This past weekend, another smashing round of the Vintage Computer Festival was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountainview. As always, VCF West gathers the sages and lords of vintage computers onto a common ground to talk old-school hardware. It also draws in a collection of unique artifacts, many of which either still work, have been brought back to life, or have otherwise been reincarnated through a modern means. [Bil Herd] and I dropped in to join the crowd, and I snagged a few pics of some new faces and pieces that have been added to the experience since last year.
[Foone’s] Digital Media Archiving
Up first on our bucket list was [Foone], a librarian of digital media archiving. Outside of VCF, he runs a digital media backup gig to help folks backup their niche, often-failing, disk formats into something more modern. His drive for doing this backup features a special “reread” capability, where the file is actually reread dozens of time to validate that the right information was pulled from it.
On-site at VCF, he brought a physical timeline of file formats from his collection onto the convention floor to give us a taste of just how far file storage has come. He also pulled a slightly more niche floppy-munching digital camera, one of the only relics of the past to store images (and video!) onto floppies. Just like shooting with a roll of film, I can imagine a pleasing aesthetic of popping floppies in-and-out to reload your camera with more shots.
Resurrecting Graphics Demos on New Hardware
[Lawrence] and company have been hard at work resurrecting old 1980’s Silicon Graphics demos on new hardware. Here, Alice 4 is the fourth iteration in a series of hardware devices to do just that. For the size and speed of the new “tablet version,” we can see just how much progress we’ve made in terms of chip speed with modern hardware. This iteration runs on a graphics pipeline synthesized on a Cyclone V (from the DEO Nano SoC kit). With some efforts, [Lawrence] and co have these demos running at a crisp 50Hz, compared to 1980s hardware rendering a new frame at about 0.5Hz.
Finally, for those eyeing the tablet case aesthetics and thinking glass, look again. The case is actually a green-edged acrylic. This material plays a nice game of tomfoolery with our expectations, and it gives the project a much fancier touch.
Past Design Principles Up-front-and-Center
VCF has no shortage of hardware. In fact, given that the unique features that yesterday’s PCs aimed to deliver is part of what makes them so vintage, the convention floor is covered in variety. From this odd conglomerate is the opportunity to pull inspiration from them. One such example is shown above. This stack of PCBs shares a common bus on the back of each board, simplifying the board-to-board wiring. What’s more, the stackable footprint and shared bus is a nifty way to join lots of boards together with a predictable form-factor. It’s so easy to overlook design patterns like these, and it’s a classy reminder that, in a world of old parts, there’s always a chance to put past ideas into something new.
The Vintage Hardware Aftermarket
Finally, no festival is complete without its bundle of at-your-own-risk vintage hardware for sale. Among the up-for-grabs components were Google servers, robot arms, and… I managed to snag a $2 copy of the PAL Device Handbook, loaded with recipes for common digital patterns like error correcting codes and state machine design and optimization for various architectures. (Of course, [Bil] already had a copy on his shelf, so I’m a bit behind in buildng my library here.) For more pics on the floor, check out the full album.
Hackaday is a proud sponsor of VCF West. You can check [Joe Kim’s] original art for the event on the attachment page.