The humble desktop serial terminal may have long disappeared from the world of corporate IT, but there are still plenty of moments when professionals and enthusiasts alike need to hook up to a serial port. Many of us use a serial port on our laptops or other mobile devices, but [Neil Crawforth] has gone one better than that with the VT2040. It’s an old-style serial terminal in a super-handy portable format, and as one might guess from the name, it has an RP2040 microcontroller at its heart.
Attached to the chip is a rather nice keyboard, and an ILI9488 480×320 LCD display. The software is modular, providing a handy set of re-usable libraries for the different functions including a PIO-based serial port. His main application seems to be talking to an ESP8266, but we’re guessing with a MAX232 or other level shifter chip it could drive a more traditional port. Everything can be found in the project’s GitHub repository, allowing anyone to join the fun.
As long-time readers will know, we’ve been partial to a few serial terminals in the past. Particularly beloved is this extremely retro model with vintage dot matrix LEDs.
The CPU is the part of the computer that makes everything else tick. While GPUs have increasingly become a key part of overall system performance, we still find ourselves wanting to know how our CPU is doing. CoreFreq is a Linux tool that aims to tell you everything you want to know about your modern 64-bit CPU.
The tool relies on a kernel module, and is coded primarily in C, with some assembly code used to measure performance as accurately as possible. It’s capable of reporting everything from core frequencies to details on hyper-threading and turbo boost operation. Other performance reports include information on instructions per cycle or instructions per second, and of course, all the thermal monitoring data you could ask for. It all runs in the terminal, which helps keep overheads low.
The hardcore among us can build it from source, available on GitHub, though it’s reportedly available in package form, and as a live CD, too. We could imagine data captured from CoreFreq could be used for some fun performance visualizations, too. If you’ve been whipping up your own nifty command-line tools, be sure to drop us a line!
We love hacks that give new life to old gadgets, and [edwardianpug]’s YouTube Terminal certainly fits the bill by putting new hardware inside a Super 8 film editor.
[edwardianpug] could have relegated this classy-looking piece of A/V history to a shelf for display, but instead she decided to refresh its components so it could display any YouTube video instead of just one strip of film at a time. The Boost-Box keeps the retrofuturistic theme going by using the terminal to search for and play videos via Ytfzf.
The original screen has been replaced by an 800×600 LCD, and the yellow USB cord gives a nice splash of color to connect the ortholinear keyboard to the device. Lest you think that this “ruined” a working piece of retro-tech, [edwardianpug] says that 20 minutes would get this device back to watching old movies.
Are you looking for more modern and retro mashups? Check out these Dice Towers Built In Beautiful Retro Cases, a Vacuum Tube and Microcontroller Ham Transmitter, or this Cyberdeck in a Retro Speaker.
Continue reading “Super 8 Film Editor Reborn As A YouTube Terminal” →
It’s quite probable that any of you who have built a keyboard will have done so using a matrix of keys connected to a microcontroller, or if you are old-school, a microprocessor. A CPU can scan the keyboard matrix with ease, and pass whatever is typed either to whatever software it is running, or to a host computer. There was a time however when available CPUs were not considered powerful enough to do all this and also perform a useful task, so a keyboard would have its own decoder chip that would output ASCII over a parallel interface. It’s an era [John Calhoun] harks back to with Adam74, a little ASCII terminal which takes its input from that 7-bit parallel port.
In the place of a forest of TTL chips which might have graced the originals, within that attractive curved laser cut acrylic case is an LCD display and a Teensy microcontroller board. There’s a level shifter for the classic 5 volt logic, and of course a small buzzer for the essential BEL character. In these days when a parallel interface is relatively rare, he describes the rediscovery of alternate earth lines in a ribbon cable to minimize cross-talk. Should you wish to try your own, everything can be found on GitHub.
All in all it’s a fun way to rediscover an old idea.
Typewriters may be long past their heyday, but just because PCs, word processor software, and cheap printers have made them largely obsolete doesn’t mean the world is better off without them. Using a typewriter is a rich sensory experience, from the feel of the keys under your fingers that even the clickiest of PC keyboards can’t compare with, to the weirdly universal sound of the type hitting paper.
So if life hands you a typewriter, why not put it back to work? That’s exactly what [Artillect] did by converting an 80s typewriter into a Linux terminal. The typewriter is a Brother AX-25, one of those electronic typewriters that predated word processing software and had a daisy wheel printhead, a small LCD display, and a whopping 8k of memory for editing documents. [Artillect] started his build by figuring out which keys mapped to which characters in the typewriter’s 8×11 matrix, and then turning an Arduino and two multiplexers loose on the driving the print head. The typewriter’s keyboard is yet used for input, as the project is still very much in the prototyping phase, so a Raspberry Pi acts as a serial monitor between the typewriter and a laptop. The video below has a good overview of the wiring and the software, and shows the typewriter banging out Linux command line output.
For now, [Artillect]’s typewriter acts basically like an old-school teletype. There’s plenty of room to take this further; we’d love to see this turned into a cyberdeck complete with a built-in printer, for instance. But even just as a proof of concept, this is pretty great, and you can be sure we’ll be trolling the thrift stores and yard sales looking for old typewriters.
Continue reading “Converting An 80s Typewriter Into A Linux Terminal” →
With Linux and the serial port there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that Linux has great support for serial hardware of all sorts and a host of tools for accessing the serial port. That’s important when you use a lot of serial-like devices like Arduinos with USB ports and the like. The bad news is that most of the terminal software is made to accommodate the days when a computer had real serial terminals and modems with people interacting with them. We bet that’s why [lundmar] developed tio, a serial device I/O tool for people like us.
Honestly, how many times have you needed Zmodem file transfers and recognition of the DCD signal to detect an incoming connection? Sure there are many other programs that will do the job, but tio brings a clean simplicity along with functionality that embedded developers need.
The software will support arbitrary devices, show statistics, and give you control of the RS232 lines. There’s support for delayed characters and lines, useful if you are dealing with a super simple device with no handshaking. There’s also hex support and many ways to log data and statistics. We especially like that it can automatically reconnect which is a great feature.
Of course, you want some terminal features and tio includes those. For example, you can elect to have local echo turned on or map characters so that, for example, a carriage return turns into a carriage return and a line feed. You can use command line options to set up most items including features like redirecting to a network socket. Other commands inside the program — by default, triggered by Control+T — let you do things like send a break, toggle handshaking lines, and more.
You might think the serial port is dead, but it really just transformed into a USB port. Of course, like everything else these days, you can also get your terminal in the browser.
[David Lovett] aka Usagi Electric has spent the last several months dissecting a Centurion minicomputer from 1980. His latest update reveals that the restoration has hit several snags, and bootstrapping this old blue beast is going to be a challenge.
When we last checked in on this project, [David] had built a homebrew ROM reader to backup critical data stored several of the minicomputer’s ROM chips. Since then, the good news is that the Centurion is showing signs of life. Probing the Data Set Ready pin on the default RS232 serial port reveals a stream of data, likely stemming from the ‘CPU6’ board.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. Adding a terminal to the serial port interrupts this stream of data, and no information appears to be sent or received from any of the three terminals tested. To make matters worse, both of the massive hard drives appeared to have suffered catastrophic head crashes at some point in the 1990s, destroying the Centurion operating system and likely other important data in the process. Soiled air filters were the likely culprits, with evidence showing that yearly maintenance had been overlooked. While at least one of the drives can be repaired with new platters, the original operating system is completely lost.
As luck would have it, a previous employee of Centurion was able to provide a wealth of undocumented information that greatly aided in making sense of the minicomputer’s individual components. Incredibly, they were also able to provide a PROM Diagnostic board for the Centurion system. Not only could this board run a barrage of tests, it could also bootstrap the system with TOS (Test Operating System), a bare-bones memory monitor stored on the card’s PROMs. While the diagnostic card itself needs repairs, there’s now the slightest chance that [David] can use TOS as the starting off point for writing new software for the Centurion.
We really can’t wait to see what happens next with this project. We’ve covered some very special vintage computer restorations in the past, such as the cursed Diablo drive from a rare Xerox Alto, not to mention the delicate power-up procedure for an original Apple 1.
Continue reading “Minicomputer Restoration Hanging In The Balance” →