HackerBox 61 unboxing, assembly, and testing

HackerBox logo on PCB

A few days ago, I received HackerBox 61 in my mailbox. This is a subscription I tried out a while back. But due to how busy life was, I never actually did anything with the kits I received. Even worse, those kits were lost in a move. I think I picked a good time to restart this subscription. HackerBox 61 is a pretty cool kit.

What’s in the box?

When opening the box, it becomes quite evident that something gaming related is included. The first thing to be seen is the good old familiar SNES controller.

Am I the only one to remember the term SNES hard?

Below is a look at everything taken out of the box. The star of this show is the chip that can be seen in the plastic container. That is a Parallax Propeller Chip P8X32A-D40 DIP 40. I’ve wanted to play with a Propeller for some time. I think using an eight-core MCU for robotics would be perfect. This will give me a chance to play with the chip and see what I can do.

HackerBox 61 unpacked.

The other cool thing in this particular HackerBox is the USB Audio/Video capture device. Having a way to put AV signals directly to the computer through USB is just handy as heck. Even when/if I’m done playing with the propeller kit, I will have a handy capture device available for other projects.

Getting it all assembled

I won’t go through the steps of soldering everything to the PCB. HackerBox already has that covered with their great instructable. One of the optional steps was to take the six right-angle pins off the FT232 module. I decided not to take that off. I also chose to leave the insulators on the headers when soldering the FT232 module to the PCB. I didn’t see a reason to do that modification.

Below is a look at the board with everything soldered on. Now that I look at the picture, I can see the flux that I forgot to clean off the board.

HackerBox 61 Propeller PCB with all the soldering done.

One unusual thing about this particular board is that it has two PS/2 ports for the keyboard and mouse. I might have to find some of my old hardware in the storage shed to take advantage of those ports. Outside of dealing with KVMs in servers, I haven’t used a PS/2 keyboard or mouse in years.

Hooking it up and a blink

There are only three cables to hook up, so it isn’t rocket science. The mini-USB connection goes to the computer. The AV out goes to the USB audio/video capture device, which is hooked up to the computer via USB. And the SNES controller obviously goes to the SNES port.

After downloading the Propeller Tool, I tried to run the blink code provided. It wouldn’t run. It gave an error saying the chip could not be found. I had already verified the Propeller Tool could see the propeller chip. After a bit of playing around, I did get it going, however. Apparently, the Propeller IDE won’t compile and upload to the board unless the code is saved on the local computer. I saved the code as blink and was immediately able to upload the code.

Blink! The Hello World of microcontrollers.

Getting the video going

The video was easy to get going. I simply opened the camera app in Windows 10. Then I chose to change the camera using the flip button on the upper-right side of the window.

Getting the audio going was a different manner. To get that going, I had to do the following:

  • Open Sound Settings
  • In the Input section, choose “Microphone (USB2.0 MIC)” as the input device
  • Go into device properties
  • Go into additional device properties
  • Go to the listen tab
  • put a check in listen to this device

That might not seem like it’s hard to do. But I could have sworn the input section of sound had an option to do all that. Maybe I’m thinking of a previous version of Windows.

I then started to run various sample programs from the HYDRA CD-ROM download. The link for it is provided in the instructable. The first sample I ran is an app called gamepad_demo_011. I did this one to make sure the gamepad and video are both working correctly. The app doesn’t test all the buttons. It only seems to test the controls that also existed on the original NES controller. That means the X, A, L, and R buttons cannot be tested.

Luckily I was both able to see the video feed, and the buttons worked. That was a huge relief. When I do that much soldering, I always wonder if I missed a connection or have a cold solder joint.

Testing the SNES controller. I tested both gamepad ports to ensure no soldering issues could be found.

I then ran the code for FROGGER_DEMO_030 to test the video, audio, and gamepad. The game worked perfectly (even if my skill at the game isn’t perfect…)

Going back to my childhood with Frogger.

Printing out a base for the board

While playing with the sample code, I had a base for the board printing out on one of my 3D printers. Originally I had started to create a cool two-part case in Fusion360. I had all the dimensions measured, including the spacing for all cabling ports. But when I was partway through sketching the case in Fusion360, I realized I really didn’t want a case. This is a development board. I want access to the reset button and LED in the middle of the board. Plus, the board looks pretty darn cool, and I don’t want to hide it.

So, I scaled back my plans and created a base in Fusion360. The board sits in the base, and there is a void below the base to leave room for the SMDs and leads soldered underneath. Real black PLA from 3D Solutech is the filament I used for the print.

After printing the base, I used very thick double-sided tape to secure the PCB into the base. If I ever reprint the base, I will make the design a little tighter, so the tape isn’t necessary. I then put the rubber feet meant for the board and placed them under the base. I like how this turned out. The base doesn’t take away from the cool look of the board. I have to admit that I really like the look of open circuitry.

HackerBox 61 hardware fully assembled.

What’s next?

Now I am reading through the Propeller Manual and the books listed in the instructable. In my free time, I plan to learn how to program the board and play around with it more. That should give me a good idea of how actually to program the board in a useful manner. Hopefully, I will also get some inspiration on how to use this MCU in a robotics project.

Song of the day: Beany Copter Toy Hat

Today’s song is more of a jingle. Vintage commercials are great. I don’t think I need to explain how this song of the day ties into the Propeller MCU…

Bonus song: Surrender

Ok, this one doesn’t have a propeller hat. But for some reason, I remember Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen wearing a beanie in a music video; instead of his usual flip-brimmed baseball cap. Maybe I remember wrong since I can’t find that video. But here is an excellent song from Cheap Trick anyhow.

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