Almost An Amiga For Not A Lot

If you ask someone old enough to have been a computer user in the 16-bit era what machine they had, you’ll receive a variety of answers mentioning Commodore, Atari, Apple, or even PC brands. If your informant lay in the Commodore camp though, you’ll probably have an impassioned tale about their Amiga, its capabilities, and how it was a clearly superior platform whose potential was wasted. The Amiga was for a while one of the most capable commonly available computers, and became something of a cult within its own lifetime despite the truly dismal performance of the various companies that owned it. Today it retains one of the most active retro computer scenes, has an active software community, and even sees new hardware appearing.

For Amiga enthusiasts without the eye-watering sums required to secure one of the new Amiga-compatible machines with a PowerPC or similar at its heart, the only option to relive the glory beside finding an original machine is to run an emulator. [Marco Chiapetta] takes us through this process using a Raspberry Pi, and produces an Amiga that’s close enough to the real thing to satisfy most misty-eyed enthusiasts.

He starts with a cutesy Amiga-themed Raspberry Pi case that while it’s not essential for the build, makes an entirely appropriate statement about his new machine, We’re taken through the set-up of the Amibian emulator distro, then locating a set of Amiga ROMs. Fortunately that last step is easier than you might think, even without trawling for an illicit copy.

The result is an Amiga. OK, it’s not an Amiga, but without the classic Commodore logo is it any more not an Amiga than some of the other non-branded Amiga-compatible boards out there? Less talking, more classic gaming!

We’ve covered quite a few Amigas on these pages. Getting an A500 online was the subject of a recent post, and we brought you news of a new graphics card for the big-box Amiga’s Zorro slot.

Hackaday Links: July 2, 2017

A few months ago, we had a Hack Chat with Chip Gracey, the guy behind Parallax, the Basic Stamp, the Propeller, and the upcoming Propeller II. Now we’ve finally got around to editing that transcript. There’s a lot of awesome stuff in here, from learning a Hardware Design Language to the actual costs of fabbing silicon.

Rigol, the manufacturers of every hackerspace’s favorite oscilloscope, announced a new chipset. The current lineup of Rigol scopes top out at around 1GHz. In a prototype scope based on this chipset, Rigol demonstrated 4GHz bandwidth and 20GS/s with one Billion point memory depth. What this means: Rigol will be making very powerful scopes in the near future.

Hackaday had a meetup this week in New York City. The June workshop at Fat Cat Fab Lab featured speakers involved with twitter bots, 8-bit art, one of the guys behind Beautiful Soup, and a talk on a completely self-sustainable record label. Want to attend one of these meetups? Check out the calendar.

Repairs of retrocomputers are always interesting, but usually the same. Wipe off some dust, possibly replace a cap or two, retrobrite the case, and you’re done. This is not the usual retrocomputer repair. [Drygol] found a C64 that was apparently stored in a swamp for several years. The power switch fell off when he touched it. Somehow, miraculously, the circuit worked and [Drygol] rewarded the board with a new enclosure, dyed keycaps, an SD2IEC mod, and a kernel switch mod.

Guess what’s back? A pen computer with a color sensor on one end, and an ink mixer in the other. The Scribble Pen is the Internet’s infamous crowdfunded color-sensing pen, and the scammer behind it is looking for another funding round. Has anything changed since we tore this thing apart three years ago? No, it’s still a scam. I’ve been keeping tabs on the guy behind it, he’s still not in prison, and there are still idiots on this planet.

The ‘A’ stands for ‘Arts’.

The Benchy is everyone’s favorite tugboat and 3D printer benchmarking tool. They usually float, sideways. However, [MakeShift] somehow figured out how to add weight to the keel and turn the cutest little tugboat into a real, remote controlled boat. You could probably model a proper hull for the bottom of this boat, and it would be one of the few 3D prints where the actual design would be subject to US Copyright.

Is the fidget spinner fad dying? Square, the startup built around turning old AUX to cassette adapters into POS terminals seems to think so. They’ve been graphing their sales figures for fidget spinners, and there has been a marked decline since school let out for the summer. Will the trend pick back up in September? Who cares.

TMS9900 Retro Build

[Robert Baruch] found a TMS9900 CPU from 1983 in a surplus store. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, the TMS9900 was an early 16-bit CPU from Texas Instruments. He found that, unlike modern CPUs, the chip took several voltages and a four-phase twelve-volt clock. He decided to fire it up and — of course — one thing led to another and he wound up with a system on a breadboard. You can see one of the videos he made about the machine below.

This CPU had some odd features, most notably that it stored its registers in off-chip memory and can switch contexts by changing where the registers reside. That was a novel idea when the memory and the CPU were similar in speed. In a modern computer, the memory is much slower than the CPU and this would be a major bottleneck for program execution. The only onboard registers were the program counter, the status register, and a pointer to the general-purpose registers in memory.

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The Computer of Yesterday, Today

There are a handful of computers that have become true museum pieces. The Altair, of course, is tucked away in the Smithsonian’s warehouse waiting for some time in the future when Apple’s legacy fades or until there’s a remake of War Games. Likewise, the French Micral and American SCELBI are important historical artifacts, and even a modern component-accurate reproduction of an Apple I could fetch a decent amount of cash at the right auction.

There’s something special about these old kit computers – even though the instructions for these machines provided volumes of documentation, no one is building these machines anymore. You just can’t buy the PCBs, and sourcing period-correct components is hard. [Brad] is an exception. He found original, untouched PCBs for the cover story of the July, 1974 edition of Radio-Electronics. It’s an unbuilt Mark-8 minicomputer. Now [Brad] is in a position no one else has been in since the 1970s: he can build a vintage minicomputer, with a TV Typewriter, from scratch. He’s documenting the whole thing.

Since this is the first opportunity this century anyone has had to build a truly retro minicomputer, [Brad] is going all-in with this project. For an interface, he’s building [Don Lancaster]’s TV Typewriter, a device introduced in the September 1973 issue Radio-Electronics. When combined with an old CRT TV, the TV Typewriter becomes a serial terminal. While today something like this could be built around a single microcontroller, constructing the TV Typewriter is no small feat: it’s spread across four boards, uses character generator ROMs, and is currently housed in a beautiful red oak case.

Just because [Brad] is building an ancient computer using ancient parts doesn’t mean he can’t get a little help from modern technology. He’s applying white silk screen to his custom TV Typewriter boards using the toner transfer process. Yes, apparently you can get toner cartridges filled with white (and neon!) toner, and this works well enough to replicate the look of professionally silk screened boards.

This is one of the greatest retrocomputing projects we’ve seen in a very long time. This is a true retrocomputer, complete with custom transformers and gigantic linear power supplies. When this project is complete, [Brad] will have a museum piece, all thanks to a lucky find of an eBay auction and a lot of hard work.

BBSing with the ESP8266

Modems have been around for longer than the web, and before we had Facebook we had the BBS scene. Somewhat surprisingly, people are still hosting BBSes, but have fun finding a landline these days. [Blake Patterson] is one of the leading aficionados of retocomputers, and recently he took it upon himself to review an interesting new device. It’s the WiFi232 Internet Modem, a device that turns a WiFi connection into something a computer with a 25-pin RS-232 connector can understand.

The WiFi232 is made by [Paul Rickards], and given the last few years of WiFi-enabled retrocomputing projects, it’s exactly what you would expect. Onboard the WiFi232 is an ESP8266 module emulating the Hayes AT command set. Baud rates from 300 to 115200 are supported, with power provided through a USB mini jack or solder terminals.

[Blake]’s computer den is the stuff of legend, and as such he has more than enough toys to test out this universal WiFi to Serial converter. Devices used in the test include the Apple //c, IIe, Amiga 1000, and TI-99/4A. In short, everything works just like it should. [Blake] was able to pull up the extant bulletin boards on his collection of ancient computers. You can check out [Blake]’s review of the WiFi232 below

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Adding Character To The C64

The venerable Commodore 64, is there anything it can’t do? Like many 1980s computer platforms, direct access to memory and peripherals makes hacking easy and fun. In particular, you’ll find serial & parallel ports are ripe for experimentation, but the Commodore has its expansion/cartridge port, too, and [Frank Buss] decided to hook it up to a two-line character LCD.

Using the expansion port for this duty is a little unconventional. Unlike the parallel port, the expansion port doesn’t have a stable output, as such. The port contains the data lines of the 6510 CPU and thus updates whenever RAM is read or written to, rather then updating in a controlled fashion like a parallel port does. However, [Frank] found a way around this – the IO1 and IO2 lines go low when certain areas of memory are written to. By combining these with latch circuitry, it’s possible to gain up to 16 parallel output lines – more than enough to drive a simple HD44780 display! It’s a testament to the flexibility of 74-series logic.
It’s all built on a C64 cartridge proto-board of [Frank]’s own design, and effort was made to ensure the LCD works with BASIC for easy experimentation. It’s a tidy mod that could easily be built into a nice enclosure and perhaps used as the basis for an 8-bit automation project. Someone’s gotta top that Amiga 2000 running the school district HVAC, after all!

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 Hackaday.io for you to take a look and get inspiration.
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