Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

it's Friday, it's a holiday and still we spare no expense nor effort to provide you with interesting 8-bit news again.

This week was a bit quieter, but ESA surprised with a great hi-res image of the sun, shot by the Solar Orbiter.

Since Easter is not only just around the corner, but has more or less already entered the house, we're taking it a bit easier this week, and - somewhat untypically - focusing more on a few fun projects to pass the time.

That's why our fun section is a bit more pronounced than usual today, and other topics are a bit reduced. For everyone new here, have a look at our archive, you might like what you get.

Happy Easter and enjoy Issue #45.


SmartyKit Second Batch

SmartyKit Second Batch PreOrders
Imagesource: https://smartykit.io/

Remember SmartyKit from 2021? No? Neither do we, because the topic as well as the project passed us with full speed, without us noticing anything about it. And that's more or less semi-pity, because the first batch was quickly sold out. The second batch … what can we say except semiconductor shortage.

But preorders are open again, and those who had a lot of fun with Ben Eater's 6502 machine, the Cerberus 2080, the RC 2014 or other DIY 8-bit systems, will love the SmartyKit.

The special feature: The thing is Apple-1 compatible, is assembled on breadboards, comes with a 2.8" LCD screen (320x240) but also a connector for a keyboard and a RCA port to connect to a TV set or monitor.

Besides the fun of building the machine, you learn a lot about architecture and how computers actually work at the metal level. The SmartyKit team provides a number of resources, to help you get software running on the box. (WozMon I'm coming.)

The price tag isn't all that tingly, and you'll have to think carefully about whether you want to pay the premium fee for the kit, but if you're still looking for a nice - though probably late - Easter gift, the kit could seriously be something for you. Or a friend. Or a friend of a friend.

As always, we're not sponsored, just didn't want to deprive you of the project.

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First Wearable Computer?

First Wearables
Imagesource: Seiko Holdings Corporation

From time to time, we dedicate ourselves to calculating machines of a completely different kind. Surely, there will be no retro-retro articles about topics like a sliderule or an abacus in the near future, but something about the Curta might be conceivable. Let's see. 🧮

But to stay with electronics, and to broaden the horizon, we rummaged a bit, and came across the following pearl:

The Seike UC-2000 from 1984.

If any device was ahead of its time, it was this one. Basically more of a programmable wrist calculator, but with a docking station for programming, a 40-character display, and connectivity for the Apple-II, Commodore 64, and even IBM PCs, it was a milestone for wearables and mobile computing.

I don't recall Seiko having a real product hit with this one, they were just about 30 years too early with the release. 🤷‍♂️

The article by Riccardo Bianchini is already about a year old, but absolutely worth reading. And if you are interested in this topic, you can always find affordable full sets on ebay. ⌚️

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Apple-1 Memory Architecture

Apple-1 Memory Architecture
Imagesource: Achim Baqué - CC BY-SA 4.0

2.097.152 times as much memory as the Apple-1? That's the amount of memory in the machine I am currently writing this article on. 16GB vs. 8kB. Was and is the Apple-1 less fun compared to a modern memory monster?

I'm not sure, but that's a question everyone has to answer for themselves. What definitely is fun, is to understand the memory architecture of the Apple-1. Why? There isn't any. 😬

Well, at least none that would have anything to do with "normal" RAM. Steve Wozniak used shift registers as memory back then, which explains the now stone-age-like interface and the lack of a backspace option on the console.

Ken Shirriff took the time to write another brilliant article on the subject, which can be found here.

Nothing for in-between, and for some surely an old hat. But who is interested in the architecture, will find the perfect writeup with all information on the topic perfectly prepared and illustrated by Ken.

As always. Lovely.

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PCMCIA Soundblaster Clone

PCMCIA Soundblaster Clone
Imagesource: http://www.vgmpf.com/

PCMCIA was a ubiquitous format back in the days. At least from 1989 to 2010, you could buy all kinds of additional hardware for laptops with PCMCIA port, especially modems were widespread ... 56k mind you. Unimaginable today, where the kids already complain about a 5 seconds buffering of their Netflix stream. 🫣

Thus, current PCMCIA projects are hardly interesting, because there is no longer any hardware with corresponding connectors. But if you call such a device your own, then sooner or later the desire for a decent sound card often comes around the corner.

And what is a proper soundcard, if not a Soundblaster? 🔊

That's what Kevin thought, and decided to build a Soundblaster clone in PCMCIA guise.

His project page has the perfect retro vibe and color theme, and navigating through the Soundblaster article as well as the previous projects is just fun.

If and how you can get your own Soundblaster clone is currently not foreseeable, but Kevin's videos on the subject are definitely interesting.

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Lemmings on Apple-II

Lemmings for the Apple-II
Imagesource: DMA Design / Psygnosis

And the first easter egg: Vince Weaver was already a guest in our last issue. The colleague has too much time on his hands and actually converts classic games functionally for the Apple-II. A skill that is dramatically undervalued in my opinion.

And if you studied our article in the last issue in detail, as well as followed its link, you already discovered it last week:

Lemmings for the Apple-II. Unbelievable. 😳

Even though his version is not the first 8-bit port, the whole thing is impressive. And most importantly, fun. Whether in the emulator or on real hardware, there are 10 levels available.

It's always amazing what fun can be coaxed out of this much loved but quite dated hardware. As with all projects, Vince provides the source as well as a finished disk image.


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Nebulus for Pico-8

Nebulus for Pico-8
Imagesource: U.S. Gold

One should never conclude from oneself to others, and I have no data to substantiate the following. But Nebulus was one of the classics on the C64 that I'm sure, a number of us grew up with and just wasted a lot of valuable lifetime.

On to a new one! Apart from the fact that Nebulus also got ported to various systems, there was always one missing. Therefore a joyful Hello for: Nebulus for Pico-8.

Carl Chimes has reissued John M. Phillips' classic for the fantasy console, and recently made it available on itch.io.

Always fun to just load a cover art PNG, that also contains the entire application binary.

If you just can't forget Nebulus, you'll get your money's worth here. (And the cart is actually free of charge.) If you don't know the game yet, it's highly recommended. Even if the C64 is not beaten by anything. 😏

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Target-6 for KIM-1

Target-6 for the KIM-1
Imagesource: https://github.com/netzherpes/

netzherpes is no stranger to the retrocomputing scene. His German nickname should not necessarily be associated with his work, because both are diametrically opposed to each other.

Who knows him, knows that netzherpes likes to program games for the KIM-1. And even if it's hard to imagine, even a machine that uses only a few 7-segment displays for its output, can be used to implement quite captivating game ideas.

Often the implementation itself is as interesting as the game. At least that’s the case with Target-6 for the KIM-1.

If you own or have rebuilt the hardware, you will have lots of fun. Otherwise the KIM-1 Emulator by Hans Otten is also is a die-hard recommendation.

Nice little project for the Easter holidays ahead of you. 🐣

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Super Mario 64 Rewritten

Super Mario 64 Rewritten
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/t_rzYnXEQlE

Super Mario 64 on the N64 was a milestone in two histories. On the one hand for the Italian plumber himself, on the other hand for video game history in general.

Hardly any other game has divided the spirits as much, and the question of whether Mario has to be 2D or 3D still gives me sleepless nights. (Just yesterday again... 🥱)

But no matter how, technically the N64 conversion is something special, and one should assume that the engineers in 1996 got the maximum out of the N64 hardware with optimal code.

In fact, this doesn't seem to be the case, because Kaze Emanuar has not only completely reverse-engineered the game with hard work over several months, but also almost completely rewrote and optimized it.

The result is worth seeing as well as interesting, and Kaze has summarized the entire process in an absolutely worth watching video on my favorite TV channel.


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Atari Force

Imagesource: DC Comics, Inc.

If there was one thing that shaped the 70s and 80s besides the advent of home computing, it was comics. Marvel, DC and friends were constant companions, and the selection of regularly new hero stories was much larger compared to today.

But did you know there was a DC comic called Atari Force?

We didn't. So we were all the more amazed that our personal heroes at the archive had digitized more than 21 issues to perfection and made them available for viewing.

You don't have to be an Atari fan, but it helps to like comics. Here is volume 1 number 1, as well as links to the entire issue.

Beer -> Couch -> Tablet -> Atari Force. Evening saved.

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Jan Beta builds Cerberus 2080

Jan Beta builds Cerberus 2080
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/YxW3LQ6DE-k

If you already know Bernardo Castrup's Cerberus 2080, then you know what this is about. If you don't know Bernardo and his creation yet, you will find it at thebyteattic.

The machine is not new, but its architecture is very well thought through. With a 65C02 and a Z80, two hearts beat in its chest, and the overall concept is just pretty.

If you didn't dare to order the kit yourself so far, you now get help from Jan Beta. Jan soldered the 2080 together from scratch, and as always guides us through the overall process in an entertaining fashion. The video is here.

Definitely a fun project. Even more fun that Bernardo is now also messing with Sabine Hossenfelder. But ... that’s another topic. 🤐

Decide for yourself.

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Fortunately, there were no eggs to search for, only great content to discover. If you liked the current issue, we're always open to feedback and topics you'd like to see in one of our issues.

Just reply directly to this email, or use the anonymous „Suggest“ feature on our site.

You don't want to lay an egg, but want to support us? Go for it! Feel free to forward this issue to anyone who might find it interesting. We don't have any copy protection going on, and we can always handle new subscribers. 😁

Regardless, we'll see you back here - in your inbox - in exactly 7 days from today. In the meantime, build something. And speak about it.

Happy Easter. 🐰

Jan & Bastian

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