Radio Apocalypse: Hardening AM Radio Against Disasters

If you’ve been car shopping lately, or even if you’ve just been paying attention to the news, you’ll probably be at least somewhat familiar with the kerfuffle over AM radio. The idea is that in these days of podcasts and streaming music, plain-old amplitude modulated radio is becoming increasingly irrelevant as a medium of mass communication, to the point that automakers are dropping support for it from their infotainment systems.

The threat of federal legislation seems to have tapped the brakes on the anti-AM bandwagon, at least for now. One can debate the pros and cons, but the most interesting tidbit to fall out of this whole thing is one of the strongest arguments for keeping the ability to receive AM in cars: emergency communications. It turns out that about 75 stations, most of them in the AM band, cover about 90% of the US population. This makes AM such a vital tool during times of emergency that the federal government has embarked on a serious program to ensure its survivability in the face of disaster.

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That Handheld 386SX Gets A Teardown

A few weeks ago our community was abuzz with the news of a couple of new portable computers available through AliExpress. Their special feature was that they are brand new 2023-produced retrocomputers, one with an 8088, and the other with a 386SX. Curious to know more? [Yeo Kheng Meng] has one of the 386 machines, and he’s taken it apart for our viewing pleasure.

What he found is a well-designed machine that does exactly what it claims, and which runs Windows 95 from a CF card. It’s slow because it’s an embedded version of the 386 variant with a 16-bit bus originally brought to market as a chip that could work with 16-bit 286-era chipsets. But the designer has done a good job of melding old and new parts to extract the most from this vintage chip, and has included some decidedly modern features unheard of in the 386 era such as a CH375B USB mass storage interface.

If we had this device we’d ditch ’95 and run DOS for speed with Windows 3.1 where needed. Back in the day with eight megabytes of RAM it would have been considered a powerhouse before users had even considered its form factor, so there’s an interesting exercise for someone to get a vintage Linux build running on it.

One way to look at it is as a novelty machine with a rather high price tag, but he makes the point that considering the hardware design work that’s gone into it, the 200+ dollar price isn’t so bad. With luck we’ll get to experience one hands-on in due course, and can make up our own minds. Our original coverage is here.

Want Lower Power? Add More Cores!

[Jacob Beningo] over at recently posted his thoughts on how to do a low-power microcontroller design. On the surface, some of his advice seems a little counter-intuitive. Even he admits, “…I’m suggesting adding more cores! I must be crazy!” There are a few tips, but the part he’s talking about is that you can save power by using CPUs with multiple cores and optimizing for speed.

This seems strange since you think of additional cores and speed to consume more power. But the idea is that the faster you get your work done, the faster you can go to sleep. We’ve seen that in our own projects — faster work means more napping, and that’s good for power consumption.

Of course, it isn’t just that simple. Multiple cores don’t help you if you don’t use them. The overarching goal is to get done quickly so you can get back to sleep. You know, kind of like work. The other advice in the post is generally good, too. Measure your power consumption, respond to events, and — maybe slightly surprising — with modern CPUs, variations within the CPU family, according to [Jacob], isn’t very significant. Instead, he reports that the big changes are switching to the least-capable processor family.

Naturally, Hackaday readers are no strangers to low-power design. If you get your power consumption low enough, you can consider a low-tech battery or even a potato.