Bringing modern connectivity to retro computers is an endearing field- with the simplicity of last-century hardware and software being a double-edged sword, often, you bring a powerful and tiny computer of modern age to help its great-grandparent interface with networks of today. [yyzkevin] shows us a PCMCIA WiFi card built using a Pi Pico W, talking PCI ISA. This card brings modern-day WiFi connectivity to his IBM PC110, without requiring a separate router set up for outdated standards that the typical PCMCIA WiFi cards are limited by.
The RP2040 is made to talk PCI ISA using, of course, the PIO engine. A CPLD helps with PCI ISA address decoding, some multiplexing, and level shifting between RP2040’s 3.3V and the PCI 5 V levels. The RP2040 software emulates a NE2000 network card, which means driver support is guaranteed on most OSes of old times, and the software integration seems seamless. The card already works for getting the PC110 online, and [yyzkevin] says he’d like to improve on it – shrink the design so that it resembles a typical PCMCIA WiFi card, tie some useful function into the Pico’s USB port, and perhaps integrate his PCMCIA SoundBlaster project into the whole package while at it.
This is a delightful project in how it achieves its goal, and a pleasant surprise for everyone who’s been observing RP2040’s PIO engine conquer interfaces typically unreachable for run-of-the-mill microcontrollers. We’ve seen Ethernet, CAN and DVI, along many others, and there’s undoubtedly more to come.
We thank [Misel] and [Arti] for sharing this with us!
You might have already seen the pretty pictures in pastel colors online — a small netbook-like computer with a full-size keyboard. This, while a render, is what the MNT Pocket Reform is going to look like. Reminiscent of the netbook aesthetic in all the right ways, it’s a small device with a mechanical keyboard taking as much space as possible, trackball for navigation, and we assume, exactly the kind of screen that’d be comfortable to use.
We’ve reviewed the MNT Reform a year ago, and this device inherits a lot of its good parts. The motherboard’s connectivity is likely subject to change, but on the motherboard renders, we can spot three USB-C ports, a Micro HDMI port, a microSD card slot, ix Industrial Ethernet, and M.2 B-key and M-key slots for WWAN and SSD cards respectively.
If you expected computational specs, there isn’t really a specific CPU+RAM configuration announced – for a good reason. The Pocket Reform takes advantage of the CPU card concept designed into the MNT Reform – able to take a card with an NXP i.MX8M CPU, Raspberry Pi CM4, Pine SOQuartz, a Kintex-7 FPGA, or any of the cards yet to be developed. The design files are open-source, the prototype motherboards have been ordered, mechanical usability aspects have been worked through. This is a very compelling project, and we can’t wait to see it bear fruit!
If you ever been curious how old-school jukeboxes work, it’s all electromechanical and no computers. In a pair of videos, [Technology Connections] takes us through a detailed dive into the operation of a 1970 Wurlitzer Statesman model 3400 that he bought with his allowance when he was in middle school. This box can play records at either 33-1/3 or 45 RPM from a carousel of 100 discs, therefore having a selection of 200 songs. This would have been one of the later models, as Wurlitzer’s jukebox business was in decline and they sold the business in 1973.
This may be the ugliest jukebox ever produced.
This jukebox is actually what turned me into the weirdo that I am today.
Just like with pre-touchscreen cellphones having fancy innovative features that everyone’s forgotten about, there’s areas that laptop manufacturers used to venture in but no longer dare touch. On Twitter, [Kiwa] talks a fascinating attempt by Dell to make laptops with user-replaceable CPU+RAM modules. In 2008, Dell released the Inspiron Mini 1210, with its CPU, chipset and RAM soldered to a separate board in an “extended SODIMM” form-factor – not unlike the Raspberry Pi Compute Modules pre-CM4! Apparently, different versions of such “processor cards” existed for their Inspiron Mini lineup, with varying amounts of RAM and CPU horsepower. With replacement CPU+RAM modules still being sold online, that makes these Dell netbooks to be, to our knowledge, the only x86 netbooks with upgradable CPUs.
You could try and get yourself one of these laptops or replacement CPU modules nowadays, if you like tinkering with old tech – and don’t mind having a subpar experience on even Linux, thanks tothe Poulsbo chipset’s notorious lack of openness. Sadly, Dell has thoroughly abandoned the concept of x86 system-on-module cards, and laptops have been getting less modular as we go – we haven’t been getting socketed CPUs since the third generation of mobile Intel boards, and even RAM is soldered to the motherboard more and more often. In theory, the “CPU daughterboard” approach could improve manufacturing yields and costs, making it possible to use a simpler large board for the motherboard and only have the CPU board be high-layer-count. However, we can only guess that this wasn’t profitable enough overall, even with all the theoretical upsides. Or, perhaps, Google-style, someone axed this project internally because of certain metrics unmet.
Most DJ tools are just ripe for DIY rework. Everything at least speaks MIDI, and the firmware side of the equation that makes a physical interface for your laptop can be downloaded and flashed with minimal effort. And this means that there’s no time better than the present to wire up a ton of buttons to a Teensy and call it a controller.
[UmamiFish]’s build goes the extra mile, though, with a nice laser-cut box and holes for display LEDs as well as the 22 arcade buttons that are packed tightly into the enclosure. A 74HC595 shift-register IC handles the LEDs, but there’s no getting around a bunch of wiring in a build like this. It pays to be neat, and using ribbon cable helps keep some of the chaos under control.
Browsing around Instructables will turn up myriad similar controllers, should the exact configuration of this one not suit your needs. And if you want something with a little more of the real-disk feel, have a look at this controller that uses hard disk platters, or this log of a timecode-vinyl-to-MIDI build.
Something’s fishy about the above-pictured ultrabook: it’s an Asus Zenbook that [WarriorRocker] hacked to use a MagSafe power connector typically found on Macbooks. Most of us probably consider it standard procedure to poke around inside our desktop’s tower, but it takes some guts to radically alter such a shiny new ultrabook. It seems, however, that the Zenbook’s tiny power plug causes serious frustrations, and [WarriorRocker] was tired of dealing with them.
Using information he found from an article we featured earlier this summer on a MagSafe teardown, [WarriorRocker] hit up the parts drawer for some connectors and got to work. He had to modify the MagSafe’s housing to fit his Zenbook while still holding on to the magnets, but he managed to avoid modifying the ultrabook’s case—the connector is approximately the same size as a USB port. Deciding he could live with just one USB connection, [WarriorRocker] took to the board with a pair of side cutters and neatly carved out space for the MagSafe next to the audio jack. He then soldered it in place and ran wires from the VCC and Ground pins along a the channel where the WiFi antenna is routed, connecting them to the original power jack’s input pins.
[WarriorRocker] regrets that he fell short of his original goal of getting the MagSafe’s protocol working: he instead had to hack on his own adapter. We’re still rather impressed with how well his hack turned out, and it did manage to solve the charging problems. Hit us up in the comments if you can provide some insight into the MagSafe’s otherwise obscure innerworkings.
[Doragasu] got his hands on one of these WM8650 Netbooks for around 50 euros (~$63.50) delivered. They come with a version of Android preinstalled, but he wanted to use them more like a computer and less like an Android device. So he set out to load Arch Linux on the ARM-based Netbook.
This is possible because the hardware inside is actually pretty good. The 800 MHz SoC is accompanied by 256 megs of RAM. There’s 2 gigs of internal storage, a 7″ display, USB, Ethernet, WiFi, and an audio system. This is comparable to what you’d get with a Raspberry Pi (without video acceleration) but also includes all of those peripherals, a case, a touchpad and keyboard… you get the point. There are several patches that need to be applied to the kernel to get it working with the hardware. [Doragasu] covers each of them in the post linked above. You can also hear his presentation in the video after the break.