One Chip, Sixteen Times The RAM

Have you ever upgraded your computer’s memory sixteen-fold, with a single chip? Tynemouth Software did for a classic Sinclair micro.

For owners of home computers in the early 1980s, one of the most important selling points was how much RAM their device would have. Sometimes though there just wasn’t much choice but to live with what you could afford, so buyers of Sinclair’s budget ZX81 computer had to put up with only 1 kiB of memory. The system bytes took up (by this writer’s memory) around 300 bytes, so user programs were left with only around 700 bytes for their BASIC code. They were aided by Sinclair’s BASIC keywords stored as single bytes, but still that was a limit that imposed coding economy over verbosity.

Sinclair sold a 16 kiB upgrade, the so-called “Rampack”, which located on the ’81’s edge connector and was notorious for being susceptible to the slightest vibration. Meanwhile the mainboard had provision for a 2 kiB chip as a drop-in that was never sold in the UK, and enterprising users could fit larger capacities with soldered combinations of other chips piggybacking the original. And this is what the Tynemouth people have done, they’ve replaced their machine’s dual 1 kiB x 4 chips with a single 62256, and with a bit of pin-bending they’ve managed to do it without the track-cutting that normally accompanies this mod.

Adding chips to a 36-year-old home computer for which there are plenty of available Rampacks might seem a bit of a niche, but in doing so they’ve made a standalone ’81 that’s just a little bit more useable. They’ve also brought a few other components up-to-date, with a composite video mod, switching regulator, and heatsink for the rare ULA chip. If you are of a Certain Generation, it might just bring a tear to your eye to see a ZX81 being given some love.

Did you lose your ZX81 along the way? How about emulating one in mbed?

DIY Ram Pump Obeys the Laws of Physics

Despite the claims of “free energy” on the title of the video below, this is not yet another wacky perpetual motion story. We here at Hackaday fully support the laws of thermodynamics, and we think you should too. But you have to admit that a pump that works without any apparent energy inputs looks kind of shady at first glance.

The apparatus in question is a ram pump, a technology dating back all the way to the 18th century. The version that [Junkyard – Origin of Creativity] built uses commonly available materials like PVC pipes and fittings. About the only things on the BOM that might be hard to scratch up are the brass check valves, which should probably be flap valves rather than the easier to find spring valves. And the only custom part is an adapter to thread the plastic soda bottle that’s used as an air chamber to the PVC, which a 3D printer could take care of if you choose not to hack a bottle cap like [Junkyard] did. The video below shows the impressive lift achieved just by tapping the kinetic energy of the incoming flow.

There, the Second Law of Thermodynamics remains inviolate. But if you still think you can get something for nothing, check out our roundup of perpetual motion and Overunity quackery.

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Circuit Bent CD Player Is Glitch Heaven

Circuit bending is the art of creatively short circuiting low voltage hardware to create interesting and unexpected results. It’s generally applied to things like Furbys, old Casio keyboards, or early consoles to create audio and video glitches for artistic effect. It’s often practiced with a random approach, but by bringing in a little knowledge, you can get astounding results. [r20029] decided to apply her knowledge of CD players and RAM to create this glitched out Sony Discman.

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FPGA Drives Old Laptop Screen

Every year, new models of laptops arrive on the shelves. This means that old laptops usually end up in landfills, which isn’t exactly ideal. If you don’t want to waste an old or obsolete laptop, though, there’s a way to reuse at least the screen out of one. Simply grab an FPGA off the shelf and get to work.

[Martin] shows us all how to perform this feat on our own, and goes into great detail about how all of the electronics involved work. Once everything was disassembled and the FPGA was wired up, it took him a substantial amount of time just to turn the display on. From there it was all downhill: [Martin] can now get any pattern to show up on the screen, within reason. The only limit to his display now seems to be the lack of external RAM. He currently uses the setup to drive an impressive-looking clock.

This is a big step from days passed where it was next to impossible to repurpose a laptop screen. Eventually someone discovered a way to drive these displays, and now there are cheap electronics from China that can usually get a screen like this running. It’s impressive to see it done from scratch, though, and the amount of detail in the videos are a great way to understand how everything is working.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: The Cheapest Logic Analyzer

There are piles of old 128MB and 256MB sticks of RAM sitting around in supply closets and in parts bins. For his Hackaday Prize project, [esot.eric] is turning these obsolete sticks of RAM into something useful – a big, fast logic analyzer. It’s cheap, and simple enough that it can be built on a breadboard.

If using old SDRAM in strange configurations seems familiar, you’re correct. This project is based on [esot.eric]’s earlier AVR logic analyzer project that used a slow AVR to measure 32 channels of logic at 30 megasamples per second. The only way this build was possible was by hacking an old stick of RAM to ‘free run’, automatically logging data to the RAM and reading it out with an AVR later.

This project expands on the earlier projects by using bigger sticks of RAM faster, with the ultimate goal being a 32-bit, 133MS/s logic analyzer that is more of a peripheral than a single, monolithic project. With a Raspberry Pi Zero, a stick of RAM, and a few miscellaneous logic chips, this project can become anything from a logic analyzer to a data logger to an oscilloscope. It’s weird, yes, but the parts to make this very handy tool can be found in any hackerspace or workshop, making it a great trick for the enterprising hardware hacker.

True Random Number Generator for a True Hacker

How can you generate random bits? Some people think it’s not easy, others will tell you that it’s pretty damn hard, and then there are those who wonder if it is possible at all. Of course, it is easy to create a very long pseudorandom sequence in software, but even the best PRNG (Pseudorandom Number Generator) needs a good random seed, as we don’t want to get the same sequence each time we switch on the unit, do we? That’s why we need a TRNG (True Random Number Generator), but that requires special hardware.

Some high-end microprocessors are equipped with an internal hardware TRNG, but it is, unfortunately, not true for most low-cost microcontrollers. There are a couple of tricks hackers use to compensate. They usually start the internal free running counter and fetch its contents when some external event occurs (user presses a button, or so). This works, but not without disadvantages. First, there is the danger of “locking” those two events, as a timer period may be some derivative of input scan routine timing. Second, the free running time (between switching on and the moment the unit requests a random number) is often too short, resulting in the seed being too close to the sequence start, and thus predictable. In some cases even, there is no external input before the unit needs a random seed!

Despite what has already been discussed, microcontrollers do have a source of true randomness inside them. While it might not be good enough for crypto applications, it still generates high enough entropy for amusement games, simulations, art gadgets, etc.

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Fail of the Week: Re-addressing Your RAM DIMM

It doesn’t work and we’re not surprised considering the can of worms that comes with RAM addressing. Right off the bat we assume timing problems due to variance in the trace lengths and EM issues. But you have to hand it to [cyandyedeyecandy] for even trying. The self-proclaimed upgrade seeks to readjust how the DIMM works without changing the edge pinout.

The stick shown here is a 512 MB module that, because of the computer using it (unspecified in the post), is only allowing access to 256 MB. The added chips and free-form circuit make up an AND for the chip-select line, and flip-flop for the bank address.

The post is a gorgeous cry for help. We already weighed in from the peanut gallery at the top (seriously, that’s somewhat baseless guessing) so step up to the computer-engineering plate and let us know what needs to be done to make this most-awesome-of-non-working hacks actually work.

Once you’ve figured this out, here’s another one to scratch at your brain with.