[Thom Cherryhomes] shared with us an incredible resource for anyone curious about the Coleco Adam, one of the big might-have-been home computers of the 80s. There’s a monstrous 4-hour deep dive video (see the video description for a comprehensive chapter index) that makes a fantastic reference for anyone wanting to see the Coleco Adam and all of its features in action, in the context of 8-bit home computing in the 80s.
The Adam aimed to be an all-in-one computer package, targeting a family audience for both education and gaming purposes, with a price target around $600, a pretty compelling pitch.
The video is a serious in-depth look at the Adam, providing practical demonstrations of everything in various scenarios. This includes showcasing commercials from the period, detailing the system’s specs and history, explaining the Adam’s appeal, discussing specific features, comparing advertisement promises to real costs, and giving a step-by-step tutorial on how to use the system. All of the talk notes are available as well, providing a great companion to the chapter index.
Manufactured by the same Coleco responsible for the ColecoVision gaming console, the Adam had great specs, a great price, and a compelling array of features. Sadly, it was let down badly at launch and Coleco never recovered. However, the Adam remains of interest in the retrocomputing scene and we’ve even seen more than one effort to convert the Adam’s keyboard to USB.
Over Apple’s decades-long history, they have been quick to adapt to new processor technology when they see an opportunity. Their switch from PowerPC to Intel in the early 2000s made Apple machines more accessible to the wider PC world who was already accustomed to using x86 processors, and a decade earlier they moved from Motorola 68000 processors to take advantage of the scalability, power-per-watt, and performance of the PowerPC platform. They’ve recently made the switch to their own in-house silicon, but, as reported by [The Chip Letter], this wasn’t the first time they attempted to design their own chips from the ground up rather than using chips from other companies like Motorola or Intel.
In the mid 1980s, Apple was already looking to move away from the Motorola 68000 for performance reasons, and part of the reason it took so long to make the switch is that in the intervening years they launched Project Aquarius to attempt to design their own silicon. As the article linked above explains, they needed a large amount of computing power to get this done and purchased a Cray X-MP/48 supercomputer to help, as well as assigning a large number of engineers and designers to see the project through to the finish. A critical error was made, though, when they decided to build their design around a stack architecture rather than a RISC. Eventually they switched to a RISC design, though, but the project still had struggled to ever get a prototype working. Eventually the entire project was scrapped and the company eventually moved on to PowerPC, but not without a tremendous loss of time and money.
Interestingly enough, another team were designing their own architecture at about the same time and ended up creating what would eventually become the modern day ARM architecture, which Apple was involved with and currently licenses to build their M1 and M2 chips as well as their mobile processors. It was only by accident that Apple didn’t decide on a RISC design in time for their personal computers. The computing world might look a lot different today if Apple hadn’t languished in the early 00s as the ultimate result of their failure to develop a competitive system in the mid 80s. Apple’s distance from PowerPC now doesn’t mean that architecture has been completely abandoned, though.
It might seem quaint through the lends of history we have the luxury of looking through, but in the mid 1980s it was a major symbol of status to be able to communicate on-the-go. Car phones and pagers were cutting-edge devices of the time, and even though there were some mobile cellular telephones, they were behemoths compared to anything we would recognize as a cell phone today. It wasn’t until 1985 that a cell phone was able to fit in a pocket, and that first device wasn’t just revolutionary because of its size. It made a number of technological advancements that were extremely impressive for its time, and [Janus Cycle] takes us through some of those in this teardown video.
The Technophone came to us from Great Britain by way of a former Ericsson engineer named Nils Mårtensson. It was able to achieve its relatively small stature using a surface-mount PCB, which was a cutting-edge manufacturing process for the time. Not only did it use surface-mount components and boards, but the PCB itself has 12 layers and two sides and hosts two custom Technophone chips. The phone is relatively modular as well, with the screen, battery pack, and other components capable of easily disconnecting from the main board. Continue reading “A Mobile Phone From 1985”→
80s-era electronic speech certainly has a certain retro appeal to it, but it can sometimes be a useful data output method since it can be implemented on very little hardware. [luc] demonstrates this with a talking thermometer project that requires no display and no special hardware to communicate temperatures to a user.
Back in the day, there were chips like the Votrax SC-01A that could play phonemes (distinct sounds that make up a language) on demand. These would be mixed and matched to create identifiable words, in that distinctly synthesized Speak & Spell manner that is so charming-slash-uncanny.
Nowadays, even hobbyist microcontrollers have more than enough processing power and memory to do a similar job entirely in software, which is exactly what [luc]’s talking thermometer project does. All this is done with the Talkie library, originally written for the Arduino and updated for the ESP32 and other microcontrollers. With it, one only needs headphones or a simple audio amplifier and speaker to output canned voice data from a project.
[luc] uses it to demonstrate how to communicate to a user in a hands-free manner without needing a display, and we also saw this output method in an electric unicycle which had a talking speedometer (judged to better allow the user to keep their eyes on the road, as well as minimizing the parts count.)
Would you like to listen to an authentic, somewhat-understandable 80s-era text-to-speech synthesizer? You’re in luck, because we can show you an authentic vintage MicroVox unit in action. Give it a listen, and compare it to a demo of the Talkie library in the video below.
To be clear, by “look” that’s exactly what we mean in this case, as [Ken] is reverse-engineering the YM21280 — the waveform generator of the DX7 — from photos. He took around 100 photos of the de-capped chip with a microscope, composited them, and then analyzed them painstakingly. The detail in his report is remarkable as he is able to show individual logic gates thanks to his powerful microscope. From there he can show exactly how the chip works down to each individual adder and array of memory.
[Ken]’s hope is that this work improves the understanding of the Yamaha DX7 chips enough to build more accurate emulators. Yamaha stopped producing the synthesizer in 1989 but its ubiquity makes it a popular, if niche, platform for music even today. Of course you don’t need a synthesizer to make excellent music. The next pop culture trend, grunge, essentially was a rebellion to the 80s explosion of synths and neon colors and we’ve seen some unique ways of exploring this era of music as well.
While putting together a retro computer is a great project and can teach a lot about the inner workings of electronics, hooking that 70s- or 80s-era machine up to a modern 144 Hz 1440p display tends to be a little bit anticlimactic. To really recreate the true 8-bit experience it’s important to get a CRT display of some sort, but those are in short supply now as most are in a landfill somewhere now. [Tony] decided to create a hybrid solution of sorts by 3D printing his own Commodore replica monitor for that true nostalgia feel.
This build is a matching mini scale replica of the Commodore 1702 monitor, a color monitor produced by Commodore specifically for their machines. At the time it was top-of-the-line and even included an early predecessor of the S-Video method of video signalling. This monitor was modeled in Fusion 360 and then sent to the 3D printer for assembly, then populated with a screen with a period-correct 4:3 aspect ratio, required electronics for handling the Commodore’s video signal, and even includes an upgrade over the original monitor: stereo speakers instead of the single-channel speaker that was featured in the 80s.
While this monitor doesn’t use a CRT, it’s an impressive replica nonetheless, right down to the Commodore serial number sticker on the back. If you need a Commodore 64 to go along with it, there are plenty of possibilities available to consider like this emulated C64 on a Raspberry Pi or these refurbished OEM Commodores.
The last Amiga personal computer rolled off the assembly line in 1996, well over 20 years ago. Of course, they had their real heyday in the late 80s, so obviously if you have any around now they’ll be in need of a little bit of attention. [Drygol] recently received what looks like a pallet of old Amiga parts and set about building this special one: The Vampiric Amiga A500.
The foundation of this project was a plain A500 with quite a bit of damage. Corrosion and rust abounded inside the case, as well as at least one animal. To start the refurbishment, the first step was to remove the rust from the case and shields by an electrochemical method. From there, he turned his attention to the motherboard and removed all of the chips and started cleaning. Some of the connectors had to be desoldered and bathed in phosphoric acid to remove rust and corrosion, and once everything was put back together it looks almost brand new.
Of course, some other repairs had to be made to the keyboard and [Drygol] put a unique paint job on the exterior of this build (and gave it a name to match), but it’s a perfect working Amiga with original hardware, ready to go for any retrocomputing enthusiast. He’s no stranger around here, either; he did another extreme restoration of an Atari 800 XL about a year ago.