Console Calculator Moves One Step Closer To Original Design

With smartphone apps and spreadsheets being the main ways people crunch their numbers nowadays, there’s not much call for a desktop calculator. Or any other physical calculator, for that matter. Which is all the more reason to appreciate thisĀ  Wang 300-series calculator console’s revival through a new electronic backend.

If you haven’t made the acquaintance of the Wang calculator series, [Bob Alexander]’s previous Wang project is a perfect introduction. Despite looking very much like an overbuilt early-70s desktop calculator, what you see in the video below is just a terminal, one of four that could connect to a shared “Electronics Package” where most of the actual computational work was done. The package was big and is currently hard to come by, at least at a reasonable price, but the consoles, with their Nixie displays and sturdy keypads, are relatively abundant.

[Bob]’s previous venture into reviving his console involved embedding a PIC32-based controller, turning it into the standalone desktop calculator it never was. To keep more with the original design philosophy, [Bob]’s second stab at the problem moves much of the same circuitry from inside the console into a dedicated outboard package, albeit one much smaller than the original. The replacement package extends and enhances the console functionality a bit, adding a real-time clock and a Nixie exercise routine to ward off the dreaded cathode poisoning. [Bob] also recreates the original Wang logarithmic method of multiplication and division, which is a nice touch with its distinctive flashing display.

Seeing the Wang console hooked up to a package through that thick cable and Centronics connector is oddly satisfying. We’d love to see [Bob] take this to the logical extent and support multiple consoles, but that might be pushing things a bit.

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Exploring The Sega Saturn’s Wacky Architecture

Sega Saturn mainboard with main components labelled. More RAM is found on the bottom, as well. (Credit: Rodrigo Copetti)
Sega Saturn mainboard with main components labelled. More RAM is found on the bottom, as well. (Credit: Rodrigo Copetti)

In the annals of game console history, the Sega Saturn is probably the most convoluted system of all time, even giving the Playstation 3 a run for its rings. Also known as the system on which Sega beached itself before its Dreamcast swansong, it featured an incredible four CPUs, two video processors, multiple levels and types of RAM, all pushed onto game studios with virtually no software tools or plan how to use the thing. An introduction to this console’s architecture is provided by [Rodrigo Copetti], which gives a good idea of the harrowing task of developing for this system.

Launched in Japan in 1994 and North America and Europe in 1995, it featured a double-speed CD-ROM drive, Hitachi’s zippy new SH-2 CPU (times two) and some 3D processing grunt that was intended to let it compete with Sony’s Playstation. The video and sound solutions were all proprietary to Sega, with the two video processors (VDP1 & 2) handling parts of the rendering process which complicated its use for 3D tasks, along with its use of quadrilaterals instead of triangles as with the Playstation and Nintendo 64.

Although a lot of performance could be extracted from the Saturn’s idiosyncratic architecture, its high price and ultimately the competition with the Sony Playstation and the 1996 release of the Nintendo 64 would spell the end for the Saturn. Although the Dreamcast did not repeat the Saturn’s mistakes, it seems one commercial failure was enough to ruin Sega’s chances as a hardware developer.

Fail Of The Week: [Mark] Makes An Atari Cartridge

Part of the magic of the movies is that the actors always know what will happen next. There never has to be a scene where James Bond orders wine, and the sommelier has to correct his pronunciation, or he miscounts his hand at baccarat. Real life is rarely as smooth. Of course, YouTube is more akin to a movie than real life, and we always wonder how many flawlessly executed projects you see on YouTube really went that well. [Mark Fixes Stuff] left no scenes on the cutting room floor, though, in his realistic portrayal of his quest to build a nice-looking Atairi 2600 cartridge. Watch it below.

Spoiler alert: In the end, it all worked out. But getting there was a series of misadventures. Starting out with [Parker Dillman’s] PCB, he put together the insides of the cartridge, including a socket for the EPROM. He then resin-printed a case. Like many of our own projects, the first run wasn’t quite the size he expected. It was probably close enough, though, but then he realized the socket made the board too tall to fit in the enclosure.

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A Casio Game Console With A Sticker Printer? Why Didn’t We Get It!

To work in the computer games business in the mid-1990s was to have a grandstand seat at a pivotal moment. 32-bit gaming was the order of the day and 3D acceleration was making its first appearance in high-end PC graphics cards, so perhaps the fastest changes ever seen in gaming happened across a few short years. It’s a shock then after spending that decade on the cutting edge, to find a ’90s console we’d never heard of from a major manufacturer. The Casio Loopy was a Japan-only machine which targeted a female gaming demographic, and featured a built-in sticker printer as its unique selling point.

On the face of it the Loopy was up there with the competition, featuring a similar 32-bit SuperH processor to the Sega Saturn paired with a megabyte of RAM, but staying with cartridges as the rest of the industry moved towards CDs led to its games being space-limited and expensive. At the same time the original PlayStation was winning developers from the cartridge model with a lower-cost barrier to entry, so the Loopy failed to capture a market and was off sale by 1996. We can see that its graphics may have been a little dated for the 32-bit era and that sticker printer would have driven parents crazy with requests for expensive cartridges, but we can’t help wishing it had made it out of Japan like their portable computers did.

Thanks [Stephen Walters] for the tip.

Header: Incog88, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Brand New Colecovision Console – On A Breadboard

The Colecovision console from the early 1980s is probably not the most memorable platform of its era, but it retains a retrocomputing following to this day. The original hardware can be a bit pricey in 2023, so [nanochess] has built one of his own on a breadboard. It’s fully functional from original Colecovision cartridges, and we see it in the video below the break running Frogger.

Behind the mess of wires is a surprisingly simple circuit with only a few logic chips beyond the Z80 processor, the various memory and EPROM chips, and the video and sound chips. We’re told the complexity is considerably reduced by the use of a Texas InstrumentsĀ  TMS9118 video controller instead of a 9918.

Had we been building it we would probably have taken the less brave step of using color coded wires for the various signals, because we remember the fun and games associated with wiring old-style 8-bit computers by hand only too well. But we have to admit that it reminds us of a lost youth working out Z80 address decoder schematics, so it’s very pleasing to see one built today.

If you’re hungry for more Coleco goodness, this isn’t the first home made Colecovision we’ve brought you.

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Original Controller Ports In Custom Case Means Retro Gaming In Style

Some careful measuring and a little extra effort can be all that separates what looks like a hack job from a slick end product, and that is apparent in [Eric Sorensen]’s classy retrogaming rig, complete with ports for original console controllers.

Neatly housing these components in a case makes all the difference.

[Eric] likes his vintage gaming, and was terrifically pleased with MiSTer, an open-source project that recreates various classic computers, game consoles and arcade machines using modern FPGA-based hardware. Of course, what makes retro gaming even better is using a platform’s genuine original controllers, which just takes a little extra hardware and wiring.

But [Eric] found that all the required accessories and peripherals started to look awfully cluttered. He solved this issue by packing everything carefully into a specialty PC case called the Checkmate A1500 Plus, which gives off a strong 80s design vibe. As a bonus, the front panels are all removable and that’s where [Eric] decided to house the custom controller ports.

First [Eric] carefully measured each controller connector to create CAD models, then designed matching front panels to house the connectors and 3D printed them. Once that was done, post-processing the panels was a long process of apply Bondo, sand, paint, and repeat as needed. The results looks fantastic, and this project is a prime example of how aesthetics and finish can matter.

Find yourself in a similar situation? [Tom Nardi] has shown us all that 3D prints don’t have to look 3D-printed, and careful application of paint and primer can really put the ‘pro’ in prototyping.

Playdate Handheld Turned Typewriter

The Playdate is an interesting gaming system. It’s a handheld, has a black and white screen, and superficially reminds us a little bit of the original Game Boy, right down to the button layout. But the fact that it has a second controller that pops out of the side, that this controller is a crank, and that the whole system was made by the same people that made Untitled Goose Game, makes us quite intrigued. Apparently it has made an impact on others, too, because this project turns the gaming system into a typewriter.

The Playdate doesn’t have native support for USB accessories unless it’s plugged into this custom 3D printed dock. Inside of the dock is a Teensy 4.1 which handles some translation between the keyboard and the console. Once the dock is taken care of the text editor needs to be side-loaded to the device as well. The word processor has the ability to move the cursor around, insert and delete text, and the project’s creator, [t0mg], plans to add more features in future versions like support for multiple files, changing the font, and a few other things as well.

For anyone interested in recreating this project, all of the printable files, the text editor, and the schematics are all available in the GitHub repo. It’s an impressive project for a less well-known console that we haven’t seen many other hacks for, unless you count this one-off Arduboy project which took some major inspiration from the Playdate’s crank controller.