- Significant redesign of hardware carried out to resolve availability problems with the main processor as well as add a few features/enhancements.
- Shipping of beta boards to hardware testers at the beginning of 2012. Firmware debugging now largely complete.
- ISA-bus expansion option for flea86 - design finalized and ready for final testing.
First off I would like to begin this update, with an apology for the considerable time that has passed since my previous blog posting. All I can say here (and unfortunately for me) is this hobby project has been the least of my problems (though serving as a wonderful escape) during what have otherwise been the worst three years of my life - especially the last year or so..
..and now back to my project! :-) I will now elaborate on the progress highlights given above:
Flea86 hardware redesign:
One of the major problems I had encountered with flea86 after my previous update blog was processor availability - the 64-pin package that I had previously been using had become unavailable around mid-June 2011. There was an 80-pin variant available however, that was (thankfully) no larger physically than it's 64-pin cousin so revising the PCB wasn't a huge problem. Moving to 80-pins also provided an opportunity to add new features that were not possible previously. By late November 2011, a user RAM-Disk, USB slave port (instead of RS-232), faster PC-emulation and improved expandability options were added to flea86.
Also included during this time, was the ability to update the CPU RAM with new firmware from the SD card - opening up the possibility of Flea86 to function as a tiny-MAME console..
Flea86 Beta testing:
Once my overall design was finalized, four flea86 beta-level systems were built and shipped to testers both locally and abroad (in USA and Spain). Thankfully, almost no unforeseen problems were encountered and user feedback overall generally very positive, apart from minor criticisms ranging from incompatibilities with some PS/2 keyboards to slow emulation speeds on newer DOS games that flea86 wasn't specifically designed for anyway.
ISA-bus expansion option for Flea86:
Through the course of 2011, I received numerous requests from prospective users to include some form of 'real-world expandability' to flea86. So after some brainstorming/experimenting I came up with an ISA-bus bridge-board option, for which I posted a Youtube video demo of my ISA bridge-board prototype installed and running on flea86. Whilst it isn't 100% ISA compatible per-se (no DMA, 2-IRQ lines, port i/o accesses only), it is still adequate for many old PC cards. More recently, I finalized the PCB design of my ISA bridge-board as shown in the following image:
Okay, so where to now from here?
In terms of both hardware and software, Flea86 is essentially complete and could be made available for immediate sale in assembled-PCB form. There's still some work left to do however, I need to finish updating the Flea86 user manual and Re-focus efforts at getting my custom flea86 cases built (due to the difficulty in finding a plastics factory that doesn't have a heavy workload but is happy to accept a low initial quantity..).
I think this is a very interesting project and would be willing to spend some money on obtaining a finished product to test it out and give it a review. I do have a lot of older MS-DOS based games and also quite a few older MS-DOS based emulators for various other systems. This little gem of a machine could prove to be a regular chameleon!