Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

the end is coming. The week's is already here, the month's is not far off, and the year's is already beckoning with a Christmas tree in one hand and a Cuba Libre in the other. 🎄¯\_(ツ)_/¯🍹

Time to reflect ... and in doing so, we noticed that since the beginning of our little publication, there are already over 800(!) individual, retro-heavy articles in our archive.

In this issue we will add another 10. Let's hope they all get along, and there's no crowding. Anyway, have fun with Issue #67.


8 Bit Symphony

8-Bit Symphony
Imagesource: https://c64audio.com/

Our cover story today there is something for the audiophiles among us. 🎶 There are quite a few SID tunes that - even if you listen to them 35 or 40 years later - immediately trigger a set of synapses and transport you back to the 80s. You'll simply never forget them.

(The theme tune from Gianna Sisters somehow became my go-to background melody of so many dreams ... thank goodness it's not Tetris! But there’s medication for that.)

What is possible with the Soundchip - the MOS 6581 - of the Commodore machines of the time, is simply amazing. But it would be even more amazing if you took some of the best SID tunes and played them with an orchestra, right? Right? Sounds crazy? In a way it is. More of the „w-h-a-a-a-t crazy" and not so much the "nuts crazy" though. 🤪

Chris Abbott, Chris & Damian Manning and Anna Black, the team behind @c64audio have done just that, and the result is more than appealing, and not just to audiophiles.

The 8 Bit Symphony comes in two parts on Blueray. The first half can already be purchased with the help of numbers on a credit card or similar equivalent. The second half currently still has the status "preorder". But if you want to listen to it first, you can do so on YouTube in stereo. With the Bluerays of course the whole experience is available in digital-modern surround-chic.

Our take: listening in is a must. And as always, we are not sponsored, even if the product is a commercial one.

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Imagesource: https://martin-piper.itch.io/

Let’s stay with the topic of harmonic oscillations of air molecules and also with the Commodore64.

Creators, still attracted by the little Commodore have several tools at their disposal when it comes to the conversion of own ideas of sound into the digital representation of a SID soundtrack. We have already reported about some of them in previous issues.

This week a new star has risen in the sky, but unfortunately it shines only in the Microsoft universe ... 😔. MusicStudio2

@MartinPiper and Alan Peters are responsible for this piece of software, and they did a great job. The implementation of the sound of the MOS 6581 and MOS 8580 seem quite authentic, and the software’s functionalities shown in the demo videos are convincing. Unfortunately we don't have a Windows machine available for testing ... dang!

Therefore we want to leave it at the hint alone. If you are inclined to the topic and want to try MusicStudio2, you’ll find everything needed over at itch.io. Just name your own fair price.

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Retro Cases

Raspberry Pi Retro Cases
Imagesource: https://bbenchoff.github.io/

A barebones, naked Raspberry PI somehow has something rustic and steampunk-like. If you have several of these little things lying around at home or in the garage, the probability that something will happen to the piece of modern electronics, increases very quickly.

Clear solution: You need a case. Or two. But not just any case, Brian Benchoff aka @BBenchoff thought.

Brian's creations are so adorable, that we had to include them in this issue, even though they don't really touch 8 bit systems or anything related. If you own a 3D printer, you can quickly turn your RasPi into a SiliconGraphics Indy, a BeBox or a X68000.

What a cool idea.💡 There was a time when I would have killed for an Indy .... but that's a different story for another day.

Great project for those who have a 3D printer in addition to 1 upto n RasPis.

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Scene World

Scene World
Imagesource: https://sceneworld.org/

The die-hard among the Commodore fans will already know the following. For everyone else, here's a very special piece of sugar, which you have to appreciate, though. 

Say Hello to Scene World!

The digital magazine exists since February 2001, and comes with a number of special features. First of all, the authors really know their 3h!t (we heard, there’ also completely different formats 😬), secondly, there is no print version, but each issue of the magazine is a program, that runs on a Commodore 64 or 128, and last but not least, you can read and experience the whole thing even without the actually hardware, because the team links an emulated version of each issue in the browser.

The current issue is #32, and if you don't know it yet, you should at least risk a look.

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Imagesource: https://www.intel.com/

A few months back, in Issue #44, we introduced the current pet project of Bruno Levy - @BrunoLevy01 on Twitter.

While his RISC-V implementation has about as much in common with 8 bit systems as an ant has with space travel, the topic is nevertheless not that far away for many of our readers. After all, 8 bit CPUs in particular can still be fully understood by a single person in their lifetime - due to their simple construction. For the modern counterparts from Intel, AMD and Co, this is not true anymore for a long, long time. Especially since most IP cores of current SoCs are external developments, and their complexity is hidden behind a cheque with a whole lot of zeros.

Well, for RISC-V systems the whole thing is true again. The simplest, but also the more complex RISC-V implementations are so (more or less) trivial, that they are relatively quickly overlooked and just as quickly implemented in an emulator or an FPGA. And thanks to a RISC-V capable C compiler, you can also enjoy high-level languages on your homebrew without breaking your own brain’s … brain, trying to figure out assembly instructions using pencil, paper. 🧠

And for exactly this reason, we currently have to refer to Bruno and his DIY RISC-V CPU again. Bruno has been busy, very busy. And since the initial release of his architecture for e.g. the IceStick, he has added a second part, in which you extend the simple architecture into a pipelined processor, with register forwarding and branch prediction.

If this is not enough, you can build your own (to be precise Bruno's own) FPU in part III. Yeah, floating point arithmetic 🧮.

One of the best resources to get started with RISC-V and/or FPGAs. And completely free of charge.

Thank you Mr. Levy!

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Compiler Creation Step-by-Step

Compiler Creation Step by Step
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

Compiler construction is not necessarily one of the favorite disciplines of most CS students. On the other hand, you only really fully understand the functionality of the machines, we love so much, once you've put together your very own compiler.

Lex and yacc ... what memories 😵‍💫.

Yair Haimovitch also known as @yairhaimo approaches the subject from a completely new angle. In his browser-based tutorial, he gives a basic but structured and very clear introduction to the topic. The reader builds a compiler, that translates a subset of Lisp to Javascript. The usefulness of this in production is completely left aside, but if you replace Lisp with X and Javascript with Assembly, you are only one assembler and linker step away from executable binary of your own language.

The whole project is based on Javascript, which is also used for the implementation of the compiler in the interactive examples.

Great lecture. Should be something for anyone who has always been asleep in "compiler construction“, or just fancies the subject. (Who does not? 🤓)

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Gameboy Doctor

Gameboy Doctor
Imagesource: https://robertheaton.com/

Robert Heaton - tweeting as @RobJHeaton - describes himself as a one-track lover down a two-way lane. I love that kind of linguistic creativity.

But that's not all. Robert also has a heart for developers. Namely, for the very special subset of developers, for whom a very special part of hell is also reserved - developers of Gameboy emulators. 👹

Robert's project Gameboy Doctor is a tool, that belongs to the debugger species, but must have taken a turn somewhere, sometime in evolution. And in a good sense.

The software helps you identify bugs in your own emu faster and easier by letting you run test ROMs, and simply log the register contents after each instruction.

Due to the deterministic nature of our little friends made of silicone and plastic, the respective state after an operation can be compared to the "should-be", and Voilà, ready is the debugging recipe.

Great idea. Ingenious implementation. Real killer for ... Gameboy emu developers.

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Nibbler 4 Bit CPU

Nibbler 4-Bit CPU
Imagesource: https://www.bigmessowires.com/

Why build an 8 bit CPU with audiovisual support from Ben Eater when you can have a fully functional 4 bit powerhouse with Steve Chamberlin aka Big Mess o' Wires?

Even if math says that 4 is less than 8 ... math sometimes an a33hole, and Steve's 4 bit thingy is more than worth looking at!

12 bit address space and therefor 4kB RAM, Harvard architecture (!), 2.46 MHz clockspeed and only two cycles per instruction are still sub-scalar, but make this thing seriously interesting. In addition, there are 4 push buttons, a 16x2 LCD and a small speaker that you can control.

Curious? Then say an inner prayer and mumble a friendly Hello to Nibbler. (Appropriate name btw.)

Steve's site has all the information you need to build your own. And if you need some food for the upcoming Christmas season, this project might be perfect for you.

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DOS Protected Mode

MS-DOS Protected Mode
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

It's MS-DOS time again. And yes, this topic has rather less or even nothing in common with our 8 bit systems. Only the timeframe of their significance has a certain intersection. But for the following exactly this circumstance should be sufficient.

Who did not take the MS-DOS road into the modern age? 🙋‍♂️

And who can still remember the difference between "Real Mode" and the "Protected Mode" introduced with the 286? Well? I don't see any hands up.

Gustavo Pezzi alas @pikuma still remembered, and addresses this very delta in his latest article.

And by the way, one learns how a CPU with only 8 bit wide address bus could access 1MB RAM at all. And what happened to DMA? And what-the-lavender is a DOS Extender?

These are all questions that should be answered during your lifetime, otherwise you won't rest in peace. And: Gustavo.Clarifies.Everything.

In - as always - a competent and entertaining way. Nice read.

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How Videogame GFX worked

How Videogame GFX Worked
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/AafpFLWDoEw

And because it was so nice, and Gustavo Pezzi alas @pikuma has a lot more to share, he adds a video on top in this issue.

Topic: How did graphics really work on early Arcade video games, the Atari 2600 and the NES?

You probably know the answer to this topic. Maybe even in very much detail. Still, Gustavo's latest video on the subject is interesting, relaxed, and definitely suitable as outstanding entertainment for a primetime interlude.


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That's it. Please move on, there is nothing to see here. Wait, there are actually two things that should not remain unmentioned.

If you enjoyed the current issue, feel free to share your joy with just about anyone you can think of. We've got a few open seats right now, and we're looking for new readers. 😬

And if you have any material for us, feedback, suggestions or anything else, let us know. Just hit the reply button in your email client and bring it on.

Our Christmas issue should hit your inbox in pretty much exactly 14 days, until then, build something and speak about it.

Take care.

Jan & Bastian

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