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Build your own pocket mini computer

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Picture of Build your own pocket mini computer
Ever want to experience 70s and 80s computing without fiddling with creaky old hardware and 5.25 floppy disks?

In this Instructable, I'll teach you how to build and program your own pocket mini computer.  

Explore micro computing with a machine which:
  • Can be successfully assembled in an evening.
  • Can be programmed in BASIC.  (and other languages)
  • Can play games and run programs.
  • Most importantly: Can be understood.


Requirements:
  • Pocket Mini Computer Kit  (As of August 1st, Pocket Mini Computer can be obtained from Propellerpowered.com)
  • A PS2 Keyboard 
  • A Wii Controller (Classic or ClassicPro)
  • A microSD card
  • A VGA Monitor
  • A set of computer speakers

We created this as an Open Source "Ready to Build" kit, but have also updated this Instructable with complete schematics for anyone who wanted to create they own version of the Pocket Mini Computer!   Read on!


 
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Step 1: The Pocket Mini Computer Details

Picture of The Pocket Mini Computer Details
The Pocket Mini Computer is a small and versatile computer running a full featured BASIC interpreter with 32K of ram. It will work with a standard VGA monitor and PC compatible keyboard. Because the Pocket Mini Computer has its own built in microSD memory card slot and BASIC language you need nothing more to start writing and running BASIC programs. A Wii(TM) compatible gameport as well as stereo audio output create a compelling enviroment to write programs and games.

I'm the designer of the Pocket Mini Computer.  I wanted to create a product which would give those in the younger generation a chance to see what computing was like in the early days before the PC.  I also wanted to re-create the experience as closely to the original Commodore and Atari computers so that us "old timers" could enjoy a trip back to yesteryear when we were young.

The Pocket Mini Computer has been a labor of love from board design to preparing the BASIC programming language.

You'll be able to do more than enjoy a simple "HELLO WORLD" program.  The BASIC is full featured and powerful!



Step 2: Rolling your own

Picture of Rolling your own
I wanted to insure 100% success for anyone attempting this project, so we created a kit, but have received a lot of positive encouragement to also provide a schematic for those who want to take a shot at "rolling their own" Pocket Mini Computer.

The brain (CPU) behind the Pocket Mini Computer is a Parallax P8X32A microcontroller, so grab your favorite Propeller board and dig in!  

We'll be using the following I/O pins for connected devices:
  • P0 - P3     SD or microSD connection
  • P10, P11  Stereo audio connections
  • P24, P25  Wii Classic Controller connection
  • P26, P26  PS/2 Keyboard Connection
  • P16-P23  VGA connection
I've also lnked a PDF of this graphic so that you can enlarge and print it!

Have you already got a Quickstart board and want to make your own PCB?  We've got you covered too!
 

Step 3: About the kit

Picture of About the kit
Quickstart.jpg
In the 70s if you wanted a computer of your own, you bought a kit.   These kits would take days or months to complete and if you did everything correct.   (and the parts were good!)  you had your own computer!   The Pocket Mini Computer is a simple kit that will give you a taste of creating your own computer.  It's designed around solid hardware and simple components, so you are guaranteed success!

The Pocket Mini Computer consists of two interlocking boards, A CPU board, and an I/O board. The CPU board arrives pre assembled. The I/O board is an easy-to-assemble kit which can be assembled by a beginner with minimal soldering skills  in a single evening.

Step 4: Step 1: Placing the resistors

Picture of Step 1: Placing the resistors
insert_resistors.JPG
Step 1 in assembly is correctly inserting and soldering the resistors.

The resistors are marked with numbers printed on the silkscreen of the I/O board.
Solder them in from the bottom side of the board.

We'll be using 5 different resistors in this build.
  • 10k resistors (Brown, black, orange)
  • 1k1 resistors (Brown, brown, red)
  • 100ohm resistors (Brown, black, brown)
  • 240ohm resistors (Red, yellow, black)
  • 470ohm resistors (Yellow, violet, brown)
Revisions and Updates!

The board shown in this picture is Revision E.  Revision G "RevG" of this board has an additional three 120ohm resistors which have been added to the right of the row of resistors behind the VGA connector.  This upgrade improves the color count from 48 to 64 colors.   An optional SRAM (23K256) socket has also been added.  If an SRAM chip is detected 32K of additional "extended" memory is available to BASIC using PEEK/POKE commands.

Step 5: Step 2: Creating the audio circuit.

Picture of Step 2: Creating the audio circuit.
Step 2 in assembly is inserting and soldering the audio circuit.

Next:
  1. Insert the two 1k1 resistors (Brown, brown, red)
  2. Insert the two caps at C4 and C5.
  3. Insert the two electrolytic caps at C2 & C3.

Important!  The two electrolytic caps must be inserted with proper orientation.  The negative side of each cap should be facing away from the plus sign on the board silk screen.  Follow the image below and you'll be fine.

Step 6: Step 3: Adding the ports

Picture of Step 3: Adding the ports
Step 3 in assembly is inserting and soldering the I/O ports to the board.

Next
  1. Insert the VGA connector and solder.
  2. Insert the PS/2 keyboard connector and solder.
  3. Insert the Audio Jack and solder.

If the jacks are loose and want to fall out when you flip the board over,
simply use a piece of scotch tape to hold them in position while you are soldering.

Step 7: Step 4: Adding the 40 pin connector

Picture of Step 4: Adding the 40 pin connector
Step 4 in assembly is inserting and soldering the 40pin connector.

The next step will install the 40pin connector which connects the I/O board to the CPU board.

An easy way to do this is to insert the 40pin connector into the CPU board as shown in the picture, 
then place the top board in place and solder.  You may have to hold onto the board to make the first couple of connections.


Step 8: Step 5: Install the microSD header

Picture of Step 5: Install the microSD header
pin_headers.JPG
Finally, you need to assemble and install the microSD header.

The microSD module comes with pin headers to create the 4-pin (Do,Clk,Di,Cs) and 2-pin (V33,Gnd) connections required by the project.  There are two rows of each on the module (see picture) and either row will work just fine.  I chose the ones closest  to the silver socket on the module for mine.  Once you've soldered the pins into the module, the whole module will plug in the six pin holes behind the VGA connection and rest on top of the resistors.
  1. Insert the 2 pin headers into either of rows on the microSD card and solder them into place.
  2. Insert the assembled microSD into the I/O board and solder it into place.
  3. Cut the long pins on the bottom of the board when finished.

The microSD header provides us the "mass storage" for our Pocket Mini Computer. 
Old timers will remember using 5.25 floppy disks and some seniors will remember paper tape!
You'll want a 2gb microSD card to take advantage of this option.

You don't have to install this for BASIC to work, but you will want it to LOAD and SAVE files.

Step 9: Installing BASIC firmware

Picture of Installing BASIC firmware
Congratulations!    You've assembled you own "old school" Pocket Mini Computer!

Now it's time to install BASIC on it!

Download all of the files from:
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qwhixzvtlrvp1u1/y-JshwklWj/PropellerBASIC

Using your PC, copy the two files, basic.bin and basedit.bin to the 2gb microSD card.

The additional files are the source code to both BASIC (already loaded on the CPU board) and it's full screen editor. These files are MIT licensed and are free for you to modify and distribute.




Step 10: Using the Pocket Mini Computer

Picture of Using the Pocket Mini Computer
Time to play!

Connect your Pocket Mini Computer to a standard VGA monitor, a PC keyboard, (Speakers & Wii Classic Controller if you have them!)
Connect the USB cable and power supply to power it up!

You should see a boot screen like the one pictured.

Step 11: Your first BASIC program.

Picture of Your first BASIC program.
If you grew up in the 90's you might have never had the opportunity to program in BASIC on an early computer.  If you are a few years older, then you'll probably remember BASIC.

BASIC stands for B(eginner's) A(ll-purpose) S(ymbolic) I(nstruction) C(ode).

In the 70s, 80s and early 90s, all computers come with BASIC built-right-in and simply turning them on meant that you were ready to start using your computer within 2 seconds!   (My how things have changed.)

See the READY. prompt?  Good!  You are "Ready" to type in your first BASIC program!

Type the following and press ENTER after each line.

10 PRINT "HELLO WORLD!"
20 GOTO 10


Now type RUN and press ENTER.




Step 12: Your Second BASIC program

Picture of Your Second BASIC program
So you've got a bunch of HELLO WORLD's scrolling down the screen.

Hit the ESC key (the break key) to make it stop.  

Type NEW and press ENTER.   It's time to type into something a little more interesting.
You'll need to grab a Wii Classic or Wii ClassicPro Controller for this program.  Plug it in and reset the power on your mini computer.

Type each line below and press ENTER after each one.

10 REM ** Wii Controlled Drawing in BASIC **
15 COLOR 63,0
20 CLS
30 C=3
40 A=50
50 B=50
60 REM ** START OF LOOP **
70 IF JOY = 64 THEN X=X+1
80 IF JOY = 256 THEN X=X-1
90 IF JOY = 2048 THEN C=C+10
100 IF JOY= 128 THEN Y=Y-1
110 IF JOY= 32 THEN Y=Y+1
200 PLOT X,Y,C
210 GOTO 60


Type RUN and press ENTER.

Draw on the screen with the controller's DPAD.  Change colors with the A button.

The BASIC included on your Pocket Mini Computer is fully featured!  
Be sure and read the BASIC Manual.pdf for all of it's features!

Several example programs have been published here, to give you an idea of power contained in the BASIC.   Controlling and reading external I/O, playing music on a SID-like synthesizer, and even redefining characters to create graphics are just a few of the highlights the available command-set. 

Step 13: More cool programs!

Picture of More cool programs!
Because your Pocket Mini Computer is based on the Parallax Propeller CPU, you can run other binary programs as well!

Ready to go further?  Check out this "User's Guide" to the Pocket Mini Computer
http://www.instructables.com/id/Pocket-Mini-Computer-Users-Guide/

Grab a few programs from this archive!
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qwhixzvtlrvp1u1/TBo62Lm4d0/Binaries/QuickVGAplus

New: A Support forum specific to programming and customizing the Pocket Mini Computer:
http://propellerpowered.com/forum/index.php?board=5.0

Your Pocket Mini Computer can be programmed in C, Spin, and Assembly.  To find out more about the processor powering your machine visit the following forums and websites:

Propellerpowered Forums
http://forums.propellerpowered.com

Parallax Propeller Forums
http://forums.parallax.com/forumdisplay.php?65-Propeller-Chip

Propellerpowered
http://www.propellerpowered.com


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Solarcell342 years ago
Can you replace the wii port with a USB port?
moaz7862 years ago
Hey, GG, Where do we get the Classic Controller Port?
ncc 17012 years ago
help!

i copied the file basedit.bin on to the sd card, but when i press f1 i get the message "file misssing "basedit.bin"
Do you see a directory when you type DIR and ENTER?

Come over to the support forums and we'll help you troubleshoot it.
http://propellerpowered.com/forum/index.php?board=5.0

Jeff
thanks, but i figured it out on my own, it turns out the problem was that i had basedit.bin/basic.bin both in a folder on the sd card and the pmc couldn't read it it.

ncc 17012 years ago
any idea how long it takes to ship to Canada?

thanks
They ship from NE Ohio. Based on another customer's orders, I believe the typical time to Canada is about five days.
is that time from gadget gangster or parallax propeller ?
That's estimated time from Propellerpowered. We still ship for Gadget Gangster, but the PMC is now a Propellerpowered project. Generally, I ship around 24 hours from time of order (weekdays). At present, there are 6 PMC kits in stock.
thanks a lot! i can't wait for mine to arrive!
i of course meant propellerpowered
I recently did an "off-the-cuff" video of the Pocket Mini Computer project.
The cinematography won't win awards, but this will give everyone a first hand view of the project and the progress we've made since this Instructable -Jeff-
http://www.youtube.com/watch?&v=_D-MQHvyvzM
ncc 17012 years ago
when i click on the pdf (BASIC manual) it says it's be removed, does any one have some suggestions as to were i could find instructions on using BASIC?
thanks
Here's the most up-to-date reference on the BASIC.
http://propellerpowered.wikispaces.com/COLOR+BASIC+Language+Reference

We moved the .PDFs to the /Documentation folder in the sources library.

Jeff
thanks a lot!
Wazzupdoc2 years ago
So where does this stand now? I'm behind the concept and think, for me, might even be more intuitive than the raspberryPi because of my old school Basic training. Can we still get one? From where?
Yes, They kits are available from Propellerpowered.com
http://propellerpowered.com/shop/?page_id=234

Also, there is a forum you should check out at:
http://propellerpowered.com/forum/index.php?board=5.0
Part 2 of this Instructable has been posted!
http://www.instructables.com/id/Pocket-Mini-Computer-Users-Guide/

Think of it as the "User's Guide" to the Pocket Mini Computer.
(or why I earth would I build one of these??!? book.

Jeff
I'm told that to-date, all unshipped GG backorders have been refunded. If you have not had your GG order resolved, please contact me. I can help. (jeffledger at gmail.com)

Since the product was stocked at Propellerpowered.com (August 1st) we've shipped 30+ units of this product to happy customers. We have several left in stock and are preparing to make a second supply order.

Visit us on the forums, specifically for this project:
http://propellerpowered.com/forum/index.php?board=5.0

New features are being added to the BASIC firmware and it's starting to grow!

Jeff
swilus2 years ago
I ordered this from Gadgetgangster.com. The 50$+- was taken from my bank account. Its been over a month and I haven't heard from them either by e-mail or phone. I still haven't received my order. They do not have a phone number the website. I found a phone number using a 'who-is' lookup but it went to voice mail. I got ripped off and just wanted to let everybody know just so you can avoid getting ripped off.
msil3070 swilus2 years ago
Yeah, I felt the same way with GG.. see my other posts. Jeff from Propellerpowered did a great job for me.

@Swilus, Email me at jeffledger at gmail.com. I'll see if I can help in some way.
jonrnk2 years ago
I'm starting to think this whole thing is a scam!
I placed an order two months ago and paid with PayPal and have not received it as of today. My e-mail to gadgets has gone unanswered and when I try to send and e-mail to jeff@Propellerpowered.com, I get a response of bad recipient address.
msil3070 jonrnk2 years ago
I think it is a scam.. I ordered two of these from GadgetGangster.. they shipped but the items went to another address ( not my paypal registered address) My local post office confirmed...

When I sent an email I got a 1 line reply saying they would look into it and check their records.. Since then absolutely nothing despite a couple of follow-ups...

If I new anybody in local law enforcement I'd send them around...

Cheers
I handle the shipping for GG. Send me an email (jeffledger at gmail.com) and I'll see if you got caught in the GG backorder situation. If It got routed to the wrong address, then it's a mistake that can be rectified.

Jeff
Jeff, I received the two PMCs today.. Well packed and All good Thanks..

Thanks especially for going to all the trouble of tracking the facts etc to find out what really happened.. (As per my other happy post from Aug 15 )

A delivery time of less than 9 days from US to Australia is good by any measure.

Lot's of projects lined up for these... Mini laptop, imbedded in to a field data collector . mini word processing ap etc etc...
Cheers Michael


@jonrnk. I don't know why you are getting "bad recipient" address, but bypass it and send a message directly to me at my game address. (jeffledger at gmail.com)

I'll help you get one of these in your hands.
cadams212 years ago
Is it possible to make this run windows 7 perfectly i am not a genius like you just want a small PC the runs windows.
No, sorry. No Windows here. The CPU unit only has 32K of memory, so everything is TINY.
We've shipped over 20 PMC units as of tonight since the switch over! There's about 6 units in stock right now. The fun is just starting to ramp up on our new forums!

http://forums.propellerpowered.com
jonrnk2 years ago
propellerpowered.com appears to be on the up and up, but it is a different company. They will ship you the kit if you buy it from them. It's up to you to get your money back from ganstergadget and he is not responding to any emails. PayPal will not do anything (I guess it's time to look at other means of paying on-line). They did give me the e-mail address for the account holder for gagnster and I'm running down his personal information to contact his local police dept. and state's Attorney General for pursuing mail fraud charges.

In the mean time you're screwed.
msil3070 jonrnk2 years ago
Hi, Jeff from propellerpowered.com has been very helpful. I really appreciate the effort he has gone to. losing my money or not, I think he's doing a good job working to fix this situation.

I grew up on early Z80 and 6510/ 6502 CPUs I love the "look and feel" of this product - especially when driven by newer technology... I reckon People have forgotten what's possible with a small amount of memory and any sort of graphics adaptor.

I intend to leave GG alone from here on. good luck with your investigations.
No, Pocket Mini Computer isn't a scam.

However, a serious supply issue started happening and we decided to pull the project and move it to it's own store and support forum.

Here's the link to more information regarding this move.

http://propellerpowered.com/forum/index.php?topic=57.0
can you use a nunchuk instead of a wii classic controller?
nvrmind i found the answer.
Physically, the Nunchuck will work just fine with the port. The driver in BASIC is designed specifically for the Wii Classic Controller only because the available memory is extremely tight. (I'm counting bytes every time I create an update to BASIC)

BTW, the Pocket Mini Computer project has been moved to a new company, (Propellerpowered.com) and is in stock, ready to ship.

Jeff
ATLA53 years ago
Hi, really looking forward to building this!! What's the story with the backorder situation? I ordered mine on june 21st, I got no word about it since, I went with the express tracked shipping so I was waiting on the tracking code, can't wat!! :D
Gadget Gangster (author)  ATLA53 years ago
Most of GG's backorders were packaged for shipping last night (We just got the restock in) and will go out today.
In addition the new revision of the top board has three additional resistors taking the color count from 48 to 64, as well as an SRAM (23K256) socket which BASIC will detect as extended memory if the chip is in place. The wait is worth it! -Jeff-
could you post a schematic of rev G?
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