TRS-80 Model 100 Gets Arduino Heart Transplant

When [Stephen Cass] found himself with a broken Tandy TRS-80 Model 100 portable computer, the simplest solution was to buy another broken one and make one working computer from two non-working computers. However, this left him with a dilemma — what to do with the (now even more) broken one left over?

LCD layout is unusual by modern standard, but optimized for fast updates

Naturally, he did what a lot of us would do and used modern hardware to interface with the original parts that still work. In this case it meant replacing the motherboard with an Arduino Mega 2560.

Luckily, the Model 100 has a substantial fanbase and there’s a lot of helpful information available online, including the detailed service manual, that helped [Stephen] to understand how to drive the unusual display.  The LCD has a resolution of 240×64 pixels, which are broken down into eight zones of 50×32 pixels, and two zones of 40×42 pixels.  Each zone is then further divided into four banks, eight pixels tall, so that each column of eight pixels corresponds to a single byte.

Every one of the ten zones is controlled by an individual HD44102 driver IC, connected to a 30-bit wide bus for selecting the correct chip, bank and column.

With the Arduino handling the data, the old LCD still needed a -5 V supply for contrast and an RC filter to smooth out the PWM signal [Stephen] is using to adjust the viewing angle.

With the new interface, [Stephen] is able to access all of the pixels on the original display, and to use modern graphics libraries such as displayio. With the display issue solved, he intends to use a separate Teensy 4.1 to connect with the keyboard matrix and provide a VT100 terminal interface.

Schematic of the HD44102 driver circuit

Upcycling old, broken hardware can be a lot of fun and is always educational.  Understanding why certain design decisions were made at a time when the engineering trade-offs were different can lead to insights that are directly relevant to modern designs when resources get tight. In this case, the quirky LCD drivers were a response to making the display of text as efficient as possible, so as not to overburden the processor.

The TRS-80 computers are ripe for hacking, with their “built-for-service” designs, and we’ve featured a few in the past.  Some have replaced the motherboard with something newer, like [Stephen], whereas others have also replaced the display, or connected them to the cellphone network.

Have you found new ways to get old hardware working? Tell us in the comments below or send us a message on the Hackaday tips line.

Thanks to [nb0x0308] for the tip!

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