Matthew Frost's "Turbo Button" Brings Back a Classic of Vintage Computing for the Modern Windows PC

Fitting into a 5.25" drive bay, this retro-themed gadget provides system stats, a "turbo" mode, and even locks your network down.

Gareth Halfacree
3 months ago β€’ Retro Tech / HW101 / 3D Printing

Maker and retro computing enthusiast Matthew Frost has decided the time is nigh to bring back a classic piece of computing history, suitably updated for the 21st century: the Turbo Button.

"This is replicating the gimmicky TURBO button and CPU and displays of the old 486-ish machines of yesteryear," Frost explains of his project. "But this is build is for those who'd like to have the same retro feel and gimmicks for their modern machine! There are two main components of this build. An Arduino or ESP32/ESP8266 or similar microcontroller and then your Windows PC. These two components communicate with each other over serial to gather PC info and displaying it onto a three-digit seven-segment display."

Miss the old "turbo" buttons? This project brings it back, and makes it considerably more useful. (πŸ“Ή: Matthew Frost)

The "Turbo" button was a mainstay of home computers in the era of the Intel 286, 386, 486, and compatibles. Typically, but not always, sat next to a seven-segment display, the button sounded like it should make your computer faster β€” but in actual fact slowed it down, reducing the performance to mimic that of the older 8086 to work around software compatibility issues.

Frost's modern incarnation, though, is different. Firstly, the seven-segment display isn't restricted to showing the current CPU clock speed: a second button allows the user to cycle between clock speed, GPU utilization, network throughput in megabits per second, and memory utilization, for at-a-glance resource monitoring.

"On top of that, we can set our PC to TURBO MODE. Kind of," Frost adds. "Using the latching button on the left, we can switch Power Plans on the Windows machine. From Balanced power plan to the TURBO power plan. You'll need to make the TURBO power plan yourself. Recommended to copy the High Performance power plan and just name it 'TURBO.'"

A final feature of the device, which is designed to slot into a 5.25" drive bay, is a physical key lock: "The locking mechanism, in this code, will turn your network on and off," Frost explains. "You first must specify which network adapter should be disabled/enabled by using the 'systray' icon included in this install and selecting 'Network Adapter' option."

Frost has released the source code for the project, which is written in a combination of Microsoft PowerShell and C++, on GitHub under an unspecified open-source license β€” along with a 3D-printable faceplate and wiring instructions for the physical portion of the build.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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