Lyonsden Blog

Tag - Commodore

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, I bought mine from this seller 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 amiga.net.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 amiga.net.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.

Retrokomp Issue 2 (1) Out Now!

Issue two of the multi-format retro magazine has finally been released and I received my copy a few days ago. Just to confuse things slightly this magazine is actually named Retrokomp Issue 1. That’s because the first issue was in fact numbered ‘0’. This is a slightly odd numbering convention that can be found on their other magazines such as Amiga User too.

 

Retrokomp Issue 1

Retrokomp Issue 1 Cover

 

This issue is packed with even more Commodore content that the previous one and arrives with a hefty count of 76 thick glossy pages.

 

A welcome bias towards Commodore in this issues contents

 

As I mentioned in my look at the very first issue, this is definitely a magazine aimed at the more serious user. There’s a big emphasis on productivity and creative software rather than gaming. This is no bad thing though as there are plenty of magazines offering gaming news and reviews now. That’s not to say the Retrokomp doesn’t dabble with games though. This issue has the first part of really interesting series of articles delving into MicroProse F-19 Stealth Fighter, possibly their finest flight simulation ever in my opinion.

 

F-19 Stealth Fightrer

F-19 Stealth Fighter on the C64

 

Rocket Smash EX Review

Rocket Smash EX Review

 

Of course there’s no shortage of interesting articles to expand your retro computing knowledge either. I particularly enjoyed the LHArchie GUI guide that shows how to install a GUI for the previously shell only LHA archive utility.

 

LHArchie GUI

LHArchie GUI

 

Other stand-out articles for me were the Ray-tracing and Brilliance articles for the Amiga.

 

Amiga Ray-tracing

Amiga Ray-tracing

 

Brilliance

Everyone remembers Deluxe Paint on the Amiga but who remembers Brilliance?

 

A quick run-down of the Commodore-centric articles in Retrokomp Issue 1:

  • F-19 Stealth Fighter
  • Data compression methods on the PET
  • Truths and myths about the Commodore 64
  • Rocket Smash EX Review
  • Black Box cartridge: Assembler support
  • My personal games set for Plus/4
  • Raytracing on the Amia 500 with 1MB RAM
  • Amiga Vision
  • (True) Brilliance: 24-bit on Amiga chipset
  • Get to know AmigaOS: programs and processes
  • PowerPC software tips
  • LHArchie GUI

 

 

Plus/4 Gaming

Plus/4 Gaming

 

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

Alternatively if you’d like to purchase a copy of Retrokomp Issue 1 for yourself then visit the publishers website here and show your support.

A look back at Pinball Spectacular and Raid on Fort Knox for the VIC20

Pinball Spectacular

Picked up another duo of classic VIC20 game cartridges off eBay to add to my collection this week. Pinball Spectacular and Raid on Fort Knox, both of which are in pretty good condition complete with their original boxes and instruction sheets.

As usual I spent some time scanning the boxes in and adding them to my ‘3D VIC20 Game Museum‘. It’s so much easier to do this as and when I get new games. If I leave it too long they pile up and I develop a kind of mental block that prevents me doing them!

I’ve never seen or played either of these two before so had no idea what to expect from either of them beforehand. Thought I would share my thoughts on each title in the form of some mini reviews…

 

Pinball Spectacular

I’d never even seen Pinball Spectacular for the VIC20 before so this was a particularly interesting purchase for me. The game requires the use of paddles which was another reason I was keen to pick it up. There weren’t many paddle games made for the VIC so I grab any I can find!

Once I loaded this up I quickly realised that this is not a pinball game at all. It might take a few cues from it but this is basically a version of breakout.

 

Pinball Spectacular

Pinball Spectacular Title/Player select screen

 

You control two horizontal bats that you can move left and right with the paddle. Once you launch the pinball with the fire button you need to keep batting it back up the screen to destroy the coloured blocks. This can quickly get tricky as the ball ricochets, often at high speed, at all sorts of angles due to the design of the ‘table’. The goal here is to clear all the blocks and release an alien which you then destroy by hitting it with the pinball.

So far, this has far more in common with breakout than anything else. Here’s where the the pinball elements come in to play. You can hit the ghost at the top of the screen for extra points. Likewise if you can direct the ball to hit all the little faces (turning the frowns into smiles) you can gain another bonus. Light up the letters E X T R A and unsurprisingly you earn an extra ball.

 

Pinball Spectacular

Pinball Spectacular

 

It’s a very simple game but it’s presented attractively with a great use of colour and some decent sound effects. Best of all it’s actually really good fun to play, helped in no small part by the use of paddles to control the bats. I can see myself coming back to play this often, trying to rack up higher and higher scores.

 

Raid on Fort Knox

This game has a lot in common with other games such as Pacman or Radar Rat race. The aim of the game is to steal gold bars from the vaults in Fort Knox and escape back to your hideout with them. Fort Knox is represented as a maze of corridors and for some reason there are black panthers patrolling that you must avoid. Not sure why there’s panthers around instead of guards but no matter. If one touches you,  you lose one of your three lives, lose all three and it’s game over.

 

Raid on Fort Knox

Raid on Fort Knox Title Screen

 

Whilst you are navigating through the corridors to retrieve the gold, one bar at a time, there’s no time limit. However as soon as you grab a gold bar a countdown timer bar appears at the bottom of the screen. You must get back to your hideout, whilst avoiding the panthers, before the time limit runs out. The faster you get back to your hideout, the bigger the payout. If time runs out you get nothing for your troubles. If you steal all the bars you move on to a bonus vault before moving up to the next level.

 

Raid on Fort Knox

First level of Raid on Fort Knox – on the left are the gold bars. You’re the little blue guy top right.

 

The graphics can best be described as rudimentary, as are the sound effects. If it was a budget game on cassette I’d forgive these shortcomings but for a cartridge game it’s disappointing. I reckon it was probably written in BASIC. I’m glad I was able to add it to my collection but in all honesty it’s not a title I see myself coming back to in the future.

 

Raid on Fort Knox

Raid on Fort Knox Bonus Level – avoid those black panthers.

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor Diagnostic Cartridge Review

Trilogic 64 Doctor

I picked ‘Trilogic 64 Doctor’ up a little while ago as I thought it might come in handy one day. As it had been sat around on a shelf for some time I decided it was time to have a play around with it. You would be forgiven for thinking that this was new old stock given that Trilogic (as we know it) ceased to be a long time ago*. However this is actually a factory fresh product, made under licence by the prolific Tim Harris of SharewarePlus.

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

Here’s the contents of the box. From left to right. User port dongle, test cartridge and serial port dongle.

 

Inside the box you get an instruction booklet, some flyers for other Trilogic products, the Trilogic 64 Doctor diagnostic cart itself, a user port dongle and also a serial port dongle.

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor Instructions

Here’s the instruction booklet along with some very retro looking flyers for other Trilogic stuff.

 

What does it do?

So what does the Trilogic 64 Doctor actually do? Well there is a little clue in the ‘doctor’ part of the name itself. Basically you plug it in and it will then perform a barrage of tests on your Commodore 64, from RAM chips to joystick ports.

Here’s a list of the tests it can perform:

  • Keyboard
  • Serial Port
  • Cartridge Port
  • Kernal ROM
  • Video Chip & Video Banks
  • NVI & IRQ Interrupts
  • Cassette Data
  • Joystick Port
  • User Port
  • BASIC ROM
  • CIA Chips
  • Sound Chip
  • Cassette Key Press
  • Joystick(s)

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

Rear of the Commodore 64 with cartridge and both dongles inserted.

 

Keyboard Test

When you first turn your C64 on with the cartridge inserted you are presented with an on-screen keyboard. This is the keyboard test and allows you to quickly determine whether any of your keys are misbehaving. As you press each key in turn, their on-screen counterparts light up in yellow. If any don’t light up then you know there’s a problem. The restore key isn’t included in the test per se, but given it is needed to progress to the next test it will be obvious if it’s faulty!

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

The Keyboard test screen

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

Successfully passing the keyboard test

 

Joystick and Joystick Port Test

The next test is for the two joystick ports and of course whatever joystick you happen to have plugged in. Simply press up, down, left, right and fire with a joystick attached (in turn) to both ports. Like with the keyboard test, an on-screen visualisation of the presses should appear if all is working correctly.

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

The joystick test screen

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

Successfully passing the joystick test

 

Chip and Ports test

The final and probably most important test is that of the various chips and ports of the Commodore 64. This test includes both the User Port and Serial port so long as you have plugged in the supplied dongles. Video, SID, Kernel, CIA and several other chips are also tested too. If you need to test the cassette port then you must connect a datasette to it, after making sure you unplug the serial port dongle first.

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

Successful chip tests

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

Successful cassette deck/port test. Notice how the serial port lists a fault – this is because the serial port dongle has to be unplugged for this part of the test.

 

After the tests…

Once the tests have completed you will either be presented with a clean bill of health or a fault to fix. The included manual provides a wealth of useful information not just about faults but also how to fix them. It goes into great detail about common reasons for each fault, how to troubleshoot them and ultimately what you can do to fix them. It even goes as far as recommending other useful tools that you may need to diagnose faults or perform repairs.

 

Conclusion

With the inclusion of the two dongles this offers a very comprehensive phalanx of tests for your Commodore 64. Combined with the informative manual, whether you need to troubleshoot a faulty C64 or just want to have it ‘in reserve’ in your retro toolkit this is a recommended purchase.

If you fancy getting hold of one yourself, these are listed on the SharewarePlus eBay store for around £25 at the time of writing.

 

 

 

 

 


*Curiosity got the better of me so I did some googling. Although Trilogic Computers does still exist, it is now a PC repair business. It’s still in Bradford only located at a different address. A look through the records at Companies House indicate that they changed from their old address to their current one back in 1997. Maybe one day when I’m in the area I’ll pop in with my old Expert cart and ask them to fix it!

TerribleFire 330 – CD32 Upgrade

TerribleFire 330

One of the things I’ve always loved about the Amiga is it’s expansion possibilities. There was always some upgrade or gizmo you could add that would let you do something new, or do something faster. The TerribleFire 330 is touted as being able to do both of these things and then some. Naturally, as soon as I spotted it on AmiBay I wanted one…

What is it?

The TerribleFire 330 is an expansion for the Amiga CD32 that adds many new features to the console. It’s attached by means of a ‘Riser’ card to the expansion port which itself offers some benefits to the user. Here’s a quick run-down of the extra features it offers:

  • 68030 CPU over-clocked to 50Mhz
  • 64MB Fast Ram
  • IDE Interface
  • RGB Video Port (on the riser)
  • PS/2 Keyboard port (on the riser)

In a nutshell, it converts your CD32 into a souped up Amiga 1200 with built-in CD-ROM drive.

 

A Closer Look at the TF330

 

TerribleFire 330

Here’s a close-up of the top of the board. CPU on the left, IDE connector top right.

 

TerribleFire 330

Here’s a view of the underside of the board. Foam pads are present to prevent the exposed solder pads from touching the metal shielding cover inside the CD32 when inserted.

 

TerribleFire 330 Riser Board

Here’s a view of the riser board.

 

Riser Board

The is a straight-on view of the riser board. The male DB25 port on the right is for hooking up an RGB video cable for vastly improved picture quality. The PIC chip in the center provides a means of converting the inputs from a PS/2 PC keyboard into key presses that will the Amiga will recognise.

 

TF330 PS/2 Port

A better view of the PS/2 port.

 

TF330 68030 CPU

Close-up of the 68030 CPU. As you may notice it’s officially rated at 40Mhz. On the TF330 board it has been overclocked to run at 50Mhz.

 

TerribleFire 330

Side view of the TF330 – note how the CF card can be tucked underneath.

 

TerribleFire 330

Another view of the TerribleFire 330 card.

 

 

Installing the TerribleFire 330

 

Installation is pretty straightforward and involves removing the plastic expansion cover on the back of the CD32 console. There’s only one phillips screw to remove. Both the screw and the cover can be safely stashed away at this point as they won’t be getting used again.

 

CD32 Expansion Cover

This is the CD32 expansion bay where the TerribleFire card will be installed.

 

With the cover removed you can clearly see a big empty space left above the shielding. This expansion bay was original intended to allow the use of the official Commodore CD32 Full Motion Video Module.

 

CD32 Expansion Bay

Here’s a view of the expansion bay with the cover removed. The edge connector can be seen at the bottom of the image. The TerribleFire 330 card will occupy that empty space above the shielding.

 

You can simply install the TF330 as it comes but I found a nice little 3D printed clip to hold the IDE cable and CF card in place on eBay. With this fitted the card is securely held underneath the main TF330 board out of harms way. Not an essential purchase but as I store my CD32 vertically I thought it was a worthwhile extra to prevent things moving around.

 

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Installing the TerribleFire 330

Here are some photos of the TF330 after I installed it. It does protrude from the back of the console somewhat and it certainly ain’t ‘pretty’ but I’m more than happy to overlook this given the features it offers.

 

Installed TerribleFire 330

TF330 fully installed – you can clearly see that it protrudes about 1″ from the back of the console to the edge of the PS/2 port.

 

TF330 Riser installed

The transparent plastic stuck over the circuit board protects it from being shorted out accidentally. The PIC chip is missing for reasons that I will explain later…

 

 

Booting up for the first time

My TerribleFire 330 came with a pre-installed copy of Workbench on an 8GB Compact Flash card. To boot into Workbench all you need to do is turn on the CD32 without a disc inside it. After a few seconds the CD activity light starts to flicker away and then up pops the workbench screen.

 

TF330 Workbench Screen

You can see the 68030 CPU recognised along with the extra 64MB of RAM on the title bar of the screen.

 

As with any accelerator upgrade for the Amiga I couldn’t resist loading up Sysinfo to see how my pimped out CD32 fared against other systems in the Amiga range. I was not disappointed, it ranked between the Amiga 3000 and 4000 which is impressive. It’s almost twice as fast as a stock A3000 which has a 25Mhz 030 processor.

 

TerribleFire 330 Sysinfo

SYSINFO: Nearly half as fast as an Amiga 4000…

 

TerribleFire 330 Sysinfo

SYSINFO: Zoomed in view.

 

And of course with the ability to run Workbench off an installed CF card comes the option of using WHDLoad! My card came pre-installed with hundreds, if not thousands of games all ready to play with a few clicks of a mouse. The CD32 already has the required 2Mb chip RAM and with the TF330 it also has plenty of Fast RAM now too. Throw in a PS/2 keyboard and you can also exit games cleanly back to Workbench and play games like Star Crusader that require one.

 

CD32 WHDLoad

TerribleFire 330 lets you use WHDLoad on the CD32.

Compatibility

I’ve now tested all the games I own and listed the results on my CD32 Game Compatibility page.

The board was described as having a ‘disable jumper’. Removing it is supposed to make it invisible to the CD32 so it can boot up as normal. However in my testing this simply doesn’t work, in fact removing the jumper prevented my console from booting up at all. I contacted the seller on AmiBay who said there’s still a bug with this and that it would hopefully be fixed in a future firmware update. If that ever happens I’ll update this article.

As things stand right now I can either remove the board if I come across an incompatible CD32 game or see if there’s an alternative version on the internet that has been patched to work. Alternatively I can also try the WHDLoad version.

 

RGB Video Functionality

 

The RGB port works exactly as described and offers a beautifully crisp, vibrant display with a regular Amiga RGB SCART cable. Much better than the composite I was having to use previously. Whether or not I was using Workbench or playing a game off CD this worked flawlessly.

 

TerribleFire330 RGB

A beautifully crisp display thanks to the TerribleFire 330’s RGB video output.

 

PS/2 Keyboard Functionality

 

Unfortunately I can’t say the same for the PS/2 port. The whole point of this is to allow people to use cheap PC PS/2 keyboards with the CD32 instead of super scarce Amiga ones. However I tried three different brands of PS/2 keyboard and only one of those worked… for about 10 minutes. No matter what I tried I couldn’t get that keyboard to work reliably. It turns out that the PS/2 keyboard compatibility is very poor with the riser card. People report greater success with really old keyboards rather than currently available ones. I was advised by the seller to get a CD32 AUX to PS/2 adapter.

 

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I chose this one on eBay for about £18. The seller was really helpful and even offered to refund me if the adapter turned out not to work. Thankfully that wasn’t necessary as it worked perfectly with my cheap Genius PS/2 keyboard that I picked up off [amazon_textlink asin=’B07NVKCJKL’ text=’Amazon’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’lyonsden-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’a215ac64-498b-496d-b363-43889a6430ac’]. There’s some clever electronics hidden inside the adapter that converts stuff like the two ‘Windows’ keys into ‘Amiga’ ones so you can still do a soft-reset. It works really well and I highly recommend getting one, even if you don’t get a TerribleFire!

 

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Actually there was one other issue that I had to solve before I was in PS/2 keyboard nirvana. The keyboard initially behaved like a key was stuck down. There is a conflict between the PIC chip on the Kipper 2K riser and the PS/2 Aux adapter. Simply removing the PIC chip solved this problem completely with no negative effects.

Here’s the PS/2 keyboard I’m using with my CD32, it’s just a cheap one I picked up off [amazon_textlink asin=’B07NVKCJKL’ text=’Amazon’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’lyonsden-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’a215ac64-498b-496d-b363-43889a6430ac’] but it does the job and isn’t a bad match for the dark grey colour of the console either.

 

CD32 PS/2 Compatible Keyboard

CD32 PS/2 Compatible Keyboard

 

Conclusion

I can’t deny it’s shame the built-in PS/2 keyboard option doesn’t work as well as it could and that I can’t disable the board without removing it. However these small niggles don’t stop the TerribleFire 330 from being a beast of an expansion for the money. You’d be hard pressed to find anything else offering as much bang for your buck.

With the TerribleFire 330 installed my CD32 has become the ultimate Amiga gaming machine. It can play CD32 and CDTV titles and thanks to WHDLoad it can now play pretty much any other Amiga title as well. In fact with mouse and keyboard attached it can even be used for productivity stuff just like an A1200, only with a built in CD-ROM drive!

The extra grunt of the 50Mhz 030 also helps it run games like Alien Breed 3D, Frontier Elite 2 and Wing Commander at their very best. The addition of the RGB video port makes everything look its very best too! Bottom line, if you have a CD32 then the TerribleFire 330 is an essential upgrade for it.

 

Ultimate Amiga gaming machine

With the TF330 my CD32 has become the ultimate Amiga gaming machine.

Commodore 64 Joyswitcher Review

Joyswitcher

If you have two joysticks permanently plugged into your Commodore 64 then you would probably have no use for the Joyswitcher. However, if you’re anything like me, you might find that this is something you’ve wanted for a long time without realising it. I don’t play 2-player games but do play a wide variety of 1-player games, including those that require paddles or a mouse. Not only that but I also dabble with GEOS from time to time too. This means I’m constantly having to switch my joystick between ports 1 and 2 and swap in my mouse or paddles for those games and programs that require them as well. Not only is this a little tedious but it’s also a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on my C64’s 35 year old joystick ports.

 

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Enter the Joyswitcher

I stumbled across this little device over on AmiBay recently. This is a neat little gizmo that plugs into both of your Commodore 64’s joystick ports simultaneously. It allows you to attach any combination of mouse, joysticks or paddles and freely switch between both devices and ports without ever having to unplug anything. The guy that makes these little devices is based in Hungary but it only took a week to arrive and was well packaged too.

The Joyswitcher itself is really well constructed and very sturdy. Those DB9 joystick ports are very securely attached and don’t move around at all when plugging stuff in. There are two female DB9’s that plug into your C64 on one side of the Joyswitcher and two male DB9’s on the opposite side for you to attach your gaming devices. On the underside is a little brass post that is just the right length to support the board so that no strain is placed on the joystick ports.

 

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How it works

On the top of the device is a chunky illuminated square button, helpfully labelled ‘swap ports’ on the board. Press this for a second and you can switch the ports around from their normal position to a ‘crossed over’ one. This button stays illuminated all the time making it very easy to find if you’re playing at night with the lights dimmed.

When you first attach the Joyswitcher the default port arrangement looks like this:

Port 1 > 1

Port 2 > 2

However after pressing the illuminated button the port mapping switches over like this:

Port 1 > 2

Port 2 > 1

 

Joyswitcher

Notice the little LED to the right of port 1. When illuminated you know the ports are operating in their normal way, (not switched).

 

You can tell at a glance which mode the Joyswitcher is in as a little LED lights up when the ports are are in the ‘normal’ position. The Joyswitcher also remembers it’s last switched ‘state’ even after being powered off which is very useful.

 

Joyswitcher

Joyswitcher operating in normal mode with a pair of paddles attached to port 1 and a zipstick in port 2.

 

I still occasionally have to swap my paddles for a mouse and vice versa but not very often. Certainly nowhere near as often as I was when having to juggle a zipstick, paddles and a mouse between the 2 ports.

If I could change a single thing about the Joyswitcher it would be to add a 3rd input port so I could leave everything plugged in permanently. However there’s probably very few other users like me and it would complicate the design of the board no end so I can accept that it will probably never happen!

Conclusion

This is a fantastic little device and well worth the €32.90 it cost me. Can’t really fault the device as it does exactly what it sets out to do, is well constructed and looks like it will last a long time. I really love the aesthetics of it and appreciate being able to see everything exposed in an ‘industrial’ kind of way. It certainly looks way cooler like this than it ever would hidden away in a bland plastic case in my opinion. No doubt if you don’t feel the same way you could probably find a 3D printed case for it online.