Experiences In Developing An Electronics Kit

This year’s Hackaday Prize included a category for the Best Product, and there is perhaps no project that has inspired more people to throw money at their computer screens than [Oscar Vermeulen]’s PiDP-8/I. It’s a replica of the PDP-8/I from 1968. Instead of discrete electronics driving the blinkenlights and switches on the front of this computer, [Oscar]’s version uses a Raspberry Pi and the incredible SIMH¬†emulator for dozens of old mainframes and minicomputers. It is, for all intents and purposes, a miniaturized version of a 50 year old computer that will fit on your desk and is powered by a phone charger.

Check out the video of [Oscar]’s talk below then join us after the break for more discussion of his work.

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VCF East X: Minicomputing With The Raspberry Pi

The Vintage Computer Festival in Wall, New Jersey doesn’t just attract locals; [Oscar] came all the way from Switzerland to show off his PiDP-8/I. It’s a miniature minicomputer, emulated in SimH, with blinkenlights and toggle switches mounted to a Raspberry Pi Hat.

Although the PiDP-8 is emulating a machine with thousands of discrete transistors, the design is exceptionally simple. On the board is 92 LEDs, a bunch of diodes, 26 toggle switches, a driver chip, and that’s about it. All the multiplexing for the switches and LEDs is taken care of in software. On the Raspberry Pi side, [Oscar] is able to run FOCAL, OS/8, and, like a normal-sized PDP-8, can toggle in programs manually.

Instead of having connecting to the ribbon cables coming out of RK01 disk drives and DECtapes, [Oscar] is emulating those too. All the files that would reside on old Digital storage mediums are now stuffed into USB thumb drives. A USB hub is plugged into the Pi, and when one of these USB disk packs is plugged into the hub, loading an operating system or a program is just a matter of flicking a few toggle switches.

[Oscar] has been working hard to turn the PiDP-8 into a kit, and the word around the booths is that this will happen sometime this summer. The expected price for this kit is very interesting: somewhere between $100 and $150 USD. For that price, we’d expect someone to rig up an Arduino-based paper tape reader very quickly, perhaps this afternoon.

More pics and a video of the PiDP-8/I below.
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