Building a Fignition computer

A fully built Fignition Rev D PCB

From the main Fignition website

FIGnition is a £20 educational DIY computer which works like an 8-bit home Micro: outputting to composite video and ready to be interactively programmed from the moment you switch it on. It has 8Kb of RAM; 384Kb of storage; an 8-key keypad and runs a variant of FIG-Forth. It uses USB for power; firmware upgrades and program downloads.

So for £20 I could buy a mini electronics project to build over the Christmas holidays that, instead of doing some slightly boring LED flashing would give me some sort of functioning computer? Well that sounded like a great idea!

The Fignition website has detailed instructions on how to build, how to program and how to buy one, so instead of recreating that information here are some photos and comments about my build process.

Being a totally through-hole design assembly is very easy for anyone with moderately competent soldering skills. If you follow the instructions and have breaks when suggested the whole build goes smoothly with no mistakes. Then all you need is a TV that accepts composite input, and a spare USB power source. Plug them all together, it turns on and is instantly ready for use – just like 8bit micros used to be.

The keyboard input is kind of fiddly to use, but it’s not too cumbersome if you have a printout of the various key chords required. It runs Forth which is a language I’ve never programmed in before, so since there appears to be a lack of software for the Fignition I might have a go at converting some simple 8Bit micro BASIC “games” into Forth and running them on the machine. It’s based on an era where “High resolution graphics” means you can address pixels on the screen rather than character squares so some ZX81 style BASIC might translate well.

If you’re curious, or want some sort of electronics project to have a go with, you won’t go wrong with a Fignition. It’s somehow more interesting than plugging bits of Arduino together, I think this is because it becomes totally self contained and outputs an image on a TV set. Once built and the firmware updated the only connections required are power and a TV.

About James

If this were the 80s I'd be sat in front of a C64 or Speccy, or taking VCRs apart.