800×600 Video Output for Small Systems

img_1186The Mesa-Video is a low cost, low power, small open source hardware/software solution for providing graphics from embedded projects. It is, basically, a graphics card with an UART interface.

The graphics card side of the solution can display text and 24-bit color graphics at up to 800×600 pixels. It is built around the FT813 GPU, and FPGA and an HDMI output. The GPU itself has an API resembling what you used to draw graphics using BASIC back in the eighties and early nineties. According to the Meta-Video creator, a part of that API will be made available over the serial line.

Right now, the project aims to go open source, but the sources are not available at this point in time. The sources will be released as soon as the practical arrangements for production have been sorted.

Having a graphics card available over UART opens the door to graphical interfaces for system built using basic CPUs such as ESP8266 or Arduinos.

Via dangerous prototypes.

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NodeIT – stackable IoT

800px-FrontimageThe NodeIT by Sweet Pea’s is an extendable, minimal IoT thing being launched on kickstarter right now. The project has already been funded, but is still open to additional backers.

Based on the ESP8266, the core module, called ESP210, provides an MCU with WiFi capabilities. In true arduino style, it supports stackable modules called “+1” modules. These add sensors and other features to the system. Currently, there are 5 “+1” modules available, but more are under development. The available boards are:

  • BatOne, implementing a Li Ion charger
  • EnvironOne, providing sensors for measuring light, temperature, moist and barometric pressure
  • Io4One, adds 4 additional GPIO lines with interrupt capabilities
  • Adc4One, adds 4 ADC channels
  • RtcOne, provides a battery backed up real time clock with a unique EUI64 address

In addition to these boards, the Workstation40 boards adds 8 ADC channels, 8 GPIO pins and 6 PWM/timer/counter pins. This board breaks the form factor to fit all the pins, but the NodeIT is still stackable when connected.

All boards communicate over an I2C bus, reducing the number of pins used up for this purpose at the cost of limiting the bandwidth. However, given the purpose of the NodeIT, the I2C bus is probably not a problem.

The system comes with an IDE based on the Arduino IDE. This might not be the prettiest IDE around, but it works. Additional software for the NodeIT can be found on the project’s github page.


Via ThingSpeak.

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Understanding ARM

As a follow up on Raymond Chen’s in-depth look at Intel’s Itanium, he has posted a set of links to an introduction to ARM. Also an interesting read.

This falls close to the Baking Pi course that we’ve covered earlier.

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Understanding Intel’s Itanium

Raymond Chen has written a multi part series on the Intel Itanium processor architecture. It really helps you understand the CPU architecture from a software development and performance optimization perspective. To quote Raymond:

The Itanium may not have been much of a commercial success, but it is interesting as a processor architecture because it is different from anything else commonly seen today. It’s like learning a foreign language: It gives you an insight into how others view the world.

The next two weeks will be devoted to an introduction to the Itanium processor architecture, as employed by Win32.

It is a highly recommended read (as is his entire blog, The New Old Thing):

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Built to Scale

8bit_add_subTaking on the most complex, miniaturized part of a computer and going in the other direction takes a special kind of mind. Doing it “because I want to” takes it to the next level.

James Newman is building a CPU out of individual transistors and LEDs. The goal is to build a 14 meters long wall of blinkenlights performing data processing, 16 bits at a time. Check out his progress over at The Mega Processor blog.

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An embeddable C interpreter

If you like scripting and embedded systems, but feel that Python, Lua, Javascript and the rest are too high level, I give you picoc.

The picoc interpreter, created by Zik Saleeba, is an embeddable, minimal C interpreter environment that you can integrate into your system. On x86, the stripped executable ends up only 118kB, with the standard libraries, so it is very compact.

Browsing the code, the include module looks easy enough to work with, so you can extend the environment for your specific needs. The code is BSD licensed, allowing you many freedoms.

Looking at the code, it does suffer from some code rot. The last commit is a year old. However, the code looks well structured and builds nicely, so it is not very hard to maintain.

Via osnews.

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Transistor level Atari 2600 simulation

Based on the work from visual6502.org, Greg James has put together a transistor level simulation of the Atari 2600 console. The entire project is available from github.


The simulator runs slowly, but that is the trick. Everything is simulated at half-clock accuracy. On my i7 laptop, I get around 12-15 ms/clk, meaning that it is running at ~70Hz. Much slower than the 1.19MHz of the original hardware.

Still, this is an interesting project, demonstrating how to do accurate hardware simulations and how much slower they are, compared to emulators.

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Cheaper Pies

With the launch of the Raspberry Pi 2, the pricing of the old B+ felt a bit out of shape. For $35 you got either the newest model with ARMv7 and far more CPU power, or the older B+ with some additional ports.


Now the Raspberry Pi Foundations has announced some adjustments to the pricing. The new setup means that Raspberry Pi 2 retails at $35, Raspberry Pi B+ at $25 and Raspberry Pi A+ at $20.

This has been made possible through production optimizations, but I would guess that outselling even the most optimistic forecasts might have something to do with it as well. The end result is a pricing for the B+ and A+ that feels more accurate, given the price tag on the Raspberry Pi 2 – and, of course, cheaper pies for everyone.

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Python without an OS

Josh Triplett just did a presentation at PyCon demonstrating Python running in GRUB and EFI. He has a full interactive Python 2.7 environment, including the ability to peek and poke at memory, including the framebuffer.

What excites me about this, is that we are finally back to this:

250px-AtariBasicExample C64_startup_animiert

Via michaelhleonard.

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MEGA65 – a modern 8-bit system

Paul Gardner-Stephen and MEGA, museum of electronic games and art, just announced the MEGA65. It is a modern day 8-bit computer. It is compatible enough with the C64 to run old ROMs and programs, while it supports modern interfaces such as SD-cards, Ethernet and more.


The project is open source and available on github. Right now you can download an FPGA bitstream, the VHDL source and some bootstrapping programs. The plans are to build a physical machine with a proper 8-bit look and feel. That is something that I really am looking forward to.

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