For a couple of years, embedded developer and Rust addict [Jonathan Pallant] aka [theJPster] has been working on a simple computer which he calls the Neotron. The idea is to make a computer that is not only easy to use but easy to understand as well. He describes it as a CP/M- or DOS-like operating system for small ARM microcontrollers. His most recent project is powered by a Raspberry Pi RP2040 Pico and built in the format of a microATX motherboard. This board packs a lot of features for a Pico-based design, including 12-bit color VGA and seven expansion slots. See his GitHub repository for a full list of specifications, and all the files needed to build your own — it is an Open Source project after all.
Besides the Neotron Pico itself, a couple of gems caught our eye in this well-documented project. [theJPster] was running out of I/O pins on the Pico, and didn’t have enough left over for all the peripherals’ chip selects. Check out how he uses an MCP23S17 SPI-bus I/O expander and a tri-state buffer to solve the problem.
On a more meta level, we are intrigued by his use of GitHub Actions. Per the standard concept of repositories, they shouldn’t contain the results of a build, be that an executable binary or Gerber files. Distribution of the build products is typically handled outside of GitHub, using something like GitHub’s Large File Storage service, or just ignoring convention altogether and putting them in the repo anyway. [theJPster] uses another method, employing GitHub Actions to generate the files needed for PCB fabrication, for example.
The Neotron Pico is the latest in a series of boards made to run Neotron OS. Previous boards include:
- Neotron 9x — Microchip SAM9X
- Neotron 1000 — STM32H7 + Lattice Semi iCE40 FPGA
- Neotron 600 — Teensy 4.1
- Neotron 340ST — ST 32F746G-DISCOVERY