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Education Desktops (Apple) Hardware

MIT Team Working On a $12 Apple (II) Desktop 401

Posted by timothy
from the guide-kids-worldwide-to-oregon dept.
Barence writes "A new project to create a $12 computer is underway at MIT, the same University that spawned the One Laptop Per Child non-profit laptop. The PCs will be loosely based on Apple 2 machines, first unveiled over 30 years ago, and the team are actively recruiting enthusiasts of the retro computer to help develop the new PC." Update: 08/05 14:13 GMT by T : The original story at the Boston Herald has more information, as well as a photo of the team.
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MIT Team Working On a $12 Apple (II) Desktop

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  • Sweet (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @08:56AM (#24479203) Journal

    Maybe I can finally play Ultima II on the Apple. Seriously, it doesn't work in any emulator I've tried. Kegs, AppleWin, Mess, nothing wants to recognize when I swap in a player disk.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      two words: virtual apple.

    • Re:Sweet (Score:5, Informative)

      by Stellian (673475) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:43AM (#24479863)

      Maybe I can finally play Ultima II on the Apple

      I know you are joking, but let's make this clear - it's not inspired by the Apple in the sense that it's has an 8 bit/1MHz CPU and 4KB of RAM.
      It's an 70's stile of personal computer by using the TV as a display screen. I would also assume it uses a small form factor where the case is also a keyboard, and all you need is a DC adapter and the video cable. The hardware would be probably comparable to what you get in an XO: low speed x86 CPU and SSD storage.
      As a person who has long used a PC attached to a TV as what it's now called a "Media Center", I can say the text quality on a CRT television is absolutely horrible, totally unusable for browsing or programming. Games, movies, sure. But not anything that would increase the computer literacy of the masses.
      Sure, if you get a flat panel TV things look good, but those are not likely to be found in the homes of the people this project targets.

      • Re:Sweet (Score:5, Informative)

        by SnapShot (171582) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:56AM (#24480047)

        I can say the text quality on a CRT television is absolutely horrible, totally unusable for browsing or programming.

        Maybe unsuitable for browsing, my good sir, but my Timex Sinclair 1000 and I can assure you that a CRT television is perfectly suitable for programming!

        • Re:Sweet (Score:5, Interesting)

          by MBGMorden (803437) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @10:57AM (#24481035)

          I gotta agree. I used both a Commodore 64 and a Tandy TRS-80 (can't remember the exact model variation of the Tandy) on television screens and they worked just fine for programming on a TV screen. Still have both of those actually. As a matter of fact a LONG time ago, before the C64, I had a little toy called a VTech Pre Computer 1000. It had a built in single line LCD display with a fully QWERTY keyboard. It supported BASIC and I programmed a lot of stuff on that too. You'd be surprised how much an interested kid can pickup from those old systems.

          And as a hobby, I pickup older computers like that when I find them in swap shops/Goodwills/flea markets. I've since added 2 TI-99/4a's, another C64, a C128, a ZX Spectrum, and an Apple IIgs to my collection. The most I paid for any of them was $5 (and the ZX Spectrum was actually given to me - a guy I know in WoW heard about my collection and had it in his attic so he offered to mail it over).

      • Re:Sweet (Score:4, Informative)

        by Whiteox (919863) <htcstech@gmai l . c om> on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:59AM (#24480103) Journal

        Apple II can handle 64k of ram and that should be enough for everybody!
        The Apple //e can handle 640k of ram.
        Apple II cannot be used on a TV set unless you add a TV out (RF) card. It has a composite video out, which at the time, many TV's did not have.
        Although Apple II can do colour, many owners used either a green screen or amber monitor. A good colour monitor produced sharp text and images.

        • Re:Sweet (Score:5, Informative)

          by HTH NE1 (675604) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @11:22AM (#24481507)

          Apple II cannot be used on a TV set unless you add a TV out (RF) card.

          No, there were little boxes that would take the composite signal and convert it to an RF signal on channel 2, 3, or (later) 4. Most such boxes were twin lead, but there are other adapters for the coaxial cable ports.

          Driving a component, VGA, DVI, or HDMI signal... well it just don't do that.

          Hmm, makes me think about hooking up my Apple //c video out into a portable DVD player's video in. I may yet emulate Dr. Heywood Floyd using a //c on a beach in 2010.

      • Re:Sweet (Score:4, Informative)

        by KillerBob (217953) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @10:06AM (#24480205)

        As a person who has long used a PC attached to a TV as what it's now called a "Media Center", I can say the text quality on a CRT television is absolutely horrible, totally unusable for browsing or programming.

        That does actually depend on the TV you're using, as well as the method you're using to connect. I have 3 TV's, and have had the same HTPC hooked up to all 3 of them, using different connection methods. The oldest is a 21" Samsung 16x9 CRT that was bought in 1998, and the TV was connected using RCA. Yes. It was illegible.

        The second is a 26" Panasonic GAOO CRT (800x600 resolution), connected via S-Video. On that, the text isn't great, but it *is* legible. The biggest annoyance on that, really, is that when I close the media center, the desktop spans beyond the edges of the screen.

        The third is a 42" LG 1080p HDTV, connected via HDMI. On that, there's no problems at all.

        YMMV, but the usability for different functions depends an awful lot on the display. :)

        • Re:Sweet (Score:4, Interesting)

          by dubbreak (623656) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @10:30AM (#24480525)

          The third is a 42" LG 1080p HDTV, connected via HDMI. On that, there's no problems at all.

          Ah yes, so we just need to get each of the poor children a 1080P hdtv to go with their $12 pc.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by xilmaril (573709)
          guess what kind of tv the typical indian buying a $12 computer has? that's right, the crappy kind. the kind probably left over from the 90s or 80s or earlier, like most electronics in india. that said, text isn't readable on an old TV largely because it's in a font designed for a computer monitor. do you have much trouble reading subtitles?
      • Re:Sweet (Score:4, Informative)

        by aywwts4 (610966) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @10:09AM (#24480243)
        It was good enough for us back in the day, we programmed, word processed and communicated with TVs as monitors all with some proficiency and only minor... alright perhaps moderate eyestrain.

        The colors, fonts, and interfaces were designed with ultra-low res displays in mind. While say, 12pt times new roman and arial are not.

        http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/49/AppleII.jpg [wikimedia.org] Just look at this, that is a what, 6 inch screen? Barely larger than the 5 1/2 inch floppies next to it, in a picture taken from 4 feet away, compressed in a jpeg, and you can still make out all the letters.

        Hell, here is a guy browsing the internet on an Apple II When what you want is text, pretty much anything will suffice. http://www.sics.se/contiki/perspective/browsing-the-web-from-an-apple-ii-with-contiki.html [www.sics.se] It's not ideal but CRT monitor/tvs were made better back then, they had finer controls and were just sharper, I used some old commodore monitors for years for video projects, probably the sharpest non-hd TV you can get that doesn't run you in the thousands, that and they are very stackable so you can have a tower of monitors.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by evilviper (135110)

        I can say the text quality on a CRT television is absolutely horrible, totally unusable for browsing or programming.

        That's an idiotic assertion to make.

        Analog TV monitors are interlaced, which causes flicker with fine vertical details. HOWEVER, that is directly proportional to the size of the font you are using. You need about a 24-pt font to be readable, but that is still far more dense than the 80x24 displays of a terminal.

        Certainly, a TV monitor compares poorly to even a 640x480 monitor, but it compare

  • Funkay... (Score:5, Funny)

    by wcrowe (94389) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @08:58AM (#24479241)

    Each one comes with a free leisure suit.

  • by PunkOfLinux (870955) <mewshi@mewshi.com> on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @08:58AM (#24479243) Homepage

    1) Give children in third world countries old computers
    2) Get children addicted to Oregon Trail
    3) Watch children forego sex, and therefore reproduction, in favor of Number Munchers
    4) Profit!

    It's bullet-proof!

  • Where do I send my £12?

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:02AM (#24479295)
    All TFA says that it is loosly based on the Apple II. So what does that mean? Have the same CPU? Same OS? Same amount of RAM? Looks like the Apple II?
    • by Zobeid (314469)

      If I had to hazard a guess, I'd imagine some degree of binary compatibility -- or at the very least, the ability to run BASIC programs from the Apple II.

      Apple II. . . Not the computer I personally would have chosen, I had an Atari 800XL which I would prefer any day. But then, the Atari had more proprietary, quirky stuff (custom graphics chips) which might have been a problem, and it had a more non-standard dialect of BASIC.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Doesnt binary compatibility depend on the OS, which id guess to be BSD/linux.

        Based on appel II is much more likely to mean in terms of architecture & hardware

        • by Hank the Lion (47086) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @10:01AM (#24480123) Journal

          Doesnt binary compatibility depend on the OS, which id guess to be BSD/linux.

          Based on appel II is much more likely to mean in terms of architecture & hardware

          I can tell that you have never used a computer from the era of the Apple ][.
          These beasts did definitely not run anything like BSD or Linux.
          When you programmed them, you did it in BASIC, or programmed in assembly, accessing the hardware directly without any form of operating system.
          You could use calls to a few functions in Eprom, but CP/M was the best you could get as an OS, and then you needed the plug-in card with a real Z80 chip on it!

      • The Apple II has a long history of use for educational purposes. Back when I was in elementary and middle school, Apple IIs (and their Franklin Ace clones) were all over the school, used for administrative and educational tasks alike. (The school had assumed that Apple IIs would be the business machine of the future, and thought that providing students with a good grounding in them would stand them in good stead for their future lives. Nobody foresaw the PC revolution.)

    • by the_humeister (922869) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:13AM (#24479435)
      I guess it's neat that they're doing this. But if wanted a computer and I only had $12, I'd just find one on Craigslist. There's usually a Pentium type computer on there going for cheap.
    • It aims to carve a niche among the third world's richer poor children.
      Or at least the ones with better taste. More like chicken, less like monkeys.

      Oh and... 12$ is probably a typo. To be LIKE Apple II it should be something like US $1298. [oldcomputers.net]

    • by Bob-taro (996889)

      All TFA says that it is loosly based on the Apple II. So what does that mean? Have the same CPU? Same OS? Same amount of RAM? Looks like the Apple II?

      Good question. Based on the price, I would assume there WON'T be any proprietary software on it. And if they're going with a different OS, I wouldn't think they'd need to faithfully emulate the original CPU, either. My guess is that they just mean "comparable" hardware in terms of computing power, probably a system on a chip.

    • by pitchpipe (708843)
      10 INPUT "What's wrong with the Apple II?", A$
      20 PRINT "Answer: "; A$
      30 PRINT "HAHAHAHA"
      40 GOTO 10
    • by Shivetya (243324)

      it probably means they have a fruit selected as the logo

  • by eekygeeky (777557) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:04AM (#24479317)

    can we just mark down a pile of old engineering calculators and call it a day? I remember watching some smarty-pants play Mario on his calculator during enviromental engineering classes lo these many years ago.

    or cell phones, for gods' sake, my cell phone has a 314MHz processor in it, I played duke nukem 3D and watched streaming video on PCs that were slower, this cannot be that difficult.

    figure it out, people and stop cluttering up /. with these endless utopian woolgathering snipehunts; please, and thank you.

  • If it can play Rescue Raiders and Ultima, I'm in.
  • by Chrisq (894406)
    For twelve dollars perhaps they should codename it the abacus. It will probably be an abacus if they cut functionality to cost rather than increasing cost to cover functionality.
  • by reiisi (1211052) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:11AM (#24479415) Homepage

    Not many details.

    6502? Hang a keyboard on a gameboy?

    Flash instead of cassette tape, to be sure.

    Sixteen bit addresses?

    6809 would give it enough horsepower to actually run an early version of unix, but then you couldn't get the low-low power out of programmable logic that you can out of hard-wired 6502 cores. And you'd still have that problem of virtual addressing facing any kid with enough ambition to try to (re)program it.

    Freescales m-core might be interesting as a CPU, but then they would potentially collide with the goals of OLPC.

    I'm rambling, but this touches a kind of long-term fantasy of mine -- basically, put the equivalent of a Radio Shack Color Computer (but with something better than MSBASIC) in every kid's pocket.

  • Regression (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ukab the Great (87152) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:12AM (#24479421)

    If we follow the pattern to its natural conclusion, we'll have $6.00 Altair 8800's, then $3.00 PDP-8's, then $1.50 UNIVAC's, then 75 cent ENIACS, then 3 Babbage Difference Engines for a nickel, and finally a Jacquard loom that you couldn't give away.

  • The summary got me to thinking about some of the PC on a chip offerings I've seen over the years. A quick google search turned up something else kind of amusing: http://tinyurl.com/5ppa9g [tinyurl.com]. A PC for less than $500? No way!

    Oh, and if anyone has some information on a useful pc-on-a-chip, I'm still curious.
    • by TTK Ciar (698795) *

      This isn't precisely a pc on a chip (the core is MIPS-based), but Microchip's PIC32 offerings [microchip.com] gives you a fully 32-bit processor with integrated RAM, ROM, and some peripherals for about $5 per unit. Perhaps not useful if you need x86, but plenty useful if you just want to compile and run ANSI-C applications (GCC has an appropriate MIPS target).

  • Seriously though, what practical use is there for an old 8bit Apple II architecture? There are very inexpensive 32bit system on chip architectures (including MIPS - Lexra) in that price range that can at least run embedded Linux (uClinux).

    • by gr8_phk (621180)

      There are very inexpensive 32bit system on chip architectures (including MIPS - Lexra) in that price range that can at least run embedded Linux (uClinux)

      And one of those will likely be running a 6502 emulator for this project. $12 should be enough to include the PCB and connectors to hook up a TV, keyboard and standard Apple disk drive. Or serially connect a PC with a floppy drive emulator to run from images.

  • It's already in production, and is a fully functioning C64 on a chip.

    Just sayin' (and prolly igniting another Apple/Commodore war. :-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tgd (2822)

      I'm not entirely convinced the project is supposed to actually make sense.

      Like a lot of MIT hacks, this strikes me as more of a "because we can" than a "because we should".

      Like a Warcart.

  • If that's all the computing power they need, they might as well just write an OS for a PIC microcontroller. Those little chips cost about $1.

    Though I can't imagine any computer catching on with a nontrivial number of children unless it runs games. Anyone want to port Oregon Trail to PIC? On second thought, starving African children might take the "You have died of dysentery" part of the game the wrong way...

  • by ThePopeLayton (868042) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:21AM (#24479543)
    from the article: "Hoping to make slashdot headlines and undercut all the other low cost computers coming from MIT... this new team hopes to produce a laptop that will be free." John Smith the leader of the team is quoted having said "Ideally we'd really like to make a computer that we pay you to take... but we've yet to work out the economics, so for now we're going to stick with the free computer." The team hopes to have their computer ready to go in a few years...
  • by acb (2797) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:32AM (#24479713) Homepage

    Would it really be that much cheaper to make 1980s-vintage computers? I mean, once the design work is done, are the price differences between fabbing a 6502-type CPU and an ARM or x86 that great? I thought that the price advantage of using mass-market components would outweigh any savings made by using primitive technologies.

    • They probably are not planning to build the computer exactly the same way it was done in the 1980's. They are probably planning to copy just a few stylistic items.

      For instance, a modern micro-controller CPU would integrate almost the entire Apple II motherboard onto one chip, including the RAM, ROM, and peripherals. You can use the cheap hack (like the Apple II did) to generate composite video signals from just a few TTL output pins. If you pick the right microcontroller, DMA can be used to automaticall

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by evilviper (135110)

      I thought that the price advantage of using mass-market components would outweigh any savings made by using primitive technologies.

      Many very "primitive technologies" continue to be "mass-market components," even today.

      When a CPU ceases to be fast enough to compete with modern CPUs... it becomes a "controller"... You probably have several "primitive" CPUs in your current computer, as controller chips for your NIC, sound card, etc.

      Z-80s continue to sell very well. 6502 microcontrollers are still being produ

  • The Commodore 64 was a better computer (more colors, 3-voice synth, etc.), used fewer chips, had more memory, and was cheaper to make. More software was written for it, and it has a much, much more active enthusiast community which has archived and preserved that software. If you're going to spread retro computing over the surface of the globe, wouldn't it make more sense to use the most popular computer of the day?

  • Why not Linux? Am I missing something here? Or is it just retro for the sake of being retro, if so, I'll probably break out my NES and we can have a party.
  • Games! (Score:3, Funny)

    by autophile (640621) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:48AM (#24479925)

    Each one comes preloaded with "Little Brick Out" and "Lemonade Stand".

  • by MagPulse (316)

    This sounds great. Once they make it, they need to be sure to sell it in places like Walmart and Target, so lots of kids get their hands on these and not just those with Slashdot-reading parents.

  • The third world is likely to be eaten by a grue.

    But in all seriousness, Visicalc, Bankstreet Writer, and a flat-file database would do the job for a whole lot of people.

  • Surely the answer isn't to reimplement the Apple II, but to use something like an off-the-shelf ARM based SoC (an older, now cheap one with a display controller) with a cut down Linux (or indeed, RISCOS, as that was an ARM based OS with built-in BASIC and desktop which seems ideal).

    The alternative is far more expensive - either using FPGAs to reimplement the Apple II hardware (and this is nothing new anyway, other 8-bit systems have been reimplemented in FPGAs already, from the Amstrad CPC to the C64 and be

  • by Tom9729 (1134127) <tom9729@NoSpAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @10:06AM (#24480203) Homepage

    This will be great until they sell out and try to put Windows XP on it.

  • "MIT Team Working On a $12 Apple (II) Desktop"

    Damn, I was working on rather pricey machines while at Cambridge and even pricier ones while at OSU. Never were times so hard at the University that we had to work on Apple II's. Has MIT indeed wasted *all* of its money on random crap like robots?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just use cellphones and have a way to use a real keyboard and screen at home so it doesn't suck to type or see anything for extended periods. Developing nations are leapfrogging the wired data infrastructure in favor of going straight to wireless, so there's your web connectivity already. Concentrate on making applications that work off of low end, low powered cellphones and can immediately see and make use of the difference between the built in keyboard and tiny screen and then the normal sized screen and

  • I have two apple II's in my garage that they can have for free.

  • by sznupi (719324) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @10:54AM (#24480979) Homepage

    Because that might be close it...in TFA they even mention "consoles with a keyboard" that are apparently popular in India as their starting point (adding to them network functionality).

    BTW, the TFA is wrong about one detail - those consoles aren't based on Apple II, they're NES clones (still...the same CPU as in Apple II)

    So I guess if you want to see what their machine will be capable of, check Contiki ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contiki [wikipedia.org] ) on C-64 with ethernet adapter.

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