Tom Nardi’s reComputer 1000 Upcycles an Old VTech Toy Into a Robust, Portable Retro Cyberdeck

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Maker Tom Nardi has taken a children’s toy from the late 1980s and turned it into a flagship portable computer for a fictional past, complete with grab-handle and mechanical keyboard: the reComputer 1000.

“Based on a VTech PreComputer 1000 toy from 1988, the reComputer is meant to be a mobile computer from a version of the 1980s that never was,” Nardi explains. “It’s got a handle for portability, a mechanical keyboard, and cartridges for expansion. The secondary OLED display can be used to show system stats and other ancillary information, while the square lighted push-buttons give you complete control over the hardware. There’s even an LED notifier on the back of the lid that can be easily controlled via software.”

The reComputer 1000 houses modern technology in the chassis of a kids’ toy from the 1980s, to great effect. (📹: Tom Nardi)

Not much of the original VTech PreComputer 1000, a typing tutor aimed at introducing children to basic computing concepts, remains in the reComputer. The original motherboard and membrane keyboard have gone, replaced with a mechanical keyboard, while an angle panel holds a secondary OLED display driven by an Arduino. When not in use, this is covered by a fold-down 7″ in-plane switching (IPS) full-color display panel, which links to a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B single-board computer via HDMI.

Perhaps the most interesting feature on the board is a functional cartridge slot, located to the left-hand side. It’s based on Nardi’s earlier retroCART project, which turns 3D-printed cartridges into hot-swap devices via a USB docking system. “[They] let you relive the glory days of computing,” Nardi explains, “without sacrificing the capability and performance of modern technology.”

Nardi’s reComputer isn’t the first upcycled VTech toy we’ve seen: Back in July pseudonymous maker “ThisIsTheNewSleeve” put together a very similar build, though with a more compact ortholinear mechanical keyboard, based around the company’s Talking Whiz Kid educational gadget from 1986. Like Nardi, the project was inspired by the retro-futuristic design of the device and powered by a Raspberry Pi hidden inside.

Partial build logs for the reComputer 1000 are available on Nardi’s Hackaday.io project page, with more to follow; 3D-print files for the retroCart system are available on Thingiverse under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license.