When someone wants to get into retro computing, they usually have two options: find and buy original hardware or emulate vintage systems on a modern computer. The software to perform the latter is often open source and free, but does not provide the full experience. Vintage hardware is hard to find, often expensive, and tends to be delicate and prone to failure. To get the best of both worlds, you might want to consider building T-COMPUTER by Jean-Marc Harvengt.
The T-COMPUTER is a physical device intended to make the most of the M.CU.ME (Multi Computer Machine Emulator). This project enables microcontroller-based emulation of many old computers and video game consoles, most of which are 8-bit models from the late 70s and early 80s. Supported systems include the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Apple II, MSX, Amiga, Colecovision, Nintendo NES, Vectrex, Sega Game Gear and many more. T-COMPUTER lets you emulate these systems on a dedicated device closer to the original hardware, so the experience is more authentic.
The design of the T-COMPUTER resembles a TRS-80 Model 100, as it has an integrated keyboard that sits in front of a small screen. But while the 100 model had an 8×40 character monochrome LCD screen, T-COMPUTER has a 320 x 240 pixel TFT LCD screen that can accurately handle the video output of emulated systems. Video can also output via VGA if you want to connect T-COMPUTER to a monitor. It has a 42-key keyboard, which includes a D-pad and three action buttons. It has a 16-bit stereo DAC (digital-to-analog converter) audio output, an SD card slot, the ability to act as a USB host for keyboards and mice, and a handful of GPIO pins. .
The brain of the device is a Teensy 4.1 microcontroller development board, which is quite powerful. M.CU.ME works with other development boards (system support varies), but Harvengt chose Teensy 4.1 for the T-COMPUTER because it works with all systems. Power can come from a Micro USB power supply or a 1000mAh LiPo battery. Most of the parts needed to build a T-COMPUTER are commercially available, but this requires a custom PCB and 3d printed keycaps for momentary tactile pushbuttons.
Using T-COMPUTER isn’t quite the same as working with stock hardware, but it’s much closer than running an emulator on a modern computer and more affordable than hardware vintage.