It’s A CoCo! No, It’s An Apple II!

Original retrocomputing hardware is now decades old and showing its age, so the chances are it’s more common in 2024 to experience a machine from the 1970s or 1980s by way of an emulator on a modern machine than it is on the real hardware. There’s another more limited emulation scene as similar 8-bit machines emulate each other, for example when the very similar Dragon 32 and Tandy CoCo have a go at each other’s software. Rarest of them all though is when one classic machine emulates another with a different architecture, but that’s exactly what’s happened with [DragonBytes], who has persuaded a Tandy CoCo to emulate an Apple II.

The two machines have significant hardware differences, but we’re guessing that the project is helped a little by the Motorola 6809 in the CoCo and the MOS 6502 in the Apple having both in a sense been different visions of a successor to the Motorola 6800. Thus their architectures while different, are not diametrically opposed. The other hardware is certainly not so similar though, with Moto’s 6847 display chip in the Tandy being far more conventional than Steve Wozniak’s clever NTSC hacks to achieve a color display for minimal cost on the Apple.

The project is written in assembler, and doesn’t by any means claim to support all Apple modes, or be cycle accurate. But it’s a hugely impressive achievement nevertheless.

The CoCo has an enthusiastic following, and has appeared here a few times in the past. We particularly like this video player.

Erasing EEPROMs Isn’t Always As Easy As It Seems

When is 14 volts not actually 14 volts? Given [Anders Nielsen]’s recent struggles with erasing an old-school EEPROM, it’s when you really need it that things tend to go pear-shaped.

A little background is perhaps in order. [Anders] is working on a scratch-built programmer for ROMs to complement his 65uino project, which puts a complete 6502 computer into the footprint of an Arduino Uno. He wisely started the ROM programmer project at the beginning, which was to generate the correct voltages for programming. This turned out to be not as easy as you might think thanks to the solderless breadboard’s parasitic effects on the MIC2288 switching boost regulator he chose.

The video below is a continuation of the programmer build, which ends up being just as fraught as the first part. Being able to generate the programming voltages is one thing; getting them onto the right pins at the right time using nothing but the 5-volt GPIOs on a microcontroller is another. In true retro fashion, [Anders] tackled that problem with a pair of small-signal transistors, which seemed to work once the resistor values were sorted, at least when applying a 12-volt signal intended to show the ROM’s hard-coded manufacturer ID on the data bus.

But erasing the ROM, which requires 14 volts while the chip enable line is held high for 100 ms, proved a little trickier. Despite multiple tries, the ROM wouldn’t erase thanks to the 14-volt rail being dragged down to around 9 volts. [Anders] fixed that with a new base resistor on the driver, to increase the current and keep the voltage up where it needs to be. Just goes to show you that the data sheets don’t always tell the whole story.

We’ve been enjoying the unfolding story of this programmer, and we’re looking forward to the next installment.

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When Is A 6502 Not Quite A 6502?

We all know that fake chips are a risk when it comes to buying parts on eBay or from Chinese markets such as AliExpress. It’s a simple enough scam, take a cheap chip and mark it as an expensive one, pocket the difference. It’s happened in several different forms, with everything from completely different devices through cheaper equivalents to incredibly, chips purpose fabricated to emulate better-known ones. We have a chance to see such a scam in action via [LinuxJedi], with a 6502 that wasn’t quite as it seemed.

The chip in question was a Rockwell 65C02 destined for an Acorn Atom, and when installed it failed to deliver the expected power consumption saving. Unsurprisingly when tested it turned out to be a fake, in this case a run-of-the-mill 6502 with new markings. The interesting part for Hackaday readers comes in the physical clues. The too-bright markings started to dissolve with a bit of acetone. A deeper investigation revealed the date and wafer codes did not agree with the branding. A new chip was secured which also turned out to be a fake, though in this case a real 65C02 rated for a lower clock speed than marked.

It’s evident that in-demand retro chips are likely to be an ever-greater minefield of fakes as time passes, and the number of survivors dwindles. It’s as well to be aware then and learn from any fakes like these posted online. It’s not the first fake chip we’ve brought you.

A Mysterious 6502 Apple 2 Simulator

Nice, visual simulators of CPUs such as the 6502 are usually made much later and with more modern tooling than what they simulate. But what if that wasn’t the case? What if a simulator runs on the very hardware it’s simulating?

This is what [Tea Leaves] stumbled upon when he found a mysterious disk with only “APL6502.SIM” on it. [Tea Leaves] demonstrates the simulator with a basic 6502 assembly program, revealing an animated, beautiful Apple 2 simulator that actually runs on the Apple 2! The simulator shows all the major components of a 6502 and actually animates the complete data flow of an instruction.

But why is this mysterious? It’s mysterious because – a “hello” program aside – it’s the only thing on the disk! Not so much as a single clue as to where it came from. [Tea Leaves] finds out where it comes from, including incorrectly copied disk images and a revelation at the end.

Video after the break.
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Driving An OLED Screen With A 6502 Single-Board Computer

Twenty years ago, if you wanted an LCD for a project, you’d probably end up with something salvaged from a mobile phone or an HD44780 character display. These days, little OLEDs can be had for a few bucks and they’ve taken the maker world by storm. [Anders Nielsen] has recently been experimenting with driving these displays from the vintage 6502 CPU, and he’s even got scrolling operation down pat.

The best part is that [Nielsen] is doing all this on a single-board computer running his own assembly code. That’s right – there’s no compilers here. It’s bare metal coding at it’s best. The build uses a 6507 chip running at 1 MHz, paired with a 6532 RIOT and just 128 bytes of RAM—a similar setup to the Atari 2600.

The video explains how the code stacks up and drives the display, achieving the scrolling effect. It makes a huge difference to usability, especially compared to chunking pages at a time to the postage stamp-sized screen. He demonstrates a legitimate usage case too, using the setup as a serial terminal for a Raspberry Pi.

The 6502 architecture still looms large in the collective consciousness; we’ve been talking about programming it in assembly for years. Video after the break.

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A 6502-based single-board computer with a ROMulator attached

Debug Your Senile Computers With The ROMulator

Some of you may have heard of the ROMulator, a device that can emulate RAM and ROM on 6502-based computers. But how does it work? How do you use it? What computers is it compatible with? [Jeff Tranter] covers that and more in his review of the ROMulator 6502.

The ROMulator is an FPGA-based board that slots between the 6502 and its socket on whatever computer it came from. It can emulate, but not intercept, accesses to RAM and ROM, which can be used to e.g. replace a ROM that you’re swapping very often or expand the RAM available to the CPU.

In his review, [Jeff] shows the ROMulator in action many computers, notably his custom 6502-based computer, a replica of an Apple 1 and two different replicas of the SUPERBOARD 2. He shows how the ROMulator can be configured, tested, used to debug the computers and even expand their RAM. Overall, [Jeff] thinks it’s a useful 6502 debugger that would have saved him lots of time in the past and we definitely agree.

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Celebrating The 6502 With Song

In a wonderful ode to tech nostalgia, The Taylor and Amy Show, comprised of YouTubers [Taylor] and [Amy], have released a new video “THE 6502 SONG”. This song had me singing along in roughly six clock cycles, possibly a little dancing around may have occurred as well. This isn’t just any chip they’re singing about; it’s the venerable 6502 microprocessor, the silicon heart behind iconic machines like the Apple II, Commodore 64/128, and the Atari 2600.

Their lyrics reminds me of when I lived for assembly language mnemonics and counting clock cycles, the “feeling” of a processor coming out of tristate to pronounce what it had learned in the last 500ns, and the undulations of the DRAMs like speed bumps. To top it off, portions of the song were actually recorded live at the Vintage Computer Festival Midwest 2023, where fans and computing history aficionados alike were treated to an impressive display of vintage tech.

What sets “THE 6502 SONG” apart isn’t just its catchy, melodic tune; it’s the expert blend of historical detail and genuine enthusiasm that resonates with everyone from grizzled assembly-language programmers to youngsters newly fascinated by the allure of 8-bit computing. With guest appearances from other female tech YouTubers like [Veronica Explains] and [Evie’s Revue], [AJ], [Jeri and Amy- Tilt5] and [FuzzyBad].

I believe [Chuck Peddle] father of the 6502, would be proud to see his creation live on and be appreciated so.

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