A new way to connect USB peripherals such as keyboards, mice or even gamepads has arrived with the USB4VC – USB for Vintage Computers. Developed by dekuNukem, it uses a custom board setup together with a Raspberry Pi to deliver an interface for your modern peripherals to connect to your old computers. If you want to use your USB mechanical keyboard, wireless mouse or Bluetooth gamepad with an older computer this may be the solution you’ve been waiting for.
Based on a modular, open sourced, design that allows for changing out which connections are available the project has at this time 2 available options, or protocol cards. One is an IBM PC compatible card which should work with any of your old PCs that use either PS/2, serial or the 15 pin gameport interfaces. The second is an ADB compatible card which is a standard used by many of your vintage Apple machines before they switched over to using USB. There are future plans to support other platforms such as the original Macintosh or even Amiga!
The USB4VC consists of the baseboard and the protocol card of your choice, and you will have to provide the Raspberry Pi (and SD card) yourself. Splitting up the design in this fashion allows flexibility for future expansion, as well as low overall latency. Fortunately when it comes to the versions of Pi supported just about any of them will work, even all the way back to the original model. That is definitely welcome to hear considering the current challenges of sourcing a new one, and chances are you have an old Pi kicking around in a drawer that’ll work for this setup. Note that the wires required to actually connect to your computer are either an added extra or you can provide them yourself. The USB4VC arrives as a kit you will have to assemble yourself, however no soldering should be required.
So what are the main benefits here? Well I will say as an avid retro PC user myself, the ability to connect a USB Bluetooth dongle and use a modern gamepad or wireless keyboard is very appealing. While this doesn’t invalidate or remove the option of using original hardware, it’s not always practical (or affordable) to do so. This project allows you to use any modern input device you already have with a wide range of retro computers. How about using a Nintendo Switch Pro controller on your 486? Sure thing and you won’t need to install any software on the PC itself, which I consider a big plus. The configuration of things like the input method can be changed on the fly using a small OLED screen and set of buttons present on the baseboard.
Overall this seems like a very welcome option to use modern input devices with your retro computers. There is a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the project with estimated deliveries starting in April 2022.