A “Disgusting” 1980s Computer Restored

It takes a special eye to see a junkyard car and envision it as your latest hotrod. The guys at RMC found what they termed a “disgusting” Acorn Electron and decided to restore it to its former glory. The Electron was a budget version of the BBC micro with a 6502 running at 2 MHz when executing code from ROM and 1 MHz when it hit the RAM. Apparently, at least some of the bus was operating at 4 bits instead of 8. Go figure.

The 1982 machine was meant to head off the Sinclair ZX and was set to sell for about £200. However, the machine didn’t catch on like the Sinclair and undersold it by around 20 times with a paltry quarter of a million units.

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Adding WiFi To The Acorn Electron

In the continuing quest by countless hobbyists to allow every 1980s 8-bit home computer to experience the joys of an online experience that doesn’t involve a 9600 baud modem, [Roland Leurs] has created a cartridge-based module for the Acorn Electron that adds WiFi, which he showed off at the virtual ABug conference in September 2020.

The Acorn Electron is a Synertek 6502-based computer that was released in the UK in August of 1983. It’s a budget version of the well-known BBC Micro educational/home computer, with 32 kB of RAM and featuring BBC BASIC v2 in its ROM. [Roland]’s ElkWiFi card slots into an available cartridge slot, after which the onboard ESP8266 (ESP-1 module) can be enabled and used as a WiFi modem.

Acorn Electron with Plus 1 expansion, ElkWiFi and additional expansion card inserted.

The board features the Exar ST16C2552CJ dual UART chip, one channel of which connects to the ESP-1 module, with the other channel used as an uncommitted UART header. The control logic is implemented in VHDL and flashed to the onboard Xilinx CPLD, and a 128 kB RAM module is used as WiFi data buffer.

Although a definite niche product, reading through the forum thread makes one really appreciate the technical complexity and joy once things are beginning to work reliably. It also shows one of the few cases where an ESP-1 module is used for its original purpose: as an easy way to add WiFi functionality with full WiFi and TCP stack, without burdening the main CPU.

(Thanks, BaldPower)