Back in the old days, the cool kids didn’t have an Apple II or a Trash-80. The cool kids had jobs, and those jobs had Vaxxen all over the place. The usual way of working with a Vax would have been a terminal, a VT220 at least, or in the case of [Sudos]’ experiments with a Raspberry Pi, A DEC VT510, a single session, text only serial terminal.
Usually, when we see a ‘new hardware stuffed into old tech’ project like this, the idea is simply to find a use for the old hardware. That makes sense; a dumb terminal from the late 90s should be a bit rarer than a Raspberry Pi Zero. This is not the case for [Sudos]’s build. He recently came across a few Raspberry Pi Zeros at Microcenter, and looking for a use for them, he decided to turn a serial terminal into a Real Unix System™.
As you would expect from a serial terminal, connecting a Raspberry Pi and putting some awesome character graphics on the screen is as simple as a Max3232 board picked up from eBay, a WiFi dongle, and an Ethernet adapter. Connect the Pi to the terminal with a serial adapter cable, and you’re off to the races.
While the VT510 serial terminal is just about the end of the line as far as dedicated terminals go, there are classier options. The VT100 terminal, older than most of the Hackaday readership, features a port on its gigantic board, meant to connect to whatever weirdness was coming out of Maynard in the late 70s. You can attach a BeagleBone to this connector, making for a very slick stealth mod.
How do you make a great terminal even better? The answer is simple: add a BeagleBone Black to it! [Brendan] got his hands on one of the staples of classic computing, the DEC VT100 terminal. The VT100 was produced from 1978 to 1983. The terminal was so widely used that it became the standard for other terminals to emulate. Open any terminal program today and chances are you’ll find a setting for VT100 emulation.
[Brendan] originally hooked his terminal up to a laptop running Linux. The terminal, cables, and the laptop itself became quite a bit to manage on a small desk. To combat this he decided to add a BeagleBone Black inside the terminal case. It turns out the VT100 actually lends itself to this with its Standard Terminal Port (STP) connector. The STP was designed to add a “paddle board” in-line with the serial stream of the terminal. DEC and third party manufacturers used this port to add everything from disk drives to entire CPM computers to the VT100.
[Brendan] began by designing a board to interface between the VT100 and the BeagleBone. The board level shifts serial lines from the BeagleBone to the VT100. The STP also allows the terminal to provide power to the BeagleBone Black. He did notice some power glitches as the supply of the VT100 came up. This was solved with a standard TI TL77xx voltage supervisor chip. The hardest part of the entire design was the card edge connector for the STP. [Brendan] nailed the dimensions on the first try. In the end [Brendan] was rewarded with a very clean installation that didn’t require any modification to a classic piece of hardware.
We should note that most PCB houses use Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold (ENIG) as their standard coating. This will work for a card edge connector that will be plugged in and removed a few times. Cards that will be inserted and removed often (such as classic console cartridges) will quickly scrape the ENIG coating off. Electroplated Gold over Nickel is the classically accepted material for card edge connectors, however the process most likely is not going to come cheap in hobbyist quantities.
Ah, the VT100, the first dumb terminal that was controlled with a microprocessor. This ancient beast from the late 70s is quite unlike the terminals you’d find from even five years after its vintage – the keyboard connects via a TRS quarter-inch jack – the electronic and code design of this terminal is a bit weird. [Seth] was up to the challenge of making this mechanical keyboard work as a standard USB device, so he created his own USB adapter.
On the little quarter-inch to USB adapter, [Seth] included an HD 6402 UART to talk to the keyboard, along with a Teensy dev board and a few bits of circuits stolen from DEC engineers. The protocol between the keyboard and terminal is a little weird – first the terminal sets a bit in a status word, then the keyboard scans all the key rows and columns in sequence before telling the terminal it’s done. Yes, this gives the VT100 full n-key rollover, but it’s just weird compared to even an IBM Model M keyboard that’s just a few years younger.
[Seth] finally completed his circuit and wired it up on a perfboard. Everything works just as it should, although a little key remapping was done to keep this keyboard adapter useful for Mac and Windows computers. It’s a wonderful bit of kit, and any insight we can get into the old DEC engineers is a wonderful read in any event.
Continue reading “USB adapter for an old VT100 keyboard”
A cool little project came our way, which we thought might be of interest to some of you vintage computer buffs. [Joerg Hoppe] wrote in to share a DEC VT100 terminal he resurrected in a novel fashion.
His “DECBox” system was created with a Beaglebone, which he uses to run a wide array of PDP11/VAX terminal emulators, thanks to the SIMH project. [Joerg] constructed an expansion shield for the Beaglebone that provides several UART connections, enabling him to connect it to his DEC terminal over a serial interface. Since he added several serial plugs to the Beaglebone, he can even run multiple emulator installations in parallel on different terminals without too much trouble.
[Joerg’s] efforts are mainly for a vintage computer display he is constructing, but setting up such a system of your own should be no problem. If you happen to have one (or more) of these boxes sitting around collecting dust, this would be an easy way to get them all up and running without bulky external hardware, since the Beaglebone tucks nicely into the rear expansion slot on a VT100.
Be sure to check out his site for more details on how his DECBox software package works as well as for more pictures of vintage terminal goodness.
PC-based USB oscilloscopes are fast becoming all the rage. [Matt Sarnoff’s] Terminalscope takes the reverse approach, adapting an oscilloscope into a full serial terminal. You may have seen something similar before in the Dutchtronix/SparkFun O-Clock, but [Matt’s] project goes one further by adding a PS/2 keyboard port for full bidirectional serial communication, and with much sharper display resolution to boot.
The mostly VT-100 compatible Terminalscope is built around two AVR microcontrollers: an ATmega328P runs full-tilt to generate the video signal and handle serial I/O, while an ATtiny45 handles keyboard input to avoid interrupting the ’328’s duties. Rather than vector trace each character, a raster-scanning approach is used: the beam follows a fixed X/Y path (like a television), while modulating the Z input (beam intensity) to form an image. The device can be connected to a PC via serial port or USB-to-TTY adapter, or directly to another microcontroller to debug serial output.
We recently showed an oscilloscope being used as a multichannel digital logic display. The Terminalscope provides yet another use for this essential bench tool and could nicely round out a “poor man’s” testing setup. The schematic and full source code are available for download.
The N8VEM is a homebrew computer project based on the classic Z80 microprocessor. It’s designed to be easy to build using large TTL DIP components instead of SMD devices. It runs the CP/M operating system and all drives are virtual in RAM/ROM. While the base hardware is interesting, we really like the potential for expansion using a backplane. Have a look at the project’s Hardware Overview to see extra boards like the bus monitor and the prototyping board. We found out about this project on [Oldbitcollector]’s blog; he’s using a Parallax Professional Development Board to create a VT100 terminal for the N8VEM.