the sprite X coordinate table are executed as CPU instructions. [SethBling] setup this table to hold values that tell the game to jump to the end credits. The console executes them and does as commanded, and the game is over just a few minutes after it began. The video below shows the speed run but doesn’t get too far into the technical details, but you can read more about it here.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this type of hack. Speed runs have been performed on Pokemon with very similar techniques. Another hacker managed to program and execute a version of single player pong all from within Pokemon Blue. We can’t wait to see what these game hackers come up with next. Continue reading “Reprogramming Super Mario World from Inside The Game”

Low-Level Computing with Entry-Level Difficulty: DUO Light

The hardware can’t get much simpler. The DUO Light uses an ATmega328 (commonly found on Arduino boards) along with an external SRAM chip to provide a low-level computer programming experience that will suit those new to programming and some more experienced tinkerers.

At the time of writing the modest Kickstarter goal of $1100 was just $18 shy of success. We’d wager that this is partly due to the availability of so much support material on [Jack’s] website. (fyi- a lot of the links on that page are zip files)

The SD card slot accepts a FAT16 card with byte code for the programs. The available Psuedo C compiler, and assembler let you pick your poison, or you can simply dig into the byte code directly. We didn’t see a schematic, but the firmware and BOM are both available. You should be able to easily figure out connections from those.

We’ve been a fan of [Jack’s] work for quite some time. His TTL computer and 16-core ATmega-based offerings are sure to delight, even if you remember seeing them go by the first time. This isn’t his first stab at educational models either. Though we still found his logic chip computer a bit daunting.

 

Dual Port RAM Teaches an Old NES New Tricks

nesDPR

[Andrew] is developing a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Emulators are great for this, but [Andy] loves running on the real iron. To help, he’s created a dual port RAM interface for his NES. As the name implies, a dual port RAM is a memory with two separate data and address buses. The Cypress Semiconductor CY7C136 [Andy] used also includes arbitration logic to ensure that both ports don’t attempt to access the same memory cell and cause data corruption. In [Andy’s] case the NES was on one side, oblivious to the new hardware. On the other side of the dual port RAM, [Andy] installed an ATmega164 running his own custom firmware.

The new hardware gives [Andy] a live view of what’s going on in the NES’s memory. He added a live memory view/edit screen similar to the FCEUX emulator. The window runs on a PC while the game itself is running on an NES. [Andy] was even able to add rudimentary break and step features by connecting his circuit to the Non Maskable Interrupt (NMI) line of the NES. By holding the NMI asserted, the ATmega can essentially freeze the game in progress.

[Andy] has even used his circuit to teach the NES some new tricks. By reading the timer and score memory locations on Ice Hockey, he was able to create a scoreboard and goal light. Similar techniques were used to give Contra a muzzle flash light which puts Ambilight systems to shame.

We don’t know what [Andy] is planning next, but we hope it’s a source release so we can start hacking some some games ourselves!

Click past the break to see a couple of [Andy’s] Vine videos.

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