We spend a lot of time in our community discussing the many home computers from the 8-bit era, while almost completely ignoring their industrial equivalents. While today a designer of a machine is more likely than not to reach for a microcontroller, four decades ago they would have used a single-board computer which might have shared a lot of silicon with the one you used to play Pac Man.
[Epooch] recently came into possession of a CMS 9619A Advanced Single Board Microcomputer, a rather unique Programmable Logic Controller intended for industrial applications. It’s powered by a Motorola 6809 CPU and features the usual array of peripheral chips. To unlock its secrets he reached not for an array of tools from 2019 but for a venerable Apple ][e microcomputer.
In this type of 8-bit machine the various peripherals are enabled through address decoding logic that toggles their chip select line when a particular I/O address is called. Sometimes this task is performed by a set of 74 or similar logic chips, but in the case of the CMS 9619A it falls upon a Programmable Array Logic (PAL). These chips, which could be thought of as a simple precursor to today’s FPGAs, were ideal for creating custom decoding logic.
As you might expect though, a PAL is an opaque device, so to deduce the address map it was necessary to reverse engineer it using the Apple ][‘s printer card and a bit of BASIC code. It then remained to do some ROM disassembly work and wire up the serial ports, before some ROM patching with the Apple ][ as an EPROM programmer to finally access the machine’s debugger.
The 6809 is famous as the brains of Radio Shack’s CoCo and the Dragon computers, but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen it in an SBC.
68000 microprocessors appeared in the earliest Apple Macintoshes, the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST, and the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive among other familiar systems. If you were alive during the 16-bit era, there is a good chance that you will have owned a Motorola 68000 or one of its derivatives in a computer or game console. By the end of the 1990s it was clear that the 68K line had had its day on the desktop, but a new life for it at the consumer level was found in the PDA market. The first Motorola Dragonball was a 68000 series system-on-chip, and it was a few of these in a BGA package that [Plasmode] had in stock after ordering them in error believing them to be in a different package.
The Dragonball 68328 has an interesting bootstrap mode allowing it to run with no external ROM or RAM, and with only a serial connection to the outside world. Recognising this as having the potential for the smallest possible 68K system, he proceeded to make it happen with some impressive soldering direct to the solder balls of an upturned BGA package.
On a piece of PCB material are simply the 68328, a 32.768kHz crystal and capacitors, a MAX232 circuit for an RS232 serial connection, a reset button, and a power regulator. Using the Motorola DOS debug software which is still available for download after all these years, he was able to connect to his tiny 68K computer and run code. It’s not entirely useful, but of all the possible 68K configurations it has to be the smallest.
This isn’t the first minimal computer using only a processor chip and serial link, in the past we’ve shown you a PDP-11 in the same vein.
Remember all the talk about modular smart phones? They sounded amazing! instead of upgrading your phone you would just upgrade the parts a bit like a computer but more simplistic. Well it seems modular phones are dead (video, embedded below) even after a lot of major phone manufacturers were jumping on the bandwagon. Even Google got on-board with Google Ara which was subsequently cancelled. LG released the G5 but it didn’t fare too well. The Moto Z from Motorola seemed to suffer from the same lack of interest. The buzz was there when the concept of these modular phones was announced, and people were genuinely exited about the possibilities. What went wrong?
For a start people expect their phones to have everything on board already, whether it be cameras, GPS, WiFi, high-capacity batteries or high-resolution screens. Consumers expect these things to come as standard. Why would they go out and buy a module when other phones on the market already have these things?
Sure you could get some weird and wonderful modules like extra loud speakers or perhaps a projector, but the demand for these items was small. And because these extras are already available as separate accessories not locked down to one device, it was a non starter from the beginning.
When we did our user studies. What we found is that most users don’t care about modularizing the core functions. They expect them all to be there, to always work and to be consistent. — Lead engineer Project Ara
The hackability of these phones would have been interesting to say the least, had they come to the mainstream. It just seems the public want thin sleek aluminum phones that they treat more as a status symbol than anything else. Modular phones have to be more bulky to accommodate the power/data rails and magnets for the modules, so they’ll lose out in pocketability. Still, we hope the idea is revisited in the future and not left on the scrap-heap of obsolescence.
Would you buy a modular smart phone? Even if it is bigger or more expensive? Is that really why they failed?
Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Why Did Modular Smart Phones Fail?”
Do you remember the Motorola Lapdock 100? It was a CPU-less laptop designed for plugging in your smartphone that enabled you to use your phone as a computer! Perhaps a bit ahead of its time, they never really caught on — but now you can buy them pretty cheap, and with the release of the Raspberry Pi Zero, it was only a matter of time before someone combined the two.
The Lapdock 100 has long been a useful accessory for the Raspberry Pi, but until the Zero came out, it was always a messy bundle of wires running to and from the devices, making it a less than ideal solution. The Zero changes everything. [Ax0n] knew he had to try combining the two.
Continue reading “Turning A Lapdock Into A Laptop With The Pi Zero”
A month ago, we ran a post about [Jim]’s rare and strange transparent microchips. He’s back at it again, this time taking a look at the inner workings of MOSFETs
The Unallocated Space hackerspace is moving, and they’re looking for a few donations to get the ball rolling.
Yes, it’s a Kickstarter for a 3D printer, but the LumiPocket is interesting, even if only on the basis of the engineering choices. It’s a UV laser resin printer, and they’re using a SCARA arm to move the laser around. They’re also doing a top-down resin tank; it requires more resin, but it seems to work well enough.
Around DC or northern Virginia? We’re going to be there on September 11th through the 13th. We’re holding a Hackaday Prize Worldwide meetup at Nova Labs in Reston, Virgina. Sign up now! Learn KiCAD with [Anool]! Meet [Sudo Bob]! It’ll be a blast.
Not around DC or NOVA? This Wednesday we’ll be hosting another chat on .io.
The GEnx is one of the most beautiful and advanced engines in the world, and that means [Harcoreta] oven on the RC groups forums has made one of the most beautiful electric ducted fans in the world. On the outside, it looks like a GEnx, including reverse thrust capabilities, but inside it’s pure electronics: a brushless motor rotates a 100mm, 18-blade fan. He’s hoping to mount it on a Bixler (!). We can’t wait for the video of the maiden.
[Charles] is a big fan of phones that have physical keyboards. He thinks they are better suited for writing lengthy emails, but unfortunately his HTC Desire Z was getting old so he had to replace it. [Charles] therefore decided to import the Motorola Photon Q from the USA which exposed one major problem. The Verizon phone uses CDMA so there is nowhere to put a GSM SIM. But a bit of hacking allowed him to add a SIM card slot to it. Even though he’s not the one who originally found this hack (XDA thread here), his write-up is definitely an interesting read. To perform this modification, he needed a hot air reflow station, a soldering iron, a Dremel with the appropriate cutting wheel and several SIM card slot assemblies from the Galaxy S3 (as the first ones usually get burned during the disassembly process).
Obviously the first steps involved opening the phone, which may have taken a while. Using hot air, [Charles] removed the EMI shield covering the SIM card IC . He then extracted the latter using the same technique. Finally, he removed another EMI shield covering the contacts to which the SIM card slot should be connected. A few minutes/hours of delicate soldering and case modding later, [Charles] could use his SIM card on his brand new phone.
Our tips line is blowing up again, this time directing us to Motorola’s Project Ara: a phone with modular components that plug into a base “endoskeleton.” If you missed the news coverage strewn across the web and you are doing a double-take, that’s because Project Ara is frighteningly similar to the (presumed vaporware) Phonebloks concept from a few weeks ago. Phonebloks was the subject of our last “Ask Hackaday” article, generating hundreds of comments ranging from those defending the concept to those furiously opposed to it.
There’s a conspiracy theory circulating that suggests Motorola released the Phonebloks concept as a viral marketing scheme to generate hype before revealing the official product line. We suspect it’s a bit less conniving. As [jorde] explained on Hacker News, an Israeli startup, Modu, had developed a similar modular cell phone several years ago, and Google bought the patents in May of 2011. A few months later, Google bought something else: Motorola. It seems likely that Project Ara is merely a resurrected and revised Modu, and Motorola conveniently announced it in the wake of Phonebloks’ popularity. Regardless, Motorola has announced that they have partnered with Phonebloks’ creator Dave Hakkens .
So what’s different? Phonebloks was met with cries of “vaporware!” and fervent arguments raising concerns about unavoidable hardware limitations. Motorola claims their goal is:
to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines.
Unlike Project Ara, Phonebloks didn’t consider open-source hardware (Wayback Machine link), and Motorola makes an interesting argument here: that advances in 3D printing indicate an evolving “open hardware ecosystem,” and the next era of phone development may rest in the hands of your average hacker or a small startup company. Some speculate that the Ara will be similar to the relationship between a PC and its peripherals: Motorola provides the essential guts while giving you some slots for attaching additional components. Let us know in the comments what you think about Project Ara: is it just more vaporware, or a watered-down but plausible alternative to Phonebloks? And, perhaps most important: do you, as a hacker, want a phone that supports open hardware and lets you plug in “peripherals?” The Phonebloks website has since changed to reflect the partnership with Motorola, and includes a new video that you can watch below.
Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Does Project Ara Solve The Phonebloks’ Problems?”