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HackerBox #0103 – Homebrew Showcases Retro Computers and PICO-56 Platform

Jun 1, 2024 — by Giorgio Mendoza 235 views

HackerBox is a monthly subscription service that delivers development kits to hobbyists and students. The “Homebrew” themed HackerBox 0103 explores  the world of retro and homebrew computers, providing a nostalgic and hands-on experience in assembling and programming a computer from the earlier days of the personal computer revolution.

The main component of the HackerBox 0103 is the PICO-56 kit, designed by Troy Schrapel. This kit is a compact yet powerful homage to vintage computing, integrating components like the 65C02 CPU, a 65C22 Versatile Interface Adapter, and a TMS9918A Video Display Processor.


The kit also features dual AY-3-8910 programmable sound generators, NES controller ports, a PS/2 keyboard port, and 96KB of banked RAM/ROM, providing an all-encompassing retro computing experience.

USB-C RP2040 Module Pinout
(click images to enlarge)

Users of the PICO-56 can delve into EhBASIC, exploring basic programming or loading various game ROMs, effectively turning the kit into both a learning tool and an entertainment unit. This capability not only educates users about older programming environments but also allows them to experience games from the past.

The assembly of the PICO-56 is a meticulous process, recommended to start with the trickier components like the MicroSD card slot, using tools such as the provided 951 solder flux pen. It’s essential to follow the assembly order and heed polarity directions to avoid common issues in the assembling process.

PICO-56 Components
(click images to enlarge)

A key component provided is the Type-C Raspberry Pi RP2040 module, enhancing the classic design with modern connectivity. Before integration into the PICO-56, it is important to reprogram the RP2040 module to avoid hardware conflicts, particularly ensuring that the GPIO23 pin does not interfere with the operation.

The reprogramming steps involve using the BOOT and RESET buttons to enter bootloader mode, followed by loading the correct firmware according to the guide.

HackerBox #0103 – Homebrew
(click images to enlarge)

After assembly, connecting peripherals like a VGA display and a PS/2 keyboard brings the PICO-56 to life. The kit is powered via a 5V USB to barrel jack cable, ensuring stable operation. It is advised to handle power connections with care, especially regarding the nuances of the RP2040 module’s power settings.

More detailed documentation can be found on the HackerBox 0103 Instructables page as well as the PICO-56 repository.

Further information

The HackerBox is priced at $59.00 and is available for purchase on the HackerBoxes website. Subscription members benefit from a $15 discount on this box, as well as a similar discount on every future box throughout the duration of their subscription according to the product page.

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