Replacing An ESP8266 Clone With The Real Thing

The first time [konbaasiang] ordered some ceiling LED lights from Tuya, he was pleased to find they contained an ESP-12F that could easily be flashed with a different firmware. So when he ordered 30 more of them at a cost of nearly $900 USD, you can understand his frustration to find that the popular WiFi-enabled microcontroller had been swapped out for a pin-compatible clone that Tuya developed called the WB3L.

Some people would have just chalked this one up to bad luck and used the Tuya-supplied software to control their new lights, but not [konbaasiang]. Since the new chip was outwardly identical to the ESP8266, he decided to take the nuclear option and replace them with the genuine article. With a comfortable spot to work from and a nice microscope, he started on his desoldering journey.

Now it would have been nice if he could have just dropped in a real ESP-12F and called it a day, but naturally, it ended up being a bit more complex than that. The WB3L apparently doesn’t need external pull up and pull down resistors, but [konbaasiang] needed them for the swap to work. He could have come up with some kind of custom adapter PCB, but to keep things simple he decided to run a pair of through hole resistors across the top of the ESP-12F for GPIO 1/2, and use a gingerly placed SMD resistor to hold down GPIO 15.

[konbaasiang] reports that all 30 of the lights survived the transplant and are now running his own  homebrew firmware. While this story had a happy ending, it’s still a cautionary tale. With a growing trend towards replacing the venerable ESP8266 with cheaper and less hacker-friendly silicon, buying IoT hardware with the intent to replace its firmware is likely to get riskier in the near future.

We’re Cloning Animals From The “Frozen Zoo”; Like A Seed Bank But For Animals

Seed banks are facilities of great value to biodiversity and agriculture around the world. These facilities are used to house stocks of seeds of a wide variety, helping to maintain genetic diversity and avoid the permanent loss of various plant species. While there are some challenges, the basic requirements to run a simple seed bank are to keep a selection of seeds at low temperature and humidity to maximise their viable lifespan.

When it comes to animals, things become more difficult — one can’t simply plant an old seed in the ground and grow a fresh new meerkat, for example. Preservation of animal genetic material poses its own unique set of challenges — ones that the San Diego “Frozen Zoo” don’t shy away from. They’ve recently shown the viability of the program with the healthy birth of a ferret cloned from an animal that died in 1988.

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Clone Console Cribs Ben Heck’s Classic SNES Caché

“I don’t get mad when people rip me off. I actually think its kinda cool, because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” — Ben Heckendorn

For some “hacking things together” can mean heavily borrowing from other’s work in order to make a new, derivative work. Though longtime hardware hacker, Ben Heckendorn, didn’t expect one of his early SNES handheld projects to become the inspiration for a Famicom-style clone console. There have been a number of clone consoles available online for years, and all have been made to varying levels of build quality. The subject clone console in question is called the Easegmer 12-bit Retro Console, so [Ben] decided to record his teardown of the handheld borrowing from his original design. (Video, embedded below.)

The Easegmer handheld has a “surprising” list of features according to its packaging including: sports games, logic games, memoyr games, USB charger management, double power supply option, and dirunal double backlight option. All big (and slightly misspelled) promises though the most egregious claim has to be that, “No violent games, your child’s body and mind get full exercise.”. The statement may have a modicum of truth to it, except for the fact that game 84 of 220 is literally named “Violent”. Dunking aside, the handheld does feature a standard size rechargeable battery in addition to the option of powering the device with three AAA batteries. There’s even a “fun size” screwdriver and a few replacement screws included which is more than you can say for most modern electronics.

It has been almost twenty years after [Ben] originally published his SNES portable project on his website. So as a long awaited follow-up, [Ben] plans to make a “meta-portable”. This meta portable will start with the Adobe Illustrator files he kept from that SNES portable in 2001 and incorporate pieces of the Easegmer clone console. Thus spawning a new clone of the clone of his clone…or whatever that project ends up being its sure to be worth repeating.

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Game Boy Plays Forever

For those of us old enough to experience it first hand, the original Game Boy was pretty incredible, but did have one major downside: battery consumption. In the 90s rechargeable batteries weren’t common, which led to most of us playing our handhelds beside power outlets. Some modern takes on the classic Game Boy address these concerns with modern hardware, but this group from the Delft University of Technology and Northwestern has created a Game Boy clone that doesn’t need any batteries at all, even though it can play games indefinitely.

This build was a proof-of-concept for something called “intermittent computing” which allows a computer to remain in a state of processing limbo until it gets enough energy to perform the next computation. The Game Boy clone, fully compatible with the original Game Boy hardware, is equipped with many tiny solar panels which can harvest energy and is able to halt itself and store its state in nonvolatile memory if it detects that there isn’t enough energy available to continue. This means that Super Mario Land isn’t exactly playable, but other games that aren’t as action-packed can be enjoyed with very little impact in gameplay.

The researchers note that it’ll be a long time before their energy-aware platform becomes commonplace in devices and replaces batteries, but they do think that internet-connected devices that don’t need to be constantly running or powered up would be a good start. There are already some low-powered options available that can keep their displays active when everything else is off, so hopefully we will see even more energy-efficient options in the near future.

Thanks to [Sascho] for the tip!

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Teardown: Generation NEX

Today if you wanted a little gadget to sit on your shelf and let you play classic games from the early console era, you’d likely reach for the Raspberry Pi. With slick emulator front-ends like RetroPie and DIY kits available on Amazon, you don’t even need to be a technical wizard or veteran penguin wrangler to set it up. If you can follow an online tutorial, you can easily cram the last few decades of gaming into a cheap and convenient package.

But things were a bit different back in 2005. There weren’t a lot of options for playing old games on the big screen, and what was out there tended to be less than ideal. You could hack an original Xbox or gut an old laptop to make an emulation box that could comfortably blend in with your DVD player, but that wasn’t exactly in everyone’s wheelhouse. Besides, what if you had the original cartridges and just wanted to play them on a slightly more modern system?

I’m willing to bet whoever wrote this owns a katana.

Enter Messiah, and their Generation NEX console. As you might have gathered from their ever-so-humble name, Messiah claimed their re-imagined version of the Nintendo Entertainment System would “Bring Gaming Back to Life” by playing the original cartridges with enhanced audio and visual clarity. It also featured integrated support for wireless controllers, which at the time was only just becoming the standard on contemporary consoles. According to the manufacturer, the Generation NEX used custom hardware based on the “NES algorithm” that offered nearly 100% game compatibility.

Unfortunately, the system was a complete bomb. Despite Messiah’s claims, the Generation NEX ended up being yet another “NES-on-a-chip” (NOAC) clone, and a pretty poor one at that. Reviewers at the time reported compatibility issues with many popular titles, despite the fact that they were listed as working on Messiah’s website. The touted audio and video improvements were nowhere to be found, and in fact many users claimed the original NES looked and sounded better in side-by-side comparisons.

It didn’t matter how slick the console looked or how convenient the wireless controllers were; if the games themselves didn’t play well, the system was doomed. Predictably the company folded not long after, leaving owners stuck with the over-priced and under-performing consoles. Realistically, most of them ended up in landfills. Today we’ll take a look inside a relatively rare survivor and see just what nostalgic gamers got for their money in 2005.

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TRS-80 Clone Uses Modern Parts

Before RadioShack decided the best business model for an electronics store was to harass its customers into buying overpriced batteries and cellphones, it was a great one-stop shop for most discrete components, knobs, resistors, radio equipment, and even a popular computer. That computer, the TRS-80, is a popular one in the retrocomputing world and if you can’t get original parts to restore one, you can always build your own clone.

This build comes to us from [Glen] aka [glenk] who is known for retrocomputing builds like this classic PET we featured a little over a year ago, and this TRS-80 is his latest project. He really gets into the weeds on the hardware, too. This isn’t an FPGA or Raspberry Pi running a TRS-80 on lookalike hardware. [Glen] has completely redesigned the computer from the ground up using modern CMOS components in order to make a modern, perfectly functional replica of the RadioShack classic.

Because of the level of detail [Glen] goes into, this one is a must-read for anyone interested in computing hardware (as opposed to the software, which you could learn about through a more simple emulator) and retrocomputing in general, and also brings most of us back to a more nostalgic, simpler time where a trip to RadioShack was fun and interesting.

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Cloned Gate Remote Does It (Slightly) Better

Ever make something just to see if you could? Yeah, we thought so. [serverframework] wanted to see if he could clone the remote that opens his neighborhood gate, inspired by the long distance ding-dong-ditch efforts of [Samy Kamkar].

This clone uses an ATtiny85 and an RF module to emulate and send the frequency that the gate is waiting for. To accomplish that, [serverframework] had to figure out both the operating frequency and the timing used by the remote. The crystal inside seemed to indicate 295 MHz, and a quick check of the device’s FCC registration confirmed it. Then he used an SDR dongle to watch the data coming across when he pressed the button, and ran it through Audacity to figure out the timing.

Unfortunately, the 295 MHz crystal is a rare beast, so [serverframework] had to transplant the original to the donor RF module. Then it was just a matter of programming the ATtiny85 to send the frequency with the right timing. It actually does a better job since the original has no timing crystal, and the ‘tiny is clocked with a standard 16 kHz oscillator. The code is available within [serverframework]’s excellent write-up, and you can see a tiny demo after the break.

There’s more than one way to clone a gate remote. This one leverages MQTT to turn friends’ phones into remotes.

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