Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

It's Friday, though not yet the Friday before this year's Ho-Ho-Hooo event 🎅, but we still want to lay a few small gifts under your hopefully already decorated Christmas tree.

The following 10 little packages 🎁 may not have ribbons or be wrapped in beautiful, colorful tree bark – but still, one or the other should certainly cause delight.

We hope there's something in here for you, and we wish you, besides a few relaxing Christmas holidays, much enjoyment with Issue #91.

Merry Christmas


MOS - A fresh 6502 Assembler
Imagesource: https://mos.datatra.sh/

It's rare that an old concept is brought into the modern era as beautifully as in the following project by Roy Jacobs, who typically publishes code under the alias sagacity.

What's it about? As often is the case, the 6502 and its derivatives, and an assembler.

That might not sound particularly exciting at first. These things come a dime a dozen, in every shape, color, with orange or lemon flavor. But MOS is different. Very different.

First off, the assembler presents itself as a simple CLI tool. Alternatively – and this is where the real fun begins – one can use the VSCode extension. Doing so turns working with 6502 assembly into pure enjoyment. The dialect that Roy has designed is not only extremely modern. It supports just about everything a true 8-bit fan could desire: Imports, macros, segmentation, banking … you name it.

Where MOS really starts to shine is in the realm of testing. Once written and cross-assembled, code can be directly outfitted with unit tests, which can be executed right on the developer's local machine. In addition to the convenient assertions for all registers, flags, and RAM, you can also trace any values you want 🫠

MOS brings low-level assembly development into the modern age. Those who are accustomed to developing directly on the target machine with TurboMacroPro & Friends will find a journey into the future.

The gain in efficiency, trust in code, and fun is massive. Anyone doing anything with the 6502 can't get around MOS and its excellent documentation.

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A Vacuum Tube SBC

A Vacuum Tube SBC
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/s7nx-pMQ6tM

When talking about computers based on vacuum tubes, and not referring to the machines from the 1950s, only one name immediately comes to mind: @UsagiElectric.

The level of craziness combined with a profound fundamental knowledge of computing machines based on electric currents is simply an unbeatable combination. If you're not yet familiar with his YouTube channel, it's definitely worth checking out the list of available videos.

But whether you're already a fan or about to become one, it doesn't really matter, because one of the latest videos titled A Vacuum Tube Single Board Computer once again exceeds all expectations one might have just from the title. Why?

Because the device uses just 24 tubes and, while not Turing complete, it executes 1-bit ALU operations in an extremely clever way. Those who are into CPU design will find real joy in this, and for everyone else, there's not just highly informative content but also some really beautiful visuals to enjoy.

Happy watching. 📺

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Amiga – Still Alive

Amiga - Still Alive
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

Few scenes are as active, present, and productive as the demo scene surrounding the Amiga platform. Despite its age, the Amiga remains one of the most beloved platforms for demo creation.

Originating from software piracy and the cracking scene of the 70s and 80s in the United States, it evolved from the practice of adding intros, or cracktros to pirated software, eventually becoming an independent subculture focused on creating demos.

One of the significant scene gatherings – Revision 2023 in Saarbrücken – though eight months ago, showcased works that were impressively advanced for the age and capabilities of the stone old hardware.

Marin Balabanov, who publishes his projects as mbalabanov, is a scene enthusiast and fan. He has penned a delightful essay, The Commodore Amiga and its Undying Adoration by Anarchist Creatives, which serves as a love letter that is enjoyable to read, not just for old and new owners of the girlfriend. ♥️

Interested in reading? Amiga aficionado? Here you go.

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Virtues of 8 Bit

The Virtues of 8 Bit
Imagesource: https://www.freepik.com/

Another little but fine piece of reading material for those moments with a hot cocoa in hand comes from the Incognito writer Babbage, also known as @thechipletter.

In one of his recent works, The Virtues of the 8-bit Era, he delves into the 8-bit systems of the 70s and 80s – focusing more on the CPUs available at the time and their respective advantages and disadvantages.

The comparison is quite interesting, as Babbage looks at a range of different dimensions: Simplicity, documentation, close to the metal programming, the almost open source character of hard and software, and the theme of entrepreneurship surrounding the era.

While it might not necessarily be new information for aficionados, it's history compiled in an entertaining and informative way that hasn't lost its relevance even today.

Enjoyable reading material!

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Retro Tink

Retro Tink
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/3ZmPkozY6Cg

The topic of CRT versus LCD for retro gaming is something we've often discussed in past issues. Those serious about the hobby invariably have at least one of those vacuum-sealed glass boxes with an electron gun at home – there's just no getting around it.

But is that really the case? Can't the effects of an RGB cathode-ray tube be reliably replicated in hardware and/or software?

This question has been posed by several manufacturers, and there's a range of so-called retro scalers that promise just that – the CRT feel on an LCD display. And even though we don't push commercial products here and don't receive any sponsorship for such presentations, we don't want to withhold the following product (that will cost you whopping $750) from you.

Roger, known as @8bitesquire, got his hands on a beta version of Retro Tink. He seems not quite sure why, but he took the opportunity and tested the device extensively. 🧯

Whether or not to invest those 750 bucklings into a scaler remains questionable. For that amount of money, you could probably get 2 or 3 CRT boxes on eBay. But for those considering the idea, Roger's video is sure to answer some burning questions.

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Perfect SID Emulation

Perfect SID Emulation
Imagesource: https://plogue.com/

It's Christmas, and it's raining gifts, gifts, gifts. 🎁

The following is a commercial project that costs a few dollars, but it's so good that we can't hide it from you, even without any form of sponsorship.

What's it about? Soundwaves. But not just any soundwaves – digitally generated, harmonically arranged, and melodious ones that transport us on another journey to a bygone era. Few sound chips have influenced the history of chiptunes as much as the MOS 6581 – or SID.

Many attempts have been made to emulate or simulate the SID in its numerous incarnations, in both hardware and software, all with considerable success. But what Plogue, known as @wwwPLOGUEcom, presents as an early gift under the 8-bit Christmas tree, eclipses nearly everything that has come before.

Chipsynth C64 is an AAX/AU/VST3/CLAP-compatible plugin that packs a punch.

It features a beautiful, user-friendly interface, MIDI support, Scala tuning, and presets by renowned chip musicians, envelope generators, precision control, and programmable filters, 3 oscillators, PCM with multiple waveforms, up to 12-voice polyphony, ring modulation, pulse width, an arpeggiator, and effects like chorus, reverb, and stereo delay. It includes a modulation matrix with math options, step sequencers, envelope generators with graphical editing, and emulation options for tweaking the sound... the list of features goes on and on. ❤️

Not convinced yet? Check out the intro video. And if you want to know more, take a look at Peter Kirn's introductory article.

What. A. Beast. 🎶

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Sol-1 Homebrew

SOL-1 Homebrew
Imagesource: stockgiu on Freepik

If I had a euro for every 74HC or 74LS based 8-bit homebrew, I'd probably be not too far off from a life os privateer. It wasn't Ben Eater who first came up with the idea of building a fully functional computer based on these simple logic components, but Ben certainly gave a huge boost to the popularity of the approach with his various video series.

However, most machines you encounter on the vast expanse of the interwebs are 8-bit boxes. There's nothing wrong with that – who needs more than 8 bits, right? 🙄

But if you want to invest more of your life in your chosen hobby project, including building your own hardware, OS, assembler, a C compiler, and maybe even software on top, then a 16-bit machine might make a bit more sense.

Creator Paulo Constantino and his YouTube Channel may already be known to some. Paulo is the one who did just that, building a fully functional 16-bit machine based on more than just a handful of 74HC logic chips. The name: Sol-1.

The project is impressive. The hardware comes with two serial ports, two parallel ports, RTC, timer, IDE hard drive interface, and even a sound chip. Built on top of this is a UNIX-like operating system, an assembler matching the ISA, and a functional, but not yet fully complete C compiler. 🫨

There's also software available, and if you wish, you can directly connect to the hardware via Telnet and get started right away.

Should the apocalypse be waiting for us, Paulo is definitely one of those who will help us set everything (well at least all these digital things) up again from scratch. An impressive project indeed.

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Space Quest

Space Quest
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/i6t7QjYVsso

Christmas time is game time. Period. And what do people typically do? They decorate the Christmas tree, invite the family, prepare the roast, welcome the guests, feed and entertain everyone, only to then sneak away unnoticed.

Ah, Christmas, what a delight. But while everyone is celebrating outside, as snow falls, and Kevin on his way home tears his shopping bags, it's the perfect moment to indulge in a fresh, exciting game. Or is it?

How about a not so fresh game, but an even more fantastic one? And why not a complete series … I mean, we have three days, right? What comes to mind?

Space Quest! 🚀

What's more enjoyable than guiding Roger Wilco – janitor of everybody's dreams – through one, two, or even all six of his adventures? Hanging out with the family on the couch? Hmmmmmm.

Sounds tempting, but not sure which of the six epics to play? YouTuber @The_Retro_Shack has the perfect refresher for you.

His lovingly compiled video skims through the entire history of the janitor and his adventures, the wordplay, the graphics, the different engines, and pretty much everything else worth knowing. After watching it, if you still feel like spending Christmas with your aunt and uncle… 😜

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6502 Multiplication

6502 Multiplication
Imagesource: https://circuitverse.org/

The instruction set of the MOS 6502 is a polarizing topic. You either love it, or you hate it. There's not much in between. However, like most 8-bit CPUs of that time (apart from the 8080 and the Z80), it lacked a hardware-implemented multiplication unit.

But that would be too easy, wouldn't it? Who wouldn't relish the challenge of implementing 8, 16, or 32-bit multiplication routines in a processor cycle-optimized form based solely on a few basic mathematical operations and addition? Right? 🤓

I usually do such things right after breakfast. Just a routine.

Toby Nelson, publishing as TobyLobster, seems to feel similarly. He has documented virtually every practical approach under the sun for this very problem, measuring them for runtime and memory usage.

The result is not surprising. There's no single, best algorithm. Depending on the bit depth you want to multiply, whether signed or unsigned, each approach has its pros and cons. But for someone with a well-defined use case who needs to save a few processor cycles or RAM cells, Toby's multiply test is a veritable goldmine.

And for those who just need something to ponder and enjoy 6502 assembly, this is also a great resource.

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3M and Floppy Disks

3M and Floppy Disks
Imagesource: https://www.3m.com/

There are names that are simply synonyms and direct pointers to your own memory and the past.

Question: What comes to mind when I mention 3M

Obviously. Floppy disks 💾 (Unless you belong to the generation, that … ah, let's scrap that.)

For me, the unforgettable scent when opening a pack of 5.25'' or 3.5'' floppy disks remains etched in my memory. Ah... the good old days. There were probably even people who could identify the brand just by the smell of the product. 👃

In the 80s and 90s, 3M was certainly not the only manufacturer of those small, magnetic disks storing digital joy, but it was one of the biggest. It was hard to walk through the Market-for-Tech-Gadgets-and-Electronics-of-Your-Choice™ without encountering their large, red logo.

The history of 3M is quite wild, and the company actually came from a completely different field. The floppy disk market has been dead since the mid-90s, and these disks are no longer produced. (Such a pity.) 3M as a corporation still exists, but has shifted its focus to a completely different core business. Nonetheless, the story of the Scotch Tape inventor is certainly interesting.

Ernie Smith, also known as @ShortFormErnie writing for Tedium, has gathered all the facts and details. And for those who want to spend a few quiet minutes, the history of the floppy disk at 3M is definitely worth the read.

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So, everything's unwrapped and examined. And even though this edition is a week early for the holiday season, hopefully, there were still a few little packages that will bring you one or two projects for the upcoming free days.

We'll be back in your inbox in 14 days with the last issue of the year. If you have suitable content for us, feel free to send it over.

And if you want to bring some Christmas joy to someone with an 8-bit inclination, why not forward this email? We still have a few seats open.

In that spirit – enjoy the festival, build something, and don't forget to speak about it.

Frohes Fest
Jan & Bastian

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