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[yes, he's insane] A retro computing platform

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This has been hovering around my mind (and my desk) for quite a time now. Some time in 2012, I had the idea of piecing together a "simple" 8 bit computer from scratch. In late 2012, I discarded my custom discrete CPU design, decided to use a Z80 CPU (8 bit CPU from 1976) instead and started over.

 

Bread board prototypes have been built, things haven't worked (or suddenly did work for no reason), machine code programs were written by hand, an assembler and a linker have been written, or in other words: yes, he is insane now.

 

However, today I have hit a critical milestone and decied to tell people about what I've been doing since November. I have a "production quality" prototype on custom etched PCBs and got a simple LED blinking program to work.

 

Current photo:

 

c3k.jpg

 

Older, but better quality photo (without the chips):

 

20130321_003.jpg

 

The PCBs, the day after etching:

 

20130306_002.jpg

 

The very first prototype:

 

20121127_002.jpg

 

Other than that, this shouldn't be different from any other "rate my PC" thread, so here are some specs:

CPU: Z80 @ 1 MHz clock

ROM: 1 kB boot ROM

RAM: 31 kB in the above setup, extendable up to incredible 8 MB using bank switching

"Mainboard": passive ECB back plane

Memory: audio tape in the near future, no idea how much data it can hold

Graphics: wut? Ahem, I have some plans for abusing an oscilloscope as a vector display in the near future, but a VT220 will be used till then (no graphics). Ideas for a VGA interface are hovering around somewhere.

 

Sadly it doesn't have any functioning I/O hardware yet. This will receive my full attention now that the finalized basic system design works. Designing and writing an operating system will certainly be fun.

 

The euphoria is already wearing off. In case anybody is interested in how the project continues, I setup a small blog for my dev-matches.

 

Dave

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10/10 for classic computing!

 

Compared to almost all other existing computers, -10/10...

 

I personally like my first rating better. ;)

Don't insult me. I have trained professionals to do that.

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You know you're on a tight budget when your computer case looks like this:

 

c3k_2_cropped.jpg

By the way "yay, casing and no flying parts and wires anymore!"

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YAY for homemade cardboard storage and containment systems!

Don't insult me. I have trained professionals to do that.

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Damn, you are going old school. The first system I built was still cruising along at 40Mhz. Or I guess I should more accurately say "assembled" since I wasn't building the PCB boards myself. I did color correct my used CRT monitor though by opening it up and manually fixing the color balance with a screwdriver since it had way too much green.

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I miss those old systems sometimes... Back when it took intelligence just to turn the damn thing on and off without damaging data...

Don't insult me. I have trained professionals to do that.

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This might be interesting:

HMYiktO0D64

It's part one of a training video for new employees in the Holmdel Computer Center, showing how a job (e.g. a circuit cimulation or what ever) is processed after handing the punched cards over. (Gotta love the video at least for the sound track^^)

 

The still picture shows a man inserting a stack of hard drives into an IBM System/370, the same kind I'm wearing here.

 

Of course, it doesn't show how to boot the system, which requries to temporarily disable the CPU clock and manually keying in the boot loader that reads a bigger boot loader of punched paper strips that than reads an even bigger OS loader from magnetic tape or hard drive that than loads the actual operating system.

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