IBM PCjr Revived by an ATX Power Supply and Many False Starts

The IBM PCjr was a computer only the marketing geniuses of a multi-billion dollar corporation could love. On the face of it, it seemed like a great idea – a machine for the home market, meant to complement the “big boy” IBM PC in the office and compete against the likes of Apple and Commodore. What it ended up as was a universally hated, only partially PC-compatible machine which sold a mere half-million units before being mercifully killed off.

That doesn’t mean retrocomputing fans don’t still snap up the remaining machines, of course. [AkBKukU] scored a PCjr from a thrift store, but without the original external brick power supply. An eBay replacement for the 18-VAC supply would have cost more than the computer, so [AkBKukU] adapted a standard ATX power supply to run the PCjr. It looked as if it would be an easy job, since the external brick plugs into a power supply card inside the case which slots into the motherboard with a card-edge connector. Just etch up a PCB, solder on an ATX Molex connector, and plug it in, right? Well, not quite. The comedy of errors that ensued, from the backward PCB to the mysteriously conductive flux, nearly landed this one in the “Fail of the Week” bin. But [AkBKukU] soldiered on, and his hand-scratched adapter eventually prevailed; the video below tells the whole sordid tale, which thankfully ended with the sound of the machine booting from the 5-1/4″-floppy drive.

In the end, we’ve got to applaud [AkBKukU] for taking on the care and feeding of a machine so unloved as to be mentioned only a handful of times even on these pages. One of those articles marks the 25th anniversary of the PCjr, and lays out some of the reasons for its rapid disappearance from the market.

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Cross-Brand Adapter Makes for Blended Battery Family

Even though he’s a faithful DeWalt cordless tool guy, [Richard Day] admits to a wandering eye in the tool aisle, looking at the Ryobi offerings with impure thoughts. Could he stay true to his brand and stick with his huge stock of yellow tools and batteries, or would he succumb to temptation and add another set of batteries and chargers so he could have access to a few specialty lime green tools?

Luckily, we live in the future, so there’s a third way — building a cross-brand battery adapter that lets him power Ryobi tools with his DeWalt batteries. [Richard]’s solution is a pure hack, as in physically hacking battery packs and forcing them to work and play well together. Mechanically, this was pretty easy — a dead Ryobi pack from the recycling bin at Home Depot was stripped down for its case, which was glued to a Dewalt 20-v to 18-v battery adapter. The tricky part came from dealing with the battery control electronics. Luckily, the donor DeWalt line has that circuitry in the adapter, while Ryobi puts it in the battery. That meant simply transplanting the PCB from the adapter to the Ryobi battery shell would be enough. The video below shows the process and the results — Ryobi tools happily clicking away on DeWalt batteries.

While [Richard] took a somewhat brute-force approach here, we imagine 3D-printed parts might make for a more elegant solution and offer other brand permutations. After all, printing an adapter should be easier than whipping up a cordless battery pack de novo.

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Printed Adapter Teaches an Old Ninja New Tricks

Do you like change for the sake of change? Are you incapable of leaving something in a known and working state, and would rather fiddle endlessly with it? Are you unconcerned about introducing arbitrary compatibility issues into your seemingly straight-forward product line? If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, have we got the job for you! You can become a product engineer, and spend your days confounding customers who labor under the unrealistic expectation that a product they purchased in the past would still work with seemingly identical accessories offered by the same company a few years down the line. If interested please report to the recruitment office, located in the darkest depths of Hell.

A 2D representation of the adapter in Fusion 360

Until the world is rid of arbitrary limitations in consumer hardware, we’ll keep chronicling the exploits of brave warriors like [Alex Whittemore], who take such matters into their own hands. When he realized that the blades for his newer model Ninja food processor didn’t work on the older motor simply because the spline was a different size, he set out to design and print an adapter to re-unify the Ninja product line.

[Alex] tried taking a picture of the spline and importing that into Fusion 360, but in the end found it was more trouble than it was worth. As is the case with many printed part success stories, he ended up spending some intimate time with a pair of calipers to get the design where he wanted it. Once broken down into its core geometric components (a group of cylinders interconnected with arches), it didn’t take as long as he feared. In the end the adapter may come out a bit tighter than necessary depending on the printer, but that’s nothing a few swift whacks with a rubber mallet can’t fix.

This project is a perfect example of a hack that would be much harder (but not impossible) without having access to a 3D printer. While you could create this spline adapter by other means, we certainly wouldn’t want to. Especially if you’re trying to make more than one of them. Small runs of highly-specialized objects is where 3D printing really shines.

This is an entry in Hackaday’s

Repairs You Can Print contest

The twenty best projects will receive $100 in Tindie credit, and for the best projects by a Student or Organization, we’ve got two brand-new Prusa i3 MK3 printers. With a printer like that, you’ll be breaking stuff around the house just to have an excuse to make replacement parts.


Hook Any Mouse to an Acorn

Acorn was one of the great IT giants that rose high and then fell to obscurity during the rise of personal computing. However, for many hobbyists these computers are as important and as loved as the Commodore 64. [Simon Inns] has made a great adapter to interface modern USB mice to these old boxes. 

After thirty years of interaction with people, one might be hard pressed to find a working mouse for an older computer. On top of that, even if you did, these mice are likely a lackluster experience to begin with. They were made long before industrial designers were invited to play with computers and are often frustrating and weird. Cotton swabs and alcohol are involved, to say the least.

[Simon]’s box converts a regular USB HID compliant mouse to a quadrature signal that these 8-bit computers like. The computer then counts the fake pulses and happily moves the cursor around. No stranger to useful conversion boxes, he used an Atmel micro (AT90USB1287) with a good set of USB peripherals. It’s all nicely packed into a project box. There’s a switch on the front to select between emulation modes.

If you’d like one for yourself the code and schematics are available on his site. As you can see in the video below, the device works well!

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Ugly Manhattan Adapters

“Ugly” or “Manhattan” style circuit building is popular among ham radio folks. Basically, you solder the circuit point-to-point, using a solid copper plate as a backplane. “Manhattan” gets its name from the little pads and parts of different heights strewn all around the board — it looks like the Manhattan skyline. It’s a great one-off construction method and actually has reasonably good properties for radio/analog circuitry. It’s easy to pull off with leaded components, but gets trick with smaller surface-mount parts.

Unless you build some adapters. [Ted Yapo] has made his library of small Manhattan adapters available for us all to use. There’s also no reason to stop with SMT parts — even normal DIP parts can be easily adapted to Manhattan construction, as this teasing photo of a bunch of [Ted]’s adapters shows. And if he doesn’t have the layout you need, the source files should give you a good starting point.

If you want to get started with Manhattan (or other “ugly”) construction, we’ve got a guide for you. And in case you take the “ugly” moniker too seriously, check out this incredibly beautiful ugly build.

One SMT Breakout to Rule Them All

You need to use surface-mount technology (SMT) parts in your design. But you also need to prototype. How to fit those little buggers into your breadboard?

[Simon] came up with a general-purpose SMT-to-breadboard solution. Now, there are already myriad adapter boards for the many-pin devices: SSOP-to-DIP adapters and so on. But what do you do when you just need to work that tiny SOT223 voltage regulator into a breadboarded circuit?

[Simon]’s solution fills that gap with one breadboardable design to handle all of your small-pin-count part needs. It accommodates SOT223, SOT323, and SOT23 three-pin parts like transistors or voltage regulators, and also has pads for all of the common two-terminal parts like resistors and capacitors from 0402 on up to 1206. You could build up a full voltage regulator circuit on one of these things. He’s even included some whitespace on the back for your notes.

SMT parts aren’t even the future any more. And with the right procedure, they’re not hard to hand-assemble. So the next time you have some extra space in a PCB order, toss in a couple of [Simon]’s breakouts and you’ll be ready for your next breadboarding session.

The USB Type-C Cable That Will Break Your Computer

USB has been on our desktops and laptops since about 1997 or so, and since then it has been the mainstay of computer peripherals. No other connector is as useful for connecting mice, keyboards, webcams, microcontroller development boards, and everything else; it’s even the standard power connector for phones. The latest advance to come out of the USB Implementers Forum is the USB Type-C connector, a device with gigabits of bandwidth and can handle enough current to power a laptop. It’s the future, even if Apple’s one-port wonder isn’t.

Ground is red, V is Black. Photo: Benson Leung
Ground is red, V is black. Photo: Benson Leung

The cable of the future is, by default, new. This means manufacturers are still figuring out the port, and how to wire it up. You would think remembering ‘red = power, black = ground’ is easy, but some manufacturers get it so terribly wrong.

[Benson Leung] is a Google engineer who works on the Chromebook Pixel products, a huge proponent of the USB Type-C connector, and a very prolific reviewer of USB Type-C connectors on Amazon. The latest cable he tested destroyed his test equipment, including a $1500 Chromebook Pixel 2. How did a cable manage to do this? The manufacturer switched black and red.

The cable in question was a SurjTech 3M cable that has thankfully been taken down from Amazon. Swapping GND and Vbus weren’t the only problem – the SuperSpeed wires were missing, meaning this was effectively only a USB 2 cable with a Type-C connector. The resistor required by USB spec was the wrong value, and was configured as a pull-down instead of a pull-up.

This isn’t an issue of a cable not meeting a design spec. Ethernet cables, specifically Cat6 cables, have been shown to work but fail to meet the specs for Cat6 cables. That’s shady manufacturing, but it won’t break a computer. This is a new low in the world of computer cables, but at least the cable has disappeared from Amazon.