Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Amigos welcomes Gary Hucker to the team!

On behalf of all the Amigos team, I'd like to extend a warm welcome to Gary Hucker, our New Zealand-based Amiga reporter!

Welcome Gary, and happy Amiga-ing! 

-John & Aaron

The Pick Up - Part 2

Today I drove out to a beautiful place in the top of the South Island of New Zealand called Okiwi Bay to pick up the second car load of Amiga goodies from my recent find. Check out the view from the hill above the settlement.

The gear I picked up in this trip mainly consisted of screens, software, books/manuals and peripherals. The poor little Honda never knew what hit it...

I was very pleased to find an A590 Hard Drive for the A500, yet to be tested. The A3000 case is just that, a case only. It goes with one of the A3000s that doesn't work.

There's more to come but I won't get the chance to get out there for a bit. It's about an hours drive each way from where I work. All that's remaining are boxes of floppies (copies) and a couple of screens and that's about it.

A Three Day Weekend Spent with Amigas.

I'm playing catch up to get the blog up to date as I spent the Labour Day long weekend messing around with the new additions to the family.

I decided to have a go at restoring one of the A2000s that wasn't booting and I chose this one because it has a Great Valley Products A2000-040 card installed, a Picasso II graphics card, an A2320 display enhancer, a hard drive card with two drives and an IDE controller with CD-ROM drive attached.

The initial problem was no screen output and I couldn't be sure if the machine was actually booting. The battery on the motherboard was, surprisingly, in good condition although I did notice some very faint discolouration on the board where it had started to leak. I removed it and measured it at 4.2V. I cleaned up the board and partially assembled the machine, leaving out the Picasso II, A2320, hard drive card and IDE card, connected to my monitor via RGB and it booted to the loading screen. Inserted Workbench 2.05 boot disk and away it went, albeit after some delay before seeing anything on the screen.

Installed A2320 Display Enhancer and plugged in my LCD flat screen and no output again! Flicked the enable/disable switch on the back of the card and away it went. Making progress...

Installed SCSI hard drive card and connected both drives and now I get a message informing me it can't find DH2 and by the sound of it the second drive was not spinning up so I connected an independent power supply to the second drive to no avail. I booted into WB via floppy and edited the startup-sequence file, commenting out any references to DH2 and DH3, disconnected second drive and BINGO! She booted into WB3.1. I ran Advanced Amiga Analyzer which I got with this collection and it confirmed some of the hardware information.

Installed the Picasso II card and connected the pass-through cable from the A2320 and booted. I momentarily saw a high resolution screen appear before it promptly disappeared again but the computer showed activity as though it was still booting. I assumed it was an issue with the display going outside of my screen's capability. I noted previously something in the start up folder I had not seen before so I removed the card and booted so I could remove the icon from the folder. I'm yet to look into what the program does but it's definitely something to do with the Picasso because I could boot fully now after inserting the card again. I played around with resolutions until I found one that works well with my screen.

The A2000-040 card has a fan mounted on the CPU which is very noisy. I can't see any way of getting lube into it and I'm reluctant to replace it because the heat-sink is held on with some sort of strong heat-sink glue.

I ran Super Frog from the CD and had a quick play. I was very pleased to get this machine going because I thought it was a dead duck at first.

My next post will be about the second car load of gear I picked up today.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Big Box Amiga Discoveries and Learning.

Below is a copy of my update I put into the comments of the original blog prior to becoming a contributor. I figured it's better out here in the main blog.

Hi Everyone, I've been making progress with checking the computers' status. Quite a few machines have minor battery leakage damage and batteries still installed! Removing the batteries and cleaning up the corrosion is my first priority. I'm not too familiar with these big box Amigas so this is proving to be a great learning experience.
One of the A3000s is now up and running. It was only getting to boot menu when I received it. If I tried to boot from floppy or the installed SCSI drive, I got a message "cannot get memory". After flicking through the manual I found that there are two types of fast RAM, 20 pin DIP and 20 pin ZIP modules and if the DIPs are present the ZIPs in bank zero should not be populated, which they were. I removed the DIPS and fully populated the ZIP sockets with RAM from the other dead A3000 and attempted to boot the machine in it's bare form. There was a different problem this time; a yellow screen and then black. I installed the daughter board and tried again. Bingo! It booted into Workbench from the SCSI drive. I tried some games from the floppy drive and all seems well.
There is one minor issue with the floppy drive in that I can't use dual internal floppy drives. If I have a drive plugged into the last connector on the floppy ribbon cable it boots but I get the timer mouse cursor continuously and only the right mouse button is active. No manner of left clicking achieves any result. I found a jumper on the board to enable the second internal floppy but it made no difference. I cannot boot from any floppy drive but not sure if it's a cable issue, drive issue or boot disk issue.

I tried cleaning up the second A3000 but I can't get any life out of it, even after swapping out the ROM chips and Denise and Paula chips.

There is a guy in Christchurch, New Zealand who does repair work and I may send it to him to look at. I can do minor repairs but I'm not too keen on messing with these more rare computers. It sounds like the A3000 motherboards have several planes in them so it's important not to damage the vias in the board.

My work today will include going through several A2000s and removing any batteries found and cleaning corrosion.

By the way, I checked the A2500 yesterday and when I lifted the CPU from it's corroded socket, several of the socket pins disintegrated. I may have a go at resocketing the CPU.

My other half is now an Amiga widow...

Until the next update, thanks for the opportunity to rave about this stuff. There aren't any other Amigan's I know in my area so this is a great outlet.

Indivision ECS - A Clearer, Sharper Image

The biggest depressing factor about actively using retro machines is the knowledge that they have a finite lifespan. At any moment their logic gates could be snuffed out with a zzap and a whiff of electrical burning. In an effort to delay the inevitable, I’ve been replacing the moving and more fragile components of my Amiga 2000.

In this article, I’ll be demonstrating one way to replace aging CRT’s with a modern VGA capable LCD display. To drive the LCD I’ll be adding an Indivision ECS Scan Doubler/Flicker Fixer. 
At a really high level this board will:
  • Convert display frequencies to greater than 50hz to enable modern displays
  • Remove the eye melting interlaced flicker
  • and provide greater usable real estate in WorkBench

There’s a few downsides to using and installing the Indivsion board that should be considered when shopping for a display adaptor. First, the board isn’t cheap, I forked out $86 plus shipping from the UK from amigakit.com and secondly, installing it is not for the faint of heart. So let’s get into the gritty details!

The Indivision ECS board sits on top of the motherboard, inside the Denise chip’s socket, then Denise sits on top of the Indivision board. Gaining access to Denise on the A2000, requires removal of the power supply and drive chassis, the way in which the power supply sits above the motherboard is pretty precarious, once the holding screws are removed. One slight nudge and the chassis drops down, potentially snapping off fragile chips and capacitors. 

Next, was the removal of the video toaster which was obscuring one side of the Denise chip. Now this chip has been sitting in this same socket for 28 years, it has made it’s self at home and won’t easily be budged. To make matters worse, the plastic chip sockets are old and cheaply made. Removal of Denise requires a delicate and patient hand! 

Starting at one end of the chip, slot in a small flat head screw driver between the mount and the chip and twist slightly; to counter the raise on this side, use another screw driver at the other end of the chip. Using alternating leverage, slowly pry the chip out. For me, the PCB was making some god awful sounds of creaking and groaning as the chip came out, I suppose that proves these machines really do have a personality ;)

Next you’ll want to take your Indivision and check your documentation for orientation, then loosely place the board over the socket to check for obstructions like high capacitors etc. Some models, A3000’s and some A2000’s will require caps to be replaced with lower profile versions. At this point I’d recommend adding the grounding wire to the board, you can screw in the loose end of the ground wire once the board is in place. 

After double and triple checking all the pins of the board line up in the socket, carefully and evenly push the board into place, skipping a pin could result in irreversible damage.

Next, we need to insert the Denise chip onto the chip socket on top of the Indivision board. If you examine the Denise chip, you’ll notice a notch at one end. Position the chip notch/marker towards the VGA ribbon cable and again, gently, firmly and evenly push the chip into the socket.

Board installation wise, that’s it! This does leave a loose VGA port to be accounted for and this is probably my only criticism of the board. The reach of the ribbon cable is a little shorter than I would have liked; it was necessary with my setup to thread the cable underneath the GVP accelerator board to reach an open backplate near the Zorro slots. If you have an old PC VGA card handy, you can salvage a back plate to secure the port to the outside of the Amiga’s case.

From my experience and research, the Indivision board will work with any contemporary display connected to it. With a few minor adjustment to the monitor settings, the picture quality was 90% complete. The remaining adjustments and fine tuning are achieved by installing the Indivision config utility (http://wiki.icomp.de/w/images/3/39/Indivision_ECS_V101.lha) in Workbench. Any settings created with this utility are stored in the scan doublers onboard flash memory.

Setting Workbench display settings under Prefs depends on your own requirements, my own machine is running in PAL HiRes Interlaced 16 colors, which outputs 752 x 576. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d see a classic Amiga running at that resolution.

In final testing, games run sharp and crisp with vibrant colors and I couldn’t be happier with my investment. For productivity in workbench or even just playing games, the Indivision ECS board is a quality piece of kit that I’m sure you’ll be happy with. 

To read an alternate version of my experiences with the Indivision board, head over to Counting Virtual Sheep.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Episode 65 - Gloom & Alien Breed 3D

Download Mp3 (right-click and Save As)

Thanks to our supporters: Graham W Wöbcke, Sebastian Kiernan, Rob O’Hara, Paul Harrington, Laurent Giroud, Jonas Rullo, Kolbjørn Barmen, Tapes From the Crypt,  Adam Bradley, Chris Foulds Will Williams Daniel Bengston, O’Brien’s Retro and Vintage, Chad Halstead, and Brent Doughty! 

Next week: Halloween Spooktacular!