Prusa Unveils New Mini 3D Printer, Shakes Up The Competition

For the last couple of years, consumer desktop 3D printer choices in the under $1,000 USD range have fallen into two broad categories: everything bellow $500 USD, and the latest Prusa i3. There are plenty of respectable printers made by companies such as Monoprice and Creality to choose from on that lower end of the scale. It wasn’t a luxury everyone could justify, but if you had the budget to swing the $749 for Prusa’s i3 kit, the choice became obvious.

Of course, that was before the Prusa Mini. Available as a kit for just $349, it’s far and away the cheapest printer that Prusa Research has ever offered. But this isn’t just some rebranded hardware, and it doesn’t compromise on the ideals that have made the company’s flagship machine the de facto open source FDM printer. For less than half the cost of the i3 MK3S, you’re not only getting most of the larger printer’s best features and Prusa’s renowned customer support, but even capabilities that presumably won’t make it to the i3 line until the MK4 is released.

Josef Průša was on hand to officially unveil his latest printer at the 2019 East Coast Reprap Festival, where I got the chance to get up close and personal with the diminutive machine. While it might be awhile before we can do a full review on the Mini, it’s safe to say that this small printer is going to have a big impact on the entry-level market.

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Smoothieboard Gets An Ambitious Update For V2

If you’ve been reading Hackaday for awhile, there’s an excellent chance you’ve seen a project or two powered by the Smoothieboard. The open source controller took Kickstarter by storm in 2013, promising to be the last word in CNC thanks to its powerful 32-bit ARM processor. Since then we’ve seen it put to use in not only the obvious applications like 3D printers and laser cutters, but also for robotic arms and pick-and-place machines. If it moves, there’s a good chance you can control it with the Smoothieboard.

But after six years on the market, the team behind this motion control powerhouse has decided it’s time to freshen things up. The Kickstarter for the Smoothieboard v2 has recently gone live and, perhaps unsurprisingly, already blown past its funding goal. Rather than simply delivering an upgraded Smoothieboard, the team has also put together a couple “spin-offs” targeting different use cases. If Smoothie v1 was King of CNC boards, then v2 is aiming to be the Royal Family.

Smoothieboard v2-Prime with breakouts

The direct successor to the original board is called v2-Prime, and it’s everything you’d expect in an update like this. Faster processor, more RAM, more flash, and improved stepper drivers. There’s also available GPIO expansion ports to connect various breakout boards, and even a header for you to plug in a Raspberry Pi. If you’re looking to upgrade your existing Smoothieboard machines to the latest and greatest, the Prime is probably what you’re after.

Then there’s the v2-Mini, designed to be as inexpensive as possible while still delivering on the Smoothieboard experience. The Mini has the same basic hardware specs as the Prime, but uses lower-end stepper drivers and deletes some of the protection features found on the more expensive model. For a basic 3D printer or laser cutter, the Mini and its projected $80 price point will be a very compelling option.

In the other extreme we have the v2-Pro, which is intended to be an experimenter’s dream come true. It features more stepper drivers, expansion ports, and even an integrated FPGA. Realistically, this board probably won’t be nearly as popular as the other two versions, but the fact that they’ve even produced it shows how committed the team is to pushing the envelope of open source motion control.

Our coverage of the original Smoothieboard campaign back in 2013 saw some very strong community response, with comments ranging from excited to dismissive. Six years later, we think the team behind the Smoothieboard has earned a position of respect among hackers, and we’re very excited to see where this next generation of hardware leads.

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The Saga Of 32-Bit Linux: Why Going 64-Bit Raises Concerns Over Multilib

The story of Linux so far, as short as it may be in the grand scheme of things, is one of constant forward momentum. There’s always another feature to implement, an optimization to make, and of course, another device to support. With developer’s eyes always on the horizon ahead of them, it should come as no surprise to find that support for older hardware or protocols occasionally falls to the wayside. When maintaining antiquated code monopolizes developer time, or even directly conflicts with new code, a difficult decision needs to be made.

Of course, some decisions are easier to make than others. Back in 2012 when Linus Torvalds officially ended kernel support for legacy 386 processors, he famously closed the commit message with “Good riddance.” Maintaining support for such old hardware had been complicating things behind the scenes for years while offering very little practical benefit, so removing all that legacy code was like taking a weight off the developer’s shoulders.

The rationale was the same a few years ago when distributions like Arch Linux decided to drop support for 32-bit hardware entirely. Maintainers had noticed the drop-off in downloads for the 32-bit versions of their distributions and decided it didn’t make sense to keep producing them. In an era where even budget smartphones are shipping with 64-bit processors, many Linux distributions have at this point decided 32-bit CPUs weren’t worth their time.

Given this trend, you’d think Ubuntu announcing last month that they’d no longer be providing 32-bit versions of packages in their repository would hardly be newsworthy. But as it turns out, the threat of ending 32-bit packages caused the sort of uproar that we don’t traditionally see in the Linux community. But why?

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Replace Legacy CNC PCs With A Gerbil

There are lots of laser cutters and other CNC machines available for a decent price online, but the major hurdle to getting these machines running won’t be the price or the parts. It’s usually the controller PC, which might be running Windows XP or NT if you’re lucky, but some of them are still using IBM XT computers from the ’80s. Even if the hardware in these machines is working, it might be impossible to get the software, and even then it will be dated and lacking features of modern computers. Enter the Super Gerbil.

[Paul] was able to find a laser cutter with one of these obsolete controllers, but figured there was a better way to getting it running again. As the name suggests, it uses GRBL, a G-Code parser and CNC controller software package that was originally made to run on an 8-bit AVR microcontroller, but [Paul] designed the Super Gerbil to run on a 32 bit ARM platform. He also added Z-axis control to it, so it now sports more degrees of freedom than the original software.

By way of a proof of concept, once he was finished building the Super Gerbil he ordered a CNC machine from China with an obsolete controller and was able to get it running within a day. As an added bonus, he made everything open so there are no license fees or cloud storage requirements if you want to use his controller. [Paul] also has a Kickstarter page for this project as well. Hopefully controllers haven’t been the only thing stopping you from getting a CNC machine for your lab, though, but if they have you now have a great solution for a 3040 or 3020 CNC machine’s controller, or any other CNC machine you might want to have. Continue reading “Replace Legacy CNC PCs With A Gerbil”

Final Fantasy Exploit Teaches 32-bit Integer Math

One of the fun things about old video games, besides their obvious nostalgia, is that some of the more popular games have been pried apart and tinkered with for years, leading to a lot of new “development” within the games. This often uncovers some hidden gems that gamers might not have had any knowledge of during the game’s heyday, like this coding oddity found in Final Fantasy 7 that illustrates a lot about how 32-bit processors do math.

The original PlayStation used a 32-bit RISC processor, but the most significant bit could be used for integer signing. This means that if you have an integer that has a value of 2,147,483,647 (01111111111111111111111111111111 in binary) and you add one, the value is suddenly negative 2147483648 because the most significant digit is also an indicator of the integer’s sign. In this situation, the integer is said to “overflow”. In Final Fantasy 7, if you can somehow get a character to deal 262,144 damage in one hit (much less than two billion, due to the way the game does damage calculations), the game has a little bit of a meltdown.

[4-8Productions] had to do a lot of work to show how this glitch can be exploited in the game as well. Usually damage in this game is limited to 9,999 but under certain configurations (admittedly obtained by using other exploits and tools available for FF7 like a savegame editor) two of the characters can deal more damage than this critical value, exposing the 32-bit processor’s weak spot.

Even though integer signing is a pretty basic concept for most of us, the video is definitely worth a watch especially if you’re fans of the classic game. Of course, Final Fantasy 7 isn’t the only classic that has been exploited and reverse-engineered to the extreme. You can use a Super Mario World level to implement a calculator now, too.

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Mike Szczys Ends 8-Bit Vs 32-Bit Holy War!

If you’ve read through the comments on Hackaday, you’ve doubtless felt the fires of one of our classic flame-wars. Any project done with a 32-bit chip could have been done on something smaller and cheaper, if only the developer weren’t so lazy. And any project that’s squeezes the last cycles of performance out of an 8-bit processor could have been done faster and more appropriately with a 32-bit chip.

bits_argument

Of course, the reality for any given project is between these two comic-book extremes. There’s a range of capabilities in both camps. (And of course, there are 16-bit chips…) The 32-bit chips tend to have richer peripherals and run at higher speeds — anything you can do with an 8-bitter can be done with its fancier cousin. Conversely, comparatively few microcontroller applications outgrow even the cheapest 8-bitters out there. So, which to choose, and when?

Eight Bits are Great Bits

The case that [Mike] makes for an 8-bit microcontroller is that it’s masterable because it’s a limited playground. It’s a lot easier to get through the whole toolchain because it’s a lot shorter. In terms of debugging, there’s (often) a lot less that can go wrong, letting you learn the easy debugging lessons first before moving on to the truly devilish. You can understand the hardware peripherals because they’re limited.

And then there’s the datasheets. The datasheet for a chip like the Atmel ATMega168 is not something you’d want to print out, at around 660 pages long. But it’s complete. [Mike] contrasts with the STM32F405 which has a datasheet that’s only 200 pages long, but that’s just going over the functions in principle. To actually get down to the registers, you need to look at the programming manual, which is 1,731 pages long. (And that doesn’t even cover the various support libraries that you might want to use, which add even more to the documentation burden.) The point is, simpler is simpler. And if you’re getting started, simpler is better.

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Getting Started With ARM Using Mbed

Even though the Arduino was hardly the first 8 bit microcontroller board to support a bootloader and the C/C++ language, it quickly became the de facto standard for hobby-level microcontrollers as well as a common choice for one-off or prototype projects. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why this occurred, but in my mind there were three major reasons: price, availability of lots of library and sample code, and the existence of a simplified GUI IDE that you could install in a few minutes. The build process is simple, too, even though if you ever have to actually figure it out, it is quite ugly. For most people, it works, and that makes it not ugly.

I like the ATMega chips. In fact, I had boards based around the ATMega8 and a bootloader way before there was an Arduino. However, they are fairly small parts. It is true that the Arduino infrastructure has grown to support more ATMega chips, many with more memory and I/O and clock speeds. However, 32-bit processors are getting inexpensive enough that for all but the simplest or highest volume projects, you should be thinking about using 32-bit.

If you’ve tried to go that route before, you’ve probably been daunted by the price, especially the price of development tools. Your alternative is to roll your own tool chain which is very doable (and there are some nice scripts out there that will help you). You also need to worry about libraries and how to integrate them. Not to mention, many of the advanced processors require a lot of setup to get, say, an A/D converter turned on. Most processors keep things they aren’t using turned off, and each pin requires setup to select the 4 or 5 things shared on that pin.

All of this has been a barrier to entry. The vendors have all figured this out, though, and many have tried to build tools aimed at breaking up the Arduino market ranging from inexpensive development boards to code-generating wizards, to full blown IDEs. I want to tell you (and show you, in the video below) how you can make the jump from 8-bit to 32-bit much easier than you might think.

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