PC-XT Emulator On ESP8266

Do you remember the simpler times when you had a DOS command line, a handful of commands, and you talked to the hardware through a few BIOS and DOS interrupts? Okay, maybe it was a little limited, but nostalgia doesn’t care. Now [mcuhacker] is working on bringing some of those memories back by getting a PC-XT emulator running on an ESP8266.

For the x86 CPU emulator, he ported Fake86 which is written in C, and created an Arduino IDE environment for it. The MS-DOS 3.3 bootdisk image is stored in flash and is accessed as the A: drive. There’s no keyboard yet but he has 640×200 CGA working with 80×25 characters on a 3.5″ TFT display with the help of a low pass filter circuit. In the video below he shows it booting to the point where it asks for the date.

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The IBM PC That Broke IBM

It was the dawn of the personal computer age, a time when Apple IIs, Tandy TRS-80s, Commodore PETs, the Atari 400 and 800, and others had made significant inroads into schools and people’s homes. But IBM, whose name was synonymous with computers, was nowhere to be seen. And yet within a few years, the IBM PC would be the dominant player.

Those of us who were around at the time cherished one of those early non-IBM computers, and as the IBM PC came out, either respected it, looked down on it, or did both. But now, unless your desktop machine is a Mac, you probably own a computer that owes its basic design to the first IBM PC.

The Slow Moving Elephant

IBM System/360 Model 30 mainframe
IBM System/360 Model 30 mainframe by Dave Ross CC BY 2.0

In the 1960s and 1970s, the room-filling mainframe was the leading computing platform and the IBM System/360 held a strong position in that field. But sales in 1979 in the personal computer market were $150 million and were projected to increase 40% in 1980. That was enough for IBM to take notice. And they’d have to come up with something fast.

Fast, however, wasn’t something people felt IBM could do. Decisions were made through committees, resulting in such a slow decision process that one employee observed, “that it would take at least nine months to ship an empty box.” And one analyst famously said, “IBM bringing out a personal computer would be like teaching an elephant to tap dance.”

And yet, in just a few short years, IBM PCs dominated the personal computer market and the majority of today’s desktops can trace their design back to the first IBM PC. With even more built-in barriers which we cover below, how did the slow-moving elephant make this happen?

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Hacking a parallel port flash memory programmer

[Pulko Mandy] doesn’t use his flash ROM programmer very often, but he does use it. When he tried to get support for a new chip and the manufacturer suggested he just buy a newer version he decided to hack the programmer and it’s software instead.

This device connects to the parallel port and was intended for use with MS-DOS systems (no wonder there’s no longer support from the company). The board uses logic chips to add read and write function. So the first step was to analyze how they connect together and come up with a set of commands. While at it he also made some changes to the board to bring the voltage more in spec and ensure the logic levels on the parallel port met the correct voltages.

His plan was to use the board with a Linux system so the parallel port interface can stay. He used what he learned from the hardware inspection to write his own interface in C++. It works with a chip he was able to use under the MS-DOS software, but he hasn’t gotten it to work with the chip that sparked this adventure. If you’re familiar with how the AT29C040A works please consider lending a hand.

XT IDE controller

[Geordy] wanted to use some IDE devices but he didn’t have an interface card for his XT system, which can’t handle 16-bit  IDE. He looked around for 8-bit ISA controllers but they were hard to find and quite expensive. Lucky for him there’s an open source project that makes a solution to this problem. The XTIDE project brought together a group of vintage computing enthusiasts to design this ISA card. [Geordy] was even able to order a professional PCB from one of the forum members. He ordered the parts an soldered it together, costing about $30 total. He had a friend help him burn the code to the EEPROM but that’s easy enough to do with an Arduino, Bus Pirate, or one of several other methods. Now his grand plans at installing DOS 6.22 have been realized.

DIY picture frame better than store bought

[Daniel’s] homemade digital picture frame looks great, it’s well-built, and it has a nice set of features. It’s not made from a broken laptop and he didn’t build it around a microcontroller. Instead, he saved a 19″ LCD monitor with a burnt out back light caused by the extremely common blown capacitor problem. Twenty dollars on eBay landed him a small industrial single board computer to drive the system.

The software end of things is a curious conglomeration but considering the hardware constraints [Daniel] made some great choices. He’s using MS-DOS along with LxPic for slide shows and Mplayer for video. The rest of the software gets him up on the home network and enables IR remote control via LIRC. All o this makes for a beautiful product (video after the break includes some Doom footage) and the package is pulling just 40W when in use.