Adding Smart Watch Features To Vintage Casio

[Matteo] has been a fan of the Casio F-91W wristwatch virtually since its release in 1989. And not without good reason, either. The watch boasts reliable timekeeping and extremely long battery life thanks to a modern quartz crystal and has just about every feature needed in a watch such as an alarm and a timer. And, since it’s been in use since the 80s, it’s also a device built to last. The only thing that’s really missing from it, at least as far as [Matteo] was concerned, was a contactless payment ability.

Contactless systems use near-field communication (NFC) to remotely power a small chip via a radio antenna when in close proximity. All that’s really required for a system like this is to figure out a way to get a chip and an antenna and to place them inside a new device. [Matteo] scavenges the chip from a payment card, but then builds a new antenna by hand in order to ensure that it fits into the smaller watch face. Using a NanoVNA as an antenna analyzer he is able to recreate the performance of the original antenna setup in the smaller form factor and verify everything works before sealing it all up in a 3D-printed enclosure that sandwiches the watch.

There are a few reasons why using a contactless payment system with a watch like this, instead of relying on a smartwatch, might be preferential. For one, [Matteo] hopes to explore the idea that one of the physical buttons on the watch could be used to physically disable the device to reduce pickpocketing risk if needed. It’s also good to not have to buy the latest high-dollar tech gadget just for conveniences like this too, but we’ve seen in the past that it’s not too hard just to get these systems out of their cards in the first place.

Creating A Game Boy ROM From Pictures

There are very few legal ways of obtaining ROM files for video games, and Nintendo’s lawyers are extremely keen on at least reminding you of the fact that you need to own the game cart before obtaining the ROM. With cart in hand, though, most will grab a cart reader to download the game files. While this is a tried-and-true method, for GameBoy games this extra piece of hardware isn’t strictly required. [Travis Goodspeed] is here to show us a method of obtaining ROM files from photographs of the game itself.

Bits can be manually edited to fix detection errors.

Of course, the chips inside the game cart will need to be decapped in order to obtain the pictures, and the pictures will need to be of high quality in order to grab the information. [Travis] is more than capable of this task in his home lab, but some work is still required after this step.

The individual bits in the Game Boy cartridges are created by metal vias on the chip, which are extremely small, but still visible under a microscope. He also has a CAD program that he developed to take this visual information and extract the data from it, which creates a ROM file that’s just as good as any obtained with a cart reader.

This might end up being slightly more work especially if you have to decap the chips and take the photographs yourself, but it’s nonetheless a clever way of obtaining ROM files due to this quirk of Game Boy technology. Encoding data into physical hardware like this is also an excellent way of ensuring that it doesn’t degrade over time. Here are some other methods for long-term data storage.

Tiny Tapeout 3

Tiny Tapeout 3: Get Your Own Chip Design To A Fab

Custom semiconductor chips are generally big projects made by big companies with big budgets. Thanks to Tiny Tapeout, students, hobbyists, or anyone else can quickly get their designs onto an actual fabricated chip. [Matt Venn] has announced the opening of a third round of the Tiny Tapeout project for March 2023.

In 2022, Tiny Tapeout 1 piloted fabrication of user designs onto custom chips referred to as application-specific integrated circuits or ASICs. Following success of the pilot round, Tiny Tapeout 2 became the first paid version delivering guaranteed silicon. For Tiny Tapeout 2, there were 165 submissions. Most submissions were designed using a hardware description language such as Verilog or Amaranth, but ASICs can also be designed in the visual schematic capture tool Wokwi.

Each submitted design must fit within 150 by 170 microns. That footprint can accommodate around one thousand standard cells, which is certainly enough to explore a digital system of real interest.  Examples from Tiny Tapeout 2 include digital neurons, FPGAs, and RISC-V processor cores.

Once the 250 designs are submitted, they’ll be combined into a large grid along with a controller. The controller will receive input signals and pump the inputs via a scan chain through the entire grid to each design. The results from each design continue through the scan chain to be output from the grid. Since all 250 designs will be combined on to one chip, each designer will receive everybody else’s design along with their own. This shared process opens a huge opportunity for experimentation.

To get started on your own ASIC design right away, visit Tiny Tapeout. Also check out the talk [Matt] gave at Supercon 2022: Bringing Chip Design to the Masses¬†along with his Zero to ASIC videos. And we’re not saying anything official, but he’ll probably be giving a workshop at Hackaday Berlin.

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Chinese Chips Are Being Artificially Slowed To Dodge US Export Regulations

Once upon a time, countries protected their domestic industries with tariffs on imports. This gave the home side a price advantage over companies operating overseas, but the practice has somewhat fallen out of fashion in the past few decades.

These days, governments are altogether more creative, using fancy export controls to protect their interests. To that end, the United States enacted an export restriction on high-powered computing devices. In response, Chinese designers are attempting to artificially slow their hardware to dodge these rules.

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Picture showing the way the cut-down piece of chip is soldered onto the mainboard - looking, indeed, like a QFN package.

Making A Handheld NES By Turning DIP Chips Into…QFN?

You can achieve a lot with a Dremel. For instance, apparently you can slim the original NES down into the hand-held form-factor. Both the CPU and the PPU (Picture Processing Unit) are 40-pin DIP chips, which makes NES minification a bit tricky. [Redherring32] wasn’t one to be stopped by this, however, and turned these DIP chips into QFN-style-mounted dies (Nitter) using little more than a Dremel cutting wheel. Why? To bring his TinyTendo handheld game console project to fruition, of course.

DIP chip contacts go out from the die using a web of metal pins called the leadframe. [Redherring32] cuts into that leadframe and leaves only the useful part of the chip on, with the leadframe pieces remaining as QFN-like contact pads. Then, the chip is mounted onto a tailored footprint on the TinyTendo PCB, connected to all the other components that are, thankfully, possible to acquire in SMD form nowadays.

This trick works consistently, and we’re no doubt going to see the TinyTendo being released as a standalone project soon. Just a year ago, we saw [Redherring32] cut into these chips, and wondered what the purpose could’ve been. Now, we know: it’s a logical continuation of his OpenTendo project, a mainboard reverse-engineering and redesign of the original NES, an effort no doubt appreciated by many a NES enthusiast out there. Usually, people don’t cut the actual chips down to a small size – instead, they cut into the mainboards in a practice called ‘trimming’, and this practice has brought us many miniature original-hardware-based game console builds over these years.

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Hackaday Report: Will 2022 Bring A New Dawn For The Chip Shortage?

As the world begins to slowly pull itself out of the economic effects of the pandemic, there’s one story that has been on our minds for the past couple of years, and it’s probably on yours too. The chip shortage born during those first months of the pandemic has remained with us despite the best efforts of the industry. Last year, pundits were predicting a return to normality in 2022, but will unexpected threats to production such as the war in Ukraine keep us chasing supplies? It’s time to delve into the root of the issue and get to the bottom of it for a Hackaday report.

The Chips Are Down

Empty supermarket shelves in March 2020
Consumers were more interested in toilet paper than chip supply during the lockdown.

Going back to 2020, and as global economies abruptly slowed down in the face of stringent lockdowns it’s clear that both chipmakers and their customers hugely underestimated the effect that the pandemic would have on global demand for chips.

As production capacity was reduced or turned to other products in response to the changed conditions, it was soon obvious that the customers’ hunger for chips had not abated, resulting in a shortfall between supply and demand.

We’ve all experienced the chaos that ensued as the supply of popular varieties dried up almost overnight, and as fresh pandemic waves have broken around the world along with a crop of climate and geopolitical uncertainties it’s left many wondering whether the chip situation will ever be the same again.

Green Shoots In Idaho

An Idaho License plate: "Famous potatoes"
Idaho leads the way in a chip shortage recovery! inkknife_2000, CC BY-SA 2.0

Amidst all that gloom, there are some encouraging green shoots to be seen. While it’s perhaps not quite time to celebrate, there’s a possibility for some cautious optimism. This month brought the hope that Potato Semiconductor might be cutting the sod on a new production capacity for their ultra-fast digital logic in Idaho, and with other manufacturers following suit it could be that we’ll once again have all the chip capacity we can eat.

But the other side of the chip business coin lies with the customer: we all see the chip shortage from our own semi-insider perspective, but have the tastes of the general public returned towards chips? Early signs are that as consumer confidence returns there are encouraging trends in chip consumption taking root, so we’d be inclined to advise our readers to have cautious optimism. If all goes well, you’ll be having your chips by summer.

The prospects for a new dawn in chip production capacity in 2022 look rosy, but there’s a further snag on the horizon courtesy of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Like so many industries in a globalised economy, the chip industry depends heavily on supplies, consumables, and machinery from beyond the borders of wherever the plants themselves may lie.

In the case of Ukraine there’s a particular raw material whose supply has been severely interrupted, and though we hope for a speedy resolution of the conflict and a consequent resumption of production, the knock-on effect on the production of chips in the rest of the world can not be underestimated. Despite the ramp-up in output led by Idaho, the production of chips globally still relies heavily on Ukrainian sunflower oil. There’s a possibility that an acceptable substitute might be found in canola oil, but it will remain to be seen whether the chip-eating consumers will notice the taste difference.

If you would like to help the people of Ukraine in their hour of need, here are some organisations working on the ground to whom you can donate.

Header image: Daniel Kraft, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Open-DIP Surgery Cuts Retro Chips Down To Size

At least by today’s standards, some of the early chips were really, really big. They may have been revolutionary and they certainly did shrink the size of electronic devices, but integrating a 40-pin DIP into a modern design can be problematic. The solution: cut off all the extra plastic and just work with the die within.

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