Modular Z80 Really Racks Up The Retrocomputer Cred

Very few retrocomputing projects are anything other than a labor of love. There’s really no practical reason to build a computer that is woefully inadequate for just about any task compared to even an entry-level PC today. But the lack of a practical reason to do something rarely stops a hacker, as with this nifty modular Z80-based rack computer.

Actually, there’s at least one area where retrocomputers excel compared to their modern multi-core gigahertz counterparts — and that’s nostalgia. That’s what [Ricardo Kaltchuk] was going for with his build, which started by finding a Z80 and an Intel 8251 USART in his parts bin. Those formed the core of what would become the “Proton” computer, a modular beauty built around 7 cm by 10 cm PCBs that plug into a backplane inside a rack made from aluminum angle. Aside from the power supply and the Z80 CPU, other modules include a RAM card with a zero insertion force socket for an EPROM, a mass-storage module sporting a 128 MB Compact Flash card, plus modules for standard serial and I2C comms.

The fit and finish are excellent, and the performance is impressive. The Proton runs CP/M and boasts a ton of old applications that will bring back some memories, like SuperCalc and dBase. We’d venture a bet that WordStar is in there someplace, or easily could be. The video below is a little rough, but shows everything off really well.

In some ways, the Proton reminds us of the RC2014, but its fit and finish are what bring this build home. That’s not to take away from the work [Ricardo] obviously put into documentation, though. The 62-page manual has every detail of every module, plus instructions for building one of your own.

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Mechanisms: Gears

Even before the Industrial Revolution, gears of one kind or another have been put to work both for and against us. From ancient water wheels and windmills that ground grain and pounded flax, to the drive trains that power machines of war from siege engines to main battle tanks, gears have been essential parts of almost every mechanical device ever built. The next installment of our series on Mechanisms will take a brief look at gears and their applications.

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Sound Isolated Server Rack

Servers are most often found in climate controlled data centers. This means they aren’t exactly built for creature comforts like quiet operation. Quite the contrary — many server chassis include fans which absolutely scream when the machine is under load. [Whiskykilo] needed to set up a 12 U rack in his basement for working from home. He knew the sound would get on anyone’s nerves, but especially on those of his wife.

To solve this problem, he built a sound isolated rack. The build started with a standard 12 U metal rack frame. This is wrapped in 1/2″ MDF coated with automotive sound deadening material. An outer frame built of 1×4 lumber and another layer of 1/2″ MDF. Isolating the inner and outer boxes made the biggest contribution to quieting down the noisy servers.

Computers need to breathe, so the front and back doors of the rack enclosure include banks of intake and exhaust fans to keep air flowing through the servers. Two AC Infinity controllers keep the fans operating and monitor temperature. These machines do generate some heat – so 64 °F (18C) intake and 81 °F (27C) exhaust is not unheard of. The servers don’t seem to mind running at these temperatures. A Raspberry Pi 3 keeps an eye on UPS operation and displays the data on a 7″ HDMI LCD.

Interested in running a server at home? You don’t have to go to the lumberyard – check out this server made with Ikea components, or this server built from 96 MacBook Pros.

Linear Clock Slows The Fugit Of The Tempus

We feature a lot of clocks here on Hackaday, and lately most of them seem to be Nixie clocks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but every once in a while it’s nice to see something different. And this electromechanical rack and pinion clock is certainly different.

[JON-A-TRON] calls his clock a “perpetual clock,” perhaps in a nod to perpetual calendars. But in our opinion, all clocks are perpetual, so we’ll stick with “linear clock.” Whatever you call it, it’s pretty neat. The hour and minute indicators are laser cut and engraved plywood, each riding on a rack and pinion. Two steppers advance each rack incrementally, so the resolution of the clock is five minutes. [JON-A-TRON] hints that this was a design decision, in part to slow the perceived pace of time, an idea we can get behind. But as a practical matter, it greatly simplified the gear train; it would have taken a horologist like [Chris] at ClickSpring to figure out how to gear this with only one prime mover.

In the end, we really like the look of this clock, and the selection of materials adds to the aesthetic. And if you’re going to do a Nixie clock build, do us a favor and at least make it levitate.

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MIDI Guitar Pedals

Ever since Jimi Hendrix brought guitar distortion to the forefront of rock and roll, pedals to control the distortion have been a standard piece of equipment for almost every guitarist. Now, there are individual analog pedals for each effect or even digital pedals that have banks of effects programmed in. Distortion is just one of many effects, and if you’ve built your own set of pedals for each of these, you might end up with something like [Brian]: a modular guitar pedal rack.

ae0fmjxTaking inspiration from modular synthesizers, [Brian] built a rack out of wood to house the pedal modules. The rack uses 16U rack rails as a standard, with 3U Eurorack brackets. It looks like there’s space for 16 custom-built effects pedals to fit into the rack, and [Brian] can switch them out at will with a foot switch. Everything is tied together with MIDI and is programmed in Helix. The end result looks very polished, and helped [Brian] eliminate his rat’s nest of cables that was lying around before he built his effects rack.

MIDI is an extremely useful protocol for musicians and, despite being around since the ’80s, doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. If you want to get into it yourself, there are all kinds of ways that you can explore the studio space, even if you play an instrument that doesn’t typically use MIDI.

Weather-aware Shoe Rack Helps You Get Ready For The Day

If you’re anything like us, your complete shoe collection consists of a pair of work boots and a pair of ratty sneakers that need to wait until the next household haz-mat day to be retired. But some people have a thing for shoes, and knowing which pair is suitable for the weather on any given day is such a bother. And that’s the rationale behind this Raspberry Pi-driven weather-enabled shoe rack.

The rack itself is [zealen]’s first woodworking project, and for a serious shoeaholic it’s probably too small by an order of magnitude. But for proof of principle it does just fine. The rack holds six pairs, each with an LED to light it up. A PIR sensor on the top triggers the Raspberry Pi to light up a particular pair based on the weather, which we assume is scraped off the web somehow. [zealen] admits that the fit and finish leave a bit to be desired, but for a first Rasp Pi project, it’s pretty accomplished. There’s plenty of room for improvement, of course – RFID tags in the shoes to allow them to be placed anywhere in the rack springs to mind.

[via r/raspberry_pi]

Raspberry Pi Cluster Build Shows How And What

Raspberry Pi clusters are a dime a dozen these days. Well, maybe more like £250 for a five-Pi cluster. Anyway, this project is a bit different. It’s exquisitely documented.

[Nick Smith] built a 5-node Pi 3 cluster from scratch, laser-cutting his own acrylic case and tearing down a small network switch to include in the design. It is, he happily admits, a solution looking for a problem. [Smith] did an excellent job of documenting how he designed the case in CAD, prototyped it in wood, and how he put the final cluster together with eye-catching clear acrylic.

Of interest is that he even built his own clips to hold the sides of the case together and offers all of the files for anyone who wants to build their own. Head over to his page for the complete bill of materials (we didn’t know Pis were something you could order in 5-packs). And please, next time you work on a project follow [Nick’s] example of how to document it well, and how to show what did (and didn’t) work.

If 5 nodes just doesn’t do it for you, we suggest this 120-node screen-equipped monster, and another clear-acrylic masterpiece housing 40 Pis. This stuff really isn’t only for fun and games. Although it wasn’t Pi-based, here’s a talk at Hackaday Belgrade about an ARM-based SBC cluster built to crunch numbers for university researchers.