Clone Console Cribs Ben Heck’s Classic SNES Caché

“I don’t get mad when people rip me off. I actually think its kinda cool, because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” — Ben Heckendorn

For some “hacking things together” can mean heavily borrowing from other’s work in order to make a new, derivative work. Though longtime hardware hacker, Ben Heckendorn, didn’t expect one of his early SNES handheld projects to become the inspiration for a Famicom-style clone console. There have been a number of clone consoles available online for years, and all have been made to varying levels of build quality. The subject clone console in question is called the Easegmer 12-bit Retro Console, so [Ben] decided to record his teardown of the handheld borrowing from his original design. (Video, embedded below.)

The Easegmer handheld has a “surprising” list of features according to its packaging including: sports games, logic games, memoyr games, USB charger management, double power supply option, and dirunal double backlight option. All big (and slightly misspelled) promises though the most egregious claim has to be that, “No violent games, your child’s body and mind get full exercise.”. The statement may have a modicum of truth to it, except for the fact that game 84 of 220 is literally named “Violent”. Dunking aside, the handheld does feature a standard size rechargeable battery in addition to the option of powering the device with three AAA batteries. There’s even a “fun size” screwdriver and a few replacement screws included which is more than you can say for most modern electronics.

It has been almost twenty years after [Ben] originally published his SNES portable project on his website. So as a long awaited follow-up, [Ben] plans to make a “meta-portable”. This meta portable will start with the Adobe Illustrator files he kept from that SNES portable in 2001 and incorporate pieces of the Easegmer clone console. Thus spawning a new clone of the clone of his clone…or whatever that project ends up being its sure to be worth repeating.

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Exploring Turn Of The Century RAF Avionics

The second hand market is a wonderful thing; you never know what you might find selling for pennies on the dollar simply because it’s a few years behind the curve. You might even be able to scrounge up some electronics pulled out of a military aircraft during its last refit. That seems to be how [Adrian Smith] got his hands on a Control Display Unit (CDU) originally installed in a Royal Air Force AgustaWestland AW101 “Merlin” helicopter. Not content to just toss it up on a shelf, he decided to take a look inside of the heavy-duty cockpit module and see if he couldn’t make some sense out of how it works.

Unsurprisingly, [Adrian] wasn’t able to find much information on this device on the public Internet. The military are kind of funny like that. But a close look at the burn-in on the CDU’s orange-on-black plasma display seems to indicate it had something to do with the helicopter’s communication systems. Interestingly, even if the device isn’t strictly functional when outside of the aircraft, it does have a pretty comprehensive self-test and diagnostic system on-board. As you can see in the video after the break, there were several menus and test functions he was able to mess around with once it was powered up on the bench.

With the case cracked open, [Adrian] found three separate PCBs in addition to the display and keyboard panel on the face of the CDU. The first board is likely responsible for communicating with the helicopter’s internal systems, as it features a MIL-STD-1553B interface module, UART chips, and several RS-232/RS-485 transceivers. The second PCB has a 32-bit AMD microcontroller and appears to serve as the keyboard and display controller, possibly also providing the on-board user interface. The last board looks to be the brains of the operation, with a 25 MHz Motorola 68EC020 CPU and 1Mb of flash.

All of the hardware inside the CDU is pretty generic, but that’s probably the point. [Adrian] theorizes that the device serves as something of a generic pilot interface module, and when installed in the Merlin, could take on various functions based on whatever software was loaded onto it. He’s found pictures online that seem to show as many as three identical CDUs in the cockpit, all presumably running a different system.

[Adrian] has uncovered some interesting diagnostic information being dumped to the CDU’s rear connectors, but he’s still a long way off from actually putting the device to any sort of practical use. If any Hackaday readers have some inside information on this sort of hardware, we’re sure like to hear about it.

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Literally Tearing Apart A SpaceX Starlink Antenna

While SpaceX’s constellation of Starlink satellites is nowhere near its projected final size, the company has enough of the birds zipping around in low Earth orbit to start a limited testing period they call the Better Than Nothing Beta. If you’re lucky enough to get selected, you have to cough up $500 for the hardware and another $100 a month for the service. Despite the fairly high bar for getting your hands on one, [Kenneth Keiter] decided to sacrifice his Starlink dish to the teardown Gods.

We say sacrifice because [Kenneth] had to literally destroy the dish to get a look inside. It doesn’t appear that you can realistically get into the exceptionally thin antenna array without pulling it all apart, thanks in part to preposterous amount of adhesive that holds the structural back plate onto the PCB. The sky-facing side of the phased array, the key element that allows the antenna to track the rapidly moving Starlink satellites as they pass overhead, is also laminated to a stack-up comprised of plastic hexagonal mesh layers, passive antenna elements, and the outer fiberglass skin. In short, there are definitely no user-serviceable parts inside.

The dish hides many secrets under its skin.

Beyond attempting to analyze the RF magic that’s happening inside the antenna, [Kenneth] also takes viewers through a tour of some of the more recognizable components of the PCB; picking out things like the Power over Ethernet magnetics, a GPS receiver, some flash storage, and the H-Bridge drivers used to control the pan and tilt motors in the base of the dish.

It also appears that the antenna is a self-contained computer of sorts, complete with ARM processor and RAM to run the software that aims the phased array. Speaking of which, it should come as no surprise to find that not only are the ICs that drive the dizzying array of antenna elements the most numerous components on the PCB, but that they appear to be some kind of custom silicon designed specifically for SpaceX.

In short, there’s still plenty we don’t know about how this high-tech receiver actually works. While [Kenneth] does a respectable job of trying to make sense of it all, and we admire the dedication required to rip apart such a rare and expensive piece of kit, it’s still going to be awhile before the hacker community truly masters the tech that SpaceX is putting into their ambitions global Internet service.

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Xbox Series S Teardown Shows A Glimpse At The Future

Console launch season is upon us. A time for billion dollar corporations ingratiate themselves with “Johnny Consumer” by promising the future of entertainment is finally available to one-and-all. The focus of this new generation of consoles has been the battle for 4K supremacy between Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Interestingly, Microsoft also created another iteration of their Xbox Series for those satisfied with games in 1080p, and thanks to [Dimitris] we have been able to see the internals of the Xbox Series S (XSS).

Xbox Series S Teardown SSD Photo
The Xbox Series S features standard m.2 slot that could be used for future storage expansion.

Microsoft’s choice to produce an all-digital console has greatly affected the internal design of the XSS. With the lack of a disc-drive there is only a single cable, the fan cable, tying the components together. The heat sink covering the 197mm² AMD APU takes up nearly 60% of the motherboard surface area. Though the XSS may be diminutive by modern console standards, its cooling fan is huge, somewhere in the 140 mm range. What little space is left by the heat sink and fan assembly is taken up by the internal power supply. As a fun nod, the PSU sports a Master Chief insignia to denote the location of the two-pronged connector beneath.

On the underside of the motherboard lies the biggest surprise of the “little brother” console. The system storage SSD is socketed rather than directly soldered to the board itself. The primary design goal of the XSS was to provide a cheaper alternative for players, but this standard m.2 slot reveals that Microsoft has plans for future expansion. This SSD, while not user-accessible in a traditional sense, will likely provide an alternative method to expanding storage outside of Microsoft’s proprietary external offerings. For a look at the teardown in process, [Dimitris’] video from his Modern Vintage Gamer YouTube channel is below.

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Ode To An AVO 8 Multimeter

I’m moving, and in the process of packing all of my belongings into storage boxes to disappear into a darkened room for the next year. Perhaps I could become one of those digital nomads I hear so much about and post my Hackaday stories from a sun-kissed beach while goldfish shoals nibble at my toes. But here in a slightly damp British autumn, box after box of a lifetime’s immersion in tech needs sorting and directing. Why on earth did I hang on to three Philips N1500 VCR system video cassette recorders from the early 1970s! (Don’t worry, those have found a good home.)

Say Hello To An Old Friend Of Mine

Instantly recognisable, the AVO 8
Instantly recognisable, the AVO 8

As I was packing up my bench, I happened upon a multimeter. I have quite a few multimeters and this isn’t the first time I’ve written about these indispensable instruments, but this one’s a little special.

It’s a treasure from my youth, that most venerable of British test equipment: the AVO 8. This was the ubiquitous multimeter to be found in all manner of electrical and electronic workshops across most of the 20th century, and remains to this day one of the highest quality examples of its type.

It’s a relatively huge Bakelite box about 190mm x 170mm x 100mm in size, and it is instantly recognisable  by its dual rotary selector switches and the window for viewing the needle, which forms a characteristic circular arc kidney shape.

The earliest ancestors of my meter appeared in the 1920s, and the first model 8 in the early 1950s. Mine is a Mk III that a penciled date on the inside of its meter movement tells me was made in November 1965 and which I bought reconditioned from Stewart of Reading in about 1991, but manufacture continued until the last Mk VIII rolled off the production line in 2008. It’s to my shame that my AVO is a bit dusty and that maybe I haven’t used it much of late, but as I picked it up all the memories of using it to fix dead TV sets and set up optimistic experiments in radio came flooding back. If there’s one instrument that connects me to the youthful would-be electronic engineer that I once was, then here it is. Continue reading “Ode To An AVO 8 Multimeter”

Gaze Inside The Valve Index VR Headset In Detailed Teardown

Valve’s unique multilayer lenses are far thinner than one might expect.

Want to see what exactly is inside the $500 (headset only price) Valve Index VR headset that was released last summer? Take a look at this teardown by [Ilja Zegars]. Not only does [Ilja] pull the device apart, but he identifies each IC and takes care to point out some of the more unique hardware aspects like the fancy diffuser on the displays, and the unique multilayered lenses (which are much thinner than one might expect.)

[Ilja] is no stranger to headset hardware design, and in addition to all the eye candy of high-res photographs, provides some insightful commentary to help make sense of them. The “tracking webs” pulled from the headset are an interesting bit, each is a long run of flexible PCB that connects four tracking sensors for each side of the head-mounted display back to the main PCB. These sensors are basically IR photodiodes, and detect the regular laser sweeps emitted by the base stations of Valve’s lighthouse tracking technology. [Ilja] also gives us a good look at the rod and spring mechanisms seen above that adjust distance between the two screens.

Want more? [Ilja] also has a gallery of high-resolution images available for those you who fancy a closer look. Also, if you missed it, we covered an examination of the Index’s optical design as part of everything you probably didn’t know about field of view in head-mounted displays.

[via Twitter]

Reliving Heathkit’s Glory Days Through A Teardown And Rebuild

In its heyday, the experience offered by the Heath Company was second to none. Every step of the way, from picking something out of the Heathkit catalog to unpacking all the parts to final assembly and testing, putting together a Heathkit project was as good as it got.

Sadly, those days are gone, and the few remaining unbuilt kits are firmly in the unobtanium realm. But that doesn’t mean you can’t tear down and completely rebuild a Heathkit project to get a little taste of what the original experience was like. [Paul Carbone] chose a T-3 Visual-Aural signal tracer, a common enough piece that’s easy to find on eBay at a price mere mortals can afford. His unit was in pretty good shape, especially for something that was probably built in the early 1960s. [Paul] decided that instead of the usual recapping, he’d go all the way and replace every component with fresh ones. That proved easier said than done; things have changed a lot in five decades, and resistors are a lot smaller than they used to be. Finding hookup wire to match the original was also challenging, as was disemboweling some of the electrolytic cans so they could be recapped. The finished product is beautiful, though — even the Magic Eye tube works — and [Paul] reports that the noise level is so low he wasn’t sure if turned it on at first.

We’ve covered the rise and fall of Heathkit, as well as their many attempted comebacks, including an inexplicable solder-free radio and the “world’s most reliable” clock. Looking at these offerings, we think [Paul] may be onto something here.