Recycling Wires For Breadboarding

It is easy to take things for granted, but if you work with students, you realize that even something as simple as a breadboard needs explanation. [0033mer] recently shared a tip about how he wires both solderless breadboards and prototype boards on the cheap. Instead of buying special wires, he salvages riser cables often found in scrap from demolished buildings. These often have 200 or so thin solid wires inside. You take them apart, and, as he put it, if you have 15 feet of the stuff, that will last you the rest of your life. We hope you live longer than that, but still.

One advantage to doing this is you don’t feel bad about cutting the wires exactly to length which makes for neat boards. He has a tiny stripper that make it easy to remove the insulation during installation.

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A 65-in-1 The 2024 Way

If necessity is the mother of invention, nostalgia must be its stepmother, or its aunt at the very least. The desire to recreate long-obsolete devices simply because they existed while we were growing up is a curious trait, but one that’s powerful enough to drive entire categories of hardware hacking — looking at you, retrocomputing buffs.

Hardware nostalgia isn’t all about 6502s and Z80s, though. Even more basic were the electronic toys of the 1970s, such as the Radio Shack 65-in-1 kit that [Tom Thoen] is currently recreating. The 65-in-1 was a breadboarding kit aimed at the budding electrical engineer, with components mounted to colorful cardboard by spring terminals. The included “lab manual” had circuits that could be quickly assembled using a handful of jumper wires. It was an endlessly fascinating toy that undoubtedly launched many careers, present company included.

The original 65-in-1 was $21.95 in 1976, or about $120 today.

While the passage of time may not have dulled [Tom]’s memories of his original 65-in-1, technology has marched on, meaning that certain allowances had to be made to create a modern version. He wisely eschews the cardboard for PCBs, one for each of the major component blocks provided in the original, and uses female header connectors in place of the springs. Component choice is tailored for the times; gone are the ferrite rod antenna and variable capacitor of the original, as well as the incandescent lamp, which is replaced by an LED that would have been a significant fraction of the kit’s $21.95 price back in 1976. There’s no BOM yet, so we can’t say for sure if any of the transistors are germanium, but it’s clear that there aren’t any of the old TO-1 cans. But dismay not, originalists, for the meter, relay, CdS photocell, and “solar battery” all made the final cut.

[Tom] has done some beautiful work here, with more to come. We imagine that 3D printing could be used to recreate some details like the original Morse key and speaker grille. We love the laser-engraved backing board, too, as it captures some of the charm of the original’s wooden box. This isn’t the only love for the “Science Fair” brand we’ve seen lately, either; the nostalgia seems to be contagious.

Z80 I/O Madness

While the 8080 started the personal computer revolution, the Z80 was quickly a winner because it was easier to use and had more capabilities. [Noel] found out though that the Z80 OUT instruction is a little odd and, in fact, some of the period documentation was incorrect.

Many CPUs used memory-mapped I/O, but the 8080 and Z80 had dedicated I/O addressing pins and instructions so you could fill up the memory map with actual memory and still have some I/O devices. A quick look in the famous Zak’s book on Z80 programming indicates that an instruction like OUT (C),A would write the A register to the output device indicated by the BC register pair (even though the instruction only mentions C. However, [Noel] missed the note about the B register and saw in the Zilog documentation that it did. Since he didn’t read the note in the Zak’s book until later, he assumed it was a discrepancy. Therefore, he went to the silicon to get the correct answer.

Breadboarding a little Z80 system allowed him to look at the actual behavior of the instruction. However, he also didn’t appreciate the syntax of the assembly language statements. We’ve done enough Z80 assembly that none of it struck us as particularly crazy, especially since odd instruction mnemonics were the norm in those days.

Still, it was interesting to see him work through all the instructions. He then looks at how Amstrad used or abused the instructions to do something even stranger.

If you want to breadboard a minimal Z80 system, consider this one. If you enjoy abuse of the Z80 I/O system, you don’t want to miss this Z80 hack for “protected mode.”

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Switching Converter For EEPROM Programmer Taxes Solderless Breadboard

We all know that solderless breadboards have their limitations. All that stray capacitance can play hell with circuits, especially high-speed stuff, but they’re so darn useful that avoiding them in favor of some other prototyping method can be really hard. So we often just forge ahead, plugging in our parts and hoping for the best

A recent veteran of the breadboard battle is [Anders Nielsen], who kicked off a new project by prototyping this high-voltage boost converter on a breadboard, with mixed results. The project is a scratch-built programmer for old-school ROM chips, a task normally farmed out to a dedicated programmer, but where’s the sport in that? Besides, this is the future, and generating the 12 to 14 volts needed should be a snap. And it would be, except for the fact that his chosen chip, a MIC2288 switching boost regulator, is only available in an SMD package. Getting the chip and a few other SMD support components onto breadboard-compatible breakouts proved to be challenging, and getting it working once it was there was even more work.

A lot of the trouble was down to simple breadboarding errors, but the big problem was the input capacitance, which [Anders] had to fiddle with quite a bit to get the converter to 14 volts. The current maxes out at about 25 mA before the voltage starts dropping, which just might be enough to burn those old chips, so we’ll call this a provisional win and see what happens when he builds the rest of the programmer.

[Anders]’ experience here raises a good question: what’s the best way to prototype using fussy SMD components? PCBs are cheap enough that it’s tempting to go straight to one, but swapping parts in and out like he had to do here to get everything just right would be much harder that way. We’re not sure we know the answer, but we’re pretty sure we’ll hear your thoughts on that in the comments section.

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A 6502 Overlay Debugger

Retired hardware engineer [Plasmode] recently took on the challenge of building a debugger for the 6502 designed to sit atop the microprocessor while seated in a solder less breadboard. The result is the Diagnostic Overlay for W65C02 Breadboard, consisting of 128 kB SRAM and a 1250-gate CPLD. Except being 0.8 in wide, the overlay debugger is otherwise the same size as the 6502’s 40-pin DIP package, so it doesn’t overhang other portions of your circuit.

Being an initial concept prototype, [Plasmode] mounted the chips dead-bug style on perf board — a process he himself found tiring. If he builds additional debuggers, presumably he will consider making a PCB.

The prototype was constructed using point-to-point soldering with 30-ga wire wrap wire.  It was all done under the inspection microscope.  There are not many connections, but they are rather tedious so I can only do a dozen or so wires per session.  It took me 2 days and several hours total to finish the prototype board.

This design is based on the CRC65 Frugal 6502 Single Board Computer, of course omitting the 6502 itself. Instead of a physical ROM memory chip, he implemented a 64-byte boot loader inside the CPLD and a serial port. This lets him to bootstrap the system over the serial port. He plans on expanding this to include other DIP-packaged retro microprocessors in the future. Check out his project page ( above ). If you want to dig deeper, he posted the schematics here.

FPGA Breakout Board For DIP Package Shenanigans

FPGAs are supremely flexible and powerful devices. However, they usually come in QFP or BGA packages that are altogether difficult for hobbyists to play with. The DIP-FPGA breakout board aims to solve that problem by using a carrier PCB to put an advanced chip in a friendlier form factor.

The board itself fits a DIP-20 form factor when soldered up with regular-pitch pin headers. It features a  MachXO2-1200HC FPGA from Lattice Semiconductor. That’s the same chip as used on similar the TinyFPGA A2. With 18 GPIO, a DIP-20 layout is just about enough pins to take care of business. It’s intended specifically for use on breadboards or via regular IC sockets. There’s also a six-pin programming port laid out on the board that you can use with pogo pins or header connectors as you desire.

If you want to do some fancy signal stuff in an easy-to-prototype form factor, this could be the setup for you. If you want to buy one ready-made, they’re available on Tindie for the curious. In the meantime, consider whether this beefy FPGA Arduino concept could also propel your next project to greater heights.

Building Circuits Flexibly

You think of breadboards as being a flexible way to build things — one can easily add components and wires and also rip them up. But MIT researchers want to introduce an actual flexible breadboard called FlexBoard. The system is like a traditional breadboard, but it is literally flexible. If you want to affix your prototype to a glove or a ball, good luck with a traditional breadboard. FlexBoard makes it easy. You can see a short video below and a second video presentation about the system, also.

The breadboard uses a plastic living hinge arrangement and otherwise looks more or less like a conventional breadboard. We can think of about a dozen projects this would make easier.

What’s more, it doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to fabricate using a 3D printer and some sacrificial breadboards. The paper reveals that the structures were printed on an Ender 3 using ePLA and a flexible vinyl or nylon filament. Want to try it yourself? You can!

We know what we will be printing this weekend. If you make any cool prototypes with this, be sure to let us know. Sometimes we breadboard virtually. Our favorite breadboards, though, have more than just the breadboard on them.

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