The Sinclair ZX81: a Raspberry Pi retro restyle – Part 2

Previously on ‘ZX81: a Raspberry Pi retro restyle’: I used a headerless Arduino Leonardo to connect a ZX81 microcomputer keyboard to a Raspberry Pi via USB, using code to handle normal, shifted and function-shifted key presses.

Now read on…

ZX keyboard controller

A new ZX keyboard connected to the USB controller – an Arduino Leonardo

After some searching on eBay, I found an old ZX81 going cheap because it lacked cables, though when it arrived, I found the computer itself to be in excellent condition. Possibly it has never been used, though how if that were the case the cables were lost and the box got so tatty is a mystery I will probably never solve.

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Review: the Fuze, a Raspberry Pi keyboard case and electronics kit

Back in the day of the board computers of the late 1970s – your Scrumpi, your Nascom 1, your UK-101 et al – it was customary to build a case for it out of wood. If you were a better equipped ‘constructor’ – what we used to call ‘makers’ in those far distant days – you’d build a box out of metal.

Folk like Tangerine offered optional cases, but most home micros made do with homemade jobs or nothing at all. Then along came the pre-knighthood Sir Clive Sinclair with his ZX80, and home micros all had to be clad in plastic from then on.


The Fuze looks like an old-style home micro case.

Skip forward 30-odd years and history is repeating itself. The Raspberry Pi is a board computer just like those 1970s offerings, only more powerful, more compact and with better programming facilities than the machine code monitors of yore. Some people even make their own cases, though there’s no shortage of plastic off-the-shelf offerings.
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Connect a Raspberry Pi to a Mac using a USB-Serial adapter

I’m enjoying tinkering with the Raspberry Pi. Alas most of the tutorials and guides available online, of which there are many, focus on hooking the tiny board computer to Windows or Linux machines. Mac-centric guidance is sparse, and I could have used some this week.

The Pi has 26 general purpose IO ports on board, two of which can be used for UART (Universal Asynchronous Receivers/Transmitters) communications. The Pi hooks its UART pins to a login console at boot, and it should be straightforward with a suitable USB-Serial adaptor — I have the TTL-232R-3V3 from FTDI Chip — to view the results of the start-up process on a terminal window in Mac OS X. I bought my cable from Farnell, by the way — it terminates in three female connectors ready to slot onto the Pi’s GPIO pins.

A Pi's UART pins, connected

A Pi’s UART pins, connected

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