Hardware Archive

Raspberry Pi 5 unveiled

Today, we’re delighted to announce the launch of Raspberry Pi 5, coming at the end of October. Priced at $60 for the 4GB variant, and $80 for its 8GB sibling (plus your local taxes), virtually every aspect of the platform has been upgraded, delivering a no-compromises user experience. Raspberry Pi 5 comes with new features, it’s over twice as fast as its predecessor, and it’s the first Raspberry Pi computer to feature silicon designed in‑house here in Cambridge, UK. While I personally think there are more interesting alternatives to the Pi, there’s no doubt the Pi is the most compatible and most popular of these small board computers, and a big upgrade like this is definitely welcome – assuming they can actually stock these at fair prices at the end of October, when the fifth iteration of the Pi actually launches.

The Philips Hue ecosystem is collapsing into stupidity

Philips Hue products are about to get a whole lot worse – even the ones you already own. Their latest round of stupidity pops up a new EULA and forces you to take it or, again, you can’t access your stuff. But that’s just more unenforceable garbage, so who cares, right? Well, it’s getting worse. It seems they are planning on dropping an update which will force you to log in. Yep, no longer will your stuff Just Work across the local network. Now it will have yet another garbage “cloud” “integration” involved, and they certainly will find a way to make things suck even worse for you. This should be illegal.

New Huawei SoC features processor cores designed in-house

Four of the eight central processing units in the Mate 60 Pro’s “system on a chip” (SoC) rely purely on a design by Arm, the British company whose chip architecture powers 99 percent of smartphones. The other four CPUs are Arm-based but feature Huawei’s own designs and adaptations, according to three people familiar with the Mate’s development and Geekerwan, a Chinese technology testing company that took a closer look at the main chip. I could design my own processor cores too if had the means of a genocidal, totalitarian superpower.

Circles do not exist

However almost every “circle” you can see in printed media (and most purely digital ones) are not, in fact, circles. Why is this? Since roughly the mid 80s all “high quality” print jobs have been done either in PostScript or, nowadays almost exclusively, in PDF. They use the same basic drawing model, which does not have a primitive for circles (or circle arcs). The only primitives they have are straight line segments, rectangles and Bézier curves. None of these can be used to express a circle accurately. You can only do an approximation of a circle but it is always slightly eccentric. The only way to create a proper circle is to have a raster image like the one above. Shouldn’t be that big of a deal, right? I’m sure nobody is using PDF for anything that would require the kind of precision needed for a perfect circle, like CAD drawings for laser cutters and similar machinery. Right? Again one might ask whether this has any practical impact. For this case, again, probably not. But did you know that one of the cases PDF is being considered (and, based on Internet rumors, is already being used) is as an interchange format for CAD drawings? Now it suddenly starts mattering. If you have any component where getting a really accurate circle shape is vital (like pistons and their holes), suddenly all your components are slightly misshaped. Which would not be fun. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Pineapple ONE: open source 32 bit RISC-V CPU that you can make at home

Pineapple ONE is a functioning (macro) processor, that is based on an open-source architecture RISC-V. This architecture is becoming very popular these days, and it is well, open-source, so we chose to build a cpu only out of discrete, off-the-shelf components. You heard it right, there is no FPGA nor any microcontroller, there are just logic gates and memories. Our goal is to prove that designing a “modern” CPU isn’t that hard, so we have released our schematics and made it open source as well. You can check out our GitHub repository for more information. If there would be enough interest, maybe we could make a DIY kit, so anybody interested with soldering skills would be able to make their own Pineapple ONE! Don’t think you can run Crysis on this though – it runs at 500 kHz, has a 512 kB program memory and 512 kB of RAM, and a black and white graphics card with 200×150 pixels. It’s no speed demon, but who cares – this is quite the feat.

HDMI ISA graphics card for vintage PCs by improving the Graphics Gremlin

2 years ago, I learned of an open-source project called Graphics Gremlin (GG) by Eric Schlaepfer who runs the website Tubetime.us. It is an 8-bit ISA graphics card that supports display standards like Color Graphics Adapter (CGA) and Monochrome Display Adapter (MDA). CGA and MDA are display standards used by older IBM(-compatible) PCs in the 1980s. The frequencies and connectors used by CGA and MDA are no longer supported by modern monitors hence it is difficult for older PCs of the 1980s era to have modern displays connected to them without external adapters. GG addresses this problem by using techniques like scan doubling (for CGA) and increasing the vertical refresh rate (for MDA) then outputing to a relatively newer but still old VGA port. As neat as this project is, it does have a few limitations that the author tried to address: it doesn’t have modern outputs, which is becoming problematic with monitor makers no longer adding VGA ports, and it can’t display on two outputs at once. This article details his solutions.

NuXT 2.0 motherboard: a new 8088 motherboard for your DIY PC clone

In the recent past I have discussed the Book 8088 and the Hand 386, which are newly made vintage computing systems. I concluded that those products, although not uninteresting were rather flawed. The Book 8088 was by far the more disappointing of the two devices. I have also been made aware of a project which tries to fulfill a similar niche, the NuXT motherboard. The NuXT is an 8088-based motherboard you can buy brand new and can really fill that IBM PC-clone hole in your vintage collection. While I do not own one of these, I have read and seen enough about it to give my thoughts on whether this product would be right for you. The NuXT 2.0 looks like an incredible motherboard for fans of the original IBM PC and its clones – especially with the prices of working original machines going through the roof as supply dwindles and demand skyrockets.

How big is a kilobyte?

As best I can tell, there is no broad consensus on how large a kilobyte is. Some say that a kilobyte is 1000 bytes while others say it’s 1024 bytes. Others are ambiguous. This also means that the industry does not agree on the size of megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes, and so on. Not entirely new information to most of us, I would presume, but in my head canon a kilobyte is 1024 bytes, even though that technically doesn’t make any sense from a metric perspective. To make matters worse, as soon as we get into the gigabytes and terabytes, I tend to back to thinking in terms of thousands again since it just makes more sense. The kibibytes and cohorts are a way to properly distance the base 2 system from the base 10 one, but I’ve never heard anyone in day-to-day speech make that distinctions outside of really nerdy circles.

SiFive’s P870 takes RISC-V further

ARM had a slow start on its way to move beyond microcontrollers and enter the high performance market. ARM Ltd made the Cortex A9, their first out-of-order core, in 2007. Throughout the 2010s, they gradually made bigger, higher power, and higher performance cores. Pushing performance boundaries isn’t easy, but today, ARM’s cores can be a viable alternative to Intel and AMD’s offerings in the server market. RISC-V started much later, but has seen faster growth. Berkerly’s BOOM core had grown into a sizeable out-of-order design by 2016. Now, SiFive’s P870 looks a lot like ARM’s Cortex X series in terms of reordering capacity, core width, and execution units. It might not be a match for ARM’s best, since the load/store queues look a bit small and vector execution throughput is a bit weak. But from looking at P870, SiFive’s ambitions are clear. They want a chunk of ARM’s pie. RISC-V is getting better and better at a rapid pace. The software side of the story still has a long way to go, but that, too, is getting better. Exciting.

Everything I know about floppy disks

Floppy disk drives are curious things. We know them as the slots that ingest those small almost-square plastic “floppy disks” and we only really see them now in Computer Museums. But there’s a lot going on in that humble square of plastic and I wanted to write down what I’ve learned so far. Exactly what it says on the tin.

A deep dive into Single Pair Ethernet

Having used a wide range of field device communications busses from simple 4-20mA, classic serial busses like UART and Modbus, and more modern CAN bus, native USB, and Ethernet options I’m always playing with different transports and protocols to see what solutions make sense in my grab-bag of designs for hardware projects. I first became aware of Single Pair Ethernet when I was mindlessly browsing Sparkfun’s new products announcements a while ago, but didn’t jump in because I felt the real utility was the ability to power devices over the same cable. More than a year later, Sparkfun’s Single Pair Ethernet Design Challenge gave me the excuse to create the hardware I originally wanted, offering a power budget that can handle non-trivial hardware with data rates to match. Some light reading for the weekend.

A visit to the one-man computer factory

The computer on Keegan McNamara’s desk is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The machine sits on a light wood table, bathed in the sunlight coming into the second floor of McNamara’s Los Angeles house. McNamara, tall and blonde in jeans and a light khaki Carhartt jacket, walks over to the desk, sits down, and reaches over to hit the power button. Then he pauses. He forgot something. He digs into his pants pocket, pulls out his keys, picks a silver one, sticks it into a cylinder just to the right of the computer’s 8-inch screen, and turns. A light on the left side of the device turns red. Then McNamara reaches up and flips a silver switch just above the keyhole, the lights on the left turn to yellow and then green, and his computer comes to life. Like I said, this is not your average computer.  This sure is interesting.

ARM’s Cortex A710: winning by default

ARM Ltd has been dominating the Android world for the better part of the last decade, with their 7-series cores at the forefront of their success. Throughout the late 2010s, the Cortex A73, A75, and A76 steadily iterated on performance while maintaining excellent energy efficiency. Qualcomm, and then Samsung decided licensing ARM’s cores would be easier than trying to outdo them. Apple remained a notable rival, but their core designs were not available outside a closed-off ecosystem. By the time Cortex A78 came around, ARM had no real competition. ARM’s Cortex A710 continues that dominance. It takes A78’s successful formula and tweaks it to improve performance and efficiency. Efficiency is especially prioritized, with the core seeing cuts in some areas as ARM tries to get more done with less power. A710 claims to provide a 30% uplift in power efficiency or a 10% performance increase within a fixed power envelope when compared to a A78 core with half as much L3 cache. Alongside these improvements, A710 gains Armv9-A and SVE support. A deep dive into ARM’s latest core.

Turning my Framework laptop into a tiny desktop was fun

It’s 2023, and those who have Framework’s first generation of laptops, containing Intel’s 11th-generation Core processor) might be itching to upgrade, especially with an AMD model around the corner. Or maybe, like me, they find that system’s middling battery life and tricky-to-tame sleep draining (since improved, but not entirely fixed) make for a laptop that doesn’t feel all that portable. Or they’re just ready for something new. What can you do with these old internal organs? You can always list them for sale. Or, like me, you could buy a custom-printed Cooler Master case (or 3D-print your own), transfer your laptop’s mainboard, memory, and storage over, and create a desktop that easily fits on top of your actual desk. I can’t recommend it enough as a small weekend project, as a way to get more value out of your purchase, and as a thought experiment in what kind of job you can give to a thin little slab of Framework. Framework is one of the good ones. For now.

DisplayPort: taming the altmode

The DisplayPort altmode is semi-proprietary, but it can absolutely be picked apart if we try. Last time, we found a cool appnote describing the DisplayPort altmode in detail, switched the FUSB302 into packet sniffing mode and got packet captures, learned about PD VDMs (vendor-defined messages), and successfully replayed the captured messages to switch a USB-C port into the DisplayPort altmode. Today, we will go through the seven messages that summon the DisplayPort altmode, implement them, and tie them all into a library – then, figure out the hardware we need to have DisplayPort work in the wild. USB-C might have its problems, but it’s also incredibly cool and versatile.

Qualcomm starts a RISC-V joint venture

Arm is facing down its biggest competition ever, with the up-and-coming RISC-V architecture threatening to unseat it as the CPU at the center of almost every portable device. Now, one of Arm’s biggest customers is trying out RISC-V, as Qualcomm is getting involved in a joint venture dedicated to the architecture. The joint venture doesn’t have a name yet, but Qualcomm, NXP, Nordic Semiconductor, Bosch, and memory giant Infineon are all teaming up to form a new company that Qualcomm’s press release says is “aimed at advancing the adoption of RISC-V globally by enabling next-generation hardware development.” At first, the group will be focused on automotive uses, with an “eventual expansion” to IoT and mobile, Qualcomm’s biggest market. Statements of intent are easily written, so let’s hope this is more than a fart in the wind.

Chrultrabook: run Windows, regular desktop Linux, or macOS on your Chromebook

A chrultrabook is a modified Chromebook designed to run Windows, Linux, or even macOS by utilizing MrChromebox coreboot firmware. The purpose of this site is to provide comprehensive and user-friendly documentation on hardware, firmware, and operating systems. This is a cool project to make it easy to run Windows, regular desktop Linux, or even macOS on your Chromebook. Excellent documentation, too.

The buttons on Zenith’s original ‘clicker’ remote were a mechanical marvel

If you’ve ever heard someone refer to a TV remote as a “clicker,” it’s because of Robert Adler’s 1956 creation. The elegant Star Trek-esque gadget pioneered a durable, clicky action for controlling gadgets and a simplicity of form that has since been naively abandoned.    When Zenith first started experimenting with wireless remote controls, it used beams of light that the television could receive to communicate a command, eventually debuting the Flash-Matic in 1955. It only took a year in the market for this idea to be abandoned due to its sensitivity to full-spectrum light from the sun and lightbulbs. So Zenith’s engineers tried an even simpler approach that didn’t require batteries at all, using sound instead of light. This is from well before my time – and I have no idea if devices like this even ever made it to The Netherlands, where I’m originally from – but this is such a cool solution to the technical problem they were facing. I had no idea early remote controls were sound-based.

TV typewriter remembered

A lot of the cost of a video terminal was the screen. Yet nearly everyone had a TV, and used TVs have always been fairly cheap, too. That’s where Don Lancaster came in. His TV Typewriter Cookbook was the bible for homebrew video displays. The design influenced the Apple 1 computer and spawned a successful kit for a company known as Southwest Technical Products. For around $300 or so, you could have a terminal that uses your TV for output. The wild West days of home computing must’ve been an absolutely fascinating time to live through. I know we have quite a few old-timers in the audience here, so there’s bound to be folks here who used this. Amazing

Intel lets ASUS take over and continue NUC product line

Turns out Intel’s NUC line is not going to die after all. Today, Intel announced it has agreed to a term sheet with ASUS, a global technology solution provider, for an agreement to manufacture, sell and support the Next Unit of Compute (NUC) 10th to 13th generations systems product line, and to develop future NUC systems designs. If you’re into Intel NUCs, Asus is the way to go now.