VCF East X: Minicomputing With The Raspberry Pi

The Vintage Computer Festival in Wall, New Jersey doesn’t just attract locals; [Oscar] came all the way from Switzerland to show off his PiDP-8/I. It’s a miniature minicomputer, emulated in SimH, with blinkenlights and toggle switches mounted to a Raspberry Pi Hat.

Although the PiDP-8 is emulating a machine with thousands of discrete transistors, the design is exceptionally simple. On the board is 92 LEDs, a bunch of diodes, 26 toggle switches, a driver chip, and that’s about it. All the multiplexing for the switches and LEDs is taken care of in software. On the Raspberry Pi side, [Oscar] is able to run FOCAL, OS/8, and, like a normal-sized PDP-8, can toggle in programs manually.

Instead of having connecting to the ribbon cables coming out of RK01 disk drives and DECtapes, [Oscar] is emulating those too. All the files that would reside on old Digital storage mediums are now stuffed into USB thumb drives. A USB hub is plugged into the Pi, and when one of these USB disk packs is plugged into the hub, loading an operating system or a program is just a matter of flicking a few toggle switches.

[Oscar] has been working hard to turn the PiDP-8 into a kit, and the word around the booths is that this will happen sometime this summer. The expected price for this kit is very interesting: somewhere between $100 and $150 USD. For that price, we’d expect someone to rig up an Arduino-based paper tape reader very quickly, perhaps this afternoon.

More pics and a video of the PiDP-8/I below.
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VCF East X: The Not Trashy Eighty

The lowly TRS-80 doesn’t get much love in most circles; it’s constantly overshadowed by the popularity of the Apple II or computers that had graphics that weren’t terrible. For [Mike Loewen]’s VCF exhibit, he’s turning his TRS-80 into something good with SD card disk drives and custom graphics adapters.

The -80 in question is a Model 4, the fancy all-in-one version that could run CP/M. The disk drives in this computer were replaced with half-height 5 1/4″ drives, the 200ns RAM was replaced with 100ns RAM and modified to get rid of the wait states, and a hard drive is emulated on a SD card adapter thanks to an add-on from [Ian Mavric].

[Ian] is somewhat prolific in the world of TRS-80s; he reverse engineered the original hi-res graphics board and reimplemented it with video RAM chips of a more modern vintage.

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VCF East X: Virtual Reality With PETSCII

What would happen if Oculus-quality virtual reality was created in the 80s on the Commodore PET? [Michael Hill] knows, because he created a stereoscopic video headset using a PET.

This build is an extension of [Michael]’s exhibit last year at VCF East where he displayed a video feed with PETSCII. Yes, that means displaying video with characters, not pixels.

This year, he’s doubling the number of screens, and sending everything to two iPhones in a Google Cardboard-like VR headset. Apart from the optics, the setup is pretty simple: cameras get image data, it’s sent over to a PET, and a stream of characters are sent back.

It’s impossible to film, and using it is interesting, to say the least. Video below.

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VCF East X: The Quarternet Steering Committee

Today was the first day of the Vintage Computer Festival East X. As is the tradition, the first day was packed with talks and classes about various retrocomputing ephemera, with this year featuring a great talk from [David Riley] about 8-bit computer music, a class on system architecture from our own [Bil Herd] (video coming soon), and a talk about vintage teletypes. One of these talks was about creating new hardware: [Jim Brain]’s steering committee on a networking solution for vintage microcontrollers. It’s called Quarternet: a two-bit solution for an eight bit world.

While minicomputers are easily networkable, designed around multi-user operating systems, and have the hardware for a lot of networking hardware, 8-bit micros are the exact opposite. That doesn’t mean 8-bitters don’t have networking; you can get an Ethernet cart for a C64, and just about everything can connect to a BBS. [Jim]’s talk was about whittling down the use cases for the Quarternet to something that could be implemented easily, but still give the most capability.

During the talk, the audience settled on using a serial connection from the micro to the outside world; this makes sense, as everything has a serial port. A ‘lightweight API’ was suggested to take up the software side of the problem, but there wasn’t much agreement over what that API would actually do.

[Jim]’s idea is for a box that plugs into the serial port of any old microcomputer and would connect to the Internet somehow. Ethernet, WiFi, or even a modem isn’t out of the question here. That takes care of connecting to the Internet, but there’s also the question of the cooler side of networking – network drives, file sharing, and the like.

For this, [Jim] is imagining a box with a serial port on one end, and a network port on the other. In the middle would be a cartridge slot for any hardware imaginable. If you want to plug in an Apple II disk drive, just insert the right cartridge and you’re good to go. If you need network access to a Commodore 1541 drive, just insert another cartridge, and it’ll just work.

It’s an interesting idea, but [Jim] is really interested in getting even more feedback for a networking system for old microcomputers. If you have any ideas, leave a note for him in the comments.

Retro Edition: VCF East X This Weekend

It’s mid-April and time once again for the Vintage Computer Festival East X. The X means 10. It’s a three-day weekend full of interesting people, cool tech, and computers you’ve only heard about. We’ll be there all three days, and if you’re in New York or are unable to pump your own gas (Oregon excluded), it’s a great way to spend the weekend.

The sessions for this Friday will include everything from chiptunes to retr0bright to emulating vintage computers on FPGAs. Sessions of note include our own [Bil Herd] giving a talk on system architecture. Think of this as a bunch of engineers in a room with a whiteboard. How could you not have fun with that. There will also be the first meeting of the Quarternet committee, headed up by [Jim Brain]. This session will be a discussion of implementing a vintage networking protocol across different models and different brands of vintage computers. Confused? It’s a, “two-bit solution for an eight-bit world.” That’s all we know, and I’m pretty sure that’s all anyone knows. It will be interesting.

Saturday and Sunday will feature an incredible number of exhibits that includes everything from Atari 8-bits, Hollerith cards, mainframes, an amateur radio station (KC1CKV) and somehow a Fairlight CMI. Since this is the 50th anniversary of the PDP-8, there will be a few of these ancient machines on display. A freshly restored Straight-8 will be up and working, as will an incredible emulation from hackaday.io.

Just because there are exhibits doesn’t mean the talks end on Friday. On Saturday the guest speaker will be [Brian Kernighan], the guy who literally wrote the book on C. Sunday will feature [Bob Frankston], co-developer of VisiCalc. There will be very important people here all weekend.

Even if vintage computers aren’t your thing, there’s still plenty of stuff to see at the venue. The InfoAge science center has technological curiosities stretching back a century, and recently they’ve rehabbed an old satellite dish and turned it into a radio telescope. Registration happens here, and if the last few paragraphs haven’t sold you on the event, you can check out [The Guru Meditation]’s VCF preview video below. We will, of course, be posting a lot of stuff from the event.

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Hackaday Retro Edition: Remaking the PDP 8/I With A Raspberry Pi

[Oscar] really likes the PDP-8s, with the extremely old school PDP-8/I being his favorite. If you haven’t checked the price on these recently, getting a real PDP-8/I is nigh impossible. However, after assembling a KIM-1 clone kit, an idea struck: what about building a modern PDP-8/I replica that looks like the real thing, but is powered by modern hardware. This would be fairly cheap to build, and has the added bonus of not weighing several hundred pounds.

The PiDP-8 is [Oscar]’s project to replicate the hardware of the 8/I in a modern format. Instead of hundreds of Flip Chips, this PDP-8 is powered by a Raspberry Pi running the SIMH emulator. The 40-pin GPIO connector on the Pi is broken out to 92 LEDs and 26 toggle switches on a large PCB. This setup gets [Oscar] a reasonable facsimile of the PDP-8/I, but he’s also going for looks too. He created an acrylic panel with artwork copied from an original 8/I  that mounts to the PCB and gives the entire project that beautiful late 60s / early 70s brown with harvest gold accent color scheme.

Since this emulated PDP-8/I is running on entirely new hardware, it doesn’t make much sense to haul out disk drives as big as a small child, tape drives, and paper tape readers. Instead, [Oscar] is putting everything on USB sticks. It’s a great solution to the problem of moving around files that are a few kilowords in size.

vt100normal[Oscar] says he’ll be bringing his PiDP to the Vintage Computer Festival East X in Wall, NJ, April 17-19. We’ll be there, and I’ve already offered [Oscar] the use of a VT-100 terminal. If you’re in the area, you should come to this event. It’s guaranteed to be an awesome event and you’re sure to have a great time. Since this is the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the PDP-8, there will be a half-dozen original PDP-8s set up, including a newly refurbished Straight-8 that came out of the RESISTORS.

Oh, if anyone knows how to connect a Pi to a VT100 (technically a 103), leave a note in the comments. Does it need the RTS/CTS?

Retro Edition: VCF East, April 17 – 19

Around this time last year we were planning our trip to the Vintage Computer Festival East in Wall, NJ. This year we’re doing it all over again, and according to the announcements coming out of the planning committee, it’s going to be a very, very cool event.

This year marks fifty years since the release of the PDP-8, regarded as the first commercially successful computer ever. The historic Straight-8 from the infamous RESISTORS has been restored over the past few months, and it’s going to be turned on again for the festival. There will also be a half a dozen other PDP-8s at the event, but these are 8/M, 8/E, and 8/L models and not constructed completely out of discrete diode transistor logic.

Keynote speakers include [Wesley Clark], designer of the LINC computer and [Bob Frankston], co-creator of Visicalc. There will, of course, be a ton of educational and historical sessions on Friday. Our own [Bil Herd] will be there talking about vintage microcomputer architectures along with a dozen other fascinating people talking about really interesting stuff

As far as exhibits go, there’s literally everything you could imagine when it comes to retro computers. There will of course be a fully restored and functional PDP Straight 8, along with PDP-11s, Apple Newtons, Ataris, Network gaming on C64s. Hollerith cards, VisiCalc, mainframes, teletypes, video toasters, an RTTY amateur radio station (KC1CKV), a flea market/consignment thing, and all sorts of retro goodies. Oh, a Fairlight CMI will also be there. I don’t know how they got that one.

More info for VCF East at the official site, Facebook, and Twitter. If you’re in the area and want to exhibit something really, really cool, there’s still room for more. If you want a better feel for what will be going down at VCF East, check out our megapost wrapup from last year.

Of course if New Jersey isn’t your thing and you live a few blocks down from Peachtree Avenue, Lane, or Street, VCF Southeast 3.0 will be held in Roswell, Georgia the first weekend in May.