RCA Plug Plays Sixteen-Minute Chiptune Piece, All By Itself

Frequenters of arcades back in the golden age of video games will likely recall the mix of sounds coming from a properly full arcade, the kind where you stacked your quarters on a machine to stake your claim on being next in line to play. They were raucous places, filled with the simple but compelling sounds that accompanied the phosphor and silicon magic unfolding all around.

The days of such simple soundtracks may be gone, but they’re certainly not forgotten, with this chiptunes generator built into an RCA plug being both an homage to the genre and a wonderful example of optimization and miniaturization. It’s the work of [girst] and it came to life as an attempt to implement [Rob Miles]’ Bitshift Variations in C Minor algorithmically generated chiptunes composition in hardware. For the first attempt, [girst] chose an ATtiny4 as the microcontroller, put it and the SMD components needed for a low-pass filter on a flex PCB, and wrapped the whole thing around a button cell battery. Stuffed into the shell of an RCA plug, the generator detects when it has been inserted into an audio input jack and starts the 16-minute piece. [girst] built a second version, too, using the Padauk PSM150c “Three-Cent Microcontroller” chip.

This is quite an achievement in chiptunes minimization. We’ve seen chiptunes in 32 bytes, Altoids tin chiptunes, and an EP on a postage-stamp-sized PCB, but this one might beat them all on size alone.

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Breaking Out The ATtiny10

Atmel’s ATtiny10 is the one microcontroller in their portfolio that earns its name. It doesn’t have a lot of Flash – only 1 kilobyte. It doesn’t have a lot of RAM – only thirty two bytes. It is, however, very, very small. Atmel stuffed this tiny microcontroller into an SOT-23 package, more commonly used for surface mount transistors. It’s small, and unless your ideal application is losing this chip in your carpet, you’re going to need a breakout board. [Dan] has just the solution. He could have made this breakout board smaller, but OSHpark has a minimum size limit. Yes, this chip is very, very small.

Because this chip is so small, it doesn’t use the normal in-system programming port of its larger brethren. The ATtiny10 uses the Tiny Programming Interface, or TPI, which only requires power, ground, data, clock, and a reset pin. Connecting these pins to the proper¬†programming header is easy enough, and with a careful layout, [Dan] fit everything into a breakout board that’s a hair smaller than a normal 8-pin DIP.

The board works perfectly, but simply soldering the ATtiny10 to a breakout board and using it as is probably isn’t the best idea. The reason you use such a small microcontroller is to put a microcontroller into something really, really small like ridiculous LED cufflinks. A breakout board is much too large for a project like this, but SOT23 test adapters exist, and they’re only $25 or so.

Either way, [Dan] now has a very, very small microcontroller board that can fit just about anywhere. There’s a lot you can do with one kilobyte of Flash, and with an easy way to program these chips, we can’t wait to see what [Dan] comes up with.