TRS-80 Model II Lives Again

A lot of people had a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I. This was a “home computer” built into a keyboard that needed an external monitor or TV set. Later, Radio Shack would update the computer to a model III which was a popular “all in one” option with a monitor and even space for — gasp — floppy disks. But the Model II was not nearly as common. The reason? It was aimed at businesses and priced accordingly. [Adrian] got a Model II that was in terrible shape and has been bringing it back to life. You can see the video of how he’s done with it, below.

The Model II was similar to the older “Trash 80” which had been used — to Radio Shack’s surprise — quite often by businesses. But it had more sophisticated features including a 4MHz CPU — blistering speed for those days. It also had an 80×25 text display and a 500K 8-inch floppy drive. There were also serial and printer ports standard.

There were a few interesting features. The floppy drive’s spindle ran on AC power and if the computer was on, the disk was spinning. In addition, there was bank switching so you could go beyond 64K and also you didn’t have to share your running memory with the video display. In theory, the machine could go beyond 64K since half the memory was bank switchable. In practice, the early models didn’t have enough expansion space to handle more than 64K physically.

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Compaq 286 Laptop Gets Raspberry Transfusion

We know, we know. A lot of you don’t like projects that consist of gutting a vintage computer (or anything else, for that matter) and replacing its internals with modern electronics. But can you really look at the clunky Compaq LTE 286 laptop that [Dmitry Brant] hacked a Raspberry Pi into and honestly say it’s a machine worthy of historical preservation? The 30+ year old laptop had all the design cues of a saltine cracker, and the performance to match. At least now with a Pi under the hood, you can play some newer games on the thing.

Besides, [Dmitry] says the machine was damaged beyond the point of economical repair anyway. The only stock hardware that’s left beyond the case itself is the keyboard, which he was able to get talking USB thanks to a Teensy microcontroller. It’s not immediately clear if any attempt has been made to get the switches above the keyboard working, but we imagine it wouldn’t be too hard to tie them into some spare GPIO pins on the MCU for a bit of added authenticity.

The bottom half of the machine was cleared out to the point of it literally being a husk of its former self, which gave him plenty of room to hold the Pi 3B and the HDMI driver board that controls the new 9-inch TFT display. Speaking of which, the new panel was a close enough match to the original’s aspect ratio that only minor bezel modifications were required to get it to fit. The modern LCD makes for a massive improvement over the original, without looking too conspicuous.

While there’s still plenty of available space inside the Compaq, [Dmitry] has opted not to include an onboard battery at this time. Instead, power is provided to the Pi and associated hardware through a bulkhead mount USB connector on the side of the machine. It looks like it wouldn’t be too much trouble to add support for an off-the-shelf USB battery bank, as we recently saw with a particularly well engineered retro-futuristic folding cyberdeck, but far from us to tell a hacker what they should do with their bespoke computer.

A computer program written in basic next to a modular synthesizer with many switches and lights

Modular Synth Pairs Perfectly With The Apple II

We have a soft spot for synthesizers – seriously, who doesn’t? So when [Joshua Coleman] combined his retro-looking DIY modular synth with the equally retro Apple II computer, we just had to share it with you.

The two machines are paired using a vintage digital-to-analog logic controller pack. This DAC was originally used to control model trains using your Apple II – something that we now desperately need to see in action. The pack can output voltages between 0 and 2.55 V at 8-bit resolution (or 256 steps), which is plenty for a retro synth.

With the card installed in Slot 7 of the Apple II and the DAC wired through to the synth’s CV/gate, it’s then a trivial matter of writing POKE statements in Applesoft BASIC to control the synth. The video after the break demonstrates playing a simple melody, as well as how one might use the Apple II keyboard to ‘play’ the synth in real time.

If you’re interested in building your own, the video below has all the information needed, as well as helpful advice on where to find a DAC for your preferred model of vintage computer. If all that doesn’t tickle your musical fancy, make sure to check out our coverage on the Game Boy MIDI synth, or perhaps this peculiar synth and visualizer combo.

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Queen Victoria’s Secret (Teletype And COSMAC Elf)

We don’t really think anyone in the Victorian era had a COSMAC Elf — the homebrew computer based around the RCA 1802 CPU. But if they did, it might have looked like [Daniel Ross’] steampunk recreation of the system that includes an appropriate-looking teletype device. You can see the thing in a series of videos, below. There are actually quite a few videos showing different parts of the system, along with several blog postings stretching back a few months.

A magic eye tube doesn’t look out of place in this build. We especially liked the glass tube displays and the speaker, although we thought the USS Enterprise looked out of place with the technology based on stone knives and bearskins, to paraphrase Mr. Spock. On the plus side, the VFD displays have the right glowing look, although a Nixie would have been pretty good there, too.

The videos don’t have much detail, but the blog posts do if you wanted to attempt something similar. Honestly, 1802 system design is pretty easy thanks to the its on-chip DMA that allows you to load memory from switches with no actual software like a monitor. The teletype started out life as a Remington #7 from around 1900, although another newer machine donated parts to get everything working. It is a testament to how well things were built then that it took as much abuse as it did and still has working parts.

We have a soft spot for the 1802 — it was a very good design for its time. We’ve even gone as far as to simulate it.

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Overall view of Alta's Projects cyberdeck

Cyberdeck Running On Apple Silicon, Though An A12 Not An M1

[Alta’s Projects] built a two-in-one cyberdeck that not only contains the requisite Raspberry Pi (a zero in this case) but also eschews a dumb LCD and uses an iPad mini 5 for a display.

We need to address the donor case right away. Some likely see this as heresy, and while we love to see vintage equipment lovingly restored, upcycling warms our hearts and keeps mass-produced plastic out of landfills too. The 1991 AST 386SX/20 notebook in question went for $45 on an online auction and likely was never destined for a computer museum.

Why is Cupertino’s iOS anywhere near a cyberdeck? If a touch screen is better than an LCD panel, a tablet with a full OS behind it must be even better. You might even see this as the natural outgrowth of tablet cases first gaining keyboards and then trackpads. We weren’t aware that either was possible without jailbreaking, but [Alta’s Projects] simply used a lighting-to-USB dongle and a mini USB hub to connect the custom split keyboard to the iPad and splurged on an Apple Magic Trackpad for seamless and wireless multi-touch input.

Alta's Projects Cyberdeck Internal USB Wiring
Internal USB Wiring, Charging Circuit, and Pi Zero

The video build (after the break) is light on details, but a quick fun watch with a parts list in the description. It has a charming casual feel that mirrors the refreshingly improvisational approach that [Altair’s Projects] takes to the build. We appreciate the nod to this cyberdeck from [Tinfoil_Haberdashery] who’s split keyboard and offset display immediately sprang to mind for us too. The references to an imagined “dystopian future” excuse the rough finish of some of the Dremel cuts and epoxy assembly. That said, apocalypse or not, the magnets mounted at both ends of the linear slide certainly are a nice touch.

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MouSTer Brings USB To Retro Computers

Folks who like the take the old Amiga out for the occasional Sunday drive usually do it because they have wistful memories of the simpler times. Back when you could edit documents or view spreadsheets on a machine that had RAM measured in kilobytes instead of gigabytes. But even the most ardent retro computer aficionado usually allows for a bit of modern convenience.

Enter the mouSTer. This tiny device converts a common USB HID mouse into something older computers can understand. It even supports using Sony’s PlayStation 4 controller as a generic game pad. While the firmware is still getting tweaked, the team has confirmed its working on several classic machines and believe it should work on many more. Considering the prices that some of these old peripherals command on the second hand market, using a USB mouse or controller on your vintage computer isn’t just more convenient, but will likely be a lot cheaper.

Confirmed retrocomputing superfan [Drygol] is a member of the team working on mouSTer, and in a recent post to hisĀ retrohax blog, he talks a bit about what’s happened since his last update over the summer. He also talks a bit about the challenges they’ve faced to get it into production. Even if you’re not into poking around on vintage computers, there are lessons to be learned here about what it takes to move from a handful of prototypes to something you can actually sell to the public.

We especially liked the details about the mouSTer enclosure, or lack thereof. Originally [Drygol] says they were going to have the cases injection molded, but despite initial interest from a few companies they talked to, nobody ended up biting because it needed to be done with relatively uncommon low pressure injection. While 3D printing is still an option, the team ended up using clear heatshrink tubing to create a simple conformal protective shell over the electronics. Personally we think it looks great like this, but it sounds like this is only a temporary solution until something a bit more robust can be implemented.

As you might imagine we’ve seen DIY projects that aimed to bring modern input devices to vintage computers like the Atari ST, but the diminutive proportions of the mouSTer and the fact that it’s a turn-key product is sure to appeal to those who want to minimize headaches when working with their classic gear.

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The Case Of The Vintage Computer, The Blown Fuse, And The Diode

If you are the operator of a vintage computer, probably the only one of its type remaining in service, probably the worst thing you can hear is a loud pop followed by your machine abruptly powering down. That’s what happened to the Elliott 803B in the UK’s National Museum Of Computing, and its maintainer [Peter Onion] has written an account of his getting it back online.

The Elliott is a large machine from the early 1960s, and because mains supplies in those days could be unreliable it has a rudimentary UPS to keep it going during a brownout. A hefty Ni-Cd battery is permanently hooked up to a charger that also serves as the power supply for the machine, ensuring that it can continue to operate for a short while as the voltage drops. A spate of fuses had blown in this power supply, so we’re taken through the process of fault-finding. Eventually the failure is found in a rectifier diode, the closest modern equivalent is substituted, and after testing the machine comes back to life.

We’re used to reading these stories from the other side of the Atlantic, so we welcome TNMOC saying that this is the first of a series of technical posts on their work. We visited the museum back in 2016, and also featured its famous recreated Colossus.