The Collection (As of 27/04/2021)

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

Monitors

  • 2 x SVideo capable flatscreen monitos. Both support Composite, VGA, Component and SVideo. I use these for a lot of my older 8 Bit systems. They’re generic off brand.
  • ACER-V226HQL. These are capable of syncing right down to a 15KHz signal and have a rock solid picture.

Computers

8 Bit

  • Commodore Vic 20, with a smattering of cartridges. Now modded for SVideo
  • Commodore 64c x 3. 2 working, one needs work. JiffyDOS, Floppy disks, Cartridge emulator, FDD emulator, Printers. Uses SVideo for picture
  • Commodore SX64, DEAD. Needs the PSU rebuilt.
  • Commodore 128D, Internal FDD is unreliable, otherwise works fine. PSU rebuilt, Uses SVideo for picture.
  • Sinclair Spectrum 48k, with adapter to allow mobile phone to replace tape drive. Works. Composite only.
  • Apple IIeuroplus, with language card and FDD card. 2 x Disk ][. Works. Composite only.
  • Apple II+ clone. No ROMs.
  • Apple IIe with 80 column card and 128Kb RAM, Serial Card, Z80 Card and FDD card. Duodisk. Works. I also can use a Floppy Emu with this. Composite only.
  • Apple IIe clone. Works. No cards. Keyboard completely rebuilt. Composite only.
  • VTech Creativision. (Aka Dick Smith Wizzard). MultiCart. Right joystick has failed. Long term project to replace it. Modded for composite.
  • BBC Master system. Works. Gotek drive, SD Drive, ROM Upgrade, home made joystick, PiTube. 15KHz video cable.
  • Atari 800xl. Works. 256K RAM upgrade installed. SDrive Max drive covers tape and FDD emulation. Uses SVideo for picture

16/32 Bit

  • Apple IIgs. 8MB RAM expansion, Booti HDD, Duodisk FDD. I also can use a Floppy Emu with this. Works. 15KHz video cable.
  • Amiga 1200. Gotek Drive. Works. Needs a new case to be laser cut. Really need to get around to this. 15KHz video cable.
  • Atari 1040STfm. Gotek Drive. Works. I love this machine. 15KHz video cable.
  • Atari 1040STᴇ x 2, Both upgraded to 4MB RAM. 15KHz video cable.
  • Apple Macintosh SE/30. Upgraded to 20MB RAM, ROMinator II Atom, SCSI2SD, I can also use a Floppy Emu with this. Working on an external SCSI CD ROM but not having much luck yet.
  • Archimedes 440. Currently won’t boot out of BIOS. My big project.

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. No longer works, alas. I need to replace the optical disk drive on it.
  • Nintendo Switch. Works.

More Archimedes work

The purple is nail polish to protect traces I have cleaned. The green stuff around the RAM is… not good.

So I have been mostly busy getting ready for SwanCon, but I have managed to squeeze some Archimedes work in.

Firstly I attended a meetup of the local Amiga Users Group, which was awesome fun, and while there talked to a couple of other Archimedes collectors.

One individual, Steve, offered for me to drop over and we could work on it together. He lived close by so it was very convenient. (I also admired his extensive collection of retro computers, as well as his Ian Gibson artwork)

Pretty quickly we were able to determine that while it was booting, and getting past POST, it wasn’t as simple as “pressing DEL on the keyboard” alas.

Current working theory is that there’s a dead trace on the board around the RAM somewhere. I’ll have to bust open the logic probe and start tracing around the area to see if I can see what is dead. If it’s a RAM chip, I have replacements on the way. Alternatively it may be the CMOS, and I have spares of that coming too.

One good thing was that Steve and I were able to test my home made Keyboard connector with one of his Archimedes and it works fine. As I track down issues, I know I can, at least, rely on my keyboard and mouse.

Thanks Steve, for all your help!

I’ve been working on the Archimedes

So for the last week I’ve mostly been concentrating on something else but I have spent some time on the new Archimedes. It’s an Archimedes 440, one of the original family, but it has some upgrades installed. Most noticable is the CPU has been upgraded to an ARM 3 processor, and the OS ROMs had been upgraded to RISC-OS 3 as well.

First steps first, I needed to inspect what I had, and let me tell you, this system has seen some horrors.
Firstly, one of the daughterboards (Lovingly called “Podules”) had a Varta battery on it, which had reached “End of Life” and had dumped it’s gust all over the Podule. It’s a writeoff, but thankfully neither hugely important, nor significant. It also doesn’t appear to have got onto the motherboard, so that’s a plus.
Secondly, the batteries for the main board (which were off to one side) were standard alkalines and had, at one point, rotted and split. The case has sustained extensive damage, but thankfully, so far, it’s been surface damage I’ve been able to treat with vinegar, followed by distilled water, followed by isopropyl alcohol.

There’s also some damage to the main board and this is where I have been concentrating my efforts, so far. There were some tracks on the top that looked “dodgy”, eg attacked by acid. I have cleaned off any discoloured tracks back to copper, cleaned, checked for continuity and covered with “lacquer” (Eg nail polish) to stop further oxidation.

There is also extensive discolouring of the solder on the underside of the RAM are of the board. I tried to reflow it a bit but it’s quite stubborn.

At this point I decided I needed to “bite the bullet” and plug it in and turn it on. I had already stripped it down to clean and desolder, plus I had tested voltages coming out of the PSU.
I was greeted with a red screen. According to the super helpful people over on StarDot, this is actually a good sign! It means the CPU is booting. Next step was to plug the floppy drive in and see what happens. Oddly I got nothing. Further investigation showed a PSU with a low 12v line. This usually means a short somewhere. StarDot to the rescue and I carefully snipped out one of the capacitors (C37) which is apparently well known for going open circuit. The system can run without one smoothing capacitor for quite some time. Long term it’ll need a replacement.

So now I had a system that would start to boot then stop. The Archimedes has a very clever system of self diagnostics where it flashes the floppy light in a series of short and long flashes in sets of four. You can then feed these into a special web page that decodes the error.

As I wasn’t getting a full set of codes, I needed to do more work on the system. I cleaned contacts on the bottom of the RAM and cleaned up connectors on the CPU board and finally got it booting long enough to display a series of flashes.
They were:

βˆ™βˆ™βˆ™βˆ™
βˆ™βˆ™βˆ™βˆ™
βˆ™βˆ™βˆ™βˆ™
βˆ™βˆ™-βˆ™
βˆ™βˆ™βˆ™βˆ™
βˆ™βˆ™βˆ™-
βˆ™βˆ™βˆ™βˆ™
βˆ™βˆ™βˆ™-

Which, plugging into the POST error calculator gave me:
RAM control line failure
CMOS RAM checksum error
Self-test due to power-on
So we’re getting somewhere!

At this point I attempted to build a keyboard adapter that’ll allow me to plug in a PS/2 keyboard and mouse so I can at least get the past the CMOS error. It wasn’t too hard, and was based on a commonly available PIC processor so I had that built in a day.

I reassembled everything and tried it again and…

Nothing. Not even the red screen.

At this point I’m stumped. Something else has failed and it’s not even getting to POST. I’ll tackle the corrosion some more on the bottom of the RAM and see if I can get further but maybe I have killed it somehow?

The hardest thing is I don’t have anyone else in the state that can assist. These are rare systems and without a second system, I don’t even know if my keyboard adapter is working or not…

All in all, a bit of a frustrating outcome, but all part of the hobby I guess.

If anyone needs an Archimedes 440 Schematic…

Hi All,
The schematic I recently downloaded from the StarDot mirror of BBC Docs was split into two pages, which made reading somewhat challenging. I’ve combined the two pages, having deskewed and scaled the two halves to match.

EDIT: This is only Page 2 of the Schematic. Looking for Page 1.

EDIT 2: Much better ones can be found here. Thanks to the StarDot team for finding these for me.

What a difference a week makes

Foreshadowing

So on Monday night (after my last post no less) I was feeling enthusiastic, so I stripped down the Mac and gutted out the PSU.
I then removed the switch.
Let me tell you that it’s not as easy as I make it sound with such a simple statement.

IEC at the top, in situ. Below is the switch. See that goop on the switch? That’s not happy-making goop.

Firstly to get to the switch you need to remove the IEC socket, which is soldered into place, and has a weird resistor and capacitor combo soldered across the mains. I had to desolder the wires and loosen a lot of the solder on the capacitor, just to be able to bend everything enough out of the way that I could remove it.

Ugh! This thing!

Next, the switch itself was held in place with this heavy solid glue. I thought it was epoxy, at first, but it melted a tiny bit when I touched the soldering iron to it. I was able to soften it enough to remove by hitting it with some hot air for a few seconds. I was then able to pry off the glue and carefully pop out the switch. It was an extremely tight fit.

Once the switch was out, I could disconnect the connectors for the mains. That freed it up. Going on some advice from the Aussie Apple II users group, I opened up the switch by poking “something” (in this case the tip of some needle nosed pliers) down into the hinge section of the switch case, allowing me to pop open the switch and…

Eww.
More Eww

“Yep. There’s your problem”.

Thankfully Danny on the forum had already tracked down a replacement switch, which I have ordered, which should be here next week.

Meanwhile Greg (who has kindly donated many Apple things to me) contacted me to offer an authentic Apple IIgs keyboard he’d found in his collection. How could I say no?
I did offer him an Atari ST in return but he declined. He did, however, mention an interest in a Commodore 64, and considering his huge generosity in the past, I tried to return a part of the favour by swapping the keyboard for a refurbished C64c, joystick, multi-game cartridge and one of my scratch built c64 power supplies, as well as a cable. Hopefully this will bring him as much joy as his donations have brought me. Thanks Greg!

Keyboard for the Apple IIgs

But wait, there’s more! On the same day as I picked up the keyboard and dropped off the C64, a package all the way from Poland arrived. Aww yiss! It’s my next upgrade, the DDI5 for my Amstrad CPC 464.

So much potential!

This bad boy gives me a floppy drive emulator, similar to a Gotek, a second Floppy Drive connector and finally an additional 512k of RAM.

I had some initial problems, but, as I was able to quickly determine, this was simply because the connector was filthy. I ended up having to disassemble the system, clean everything with an antistatic brush, then polish the connectors with a sand eraser.

After that it stably booted and I was able to work out almost enough to start playing some classic CPC disk games. One demo I wanted to try wouldn’t actually work, and chatting on the Noel’s Retrolab Discord, Noel himself pointed out I was using the wrong command πŸ™‚

(For anyone following in my footsteps, the correct command to load the demo was
RUN”DISC
not
LOAD”DISC
)

As part of that discussion I got to trial his new CPC Diagnostics software, which demonstrated that, yes, my CPC now had 512KB. Awesome!

512KB is all that anyone should need, amirite?

Finally, yesterday, just before I was due to start my holidays, my newest Unicorn arrived! It was an Acorn Archimedes 440/1

So much potential. If only I can organise a Keyboard / Mouse.

As yet it’s almost completely untested as I simply haven’t had a chance to plug it in. I also need to organise a keyboard and mouse for it, as well as some sort of video solution. 15KHz monitor to the rescue!

More to follow, as I explore deeper.

Long Weekend Updates

So, dear readers, I have been keeping myself amused.

Firstly, Mac SE/30 is still dead. I completely stripped it and thought I had fixed it with some deoxit in the power switch, but it still arcs once it gets warm.
General consensus on the Australian Apple II users board is that the PSU switch is dead. I’ll have to strip the entire thing and remove the switch. Thankfully one of the board members has also had this problem and has found a replacement switch, so as soon as I confirm which switch mine needs, I’ll be ordering that and hopefully finally getting the Mac in a state where I can continue my explorations.
My plans for it are as follows: Get it back reliably. Install System 7.1 and 7.5 on different partitions. Get the CD-Rom that Greg so kindly gave me working, so I can play with CD software as well.
In the meantime, I got a friend (Hi Shane!) to print me a special bracket and now have the SCSI2SD mounted in the slot for the PDS expansion. This means I have access to the SD card and the USB setup port without having to open the system.
It looks so neat as well!

Looking down on the SE/30, before reassembling it. The SCSI2SD is in a printed bracket in the SE/30 external PDS connector spot.
The view from the back. All access, all the time.

Once I had that off the bench, I was able to get to the Atari STᴇ systems. I fired up the first one (Labelled as “4MB”) and the lights on it lit up immediately. An encouraging sign. After a few (long long) seconds I was looking at the GEM desktop. Huzzah!
I then set up the second one (Labelled as “1MB”) and it also fired up first time.
Inspired by my success, I decided to investigate whether the machines had the RAM that their labels claimed. This turned out to be a bit more difficult than I initially expected as I needed to work out how to get software onto a floppy disk for the Atari ST.
Some reading suggested that I could format a floppy disk in Linux, but I wasn’t having much luck.
As a long shot I simply copied the programme onto a preformatted 720k DOS floppy disk, and stuck it into the system and it worked! This also revealed that both systems have slightly gummy floppy disks so I’ll have to clean and lube them somewhere down the track. They did indeed have the RAM printed on the stickers on the front.
Conveniently, STᴇ systems use 30 pin SIMMs, of which I have lots left over from upgrading the SE/30 to 20MB, so I tried upgrading the 1MB system to 4MB and, yes, it now has 4MB which is nifty IMO.

Long term, I’ll need to get two ACSI2STM drives, a couple of Gotek FDD emulators and possibly a single external FDD cable made up so I can plug in an internal FDD as an external drive. This will take time, if only because those 14 pin connectors are as rare as hen’s teeth. Wonder if I could make a little PCB that would plug in with the pins preconfigured? It wouldn’t be as pretty but the 14 pin plugs are unobtanium.

You know how I said I wouldn’t be getting any new Computers this year?

About that…

Well, I’m the “proud owner” of an Acorn Archimedes 440 in a non working state. Looking forward trying to diagnose THAT one. This was an eBay auction. I didn’t expect to win. Imagine my surprise…

I also got two Atari STᴇ computers! Presumed working, but I haven’t had a chance to test them. (My workbench is covered in dead SE/30 at the moment). These were a gift from a friend who knew his parents were trying to give these to a good home. It included a 1MB STᴇ, a 4Mb STᴇ and a monitor. The monitor has a worrying rattle so I’ll need to investigate further before I turn that on.

The haul!
Mac in pieces. Since then I’ve also removed the Analog board and the PSU.

Recapping the VIC 20, plus bonus SVideo.

I had a bit of spare time yesterday and I wanted to do something, anything to distract myself from all sorts of “stuff” going on at the moment.

I figured I was well overdue to recap my VIC 20. The picture from it was pretty awful, so I was hoping it would fix it.

What you can’t see… All the annoying shimmer.

Thankfully the VIC 20 has a grand total of 6 electrolytics, and I’d ordered replacements ages ago and just needed to find them again. Diving into my big bin-o-components, I was able to pull out all 6 needed capacitors.

I fired up my desoldering gun, desoldered the first side of the first capacitor and “brrrz”, the soldering gun jammed. Gah!
It does this quite regularly, so I know exactly how to unclog it, but it’s still frustrating each time.
This is a ZD-915, and they are a little prone to blocking. If anyone else finds theirs jams, here’s my solution

  1. Turn off the unit and let it cool.
  2. Remove the glass solder collector. Probably time to empty it anyway.
  3. Turn on the unit again, and get a soldering iron. Set both to about 360Β°C and let them heat up
  4. Insert the cleaning rod in as far as it will go. Mine usually blocks at about an inch left to go.
  5. Coming out of the back of the desoldering gun into the glass solder collector is a small metal tube. This is what is blocked. Gently touch the soldering iron to the back of the tube while pushing on the cleaning rod.
  6. After a few seconds, the cleaning rod should push the blockage out and you’ll be able to clean the tube thoroughly.
  7. Turn everything back off and let it all cool.
  8. Reinstall the glass solder collector. Start everything back up and continue desoldering.

So 30 minutes later I had the desoldering station cleaned again, and removed all the other caps. Some are beneath the RF shield, so you’ll need to pop that off too,

“Dead” caps. Probably mostly fine, but after 30 years, the electrolyte aint at it’s finest.

Once they were all gone, I started replacing them, one by one, making sure to observe polarity and make a nice neat job of it. The new capacitors, despite being exactly the same rating as the older ones, were all marginally smaller. Thankfully no “surprise! incorrect polarity!” on the motherboard markings, but I had made a note of polarity before I started, just in case.

And the video was exactly the same.

What you can’t see is all the annoying shimmer, still.

Now I had been planning, for a while, to modify it for SVideo, as the picture improvement was supposedly much better. Unfortunately I needed some bits-n-pieces and I didn’t have the car so I had to wait until today to get to the store and buy the parts.
I needed an additional capacitor, resistor, DIN 5 plug and a mini DIN 4 (SVideo) socket.
For cable I used some leftover USB lead I’d salvaged, as well as some figure 8 cable for the audio. I also had a RCA socket spare.

Firstly I modded the VIC 20 end. That was as simple as desoldering a ferrite bead and a capacitor. (The cap looked suspiciously like a resistor). You then cut two tracks and wire across a fly lead. Finally you replace the ferrite bead with a 100nF cap and the “capacitor” with a 75Ω resistor. This went smoothly, although I replaced my fly with a thicker wire later. I’d originally used kynar again, but, as we’ll see, I had problems, so I’d replaced it as a precaution.

The top side. The mod is just above the chip in the picture.
The underside. the flylead is visible. At both ends is a cut trace.

Onto the video cable. Checking carefully, I soldered everything together, checking at the end pf the process, that everything was on the correct side. Glad I did! I’d managed to get the soldering on the DIN 5 completely backwards. That would have been bad, as one of the pins carries 5v and would have been running that into the audio lead. I neatened everything up, insulated leads with a mix of electrical tape and shrinkwrap, and buttoned everything up. I prefer to use shrinkwrap, but sometimes, there’s not enough space.

The video cable. I use sockets as it means I can have a lead from behind the TV and don’t need to reach around to plug / unplug anything.

Plugging in the cable and turning on the board produced… not good video.
Unplugging, I started inspecting my work. I noticed that the original mod had a component in one of the pictures that had been positioned slightly different to that in the original article. I tried moving mine to the same location as the picture, and… it worked. Boy howdy did it work. It’s crisper than my C128D.

Not present: Any annoying shimmer.

I tried all my games and all produced a lovely picture. About the only issue I see is some are producing slightly off synch and sometimes the picture is not centered on the screen. I suspect this is an artifact of the VIC 20 or the TV, not of the SVideo mod. I’ll try a different TV shortly.

A classic game. Looks great!

[EDIT] Clockmeister has helpfully pointed out that apparently that centering issue is a feature not a bug. Apparently cursor keys will allow me to adjust screen position. I’ll have to try it out.