Replacement PCB Replicates Early 80s Modem

It’s certainly been a few decades, but plenty of us remember a time before widespread access to broadband internet, when connections were generally made over phone lines using acoustic modems. In the 90s these could connect you to AOL and Napster well enough, but in the early 80s the speeds were barely enough to read text as it loaded. A company called Hayes set out to change this with some of the first useful, widely-available modems for the PCs at the time. While they couldn’t keep up with the changing times there’s still a retro community that has these antiques, and to modernize it a bit this drop-in replacement for the PCBs replicates these old modems almost exactly.

The new PCB is equipped with everything needed to get a retro computer online again, including all the ports to connect a computer without any further modifications. It houses a few modern upgrades beyond its on-board processors, though. Rather than needing an actual acoustic coupled phone, this one has an ESP32 which gives it wireless capability. But the replacement PCB maintains the look and feel of the original hardware by replicating the red status LEDs at the front, fitting into the original Hayes cases with no modifications needed at all, and even includes a small speaker through which it can replicate the various tones, handshakes, and other audio cues that those of us nostalgic for this new online era remember quite well.

For those looking for a retro feel without the hassle of getting antique networking equipment functional again, this type of upgrade that preserves the essence of the original hardware is an excellent way of keeping retro computers functional on modern networking equipment. But if you absolutely must get the networking equipment exactly right down to the last patch cable, you might end up having to build your own ISP from scratch.

Continue reading “Replacement PCB Replicates Early 80s Modem”

Harbor Freight And LEGO PCB Vise Is Cheap And Effective

It doesn’t take much chasing things around the bench with a soldering iron to appreciate the value of good work holding. And don’t get us started on those cheap “helping hands” alligator clip thingies; they’re somehow worse than no work holding. Isn’t there a better way?

Maybe, judging by [Paul Bryson]’s idea for a dirt cheap PCB vise. It’s a pretty clever design that’ll have you heading to Harbor Freight, or whatever the moral equivalent is in your location, where you’ll pick up a small ratcheting bar clamp. [Paul] used a 4″ (10 cm) clamp; that which looks fine for a wide range of boards, but we suppose you could go bigger if you like. You could also stop there and just clamp your PCBs in the plastic jaws, but [Paul] adorned the jaws with swiveling arms made from LEGO Technic pieces, of all things. Rubber grommets slipped onto Technic pegs go into the holes on the beam to hold the PCB edges firmly, while the swiveling action adapts to odd-shaped boards.

To our mind, the biggest advantage to this design other than cost is how low it holds the PCB — a decided advantage while working under the microscope. Don’t have any Technics parts close to hand? No worries, 3D printed parts could easily stand in, and maybe even improve the design. [Paul] also shows off a substitute for the Technics beam rendered in PCB material, which would reduce the height of the workpiece over the bench even more.

We’ve seen a lot of PCB vises come and go, using everything from scrap wood to 3D printed compliant mechanisms. But we doubt you’ll find anything more cost-effective than [Paul]’s design.

Atopile Wants You To Code Schematics

We’d wager that, if you’re reading Hackaday, you’ve looked at more than a few circuit diagrams in your day. Maybe you’ve even converted a few of them over to a PCB. It’s a workflow that, at this point, is well-understood. But as designs become more complex, the schematics are harder to create and maintain. That’s why Atopile wants to treat hardware design more like writing code.

We can see some real benefits to this but also some possible drawbacks. On the plus side, reusing chunks of PCB description should be easy. On the other hand, detecting certain errors on a schematic or PCB layout is easier than spotting them in code. Of course, there are probably types of errors that are easier to catch in code, too, so maybe that’s not a problem. Certainly, if you can spit out a schematic from your code, you could — potentially — have the best of both worlds.

Continue reading “Atopile Wants You To Code Schematics”

Fail Of The Week: PCB LED Cube Fails Successfully

Remember LED cubes? We sure do — they were all the rage for a while, and then it seemed like everyone just sort of lost interest in them. There are probably a lot of reasons for that, not least of which is likely the amount of work it takes to put one together from discrete LEDs and separate pieces of wire. Could there be a better way?

Of course there could, and [Sasa Karanovic] thought he had it all figured out with this PCB-based LED cube. At first glance, it seems to make perfect sense; after all, weren’t PCBs invented to take the place of all that pesky point-to-point wiring in the early days of electronics? The boards [Sasa] designed are pretty cool, actually. They’ve each got room for 16 addressable WS2812 LEDs in 5 mm packages, with every possible bit of substrate removed to block the minimum amount of light. That left very little room for traces on the 2-mm-wide arms, so the PCBs had to have four layers, which raised eyebrows at the PCB house when [Sasa] submitted the design.

Such an airy and open design obviously has the potential for mechanical issues, which [Sasa] addressed by adding pads at three corners of each board; a vertical PCB connects to each LED board to provide mechanical support and distribute signals to the LEDs. The cube seems solid enough as a result, and even when handled the LED boards don’t really flop around too much. See the cube in action in the video below.

What’s nice about this design is the perfect spacing between the LEDs in all three dimensions, and the way everything lines up nice and straight. That would be really hard to do with wire, even for the most practiced of circuit sculptors. [Sasa] seems to agree, but still deems the build a failure because the PCBs block too much of the view. We suppose he’s got a point, and we’re not sure how well this would scale to an 8×8 cube. We’re not sure how we’d feel about paying for PCBs that are mostly air either, but as failures go, this one still manages to be pretty successful. Continue reading “Fail Of The Week: PCB LED Cube Fails Successfully”

Brand-New PCB Makes Replica TRS-80 Possible

If like us, you missed out on the TRS-80 Model I back when it first came out, relax .With this brand-new PCB that’s a trace-for-trace replica of the original and a bunch of vintage parts, you can build your own from scratch.

Now, obviously, there are easier ways to enjoy the retro goodness that is the 46-year-old machine that in many ways brought the 8-bit hobby computing revolution to the general public’s attention. Sadly, though, original TRS-80s are getting hard to come by, and those that are in decent enough shape to do anything interesting are commanding top dollar. [RetroStack]’s obvious labor of love project provides the foundation upon which to build a brand new TRS-80 as close as possible to the original.

The PCB is revision G and recreates the original in every detail — component layout, connectors, silkscreen, and even trace routing. [RetroStack] even replicated obvious mistakes in the original board, like through-holes that were originally used to fixture the boards for stuffing, and some weird unused vias. There are even wrong components, or at least ones that appear on production assemblies that don’t show up in the schematics. And if you’re going to go through with a build, you’ll want to check out the collection of 3D printable parts that are otherwise unobtainium, such as the bracket for rear panel connectors and miscellaneous keyboard parts.

While we love the devotion to accuracy that [RetroStack] shows with this project, we know that not everyone is of a similar bent. Luckily there are emulators and clones you can build instead. And if you’re wondering why anyone would devote so much effort to half-century-old technology — well, when you know, you know.

Thanks to [Stephen Walters] for the tip.

Feature image: Dave Jones, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Raspberry Pi 5 Goes Under The X-ray

Most Hackaday readers will know to some extent what lies inside their computer, even if this is only at a block diagram level listing the peripherals. But what is physically on a modern computer board? [Jeff Geerling] has subjected a Raspberry Pi 5 to a medical imager, and shares with us the many layers of parts and PCB he found there. With a six-layer board and a heap of large BGA chips on it, there’s a lot to look at.

For readers who are used to working with printed circuit boards, it’s likely the techniques involved in the design will not be new. For us, the magic lies in the scale. The sheer number of interconnects on the board is impressive enough, but when it becomes possible to peer into the SoC package it becomes evident that there’s an internal PCB with some of the smallest vias we have ever seen. [Jeff] goes on to show us part by part around the board, on the way reminding us that some of the earliest Pi boards had to be reworked to replace Ethernet jacks without magnetics.

There’s a beauty to these ghostly images which might not be apparent to anyone who hasn’t stared obsessively at a PCB in a CAD package while it takes shape. The images show the work of the PCB designer’s art at a fine scale. We’d almost go as far as to suggest they be viewed as fine art instead of industrial design. Take a look, the video is below the break.

If this art is a bit big for you, then look at ASIC design – which takes things down to the microscopic level of the doped silicon structures within these amazing chips.

Continue reading “Raspberry Pi 5 Goes Under The X-ray”

Designing A PCB GPS Antenna From Scratch

These days, when it comes to GPS devices the antenna is typically part of the package. But what better opportunity for [Pepijn] to learn how to make a GPS antenna from scratch for a badge add-on?

A patch antenna is an antenna of a flat design, which [Pepijn] was going to put directly on a PCB. However, there was added complexity due to GPS being a circularly polarized signal, and that meant doing some research.

Sadly, nowhere did [Pepijn] encounter a straightforward reference design or examples, but in the end success came from going with a truncated corner patch antenna design and using simulation software to figure out exactly what dimensions were needed. (The openEMS free simulation software didn’t bring success, but the non-free Sonnet with a trial license did the trick.) The resulting PCB may not look particularly complex, but every detail matters in such designs.

KiCad handled the PCB CAD design but the prototype came from cutting the PCB on a CNC machine instead of having it fabricated and shipped; a much cheaper and faster option for those with access to the right tools. A bit more testing had the prototype looking good, but the real proof came when it successfully received GPS signals and spewed valid NMEA messages. The design files are on GitHub but as [Pepijn] says, the project was about the journey more than anything else.