Modern Linux Runs On Ancient Toshiba

While Microsoft no longer supports those of its operating systems that were in heavy use into the early 2000s, support for old hardware is not typically something that you will have to worry about if you run Linux on your machines. Sure, there will be driver issues from time to time, and you might have to do some things by hand, but if you’re using legacy hardware you’ll want a Linux distribution of some sort. Especially if you’re running it on one of the first laptops to ever feature a Pentium processor of any kind.

This is a Toshiba T4900CT which [MingcongBai] has been able to spruce up by installing a simplified version of the AOSC OS Linux distribution. The distribution is known for its simplified user interface, and this particular one runs a “Retro” command-line-only version. Upon startup (which takes over two minutes), the user can view the hardware and software specs: Linux kernel 4.19.67 (released within the past year) on a 75 MHz Intel processor.

Getting old equipment to work, even if the software is available, is a challenge and this one stands out for the historical noteworthiness of the laptop. We didn’t see it connect to the Internet, but if it ever does we still keep Retro Hackaday up specifically for situations like this.

Sushi Roll Helps Inspect Your CPU Internals

[Gamozolabs’] post about Sushi Roll — a research kernel for monitoring Intel CPU internals — is pretty long. While we were disappointed at the end that the kernel’s source is not exactly available due to “sensitive features”, we were so impressed with the description of the modern x86 architecture and some of the work done with Sushi Roll, that we just had to post it. If the post gets you wanting to actually try some of this, you can check out another [Gamozolabs] creation, Orange Slice.

While you probably know that a modern Intel CPU bears little resemblance to the old 8086 processor it emulates, it is surprising, sometimes, to realize just how far it has gone. The very first thing the CPU does is to break your instruction up into microoperations. The execution engine uses some sophisticated techniques for register renaming and scheduling that allow you to run instructions out of order and to run more than one instruction per clock cycle.

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Hackaday Links: July 28, 2019

It looks like Apple is interested in buying Intel’s modem chip business. Seriously interested; a deal worth $1 billion could be announced as early as this week. That might look like a small potato purchase to the world’s biggest company – at least by market capitalization – but since the technology it will be buying includes smartphone modems, it provides a look into Apple’s thinking about the near future with regard to 5G.

It turns out that Make Magazine isn’t quite dead yet. [Dale Dougherty], former CEO of Maker Media, which went under in June, has just announced that he and others have acquired the company’s assets and reformed under the name “Maker Community LLC.” Make: Magazine is set to resume publication, going back to its roots as a quarterly publication in the smaller journal format; sadly there’s no specific word about the fate of Maker Faire yet.

The hoopla over the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 may be over, but we’d be remiss not to call out one truly epic hack related to the celebration: the full restoration of an actual Apollo Guidance Computer. The AGC was from a test model of the Lunar Module, and it ended up in the hands of a private collector. Since November of 2018 the AGC has been undergoing restoration and tests by [Ken Shirriff], [Mike Stewart], and [Carl Claunch]. The whole effort is documented in a playlist by [Marc “CuriousMarc” Verdiell] that’s worth watching to see what was needed to restore the AGC to working condition.

With the summer sun beating down on the northern hemisphere, and air conditioners at working extra hard to keep things comfortable. [How To Lou] has a quick tip to improve AC efficiency. Turns out that just spraying a fine mist of water on the condenser coils works wonders; [Lou] measured a 12% improvement in cooling. It may not be the best use of water, and it may not work as well in very humid climates, but it’s a good tip to keep in mind.

Be careful with this one; between the bent spoon, the syringe full of amber liquid, and the little candle to heat things up, this field-expedient reflow soldering setup might just get you in trouble with the local narcotics enforcement authorities. Even so, knowing that you can assemble a small SMD board without a reflow oven might prove useful someday, under admittedly bizarre circumstances.

From the “Considerably more than 8-bits music” file, check out the Hull Philharmonic Orchestra’s “8-Bit Symphony.” If your personal PC gaming history included a Commodore 64, chances are you’ll recognize songs from titles like “Monty on the Run”, “Firelord”, “Green Beret”, and “Forbidden Forest.” Sure, composers like [Ben Daglish] and [Paul Norman] worked wonders with the three-channel SID chip, but hearing those tunes rendered by a full orchestra is something else entirely. We found it to be particularly good background music to write by.

The Atomic Pi: Is It Worth It?

Several months ago, a strange Kickstarter project from ‘Team IoT’ appeared that seemed too good to be true. The Atomic Pi was billed as a high-power alternative to the Raspberry Pi, and the specs are amazing. For thirty five American buckaroos, you get a single board computer with an Intel processor. You get 16 Gigs of eMMC Flash, more than enough for a basic Linux system and even a cut-down version of Windows 10. You have WiFi, you have Bluetooth, you have a real time clock, something so many of the other single board computers forget. The best part? It’s only thirty five dollars.

Naturally, people lost their minds. There are many challengers to the Raspberry Pi, but nothing so far can beat the Pi on both price and performance. Could the Atomic Pi be the single board computer that finally brings the folks from Cambridge to their knees? Is this the computer that will revolutionize STEM education, get on a postage stamp, and sell tens of millions of units?

No. The answer is no. While I’m not allowed to call the Atomic Pi “literal garbage” because our editors insist on the technicality that it’s “surplus” because they were purchased before they hit the trash cans, there will be no community built around this thirty five dollar single board computer. This is a piece of electronic flotsam that will go down in history right next to the Ouya console. There will be no new Atomic Pis made, and I highly doubt there will ever be any software updates. Come throw your money away on silicon, fiberglass and metal detritus! Or maybe you have a use for this thing. Meet the Atomic Pi!

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New Part Day: Mapping With RealSense Cameras For $200

Robot cars, DIY or otherwise, are hot right now. To do this right, you’re going to need cameras, LIDAR, or some other way of sensing the the world. Intel is again getting into the fray with a RealSense tracking camera for simultaneous localization and mapping for robotics, drone, and augmented reality needs.

The tech specs for the Intel RealSense T265 are impressive for small robotics uses. It includes 6DoF tracking gathered by two cameras, each with a 170° FoV. Connection to a computer is through USB 2.0 or 3.0. If you want to get an idea of how seriously Intel is taking the ‘robotics, and other power- and weight-limited platforms’ market, here’s a sample of what is on the one-page spec sheet: the T265 only uses 1.5 Watts, weighs 55 grams, and is 108 x 25 x 13 mm. There are also two M3 taps spaced 50mm apart on the back, which is an astonishing spec to publish on the product landing page. Simply the fact that the location and dimensions of the mounting holes is so prominent gives you an idea of how seriously Intel is taking robotics and prototyping applications.

This new SLAM camera complements Intel’s other tracking camera offerings, including those we’ve seen at Maker Faires past. It’s a competitor to the new crop of solid state LIDAR modules we’ve seen pop up recently. It’s not a Kinect, but we’re years past using a first-gen Kinect for robotics applications. Now, everything is custom chips and SLAM processing, and the RealSense T265 is the smallest platform to do that now.

A Compiler In Plain Text Also Plays Music

As a layperson reading about some branches of mathematics, it often seems like mathematicians are just people who really like to create and solve puzzles. And, knowing that computer science shares a lot of its fundamentals with mathematics, we can assume that most computer scientists are also puzzle-solvers as well. This latest project from [tom7] shows off his puzzle creating and solving skills with a readable file which is also a paper, which is also a compiler for C programs, which can also play music.

[tom7] started off with the instruction set for the Intel 8086 processor. Of the instructions available, he wanted to use only instructions which are also readable in a text file. This limits him dramatically in what this file will be able to execute, but also sets up the puzzle. He walks through each of the hurdles he found by only using instructions that also code to text, including limited memory space, no obvious way of exiting the program once it was complete, not being able to jump backward in the program (i.e. looping), and a flurry of other issues that come up once the instruction set is limited in this way.

The result is a sort of C compiler which might not be the most efficient way of executing programs, but it sure is the most effective way of showing off [tom7]’s PhD in computer science. As a bonus, the file can also play an antiquated type of sound file due to one of the available instructions being a call for the processor to interact with I/O. If you want to learn a little bit more about compilers, you can check out a primer we have for investigating some of their features.

Thanks to [Greg] for the tip!

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Intel Announces Faster Processor Patched For Meltdown And Spectre

Intel just announced their new Sunny Cove Architecture that comes with a lot of new bells and whistles. The Intel processor line-up has been based off the Skylake architecture since 2015, so the new architecture is a fresh breath for the world’s largest chip maker. They’ve been in the limelight this year with hardware vulnerabilities exposed, known as Spectre and Meltdown. The new designs have of course been patched against those weaknesses.

The new architecture (said to be part of the Ice Lake-U CPU) comes with a lot of new promises such as faster core, 5 allocation units and upgrades to the L1 and L2 caches. There is also support for the AVX-512 or Advanced Vector Extensions instructions set which will improve performance for neural networks and other vector arithmetic.

Another significant change is the support for 52-bits of physical space  and 57 bits of linear address support. Today’s x64 CPUs can only use bit 0 to bit 47 for an address space spanning 256TB. The additional bits mean a bump to a whooping 4 PB of physical memory and 128 PB of virtual address space.

The new offering was demoed under the company’s 10nm process which incidentally is the same as the previously launched Cannon Lake. The new processors are due in the second half of 2019 and are being heavily marketed as a boon for the Cryptography and Artificial Intelligence Industries. The claim is that for AI, memory to CPU distance has been reduced for faster access, and that special cryptography-specific instructions have been added.