Pi Pico-Powered ATX Motherboard

For a couple of years, embedded developer and Rust addict [Jonathan Pallant] aka [theJPster] has been working on a simple computer which he calls the Neotron. The idea is to make a computer that is not only easy to use but easy to understand as well. He describes it as a CP/M- or DOS-like operating system for small ARM microcontrollers. His most recent project is powered by a Raspberry Pi RP2040 Pico and built in the format of a microATX motherboard. This board packs a lot of features for a Pico-based design, including 12-bit color VGA and seven expansion slots. See his GitHub repository for a full list of specifications, and all the files needed to build your own — it is an Open Source project after all.

Besides the Neotron Pico itself, a couple of gems caught our eye in this well-documented project. [theJPster] was running out of I/O pins on the Pico, and didn’t have enough left over for all the peripherals’ chip selects. Check out how he uses an MCP23S17 SPI-bus I/O expander and a tri-state buffer to solve the problem.

On a more meta level, we are intrigued by his use of GitHub Actions. Per the standard concept of repositories, they shouldn’t contain the results of a build, be that an executable binary or Gerber files. Distribution of the build products is typically handled outside of GitHub, using something like GitHub’s Large File Storage service, or just ignoring convention altogether and putting them in the repo anyway. [theJPster] uses another method, employing GitHub Actions to generate the files needed for PCB fabrication, for example.

The Neotron Pico is the latest in a series of boards made to run Neotron OS. Previous boards include:

  • Neotron 9x — Microchip SAM9X
  • Neotron 1000 — STM32H7 + Lattice Semi iCE40 FPGA
  • Neotron 600 — Teensy 4.1
  • Neotron 340ST — ST 32F746G-DISCOVERY

Homebrew 68K Micro-ATX Computer Runs Its Own OS

We’re no stranger to home built Motorola 68000 computers here at Hackaday, but more often than not, they tend to be an experiment in retro minimalism. The venerable processor is usually joined by only a handful of components, and there’s an excellent chance they’ll have taken up residence on a piece of perfboard. Then [NotArtyom] sent in his Blitz, and launched the bar into the stratosphere.

Make no mistake, the Blitz isn’t just some simple demo of classic chips. The open hardware motherboard has onboard floppy, IDE, and PS/2 interfaces, with a trio of 8-bit ISA expansion slots for good measure. The  Motorola 68030 CPU is humming along at 50 MHz, with 4 MB of RAM and 512 KB of ROM along for the ride. Designed to fit the Micro-ATX motherboard standard, you can even mount the Blitz in a contemporary PC case and run it on a standard ATX power supply.

An earlier prototype of the Blitz motherboard.

As if the hardware wasn’t impressive enough, [NotArtyom] went ahead and created his own open source DOS-like operating system for it to run. Written in portable C, G-DOS can run on various m68k boards as well as ARM and PowerPC machines. It’s an incredible project in its own right. If you’re looking for something to show off your homebrew computer, you could certainly do worse than pulling down a copy of G-DOS. If you do port it to a new board, make sure to let [NotArtyom] know.

It’s taken [NotArtyom] three years to develop Blitz and G-DOS with his only goal being to better understand homebrew computers. He has no interest in monetizing the design or turning it into a kit, but instead hopes it will be a resource and inspiration for others with similar interests. Oh yeah, and he did all of this before he even graduated high school. If you weren’t questioning your life’s accomplishments before, now would be a great time to start.

Interested in building your own Motorola 68000 computer, but haven’t yet attained the wizarding level of [NotArtyom]? You could start with something a bit simpler like the 68k-nano, or if you’re really in a pinch, just dead bug a Dragonball 68328.

Micro-ATX Arduino Is The Ultimate Breakout Board

If you’ve been hanging around microcontrollers and electronics for a while, you’re surely familiar with the concept of the breakout board. Instead of straining to connect wires and components to ever-shrinking ICs and MCUs, a breakout board makes it easier to interface with the device by essentially making it bigger. The Arduino itself, arguably, is a breakout board of sorts. It takes the ATmega chip, adds the hardware necessary to get it talking to a computer over USB, and brings all the GPIO pins out with easy to manage header pins.

But what if you wanted an even bigger breakout board for the ATmega? Something that really had some leg room. Well, say no more, as [Nick Poole] has you covered with his insane RedBoard Pro Micro-ATX. Combining an ATmega32u4 microcontroller with standard desktop PC hardware is just as ridiculous as you’d hope, but surprisingly does offer a couple tangible benefits.

RedBoard PCB layout

The RedBoard is a fully compliant micro-ATX board, and will fit in pretty much any PC case you may have laying around in the junk pile. Everything from the stand-off placement to the alignment of the expansion card slots have been designed so it can drop right into the case of your choice.

That’s right, expansion slots. It’s not using PCI, but it does have a variation of the standard Arduino “shield” concept using 28 pin edge connectors. There’s a rear I/O panel with a USB port and ISP header, and you can even add water cooling if you really want (the board supports standard LGA 1151 socket cooling accessories).

While blowing an Arduino up to ATX size isn’t exactly practical, the RedBoard is not without legitimate advantages. Specifically, the vast amount of free space on the PCB allowed [Nick] to add 2Mbits of storage. There was even some consideration to making removable banks of “RAM” with EEPROM chips, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. The RedBoard also supports standard ATX power supplies, which will give you plenty of juice for add-on hardware that may be populating the expansion slots.

With as cheap and plentiful as the miniITX and microATX cases are, it’s no surprise people seem intent on cramming hardware into them. We’ve covered a number of attempts to drag other pieces of hardware kicking and screaming into that ubiquitous beige-box form factor.