Suitcase Computer Reborn With Raspberry Pi Inside

Fun fact, the Osborne 1 debuted with a price tag equivalent to about $5,000 in today’s value. With a gigantic 9″ screen and twin floppy drives (for making mix tapes, right?) the real miracle of the machine was its portability, something unheard of at the time. The retrocomputing trend is to lovingly and carefully restore these old machines to their former glory, regardless of how clunky or underpowered they are by modern standards. But sometimes they can’t be saved yet it’s still possible to gut and rebuild the machine with modern hardware, like with this Raspberry Pi used to revive an Osborne 1.

Purists will turn their nose up at this one, and we admit that this one feels a little like “restoring” radios from the 30s by chucking out the original chassis and throwing in a streaming player. But [koff1979] went to a lot of effort to keep the original Osborne look and feel in the final product. We imagine that with the original guts replaced by a Pi and a small LCD display taking the place of the 80 character by 24 line CRT, the machine is less strain on the shoulder when carrying it around. (We hear the original Osborne 1 was portable in the same way that an anvil is technically portable.) The Pi runs an emulator to get the original CP/M experience; it even runs Wordstar. The tricky part about this build was making the original keyboard talk to the Pi, which was accomplished with an Arduino that translates key presses to USB.

As an aside, if reading this has given you a twinge of nostalgia and you’re on the Eastern seaboard you may want to check out more vintage gear at the VCF East this weekend. If you hail from Europe, get your hack on with CP/M and a retrocomputing badge at Hackaday Belgrade one wee from now.

We’ve seen the Raspberry Pi pressed into retrocomputing duty before, of course. Here’s one used to emulate a Commodore 1541 disk drive, and another in the laptop Clive Sinclair never built.

47 thoughts on “Suitcase Computer Reborn With Raspberry Pi Inside

  1. It would have dreamed of getting Unix running on Z80 CPM machine at the time. It would have been amazing, Consider 8K or maybe 16K of RAM and no hard disk. Now we’re trying to get CPM to run on little Unix boxes.

    1. Actually, there WAS a replacement user interface (the Console Command Processor, CCP) that made CP/M look a lot like Unix. Many of the members of the CP/M user’s group (CPMUG), worked with Unix at their day job, so there was a lot of interest in making CP/M look and act like Unix.

      Rick Conn wrote ZCPR, which had a very Unix-like feel to it. The last version, ZCPR3, included named directories, search paths, aliases, and much more.

      See, unless you just love to dink around in the innards of Unix, launching multiple processes, forks and all that, you don’t need the full Linux file structure. CP/M’s file structure and console commands were perfectly adequate. ZCPR3 just gave you a Unix-like shell, which was pretty nifty.

      CP/M didn’t support nested directories, but it did support multiple “user numbers,” 0..15. I had my HD partitioned into four partitions, so I had 48 virtual directories, which was plenty enough for me. ZCPR3 let me use directory names instead of numbers, which was quite handy.

  2. Sorry, but you’re wrong on a couple of counts. The CRT was 5″, not 9″ (that was the Kaypro computers), and the display was 52 characters by 24 lines. You could scroll right to see the rest of the 80 (or 104 with the Screen-Pac upgrade) line. I helped sell a lot of them through ComputerLand store #256 in Durham NC — it was very popular with writers because of the included WordStar and SuperCalc software (along with dBase II and MBASIC).

      1. Most days go without a hack here aswell, If a Z80 had been pulled from something else and turned into a working machine that might have been interesting but this is as exciting as my Rock64 in a China Clone mini Nes case, Hell lets stick a ITx board in a printer and call it a day.

    1. Mbasic, not dbase2, that was extra. and to be clear the big attraction was the price including software which was much less than a similar combination from Apple. Not to mention the superb manual which had two sections, one was how the thing worked with detailed information about Bios, and Bdos, Uarts, etc. and other section which just told you how to dirve it. I bought mine first month – the availableones sold out first day, in Chciago. eventually it had a fan on the back to keep it cool and quad density 5 1/4 inch drives as well as the external monitor adapter. After I moved on to a Heat H100, Dad used it for another 20 years to do financial projections. Cp/m came with a debugging aptly called ddt.
      It was an education.

      1. not dbase2 which was available but I think cost $250. “database” porgram which was included was called SuperSort. So you got WordStar, SuperCalc, Mbasic, and SuperSort. we did real work with mine right from the start. Our construction specifications went into it. It took 10 of the original single-side single density (74k?) floppies to print a spec on the (converted from EBCDIC to ASCII) Diablo Hytype 2 Dasiywheel. Real estate guys used SuperCalc after hours for the ROI calcs, and Supersort briefly for addressing envelopes. I can’t remember what the shortcoming of supersort was, but it seemed to run out of space, bought dbase2 which I used for various other thins for next 15 years, ultimately on a Sun Sparc 1.
        note above got truncated (due to my carelessness) but in the days of Bulletin Boards, CBBS, RBBS, and others which ran on CP/M you needed to know that ddt was the CP/M debugger to get in initially.

        Too much cannot be said for the manual. It took me from knowing nothing to knowing more than nothing in about 6 months – the poiint of wrting bulletin board software in asseembler.

    2. I believe that the anticipated Osborne II that they prematurely released information on was going to have a 9” screen. (Bad move to advertise the next when you’d just released the first.)
      I had purchased the Osb I and was very disappointed that they were not going to make the screen upgrade available to the Osborne I. (Scrolling back and forth was so frustrating that I would just set the format to the allowed 52 columns and change back after editing.) I wrote Adam Osborne to complain and apparently caught him in a moment of extreme stress as he wrote me back and essentially told me to “kiss-off”.???? I understand now it would have required a case redesign but as a poor college student it was hard plunking down $1795 bucks on a computer that wasn’t upgradable even though the salesman assured me it was at the time of purchase. LOL.
      I still have his computer books somewhere and still respecte him. He moved to India and started teaching in a small town if I remember correctly and sadly passed away there.

  3. It would be like carrying a big plastic box with almost nothing inside it.
    The case is way to big for this one.
    But the screen is nice, and you brought back some memories.

  4. if [koff1979] still has any of the guts from this unit is love to get in touch with him/her. my Osbourne 1 lost its “portability ” when the power supply died. it’s been living off an ATX umbilical ever since

      1. I agree that they are very simple to repair units, but I’m in a financial situation where its easier to pay shipping for someone elses scraps than to delve into my first smps repair and risk getting something wrong and cooking my board

    1. Better still, put in a proper PC motherboard and the you have something worth transporting around with you (Honestly it is really your Android phone in there powering it all)

  5. I’ve got a ’38 Philco that I’m “converting” to Chromecast. But I’m doing so in a completely reversible manner. (Mainly due to the fact that I’m currently not really equipped to debug 600V circuits.)

    Plus, it’s much easier to listen to “Old Time Radio” via streaming, vs the barrage of politics that’s currently transmitted in my AM market.

  6. I have one of these I’ve been lugging around for years. Got it for a dollar at a recycling shop I used to work at, never turned on, but never attempted to diagnose the issue.

    I’ve thought of doing something like this but never wanted to damage any original equipment, so its just sat in my dad’s attic over the years till someday.

  7. I had one of these back in the day (in fact I might still have it somewhere). What an awesome box (for its time). Kaypro of course blew it out of the water, but it was fun while it lasted.

    1. My choices when I got my first computer were the O1, the Kaypro, and the Heathkit H-89. I went with the Heathkit, and had years and YEARS of fun with that thing. Still have it, though the motherboard got zorched by lighting. One of these days, one of these days… :) Also wound up with a Kaypro at one point. It boots, but the deflection yoke vibrated loose and the display is at 45 degrees to the crt screen . :D

  8. I would really like to see one of these conversions that has the floppy drives in a working state. Some floppy USB connector or “direct” drive from GPIO or something.

  9. I’ve also got an Osbourne thats not working. I was planning to do something along these lines over the summer with my son. Is it the most original or unique thing ever? No, but it should be a fun project for us to spend some time together on and teach him a few things with.

    I’m going to try and not damage the internals as much as possible if anyone is interested in them.

      1. It might be fixable but I don’t know where to start. I only get so much time with him and I’d rather do a project that I know we can complete than one I’m not so sure about. Do I feel bad about violating an antique? Maybe a little but I’ve had it for years and tried to give it away to a good home with no takers.
        So we’ll make something usable out of it and I’ll give him a comparison of the way things were vs the way things are now while we’re at it.

  10. Me thinking whenever one of those radio gutting articles comes up (and now this one too)

    – That’s terrible, those things should be preserved

    – Maybe this is ok. New things getting that old-time feel from an antique chassis are pretty cool. So long as they aren’t gutting the last of anything maybe it’s good.

    – Yeah but this is such an awesome time to be building things with all of past generations tools available cheap on the internet and modern tools like laser cutters and 3d printers so easily available… and HaD plus Youtube to show us how to use them… why gut an antique when you can make almost anything you can dream? Just make something that LOOKS like an antique, there is no need to sacrifice an actual antique.

    – Yeah but… I don’t want to volunteer MY home to store all those real antiques and keep them safe from gutting.

    – Shit! Everything we do is all just landfill isn’t it?!?

    1. Sure but an old radio is any old radio. There were lots. This is the FIRST portable computer. If you did this to the first ever home radio, museum curators would put bounties on your head. It’s unique in design, it’s unique in so many ways, and it’s rare. There are plenty of people, and museums, who’d be glad to have this, and send him some old laptop he could gut in it’s place. Or one of those Raspberry Pi cases with the screen and keyboard and stuff included.

      I’m not gonna store every old bit of crap people don’t want, but this is special, it’s mentioned in so many history books, and was hugely famous and desired back in it’s time. You can’t say that about many things.

  11. I’m going to be that guy,
    (Insert Futurama Nixon)
    I have an Osborne Executive in my basement gathering dust. It still works. I’d be all for this mod, if it were completely reversible, a la, Pi on the serial port. On the teardowns I’ve done on it, I’ve found that there is a lot of empty space inside the case. The computer has two serial ports and some funky HP industrial port that could be wired inside and sacrificed. Not that it would be much worth using, the keyboard on mine is possibly the worst keyboard I have ever used. I bet it’s the foam inside degrading. Has anyone repaired an Osborne keyboard?

  12. My first ‘portable” was a MITS ALTAR and ADM 3 terminal on a toy store Radio Flier kid’s wagon. I had a sheet of plastic to throw over it for non NEMA weatherproofing.

  13. Those things are worth a lot of money. Which is possibly the only reassuring thing, that the vandal who did this at least cost himself a load of money for his stupidity. Out of all the plastic boxes to stick a fucking Raspberry Pi into…

    If, say, the motherboard was irreparably broken, gone, some vital custom chip broken (which is doubtful, I’ve an idea it’d use nearly all off-the-shelf), then perhaps that’s a reason to stick a Pi in. In that case, would’ve been nice to wire the Pi’s composite out to the internal CRT, even if it’s monochrome. It would have kept much more of the charm compared to 50p’s worth of Chinese LCD.

    In general though I want to scream at this guy, and almost-but-not-quite slit his throat while he sleeps. The world doesn’t need another Raspberry Pi receptacle. There’s plenty of margarine tubs would’ve done the job just as well, plenty of 5 quid USB keyboards. There’s not many Osbornes left, even fewer working. Even a broken one that’s mostly complete stands a fair chance of recovery. Not “reborn”.

    A pointless machine which he’ll never use because it’s too bulky and heavy. For which he sacrificed the huge historical value and just plain loveliness of a work of art. He doesn’t deserve to be on Hackaday, an Auto Da Fe would be more suitable.

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