Squeezing A Minimalist 6502 Retrocomputer Onto A Single Breadboard

Over the years, and especially lately, we’ve seen tons of single-board retrocomputer builds. That’s fine with us — the more, the merrier. But they all start to run together a bit, with little to distinguish between them. Not so this about-as-compact-as-possible 6502 computer that fits on a single breadboard.

Now, when you do the math, it seems like there’s no way that [Anders Nielsen] would have been able to fit even a minimal chipset onto a standard solderless breadboard. The 40-pin 6502 alone takes up nearly two-thirds of the connections available; add in equally large but necessary chips like the 6522 interface adapter, ROM and RAM chips, and some support ICs, and one breadboard isn’t going to cut it. Luckily, some frugal engineers at MOS back in the 70s came up with the 6507, a variant on the 6502 in a 28-pin DIP. The other key to this build is the 6532 RAM-I/O-timer chip or RIOT, which puts a tiny amount of RAM and some IO lines on a single 40-pin DIP. Along with a 28-pin ROM, a 14-pin hex inverter, and a little crystal oscillator, the entire chipset just barely fits on a single breadboard.

But what can this minimalist 6502 actually do? As you can see in the video below, anything a 555 timer can do, and maybe a little bit more. That’s not a dig, of course — [Anders] actually calls out his initial blinkenlight application as a little more than a glorified 555, and actually comes up with a marginally more complex application just to prove the point. The interesting part here is dealing with the constraints imposed by the limited resources available on this machine.

We’re looking forward to whatever comes next for this clever build. It’s hard to see how some of the plans [Anders] has for it will still fit on a single breadboard, though — these things tend to spread out as they go.

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Teensy Spectrum Analyzer Has 170 Channels

While high-fidelity audio has come a long way in the past several decades, a lot of modern stereo equipment is still missing out on some of the old analog meters that were common on amplifiers and receivers of the 60s through the 80s. Things like VU meters don’t tend to be common anymore, but it is possible to build them back in to your sound system with the help of some microcontrollers. [Mark] shows us exactly how to reclaim some of the old-school functionality with this twin audio visualizer display.

Not only does this build include two displays, but the microcontroller is keeping up with 170 channels in real-time in order to drive the display. What’s more impressive is that it’s being done all on a Teensy 4.1. To help manage all of the data and keep the speed as fast as possible it uses external RAM soldered to the board, and a second Teensy audio board is used to do the real time FFT analysis. Most of the channels are sent to the display hosting the spectrum analyzer but two are reserved for left and right stereo VU meters on the second display.

The project from [Mark] is originally based on this software from [DIYLAB] so everything is open-source. While it was originally built for a specific piece of hardware, [Mark] has it set up with a line in and line out plus a microphone input so it can be used for virtually any audio hardware now. For another take on the classic VU meter, take a look at this design based on an Arudino instead.

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Two circuit boards connected with wires

Glow In The Dark Computer Memory Illuminates The Fundamentals

Computer memory has taken on many forms over the years, from mercury-based delay-line tubes to handwoven magnetic core. These days, volatile storage using semiconductors has become ubiquitous with computing, but what if there was a better way? [Michael Kohn] has been working on a new standard for computer memory that uses glow in the dark stickers.

Clearly we jest, however we’re still mighty impressed by the demonstration. Eight delightful star-shaped phosphorescent stickers represent eight bits of memory, totaling one byte. The glow in the dark material is stuck to the inside of short cylinders, each of which contains a white LED and a phototransistor. The memory array is wired up to an iceFUN FPGA board, which is then connected via level shifters to a Western Design Center MENSCH single board computer.

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A GPU PCB mounted on top of a preheater, with a hot air gun blowing on top of one of the DDR chips, held with tweezers, about to be removed from the board. Most of the other chips are already gone from the board, with only a few left.

GPU RAM Upgrades Are Closer Than You Think

We’re all used to swapping RAM in our desktops and laptops. What about a GPU, though? [dosdude1] teaches us that soldered-on RAM is merely a frontier to be conquered. Of course, there’s gotta be a good reason to undertake such an effort – in his case, he couldn’t find the specific type of Nvidia GT640 that could be flashed with an Apple BIOS to have his Xserve machine output the Apple boot screen properly. All he could find were 1GB versions, and the Apple BIOS could only be flashed onto a 2GB version. Getting 2GB worth of DDR chips on Aliexpress was way too tempting!

The video goes through the entire replacement process, to the point where you could repeat it yourself — as long as you have access to a preheater, which is a must for reworking relatively large PCBs, as well as a set of regular tools for replacing BGA chips. In the end, the card booted up, and, flashed with a new BIOS, successfully displayed the Apple bootup logo that would normally be missing without the special Apple VBIOS sauce. If you ever want to try such a repair, now you have one less excuse — and, with the GT640 being a relatively old card, you don’t even risk all that much!

This is not the first soldered-in RAM replacement journey we’ve covered recently — here’s our write-up about [Greg Davill] upgrading soldered-in RAM on his Dell XPS! You can upgrade CPUs this way, too. While it’s standard procedure in sufficiently advanced laptop repair shops, even hobbyists can manage it with proper equipment and a good amount of luck, as this EEE PC CPU upgrade illustrates. BGA work and Apple computers getting a second life go hand in hand — just two years ago, we covered this BGA-drilling hack to bypass a dead GPU in a Macbook, and before that, a Macbook water damage revival story.

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You Can’t Upgrade Soldered-On Laptop RAM? Think Again

Upgrading the memory in a computer is usually a straightforward case of swapping out a few DIMMs or SODIMMs, with the most complex task being to identify the correct type of memory from the many available. But sometimes a laptop manufacturer can be particularly annoying, and restrict upgradability by soldering the RAM chips directly to the board. Upgrading memory should then be impossible, but this reckons without the skills of [Greg Davill], who worked through the process on his Dell XPS13.

The write-up is a fascinating primer on how DRAM identification works, which for removable DIMMs is handled by an onboard FLASH chip containing the details of the chips on board. A soldered-on laptop has none of these, so instead it employs a series of resistors whose combination tells the BIOS what memory to expect. Some research revealed their configuration, at which point the correct chips were sourced. Surprisingly it’s not as easy as one might expect to buy small quantities of some RAM chips, but he was eventually able to find some via AliExpress. An aside is how he checked the chips he received for fakes, including the useful tip of hiring a dentist to take an x-ray.

The final step is the non-trivial task of reballing and reworking the new BGAs onto the board, before testing the laptop and finding the process to be a success. We’ll leave you with his final words though: “But next time I think I’ll just buy the 16GB variant upfront.“.

We’ve seen quite a lot of [Greg]’s work here at Hackaday, one of his most recent was this amazing LED D20.

Mastering Memory For Microcontrollers: Elecia White To Deliver Remoticon Keynote

I’m excited to share the news that Elecia White will deliver a keynote talk at the Hackaday Remoticon in just a few short weeks. Get your free ticket now!

Elecia is well-known throughout the embedded engineering world. She literally wrote the book on it — or at least a book on it, one I have had in my bedside table for reference for years: O’Reilly’s Making Embedded Systems: Design Patterns for Great Software. She hosts the weekly Embedded podcast which has published 390 episodes thus far. And of course Elecia is a principal embedded software engineer at Logical Elegance, Inc working on large autonomous off-road vehicles and deep sea science platforms.

Map of a mythical land used as a metaphor for microcontroller memory
Map metaphor used to help visualize microcontroller memory. [Source: embedded.fm]
For her keynote, Elecia plans to unwrap the secrets often overlooked in the memory map file generated when compiling a program for a microcontroller. Anyone who has written code for these mighty little chips has seen the .map files, but how many of us have dared to really dive in?

Elecia will use a nifty metaphor for turning the wall of text and numbers into a true map of the code. That metaphor makes the topic approachable for everyone with at least a rudimentary knowledge of how embedded systems work, and even the grizzliest veteran will walk away with tips that help when optimizing for RAM usage and/or code space, updating firmware (with or without a bootloader), and debugging difficult crash bugs.

This autumn is a busy time for Elecia. She’s been hard at work turning her book into a ten-part massive open online course (MOOC). Over the years she’s been a strong supporter of Hackaday, more than once as a judge for the Hackaday prize (here’s her tell-all following the final round judging of the 2014 Prize). She even took Hackaday on a tour of Xerox Parc.

Final Talk Announcements This Week and Next!

The Call for Proposals closed a few days ago. So far we’ve made two announcements about the accepted talks and we’ll make two more, this Thursday and next. But there’s no reason to wait. With Elecia White, Jeremy Fielding, and Keith Thorne presenting keynotes, and some superb social activities soon to be unveiled, this is an event not to be missed!

Remoticon is free to all, just head over and grab a ticket! If you want something tangible to remember the weekend by you can grab one of the $25 tickets that scores you a shirt, but either option gets you all the info you need to be at every virtual minute of the conference.

Cloned Memory Module Fixes Broken Scopemeter

Finding broken test gear and fixing it up to work again is a time-honored tradition among hackers. If you’re lucky, that eBay buy will end up being DOA because of a popped fuse or a few bad capacitors, and a little work with snips and a soldering iron will earn you a nice piece of test gear and bragging rights to boot.

Some repairs, though, are in a class by themselves, like this memory module transplant for a digital scopemeter. The story began some time ago when [FeedbackLoop] picked up a small lot of broken Fluke 199C scopemeters from eBay. They were listed as “parts only”, which is never a good sign, and indeed the meters were in various states of disassembly and incompleteness.

The subject of the video below was missing several important bits, like a battery and a power connector, but most critically, its memory module. Luckily, the other meter had a good module, making reverse engineering possible. That effort started with liberating the two RAM chips and two flash chips, all of which were in BGA packages, from the PCB. From there each chip went into a memory programmer to read its image, which was then written to new chips. The chip-free board was duplicated — a non-trivial task for a six-layer PCB — and new ones ordered. After soldering on the programmed chips and a few passives, the module was plugged in, making the meter as good as new.

While we love them all, it’s clear that there are many camps of test gear collectors. You’ve got your Fluke fans, your H-P aficionados, the deep-pocketed Keithley crowd — but everyone loves Tektronix.

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