Catch The Old School BASIC Bug With This Computer Kit

Does the complexity of modern computing ever get you down? Do you find yourself longing for the old days, where you could actually understand what your desktop machine’s hardware and software was doing at any given moment? You aren’t alone, but unfortunately running a 40+ year old computer as your daily driver isn’t really a viable option.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t have options. [Kostas] writes in to tell us about the “CB2 micro”: a diminutive open source retrocomputer kit that can be built in as little as 30 minutes thanks to its through-hole construction and exceptionally low parts count. When completed the miniature computer is an all-in-one BASIC development platform; just connect up a display and a PS/2 keyboard, and you’ve got everything you need to write you own programs or run games and applications developed by the community. You don’t even need a floppy, as the ATmega644P powered board has enough internal flash to store eight programs for easy access through its graphical menu system.

Main menu of the CB2 micro

For many in the audience, a cheap little board that you can assemble yourself and use as a stand-alone BASIC experimentation platform is appealing enough. But thanks to a collection of hardware add-on boards, the CB2 micro can be augmented with some interesting capabilities.

Some are fairly obvious such as adding additional flash storage or RAM, but you can also run the computer on AA or AAA batteries, or add an S-Video port. [Kostas] even explains how to assemble a special serial cable that allows you to network multiple boards together. If you take the plunge and start building your own hardware modules, the sky’s the limit.

Of course, purists may balk because the CB2 micro isn’t using a “real” computer processor. Fair enough. For those that want a more authentic retro experience, you could always pick up a kit like the RC2014, or go all out and cram a Z80 into an Altoids tin so you can carry it around with you.

24 thoughts on “Catch The Old School BASIC Bug With This Computer Kit

  1. It’s also worth noting SmileBASIC which runs on most recent Nintendo hardware (3DS, WiiU, Switch) and with older versions on the DSi (Petit computer).

    It’s a fairly features packed BASIC implementation which has access to much of the 3DS hardware accelerometer, gyro, touch screen and decent graphics to incluind gup to 512 sprites (which you can paint yourself or use thousands of built ins) backgrouns, music capability, Text-to-speech.

    You can quickly and easily make games as well as some fun little programs.

    It’s only 8$ as a download (plus $3 for a fourier transform package DLC).

  2. In Japan IchigoJam BASIC has a very active facebook group in Japanese and in English .

    And can run with a Minimum System of just an NXP LPC 1114 Chip. I still had a few of the 28pin DIL Chips so built a few systems successfully .
    Easy to flash the hex file using Flashmagic.
    Two options:
    an old PS2 keyboard and an old TV as display – or a more modern 12V car camera TV 4 inch –
    alternatively connect via USB to TTL to a PC.

    I had it as well running on an Olimex LPC1114 board.

    It is fun, and there is a book with explanations and examples as eBook and as Print book.
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1079519238/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i29.

    You want to use your existing Hardware? Well, just use your Raspberry PI. The SW is free.
    https://ichigojam.github.io/RPi/

    Or even better as a start – try it first online, and you can even simulate digital IO there
    https://fukuno.jig.jp/app/IchigoJam/

          1. No, you confuse this with the Joerg’s project. The CB2 micro has SCART (RGB) video and B&W composite right out of the box. No need for extra adapters. It is only for color composite, that you need this adapter to build. The signals for this color composite adapter are taken from the RGB of the scart pins and the Hsync/Vsync on the PCB. There is no special Dsub connector in the CB2 micro. See the schematic here and you will understand http://cb2.qrp.gr/buildingguide/#1.1_Schematic_diagram_

  3. Hi people, thanks for looking at my project. I created this KIT after Joerg’s wonderful idea. In fact credits are given to Joerg throughout the website and inside the firmware. After all, it is called “CB2 micro” just to denote this :)

    My main work has to do with correcting the original hardware errors, testing it all out, redesigning the hardware for the KIT the way I wanted it to be, translating the manuals in English, writing additional extensive manuals easy to understand by people, some BASIC programs and creating hardware extensions for it. All tested, and all given for free for hobbyists on the website.

    I focused primarily on the easiness of the assembly by people (I had inexperienced builders like kids in mind). I had seen from my experience that very complex to assemble projects are most likely to never get assembled.

    The difference to all of the platforms you mentioned above (or below) is that the CB2 micro can be assembled by inexperienced hobbyists in electronics. The next similar project I have found (which I am not going to advertise here) uses a 32 bit SMD processor so go figure out.

    I decided to release this as a KIT simply because I wanted, like me, other people to also get joy from the CB2 micro. Now, this may be personal view, but to my thought, no other microcomputer has to offer so much in such a low hardware footprint that can be built that easily and cheaply by inexperienced people. It’s features are truly amazing for what it is, Joerg has done an amazing job with the firmware, thumbs up!

    For you people that cannot afford a SCART or RGB monitor, there is a dead simple tested extension you can build to convert it to color composite http://cb2.qrp.gr/extensions/#8_Color_composite_videoS-video (for B&W composite no extension is required) or you can buy a commercial scart to hdmi converter if you haven’t got one already, they aren’t expensive.

    The CB2 board will probably remain as it is, but I develop extensions for it. I am finishing the local networking part now http://cb2.qrp.gr/extensions/#3_Local_Area_Network and next is the dialup modem I want to build for it. It will be dialing up through your smartphones, so it will be true dial-up in the feeling of it but through a new medium already available to anyone. This will also add the “wireless” functionality I was looking for. I have already verified how to make this thing work through GSM http://qrp.gr/gsmhack where many people in forums said this isn’t possible ;)

    Have fun with the CB2 micro, I am here to help if any issues arise. And if you have more ideas, let me know, as I enjoy the project as much as other people do.

    Bye for now
    KOS

      1. The purpose of the project was to be cheap and affordable by people to have. Adding extra ISA-type bus would pump up the cost and I wonder how many would use this? I could bring the MCU pins at the side of the PCB though and create a custom plugin board pus with pin rows. However there was a problem of doing so. This would require a 10x10cm PCB instead of a 5x10cm that it is now. This would cut the PCB-per-order to half, so again greater cost, not so much but people have to pay for for this. Is the bus really needed, I don’t know.

  4. Why Basic? If your capable of building a computer from scratch then you should be capable of understanding a language that was designed for more than beginners. Way back in the day wth my C64 I quickly learned to get away from basic (i switched to assembly back then).

    1. An excellent question!

      I guess it must be a nostalgia thing. I don’t really get it though. I learned BASICA some time around 3rd grade and used it through junior high. Then I had QBASIC and finally QuickBASIC in high school. But.. that whole time I really wanted to upgrade to C or C++. I only used the first two because they were free and finally purchased QuickBASIC so that I could compile a QBASIC program to .exe which I wanted to try to sell.

      Now, 20 some years later all that I want to do with BASIC is maybe occasionally (as in once every 5 years) load up one of my old childhood programs for a few minutes. There is no way I would actually write a new one, not when I can get all of the convenience and none of the outdated junk by using Python!

      But hey.. to each their own. Still… I might recommend buying a safe to keep this in if you also have children in the house. We don’t need the next generation stumbling upon it and being corrupted with things like GOTO, GOSUB or even line numbers!

      1. Basic is fine. People just love to complain. Now I would have been over the moon if you had put Simon’s Basic or even better Comal in this. Before anyone sneers my day job is writing Linux drivers in c so yes I know “real” programming languages but this is a retro style computer so basic is just fine.

      2. “But.. that whole time I really wanted to upgrade to C”

        Upgrade to C – sigh.

        A language heavily dependant of libraries, and without string handling – really at good choice if you want the kids running screaming away.

        Basic on small computers like this is perfect to give an understanding of programming – close to the iron, easy to comprehend, and without to much fuzz or stupid pointer gymnastics.

        If it was not for Basic, I am pretty sure we would not have so many (old) programmers now, with the correct attitude to structure and programming discipline.

    2. What’s the point of these comments? He released a nice kit with a BASIC interpreter and nice features, like the old school 80’s micros. That’s it.
      Are you trying to argue about the beginners language preference back then and now? I don’t think it fits on this thread.

      1. I’m with you. It’s a nice little package and fun for nostalgic reasons. It’s the same reason I still cherish my Cosmac Super ELF.

        I’m pretty sure those who are naysaying it because it interprets Basic are junior devs who just discovered ASM or compiled languages.

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