Lyonsden Blog

Category - How to’s

Amiga Tank Mouse Gets Laser Upgrade & Refurbishment

Love it or loathe it the Tank mouse is synonymous with the early Amiga computers and even though they’re very angular in design I actually find the ergonomics of them quite comfortable to use. However what I no longer appreciate is the imprecise and clunky ball mechanism and the constant need to remove the fluff and detritus that always collects on the rollers.

Now I know that some may consider this part of the nostalgia, and if it was only used occasionally then I might possibly agree, but as someone who uses my old machines on a regular basis I say balls to that – give me an optical mouse any day! With this Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade kit I picked up from AmigaStore.eu I can finally have the best of both worlds!

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

The laser upgrade kit contents.

 

The upgrade kit took around a week to arrive and included a single PCB with optical sensor, a little lens to fit over it, a replacement cover and a couple of little plastic spacers. There was also a small instruction booklet.

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

Instruction manual.

 

Annoyingly everything (even all the plastic parts) was covered in sticky soldering flux. All the components came supplied in a small Ziplock bag so the flux must have smeared itself onto everything in transit. I had to spend a good fifteen minutes giving everything a thorough cleaning with Isopropyl alcohol to get rid of the residue.

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

What the board looked like before the excess flux was cleaned off it.

 

The manual was also a little disappointing – all the photos were dark and murky so details were near impossible to see. It was like a photocopy of a photocopy of a… well you get the idea. Thankfully it’s a pretty straightforward install and you don’t really need much guidance but it’s definitely something that could do with addressing in the future.

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

Quality of the photos in the manual leave a bit to be desired.

 

Preparations

My tank mouse had been sat in a cupboard, unloved, for many years so when I dug it out for this project it was looking a little sorry for itself and was quite yellowed, especially underneath.

 

Amiga Tank Mouse

Top of the mouse doesn’t look too bad, a little dirty perhaps but nothing major.

 

One of the glide pads on the base of the mouse was also looking quite tatty so I wanted to sort this out too.

 

Amiga Tank Mouse

The underside of the mouse is a completely different story. It’s turned a very unpleasant looking shade of ‘nicotine’ yellow.

 

Dismantling the mouse was pretty straightforward. Two small silver screws either side of the cable entry point needed removing to free one end of the case, whilst a couple of plastic clips secured the opposite end and just needing to be gently teased apart.

 

Amiga Tank Mouse Internals

With the case opened you can see the ball mechanism in all its fluffy glory.

 

There were a further two black screws above and below the ball mechanism, holding the circuit board in place that also needed removing. I set both sets of screws aside somewhere safe as they would be needed later on when putting it all back together.

 

Amiga Tank Mouse Ball

The two black screws at the top and bottom of the black plastic ball housing need to be removed and put to one side safely for later.

 

Once the board was out, the cable connector was removed and the ground wire soldered to the circuit board cut. It isn’t required for the the new laser board to work.

 

Amiga Tank Mouse Circuit Board

The black ground wire that is soldered directly to the board needs to be cut here.

 

The old board is surplus to requirement now but I’ll be keeping hold of it as it may come in handy to repair another tank mouse in the future.

 

Amiga Tank Mouse Bottom

The extent of the yellowing was clear to see once the cover and sticky pads had been removed.

 

After removing the old glide pads and the cover off the ball compartment the extent of the yellowing was pretty evident. The original beige colour could clearly be seen underneath. Hopefully this is the colour the whole mouse will be by the end of this project after a spot of Retrobrighting.

 

Retrobriting

I live in North West England so hot sunny weather is something of a rarity here so I had no chance of just using the suns UV to do the job as I have in the past. Just as an example, at the time of writing it’s raining and about 12’C outside.

To this end I decided to buy the necessary kit off Amazon so I could do this sort of thing indoors whenever I wanted in future and not be beholden to the weather. I picked up a small 10W UV lamp that came with a built-in bracket and power cable with inline on/off switch and moulded UK plug.

 

The UV lamp.

 

I also got a 500ml bottle of 6% Hydrogen Peroxide to make a nice bath for the mouse to soak in. I only had to use half of it too so could have got away with buying a smaller bottle.

 

Hydrogen Peroxide.

 

To begin the process I first gave the mouse case a clean in some soapy water before putting both sides into a tin foil lined plastic box.  The idea behind the tin foil was two-fold. Firstly it would reflect the UV light around the box helping ensure even coverage and secondly it would prevent the UV light from making the plastic box brittle and possibly even bleaching the colour out of my desk.

 

Retrobrighting

Plastic mouse case sitting in the bottom of a tin-foil lined box.

 

I then covered them with a 50/50 mix of warm water and Hydrogen Peroxide solution. I chose a box that wasn’t much bigger than the mouse case which kept the amount of fluid needed to a minimum.

 

Retrobrighting

UV light suspended over the box.

 

Once the case halves were immersed in fluid I positioned the UV light over the top of the box and held it in place with some helping hands and switched it on. Everything looked good so I left it for about an hour and then came back to check on it. The plastic parts were covered in hundreds of tiny air bubbles which meant the process was obviously working. The bad news was that those same bubbles were causing the case to float up and no longer be covered in the hydrogen peroxide solution. Over a period of a few hours I had to keep adding blobs of blu-tack to the underside of each part before they would finally stay submerged.

 

Retrobrighting

Blu-tack weights to keep the case submerged.

 

Once I was happy that the case wouldn’t float up any more and that the UV light wasn’t going to overheat or nose-dive into the liquid I shut the door to the man cave and left it all overnight to marinate.

 

Results

The following evening after work I fished the case out of the water and had a look at the results which you can see in the photo below. Needless to say I was pretty chuffed with how it turned out as everything was now a nice uniform beige colour top and bottom.

 

Retrobrighting Results

Freshly retrobrighted cases.

 

Compared to the mouse ball cover (which I deliberately didn’t treat – see photo below) the difference was night and day. All in I’d say the case probably spent about 24 hours under the UV lamp in the hydrogen peroxide solution. Perhaps they might have been ready a bit sooner but I wasn’t able to keep checking in on them. Either way I’m quite happy to wait a day for such a good result. Incidentally, the liquid solution was at room temperature (about 22′-24’C) the whole time, I didn’t use any kind of water heater.

 

Retrobrighting Comparison

Spot the difference.

 

Replacing the Glide Pads

Unfortunately in my excitement to finish my mouse refurb I forgot to take pictures of the case before fitting the new glide pads so you’ve already seen pictures of them fitted.

To get the correct sizing for the glide pads I simply placed the old pads on top of the new ones (photo below) and cut around the outline with a sharp craft knife. I struck it lucky with the curved pad at the bottom as it matched the curvature of the new one exactly so I only had to cut the rounded ends. The only slight issue I had was that the new pads were half the thickness of the old ones so I needed to cut out two of each and stick them on top of each other. If I hadn’t done this then they would not have cleared the recesses in the case and they’d have been a waste of time.

Anyway, I’m really happy with the end result as the mouse glides around like a dream now. I also still have enough material left to kit out another mouse should the need ever arise.

 

Mouse glide pads

Cutting out the glide pads.

 

Incidentally the mouse glide pads I bought were designed to fit a “Logitech G Pro X Superlight”. There are plenty available on eBay at the time of writing.

 

Installing the Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade Board

With the case now looking fine and dandy it was time to fit the laser upgrade itself. The first task was to fit the new plastic cover in place of the original. This is made out of some sort of flexible plastic material (TPU?) and I found it didn’t want to sit completely flat. Luckily it doesn’t hinder the use of the mouse but I might add a few tiny blobs of glue around the edge to hold it securely if it proves to be an issue in the future. Not sure why they made it grey either – definitely loses some style points for not being beige! At some point in the future I might have a go at 3D printing a better looking cover for it.

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

New mouse cover fitted – it now has a square hole to better fit the new laser mechanism.

 

The next task was to fit the transparent plastic ‘lens’ to the circuit board. This slots into the bottom of the board and thanks to the different sized plastic pins it has on the corners it would only fit one way.

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

Plastic lens fitted to the underside of the circuit board.

 

With the lens fitted I carefully lowered the board into the bottom of the mouse case. The plastic lens needed to be held in place during this operation otherwise it kept falling out. Once the board was is in place, the flexible plastic cover fitted earlier prevented it from falling out through the bottom.

.

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

New board fitted into mouse base.

 

Next the two little plastic spacers were fitted over the existing screw posts allowing the board to be secured in place using the original black screws removed earlier. I then reattached the cable connector to the pin header on the new board.

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

Board secured in place and cable reconnected.

 

Now I just needed to replace the top half of the case by carefully relocating the clips at one end and securing the other with the two silver screws.

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

Job done.

 

Test Drive

The only thing left to do now was plug it into my Amiga and take it for spin. Happily it performed very well indeed,  it was just like using a brand new mouse – which is effectively what it is now. I did find the mouse buttons to be quite stiff compared to modern mice but it’s something I could get used to. The stiffness will be down to the type of switches they’ve used in the construction of the new board and they may possibly soften up a bit in the fullness of time too.

 

Amiga Tank Mouse

Mouse back in action!

 

All in all I can heartily recommend this laser upgrade kit. Sure, the photos in the instruction manual are a bit ropy and the grey mouse cover isn’t perfect but the stuff that really matters, the laser mechanism itself, is spot on. This upgrade has totally transformed my crusty old tank mouse into a device worthy of being used in the 21st century.

Unfortunately at the time of publishing this if you want one you will need to register your interest on their website as they are currently out of stock. Still, good things come to those that wait!

 

Amiga Laser Mouse Upgrade

Close-up of the underside of the mouse.

 

 

Amiga 1200 ‘Triple LED’ Adapter Kit

Amiga 1200 Triple LED Kit

I recently spotted a neat little bit of hardware over on the AmigaKit website (they call it an ‘A1200 Triple LED Adapter’) that allows the user to change the colours of the Amiga 1200’s activity LED’s. A quick impulse purchase and a few weeks later the kit arrived, well packaged and protected in a zip-lock bag with a wad of foam to stop the LED’s from being damaged.

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

A1200 Triple LED Kit Packaging.

 

A Closer Look at the A1200 Triple LED Adapter

The adapter actually offers a number of small improvements over the Amiga 1200’s stock LED’s.  For a start the connector cable now incorporates a 4-pin plug that can easily be removed from the LED circuit board. This will be a real boon when opening up my A1200 in the future allowing the case lid to be removed easily without straining the soldered wire connections.

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

Back view of the A1200 Triple LED Kit.

 

The biggest benefit though is that the LED’s are now removable and completely interchangeable. When selecting the kit on AmigaKit’s website you can pick what colour you want each LED to be. I chose Red, Amber and Green to represent HDD, FDD and Power activity respectively. They sell spare LED’s too in case you should need them in future which is good to know.

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

Here you can clearly see the 3 coloured LED’s.

 

The LED’s are all socketed and they can be removed by simply pulling on them gently so if you change your mind and want a yellow power LED – no problem!

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

A1200 Triple LED Kit with one of the LED’s removed revealing empty socket.

 

In the photo below you can clearly see the difference in the LED’s. The original A1200 board features transparent LED’s that light up pale yellow/orange/green colours when powered. By contrast the new board has coloured LED’s that I think provide deeper and more pleasing colours when illuminated.

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

Original LED board on the left, new one on the right.

 

Fitting the Kit

Fitting the new LED’s couldn’t be any simpler really. Start by removing the two phillips screws holding the old board to the case. Keep them safe as they will be needed to fix the new board in place shortly.

 

A1200 LED board

Original LED board attached to case with two Philips screws.

 

Unplug the power LED from the A1200’s mainboard. In the photo below it’s the lower (black) connector. The white connector is for the floppy drive. The old board can now be completely removed and stored away safely in case you ever want to put it back.

 

Amiga 1200 mainboard

Amiga 1200 original LED power connector on mainboard (the lower of the two).

 

Fitting the new board is basically the same procedure in reverse. Start by connecting the power cable to the board. The colouring is slightly different with the new wiring but just make sure the black cable goes on the left (below photo).

 

Amiga 1200 mainboard

Amiga 1200 new LED power connector on mainboard (the lower of the two).

 

Before fitting the board to the case make sure you orient it correctly; the power cable connects to the top of the board. Don’t forget to thread the cable through the square hole in the metal keyboard frame too!

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

New triple LED adapter connected and ready to be attached.

 

Attach the board using the two phillips screws that you removed earlier. The correct board orientation can be seen in the photo below.

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

New A1200 Triple LED adapter attached to A1200 case lid.

 

At this stage it might be worth a quick power up to check that the LED’s are working. Assuming all is good, carefully reassemble the case and the upgrade is complete. If not, check the connector is pushed all the way down onto the pins and that it’s oriented correctly.

 

Finished Result

I found the new LED’s to be ever so slightly narrower than the original ones so there’s a tiny gap left on either side of them. However it’s hardly noticeable, especially once they’re actually illuminated.

 

A1200 Triple LED Adapter

LED kit fully fitted.

 

I recorded a quick video to demonstrate what the drive activity LED’s look like in use. I’m very happy with the results and would definitely recommend this kit to anyone that wants to spruce up their A1200 a bit.

 

A1200 PCMCIA Reset Bug – Hardware Fix

PCMCIA Reset Fix

The A1200 PCMCIA reset bug is an annoying glitch in the implementation of the card slot on the A1200 that was never fixed by Commodore. In a nutshell the Amiga 1200’s Gayle chip fails to reset PCMCIA cards during system resets such as when you press ‘CTRL A A’. Whether this is an issue for the user largely depends on the card being used but my network card is definitely one of those that is affected by the bug. Without either a software or hardware fix it requires a full power cycle to restore card functionality every time the bug manifests.

I’ve written about this issue before where I described fixing it using two command line programs called CardPatch & CardReset on Aminet. That software solution served me pretty well up until recently when I ran into the issue again after doing a clean AmigaOS3.2 install. After scratching my head wondering why Roadshow wasn’t working I decided it was time for a permanent hardware fix so that I would never encounter the issue again.

My Hardware Fix

A quick browse around my favourite Amiga suppliers revealed that AmigaKit made one such device and they had it in stock. Fast forward a couple of weeks and I had one sitting on my desk.

The adapter consists of a PLCC socket attached to a small circuit board that contains the electronics for the fix.

 

A1200 PCMCIA Reset Bug

AMIGAKIT A1200 PCMCIA Reset Bug-fix Adapter (PLCC socket side).

 

Besides the reset bug fix the device also includes pin headers for attaching a reset switch, a PCMCIA activity LED and also A14 and A15 signals for other devices such as clockport expanders. It’s a well made, neat little device.

 

A1200 PCMCIA Reset Bug

AMIGAKIT A1200 PCMCIA Reset Bug-fix Adapter (circuit board side).

 

The device is designed to sit on top of the A1200’s ‘GAYLE’ chip which is where the fault stems from.

 

Amiga 1200 GAYLE chip (centre of the photo).

 

Installing the Adapter

To install the hardware fix you simply place the PLCC socket over the top of the GAYLE chip. However before doing this you must make sure that the device is oriented correctly otherwise it won’t work and may even damage your Amiga.

The adapter circuit board has ‘Gayle Pin 1’ written along the bottom edge and if you look closely on the A1200 mainboard below the Gayle chip you will see a ‘1’ marked beneath it (when viewing from the front). Make sure that these two are on the same side. Another, probably easier, way to tell is that the writing on the board should be the right way up once installed (viewing from the front). The pin headers should point towards the right hand side of the machine where the floppy drive is and away from the PCMCIA port too.

It takes a some force to get it to seat properly and the top of the board is not particularly finger friendly so be careful. It should click into place securely and not wobble around at all.

 

PCMCIA Reset Fix

AmigaKit PCMCIA Reset Fix installed on the Gayle chip. Note how ‘Gayle Pin 1’ on the adapter lines up with the ‘1’ on the mainboard.

 

There’s nothing else to connect and no software to install. Once the device has been installed you can close up the A1200’s case and switch it on.

 

A1200 PCMCIA Reset Bug

My Amiga 1200 mainboard sporting a number of extra expansions.

 

If everything has gone to plan the Amiga will boot up normally with no visible signs that anything has changed… except that PCMCIA cards will just work as intended now. No more unresponsive network cards after a reset from now on then!

I’ve had the device fitted for a week now and experienced no issues with my cards since. It does exactly what it says on the tin.

The expansion pin headers on the board are an interesting addition. I’ll probably add a reset switch to it in the near future as that would definitely come in handy. Not sure about the PCMCIA LED as I don’t use my CF adapter that often.

Anyway, if  you are coming up against the A1200 PCMCIA reset bug and want a ‘fit and forget’ solution I highly recommend this; it’s cheap, easy to fit and does the job.

Upgrading to AmigaOS 3.2.1

Kickstart 3.2.1 ROMS

I’ve not even had my Kickstart 3.2 ROMS installed in my Amiga 1200 for a month and I’m already replacing them! Why? Because AmigaOS 3.2.1 was released by Hyperion in December 2021. This incremental update fixes a number of issues and also adds a few new features so naturally I wanted to get my hands on it. Strictly speaking the physical ROMS are not required as you can map copies of them into RAM. However I wanted the real deal so ordered a set from AmigaStore.eu as this was were I bought AmigaOS 3.2 from. They arrived quickly and well packaged (along with an SDBox I ordered at the same time).

 

AmigaOS 3.2.1

AmigaOS 3.2.1 Kickstart ROMS for the A1200

 

Installing the ROMS

Naturally the first thing I did was to open up my A1200 and fit the two new ROM chips. If you are looking for more comprehensive instructions on how to do this you can follow my guide here. The important things are to get the ‘HI’ and ‘LO’ chips in the correct sockets, that you orient them correctly (notched end of chip goes next to notched socket) and finally that you leave the last pair of pins in each socket empty as the sockets have 42 pins whereas the ROMS only have 40.

 

Removing the ROMS with a chip puller.

 

Before going any further I booted up my Amiga to make sure everything was working and that the new Kickstart ROMS were the correct version. Sure enough Workbench reported a Kickstart Version of 47.102 which is the 3.2.1 edition. Happy days.

 

Kickstart 3.2.1 version

Kickstart 3.2.1 (version 47.102).

 

Next I needed to obtain the 3.2.1 Workbench update. This is a free download from Hyperion but does require you to register your copy of AmigaOS 3.2 before it will allow you access. This requires the little code that was stuck onto the cellophane wrapper of the AmigaOS 3.2 box. The update comes in the form of a 15MB LHA archive that includes Kickstart ROMS should you need them.

 

Installing AmigaOS 3.2.1

AmigaOS 3.2 introduced native support for ADF image files so I thought I’d make use of this feature to update Workbench.

 

Contents of the Update3.2.1 LHA Archive

Contents of the Update3.2.1 LHA Archive

 

The LHA archive unpacks into a single Update3.2.1 folder that includes everything necessary to get things up and running. Opening up the ADF folder reveals 26 ADF’s and it’s these we need to do the upgrade.

 

Contents of the ADF Folder.

 

The ADF we need to get the ball rolling is called ‘Update3.2.1’. Simply double-clicking it opend that ‘disk’.

 

The Update3.2.1 ADF Image

 

It will then appear on the desktop just as if you’d inserted it into a physical drive yourself.

 

It all Starts with the Update3.2.1 disk.

 

Opening that disk, and then the Install folder within it, reveals a bunch of different country-specific installers. I went for the English(British) option as I’m in the UK.

 

Contents of the Install Folder,

 

Go!

The install process is now underway and we just need to click ‘Proceed’ to begin.

 

AmigaOS 3.2.1 Upgrade

AmigaOS 3.2.1 Update Begins

 

The first choice to make was picking an installation mode. I left it on the default ‘Novice User’ option as I’ve not done much customisation to my A1200 since doing a clean install of 3.2 a few weeks ago.

 

Installation Mode

Selecting the Installation Mode.

 

A warning pops just to confirm you are happy to proceed with the update which will obviously replace a bunch of your 3.2 files in the process. I clicked ‘Yes’ to proceed.

 

Installer

Confirming the start of the upgrade.

 

Next up you get to choose which language(s) you want. Check the boxes next to the one(s) you would like and then click ‘Proceed’.

 

Installer

Language selection.

 

It’s at this point that the installation really starts and files get copied across.

 

Amiga Installer

Files copying across.

 

Now I thought I was going to need to select each ADF as and when the installer requested a new disk. However that wasn’t the case at all. Something pretty cool happens during the install – it mounts and unmounts each ADF image as it needs them – automatically. During the install you see a bunch of disks appear and then disappear on the Workbench like magic. Impressive stuff indeed.

 

Mounted ADF image file

ADF images are switched on the fly.

 

Thanks to the auto-switching virtual disks the update only takes about a minute to complete. Once finished it asks you to click ‘Proceed’ to reboot your Amiga. It was at this point that I got my second pleasant surprise – my Amiga automatically rebooted itself! Many installers have the same message at the end but I don’t recall any that actually rebooted the machine before.

 

Installer complete

Upgrade complete.

 

Once Workbench had loaded back up I did another quick check of the version numbers. Reassuringly Workbench was reporting being 47.3. Combined with Kickstart being 47.102 this confirmed that my upgrade to AmigaOS 3.2.1 was complete.

 

AmigaOS 3.2.1

Both Workbench and Kickstart displaying correct versions.

 

New Feature – Eject

This release includes a lot of bug fixes and a number of new features too. Out of all of them though, the one I was most excited to see was also probably the most trivial. The Amiga now has an ‘Eject disk’ option under the Icon menu! Not unsurprisingly this lets you eject any disks that supports this feature. It was probably mainly intended for un-mounting ADF images but it also works with physical drives. I tried it out on my SCSI CD drive and it worked like a charm it also worked well with my Iomega Zip drive. Sure this was possible before via 3rd party programs but to have this feature natively available in Workbench is a first and worth upgrading for alone in my book.

 

 

Installing AmigaOS3.2

Seems like it was only yesterday that AmigaOS3.1.4 was released and yet here I am with AmigaOS3.2! I actually bought this in June last year but I’ve only just got around to having a play around with it. For the time being this release is only available physically on CD which is fine by me. Hyperion say there will be a digital download version of it at some point in the future.

I will preface this post by saying that things didn’t go smoothly during my first install attempt. Hopefully someone can benefit from the issues I experienced and how I overcame them.

 

A closer look at the what you get…

Anyway I ordered the CD along with the Kickstart ROMs for my A1200 from Amigastore.eu. I have to award top marks for presentation as the CD came in a very attractive DVD style case along with professionally printed jacket. Inside there is a 14 page manual and the silk-screen printed CD itself. Finally but by no means least there were 2 new Kickstart ROMs to replace the existing chips.

 

AmigaOS3.2

The AmigaOS3.2 case, CD and manual.

 

The serial number is on a little sticker affixed to the cellophane wrapping on the outside of the box – don’t make the mistake I did of throwing it in the bin. Luckily I realised before the bin was emptied! The code is needed to register your purchase on the Hyperion site in order to be eligible for future updates.

 

AmigaOS3.2

AmigaOS3.2 ROMS.

 

Workbench 3.2 actually spans a grand total of 35 floppy disks now which is why the decision was made to supply it on CD. Although half of those disks are either country or machine specific but it’s still a lot. The CD contains ADF images of all the discs should you wish to create your own physical versions. Likewise it contains the new ROM images so you can use them with a Vampire, map the ROMs to RAM or just use them with an emulator.

 

Fitting the 3.2 Kickstart ROMS

 

AmigaOS3.2 ROMS

Kickstart 3.2 ROMS Installed.

 

Naturally the first thing I did was to open up my A1200 and fit the two new ROM chips. If you are looking for detailed instructions on how to do this you can follow my detailed guide here. The important things are to get the ‘HI’ and ‘LO’ chips in the correct sockets (see photo above), that you orient them correctly (notched end of chip goes next to notched socket) and finally that you leave the last pair of pins in each socket empty as the sockets have 42 pins whereas the ROMS only have 40!

 

Compact Flash Card

My new A1200 hard drive – a 32GB SanDisk Extreme Compact Flash card.

 

Whilst I had the case open I thought it would be a good time to install the new Compact Flash card I’d bought for the occasion. I opted to go with a nice big 32GB card this time around as it’s surprising how quickly you fill these things up without even trying. The card I bought was a SanDisk Extreme 32GB Compact Flash. I wanted something that would prove reliable and SanDisk is a brand I trust.

 

Compact Flash Card

32GB Card installed.

 

With the ROMS and new Compact Flash card installed it was time to power up my A1200 and make sure everything was working.

 

AmigaOS3.2

The new 3.2 ROM boot screen.

 

Just a few moments after turning the power back on I was greeted with a brand new boot screen. Gone was the multi-colour tick that has been there for the last thirty years – replaced by the Amiga ‘boing’ ball. Commodore’s name has also been removed and replaced with Hyperion’s. Anyway, mixed feelings aside, so far so good! Now it was time to get cracking with the Workbench install.

 

Prepping the disks

(The Discovery of problem no. 1)

As I mentioned previously there are a whopping 35 disks in total for this install. Even after I weeded out all the language specific variations it still left 11 disks to install. Thankfully the CD contains all the disks as ADF images and if you have a Gotek drive available it’s a simple matter of copying them across to a USB flash drive and using that. This time around there are no snazzy pre-printed disk labels included either so that was another reason not to bother making physical copies of the ADF images. There are a bunch of PNG images included on the CD for you to print your own labels should you wish to though.

 

External Gotek Drive

The Install3.2 ADF selected ready to boot on my Gotek drive.

 

The journey starts with the ‘Install3.2’ disk so I selected that on my external Gotek and then selected DF1 as the boot device from the A1200’s Boot options screen. (Accessible by holding down both mouse buttons on bootup until the power LED flashes). If you have a Gotek configured as DF0 then you won’t need to do this.

 

Amiga 1200 Boot Options Screen

Amiga 1200 Boot Options Screen

 

A short while later I was greeted with a basic Workbench screen and I thought I was on my way. Well you know what thought did… Everything looked OK but the mouse pointer was completely frozen – likewise the keyboard wouldn’t respond either. I tried to boot a few more times with no success. I unplugged all my peripherals, PCMICA card, audio cables, SCSI devices until all that was left was power, video and my external Gotek. Still it wouldn’t work. Maybe it didn’t like my Gotek, or the fact it was hooked up as DF1? So I created a physical Install3.2 floppy disk, disconnected my external Gotek and tried again with a real floppy in DF0. Another fail. So it wasn’t that either.

 

AmigaOS3.2

AmigaOS3.2 Workbench Screen (with frozen mouse).

 

I tried all sorts of things like re-formatting my USB flash drive and copying across the ADF’s again. I even tried a different flash drive and removing my Indivision Mk3 flicker fixer, all to no avail.

Eventually I was left with one thing I hadn’t tried – removing my Blizzard 1230 MkIV card. Luckily I remembered that the card could be disabled by holding down the ‘2’ key on boot so I gave it a try. Just like magic after doing this Workbench loaded fine and I could use my mouse and keyboard without any issues. Clearly something was up with my accelerator card.

 

Blizzard 1230 MKIV

Blizzard 1230 MkIV – MAPROM feature disabled with jumper removed.

 

More head scratching and investigations ensued until I finally discovered the source of the issue. I had the MAPROM feature enabled on my card which is supposed to speed the Amiga up by copying Kickstart into FASTRAM. However for whatever reason OS3.2 didn’t like that because from the moment I disabled it by removing the jumper (see photo above) the problem simply vanished. Happy days!

 

Prepping the Compact Flash Card

(The beginning of problem no. 2)

 

Now I had a working 3.2 Workbench it was time to Partition that nice shiny new Compact Flash card. I loaded up HDToolBox from the disk and clicked ‘Change Drive Type’.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Amiga HDToolBox – Defining a New Drive

 

Next I clicked ‘Define New…’  which brought up the Define/Edit Drive Type window shown below.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Drive parameters screen.

 

The Amiga is perfectly capable of doing all the heavy lifting here – I just needed to click on ‘Read Configuration’ to get it to extract all the necessary parameters from the card. A little info window popped up and I clicked ‘Continue’.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Info Message

 

A second or so later and all the parameters had been pulled from the card and filled out on the screen.

 

Amiga HDToolBox – Defining a New Drive

All drive parameters configured.

 

Clicking ‘OK’ brought me back to the ‘Set Drive Type’ window where I could see my newly created drive listed as ‘SDCFXS-0 32G’.

 

HDToolBox

Newly configured drive now listed.

 

Clicking ‘OK’ again brought me back to the main HDToolBox screen, shown below.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Don’t click SAVE just yet…

 

Partitioning the Card

Now it was time to partition the drive by clicking on the appropriately named ‘Partition Drive’ button.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Configuring my DH0 partition.

 

I chose to make my first partition 4GB, this would be my System/Workbench drive. To select the size I simply dragged the little triangle pointer and slid it along the bar. Annoyingly it’s still impossible to size a partition exactly so I just got it as close as I could which was 4011MB.

I called the first partition ‘DH0’ as this is the time honoured name for the Amiga’s boot drive and what most software expects to see by default. I also ticked the box to make it bootable as this is the first partition and the one the Amiga boots off.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Configuring my DH1 partition.

 

I made the second partition 6GB (6018MB) and called it DH1. To do this I clicked ‘New partition’ and then clicked on an unused portion of the card in the visual representation on the screen.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Configuring my last partition; DH2.

 

Finally I used all the remaining space to make one big 21GB partition and called it DH2. This will be were I install games, whether they be WHLoad or otherwise.

Once I was happy that all my partitions were sized and named exactly the way I wanted them I hit ‘OK’. (You can click each of the partitions in the bar to check their details before committing). This took me back to the main HDToolbox window shown below.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

Drive with changes waiting to be saved back to it.

 

To save all that configuration info and partition detail I clicked ‘Save Changes to Drive’ which flagged up a message (shown below) that a reboot was required. I then clicked continue to finish the process and write all the settings to the compact flash card.

 

Amiga HDToolBox

‘Reboot Required’ message.

 

Next I rebooted my Amiga off the Install3.2 ADF disk so I could begin formatting them. Unfortunately this was were I encountered problem number 2…

 

Missing DH0 partition

Spot the missing drive 🙁

 

There should have been three additional icons on the desktop, one for each of the partitions I had created. However for some reason DH0: was not being displayed. I tried going back through the HDToolbox configuration and making DH0 smaller and even making it the only partition on the card. Nothing worked.

 

Fixing the Problem

It turns out that for whatever reason, some cards are created with all the sectors on them filled with ‘1’s’ instead of ‘0’s’ and the Amiga doesn’t like that one bit.  So I had to remove the Compact Flash card from my A1200 and hook it up to my PC via a USB card reader.

I loaded up a piece of drive management software on my PC called ‘MiniTool Partition Wizard‘ (available as a free download). I then clicked on ‘Disk and Partition management’ which is the large green button near the bottom of the menu screen in the image below.

 

Mini Tool Partition Wizard

Main Menu Screen.

 

Next I needed to select my CF card from the list of available drives as can be seen in the image below. I knew my card was 32GB so it was pretty easy to spot – it appeared as a 29.82GB drive. It’s imperative to select the correct drive here – the consequences of picking the wrong one don’t bear thinking about!

 

Mini Tool Partition Wizard

Selecting my Compact Flash card from the list of drives.

 

With my CF card highlighted I right clicked on it to bring up the menu and selected ‘Wipe Partition’.

 

Mini Tool Partition Wizard

Selecting the ‘Wipe Partition’ option.

 

This brought up another window along with a warning that doing this is irreversible so once again I made absolutely sure I had the correct drive selected. Definitely better to be safe than sorry when messing with partitioning software! Anyway the option to fill all sectors with zeros was already selected by default so I simply clicked ‘OK’ here.

 

Mini Tool Partition Wizard

Choosing how to wipe the drive.

 

This took me back to the main screen. Up until this point no changes had actually been made to the drive. To actually wipe the drive I needed to click ‘Apply’ in the top left hand corner. A warning then popped up about not running any other applications whilst applying the changes and then I clicked ‘Yes’.

 

Mini Tool Partition Wizard

Applying the pending changes to the card.

 

Finally the ‘Apply pending operations’ window popped up and a progress bar slowly made its way across the bottom as my card was being fill with zeros.

 

Mini Tool Partition Wizard

Operation Progress Window.

 

The whole operation took around 5 minutes or so to complete successfully at which point I was able to close down the program and remove the card.

 

Mini Tool Partition Wizard

Mission Accomplished.

 

Back on Track.

Now that I finally had a correctly prepared Compact Flash card, I re-installed it into my A1200 and begin the entire Partitioning process again, choosing exactly the same options as before. When I rebooted at the the end of it this time I was greeted with the Workbench screen I’d been looking for. One with all 3 drive icons showing on the screen waiting to be formatted as shown below.

 

AmigaOS 3.2

Unformatted drive icons.

 

To format each drive I selected the relevant icon and then selected ‘Format disk…’ from the Icons menu.

 

AmigaOS 3.2

Amiga format disk window.

 

I named DH0 ‘Workbench’, DH1 ‘Work’ and DH2 ‘Games’. I also made sure that long file name support was ticked along with the Trashcan and Fast File System.

 

Amiga format disk request

Obligatory data loss warning.

 

I used the ‘Quick Format’ option otherwise I’d be waiting all day for the format to finish! It’s totally unnecessary for large drives anyway – the only time I ever do a full format is on floppy disks.

A couple of warning messages popped up reminding me that all data would be lost. I simply clicked ‘Format’ on both of them to get the job done.

 

Amiga format disk request

Last chance to bail if you’ve selected the wrong drive by mistake!

 

The format was almost instantaneous and once I’d done all three drives I ended up with a screen looking like the image below.

 

Amiga Workbench

All partitions successfully formatted.

 

Installing Workbench 3.2

Finally it was time to install Workbench for real. I opened the Install3.2 disk and ran the English(British) installer from within the Install folder.

 

AmigaOS3.2

AmigaOS3.2 English(British) Installer.

 

This invoked the first of many disk swaps. Thankfully I had all the ADF images on my USB flash drive so it was simply a matter of flicking through to the correct ‘disk’ and then letting the install continue.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Beginning the 3.2 install.

 

I clicked ‘Proceed’ on the first menu to appear as the other options are concerned with amendments/additions to an existing install.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Selecting the 3.2 Install option.

 

As I was doing a straightforward ‘clean install’ I left the Installation Mode set to ‘Novice User’ and then clicked ‘Proceed With Install’.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Selecting the Installation mode.

 

The next screen asked where I wanted to install OS3.2. I selected my ‘Workbench:’ partition and then clicked on Proceed.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Selecting where to install AmigaOS3.2.

 

The installer asked me which language(s) to install so being in the UK I naturally chose ‘English-British’ before hitting ‘Proceed’.

 

AmigaOS3.2

AmigaOS3.2 Language Selection Screen.

 

The next choice to present itself was whether I wanted to install GlowIcons or not. I most definitely did so I clicked on ‘Yes’.

 

AmigaOS3.2

GlowIcons option.

 

I spent the next several minutes swapping ADF disks as the installer plucked files from everywhere based on the choices I’d selected.

 

AmigaOS3.2

CPU Library warning.

 

Eventually the installation reached 100% and then popped up a message telling me I would need to install some CPU specific library files to support my 68030 CPU.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Installation complete.

 

Hitting ‘Proceed’ on that screen and then on the next concluded the first part of the install.

 

Booting Workbench for the First Time

A reboot was required to test out the new install so I reset my A1200 and hoped for the best…

 

AmigaOS3.2

Missing CPU library nag screen.

 

Soon I was greeted with yet another reminder that I had an 030 CPU but no library for it. I hit ‘Return’ to continue booting and a few moments later I reached the AmigaOS3.2 Workbench screen complete with backdrop and snazzy GlowIcons.

 

AmigaOS3.2

AmigaOS3.2 Workbench Screen.

 

Content with the knowledge that Workbench was working nicely it was time to fix that CPU library issue.

 

Installing CPU Support Libraries

Back when I installed AmigaOS3.1.4 I remember having to source the necessary MMULIBS files from Aminet. Thankfully that’s now a thing of the past as 3.2 can install the required files itself. In order to do so I needed to re-run the installer and this time select ‘Install CPU Support Libraries’ from that initial menu.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Installing CPU Support Libraries.

 

A confirmation window popped up and I simply responded with ‘Yes’ to proceed.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Confirming the location of my Workbench install.

 

The following dialogue wanted to know which model of accelerator card I had installed. As I have a Blizzard 1230 MkIV I chose ‘Phase 5’ from the list and then clicked ‘Proceed’.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Selecting my accelerator manufacturer.

 

A few moments later and the installation was complete – all I needed to do now was reboot my A1200 and make sure all the warning messages had all cleared. (They had).

 

AmigaOS3.2

CPU Library Installation Complete.

 

Configuring CD Access

There was one other quick configuration change I could make to round off my install and that was to get my CD drive working. OS3.2 includes a CD filesystem so I didn’t need to install anything extra.

The first thing to do was drag the CD0 device from STORAGE/DEVS/DOSDrivers to DEVS/DOSDrivers and bring up the Icon Information window to edit the Tooltypes. The Information window has changed a little bit under 3.2 so the Tooltypes now reside under a Tab called ‘Icon’.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Setting the CD ToolTypes.

 

There were two tooltypes I needed to alter; ‘DEVICE’ and ‘UNIT’. As I have a Blizzard SCSI card I needed to set ‘DEVICE=1230scsi.device’ as that is what my SCSI device is called. My CD drive has a SCSI ID of 3 so I set ‘UNIT=3’ and then saved my changes. As no CD device had been mounted up to this point I simply double-clicked the CD0 icon to test if the new settings worked and popped in my 3.2 CD. Happily a few moments later I could see a fancy little AmigaOS3.2 CD icon on my Workbench. Another job done.

 

AmigaOS3.2

Workbench 3.2 Installed and CD access working too.

 

With Workbench 3.2 successfully installed it was now time to get busy sorting out internet access and installing all my apps and games once more…

I’ve covered all that stuff before with 3.1.4 but if anything crops up that poses an unexpected issue I’ll add to this post.

VIC20 Game Box Preservation

It’s winter here in the UK so recently I decided to spend a particularly cold and rainy afternoon on a little VIC20 game box preservation project I’ve been meaning to do for some time.

Why did I want to do this?

Unfortunately, unlike Sega games which came in sturdy plastic clamshell boxes, Commodore cartridges were supplied in flimsy cardboard boxes. Consequently many of these have not stood the test of time – as a quick glance at all the box-less cartridges on eBay will attest to. I’m really proud that my collection has remained largely in tact for almost 40 years but for them to survive another 40 I figured they’d need a little helping hand.

I’d already found some great looking box protectors on eBay and also picked up some sachets of Silica Gel off Amazon for good measure. All I needed was a some time to apply them to my VIC20 cartridge collection.

 

Sachets of Silica Gel

Sachets of Silica Gel

 

The Silica Gel sachets came in a sealed bag of 100. The moment you open the pack they will start absorbing any moisture in the air so it’s important to minimise their exposure and keep them in a sealed container once opened.

 

VIC20 Box Protector

A VIC20 Box Protector folded flat (this is how they are supplied).

 

The Box Protectors

The box protectors are made of PET material which according to Wikipedia “makes a good gas and fair moisture barrier, as well as a good barrier to alcohol (requires additional “barrier” treatment) and solvents. It is strong and impact-resistant”. The boxes were supplied with a protective film on them to prevent scratches in transit. I have to admit I hadn’t realised this at first and was wondering why they looked slightly opaque. When the penny dropped and I removed the film they were crystal clear. You can see the difference clearly in the photos below.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Protect and Preserve

After ensuring that my game boxes were dust free and that the cartridge inside was similarly clean I added a couple of sachets of gel inside each box. The plastic box protectors should do a good job of protecting the contents from the environment but they’re not air-tight so the gel will absorb any moisture that makes its way inside. This should prevent any mould from forming on the contents. At some point in the future the sachets will need replacing but as I’m keeping the games in a nice warm room they should be fine for years.

 

VIC20 Cosmic Jailbreak Cartridge

Game box, with the cartridge and instruction manual laid out alongside it.

 

If I was placing them in a damp, cold basement, loft or garage then they would need replacing far sooner. However in those locations the games would need to be sealed in an air-tight box too.

 

VIC20 Game Box Preservation

Silica gel sachets placed inside the bottom of box.

 

The protective cases were supplied flat-packed so needed folding into shape before they could be used. I found this really easy to do and it took less than a minute per box.

 

VIC20 Game Box Preservation

A completed box… with the protective film still attached in this photo!

 

Now it was simply a matter of carefully sliding the game box into the protective case. The cases were a very snug fit so I did need to ensure the box went in straight before it would fit inside.

 

VIC20 Game Box Preservation

Game box fitted inside a protective case.

 

There is a seam down one edge (where the box spine is) so I made sure to position that at the back when displaying them on my shelf.

 

VIC20 Game Box Preservation

Notice how the game on the far left looks slightly opaque – this box still had the protective film on it. It has been removed from the other two.

 

I think the games look terrific inside the boxes and from most angles you can’t even tell they’re inside a cover.  In fact I’d go as far as saying some of my games looked much better inside the protective cases. Take the Menagerie game shown below which has suffered some box crushing and creasing over the years.

 

Before…

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Because the protective covers are such a snug fit they actually force the game boxes back into their original shape when inserted. In effect the covers act as a kind of exoskeleton, almost eliminating the effect of the creasing. The creases are still there of course but just far less noticeable now.

 

After…

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

All in all I’m really pleased with how this project worked out. It was inexpensive, effective and the whole project only took me a couple of hours to complete. That included taking the photos for this post too.

 

VIC20 Game Box Preservation

A bunch of VIC20 games in their new protective covers.

 

My VIC20 games not only look better than before but I feel much happier knowing that I’ve taken steps to ensure they last for another 40 years!

 

VIC20 Box protectors

Row of protected games on my shelf.

Brucie Bonus

I discovered that the protectors are also a perfect fit for the Commodore 64 Microprose style boxes. This means they’ll also fit similar style boxes from the likes of Rainbird and Level 9. I can see another batch being ordered very soon!

 

C64 Microprose box protector

The VIC20 box protector also happens to be a perfect fit for the popular Commodore 64 Microprose style game boxes!

How to Build Your Own Cassette Tape Winder

I’ve always wanted a cassette tape winder so when I stumbled across this plan on Thingiverse I thought it would make a great little project for my 3D printer. Sure I could search on eBay and maybe pick up an old one but where’s the fun in that? So here’s a little guide to how I built my own cassette tape winder.

Computer Stuff

First off I had to download the zipped STL files from the Thingiverse site. (STL files contain 3D CAD objects that you can print).

Each component has it’s own STL file and there were 10 of them for this project. You can see them all listed in the folder screenshot below.

 

These are the components that you need to 3D print.

 

You cannot print STL files directly so I use a piece of free software called Cura to work with them. This software allows you to see the STL files as an interactive 3D model. It also processes STL files by ‘slicing’ them into layers that can then be saved as GCODE files and printed on a 3D printer. If you’ve never 3D printed something this might all sound very complicated but it really isn’t.

 

Build Your Own Cassette Tape Winder

Winder case as viewed within Cura software.

 

The image above shows the main case for the winder in Cura. I have already sliced it and it shows an estimate of how long it will take to print, over 7 hours in this case. 3D printing is not a fast process!

 

Beginning the 3D Printing

 

Freshly printed winder case.

 

Above you can see the finished case print… but there’s some extra support material that will need to be removed from underneath it. 3D printers can’t print (over long distances at any rate) in thin air so they need to create a kind of scaffolding system (supports) in order to do so.

 

Removing the 3D printed support material.

 

Support material is designed to break away easily from the main print. In the above photo I used a sharp craft knife to break away the support material. It only took a couple of slices and then I was able to get my fingernail under it and simply pull it away in one piece.

 

View showing the support material removed.

 

With the support material removed you can now see the winder start to take shape. In the above photo you can see the latticed support material too. It’s made this way to minimise plastic wastage and also allow it to be broken away easily. The fewer points of contact it has with the main build, the easier it is to break off.

 

Here the few little pieces of support material that were clinging on have been removed with a craft knife.

 

In the above photo I have cleared away the few little straggly bits of plastic left by the supports with my craft knife.

 

This is the case viewed from the other side.

 

This is what the inside of the winder case looks like. There are 8 posts to support the case screws, a hole for the winder spool and 3 protrusions where the gears will sit.

 

Gathering the parts together

 

Build Your Own Cassette Tape Winder

All the 3D printed components ready for assembly.

 

This photo shows all the parts of the winder fully printed a few days later. The instructions advise printing the cogs on rafts because they can be difficult to remove from the print bed. However I didn’t bother… I have glass bed and things pop off very easily once it cools down. It also means the finished prints are smooth and clean but of course YMMV. I did use supports for everything where the instructions recommended to do so and carefully removed them after printing.

 

The bearings and screws needed.

 

What you will need

In addition to the 3D printed parts a few bits of hardware are also required. Some bearings, screws and a rubber belt. Here’s a rundown:

  • 6x  4x8x3 miniature ball bearings for the gear wheels – I used these.
  • 1x  3x8x3 miniature ball bearing (for the winder knob) – I used these.
  • 14x  3x12mm pan head self-tapping screws – I used these.
  • A 1mm square rubber belt approximately 55mm in diameter.
  • Philips screwdriver.
  • Craft Knife.
  • Side cutters (to help remove support material if necessary).
  • Silicone Grease (optional but recommended).
  • 3D printer!

 

Gears with bearings fitted.

 

The next step was to fit the 6 bearings into the gear wheels. The two pulley cogs are fitted with two bearings, one each side whilst the driving gear and spool take just one.

 

Gears with bearings fitted.

 

The bearings were a snug fit but I didn’t have to force them in at all. Once fitted they remained in place by friction alone so there was no need to glue them in.

 

One-way clutch.

 

The winder incorporates an ingenious little one-way clutch mechanism that will only rotate in one direction. The benefit of this is it prevents you from accidentally winding a tape in the wrong direction causing it to unspool inside the case. Impressively it prints in situ too – there are 6 moving parts which are all printed as one complete mechanism together.

 

Putting it all Together

 

Start with these gears first.

 

Next came the exciting part – putting it all together. The driving gear, both pulley’s and spool went in first, making sure the bearings all seated correctly on the pegs.

 

Then add these. Note that pulley 1 and the clutch have already been assembled in this photo.

 

Next to go in was the one-way clutch which fitted onto the hexagonal shaft of pulley 1.  It can fit either way around but needs to installed so that it ‘sticks’ when turned anti-clockwise but free-wheels clockwise. The instructions said to glue this in position but I didn’t bother as its going nowhere once the lid is attached.

 

Build Your Own Cassette Tape Winder

The rubber belt is added last.

 

The belt went in next and simply needed stretching around the clutch and pulley 2. There was a fair amount of tension here with the clutch being pulled over to one side, however once the lid goes on and the pegs slot into the bearing top and bottom, it sorts itself out.

 

A minor issue…

I did have one issue at this point when putting everything together. There was too much friction with the spool and it wasn’t turning freely. I tried shaving/filing plastic from the cog teeth, adding a drop of oil to the bearing and adding a little silicone grease to the teeth but none of this really helped.

In the end I reprinted the part scaled down slightly to 98% which allowed the spool to spin freely. I also had to enlarge the bearing recess slightly with a Dremel so the bearing would still fit inside. Possibly if I’d persevered a little longer with the file I could have got the original part to work. However given how everything else fits together perfectly I figured the part needed re-designing slightly for a better fit. Regardless, I’m happy with my fix and how it now operates.

Before I screwed the back cover on I also added a tiny bit of silicone grease to the other gear wheels just to help keep them lubricated.

 

The Finished Winder

 

View of the back of the assembled winder.

 

Here’s the winder with the back screwed on and the handle and knob attached.  The knob also has a bearing inserted into it so that when it’s screwed to the handle it will still spin freely.

I had no issues screwing things together but the instructions did advise caution in case the plastic splits and suggested drilling out the holes further as a precaution. Again I didn’t bother as I felt my screws were a good fit for the holes but again YMMV.

 

Front of Winder with retaining clips attached.

 

The two retainer clips attached to the front of the case using a couple more screws. The dimples are positioned such that they face the back of the winder.

 

Tape held captive by retaining clips.

 

The screws need to be tightened just enough so that the clips can move with a little force but remain in any position. These are used to hold cassette tapes securely in place whilst winding.

 

Build Your Own Cassette Tape Winder

View of the winder looking down.

 

Video of winder in use

And here’s the finished winder. I have to say it works extremely well and will be a great help in minimising wear and tear to my various C2N Datasette’s, Walkman’s and tape decks. It’s fast too, I managed to rewind a C90 tape in around 30 seconds. The use of a belt helps to ensure that when reaching the end of a tape, any excess force results in the belt slipping rather than damaging the tape.

 

Commodore VIC20 ‘breadbin’ Case Repair

VIC20 Case Repair

Whilst working on my VIC20 recently I noticed a number of issues with the case. The first thing was that most of the little tabs along the back of the lid had broken off. This meant that the case didn’t close properly along the back at all. The other issue I spotted was that a couple of the plastic screw posts that hold the keyboard in place had split. Not sure why, possibly as a result of over-tightening at some point or the plastic expanding and contracting over the years. It was pretty clear that my dear old Commodore VIC20’s case was in need of some repair and TLC.

By the way, even though this post is all about the VIC20 the contents would be just as valid for a Commodore 64.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Naturally I want my VIC20 to remain in as good a condition as possible so I set about looking for a means to remedy these problems. My search concluded when I came across a company in the US called Soigeneris that 3D prints suitable repair parts. The product I ordered from them was the  ‘C64/VIC20 Case Saver Repair Kit‘. The whole thing cost me less than $20 including international shipping (which took about a week). *Note to self – get a 3D printer!

 

A look at what’s in the repair pack

 

Inside the pack there are actually 3 different parts to deal with common ‘breadbin’ case issues. New PCB standoffs (not needed here), replacement top case rear tabs and screw post repair sleeves. The drill bit is provided to help centre the PCB standoffs if you are using those.

 

Commodore Case Repair

From left to right: new PCB standoffs (with drill bit), replacement top case rear tabs and screw post repair sleeves.

 

 

There are several different case styles and they each have different types of hinge tabs. I had to check which variant mine was before ordering otherwise the replacement may not have fit. My particular VIC20 case needed ‘Type 2B’.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Fitting the new hinge tabs

I decided to fit the new hing tabs to the back of the upper case lid first. This necessitated completely removing what was left of the existing ones to make way for the replacements.

 

Commodore Case Repair

Cutting what’s left of the existing tabs off with a craft knife

 

This was a simple matter of slicing the tabs off flush with the edge of the case. I used a sharp craft knife for this (and ended up slicing my thumb open) so do be very careful if you are following this post yourself. The plastic was a lot more brittle and softer than I expected so I applied way too much pressure…

 

Commodore Case Repair

Tabs completely removed allowing the fitment of the replacement

 

 

Before proceeding any further I test fitted the tabs to make sure they fitted flush to the edge of the case. Where needed I shaved some more skin plastic off my with knife.

 

Commodore Case Repair

Test fitting of replacement tab

 

The replacement tabs are well constructed and have been designed to align easily within the existing channels.

 

Test fitting of replacement tab

 

The instructions recommend using epoxy glue to fix them in in place as it sets rock hard. It also recommends roughening the surface of the case and cleaning it with isopropyl alcohol before gluing to ensure maximum adhesion.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

I applied a generous amount of epoxy glue and then held the tabs in position using some modelling clamps.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Even though my epoxy glue is supposed to be quick drying I set the case aside for 24 hours to fully harden before going any further.

 

Commodore Case Repair

Holding the new hinge tabs in place whilst glue sets

 

Preparing the screw posts

 

Once I was happy that the glue had fully hardened I moved on to tackling the split screw posts. Thankfully only 2 of the posts were damaged but the kit includes enough replacement parts to fix all of them if necessary.

 

Commodore Case Repair

Broken screw post

 

Not only was the screw post split but it had also ‘mushroomed’ out at the top. This meant that it would need to be filed down to it’s original size before the repair sleeve would fit over it.

 

I used some of my wife’s emery boards to sand the post down. They worked really well too!

 

I used a few emery boards to sand the posts down to size but a small metal file would have done just as well. It took around 5-10 minutes to get it down to the correct size. I was constantly stopping and checking to see if the sleeve would fit. The last thing I wanted was to sand too much off and have the sleeve become loose.

 

Commodore Case Repair

Test fitting the sleeve. Note how the castellation allows it to slip over the post buttresses.

 

Eventually I found the sleeve would slide into place with moderate force so I stopped sanding. Then I just needed to repeat the process on the other broken post before gluing both sleeves permanently into place.

 

Gluing the repair sleeves

 

First I cleaned both the post and inside of the sleeve with isopropyl alcohol to make sure no plastic dust was left from the sanding. Then I mixed up a small amount of epoxy glue and applied it to the top of the post before sliding the sleeve down until the two top surfaces were flush.

 

Commodore Case Repair

Screw post fitted with repair sleeve after sanding it down

 

I smeared a little extra epoxy on the top of both the posts to fill the splits in the plastic too. There was no need to use any sort of clamp this time as the sleeves were a tight fit. The friction alone was more than sufficient to do the job.

 

Commodore Case Repair

An extra application of epoxy over the top helped fill any splits or gaps.

 

Once more the case was then set aside for 24 hours to give the glue ample time to harden.

 

Repaired commodore case

Top part of case with all repairs complete

 

Reassembly

Now it was time to screw the keyboard back into place and to reunite the top and bottom parts of the case.

 

VIC20 top case with keyboard fitted

Keyboard fitted back into the repaired top case

 

I must admit I was a little concerned that the added thickness of the sleeves might have prevented the keyboard from fitting correctly.

 

Commodore case sleeve repair

Keyboard re-fitted – just enough clearance with repair sleeve

 

Happily, although a tight fit, the keyboard slotted into place without any extra trimming needed.

 

Screw post repaired

Screw in repaired post

 

The screws went into the repaired posts without any issues and were held very securely.

 

VIC20 with lid hinged open

New hinge tabs seated in their corresponding slots on the bottom case

 

The two halves of the case also fitted back together perfectly. The hinged tabs were very securely held by the epoxy glue and the little tongues aligned perfectly with the grooves on the bottom half of the case. The back of the case was held tightly closed, a vast improvement from how it was before the repair.

 

VIC20 back of case

Back of VIC20 nicely demonstrating the tightly fitting case halves post repair

 

This turned out to be a very worthwhile, rewarding and cheap little project. The biggest cost was actually my time, both in preparing the case and making the actual repairs. The whole thing took me three evenings plus a couple of days of glue setting time.

Coupled with my heatsink project and keyboard repair my VIC20 is now in tip top condition again. Hopefully she will be able to take her upcoming 40th birthday in her stride as she marches on up to the big 50.

Cooling my VIC20

Cooling VIC20

Although my VIC20 is working perfectly I thought it would be prudent to take some precautions to help it continue to lead a long life. I’ve read about chips failing in the VIC, often due to excessive heat build-up. To this end I set about checking just how hot the various chips were getting and see if I could find a way of cooling my VIC20.

Here’s a diagram I knocked up identifying the main chips on my VIC20 motherboard. I made it for my own future reference but it may be helpful to others too.

 

VIC20 Motherboard chip identification

Commodore VIC20 Motherboard with main chips labelled. (Click for larger version).

 

The first thing I did was leave my VIC20 running a game for a couple of hours. I chose GORF as it continually runs in ‘attract mode’ which I hoped would give everything a good workout. I let this run for 2 hours before lifting the lid and checking the chip temperatures.

To perform the testing I used a cheap infrared thermometer that I picked up off Amazon. With this gadget I could simply point the laser at a chip to instantly read its temperature. I found that different areas on the same chip could give significantly different temperatures. The difference was often as much as 5C so I noted down the highest temperature measured for each chip.

 

Chip Temperatures

Perhaps not surprisingly the hottest chip on the board was the VIC running at 46C . The next hottest were the 2 VIA chips at operating at 40C. Running in joint third place was the Character ROM, BASIC, Kernal and CPU chips at 35C each. Last place and probably of little concern were the two large RAM chips in the bottom left which reached 30C. The rest of the chips were all below 30C so I felt these didn’t warrant any further attention.

 

Copper Heatsinks

Packs of Copper Heatsinks

 

I didn’t want to install a fan in my VIC20 so I decided on heatsinks to help cool things down. Because all the chips are different sizes a ‘one size fits all’ approach wasn’t going to work. To this end I took a few measurements and went looking for something suitable. In the end I settled on these copper heatsinks from Amazon and picked up 3 packs in total. I had already bought a pack of these in case any of the smaller chips needed cooling too.

 

Copper Heatsinks

Copper Heatsinks alongside the thermal tape fixing pads

 

Although they look square, they’re aren’t quite as they measure 10mm x 11mm. However they are the perfect size to both fit the width of each of the main chips and to be used in multiples to maximise surface coverage on the various chip lengths. They also came supplied with self-adhesive thermal tape which allowed easy installation.

 

Preparation

Before even thinking of installing the heatsinks I needed to do some cleaning. The chip surfaces needed to be squeaky clean to ensure good adhesion of the thermal tape. Also, besides a few blasts of compressed air I hadn’t got around to cleaning the motherboard since I rescued my VIC20 from the attic. A bottle of Isopropyl alchohol and a box of Lidl’s finest (i.e. cheap) cotton buds was the order of the day here.

 

Dirty cotton buds after the chips and motherboard had been cleaned with isopropyl alcohol.

 

All I did was gently wipe the surface of every chip, component, contact and the surface of the board itself until the cotton buds came up clean. Of course if the board was already clean I would have simply cleaned the surface of the main chips and stopped there. The whole cleaning process probably took about half an hour, maybe a bit more but i found it quite therapeutic. I also cleaned the base of the heatsinks just to be sure they were squeaky clean.

 

Cleaning motherboard with cotton bud

Cleaning up with an alcohol soaked cotton bud.

 

The next task was to carefully attach the thermal tape to the heatsinks. I simply peeled one square off the sheet and carefully aligned it with the edge of a heatink before pressing it firmly into place. It was important to get these aligned correctly otherwise it would have made placing them next to each other very difficult.

 

Heatsink with thermal tape applied

Heatsink with thermal tape applied

 

Once I was ready to attach a heatsink (I’d already loose-fitted them to check the best way to arrange them) I just needed to peel the protective film off the thermal tape. I found a sharp blade was very useful here if I couldn’t catch the edge of the plastic film with my fingernail.

 

Heatsink with thermal tape applied

Heatsink with thermal tape applied, protective film removed and ready to be stuck into place

 

Installation

This was the best part, sticking the heatsinks onto the chips. For the bigger chips like the VIA, VIC and CPU I used 4 heatsinks butted up close to each other. For most of the other chips like the RAM, BASIC and Kernal I just used 2. By this stage I ran out of the ‘not quite square’ heatsinks. Because of this I used 2 of the tall slim heatsinks to top off both of the RAM chips. These were only reaching 30C anyway so didn’t need serious cooling.

 

Cooling VIC20

Here’s the VIC fully covered by heatsinks.

 

I found the thermal tape stuck the heatsinks down really well which made it all the more important to position them correctly first time. Moving them around after they’d been stuck down was almost impossible.

 

Cooling VIC20

First VIA chip done… that ceramic capacitor bent over the lower part of the left VIA chip needed to be carefully bent away before heatsinks could be fitted

 

Cooling VIC20

From left to right, the BASIC, Kernal and CPU chip (not finished)

 

Did it actually do anything?

Here’s a photo of the completed project with all the main chips covered by heatsinks. It certainly looks the part now but did the addition of the heatsinks actually have any appreciable impact on cooling my VIC20?

 

Cooling VIC20

Finished project with all the ‘hottest’ running chips fitted with heatsinks

 

In order to see if the project actually made any sort of meaningful impact I repeated the same test as before. I popped the lid back on, slid GORF into the cartridge slot and let my VIC simmer for 2 hours. I measured temperatures in the same way as before, noting the highest recorded reading for each one.

I’m happy to say I found that the heatsinks did actually result in a decent improvement in temperatures across the board. The biggest improvement came from the VIC chip which went from hovering around 46C down to 38C, a drop of 8C which is fantastic. The VIA chips fell from 40C to 35C and the VIC Character ROM from 35C to 31C. The remaining chips showed drops of between 2-3C which whilst not as impressive is still an improvement.

I’m not really sure why the different chips exhibited different levels of improvement but nevertheless I’m very happy with the results. My VIC20 is almost 40 years old now and I’m hoping this little project helps it last a good few more!

Retrobrighting with Just the Sun!

Retrobrighting with Just the Sun

Came across this idea of retrobrighting with just the sun on YouTube. I was highly sceptical so thought I’d give it a go myself! It’s a pretty simple idea. Instead of slathering your yellowed computer in peroxide, or immersing it in bath of bleach, simply stick it out in the sun for a few days! Sounds too good to be true right?

Enter the VIC

My VIC20 had some pretty unpleasant yellowing to it so I used that as my test subject. For 4 days straight I put it outside on a south-facing bench in the garden. I’d place it there before I left for work in the morning and bring it in once I got home in the evening. Today was the 4th and final day.

I’ll let the results below do the talking. I used the same white cotton bud in each photo as a frame of reference to judge the level of yellowing. I also took the photos in the exact same location at the same time of day to keep the lighting as similar as possible. No flash was used in any of the photos.

Before & After Results

I’m extremely pleased with the results. The overall yellowing has vanished, even the quite pronounced yellowing around the grill area has gone too. The beauty of this method is that I literally did nothing – the sun did all the work for me. I didn’t even need to dismantle the computer!

Conclusion

I’ve had some disastrous results using peroxide gel in the past. On one occasion I ended up with an appalling marbling effect on a rare C128D keyboard. After that incident I had vowed never to try my hand at retrobrighting again, however this test has changed my mind. It looks like it’s the safest and easiest way imaginable to brighten up yellowed plastic. It’ll be interesting to see if the brightening effect lasts. If the yellowing comes back in future I’ll update this article.

Modding Amiga 500 Floppy LED to Display IDE Activity

Introduction

Unlike the Amiga 1200, the A500 was never designed to allow the fitment of an IDE Hard Disk Drive (HDD) inside it so naturally it never included an HDD activity LED. For the longest time this was never really an issue. Sidecar expansions such as the A590 were the only way to add HDD’s to the A500 and they came with their own drive activity LED. However, now that many owners are fitting expansions like the Vampire into their Amiga 500, things are a little different. These new devices facilitate the use of 2.5″ HDD’s or Compact Flash (CF) cards inside the casing of the A500, something that was never possible before.

The problem with this is the lack of a drive activity light. It can be quite disconcerting at times when you turn on your ‘Vampired’ Amiga 500 and nothing appears to happen. You sometimes wonder if it’s actually booting up or simply frozen. The same issue crops up whilst loading a game or running a program. There’s simply no way to tell if your Amiga is doing anything, especially if you’re using a CF card as they are completely silent. At least if you have a 2.5″ HDD they do at least make some sounds whilst being accessed.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could add a hardware activity light to your A500 to solve this issue? Well, recently I stumbled across a nifty little mod from Arananet that claimed to allow you to do just that by using the Amiga 500 floppy disk activity LED to show IDE HDD/CF activity. It’s called the ‘IDELED’ and is only €7 plus postage so I ordered one and sat back waiting for it to arrive. (Direct link to the Amiga 500 IDE activity LED can be found here).

Incidentally, if you fancy making this modification yourself all you need is a phillips screwdriver (to open the A500 case up), some wire cutters/strippers and a soldering iron. Don’t worry if you’re not an expert solderer, I’m rubbish at soldering but this is very basic stuff and should be well within most peoples capabilities.

A closer look at the IDELED device

The device arrived in a little anti-static bag with no instructions. It’s a tiny little 1″ square circuit board that incorporates an 8 pin socket one one side and 8 pins on the other. There is also a small hole for you to solder a wire to, plus a few components that allow it to ‘do its thing’.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Getting Started

The IDELED is designed to sit between the Amiga 500’s keyboard connector and the keyboard cable. This gives it access to the floppy drive LED circuit and allows that to be used as an IDE activity LED in your Amiga 500. After opening up your A500 the first thing you need to do is carefully unplug the keyboard connector, lift away the keyboard and set it to one side.

 

Amiga 500 keyboard connector

Unplug the keyboard connector (circled in red).

 

You’ll then have access to the 8 pin keyboard connector on the mainboard which will look like this:

 

Amiga 500 keyboard connector pins

Keyboard connector pins

 

Next you need to attach the IDELED board to the keyboard connector pins on the mainboard. Make sure that you connect it the correct way around – orient the board so that the keyboard connector is at the back if you are looking at it from the front of your Amiga. It should then look like this:

 

IDELED board

IDELED fitted to keyboard connector

 

At this point I connected the keyboard to the pins on top of the IDELED board. You might want to leave doing this until after you’ve soldered the connecting wire but I needed to experiment a bit and wanted the A500 powered on and the LED’s working. At this stage the project looked like this:

 

Amiga IDELED board

IDELED board fitted between mainboard and keyboard cable

 

Solder time

The next job is to attach a short wire to that little solder point on the left side of the IDELED board. The wire needs to be long enough to reach the IDE connector on top of your Vampire (or other accelerator card) with enough slack so that it’s never under any strain if you have to move things around in the future. You will need to strip off a few millimeters of insulation from each end of the wire before you go any further. It’s much easier to do this before one end of the wire is attached to anything. I’d also suggest ‘tinning’ the exposed wire each end as this makes soldering them easier.

Insert one stripped and tinned end of the wire into the little hole in the board and apply a blob of solder. You should now have something looking like this:

 

Amiga 500 IDELED board

IDELED board with ‘activity’ wire soldered on

 

Locating pin 1 and 39

The other end of the wire needs to go to ‘pin 39’ on your IDE adapter. This is the pin responsible for transmitting drive activity. If you have a CF adapter like mine (pictured below) then you should be OK to just hook the wire up to the same pin as I did.

 

Amiga Compact Flash IDE adapter

A closer look at my IDE CF adapter (without CF card fitted)

 

Amiga Vampire CF flash adapter pins

Locations of pins 1 and 39 on my 44 pin IDE adapter

 

 

To locate ‘pin 39’ on my adapter I used the 44 PIN IDE connector diagram below for reference. Note the way the pins are numbered – it alternates up and down with 1 top left, 2 bottom left, 3 back to top row and so on. My particular adaptor has the upper row of 22 PINs connected to the top of the circuit board and the lower row of 22 pins to the underside.

 

Diagram showing pin numbering of a 44 pin IDE connector

2.5″ 44 PIN IDE pin layout & numbering

 

Provided it was connected up the correct way round originally, the purple edge of the ribbon cable indicates which side ‘pin 1’ should be. Thankfully the Vampire card clearly indicates where ‘pin 1’ is (see the little ‘1’ above the bats head in the photo above) so my cable was oriented correctly. Once I was sure of the location of ‘pin 1’ it was a simple matter of counting along to identify ‘pin 39’. Obviously if you have a different kind of adapter then you will have to confirm its location yourself. Hopefully the information above will help you out.

 

Amiga 500 IDE activity LED - pin 39 activity wire soldered on

Wire soldered to pin 39 – not the prettiest soldering job in the world but it does the job.

 

The completed modification

 

Amiga 500 IDE activity LED fitted

View showing the completed modification in its’ entirety.

 

Assuming you’ve connected everything up correctly (check  before you screw the case back together), you should now how a fully working IDE activity LED on your A500.

 

Demonstration

In the video below you can see my Amiga 500’s new IDE activity LED flashing away whilst it boots into Workbench. The loud clicking sound is just my empty floppy drives clicking – the anti-click software doesn’t run until workbench has finished loading.

I’m really pleased with this mod, it was cheap, pretty simple to implement and above all else, really useful. No longer will I be in the dark about when my CF card is being accessed!

 

 

But wait, there’s more!

When you pop in a floppy disk the activity LED still flashes away as usual so there is no loss of functionality. Quite the opposite in fact as the LED even flashes when I use an SD card (the Vampire supports SD card storage too) which is totally awesome and something I definitely wasn’t expecting. An added bonus is that because Commodore simply labelled the A500’s floppy activity light as ‘Drive’ it’s still labelled correctly! How’s that for future-proofing!?

Anyway that about wraps this article up for now. I do hope you found this article both interesting and useful. If you did, please let me know by leaving a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.

Replacing Grotty Game Library Cases

Replacing Game Library Cases

Replacing your game library cases is a very quick and easy method of rejuvenating some of your old cassette games. If yours are anything like some of mine then you may have several scratched up, chipped, broken or yellowed cases skulking around in your collection. The good news is that there are still companies out there supplying replacement cassette library cases. The company I use, based in the UK, is called Tapeline but there are probably others too.

The ones I’m using here are just standard black library cases costing around 26p each at the time of writing. You can get a variety of different types and colours too, even double and triple cases should you need them.

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Standard Black Library Case

 

Once the cases arrive it’s simply a matter of removing the cassette tape and paper ‘J’ card inlay from the old case and popping it inside a nice shiny new one. Here’s a few before and after photos to show the difference they can make. I’m sure you’ll agree that after replacing the game library cases the games look infinitely better, almost like new!

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Before

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

After

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Before

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

After

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Before

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

After

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Before

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

After