IBM PalmTop Running Modern (Modified) Linux

The handheld computing market might seem dominated by smartphones today, but before their mass adoption there were other offerings for those who needed some computing power on-the-go. If a 90s laptop was too bulky, there was always the IBM PalmTop which packed punch for its size-to-weight ratio, and for the era it was created in. [Mingcong Bai] still has one of these antiques and decided to see if it was still usable by loading a customized Linux distribution on it.

The PalmTop sported modest hardware even for its time with an Intel 486SL running at 33 MHz with 20 MiB of RAM. This one also makes use of a 1 GB CompactFlash card for storage and while [Mingcong Bai] notes that it is possible to run Windows 95 on it, it’s not a particularly great user experience. A Linux distribution customized for antique hardware, AOSC/Retro, helps solve some of these usability issues. With this it’s possible to boot into a command line and even do some limited text-based web browsing as long as the Ethernet adapter is included.

While the computer is running at its maximum capacity just to boot and perform basic system functions, it’s admirable that an antique computer such as this still works, especially given its small size and limited hardware functionality. If you’re curious about more PalmTop-style computers, take a look at the first one ever produced: the HP-200LX.

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A composite of a disassembled and reassembled Model F keyboard

Model F Keyboard Restoration Goes The Extra Mile

The IBM Model F keyboard should need no introduction. Famed for its buckling spring key mechanisms, the Model F is lusted over for its satisfying typing experience and Armageddon-proof build quality. First introduced in 1981, many of these keyboards will now naturally require basic maintenance. However, [Epictronics] recently went a step further and restored a Model F to like-new condition.

Missing keycaps were the least of his worries, as both new and old replacements are relatively easy to come by. [Epictronics] was more concerned about the forty-year-old foam sandwiched tight inside the keyboard, most likely having long since degraded. Apart from being plain gross, the decaying foam has the potential to foul the buckling spring switches. After taking apart the body and removing the ‘disgusting’ foam pad, a replacement was forged from neoprene and a handy-dandy hole punch.

Disassembly of the keyboard case required the gentle touch of a mallet, and reassembly needed similarly inappropriate tools. As demonstrated in this vintage clip from IBM, keyboard assembly was (and still is) performed automatically by robots, driven by an IBM Series/1 minicomputer. These robots were equally impressive for their precision and strength. Without access to IBM’s aptly named ‘closing tool’ and various other robotic helpers, [Epictronics] had to settle for pool noodles and a comically large clamp during reassembly, mixed with sheer determination.

Other neat tricks in the video include applying heat to reform the coiled keyboard cable, and using car polish to clean the case plastics. The latter has the potential to make things worse, so a delicate hand is needed to maintain the textured plastic.

We recently covered another Model F restoration, and it’s exciting to see so many dedicated hackers keeping these keyboards clickety-clacking well into the 21st century.

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A retro, cylindrical monitor next to what appears to be a cassette tape with a USB cable plugged into it.

A Raspberry Pi-Packing Cassette Powers This ZX Spectrum Emulator

Sometimes we are vaguely aware of the inexorable march of technological progress. Other times it thrums steadily under the surface while we go about our lives. And sometimes, just sometimes, it smacks us right in the face.

Few projects can demonstrate the advancement and miniaturization of computing technology like putting an entire functional computer inside a storage medium that once only held mere kilobytes of data. And that’s exactly what [JamHamster] has done by stuffing a Raspberry Pi Zero W inside a cassette tape to run his ZX Spectrum emulator. It’s an impressive and clean build, and it pairs so well with a downright gorgeous, retro inspired, CRT-lookalike LCD monitor, which is another creation of his.

A Raspberry Pi Zero with several areas lightly trimmed away inside an open cassette tape.

The Pi did have to undergo a bit of light surgery; though he managed to lose only four GPIO pins in the operation. He also put a ton of love into a literally-highly-polished aluminum heatsink, which is entirely hidden within the case but does keep the computer cool in its claustrophobic quarters. Of course, [JamHamster] isn’t new to these cassette builds. You may recognize his work from the TZXDuino, a virtual tape loader for the ZX Spectrum.

Honestly, sometimes we just have to sit back and be amazed at the kind of computer power that can be packed into such tiny packages. The Pi Zero isn’t the smallest or the most powerful of options, but it is far more capable than the computer it is emulating here. So whether they’re hiding inside outdated storage formats or powering a stock-looking sleeper PSP, we just can’t help but be impressed.

You Got Something On Your Processor Bus: The Joys Of Hacking ISA And PCI

Although the ability to expand a home computer with more RAM, storage and other features has been around for as long as home computers exist, it wasn’t until the IBM PC that the concept of a fully open and modular computer system became mainstream. Instead of being limited to a system configuration provided by the manufacturer and a few add-ons that really didn’t integrate well, the concept of expansion cards opened up whole industries as well as a big hobbyist market.

The first IBM PC had five 8-bit expansion slots that were connected directly to the 8088 CPU. With the IBM PC/AT these expansion slots became 16-bit courtesy of the 80286 CPU it was built around. These slots  could be used for anything from graphics cards to networking, expanded memory or custom I/O. Though there was no distinct original name for this card edge interface, around the PC/AT era it got referred to as PC bus, as well as AT bus. The name Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) bus is a retronym created by PC clone makers.

With such openness came the ability to relatively easy and cheaply make your own cards for the ISA bus, and the subsequent and equally open PCI bus. To this day this openness allows for a vibrant ecosystem, whether one wishes to build a custom ISA or PCI soundcard, or add USB support to a 1981 IBM PC system.

But what does it take to get started with ISA or PCI expansion cards today? Continue reading “You Got Something On Your Processor Bus: The Joys Of Hacking ISA And PCI”

Hackaday Podcast 054: Xenomorph Cookies, 101 Uses For Hot Glue, Rolling Robots, And A Clippy Computer

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys reflect on great hacks of the past few days. Strain relief is something every electronics geek encounters and there’s a spiffy way to make your hot-glue look like a factory connector. There’s something in the air and it seems to be recreating early computers. Did you know astronauts are baking cookies they’re forbidden to eat? And did you hear about the 3D printer that’s being fed oil from the deep fryer?

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (60 MB or so.)

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Supercon Badge Hardware Hacking: Here’s What To Bring

Hackaday Superconference is just a week away (precious few tickets remain), a celebration of all things Hackaday, which naturally includes creative projects making the most of their hardware. Every attendee gets a platform for hacking in the form of the conference badge.

To make the most of your badge hacking fun, plan ahead so you will have the extra components and the tools you need. At the most basic, bring along a serial to USB cable and a PIC programmer. These are common and if you don’t own them, ask around and you will likely be able to borrow them. Now is also the time to put in a parts order for any components you want to use but don’t have on hand!

The badge is hackable without any extras, but it’s designed for adding hardware and hacking the firmware. We’re excited to see what you can do with it. We gave an overview of this retro themed pocket computer a few days ago, today we’re inviting you to exploit its potential for your hardware hacks.

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Sega Teradrive Computer Isozone

Putting The Sega Teradrive Into Overdrive

During the 80s and 90s it seemed like Japan got all the good stuff when it came to videogames. In the US there were consoles called the NES, the TurboGrafx-16, and the Genesis. While in Japan they had cooler names like: the Famicom, the PC Engine, and the Mega Drive. The latter was incorporated into a plethora of different form factors, including the little known IBM PC/Mega Drive combo known as the Sega Teradrive. Finding a rare Japanese 1990s PC stateside is a feat in and of itself, and thanks to an electronics hobbyist named [Ronnie] there is at least one Teradrive out there still running strong thanks to an upgraded CPU mod.

Sega Teradrive Motherboard CPU

In theory, the Sega Teradrive was a dream-machine; combining the utility of an IBM PC with the fun of a Sega Mega Drive. The dual functionality extended to the video modes where both VGA and composite video were supported. However, the reality was that the final design was less than desirable. The Teradrive shipped in 1991 with an Intel 80286, 16-bit processor which was already two processor generations behind at the time. The meager 10Mhz clock speed was on the lower end of the performance spectrum which meant that many DOS titles ran poorly…or not at all.

Not satisfied with those specs, [Ronnie] modded his Teradrive with an adapter board containing an Intel 80486 processor clocked at 66Mhz. The upgrade, accompanied with a complete re-cap of the motherboard, brings the IBM PC to 486DX status. This opened up a few new possibilities including the Thundercats Demo in the video below:

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