Posts with «retrocomputing» label

Z80 Computer Is Both Arduino And Shield

There have been plenty of Z80 computer builds here on Hackaday, but what sets them apart is what you do with them. [Andrew] writes in with his Z80 single-board computer made from scratch, using the Arduino standard headers for its I/O. In turn, since he needed an easy way to program the flash memory which holds the software to run on the Z80, he used an Arduino Mega as a debugger, making the SBC an Arduino shield itself.

Using such a common header pinout for the Z80 computer allows it to be used with a variety of readily-available Arduino shields. This compatibility is achieved with an analog-digital converter and a 3.3 V regulator, mimicking the pins found in an Arduino Uno. The code, available on GitHub, includes an extensive explanation and walkthrough over the process in which the Mega takes over the bus from the Z80 to function as a fully-featured debugger. Programs can be loaded through embedding an assembly listing into the Mega’s sketch, or, once the debugger is up you can also upload a compiled hex file through the serial connection.

This isn’t the first time [Andrew] has been featured here, and his past projects are just as interesting. If you need to translate a Soviet-era calculator’s buttons into English, hack a metallurgical microscope or even investigate what’s that Clacking Clanking Scraping Sound, he’s the one you should call.

A Tetris To Be Proud Of, With Only A Nano

Tetris may have first arrived in the West on machines such as the PC and Amiga, but its genesis at the hands of [Alexey Pajitnov] was on an Electronika 60, a Soviet clone of an early-1970s DEC PDP-11. Thus those tumbling blocks are hardly demanding in terms of processor power, and a game can be implemented on the humblest of hardware. Relatively modern silicon such as the Atmega328 in [c0pperdragon]’s Arduino Nano Tetris console should then have no problems, but to make that assumption is to miss the quality of the achievement.

In a typical home or desktop computer of the 1980s the processor would have been assisted by plenty of dedicated hardware, but since the Arduino has none of that the feat of creating the game with a 288p video signal having four gray scales and with four-channel music is an extremely impressive one. Beside the Nano there are only a few passive components, there are no CRT controllers or sound chips to be seen.

The entire device is packaged within a clone of a NES controller, with the passives on a piece of stripboard beside the Nano. There is a rudimentary resistor DAC to produce the grey scales, and the audio is not the direct PWM you might expect but a very simple DAC created by charging and discharging a capacitor at the video line frequency. The results can be seen and heard in the video below the break, and though we’re sure we’ve heard something like that tune before, it looks to be a very playable little game.

Hack a Day 28 Feb 09:00

Vintage Mini Inkjet Prints On-Demand ASCII Art

Readers of a certain age may fondly remember ASCII art emerging from line printers in a long-gone era of computing; for others, it’s just wonderfully retro. Well, when [Emily Velasco] found a vintage Kodak Diconix 150 inkjet at a local thrift store for $4, she knew what she had to do: turn it into a dedicated ASCII-art machine.

Dating to the mid-1980s, the diminutive printer she scored was an early example of consumer inkjet technology; with only 12 “jets,” it sported a resolution roughly equivalent to the dot-matrix impact printers of the day. [Emily] notes that this printer would have cost around $1000 in today’s money — this is from a time before printer companies started selling the printer itself as a loss leader to make revenue on the back end selling consumables. It seems you can’t escape the razor-and-blades model, though: [Emily] had to pay $16 for a new ink cartridge to revive the $4 printer.

With the new ink in place, and some tractor-feed paper acquired, [Emily] started work on the art generator. The concept is something that might have been sold on late-night TV ads: a “cartridge” you plug into your printer to make ASCII masterpieces. Starting with a stripped-down Centronics printer cable that matches the printer’s port, she added an Arduino nano to store and serve up the art. The user interface is foolproof: a single button press causes a random selection from one of ten ASCII images to be printed. The whole thing is ensconced within a slick 3D printed case.

One of the coolest aspects of this project is the lack of power supply. When she first hooked the Arduino to the printer’s parallel port, [Emily] noticed that it powered right up with no external supply, and in true hacker fashion, just ran with it. Upon reflection, it seems that power is being supplied by the printer status lines, Busy and/or Ack, through the input protection diodes of the Atmega328 on the nano.

We really like this project, and are more than a little bummed we tossed those old printers that were kicking around the Hackaday labs for years. If you still have yours, and would like turn out some rad ASCII art, the code for this project is up on GitHub.

We’re no strangers to [Emily]’s work, but if you aren’t familiar with it, check out her inspiring talk from the 2019 Hackaday Superconference. Meanwhile, don’t miss the excellent video about the ASCII art printer cartridge, after the break.

Hack a Day 09 Jan 16:30

Interface Your C64 With Arduinos Through Firmata

Microcontrollers are cool, but sometimes the user interface options they can deliver are disappointing. The platform in question may not have the horsepower required to drive a decent screen, and often a web interface is undesirable for security or complexity reasons. Sometimes you just need a good software interface between chip and computer. Firmata is a protocol that’s designed to do just that, and [nanoflite] has brought it to the Commodore 64.

It’s a fun project, which allows one to use the C64’s charming retro graphics to interface with an Arduino-based project. Connection is achieved at 2400bps over the user port, which is plenty fast for most UI applications. [nanoflite] demonstrates the interface with an Arduino Uno and a Grove shield. The C64 is able to display the state of the LED, relay and servo outputs, as well as read the Arduino’s button and potentiometer inputs.

It’s an excellent way to integrate a Commodore 64 into a microcontroller setup without reinventing the wheel. We think it would make an awesome vintage interface to a home automation system or similar build. If you’re interested, but you don’t have a C64 of your own to play with, never fear – you can just build a new one.

Hack a Day 10 Apr 06:00

Wireless Controllers For Retro Gaming

There’s no limit to the amount of nostalgia that can be minted through various classic platforms such as the NES classic. The old titles are still extremely popular, and putting them in a modern package makes them even more accessible. On the other hand, if you still have the original hardware things can start getting fussy. With modern technology it’s possible to make some changes, though, as [PJ Allen] did by adding wireless capabilities to his Commodore 64.

Back when the system was still considered “modern”, [PJ] tried to build a wireless controller using DTMF over FM radio. He couldn’t get it to work exactly right and ended up shelving the project until the present day. Now, we have a lot more tools at our disposal than analog radio, so he pulled out an Arduino and a few Bluetooth modules. There’s a bit of finesse to getting the old hardware to behave with the modern equipment, though, but once [PJ] worked through the kinks he was able to play his classic games like Defender without the limitations of wired controllers.

The Commodore 64 was incredibly popular in the ’80s and early ’90s, and its legacy is still seen today. People are building brand new machines, building emulators for them, or upgrading their hardware.

Vintage Atari Becomes Modern Keyboard

The modern keyboard enthusiast is blessed with innumerable choices when it comes to typing hardware. There are keyboards designed specifically for gaming, fast typing, ergonomics, and all manner of other criteria. [iot4c] undertook their own build for no other reason than nostalgia – which sounds plenty fun to us.

An Arduino Leonardo is pressed into service for this hack. With its USB HID capabilities, it’s perfectly suited for custom keyboard builds. It’s built into a working Atari 65XE computer, and connected to the keyboard matrix. The Keypad and Keyboard libraries are pressed into service to turn keypresses on the 80s keyboard into easily digseted USB data.

There’s plenty of room inside the computer for the added hardware, with the USB cable neatly sneaked out the rear. [iot4c] notes that everything still works and the added hardware does not cause any problems, as long as it’s not used as a computer and a keyboard at the same time.

It’s possible to do a similar hack on the Commodore 64, too. If you’re doing tricky keyboard builds yourself, you know where to send ’em.

Star Fox Comes To Arduboy

The original Star Fox for the SNES was a landmark game. With the Super FX chip built into the cartridge, it presented the first 3D accelerated home console experience. The series has spanned several consoles and over two decades. Now, it’s getting an (albeit unofficial) port to the Arduboy, thanks to [Stephane Hockenhull].

Impressively, the game fits in under 28KB, and [Stephane] hasn’t skimped on the development details. The process begun with setting up a basic 3D engine on the Arduboy, followed by some tests of various gameplay ideas. The final implementation bears a strong similarity to the original SNES gameplay. At this point, work moved out of the Arduino IDE into [Stephane]’s custom development environment to speed things along. A PC port was used to save time programming the flash every iteration.

The tricks used to pull this off are many and varied. There are neat hacks used to optimise the storage of the 3D model data, implement lightweight collision detection, and generate random levels. Everything was done in order to make the game fit into the smallest space possible.

Running smooth 3D graphics on a 16MHz 8-bit microcontroller is an impressive feat, and a testament to [Stephane]’s coding abilities. We can’t wait to see more 3D development on the platform. Meanwhile, if the Arduboy doesn’t quite have the look you want, there’s a solution for that too. Video after the break.

Core Memory Upgrade for Arduino

Linux programs, when they misbehave, produce core dumps. The reason they have that name is that magnetic core memory was the primary storage for computers back in the old days and many of us still refer to a computer’s main memory as “core.” If you ever wanted to have a computer with real core memory you can get a board that plugs into an Arduino and provides it with a 32-bit core storage. Of course, the Arduino can’t directly run programs out of the memory and as designer [Jussi Kilpeläinen] mentions, it is “hilariously impractical.” The board has been around a little while, but a recent video shined a spotlight on this retro design.

Impractical or not, there’s something charming about having real magnetic core memory on a modern CPU. The core plane isn’t as dense as the old commercial offerings that could fit 32 kilobits (not bytes) into only a cubic foot. We’ll leave the math about how much your 8-gigabyte laptop would have to grow to use core memory to you.

Honestly, this is purely a novelty, but we do miss core memory somewhat. It was inherently nonvolatile. You could turn the computer off, turn it back on, and everything was just how you left it. Sure, it was peculiar that reading a bit also destroyed it, but many of the old computers had the write after read cycle built into the CPU architecture so that it wasn’t a big deal.

If you want to look at how it was to repair a big core system, we looked at that earlier. Surprisingly, though, this isn’t the first Arduino core memory rig we’ve seen.

Using an Arduino to Re-Create a Computer’s Keyboard Decoder

[Max Breedon] found an old Apple IIe clone twenty years ago. He recently dug this Epson AP-200 out of the salvage heap and quickly discovered that the keyboard decoder chip was fried. The old chip was way too obscure to source a replacement — and soon this post will be the top Google result for the string, ‘C35224E’ — so he busted out his trusty UNO and created a replacement keyboard decoder.

Unlike the Apple II, where all the keyboard decoding happens on the keyboard, this clone used a dedicated chip on the main board. Although it’s a rare part that’s virtually ungoogleable, this chip’s architecture and pinout can be figured out by testing out every trace for continuity. After locating what looked like four data pins, he had the Arduino send signals onto the clone to see what characters popped up. That didn’t work, but it led him to idea that two of the wires were clock and data, and after a bit of experimenting figured out that the third pin was a latch enable of some sort that sent the character.

So, [Max] created an Arduino rig to do the same thing. The Arduino uses a shift register to interact with the keyboard’s 8×10 matrix, and the sketch translates any serial data it receives into the keypresses the clone is expecting. After prototyping with the UNO, [Max] hardwired an Arduino Nano (as well as the shift register) into a daughter board with pins extending into the old chip’s sockets. A permanent solution!

In addition to a weird keyboard controller that has been lost to the sands of time, this Apple IIe clone features a few more parts that are downright weird. There are two chips that are found in a few other Apple clones labeled STK 65301 and STK 65371, used as ASICs, MMUs, or a 20-IC expression of Wozzian brilliance condensed into custom silicon. There’s another weird chip in this clone, a 27c32 ROM loaded up with repetitive bits. There is no obvious 6502 code or strings in this ROM, so if anyone has an idea what this chip does, send [Max] a note.


Filed under: repair hacks

An Apple ][ emulator on an Arduino Uno

April Fools’ Day may have passed, but we really had to check the calendar on this hack. [Damian Peckett] has implemented an Apple ][, its 6502 processor, and a cassette port, all on an Arduino Uno. If that wasn’t enough, he also uses a PS/2 keyboard for input and outputs analog VGA. [Damian] is doing all this with very few additional components. A couple of resistors, a capacitor and some very clever hacking were all [Damian] needed to convince an Arduino Uno that it was an Apple.

Making all this work boiled down to a case of resource management. The original Apple ][ had 4KB of RAM and 8KB of ROM. The ATmega328 has only 2KB of RAM, but 32KB of Flash. The only way to make this hack work would be to keep as much of the emulation and other routines in Flash, using as little RAM as possible.

The core of this hack starts with the MOS 6502, the processor used in the Apple. [Damian] wrote a simple assembler which translates the 6502 opcodes and address modes to instructions which can be executed by the Arduino’s ATmega328. To keep everything in ROM and make the emulator portable, [Damian] used two large switch statements. One for address modes, and a 352 line switch statement for the opcodes themselves.

A CPU alone is not an Apple though. [Damian] still needed input, output, and the ROM which made the Apple so special. Input was through a PS/2 keyboard. The PS/2 synchronous serial clock is easy to interface with an Arduino. Output was through a custom VGA implementation, which is a hack all its own. [Damian] used the lowly ATmega16u2 to generate the video timing. The 16u2 is normally used as the Arduino Uno’s USB interface. The only external hardware needed is a single 120 ohm resistor.

The original Apples had cassette and speaker interfaces. So does this emulated Apple. [Woz’s] original cassette and speaker interface accurate loops to generate and measure frequencies. One of the trade-offs [Damian] accepted in his 6502 was cycle accuracy, so he couldn’t use the original routines. Not a problem though, as he was able to write simple functions to replace these routines and drop them in place of the Apple’s own ROM calls.

The Apple ][ ROM itself is handled as one giant character array. This includes the system monitor, Mini-Assembler, Sweet-16, and [Woz’s] own Integer Basic. [Damian] caps off this incredible project by booting his new computer, loading a  Mandelbrot set program from cassette -or in this case an audio file stored on his cell phone, and running it. The well-known fractal is displayed in all its glory on a modern LCD monitor, driven by a microcontroller, emulating a computer from nearly 40 years ago.

Thanks for the tip [Bill]!

Apple II Image by RAMA, [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Filed under: Arduino Hacks