I'm beginning to pull together the materials and skillz needed to complete my entry for the Retrochallenge 2014 Winter Warmup.
My entry this time is a rerun. Once again, I seek to create a solution for an Epson PX-8 virtual disk drive, but with a twist. To recap the background and goals:
- The Epson PX-8 is a laptop computer produced in the mid-80s. It has CP/M 2.2 in ROM, and an 80 by 8 bitmapped LCD display. It's a cute little laptop. (I used to be on the tech support team, hence my nostalgic love of the device.)
- There are many brand-new PX-8 computers in the wild right now, thanks to the sales of NOS from Star Technology in Aurora, Colorado. Sadly, they are out of stock now, but many PX-8s made it out there, and are looking for a floppy device :-)
- The original floppy solution for the PX-8 back in the day was the PF-10 portable disk drive. Even when the PX-8 was new, these drives were rare. I had one because I worked at Epson. But most people didn't. These days, a few people have them, but they are basically unobtainium. Check out some nice images on this blog post.
- The PX-8 and PF-10 talk to each other over a defined protocol, and using a simple RS232 serial link at 38400 baud. This lends itself to emulation. A couple of software solutions are out there for emulation, including the recently-updated vfloppy software by Fred J Kraan.
- Originally, I had considered writing software for the Parallax Propeller to emulate the drive, using published materials and the open-source vfloppy software as a guide. However, when the Raspberry Pi Linux-capable SBC came out, my thoughts changed. It seemed like a good idea to use the vfloppy software as-is, or perhaps with a few modifications, and the Raspberry Pi as the platform.
- Turning the RasPi into a standalone appliance seemed like a challenge - you either need a full keyboard/mouse/monitor, or you need to terminal into the Pi somehow. However, add-ons to the rescue. PiFace makes an add-on for the Raspberry Pi called the Control and Display unit. It's awesome! It's a 16x2 backlit LCD with buttons and a rocker control, and it fits right on top of the Raspberry Pi, connecting to the GPIO pin headers. This allows local, finger-press control of the Pi without a full console setup. With this, I believe I can tweak the vfloppy software and make an appliance-style virtual drive for the PX-8. It still won't be battery-powered (yet), but it will be small, self-contained, and functional.