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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!



Can you replace the wii port with a USB port?
moaz7861 year ago
Hey, GG, Where do we get the Classic Controller Port?
ncc 17011 year 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 17011 year 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 17011 year 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!
Wazzupdoc1 year 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
swilus1 year 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.
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.
jonrnk1 year 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.
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.
cadams211 year 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
jonrnk1 year 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.
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
ATLA51 year 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)  ATLA51 year 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?
Great!! Not long to wait now though! -how do I track it though?
Gadget Gangster (author)  ATLA51 year ago
Current back orders will be filled by Gadget Gangster. A revised version of the Pocket Mini Computer will be available from Propellerpowered.com soon.
Isn't that called linux on a stick.
jonrnk1 year ago
Still waiting on my order also. Did you get enough kits in to fill all B.O.?
Gadget Gangster (author) 1 year ago
As of August 1st, 2012, The Pocket Mini Computer project will be moved to http://www.propellerpowered.com

Support for the project will continue at:
http://propellerpowered.com/forum/index.php?board=5.0
Love it!

Is it possible to use an Arduino as the CPU?
I've seen projects the use a PIC chip to generate monochrome video, and an arduino is a faster chip. It would be a very advanced project to get it working right, especially if you're interfacing with other timing sensitive devices at the same time.
I honestly doubt it. One of the strengths of the Propeller chip used in the CPU is it's ability to do video, both VGA and TV. This is simply a project where this chip is best.
acoleman31 year ago
oh god, the infamous "GOTO" statement. lmao. i can see a nice plate of spaghetti code in the future if anyone does a program of a semi-complicated or better nature. then again, does basic support objects and encapsulation? i've never used it myself. i just remember the c++ instructor telling us to stay away from goto as much as possible.
Gadget Gangster (author)  acoleman31 year ago
Yes, not only does it have the infamous GOTO statement, but also a GOSUB statement as well! :) It is possible to write non-spaghetti code in BASIC, but not probable! This version doesn't do objects or encapsulation, so it's all old-school. The good news is that the hardware itself can be programmed in C++ (from a PC based editor) so it can also be used as a modern microcontroller platform.
If you plan your program properly by flow charting it first, then Linear Basic is an ideal way of implementing your program. If you want spaghetti code, take one look at any Object Oriented Language, where the same variable name can actually be three different values.

In all fairness, a properly designed GOSUB is, in and of itself, an encapsulation.

I now challenge you to take that >10 print "hello world"; program and run it through an MS Basic compiler to see how many hundred kB it will take up.
You don't show where the microSD mounts on the I/O board. I asssume it is just above the "gangstergadget.com" is on the board. Is this correct ?? Got my kit but waiting for back ordered mSD.
All of the backordered items in the first run have been shipped, so you should have it shortly. I don't check these comments quite as often as the dedicated forums for this project, so if you get stuck, be sure and stick a message in the forum at: http://www.gadgetgangster.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=6
Sorry found my answer in re-reading text.
sxa2udo1 year ago
can it run nes, atari, snes etc emulators
sschoemann1 year ago
Talk about taking me back to the old days... I remember DESTROYING literally, my first vic 20 after paying 20 bucks to an unscrupulous vendor at a flea market for this awesome video program that was 2000 lines of basic code that needed to be typed in. Hours and hours and days and days of typing and it wouldnt work so going back and reloading and finding the errors and finally getting it to beep and bloop and the screen to flash different colors before it displayed in flashing text "THANKS FOR THE CASH" and then the screen changed to another color and displayed " SUCKER" before starting all over. The vic whent flying out the balcony door and landed in pieces in the middle of the parking lot...
Ahhh the good old days when you got hacked face to face!
Alderin1 year ago
That is FANTASTIC! Now I just need to build a terminal emulator for the Prop and add an RS232 compatible serial port. I already have a Propeller ASC (Arduino Shield Compatible), so the schematic is quite welcome!
Gadget Gangster (author)  Alderin1 year ago
I just plugged FullDuplexSerial (I was amazed it fit!) into the BASIC over the weekend. You can write a terminal in 5 lines of code now. Grab the latest release from the file archive listed.
Perfect... maybe next paycheck I'll just buy this version of the Prop.

For a simple terminal, yes, 5 lines, less if you are really creative. But I was thinking more along the lines of Color/ANSI terminal like the classic BBS days. :-)
Gadget Gangster (author)  Alderin1 year ago
I was using some Serial<-->Internet software over the weekend to connect to a BBS which is on the Internet. I was very tempted to put in some C/G color routines (if A={x} then color X,0, but didn't have time.
Krayzi991 year ago
does it have to be 2gb? Or can the slot not handle HC?
While I'm at it, is there a good word processor for this?
Gadget Gangster (author)  Krayzi991 year ago
Word processor, no.. Not yet anyway. It would be a matter of programming. The BASIC however does have a full-screen editor (akin to notepad) which can be access from [F1] to edit the BASIC code without having to re-type line numbers.
Gadget Gangster (author)  Krayzi991 year ago
The slot can handle larger SD cards, however because of memory limitations the BASIC currently supports only <= 2GB SD cards.
calikoala1 year ago
@ dpeters9

have you even tried to type raspberry pi in Google? the first link that I got was one from Newark where you can buy them now.

http://www.newark.com/jsp/displayProduct.jsp?sku=83T1943&CMP=KNC-G-SUPP-RASPBERRYPI&mckv=suQgIt5tu|pcrid|10193933301|plid|

Krayzi991 year ago
Wow. this is a great idea! I like it!
So, I'm having a hard time telling exactly what purpose the wii controller serves....is it intended as a joystick? If so, it could probably be listed as an optional requirement, as it does add around $15 to the project's overall cost.
Gadget Gangster (author)  willrandship1 year ago
I wanted some form of game controller on this board. The Wii interface is one of the simplest to add to a design. The kit itself does not come with a Wii Controller. The Kit contains, the two boards, USB cable, USB module addon, USB power supply, and board hardware.

I discovered the "genius" behind nintendo when they designed that connector. It's added to the PCB design and once the PCB is done, it's ready to use.
i like it i need to know how to put core boot linux on that 1 and http://www.raspberrypi.org/ and even CHIPKIT MAX32 boards
Gadget Gangster (author)  GENERALCHAOS1 year ago
This isn't RaspberryPi.. This is something completely different. I can't understand the confusion here.
this and R Pi has bios i want to mess with them with COREBOOT Linux and that new arduino CHIPKIT MAX32 coreboot linux works off the bios processing power ( http://www.coreboot.org/Welcome_to_coreboot ) ( ext . BB Pi open up cpu for more apps ) just want to learn more about coreboot linux seening if any1 has done it
They're completely different hardware. If you want to mess with the Raspberry Pi's Boot sequence, take an SD card that runs properly, put it in a different computer (with ext2 support, like linux) and open the drive labeled 'boot'.

Also, coreboot is not intended for either of these. The hardware is vastly different from what you see on an x86 motherboard, or even most ARM motherboards. As far as I can tell, coreboot ONLY supports x86 motherboards, so you will NEVER have it working on these.

Messing with the Raspberry Pi's boot sequence is rather useless, though, because you already have full hardware access for any system you choose to boot. The main issue right now is the lack of software available. Same goes for the propeller.
erm wanted CHIPKIT MAX32 with simple inputs KB/Mouse , av out and SD card shield riged with the the simple code for the input like this is part of the code mixing code up like those with coreboot i posted this on the forms but forgot i think i posted it on element14 site 1 reply the chipkit can handle a os type then any other bios related types
LULZ forgot to put the weblink
http://www.arduino.cc/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1187659197
As far as I can tell that has nothing to do with this instructable, though. The hardware here is a Parallax Propeller on the Gadget Gangster board, very different from a chipkit or an arduino. The code would be fairly difficult to port from this hardware to something else, especially since the parallax is far more powerful.
comment was made to find ppl that may have done anything close to what i said so they can lead me to a started project ~.~ ...... LULZ
but yeah ty for leading me to something close to that willrandship im look up on the parallax i have but it not the 1 ur saying im have to buy the beefy specs
wdupond1 year ago
Just to add a tip, we can use a battery with a 5Volts regulator between the mini computer and the power source... I suppose you don't want to lose your 300 Basic lines !!
Gadget Gangster (author)  wdupond1 year ago
One of my worst moments in the 80s when I first got my computer was typing in 500+ lines, then stretching back and hitting the power button on my surge strip with my foot! Took me a few minutes to decide to just go back and re-type it! Now days, we just encourage folks to SAVE every so often. :)
dpeters91 year ago
I like the overall design, looks similar to the raspberry pi. Speaking of which does anyone know where I could purchase a Raspberry PI? Let me know. Thanks
actimm1 year ago
A couple of years ago, OK lots more than a couple, I remember poking stuff into the ROM of a TRS-80 to make stuff load and run faster. Can you do the same sort of thing with this?
gafisher1 year ago
5.25" floppy disks?

The first computer I built that could handle BASIC had to be loaded from paper tape on my TeleType. On the next few I added cassette I/O (remember cassettes? ;-) and when we made the big jump to floppy disks they were the 8" size. None of those would do what most electronic kids toys can do today -- and nothing today is as fun or as satisfying as those were to build and program!

Thanks for a great project, a well-done 'ible, and a flood of vintage memories. (-:
ha ha I started when you could buy computer magazines that had many pages devoted to games written in BASIC programs that you could type out and run ... cover discs were still several decades away.
Gadget Gangster (author)  hogey741 year ago
We too remember those days! You might spend a week typing in a program only to discover an error and have to wait for errata published in the next month's magazine. :)
its funny now by I am getting flash backs to many frustrated moments :-)
sorry, "but"
Ah, the good old days! Remember entering machine code with toggle switches?

(Yep, and walking eight miles to and from school each day always in a blinding snowstorm and uphill in both directions. ;-)
all six of us rode a kangaroo to school - horses hadn't been invented then of course.
Chakazuluu1 year ago
This is really amazing. My first 'puter was a Timex Sinclair 1000. I loved peeking and poking balloons across the screen. I might give this a shot to relive some nostalgia.
you know, I read recently that those same trs80 CPUs live on and are actually ubiquitous today, used as microcontrollers for almost every type of electronic device ... You may well have some in your house without knowing it!
sorry, I meant the "z80" cpu!
cupojoe9991 year ago
Great instructable!
Sweet idea, cant wait to try this when I find the time, parts, and money.

In the meantime though, what game is that on step 13 with that guy standing by a castle? I didnt see a title for anything in the instructable so I was just wondering if I am missing something or is it in one of the files you linked to?
Gadget Gangster (author)  cupojoe9991 year ago
Ranquest is a non-BASIC binary which runs on the unit. You can find that and several others in the link on the last page of the Instructable. For those who wish in execute a binary from BASIC, just copy the required files to the SD card, then using the BRUN {filename.bin} to launch the program.
Cool, also thanks for the quick reply!

Could I play the game in windows through an emulator or something till I get around to making this?
I was looking for something like this for months. Thank u, man!
Helder4u1 year ago
Very interesting, but where do I get the main parts and what do they cost?
Wildrat1 year ago
I could just pull out one of four Commodore 64's, the 1541 disk drives, the printer, modem, and monitor this elderly woman had squirreled away and then decided to give them to me. It was a good day, I felt like a little kid that won the lottery. Anyway, great job on the instructable and the size is better than a Vic 20 or 64!
Gadget Gangster (author)  Wildrat1 year ago
...and the microSD cards are much easier to store than 5.25 floppy disks! :)
Thanks!
longtolik1 year ago
Hi, very cool!!!
I like the old programming school and have made a small OS "startos" for similar board (FriendlyARM mini2440). It lunches binaries from micro SD card too.
So, if sometimes you'll decide to equip you project with the OS, we can try to do this.

Gadget Gangster (author)  longtolik1 year ago
Actually, there is part of an "OS" built into the project. Once the microSD module is installed, you can LOAD/SAVE Basic programs, as well as DIRrectory command, DELETE command, and BRUN non-BASIC binaries. This is no reason while a full OS could not be written and run on this project.
rwolkens1 year ago
Did you mean to say: Insert the two caps at C4 and C5 on step 2 above, instead of C4 and C4?
Gadget Gangster (author)  rwolkens1 year ago
Fixed! Thank you for spotting that!
mcattini1 year ago
Jesus bro you diserve a cake
xrobevansx1 year ago
It's like it's a Commodore 32!
Gadget Gangster (author)  xrobevansx1 year ago
Both Nick and I are "old school" Commodore heads from way back, so this has been a fun project and our backgrounds have certainly influenced the feel. :)
Came here to say that too! You need an external micro SD card reader in a tiny 1541 case!
pfred21 year ago
I can't find the schematic. I can't really tell if I like a circuit or not without one.
Gadget Gangster (author)  pfred21 year ago
Easy-to-follow Schematic added!
Thanks. Now I feel like I can see what is going on.
useraaaaa1 year ago
wow
your kit costs more than Great Raspberry Pi !
no hire
Gadget Gangster (author)  useraaaaa1 year ago
You can actually get all of the parts separately for about the same money as the "Pi", but we wanted the "kit" version of this to come with accessories which made the price a little higher.
Cool.
Why isn't this featured? :) Good job!
I cut my computer teeth on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, it never ceases to AMAZE me just how far we've come since then.

Thank you for sharing your project and kindling a few memories.
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