About modern retro projects

Personally, I like to see people building new projects with a retro flavour: whether recreations of machines, or extensions, or new machines with old CPUs, or even (like the Gigatron) completely new designs but built in old technology.

I hope others share my interest. As an example, here’s an RPN calculator built on perfboard:
SCOTT - Scientific RPN Calculator with OLED display and ATTINY85 microcontroller

For me this is retro because it’s RPN (a callback to HP’s heydey) and it has some through-hole components. It’s even got a rather compromised user interface, which is a retro feature in itself - it’s always a challenge to make a 16-button calculator, let alone a scientific one.

I hope at least one or two can say they share my interest, and I hope no-one - no-one at all - says they will leave the forum if it features such projects. We’ll never please all the people all the time, after all.

Just possibly we could have a category of Modern Retro - what do we think?


If it helps make the case that others are interested … I have a directory on my machine here called workstation that contains plans titled “Retro-Modern Workstation”. My dream is to turn it into a late 80s/early 90s-style Unix workstation built around a modern microcontroller instead of a microprocessor. Think something similar and power and capability to a Sun 1, Apollo, or very early SPARCStation using a Cortex M-series processor.

I love retro-modern projects.


I think a “modern retro” category would be nice - however I say that as someone currently making a little “modern retro” project myself…

Is that the best name for it though? There is the retrobew forum out there, but that’s mostly S100 stuff from what I can tell. I like the term “retronew”, but “modern retro” is growing on me …

My little modern retro project is here: https://projects.drogon.net/6502-ruby/ but maybe I’ll put a summary here too, as that’s a bit long winded for some…




Please do make a thread here!

In general I wouldn’t want to introduce a category until it made sense, in terms of existing conversations which belong in it. For one thing, although the list of categories with their descriptions is meant to help and encourage, if there are too many it might discourage.

I wouldn’t want to see this forum as competing with the likes of retrobrew or 6502, or anycpu, or any of the existing platform-specific enthusiasts forums. And one way in which that could be true, is if those other places are like clubs where people get help and advice on specific kinds of machines, whereas this place could be more like a museum or a collection of curiosities, where people share their interesting findings and experiences. So, more for musing than for making, perhaps.

That said, I’m more than happy to see projects-in-progress discussed here!

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Or perhaps this is the right place to share those things with a larger community, even if the primary development/etc. is documented on another site. I suspect there are a lot of users here who would like to see a retro-modern homebrew from time to time, even if it’s not the primary thing that brings them here.


I like modern attempts at keeping the 8 bit era alive whether they be kits, reproductions, or other projects to keep that era of ‘down at the hardware level because abstraction layers took too many resources’ alive.

Yes the raspberry pi exists, and is a fantastic resource. However there is always, in my mind, going to be a need to understand the very beginnings not in a dead dry historical context but in a living ‘here is an eight bit processor and a few k of ram. See what you can do with it’ sort of way.

Otherwise you get designers that believe the best solution is yet more hardware bloat to solve unoptimized code.

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This could be interesting.

Thinking back to the old day of early Sun workstations (or even Apollos, though I have less experience with them beyond that DOMAIN was “almost, but not quite completely unlike Unix” in terms of command set. “wd” vs “cd”. Like driving on the wrong side of the road “My fingers don’t work!”).

Or more notably the original NeXTStation. Back then the goal was a “3M” computer. 1M pixel display, 1M of RAM, and 1 MegaFlop.

And I think back when my friend got Sun 3/50 for the house. The 3/50 was a creaky 16Mhz 68xxx machine. But, it WAS a “workstation” by all measures. We had one at the office, running “SunTools” with network storage. “Amazing” (networks WERE amazing back then). My friend had the loudest, nastiest hard drive for his Sun. I swear alarms went off at the Cal Tech Geology department when the heads reset on this thing.

But having that huge display, running Unix (UNIX!!). It was neat thing. Most folks just didn’t have one of these sitting at the house. My 4th computer was a NeXTStation. I had not owned a PC to that point. When I was looking at PCs, I just saw that for the (college) price of a NeXTStation, I could get a similar 486 running a unix. And, a PC running unix is much less cool than a NeXTStation.

I have not got one, but regarding a modern “retro workstation”, I think it’s fair to point at the Oberon Projects FPGA machine. I think this is pretty akin to a modern machine that fits the 3M mold. The fact that they made their own RISC CPU makes it extra interesting.

So, my vision for a modern retrostation is basically mid-90’s Sun. As much as I’d like to have something running “Sun Tools” (as horrid as it was), that simply doesn’t exist any more. So, I point to CDE.

The biggest problem is that the modern web just murders old machines. As useable and useful as my NeXTStation was churning along at 25Mhz with 20MB of RAM, I don’t think you can load the Google home page today on that kind of hardware. The web browser is the single largest common resource pit on a modern machine. I mean, consider this forum. Pretty high tech. Pretty, lots of animations and pop up and the scroll bar. How many hundred MIPS does it need to render?? I’m betting this forum is impossible to use under something like Lynx (console base browser). I don’t even know how it works with screen readers with all the lazy loading JS wizardry going on.

But, yea, running an older unix on a machine where XClock doesn’t consume 15MB of RAM. That’s kind of my vision of a retro workstation.


7 posts were split to a new topic: Modern retro: thoughts on Basic interpreters/compilers

The BASIC Engine is a modern retro project I really like. It brings back a lot of the flavor of 80s computing with modern hardware. No Linux (or, ugh, windows), no logging in, just turn it on and write BASIC.


An update on my own little “Modern Retro” project:


Here’s the image:

The main launch page for it starts here: https://projects.drogon.net/6502-ruby/