The machine in question is a SIGMA SM 8200i typewriter, which is a rebadged version of the East German Erika S3004. It has an intriguing 26-pin connector on its side which provides access to a 1200 baud serial port. It uses its own character encoding dubbed “gdrascii”, for which there is a Python library that he could port to Rust. The result is a terminal in the old style, from the days when access to a computer was through a teletype rather than a screen. All that’s missing is a punched tape reader at its side!
The job of a dumb terminal was originally to be a continuation of that performed by a paper teletype, to send text from its keyboard and display any it receives on its screen. But as the demands of computer systems extended beyond what mere ASCII could offer, their capabilities were extended with extra characters and graphical extensions whose descendants we see in today’s Unicode character sets and thus even in all those emojis on your mobile phone. Thus a fully-featured terminal has a host of semigraphics characters from which surprisingly non-textual output can be created. It’s something [Michael Rule] has done some work on, with his ILI9341TTY, a USB serial terminal monitor using an Arduino Uno and an ILI9341 LCD module that supports as many of the extended characters as possible.
It’s fair to say that most of us who regularly use a terminal don’t go far beyond the ASCII, as it’s likely that a modern terminal will sit in a window over a desktop GUI. So even if you have little use for a hardware terminal monitor there’s still plenty of interest to be found in those rarely-seen character sets. Our favourite is probably the Symbols for Legacy Computing, an array of semigraphics characters that may be familiar to readers who have used an 8-bit home computer or two. He includes a graph example using these characters coloured with ANSI escape codes, and it’s certainly not what you expect from a terminal.
When [Michael Gardi] finished his scaled down DEC VT100 replica a few months ago, he made it very clear that the project was only meant to look like a vintage terminal on the outside. A peek into the case revealed nothing more exotic than a Raspberry Pi running its default operating system, making the terminal just as well suited to emulating classic games as it was dialing into a remote system. But as any hacker knows, some projects end up developing a life of their own.
It started simply enough. The addition of an RS-232 Serial HAT to the Raspberry Pi meant that the 3D printed VT100 could actually operate as a serial terminal using software such as minicom. Then [Lars Brinkhoff] got involved. He loved the look of the printed VT100, and thought it deserved better than a generic terminal emulator. So he went ahead and started developing a custom terminal simulator for it to run.
The idea here is that an an 8080 emulator actually runs an original VT100 firmware ROM, warts and all. It makes all the beeps and chirps you’d expect from the real hardware, and there’s even some OpenGL trickery used to mimic an old CRT display, complete with scan lines and a soft glow around characters.
Naturally the visual effects consume a fair amount of processing power, so [Lars] cautions that anything lower than the Pi 4 will likely experience slowdowns. Of course, nothing is stopping you from running the simulator on your desktop machine if you’re looking for that classic terminal experience.
Did this gorgeous recreation of the VT100 need to have a true serial interface or a simulator that recreates the unique menu system of the original? Not at all. Even without those additions, it blew us away when [Michael] first sent it in. But are we happy that these guys have put in the time to perfect this already stellar project? We think you already know the answer.
When he went shopping for a vintage serial terminal to go along with his reproduction PDP-8/I computer, [Michael Gardi] came down with a bad case of sticker shock. But rather than be discouraged, he reasoned that if his “retro” computer could stand to have modern components at its heart, so could the terminal he used to talk to it. Leaning on his considerable experience in designing 3D printed replica hardware, he’s built an absolutely gorgeous scaled down DEC VT100 terminal that any classic computer aficionado would be happy to have on their desk.
Now to be clear, [Michael] hasn’t created a true serial terminal. Since the faux PDP-8/I is running on a Raspberry Pi, all he needed to do was come up with something that could connect to its HDMI and USB ports. Put simply, he’s essentially just made a 3D printed enclosure for the Pi’s monitor and keyboard. Oh, but what a gorgeous enclosure it is.
Recreating the VT100 in CAD was made more difficult by the fact that [Michael] couldn’t get his hands on the authentic hardware. But of course, that’s never stopped him before. It turns out DEC provided some very detailed dimensions for the terminal in their original documentation, and while comparing them to photographs of the actual terminal did uncover a few key differences, the overall look is spot on. Once the design was done, he reports it took two rolls of filament and more than 200 hours to print out all the parts for the enclosure.
To help sell the authentic look [Michael] tracked down a 4:3 LCD of the appropriate size, and the use of an off-the-shelf portable mechanical keyboard should make text entry a pleasure. For a little fun, he even came up with a themed arcade controller for the VT100 that can be used with RetroPie. The printed logo plate is an especially nice touch, and we’re more than willing to forgive the fact that he had to print it at a larger scale than the rest of the terminal to get all the detail in with his printer’s 0.4 mm nozzle.
On a technical level, this is perhaps the most straightforward replica we’ve ever seen from [Michael]. But even on a relatively simple project like this, his signature attention to detail and craftsmanship is on full display. It’s always a good day when he’s got a new build to show off with, and we’re eager to see what he comes up with next.
These days, we’re alerted to the rise of Bitcoin and the fall of nations via little buzzes from the smartphones in our pocket. Go back fifty years or so and it was all a bit more romantic, with noisy teletype machines delivering hot tips straight to the newsroom for broadcast to the wider public. [Joshua Coleman] wanted a bit of that old fashioned charm, so set up a news printer at home with his old Apple II.
The Apple II in this case isn’t directly connected to the Internet. Instead, it talks to a modern Macintosh, acting as a serial terminal. The Macintosh then connects to a modern BBS that delivers news headlines over Telnet. The Apple II then routes the headlines as they come in to a beautiful Epson LQ-500 dot matrix printer, replete with vintage tractor feed paper. [Joshua] takes the time to highlight just what hardware is required, as well as how to set up the Apple II to redirect the serial output to the printer so the news automatically prints as it comes in.
It’s a fun and noisy way to stay up to date, and you can be sure that if you hear the printer really start going for it, you might want to switch on the TV for more information on just what’s going wrong at the present minute. Old computers may not have the grunt to really hang with the modern net, but they can make a charming interface for it; this SE/30 does a great job with Spotify, as an example. Video after the break.
So how do you get the latest and greatest in home automation talking to a serial terminal built before the Internet as we know it? With Python, of course. [Daniel] has some code running on a Linux server that’s actually taking to his various smart home gadgets, which then spits out a simple ASCII user interface that his circa 1976 ADM-3A terminal can handle; complete with a floor plan view of the house that shows the temperature in different rooms.
Inspired by the good old days when your computer would boot directly into BASIC, [Le Roux Bodenstein] has created a handheld device he calls “DumbDumb” that can drop you into a MicroPython environment at a moment’s notice. If that doesn’t interest you, think of it this way: it’s a (relatively) VT100 compatible serial terminal with a physical keyboard that can fit in your pocket.
Being essentially just a dumb terminal (hence the name), there’s actually not a lot of hardware on the board. Beyond the 320×240 NewHaven 2.4 inch LCD, there’s just an STM32G071R8 microcontroller and a handful of passives. Plus the 57 tactile buttons that make up the keyboard, of course.
The MicroPython part comes in thanks to the spot on the back of the board that accepts an Adafruit Feather Wing. In this case, it’s the HUZZAH32 with an ESP32 on board, but it could work with other variants as well. With the wide array of Feather boards available, this terminal could actually be used for an array of applications.
So even if fiddling around with MicroPython isn’t your idea of a good time, there’s almost certainly some interesting software you could come up with for a tiny network-attached terminal like this. For example, it might be just what you need to start working on that LoRa pager system.