Squeezing A Minimalist 6502 Retrocomputer Onto A Single Breadboard

Over the years, and especially lately, we’ve seen tons of single-board retrocomputer builds. That’s fine with us — the more, the merrier. But they all start to run together a bit, with little to distinguish between them. Not so this about-as-compact-as-possible 6502 computer that fits on a single breadboard.

Now, when you do the math, it seems like there’s no way that [Anders Nielsen] would have been able to fit even a minimal chipset onto a standard solderless breadboard. The 40-pin 6502 alone takes up nearly two-thirds of the connections available; add in equally large but necessary chips like the 6522 interface adapter, ROM and RAM chips, and some support ICs, and one breadboard isn’t going to cut it. Luckily, some frugal engineers at MOS back in the 70s came up with the 6507, a variant on the 6502 in a 28-pin DIP. The other key to this build is the 6532 RAM-I/O-timer chip or RIOT, which puts a tiny amount of RAM and some IO lines on a single 40-pin DIP. Along with a 28-pin ROM, a 14-pin hex inverter, and a little crystal oscillator, the entire chipset just barely fits on a single breadboard.

But what can this minimalist 6502 actually do? As you can see in the video below, anything a 555 timer can do, and maybe a little bit more. That’s not a dig, of course — [Anders] actually calls out his initial blinkenlight application as a little more than a glorified 555, and actually comes up with a marginally more complex application just to prove the point. The interesting part here is dealing with the constraints imposed by the limited resources available on this machine.

We’re looking forward to whatever comes next for this clever build. It’s hard to see how some of the plans [Anders] has for it will still fit on a single breadboard, though — these things tend to spread out as they go.

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The 6502 Watch, Because Someone Had To Make One

We are very familiar with retrocomputers, and if you want you too can build a computer that could have been made in the late ’70s on a breadboard. Just grab your CPU of choice, add some RAM, some ROM, a ton of jumper wires, and give it some way to talk to the outside world. The problem with the computers inspired by yesteryear is that they all, inexplicably, use through-hole parts. If only someone used the small QFP parts instead of the big chonkin’ PDIPs, we could have really small retrocomputers. That’s exactly what [NotArtyom] did, and he managed to come up with a wearable 6502 watch.

The system design for this 6502-based watch is fairly standard for what you would find in any other retrocomputer. There’s a PLCC 6502, 32k of SRAM, 16k of ROM, and a PLLC’d 6522 for a bit of IO. There are a few peripherals hanging off the 6522, and since this thing is a watch the most important is a real time clock. There’s also a Nokia LCD and a 20-pin Commodore keyboard connector.

Software-wise, most of the ROM is dedicated to G’Mon, a generic monitor that can view and modify memory. There’s also EhBasic, and a kernel to handle the RTC, keyboard, and display.

Whether or not this is a useful smartwatch isn’t the question; this is one of the first retrocomputer projects we’ve seen that lean into the non-PDIP versions of these classic chips. This is a bit surprising, because you can still buy these parts, PDIP or not, new from the usual vendors. If nothing else, it’s a demonstration of what can be done with modern IC packages.

Veronica Gets A Pair Of Gamepads And A Bugged Chip


[Quinn Dunki]’s awesome 6502-based computer is coming right along, and she decided it’s time to add one of the most important features found in the 80s microcomputers she’s inspired by – gamepads.

There were two ways of implementing gamepads back in the 80s. The Apple II analog joysticks used a potentiometer for each joystick axis along with a 556 timer chip to convert the resistance of a pot into a digital value. Analog controls are awesome, but a lot of hardware is required. The other option is the Atari/Commodore joystick that uses buttons for each direction. Surprisingly, these joysticks are inordinately expensive on the vintage market but a similar hardware setup – NES gamepads – are common, dirt cheap, and extremely well documented.

[Quinn] wrote a few bits of 6502 assembly to read these Nintendo controllers with Veronica’s 6522 VIA with the help of an ATMega168, and then everything went to crap.

In testing her setup, she found that sometimes the data line from the controller would be out of sync with the clock line. For four months, [Quinn] struggled with this problem and came up with one of two possible problems: either her circuit was bad, or the 6522 chip in Veronica was bad. You can guess which option is correct, but you’ll probably be wrong.

The problem turned out to be the 6522. It turns out this chip has a bug when it’s used with an external clock. In 40 years of production this hasn’t been fixed, but luckily 6502 wizard [Garth Wilson] has a solution for this problem: just add a flip-flop and everything’s kosher. If only this bug were mentioned in the current datasheets…

Now Veronica has two NES controller inputs and the requisite circuitry to make everything work. Video evidence below.

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