Lyonsden Blog

Tag - VIC20

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!

Hedaka Multi-Function HED-1 Joystick

Hedaka Joystick

While I was looking for a new gamepad for my Commodore 64 a while back I stumbled across this bad boy. It’s called the ‘Hedaka Multi-Function HED-1’ joystick and I spotted it on the German eBay site and imported it to the UK. All in with postage I think it cost me around £40.

Using the interactive 3D display immediately below you can take a look at the box it came in. Just click inside the box and then when the hand icon appears drag to rotate and zoom in and out.

I honestly don’t know too much about the origins of this device – I simply bought it because it looked interesting. From the German language used on the box it appears to have been made for the German market. However all the text on the device itself is in English which seems a little odd. It’s worked out great for me though as I know instantly what everything should do!

 

Hedaka Multi-Function HED-1 Joystick Specs

Using my amazing multi-lingual abilities Google translate I was able to glean the following information from the specifications listed on the box:

  • Control knob for computer games, suitable for many computers, Atari all types, Commodore VIC20, C64, 128 and C16 & Plus/4 with adaptor.
  • Additionally 2 integrated paddles
  • Particularly sensitive control by micro-switch
  • Auto-fire infinitely adjustable
  • Extra large fire-buttons
  • Stable metal housing
  • Practical suction feet for safe stand
  • Extra long connection cable

Basically this device looked to have been aiming to be the only controller you would ever need to use with your computer!

 

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Construction

This thing is built like a tank with the entire case being constructed from 1mm thick powder coated steel. The base measures 20cm x 12cm and the height to the top of the joystick is 10cm. A very generous 3m long cable is provided which means you can use this device from pretty much anywhere in the room.

 

Hedaka Joystick

Closer view of the joystick controls.

 

The stick itself is very comfortable in use and the micro-switches ensure you get a nice tactile ‘click’ as you move it around. The oversized fire buttons provide similarly satisfying feedback when pressed. The joystick requires only light pressure to operate and about 5mm deflection from centre to register a click.

 

View of the base showing the four sucker feet.

 

On the underside of the joystick are 4 large rubber suckers that allow you to stick the base to a desk or table. These work really well and on a completely smooth surface possibly a little too well. When I placed the joystick down on a glass coffee table I really struggled to get it off!

When firmly affixed to a surface it gives a great arcade-like experience. I tried using it on my knee but it quickly became uncomfortable. However sticking it onto a place mat first and then on my knee offered a comfortable compromise.

 

Hedaka Joystick

In this view you can see the red LED just to the right of the auto-fire speed control knob. This visually displays the rate of fire.

 

 

Auto-Fire

For shoot-em-ups you can opt to turn on auto-fire mode using the toggle switch. Once this is engaged there is a speed selector knob which can be rotated to fine tune the rate of fire. This is completely analogue and the knob rotates through 270′ so you really can set it to anything you desire. There is a red LED above the speed control knob that lights each time the fire button is activated providing instant visual feedback of the rate of fire. The auto-fire only engages whilst the fire button is held down too which makes perfect sense.

 

Hedaka Joystick

Close-up of the joystick itself.

 

Paddles

The real ace up its sleeve for me though is the inclusion of paddle controls. This means if I fancy a quick game of Panic Analogue (easily my favourite paddle game) I no longer need to dig out my Atari Paddles.

 

Hedaka Joystick

Close-up of the paddle controls.

 

Both paddles are implemented and of course each has its own fire button. The button for paddle 2 is activated by selecting another toggle switch. The paddle knobs do take a little getting used to as they are much smaller than a typical paddle wheel (1cm diameter v 6cm). However they work effectively and allow very smooth and precise movement.

 

A Look inside

Just out of curiosity I decided to open up the case and have a peek inside. There are four philips screws along the lower edge of the base keeping the cover firmly attached. These screws fit into four little slots cut into the sides of the cover so they only need to be loosened a few turns and the cover will slide up and off.

 

View of the inside with all the electronics attached to the top cover.

 

Close-up of the joystick micro-switches.

 

This is a close-up of the two micro-switch fire buttons (left) and the Paddle potentiometers (right).

 

Verdict

This is a terrific joystick and I’m so glad I took a chance and bought it. The auto-fire feature is superb, probably the best implementation I have seen. Furthermore, the design of the joystick with its large base, oversized fire buttons and limpet-like suckers means it offers a very arcade like experience. Playing the classic Gorf or the much more recent Galencia with this joystick is a real pleasure. When I want to play the odd paddle game, not having to swap controllers to do so is incredibly convenient. Definitely a recommended pickup if you see one up for sale.

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 VIC20 ‘breadbin’ Case Repair

VIC20 Case Repair

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

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

 

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

 

A look at what’s in the repair pack

 

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

 

Commodore Case Repair

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

 

 

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

 

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Fitting the new hinge tabs

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

 

Commodore Case Repair

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

 

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

 

Commodore Case Repair

Tabs completely removed allowing the fitment of the replacement

 

 

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

 

Commodore Case Repair

Test fitting of replacement tab

 

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

 

Test fitting of replacement tab

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Commodore Case Repair

Holding the new hinge tabs in place whilst glue sets

 

Preparing the screw posts

 

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

 

Commodore Case Repair

Broken screw post

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Commodore Case Repair

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

 

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

 

Gluing the repair sleeves

 

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

 

Commodore Case Repair

Screw post fitted with repair sleeve after sanding it down

 

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

 

Commodore Case Repair

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

 

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

 

Repaired commodore case

Top part of case with all repairs complete

 

Reassembly

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

 

VIC20 top case with keyboard fitted

Keyboard fitted back into the repaired top case

 

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

 

Commodore case sleeve repair

Keyboard re-fitted – just enough clearance with repair sleeve

 

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

 

Screw post repaired

Screw in repaired post

 

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

 

VIC20 with lid hinged open

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

 

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

 

VIC20 back of case

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

 

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

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

Cooling my VIC20

Cooling VIC20

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

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

 

VIC20 Motherboard chip identification

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

 

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

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

 

Chip Temperatures

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

 

Copper Heatsinks

Packs of Copper Heatsinks

 

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

 

Copper Heatsinks

Copper Heatsinks alongside the thermal tape fixing pads

 

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

 

Preparation

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cleaning motherboard with cotton bud

Cleaning up with an alcohol soaked cotton bud.

 

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

 

Heatsink with thermal tape applied

Heatsink with thermal tape applied

 

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

 

Heatsink with thermal tape applied

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

 

Installation

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

 

Cooling VIC20

Here’s the VIC fully covered by heatsinks.

 

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

 

Cooling VIC20

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

 

Cooling VIC20

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

 

Did it actually do anything?

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

 

Cooling VIC20

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

 

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

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

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

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.

 

Retrobrighting with Just the Sun!

Retrobrighting with Just the Sun

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

Enter the VIC

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

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

Before & After Results

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

Conclusion

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

Three Classic VIC20 Games Remembered

Race, Skramble & Blitz

Picked up a few nice games off eBay recently for my VIC20. Although I’ve had all of them in past, this is the first time I’ve actually owned the retail releases for each game. The copies of Blitz and Race I had as a child were part of a compilation tape I got with my VIC20. I only ever had a pirated copy of Skramble so now at long last I have the original game in my collection.

Although the cassette tapes and ‘J’ card inlays were in terrific shape, the boxes on all three were extremely tatty and well worn. The very first thing I did was replace them with new ones and as you can see the games all look as good as new now.

 

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Like many people I got my copy of ‘Blitz’ and ‘Race’ on a compilation tape that came with my VIC20 computer.  I still have this tape (pictured below) of course but thought it would be cool to own the original, stand alone copies of the games too.  It’s holding up pretty well considering it’s now 37 years old!

 

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A brief look at each game

 

As I’ve done on previous occasions,  I’ve taken some screenshots of each game and written little mini reviews of each. Part of the fun of getting hold of these old games is to relive the whole experience of loading them and seeing if I even remember what they used to look like correctly after all this time.

 

Race

 

Despite some horrendous squeaking noises this loaded after a few tries. It’s a pretty spartan game with a brief text introduction and then on to the game. Despite the name and screenshot on the front of the cassette case this is not a racing game. No, this is a dodging game. Move your bike left and right to avoid the other bikes scrolling up the screen. The are four difficultly levels and it gets faster as you progress until you either reach the end or crash. Needless to say it’s not a very entertaining game, and probably never really was. The whole thing is very rudimentary, but then again it looks like it was written in BASIC so you can’t expect too much. Still, it’s a nice little bit of VIC20 history.

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Blitz

This is also a 3.5K game written in BASIC for an expanded VIC20. However this one manages to have a lot of charm and character and is quite fun to play.

The idea is simple, fly your little bi-plane across a randomly generated city as you bomb it into oblivion so you can land. Every time you reach the edge of the screen your plane drops down a row, getting ever closer to the skyscrapers below. You can only drop a single bomb at a time so there is an element of strategy (and luck) to it if you want to succeed. If you time it well you can often drop two or more bombs in one pass which is crucial to clearing the city. Fail to bomb even the smallest bit of rubble away and you’ll crash into it and it’s game over.

I played this quite a lot as a child, the graphics are really pretty good for what it is and the sound effects  work really well too. It’s still actually fun now and a worthy addition to my collection.

 

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Skramble

 

I thought this tape was faulty at first as every time I tried to load it I was getting an ‘out of memory’ error. After a spot of RTFM I tried just typing ‘LOAD’ instead of the customary ‘SHIFT & RUN/STOP’ as it suggested. Hey presto – it worked! The screen turned white and the text red and several minutes later the game greeted me with a very colourful  title screen.

I have to say this is by far the best game of the bunch, the extra 16K of RAM really allows the VIC20 to show what it is capable of. Fantastic, colourful graphics, slick side scrolling and punchy sound effects made this one of the best Skramble clones you could play at the time and it still looks great even now. It’s definitely the best version of Skramble you could play on the VIC. Just a shame so few games actually took advantage of the 16K RAM expansion back in the day as the VIC20 was capable of running some great games if given the chance.

It’s was very difficult trying to play this whilst reaching for the phone camera, games back then didn’t have a ‘pause’ feature! I’m looking forward to playing this a lot more now and reaching the end. If my memory is correct there were 6 levels in all with the final one being pretty torturous. I completed it many times over as a child and won’t rest until I do the same now as an older and wiser, albeit probably slower adult!

 

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2 New VIC20 Game Cartridges

VIC20 Pirate Cove & Star Battle

Picked up a couple of terrific classic VIC20 game cartridges off eBay to add to my collection this week. Pirate Cove and Star Battle, both of which are in fantastic condition. I’ve also spent some time scanning the boxes in and have added them to my ‘3D VIC20 Game Museum‘ too!

Pirate Cove is another excellent Scott Adams text adventure and along with ‘The Count‘, ‘Voodoo Castle‘, ‘Adventureland‘ and ‘Mission Impossible‘ completes my collection of his games on the VIC20.

 

VIC20 Pirate Cove

VIC20 Pirate Cove

 

Star Battle is a rather good Galaxians clone for the VIC20. I never had this as a child so really pleased to be able to add it to my collection now.

 

VIC20 Space Battle

VIC20 Space Battle

 

VIC20 Penultimate+ Cartridge

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Thought I’d share a little review of a new gizmo I picked up for my VIC20 recently. It’s called the ‘Penultimate+’ cartridge and it’s sold by The Future Was 8-bit.

It aims to be the only cartridge you will ever need to put in your VIC20’s expansion slot. It combines a RAM pack, various expansion carts, reset button, system diagnostics and over 70 game ROM’s into a single cartridge and all accessible through a simple and intuitive menu system.

 

What you get

The artwork on the packaging is fantastic, riffing off the original cartridge boxes to produce a product dripping with nostalgia. It’s a slip-case rather than a box though which disappointed me a little bit. Although I realise my cartridge is likely going to stay plugged in most of its life, it would have been great to have a proper box to store it in for those times when it’s not. Even if I never unplug the cartridge again, as a collector I would have appreciated a proper box to display on my shelf. With no cartridge inside the slip-case is very flimsy and could be easily squashed flat.

 

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The cartridge itself is sturdily built from brown plastic to a very high standard. It fits snugly into the VIC20’s expansion port without any issues at all. Most of Commodore’s original expansion carts were produced in a similar colour so again this is a nice nostalgic nod to the past.

On the top are two buttons. The first button on the left is an illuminated ‘menu’ button that launches the Penultimate+ Cartridge’s menu screen. The second ‘reset’ button on the right resets your VIC20 vastly reducing the need to power cycle your machine.

Given that much of the time this cart is going to be used for playing games, having joystick navigation through menus is a godsend. Simply move up and down with the stick and press fire to select a menu item or launch a game. Some frequently used options also have handy keyboard shortcuts too.

 

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The RAM Pack Function

The RAM pack behaves in much the same way as other switchable RAM packs like the Vixen one I already have. The one big difference with this one is that you can change the amount of RAM available using the on-screen menu instead of messing with DIP switches. You are able to chose from Unexpanded (no extra RAM), 3K, 8K, 24K, 32K and 35K. Strangely there’s no option to select 16K but playing 16K games with the 24K option seems to work just fine.

There’s a couple of ways to access the extra RAM depending on what you need it for:

  1. Select one of the ‘Set RAM…’ options from the menu to have that amount of RAM allocated whilst remaining in the menu system so you can load a game ROM.
  2. Press one of the function key shortcuts at the bottom of the screen to reset your VIC20 and drop you at the BASIC screen with the extra memory allocated. This is the option you would choose if you wanted to write a program or load one off a cassette tape and needed the extra RAM to do so.

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Main menu with RAM options.

 

The Games

The games are neatly arranged into 4 categories:

  • The Future Was 8-Bit Titles (exclusive new games released by TFW8b)
  • Games (this is where the vast majority of the game ROMs can be found)
  • Adventure Games (all the Scott Adams cartridge adventure games)
  • Paddle Games (all the paddle compatible games)

 

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Penultimate+ Included Games List

Adventureland AdventureMission Impossible Adventure
AEMosquito Infestation
AggressorMotocross Racer
Alien BlitzMs. Pac-Man
Alien SidestepOmega Race
AmokPac-Man
Attack of the Mutant CamelsPentagorat
AvengerPharaoh's Curse
Basic-v4Pirate's Cove Adventure
BattlezonePole Position
Bertie the BallPrincess and Frog
Black HoleQ-Bert
BolderDanRadar Rat Race
Buck RogersRaid on Fort Knox
CentipedeRiver Rescue
Cheese and OnionRoad Race
ChoplifterRobotron
CloudburstRodMan
ClownsSatellite Patrol
Cosmic JailbreakSerpentine
Crater RaiderShamus
Creepy CorridorsSkibbereen
CyclonSpaceship-1
Deadly SkiesSquishem
DefenderStar Battle
Demon AttackSub Chase
Dig DugSuper Expander
Donkey KongSuper Slot
DragonfireSuper Starship Space Attack
Fast BoyTerraguard
FroggerTetris
Future FighterThe Count Adventure
GalaxianThe Sky is Falling
Gold FeverThreshold
GorfTopper
GridrunnerTornado
Jelly MonstersTutankham
Jungle HuntTypo
KeyQuestViccyBird
K-Razy AntiksVICKIT4&5
LazerzoneVicterm 40
Lode RunnerVoodoo Castle Adventure
Mine Madness

SD2IEC Functionality

Unlike, for example, the 1541 Ultimate cartridge that you can get for the Commodore 64, the Penultimate+ Cartridge does not allow you to add any content of your own. You are stuck with the cartridges and game ROM’s that it ships with.

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

SD2IEC Device

 

Thankfully however, it does provide a quick way to access any content you may have via an SD2IEC device. Selecting this option from the menu will allow you to easily browse through the content of an SD card using a joystick. For games that won’t run on an unexpanded VIC20 you can allocate the correct amount of additional RAM needed before launching a game. I found this to work really well but I do need to spend a little time organising my game collection by how much RAM each needs.

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Navigating the SD2IEC menus

 

Utilities

Under this section you will find a bunch of utilities that may be of interest to the more dedicated user.

 

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Utilities

 

Vic Term

This is a terminal program but as I don’t have a suitable modem for my VIC20 I’ve been unable to try this.

Vickit

This is a high speed cassette loading system. If you load this up and re-save a program to cassette it will load back in a fraction of the time.

BASIC4

This adds a number of sorely lacking disk handling commands to the VIC20’s BASIC arsenal such as ‘DIRECTORY’ and ‘DLOAD’.

Super Expander

This is probably the most useful of the bunch and greatly increases the BASIC commands available for writing programs. It provides dedicated graphics and sound commands along with some extra RAM to create them. It also provides commands that enable you to easily read paddle and joystick inputs. If you were thinking of writing a VIC20 game then this would be a great cart to load up. The only downside to this is however is that anyone else that wanted to run your program would also need the Super Expander for it to work!

VIC20 Dead Test+

This could prove to be another really useful feature to have on board. When you load this up it will test various aspects of your VIC20’s RAM and ROM in an endless cycle. If your VIC20 ever starts behaving strangely then this would be a great tool to load up to get an idea what’s going wrong.

If your VIC20 won’t even boot up then you can hold down the reset button for 10 seconds after switching it on to go straight to the dead test function. This is where ‘Dead Test’ cart actually earns its name.

I would have liked an option to buy dongles to plug into the various ports enabling a more comprehensive test but it’s still a great tool to have at your disposal. Maybe a future version will offer this feature.

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

‘Dead Test’

Verdict

If you have a VIC20 then you should seriously consider getting one of these cartridges. It successfully combines a huge number of cartridges, games and functions into a single plug and play cartridge driven by a simple and intuitive menu system.

Even if you’re like me and have an extensive collection of cartridges already I would still recommend getting this. Not only is it hugely convenient to have an entire library of titles and functions always at the ready but it saves the wear and tear of both your VIC20’s cartridge port and the individual edge connectors of your cartridges. If you add an SD2IEC reader then you can literally have everything a few stick waggles and a button press away.

Does it fulfil it’s mission to be the one and only cartridge you need? Almost, but I still have an Adman speech synthesiser cartridge that I enjoy messing about with from time to time. Maybe a future ‘Ultimate’ version will incorporate this too and then it really can remain plugged in forever!

VIC20 Keyboard Repair

VIC-20

This is just a quick post about how I was able to repair the damaged keyboard on my recently unearthed Commodore VIC20.

As I mentioned previously in my VIC20 Attic Find post, the decades of storage in my attic had taken its toll on the keyboard. The insides of the keys had become brittle and four of them had broken apart. As you can see from the following photo they were in a pretty bad shape. In this condition they just wobbled around on top of the plungers and fell straight off if the keyboard was turned upside down.

 

VIC20 Keyboard Repair

Broken and crumbling keys

 

The quick and easy solution would have been to stick some blue-tack in there but I doubt that would have been an effective bodge for long. Alternatively I could have glued them in place but then they would be permanently attached to the keyboard with no way of removing them for future cleaning or repairs. As my dad always used to say, if a job’s worth doing then it’s worth doing properly!

I did toy with the idea of replacing the whole keyboard with one from a donor machine off eBay. However that wasn’t cost effective and I really wanted to keep my VIC as original as possible.

I asked and searched around and eventually stumbled across retroleum.co.uk. They sell (amongst other spares) individual replacement Commodore 64 keys for £1 each. Luckily for me, the keyboard on my VIC20 is identical to the ones found on the original breadbin style C64’s. Not all revisions are so do check carefully before buying C64 keys if you want to fit them on a VIC20.

 

VIC20 Keyboard Repair

My new VIC20 keys!

 

Particularly useful was the fact that they sell a wide variety of keys, not just from different models of C64’s, but with different levels of yellowing too! This meant I was able to choose some that would blend in perfectly with the rest of my keyboard. In the end the keys I ordered were described as ‘Breadbin C64 – Keyboard Type 2, Grade 1.5’. A couple of days after ordering them they arrived in a neat little cardboard box.

 

VIC20 Keyboard Repair

New keys fitted – perfect match!

 

Fitting the new keys only took a few seconds and I was really pleased to see that they turned out to be a perfect match for my keyboard. My VIC20 is certainly looking a lot happier and I can actually use the keyboard now too.

Now that the keyboard is sorted I still need to look into sorting a few other things out. Next job will be to pop a few heat-sinks onto some of the more critical chips and maybe retrobrite it, if I’m feeling brave that is, (my last attempt was a disaster).