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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Hackaday Links: November 17, 2019

Friday, November 15, 2019 – PASADENA. The 2019 Hackaday Superconference is getting into high gear as I write this. Sitting in the Supplyframe HQ outside the registration desk is endlessly entertaining, as attendees pour in and get their swag bags and badges. It’s like watching a parade of luminaries from the hardware hacking world, and everyone looks like they came ready to work. The workshops are starting, the SMD soldering challenge is underway, and every nook and cranny seems to have someone hunched over the amazing Hackaday Superconference badge, trying to turn it into something even more amazing. The talks start on Saturday, and if you’re not one of the lucky hundreds here this weekend, make sure you tune into the livestream so you don’t miss any of the action.

The day when the average person is able to shoot something out of the sky with a laser is apparently here. Pablo, who lives in Argentina, has beeing keeping tabs on the mass protests going on in neighboring Chile. Huge crowds have been gathering regularly over the last few weeks to protest inequality. The crowd gathered in the capital city of Santiago on Wednesday night took issue with the sudden appearance of a police UAV overhead. In an impressive feat of cooperation, they trained 40 to 50 green laser pointers on the offending drone. The videos showing the green beams lancing through the air are quite amazing, and even more amazing is the fact that the drone was apparently downed by the lasers. Whether it was blinding the operator through the FPV camera or if the accumulated heat of dozens of lasers caused some kind of damage to the drone is hard to say, and we’d guess that the drone was not treated too kindly by the protestors when it landed in the midsts, so there’s likely not much left of the craft to do a forensic analysis, which is a pity. We will note that the protestors also trained their lasers on a police helicopter, an act that’s extremely dangerous to the human pilots which we can’t condone.

In news that should shock literally nobody, Chris Petrich reports that there’s a pretty good chance the DS18B20 temperature sensor chips you have in your parts bin are counterfeits. Almost all of the 500 sensors he purchased from two dozen vendors on eBay tested as fakes. His Github readme has an extensive list that lumps the counterfeits into four categories of fake-ness, with issues ranging from inaccurate temperature offsets to sensors without EEPROM that don’t work with parasitic power. What’s worse, a lot of the fakes test almost-sorta like authentic chips, meaning that they may work in your design, but that you’re clearly not getting what you paid for. The short story to telling real chips from the fakes is that Maxim chips have laser-etched markings, while the imposters sport printed numbers. If you need the real deal, Chris suggests sticking with reputable suppliers with validated supply chains. Caveat emptor.

A few weeks back we posted a link to the NXP Homebrew RF Design Challenge, which tasked participants to build something cool with NXP’s new LDMOS RF power transistors. The three winners of the challenge were just announced, and we’re proud to see that Razvan’s wonderfully engineered broadband RF power amp, which we recently featured, won second place. First place went to Jim Veatch for another broadband amp that can be built for $80 using an off-the-shelf CPU heatsink for thermal management. Third prize was awarded to a team lead by Weston Braun, which came up with a switch-mode RF amp for the plasma cavity for micro-thrusters for CubeSats, adorably named the Pocket Rocket. We’ve featured similar thrusters recently, and we’ll be doing a Hack Chat on the topic in December. Congratulations to the winners for their excellent designs.

MIT Mini Cheetah Made And Improved In China

We nearly passed over this tip from [xoxu] which was just a few links to some AliExpress pages. However, when we dug a bit into the pages we found something pretty surprising. Somewhere out there in the wild we…east of China there’s a company not only reverse engineering the Mini Cheetah, but improving it too.

We cover a lot of Mini Cheetah projects; it’s a small robot that can do a back-flip after all. When compared to the servo quadruped of not so many years ago it’s definitely exciting magic. Many of the projects go into detail about the control boards and motor modifications required to build a Mini Cheetah of your own. So we were especially interested to discover that this AliExpress seller has gone through the trouble of not just reverse engineering the design, but also improving on it. Claiming their motors are thinner and more dust resistant than what they’ve seen from MIT.

To be honest, we’re not sure what we’re looking at. It’s kind of cool that we live in a world where a video of a research project and some papers can turn into a $12k robot you can buy right now. Let us know what you think after the break.

Anatomy Of A Cloned Piece Of Hardware

What would you think if you saw a bootleg of a product you design, manufacture, and sell pop up on eBay? For those of us who don’t make our livelihood this way, we might secretly hope our blinkenlight project ends up being so awesome that clones on AliExpress or TaoBao end up selling in the thousands . But of course anyone selling electronics as their business is going to be upset and wonder how this happened? It’s easy to fall into the trap of automatically assigning blame; if the legit boards were made in China would you assume that’s where the design was snagged to produce the bootlegs? There’s a saying about assumptions that applies to this tale.

Dave Curran from Tynemouth Software had one of his products cloned, and since he has been good enough to share all the details with us we’ve been able to take a look at the evidence. Dave’s detective work is top notch. What he found was surprising, his overseas manufacturer was blameless, and the bootleg board came from an entirely different source. Continue reading “Anatomy Of A Cloned Piece Of Hardware”

Z80 Based Raspberry Pi Look-alike

Homebrew computers are the ‘in thing’ these days and the Zilog Z80 is the most popular choice for making one on your own. We have seen some pretty awesome builds but [Martin K]’s Z-berry is the smallest on record yet. As the name suggests, the retrocomputer conforms to the Raspberry Pi form factor which includes the GPIO header.

The Z-berry is designed with a Z80 CPU running at 10 MHz (20 MHz possible) and comes with 32 kB ROM
and 512 kB RAM. In addition to the serial interface, the computer boasts an I2C bus, an SPI bus, and a PS/2 keyboard connector to boot. [Martin K] has a video where the finished system is enclosed in a Raspberry Pi case and has an I2C OLED display attached and working.

[Martin K] has posted a lot of details on how to make your own Z-berry which includes the BOM, schematic and preliminary information. We reached out to him to find out more about the software which is stable and available on request along with PCBs and sample code. Additionally, this project promises to draw much less current than the Raspberry Pi and should prove useful for anyone looking to create a retro solution to a modern problem.

It is interesting to see projects that combine modern techniques with retro technologies. One of the best Z80 projects we have seen is the FAP80 and there are some awesome homebrew computer projects on Hackaday.io for you to take a look and get inspiration.
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