Sun Ray Thin Client Becomes Raspberry Pi Workstation

One of the great predictions of desktop computing from the mid 1990s was that we would all move to so-called thin clients, stripped-out desktop computers containing only processor, display driver, and peripheral interfaces, that would call up their applications not from a local hard disk but from a remote server. It was one that was never fulfilled in quite the way its proponents envisaged, but a business thin client hardware market did emerge for the likes of Citrix sharing of Windows applications. In a sense we have reached the same point through cloud-based in-browser applications such as Google Apps or Office 365, though even with newer thin client hardware such as the Chromebook these are still largely used on more traditional machines.

Even though thin clients never took the world by storm, it is still not unusual to encounter the hardware once it has outlived its usefulness. A surplus Sun Ray 270 all-in-one thin client came [Evan Allen]’s way, and to make something useful from it he converted it into a Raspberry Pi workstation.

The Sun Ray 270 has a MIPS processor board integrated into a 17 inch monitor. [Evan] was fortunate enough to find a generic HDMI controller board for its LCD panel, so was able to dispense with the MIPS board entirely and couple the controller with an automatic HDMI switch. This allows him to use the device both as a Raspberry Pi and as a monitor.

This may not rank among the most epic hacks ever, but it has delivered [Evan] a useful computer and it’s reminding the rest of us that these thin clients can be repurposed. So if one lands on your bench, look at it with fresh eyes.

Of course, if you have a Pi in a thin client, you could always take it full circle and use it to run a thin client.

Z80 Based Raspberry Pi Look-alike

Homebrew computers are the ‘in thing’ these days and the Zilog Z80 is the most popular choice for making one on your own. We have seen some pretty awesome builds but [Martin K]’s Z-berry is the smallest on record yet. As the name suggests, the retrocomputer conforms to the Raspberry Pi form factor which includes the GPIO header.

The Z-berry is designed with a Z80 CPU running at 10 MHz (20 MHz possible) and comes with 32 kB ROM
and 512 kB RAM. In addition to the serial interface, the computer boasts an I2C bus, an SPI bus, and a PS/2 keyboard connector to boot. [Martin K] has a video where the finished system is enclosed in a Raspberry Pi case and has an I2C OLED display attached and working.

[Martin K] has posted a lot of details on how to make your own Z-berry which includes the BOM, schematic and preliminary information. We reached out to him to find out more about the software which is stable and available on request along with PCBs and sample code. Additionally, this project promises to draw much less current than the Raspberry Pi and should prove useful for anyone looking to create a retro solution to a modern problem.

It is interesting to see projects that combine modern techniques with retro technologies. One of the best Z80 projects we have seen is the FAP80 and there are some awesome homebrew computer projects on for you to take a look and get inspiration.
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First thoughts on the new UP Core

I normally stay away from talking about x86 single-board computers because I don’t have a lot to say about them. They’re too expensive, and run too hot, to be interesting. Enter the new UP Core funding now on Kickstarter.

The UP Core is just 56.5 mm × 66 mm (2.2 in × 2.6 in) and powered by a 64-bit Quad Core Intel Atom clocked at either 1.44 GHz or 1.92 GHz. It will ship with either 2 GB or 4 GB of RAM, and either 32 GB or 64 GB of eMMC. The board has a USB 3 port, HDMI, DSI/eDP, and two MIPI-CSI ports supporting either a 2 MP or 8 MP camera. It has both WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth LE built-in.

In other words it’s powerful enough to serve as a desktop PC running Linux, Android, or a full Windows 10 installation. The cheapest UP Core configuration—with 1 GB memory and 16 GB eMMC—is €69, or around $75. Continue reading “First thoughts on the new UP Core”

How to Build Your Own Google AIY without the Kit

Google’s voice assistant has been around for a while now and when Amazon released its Alexa API and ported the PaaS Cloud code to the Raspberry Pi 2 it was just a matter of time before everyone else jumped on the fast train to maker kingdom. Google just did it in style.

Few know that the Google Assistant API for the Raspberry Pi 3 has been out there for some time now but when they decided to give away a free kit with the May 2017 issues of MagPi magazine, they made an impression on everyone. Unfortunately the world has more makers and hackers and the number of copies of the magazine are limited.

In this writeup, I layout the DIY version of the AIY kit for everyone else who wants to talk to a cardboard box. I take a closer look at the free kit, take it apart, put it together and replace it with DIY magic. To make things more convenient, I also designed an enclosure that you can 3D print to complete the kit. Lets get started.

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The Internet of Cigars

We know, we know. They are bad for you. You shouldn’t start, but some people do love a cigar. And a fine cigar is pretty particular about drying out. That’s why tobacconists and cigar aficionados store their smokes in a humidor. This is anything from a small box to a large closet that maintains a constant humidity. Of course, who could want such a thing these days without having it connected to the Internet?

This fine-looking humidor uses a Raspberry Pi. When the humidity is low, an ultrasonic humidifier adds moisture to the air. If it gets too high, a fan circulates the air until it balances out. Who knew cigar smoking could be so high-tech? The humidity sensor is an AM2302. There’s also a smart USB hub that can accept commands to turn the fan and humidifier on and off.

The wooden cabinet was an existing humidor, apparently. [Atticakes] says he spent about $100 total but that a commercial equivalent would have been at least $250. You can find his source code on GitHub.

If you are vehemently anti-cigar, we should point out that there are other uses for such a device. Because of Denver’s low humidity, for example, the Colorado Rockies baseball team store game balls in a large humidor.

For the record, a zip lock bag can do in a pinch. Without something, the experts say the cigar starts to change negatively in two or three days.

First networkable humidor we’ve seen? Hardly. If you need something to light that stogie, we suggest a laser.

Sense Hat Comes Alive

Remember the Raspberry Pi Sense Hat? Originally designed for a mission to the International Space Station, the board has quite a few sensors onboard as well as an 8×8 RGB LED matrix. What can you do with an 8×8 screen? You might be surprised if you use [Ethan’s] Python Sense Hat animation library. You can get the full visual effect in the video below.

The code uses an array to represent the screen, which isn’t a big deal since there are only 64 elements. Turning on a particular element to animate, say, a pong puck, isn’t hard with or without the library. Here’s some code to do it with the library:

for x in range(0,7):
 ect.cell(image,[0,x],[randint(0,255), randint(0,255), randint(0,255)],0.1)
for x in range(7,0, -1):
 ect.cell(image,[0,x],[randint(0,255), randint(0,255), randint(0,255)],0.1)

Each loop draws a box with a random color and then erases it before going to the next position. The second for loop makes the puck move in the opposite direction. You can probably deduce that the first argument is the screen array, the second is the position. The third argument sets the color, and the final argument sets an animation timer. Looking at the code, though, it does look like the timer blocks which is probably not going to work for some applications.

If that’s all there was, this wouldn’t be worth too much, but you can also draw triangles, circles, and squares. For example:,(4,4), 3, [randint(0,255), randint(0,255), randint(0,255)], 0.1)

We covered the Sense Hat awhile back. Of course, it does a lot more than just light up LEDs as you can see from this weather dashboard.

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Liquid Cooling Overclocked Raspberry Pi With Style

[HydroGraphix HeadQuarters] has earned his name with this one. While he is using mineral oil instead of hydro, he’s certainly done a nice job with the graphics of it. The ‘it’ in questions is an overclocked Raspberry Pi 3 in a transparent container filled with mineral oil, and with a circulating fan.

He’s had no problem running the Pi at 1.45 GHz while running a Nintendo 64 emulator, getting between 40 °C and 50 °C. The circulating fan is a five volt computer USB fan. It’s hard to tell if the oil is actually moving, but we’re pretty sure we see some doing so near the end of the video below the break.

Mineral oil is not electrically conductive, and is often used to prevent arcing between components on high voltage multiplier boards, but those components are always soldered together. If you’ve ever worked with mineral oil, you know that it creeps into every nook and cranny, making us wonder if it might work its way between some of the (non-soldered) contacts in the various USB connectors on this Raspberry Pi. Probably not, but those of us with experience with it can attest to it’s insidiousness.

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