In the latest of my eponymous columns – Gareth Halfacree’s Hobby Tech, if you haven’t been following – I take a UK-exclusive look at the Intel MinnowBoard, show readers how to create a 21st century fax machine with an inexpensive thermal printer and an Arduino microcontroller, and investigate the 1980s’ answer to solid-state storage.
First, the MinnowBoard. Intel’s first foray into open hardware, the MinnowBoard is a clear response to the success of the low-cost Raspberry Pi. Although the low-cost part may have been lost along the way – the MinnowBoard retails at around £170, far more than the £30 the top-end Raspberry Pi will cost you – it offers considerable extra power including a 32-bit x86 Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, on-board SATA and even PCI Express expansion.
Another advantage to the MinnowBoard, and a surprise from Intel, is that it’s open hardware: the company has released Board Specification Packages (BSPs) for Yocto Project certification along with Gerbers, schematics and bills of material – everything you could need to build one of your very own. In this, it’s similar to AMD’s Gizmo board – although that features a BIOS which offers greater out-of-the-box compatibility with various operating systems, a more powerful dual-core processor and a slightly smaller footprint.
This month’s tutorial focuses on turning an inexpensive thermal printer – kindly provided by local hobbyist supply house oomlout – into an Arduino-powered teleprinter. Using the Hello, Printer design from GoFreeRange, it creates a simple internet-connected device that will accept text or image data from any web-capable client – and I’ve found it’s absolutely top-hole for shopping lists and reminders.
Sadly, there is a printing error – oh, the irony – in the tutorial: the last entry in the bill of materials, the 400-point breadboard, is missing the link to purchase. If you’re after one, you can find it on oomlout’s website.
Finally, the vintage computing section this month focuses on an all-but abandoned technology: EPROMs. The precursor to modern flash memory, as found in solid-state drives, EPROMs were an incredibly common sight: unlike traditional PROMs, they could be erased using an ultra-violet light ready for reuse and were typically used to hold program information or BIOS data. As something of a computer historian, I find myself using the chips a lot – I was burning a Donkey Kong board for the Nintendo PlayChoice-10 when I got the idea for the feature – but they’re something those who are new to computing are unlikely to see in the wild.
All this, plus a bunch of stuff from people who aren’t me, in Custom PC Issue 122. As usual, you can find it in all good newsagents and supermarkets, or stay indoors and pick up a digital copy from services like Zinio if you’d prefer.