See The ATARI GEM Desktop Running On A Portable Word Processor… Thing

Get ready for vintage computing aplenty in [David Given]’s project to port EmuTOS to the AlphaSmart Dana. He’s got it all on video, too. All 38 hours of it over 13 episodes!

The GEM desktop, as seen on the Atari ST line of computers.

[David]’s fork of EmuTOS is an open source version of the Atari TOS, which is itself the 68000-based OS for the Atari ST line of computers.

As for the AlphaSmart Dana, it is a roughly twenty-year-old portable word processor thing with pen input which runs a version of PalmOS. It’s a slightly oddball piece of hardware, but quite capable in its own way. A match obviously made in heaven? It is if you have [David]’s skill and drive!

To get EmuTOS working on the Dana, the first step was figuring out how to find and work with the Dana’s debug port, using it to get direct access to the CPU while bypassing the boot ROM. Turns out that the Dana’s 68000-compatible processor has a handy feature: by manipulating the right pin, one can remote-control the CPU (to a certain extent) via the UARTs. That’s the entry point for a whole lot of hacking that ultimately results in firing up the GEM desktop on the Dana, and being able to run (some) original Atari ST software. Probably the biggest issue is that the screen size isn’t a great match for what the OS expects, but it works.

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Introducing The Universal Atari Keyboard Case

[10p6] wondered what it would be like if Atari had used a standardized keyboard across its 16-bit and 32-bit computer lines in 1985. Imagination is fun, but building things is even better, and thus they set out to create such a thing. Enter the Universal Atari Keyboard Case.

The case design is flexible, and can accept a keyboard from models including the Atari ST and Falcon. The keyboard can then be used with an Atari Mega, TT, or desktop-style Atari computers without mods. It also brings modern peripherals to bear on these old Atari platforms, enabling the use of modern USB mice while also using the two onboard joystick ports. Power and floppy LEDs are present, but subtly hidden beneath the case, only becoming visible when illuminated. It also includes 5-watt stereo speakers for getting the best out of the Atari’s sound hardware.

The final part, a full 473mm long, was 3D printed in resin for a high-quality surface finish. The results are so good it almost looks like a genuine factory keyboard.

If you’re regularly playing with your vintage Atari machines and you want a great keyboard to use with them, this could be the design for you. [10p6] has promised to soon upload the design files to Thingiverse for those eager to replicate the work.

We’ve also seen retro Atari keyboard converted to work with modern machines. Video after the break. Continue reading “Introducing The Universal Atari Keyboard Case”

Reverse Engineering The SEGA Mega Drive

With the widespread adoption of emulators, almost anyone can start playing video games from bygone eras. Some systems are even capable of supporting homebrew games, with several having active communities that are still creating new games even decades later. This ease of programming for non-PC platforms wasn’t always so easy, though. If you wanted to develop games on a now-antique console when it was still relatively new, you had to jump through a lot of hoops. [Tore] shows us how it would have been done with his Sega Mega Drive development kit that he built from scratch.

While [Tore] had an Atari ST, he wanted to do something a little more cutting edge and at the time there was nothing better than the Mega Drive (or the Genesis as it was known in North America). It had a number of features that lent the platform to development, namely the Motorola 68000 chip that was very common for the time and as a result had plenty of documentation available. He still needed to do quite a bit of reverse engineering of the system to get a proper dev board running, though, starting with figuring out how the cartridge system worked. He was able to build a memory bank that functioned as a re-writable game cartridge.

With the hard parts out of the way [Tore] set about building the glue logic, the startup firmware which interfaced with his Atari ST, and then of course wiring it all together. He was eventually able to get far enough along to send programs to the Mega Drive that would allow him to control sprites on a screen with the controller, but unfortunately he was interrupted before he could develop any complete games. The amount of research and work to get this far is incredible, though, and there may be some helpful nuggets for anyone in the homebrew Mega Drive community today. If you don’t want to get this deep into the Mega Drive hardware, though, you can build a cartridge that allows for development on native Sega hardware instead.

An Atari ST running a campground reservation system

Atari ST Still Manages Campground Reservations After 36 Years

“Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke”. That’s what we guess [Frans Bos] has been thinking for the past few decades, as he kept using his Atari ST to run a booking system for the family campground. (Video, embedded below.)

Although its case has yellowed a bit, the trusty old machine is still running 24/7 from April to October, as it has done every year since 1985. In the video [Frans] demonstrates the computer and its custom campground booking system to [Victor Bart].

To be exact, we’re looking at an Atari 1040STF, which runs on a 68000 CPU and has one full megabyte of RAM: in fact it was one of the first affordable machines with that much memory. Output is through a monochrome display, which is tiny compared to the modern TFT standing next to it, but was apparently much better than the monitor included with a typical DOS machine back in the day.

Since no campground management software was available when he bought the computer, [Frans] wrote his own, complete with a graphical map showing the location of each campsite. Reservations can be made, modified and printed with just a few keystrokes. The only concession to the modern world is the addition of a USB drive; we can imagine it was becoming difficult to store and exchange data using floppy disks in 2021.

We love seeing ancient hardware being actively used in the modern world: whether it’s floppy disks inside a Boeing 747 or an Amiga running a school’s HVAC system. Thanks to [Tinkerer] for the tip.

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Detective Work Recovers Atari ST ASIC Designs

[Christian Zietz] wanted to know more about the Atari ST. He found information online from newer Atari machines like the Falcon030 and the Jaguar, but couldn’t find much else. While looking through some archives of old disk images from the Atari headquarters, he found a folder marked “Drawings\4118.” With some detective work and emulation of an old operating system, he was able to recover the schematics for the ST-4118 video shifter ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit).

Unfortunately, this appeared to be a chip for the unreleased Atari Panther video game console. However, it did show the way to how these older schematics were readable. [Christian] continued searching and found some floppy disk images that were a bit unusual. They didn’t have a proper file system but had been created by a backup program called FastBack for MS-DOS.

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Bring A Modern Mouse To An Atari ST

Human input devices are a consumable on our computers today. They are so cheap and standardised, that when a mouse or a keyboard expires we don’t think twice, just throw it away and buy another one. It’ll work for sure with whatever computer we have, and we can keep on without pause.

On earlier machines though, we might not be so lucky. The first generation of computers with mice didn’t have USB or even PS/2 or serial, instead they had a wide variety of proprietary mouse interfaces that usually carried the quadrature signals direct from the peripheral’s rotary sensors. If you have a quadrature mouse that dies then you’re in trouble, because you won’t easily find a new one.

Fortunately there is a solution. In the intervening decades the price of computing power has fallen to the extent that you can buy a single board computer with far more than enough power to interface with a standard USB mouse and emulate a quadrature mouse all at the same time. This was exactly the solution [Andrew Armstrong] took to provide a replacement mouse for his Atari ST, he used a Raspberry Pi as both USB host and quadrature mouse emulator (YouTube link) through its GPIOs.

He’s put together a comprehensive description of his work in the video we’ve placed below the break, meanwhile if you’d like to have a go yourself you’ll find all you need to know in his GitHub repository.

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An Atari ST Rises From The Ashes

We’ve all made rash and impulsive online purchasing decisions at times. For [Drygol] the moment came when he was alerted to an Atari 1040STe 16-bit home computer with matching monitor at a very advantageous price.

Unfortunately for him, the couriers were less than careful with his new toy. What arrived was definitely an ST, but new STs didn’t arrive in so many pieces of broken ABS. Still, at least the computer worked, so there followed an epic of case repair at the end of which lay a very tidy example of an ST.

He did have one lucky break, the seller had carefully wrapped everything in shrink-wrap so no fragments had escaped. So carefully applying acetone to stick the ABS together he set to work on assembling his unexpected 3D jigsaw puzzle. The result needed a bit of filler and some sanding, but when coupled with a coat of grey paint started to look very like an ST case that had just left the factory. Adding  modern SD card and USB/Ethernet interfaces to the finished computer delivered a rather useful machine as you can see in the video below the break.
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