Hack An 8085 like it’s 1985

If you have been building electronic hardware for several decades, do you still have any projects from your distant past? Do they work? An audio amplifier perhaps, or a bench power supply.

[Just4Fun] made a rather special computer in the 1980s, and it definitely still works. Describing it as “An 8085 single board computer with an EPROM emulator” though, does not convey just how special it is. This is not the modern sense of a single board computer with an SoC and a few support components. Instead it is a full system in the manner of the day in which processor, memory and peripherals are all separate components surrounded by 74 series glue logic. The whole system is wire-wrapped on a piece of perfboard and mounted very neatly in a rack. The EPROM emulator is a separate unit in a console case with hexadecimal keyboard and 7-segment display.

As the video below the break of an LED flashing demo shows, the EPROM emulator allows 8085 machine code to be entered byte by byte instead of having to be burned into a real EPROM.

[Just4Fun] leaves us with plans to replace the period EPROM emulator with a modern alternative, an EEPROM on a PCB designed to fit in the original bank of EPROM sockets. In this he suggests he might fit a bootloader and a BASIC interpreter, something entirely possible back in the day with conventional EPROMs, but probably not as cheaply.

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Very, Very Tiny X86 Systems

The most interesting market for Intel in recent years has been very, very small form factor PCs. ARM is eating them alive, of course, but there are still places where very small and very low power x86 boards make sense. The latest release from SolidRun is the smallest we’ve seen yet. The SolidPC Q4 is one of the smallest x86 implementation you can find. It’s based around the MicroSoM, a module even smaller than a Raspberry Pi, and built around a carrier board that has all the ports you could ever want from the tiniest PC ever.

The SolidPC Q4 is technically only a carrier board featuring a microSD slot, Displayport, HDMI 1.4B, two RJ45 ports with the option for PoE, three USB 3.0 Host ports, jacks for mic and stereo sound, and an M.2 2230 connector for a wireless module. The interesting part of this launch is the MicroSoM, a System on Module based on Intel’s Braswell architecture. Two models are offered, based on the quad-core Atom E8000 and the Pentium N3710. Both modules feature up to 8GB of DDR3L RAM and 4GB of eMMC Flash.

The interesting part of this launch is the MicroSoM, a System on Module based on Intel’s Braswell architecture. Two models are offered, based on the quad-core Atom E8000 and the Pentium N3710. Both modules feature up to 8GB of DDR3L RAM and 4GB of eMMC Flash. The size of these modules is 52.8mm by 40mm, or just a shade larger than the stick-of-gum-sized Raspberry Pi Zero.

The SolidPC isn’t intended to be a Raspberry Pi competitor. While those cheap ARM boards are finding a lot of great uses in industry, they’re no replacement for a small, x86 single board computer. The pricing for this module starts at $157 according to the product literature, with a topped out configuration running somewhere between $300 and $350, depending on options like a heatsink, enclosure, or power adapter. If you want a small single board computer with drivers for everything, there aren’t many other options: you certainly wouldn’t pick a no-name Allwinner board.

Colorful Display Keeps Track of Your Network

So you’ve built out your complete home automation setup, with little network-connected “things” scattered all around your home. You’ve got net-connected TVs, weather stations, security cameras, and whatever else. More devices means more chances for failure. How do you know that they’re all online and doing what they should?

[WTH]’s solution is pretty simple: take a Raspberry Pi Zero, ping all the things, log, and display the status on an RGB LED strip. (And if that one-sentence summary was too many words for you, there’s a video embedded below the break.)

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31415926 (That’s roughly Π times 10 million Raspberries)

The Raspberry Pi Foundation founder Eben Upton has announced that their ten millionth eponymous single-board computer has been sold since their launch back in February 2012. It’s an impressive achievement, especially so since their original sales expectations were for a modest ten thousand. For those of us who watched the RS and Farnell websites crumble under the strain of so many would-be purchasers on that leap day morning four and a half years ago their rapidly exceeding that forecast came as no surprise, but still, it’s worth a moment’s consideration. They passed the Sinclair ZX Spectrum’s British record of 5m computers sold back in February 2015, leaving behind the Pi’s BBC Micro spiritual ancestor on 1.5m sold long before that.

Critics of the Pi will point out that its various versions have rarely been the most powerful small single board computer on the market, or even at times the cheapest. They will also point to the closed-source nature of the Broadcom binary blob that underpins Pi operating systems, and even the sometimes unpredictable nature of the Pi Foundation with respect to its community, product availability and launches. But given that the Pi Foundation’s focus is not on our side of the community but on using the boards as a tool to introduce young people to computing, it’s fair to say that they’ve done a pretty good job of ensuring that a youngster can now get their hands on a useful and easily programmable computer much more easily than at any time in the past.

Would we be in the same position of being able to buy a capable Linux computer for near-pocket-money prices had the Raspberry Pi not been released? Probably so, in fact certainly so. The hardware required to deliver these products has inevitably fallen into a more affordable price bracket, and we would certainly have plenty of boards at our fingertips. They would probably have Allwinner or maybe Mediatek processors rather than the Pi’s Broadcom part, but they would be very likely to deliver equivalent performance at a similar cost. Where the Raspberry Pi’s continued success has come from then has not necessarily been from its hardware but from its community and software. The reliability and ease of use delivered by the Raspbian Linux distribution that Just Works for the parent putting a Pi in front of their child, and the wealth of expert information on the Raspberry Pi forums to get them through any Pi-related troubles are what has given the Pi these sales figures. The boards themselves are almost incidental, almost any hardware paired with that level of background information would likely have met with similar success. Comparing the Pi software experience with for example one of their most capable competitors, it’s obvious that the software is what makes the difference.

It’s likely that Raspberry Pi sales will continue to climb, and in years to come we’ll no doubt be reporting on fresh milestones on ever more powerful revisions of their product. But it’s also likely that their competition will up their software game and their position in the hearts and minds of single board computer users might be usurped by a better offering. If this increased competition in the single board computer market delivers better boards with more for the hardware developer community, then we’re all for it.

Hacker Builds New Single Board Computer Out of Old Single Board Computer

[Ncrmnt] had a busted tablet PC with an Allwinner A23 SoC inside. He combined two of our favorite past-times, Linux hacking and 3D printing, to make a rather sweet little single-board-computer out of it, giving the tablet a second life.

Step one was to make sure that the thing works. Normally, you’d hook up a wired serial terminal and start hacking. [Ncrmnt] took it one step further and wired in a HC-05 Bluetooth serial module, so he can pull up the debug terminal wirelessly. The rest of the hackery was just crafting a bootable SD card and poking around in the Android system that was still resident in the flash memory of the system.

Once the board was proven workable, [Ncrmnt] designed and printed a sweet custom case using Solvespace, a constraint-based 3D CAD modeler that was new to us until recently. The case (after three prints) was a perfect fit for the irregularly shaped system board, a 3.7 V LiIon battery, and a speaker. He then added some nice mounting tabs. All in all, this is a nice-looking and functional mini-computer made out of stuff that was destined for the trash. It’s fast, it’s open-source, and it’s powerful. Best of all, it’s not in the dumpster.

There are pictures and more details on his blog, as well as [Ncrmnt]’s TV-stick to computer conversion that we’ve covered before.

Hacker-Friendly SBCs: Which ones?

We have run out of fruits to name all the single-board computers on the market, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy a rotten one. Bad documentation, incomplete specifications and deprecated firmwares are just some of the caveats of buying only by price and hardware features. To help you out in case you just need to find a great and open-enough SBC with community support, [Eric] has put together a decent list with 81 individually reviewed boards over at hackerboards.com.

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Another Small Linux Computer With Pi In Its Name

Since the introduction of the Raspberry Pi, the embedded Linux scene has been rocked by well supported hardware that is produced in quantity, a company that won’t go out of business in six months, and a huge user base. Yes, there are a few small problems with the Raspberry Pi and its foundation – some stuff is still closed source, the Foundation itself plays things close to their chests, and there are some weird binary blobs somebody will eventually reverse engineer. Viewed against the competition, though, nothing else compares.

Here’s the NanoPi Neo, the latest quad-core Allwinner board from a company in China you’ve never heard of.

The NanoPi Neo is someone’s answer to the Raspberry Pi Zero, the very small and very cheap single board Linux computer whose out-of-stock percentage has led some to claim it’s completely fake and a media conspiracy. The NanoPi Zero features an Allwinner H3 quad-core Cortex-A7 running at 1.2 GHz, 256MB RAM, with a 512MB version being released shortly. Unlike the Raspberry Pi Zero, the NanoPi Neo features a 10/100 Ethernet port. No, it does not have PoE.

As with anything comparing itself to the Raspberry Pi Zero, only two things are important: size and price. The NanoPi Neo is a mere 40mm square, compared to the 65x30mm measurements of the Pi Zero. The NanoPi Neo is available for $7.99, with $5 shipping to the US. Yes, for just three dollars more than a Pi Zero with shipping, you get a poorly supported Linux board. What a time to be alive.

If you’re looking for another wonderful tale of what happens with cheap, powerful ARM chips and contract manufacturers in China, check out my review of the Pine64.