Mini DDR Cabinet Gets Maximum Upgrade

Those shrunken-down arcade cabinets are a nifty idea, but they sure do suck in practice. At least, the Dance Dance Revolution game is full of empty promises. With the $25 cabinet, all you get are three songs that come out of a crappy little speaker, and a not-great display to match.

[BigRig Creates] endeavored to make it better, however, and managed to cram a Raspberry Pi 4 in the cabinet without disturbing the stock components too much. They did have to trim every extraneous piece of plastic from the inside of the cabinet and trim the I/O pins down, but it fit.

What didn’t fit are the fans that [BigRig Creates] needed once it was clear that it was necessary to overclock the Pi. As [BigRig Creates] points out, a custom PCB would have saved some room. And perhaps time. And definitely some wires.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple on the software side. (It never is, is it?) Even getting the screen to work was no picnic. But in the end, it worked, and even survived a bunch of gamers testing it out at LTX. Check it out after the break.

Got an old PS2 DDR controller? You could make it play Simon instead.

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Retrotechtacular: How Communism Made Televisions

For those of us who lived through the Cold War, there’s still an air of mystery as to what it was like on the Communist side. As Uncle Sam’s F-111s cruised slowly in to land above our heads in our sleepy Oxfordshire village it was at the same time very real and immediate, yet also distant. Other than being told how fortunate we were to be capitalists while those on the communist side lived lives of mindless drudgery under their authoritarian boot heel, we knew nothing of the people on the other side of the Wall, and God knows what they were told about us. It’s thus interesting on more than one level to find a promotional film from the mid 1970s showcasing VEB Fernsehgerätewerk Stassfurt (German, Anglophones will need to enable subtitle translation), the factory which produced televisions for East Germans. It provides a pretty comprehensive look at how a 1970s TV set was made, gives us a gateway into the East German consumer electronics business as a whole, and a chance to see how the East Germany preferred to see itself.

Black and white photograph of a display of televisions displaying a DDR Deutsche Frensehfunk logo, with an attendant adjusting one of the sets.
The RFT range of televisions in the Städtisches Kaufhaus exhibition center for the 1968 Leipzig Spring Fair. Bundesarchiv, CC-BY-SA 3.0

The sets in question are not too dissimilar to those you would have found from comparable west European manufacturers in the same period, though maybe a few things such as the use of a tube output stage and the lack of integrated circuits hints at their being a few years behind the latest from the likes of Philips or ITT by 1975. The circuit boards are assembled onto a metal chassis which would have probably been “live” as the set would have derived its power supply by rectifying the mains directly, and we follow the production chain as they are thoroughly checked, aligned, and tested. This plant produces both colour and back-and-white receivers, and since most of what we see appears to be from the black-and-white production we’re guessing that here’s the main difference between East and West’s TV consumers in the mid ’70s.

The film is at pains to talk about the factory as a part of the idealised community of a socialist state, and we’re given a tour of the workers’ facilities to a backdrop of some choice pieces of music. References to the collective and some of the Communist apparatus abound, and finally we’re shown the factory’s Order of Karl Marx. As far as it goes then we Westerners finally get to see the lives of each genosse, but only through an authorised lens. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: How Communism Made Televisions”

Soviet-Era Computer Is Both A Mystery And A Disaster

There are plenty of bizarre computers around from the 70s through the 90s before the world somewhat standardized around various duopolies of hardware vendors and operating systems. Commodore, Atari, and even Apple had some bizarre machines from this era but for our money, the most unusual systems come out of the Eastern Bloc. We’ve featured plenty of these before, and the latest is a Robotron CM1910 which comes to us from [Chernobyl Family] via YouTube.

Built in East Germany behind the wall, the Robotron factories had easier access to Soviet than western parts, but the latter were also available when necessary. Hence it’s built on an Intel 8086 processor, which seems common enough for the era, but after opening the case some non-standard construction becomes apparent.

The first is a densely-packed array of circuit boards and wiring, far beyond what a western PC might have included in this time. This also partially explains its massive 25 kg weight. It does include a hard drive, two floppy disk drives, a large dedicated graphics card, and a modem which all contribute as well. The overall design philosophy of the machine was a headscratcher too, which would have involved near-complete dismantling of the machine to access or repair some of the parts, as well as some hidden peripheral and drive controllers in questionable locations.

From the looks of it, we doubt this computer will see any uptime anytime soon, although they did at least restore the keyboard. With all of the chips accessible on PCBs, it might be possible to get this machine up and running again although it would take a massive effort thanks to its non-standard design and construction, and might also require help from builds like this to replace or emulate some of the hardware.

Thanks to [Stephen] for the tip!

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Linux Fu: Reading Your Memory’s Memory

Linux users have a lot of software to be proud of. However, there is the occasional Windows program that does something you’d really like to do and it just won’t run. This is especially true of low-level system programs. If you want to poke around your CPU and memory, for example, there are tons of programs for that under Windows. There are a few for Linux, but they aren’t always as complete or handy. Recently, I had half the memory in my main desktop fail and I wanted to poke around in the system. In particular, I wanted to read the information encoded in the memory chips configuration EEPROM. Should be easy, right? You’d think.

Not Really Easy

One nice tool a lot of Windows users have is CPU-Z. Of course, it doesn’t run on Linux, but there is a really nice imitator called CPU-X. You can probably install it from your repositories. However, the GitHub page is a nice stop if for no other reason than to enjoy the user name [TheTumultuousUnicornOfDarkness]. The program has a gtk or an ncurses interface. You don’t need to run it as root, but if you press the “start daemon” button and authenticate, you can see some extra information, including a tab for memory.

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DDR-5? DDR-4, We Hardly Knew Ye

This month’s CES saw the introduction of max speed DDR5 memory from SK Hynix. Micron and other vendors are also reportedly sampling similar devices. You can’t get them through normal channels yet, but since you also can’t get motherboards that take them, that’s not a big problem. We hear Intel’s Xeon Sapphire Rapids will be among the first boards to take advantage of the new technology. But that begs the question: what is it?

SDRAM Basics

Broadly speaking, there are two primary contenders for a system that needs RAM memory: static and dynamic. There are newer technologies like FeRAM and MRAM, but the classic choice is between static and dynamic. Static RAM is really just a bunch of flip flops, one for each bit. That’s easy because you set it and forget it. Then later you read it. It can also be very fast. The problem is a flip flop usually takes at least four transistors, and often as many as six, so there’s only so many of them you can pack into a certain area. Power consumption is often high, too, although modern devices can do pretty well.

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Walter Is The Slickest Retro-Futuristic Robot Arm

[Jochen Alt] is on a roll. We just covered his ball-balancing robot, Paul, only to find his phenomenal six-DOF robot arm in full retro style. Its name is “Walter” and it’s done up in DDR style (the former East Germany), in painted, 3D-printed plastic. The full design and build documents are an absolutely amazing resource if you’re into robot arm or legs.

In particular, the sections on trajectory planning and kinematics are fantastic. If you’re interested in robot motion planning by Bezier curves, you know where to go. (We’ve always wanted a Bezier-curve 3D printer slicer, but that’s another story.) The construction is also top-notch here, and the attention to detail that went into this arm is phenomenal. It’s all done with stepper motors and geared belts, which allow each of Walter’s joints to be driven by a motor that’s one joint further upstream than would be the case if it were designed with servos. [Jochen] even went so far as to expose the belt in some places to show off the gearing. Walter is worth checking out.

Even if you’ll never build such a fancy robot arm, you should read through the docs just to appreciate all of the thought and work that went into this very refined and simple-from-the-outside design. If you’d like to start out on the simple side of the spectrum, check out these robot arms made of office supplies or a desk lamp. Once you’re ready for your second arm project this short list, some of which [Jochen] mention in his writeup, should get you up and grasping. And do check out his balancing bot, Paul.

Hardsync – DDR Reimagined For The C64


For those of you that like to play dance games, but [DDR] for the [PS2] uses too modern hardware for your tastes, [Hardsync] may be for you. Although the chiptune-style music coming out of the [C64] may not appeal to everyone, one would have to imagine that a game like this could have been a huge hit 30 years ago.

As for the hardware itself, it does indeed use one PS2 element, the dance mat. It’s hooked into one of the C64 joystick ports. In this case, the cable was cut, but it would also be possible to make a non-destructive adapter for it so as not to interfere with any future PS2 fun.

The program is made so that fellow retro-dancers can make their own songs. Each song is a discreet file, and can be reconfigured to your own personal mix. Be sure to check out the video after the break of this old-school dance machine in use after the break! Continue reading “Hardsync – DDR Reimagined For The C64”