Suggestions for hacking this cool little black box?
August 22, 2007 12:20 AM   Subscribe

What neat electronic project can I build out of this old USRobotics Courier modem?

So I inherited from my IT department this sexy 1980s USRobotics Courier modem much like one of these.

It has a black plastic case with a row of blood red LEDs. I have the power adapter (it turns on and lights up) and an old serial cable. I haven't connected it to anything to test it out, and I'm certainly not interested in using it as an actual modem...

I've always lusted after these old USR modems - they kind of have this Darth Vader look about them. Back in the BBS days these were Lamborghini Countach of modems...

I'm just looking for the seed of an idea for hacking this thing into something useful/interesting. I'm handy with a soldering iron and knowledgeable enough in building electronic gizmos.

I'd like to leave it as stock as possible and perhaps utilize the LEDs.

No, I haven't cracked it open to take a look inside, I'm not sure how everything is attached.

An immediate idea that jumps to mind is some how gutting it and replacing it with board that would measure network throughput and display load via the cool red LEDs... or something like that. Or maybe it could display sound card volume? Or the LEDs could be used as a cpu temp indicator?

Thanks for any ideas or thoughts or even ruminations about these handsome old modems...
posted by wfrgms to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Put a ATA=>USB adaptor and hard drive in it (a 2.5" laptop drive if a 3.5" is too bulky), then wire the ATA activity line (that normally drives the blinky HDD LED) as the clock signal to a Knight-rider/Cylon style back&forth scanning circuit to drive all those red LEDs.
Basically make a niiice USB drive.

(Tip: I saw an online write-up from a case modder who did something similar, and who found that the LEDs scanned back and forth so fast they looked like they're all on, and so needed to put in a divider circuit on the clock input so that for every, say, 32 pulses from the ATA, only one pulse is sent to the clock input of the scanner to increment it).
posted by -harlequin- at 1:22 AM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Alternatively, update it - make it into the modern equivalent of itself: Grab a wireless router, and transplant the guts into the modem. Ie casemodded wireless station.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:27 AM on August 22, 2007

Do you play the guitar? Some distortion pedal circuits can use LEDs.
posted by equalpants at 1:28 AM on August 22, 2007

The line of LEDs would be great as a VU meter, load meter, or something else where they're treated as a continuous indicator. For stereo, start with the middle two LEDs as low, and let them extend out to either side as the volume in each channel increases.

I agree with -harlequin-, putting a hard drive inside the box would be a fine use of the space. You could also graft a USB hub into the backside, or a port replicator, or whatever feels appropriate. All of the above!
posted by Myself at 2:33 AM on August 22, 2007

i am with -harlequin- use a newish wireless router and the leds on the front to indicate activity. doesn't seem like it would be to difficult
posted by DJWeezy at 7:36 AM on August 22, 2007

There are also various circuits that use the audio isolation transformer salvaged from a modem as the step-up transformer to generate the 500 to 900 volts needed to power a geiger muller tube.

That way, it would still be based on some of the original componentry, and could sit there clicking and blinking ominously as it registers typical background radioactivity.

Caution: If you build it into a geiger counter, you will be unable - UNABLE - to stop yourself from finding or purchasing something radioactive with which to play with. If you do not like the idea of deliberately purchasing radioactive things, do not build a Geiger counter. :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 9:46 AM on August 22, 2007

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