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Education Hardware Hacking Nintendo Build

$12 MIT Computer Based On NES, Not Apple II 308

Posted by timothy
from the different-can-different-beans dept.
ericatcw writes "The $12 computer that a bunch of designers and grad students are talking up at an MIT conference this month as a potential, cheaper alternative to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) for Third World students is actually a knockoff of the original Nintendo Entertainment System gaming console released in the mid-1980s, reports Computerworld, and confirmed in a comment by the project's spokesman, Derek Lomas. According to Lomas' account and pictures, the Victor-70 is an 8-bit NES clone that accepts its cartridges and is wholly contained in the keyboard. It is also likely to be an unlicensed clone made in China, according to Lomas, though he notes that may not matter patent-wise in the US, due to the length of time that has passed."
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$12 MIT Computer Based On NES, Not Apple II

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  • by digitalsolo (1175321) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @04:36PM (#24502469) Homepage
    In addition, the console in a keyboard comes with a fully illustrated manual explaining the proper method of blowing into the cartridges in order to make them function properly...
    • by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @04:40PM (#24502521) Homepage Journal
      Blowing can actually damage edge connectors of NES Game Paks and other PCBs by depositing humidity, which attracts more dust and more corrosion. I've made an illustrated guide to cleaning cartridges [pineight.com].
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by digitalsolo (1175321)
        Indeed, rubbing alcohol (or, better yet, an electronics contact cleaner) would be a far better alternative to blowing into the cartridge. That said, 20 years ago when I had an NES, I didn't know that, and, besides, that's not nearly as funny...
        • by SwordsmanLuke (1083699) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @05:48PM (#24503481)

          rubbing alcohol (or, better yet, an electronics contact cleaner)

          Don't use rubbing alcohol! That will also eat away at the contacts. Use either an electronic contact cleaner or hydrogen peroxide.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by LordVader717 (888547)

          (or, better yet, an electronics contact cleaner)

          Which 90% of the time contain rubbing alcohol, water and maybe a few detergents (overkill for a bit of dust on an NES cartridge). Sometimes they add perfume to the cocktail, e.g. when they want to convince the customer that their "display-cleaner" is somehow special and they need to pay ten time the price for some isopropyl alcohol.

          • They sell rubbing alcohol that is flavored now too (menthol, comes in a green bottle). Feel free to use that if you are sick of the alcohol smell.

      • by dickens (31040)

        I had good luck with burnishing the contacts with plain white paper.. just abrasive enough, once alcohol didn't seem to be helping.

      • by Kingrames (858416)

        Damage? the NES cartridges?
        Yeah, that might be cause for worry, except that the dang things are frickin indestructible.

        You can chuck the thing out of an airborne craft and it's more likely to survive and work than whatever it hits.

      • by compro01 (777531)

        I've always found the best tool for cleaning an edge connector is just a simple pencil eraser.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by OrangeTide (124937)

        I've had far better luck in removing grime using diluted ammonia or windex (which also has detergents in it). Rubbing alcohol is one of the poorest solvents in regular use that I can think of. We've used pencil erasers and/or windex for years to prepare electronics for soldering and to clean tuner contacts, so I see no problem with putting it on a NES cartridge.

        Blowing on a cartridge makes it work not because you remove dust, but because you wet the surface enough to make for better conduction. eventually t

    • Re:In addition... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ZorinLynx (31751) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @05:51PM (#24503521) Homepage

      What's funny is the NES is the only console I recall having this problem. They must have used a lousy socket in the actual NES unit. (the carts just have regular edge connectors like any other gaming system uses)

      They had that weird "push the cartridge in, then lock it down" setup, rather than the simple friction method used by other consoles. Friction has this added benefit of wiping the cruft off contacts as you push the cart in, which I'm betting the NES didn't do as well, causing the problems.

      In fact, one of the NES cart fixes I recall was pushing it down slightly so there was some friction, and squirming the cart around in the connector. ;)

      • Re:In addition... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Dogtanian (588974) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @05:59PM (#24503605) Homepage

        They had that weird "push the cartridge in, then lock it down" setup

        As far as I'm aware, Nintendo deliberately tried to do as much as they could to make the NES appear different to previous consoles such as the Atari VCS. The reason for this was apparently that people (especially retailers) got badly burned during the early-1980s downturn in the video game market and were reluctant to go there again. Nintendo (for example) tried to make the loading more like a video recorder, and so on.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by TavisJohn (961472)

      I just used Tuner Cleaner to revive my old NES back to life...

  • Good news (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @04:36PM (#24502473)

    Now we can teach children in developing countries the importance of gold coins, magic mushrooms and floating stars.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You play tetris on victor 70

  • Sweet!! (Score:2, Informative)

    by strimpster (1074645)
    Now a whole new generation of kids can have great enjoyment from the Nintendo. It's kind of like a console hand-me down of sorts lol.

    According to the article it is a knock-off device that one of the students found in India on the streets for $12. Adding the Internet access and other necessary componenets most likely will not hike up the price over the OLPC.

    If someone finds the company that makes those devices, I want to buy in. This could take off.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jandrese (485)
      Trying to get a TCP stack working on a 1.25Mhz 8 bit machine is no mean feat. I'd wager that you're likely to add more than $12 worth of parts to it before you get anything resembling a web browser (even a crappy text only one running at NTSC resolution) working, especially one that is optimized for moving a handful of sprites around the screen instead of displaying text.
      • Re:Sweet!! (Score:5, Informative)

        by camperdave (969942) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @05:14PM (#24503017) Journal
        Apparently, it's doable [wikipedia.org].

        Contiki supports per-process optional preemptive multi-threading, inter-process communication using message passing through events, as well as an optional GUI subsystem with either direct graphic support for locally connected terminals or networked virtual display with VNC or over Telnet.

        A full installation of Contiki includes the following features:

        • Multitasking kernel
        • Optional per-application pre-emptive multithreading
        • Protothreads
        • TCP/IP networking
        • Windowing system and GUI
        • Networked remote display using Virtual Network Computing
        • A web browser (claimed to be the world's smallest)
        • Personal web server
        • Simple telnet client
        • Screensaver
      • Nah. uIP runs fine on microcontrollers with extremely limited RAM. and I believe uIP is part of Contiki which is known to provide telnet, a text webbrowser, IRC client and a few other goodies. It is known to work on the NES and C64. the trick with the NES is you have to attach a serial port to it somehow and run SLIP. But to be honest Ethernet is as easy as SLIP plus you usually get hardware to filter MACs and do checksumming.

  • 8 bit???? (Score:2, Interesting)

    I have to question the usefulness of a 8 bit system in terms of running modern software, as well as being a useful as a whole. I mean does anyone know a modern linux distro that runs on a 8 bit processor?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by oahazmatt (868057)

      I mean does anyone know a modern linux distro that runs on a 8 bit processor?

      If not, I bet there's someone who considers your question to be a challenge, and will now make one.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by eclectro (227083)

        If not, I bet there's someone who considers your question to be a challenge, and will now make one.

        I doubt it. Eight bits made the baby Linus cry and it's why linux started on a 386 system.

      • by Minwee (522556)

        Unless they have spent the last ten years working on the ELKS project [sourceforge.net] and know that porting Linux to anything less than an 8088 could lead to total protonic reversal.

        Then they would consider it to be quite a challenge, and would now wait for someone else to make one.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by kwabbles (259554)

          porting Linux to anything less than an 8088 could lead to total protonic reversal.

          I've reached this theory myself before - but have been too scared to test it.

          The best idea I've come up with is porting it for a Z80 and then trying to boot it on a Sinclair in a remote region of Southern Utah using some sort of remote control for safety.

          I really need a particle physicist to help me out with the minor details, you know - possible blast radius, how long before the area is habitable again, will the Earth's orbit

    • Re:8 bit???? (Score:5, Informative)

      by sznupi (719324) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @04:53PM (#24502721) Homepage

      http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8517523543573905150 [google.com]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SymbOS [wikipedia.org]
      http://youtube.com/group/symbos [youtube.com]

      Check those three links if you're in doubt about what can be accomplished on 8-bit system.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sm62704 (957197)

      IINM you can scale Linux to run on anything from a supercomputer to a wristwatch. When you get down to the level of the bare silicone, there's nothing you can do in 16 bits that you can't do (albeit a lot slower) in eight bits.

      • by cnettel (836611)
        There are things you can do with an MMU that you can't do without one, as long as you do not intend to emulate the whole userspace instruction set. Of course you can port some kind of Linux to an environment with no virtual memory and no memory protection, but it will have all the glory of Win32s.
        • Of course you can port some kind of Linux to an environment with no virtual memory and no memory protection, but it will have all the glory of Win32s.

          But sometimes, all the glory of Win32s is all the glory you need. See also uClinux.

    • All you really need is an 8-bit system that supports VT220 and Telnet. then you share a fat Linux box remotely with 100 other people.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @04:41PM (#24502525)

    It costs less than my abacus!

  • http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=636401&cid=24480979 [slashdot.org]

    BTW, I wonder how that'll work out...from what I know people buy those NES clones thinking they are something more...why would they trust next one, from the story?

  • BIOS.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by tsvk (624784) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @04:43PM (#24502563)

    BIOS error, keypad not detected.

    Press Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, A, B, A, B, Start to continue.

  • by viking80 (697716) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @04:47PM (#24502631) Journal

    Not sure why MIT needs to get involved in anything here. This $12.50 computer is currently produced, and sold on the street in India *now*. So R&D, manufacturing, distribution and marketing is done and working.

    Computer includes word processor, games, a gun for gaming, as well as BASIC.

    • Internet Enabled (Score:4, Informative)

      by KalvinB (205500) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @05:10PM (#24502971) Homepage

      The current version can't connect to the internet. The MIT students are trying to see if they can get networking on it without going past the $12 price point.

      The thing hasn't been updated in a long time so their goal is to see if there's better tech that can be put together for the same price.

    • by Nymz (905908) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @05:13PM (#24502999) Journal
      I'm not certain, but I think their plan is:

      1) Select the lowest cost computer you can find.
      2) Write educational software for it.
      3) market the hardware+software solution to schools and poor families in developing countries.
      4) Profit! but while making the world a better place too.
    • by gad_zuki! (70830)

      Who knows. Perhaps press? Some attention?

      Its incredible that this is considered a viable idea. For 4 or 5x the price you can get a OLPC. I think a computer lab with 10 of these is a lot better for students than 50 students having these 8-bit beaters in their homes.

      • by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @06:12PM (#24503725) Homepage

        Really?

        How much time do you think anyone can or will sit in a computer lab that they are sharing with several dozen other students?

        How much time do you think that someone can spend sitting in front of a video monitor at home?

        The immersed, "deep" learning occurs when one has the luxury of forgetting where the time went. In a resource-strapped school in a developing country, that's not the computer lab.

        There are those of us who learned to program in more primitive environments than these - and we learned to program a little "closer to the metal."

      • by babyrat (314371)

        For 4 or 5x the price you can get a OLPC.

        but if you only have 1/2 the price of an OLPC, then 2 of these is certainly MUCH better than zero OLPCs.

  • 250 games in 1! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by StreetStealth (980200) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @04:47PM (#24502633) Journal

    It appears that this is essentially the same setup as those dodgy Chinese handhelds loaded with a bunch of hacked and remixed NES ROMs.

    So why didn't anyone else think of this before? It's perfect; put together this ultra-cheap but still highly programmable hardware with some efficiently-designed educational software, and you've got something that can, despite having a tiny fraction of the OLPC's specs, still make a big, positive impact on kids in the developing world.

    If this project is managed right, it could end up doing the OLPC's mission for it and then some.

    • by nurb432 (527695)

      At least the DTV-64 had a 'real' 64 in it. It was a FPGA implementation of one + a emulated drive with a bunch of games.

      I see this just being 'yet another retro game console relived' and dying on the vine ( like it should )

  • What's the story? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RingDev (879105) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @04:48PM (#24502645) Homepage Journal

    Step 1: Rip off 20 year old patented technology
    Step 2: Cram into smaller container
    Step 3: Get MIT guys to give you free press
    Step 4: ???
    Step 5: Profit

    I mean, what's the actual deal here? Some manufacturer in China is producing a miniaturized clone of the Nintendo skipping out on the licensing fees so they can get it to market in the $12 range, MIT students/alumni are smiling at it around a table. So what exactly is MIT doing?

    Is it suddenly dawning on them that if you strip all of the patent protection and licensing from a project that a $100+ chunk of electronics is only $12 worth of components, shipping and handling, and Chinese labor?

    -Rick

    • by glwtta (532858) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @05:05PM (#24502899) Homepage
      Step 1: Rip off 20 year old patented technology

      Why would you consider this a "ripoff"? Patents are granted for 20 years, with the express intention that after that period, the invention can be freely used by others.

      What's bad about this?
      • Pirate multicart (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tepples (727027)

        Why would you consider this a "ripoff"? Patents are granted for 20 years, with the express intention that after that period, the invention can be freely used by others.

        Because it isn't just the patents. Looking at the Picasa album, I see that the computer appears to be bundled with a multicart containing unauthorized copies of several copyrighted Nintendo games. I'd bet it even has proprietary Tetris instead of GPL'd Tetramino [pineight.com].

      • by RingDev (879105)

        I didn't say there was anything wrong with it. I just don't understand what MIT's angle on it is and why their lack of angle is note worthy. I suppose my wording was a bit on the negative side though, so I can understand where you were coming from.

        -Rick

    • by orasio (188021)

      You make it sound as if it was unfair.
      This is the expressed goal of patents.
      Nintendo had their patent monopolies, and in exchange, everybody gets to benefit from the technology today. This is a win-win situation.
      Nintendo got their money, and we get our cheap systems. I don't understand why you call this "ripping off" technology.
      For me, it's making the system work as it was intended.

      • by RingDev (879105)

        As I stated above, my wording was a tad more negative than intended. The majority of the Nintendo hardware patents, so far as I know, have expired, although much of the copyrights on the games and marketing distributed with that system are still standing. So the company producing the package is ripping off someone.

        The question still stands though, what does any of this have to do with MIT?

        -Rick

  • The Apple IIe had some awesome Pac Man and Space Invaders clones that were decidedly illegal because they mimicked the arcade machines you put quarters in perfectly.

    • How perfectly? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tepples (727027)

      The Apple IIe had some awesome Pac Man and Space Invaders clones that were decidedly illegal because they mimicked the arcade machines you put quarters in perfectly.

      For one thing, companies like Atarisoft [wikipedia.org] published plenty of authorized ports of arcade games on Apple II and other 8-bit platforms. For another, how perfectly? Not every aspect is copyrightable [copyright.gov].

    • because they mimicked the arcade machines you put quarters in perfectly.

      And all these years I thought my quarter-putting prowess was a private performance...

      What about the few machines I had trouble depositing money in?

      =)

  • Programming (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MrMunkey (1039894) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @04:49PM (#24502659) Homepage
    Does anyone have some links to programming tools for the Victor-70? A BASIC interpreter was mentioned in one of the articles. I know I should STFW, but I'm at work and /. has already degraded my productivity enough.
  • by C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @05:05PM (#24502909) Journal

    patents may expire in 20 years, but copyrights don't.

    i'm sure the NES had some sort of firmware on the console that's still covered by copyrights. this would make the work a little harder. the creators of this thingie would have to first develop their own firmware, right ?

    • What firmware? (Score:3, Informative)

      by tepples (727027)

      i'm sure the NES had some sort of firmware on the console that's still covered by copyrights.

      Citation needed. The only copyrighted ROM inside an NES console that anyone on nesdev.com knows about is the ROM in the CIC lockout chip, and the Famicom didn't even have that.

  • Crap, I saw the laptop mentioned (http://revolv.in/2008/02/15-laptop-seen-in-mumbai.html) in a small rural market in Mexico next to a bunch of pirated DVDs. Thought that due to the location and price (I think it was 30 dollars) that it had to be a gimic like a screen that was nothing but a sticker. If I would have know that something like this exists I would have checked it out more.
  • I haven't heard of this before. Sounds interesting, a 3rd party clone to run my old NES cartridges. I searched for "Victor-70" and got some guy's myspace page - I'm guessing even if he's offering NES games, I don't want anything of it.
  • I actually have one of these...I bought a Famiclone when in the Philippines earlier this year. It was housed in what looked like a PC keyboard (which worked) and came with a Famicom game slot in the top, two game pads, a light gun and a mouse. The included game cartridge had a few ripped off NES games as well as a BASIC compiler and a word processing program (which seems useless considering the fact there is no way to print) and some educational stuff that used the mouse. It was called the "HUG New Educa
  • That pistol controller in the box (first picture) must be great for Al Quaida's version of "educational" games like America's Army etc. ...
  • Too bad, the apple ][ idea would have been educational.

  • Sounds a lot like the C64 DTV [wikipedia.org].
  • Family Basic V3 (Score:2, Informative)

    by FornaxChemica (968594)
    The paradox here is that the Famicom (NES) was so ahead of its time there was already in early 1985 a Basic language program sold by Nintendo in Japan, ãfããfYãfãf¼ãf(TM)ãf¼ããffãï¼ï¼" (Family Basic V3). So it was in a way a computer well before MIT students thought this up.
    • The paradox here is that the Famicom (NES) was so ahead of its time there was already in early 1985 a Basic language program sold by Nintendo in Japan

      "Ahead of its time"?

      Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it seemed like anything that had a microprocessor in it was packaged and marketed as an "educational computer". Don't make me cite the "BASIC Programming" cartridge for the Atari 2600...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by billcopc (196330)

        Hey, be nice to the Basic Programming cartridge. If it weren't for that lovely piece of history, you wouldn't be reading my inflammatory rants because I'd have found something better to do :)

        Seriously, the fact that I taught myself Basic by age 4 is proof that these things could indeed be educational. At the very least, it taught me that interpreted languages are horribly slow, and by that virtue coaxed me into learning the nitty gritty of assembly language.

        That said, the early 80's were boring times. I

  • A NES-on-a-chip was used in those Jakks Atari joysticks (a joystick with 5-10 built-in games and an audio/video out cable) from about 5 years ago. The gameplay and sound were not perfect because it's emulated. I believe they retailed for around $15 or less.

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