PET 2001 Emulator On $2 Of Hardware

Since the late 60s, Moore’s law has predicted with precision that the number of semiconductors that will fit on a chip about doubles every two years. While this means more and more powerful computers, every year, it also means that old computers can be built on smaller and cheaper hardware. This project from [Bjoern] shows just how small, too, as he squeezes a PET 2001 onto the STM32 Blue Pill.

While the PET 2001 was an interesting computer built by Commodore this project wasn’t meant to be a faithful recreation, but rather to test the video output of the Blue Pill, with the PET emulation a secondary goal. It outputs a composite video signal which takes up a good bit of processing power, but the PET emulation still works, although it is slightly slow and isn’t optimized perfectly. [Bjoern] also wired up a working keyboard matrix as well although missed a few wire placements and made up for it in the software.

With his own home-brew software running on the $2 board, he has something interesting to display over his composite video output. While we can’t say we’d emulate an entire PC just to get experience with composite video, we’re happy to see someone did. If you’d like to see a more faithful recreation of this quirky piece of computing history, we’ve got that covered as well.

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Commodore 64 Mini Man Makes Matching Mini Monitor

While putting together a retro computer is a great project and can teach a lot about the inner workings of electronics, hooking that 70s- or 80s-era machine up to a modern 144 Hz 1440p display tends to be a little bit anticlimactic. To really recreate the true 8-bit experience it’s important to get a CRT display of some sort, but those are in short supply now as most are in a landfill somewhere now. [Tony] decided to create a hybrid solution of sorts by 3D printing his own Commodore replica monitor for that true nostalgia feel.

This build is a matching mini scale replica of the Commodore 1702 monitor, a color monitor produced by Commodore specifically for their machines. At the time it was top-of-the-line and even included an early predecessor of the S-Video method of video signalling. This monitor was modeled in Fusion 360 and then sent to the 3D printer for assembly, then populated with a screen with a period-correct 4:3 aspect ratio, required electronics for handling the Commodore’s video signal, and even includes an upgrade over the original monitor: stereo speakers instead of the single-channel speaker that was featured in the 80s.

While this monitor doesn’t use a CRT, it’s an impressive replica nonetheless, right down to the Commodore serial number sticker on the back. If you need a Commodore 64 to go along with it, there are plenty of possibilities available to consider like this emulated C64 on a Raspberry Pi or these refurbished OEM Commodores.

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Retrocomputing Spray Paints: Amiga Beige, Commodore, And ATARI Grey

[retrohax] has provided vintage computer guidance for years, and part of that guidance is this: sometimes using paint as part of restoration is simply unavoidable. But the days of tediously color-matching to vintage hardware are gone, thanks to [retrohax] offering custom-mixed spray paints in Amiga 500 Beige, C-64 Beige, and ATARI ST/SE Grey. (At the moment only delivery within Poland is available due to shipping restrictions, but [retrohax] is working on a better solution.)

As a companion to making these vintage colors available, there is also a short how-to guide on how to properly prep and spray paint a computer case for best results that talks a little about the challenges in color matching to vintage hardware, and how getting custom paints mixed makes life much easier. Hackers may value making do with whatever is available, but we can also appreciate the value of having exactly the right material or tool for the job.

It’s not every day we see someone mixing custom spray paint colors, but off the shelf options don’t always cut it. Another example of getting specialty materials made from the ground up is custom plywood specifically designed for laser-cutting puzzles, something done because the troubles that came with off-the-shelf options were just not worth the hassle.

Restoring Commodore’s Unloved Plus/4

The Commodore Plus/4 was not loved by the marketplace after its launch in 1984. Despite its namesake feature of having productivity programs built in, its lack of compatibility with Commodore 64 software and oddball status meant that it struggled to find acceptance. However, like so many retro computers, it maintains a following to this day. [Drygol] had collected a total of eight neglected units, and set to giving them a full workover.

First on the docket is cleaning, and [Drygol] makes short work of disassembling the computers and removing decades of dirt and dust. Keycaps are treated with Retrobright to restore their original color. The black styling of the case means it gets a simple wash down instead, and then a rub with thin oil to restore the plastic’s original sheen.

[Drygol] steps through various popular hacks for the platform too, from 6510 CPU replacements for the often-failing 7501 and 8501, to SD2IEC card interfaces to replace the much-maligned storage original storage options. Damaged keyboard studs are replaced with hacked-up Amiga parts, while LEDs that are long out of production are swapped out for cut-down modern parts.

The impressive thing is just how much community support there is for an also-ran Commodore that never truly caught the public’s eye. Efforts are ongoing, too, with projects like THED aiming to reproduce some of the custom chips used on the platform.

We’ve featured posts on the engineering that goes into Commodore’s 8-bit computers as well, like this excellent piece from [Bil Herd] on the story of the Commodore 128. Of course, if you’re working your own wonders with retro hardware, you know who to call.

Commodore SX-64 Keyboard Upgraded From Trash To Treasure

Released in 1984, the Commodore SX-64 Executive Computer was one of the first portable luggable color computers. It cost twice as much as a Commodore 64, had a tiny 5″ diagonal screen, and couldn’t actually support both 5¼” drives as advertised. On the upside, people say it had a slightly better keyboard than its classic cousin.

[Drygol] agreed to restore the keyboard from a friend’s Commodore SX-64 sight-unseen, and boy was this thing in bad shape. Most people would probably consider the condition a shame and write it off as a lost cause, since two of the corners were missing most of their plastic. But [Drygol] isn’t most people. [Drygol] had mad restoration skills to begin with, and this project honed them to a razor’s edge.

Plenty of the other vintage computer restorations [Drygol] has done required plastic welding, which uses heat or a lot of friction to smooth over cracks. Some of those have not stood the test of time, so he’s now in the habit of stabilizing cracks with brass mesh before filling them with fiberglass putty.

The best part is how [Drygol] managed to rebuild the corners using the same methods, soldering the brass mesh at the 90° joins, and reinforcing them with thick copper wire before beginning the painstaking putty/sand/putty process. The use of blank copper clad boards as straight edges and thickness gauges is genius.

There’s a whole lot to learn here, and the adventure beings with something that probably keeps a lot of people from trying stuff like this in the first place: how do you safely remove the badges?

You’re right, plastic welding is awesome. There even used to be a toy plastic welder. But there’s no need to troll the electronic auction bay to give it a try — just use a cheap soldering iron.

Jack Tramiel Got A Good Deal, And Ruined Everything

A sideshow in the playground wars of the early 1980s over who had the best home computer lay in the quality of their onboard BASIC interpreters. Where this is being written the cream of the crop was Acorn’s BBC Basic, while Sinclair owners could hold their own, and the Commodore 64 was regarded as powerful, but not easy to program. It’s a teenage memory brought to mind by [Liam Proven], who argues in a blog post that Commodore’s BASIC left a problematic legacy that can still be felt today.

It’s an interesting proposition, and one with its roots in Commodore founder Jack Tramiel’s 1977 deal with Bill Gates to acquire a version of Microsoft BASIC for his machines, in which he paid a one-off fee for unlimited uses of the language rather than a per-sale levy. The argument in the post is that this led to later Commodore machines being hamstrung by an outdated BASIC interpreter as a cost saving measure. It fits well with those 1980s memories from school computer labs, because by comparison its competitors six years after the deal had the benefit of language extensions missing in Commodore’s 64.

Where [Liam]’s analysis becomes interesting is in how he perceives the effect of this long-in-the-tooth BASIC; he postulates that the sheer number of Commodore 8-bit machines sold ensured it had a dominant position in the market place and thus coloured the perception of BASIC as a programming language in the years that followed. We’re not so sure about his view that this led eventually to some of the shortcomings in computing today, but we agree wholeheartedly with him that Commodore were less than competent in marketing their hardware.

We look forward to hearing your take on the matter in the comments, and meanwhile for some perspectives on the Commodore of the day who better to relate them than somebody who had a ringside seat. Our colleague [Bil Herd] has shared with us some of his Commodore recollections over the years, including the Commodore 128 story, an account of the 1985 CES show, and a two-parter on the TED chip and its speech capabilities.

Header image: Commodore BASIC / Public Domain, and Evan-Amos / Public domain.

Breathtaking C64C Case Faithfully Recreates Original In Wood

Most computer case modders take certain liberties with their builds, to express their creativity and push the state of the art. Some, however, seek to recreate the original in as detailed a way as possible while still being unique. This faithful reproduction of a Commodore 64C in wood is a great example of the latter approach.

[Atilla Meric]’s experience with model airplane building came into play when he decided to leap into this build. Being used to making small, thin pieces of wood even smaller and thinner proved valuable here, as did working from templates and getting complex shapes cut out cleanly. [Atilla] used a miniature table saw to rough cut his stock; the wood species may have been lost in the translation from Turkish but it appears to be some variety of oak. Detail cuts were done with knives, and everything was held together with glue. The painstaking effort that went into the air vents is amazing, and the fact that they exactly match the vents on the original injection-molded case is truly impressive. We also like the subtle detail of the slightly depressed area around the keyboard opening, just like the original, as well as the smooth curve at the front of the case to comfortably support the wrists. The cutouts for connectors and the labels are top-notch too.

We appreciate the craftsmanship that went into this case mod, and the time and effort [Atilla] put into the build are obvious. We’ve seen wooden computer case mods before, but this one really pushes all our buttons.

[via Twitter]