Teardown: The Writer Word Processor

For modern students, the spiral notebook has given way to the laptop and the pocket calculator has been supplanted by the smart phone. We’re not just talking about high school and college, either. Today, the education of even grade school children is intrinsically linked with technology. While some might question the wisdom of moving away from the pencil and pad at such a young age, there’s little question that all the kids stuck at home right now due to COVID-19 would have had a much harder time transitioning to remote learning otherwise.

But that certainly wasn’t the case when Advanced Keyboard Technologies released the Writer in 2003. Back then, five years before the first netbooks hit the market, you’d be hard pressed to find a laptop cheap enough to give to a grade school student. In comparison, these small electronic word processors could be purchased for as little as $150. Not only was the initial price low, but the maintenance costs were almost negligible. They ran for hundreds of hours on a standard AA batteries, and didn’t require schools to have any IT staff to manage them. Sure they couldn’t get on the Internet or even run any software, but they would give students a chance to hone their keyboarding skills. Continue reading “Teardown: The Writer Word Processor”

Run Your Favorite 8-bit Games On An ESP32

Here at Hackaday HQ we’re no strangers to vintage game emulation. New versions of old consoles and arcade cabinets frequently make excellent fodder for clever hacks to cram as much functionality as possible into tiny modern microcontrollers. We’ve covered [rossumur]’s hacks before, but the ESP_8-bit is a milestone in comprehensive capability. This time, he’s topped himself.

There isn’t much the ESP 8-bit won’t do. It can emulate three popular consoles, complete with ROM selection menus (with menu bloops). Don’t worry about building a controller, just connect any old (HID compliant) Bluetooth Classic keyboard or WiiMote you have at hand. Or if that doesn’t do it, a selection of IR devices ranging from joysticks from the Atari Flashback 4 to Apple TV remotes are compatible. Connect analog audio and composite video and the device is ready to go.

The system provides this impressive capability with an absolute minimum of components. Often a schematic is too complex to fit into a short post, but we’ll reproduce this one here to give you a sense for what we’re talking about. Come back when you’ve refreshed your Art of Electronics and have a complete understanding of the hardware at work. We never cease to be amazed at the amount of capability available in modern “hobbyist” components. With such a short BOM this thing can be put together by anyone with an ESP-32-anything.

There’s one more hack worth noting; the clever way [rossumur] gets full color NTSC composite video from a very busy microcontroller. They note that NTSC can be finicky and requires an extremely stable high speed reference clock as a foundation. [rossumur] discovered that the ESP-32 includes a PLL designed for audio work (the “APLL”) which conveniently supports fractional components, allowing it to be trimmed to within an inch of the desired frequency. The full description is included in the GitHub page for the project and includes detailed background of various efforts to get color NTSC video (including the names of a couple hackers you might recognize from these pages).

Continue reading “Run Your Favorite 8-bit Games On An ESP32”

Solving Buyer’s Remorse With A Rotary Tool And Soldering Iron

At this point, it’s pretty clear that USB-C has become the new standard connector for an increasing amount of applications, but predominantly charging. Even Apple is on board this time, and thanks to backwards compatibility, you don’t have to abandon devices using the older standards you may prefer for their simplicity or superior lint-resilience either. For [Mat] on the other hand, it’s USB-C all the way nowadays. Yet back in the day when he bought his laptop, he had the price tag convince him otherwise, and has come to regret it, as all the convenience of a slim design is cancelled out by dragging a bulky charger for the laptop’s proprietary charging port along.

Well, as the saying goes for situations like this: love it, leave it, or get out the tools and rework that sucker. Lucky enough, the original charger provides 20 V, which matches nicely the USB power delivery (PD) specification, and after opening up the laptop, [Mat] was happy to see that the interior provided enough room to fit the USB-C module he was planning to use. Even better, the charging port itself was a standalone component attached to a cable, so no modifications to the mainboard were necessary. Once the USB-C module was soldered to that same cable, the only thing left to do was carving a bigger hole on the laptop case, and saying good bye to the obsoleted charger.

The downside is of course the lack of actual USB functionality with that shiny new charging port, but that was never the goal here anyway. With more and more USB-C devices popping up, it’s also no surprise that we’ve seen modifications like this before, and not only with laptops. In case you’re thinking of upgrading one of your own devices to USB-C, and do wish for actual USB functionality, don’t worry, we got you covered as well.

Continue reading “Solving Buyer’s Remorse With A Rotary Tool And Soldering Iron”