MAKERbuino

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R egu­lar read­ers may be able to cast their minds back to Is­sue 134, when I in­ter­viewed Aurélien Rodot about his im­pres­sive Ar­duino-pow­ered Game­buino hand­held gam­ing con­sole, and also demon­strated its el­e­gant sim­plic­ity by build­ing a com­pat­i­ble equiv­a­lent on a bread­board. Well, I wasn’t the only per­son im­pressed by the Game­buino: Al­bert Ga­jšak liked it so much he built his own one too, ex­cept his ver­sion is an im­pres­sively pro­duced sol­der-it-your­self kit that’s re­cently closed a highly suc­cess­ful crowd­fund­ing cam­paign. So suc­cess­ful, he tells me, that his only prob­lem is get­ting the kits to­gether and out of the door to meet de­mand!

First, to al­lay any con­cerns: Ga­jšak’s MAKERbuino is fully en­dorsed by Rodot, who specif­i­cally made the de­sign of the Game­buino and its sup­port­ing soft­ware frame­work open source so that peo­ple could build on the project and cre­ate spin-offs. It also man­ages to im­prove upon the orig­i­nal a few key ar­eas.

A key fea­ture of the MAKERbuino that helps it stand out from its in­spi­ra­tion, aside from be­ing sig­nif­i­cantly larger – a side ef­fect of the switch from tricky-to-sol­der sur­face­mount tech­nol­ogy (SMT) com­po­nents to be­gin­ner-friendly through-hole tech­nol­ogy (THT) parts – is the pres­ence of a 3.5mm jack for a head­phone con­nec­tion, along with a phys­i­cal mute switch that cuts off the rear­fac­ing speaker. Com­bined with a phys­i­cal trim­mer to ad­just the vol­ume level, it’s fair to say that the MAKERbuino’s au­dio chops stand above those of the Game­buino.

Sadly, there’s a loss too: in place of the light-de­pen­dent re­sis­tor (LDR) that con­trols the Game­buino’s dis­play front light is another trim­mer po­ten­tiome­ter.

While this po­ten­tiome­ter al­lows for wel­come man­ual con­trol over the light, it means there’s no LDR to in­te­grate into your games. For ex­am­ple, Con­way’s Game of Life pre­vi­ously used the Game­buino’s LDR to con­trol the repli­ca­tion rate of the cells, slow­ing it down in the dark and speed­ing it up in the light.

That’s not to say there’s no room for adding your own, of course. As well as the two in­ter­in­te­grated cir­cuit (I²C) ports from the orig­i­nal Game­buino de­sign, which can be used to add ex­tra hard­ware to the plat­form or link mul­ti­ple Game­buinos for mul­ti­player fun, there’s room for a break­out at the right-hand side, of­fer­ing ac­cess to power and any in­putout­put (I/O) pins not in use else­where.

You can as­sem­ble the kit your­self, or if you’re not con­fi­dent in your solder­ing skills, you can buy a pre-as­sem­bled ver­sion for a small ad­di­tional fee. If you choose the for­mer, the com­po­nent mark­ings on the silkscreen are de­tailed enough that you could dis­pense with the in­struc­tions and sol­der all the parts your­self in as lit­tle as an hour. Fol­low­ing the build in­struc­tions – which can be vague at times, al­though Ga­jšak and his team are work­ing to im­prove them – and tak­ing your time could stretch that time to five hours.

As an in­tro­duc­tion to solder­ing, all that goes against the MAKERbuino is the sheer num­ber of joints and a tricky sec­tion where you need to bend dis­carded com­po­nent legs to mount a bat­tery-charg­ing daugh­ter­board – I felt like I could have used at least two ex­tra hands in the lat­ter part. Al­though the SD card slot on the rear is sur­face-mounted, it’s large enough that it acts as a great in­tro­duc­tion to SMT solder­ing, and the smaller, more dif­fi­cult pins to the right can be left un­sol­dered with­out harm­ing its abil­i­ties.

In use, the MAKERbuino is ex­actly like the Game­buino – save for hefty clicks from the heavy-duty but­tons. Any soft­ware writ­ten for the Game­buino works fine on the MAKERbuino and vice versa, and it’s even pos­si­ble to link the two de­vices via I²C for mul­ti­player use. The MAKERbuino also in­cludes its pre­de­ces­sor’s best fea­ture: the abil­ity to fill the bun­dled 128MB SD card with games, each of which is no larger than 32KB, and switch be­tween them on-the-fly. In con­trast, the Cre­o­qode’s can only sup­port a sin­gle game at a time.

Bet­ter still, you can ex­pect longer gam­ing ses­sions be­tween charges: the Game­buino’s 300mAh lithium poly­mer bat­tery, which is good for 12-24 hours, has been upped in the MAKERbuino to 600mAh. While the through-hole ATmega328p draws more power than its SMT equiv­a­lent, you can still ex­pect a full 24 hours be­tween charges with the back­light cranked up as far as pos­si­ble. The MAKERbuino is avail­able now from

http://makerbuino.com, priced at €39 as a self-assem­bly kit or €49 fully as­sem­bled (around £35 and £44 re­spec­tively, inc VAT). Ga­jšak and his team have also put to­gether a bun­dle with ad­di­tional com­po­nents, which can be linked to the MAKERbuino through the break­out pins. It’s dubbed the In­ven­tor’s Kit, and it costs €49 or €59 with tools, in­clud­ing a USB-pow­ered solder­ing iron (around £44 and £53 inc VAT re­spec­tively).

In use, the MAKERbuino is ex­actly like the Game­buino – save for hefty clicks from the heavy-duty but­tons

You could be fin­ished in as lit­tle as an hour, if you know what you’re do­ing with a solder­ing iron

The MAKERbuino is pow­ered by a DIP vari­ant of the same ATmega328p mi­cro­con­troller as the Game­buino

Yes, this is me pre­tend­ing to sol­der the SD card socket with­out any sol­der

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