Category Archives: Vintage computing

Elliott 405 – basic principles

This selection from ‘Big Doug’ Selway’s trove of documents on the 1950s Elliott 405 mainframe computer takes us right back to the basics. First up is a ‘functional block diagram’ of the system. And what I find interesting about this is: How basic it is. Computers were really quite crude beasts back then. How it was felt you needed to… Read more »

Casio fx-590 – reviving an old friend

It was about to go in the recycling pile when I thought, “I wonder if I can save it.” There’s no telling how old this lovely Casio fx-590 calculator is, because in spite of deploying my best Google-fu I can find very little information on it. One source suggested that maybe it came out at the beginning of the 1990s…. Read more »

Elliott 405 – a simplified representation

There’s something about  this brochure that just screams 1950s. The graphics on the cover, for instance, are straight out of Mad Men. ‘A simplified representation of the National-Elliott Electronics Data Processing System’ is the kind of brochure you wouldn’t think was necessary – or appropriate – for this kind of machine. The Elliott 405 wasn’t something you bought on a… Read more »

Elliott 405 – a fascinating glimpse into vintage computing

History isn’t just about dates and the events that get memorialised in statues. Far more fascinating is the personal and the quotidian. A thumbprint left in an ordinary ceramic bowl is a more direct connection to the lived experiences of people the past than any number of crowns and sceptres. And I think there’s an aspect of even recent history… Read more »

Making ROMs for the BBC Micro

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Here’s something I’ve only just learned about the BBC Micro: you can burn ROM chips using modern EEPROMs. Who knew?* One of the strengths of the BBC Micro was the way it handled ‘language’ ROMs. The quotes are there because while many of these ROMs were, indeed, programming languages, others were applications such as word processors, spreadsheets, utilities and so… Read more »

Fun with chips #2: SN76489 sound generator IC

If there’s one sound that makes me nostalgic, it’s the brrrrr-BIP! noise of a BBC Micro being switched on. And that sound – as well as pretty much all the Beeb’s audio capabilities – can be traced to one chip – the Texas Instruments SN76489. This chip was used in a whole host of devices, including Sega consoles and arcade… Read more »

Fun with chips: #1 MC1441 bit rate generator

I’m easily pleased. Leave me alone with a breadboard, multimeter, oscilloscope and a previously unencountered IC, and I can amuse myself for hours. Well, minutes anyway. It’s fun to fire up a chip and watch it do its stuff. And even more fun if it’s an old chip. But before we get to the IC itself, let’s fill in some… Read more »

BBC Master power supply – repair or replace?

There are three things that are certain in life – death, taxes and blown capacitors in old electronic equipment. But at least you can do something about the last one. Powering up a 35 year-old computer that has sat in a loft for the past two decades is foolish. But we did it anyway. The BBC Master ran fine for… Read more »

Feels like 2001: a fresh Windows XP install

Ah, there’s nothing quite like the feel of a fresh, crisp OS install. It’s just that the OS I’ve just installed is Windows XP. Now that makes no sense… Or does it? As I’m now playing with my BBC Master again, I felt the need for a Windows machine to have alongside it. There’s a bunch of utilities that run… Read more »

Flowchart your way to success

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Does anyone still use flowcharts for programming? What with today’s complex development frameworks it seems unlikely that anyone’s stopping to draw diagrams on paper. But maybe if they did we’d have fewer security vulnerabilities – just sayin’. My addiction to computers, in the early 1980s, was driven in part by ‘30 Hour Basic‘, an introduction not just to the language… Read more »

The Master is back!

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My BBC Master micro is alive again, thanks to a generous donation. So what was wrong with it before? Buggered if I know. The Beeb suddenly developed a fault a couple of years ago. On powering on, it would show the OS greeting and sometimes the disk filing system greeting but would then hang. I tried a few things but,… Read more »

Epson MX-80 Part 4 – ESR check of the dodgy caps

It seems strange that both the capacitors and the transformer – the chief suspects in the investigation as to why my Epson MX-80 F/T III dot matrix printer belched out smoke – tested fine with a multimeter. As far as the capacitors were concerned, I measured resistance directly across their leads (having removed them from the circuit board) looking for… Read more »

Epson MX-80 Part 3 – well, this is strange

And so to the next instalment of trying to get my Epson MX-80 F/T III dot matrix printer back up and working. Previously on Epson MX-80… Just over a year ago, lots of smoke came out accompanied by a crackling noise. I’ve removed the main smoothing capacitors from the PCB and tested them. They seem fine. I tested the transformer…. Read more »

Epson MX-80 Part 2 – out damn cap

Time for the next step in my attempt to bring my beloved old EpsonMX-80F/T III dot matrix printer back to life. But first, some pictures of gorgeous old retro components. As we’ll see, they might be all I have left. I do love old resistors. They have so much character. And look how thick the wires are. There’s also a… Read more »

From the archives: Computers in photography

Having written two long articles for Personal Computer World on one of my great passions, aviation (here and here), it was perhaps inevitable that I would sell them a piece on an even greater obsession of mine – photography. This was published in the March 1991 issue. The article mentions the Sony Mavica. This wasn’t a digital camera – it was… Read more »