Upgrading or building a PC from scratch was certainly an adventure before the days of plug and play. Now I’m not saying you needed a soldering gun to upgrade your video card, although I did know plenty of people who would break one out at the drop of a hat (or screw), even if it wasn’t strictly necessary.
Still, there was plenty of blood, sweat, and yes, sometimes even tears if you wanted to install a new hard drive (go MFM!), memory, and in later years, a sound card paired with a 2x CD-ROM. Manually setting DMAs and IRQs was routine, and the same could be said for endlessly tweaking other BIOS settings. Make no mistake, building or upgrading a PC back in those days was somewhat time consuming, taking hours and sometimes days, especially if the new hardware was faulty or didn’t play nice with your older (or legacy) components.
Fast forward to 2013. I’m writing this article on a laptop which took all of 5 minutes to configure. Am I nostalgic for the old days? Why yes, yes, I am. And I say this without any hesitation whatsoever, even though there were many days when I pulled my hair out back in the 90’s because I couldn’t get the darn PC to work right.
I was just a young kid then, wanting to play the latest titles like Sim City, Monkey Island and Starflight II, so any delay in getting things up and running meant less gaming time, something I was desperate to avoid, even though I was playing on a massive VGA monitor that probably consumed as much power as the WOPR.
Despite all the rather obvious shortcomings of a time before plug and play, I really enjoyed building something from scratch, as well as working with both hardware and software on a more visceral level. Sound familiar? Well, it should, because that is exactly what today’s growing Maker Movement is all about – getting back to basics with electronic DIY components like Arduino boards which are powered by Atmel microcontrollers.
While it is practically impossible to list all the devices showcased at the recent Bay Area Maker Faire with Atmel silicon under the hood, a quick glance at the exhibitor list reveals a plethora of projects powered by our microcontrollers, including drones, electric vehicles, numerous robots and even mini space satellites.
On display at the Atmel booth was the Maker Bot 3D printer, the Puzzlebox Orbit, Marshmallow Crossbow, Hexbugs and Faraday bike – all fitted with Atmel MCUs. There are also a number of noteworthy Atmel-based hacks and mods we’ve highlighted on both the hardware and software side in recent weeks on Bits and Pieces, including the ShuttAVR, KLBasic, running a GUI window manager on the ATMega1284p microcontroller, the Uzebox and lots more.
So yes, I think it is pretty safe to say that the DIY Maker movement has come full circle in recent years and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon – as technology becomes more and more accessible for the masses. We at Atmel are proud to be at the forefront of such a democratizing movement that will undoubtedly help shape the next generation of engineers, hackers, modders and do-it-yourselfers.