Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

It's Friday. Again. And life is like a sine curve. Either there's nothing, and you start biting your nails with boredom, or it all comes crashing in at once, and you don't know where to start first.

Last week was more like a local maximum, but let's not complain. Especially not due to the fact that Ron Gilbert released a brand new trailer for the upcoming Return to Monkey Island 🤤. 

Regardless of that, though, we stumbled across a lot of interesting topics this week, that we don't want to deprive you of.

Enjoy Issue #55.


Atari at 50

ATARI at 50
Imagesource: https://www.howtogeek.com/

ATARI turned 50 years old this week. Benj Edwards has joined many others congratulating, but instead of an article he has a very special treat to offer. 

Benj took the occasion to interview one of the key figures who founded the company: Nolan Bushnell.

So, Happy Birthday ATARI! 🎂

The history of the great little devices, which kids nowadays strap to their faces at least 9.25 hours per day, and those, in front of which we „elders“ spend a large part of our work-and-leisure-everyday-life, was indeed not determined exclusively by ATARI. But if any company had a huge part in it, it was definitely ATARI.

Benj evaluates a good part of ATARI history and as always, he asked exactly the right questions. If you're interested in Nolan's answers, you can find the whole interview here.

Good old times. 😩

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Z80-MBC2 Projects

Z80-MBC2 Projects
Imagesource: https://hackaday.io/

Admittedly, when we talk about old CPUs, it's mostly about the 6502 or the Z80. Guilty. But truth be told, the 6502 usually gets the preference. This needs to be changed urgently, and therefore we are super grateful for the hint and work of one of our faithful readers Paolo Amoroso.

Paolo is more in the Z80 camp and has recently assembled the Z80-MBC2.

This beautiful machine is the successor of the Z80-SBC (single board computer), brings an SD card reader and 128kB banked RAM, so besides CP/M 2.2 also CP/M 3, QP/M and Collapse OS can be run on the box.

But what do you do after the soldering iron has cooled down and you have cured the resulting burns? 🩹

Paolo answers this very question with an interesting series of blog posts. A first look at hardware and software, building a first demo in assembly, a serial connection to chromeOS and an alternative for program upload are the first topics documenting Paolo's journey. More to come.

For those who have always wanted to enter Z80 territory, both the device and especially Paolo's article are highly recommended.

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Free Verilog Book

Free Verilog Book
Imagesource: https://scribd.com/

If you think soldering irons are the devil's work (Hello), don't want to maltreat pieces of cable and your own fingers with a wire stripper, but still feel like designing digital circuits, there are options.

LogiSim in its different flavors or the excellent alternative Digital by Helmut Neemann will get you surprisingly far. Even larger projects are no problem thanks to the abstraction capabilities via modules. But if you want to go back to the hardware world, both tools are not always directly usable, even though they provide Verilog generated descriptions of your design.

And Verilog alone generates real joy, because you can describe very complex digital circuits very quickly with very little code. In short, there's no getting around Verilog if you're serious about building something and to bringing it to life on an FPGA or ASIC afterwards.

One of the best books on the subject comes from Samir Palitkar. The first edition of "Verilog HDL" dates back to 1993, but has been updated again and again by the author. Paperback and hardcover versions are available (in some countries) from Amazon, but here and here you find digital versions. To be fair, those who want to support Samir put some colorful bills on the Amazon sales counter.

The book assumes only basic knowledge, and is an excellent choice to get started with Verilog. Definitely reading material for a hot summer! 😎

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6502 Math

One of the reasons why vintage 8-bit CPUs like the MOS 6502 are still so popular (and manufactured) today, is that they are so approachable. The instruction sets of these chips are usually so small, that you can write machine code almost by hand, and just understand the thing as a whole.

But oftentimes it happens, that after building your own 8-bit machine, you end up only implementing some simple experiments. You add two 8-bit numbers, maybe implement a 16-bit addition with carry and then ...🥱

But actually it gets really interesting, when you start coding the axiom tree of mathematics. At least a part of it. And what are the obvious candidates if your hardware can add and subtract?

Right, multiplication and division.

Neil Parker's writeup on the subject is as competent as it is interesting. And if you're in the mood to finally breathe a little more life into the DIY build on your desk in the coming days off, you'll definitely get a taste for it again here!

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Some Assembly

Some Assembly
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

For all those who are not yet so deep into the matter, and would not yet be able to put a Turing-complete machine on paper (or breadboard or PCB), the following is certainly interesting.

Jessica Card who is involved in the Hack Club, has put together a wonderful tutorial about assembly.

Some Assembly Required not only introduces you to the topic without the necessity of any prior knowledge. There are very practical examples of x86, RISC-V and 6502 assembly, where even die-hards can learn a thing or two.

Excellently summarized in a GitHub repo, and thanks to the work of 13 Contributors a really good source of knowledge.

Thanks for that! 🙏

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YouTube on a PET

YouTube on a PET
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/4e0fRKHG7Hk

One thing I know for sure. 100%. Absolutely. No one will ever watch a YouTube video on a Commodore PET!

Correction ... 😳😮😶.

Someone did. In 30 friggin FPS. What?

Thorbjörn Jemander is the Swedish genius, who pulled off this magic trick. But to be honest, the whole thing requires a bit of homebuilt hardware (yeah DIY) on the one hand, and a bit of software for the networking and realtime Video2Ascii conversion on the other.

But the result is impressive. Just plug it into the expansion port of the PET, add a little potential difference for your friendly electrons, run a little program and off you go. The result is actually amazing and absolutely worth seeing.

Can't believe it? Then have a look here. Great work! 📺

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Pony 80

Pony 80
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/y9em2K-7y7M

A still very fresh but no less interesting project for craft-it-yourself™ friends is the Pony 80 from Ponytail Bob.

We don't want to indulge in any speculation about Bob's hairstyle, nor do we expect anything related to horses.

What we got, was a small but nice Z80 based machine, consisting of several modules. Sure, there are the well-known alternatives. But why miss out on a build? (Apart from the issue of semiconductor shortage and current prices).

Bob has posted several videos on his build, but of particular interest is this one. The topic is the architecture of the Z80. Reminds a bit of Ben Eater's videos on the 6502 topic.

The Z80 is the salami on your slice of bread? In case this video might be something for you.

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Imagesource: https://youtu.be/VgktjP_Fcy8

Let's go over the coolness factors of DIY homebrew builds top-down.

You buy an 8-bit CPU and some LS74XX chips. Level: Master. You do without the CPU and build yourself an ALU and complete CPU with said LS74XX. Level: Magician. You build a complete functional machine (except RAM and ROM) out of transistors? 😱 Level: ???

Dennis Kuschel did exactly that. Those who already know Dennis, also know his first machine MyNOR. But already back in 2021 Dennis - unfortunately unnoticed by us - went one better and built TraNOR.

The machine is not only beautiful in the final result, it is seriously capable. Dennis actually implemented several games for the thing, which only has a 4 line LC display. And they are something to behold.

Great work and maybe inspiration for your summer project.

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Imagesource: https://youtu.be/ihz2WY-E2C8

The penultimate article of this issue is rather entertaining. At least your pulse will probably come down a bit, because all the ingenuity of other people out there can become kind of stressful. 😛

Asianometry has taken on the topic of EDA software, and in the following 12 minutes and 10 seconds you get a pretty good overview of how chip design has evolved from the 70s to today with the help of software.

The style is relaxed, and the short video is great for unwinding. And thanks to Youtube, you don't have a 7-minute commercial break every 10 seconds.

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Project AROS

Project AROS
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/PtDiXhjSIfs

Dan Wood should not be a stranger if you read some of our past issues. And his latest video will definitely wake you up again, and has primetime character as well.

In Project AROS Dan devotes himself to an alternative operating system for the Amiga platform. AROS is not new. Intended as an open source alternative to the classic Amiga operating system, AROS has been developed and ported for several platforms. x86, Raspberry PI, FPGA based machines and of course Amigas, all enjoy the OS.

Whether the whole thing makes sense, and what to expect, Dan has put together in a very entertaining way. Have fun.

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#55 and Done. Did you like it? Feedback via email is welcome. Reply works and mails directly hit our inbox.

Emotions are going through the roof with you after this issue? ❤️ Then help us and share it with family and friends.

If you have a topic for #56, please send it over!

In the meantime: Enjoy the summer. Build something. And speak about it.


Jan & Bastian

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