Lyonsden Blog

Tag - Commodore

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

This Commodore 64 IRQ LED mod is a fun little hack that I spotted on eBay last year. Since my C64 mainboard has just come back from being re-capped I finally took the opportunity to fit this whilst I had the case open.

It’s a very simple little device that changes the colour of the C64 (or VIC20) power LED according to IRQ activity. When the computer is just idling the LED will glow red as usual. However when the CPU is active and generating interrupt requests (IRQ’s) the colour changes to green. This allows you to instantly see at a glance if your C64 is doing something. Anything that causes rapid IRQ’s will actually make the LED appear to be orange as it flicks rapidly between red and green.

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

Everything supplied in the regular breadbin kit.

 

I picked up two of the devices, one for my 64 and the other for my VIC. I should point out that this isn’t a destructive hack. Nothing is permanently altered or damaged in any way and it can easily be reversed if desired. The device itself is really simple and there’s (usually) no soldering required. It consists of a tiny circuit board containing an LED, a couple of resistors and a single chip that detects the IRQ signals and triggers the LED colour changes. Connected to the board are 3 wires that are terminated with IC clips. These clips attach to the cartridge port pins and this is how the device monitors IRQ’s.

 

Breadbin Install

 

VIC20 Power LED.

Original VIC20 Power LED.

 

For breadbin C64’s and VIC20 computers fitment is extremely simple. You just unplug and remove the existing power LED and replace it with the little circuit board. There’s a small black plastic ring on the inside that needs pulling off and then the LED should push into the case from the outside with a little bit of force.

 

Removing a VIC20 Power LED.

Removing a breadbin C64/VIC20 Power LED.

 

There’s a spare black plastic collar for mounting the LED supplied in the kit in case you break the existing one. Also supplied is a little double-sided adhesive pad that you can use to fix the board in place. The new LED will need a little pressure to snap it into place and with the help of the adhesive pad it should be held nice and secure.

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

Fitted board – held in place with a double-sided sticky pad sandwiched between the case and the chip.

 

Now it’s just a matter of wiring the board up. The 3 wires need to be attached to the front row of cartridge port pins using the IC clips as indicated below.

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

IC clips connected to VIC20 cartridge port.

 

One the VIC20 the green clip goes onto pin 22 (Ground), Red – Pin 21 (+5V) and White – Pin 19 (IRQ).

On the C64 it gets wired up as follows; Green – Pin 1 (Ground), Red – Pin 3 (+5V), White – Pin 4 (IRQ).

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

View showing the completed mod fitted.

 

Time for the moment of truth – putting the case back together and giving it a test drive. The LED in my kit had been soldered on in reverse so when my VIC was idle it lit up green and when busy it changed to red. I could have solved this by de-soldering it and flipping it round but it really doesn’t bother me so I left it alone. Other than that it works exactly as advertised and I’m really happy with the result.

 

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C64C Install

 

I hinted earlier that non-breadbin installs aren’t quite so simple. I have a C64C and as supplied the mod will not work with this model. There’s a couple of reasons for this. The most obvious being the C64C has a rectangular LED rather than the usual round one found in Breadbin style machines.

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

Board supplied without a round LED and a rectangular one waiting to be fitted.

 

The other problem becomes apparent once you open up the case. As can be seen in the photo below the power LED is at the opposite end of the case to the cartridge port so the supplied wires are too short.

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

Here you can see that the supplied wires in the kit only reach half-way across the board.

 

Fortunately these issues are easy to sort. I mentioned about the LED to the seller (Tim Harris who runs Shareware Plus) and he kindly supplied the board without an LED fitted so I could fit a rectangular one myself. These ones here are a good fit: rectangular LED’s on eBay.

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

LED fitted to 10′ long wires to allow it reach across.

 

In order for the LED to fit in the existing hole I soldered it to three 10 inch lengths of wire and then soldered the wires to the circuit board. I fitted some heat shrink tubing over the joints to insulate them. This allowed me to mount the circuit board close to the cartridge port and also have the LED in the correct place.

 

Commodore 64 IRQ LED Mod

Here you can see the mod fully fitted and wired up. Note there are several other IC clips on this photo – these are from my SIDFX (twin SID chips).

 

I attached the board with a small double-sided sticky pad to hold it in place. I also carefully bent the wires on the LED 90 degrees so the cables would lie flat along the top of the case.

The IC clips were connected to the cartridge port pins as follows:

  • Green – Pin 1 (Ground)
  • Red – Pin 3 (+5V)
  • White – Pin 4 (IRQ)

 

Verdict

After giving it all a quick test I put the case back together and had a play around with it. When idle the LED lights up red as normal – a much more vivid red than the photos show. When the CPU is actively generating an IRQ such as when loading off a disk the LED with light green. Rapid IRQ activity that can happen when playing a game makes the LED appear orange.

I’m really impressed with this little mod. It’s one of those things that’s kind of pointless but also completely essential at the same time. I love having a visual indicator that my computer is doing something and during loading or saving operations it functions as a kind of drive activity light.

You can see it working clearly in the video below, taken whilst I was loading a program off a floppy disk.

 

 

If you enjoy tinkering and like the idea of having an activity light on your C64 or VIC then I can thoroughly recommend this. Did I mention that it costs less than a tenner too? A real no-brainer for me.

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.

 

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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…

 

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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…

 

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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!

Commodore 1530/1531/C2N/Datasette Dust Cover

Datasette dust cover

A modern, stylish datasette dust cover is something I’ve been after for quite some time. I do still have the burgundy leatherette one that my parents bought me back in the 80’s but it is seriously hideous now. In fact who am I kidding? It was probably hideous even back then but being just a kid I didn’t know any better!

 

Datasette Dust Cover

Was this even cool back in the 80’s? Regardless, the time has come for it to go…

 

Why do I need a dust cover anyway?

Most of my retro computers have very nice, custom made transparent perspex covers. They offer great protection from dust and scratches whilst also still allowing me to see my beloved machines.

We have two cats in our household that think everything is fair game to sleep on. Besides keeping dust at bay they are great at keeping cat hairs out of keyboards and everywhere else cat hairs shouldn’t be. I buy all my dustcovers from a company called Retronics based in Poland.

 

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Anyway back in February I spotted this teaser on their Facebook page which clearly showed they were  working on a dust cover for the Commodore Datasette. I duly made a mental note to keep checking back to see when it was available. A few weeks ago I checked again and noticed that it was finally available so I went ahead and bought one from their eBay shop.

Inside the box.

 

Sweeties!

 

It arrived yesterday so here’s a quick look at it. It was packed inside a very attractive box displaying a nice photo of a 1530 Datasette on the cover. Opening it up revealed the cover tucked into a plastic bag along with some delicious freebie Polish sweets. (Every order I have ever received from them has contained these) 🙂

 

Datasette Dust Cover

Naked Dust Cover.

 

With it being transparent it’s quite a tricky thing to photograph!

 

Datasette dust cover

The unmistakable bump for the counter reset button.

 

Impressions & Photos

There isn’t really a great deal you can say about a dust cover. This product does exactly what it says on the box. It’s very well made and the dimensions are just right so that it rests securely on top of the datasette without sliding around. It has all the lumps, bumps and ridges exactly where they need to be to fit correctly and look the part.

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, so here’s a bunch of photos of the dust cover doing its thing. From certain angles it almost looks like there’s no cover on at all, which for me, is exactly how I like it.

 

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The bottom line? If you own a 1530/1531/C2N/Datasette and you are in the market for a stylish dust cover then I don’t think you will find anything better than this.

Latest Retrokomp Issue 2 is now out

Retrokomp Issue 2

Just received my copy of Retrokomp Issue 2, the multi-format retro magazine.

 

Retrokomp Issue 2

Retrokomp Issue 2 Cover

 

Once again there is plenty of content with a hefty count of 72 thick glossy pages and over a third of them devoted to Commodore machines. If you are interested in other machines besides Commodore then there’s even more on offer with the like of ZX Spectrum, Atari, Amstrad, Apple 2 and even old IBM PC’s covered.

 

Retrokomp Issue 2

Contents of this issue

 

Here’s a few highlights of this issues contents.

 

C64 Restoration project.

 

Retrokomp Issue 2

A look at Simon’s BASIC on the C64.

 

How to clear the Hi-Res screen on a C64.

 

A look at the Pi1541 disk drive emulator.

 

Retrokomp Issue 2

Part two of the Project Stealth Fighter article.

 

Comparison between Atari and CBM BASIC.

 

A look at file backup on the Amiga.

 

24-bit datatypes on the Amiga.

 

A look at archiving software for PowerPC equipped Amiga’s.

 

Card readers on the Amiga.

 

Amiga Modula-2 Programming.

 

A quick run-down of the Commodore-centric articles in Retrokomp Issue 2:

  • Sysres
  • Commodore 1541 Drive – Typical Problems
  • Simon’s BASIC – Sprites mean strange objects on the screen
  • Raspberry Pi 1541
  • Commodore PET vs Atari BASIC
  • Using the USR statement
  • Clearing the high resolution screen
  • Commodore 64 Restoration
  • Modula-2 Programming
  • 24-Bit datatypes for Workbench
  • Simple file backup
  • Memory card readers

If you’ve never come across Retrokomp magazine before you might like to read through my preview of the first issue here and the second, here.

Alternatively if you’d like to purchase a copy of Retrokomp Issue 2 for yourself then visit the publishers website here and show your support.

Amiga User 9 (Print Edition) has arrived!

Amiga User 9

This issue of Amiga User 9 has been a long time coming. Unfortunately due to the inescapable Coronavirus the physical shipment of the magazine from Poland was severely delayed. Anyway I’m glad it has finally arrived as there’s plenty to get stuck into during lockdown.

 

Amiga User 9

Amiga User 9 Front Cover

 

In this issue there’s a big focus on the various FPGA systems and their strengths and weaknesses as modern Amiga systems. Maintaining that theme there’s an interesting article that delves into setting up emulation on a Raspberry Pi device too. Rounding off the Amiga emulation topic there’s also an informative little review of the AmiKit Crystal USB kit. As a long time user of AmiKit I’ve often wondered what I was missing from this kit and now I no longer have to.

Elsewhere there’s a very intriguing article about fitting a CD-ROM drive inside an A1200 case. One day soon I hope to add an A1200 to my collection and this is one mod that I would love to try. There’s also some good guides to creating Zip archives, using TrueType fonts and creating DMS/ADF disk images on the Amiga.

 

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Here’s a peek at the contents page so you can see what else is covered in this issue as there’s a lot more than I’ve mentioned.

 

Amiga User 9 Contents

Amiga User 9 Contents

 

If you fancy getting hold of your own copy take a look at the Bitronic.pl website. Amiga User is produced in Poland but the English is jolly good. Delivery to the UK (normally!) only takes a week or so. If you’d rather get a digital version they offer that option too.

If you’d like to take a look at some of my previous previews of the magazine then please click here.

VS-7000 Joystick Review

VS-7000 Joystick

I recently picked up a super little arcade joystick off eBay for my Commodore machines. It’s brand new and made by this seller on eBay. He’s calling it the ‘VS-7000’. I’m really impressed with it so thought I’d share my thoughts.

 

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VS-7000 Joystick Construction

As standard it comes with a plain black plastic base with four sucker feet. However there’s a couple of retro styled vinyl VS-7000 stickers supplied in the box. These can be attached to the sides of the base if you want to jazz it up a little more. Additionally, if suckers aren’t your thing then they can be replaced by the included set of 4 rubber feet.

The seller also offers the same joystick in a couple of other colours. There’s one with a white base and another black one but with wood effect panels, presumably for people that want to use it with Atari systems. Sadly at the time of writing this he’s got no stock left of any variant but hopefully he’ll make some more soon.

 

VS-7000 Stickers and Rubber feet

The supplied stickers to go on either side of the base and a set of 4 rubber feet.

 

Both the buttons and stick are micro-switched and this makes for a really satisfying ‘click’ when pressed. In use I was never unsure whether a button had been pressed that’s for sure. The joystick unit itself is based on the Sanwa mechanism which is designed for arcade game cabinets. The shaft is made of metal with a nice chrome finish and it all feels reassuringly sturdy in use.

The joystick is available with either two ‘A’ buttons or an ‘A’ and ‘B’ button configuration (on request). It is straightforward enough to change from ‘AA’ to ‘AB’ yourself too. Unfortunately the A & B configuration of this stick is NOT compatible with 2 button capable C64 games like Super Mario Bros and Chase HQ 2. The C64 just doesn’t see the extra button at all.

 

VS-7000 Joystick

Here’s what the inside of the joystick looks like

 

Verdict

I have to say that this little joystick has really exceeded my expectations. It requires very little lateral force to move the stick around so it makes extended play sessions much more comfortable. I also found it enabled me to move around games more accurately or pull off those different moves in IK+ more easily. Puzzle games such as Vegetables Deluxe and Milly & Mollie suddenly became far more relaxing to play too.

I can’t overstate how much I love the stick movement on this thing. Selecting a direction only requires a gentle nudge which is immediately rewarded with a satisfying click. I can guide it in the direction I want using just my forefinger and thumb instead of needing to clamp my whole hand around it. Consequently, playing for hours no longer results in getting cramp in my right hand like I do with the other sticks (especially the Suncom). I should point out that this may well be an age related preference. I loved the ZipStick when I was a kid but fifty year old me? No so much.

The VS-7000 joystick does have one shortcoming though… the base is quite bulky and angular so is not the most comfortable thing to hold for extended periods of time. However I suppose that’s to be expected from a homebrew project like this. The joysticks of yesteryear were manufactured in large numbers and had custom, injection moulded bases, not something you can easily replicate on a small scale. Having said that this didn’t prove to be much of an issue for me as I use it mostly either resting on my knee or affixed to my desk with the suckers.

 

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Commodore 1501 Power Monitor MkII Review

Commodore Power Monitor

Whilst I was idly scrolling through eBay one evening a rather cool looking gadget caught my eye. The device in question is the ‘Commodore 1501 Power Monitor MkII’ to give it its full moniker. I’m a sucker for anything with coloured LED’s, VU meters, flashing lights, knobs switches etc. Basically anything flashy or mechanical in nature. This little device features both multiple colour digital displays and a big red nuclear launch button – how could I resist?

 

Commodore 1501 Power Monitor

Here’s what came in the box, the Power Monitor itself and a power cable.

 

The seller is in Australia so delivery to the UK took a few weeks. It arrived well packaged in a small cardboard box. Opening the box revealed the Power Monitor itself together with a short power lead. The device is constructed entirely from plastic but has a textured finish that makes it look like it’s made of metal. The Commodore 1501 label is very convincing and makes it look like a real commodore product (although obviously it isn’t).

 

Commodore Power Monitor

A big red ‘reset’ button screaming to be pushed!

 

Flip the box over and there’s even an official looking serial number label on the bottom. The overall presentation on this is top notch and really made me feel like I was back in the 80’s and had just purchased an ‘proper’ Commodore product.

 

Commodore Power Monitor

Serial number sticker.

 

So what exactly is it then?

This device does exactly what the label says – it monitors the power output of your Commodore PSU. In simple terms it’s basically a voltmeter and ammeter rolled into one. It is able to measure both the 5v DC and 9V AC PSU outputs and also measure the current being drawn by the computer.

In an ideal world your PSU should be outputting voltages as close as possible to the 5v and 9V levels that your Commodore needs. However this is often not the case, especially with old Commodore PSU’s. There are plenty of horror stories online about C64’s being fried by PSU’s that output higher voltages. It is supposed to work on the Commodore 128 and Plus/4 in addition to the VIC20 and C64 but as I don’t own either of those systems I can’t confirm this.

 

Commodore 1501 Power DIN socket

One of the two DIN sockets for attaching the power leads.

 

The 5V supply is used to power most of the chips on the mainboard and is the most sensitive to increased voltages. The unregulated 9V supply is used to power any attached C2N datasette, the user port and the SID chip amongst other things.

The seller claims accuracy is within +/- 0.1V for the DC meter and +/- 0.3V for the AC meter.

 

Interpreting the readings

The instruction booklet (available digitally) gives a handy guide to interpreting the voltage displays:

Voltage RangeDescription
4.95 - 5.1V Power supply functions normally.
5.1 - 5.2VMinor concern, measure the power supply
more often.
5.2 - 5.5VThe power supply is failing. Your Commodore
64 will not fail right away, but it is an
unhealthy situation. Replacement or repair of
the power supply is recommended.
5.5 - 6VYour Commodore 64 is in danger.
>6V In most situations where a Commodore 64
got killed by its power supply, the voltage had
risen above 6V. Usually the RAM memory
gets damaged first.

For some reason there were no instructions included with my power monitor. However after contacting the seller he kindly obliged and mailed them to me. Once more this is an amazing homage to the sort manual Commodore themselves used to produce back in the day, even down to the colour used, very nostalgic indeed.

The manual explains everything you need to know and is even quite funny in places. Tucked away amidst the instruction texts are lines like this; ‘This is NOT the time to practice your Kama-Sutra and experiment with how many different ways to insert your equipment’. There are quite a few more of these so the manual is well worth a read for these alone!

 

Power Monitor MkII User Manual.

Power Monitor MkII User Manual.

 

That big red ‘nuclear launch button’ is actually a reset button allowing you to reboot your Commodore without having to power cycle it, providing that is, your have it connected via the user port.

 

Commodore Power Monitor

Display seen when hooked up to user port.

 

How is the Power Monitor used?

It can be used in a number of different ways but the most straightforward way is simply to attach it to the user port. Used this way it will display the 5V DC voltage level in the upper display and 9V AC in the lower one. This is also the only configuration in which the reset button will actually work. However when connected this way it will not display the current being drawn by the computer.

 

Commodore Power Monitor

Using the 1501 to test my original Commodore PSU which is now almost 40 years old!

 

You can also use it as a simple PSU tester, to ensure a PSU is actually working or not outputting dangerously high voltages. To use it in this manner simply plug the PSU into either of the two DIN sockets on the Power Monitor. The displays will light up immediately to indicate the voltages being output by the PSU. Obviously used in this way there’s no load applied so the current cannot be measured.

 

Commodore Power Monitor

 

The final way it can be used is to attach it between your PSU and your Commodore VIC20 or C64. This is what the supplied cable is for. Simply plug your PSU into the DIN socket on one side of the 1501, plug one end of the supplied cable into the socket on opposite side and then connect the free end of that up to your computer. In this configuration you get the most accurate power readings as the PSU is operating under load. You can now also see how much current is being drawn indicated in the blue Amps display.

 

Commodore 1501 Power Monitor Verdict

I must confess I was initially attracted to this solely because of it’s appearance. However it’s actually an incredibly useful little gadget to have around. I have opted to leave it permanently connected up in-between my VIC20 and my 40 year old original Commodore PSU. This way I can always keep a watchful on eye on things. My C64 uses a modern Electroware PSU so I’m not overly concerned with that frying my computer…

 

VIC20 setup

Power Monitor MkII in use with my VIC20 setup.

 

I can use it to test PSU’s on the fly and also to give an indication of how ‘healthy’ they are. Granted I could do all this with a multi-meter but that wouldn’t be as convenient and it certainly wouldn’t look as cool!

The build quality is terrific and the guy making them has really nailed the whole ‘made by Commodore’ vibe. Of course it’s not an essential purchase by any means but it is a very useful one and gets a big thumbs up from me.

If you fancy getting one, this is the one I purchased on eBay. I should point out that he actually does two versions. Mine is the MkII which can additionally measure current used. The cheaper MkI version only measures voltages but is roughly half the price.

Retro Gamer Magazine #200 with Turrican CD!

Another absolutely brilliant couple of freebies with this months Retro Gamer magazine. First off there’s the A2 colour poster which contains the full image used on the front cover of this special 200th issue of the magazine. It’s like ‘Where’s Wally?’ only for retro geeks! I challenge you to find the C64 and Amiga 500 hidden in the poster!

 

Retro Gamer Turrican

Retro Gamer Issue 200 Cover

 

Secondly there’s an amazing Turrican soundtrack CD included, featuring 14 music tracks from the game.

 

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But these aren’t straight rips from the game, oh no. The first 8 tracks have been performed by a full orchestra and sound phenomenal. The final 6 tracks are remixed studio versions of the game tracks which sound terrific too. I’ve listened to this CD twice already now it’s that good. In fact I’d say the CD is worth the price of the magazine alone!

 

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There’s loads of great content in this months issue but I especially enjoyed the trip through the decades of gaming starting in the 70’s passing through the 80’s and ending in the 90’s. Plenty of coverage of both 8 and 16-bit Commodore machines too. I’d say this months edition is definitely worth a buy, even if it’s just for that epic poster and the Turrican CD!

Retro Acrylic LED Signs

Retro Acrylic LED Signs

So I was indulging in one of my favourite pastimes recently… idly browsing through retro stuff on eBay (or junk as my wife calls it). I came across these cool looking retro acrylic LED signs that I thought would look great in my man cave. The seller offers a wide range of designs to choose from. After much oohing and aahing I settled on a really geeky and detailed C64 Circuit board design and a fairly plain Amiga one.

 

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There’s a range of colours to choose from including white, green, blue and red. The colours are fixed and do not change although that would be a great feature if it was offered. I opted for blue and red. The signs arrived a couple of days later with each comprising three separate components which you assemble yourself.

 

Sign Components…

 

Firstly there’s the acrylic sign itself which is 210mm long, 148mm tall and about 4mm thick. It’s basically the same size as an A5 piece of paper. Then there’s the wooden base with the LED’s in it which is a little longer in length and about 50mm wide. The sign simply slots into it and can easily be removed if necessary. Finally there’s a USB power cable which is about 1m long and has a round male plug one end and a standard USB connection at the other.

The base of the sign is constructed from two pine wood strips glued together. They’ve been well finished with nice rounded corners and edges so no danger of getting splinters. Personally I would have preferred the option of a hardwood base but that’s just nit-picking.

 

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USB Power Cable

 

There’s some kind of circuitry within the USB adapter which makes the plug quite long and the plastic casing feels a little flimsy as a result. I’ve had no issues with it but I’d imagine you need to be careful not to put any sideways pressure on it or it may damage the solder joints. The signs are advertised as being 12v so I’m assuming the circuitry is required to step up the voltage from USB’s normal 5V.

 

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The signs illuminate pretty well even in a well lit room. The LED lights shine up through the acrylic plate and refract through the etched design very effectively.

 

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However dim the lights or use them in a dark room and they really come into their own. Both colours offer a significant glow around them in addition to illuminating the design. The blue is noticeably brighter than the red as you might expect with the latter being much more subdued. I actually found the blue to be too bright to use in a dark room if it was anywhere in my field of vision. However the red was easy on the eyes and created a nice warm glow.

 

Signs in a room with lights dimmed…

 

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Signs in darkened room…

 

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As I mentioned earlier you can remove the signs from their base easily. So, if you’ve bought more than one you can swap them around to see which sign looks best with which colour. Fingerprints become very visible on the surface of the plates though so it’s best to use gloves or handle them from the edges only.

 

In conclusion…

 

These retro acrylic LED signs cost £23 including postage within the UK and are available from this seller. All things considered I think this is a fair price considering what you’re getting. They do look a little ‘functional’ in daylight but once the lights go down they look amazing and really add an interesting focal point to your man cave/office/study/games room.

I do have reservations about the robustness of the USB plug but hopefully it will be fine. I have them plugged into Alexa controlled sockets so they shouldn’t really see much wear and tear. However if anything untoward happens to them I will update this article.

Amiga User 8 – Special Edition

Amiga User 8

This delivery of Amiga User 8 came as a welcome surprise, especially considering that I only received issue 7 a couple of weeks ago! This is actually a special edition issue of the magazine created specifically for the recent Amiga34 party which took place in Neuss, Germany.

 

Amiga User 8

Amiga User 8 Cover

 

Because the magazine was intended to be sold at the event in Germany it is presented in dual languages. The first half of the magazine is in English and the latter half in German. It’s also not as thick as regular issues, weighing in at 40 pages so in reality there’s only 25% of the usual amount of content. However it makes up for this by the addition of several other goodies bundled with it.

 

Amiga User 8 Bundle

Amiga User 8 Bundle

 

Amiga User 8

Amiga User 8 Goodies

 

Extras included with this issue:

  • Amiga User lanyard
  • Amiga User bookmark
  • Cover CD in professionally produced DVD case
  • Ten very cool looking professionally printed multi-colour Amiga disk labels
  • A 3.5″ Rescue floppy disk for booting your Amiga in the event of HD trouble.

 

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So what’s actually in Amiga User 8 then? Well it’s clear that this issue was designed as a ‘taster’ to introduce new readers or lapsed Amiga users to the fold. Consequently the content matter reflects this.  There are articles looking at the alternatives to using physical floppy disks, including a great guide to installing and configuring WHDLoad for new users. There is also a comprehensive guide on how to setup a Hard Drive and install workbench on it. The guide continues with tips for formatting floppies to transfer files from a PC and also for updating key parts of the OS like the Installer. Finally there is a guide for creating your own workbench icons.

 

Cover CD

 

The cover CD itself contains dozens if not hundreds of utilities and applications that you can install on your Amiga. Programs such as Directory Opus, MUI and CyberView. Of course most of these are readily available to download off Aminet or around the web but it’s still convenient to have them collected together.

 

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All of the applications and resources referred to in the magazine are included on the CD too which I find very useful. Besides the practicalities, there’s also the fun of rummaging around the disc to see what’s on there. Maybe uncovering a few surprises or jogging a few memories along the way. It all adds to the nostalgia which is a big part of what the retro scene is all about.

 

Cover CD Contents

Cover CD Contents

 

If you fancy getting hold of your own copy take a look at the Bitronic.pl website. Amiga User is produced in Poland but the English is excellent. I don’t speak much German so I can’t comment on the quality of that aspect. Delivery to the UK only takes a week or so. If you’d rather get a digital version they offer that option too.

If you’d like to take a look at some of my previous previews of the magazine then please click here.

Amiga User 7

Amiga User 7

Another new retro computing magazine was delivered through my door this week. This time it was the turn of Amiga User 7, making it’s second appearance of the year and crammed full of interesting Amiga content.

As I’ve said before, this is definitely a magazine devoted to the Amiga enthusiast rather than gamers. There’s a strong focus on hardware and software applications along with guides and tutorials to follow. More of a reference source than a typical magazine and well worth picking up if you are a ‘tinkerer’ like myself.

In this issue there’s a look at configuring next-gen Amiga OS’s MorphOS and AROS. A review of GoADF! 2019 plus articles delving into aspects of Dopus 5, ImageFX and even ShapeShifter!

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Here’s a peek at the contents page so you can see what else is covered in this issue.

 

Amiga User 7 Index

Amiga User 7 Contents

 

If you fancy getting hold of your own copy take a look at the Bitronic.pl website. Amiga User is produced in Poland but the English is excellent. Delivery to the UK only takes a week or so. If you’d rather get a digital version they offer that option too.

If you’d like to take a look at some of my previous previews of the magazine then please click here.

Cassette Deck Maintenance: Demagnetising a Tape Head

Binatone Data Recorder - Demagnetising Tape head

In addition to regular cleaning another vital part of keeping your cassette deck running smoothly is demagnetising the tape head. This applies to both computer cassette decks and Hi-Fi ones. Over time a residual magnetic field can build up on the head. Not only can this adversely affect playback (more noise and loss of high end response) but it can also degrade the quality of any tape passing over it.

A cassette tape is basically a strip of thin plastic coated with a ferrous material. Music (or data in the case of a computer tape) is recorded onto it by using an electro-magnet to magnetise the tape surface to varying degrees. A tape can be erased by placing a strong magnet near it so even a weakly magnetised head will, over time, slowly erase any recordings passing over it. The more you play a tape on a deck with a magnetised head, the greater the cumulative effect will be.

TDK HD-01 Tape Head Demagnetiser

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So what can you do about it? Well thankfully there are a number of different ways you can demagnetise tape heads. Popular methods include a mains powered electro-magnetic wand and those cheap cleaning cassettes that contain a rotating magnet on a little disc. In the past I relied on an the latter; an old Maxell cleaner/demagnetising cassette. However just recently I stumbled across this TDK one advertised as ‘New Old Stock’. I’ve always trusted TDK as a brand, they make good quality products and know their stuff. It was a little on the expensive side due to me needing to pay shipping and import taxes from the US but I felt it was worth it.

 

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Although the box it came in was very tatty, the contents were like new. Inside there was a small instruction manual and the demagnetiser itself. The device is powered by a small 1.5V lithium battery which should be good for 500 uses according to the instructions.

Naturally I had to install a new battery before I could get it to work. The rear of the instruction manual is stamped with the year 1978 so this little gadget is now over 40 years old! Thankfully it takes a standard size A76/LR44 button cell battery that is still readily available.

 

How does it work? – Demagnetising the tape heads

So how do you use it? Well it really couldn’t be any simpler. You basically pop it into your cassette player and press play! There’s a small plastic micro-switch above the play head that is activated by the motion of play head moving upwards when you press the play button. A red LED illuminates at the centre of the cassette to demonstrate that it’s working and that’s it, job done! When activated the circuitry inside the demagnetiser generates a pulse signal which demagnetises the play head in a matter of seconds.

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There’s a little more to the process than that if you are using the device in a cassette deck that doesn’t have a mechanical play button. The device won’t work until the play button is pressed so if you have a deck that won’t allow you to press play whilst powered off then you need to take a few precautions. This is because of the strong signal it outputs which can damage amplifiers and headphones if you don’t make sure to fully turn down any volume controls first. My Hi-Fi has a fully electronic transport mechanism so I have to be careful when using it on that device for example.

 

Commodore C2N - Demagnetising Tape head

Commodore C2N – Demagnetising the tape head in progress!

 

Thankfully most older devices have fully manual play buttons and need no such precautions. With devices like the Commodore C2N Datasette I can simply pop the cassette in, press play and the get the job done in seconds. I would imagine virtually all Walkmans would be equally simple to work with.

The manual recommends demagnetising your tape head every 30 hours of playing time. Therefore, how often you need to do this will depend on what sort of tapes you are playing and how often you play them. For my Hi-Fi deck regularly playing C60 and C90 tapes this could be as often as once a fortnight. For my computer decks playing relatively short C15 tapes much less frequently, once every 6 months would be more appropriate.

Despite the cost I think the device is totally worth my time and money. Given how precious some of my old cassette tapes and games are to me, anything I can do to help prolong their lifespan is worth doing in my book.