To say the TRS-80 Model 100 was ahead of its time would be something of an understatement. It had a high-quality mechanical keyboard, phenomenal battery life, plenty of I/O and expansion capabilities, and was actually small and light enough to easily carry around. While its layout might seem to be a bit dated to modern eyes, there’s little debate that it was one of the most successful and influential computers in history.
So it’s little surprise that [belsamber] thought the Model 100 might make an ideal platform for his mobile command line work. With a few modifications, naturally. While technically the nearly 40 year old portable could connect to a Linux computer as a simple serial terminal, its outdated and non-backlit LCD leaves a bit to be desired in 2021. But there’s little sense in upgrading the display if he’d still be saddled with the anemic Intel 80C85 motherboard, so he decided to clean house and replace everything.
Once stripped of the original hardware, the Model 100’s enclosure offered up plenty of room for a Pine A64 LTS single-board computer, four 18650 cells, and a 1920×480 ultra-wide LCD. While not a perfect match for the dimensions of the original panel, the new screen is an exceptionally close fit. The keyboard has been left intact, but rather than adding a QMK-compatible microcontroller to the mix, [belsamber] wired the matrix directly into the GPIO of the A64.
While we know some retro aficionados might shed a tear to see an iconic computer get gutted, [belsamber] mentions that nothing will go to waste; the parts he pulled from this machine will serve as spares for a second Model 100 he has in his collection. Besides, given the immense popularity of these machines, they aren’t exactly rare to begin with.
As an aside, we recently saw this same unique display used in a 3D printed desktop computer with distinctively retro-futuristic styling. We didn’t have miniature 4:1 ratio displays on our list of 2021 hardware predictions, but it seems they’re already making a strong showing.
The Beagle V, a RISC-V-based single board computer from a collaboration between BeagleBoard and Seeed Studios aims to be “The First Affordable RISC-V Computer Designed to Run Linux”. RISC-V is the open-source processor architecture that everyone is interested in because it bypasses proprietary silicon of manufacturers such as Intel or AMD, allowing companies to roll their own silicon processors without licensing fees for the core.
BeagleBoard has long been one of the major players in the Single-Board Computer arena so far dominated by the Raspberry Pi. The board, slightly larger than the company’s previous offerings, features a StarFive dual-core 64-bit RISC-V processor running at a 1.0 GHz clock speed. The spec sheet on their GitHub repo indicates 4 and 8 GB RAM options, built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, and hardware video support for decoding, two camera connectors, one DSI connector for an external display, as well as a full-sized HDMI port. Gigabit Ethernet, four USB-3 ports, an audio jack, and USB-C as the power supply are packed onto the edges of the board. GPIO is routed to a 2×20 pin header.
Seeed Studio pegs the cost of the board at $149 for the 8 GB RAM version, although currently you must apply and be selected to purchase a board in this early stage. It’s unclear if the price will remain unchanged after this first run; the product page notes a coupon code is necessary and the Seeed Studios article indicates this is an introductory price. However, the same article also lists the 4 GB RAM variant at $119. The BeagleBoard page shows a timeline of April 2021 for a “pilot run for community”.
It’s exciting to see RISC-V continue to make inroads. This is a powerful board based around the core, and if successful it will help further prove the viability of open source processing cores in increasingly mainstream products.
This article was meant to be finished up before Christmas, so it’ll be a little late whenever you’re reading it to go and prepare this for the holiday. Regardless, if, like me, should you ever be on the lookout for something to give a toddler nephew or relative, it could be worth it to look into your neglected old parts shelves. In my case, what caught my eye was a 9-year-old AMD laptop catching dust that could be better repurposed in the tiny hands of a kid eager to play video games.
The main issues here are finding a decent selection of appropriate games and streamling the whole experience so that it’s easy to use for a not-yet-hacker, all the while keeping the system secure and child-friendly. And doing it all on a budget.
This is a tall order, and requirements will be as individual as children are, of course, but I hope that my experience and considerations will help guide you if you’re in a similar boat.
Continue reading “Making A Kid-Friendly Computer As A Present: Or How To Be The Cool Aunt At Christmas”
The history of storage devices is quite literally a race between the medium and the computing power as the bottleneck of preserving billions of ones and zeros stands in the way of computing nirvana. The most recent player is the Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe), something of a hybrid of what has come before.
The first generations of home computers used floppy disk and compact cassette-based storage, but gradually, larger and faster storage became important as personal computers grew in capabilities. By the 1990s hard drive-based storage had become commonplace, allowing many megabytes and ultimately gigabytes of data to be stored. This would drive up the need for a faster link between storage and the rest of the system, which up to that point had largely used the ATA interface in Programmed Input-Output (PIO) mode.
This led to the use of DMA-based transfers (UDMA interface, also called Ultra ATA and Parallel ATA), along with DMA-based SCSI interfaces over on the Apple and mostly server side of the computer fence. Ultimately Parallel ATA became Serial ATA (SATA) and Parallel SCSI became Serial Attached SCSI (SAS), with SATA being used primarily in laptops and desktop systems until the arrival of NVMe along with solid-state storage.
All of these interfaces were designed to keep up with the attached storage devices, yet NVMe is a bit of an odd duck considering the way it is integrated in the system. NVMe is also different for not being bound to a single interface or connector, which can be confusing. Who can keep M.2 and U.2 apart, let alone which protocol the interface speaks, be it SATA or NVMe?
Let’s take an in-depth look at the wonderful and wacky world of NVMe, shall we?
Continue reading “NVMe Blurs The Lines Between Memory And Storage”
If you’re familiar with vintage portable computers, you know about the GRiD Compass. Even if you’re not into computers of yesteryear, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Compass or two without realizing it. From battling xenomorphs in Aliens to making the trip to orbit aboard the Space Shuttle, the trendsetting clamshell computer seemed to be everywhere in the 1980s. While far too expensive for the average consumer to afford back then, its no-compromise design and sleek looks helped lay the groundwork for today’s ubiquitous laptops.
Getting your hands on a working GRiD Compass in 2021 isn’t a whole lot easier than it was in 1982, so [Mike] decided to do the next best thing and build his own. His GRIZ Sextant certainly isn’t a replica, but the family resemblance is strong enough to get the point across. The Raspberry Pi powered machine has a greatly reduced “trunk” section in the back as you might expect, but the overall layout is very similar. The Commodore 64 inspired color scheme is probably the biggest departure from the source material, but it’s hard to argue with the results.
It’s clear at a glance that a lot of thought was put into the external aesthetics of the Sextant, but a peek under the hood shows the internal details are equally impressive. [Mike] tells us he has a background in product design, and it shows. Rather than approaching this project as a one-off creation, he’s clearly taken great pains to ensure the design is as reproducible as possible.
All of the individual components of the 3D printed frame and enclosure have been carefully designed so they’ll fit within the build volume of the average desktop machine. Electronic components are screwed, not glued, to the internal framework; making future repairs and maintenance much easier. When combined with the ample internal volume available, this modular approach should make adding custom hardware a relatively painless process as well.
So when will you be able to build a GRIZ Sextant of your own? Hopefully, very soon. [Mike] says he still needs to work some kinks out of the power supply and finalize how the speakers will get mounted into the case. Once those last tweaks are locked in, he plans to release all the STL files and a complete Bill of Materials. For those who want to get a sneak peek before they start warming up the extruder, he’s also started documenting the assembly of the Sextant on his YouTube channel. Continue reading “3D Printed Pi Laptop Honors The Iconic GRiD Compass”
It wasn’t so long ago that a desktop computer was just a beige box with another, heavier, beige box sitting next to it or maybe perched on top. They’re a bit more visually exciting these days, with even mass produced PCs now shipping with RGB lighting and clear side panels. But even so, few could really look at a modern desktop computer and call it objectively beautiful.
But [Oriol Ferrer Mesià] wonders if we couldn’t improve on things a bit. Over the last few months, he’s been experimenting with small 3D printed enclosures that reimagine the traditional desktop computer aesthetic. With their distinctively retro-futuristic style, they look like the kind of gadgets science magazines in the 1960s thought would be dotting kitchens, living rooms, and space stations by the year 2000. But unlike those fanciful creations, each one of these beauties is a fully functional computer.
A few of the designs are relatively conservative, and not entirely unlike some of the old “dumb terminals” of the 1970s. With a Raspberry Pi 4 and a tablet-sized screen, these diminutive terminals would be perfectly usable for light desktop work or some retro gaming.
But we particularly like the ultra-widescreen design that [Oriol] has come up with. With a fairly unusual 4:1 aspect ratio LCD, the printed enclosure for this one was so large that it had to be done in two pieces on his Ender 3. To keep the 8″ 1920 x 480 panel well fed, this design uses a Jetson Nano 2GB which has considerably more graphical punch than other Linux SBCs of similar size and price.
As part of the recent cyberdeck craze, we’ve seen plenty of people recreating the look and feel of vintage portable computers with 3D printed cases and modern components. Desktop creations have been far less common, but with gorgeous designs like these to serve as inspiration, that may change.
Back in April of 2019, inspired by iconic films such as Blade Runner and Akira, [Chris Watson] embarked on a journey to create his very own cyberpunk roadster from a 1991 Mazda MX-5. After pouring an incredible amount of blood, sweat, and fiberglass into the project, he now has a vehicle that wouldn’t look out of place cruising the streets of Neo Tokyo. Even if you’re not usually into car mods, his impeccably photographed build log is an absolutely fascinating journey.
But as impressive as the car itself might be, what really caught our attention was the computer sitting on the dash. From early on, [Chris] wanted the vehicle to have a companion cyberdeck that would be used to control various onboard systems. At this point it’s just for show, but he says ultimately it will be integrated with the electric motor he plans to install in place of the MX-5’s original power plant. We can’t wait to see it.
Of course, the lack of a practical application has hardly stopped us from admiring any of the other cyberdecks we’ve covered thus far. This one started out life as a laptop with a broken screen, which [Chris] beheaded and connected it to 15″ external display mounted in the top of a heavy-duty case. With a new SSD and a fresh copy of Linux Mint to verify all the hardware was still functional, he put together an MDF bezel for the display that includes some faux antennae and covered aircraft style switches.
When this futuristic roadster is making an appearance at a car show or contest, [Chris] makes sure to load up some suitably high-tech looking imagery on the display. It even shows some flashing technobabble error messages pulled from The Fast & The Furious.
Traditionally we haven’t covered many custom car projects, though to be fair, we traditionally haven’t seen many that looked like this either. But between ever more technologically advanced vehicles and the insightful car modding column helmed by our very own [Lewin Day], we expect tricked out rides may become an increasingly common sight on these pages.