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Modular Computer KIT From Scratch

I would like to build a functioning computer kit from scratch. I am starting at zero for materials, ideas and knowledge!

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After finishing school last year and securing a spot at university to study Aerospace Engineering, I have taken a year off to earn money. I have always been interested in computers and after being very bored without study this year I decided to learn a bit (ha ha) more about them. After trawling through the internet I started to get my head around the build process, obviously today's computers are just too complex to build on my own so I needed an alternative. I found some great designs modeled around retro microprocessors, that were simple enough to build on a breadboard. I intend to turn what I have learnt into one kit with my own spin on these retro systems.

I will also keep a more detailed progress log on my tumblr blog.

Aim:

To build a computer that is:

-Modular (certain aspects can be removed, replaced or rearranged. An example of this would be a sound card)

-In Kit Form (something that contains all the needed materials and knowledge for someone else to try out building this too)

-Autonomous (It must be able to operate independently, or not, with other electronics)

-Accessible (ANYONE who decides they want to build this computer must be able to understand how to do so from the instructions)

Step One: LEARN

I know NOTHING about computer circuitry. I have always believed the best way to learn was to start by following in someone else's footsteps. I am starting by taking someone else's design to get my head around how my chosen processor works and what I can do with it. Starting with prototyping and then moving on to a more solid object to use.

Step Two: DESIGN

This step involves getting more involved with my build, planning how it is all going to go together. What modular parts I would like to try out and how it will be presented. In this step I will build a working prototype of the final product.

Step Three: PRODUCE

Put all of my work together into a kit that would be ready to pitch to "investors" for example. It will contain ALL components, instructions and software simplified enough for even someone without computer experience, like me at the start of this project, can build this computer.

  • Buying The Parts For Stage Two!

    Dominic1111205/07/2014 at 12:48 0 comments

    After very careful planning on paper, I have figured out exactly what I need for the next stage. It involves a functioning computer running BASIC, that interfaces with my PC monitor and keyboard. This is a massive step that is very daunting. This step was fairly expensive as I had to buy some equipment that I will use for the rest of the project. The main budget killer was the EEPROM Programmer. Some set backs include: I had to order an ACIA (Asynchronous Communications Interface Adapter, don't worry I had to google it too) from the US as they are no longer manufactured by my supplier here in Australia and also my supplier had to move some stuff here from their UK warehouse. I am starting to worry that I may not be able to make it by August, we will see, I was already planning to do this before the prize was on offer anyway... A full parts list in my previous orders will be posted on my tumblr blog once I get a chance!

  • Testing The Microprocessor

    Dominic1111204/30/2014 at 14:29 2 comments

    I have decided the best place to start would be to test the microprocessor I would be using... I bought these off eBay as "New Old Stock". This was a great exercise as it introduced me to some great sites for components and the real basics of the Z80 microprocessor that I plan to use. I chose the Z80 for a number of reasons; it runs on 5 volts, it is 8-bit, very simple architecture, cheap and there seems to be a lot of information on the web about using one of these. Of course, as I am starting with absolutely no knowledge of how to do this, I had to borrow the schematics from someone else. Here they are: 

    http://z80.info/z80test0.htm

    This was a great build as it can be easily put together on a breadboard, I got the 5V supply from an old phone charger and the components are very easy to get. I purchased them all from one online store based in my local city. This was a very exciting build, as I see it as a stepping stone to my future projects... which I am already ordering the parts for the next step.

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Austin Marandos wrote 03/12/2015 at 22:18 point

are you still working on this project?

  Are you sure? yes | no

ross.barnes1 wrote 07/05/2014 at 21:31 point
Great idea Dominic. coming from the other end of the time line (working on being a grumpy old man) and teaching myself electronics after retiring your concept of a lego type, purpose built computer is on the money for me. Learning is a great experience and should be a life long endeavour. Your project will assist the learning process and encourage others to establish a solid foundation to work from.

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Jasmine Brackett wrote 06/23/2014 at 23:23 point
Hey Dominic,

I noticed you tagged this project with 'thehackadayprize', but have not officially submitted it. We updated the submission process a little while ago, so you need to login and use the 'submit to' under your project images on the left hand side.

We've started community voting, so if you want a chance of winning one of the phases you should officially submit asap. It's also a great time for an update and to make sure your description and details clearly explain how your project is connected and why it should be a contender for The Hackaday Prize.

Good luck!

  Are you sure? yes | no

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