Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

Two somewhat uneventful weeks are coming to an end this Friday, and over the past 14 days, there has been relatively little hay – to stick with an analogy – for separating the wheat from the chaff.

Instead of artificially inflating our current issue, we decided to include fewer content, but focus on the best new, old projects that have crossed our personal news tickers in the last few days.

We hope that this spring slump does not expand – but we remain optimistic. Perhaps one or more of the following topics will still hit the bullseye.

Enjoy Issue #77.


CP/M for the 6502

CP/M for the 6502
Imagesource: arith, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Remember the good old days? Back when CP/M, the progenitor of modern operating systems, was all the rage? If you're feeling nostalgic, then this project is for you.

CP/M-65, a brainchild of David Given aka @hjalfi, is a native port of Digital Research's original 1977 operating system, CP/M, but now tailored for the 6502. Why? you might ask. Well, the better question is, why not? 🤷‍♀️

The project runs on several vintage systems, including the BBC Micro familyCommodore 64Commodore VIC-20Commodore PET 4032Commander X16, and the Apple IIe. Each system has its own unique features, quirks, and instructions, making CP/M-65 quite the versatile piece of tech!

Unlike the original, this version supports relocatable binaries, allowing unmodified binaries to run on any system. This is a necessity, given that 6502 systems are much less standardized than 8080 and Z80 systems. Plus, you can cross-assemble programs from a PC and even have a working C toolchain with llvm-mos! Nice one.

As with every classic project, there are some quirks. For example, the Commodore 64 version runs excruciatingly slow, but hey, who's in a rush when revisiting the past? 😅 And while the CP/M-65 assembler is simple and customized for the environment, the creator warns it's likely to have lots of bugs. Just like the good old days, right? 🐞

You can find this nostalgia-packed project on github

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Mobile C64

uHELD64 - Portabale C64
Imagesource: https://uni64.com/

Some may already be familiar with UNI64. However, what is new for us is that the team behind the project has released its uSTAR64 board this week, which will make the heart of every Commodore fan with a soldering iron in the basement beat faster. But in doing so, we have also become aware of a project from 2021 that hits the same note:

uHELD64. What's that you say? A mobile C/64, based on 1982 THT technology? Oh, you betcha!

The uHELD64, – as the team behind UNI64 say – the world's first smallest handheld that uses the original C64 chips, combines the classic C64 tech we all know and love with the wonder of modern mobility. Whether you're Team PAL or Team NTSC, this device has got you covered. Simply switch the board jumper and plug in the respective VIC-II chip. Just like that, you're ready to roll.

Despite being small enough to fit in your pocket, the uHELD64 comes loaded with all the connectivity you'd want. We're talking a full C64 miniature keyboard, S-Video output, speakers, a headphone jack, an extra jump button, an expansion port, optional internal 1541, optional joystick ports, and even a DPAD or an analog stick. Yes, they managed to cram all that into this little beauty. 😮

The uHELD64 is available in two versions: the classic DPAD version and the analog PAD version. And while you do need to supply your own Commodore specific chips (CPU, VIC-II, CIA's, MMU and ROMs), once those are plugged in, you're all set to start gaming with the classic THT technology from 1982.

The uHELD64 is a trip down memory lane you won't want to miss. You can find out more about this pocket-sized miracle on their website. Ready to get your game on? 😎

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MSX on the Go

MSX on the Go
Imagesource: https://github.com/nullvalue0

How about a mobile MSX in 2023? Feels about 35 to 40 years too late, but still a cool idea, right?

How about further designing the box in the style of a Commodore SX-64, or the Kaypro IV? Everything completely custom from the case to the PCBs to the keyboard, all brand: DIY.

Sounds exciting? A user named nullvalue0 has done exactly that (and consequently has too much of two things: time and money. Congratulations!) and thankfully allows us to share in his success.

The project details on hackaday not only read interestingly, but almost thrillingly, because the challenges of the project are significant. Especially considering that all bare components – including the Sony Trinitron tube – are supposed to fit into the small case in the end.

But both the unfortunately unknown author and we as readers are rewarded, because the end result is not only fully functional, but also nice to look at. And thanks to high-resolution project images, you feel almost directly involved in the build.

Great project - not only for MSX lovers!

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Learn Assembly on Apple ][

Learn Assembly on the Apple ][
Imagesource: https://pexels.com/

There are few things that provide as much insight into the world of retrocomputing as learning assembly language for one of the classic, beloved processors like the Z80 or the MOS6502.

However, if you come from a completely different world of compiler or interpreter languages, it's not just mnemonics, address modes, registers, and manual memory management that can be challenging – programming directly in assembly requires a slightly different mental flexibility when wrapping your head around the concepts. 🧠

There are plenty of books and video resources available. Especially for the MOS6502 in its Commodore attire, you can find a wealth of material. The same is not true when it comes to the Apple ][. There are numerous books and tutorials, but good video series that introduce the topic are scarce.

Although it's not exactly new, the comprehensive Assembly Tutorial by Taciano Dreckmann Perez aka @tacianoperez is worth checking out.

You'll need a bit of patience to get accustomed to the pace, but you don't necessarily need the original hardware.

Have you been wanting to dive into assembly for a while? Is the Apple ][ your ideal target platform? Then this could be the playlist for you.

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CPU Design in Logisim

CPU Design in Logisim
Imagesource: https://github.com/logisim-evolution/

At least 2 million people have watched Ben Eater build his own 8-bit CPU and then a Turing-complete computer from simple CMOS ICs. How many of them had the nerve and time to assemble the kit themselves – I don't want to speculate, but just thinking about the necessary cable stripping makes my hands hurt virtually.

But why hurt yourself in the physical world when you can virtualize the entire process? (Not that I haven't done something similar before...)

Chuck Benedict did exactly that on his YT Channel. He started from scratch – in this case, scratch means a HalfAdder – and continues to build his HackCPU to this day in Logisim. His most recent video revolves around the generation of a VGA Signal, and where the journey will lead is more or less predictable.

Chuck's series is not only interesting because of the implementation of his HackCPU. Unlike other implementations, Chuck does not stop at realizing the project on an FPGA, even though this is currently more of a sideline.

So, if you're looking for a new project without getting your hands dirty, you might find what you're looking for here.

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Tamagotchi Reborn

Tamagotchi Reborn
Imagesource: https://github.com/agg23/

I'll admit it, I had one. A Tamagotchi. It was the summer of 1997, and while I considered myself an adult, the fascination for this little device, which more or less convincingly simulated a pet of its own, was strong – and if you wanted to be taken seriously, you better hid this fascination in your pocket.

So strong, in fact, that I had to procure one of these gadgets for the entire team I was working for at the time, even for the bosses. At the beginning, these little plastic eggs were actually in short supply. Hard to imagine today, as it had little to do with chip shortage.

My personal fascination quickly turned into annoyance, and my Tamagotchi lived for less than 2 weeks. Then it passed away. RIP little friend without a name. 💀

Interestingly, even today – 25 years after the boom – you can still find fans. Not without reason has Adam Gastineau aka @iam_agg recently implemented a fresh reimplementation for the MiSTer and the Analogue Pocket in Verilog.

Unlike the original, you have access to SaveState and Restore features, and you can speed up the life of the little friend up to 1800 times.

Those with the appropriate hardware and time can find the project on github.

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C64 Rocks

C64 Rocks
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/wXnYJQJ3fII

In Issue #67, we reported on 8 Bit Symphony. For anyone who enjoys a treat for the ears, it's a real gem.

Now, the team behind @c64audio has followed up with a very similar theme. This time, they've dedicated themselves to a total of 55 games and reissued the legendary soundtracks with the band FastLoaders.

On 3 CDs, memories await like KatakisX-Out, or Great Gianna Sisters. But it's not just Chris Hülsbeck who is honored; among the 55 titles are genuine 8-bit classics that have left a lasting impact on the 8-bit era.

The whole project is a commercial endeavor, with which we are neither connected nor should or want to advertise. However, if you're interested in giving the project a listen, you can find some initial acoustic material in the current Teaser.

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4 Byte Burger

4 Byte Burger
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/i4EFkspO5p4

The following is more or less a retrocomputing topic, but pretty much anyone who has spent a significant span of their life with a Commodore Amiga will be able to draw parallels.

What's it about? Stuart Brown, tweeting as @xboxahoy, loves PixelArt. Especially the kind of PixelArt that can indeed be described as historical, since it was created by Jack Haeger and served in the mid-80s to showcase his girlfriend's graphic capabilities.

Some of these works have survived the test of time, others have not. The latter category includes the 4 Byte Burger, which Stuart wasn't prepared to let slide.

In his half-hour story, he sets about restoring the original image as well as he can, in order to then bring it back to its full glory on the equally original hardware.

It's not spectacular, groundbreaking, or exciting in any sense. But it's entertaining and professionally produced and so captivating that it's definitely prime-time worthy.

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Didn't find anything interesting? Sorry.

If you did, sharing brings joy and good karma. We have a few spots available again and are happy to send our upcoming issue to friends, relatives, acquaintances, or pretty much anyone you'd like to share this issue with. Simply click Forward and off you go.

As always, we're open to feedback – especially if you have a topic that you'd like to present in one of our upcoming issues. Just press Reply and start typing.

Issue #78 is already in the works, and in exactly two weeks, it will be ready, hopefully with a few more of our favorite topics landing in your inbox. Until then – build something, and speak about it.

Cheers, Jan & Bastian

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