Now Reading
Classes Discovered by a Software program Man Venturing into {Hardware} – SidecarT – Atari ST/STE/Mega cartridge emulator on Raspberry Pi Pico steroids

Classes Discovered by a Software program Man Venturing into {Hardware} – SidecarT – Atari ST/STE/Mega cartridge emulator on Raspberry Pi Pico steroids

2023-11-10 02:30:18

I’ve been within the software program sport for nearly 30 years professionally, with one other 10 dabbling in programming. I’m a type of who suppose anybody can code, however making a software program product is a feat few can obtain. It would sound a bit conceited, however I understand how to make and promote software program merchandise. Nevertheless, {hardware} was a completely new world for me. I discovered it to be an unforgiving, harsh, advanced terrain… but extremely rewarding. Be a part of me on this publish as I share my journey in growing the SidecarT. Honest warning: a few of my views would possibly fire up controversy, however you’ll certainly stroll away with precious (or debatable, relying on the way you have a look at it) classes.

What’s SidecarT?

SidecarT is a ROM cartridge emulator for the Atari ST, STE, and Mega sequence, powered by the Raspberry Pi Pico’s RP2040 microcontroller. It helps the emulation of 64Kbyte and 128Kbyte ROMs, facilitates real-time interplay with the cartridge bus, and might emulate numerous gadgets, together with arduous and floppy disks. The open-source, customizable structure of SidecarT encourages technological experimentation.


Basically, SidecarT integrates {hardware} to allow seamless communication between the RP2040 microcontroller and an Atari ST. All this magic (or, reasonably, engineering) is pushed by refined coding. To get a fuller understanding of the design, I like to recommend studying the previous articles on our blog.

First and Most Necessary Lesson: If You’re Right here for the Cash, You’re within the Fallacious Place

Skilled {hardware} design is a Herculean job, accessible to just a few. The first motive is the important significance of economies of scale on this discipline. In software program, the size drawback has largely disappeared, because of the top of bodily distribution and the appearance of cloud computing. Nevertheless, in {hardware}, this problem persists. Instruments have improved tremendously (extra on this later), however manufacturing and logistics stay basic. Tony Fadell’s book “Build” – one of many fathers of the iPod and Nest – presents glorious insights into this side (Clearly, in case you are the subsequent Tony Fadell, sure, certainly, you might be in the correct place!).

Tony Fadell's "Build"

However what I’m speaking about right here is one thing totally different; it’s about being a “Maker.” It’s about making a facet mission for a selected person phase, like retro computing lovers, in a tiny market, possibly just some hundred customers. So the motivation can’t be cash. It ought to be about having enjoyable, studying, assembly fascinating folks, and contributing to communities. And if you happen to make some cash alongside the best way to purchase extra outdated devices, then that’s improbable.

Be Ready to Lose All Your Cash

In case you’re planning to design a {hardware} product, be prepared to take a position a major amount of cash in your lab. You’ll want numerous instruments, from a high quality soldering iron to an oscilloscope. Count on to make some errors in buying supplies. And importantly, contemplate the house wanted to retailer every thing correctly. How a lot must you put money into your lab? Roughly what you’d spend on a really high-end laptop for software program growth. The cash spent on the lab is a long-term funding if you happen to plan on future tasks. However if you happen to’re simply experimenting and prone to promote the gear on eBay sooner reasonably than later, spend properly.

One other essential side is the price of producing prototypes. Prototypes are investments; whether or not they succeed or fail, they assist you construct higher closing merchandise. Nevertheless, if you happen to’re investing in producing the ultimate product with irreparable flaws, it may be disastrous. If these important flaws emerge after the product reaches your clients, forcing refunds or replacements, the scenario turns catastrophic.

In case you can’t afford to lose all of it, don’t promote your product to anybody. Some do after which abandon their clients. That’s towards my ethics.

Examine Arduous and Ask Questions

Any software program developer with time and dedication can enterprise into {hardware} growth… in the event that they research A LOT. There’s ample content material on-line to study the fundamentals of {hardware} design. My background in Pc Science, which included fundamentals of computing, laid the groundwork for diving into matters like how stage shifters work between 5-volt TTL and three.3-volt CMOS architectures.

Asking an knowledgeable and getting defined is invaluable, however what I discovered significantly disheartening is the remedy of ‘noobs’ in newbie electronics boards. Being insulted when asking questions isn’t nice. I believed ego points had been distinctive to software program growth communities, however they weren’t. If it is advisable to ask questions on the boards and also you’re studying, you higher have powerful pores and skin.

Prototype, Prototype, and Prototype Once more

A software program developer builds a prototype of their product each time they compile. A {hardware} developer would possibly take weeks (or months) to have a useful prototype. In software program, we’ve diminished the significance of the prototype to the purpose of not utilizing the time period until it’s for demonstrations to purchasers or customers. In {hardware}, the prototype is every thing.

It’s essential to grasp what we purpose to realize with a prototype and to simply accept that we should make investments vital time and money (however aren’t they the identical factor?) till we attain a totally useful one. An early-stage prototype solely must exhibit that an thought is possible, whereas one other is likely to be targeted -for instance- on whether or not the product will be manufactured in 4 layers.


An preliminary part prototype might be constructed on a breadboard or a check copper board. In distinction, a closing stage prototype is probably going manufactured by a specialised firm utilizing our designs in normal codecs (extra on this later).


I counsel that you simply prototype as a lot as your finances and time permit. And within the closing prototypes, purpose the design in the direction of the ultimate manufacturing. If we will repurpose the design of a closing prototype as the ultimate product, let’s do it.

If It Can Be Accomplished with Code, Don’t Do It with {Hardware}

A more in-depth have a look at the SidecarT reveals that its mainboard is a bridge between totally different bodily realms: TTL and CMOS, 5 volts and three.3 volts, tackle/information buses and GPIOs, microSD card and floppies/arduous disks/ROMs… It’s this interplay with the bodily world that the SidecarT handles moderately effectively. In developer phrases, there’s no ‘enterprise logic’ within the mainboard.

All of the ‘enterprise logic’ is managed by the RP2040 microcontroller with the code I’ve written. The ROM emulation is only a code-driven functionality, to the extent that emulating ROMs for different retro computer systems is feasible by merely modifying the SidecarT mainboard to suit the bodily actuality of those computer systems.

From the beginning, I noticed that implementing any logic on the hardware-electronics stage might be extremely environment friendly however much less versatile. Thus, I set a rule to keep away from any logical capabilities on the SidecarT’s mainboard in any respect prices. This isn’t reinventing the wheel; it’s been a pure development in {hardware} growth for a number of years.

For the primary prototype’s design and manufacture, I used your entire suite of providers and instruments from JLCPCB. Although I’m exploring different instruments and producers now, it’s an important place to begin.

JLCPCB has a partnership with EasyEDA (or are they the identical firm?) and permits any design created with EasyEDA to be straight fabricated by JLCPCB. EasyEDA is a web-based platform for PCB design and circuit simulation. It integrates with the part library of the wholesaler

In keeping with the sooner level about finding out, it’s price emphasizing that mastering these instruments will simplify your course of. Over time, I’ve realized methods I want I had recognized earlier, like:

  • If not sure, seek the advice of EasyEDA’s boards or contact their assist. They’re useful.
  • Favor utilizing ‘Primary elements’ over ‘Prolonged elements’ for cost-effectiveness in manufacturing.
  • Make the most of the built-in simulator to keep away from issues.
  • Remember that through-hole elements incur extra prices if machine-soldered. Resolve whether or not to make use of SMT elements or solder them your self.
  • For PCB design, think about using a routing instrument aside from EasyEDA’s default. I exploit FreeRouting.
  • Select elements with excessive inventory ranges. If you need to use a component with low inventory, you may not be capable of manufacture your board, and chances are you’ll have to substitute it with an equal half. Or worse, you might need to revamp your circuit.

Manufacturing Isn’t That Tough

Although I’ve no promotional cope with JLCPCB, my expertise with them has been constructive, as they made all SidecarT boards. The automation stage of their processes is impressively excessive. These days, you may rapidly obtain a batch of assembled PCBs prepared to be used in days, a major leap from my expertise with IoT system manufacturing about 20 years in the past. I felt like utilizing Amazon Internet Companies for the primary time in 2006!


To fabricate a design, you want the Gerber file (the usual for PCB designs), BOM (Invoice of Supplies), and CPL (Element Placement Checklist). Importing the Gerber file auto-adjusts most parameters, however as a newbie, there have been issues I wanted I knew:

  • Completely different PCB colours have various prices. The most cost effective is probably the most generally used of their present manufacturing.
  • All the time examine “Verify Manufacturing File” to keep away from points.
  • All the time examine “Flying Probe Take a look at” for prototypes; it is likely to be pointless for mass manufacturing.
  • The Financial PCBA end feels extra ‘plastic’ than the Commonplace.
  • All the time go for Verify Components Placement.
  • With Financial PCBA, boards are all the time depanelized. With Commonplace, you’ll have to depanelize your self or pay additional.
  • Don’t neglect to use low cost coupons!

When assembling elements, chances are you’ll face delays if some are unavailable. My recommendation is to both change the lacking elements with an equal straight on the display, guaranteeing they’re genuinely equal and have the identical footprint, or to buy elements upfront utilizing JLCPCB’s Components Supervisor service, which shops them for you till wanted.

Lastly, selecting the best logistics firm, transport sort, and dealing with customs fees is essential. JLCPCB presents a number of logistics corporations with two choices for customs:

  1. Supply Responsibility Paid (DDP): JLCPCB handles all VAT, duties, and customs clearance, charging you on the bill.
  2. Carriage Paid To (CPT): JLCPCB covers transport prices to the client, however you’re liable for customs duties and taxes.

I’m nonetheless determining the best choice, however FedEx mixed with CPT appears extra economical for me.

One factor I observed is that JLCPCB usually overestimates the burden and required transport house, doubtlessly as a standardized method or an extra revenue margin. Who is aware of.

Calculating Unit Value Is Extra Complicated Than It Appears

Calculating the unit value of every SidecarT is extra intricate than initially anticipated, particularly if this mission had been a severe enterprise enterprise. In such a case, factoring in my time spent on the mission would make the price of SidecarT remarkably excessive, requiring the sale of many items to realize an inexpensive worth.

The price per SidecarT unit is influenced by the choice to exclude my labor value. Contemplating this, the price breakdown consists of:

  • Laboratory bills
  • Varied Atari ST check gear
  • Manufacturing prices (each profitable and failed prototypes)
  • Manufacturing of ultimate gadgets
  • Broken gadgets (minor however not lined by JLCPCB)
  • Items given totally free to Beta Testers
  • Items given totally free to key group members
  • Returns (Proper of Withdrawal)
  • Padded envelopes for transport
  • Antistatic baggage
  • Card with QR code linking to the Quickstart
  • Sticker transport labels
  • Primary Shopify plan
  • Stripe and PayPal gross sales commissions
  • Internet hosting floppy disk pictures on AWS S3 (minor, however a price)
  • Administrative charges for my firm administration (additionally minor).

Delivery prices are totally borne by the shopper and, therefore, not included within the unit value.

Initially, I thought of promoting SidecarT personally, however the rising waitlist made me resolve to promote by my firm beneath the EU Shopper Safety Regulation, which is best for everybody.

See Also

Readers will discover that this listing mixes components with various amortization intervals: laboratory and check gear (years), subscription plans (30 days), and stock-dependent objects like SidecarT playing cards, envelopes, and baggage. My objective isn’t to draft a marketing strategy for SidecarT’s profitability however to gauge if this enterprise is economically possible or not. This steerage is geared toward hobbyists and Makers, not these planning to fabricate {hardware} professionally.

Pricing is Arduous, Take care of It

One immutable fact about pricing any product is that nobody is aware of exactly what the correct worth is. There are numerous methods for calculating a worth and several other fundamental guidelines to observe. There are primarily two fundamental methods for pricing a product:

  1. High-Down: You have a look at the market, evaluate it with comparable merchandise, and set a worth you suppose is suitable and that individuals can pay for. Sure, that is akin to guessing the value.
  2. Backside-Up: On this mannequin, you calculate your prices per unit and apply the gross margin determine you want to obtain. This basic mannequin theoretically ensures revenue. It’s a favourite amongst Excel lovers, nevertheless it actually doesn’t guarantee the value will likely be market-competitive.

These guidelines work nice for a startup aiming for tens of 1000’s of customers however are unrealistic for Makers. In case you’re out there of some hundred gadgets, search for one other system just like yours and duplicate its worth. That’s a High-Down technique. In case your product is novel and thrilling, add an inexpensive premium to the value and go together with it.

For SidecarT, I assumed the value ought to be in step with different microcontroller-based merchandise for Atari ST with comparable performance. Regardless of SidecarT being successfully a coprocessor, it couldn’t compete with {hardware} acceleration options priced 5 instances larger. SidecarT’s largest drawback isn’t the value however figuring out which market phase it ought to compete in. And truthfully, I’m undecided if I’ve bought it proper. As I mentioned: “Pricing is difficult. Take care of it.”

Logistics Issues

In case you instantly have to ship 100 packages worldwide, you understand you’ve got a logistical drawback and that your selections ought to purpose to attenuate the time spent on this job. Listed below are some selections I’ve made to attempt to reduce and optimize this burden:

  1. Search to Scale back Delivery Prices as A lot as Attainable: A excessive transport value deters gross sales, whereas an inexpensive transport value is impartial, not influencing the choice. In my case, I aimed for all shipments to be beneath 100 grams, permitting me to ship them as registered mail with monitoring at a worth beneath €10 all the time.
  2. Automate Knowledge Loading and Label Printing with Postal Service Instruments: For sure, this protects an infinite period of time.
  3. Selecting Shopify for Its Logistic Administration Help: One more reason I selected Shopify is as a result of it aids on this administration. One other issue was Tindie – a market supposedly specialised in promoting homebrew {hardware} – who didn’t pay any consideration to me. So, I explored different potentialities and located that utilizing Shopify’s fundamental plan was a lot better and cheaper. Thanks for giving me time to suppose, Tindie!

As a homebrew maker venturing into manufacturing and promoting merchandise, it’s necessary to navigate the authorized panorama successfully, even on a smaller scale. Listed below are the important thing authorized factors tailor-made to your scenario within the European Union:

  1. Mental Property Rights: Not my case, but when your creation is exclusive, contemplate making use of for a patent to guard it. For branding functions, emblems can safeguard your product identify or emblem. Whereas this may appear overwhelming for a small-scale maker, it’s price contemplating in case your product good points recognition.

  2. Shopper Safety Legal guidelines: Perceive the fundamentals of client rights in your nation. This consists of having clear return insurance policies and adhering to high quality requirements. Being clear together with your clients about what they will anticipate out of your product helps construct belief and credibility. And don’t neglect so as to add to your prices the Proper of Withdrawal.

  3. Knowledge Privateness: In case you’re promoting on-line and accumulating buyer information, concentrate on privateness legal guidelines. You don’t want a posh coverage, however you need to be clear about what information you gather and the way you employ it, particularly if promoting to clients in areas with strict privateness legal guidelines just like the EU.

  4. Enterprise Registration: Relying on the size of your operations, contemplate if it is advisable to register as a enterprise.
  5. Tax Obligations: Be aware of your tax tasks, particularly if you happen to stay in an aggressive tax nation and never business-friendly like Spain.

  6. Product Security and Legal responsibility: Guarantee your product is secure to make use of. Whilst a small-scale maker, you could possibly be held chargeable for damages attributable to your product.

  7. Delivery and Export Controls: Familiarize your self with transport laws, particularly if sending merchandise internationally. This consists of understanding postal guidelines and potential customs points.

  8. Phrases of Sale: Talk the phrases of sale to your clients. This could embody fee phrases, supply timelines, and guarantee circumstances, if relevant.

Please tackle these authorized features, not less than at a fundamental stage.

Let’s Wrap Up

Reflecting on growing the SidecarT and different tasks, I understand this journey is about far more than manufacturing or logistics. It encompasses a holistic method to homebrew {hardware} creation. Right here’s a extra complete wrap-up:

Embrace Studying and Curiosity

  • Examine Arduous, Ask Questions: The journey is a steady studying course of. By no means hesitate to deepen your data and search recommendation from the group.

The Significance of Prototyping

  • Prototype, Prototype, Prototype: Iterative prototyping is essential. Every model teaches one thing new, serving to refine your product.

Software program vs. {Hardware}

  • If It Can Be Accomplished with Code, Don’t Do It with {Hardware}: Optimize your design by leveraging software program options the place attainable. It might probably save time, scale back prices, and simplify the product.

The Position of Design Instruments

  • {Hardware} Design Instruments Are Your Pals: Make the most of design instruments successfully. They will streamline your design course of and assist keep away from pricey errors.

Manufacturing Insights

  • Environment friendly Manufacturing Companions: JLCPCB has been a dependable accomplice, providing automated and environment friendly providers.
  • Design Necessities and Challenges: Put together for design and part choice intricacies.

Costing and Pricing

  • Complexity in Calculating Prices: Embrace numerous components, from gear to administrative bills.
  • Pricing Methods: Undertake a top-down method, aligning with market costs and including worth the place distinctive.

Logistics, Legalities, and Distribution

  • Streamlining Logistics: Use instruments and platforms like Shopify for environment friendly distribution.
  • Authorized Issues: Think about authorized features like mental property, client legal guidelines, and security laws.

In a nutshell, this maker journey has been an unimaginable mixture of dedication, studying curves, good planning, and rolling with the punches. From the deep dive into {hardware} specifics to navigating the authorized and market maze, it’s been a journey full of classes. Hey, whether or not you’re simply beginning out or a veteran within the homebrew {hardware} world, take each problem as an opportunity to stage up. Every prototype will get you one step nearer to nailing it. So preserve that curiosity alive, continue to learn, and most of all, benefit from the journey!

Source Link

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure
View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

2022 Blinking Robots.
WordPress by Doejo

Scroll To Top