A Weather Station Fit For A PDP-11

The Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-11/70 is a masterpiece of Cold War-era industrial design. This microcomputer was the size of one or two modern server racks depending on configuration, and the front panel, loaded up with blinkenlights, was clad in a beautiful rose and magenta color scheme. The switches — the ones you used to toggle bits in memory — were actually custom designed covers made to match the shape of the completely unnecessary bezel. The aesthetic of the 11/70 is the intersection of baroque and modernism on the design Venn diagram.

[Oscar Vermeulen] built a miniature version of the PDP-11/70 that houses a Raspberry Pi, and [rricharz] has been hard at work bringing an original copy of BSD to this system. The first great project to come out of this effort? It’s a weather station, and it’s exactly as cool as you think it is.

A bit of ground work went into this build, including getting a historical Unix system up and running, in this case 2.11 BSD. Armed with a Pi and the PiDP-11/70 front panel, [rricharz] had a complete BSD system up and running, and with cool-retro-term, the interface looked the part. Doing something useful was another question entirely, but the Pi in the PiDP had some GPIOs free, so this ancient machine got an I2C temperature and pressure sensor.

The completed build is basically just a breadboard, a tiny diagnostic OLED, and a python script that grabs the data and sends it over to the sim. This is pressure and temperature data shoved into an emulation of a Tektronix 4010 terminal. It’s marginally useful work done by an ancient BSD system wrapped in an emulation on a Raspberry Pi. It doesn’t get better than that.

BSD Breathes New Life Into Obsolete Equipment

An old laptop or desktop computer that’s seen better days might still have a little bit of use left in it for a dedicated task. Grabbing a lightweight flavor of Linux and running a web server, firewall, or Super Nintendo emulator might get a few more years out of it. You can also get pretty creative repurposing obsolete single purpose  machines, as [Kristjan] did with some old Cisco server equipment.

The computer in question isn’t something commonly found, either. It’s an intrusion detection system meant to mount in a server rack and protect the server itself from malicious activity. While [Kristjan] mentions that Cisco equipment seems to be the definition of planned obsolescence, we think that this Intel Celeron machine with an IDE hard drive may have gone around the bend quite some time ago. Regardless, it’s modern enough to put back to work in some other capacity.

To that end, a general purpose operating system was installed, and rather than use Linux he reached for BSD to get the system up and running. There’s one other catch, though, besides some cooling issues. Since the machine was meant to be used in a server, there’s no ACPI which means no software shutdown capability. Despite all the quirks, you can still use it to re-implement a network security system if you wanted to bring it full-circle.

DEF CON Badgelife: The Puffy That Runs Linux

DEF CON is canceled again this year, and this time that statement is at least partially true. There will be no special official badges this year. There is no challenge or mystery embedded in the official DC badge. This is the year that unofficial badges from villages and random attendees finally supersedes the official offering. This is badgelife, and for the next few weeks, we’re going to be taking a look at some of the unofficial badges of DEF CON.

The idea for [dorkengine]’s Puffy badge began last year with the so-called Bender badges from AND!XOR.  Chalk this up to a story that ends with, ‘but you had to have been there’, but the Bender badges were wildly popular, sold like hotcakes, and were an astonishing success of independent badge craft at DC. [dorkengine] decided to get in on the action and build his own badge for DC 25.

The design of the Puffy badges is based on a highly stylized rendering of the OpenBSD logo and mascot. Why a pufferfish with Kardashian lips? [dorkengine] has a bunch of boxes in a closet running OpenBSD, and that’s a good enough reason for us.

An electronic badge must do something, and the feature list [dorkengine] came up with included some sort of wireless connectivity, hackability, a serial console, blinkenlights, and some sort of *nix-ish OS. OpenBSD didn’t make the cut, but [dorkengine] eventually stumbled upon the VoCore2, a tiny System on Module that runs Linux, has WiFi and a few GPIOs, and is barely an inch on a side.

After getting a good deal on a large order of VoCores, [dorkengine] started on the PCB. The circuit was simple enough with just a VoCore attached to a USB port, power adapter, and a few LEDs. The Puffy rendering translated beautifully into soldermask and silkscreen, and after a prototype from ITEAD Studio, [dorkengine] had 40 PCBs that worked perfectly.

So, what is [dorkengine] going to do with a box full of Puffy badges? He’ll be selling them for $40 around the con. That’s surprisingly inexpensive for a large PCB soldered to a $17 SoC. If you want to get your grubby mitts on one, you could email him or ping him on Twitter. Of course, if you want to make your own, [dorkengine] has the KiCad files and software available, but at this point, you’re looking at a very fast turnaround for a board house.

Ask Hackaday: Calling All 68k Experts

This is a tale of old CPUs, intensive SMD rework, and things that should work but don’t.

Released in 1994, Apple’s Powerbook 500 series of laptop computers were the top of the line. They had built-in Ethernet, a trackpad instead of a trackball, stereo sound, and a full-size keyboard. This was one of the first laptops that looked like a modern laptop.

The CPU inside these laptops — save for the high-end Japan-only Powerbook 550c — was the 68LC040. The ‘LC‘ designation inside the part name says this CPU doesn’t have a floating point unit. A few months ago, [quarterturn] was looking for a project and decided replacing the CPU would be a valuable learning experience. He pulled the CPU card from the laptop, got out some ChipQuick, and reworked a 180-pin QFP package. This did not go well. The replacement CPU was sourced from China, and even though the number lasered onto the new CPU read 68040 and not 68LC040, this laptop was still without a floating point unit. Still, it’s an impressive display of rework ability, and generated a factlet for the marginalia of the history of consumer electronics.

Faced with a laptop that was effectively unchanged after an immense amount of very, very fine soldering, [quarterturn] had two choices. He could put the Powerbook back in the parts bin, or he could source a 68040 CPU with an FPU. He chose the latter. The new chip is a Freescale MC68040FE33A. Assured by an NXP support rep this CPU did in fact have a floating point unit, [quarterturn] checked the Mac’s System Information. No FPU was listed. He installed NetBSD. There was no FPU installed. This is weird, shouldn’t happen, and now [quarterturn] is at the limits of knowledge concerning the Powerbook 500 architecture. Thus, Ask Hackaday: why doesn’t this FPU work?

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Upgrading and Desoldering a Fake CPU

[quarterturn] had an old Apple Powerbook 520c sitting around in his junk bin. For the time, it was a great computer but in a more modern light, it could use an upgrade. It can’t run BSD, either: you need an FPU for that, and the 520 used the low-cost, FPU-less version of the 68040 as its main processor. You can buy versions of the 68040 with FPUs direct from China, which means turning this old Powerbook into a BSD powerhouse is just a matter of desoldering and upgrading the CPU. That’s exactly what [quarterturn] did, with an unexpected but not surprising setback.

The motherboard for the Powerbook 500 series was cleverly designed, with daughter cards for the CPU itself and RAM upgrades. After pulling the CPU daughter card from his laptop, [quarterturn] faced his nemesis: a 180-pin QFP 68LC040. Removing the CPU was handled relatively easily by liberal application of ChipQuik. A few quick hits with solder braid and some flux cleaned everything up, and the daughter card was ready for a new CPU.

The new FPU-equipped CPU arrived from China, and after some very careful inspection, soldering, and testing, [quarterturn] had a new CPU for his Powerbook. Once the Powerbook was back up and running, there was a slight problem. The chip was fake. Even though the new CPU was labeled as a 68040, it didn’t have an FPU. People will counterfeit anything, including processors from the early 90s. This means no FPU, no BSD, and [quarterturn] is effectively back to square one.

That doesn’t mean this exercise was a complete loss. [quarterturn] did learn a few things from this experience. You can, in fact, desolder a dense QFP with ChipQuik, and you can solder the same chip with a regular soldering iron. Networking across 20 years of the Macintosh operating system is a mess, and caveat emptor doesn’t translate into Mandarin.

LiteBSD Brings 4.4BSD to PIC32

A few years ago [Serge Vakulenko] started the RetroBSD project–a 16-bit port of the old 2.11BSD operating system to the Microchip PIC32 microcontroller. This was impressive, but version 2 of BSD is, to most people, old news and somewhat difficult to use compared to modern BSD and Linux operating systems.

[Serge] has been at it again, however, and now has a port of 4.4BSD–LiteBSD–running on the PIC32MZ. According to [Alexandru Voica] there is about 200K of user space memory in the basic build, and by removing some OS features, you could double or triple that figure.

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Unix On Your Breadboard

As smartphones continue to get bigger and bigger, the race to have the smallest chip running Unix (or Linux, as the case may be) is still on. A new contender in this arena is [Serge] who has crammed RetroBSD on a Fubarino microcontroller for a powerful breadboard-friendly device.

The device uses a PIC32MX795 processor to run version 2.11BSD Unix for microcontrollers. It uses only 128 kbytes of RAM which is great for the limited space available, but it doesn’t skimp on software. It has a C compiler, assembler, and a whole host of other utilities that you’d expect to find in something much more powerful. All of this comes in a package that has breadboard-compatible pins so you can interface your Unix with the real world.

There’s a video below that shows the device in action, and a whole host of instructions that’ll get you up and running in no time if you have the hardware available. [Serge] mentioned that this would run on other architectures but is looking for others to join the project to port it to those processors. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen *nix installed on a microcontroller, but it is one of the more useful ones!

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