4-bit Retrocomputer emulator gets custom PCB


It may be fair to suspect that most people considered digital natives have very little or no idea what is really going on inside their smartphones, tablets and computers. To be fair, it’s not easy to understand how modern processors work, but it was different in the early 1980s when personal computers were just starting to become popular. People who grew up back then could have a much better understanding of computer basics from computer education systems. The Busch 2090 Microtronic computer system launched in 1981 in Germany was one such device that taught people the basics of programming and machine language. It was also [Michael Wessel]the first computer and although it is still in possession of the original, it has only just been recreated using an Arduino.

The original Microtronic was sold under the catchy slogan “Hobby of the future that has already started!” Sure, the specs of the 4-bit, 500kHz TMS 1600 inside the Microtronic seem laughable compared to modern microcontrollers, but it was running a virtual environment that taught more than native assembly. He points out, however, that the instruction manual was exceptionally well written and is still very effective in teaching students the basics of computer programming.

Already a few years ago he wrote a Microtronic emulator based on Arduino. In his new project, he set about expanding the functionality and creating a custom PCB for the device. The whole thing is based on the ATMega 2560 Pro Mini including an SD card module for file storage, an LCD display and a whole bunch of push buttons. It also added a PSTN module and speaker to recreate some of the original functions like programming a digital clock or composing melodies. The device can also serve as an emulator of the original Microtronic cassette interface which allowed programs to be saved with an enormous data rate of 14 baud.

He certainly did a great job of preserving this beautiful piece of retro-tech for the future. Instead of an Arduino, retro computers can also be emulated on an FPGA or just take the original hardware and expand it with a Raspberry Pi.

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