The Amiga We All Wanted In 1993

To be an Amiga fan during the dying days of the hardware platform back in the mid 1990s was to have a bleak existence indeed. Commodore had squandered what was to us the best computer ever with dismal marketing and a series of machines that were essentially just repackaged versions of the original. Where was a PCI Amiga with fast processors, we cried!

Now, thirty years too late, here’s [Jason Neus] with just the machine we wanted, in the shape of an ATX form factor Amiga motherboard with those all-important PCI slots and USB for keyboard and mouse.

What would have been unthinkable in the ’90s comes courtesy of an original or ECS Amiga chipset for the Amiga functions, and an FPGA and microcontroller for PCI and USB respectively. Meanwhile there’s also a PC floppy drive controller, based on work from [Ian Steadman]. The processor and RAM lives on a daughter card, and both 68040 and 68060 processors are supported.

Here in 2024 of course this is still a 1990s spec board, and misty-eyed speculation about what might have happened aside, it’s unlikely to become your daily driver. But that may not be the point, instead we should evaluate it for what it is. Implementing a PCI bus, even a 1990s one, is not without its challenges, and we’re impressed with the achievement.

If you’re interested in Amiga post-mortems, here’s a slightly different take.

Antique Motherboard Speaks

[Bits und Bolts] has been restoring an old PC motherboard with the infamous bad electrolytic capacitors. The video of his exploits was interesting enough, but pretty standard stuff. What we found interesting though, was an odd feature of the ASUS Bios called “Post Reporter” that let the motherboard speak error codes and status through the external speaker. (Video, embedded below.) We aren’t sure who wanted that, and since we haven’t seen it around lately, we are guessing the answer was nobody wanted it.

We enjoyed watching the PCB rework. Those large internal ground plane layers do make it hard to unsolder and then solder the caps. That makes the job seem deceptively easy. However, if you want to skip to the exotic BIOS, jump to the 8:20 mark.

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Laptop Motherboard? Let’s Boot And Tinker

Last time, I’ve shared my experience on why you might want to consider a laptop motherboard for a project of yours, and noted some things you might want to keep in mind if buying one for a project. Now, let’s go through the practical considerations!

Making It Boot

Usually, when you plug some RAM and a charger into a board, then press the power button, your board should boot up and eventually show the BIOS on the screen. However, there will be some caveats – it’s very firmware-dependent. Let me walk you through some confusing situations you might encounter.

If the board was unpowered for a while, first boot might take longer – or it might power on immediately after a charger has been plugged in, and then, possibly, power off. A bit of erratic behaviour is okay, since boards might need to do memory training, or recover after having lost some CMOS settings. Speaking of those, some boards will not boot without a CMOS battery attached, and some will go through the usual ‘settings lost’ sequence. Sometimes, the battery will be on a daughterboard, other times, especially with new boards, there will be no CR2032 in sight and the board will rely on the main battery to provide CMOS settings saving functions – in such case, if you don’t use the battery, expect the first boot to take longer, at least. Overall, however, pressing the power switch will cause the board to boot. Continue reading “Laptop Motherboard? Let’s Boot And Tinker”

Laptop Motherboard? No, X86 Single-Board Computer!

Sometimes a Raspberry Pi will not cut it – especially nowadays, when the prices are high and the in-stock amounts are low. But if you look in your closet, you might find a decently-specced laptop with a broken screen or faulty hinges. Or perhaps someone you know is looking to get rid of a decent laptop with a shattered case. Electronics recycling or eBay, chances are you can score a laptop with at least some life left in it.

Let’s hack! I’d like to show you how a used laptop motherboard could be the heart of your project, and walk you through some specifics you will want to know.

And what a great deal it could be for your next project! Laptop motherboards can help bring a wide variety of your Linux- and Windows-powered projects to life, in a way that even NUCs and specialized SBCs often can’t do. They’re way cheaper, way more diverse, and basically omnipresent. The CPU can pack a punch, and as a rule PCIe, USB3, and SATA ports are easily accessible with no nonsense like USB-throttled Ethernet ports.

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Connecting A Keyboard To A Vintage PC-XT, The Hard Way

We’re not sure if there’s any single characteristic that qualifies someone as a hacker. After all, we’re a pretty eclectic bunch, with skills that range all over the map, and what one person feels is trivial, others would look upon as black magic. But there’s one thing we’re sure of: if you find yourself reading the original POST code for the PC-XT motherboard just to get a keyboard working, you’re pretty much our kind of people.

That was the position [Anders Nielsen] found himself in as work progresses on his “PC-XT from Scratch” project, which seeks to build a working mid-80s vintage IBM Model 5160 using as many period-correct parts as possible. The first installment of the series featured the delicate process of bringing the motherboard up, lest the magic smoke was released. After seeing some life out of the old board, [Anders] needed a little IO, specifically video and keyboard. The video side of the equation was relatively trivial, with an early-90s VGA card from eBay — not exactly period correct, but good enough to get something to display. Continue reading “Connecting A Keyboard To A Vintage PC-XT, The┬áHard Way”

Building Your Own 8088 XT Motherboard

There was a time when an XT-class motherboard — like the old IBM PC with an 8088 CPU — was a high-tech accomplishment. Now, something like that is easily within reach of the average hobby lab. [Homebrew8088] did it, and it looks surprisingly simple, especially compared to what passes for a motherboard these days.

The board will take an 8088 or one of the NEC chips and by default sports 512 K of RAM, a few ISA slots, a PC speaker, a USB hard drive, and a PS/2 keyboard connector. The board will fit in an ATX case. Not bad. You can see a video of the board below.

In fact, the channel has a lot of related videos and the main site has many interesting topics, like driving an 8088 or 8086 from a Raspberry Pi. The GitHub site has design files for KiCad along with a lot of other information. Some of this will be interesting even if you are just trying to repair an old motherboard or would like to design a new ISA card.

If you want to know why the PC used an 8088 instead of an 8086, we just covered that. What are you going to do with an old XT computer? How about IRC?

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Framework Board Gets This Round Display PC Rolling

The Framework laptop is already a very exciting prospect for folks like us — a high-end computer that we can actually customize, upgrade, and repair with the manufacturer’s blessing? Sounds like music to our ears. But we’re also very excited about seeing how the community can press the modular components of the Framework into service outside of the laptop itself.

A case in point, this absolutely gorgeous retro-inspired computer built by [Penk Chen]. The Mainboard Terminal combines a Framework motherboard, five inch 1080 x 1080 round LCD display, and OLKB Preonic mechanical keyboard into a slick 3D printed enclosure that’s held together with magnets for easy access. Compared to the Raspberry Pi that we usually find tucked into custom computer builds like this, the Framework board offers incredible performance, not to mention the ability to run x86 operating systems and software.

[Penk] has Ubuntu 22.04 LTS loaded up right now, and he reports that everything works as expected, though there are a few xrandr commands you’ll need to run in order for the system to work properly with the circular display. The standard Ubuntu UI doesn’t look particularly well suited to such an unusual viewport, but we imagine that’s an issue you’ll have to learn to live with when experimenting with such an oddball screen.

It was just a few weeks ago that we brought you word that Framework was releasing the mechanical drawings for their Mainboard module, and we predicted then that it would be a huge boon to those building bespoke computers. Truth be told we expected a cyberdeck build of some sort to be the first one to hit our inbox, but you certainly won’t catch us complaining about seeing more faux-vintage personal terminals.