It’s Not A Computer If It Doesn’t Have A Cartridge Slot

For viewers of sci-fi TV and films from the 1960s onwards, the miniaturisation of computer hardware has been something of a disappointment. Yes, it’s amazing that we can get 1.21 Jigabytes onto a memory card that fits comfortably under a postage stamp, but we were promised a different future. One of satisfyingly chunky data modules that activated everything from starships to handheld data recorders to malevolent rogue supercomputers, and one that has so far only materialised in the form of cartridges for game consoles.

Our colleague [Tom Nardi] has the solution for his cyberdeck though, in the form of 3D-printed cartridge shells that hide regular USB hardware and mate with a concealed USB socket in the slot. So far he’s designed cartridges for Flash drives, WiFi and Bluetooth adapters, a Wemos D1 Mini, a receptacle, and a parametric reference design.

It’s a bit of pleasing retro fun, but behind it all could be a surprisingly practical and useful expansion system. Each cartridge contains enough space for a lot of extra electronics, so it’s almost the ideal format for building a USB-driven project inside. Best of all since the interface is USB, it still works with conventional USB plugs and sockets. We like the idea, and it’s one that would be a good addition to any cyberdeck project.

We’re far more used to seeing home-made cartridges on game consoles.

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Adding Character To The C64

The venerable Commodore 64, is there anything it can’t do? Like many 1980s computer platforms, direct access to memory and peripherals makes hacking easy and fun. In particular, you’ll find serial & parallel ports are ripe for experimentation, but the Commodore has its expansion/cartridge port, too, and [Frank Buss] decided to hook it up to a two-line character LCD.

Using the expansion port for this duty is a little unconventional. Unlike the parallel port, the expansion port doesn’t have a stable output, as such. The port contains the data lines of the 6510 CPU and thus updates whenever RAM is read or written to, rather then updating in a controlled fashion like a parallel port does. However, [Frank] found a way around this – the IO1 and IO2 lines go low when certain areas of memory are written to. By combining these with latch circuitry, it’s possible to gain up to 16 parallel output lines – more than enough to drive a simple HD44780 display! It’s a testament to the flexibility of 74-series logic.
It’s all built on a C64 cartridge proto-board of [Frank]’s own design, and effort was made to ensure the LCD works with BASIC for easy experimentation. It’s a tidy mod that could easily be built into a nice enclosure and perhaps used as the basis for an 8-bit automation project. Someone’s gotta top that Amiga 2000 running the school district HVAC, after all!