My Kickstarter project is to develop a replacement main board for the Retro Computer Tandy Color Computer 3. When I went to college, no one had a computer of their own. Everyone used the central IBM main frame computer. We entered programs using punched cards. By the time I left college, there were only a handful of people that owned their own computer system. One of those people was me. This was the early days of personal computers. After college, I begin using industrial computer systems at work. But I continued playing with my computers at home. One of the best hobbyist computer systems I ever had was a Tandy Color Computer 3. This was the last system I owned that I consider a Retro Computer.
The CoCo-X project is to develop the next generation Tandy Color Computer. The project will develop a replacement main board for an existing Color Computer 3 case. These 30+ year old Retro Computer machines are still very popular with a certain group of Retro Computer fans. They have been talking about the next generation for many years. Many old machines have died and the availability of parts is limited.
Now is the time to build the next generation. But I am looking for help. I cannot justify the cost of building a board just for myself. So I am looking for others that are interesting in Retro Computers. I have setup the rewards in two levels. The low level is for people that want to show their support for the Retro Computer community. A CoCo-X sticker will be shipped to each person. The high level will be for people that want to own a CoCo-X. These people will receive a tested and programmed CoCo-X main board.
The main board would include an FPGA to implement the Color Computer circuitry. The CoCo-X main board will implement the Color Computer 3 basics including the majority of IO ports located towards the rear of the system. It does not make sense to implement some of the IO ports, so those will be eliminated. In the future, upgrades to the FPGA code to implement an extended feature set will be available at no cost.
Here is a list of IO ports:
Bit Banger / RS232 port
PS/2 Keyboard / Mouse port
CoCo3 RGB and/or VGA
Socket for an optional 6x09E processor
The video shows the CoCo3FPGA in action. This version includes the processor in the FPGA. It also has all of the IO ports implemented except for the 6x09E socket. The socket will be included to allow an optional processor to be installed. The FPGA version of the processor does not use the same number of clock cycles to execute instructions. So code that was written that counted cycles for time dependant functions will fail. Counting cycles was a common practice during the Retro Computer time. By adding the optional 6x09E processor, this problem will be eliminated.
My name is Gary Becker. I have a Master Degree in Electrical / Computing Engineering from Oklahoma State University. I now live in Austin, Texas with my wife of nearly 15 years. I have been working as an Electrical Engineer for more than 20 years. I have worked in numerous fields from down hole well logging tools to cordless telephones. My most recent experience is designing enterprise class computer servers. I started working with computers while still in college. About 12 years ago, I started programming Complex Programmable Logic Devices (CPLD) and Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA) in the Hardware Description Language (HDL) Verilog. These programmable parts were used to control certain parts of a computer server. After development was finished on one of my servers, I hit upon the idea of using an FPGA to replicate the function of a whole Retro Computer. I always remember the fun I had upgrading and modifying my Retro Computers. Soon after, I started writing the code for my first FPGA based Retro Computer. Since then, I have developed three Retro Computers in two different commercially available FPGA boards. One of my designs is the CoCo3FPGA. That will be the basis of the CoCo-X.
I have been working on the CoCo3FPGA for many years. The FPGA version of the processor, 6809, was acquired from the OperCores.org web site. The author of this core is John Kent. The CoCo3FPGA would not have been possible without him. But the rest of the code was developed by me using public information aquired from the Internet and by testing functions with a real Color Computer 3. I will do the design, the schematic capture, and the board layout. The completed design will be sent to a contract manufacturer to build and assemble. I will then program and test each board to make sure it works.
Each sticker and main board will be sent using the United States Postal Service. International shipping is not possible, so cannot be offered.
Risks and challenges
I feel confident that the CoCo-X can be a successful project. Choosing the correct FPGA is a challenge. Too small an FPGA and the design will not fit. Too big and the costs will rise. It is better to error on the too big side. I want to make sure today’s features and tomorrow’s features can be implemented. Since the FPGA is a Ball Grid Array package, a contract manufacturer will be required. This type of package cannot be soldered using equipment available to the average hobbyist. There are several good contract manufacturers. I need to be diligent in choosing a reputable manufacturer.
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