21st Century BBC Micro?

discuss both original and modern hardware for the bbc micro/electron
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LordVaderUK
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21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by LordVaderUK » Sat Feb 22, 2020 1:07 pm

Hi all,

There seems to be an ever increasing appetite for retro computing - just take a look at the numerous channels on YouTube, where people repair old hardware and restore it to pristine condition.

I’m also seeing a trend for producing brand new hardware versions of retro computers, like the C64, a full size recreation of the Commodore 64 (https://retrogames.biz), and now the Spectrum Next, an updated and superb looking version of the classic ZX Spectrum (http://www.specnext.com/about/). These systems offer all the convenience of modern plug and play computing with the charm and simplicity of 8 bit retro computing.

So why hasn’t anyone developed a modern take on the BBC Micro? I know it’s possible to run an emulation on a Raspberry Pi, but this requires a level of technical expertise which is beyond many. I’d pay for a modern switch on and go version of the BBC Micro, with a full size keyboard and the advantages of modern standards like MMC drives and HDMI connectivity.

Is it out there and I’ve missed it, is there a crowdfunder somewhere, or is the BBC fan community just not as interested as those in the Commodore and Sinclair camps? Would love to hear your views.
Last edited by LordVaderUK on Sat Feb 22, 2020 1:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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tricky
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Re: 21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by tricky » Sat Feb 22, 2020 1:24 pm

Its beeb talked about, but not seriously.
You can, I believe, load a beeb core into a spectrum next, but that isn't what you are asking for!
There was more serious talk about a new keyboard, but I don't remember if it was beeb compatible.
Personally, I would take a beeb keyboard that could take a pi0 for emulation or be used with a PC and USB/ps2. (if compulsory, the pi could do the USB)
Someone would need to port b-em or similar to bare metal to give a good experience.
I am looking forward to trying judgebeeb's new atom keyboard.

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Richard Russell
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Re: 21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by Richard Russell » Sat Feb 22, 2020 2:08 pm

LordVaderUK wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 1:07 pm
So why hasn’t anyone developed a modern take on the BBC Micro?
I think in part it's because the BBC Micro had more-or-less-compatible successors in the BBC Master, Acorn Archimedes, RISC PC etc., and of course BBC BASIC has survived to the present day in the form of BBC BASIC for Windows, BBC BASIC for SDL 2.0 and Matrix Brandy. For me, anyway, the 'retro' appeal of the BBC Micro has been diluted by the existence of these later, and better, alternatives. This is unlike the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64 which basically stand alone (I know there are minor variants), as original hardware or emulators.

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danielj
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Re: 21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by danielj » Sat Feb 22, 2020 2:34 pm

This comes up about every 9-12 months :D

There are a few things. There are FPGA cores available of the beeb that people could take and expand if they wanted to. To get something engineered to the quality of the original would cost far more than an original with all the nifty expansions that have come subsequently. I can't imagine you'd be able to create a custom keyboard with keyswitches for under £150.

Another one of the joys is tinkering with the hardware. You just need to peek at the forum to see how much hardware tinkering is going on. A remake isn't going to be able to replicate the fun of messing with the original hardware. Then you have all the subsequent machines, as Richard has said - they're all like beebs with additional bits. The Archimedes is basically to the BBC Micro what the Next is to the Spectrum. Consequently, I think people have struggled to see what anything new would bring to the party.

d.

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sweh
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Re: 21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by sweh » Sat Feb 22, 2020 2:36 pm

LordVaderUK wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 1:07 pm
So why hasn’t anyone developed a modern take on the BBC Micro?
A fair amount may be due to the fact that the Beeb is "hardware" as much as "software". The Beeb has so many expansion ports (user port, printer port, 1Mhz Bus, Tube, econet, floppy etc etc etc) and the software to drive these is coded to the specific hardware implementation.

MartinB's UPURS code, for example, was hand crafted and CPU cycle count tuned to take into account the clock speed changes when accessing the 6522.

A "new Beeb" (e.g. using a Pi) wouldn't have these expansion options. Sure, it'd be good enough to play games on, but it wouldn't be a Beeb :-)
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Andrew_Waite
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Re: 21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by Andrew_Waite » Sat Feb 22, 2020 6:51 pm

To my mind, a very nice project to extend the retro-user base of BBC Basic would be to port Richard Russell's Z80 BBC Tube BASIC to the Spectrum NEXT, as Jonathan Harston did with the ZX Spectrum.

http://mdfs.net/Software/Spectrum/BBCBasic/

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Re: 21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by geraldholdsworth » Sat Feb 22, 2020 9:24 pm

I'd love an HDMI out on the Beeb - the hardware is already available, just need to figure out how to mount, and power it, inside the machine. But, no, we don't need a 21st century remake, unless it can be made exactly as the original but with modern chips/components.
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tone76
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Re: 21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by tone76 » Sat Feb 22, 2020 9:45 pm

Two words: Raspberry Pi.

I say this for a number of reasons:
  • The RPi has been adapted to work with both the Tube and 1MHz bus ports on original Beebs. We've already seen what the Pi can do with the former, but I'm convinced there's a lot more that could potentially be done with the latter. For example ... would it be possible to use a RPi Zero W in a 1MHz port to somehow provide the Beeb with wifi? Bear in mind I'm not a hardware or software engineer, so it might be a bridge too far.
  • RISC OS Pico on the RPi does a pretty good job of giving the RPi the classic Acorn 8-bit look and feel; it's pretty much just a BBC Basic CLI.
  • The RPi GPIO offers many opportunities for expansion, just like the Beeb, only the ports are different (although the RPi GPIO is a very flexible port indeed).
The above list doesn't even take into account the fact that the RPi runs an ARM processor (originally developed using a Beeb) and the Raspberry Pi Foundation clearly stating that the RPi was heavily influenced by the BBC Micro and the Computer Literacy Programme.

I wouldn't be surprised to eventually see a replica BBC Micro Model A/B case, designed for use with the RPi. In fact, I'd LOVE to see a replica case, complete with a mechanical keyboard and many of the original ports emulated along with some modern updates such as USB, HDMI, ethernet etc. Again, I'm not a software or hardware engineer so I'm not exactly certain how (if?) emulating some of the classic ports can happen, but refer to my earlier comment about the GPIO. I'm guessing some sort of daughterboard with IO stuff and possibly even some ROM sockets, complete with a forked version of RISC OS Pico on one of said ROMs.

Having said all of this, there are still a LOT of OG Beebs in the wild. Notwithstanding the biodegradable caps, these old girls are pretty much bulletproof.
sweh wrote: A "new Beeb" (e.g. using a Pi) wouldn't have these expansion options. Sure, it'd be good enough to play games on, but it wouldn't be a Beeb :-)
The ZX Spectrum Next isn't exactly a Speccy, either ... 8)
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Richard Russell
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Re: 21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by Richard Russell » Sat Feb 22, 2020 10:04 pm

tone76 wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 9:45 pm
the Raspberry Pi Foundation clearly stating that the RPi was heavily influenced by the BBC Micro and the Computer Literacy Programme.
True, but I don't think the reality quite met the expectations which that raised. For example - and I know I have an axe to grind here - they implied that BBC BASIC would be available, but that didn't happen (in Raspbian) until I ported my version some years later.

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roland
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Re: 21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by roland » Sat Feb 22, 2020 10:14 pm

danielj wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 2:34 pm
This comes up about every 9-12 months :D
So the subject keeps people busy and there might be some interest for it....
danielj wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 2:34 pm
I can't imagine you'd be able to create a custom keyboard with key switches for under £150.
And you also need quite a large case for it....
danielj wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 2:34 pm
Another one of the joys is tinkering with the hardware. You just need to peek at the forum to see how much hardware tinkering is going on. A remake isn't going to be able to replicate the fun of messing with the original hardware.
Well, that's the challenge: to expand the FPGA Beeb cores so that they offer the same I/O ports that the Beeb has. Just like I did for the Atom 2k15 and FPGAtom: I/O like the expansion connector and the cassette interface are still available.

The main question is: how many people would really buy a 21st Century BBC Micro and what is the maximum price they want to pay? That is important to know because it is an indication of the budget that is available for designing and manufacturing such a modern Beeb.

I am not sure if it is an indication but I only sold two FPGAtom boards. (Five were made and Hoglet and I used one for development, one was given away as a price for solving the binary code on the PCB and the remaining two were actually sold by people who were really interested in the board. But that was without a case and keyboard.
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Re: 21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by scruss » Sun Feb 23, 2020 5:17 am

Richard Russell wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 10:04 pm
For example … they implied that BBC BASIC would be available, but that didn't happen (in Raspbian) until I ported my version some years later.
I don't think they quite realized how dependent RISC OS is on code that won't run on new ARMs.

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LordVaderUK
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Re: 21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by LordVaderUK » Wed Feb 26, 2020 1:29 pm

Thanks all for the replies - clearly a lot of knowledge and expertise out there (I can’t claim either!)

I’d certainly be willing to pay about £200 for a “modern” take on a BBC - especially if it was able to emulate all the various different BBC versions. Beyond that I have no idea how a project like this ever gets off the ground - I guess a few dedicated experts agree it’s worth trying and set up a crowdfunder to get the capital. I suppose this is how Spectrum Next became a reality.

I’ll keep my eye out, I’m ready to contribute if there’s a serious crowdfunder effort!
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Re: 21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by danielj » Wed Feb 26, 2020 5:53 pm

You can pretty much have all the flavours of BBC Micro in a BBC Master just by running the relevant OS version :) I suspect to have something with a keyboard and case of equal quality, together with all the interfaces, you're looking at nearing £500 rather than £200...

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Re: 21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by Prime » Wed Feb 26, 2020 11:39 pm

For me at least, I'm not that interested in things like the C64 and the spectrum next.

Yes they look like the originals but open the case and they're a little board with a big FPGA and some support circuitry. There's none of the potential for tinkering and expansion like there is with the original micros. In my mind it's pretty close to "you may as well run an emulator".

Don't get me wrong I'm not in any way critisizing the C64 / Spectrum next, for the majority of non technical people that just want a fix of retro to run some games on and plug into the TV, they are probably exactly the product that is required. It is after all people like these that they are aimed at.

I'm much more interested in things like the Harlequin Spectrum re-creation, of the PC-RETRO (IBM 5150), ZX80/ZX81 kits that use modern equivilents of the components originally used. They may say use a single largs static RAM insted of obsolete 4116s (for example), but they still contain the original CPU and peripheral chips, so are still electronically hackable like the originals.

Just my 2p,

Cheers.

Phill.

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Re: 21st Century BBC Micro?

Post by Kazzie » Thu Feb 27, 2020 12:19 pm

One middle-ground that I wonder about is whether there's scope for keeping the really key chips as they are (e.g. 6502, 6522s), reimplementing the custom chips needed (VideoNuVLA), and replacing the numerous glue logic chips (and perhaps the sixteen RAM chips) with an FPGA or similar. We don't really need a hundred individual ICs to make a Beeb anymore, do we?
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