Commodore SX-64 Keyboard Upgraded From Trash To Treasure

Released in 1984, the Commodore SX-64 Executive Computer was one of the first portable luggable color computers. It cost twice as much as a Commodore 64, had a tiny 5″ diagonal screen, and couldn’t actually support both 5¼” drives as advertised. On the upside, people say it had a slightly better keyboard than its classic cousin.

[Drygol] agreed to restore the keyboard from a friend’s Commodore SX-64 sight-unseen, and boy was this thing in bad shape. Most people would probably consider the condition a shame and write it off as a lost cause, since two of the corners were missing most of their plastic. But [Drygol] isn’t most people. [Drygol] had mad restoration skills to begin with, and this project honed them to a razor’s edge.

Plenty of the other vintage computer restorations [Drygol] has done required plastic welding, which uses heat or a lot of friction to smooth over cracks. Some of those have not stood the test of time, so he’s now in the habit of stabilizing cracks with brass mesh before filling them with fiberglass putty.

The best part is how [Drygol] managed to rebuild the corners using the same methods, soldering the brass mesh at the 90° joins, and reinforcing them with thick copper wire before beginning the painstaking putty/sand/putty process. The use of blank copper clad boards as straight edges and thickness gauges is genius.

There’s a whole lot to learn here, and the adventure beings with something that probably keeps a lot of people from trying stuff like this in the first place: how do you safely remove the badges?

You’re right, plastic welding is awesome. There even used to be a toy plastic welder. But there’s no need to troll the electronic auction bay to give it a try — just use a cheap soldering iron.

Reproduction 1960s Computer Trainer Really Pushes Our Buttons

If you were selling computers in the early 1960s you faced a few problems, chief among them was convincing people to buy the fantastically expensive machines. But you also needed to develop an engineering force to build and maintain said machines. And in a world where most of the electrical engineers had cut their teeth on analog circuits built with vacuum tubes, that was no easy feat.

To ease the transition and develop some talent, Digital Equipment Corporation went all out with devices like the DEC H-500 Computer Lab, which retrocomputing wizard [Michael Gardi] is currently building a reproduction of. DEC’s idea was to provide a selection of logic gates, flip flops, and other elements of digital electronics that could be hooked together into more complicated circuits. We can practically see the young engineers in their white short-sleeve shirts and skinny ties laboring over the H-500 in a lab somewhere.

[Mike] is fortunate enough to have an original H-500, but he wants anyone to be able to build one. His project page and the Instructables post go into great detail on how he made everything from the front panel to the banana plug jacks; almost everything in the build aside from the wood frame is custom 3D printed to mimic the original as much as possible. But the pièce de résistance is those delicious, butterscotch-colored DEC rocker switches. Taking some cues from custom switches he had previously built, he used reed switches and magnets to outfit the 3D printed rockers and make them look and feel like the originals. We can’t wait for the full PDP build.

Hats off to [Mike] for another stunning reproduction from the early years of the computer age. Be sure to check out his MiniVac 601 trainer, the Digi-Comp 1 mechanical computer, and the paperclip computer. If you’d like to pick [Mike’s] brain about this or any of his other incredible projects, he’ll be joining us for a Hack Chat in August.

Thanks to [Granzeier] for the tip!

Boot-To-BASIC Box Packs A Killer Graphics Engine

In the early days of the home computer era, many machines would natively boot into a BASIC interpreter. This was a great way to teach programming to the masses. However on most platforms the graphics routines were incredibly slow, and this greatly limited what could be achieved. In 2020 such limitations are a thing of the past, with the Color Maximite 2. (Video, embedded below.)

The Color Maximite 2 is a computer based around the STM32H743IIT6 microcontroller, packing a Cortex-M7 32-bit RISC core with the Chrom-ART graphics accelerator. Running at 480MHz it’s got plenty of grunt, allowing it to deliver vibrant graphics to the screen reminiscent of the very best of the 16-bit console era. The Maximite 2 combines this chip alongside a BASIC interpreter complete with efficient graphics routines. This allows for the development of games with fast and smooth movement, with plenty of huge sprites and detailed backgrounds.

[cTrix] does a great job of demonstrating the machine, designed by [Geoff Graham] and [Peter Mather]. Putting the computer through its paces with a series of demos, it shows off the impressive visual and audio capabilities of the hardware. It serves as an excellent spiritual successor to BlitzBASIC from back in the Amiga days. Particularly enjoyable is seeing a BASIC interpreter that adds syntax highlighting – making parsing the code far easier on the eyes!

We’d love to see this become an off-the-shelf kit, as it’s clear the platform has a lot to offer the retro hobbyist. It’s certainly come a long way from the original Maximite of nearly a decade ago. Video after the break.

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Vintage Keyboard Gets The QMK Treatment

While nobody could deny that computing technology has some a long way in the last few decades, there are many out there who believe peak keyboard was sometime before the turn of the new millennium. They prefer the look, feel, and especially the sounds, of those classic keyboards to what passes for an input device these days. So much so that it’s not uncommon to see one of these old mammoths get freshened up and pushed into service with a modern computer.

Which is exactly what [Juan Pablo Kutianski] has done with his Compaq MX-11800. This keyboard, which is actually a branded version of the Cherry G80-11800, really stands out in a crowd. With an integrated trackball and a two-row arrangement for the function keys, it’s not hard to see why he’d want to show it off. But while the hardware itself was solid, the features and capabilities of this old school keyboard left something to be desired.

The solution was to replace the keyboard’s original electronics with a Teensy++2.0 running the popular QMK firmware. This not only made the keyboard USB, but allowed [Juan] to tweak things such as the trackball sensitivity and add in support for layers and macros. All of which can be managed through VIA, a graphical configuration tool for QMK.

As we’ve seen in so many projects, the combination of QMK running on the Teensy is a powerful tool for getting the most out of your keyboard. Whether breathing new life into a vintage piece of hardware or creating something truly custom like our very own [Kristina Panos] recently did, it’s definitely something to keep in mind if you’re considering any keyboard hacking.

Why You (Probably) Won’t Be Building A Replica Amiga Anytime Soon

Early in 2019, it  became apparent that the retro-industrial complex had reached new highs of innovation and productivity. It was now possible to create entirely new Commdore 64s from scratch, thanks to the combined efforts of a series of disparate projects. It seems as if the best selling computer of all time may indeed live forever.

Naturally, this raises questions as to the C64’s proud successor, the Amiga. Due to a variety of reasons, it’s less likely we’ll see scratch-build Amiga 500s popping out of the woodwork anytime soon. Let’s look at what it would take, and maybe, just maybe, in a few years you’ll be firing up Lotus II (or, ideally, Jaguar XJ220: The Game) on your brand new rig running Workbench 1.3. Continue reading “Why You (Probably) Won’t Be Building A Replica Amiga Anytime Soon”

Apollo 11 Trig Was Brief

In this day and age where a megabyte of memory isn’t a big deal, it is hard to recall when you had to conserve every byte of memory. If you are a student of such things, you might enjoy an annotated view of the Apollo 11 DSKY sine and cosine routines. Want to guess how many lines of code that takes? Try 35 for both.

Figuring out how it works takes a little knowledge of how the DSKY works and the number formats involved. Luckily, the site has a feature where you can click on the instructions and see comments and questions from other reviewers.

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Run Your Favorite 8-bit Games On An ESP32

Here at Hackaday HQ we’re no strangers to vintage game emulation. New versions of old consoles and arcade cabinets frequently make excellent fodder for clever hacks to cram as much functionality as possible into tiny modern microcontrollers. We’ve covered [rossumur]’s hacks before, but the ESP_8-bit is a milestone in comprehensive capability. This time, he’s topped himself.

There isn’t much the ESP 8-bit won’t do. It can emulate three popular consoles, complete with ROM selection menus (with menu bloops). Don’t worry about building a controller, just connect any old (HID compliant) Bluetooth Classic keyboard or WiiMote you have at hand. Or if that doesn’t do it, a selection of IR devices ranging from joysticks from the Atari Flashback 4 to Apple TV remotes are compatible. Connect analog audio and composite video and the device is ready to go.

The system provides this impressive capability with an absolute minimum of components. Often a schematic is too complex to fit into a short post, but we’ll reproduce this one here to give you a sense for what we’re talking about. Come back when you’ve refreshed your Art of Electronics and have a complete understanding of the hardware at work. We never cease to be amazed at the amount of capability available in modern “hobbyist” components. With such a short BOM this thing can be put together by anyone with an ESP-32-anything.

There’s one more hack worth noting; the clever way [rossumur] gets full color NTSC composite video from a very busy microcontroller. They note that NTSC can be finicky and requires an extremely stable high speed reference clock as a foundation. [rossumur] discovered that the ESP-32 includes a PLL designed for audio work (the “APLL”) which conveniently supports fractional components, allowing it to be trimmed to within an inch of the desired frequency. The full description is included in the GitHub page for the project and includes detailed background of various efforts to get color NTSC video (including the names of a couple hackers you might recognize from these pages).

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