It’s A 486 Computer, On A Breadboard

Ever since the 1970s, a frequent project has been to take a microprocessor and construct a computer system on a breadboard or stripboard. Usually these machines feature a familiar 8-bit processor such as a 6502 or a Z80 because of their breadboard-friendly DIP packages, but there is surprisingly little reason why some of the more recent silicon can’t be treated in the same way. [FoxTech] is leading the way on this, by making a breadboard computer using an 80486DX.

A 1990-era 32-bit desktop CPU seems unpromising territory for this application, but its architecture is surprisingly accessible. It needs a breakout board to gain access to its various lines, but beyond that it can be interfaced to in a very similar way to those earlier chips.

So far there are two videos in the series, which we’ve placed below the break. The first one introduces the project and shows the basic set-up. A 486 running NOPs may produce a pretty light show, but as he starts to show in the second video, it’s capable of more. The eventual aim is to have a simple but fully functional breadboard computer, so he’s starting with logic to decode the 32-bit bus on the 486 into the 8-bit bus he’s going to use.

It’s fascinating to learn about how the 32-bit 486 handles its interfacing and deals with four bytes at once, and we’re very much looking forward to seeing this project play out. The 486 may be on life support here in 2023, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still receive some love.

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A man sits in front of a wooden table. There is a black box with a number of knobs hand-labeled on blue painter's tape. A white breadboard with a number of wires protruding from it is visible on the box's left side. An oscilliscope is behind the black box and has a yellow waveform displaying on its screen.

A More Expressive Synth Via Flexure

Synthesizers can make some great music, but sometimes they feel a bit robotic in comparison to their analog counterparts. [Sound Werkshop] built a “minimum viable” expressive synth to overcome this challenge. (YouTube)

Dubbed “The Wiggler,” [Sound Werkshop]’s expressive synth centers on the idea of using a flexure as a means to control vibrato and volume. Side-to-side and vertical movement of the flexure is detected with a pair of linear hall effect sensors that feed into the Daisy Seed microcontroller to modify the patch.

The build itself is a large 3D printed base with room for the flexure and a couple of breadboards for prototyping the circuits. The keys are capacitive touch pads, and everything is currently held in place with hot glue. [Sound Werkshop] goes into detail in the video (below the break) on what the various knobs and switches do with an emphasis on how it was designed for ease of use.

If you want to learn more about flexures, be sure to checkout this Open Source Flexure Construction Kit.

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Tidy Breadboard Uses Banana Bread

Self-described passionate maker in the electronics and 3D printing world, [Jakob], aka [testudor], was getting frustrated trying to connect banana plugs to solderless breadboards. Project Banana Bread was born — small banana jack adaptors and a companion tray with pockets to hold up to six modules.

The base in the photo is made from 5083 aluminum, machined on a homemade CNC router. But design files for a yet-to-be-tested 3D printer version are available as well. As can happen, he strayed from the original goal of solving the banana jack issue, and also cranked out a USB-serial port and a blank template module for any custom interfaces folks may want to implement.

If it is only power connections you are interested in, we covered the Open Power project back in 2019. And also don’t forget the mother of all breadboards, this 1960s behemoth we wrote about last year. What kinds of breadboard interface modules do you find most useful? Let us know in the comments below.


Resurrecting PONG, One Jumper Wire At A Time

Between 1976 and 1978, over one million Coleco Telstar video game consoles were sold. The Killer App that made them so desirable? PONG. Yep, those two paddles bouncing a ball around a blocky tennis court were all the rage and helped usher in a new era. And as [Dave] of Dave’s Garage shows us in the video below the break, the bringing the old console back to life proved simpler than expected!

Thankfully, the console is built around what [Dave] quite aptly calls “PONG on a chip”, the General Instrument AY-3-8500 which was designed to make mass production of consoles possible. The chip actually contains several games, although PONG was the only one in use on the Coleco.

After removing the CPU from the non-functional console, [Dave] breathed life into it by providing a 2 MHz clock signal that was generated by an Arduino, of all things. A typical 2N2222 amplifies the audio, and a quick power up showed that the chip was working and generating audio.

Video is smartly taken care of just as it was in the original design, by combining various signals with a 4072 OR gate. With various video elements and synchronization patterns combined into a composite video signal, [Dave] was able to see the game on screen, but then realized that he’d need to design some “paddles”. We’ll leave that up to you to watch in the video, but make sure to check the comments section for more information on the design.

Is a breadboarded PONG console not retro enough for you? Then check out this old school mechanical version that was found languishing in a thrift store.

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Prototyping The Prototype

For basic prototyping, the go-to tool to piece together a functioning circuit is the breadboard. It’s a great way to prove a concept works before spending money and time on a PCB. For more complex tasks we can make use of simulation software such as SPICE. But there hasn’t really been a tool to blend these two concepts together. That’s what CRUMB is hoping to solve as a tool that allows simulating breadboard circuits.

Currently, most basic circuit functions are working for version 1.0. This includes passive components like resistors, capacitors, switches, some LEDs, and potentiometers, as well as some active components like transistors and diodes. There are some logic chips available such as 74XX series chips and 555 timers, which opens up a vast array of circuit building. There’s even an oscilloscope feature, plus audio output to incorporate buzzers into the circuit simulation. Currently in development is an LCD display module and improvements to the oscilloscope.

Besides prototyping, this could be useful for anyone, students included, who is learning about circuits without the need to purchase any hardware. The major downside to this project is that it there doesn’t seem to have a free or trial version, the source is not available, and it’s only for sale on Steam, Apple Store, and Google Play. That being said, there is a forum available for users to discuss problems and needs for future versions, so it’s possible that a community could build up around it. We’ve seen previously non-free versions of circuit simulation software become more open after some time, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Thanks to [Thomas] for the tip!

A breadboard with a few DIP chips

Minimalist 6502 System Uses A CPU And Not Much Else

A central processing unit, or CPU, is the heart of any computer system. But it’s definitely not the only part: you also need RAM, ROM and at least some peripherals to turn it into a complete system that can actually do something useful. Modern microcontrollers typically have some or all of these functions integrated into a single chip, but classic CPUs don’t: they were meant to be placed on motherboards along with dozens of other chips. That’s why [c0pperdragon]’s latest project, the SingleBreadboardComputer, is such an amazing design: assisting its 6502 CPU are just four companion chips.

The entire system takes up just one strip of solderless breadboard. Next to the CPU we find 32 KB of SRAM, 32 KB of flash and a clock oscillator. The fifth chip is a 74HC00 quad two-input NAND gate, which is used as a very tiny piece of glue logic to connect everything together. Two of its NAND gates are used for address decoding logic, allowing either the ROM or RAM chip to be selected depending on the state of the CPU’s A15 line as well as blocking the RAM during the low phase of the system clock. The latter function is needed because the address lines are not guaranteed to be stable during the low phase and could cause writes to random memory locations.

The remaining two NAND gates are connected as an RS-flipflop in order to implement a serial output. This is needed because the CPU cannot keep its outputs in the same state for multiple clock cycles, which is required for a serial port. Instead, [c0pperdragon] uses the MLB pin, normally used to implement multiprocessor systems, to generate two-clock pulses, and stores the state in the flipflop for as long as needed. A few well-timed software routines can then be used to transmit and receive serial data without any further hardware.

Currently, the only software for this system is a simple demonstration that sends back data received on its serial port, but if you fancy a challenge you could write programs to do pretty much anything. You could probably find some inspiration in other minimalist 6502 boards, or projects that emulate a complete motherboard in an FPGA.

Simple Breadboard SDR For Shortwave

One of the best ways to learn about radios is to build your own, even in the age of cheap SDR dongles. [Aniss Oulhaci] demonstrates this with a simple HF SDR receiver built on a breadboard.

The receiver takes the form of a simplified Tayloe detector. An RF preamp circuit amplifies the signal from a shortwave antenna and feeds it into a 74HC4066D analog switch, which acts as a switching mixer. It mixes the input signal with the local oscillator’s I and Q signals to produce the intermediate frequency signals. The local oscillator consists of a SI5351 clock generator with a 74HC74D flip-flop to generate the I and Q pair. The signals pass through a low pass filter stage and get amplified by an LM358 op amp, resulting in the IQ signal pair being fed to a computer’s stereo sound card.

An Arduino is used to control the SI5351 clock generator, which in turn is controlled by the same program created for the SDR Shield. With the audio signal fed to HDSDR, [Aniss] was able to pick up a shortwave radio broadcaster.

While this is by no means a high-performance receiver, building an SDR on a breadboard is still a great weekend project, with plenty of potential for further experimentation.

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