Upgrading The RAM In A 25 Year Old Oscilloscope

From reading his extensive write-ups on the subject, there’s one thing we know for sure: [Tom Verbeure] loves his Tektronix TDS 420A oscilloscope. While it might be older than some of the people reading this, it’s still an impressive piece of hardware with more than enough bells and whistles to keep the average hacker occupied. Especially if you’re willing to perform some hardware modifications.

Note the battery to retain calibration data.

[Tom] already knew how to tickle the scope into unlocking software features, a process not unlike what we’ve seen done on more modern scopes. But there’s only so far you can get by toggling software flags.

Some of the more advanced features that are turned off in the firmware actually need additional hardware to function. Simply bumping the sample points to 120,000 in software wasn’t enough, the scope actually needs the memory to hold them in.

Now logically, if there’s a software option to increase the number of samples, there must be a hardware upgrade that goes along with it. Sure enough, [Tom] found there were 6 open spots next to the scope’s existing M5M51008 static RAM ICs.

As luck would have it the chips are still available, albeit from a different manufacturer and a bit faster than the original parts. Digikey wouldn’t sell fewer than 100 of them, but UTSource was happy to sell him 10. In this case, the parts were cheaper than the shipping cost. Installation was about as straightforward as it gets, though [Tom] does note that he had to keep the board powered up during the operation or else the scope would have lost its calibration data.

Squeezing more features out of modern scopes like the Rigol DS2072A just takes a USB cable and some software. Sometimes it’s only a matter of tapping in a code. But we certainly appreciate [Tom] putting in a little extra effort to get the most out of this classic piece of hardware.

Double The RAM Of A Dreamcast Console For A Cool 32 MB

The Sega Dreamcast is the forgotten orphan of the console wars, an extremely capable machine never able to escape the shadow of its PlayStation rivals and because it marked the end of Sega’s console line, never redeemed in reputation by a more popular successor. It retains a significant following a couple of decades after its heyday though, and still sees hardware hacks such as [Tsowell]’s doubling of its available RAM to 32 MB.

The console shipped with 16 MB of memory in two banks, but while the SH4 processor can address twice that figure the designers at Sega never brought the required address line out from under the BGA. So it should be impossible to give it a memory expansion, but when hardware hackers are at work nothing should be ruled out. The hack involves manipulation of the bank switching addressing, and took several careful readings for us to fully understand. The new RAM chips have two address lines tied together and wired to another, a job for some fine but ultimately not impossible soldering. To take advantage of the extra RAM there are a set of patched BIOS images.

So, if you either have a spare Dreamcast you care little enough about to risk, or you consider your console hacking skills to be so advanced that it will be a piece of cake, you can now double the platform’s RAM. Extra points if you also make it portable.

Thanks [John Little] for the tip.

Header: Evan-Amos / CC BY-SA 3.0

Raspberry Pi 4 Gets Its 8 Gigs

What began as a rumor becomes reality. This morning [Eben Upton] announced that the newest flavor of the Raspberry Pi 4 comes with 8 gigabytes of RAM and a sticker price of $75, roughly twice that of the base model which is now pegged at 2 GB of ram.

Originally released on June 23rd of last year, the Pi 4 came with three different options for 1, 2, or 4 GB of memory. But just a few days later, Hackaday reported on an Easter egg in the user guide that referenced an 8 GB option.

So why didn’t this version get released in 2019? That’s the crazy thing about this story. In the announcement [Eben] mentions that the Pi’s design is capable of addressing up to 16 GB of LPDDR4 SDRAM (we say bring it, but that’s a discussion for a different day). It took a year to get here because there wasn’t a source available for this 8 gig version until Micron began manufacturing the chip earlier this year.

Also addressed in this announcement is a looming changeover that was bound to happen eventually: the move from 32-bit to 64-bit operating systems on the Pi. While a 32-bit image can access all of this larger memory across multiple process, it can’t devote more than 3 GB to a single Linux process because of address space limitations. Simply put, you need more bits to access the higher addresses. Moving to a 64-bit system accomplishes that, something you can do by running unofficial builds on the Pi, but the official build didn’t support it until today’s announcement of a 64-bit beta image.

This is inevitable, not purely because of this memory limitation, but because we’ve seen examples where the juggernaut of Linux development has its own eye on a 64-bit future. Official images for Raspberry Pi have always been 32-bits, and remain so for now, but the wind is beginning to blow for this and future hardware offerings that are bumping up against limitations. Along with the news of this impending architecture switch over, the official operating system has also gotten a name change: Raspbian will henceforth be known as Raspberry Pi OS.

When [Jenny List] first reported on the 8 GB rumors last June, she speculated that today’s announcement would happen on February 29th of this year. Why the leap day? It happened to be the 8th birthday of Raspberry Pi and synced up nicely with an 8 GB surprise. Today’s announcement drops the morsel of trivia that the foundation was indeed planning on that date, but missed it by three months due to supply chain disruption associated with the coronavirus pandemic that prevented them from sourcing all the parts necessary for the new power supply design included in this revision.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this move. Do you need 8 GB on your Pi, and does the 3 GB limitation of a 32-bit kernel matter to you? Let us know in the comments below.

Maxing Out Browser Tabs With 2TB Of Memory

Tabbed browsing was a gamechanger, allowing users to effectively browse multiple websites at once without losing context. It proved a better solution than using multiple windows, and was an efficiency boon celebrated by all. Many of us are tab fiends, opening great numbers at a time as a habitual part of our workflow. [Linus] decided to find out just how many he could open on a system armed with a full 2TB of RAM.

As may be obvious, setting up a system with 2TB of RAM is no mean feat. Special server-grade RAM modules were sourced, packing 128GB of RAM each, set up for ECC operation. Packing out 16 slots, there’s a performance penalty to addressing so much RAM with a single CPU, but for memory-intensive work, it’s worthwhile. The CPU in question is an AMD 64-core processor, providing plenty of grunt for the task at hand.

In testing, the machine began to slow down long before the RAM was full. Beyond 5000 tabs, things began to crawl. At 6000 tabs, it was simply impractical to open more, with the machine taking a full 26 seconds to respond to a single click. Memory usage at this point was just 200GB, suggesting that software limitations were getting in the way of opening yet more tabs.

While it’s not a useful measure of anything important, it’s fun to explore the limits nonetheless. We’ve seen their projects before, such as this original Xbox casemod. Video after the break.

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Raspberry Pi 4 Offers Up 2 GB For The Price Of One

The Raspberry Pi 4 represents a significant performance increase over previous generations, unlocking potential applications that were simply beyond the abilities of these diminutive Single Board Computers (SBCs) in the past. Some would even argue that the Pi 4, with a quad-core Cortex-A72 running at 1.5 GHz, now holds its own as a lightweight ARM desktop computer for those interested in finally breaking free from x86.

In light of the considerable upgrade in processing power, the choice to outfit the base model Pi 4 with just 1 GB of RAM always seemed a bit odd. So it’s little surprise that the Raspberry Pi Foundation has decided to shift things around and lower the price of the 2 GB model to the traditional $35. In a blog post this morning, Eben Upton said that with RAM prices falling over the last year, the company thought it was time they passed the savings onto the customer.

This change comes just two days before the Pi’s 8th birthday. There has been speculation that the Pi 4 is capable of operating with 8 GB of RAM and unveiling that news to coincide with this anniversary would have been a clever marketing move. Alas, it looks like we’ll have to continue to wait.

For those who are invested in the 1 GB model, have no fear. Rather than delete the product from the lineup entirely, the company will be keeping it available for anyone who needs it. So if you’ve got a commercial or industrial application that might not take kindly to the hardware getting switched out, you’ll still have a source of spares. That said, the pricing for the 1 GB model won’t be changing, so there’s no cost advantage to using it in new designs.

Combined with news that compatibility issues the Pi 4 had with generic USB-C power supplies was fixed with an under the radar board revision, it seems there’s never been a better time to upgrade to the latest and greatest version of everyone’s favorite Linux board. Happy Birthday, Raspberry Pi.

A Turing-Complete CPU From RAM

Building a general-purpose computer means that you’ll have to take a lot of use cases into consideration, and while the end product might be useful for a lot of situations, it will inherently contain a lot of inefficiencies. On the other hand, if you want your computer to do one thing and do it very well, you can optimize to extremes and still get results. This computer, built from RAM, is just such an example.

The single task in this case was to build a computer that can compute the Fibonacci sequence.  Since it only does one thing, another part of the computer that can be simplified (besides the parts list) is the instruction set. In this case, the computer uses a single instruction: byte-byte-jump. Essentially all this computer does is copy one byte to another, and then perform an unconditional jump. Doing this single task properly is enough to build every other operation from, so this was chosen for simplicity even though the science behind why this works is a little less intuitive.

Of course, a single instruction set requires a lot of clock cycles to work (around 200 for a single operation). The hardware used in this build is also interesting and although it uses a Raspberry Pi to handle some of the minutiae, it’s still mostly done entirely in RAM chips, only cost around $15, and is a fascinating illustration of some of the more interesting fundamentals of computer science. If you’re interested, you can build similar computers out of 74-series chips as well.

Spintronic RAM Gets A Little Closer To SRAM

Sometimes it seems as though everything old is new again. The earliest computers used magnetic memory such as magnetic core. As practical as that was compared to making for example each bit of memory be a vacuum tube or relay flip flop, newer technology such as SRAM and DRAM displaced core and similar technologies. However, some of the newest technologies once again use magnetic fields. FRAM or ferroelectric RAM and magnetoresistive or MRAM both use magnetic fields to store data. Now Japanese researchers think they are on track to make MRAM more competitive with traditional RAM chips.

The Tokyo Institute of Technology researchers use new material combinations to make chips that store data based on the spin of electrons — the underlying reason for the way magnets behave. Their recent paper discusses USMR or Unidirectional spin Hall magnetoresistance and using this effect could greatly simplify the construction of MRAM cells.

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