Over the years we’ve seen a number of hackers generate VGA with 74xx logic chips, but they’ve generally not been the most practical of builds. Often put together as part of a competition or purely for the challenge, these circuits are usually implemented in a mass of jumper wires and often take up multiple breadboards. Not exactly something you can toss in a drawer when you’re done with it.
But the Vectron VGA Plus, created by prolific hacker [Nick Bild], manages to improve on things considerably. Designed specifically to be smaller and simpler than its predecessors, the custom PCB contains far fewer chips than we’re used to seeing for this kind of thing. At the same time it provides a handy header row along the bottom that allows the user to connect whatever they’re working on, from microcontrollers to retro computers.
It looks like the PCB could still be shrunk down considerably if you’re really looking to maximize desk space, but we imagine for his purposes, [Nick] felt this was more than compact enough. Especially when you look at what the same circuit looked like during the breadboard phase. Yikes.
So, what did it take to simplify this 640 x 480 VGA interface? The short answer is adding more RAM. Wherever possible, dedicated hardware was replaced with software operations that could be performed by the externally connected device. [Nick] has provided some sample code for the Arduino that lets the microcontroller push data into the board’s memory and take control.
Well, aside from the display anyway. While [Nick] made sure to use components that were contemporaries of the 6502 wherever possible, he did drop in a modern SPI LCD panel. After all, it’s supposed to be a portable game system.
Though as you can see in the video after the break, the massive 273 mm x 221 mm PCB only just meets that description. Incidentally, there’s no technical reason for the board to be this big; [Nick] was just playing it safe as he’s still learning KiCad.
Those with a keen eye towards 6502 projects likely saw the breadboard version of the Vectron that [Nick] put together last year. Compared to the original, the circuit for the handheld has been considerably simplified as it wasn’t designed to be a general purpose 6502 computer. Whether or not you think being able to play Pong on it makes up for those shortcomings is a matter of personal preference.
There was a time when if you wanted a computer, you had to build it. And not by ordering parts from Amazon and plugging everything together in a case — you had to buy chips, solder or wire-wrap everything, and tinker endlessly. The process was slow, painful, and expensive, but in the end, you had a completely unique machine that you knew inside out because you put every bit of it together.
In some ways, it’s good that those days are gone. Being able to throw a cheap, standardized commodity PC at a problem is incredibly powerful, but that machine will have all the charm of a rubber doorstop and no soul at all. Luckily for those looking to get back a little of the early days of the computer revolution or those that missed them entirely, there are alternatives like the Gigatron. Billed as a “minimalistic retro computer,” the Gigatron is a kit that takes the builder back even further in time than the early computer revolution since it lacks a microprocessor. All the logic of the 8-bit computer is built up from discrete 7400-series TTL chips.
The Gigatron is the brainchild of Marcel van Kervinck and Walter Belgers. Tragically, Marcel recently passed away, but Walter is carrying the Gigatron torch forward and leading a thriving community of TTL-computer aficionados as they extend and enhance what their little home-built machines can do. Walter will stop by the Hack Chat to talk all things Gigatron, and answer your questions about how this improbably popular machine came to be.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. Continue reading “Gigatron Hack Chat”→