Book8088 Slows Down To Join The Demoscene

As obsolete as the original IBM Model 5150 PC may appear, it’s pretty much the proverbial giant’s shoulders upon which we all stand today. That makes the machine worth celebrating, so much so that we now have machines like the Book8088, a diminutive clamshell-style machine made from period-correct PC chips; sort of a “netbook that never was.”

But the Book8088 only approximates the original specs of the IBM PC, making some clever hardware hacks necessary to run some of the more specialized software that has since been developed to really stretch the limits of the architecture. [GloriousCow]’s first steps were to replace the Book8088’s CPU, an NEC V20, with an actual 8088, and the display controller with a CGA-accurate Motorola MC6845. Neither of these quite did the trick, though, at least not on the demanding 8088MPH demo, which makes assumptions about CPU speed based on the quirky DRAM refresh scheme used in the original IBM PC.

Knowing this, [GloriousCow] embarked on a bodge-fest aimed at convincing the demo that the slightly overclocked Book8088 was really just a 4.77-MHz machine with a CGA adapter. This involved cutting a trace on the DMA controller and reconnecting it to the machine’s PIO timer chip, with the help of a 74LS74 flip-flop, a chip that made an appearance in the 5150 but was omitted from the Book8088. Thankfully, the netbook has plenty of room for these mods, and with the addition of a little bit of assembly code, the netbook was able to convince 8088MPH that it was running on the correct hardware.

We thoroughly enjoyed this trip down the DMA/DRAM rabbit hole. The work isn’t finished yet, though — the throttled netbook still won’t run the Area 5150 demo yet. Given [GloriousCow]’s recent Rust-based cycle-accurate PC emulation, we feel pretty good that this will come to pass soon enough.

An Old Netbook Spills Its Secrets

For a brief moment in the late ’00s, netbooks dominated the low-cost mobile computing market. These were small, low-cost, low-power laptops, some tiny enough to only have a seven-inch display, and usually with extremely limiting hardware even for the time. There aren’t very many reasons to own a machine of this era today, since even the cheapest of tablets or Chromebooks are typically far more capable than the Atom-based devices from over a decade ago. There is one set of these netbooks from that time with a secret up its sleeve, though: Phoenix Hyperspace.

Hyperspace was envisioned as a way for these slow, low-power computers to instantly boot or switch between operating systems. [cathoderaydude] wanted to figure out what made this piece of software tick, so he grabbed one of the only netbooks that it was ever installed on, a Samsung N210. The machine has both Windows 7 and a custom Linux distribution installed on it, and with Hyperspace it’s possible to switch almost seamlessly between them in about six seconds; effectively instantly for the time. Continue reading “An Old Netbook Spills Its Secrets”

Netbooks: The Next Generation — Chromebooks

Netbooks are dead, long live the Chromebook. Lewin Day wrote up a proper trip down Netbook Nostalgia Lane earlier this month. That’s required reading, go check it out and come back. You’re back? Good. Today I’m making the case that the Chromebook is the rightful heir to the netbook crown, and to realize its potential I’ll show you how to wring every bit of Linuxy goodness out of your Chromebook.

I too was a netbook connoisseur, starting with an Asus Eee 901 way back in 2009. Since then, I’ve also been the proud owner of an Eee PC 1215B, which still sees occasional use. Only recently did I finally bite the bullet and replace it with an AMD based Dell laptop for work.

For the longest time, I’ve been intrigued by a good friend who went the Chromebook route. He uses a Samsung Chromebook Plus, and is constantly using it to SSH into his development machines. After reading Lewin’s article, I got the netbook bug again, and decided to see if a Chromebook would fill the niche. I ended up with the Acer Chromebook Tab 10, codename Scarlet. The price was right, and the tablet form factor is perfect for referencing PDFs.

Two Asus Netbooks and a ChromeOS tablet.
Behold, my netbook credentials.

The default ChromeOS experience isn’t terrible. You have the functionality of desktop Chrome, as well as the ability to run virtually any Android app. It’s a good start, but hardly the hacker’s playground that a Linux netbook once was. But we can still get our Linux on with this hardware. There are three separate approaches to making a Chromebook your own virtual hackspace: Crostini, Crouton, and full OS replacement.

Continue reading “Netbooks: The Next Generation — Chromebooks”

Hackaday Podcast 071: Measuring Micrometers, The Goldilocks Fit, Little Linear Motors, And 8-bit Games On ESP32

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams fan through a fantastic week of hacking. Most laser cutters try to go bigger, but there’s a minuscule one that shows off a raft of exotic components you’ll want in your bag of tricks. Speaking of tricks, this CNC scroll saw has kinematics the likes of which we’ve never seen before — worth a look just for the dance of polar v. Cartesian elements. We’ve been abusing printf() for decades, but it’s possible to run arbitrary operations just by calling this Turing-complete function. We wrap the week up with odes to low-cost laptops and precision measuring.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (60 MB or so.)

Continue reading “Hackaday Podcast 071: Measuring Micrometers, The Goldilocks Fit, Little Linear Motors, And 8-bit Games On ESP32”

Netbooks: The Form Factor Time Forgot

Long ago, before smartphones were ubiquitous and children in restaurants were quieted with awful games on iPads, there was a beautiful moment. A moment in which the end user could purchase, at a bargain price, an x86 computer in a compact, portable shell. In 2007, the netbook was born, and took the world by storm – only to suddenly vanish a few years later. What exactly was it that made netbooks so great, and where did they go?

A Beautiful Combination

An Asus EEE PC shown here running Linux. You could run anything on them! Because they were real, full-fat computers. No locked down chipsets or BIOS. Just good, clean, x86 fun.

The first machine to kick off the craze was the Asus EEE PC 701, inspired by the One Laptop Per Child project. Packing a 700Mhz Celeron processor, a small 7″ LCD screen, and a 4 GB SSD, it was available with Linux or Windows XP installed from the factory. With this model, Asus seemed to find a market that Toshiba never quite hit with their Libretto machines a decade earlier. The advent of the wireless network and an ever-more exciting Internet suddenly made a tiny, toteable laptop attractive, whereas previously it would have just been a painful machine to do work on. The name “netbook” was no accident, highlighting the popular use case — a lightweight, portable machine that’s perfect for web browsing and casual tasks.

But the netbook was more than the sum of its parts. Battery life was in excess of 3 hours, and the CPU was a full-fat x86 processor. This wasn’t a machine that required users to run special cut-down software or compromise on usage. Anything you could run on an average, low-spec PC, you could run on this, too. USB and VGA out were available, along with WiFi, so presentations were easy and getting files on and off was a cinch. It bears remembering, too, that back in the Windows XP days, it was easy to share files across a network without clicking through 7 different permissions tabs and typing in your password 19 times.

Continue reading “Netbooks: The Form Factor Time Forgot”

A Real All-In-One Printer Should Have A Computer In It, Too

With printers generally being cheaper to replace than re-ink, there are plenty of cast-offs around to play with. They’re a great source for parts, but they’re also tempting targets for repurposing for entirely new uses. Sure, you could make a printer into a planter, but slightly more useful is this computer built into a printer that still prints.

This build is [Mason Stooksbury]’s earlier and admittedly useless laptop-in-a-printer build, which we covered a few months back. It’s easy to see where he got his inspiration, since the donor printer’s flip-up lid is a natural for mounting a display, and the capacious, glass-topped scanner bed made a great place to show off the hybrid machine’s guts. But having a printer that doesn’t print didn’t sit well with [Mason], so Comprinter II was born. This one follows the same basic approach, with a Toshiba Netbook stuffed into an H-P ENVY all-in-one. The laptop’s screen was liberated and installed in the printer’s lid, the motherboard went into the scanner bay along with a fair number of LEDs. This killed the scanner but left the printer operational, after relocating a power brick that was causing a paper jam error.

[Mason]’s Comprinter II might not be the next must-have item, but it certainly outranks the original Comprinter on the utility spectrum. Uselessness has a charm of its own, though; from a 3D-printed rotary dial number pad┬áto a useless book scanner, keep the pointless projects coming, please.

Hacking An Android Laptop To Run Linux

A few years ago, someone at Lenovo realized they could take an Android tablet, add a keyboard, and sell a cheap netbook that’s slightly more useful than a YouTube and Facebook machine. Since then, Lenovo has stopped making the A10 notebook and has moved on to manufacturing Chromebooks. That doesn’t mean this little Laptop doesn’t have some life left in it: it still has a Cortex A9 Quad core CPU, is reasonably priced on the ‘defective’ market, and can now run a full-blown Linux.

When the A10 notebook was released, there was a statement going around saying it was impossible to install Linux on it. For [Steffen] that was a challenge. He cracked open this netbook and took a look around the Flash chips. There were two tiny pads that could be shorted to put the device in recovery mode, and the entire thing can be booted from a USB stick.

[Steffen] ran into a problem while putting a new kernel on the netbook: there was a null pointer reference in some device during boot. The usual way of diagnosing this problem is to look at the console to see what device failed. This netbook doesn’t have a UART, though, and [Steffen] had to use an FTDI chip and set the console to USB to see why this device failed.

Just about everything on this tiny laptop works right now, with a few problems with WiFi, webcam, and standby mode – all normal stuff for a putting Linux on a random machine. It’s worth it, though: the quad-core ARM is a very good chip, and [Steffen] is running x86 apps with qemu. Not bad for something that can be found very, very cheap.