In the late 1970s, RCA introduced the two-chip CDP1801 and later the single-chip CDP1802 family of microprocessors. Today they are known as the RCA 1802. These series of products were the first commercially available microcontrollers using CMOS technology. At the time, computer enthusiasts were building kits known as COSMAC Elf. Daniel Ross made one at the time. Over 40 years later, it continues to add new hardware and features to the NVictria, a steampunk-inspired COSMAC Elf-VIP.
Original presentation of the COSMAC Elves and VIPs
The COSMAC Elf was a computer kit with an RCA 1802 microprocessor. Users entered programs with toggle switches instead of saving data to ROM.
Later came the VIP COSMAC, which took Elf barebones and a few luxuries like a video display chip. This computer included 2048 bytes of RAM, which users could expand to 32 kilobytes. A cassette tape interface provided an improved means of loading programs into RAM, over the archaic (even for the time) manual method of COSMAC Elf. Additionally, the VIP included a 512-byte operating system in its ROM.
Interestingly, the COSMAC VIP included 20 games programmed with a first interpreted language called CHIP-8. The user had to hand-enter (and then tape) these “pack-in” games.
“…I started building a Steampunk themed COSMAC computer. I wanted lots of lights, movement, brass, bling and more bling.” —Daniel Ross
NVictria PCB stack (📷: Daniel Ross)
NVictria has a sizable main cabinet with the RCA 1802 (CPU), memory, display logic, I/O ports and power boards. Additionally, the CPU has 7-segment VFDs for the display and some switches for the input. At the top are LED “test tubes” that display memory addresses and data.
An RCA CDP1861 graphics chip manages 64 x 128 pixels on two flat CRTs. Both display the same image and are similar to the screens used in Sony’s Watchman portable TV.
Almost 40 years later, the latest addition to the NVictria is a ticker. Ross used a 1900-era Remington No. 7 mechanical typewriter combined with a slightly more modern Sharp PA-3000 electronic typewriter. The PA-3000’s daisy-chain printhead acts as a TTY output device.
Finally, there’s even a dual-chip SPEECH unit.