Emulating The IBM PC On An ESP32

The IBM PC spawned the basic architecture that grew into the dominant Wintel platform we know today. Once heavy, cumbersome and power thirsty, it’s a machine that you can now emulate on a single board with a cheap commodity microcontroller. That’s thanks to work from [Fabrizio Di Vittorio], who has shared a how-to on Youtube. 

The full playlist is quite something to watch, showing off a huge number of old-school PC applications and games running on the platform. There’s QBASIC, FreeDOS, Windows 3.0, and yes, of course, Flight Simulator. The latter game was actually considered somewhat of a de facto standard for PC compatibility in the 1980s, so the fact that the ESP32 can run it with [Fabrizio’s] code suggests he’s done well.

It’s amazingly complete, with the ESP32 handling everything from audio and video to sound output and keyboard and mouse inputs. It’s a testament to the capability of modern microcontrollers that this is such a simple feat in 2021.

We’ve seen the ESP32 emulate 8-bit gaming systems before, too. If you remember [Fabrizio’s] name, it’s probably from his excellent FabGL library. Videos after the break. Continue reading “Emulating The IBM PC On An ESP32”

ESP32 Altair Emulator Gets Split Personality

If you wanted me to demo CP/M running on an emulated Altair 8800, I’d pull out a tiny board from my pocket. You might wonder how I wound up with an Altair 8800 that runs CP/M (even WordStar), that fits in your pocket and cost less than $10. Turns out it’s a story that goes back to 1975.

When the Altair 8800 arrived back in 1975, I wanted one. Badly. I’d been reading about computers but had no hands-on experience. But back then, as far as I was concerned, the $400 price tag might as well have been a million bucks. I was working for no real pay in my family’s store, though in all fairness, adjusted into today’s money that was about $2,000.

I’d love to buy one now, but a real Altair costs even more today than it did back then. They also take up a lot of desk space. Sure, there are replicas and I’ve had a few. I even helped work the kinks out of Vince Briel’s clone which I’ve enjoyed. However, the Briel computer has two problems. First, it takes a little work to drive a serial port (it uses a VGA and a PS/2 keyboard). Second, while it’s smaller than a real Altair, it is still pretty large — a byproduct of its beautiful front panel.

So to quickly show off CP/M to someone, you need to haul out a big box and find a VGA monitor and PS/2 keyboard — both of which are becoming vanishing commodities. I made some modifications to get the serial port working, but it is still a lot to cart around. You could go the software route with a simulator like SIMH or Z80pack, but now instead of finding a VGA monitor and a PS/2 keyboard, you need to find a computer where you can install the software. What I really wanted was a simple and portable device that could boot CP/M.

Continue reading “ESP32 Altair Emulator Gets Split Personality”

ESP32 Gets Advance Windowed Apps Using This VGA GUI Library

We featured [Fabrizio Di Vittorio]’s FabGL library for the ESP32 back in April of this year. This library allows VGA output using a simple resistor based DAC (3 resistors for 8 colors; 6 resistors for 64 colors), and includes functions for PS/2 mouse and keyboard input, a graphics library, and many of the miscellaneous functions you might need to develop games on the ESP32. Now, a GUI interface library has been added to ease application development.

The GUI, of course, runs on the VGA output. The library includes what you’d expect from a minimal windowing GUI, like keyboard and mouse support, windows with the usual minimize/maximize/close controls, and modal and message dialog boxes. For input controls, there are labels, text boxes, buttons, radio buttons, checkboxes, normal and editable combo boxes, and listboxes — you know, pretty much everything you need to develop a modern GUI application. All the code is open-source (GPL 3.0) and in the GitHub repo.

While the original FabGL had a game-development orientation, the addition of this new GUI functionality opens up a new range of applications. If you want to find out more about using the FabGL library, you can check out our previous coverage of the mostly game-oriented functions.

You can get a look at the new GUI functions in action in the video, after the break.

Continue reading “ESP32 Gets Advance Windowed Apps Using This VGA GUI Library”