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Retrocomputing for the Masses Hack Chat

Spencer Owen and the RC2014

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 12:00 pm PDT Local time zone:
Hack Chat
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Spencer Owen will host the Hack Chat on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 at noon PDT.

Time zones got you down? Here's a handy time converter!

Join Hack ChatOf the early crop of personal computers that made their way to market before IBM and Apple came to dominate it, few machines achieved as iconic a status as the Sinclair ZX80. Perhaps it was its unusual style, or maybe it had more to do with its affordability. Regardless, Sir Clive's little machine sold north of 100,000 units and earned a place in both computing history and the hearts of early adopters.

Spencer Owen is one who holds a torch for the ZX80, so much so that he hatched a seemingly wacky idea to make his own. A breadboard prototype became a full-fledged computer. Dubbed the "RC2014", the computer proved popular enough to sell on Tindie, and Spencer is now following his dream as a retrocomputing mogul and working on RC2014 full time.

Join the Hack Chat as we discuss:

  • The market for retrocomputing hardware;
  • Fun with the Z80 platform;
  • Bringing a hobby project to market on Tindie; and
  • What's next for the RC2014?

  • Hack Chat Transcript, Part 4

    Lutetium05/29/2019 at 20:05 0 comments

    AlanH12:56 PM
    thanks again Bil for coming and thanks again to @spencer for his great project

    spencer12:57 PM
    @Andrew Lindsay Thanks for swinging by

    Bil Herd12:57 PM
    @spencer Your project rocks!

    19-rsn-00712:57 PM
    Have a good one bil

    Lex Landa12:57 PM
    @Linker3000 ... and I'm in Devon. There's DCLUG but other than that, I've never seen anything 'this far south'. :)

    spencer12:57 PM
    Thanks @Bil Herd :-) Coming from you, that really makes me feel proud :D

    Kevin12:57 PM
    Oh, one l and not two. No wonder I was having trouble picking Bil out of the list of people in this chat. :)

    pi314159atgithub12:57 PM
    @spencer It helps anyone who thinks computers are too much a closed box to learn think otherwise.

    AlanH12:58 PM
    I like it because BASIC runs on EVERYTHING! It's a great starter project for anyone

    Serge joined  the room.12:58 PM

    Kevin12:58 PM
    That, or FORTH. :)

    Andrew Lindsay12:58 PM
    @Linker3000 If West Berks is close enough for you, NADHack are looking to have a full day of retro computing goodness as part of a local leisure and arts festival. Cant remember the date of the top of my head.

    AlanH12:58 PM
    FIFTH > FORTH

    Linker300012:58 PM
    Turbo Pascal!

    Bil Herd12:58 PM
    @kevin Told ya engineers are lazy, why type two "L"s if one will do >:)

    Kevin12:58 PM
    FIFTH? I don't think I've heard of that one.

    AlanH12:59 PM
    was a joke :)

    David Richards12:59 PM
    @Nils Andreas Svee , yes my mistake, thats the one.I'm slowly building a rp calculator. it will have 32 bit core memory using a kit i bought together with 8 digit 7seg display etc.

    spencer12:59 PM
    One of the (many) things that I think is great about 1970/80/90s computers is that they are real computers that real human beings can understand. I think that is why the RC2014 strikes a chord with so many people. :)

    Bil Herd12:59 PM
    There was a "B" before there was a "C".

    Linker300012:59 PM
    @Andrew Lindsay Thanks - will keep an eye out.

    pi314159atgithub12:59 PM
    Fifth generally only available in events with bars!

    Kevin12:59 PM
    @AlanH :)

    19-rsn-00712:59 PM
    It's always good to talk to people like Bil. I love the fact that he is encouraging people like us to do what we are doing

    OK, top of the hour approaches, and this was a really lively chat. I'll call official time and post the transcript from here, but feel free to keep chatting if Spencer can stay on. Either way, I'd like to thank him for taking time out to share his work and to geek out on retrocomputing with us. Thanks Spencer!

    And don't forget next week's chat - Disrupting Cell Biology with Incuvers. Well be talking about going from a simple lab project and building a company that specializes in bio lab instruments. Check it out at https://hackaday.io/event/164407-disrupting-cell-biology-hack-chat

    Kevin1:00 PM
    Well,one never knows. Someone might have written another FORTH variant and called it FIFTH.

    Bil Herd1:00 PM
    Hackaday is really cool that they make this kind of thing possible.

  • Hack Chat Transcript, part 3

    Lutetium05/29/2019 at 20:04 0 comments

    AlanH12:41 PM
    would be cool to crowd-fund a proper injection molded case for it

    Andrew Lindsay12:41 PM
    @Bil Herd That is true. Had a number of dev jobs for clients based on previous projects and things I've played around with.

    spencer12:42 PM
    @AlanH There's a couple of designs on Thingiverse https://www.thingiverse.com/search?q=rc2014&dwh=895ceee066a05a3

    Lex Landa12:42 PM

    Lex Landa12:42 PM
    @marblypup I couldn't resist uploading this photo of my Elektronika BK0010, I think it is. I've never used it - I haven't got pinouts for the connectors. It's got 4 identical 5-pin DIN sockets.

    Bil Herd12:42 PM
    @kevin I think one has to be really experienced to tell the strong suite of VHDL vs Verilog vs VHDL and I learned both at once since I was younger (couldn't do it now). However Verilog tends to be easier if not better outright. We joke that we can tell a lot about a company based on which one they choose for their official language.

    Lex Landa12:42 PM
    My apologies for suddenly pasting that image.

    David Reid joined  the room.12:43 PM

    Kevin12:43 PM
    @David Richards That is one of the early pitfalls when starting out with FPGA's. You have to try and think of the hardware and what can it can be doing at the same time and break the HDL in to related blocks of code.

    Bil Herd12:43 PM
    That thingverse link rocks.

    19-rsn-00712:43 PM
    @Bil Herd exactly...I mean, look at me. I've been playing around with all sorts of stuff electronics wise, about 2 years ago a buddy of mine dropped a ball that they were looking for employees at the company he was working fro and now almost 2 years later they offered me an education and the oppertunity to get a better fitting job function :)

    Nils-Arne Dahlberg joined  the room.12:43 PM

    19-rsn-00712:43 PM
    and to learn stuff like I should

    19-rsn-00712:43 PM
    most of my knowledge I have (still very basic) I have learned just by doing stuff

    marblypup12:43 PM

    spencer12:44 PM
    Do many of you that play around with modern hardware also tinker with genuine old (1980's or earlier) stuff?

    marblypup12:44 PM
    (That's my Z280 board.)

    Kevin12:44 PM
    I still play with vintage stuff. My 1802 board is a ceramic part from late 70's.

    Bil Herd12:44 PM
    I only work on new stuff, trying my hand on open source radar... I still have the tshirt from doing the old stuff.

    emdarcher joined  the room.12:44 PM

    Andrew Lindsay12:45 PM
    @spencer Do mostly modern mcu stuff for the day jobs, dont get enough time for retro computing.

    Lex Landa12:45 PM
    @marblypup I like the layout.

    Kevin12:45 PM
    I even have an old TI-9900 part in my parts drawer.

    AlanH12:45 PM
    ok.. i'm dragging out my box of goodies this weekend and working on my had.io project. rc2014 motivation = win

    Bil Herd12:45 PM
    FPGA on signlesided, very cute.

    Nils-Arne Dahlberg12:45 PM
    Elektronika BK0010, one of the smallest LSI-11 compatible computers made. Probably the one sold in the biggest numbers...

    19-rsn-00712:45 PM
    Well first I was mostly just playing around with old microcomputers, then it came to a point where I had to repair them, modify them and all that stuff, so the interests moved to learning how they actually work and designing stuff for them. and now even to a point where I want to design my own machine

    Bil Herd12:45 PM
    Anybody doing the latest Hackaday Prize challange?

    Lex Landa12:45 PM
    @Nils-Arne Dahlberg That's the one.

    marblypup12:45 PM
    @Lex Landa Thanks. The signals connected to the NVRAM are on 2 sides of the CPU, so rotating the CPU seemed easier than routing lots of stuff round a corner.

    spencer12:45 PM
    It's awesome that this is inspiring people to dig out their old stuff :D

    Bil Herd12:46 PM
    @Dan Maloney See I'm plugging HAD. :)

    emdarcher12:46 PM
    @spencer I have mainly played with modern microcontrollers, AVR, STM32, etc. But have a bunch of salvaged 80's 8-bit components and EPROMS. Working...

    Read more »

  • Hack Chat Transcript, Part 2

    Lutetium05/29/2019 at 20:03 0 comments

    AlanH12:24 PM
    LOL It's not Western Digital.. It's Western Design Center

    Linker300012:24 PM
    Western Digital is the storage Co. It's Western Design Center ;-)

    EtchedPixels12:24 PM
    (and 6502, 6809, 68000)

    EtchedPixels12:24 PM
    (and 8085)

    Linker300012:24 PM
    (Used to work for Western Digital!)

    Gregory Nutt12:24 PM
    Right, Western Design Center.

    Kevin12:25 PM
    @Bil Herd oh, yes. The 6845 and 6847. Love those devices.

    spencer12:25 PM
    @epooch Tindie has been absolutely perfect for me. In fact, if it wasn't for the Tindie platform, I think i'd probably still be a network engineer!

    Lex Landa12:25 PM
    @Kevin I've heard of the 6845, but what's a 6847?

    Bil Herd12:25 PM
    Or as we call WDC the BMC, (Bill Mench Company)

    Bil Herd12:26 PM
    6847 was a composite NTSC video chip, it didn't get as much airtime but really made you drool in the days of TVs as mnitors.

    Lex Landa12:26 PM
    @Kevin I am familiar with the 6845 from my BBC Micro days..

    Kevin12:26 PM
    I also have my own 68000 CPU board done quite a few years ago. My design but a friend of mine wired it up for me (point to point). It runs at 8MHz. I've finally bought a 68B50 that will allow me to run the CPU at 10MHz.

    Rudranand Sahu12:26 PM
    What would you recommend or advice for implementing a CPU on an FPGA for the first time?

    marblypup12:26 PM
    @marten Awesome! It looks a bit like my Z280 board except that I turned the Z280 through 45 degrees. The result is so ugly I call it the Coyote280 :-)

    Lex Landa12:26 PM
    @Bil Ah.. that's why - we're in PAL over here. (UK)

    spencer12:26 PM
    The really nice thing about the modular nature of the RC2014 though, is the community have really taken it to heart, and started designing their own modules for it. There's now well over 100 boards out there which were designed to fit the RC2014 ecosystem :-)

    19-rsn-00712:27 PM
    MC6847 VDU was in the acond atom as well wasn't it?

    AlanH12:27 PM
    @Rudranand Sahu start from scratch

    EtchedPixels12:27 PM
    19: and the Tandy MC10, Dragon 32/64, COCO, COCO2

    Kevin12:27 PM
    @spencer I like the modular design you came up with for the RC2014. I also noticed the adapter for a Pi. :)

    Bil Herd12:27 PM
    opencores.org is where I go for existiing CPU in FPGA cores

    Linker300012:27 PM
    @spencer is the RC2014 your sole biz or do you do other things too?

    marblypup12:27 PM
    I've got a book about old cathode ray tube controllers, inc. 6845.

    Bil Herd12:27 PM
    @Lex Landa PAL didn't look good even when set for the right mode/clock

    AlanH12:27 PM
    Three things every engineer should do: grow their own transistor, implement a CPU at an RTL level, and port a high level compiler to it

    19-rsn-00712:28 PM
    do you do much FPGA retro implentation @Bil Herd ?

    spencer12:28 PM
    @Kevin Thanks :-) Yes, the Pi Zero module was one of the first I made for it. It's the cheapest way to convert serial data in to HDMI :)

    Kevin12:28 PM
    :)

    Bil Herd12:28 PM
    Put you link for the ecosystem. :)

    EtchedPixels12:28 PM
    @spencer what's the craziest rc2014 board you've sene

    EtchedPixels12:28 PM
    s/ene/een

    spencer12:29 PM
    @Linker3000 For 3 years now the RC2014 has been my only source of income #LivingTheDream :-)

    Lex Landa12:29 PM
    @Bil Herd Yes, as I recall, the aspect ratio was a bit strange.

    @AlanH - I've got a 1940's vintage germanium diode I plan to turn into a transistor. Does that count?

    Bil Herd12:29 PM
    ah SED or PERL (feels like Rodgers when he gets a flying money reference)

    David Richards12:30 PM
    Greetings, I bought an old 64 pin micro in a big ceramic and gold package recently. Hope to build it into something retro some day. Though I got it mainly to admire it looks.

    spencer12:30 PM
    Basic RC2014 Module specs are here; http://rc2014.co.uk/1377/module-template/

    Bil Herd12:30 PM
    PAL had stripes, they never got the color clock phase inversion correct is my memory....

    Read more »

  • Hack Chat Transcript, Part 1

    Lutetium05/29/2019 at 20:01 0 comments

    OK, let's get started. I want to welcome Spencer Owen to the Hack Chat today to discuss his retro-clone of the ZX80, the RC2014. And anything else that comes up, of course.

    Spencer, can you tell us a little about how you ended up in the retrocomputing world?

    Kevin12:00 PM
    I have built up two CPU boards for the 09 and one control board.

    spencer12:00 PM
    Hi! Yeah, I'm Spencer, and the RC2014 is my little Z80 based retro computer kit

    spencer12:01 PM
    For me, it started out as my own project to see if I could build a computer on a breadboard... and it kind of went off the rails from there :)

    spencer12:01 PM

    Noah Tompkins joined  the room.12:01 PM

    Linker3000 joined  the room.12:01 PM

    19-rsn-00712:02 PM
    Ow yeah another project I am dying to pick up is my diy ZX80 but with more RAM :)

    dannyvandenheuvel joined  the room.12:02 PM

    Was that the first working version?

    lawsong joined  the room.12:02 PM

    spencer12:02 PM
    When the Retro Challenge came around in 2014, I decided to enter the challenge by converting the breadboard computer to a PCB based computer

    marblypup12:02 PM
    Looks a bit like the Z8001 computer I built in the early '80s, Spencer. (Wasn't retro, then, though!)

    19-rsn-00712:02 PM
    good to see other people messing around with Z80 and 6500 series

    spencer12:03 PM
    Yes, that's the first working one. Technically, the top 3 breadboards were the first one, and the lower ones were expansions

    spencer12:03 PM
    @marblypup Got any photos of the Z8001?

    Were you working from docs or did you reverse engineer it?

    Bil Herd12:03 PM
    Thats ambitious doing that on a breadboard.

    Andrew Lindsay joined  the room.12:04 PM

    spencer12:04 PM
    There's a LOT of information out there via Google, although my board was hugely influenced by Grant Searles design.

    Vinch joined  the room.12:04 PM

    Kevin12:04 PM
    I am always amazed to see people do complex builds like that on breadboard.

    marblypup12:05 PM
    @spencer Good question! I used to cross-assemble for it from an Amstrad PCW, which gives an idea of how long ago I last used it! Still have it, housed in a cigar box :-)

    Linker300012:05 PM
    Love to know the split between old'ns who were doing this stuff first time round and coming back (if they ever went away!) for the nostalgia, and those getting in to retro stuff for the first time. (I'm in the first category).

    19-rsn-00712:05 PM
    I love doing stuff on breadboard :)

    spencer12:05 PM
    My main limitation is software, so I made sure it was compatible with Grants design so that I could run his implementation of Microsoft BASIC on it.

    Kevin12:05 PM
    I do but usually smaller items.

    Bil Herd12:06 PM
    If we really had to prototype something in the old days we used wirewrap... now hard to get cheap ww sockets, connectors, etc.

    marblypup12:06 PM
    @Linker3000 I got into digital electronics when I was 14: 1980.

    19-rsn-00712:06 PM
    hehe wow I wasn't even born then

    spencer12:06 PM
    I need to try wirewrap one day. I've heard lots of good stuff about it, although in my mind, it still looks fragile and unreliable.

    AlanH joined  the room.12:06 PM

    Kevin12:06 PM
    My 1802 CPU board I designed and built 39 years ago was built on real breadboard and is half point to point and half ww sockets.

    19-rsn-00712:06 PM
    born in 85. grew up with the C64 as my main loved system

    Linker300012:07 PM
    @Bil Herd: Can be done with regular sockets: https://github.com/linker3000/Z80-Board

    Andrew Lindsay12:07 PM
    @Linker3000 I started with a Sinclair ZX80 when I was 13 in 1980

    David Sean joined  the room.12:07 PM

    Bil Herd12:07 PM
    wirewrap has pretty well known impedances done right and there is no "loose" wires such as an inserted wire in a breadboard, many wraps around each post

    spencer12:07 PM
    I was born in 71, and grew up as a Sinclair fanboy (Sorry Bill!). It's that Sinclair link that I chose the Z80...

    Read more »

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