Old Barcode Scanner Motherboards Live Again

Sometimes, hacking is just for the pleasure of diving into the secrets of old hardware. That was very much the case when [glitch] and a friend started hacking on some old Intel 8080 boards that had been living in the junk pile for too long.

The boards in question were motherboards from Identicon barcode scanners, running the Intel 8080 CPU. Hacking on the 8080 is a little different, with the ancient CPU requiring three separate voltages to run. However, with the power rails figured out and power applied, it was possible to get the old boards up and running.

The boards were first run with test ROMs which showed the 8080 CPU to be functional. The ROMs hosted a simple program which got the 8080 to spit out the word “HELO” on to an HP HDSP-2416 ASCII character display. From there, the barcode scanner boards were installed in a chassis and hooked up to a bigger Siemens character display, and the memory was mapped out.

The result was that [glitch] and co were able to largely reverse engineer the Identicon hardware, learning it was fairly similar to the Intel MCS-80 reference design of the era. They were able to get code running on the platform, access the RAM, and fit a larger 8-character display. However, without the original barcode scanner attachment, the boards weren’t able to return to their original duty.

As far as hacks go, it’s pretty old school. The boards don’t talk to Twitter, nor run the lights or help with the dishes. However, plenty of fun was had seeing if this old metal could be made to follow instructions once more. Hacking for the pleasure of it is always a good thing by our book!

CP/M Is Now Freer Than It Was

It’s easy to think of the earlier history of desktop computing operating systems in terms of DOS, Windows, and Mac OS with maybe a bit of AmigaOS, TOS, or RiscOS thrown in. But the daddy of desktop computing, the OS that put word-processors and spreadsheets in 1970s offices and had a huge influence on what followed, isn’t among that list. Digital Research’s CP/M ran initially on Intel 8080-based machines before losing out to MS-DOS as IBM’s choice for their PC, and then gradually faded away over the 1980s. Its source has been available in some form with a few strings for a long time now, but now we have confirmation from Digital Research’s successor company that it’s now available without restrictions on where it can be distributed.

For years it was something an operating system that had been bypassed by the hardware and hacker communities, as the allure of GNU/Linux was stronger and most available CP/M capable machines were also 1980s 8-bit gaming platforms. But with the more recent increased popularity of dedicated retrocomputing platforms such as the RC2014 it’s become a more common sight in our community. Brush up your command line skills, and give it a go!

Header: Michael Specht, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Sol-20 reproduction

Retro Reproduction Captures The Style Of The Sol-20

In the early years of the computer revolution, a machine like the Sol-20 really stood out. Where most hobbyist machines had front panels that bristled with toggle switches and LEDs, the Sol-20 was a sleek, all-in-one that looked like an electric typewriter in a walnut-trimmed box. Unfortunately, it was also quite expensive, so not that many were sold. This makes them hard enough to find 40 years later that building his own reproduction Sol-20 is about the only way for [Michael Gardi] to have one of his own.

In a lot of ways, the Sol-20 anticipated many of the design elements that would come into play later. Like the Apple and Commodore machines that were coming down the pike, the Sol-20 was intended to be plug and play. [Mike] celebrates that design with a full-size reproduction of the original, concentrating on its unique aesthetic aspects. The reproduction mimics the striking blue case, with its acrylic front panel and walnut sides. The keyboard is also an exact match for the original, in looks if not in function — the capacitive mechanism proved too difficult to replicate, so he opted for a kit using Cherry switches and custom keycaps. [Mike] also used his proven technique for 3D-printing the memorable Sol-20 logo for the front panel, in the correct font and color.

Under the hood, a Raspberry Pi runs an 8080 emulator, which supports a range of virtual devices, including a cassette tape drive and the video output. For fun, [Mike] also imagined what a CRT display for the Sol-20 would have looked like, and added that to his build. It’s a great-looking machine that never was, and we appreciate the attention to detail. We’ve seen that before — his 2/3-scale VT-100 terminal comes to mind, as does his reproduction of a 1960s computer trainer.

Portable CP/M Runs The Classics Anywhere

If you want to run an old CP/M program — maybe you want to run WordStar or play StarTrek — you have several options. One is to acquire some classic hardware. You can also build a new computer using a Z80 or some other processor that will emulate a Z80. Finally, you can emulate old hardware on your current computer. The iz-cpm project from [ivanizag] takes this last approach. Unlike some emulators, iz-cpm doesn’t try to emulate everything in one simulated environment. Instead, it directly accesses your file system so it allows CP/M executables to run more as though they were a native program.

You can think of it as Wine for CP/M. The code is portable to Linux, Windows, or MacOS. The author mentions, though, that it won’t run on CP/M itself! The program can run an executable standalone which means you could set .COM files up to execute automatically if you wanted to.

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An NEC V20 For Two Processors In One SBC

In the days when the best an impoverished student could hope to find in the way of computing was a cast-off 1980s PC clone, one upgrade was to fit an NEC V20 or V30 processor in place of the Intel 8088 or 8086. Whether it offered more than a marginal advantage is debatable, but it’s likely that one of the chip’s features would never have been used. These chips not only supported the 8086 instruction set, but also offered a compatibility mode with the older 8080 processor. It’s a feature that [Just4Fun] has taken advantage of, with V20-MBC, a single board computer that can run both CP/M-86 and CPM/80.

If this is starting to look a little familiar then it’s because we’ve featured a number of [Just4Fun]’s boards before. The Z80-MBC2 uses the same form factor, and like this V20 version, it has one of the larger ATMega chips taking place of the acres of 74 chips that would no doubt have performed all the glue logic tasks of the same machine had it been built in the early 1980s. There is a video of the board in action that we’ve placed below the break, showing CP/M in ’80, ’86, and even ’80 emulated in ’86 modes.

The only time a V20 has made it here before, it was in the much more conventional home of a home-made PC.

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Prolific Videos Show Altair 8800 Recreation

The January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics introduced the Altair 8800 and hit the newsstands in December of 1974, so it is only natural that around the New Year people start thinking about the old computer. [Shadowtron] did more than think about it. He ordered some replica PCBs and is building a new one. Even better, he’s posted an amazing number of videos (up to number 56 as I write this) detailing his progress. You can find part 1, below.

The boards are from Trailing Edge Technology. There’s a backplane board (about $100) as well as a few boards to fit it available for about $30 each — unpopulated, of course.

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Back To Where (For Most Of Us) It Started, The Intel 8080

The early history of microprocessors is a surprisingly complex one, with more than one claimant for the prize of being the first, and multiple competing families. That the first commercially available part was the Intel 4004 is a matter of record, but it’s fair to say that few of us will have ever encountered one. Even its 8-bit sibling the 8008 would not have featured heavily in a 1974 version of Hackaday, such was its exotic nature. If there’s a microprocessor that can be claimed to have started it all for us then, it’s the Intel 8080. It established the 8-bit microporcessor with an 8-bit bus and a 16-bit address space, it had an order of maginitude more performance than its predecessors, and crucially it would become affordable enough for experimenters. It provided the guts of the MITS Altair 8800 microcomputer, and thus kickstarted the progression of home computers which led to the devices you use every day.

The 8080 is in our sights today, thanks to [DeviceGuru], who was sent down memory lane by thoughts of the 6502-based KIM-1 from his master’s thesis project. This led to memories of the 8080 Abie computer that he built for himself in 1979, for which he provides us some details and hand-drawn schematics. By then the 8080’s need for several support chips made it somewhat outdated, but from his perspective the chip could be had from Radio Shack without too much outlay. His tale of hand-assembling 8080 code and sending it to a friend for blowing onto a PROM might be familiar to some readers of a certain age.

Though the 8080 ceased volume production a quarter century ago (surprisingly there are still places you can get a new one though) it hasn’t entirely disappeared from our community’s consciousness. [DeviceGuru] tells us about the 8080 Microprocessor kit from [Wichit Sirichote] in Thailand which is a single board computer in the 1970s vein, hex keypad and all.

As you might expect, the 8080 hasn’t appeared in many projects here due to its rarity. Those that have seem more likely to feature its Eastern Bloc clones, such as this Polish model or this Russian one. It’s worth the reminder that if you fancy exploring some 8080 code of your own that you don’t even need an 8080 to run it on some silicon. The hugely popular Zilog Z80 as found in retrocomputers such as the RC2014 is fully mostly 8080 code compatible, indeed some of us learned about microprocessors that way because 8080 books were discounted in 1983 and Z80 ones weren’t.

Header image: Konstantin Lanzet [CC BY-SA 3.0].