If you ever go to a computer history museum, you’ll be struck by how bland most modern computers look. Prior to 1980 computers had lights and switches, and sometimes dials and meters. Some had switchboard-like wiring panels and some even had oscilloscope-like displays. There’s something about a machine with all those switches and lights and displays that gets your hacker juices flowing. Have you ever wanted to get started in retrocomputing? Is it difficult? Do you need a lot of money? That depends on what your goals are.
There are at least three ways you can go about participating in retrocomputing: You can pony up the money to buy actual antique computers, you can build or buy old computers recreated with anywhere from zero to one hundred percent of period-authentic components, or you can experiment with emulators that run on a modern computer. As a hybrid of the second and third option there are also emulations in FPGAs.
You can see that the first option can be very expensive and you will probably have to develop a lot of repair and restoration skills. Watching [Mattis Lind] twiddle the bits on an actual PDP-8 in the clip above is great, but you’ll need to work up to it. The two techniques which get you going without the original hardware don’t have to break the bank or even cost anything presuming you already have a PC.
Although some sneer at emulation, for some machines it is almost the only way to go. You couldn’t buy the original EDSAC, for example. It is also a good way to get started without a lot of expense or risk. But regardless of how you do it, there’s one thing in common: you have to know how to operate the thing.
Continue reading “Getting Started with Blinking Lights on Old Iron”
The Mid-Atlantic Retro Computing Hobbyist (MARCH) group is at HOPE X displaying a chronology of Apple computers, everything from an accurate Apple 1 reproduction all the way way up to an Apple Macintosh, and of course including all the II’s in between. Although they are only displaying Apples at this event, don’t confuse them for an Apple group. They love all types of vintage computers from the 1940’s to the 80’s.
[Evan], president of the group, elegantly explained why they are here; “to let people know that vintage computing is a thing and there are people in the area that do that thing”. He would like to encourage everyone who is mildly interested in retro computing to contact their local retro computer group and get involved in the community.
The group also puts on a yearly Vintage Computer Festival in New Jersey. This year’s event has already passed but you can still see what happened as Hackaday was there documenting all the cool stuff.
Deskthority forum user [lowpoly] recently posted a writeup on his complete overhaul of an Apple M0110 mechanical keyboard. Any one familiar with the satisfying clack of a good mechanical key under their fingers can appreciate the effort put into this project.
[lowpoly] removed the keyboard’s PCB, rewired the key matrix adding diodes, built in a teensy USB board, broke apart the mechanical switches and fit replacement springs and finally applied a generous portion of retr0bright to all of the aging plastic. Since the teensy has no mounting holes [lowpoly] had to create a mounting assembly out of some spare plastic. A usb mini cable is even fitted into the original RJ-11 connector. To compensate for the lack of PCB the key assembly was fitting with some rubber washers. To top off the whole thing some nice new rubber feet were taped to the underside of the M0110.
[lowpoly] reports that with the foam, new springs, and lack of PCB the keyboard is much quieter and easy to use. The end result is a slick retro looking modern keyboard. If you’ll excuse us we have to go rooting through some old storage bins to find our own ancient keyboards.
We have seen our share of vintage keyboard hacks which can be useful, impressive and sometimes just odd. This build keeps it down to a nice simple, functional, useful retrofit. Nice work!
There’s something quite satisfying about building your own computer. Nowadays, constructing your own desktop PC is relatively easy, so if you really want to get your hands dirty, you have to take a step back in time and give some vintage hardware a spin.
[YT2095] has spent a good portion of the last two months building a computer based on the classic Z80 CPU. His machine, called “Z Eighty Development” or “ZED” for short is an amazing build, and most definitely a labor of love. He has put an estimated 700+ hours into this machine and it’s a beaut! When closed, the machine is pretty unassuming, but once he folds down the keypad, you can see that all of his time has been put to good use.
Most of the board’s components are connected together via wire wrap, including the large 48k memory card he built, as you can see from the link above. The wide array of add on cards all work together to accomplish his goal of “zero overhead” – freeing up the Z80 from having to do any unnecessary processing, such as I/O, etc.
It’s quite an impressive build, and ranks up there with some of the best Z80 based computers we have seen through the years.
Defcon, the world’s largest hacker convention, is this coming weekend in Las Vegas. While the convention generally focuses on breaking new technology, digital archivist [Jason Scott] has an interesting surprise for attendees this year. With some help from VintageTech, he’ll be assembling a massive den of retro computing machinery. They’ll have fully functional systems like the PDP-11/70 for people to play with. It sure to be one of the more unique things to see at the con.
Many of our cherished computers and consoles from the past have not stood up well over time. It’s not the hardware as much as the color. From Commodores, Apples, to Super Nintendos, the machines have slowly drifted towards a sickly yellow and even brown. The culprit appears to be the fire retardant chemicals used in the plastics. Amiga enthusiasts have spent the last year perfecting a technique that restores the plastic of these machines to its original splendor. Dubbed ‘Retr0brite‘ it’s a gel made from hydrogen peroxide, xanthan gum, glycerine, and ‘Oxy’ style laundry booster. The results are really impressive. If you do start restoring your own machines, caution should be used since it requires strong concentrations of hydrogen peroxide typically employed in bleaching hair.