Supercon 2023: Building The Ultimate Apple IIe, Decades Later

The Apple II was launched in 1977, a full 47 years ago. The Apple IIe came out six years later, with a higher level of integration and a raft of new useful features. Apple eventually ended production of the whole Apple II line in 1993, but that wasn’t the end. People like [James Lewis] are still riffing on the platform to this day. Even better, he came to Supercon 2023 to tell us all about his efforts!

[James]’s talk covers the construction of the Mega IIe, a portable machine of his own design. As the name suggests, the project was based on the Mega II chip, an ASIC for which he had little documentation. He wasn’t about to let a little detail like that stop him, though.

The journey of building the Mega IIe wasn’t supposed to be long or arduous; the initial plan was to “just wire this chip up” as [James] puts it. Things are rarely so simple, but he persevered nonethelessā€”and learned all about the Apple II architecture along the way.

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A bald white man stands behind a table with an Apple II, a large green PCB, and a modular purple and black development board system. Atop the Apple II is what appears to be a smaller Apple II complete with beige case and brown fake keyboard.

Mini Apple IIe Now Fully Functional

Here at Hackaday, we love living in a future with miniaturized versions of our favorite retrocomputers. [James Lewis] has given us another with his fully functional Apple IIe from the Mega II chip.

When we last checked in on theĀ Mega IIe, it was only just booting and had a ways to go before being a fully functional Apple II. We really love the modular dev board he designed to do the extensive debugging required to make this whole thing work. Each of the boards is connected with jumper pins, which [Lewis] admits would have been better as edge connectors since he should’ve known he’d be unplugging and replugging them more than he’d like.

A set of PCBs sits on a table. There is a logic analyzer plugged into one end that looks like a grey square. Three boards stick up at right angles from the main plane which consists of a purple square PCB with the IIe ROM and MEGA chips and a black rectangular PCB with four sets of headers for PCB modules to slot into.

This modular prototyping system paid dividends late in the project when a “MEGA bug” threatened the stability of the entire system. Since it was confined to the keyboard PCB, [Lewis] was able to correct the error and, swapping for the third revision of the board, everything that had been crashing the system now ran.

There were still some issues going to the final unified PCB that nearly made him give up on the project, but perseverance paid off in the end. Combining vintage chips and multiple RP2040s isn’t for the feint of heart.

Now that you have a more conveniently-sized Apple II, why not teach it some new tricks like digital photography or ChatGPT?

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