There’s one certainty wherever schoolchildren come into contact with computers: the hardware will inevitably emerge worse for the encounter. The school laptops managed by [Neil Lambert] certainly suffered, losing keys and power supplies aplenty. Faced with a pile of broken machines, he came up with the X-PC, a stylish all-in-one desktop computer built around the innards of a laptop.
Inside a modern laptop there is surprisingly little in the way of parts, now that removable media drives are largely a thing of the past and once the battery has been removed from the equation. When the keyboard and trackpad are subtracted and replaced with USB equivalents the inner workings are reduced to a relatively compact motherboard and hard drive alongside the screen.
The screen is encased in a lasercut frame that also mounts the motherboard. It includes a lasercut cover that folds over the top in a living hinge to create an A-frame case that also holds the power supply. As an extra bonus the centre of the A provides handy storage for a keyboard.
Most of us will have encountered enough older laptops with broken parts to recognise the value in this build, seeing how it can transform junk into a useful machine. This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen someone try a similar build.
If you’ve scrolled through the list of boot options offered on any PC’s BIOS, it reads like a history of storage technology. Up top we have the options to boot from disk, often a solid-state drive, then USB disk, optical drive, removable media, and down the bottom there’s usually an option to boot from the network. Practically no BIOS, however, has an option to boot a PC from a vinyl record — at least until now.
Clearly a project from the “Because why not?” school of hacking, [Jozef Bogin] came up with the twist to the normal booting process for an IBM-PC. As in the IBM-PC — a model 5150, with the putty-colored case, dual 5-1/4″ floppies, and one of those amazing monochrome displays with the green slow-decay phosphors. To pull off the trick, [Jozef] leverages the rarely used and little known cassette tape interface that PCs had back in the early days. This required building a new bootloader and burning it to ROM to make the PC listen to audio signals with its 8255 programmable peripheral interface chip.
Once the PC had the right bootloader, a 64k FreeDOS bootable disk image was recorded on vinyl. [Jozef] provides infuriatingly little detail about the process other than to mention that the audio was sent directly to the vinyl lathe; we’d have loved to learn more about that. Nonetheless, the resulting 10″ record, played back at 45 RPM with some equalization tweaks to adapt for the RIAA equalization curve of the preamp, boots the PC into FreeDOS just fine, probably in no more time than it would have taken to boot from floppy.
It’s may not be the first time we’ve seen software on vinyl, but it’s still a pretty cool hack. Want to try it yourself but lack a record-cutting lathe? Maybe laser-cutting your boot disc will work.
Continue reading “Booting A PC From Vinyl For A Warmer, Richer OS”
Since Apple switched to Intel chips in the mid-00s, the PowerPC chips from Motorola and the PowerPC Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) that they had been using largely fell by the wayside. While true that niche applications like supercomputing still use the Power ISA on other non-Apple hardware, the days of personal computing with PowerPC are largely gone unless you’re still desperately trying to keep your Power Mac G5 out of the landfill or replaying Twilight Princess. Luckily for enthusiasts, though, the Power ISA is now open source and this group has been working on an open-source laptop based on this architecture.
While development is ongoing and there are no end-user products available yet, the progress that this group has made shows promise. They have completed their PCB designs and schematics and have a working bill of materials, including a chassis from Slimbook. There are also prototypes with a T2080RDB development kit and a NXP T2080 processor, although they aren’t running on their intended hardware yet. While still in the infancy, there are promising videos (linked below) which show the prototypes operating smoothly under the auspices of the Debian distribution that is tailored specifically for the Power ISA.
We are excited to see work continue on this project, as the Power ISA has a number of advantages over x86 in performance, ARM when considering that it’s non-proprietary, and even RISC-V since it is older and better understood. If you want a deeper comparison between all of these ISAs, our own [Maya Posch] covered that topic in detail as well as covered the original move that IBM made to open-source the Power ISA.
Continue reading “Open Hardware Laptop Built On Power PC ISA”
There are probably few parents who haven’t watched their kids sitting on the floor, afloat on a sea of LEGO pieces and busily creating, and thought, “If only they could make a living at that.” But time goes on and kids grow up, and parents soon sing the same refrain as the kids sit transfixed by the virtual equivalent of LEGO: Minecraft.
Finding a way to monetize either LEGO or Minecraft is a bit difficult for the young enthusiast; combining both obsessions into a paying proposition would be a dream come true. [Mike Schropp] did it, and this Minecraft-themed LEGO computer case was the result. Intel wanted a LEGO case for their new NUC mini-PC motherboard, and as a sponsor of the Minefaire event, the case needed to be Minecraft themed.
[Mike] chose the block that any Enderman would choose: the basic grass block. Each of the ten cases he made for the show had about 1000 of the smallest LEGO pieces available, to recreate the texture of the grass block in all its faux 8-bit glory. The 4″ x 4″ (10cm x 10cm) 8th Gen NUC board was a great fit for the case, which included slots for ventilation and SD card access, plus pop-out covers to access the board’s ports. It’s not exactly a screamer, but playing Minecraft on a grass block made from LEGO bricks is probably worth the performance hit.
We’ve seen [Mike]’s work a time or two here, most recently with a full-scale LEGO rack-mount server. Our hats off to him for another fun and creative build, and for proving that you’re never too old to LEGO. Or Minecraft.
If you’ve built a few PCs, you know how frustrating troubleshooting can be. Finding a faulty component inside the cramped confines of a case can be painful — whether its literal when sharp edges draw blood, or just figurative when you have to open that cramped case multiple times to make adjustments.
[Colonel Camp] decided to make life a bit easier by building this PC test bench which makes component troubleshooting much easier and can be built with old parts you probably have lying around. [Camp] was inspired by an old Linus PC Tech Tips video on the same topic. The key to the build is an old PC case. These cases are often riveted together, s a drill makes quick work of disassembling the chassis to easily get to all of the components. The motherboard pan and rear panel/card cage become the top shelf of the test bench, while the outer shell of the case becomes the base and a storage area. Two pieces of lumber support the upper shelf. The build was primed and painted with several coats of grey.
[Camp] built up his testbench with a modest motherboard, cooler and a 970 video card. He loaded up Manjaro Linux to verify everything worked. The basic hardware has already been replaced with a new system including a ridiculously huge cooler. But that’s all in a day’s work for a test bench PC.
We’ve seen some wild workbenches over the years, and this one fits right in for all your PC projects. Check out the video after the break!
Continue reading “DIY PC Test Bench Puts Hardware Troubleshooting Out In The Open”
Oh, the hijinks that the early days of the PC revolution allowed. Back in the days when a 20MB hard drive was a big deal and MS-DOS 3.1 ruled over every plain beige PC-clone cobbled together by enthusiasts like myself, it was great fun to “set up” someone else’s machine to do something unexpected. This generally amounted to finding an unattended PC — the rooms of the residence hall where I lived in my undergrad days were a target-rich environment in this regard — and throwing something annoying in the AUTOEXEC.BAT file. Hilarity ensued when the mark next booted the machine and was greeted with something like an inverted display or a faked hard drive formatting. Control-G was good to me too.
So it was with a sense of great nostalgia that I watched [Ben Cartwright-Cox]’s recent 35C3 talk on the anatomy and physiology of viruses from the DOS days. Fair warning to the seasoned reader that a sense of temporal distortion is inevitable while watching someone who was born almost a decade after the last meaningful release of MS-DOS discuss its inner workings with such ease. After a great overview of the DOS API elements that were key to getting anything done back then, malware or regular programs alike, he dives into his efforts to mine an archive of old DOS viruses, the payloads of most of which were harmless pranks. He built some tools to find viruses that triggered based on the system date, and used an x86 emulator he designed to test every day between 1980 and 2005. He found about 10,000 malware samples and explored their payloads, everything from well-wishes for the New Year to a bizarre foreshadowing of the Navy Seal Copypasta meme.
We found [Ben]’s talk a real treat, and it’s good to see someone from the current generation take such a deep dive into the ways many of us cut our teeth in the computing world.
Continue reading “35C3: A Deep Dive Into DOS Viruses And Pranks”
Over the years, computers have become faster, but at the same time, more power hungry as well. Way back around the 386 era, most PCs were using the AT standard for power supplies. Since then, the world moved on to the now ubiquitous ATX standard. Hobbyists working on older machines will typically use these readily available supplies with basic adapters to run old machines, but [Samuel] built a better one.
Most AT to ATX adapters are basic passive units, routing the various power lines where they need to go and tying the right pin high to switch the ATX supply on. However, using these with older machines can be fraught with danger. Modern supplies are designed to deliver huge currents, over 20 A in some cases, to run modern hardware. Conversely, a motherboard from the early 90s might only need 2 or 3A. In the case of a short circuit, caused by damage or a failed component, the modern supply will deliver huge current, often damaging the board, due to the overcurrent limit being set so high.
[Samuel]’s solution is to lean on modern electronics to build an ATX to AT adapter with programmable current protection. This allows the current limit to be set far lower in order to protect delicate boards. The board can be set up in both a “fast blow” and a “slow blow” mode to suit various working conditions, and [Samuel] reports that with alternative cabling, it can also be used to power up other old hardware such as Macintosh or Amiga boards. The board is even packed with extra useful features like circuitry to generate the sometimes-needed -5V rail. It’s all programmed through DIP switches and even has an OLED display for feedback.
It’s an adapter that could save some rare old hardware that’s simply irreplaceable, and for that reason alone, we think it’s a highly important build. We’ve talked about appropriate fusing and current limiting before, too – namely, with LED strips.