Serial (A quick update)

So I think I may have worked out what was going on with that serial cable. I think I had the pins in the fixture backwards. Oops!

I bought a new Mini Din 8 today and soldered it up. Took a little longer than planned as I got to pin 3, looked down at my workbench and realised I hadn’t slid the back cover on before I started so I needed to desolder then resolder those pins. As usual I “toned” it out with a multimeter and made sure it was “sane”. After that it was a matter of plugging it in, firing up a terminal at both ends and… success! What I typed on one appeared on the other. Two computers communicating despite around a 20 year gap between them.

Next step was a bit harder. I wanted to set up the serial port on my Linux box as a true “Terminal” so I could connect to it via serial directly from the Mac. My ‘Google-Fu’ was weak today, as I couldn’t work out how to ask for the right instructions. My usual group of tech heads also were not sure exactly what I should be doing. Eventually I hit the right combo of search terms that brought me to this Stack Exchange article.

Sure enough it worked. I had the command prompt showing on the Mac terminal application. Next stop: ZModem!

That came a lot quicker. that was a simple install of the lrzsz package. (sudo apt-get install lrzsz)

It’s currently copying a 5MB file via ZModem. This is glorious!

(Best of all, I can use the cable with the Apple IIgs for ADTPro as well)

(I also did some woodworking today. Made a stand for my Wife’s laptop and some monitor stands for some of the old LCDs lying around the house.)

The Battle (Part 2)

You can NEVER have too many of these. ©2020

The battle against the SE/30 continues…

So since Part 1, I have made progress, mostly forward, some backwards.

Digging for “Gold”

First up, I went looking for some “easy” upgrades. Specifically I remembered I had an old SPARCStation IPC I wasn’t currently using in a cupboard. I grabbed it out, hoping to “pillage” the SCSI hard disk for something a bit bigger than the 40MB currently in the SE/30.

It did indeed have a “bigger” hard disk. Bigger in capacity as well as height. There was no way I was going to fit that inside the Mac.

But wait! What’s that underneath the drive? Are those 30 pin SIMMs? Yes, yes they are! There were no less than TWELVE in there. 8 were 1MB SIIMs and 4 were 4MB SIMMs. My Se/30 suddenly went from having 2MB to 20MB. A tenfold increase in one step. This opened up vistas!
I also used this oppurtunity to clean and lube the Floppy Drive, which gave me 100% read and write from it. I also cleaned the drive heads while I was at it. Things are looking up.

Clean and Lube ©2020

Looking for SCSI

Next I went to increase my SCSI capacity. An old friend an work colleague invited me over for a glass of red and a raid on his stash of old SCSI gear. While the red was much appreciated, unfortunately his employees had been cleaning out his gear and had ditched all the SCSI CD ROMs, cables and Drives. D’oh!

When I got home I found an online store in Australia selling the much needed 25 DSub to 50 way Centronics cable that would allow me to connect external SCSI devices to the Mac. I also ordered an external SCSI terminator from them.
I also discovered I could order 50 pin Centronics IDC connectors from AliExpress. These would allow me to make up a SCSI enclosure out of any old PC.
Next were some SCA 80 pin to IDC 50 pin adapters. SCA 80 drives are very easy to come by as they come out of mid age SANs in the hundreds. I can get some of the drives for next to nothing.
Finally I ordered a SCSI CD ROM (Super cheap, should have been a warning) as New Old Stock from EBay.

This is not a happy message. ©2020

System 7 Blues

My next move, now all my orders were running was to start burning disks for a new OS. Now the FDD was fixed, I could move on to larger OSs over multiple disks.
I started with System 7.01. I burned the disks to Floppy disks directly from Windows 10 using WinImage, which works fine to burn out the image files that System 7.01 came on. It took a while to burn the 6 disks, but I got there, and was able to install System 7.01 no worries.

I’d also worked out that if you run Basilisk II on Linux as root (In this case using ‘sudo’) and remember to start it with a floppy drive in the drive already, you can reliably read floppy disks with it. (Note to anyone trying to follow my trail here, it’s not well documented, but if you stick a disk in the drive and press “Ctrl+F1” in Basilisk II, it reads this as a “Disk has been inserted” event in the emulator, allowing you to work with the disk.)

I was able to start moving software across. The Basilisk II had OS 7.5.3 installed on it, which gave me a good launching point, and allowed me to install UnstuffIt 5, which many many archives used as their “baseline”, but I was still unable to run it on the SE/30 so I decided to “punt up” and upgrade to System 7.1.4.
Several disk writes, followed by a lot of swapping and…
  An error occurred while trying to
  complete the installation. Installation
  was cancelled, leaving your disk
  untouched.
That’s no good…

My first thought was that the HDD had somehow died, but running the disk tools disk over it showed no obvious issues.

OK. Let’s try System 7.5.3 instead. This was going to be a challenge.

First up it came on 18 floppy disks. Eighteen!
I cracked open the box of floppy disks I’d found in an Op Shop while on holiday and got cracking. I also had a box of disks left over from cleaning out cupboards at work.
Between the lot I had 33 disks. 2 were double density not high density. 5 were bad. I just managed to get the 18 disks I needed.

I got sick of this. ©2020

<Insert disk swapping montage>

And…
  An error occurred while trying to
  complete the installation. Installation
  was cancelled, leaving your disk
  untouched.
Noooo!

OK. Let’s have a look. Google was not helping. I tried removing the RAM and “dumbing” it down to 8MB in case it was something to do with the SE/30 ROMs. (They’re a bit notorious for being not exactly the best set of ROMs as some of the code in them wasn’t “32 bit clean”, harking back to the older 16 bit “first generation” Macs like the Plus).
Nope. Back in goes the 20MB.
Could it be the missing battery I’d pulled? (One of the infamous “Varta” style 1/2 AA batteries.)
Nope. At least the clock is now right.

Forums weren’t much better but someone suggested I check if the Disk was actually bad by going back to 7.01.

Guess what? It worked perfectly.

By now I’d perfected using Basilisk II to open .sit files I couldn’t open locally, so I decided to just “live with it” for now.

I’ve managed to get all the software that I could want that actually works on this model across and running fine.

About that SCSI CD Rom..

Turns out it wasn’t a SCSI CD ROM. It was an IDE CD ROM. The seller was confused. I accepted the blame as they had included the model number, and I hadn’t checked.

One Final Hurdle

The final piece of my Mac SE/30 battles was getting serial communications going between the SE 30 and my Linux box. That would allow me to simply “ZModem” across files from the Linux box directly to the Mac. I could use Basilisk to prepare files and simply shunt them across as .sit files of any size, rather than being limited to 1.4Mb.

It’s a well documented cable, also used on later Apple models like the //c and the IIgs.

I ordered the parts and soldered it up. I was quite proud of how it came out, especially in the light of soldering to the super fine pitch onside the connector. I toned it out to make sure it was all correct and…

It turns out there are two versions of the 8 pin Mini DIN. I had the wrong one. They even look the same except one pin is shifted. It wouldn’t plug in.

CURSES!

(I think the other local electronics shop might have the other one so I’ll check them out tomorrow.)

Overall I’m in a good place with this project.

In Other News


This is VARTAAA! ©2020

A friend has offered me a SCSI CD Rom, and I have taken up on their extremely kind offer.
I also finished and tested the shell for the videocable for the IIgs.
I replaced the soldered in 1/2AA “Varta” style battery in the IIgs with a battery holder. It also has a new battery.
I have ordered both a BMOW FloppyEmu and ROM-inator II. These are now my Christmas / Birthday present. Sorry to anyone hoping so see me try and build a Harlequin 128. You’ll have to wait another year 😀

IIgs Videocable in the raw.©2020
Backplanes. Did you know that Epoxy doesn’t stick to baking paper? Neither did I. ©2020

Very Quick Post on a Very Quick Modification

So today I had a bit of time and a pile of parts. As a result I made up a very simple adapter for the Apple IIgs allowing me to connect the D15 RGB connector to a VGA monitor.

It’s a pretty easy job. A straight “connect green to green” affair. So of course I managed to screw it up. Unfortunately I misread the pin-out, and got it left-right inverted.

Thankfully the middle pins on a VGA connector are enough that at least the blue video signal gets through, so I was immediately able to see my mistake. After a bit of cursing, and breaking out the soldering iron, I’d flipped the remaining pins and, yay I had full colour.

I was a little concerned initially about whether my monitor would cope. The Apple IIgs puts out a 15KHz vertical signal, and most monitors don’t like that. Now my monitor does support 15KHz (it’s why I purchased it in the first place, mostly so I could use it with my Amiga, but it’s also worked well with my Atari ST) but I’d read that it did “Non Standard” signalling. Thankfully the picture was fine.

The next thing to do is make a plastic shell that will make it neat. I’ll buy the bits for that when I get a chance. I’m figuring I’ll buy a shell for a 15 pin connector, and one for a 9 pin connector and epoxy the two together to make a nice “all in one” shell.

The Battle (Part 1)

Thanks to https://macintoshgarden.org/apps/stuffit-expander-55 for the basis of this image.

So 11 days ago I posted about getting the SE/30 booting and mentioned I wanted to get some software over but that it would be a battle for another day…

Oh past me. So sweet. So Innocent. So not filled with rage and hate.

Ahem.

So it’s been a bit of a learning curve. OK. A lot of a learning curve. Less curve. More cliff.

Basically there are multiple problems I’m facing getting the software from the PC to the Mac

  1. There aren’t even any easy to access interfaces: Apple used a non standard SCSI interface and a non standard serial port. I can make up adapters, but I’ll need to order more parts. I’ll probably need software, in the case of serial.
  2. There’s no software on the Mac yet: I repeatedly hit the problem of “To get software A on the computer I need software B. To get software B on the computer, I need software A”. I’m also limited to Floppy disks.
  3. The Mac FDD is a little flakey: It needs a clean and a service. Unfortunately opening up the SE/30 is a pain so I want to minimise the number of times I open and close it. I have more RAM coming and I need to replace the internal 3.6v battery with a new one. When the RAM comes I’ll pick up a replacement battery and do all the work at once.
  4. There’s no “shortcut combination” like there was with the 8 bit Apples. With those, I was able to bootstrap my first floppy disk from the tape port and use that floppy disk to make the rest, thanks to ADTPro. No such convenience for the SE/30
  5. The Macs of this era are notorious for being sensitive to the formatting of their disks. My SE/30 currently doesn’t have enough RAM for System 7, so I’m limited to System 6, which can’t read PC Floppy disks out of the box. I need to make the PC write Mac disks.

So I’m stuck on Floppy disks and I can’t read PC Disks on the Mac? Simple, right? I just need to make my PC write Mac disks. Herein lies my NEXT round of problems. All the software able to reliably write out Mac disks to PC doesn’t officially work under Windows 10. (Caveat here. I have had some success using some of the apps I tried under Windows 10, but they were inconsistent). It all needs Windows XP

So, of course, I build myself a Windows XP Box. It’s not like I don’t have parts lying around.

Except it’s NEVER that easy.

My first box was built out of an old mini-tower PC I’d got from a junk pile a few years back. It was a “mini-server” so had some server related features on the motherboard. This would come back and bite me. XP went on fine. The drivers went on fine. I even found a SCSI card for “future plans”. That went in fine. It was working well except… the video was VGA only and limited to 1024 x 768. Rather limiting, especially as I also installed Linux on it and started playing with some related software.
OK, lets replace the video card, except this motherboard only has x8 PCI-E slots and none of my videocards are working in x8 mode (Only x16).

Hmm. Not the end of the world. I have two motherboards with FDD connectors. Much older but let’s give them a go.

I set up the first one with 2GB of RAM and turned it on. It lasted all of four minutes before it suddenly died. Hmm. 12 year old technology. Not a worry. I have another one. I plug it in and it fires up to the BIOS screen. A good sign. I get a nice Lian-Li case I have in authentic Beige, a DVD drive, the floppy drive and build it all together. Fire it up and… there’s a problem with this one too. While it fires up OK, it makes a ticking noise and the keyboard doesn’t work. I think something in the keyboard chain is stuck as registering as always held down.

I’m starting to get worried at this point, but we have a room chock full of old computers. (Mostly not mine. My housemate has been hoarding). so I go in with an eye to the series of Dell mATX based systems, but as I’m going in I pass another machine I KNOW is good that might have a FDD connector, and it does!

Without much more work I have a dual boot Windows XP / Linux Mint PC, with 4GB of RAM, a reasonable videocard, SCSI, a FDD and a DVD drive.

Since then I’ve had very mixed results getting files across.

My current approach has been to run Basilisk II (A Mac emulator) as a system I can use to manipulate various disk images so I can copy them to real Floppy Disks in readiness for transferring them to the floppy disks to then read in the real Mac.

Both the flakey FDD and limitations of the OS continue to confound me.

  1. Only the first MB or so of each disk can be read reliably currently.
  2. Key pieces of software (UnStuffIt) seem to need a newer OS than the one I’m on.
  3. Basilisk II seems to have spontaneously decided not to read Floppy Disks.

My current plan, going forward is as follows.

Get more RAM. It’s on its way. This will get me to System 7, which has a lot more tools, including ones with improved interop with PCs.
Get a SCSI CD-ROM. This will hopefully allow me to install key pieces of software a LOT faster.
Get another SCSI HDD, in a SCSI enclosure. This will hopefully allow me to connect to Basilisk II, and use the emulator as a “bridge” to get the software from the PC world to the Mac world in bulk.
Get Terminal software on the Mac, make a Mac RS422 to RS232 bridge and see if I can get something like ZModem running on both ends so I can simply squirt files across from the PC to the Mac. This is a more long term strategy.

The Collection (As of 08/10/2020)

A quick document of what equipment I have, and what status it’s in, as of today.

Computers

8 Bit

  • Commodore Vic 20, with a smattering of cartridges.
  • Commodore 64c x 3. 2 working, one needs work. JiffyDOS, Floppy disks, Cartridge emulator, FDD emulator, Printers.
  • Commodore SX64, DEAD. Needs the PSU rebuilt.
  • Commodore 128D, Internal FDD is unreliable, otherwise works fine.
  • Sinclair Spectrum 48k, with adapter to allow mobile phone to replace tape drive. Works.
  • Apple IIeuroplus, with language card and FDD card. 2 x Disk ][. Works.
  • Apple II+ clone. No ROMs.
  • Apple IIe with 80 column card and 128Kb RAM, Serial Card and FDD card. Duodisk. Works.
  • Apple IIe clone. Works. No cards.
  • VTech Creativision. (Aka Dick Smith Wizzard). MultiCart. Works.
  • BBC Master system. Status unknown. Gotek Drive. PiTube CoPro. Selectable BIOS. Covid has trapped this in the UK.
  • Atari 800xl. Status unknown. SD-Max drive is work in progress. Covid has trapped this in the UK.

16/32 Bit

  • Apple IIgs. Duodisk FDD. Works.
  • Amiga 1200. Gotek Drive. Works. Needs a new case to be laser cut. Really need to get around to this.
  • Atari STfm. Gotek Drive. Works. I love this machine.
  • Apple Macintosh SE/30. Works, but needs some TLC. FDD not reliable. More RAM coming.

Consoles

8 Bit

  • Nintendo Entertainment Center x 3. 1 works. 800 in 1 cart. Awaiting edge connectors for a second.

16 Bit

  • Sega Megadrive. MultiCart. Works.

32 Bit and later

  • Commodore CD32. Works.
  • Sony PlayStation 2 (phat) with HDD, Network adapter. Works.
  • Microsoft X-Box (original). 500GB HDD. Works.
  • Nintendo 64. MultiCart. Works.
  • Nintendo Wii. Works.
  • Microsoft XBox 360 x 2. Works.
  • Sony PlayStation 3. Works
  • Nintendo WiiU. Works.
  • Nintendo Switch. Works.

Introducing the Open Source MultiCart for the CreatiVision System

Hey all,

This is a project I’ve been working on for a while and today I’m pleased to announce the release of our open Source MultiCart system.

Clockmeister kindly gave me all the information from his cart, and gave me permission to release this as Open Source. We both also want to acknowledge and thank the great people over at the Madrigal Design Creativision forums for all their help as well.

My minor contribution was taking the design and putting it in KiCad. I had to spend a bit of time debugging, but Clockmeister assisted above and beyond the call of duty.

This design is released under a CC-BY-SA license. Remix, but always share!

The Cartridge, in KiCad format
(Now also on GitHub)

I won’t include ROMs for copyright reasons but they are quite easy to locate on the net if you search around. Note: If you want to program your own EPROM, I understand you have to split the 32K image into two 16K files and then swap the first 16K with the second 16K and re-join them. Clockmeister suggests WinHEX for this.

Enjoy, and if you find this useful, drop a comment in!

(Coming soon. A 3d printable case for the cart, because, why not?)
(Edit: Also available from here for direct purchase of PCBs. I don’t think I get a kickback. It’s just a service the people I got mine from offer)

Adding: Parts list is as follows:
1 x 27C801 EPROM (or equivalent)
1 x 0.1uF Ceramic disk capacitor
2 x 1N1418 diode (or equivalent)
1 x DIP switch block (5 switches)
1 x 6 way 4.7kΩ resistor block. (Don’t do what I did and order the 5 way because you counted the pins. It should have seven pins)

And that’s it!

A Quick Recap

Mac Innards ©2020

So in our last instalment, I had ordered some replacement caps. They have arrived so it was time for me to ReCap the Mac SE/30 (See what I did there?)

Thankfully this was a LOT less effort than I was expecting. My strategy (which worked well) was one I first saw on “Mark Fixes Stuff“. I simply tinned both pads, by putting on solder then removing the solder with solder braid. This leaves nice shiny pads fresh and ready to solder on new SMD components. This also gave me a chance to clean up some of the pads that weren’t so great. A trick a co-worker suggested was to put fresh solder flux on the pads before using the braid, which allowed me to get a much nicer finish on some of the pads that looked a bit… feral.
Anyway now I had tinned pads, I carefully applied fresh solder to one of the pads. Taking the SMD capacitor in a pair of self closing tweezers, double checking for polarity, I then heated the leg of the cap and the blob of solder on the pad. After a few seconds, the capacitor is firmly attached. I then applied solder and the soldering iron to the other leg and pad. This gave me nice level capacitors that were mostly straight on their pads.
To complete, simply repeat 10 more times.
(I also covered up the exposed copper from the tracks that had had their solder mask corroded with lurid pink nail polish)

Freshly replaced SMD capacitors. ©2020

I also swapped out the non SMD capacitors and I was ready to test.

My first test was simply to check continuity over each capacitor, to make sure I hadn’t accidently shorted them underneath, and thankfully they were all fine.

I reassembled the whole unit and powered it on… “BONG!”. I had a lovely Mac startup tone and a flashing question mark floppy disk. It works!

Time to reassemble. This actually took two goes as the case wasn’t on quite right. I realised that one of the boards (The analog one) wasn’t quite on square in the case. A bit of pressure and it snapped back into place, and I was able to fully assemble the SE/30.

Now I needed an operating system. This is easier said than done. In a classic “Chicken and Egg” problem, the easist way to make boot disks on a Mac is with another Mac of the same era. Not nearly as easy today. I tried many different approaches, and had even dug out an old Windows XP software to allow me to run a legacy app to write disk. Thankfully while researching OS choices, I stumbled over an article on Terry Stewart’s excellent collection site. This gave me a good, reliable Windows 10 compatible solution.

Good thing I saved these… ©2020

I cracked open a box of slightly used floppy disks, and proceeded to use WinImage (As per Terry’s site) to write out the two floppy disks I needed to boot System 6.
After a bit of fluffing around with a bad disk (Always “slow format” floppy disks, said Future me to Past me) I was able to make the SE/30 boot.

Excitingly a “Mac HDD” was showing! This suggested the internal SCSI drive was working, just not set up.
I used the inbuilt HD Toolbox from the system disk to format then test the disk, and it came back fine. While the System 6 installer failed, I was able to simply drag the System Folder across to the HDD and now it boots to System 6 fine.

OS! ©2020

I’m currently trying to get Stuffit Expander and PC Exchange over to the system so I can easily move floppy disk images onto the machine, but the tale of that battle is one for another day…

Fresh Victims for My Ever Growing Army of the Undead!

My latest beastie! ©2020

So the kind collector who offered me my batch of Apple II computers (As discussed already here) contacted me after reading my post about what I’m hoping to collect (Hi Greg!) and offered me some more retro computers.

Naturally I said “Yes!”.

After a few days, and some discussion, I trundled my car over and collected three, computers, two marked “Suspect”, meaning I’d most likely need to do some extensive maintenance. Greg offered me a significant discount because he wasn’t sure what state the machines were in.

The New Machines

I got the three machines home and what beauties they were!

From Left to Right we have:

An Apple Macintosh SE/30. Arguably the greatest of the first generation “All in One” Macs. It has a 68030 CPU, a 68882 Maths Co-Processor, an upgrade slot, an easily upgradeable ROM and up to 128MB RAM, a truly monstrous amount for the time. SCSI for storage and “SuperDrive” support allowing both the older 800k disks to be written as well as the newer High Density disks.

An Apple IIgs. The last of the “8 Bit” Apple family, it actually runs with a hybrid 8/16 bit CPU, the 65C816, a “backwards compatible” 6502 variant with additional instructions. This was also used in the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, among others.
It’s quite upgradeable, but out of the box it has enhanced sound, graphics, a Disk controller, serial ports and an external keyboard and mouse.

A Sun JavaStation 1. An oddball system without local storage. It’s a super light “thin client” designed to run (Unsurprisingly) Java applications remotely. It can be made to run linux with some work, which is probably it’s eventual fate. Thankfully it uses PS/2 connectors for mouse and keyboard.

Let’s Evaluate Them

I had got the machines home, and unpacked them. At this point there was a two day delay as parts to upgrade my main desktop computer had arrived and so I spent time rebuilding that machine first. While I waited, I posted on the AppleFritter forums asking if anyone had any “pre poweron” suggestions. The overwhelming advice was “Just turn it on already!”


So what state are they in? Well first up I did a visual inspection of all three. They were a little dirty but nothing I wouldn’t expect of stored systems.

I started with the Apple IIgs. The first thing I noticed are that two of the feet are turning to goo. Quite common of vintage gear of this era. It’sone of the reasons I hate that “soft touch” treatment they used to do to various consumer gadgets like mice. They ALL end up melting into sticky goo. Feet can be replaced, but when the entire outer surface starts to dissolve? Ugh!
Anyway… The temporary fix in this case was simply to cover the feet in clingwrap. When I get a chance to collect needed components, I’ll dig the gross remains out, use a goo remover to clean the cavity out and add in some fresh strips of rubber cut to an appropriate size.
I also had to clean some goo from whatever had sat on the IIgs. Break out some more goo remover, followed by lashings of Isopropyl Alcohol.
A visual inspection inside showed nothing out of the ordinary, and other than a quick clean it seemed ready to go. (I later went back and checked further. There’s a “Varta” battery soldered onto the motherboard under the PSU, but it currently shows no signs of leakage, but I’ll replace it when I can)
I plugged it in to my monitor with a composite lead, plugged in power and an ADB keyboard and gingerly turned it on. Knowing it had been sold as not working, I didn’t expect much. Thus imagine my surprise when I was greeted by a boot screen followed by a “check boot device” message!
With some growing excitement I dug out my DuoDisk drive and plugged it in. This is where I encountered an issue I hadn’t expected. The DuoDisk wouldn’t fit on top of the Apple IIgs. Seriously? The feet on the duodisk were too wide apart, and there was a foot “in the middle” so the stack always ended up wobbling. I “fixed” this by sticking a wide cardboard box between the drive and the IIgs.
In went my trusty copy of Ultima V and… it worked! Wow! I have a working Apple IIgs!

Now onto the Mac SE/30. Pugging it in I noticed no “bong” noise, (Foreshadowing) but it quickly booted through to a “?” Disk icon. Huh, possibly a dead SCSI Hard disk, but so far so good. The next step was to get inside.
This proved to be a challenge, as Steve Jobs really didn’t want anyone getting inside these systems. I had to go and buy a new Torx 15 bit with a long shaft so I could connect to my screwdriver extension and connect that to the handle so I could crack the two screws in the handle.

Things plugged into other things ©2020

I’d also purchased a long bullclip to act as a “case cracker” (As per suggestions on various forums, and with the 4 screws removed and the case “cracked” I was in. Being extremely careful I removed the motherboard and disconnected it from the Analog board.
Putting on the bench, there was some good news, and some bad news. The good news was the Varta battery was perfectly fine. The bad news was all 10 SMD capacitors had spewed their alkaline corrosive guts all over the motherboard.

Eww! ©2020

OK. Time to work on that.
Admission time. It’s been a LONG time since I have done much Surface Mount work, so I took this very slowly and carefully. WARNING: My method works for me. it may not work for you. Do research. Plenty of people do it a different way to me.
Firstly, I delicately removed the RAM and ROM cards. Then I got some white vinegar cotton tips and carefully neutralised as much of the Cap Crud as I could, rinsing thoroughly with plenty of Isopropyl as I went. Once the board was completely cleaned, and all the surrounding pins and traces had been cleaned, it was time to desolder the little crud buckets.
Approaching them, one by one, I initially added plenty of high grade flux gel. I then added fresh leaded solder to try and break up as much of the existing solder as I could. I then carefully heated one side at a time, while bending the capacitor in the other. I would then swap sides and repeat until the cap gently came off. This worked for nine out of the ten caps. Unfortunately the smallest SMD cap just wouldn’t budge with this process. In the end I had to slowly twist that one off. Thankfully over all 10 caps, only one track was damaged, and the damage was minor. (the track has lifted a little from the PCB but is otherwise intact.)

As I removed each cluster of Caps I would clean with Isopropyl and more cotton tips, as well as, in extreme cases, a rag. There was SO MUCH crud under each capacitor. I cleaned each pad with some fresh solder and some solder braid. I inspected all locations and in one corner, where crud had got under the solder mask, I carefully scraped that back and polished the track with more Isopropyl.
Now I need to buy more Isopropyl 🙂
I’ve ordered a bunch of capacitors and I’ll resolder these when the new caps arrive.

The JavaStation needs 72 pin SIMMs so it’s been stored for now. The only issue we could spot was that the feet on this had also dissolved.

Conclusions

Well I’m super happy to have crossed off both one of my “essential” computers (The SE/30. Let’s hope I can get it all working) as well as what I considered a “Unicorn” in the form of the IIgs. I will be paying my supplier more next time I see him, as these are definitely worth more than I paid.

Assuming the SE/30 recaps OK, I will then work on seeing what state the SCSI internal HDD is in. If it’s completely toast, I’ll probably replace it with a SCSI2SD instead. Not cheap, but gives excellent forward compatibility.

As for the IIgs, I’m looking into what needs to be done to replace the onboard Varta battery with a new one. I’m also looking at making a VGA adapter for it, to use with my 15KHz compatible monitor. I suspect it’ll be my main Apple II system from here on out.

Why Reversible Mods are Good Mods

Recently I modded my Creativision to add composite video and audio. While I thought I had succeeded, after a while I noticed glitching and visual artefacts. By making my mod easily reversible, I was able to unsolder the added leads, reconnect the disconnected power lead to the RF Modulator, and it worked fine.

I will probably revisit the mod. I suspect I’ll need to completely desolder the RF Modulator and just tap directly in to the 3 connection points it was using. (I can leave the ground connected)

Creativision Works

Creativision Gizzards, © 2020

So I have been working a lot on my Creativision, AKA the “Dick Smith Wizzard” (Or as my kids so rudely like to call it, Dad’s ‘Dick Wizzard’. Mutter mutter. Kids of today.)

Considering this project started out a very long time ago as an attempt to resolve a longstanding MAME Testers bug, which has been resolved since, I have fallen in love with this “little machine that couldn’t”.

There’s an active, albeit slow, community built around the machine, largely centred on the Madrigal Design forums, there is still intermittent game and hardware development going on.

I’ve been slowly chipping away at my system, working on a handful of upgrades as time permits.

CARTRIDGE SHELL

The first thing I made was, ironically, a completely passive one. There were quite a collection of cartridges available for the Creativision, but a dearth of suitable shells for them. Some people were even hacking up old game cartridges to put new games in (Oh the horror!) which seemed a waste.

Instead I broke out OpenSCAD, which I like because the maths matches the way my brain works, and is suitably “C Like” that I get to use the one programming language that stuck from my uni days. OpenSCAD is great for regular shapes such as this cartridge. I have released this as a Creative Commons BY-SA which means you can even sell these if you print your own, as long as you attribute them to me. (the current version even has some variables so you can make cartridges of arbitrary length)

Cartridge © 2020

Oddly, I don’t actually own a 3D Printer, so YMMV. I hope to get one printed up eventually, or better yet, get a 3D printer. I just can’t quite justify one at the moment. There are certainly tools I’d be looking at getting before I got a 3D printer, especially as the kids don’t seem particularly interested in one.

CARTRIDGE

Now all I needed was something to go in it. I knew the community had developed “Mega Carts” with all available ROM titles on one cartridge in the past, but no current production runs were in progress. I made some enquiries, without much success, so I did a bit more googling and found myself at this website. Clockmeister had successfully made his own homebrew Creativision cart. I tentatively reached out via e-mail, offering to share a blank board if I was successful, and was pleasantly surprised to receive a response indicating that he’d be happy to share his findings, and give him a few weeks to get his notes together.

Oooh! the antici… pation!

As per his word, Clockmeister got back to me in no time at all, and sent me a ZIP file containing photos of their design whiteboard, a text file with additional notes and comments and some details about the ROM itself.

Time to break out KiCAD!
(A quick note here. I used to use EagleCAD, but found the restrictions on the “Open Source / Amateur” versions were not worth the additional grief. Now I’ve learned KiCAD, I don’t think I would go back even if the restrictions changed. KiCAD just keeps getting better and better.)

Circuit © 2020

First up I had to design the missing components, as while I had most of the parts, I was missing an edge connector. I quickly dumped that in and built up the schematic, based on Clockmeister’s notes. It was largely a “connect the dots” exercise as all the heavy lifting in design had already been completed.

After popping open one of my Creativision carts, and a bit of mucking about with some digital calipers, I had a decent edge connector component also designed for the new project. I then spent a couple of days playing with layout. Eventually I had a design I liked, with not too many vias. I got it checked by a some helpful checkers, including Clockmeister, and after reviewing and re-reviewing I sent it off to be fabbed. (Cue ominous thunder)

I’ve been using SeeedStudio for a while now, as their prices are excellent, and coming out of China, rather than Europe or the US, they’re nice and fast. (There’s no affiliation here, BTW. I picked them because a friend recommended them, and so far their products have been good and their turnaround has been fast. Again, YMMV)

While my boards were shipping from China, I found an associate who was able to burn the ROM image to an appropriate EPROM, and even had the right EPROM in stock!

The boards and the ROM both got to me within about a day of each other and… something wasn’t right. The EPROM was physically completely the wrong size. It was too short and too narrow. I had made a mistake!
It was pretty obvious when I thought about it too. What the heck had I managed to do to the footprint for the chip? Why would a 32 pin chip have 40 pins? I’d picked the wrong component footprint when I was picking it in KiCAD.
This is a rookie mistake, and I really should have picked it up in the layout phase. My only defence is that I didn’t actually have a physical component for that chip at the time, so my usual safety check of “stick it on the printout and see if it fits” was bypassed.

Was all lost? Well, no. I still had the schematic, and putting the CORRECT footprint in was trivial. The smaller footprint also meant I could make a substantially smaller cartridge. Also I could do a test fitting of the cartridge to the Creativision (It was a perfect fit) and all other components.
I then got a suggestion from Clockmeister about whether I could “bodge” in the ROM I already had. That would allow me to check the PCB itself (As the schematic would be the same regardless of the footprint.) and verify a lot more of the design.

I thought about it for about half a day and decided, yes I could bodge it in, with just “stuff” I had laying around my electronics area.
(Cue soldering montage)
I grabbed a PCB, sanded off the edge connector to give it a nice bevel. This helps with insertion of the cart into the console. You’ll notice pretty much all commercial carts have this. Not all home brews do.
The next bit is tricky to describe, so lots of illustrations:
As I had got the footprint wrong substituting a 40 way footprint for a 32 way foot, the first 16 pins were correct, but the next 16 were out by 8. Also the first 4 incorrect pins were on the wrong side of the layout.

Oopsie © 2020

I bodged in 4 flyleads to go across the board, and attached a socket to drop the EPROM in. This allowed me to test without permanently using up my one precious EPROM. I tacked in the first 18 pins and bent the rest out. (I used a 40 pin socket as I had a 40 spare but not a 36, just to make things REALLY ugly). I then connected the 4 flyleads across to the lower 4 pins on the far side.

Bodge 1 © 2020

I then made another 12 short flyleads to directly connect from the board to the socket. I used solid core wire from an old CAT5 cable as I had heaps of it lying around.

Bodge 1 © 2020

Once it was all in place I checked for shorts on my multimeter. No unexpected shorts existed. (There’s two places that are connected to the groundplane so they show up as “shorted”
I then carefully tested to make sure all pins on the socket connected, first to the board and then, as appropriate, to the edge connector. It all looked absolutely fine.

The moment of truth. (Cue more ominous thunder. You didn’t think it’d be that easy, did you?)

I set up the Creativision and inserted a known good cartridge, plugged it into the antenna plug on my TV and carefully tuned it in. Once I had a solid picture and sound, I turned it off, unplugged the good cartridge and carefully inserted the bodged cartridge (Spending time making sure I had things like orientation correct) and turned it on.
Annoying buzz and 1 red line. That’s no good. I immediately turned it off, crossing fingers that I hadn’t fried anything and reinserted the good cart. Phew! It still worked.

I carefully inspected the board again, checking each and every connection. I initially thought I had located the issue, as there was an errant blob of solder, but as that didn’t show in the short circuit testing, and the problem persisted after removal, that clearly wasn’t the issue. I also thought my problem was that I had merely set my selector to an “empty” slot in the EPROM, but that turned out to be incorrect too.
I even ordered an EPROM burner and compared the contents of the ROM to the original image. Nope, they matched.
I even checked continuity from the CPU of the Creativision directly to the chip on the cartridge. All came up OK. I was stumped.

Bodge IRL. Ewww! © 2020

At this point Clockmeister and I had been conversing as the project proceeded, and we determined that we were even in the same state. He actually had lived a suburb across from ours at one point. I asked if I could send my cart to him to compare and he agreed, so I popped it in the mail

(Cue calendar changing montage)

So rather than sit around, I quickly ran up a new version of the PCB with the correct footprint for the EPROM. I even managed to eliminate more VIAs on the design, so that was good.

COMPOSITE VIDEO AND AUDIO

Since the Creativision was open and on the bench I thought it was a good time to do a Composite Mod to improve picture and sound, and to eliminate having to use a TV Tuner. I wanted to do a reversible modification, avoiding having to drill holes or otherwise permanently change the console.

I decided to approach this with a “simple, but robust” approach.
I initially removed the internal RF lead, which thankfully just plugged into a RCA socket on the RF Modulator on the board. I put it aside in case I ever decided to reverse the modification.
I then went about finding more info on the RF Modulator. It had 4 wires and I figured they had to be power, ground, Audio and Video. Some googling for the modulator found only a single meaningful link to an old Electronics Australia article over at the Internet Archive.
With the help of the two relevant issues, I was able to determine which one was power, which one was Audio, and which one was Video.
(Amusingly, shortly after completing the mod,I discovered that if I’d clicked on the image of the motherboard that matched my unit in the article above, the “expanded” views had the pins appropriately labelled, which would have saved significant time. On the other hand , it was lovely scrolling through back issues of Electronics Australia)
I carefully desoldered the 12v power to the RF Modulator, to reduce induced noise.
I then cut a thin RCA lead in half, stripped and tinned the ends and, with the help of some flux and heatshrink, attached it to the underside of the main board. It was thin enough I could easily route it through the hole the single RF lead had come out of.

Desoldered 12v lead. I can always resolder this through the hole. © 2020

I tested it out and the picture and sound improvement was amazing! I carefully reassembled everything back together (Took two tries as I’d forgotten to reconnect a piece of plastic before finishing off the rest of the shell) and my Creativision was fully modified for modern televisions.

(back to our calendar montage)

ZX81 level of bad keyboard © 2020

CARTRIDGE DIAGNOSIS

Clockmeister now had the cart and had confirmed it wasn’t working for him either. After a few dead ends he managed to find two issues.
Firstly the ROM image I was working from wasn’t quite right. If he plugged the ROM into their cartridge, it would half work, but the switches were incorrect and some of images wren’t working. It did, however, mean that the ROM image wasn’t fundamentally the problem and the problem was further down.
Secondly (and more importantly) when he made his cartridge, he’d added an additional resistor to pull a signal high, and completely forgotten about it in the intervening years.
With that bodged in, my cartridge was working!

Once I knew the fix, I revised the PCB another time, this time using a resistor array to simplify the design even further and eliminate even more VIAs.

Tape Interface goes here © 2020

TAPE INTERFACE

I also threw together ANOTHER board, to allow me to use a Commodore C2N Tape unit with the Creativision, based on the design by Tom Gutmeir. His design is wonderfully simple, so from go-to-whoa, including checking was only about an hour.

I’ve ordered the PCBs, as well as a handful of additional parts (Including more EPROMS) so hopefully they’ll arrive in the next few weeks / months. (I have enough to make up one complete board already). Clockmeister has mailed me back the corrected board and hopefully soon, I’ll have my Creativision kicking along with many titles.

Well it’s a bit late for that © 2020

Things still to do:

  1. Order the last handful of missing components from RS Components.
  2. Test the “final” version of the board, once the PCBs arrive.
  3. Mail a handful off to Clockmeister.
  4. Open Source the whole thing.
  5. Make a custom 3D printed case to hold the cart in, based on my own cart design.
  6. Test my C2N Tape drives to find one that works. (May need a new drive band)
  7. Test my new Tape adapter.