Retro CPC Dongle – Part 1

The Amstrad CPC464 was the first computer that I ever owned. It blew me away that I could type stuff into a machine and make it do what I wanted. It had a high colour display and everything was built-in.  While I played my fair share of games, my real interest was hacking the OS and programming in assembly.  There is still an enormous amount of software and advice available in the forums and even today the CPC is still an interesting computer to hack. This project will regenerate an icon from the 80’s, but with a modern twist.  This isn’t another retro emulator project, this is a brand-new CPC complete with Bluetooth wireless joysticks, on-board solid state storage and HDMI compatibility, all in a form factor the size of a key fob. Continue reading

Working with Surface Mount Components and BGAs

Surface mount PCBs (Part 2 –  BGAs)

In my first post I described the process of reliably soldering surface mount components to create sophisticated and high density PCBs.   Many of the really exciting components are only available in a Ball Grid Array (BGA) package.  Think of ARM processors, high density memory, and Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA).  These complex devices can have too many connections to the silicon to use a traditional Small Outline Package (SOP) or Quad Flat Pack (QFP).   On high pin count QFPs the pins are so narrowly spaced that solder bridges are common and pins are far to easy to bend and damage. Ironically BGAs are easier to work with in this regard as they are intrinsically far more resistant to damage prior to mounting.

Continue reading

Working with Surface Mount Components and BGAs

Surface mount PCBs (Part 1)

If you look at a circuit board today, you’ll see a beautiful array of surface mount chips and components, including very fine 0.5mm or even 0.4mm leaded devices and BGAs.  Some of these ‘exotic’ devices can contain really advanced technology such as high speed ARM microprocessors, flash and high capacity memory, and FPGAs.  If you’re like me, you’ve looked at these boards and wished that you could produce circuit boards of such fine detail at home, and build projects with these exciting technologies.  Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not as difficult as it looks.

Continue reading