50-Year-Old Program Gets Speed Boost

At first glance, getting a computer program to run faster than the first electronic computers might seem trivial. After all, most of us carry enormously powerful processors in our pockets every day as if that’s normal. But [Mark] isn’t trying to beat computers like the ENIAC with a mobile ARM processor or other modern device. He’s now programming with the successor to the original Intel integrated circuit processor, the 4040, but beating the ENIAC is still little more complicated than you might think with a processor from 1974.

For this project, the goal was to best the 70-hour time set by ENIAC for computing the first 2035 digits of pi. There are a number of algorithms for performing this calculation, but using a 4-bit processor and an extremely limited memory of only 1280 bytes makes a number of these methods impossible, especially with the self-imposed time limit. The limited instruction set is a potential bottleneck as well with these early processors. [Mark] decided to use [Fabrice Bellard]’s algorithm given these limitations. He goes into great detail about the mathematics behind this method before coding it in JavaScript. Generating assembly language from a working JavaScript was found to be fairly straightforward.

[Mark] is also doing a lot of work on the 4040 to get this program running as well, including upgrades to the 40xx tool stack, the compiler and linker, and an emulator he’s using to test his program before sending it to physical hardware. The project is remarkably well-documented, including all of the optimizations needed to get these antique processors running fast enough to beat the ENIAC. We won’t spoil the results for you, but as a hint to how it worked out, he started this project using the 4040 since his original attempt using a 4004 wasn’t quite fast enough.

Bringing A 50 Watt Laser Cutter To Life

This is the future and we live in a world of 3D printers and laser cutters. Have you ever pondered the question of getting yourself a laser cutter? Well [Erich Styger] just landed a 50 Watt Laser Cutter from AliExpress and has written up a detailed guide to his experience.

[Erich] had been wrestling with the idea of buying one for himself for some time but was put off by the difficulty in their operation. This changed when [Scorch] published the K40 Whisperer control software which allows for better control over these machines. With the hopes of an interesting weekend project, [Erich Styger] took a leap of faith and spent $900 on a model 4040 laser cutter.

In his blog, he goes through the steps in setting up the machine as well as calibrating the laser. With a plethora of images and a detailed look at each aspect of the leveling and testing, [Erich Styger] had a weekend well spent and a working K40 laser cutter for his workshop. But perhaps the more valuable part of the stories is the overall experience.

It was not a “what you see is what you get” order, but it did turn out to be a hacker’s “what you want is what you get” adventure. The machine didn’t look the same as the picture, it came with a burned CD-R with a box full of small parts (in addition to separate shipment of a USB thumb drive and silicone sealant), and there were some mechanical touchups plus a stuck switch requiring reassembly. He has done an excellent job of documenting from order to test-runs and the photos alone are worth taking a look.

Adding value to inexpensive laser cutters in an often-featured project around here. If you are looking for more details on these wonderful machines, be sure to check out more tales of Cheap Laser Cutters and our coverage of the K40 Whisperer software launch from last month.

Animating An LED Matrix Without A Microcontroller

[Konstantin] had some extra 27C256 EPROMS lying around and decided to use them to animate an 8×8 LED matrix. He’s not only using them to store data, but driving the display with them as well. The chip holds 32 kilobytes of data which equates to 4096 frames of animation. A 32 kHz clock circuit works with some ripple counters to scroll through each byte of stored data, turning on the columns while sinking the proper row. Of course current protection is a must so there is a ULN2308A darlington driver and some 2N2907 transistors at work, but you won’t find a programmable microcontroller. Neat!

Yep, you read that right. The picture above shows an EPROM chip that requires a UV light source to erase the data.

[Thanks Kopfkopfkopfaffe]