[Ryan] tells us he was looking for a way to play some older games from the early 2000s, and thought it was a good opportunity to put together a quiet set-top computer. The final hardware is more than capable of running older titles, and can even be used with Steam Link to stream newer content from his primary gaming computer.
Even with a diminutive Gigabyte GA-H81N Mini ITX motherboard, things are pretty tight inside the Xbox. Fairly tight wire management was required to prevent any airflow obstructions, especially since [Ryan] decided to put the system’s 80 watt laptop-style power supply inside the case. While this made the build a bit more complicated, it does make the final product a lot cleaner and makes it feel just that much more like a proper game console.
Benchmarks show the machine has decent performance, all things considered. [Ryan] says there are some potential upgrades down the line, but as with most gaming PC builds, cost is the limiting factor. Until he’s ready to spend the cash on revamping the internals, he says that streaming newer games over the the network has been working great.
Building computers from discrete components is a fairly common hobby project, but it used to be the only way to build a computer until integrated circuits came on the scene. If you’re living in the modern times, however, you can get a computer like this running easily enough, but if you want to dive deep into high performance you’ll need to understand how those components work on a fundamental level.
[Tim] and [Yann] have been working on replicating circuitry found in the CDC6600, the first Cray supercomputer built in the 1960s. Part of what made this computer remarkable was its insane (for the time) clock speed of 10 MHz. This was achieved by using bipolar junction transistors (BJTs) that were capable of switching much more quickly than typical transistors, and by making sure that the support circuitry of resistors and capacitors were tuned to get everything working as efficiently as possible.
The duo found that not only are the BJTs used in the original Cray supercomputer long out of production, but the successors to those transistors are also out of production. Luckily they were able to find one that meets their needs, but it doesn’t seem like there is much demand for a BJT with these characteristics anymore.
[Tim] also posted an interesting discussion about some other methods of speeding up circuitry like this, namely by using reach-through capacitors and Baker clamps. It’s worth a read in its own right, but if you want to see some highlights be sure to check out this 16-bit computer built from individual transistors.
The ThinkPad is generally considered the unofficial laptop of hackerdom, so it’s no surprise that we see plenty of projects focused on repairing and modifying these reliable workhorses. But while we usually see folks working on relatively modern incarnations of this iconic line of computers, this project by [Frank Adams] and [Brian Chan] shows that the hacker’s love affair with the ThinkPad stretches back farther than many might realize.
As explained on the project’s Hackaday.io page, the duo have produced an open hardware board that will allow you to take the keyboard and trackpoint from a late ’90s ThinkPad 380ED and use it as a standard USB input device on a modern computer. According to [Frank], the keyboards on these machines are notable for having full-size keys rather than the “chicklet” boards that are so common today.
Now you may be wondering why this is significant. After all, we’ve seen plenty of projects that hook up an old keyboard to a USB-equipped microcontroller to get them speaking the lingua franca. Well, the trick here is that the trackpoint on these older ThinkPads actually required additional circuitry on the motherboard to function. The keyboard features three separate FPC connections for the matrix, the trackpoint buttons, and the analog strain gauges in the trackpoint itself.
After a considerable amount of reverse engineering, [Frank] and [Brian] have developed a board that uses the Teensy 3.2 to turn this plethora of pins into something useful. In the video after the break, you can see the new composite USB device working perfectly on a modern Windows computer.
Randomness is a pursuit in a similar vein to metrology or time and frequency, in that inordinate quantities of effort can be expended in pursuit of its purest form. The Holy Grail is a source of completely unpredictable randomness, and the search for entropy so pure has taken experimenters into the sampling of lava lamps, noise sources, unpredictable timings of user actions in computer systems, and even into sampling radioactive decay. It’s a field that need not be expensive or difficult to work in, as [Henk Mulder] shows us with his 4-bit analogue random number generator.
One of the simplest circuits for generating random analogue noise involves a reverse biased diode in either Zener or avalanche breakdown, and it is a variation on this that he’s using. A reverse biased emitter junction of a transistor produces noise which is amplified by another transistor and then converted to a digital on-off stream of ones and zeroes by a third. Instead of a shift register to create his four bits he’s using four identical circuits, with no clock their outputs randomly change state at will.
A large part of his post is an examination of randomness and what makes a random source. He finds this source to be flawed because it has a bias towards logic one in its output, but we wonder whether the culprit might be the two-transistor circuit and its biasing rather than the noise itself. It also produces a sampling frequency of about 100 kbps, which is a little slow when sampling with he Teensy he’s using.
An understanding of random number generation is both a fascinating and important skill to have. We’ve featured so many RNGs over the years, here’s one powered by memes, and another by a fish tank.
Released in 2002, Apple’s iMac G4 was certainly a unique machine. Even today, its hemispherical case and integrated “gooseneck” display is unlike anything else on the market. Whether or not that’s a good thing is rather subjective of course, but there’s no denying it’s still an attention grabber nearly 20 years after its release. Unfortunately, it’s got less processing power than a modern burner phone.
Which is why [Tom Hightower] figured it was the perfect candidate for a retrofit. Rather than being little more than a display piece, this Intel NUC powered iMac is now able to run the latest version of Mac OS. He even went as far as replacing the display with a higher resolution panel, though it sounds like it was dead to begin with so he didn’t have much choice in the matter.
The retrofit starts off with a brief teardown, which is quite interesting in itself. [Tom] notes a number of unique design elements, chief among them the circular motherboard. The two banks of memory also use different form factors, and only one of them is easily accessible to the end user. Something to think about the next time somebody tells you that Apple’s “brave” hardware choices are only a modern phenomena.
There was plenty of room inside the iMac’s dome to fit the NUC motherboard, and some extension cables and hot glue got the computer’s rear panel suitably updated with the latest-and-greatest ports and connectors. But the conversion wasn’t a total cakewalk. That iconic “gooseneck” put up quite a fight when it was time to run the new wires up to the display. Between the proprietary screws that had to be coerced out with a Dremel to the massive spring that was determined to escape captivity, [Tom] recommends anyone else looking to perform a similar modification just leave the wires on the outside of the thing. That’s what he ended up doing with the power wires for the display inverter.
The Hackaday community has answered the call and put their computers put to work folding proteins found in the coronavirus. Team_Hack-a-Day ranks #44 in the world so far this month, and I’ve seen us rank as high as #19 on 24-hour leaderboards.
Want to join the fight? Donate some of those computing cycles you’re not using to battling SARS‑CoV‑2. You’re probably not an epidemiologist or a vaccine researcher, but you can make their jobs easier by providing them with the data they need through the Folding@home Project.
As Dan Maloney explained in his excellent article on protein folding, understanding the incredibly complex folding behavior of the proteins in the virus will be key to finding treatments and possibly a vaccine. Folding@home connects countless computers via the internet and is now the largest supercomputer in the world, consisting of over 3.5 million CPUs and over half a million GPUs. The resulting data is freely available to researchers.
Let’s take a look at how easy it is to get up and running, how a GPU can supercharge a setup, and dip into the stats for Team_Hack-a-Day’s effort.
It seems not a day goes by that we don’t see somebody cramming a Raspberry Pi into some unwilling piece of consumer electronics. But despite being a pretty obvious application for the diminutive ARM board, we don’t often see it installed in an actual computer. Which makes this very clean Raspberry Pi laptop conversion by [Sherbethead2010] all the more interesting.
The first step involved taking a Dremel to the Dell’s chassis and essentially leveling out the entire internal volume. The only component that got reused was the fan, and even that appears to be relocated, so all the mounting posts were just standing in the way of progress.
[Sherbethead2010] mounted the Raspberry Pi towards the rear of the case so its USB and Ethernet ports would be available from the outside, and installed a driver board for the original Phillips LP171 LCD panel in the old drive bay. Power is provided by two custom 18650 battery packs connected to dedicated buck converters, along with an onboard charge controller to safely top them off.
Rather than trying to adapt the original input devices, [Sherbethead2010] decided to take the easy route and installed a Rii K22 wireless keyboard with integrated track pad into the top of the laptop. It turned out to be an almost perfect fit, and beyond the keys being slightly off-center, at first glance it looks like it could be stock.