Very few retrocomputing projects are anything other than a labor of love. There’s really no practical reason to build a computer that is woefully inadequate for just about any task compared to even an entry-level PC today. But the lack of a practical reason to do something rarely stops a hacker, as with this nifty modular Z80-based rack computer.
Actually, there’s at least one area where retrocomputers excel compared to their modern multi-core gigahertz counterparts — and that’s nostalgia. That’s what [Ricardo Kaltchuk] was going for with his build, which started by finding a Z80 and an Intel 8251 USART in his parts bin. Those formed the core of what would become the “Proton” computer, a modular beauty built around 7 cm by 10 cm PCBs that plug into a backplane inside a rack made from aluminum angle. Aside from the power supply and the Z80 CPU, other modules include a RAM card with a zero insertion force socket for an EPROM, a mass-storage module sporting a 128 MB Compact Flash card, plus modules for standard serial and I2C comms.
The fit and finish are excellent, and the performance is impressive. The Proton runs CP/M and boasts a ton of old applications that will bring back some memories, like SuperCalc and dBase. We’d venture a bet that WordStar is in there someplace, or easily could be. The video below is a little rough, but shows everything off really well.
In some ways, the Proton reminds us of the RC2014, but its fit and finish are what bring this build home. That’s not to take away from the work [Ricardo] obviously put into documentation, though. The 62-page manual has every detail of every module, plus instructions for building one of your own.
Continue reading “Modular Z80 Really Racks Up The Retrocomputer Cred”
[Roberto Barrios] has a Korg Triton sampling keyboard which he enjoys very much, but has grown tired of using media of yesteryear to store his work. He had the option of floppy disk or Jazz drive and for a time he was using a floppy-to-USB emulator, but the keyboard still insisted on a 1.44 Mb storage limit using that method. He decided to crack open the case and add his own CF reader.
It should be noted that this hack could have been avoided by using the 25-pin connector on the back of the keyboard. He didn’t want to have external hardware, which is understandable if you’re gigging–it’s just more equipment to keep track of. His solution uses the floppy disk drive opening to mount the card reader. His electrical connections are made with a ribbon cable. He cut off one end, and soldered the individual wires to the contacts on the motherboard. The reader is seen as a SCSI drive by the Korg firmware thanks to a SCSI-to-IDE adapter, so the storage limitation is based quite fittingly on the size of the CF card used.
Look at that cable management. You’d think it came straight from the factory like this!
[Shoji] has a beloved sequencer that went out of production ten years ago. Unfortunately the storage options are also 10 year out-of-date as SCSI is the stock option for storing his loops. Using a series of adapters he added Compact Flash storage to his Akai MPC-2000 Classic. The board has a connector for 25-pin SCSI which he wired to a 25-pin to 50-pin SCSI adapter. From there he connects a SCSI to IDE board, and then an IDE to CF. Subsequent versions of the Akai Classic have floppy drives in the front left corner so he used this method to mount he CF slot. Now he’s got plenty of storage with very little change to the appearance of the looper.
Here’s a collection of simple hacks you can do in between larger projects. After the break we’ll look at converting an iPod from hard drive storage to Compact Flash, build an LED desk lamp using LEGO and USB power for charging, and use an Arduino shield to add network control at the touch of a button.
Continue reading “Roundup: Simple Hacks”