Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

Holiday season is over, everyone seems to be back to business and Friday - as the day before the weekend - is officially a thing again. Since issue #16 was released two weeks ago already, and since we hope, that you are already waiting impatiently, gnawing on your fingernails, let’s not waste too many characters on the intro.

But a few.

A number of things were noteworthy this week. Lego just announced a new collectible for Super Mario Bros. fans. Unfortunately pre-orders only start in October. Seems like a 20 years HODL gadget that could be worth millions one day. 😬

Also surprising was the statement from PragmatIC, who managed to build working 6502 processors on a fully flexible substrate. Excited to see where this takes us.

Last but not least we’d like to mention a very neat find for Commodore lovers, that did not find a place in this issue, due to the fact that we do not have this Whoa-This-Is-So-Beautiful-Section™ yet.

However, with issue #17 we return to our weekly schedule and we hope you enjoy it.

Don't Miss

From the Ashes

There has been kind of a heated discussion in the community in the last week, whether or not the Commander X16 of the 8BitGuy et al. is …. let’s say going into the right direction, given it’s a commercial product. And this discussion had (at least) one good point: it pointed us towards a development, which went completely unnoticed, at least to us.

If you don’t know it already, take the lollipop out of your mouth, you could choke. Take a look at the C256 Foenix.

You are back? Great. Stefany Allaire is the mastermind behind that operation. And what a fest. The Foenix project is not only about one machine, it is a whole series of 16 and 32 bit computers, that could have played in the same stadium as the Amiga and Atari ST but in a different league. Not only are the machines beautifully designed from the inside and outside, there are a couple of different choices when it comes to additional CPUs, graphics and sound engines and additional peripherals.

The software side of things is at least as glossy. Three options for an operating system, C compilers, Forth, Basic, Pascal, Smalltalk, LISP/Scheme and of course Assembler make the heart of a retro fan beat faster.

There are games in the making and we seriously hope, Stefany’s platform takes off. These are no FPGA based computers, they are the real thing equipped with real CPUs like the 65816, 68000, 68030 or i486DX2.

Looking for a new challenge? Go, have a look. 

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Bill Mensch Interview

Bill Mensch Interview
Source: https://spectrum.ieee.org/

Nearly every semi-nerdy computer enthusiast today has heard of Commodore. The majority of this group will also know, that there was a machine called C64 which - together with others - kicked off the home computer revolution which led to our beautiful world, where nearly everyone has one of these devices strapped in front of their face during the whole day.

But it is only a subset of this group of people who knows, that the C64 had a MOS 6510 CPU at its heart, which inherited most of its design from the MOS 6502. The processor that was built into the Apple I and Apple ][, NES, Atari 2600 and literally changed the world.

But if you ask around who, exactly was responsible for the design of these devices, only a small fraction of people will actually know the answer. Stephen Cass does.

He interviewed William D. Mensch - one of the co-creators of the 6502 back in 1975.

The interview is a short read, but worth every minute you spend. There are few people in this world, who have actually influenced the lives of so many people and left a real scratch in the universe. 

If you are interested in computer history at least a bit, check out the article.

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KIM-1 Emulator for the C64

KIM-1 Emulator for the C64
License: Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr, Rama, CeCill

Before the Commodore VIC-20 and the C64 were born, MOS Technology Inc. developed a demo board specifically to demonstrate the abilities of their latest and greatest development - the MOS 6502. This little single board computer was developed by Chuck Peddle and is known ever since under the name KIM-1.

The version released in 1976 had 8kB RAM, two MCS6530 PIO chips, six 7-segment displays, two serial ports and a hex keypad. Few month later Don Lancaster provided a low cost video display device, that would render up to 4000 characters on a TV set or a monitor. And one of the first really usable home computers was born.

The KIM-1 is still kind of popular these days. And so Cameron Kaiser decided to invest some time and finalize his KIM-1 emulator for the C64. His own words:

That’s not a joke!

His emulator runs real KIM-1 code using a software 6502 core that he calls "6o6" (6502-on-6502). It [citation] implements protected memory, exception handling and all legal NMOS instructions. In addition, the KIMplement not only emulates those famous six seven-segment LEDs and the hex keypad, but also is one of the few KIM-1 emulators that emulates a TTY connection (an old-school ASR-33) and a KIM-4 expander with 16K of RAM, allowing you to run "big programs" too.

So if you want to play with a KIM-1, but don’t have one at hand, give the emu a try.

(And btw, if you want to program an emulated KIM-1 on your iOS device, check out issue #07 where we speak about John Kennedy's Virtual Kim.) 

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Dan Kramer’s Notebook

Dan Kramer’s Notebook
Source: https://archive.org/

Kay Savetz known to many retro lovers and especially Atari fans does a lot of things. Besides running The Atari 8-bit Podcast and writing on numerous of his websites he very much enjoys digitizing nearly lost material like old magazines, videos and handwritten notes.

Yes dear, there has been a time when people used ink-filled sticks to scribble letters, numbers and drawings onto a sheet of material, consisting essentially of fibers of vegetable origin and formed by dewatering a fiber suspension on a screen. 😯

Recently Kay interviewed Dan Kramer who worked at Atari from 1980 to 1984 in the consumer engineering group where he created products for Atari home computers and home video games. Dan was involved in the development of the Atari Trak-Ball as well as a number of other projects.

Going though his notes is interesting and fun at the same time. But be warned, lot’s of nostalgia ahead.

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Ahead of the Wave

Rust on the 6502

Rust on the 6502
Source: https://www.rust-lang.org/

There are a number of programming languages, that have been squeezed, twisted and compressed such, that they run on an 8-bit MOS 6502 processor. But can you imagine something more 'modern' like Rust?

Naahhh. 🤔

Believe it or not, it is possible. And the process to get Rust code up and running on a 6502 seems to be much more sleek, that anticipated.

Dr. Gergő Érdi gave it a spin. After the release of the llvm-mos backend and therefore the ability to make use of Rust to create machine code for the 6502, he decided to dust off a slightly older project of his - a Rust based CHIP-8 implementation for an AVR.

Join him on his journey and enjoy the HN find of the week. Seems we’re opening up whole new possibilities with llvm-mos. Exciting times!

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Z80 and 8080 Emulation

Z80 and 8080 Emulation
Source: https://www.autometer.de/

Are you as envious of those people who own an actual working Altair 8800 or an IMSAI 8080

These machines, which can be called the first personal computers, but whose output was based only on a few blinkenlights and had to be programmed via front panel switches, were real gamechangers at their time.

And even though it is possible to reconstruct these machines with hardware parts available today, that is quite an undertaking. And needs soldering skills. And plenty of time.

Udo Munk to the rescue. His emulator package dubbed z80pack is a goldmine. Besides emulators for the two machines mentioned above, you find emulators for the Cromemco Z1, CP/M and generic Z80 and 8080 emulations.

All programs are written in ANSI C, the front panels are implemented in C++. So every POSIX compatible system should be able to compile and run these goodies.

Feel like switching some … switches? Give it a try.

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TI/99 Gameshelf

TI/99 Gameshelf
Source: http://tigameshelf.net/

The TI/99 deserves at least as much loves as it currently receives from its fans. What a lovely machine, what a huge library of games and programs but unfortunately a bit underrepresented in the retrocomputing world.

That must have been one of the motivations for the unknown authors behind tigameshelf. They collect and provide a huge number of TI/99 games, which are public domain or abandonware, and you will find a number of old friends over there … guaranteed.

Besides jewels like Space Quest, Titanium and a lot more you also find modern titles like a re-implementation of the Chrome T-Rex mini game as well as a Super Mario Bros. first level demo.

Just awesome. If you own a TI/99, you must have a look at this one. Enjoy. 

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A Summary of Electronics

A Summary of Electronics
Source: https://electroagenda.com/

You study CS, are new to electronics or just started tinkering with TTL-logic chips and breadboards in your spare time? Then a refresher on analog and digital electronics can be really helpful.

The Summary of Electronics seems to be huge on first sight. In fact it is a quick read and do not expect detailed and in depth knowledge regarding the topics in the TOC. But you get a quick overview of the most relevant topics created by professionals with a doctorate level (as they say).

And if this is the perfect head start for you, continue your journey for example with Albert Malvino’s Electronic Principles - one of the best books in the field. 

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MEGA65 on a Mac

MEGA65 on a Mac
Source: https://unsplash.com/

This week the Mega65 team announced, that pre-orders for the machine would be opened this week in the Trenz Electronics Shop. Should you not be able to get one of the first few hundred machines, or not willing to live with it’s price tag, there is an option.

Just use the emulator.🤘

Thanks to the Xemu project you can emulate a number of machines on Windows, Linux and MacOS - including the MEGA65.

Stephen Combs went through the whole installation and configuration process on a M1 based Mac, documented all the necessary steps and also provides a video with all the gory details.

This no-cost solution will be definitely an option for a number of fans, who will not get hold of one of the first machines.

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Why DOS is still a thing

Why DOS is still a thing
Source: https://youtu.be/3E5Hog5OnIM

40 frigging years later and DOS is still a thing. Don’t believe it? You better do. Microsofts MS-DOS and IBM’s PC-DOS were actually released in 1981. But they have by far not been the only incarnations of this little operating system.

Jim Hall a member of the FreeDOS project just published a video in which he answers a lot of questions like: Where did DOS come from? Why does it look the way it does? And who is still using it today.

Check it out, quite an interesting one.

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Silhouette - Nintendo’s very own SNES Emu

Silhouette - Nintendo’s very own SNES Emu
Source: https://youtu.be/wAfPGAOGbpo

Few companies are as restrictive when it comes to emulating their vintage hardware or re-implementing old games on other architectures like Nintendo. So you can imagine, that we were quite surprised, when we learned about Silhouette. A SNES emulator that - as it seems - was actually developed in-house at Nintendo itself.

The Modern Vintagegamer looked into the details and provides a solid rundown with all information you want and need.

The story about this neat piece of software is quite interesting, since the initial author wants to stay anonymous. But I don't want to give too much away at this point, check out the video and see for yourself.  

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8Bit Homebrew the other way

8Bit Homebrew the other way
Source: https://youtu.be/bpxUB6aqyuY

It is a slight exaggeration to say that there are as many 8-bit homebrew systems as there are grains of sand by the sea, but honestly, quite a few of these systems exist already. So if you add another one, it should have a certain twist. 

Tom Goff found that twist and built his own dream machine based on an ATMega microcontroller.

A contrasting approach to building your own CPU but with a number of different challenges as well. There is an Instructable and Tom also details the machine and his journey in this video.

Looking for a new hobby project? Have a look.

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8Bit Systems for your Pocket

8Bit Systems for your Pocket
Source: https://youtu.be/4tL9K5tXZtY

Fancy a hardware based retro computer emulator with QUERTY keyboard and IPS display in a handheld form factor?

Peter Misenko built one on top of a Raspberry PI Pico. What a beauty. There are emulators for the C64, ZX Spectrum, Atari 800 and sheer endless possibilities on the software side. 

You get an overview in Peter’s video and there is of course a Hackaday project.

Nice work Peter. Looking forward to the next version.

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Matt Godbolt on 6502 Emulation

Matt Godbolt on 6502 Emulation
Source: https://youtu.be/7WuRq-Wmw5o

If there was a Formula-1 for fast talking, Matt Godbolt would easily outrun Louis Hamilton multiple times. He not a John Moschitta, but quite close. Quite close. 

This video of Matt is everything but brand new. It is actually 5 years old already, but we’d consider it a classic and must-see when you are into retro machines, 6502 machine code and the topic of emulation.

Matt’s first computer was a BBC Micro. He spent his days and nights hacking the copy protection of various games and 35 years later he built a super accurate Javascript based emulator for the machine. In this GOTO 2016 talk he get’s into the details, and boy, that’s interesting. Don’t. Miss. It.

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That was a little bit of a context switch today. We hope you will bear with us. But especially during the holidays there was time to read and the number of topics that came up during the last two weeks was just … massive.

We are also massively grateful for every new subscriber. So should you still enjoy reading our little magazine, it would mean the world to us, if you shared a link with interested friends and colleagues.

With the exception of last week, upcoming issues will return to a weekly schedule. If you have a project you'd like to see in one of the upcoming issues, feel free to contact us by email or use the suggest feature on our site.

In the meantime, build something. And speak about it.

Take care.

Jan & Bastian

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