Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

the last two weeks have just passed us by smiling with a drink in hand. There was nothing like a big hit in the retrocomputing space … or we just missed it. 🤷‍♂️

Nevertheless, as usual a number of topics flickered over our monitors, that should not be left undiscussed.

And these are the ones that have made it into the current issue. We hope there's something for you and also hope you enjoy Issue #63.



Imagesource: https://github.com/MemberA2600/

The ATARI 2600, VCS and 5200 consoles were, are and remain icons of computer and gaming history and may have influenced one or the other as a decisive motivation in their choice of career.

The 6502 as it’s base CPU was also to be found in a number of other machines of the time. Programming in Assembly was as tedious for the ATARI consoles as for all others. Since emulators were not available until later, cross compilers for high level languages were still missing and debugging could often only be done by trial and error, software development for the 2600 in the 80s can at least be classified as … this-special-pain-from-behind-down-there-somewhere™.

The situation got better over the years, but it's interesting, that even long after the official demise of the actual console, development tools are still being built alongside new and fresh software.

Astonishing example: Fortari.

The project started by Fehér János Zoltán wants to be seen as a complete development environment for the 2600, which can be used to develop software in Fortran. Fortan … ok, no C, but also no assembly on the other hand!

The Windows software is a complete IDE and supports only versions with 32k ROM and SARA superchip addon. But for whom the project seems relevant, this should not be a real hurdle.

A beautiful example of real ATARI love! ♥️

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How the 6502 came to be

How the 6502 came to be
Imagesource: https://www.embeddedrelated.com/

And if we stay with the legendary MOS 6502 (again) then one can (again) only state that there is probably pretty much nothing, that has not already been written about this conglomerate of semiconducting material, metal and plastic.

Almost nothing, because Jason Sachs dares to plunge into this risky adventure again, and to uncover facts, that might have remained hidden to others until now. 🕵🏻‍♂️

Was he successful? This question can probably only be answered on an individual basis, but Jason's article Development of the MOS Technology 6502 is more detailed, than almost any other we’ve seen for a while.

Fans of the CPU will certainly get their money's worth, even though the article was published in June of this year. But what’s a mere 4 month, when the hero of the story has more than 45 years under his belt?

Great reading material, don’t miss.

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Imagesource: https://pexels.com/

The following thing is more peripherally related to our beloved 8-bit technology, but has attracted our attention this week and might be an interesting tip for lovers of the real-retro-hardware-deal.

RetroNAS first of all wins the 100 rubber points of the month for the perfect project name! 💯💐

Because the name says it all. RetroNAS is a network attached storage system for retro computers. In the real sense, it is more of a meta-installer for the underlying technologies and subprojects, but makes the setup more or less convenient. 

What you need: A RasPi, an old computer or a VM serve as basis.

What you get: Protocols like SMB, Netatalk 2/3, EtherDFS, (T)FTP, HTTP and PS3NetSRV.

And with all that you open up access to more storage for a whole range of systems. Starting with Apple GS/OS, System 6, System 7 over ATARI ST, Amiga Nintendo 3DS up to MiSTer FPGA and others you can dock a lot of systems to the NAS.

The project by Dan Mons is still in a relatively early phase, but is functional. And if you're in the mood for tinkering, want to turn a spare machine into a NAS, and don't want to build everything yourself, this might be a pretty good place to start.

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Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

The following project should not remain unmentioned, because an 8-bit machine with the name COBRA which at the same time comes along so beautifully, one should have seen at least once.

The COBRA is an eastern block clone of the ZX Spectrum based on the Z80. There were and are quite a few of these clones at the time, but only a few of these machines come in such a nice dress as the rebuild by Thomas Sowell.

On his blog you find the history of the COBRA and the origin of the name derived from COmputer BRAșov - where Brașov in Romania is the actual city of origin of the box.

There are a number of additional pictures of Thomas' version of the machine here. Attractive especially because of the JVC and thanks to all the necessary info on GitHub also a nice template for a wanny-be-self-build.

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ZX2022 - Z80 Clone
Imagesource: https://www.hackster.io/michalin70/

For whom the COBRA mentioned above might be a too big of a challenge, but the Z80 is still the measure of all things, the following project may very well be a perfect fun little project right before the coming Christmas season.

Michael Linsenmeier aka Doctor Volt has published his latest project on hackster.io at the beginning of October. And of course it's a Z80 clone - but one that is only built based on components available at that time. Except for the optional Arduino, which is only used for serial communication with a host machine.

Michael's ZX2022 is pretty much complete. 128kB RAM, 32kB EEPROM, serial and IDE interface, extension module connector, PS/2 keyboard connector and an optional TMS 99x8 based graphics unit complete this nice construction.

There are hardly any wishes left open, since CP/M 3.0 and therefore compatible software is within reach. Not necessarily the most innovative homebrew project of recent times, but absolutely complete and designed competently.


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Dual Screen TRS-80

TRS-80 Dual Screen
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

It's been a whopping 45 years since the first TRS-80 Model 1 made its way into the moist hands of excited consumers. And since 45 years ago the machine was in most cases simply connected to a TV, and since TVs were just as often still only shining in shades of gray instead of colors, it's not surprising that the designers of the antique box didn't really seriously consider a multi-monitor operation back in the days.

(If they had, it would have been a real sensation ... back in the 70s). 🤓

But now buckle up, hold on, and better turn off the iPhone14. We don't want to make any misguided emergency calls, even if the onset of gasping for breath could certainly be considered a medical indication. Roller coaster: 🎢

TRS-80 Multi Monitor Support is here.

Sounds weird. Works, though. Glen Kleinschmidt has done a great job here. The idea is based on his Series 74xx VGA graphics card, which can be directly accessed by a TRS-80 using a little extra logic in hardware. In combination with a machine code driver and an integration into BASIC, this opens up completely new use cases for the machine.

A very exciting project with a lot to learn. But beyond that, Glen provides additional projects for friends of cultivated microelectronics … just click around.

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Free Algorithms Course

Free Algorithms Course
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

The last topic in this section for today is of a different nature. Every now and then we have linked freely available courses from various universities. And today we would like to draw your attention to a great course from MITOPENCOURSEWARE.

Introduction to Algorithms by Prof. Erik Demaine, Dr. Jason Ku, and Prof. Justin Solomon provides a comprehensive introduction to … yep, algorithms.

Even those who have studied computer science quite surely find something to learn in the free lecture notes and 21 video lessons. 📺 

Theory never hurt anyone and especially low level assembly programming of older 8-bit systems benefits massively, if you know about the common solutions to common problems. 

Crystal clear tip of the week. 🫵

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C64 Dungeon Crawler

Eye of the Beholder for C64
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/V2IWyzAVVBQ

Dungeon crawlers were one of the hits of the 70s and 80s for many kids. For me personally, Eye of the Beholder on the Amiga was the game-of-the-year-1991. Real 3D titles were still a while in the future, and you couldn't get much closer to an immersive dungeon adventure at that time.

If EotB had been available for the C64, it probably would have broken all sales records. But it wasn't. Sure … how so?

Hard to believe that this change as of today - in 2022. To see this epic in 64kB memory is bordering on a miracle. But it’s true. retrobitstv has collected all the details of this technical wonder to a review video, which should definitely not be missing in the evening program of a C64 or C128 owner. 

What a time to be alive. 

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Commander X16 Update

Commander X16 Update
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/AcWqMGju7fk

Hardly any 8-bit hobby project has been the subject of so much controversy (sigh) as Commander X16 by David Murray aka The 8-Bit Guy. And after a long wait of almost 3 years, there is finally news about the machine. 🤩

The final prototype arrived and David has a plan to bring the box to the people. 🎉 Full details on the current development can be found here, and we don't want to give anything away here. Watch it yourself.

Exciting! 🤖

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C64 Doom

Commodore C64 DOOM
Imagesource: playstation.com

The following project plays in a different league than EotB, but definitely in the same stadium. The heirs of the ZZAP! 64 Magazine presented a video of a DOOM clone for the C64 a few days ago. 

Yep DOOM ... C64. 😳

Presumably based on raycasting, the game seems to run smooth enough on the breadbin. Currently only one weapon is available, and besides health packs you can collect keys, necessary for progressing in the game.

The title will be available to ZZAP! 64 subscribers for free, but it's still unclear how a release might look like beyond that. We are curious.

Who would have dared to dream of such titles in the 80s?

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C64 as FM Receiver

C64 FM Receiver
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/jyaFMxvdWh8

Can you use a C64 to listen to FM radio? Certainly not with onboard hardware, the resources of the machine are a bit too limited for SDR. But with a little additional hardware this project of dreams can be realized.

ChinnyVision has tested exactly this piece of hardware, ran a camera and uploaded the colorful pixels in the form of a h.264 stream to our favorite, trusted video platform.

Fancy this little experiment? Then the video will certainly whet your appetite.

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Frogger Port

Frogger Port
Imagesource: https://benjames171.itch.io/

In the last issue, Arcade machines were one of our topics. And as is so often the case, certain events trigger memories, that would otherwise have simply been lost in the vastness of one's past.

When it comes to arcade I had to think of my very first real video game experience. Classifying the machine as an „Arcade“ would certainly be a bit of an exaggeration. But I was more than impressed and at the same time massively influenced by the first game I played on a cabinet machine in 1986: A Frogger clone.

(For those who know something about it: Poly Play, SEZ, Berlin, '86 👋)

How many coins I sunk into the machine back then is impossible to track today, but it was more than enough. The game principle is still captivating today - my mind’s so simple ... 🤷‍♂️

So I was all the more pleased, when I stumbled across a near-perfect Frogger port for the browser this week. The author Ben James chose a platform independent game engine and delivered a graphically perfect implementation. Sound included.

Caution, only for fans and possibly a time sink.

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And so the 63rd issue of 8bitnews ends, while the first topics for the next issue are already announced. You can be curious, in 2 weeks you will find a colorful envelope in your virtual mailbox again.

In the meantime, feel free to send us a message, if you have any topics for us. You can reply directly to this email. Otherwise, feel free to use the anonymous „Suggest“ function over here.

And if our magazine is a good fit for someone you know, feel free to forward this issue and we'll take care of the rest.

Winter is coming. Enjoy the fall, build something and speak about it.

Jan & Bastian

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