3D-Printed Rotary Dial Keypad Is Wonderfully Useless

Right up front, let us stipulate that we are not making fun of this project. Even its maker admits that it has no practical purpose. But this 3D-printed Commodore-style rotary dial keypad fails to be practical on so many levels that it’s worth celebrating.

And indeed, celebrating deprecated technology appears to be what [Jan Derogee] had in mind with this build. Rotary dials were not long ago the only way to place a call, and the last time we checked, pulse dialing was still supported by some telephone central office switchgear. Which brings us to the first failure: with millions of rotary dial phones available, why build one from scratch? [Jan] chalks it up to respect for the old tech, but in any case, the 3D-printed dial is a pretty good replica of the real thing. Granted, no real dial used a servo motor to return the dial to the resting state, but the 3D-printed springs [Jan] tried all returned the dial instantly, instead of the stately spin back that resulted in 10 pulses per second. And why this has been done up VIC-20 style and used as a keypad for Commodore computers? Beats us. It had to be used for something. That the software for the C-64  generates DTMF tones corresponding to the number dialed only adds to the wonderful weirdness of this. Check out the video below.

We’ll hand it to [Jan], he has a unique way of looking at the world, especially when it comes to clocks. We really enjoyed his persistence of phosphorescence clock, and his screw-driven linear clock turns the standard timekeeping UI on its head.

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It’s Raining Brand-new Commodore 64s

There’s never been a better time to build your own Commodore 64, apparently. Within a day of each other, we got tipped off on three (3!) separate C64 builds from two different hackers.

This has been made possible by a series of disparate projects that have individually recreated a piece of the full machine. Replacement motherboards exist, like the Ultimate 64 and the C64 Reloaded Mk2. New cases can be had courtesy of Pixelwizard. Even new keyboard bases can be had thanks to the Mechboard 64 project.

[Eric Hill] took all these parts and built his own C64 from scratch. And not content with one, he repeated the process and built another.

These two machines serve as demos for the two different motherboard options. Taken together, they serve to demonstrate how many of the vintage Commodore components have been remanufactured by the fan community: with the exception of the keycaps and possibly some of the silicon, all the parts in both machines are new.

Did we just say “keycaps?” This became the pet project of [Perifractic], who discovered that certain Lego Technic pieces had the same cross-shaped slot as the original Commodore 64 keys. After some experimentation, a full set of Lego keycaps was produced. (YouTube, embedded below.) Far from a thrown-together set of random pieces, the sets are available for order with printed tiles with recreation graphics. And this lets you build a C64 using precisely zero parts that came out of a Commodore factory. It’s a testament to the popularity of the world’s best selling computer that it is now once again possible to build one with brand new parts.

If you want to replicate this feat, [Perifractic]’s website is set up to make ordering everything you need easy. Things have certainly come a long way from the first reproduction cases launched on Kickstarter a few years ago.

[Thanks to Keith O for the tip!]

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The 8-Bit Guy Builds A 16-Bit Computer

One of the better retro historians out there on YouTube is the 8-Bit Guy, and after years of wanting to do something like this, it’s finally happening. The 8-Bit Guy is building his dream computer, heavily inspired by the Commodore 64.

Before we go into what this computer will do and what capabilities it will have, it’s important to note the 8-Bit Guy is actually doing a bit of market and user research before dedicating a year or more to this project. He’s asked other famous retrocomputing YouTubers for their input on what their ‘dream’ retrocomputer should do, and they’ve come up with a basic list of requirements. The Dream Computer will be like working on a 1957 Chevy, in that all the registers are immediately available for peeking and poking. The computer will be completely comprehensible, in so far that one person can completely understand everything, from the individual logic gates inside the CPU to the architecture of the kernel. It’ll run BASIC.

In the age of the Raspberry Pi, one might ask, ‘why not go with a Raspberry Pi?’. To the 8-Bit Guy, the Pi is just a Linux computer. Other retrocomputing projects of a similar scope to this dream computer also fail: The Mega65, a project to resurrect the Commodore 65, will be too expensive. The BASIC Engine fails because it only does composite out, and it runs on an ESP anyway, so you’re shielded from the real hardware. The same problem exists with the Maximite in that the hardware is one layer of abstraction away from the interface. The C256 Foenix is probably the closest to meeting the design goals, but it’s far too expensive, and even without the MIDI ports, SID chips, and other interesting hardware, it would still be above the desired price point.

The ‘requirement’ for this dream computer is to use only modern parts, have VGA or HDMI video out, a real CPU, preferably a 6502, use no FPGA or microcontrollers, and can run Commodore Basic. Also, this computer would cost about $50, with $100 as the absolute, maximum limit (implying a BOM cost of around $15-$25). This is absolutely, completely, astonishingly impossible. I would be deceiving you if I did not mention the impossibility of this project happening with the stated goals. This project will not meet the goal of selling for less than one hundred dollars.

That said, there’s no harm in trying, so The 8-Bit Guy is currently working with a few dev boards, specifically one designed around the 65816 CPU. The 65816 is an interesting chip, in that it is a 6502 until you flip a bit in a register. It has a larger address space than the 6502, and everything from the World of Commodore should be (relatively) easily ported to the 65816. Why was this CPU never used in Commodore hardware? Because a Western Design Center sales guy told a Commodore engineer that Apple was using it in their next computer (the Apple IIgs). The option of Commodore ever using the ‘816 died then and there.

If you’d like to help out on this computer, there is a Facebook group for organizing the build. This Facebook group is a closed group, meaning you need a Facebook account to login. Unfortunate, but we’re looking forward to a year of updates around this dream computer. Building a computer that meets the specs is impossible, but we’re more than eager to see the community try.

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Restoring A Forgotten Dot-Matrix Printer

Dot matrix printers are the dinosaurs that won’t go extinct. They are not unlike a typewriter with the type bars behind the ink ribbon replaced by a row of metal pins controlled by solenoids, each pin being capable of printing a single pixel. At their best they could deliver a surprising level of quality, but their sound once heard is not forgotten, because it was extremely LOUD.

[Wpqrek] bought an old dot-matrix printer, a Commodore MPS 803. Sadly it didn’t live up to the dot-matrix reputation for reliability in that it didn’t work, some of its pins weren’t moving, so he set to on its repair. Behind each of those pins was a solenoid, and after finding a crack in the flexible ribbon to the head he discovered that some of the solenoids were open-circuit. On dismantling the head it became apparent that the wires had detached themselves from the solenoids, so he very carefully reattached new wires and reassembled the unit. Of course, he had no replacement for the flexible ribbon, so he made a replacement with a bundle of long lengths of flexible hook-up wire. This hangs out of the top of the printer as it follows the carriage, but for now it keeps the device working.

Dot-matrix printers are a favourite for our readership. Among others, we’ve seen another Commodore get the Python treatment, as well as an Apple capable of printing in full colour.

A Scratch-Built Forgotten Classic Of The Early PC Age

All the retrocomputer love for Commodore machines seems to fall on the C64 and Amiga, with a little sprinkling left over for the VIC-20. Those machines were truly wonderful, but what about the Commodore machine that paved their way? What about the machine that was one of the first to be gobbled up in the late 1970s by school districts eager to convert a broom closet into the new “computer lab”?

The PET 2001 might be a little hard to fall in love with given its all-in-one monitor, cassette recorder, and horrible chiclet keyboard, but some still hold a torch for it. [Glen] obviously felt strongly enough about the machine to build a PET from current production parts, and the results are pretty neat. When trying to recreate a 40-year old machine from scratch, some concessions must be made, of course. The case doesn’t attempt to replicate the all-in-one design, and the original keyboard was mercifully replaced by a standard PS/2 keyboard. But other than that the architecture is faithfully replicated using new production 65xx chips and 74HCT family logic chips. [Glen] had to jump through some hoops to get there, but as the video below shows, the finished machine plays a decent game of Space Invaders.

We’ve seen a PET brought back from the grave by FPGA and a C64 emulated on a Raspberry Pi, but going back to basics and building this from scratch was a fitting homage to an important machine in PC history.

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A Portal Port Programmed For Platforms Of The Past

If you still have a Commodore 64 and it’s gathering dust, don’t sell it to a collector on eBay just yet. There’s still some homebrew game development happening from a small group of programmers dedicated to this classic system. The latest is a Portal-like game from [Jamie Fuller] which looks like a blast.

The Commodore doesn’t have quite the same specs of a Playstation, but that’s no reason to skip playing this version. It has the same style of puzzles where the player will need to shoot portals and manipulate objects in order to get to the goals. GLaDOS even makes appearances. The graphics by [Del Seymour] and music by [Roy Widding] push the hardware to its limits as well.

If you don’t have a C64 laying around, there are some emulators available such as VICE that can let you play this game without having to find a working computer from the 80s. You can also build your own emulator if you’re really dedicated, or restore one that had been gathering dust. And finally, we know it’s not, strictly speaking, a port of Portal, but some artistic license in headlines can be taken on occasion.

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Custom Joystick For An Old Commodore Finds An Unlikely Home

Retro hardware is getting harder and harder to come by, with accessories such as joysticks and mice dropping out of the market the fastest. So if your old machine needs a new joystick, you may find yourself whipping it up yourself. While you’re at it, you might as well have some fun as [Tom Tilley] did when he built a C-64 joystick inside a replica disk drive case for his rare SX-64 luggable.

Anyone who remembers the amount of desk space the classic Commodore 1541 disk drive occupied might wonder why someone would want such an enormous base for a joystick. But rest assured that no actual 1541s were harmed in the making of this joystick; rather, [Tom] created a smaller replica of the drive case from MDF. The face of the case is about 80% original size, and the depth is cut down to about half the original, so the joystick actually ends up being a manageable size while offering a nice, broad wrist support. The drive door is 3D-printed and painted, and adorned with the original green and red LEDs. Decorations like the front badge and even replicas of the original rear panel labels, connectors, and switches were printed from files off a website devoted to recreating Commodore hardware from paper. Because Commodore love knows no bounds.

It’s silly, but it works, and we love the attention to detail. Hat’s off to [Tom] for not settling for yet another joystick build, and for keeping the Commodore flame burning. They may be tough machines, but they won’t be around forever.

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