Back for 2017

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Hello dear reader! Did you miss us?

BMV is back for another year and I have a lot of fun articles I’d like to cover and maybe we can fit in a few interviews this year from people active in the community. I’m sorry the blog has been a bit quiet but I was away busily tinkering, working on my Atari Lynx video conversion, making an AmigaPi 1200 and several more USB tank mice for friends who wouldn’t stop pestering me for one after seeing the one I’d built I’ve also been playing with a Powerbook 180 and discovering the pitfalls of LCD tunnelling which the entire 100 series seems to suffer from.

Blasting away from 2016 is my Picade build which I finished just before Christmas, now in 2017 I put the finishing touches to the cabinet with some retro electric 80s art. Keep your eyes peeled as I’ll be offering up free cabinet decal art for anyone looking to deck out their Picade in proper 80s style!


Power Macintosh 8500 Mega Upgrade

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The Power Macintosh 8200 was the first Apple I ever owned, bought around 2004, I used it a lot when I first moved away from home. It was an excellent computer for design work and I used it to design my first website. However after six months, the internal 120mhz PPC processor was already beginning to feel restrictive. The internet was slow, games struggled and disc access was sometimes painful. Back then, the best place to get help on anything Apple, was “Everymac.com”. The website had a healthy community of users and a very active forum. Which in later years, for reasons I’ve never been able to grasped, was closed down. But in 2004, it was still going strong and I made some good friends via the forum, who helped me upgrade my 8200 in to a 8500.

Both models share the same case, so it was a simple job of switching the motherboard out of my 8200 and voila, a fulling working 8500. The upgraded meant I could actually pick and choose a new processor for my machine, the limit being only what I could afford. In the months that followed, I bought a secondhand Sonnet Crescendo G3 333mhz, more ram and finally an ATI Radeon video card. The upgrades prolonged the life of my 8500 for quite some time, until I eventually caved and bought myself a G3 350 Blue & White Powermac. But I never forget the little beige mac, my first Apple machine.

 

Present Day

Last year I brought my old 8500 out of the loft, cleaned it down and set it up on my desk. My plan was to make sure it was till working, play a few of the old games, like Quake, Star Trek: Final Unity etc. What actually happened was it ended up staying on my desk and being used for everything from getting email, graphic work and writing. It began first as an “I wonder?”, because I was sitting at my desk, looking at the old mac and pondering if I could actually do my everyday jobs on the machine. The only task I knew the 8500 couldn’t do flat out, was rendering. There was no way I’d go back and suffer the slow rendering speeds of the 90’s. Todays computers make CGI much easier to bare. But for everything else I threw at it, the 8500 managed it pretty well. Even going online wasn’t all that bad, so long as you didn’t visit complex, CSS/Flash heavy sites.

176MB Ram

176MB Ram

It was while doing all of this, that I realised my PowerMac was severely short on ram. Sure it had 176mb, but even in 2000 that wasn’t all that much, especially when you consider the 8500 can hold 1Gb. I started looking around for ram modules, but had difficulty finding them in matching pairs. That’s when a friend on 68kmla came to the rescue.

Having recently fixed up an 8500, he’d discovered he didn’t have much use for it, so the machine was sitting around not doing much at all. After seeing some of my post on the forum, he contacted me, wondering if I needed any parts. In the end, I bought a Newertech G3 400mzh daughter and enough ram off him, to upgrade the 8500 to 640mb!

Since the last upgrade in 2006, I didn’t honestly think I would ever find another processor card for my mac. But it just goes to show how wrong you can be! The Maxpowr card has surprisingly improved the speed of the machine more then I’d expected. Perhaps having 512k of L2 cache as well as being 60mhz faster, has something to do with it. One thing is for certain, the old beige box is back to being a power tower, albeit a vintage one. But for 1998, it’s blazing!

 

Sonnet G3 333mhz, my first upgrade

Sonnet G3 333mhz, my first upgrade

Newertech G3 400mhz, surprisingly fast!

Newertech G3 400mhz, surprisingly fast!

 

 

 

 

 

 


Two weeks running with 550mhz and I’m still not mad!

WallstreetIIGoing on holiday, you always face the invertible question of what tech to take along, well I do. Being the geek that I am, the question can ultimately prove a tough one to answer. Last year when I visited Scotland, I took my G4 iBook along with me for the ride. The laptop’s 1.33Ghz processor is still pretty snappy and does everything I needed it to. So this time around, I decided to take the Pismo, with a 550Mhz G4, it’s more than half the speed of the iBook. So I was curious how it would fare and whether I’d be going nuts before the end of the week.

Now anyone who knows me, will tell you, I’ve something of a soft spot for the 1999 Powerbook. It’s true, I really do love that little laptop, the shape, the design, even the white upside down Apple logo and most importantly the bronze keyboard!

‘I do have are a very particular set of skills.‘ – Taken 

While studying IT at college, I learned a lot of unnecessary things, such as how to type pretty quickly and how to format a word document. Office skills that a future computer engineer really doesn’t need. But as I get older, I’ve come to appreciate the benefits all those hours typing in MS Word 4 have given me. So when it comes to writing my blog, the Pismo is a machine I tend to fall back on for writing out long articles. It’s easy to use and very functional, typing on the Pismo is a lot easier than on any of my modern machines.

Retro Challenge

On the 68kMLA website and the Vintage Computer Forum, you will see threads about something called the “Retro Challenge”. The challenge is to try and get by for a month with only a vintage machine for doing your day to day tasks.  Essentially replacing your modern computer with a piece of 10-20 year old tech and seeing if you can get by. Now you might think that sounds easy, but it’s worth pointing out that using your phone is considering cheating! Personally, I think anyone using a computer or laptop that is 15 years old, should be given some slack. If it’s still useful to that person for a job, great! It’s certainly better then it sitting in a landfill. I love hearing about the things people use old tech for, it’s inspiring to see people not giving in to the “Throw away” mentality.

So for the past two weeks, maybe three, I’ve been using my Pismo for day to day jobs, going online, chatting to friends, emails, playing music and writing. Aside from Tenfourfox crashing when ever I hit a Flash heavy site or had too many tabs open, it performed surprisingly well, getting the jobs done, albeit a little slower then on my dual core HP DV7.

Heavy work

Thanks to the kind folks at Adobe, I have Photoshop CS2 on my Pismo free of charge, which means I can edit photos and work on art projects using my PPC laptops. Superseded by much newer versions, CS2 still remains an amazing piece of kit to anyone on a budget. But how does it run on a G4 550mhz? Can you still be productive with and outdated piece of software running on a 15 year old laptop? Well last Saturday I found myself on my own, as my partner was busy. So I decided to set myself an arts and crafts retro challenge, or as I like to call it ‘Crafty Retro Challenge!’

After going to see Jurassic World last week, the dino bug was once again stirring in my veins. Going online, I decided I might buy myself a t-shirt. But none of them really caught my eye, which is when I remembered the t-shirt I’d owned in the 90s, as a kid, back when the first movie came out. A quick search later and bingo, I’d found it. Now I recall this shirt pretty well, because  I wore it until I physically grew to big for it. Whether it was the velociraptor’s head that sold it or the mocking text I don’t know. To this day, I’m not sure how anyone can have ‘a nice day’, while a dino is chewing their leg.
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So I’d found the shirt, except would you believe it, the darn thing was too small, 20 years later and I’m still to damn big for it! Not one to be deterred, I didn’t give up hope that I might actually get myself one of these original Jurassic Park shirts. But if it was going to happy, it would have to involve rolling up my sleeves and some DIY. I loaded up Photoshop on my Pismo, which by the way, came out six years after the original movie premiered. There was something a little poetic about doing 90s artwork on a late 90s laptop. For the most part, photoshop ran without issue on the Pismo and much to my surprise, when I installed the Jurassic Park fonts, I discovered I didn’t have to close and reload photoshop for the fonts to appear inside the app. This is something I’ve always had to do in Windows, but this 15 year old machine didn’t have a problem with it. After a couple of hours I ended up with something I was pretty proud of and might actually considering getting printed. So long as I can afford to have it done, yay I could be 13 again!! 10981913_10153485229729419_7726113671979753570_n

And here we have it, a side by side comparison of the shirt and the image I created on the Powerbook. The Jurassic park logo has since been changed to red, to match the shirt. But over all, I’m pretty darn pleased with how it all turned out. The only problem I had with making this on the laptop, was finding a USB mouse as using the trackpad would have been a nightmare.

So can you design nice things on a 15 year old computer? Yes. Will it handle Facebook, probably not. Do I care much about the latter? Nope! Facebook like Myspace, is rapidly feeling like one of those fads, which thanks to my Pismo’s limitations, I’m able to avoid.

 

Till next time, keep on geeking!

 


Gaming And Repairs!

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So it’s been a little quite on BMV, but as always that doesn’t mean I’m not tinkering away in the background. In fact since the Manchester Expo, I have been busy playing X-Files which I bought while at the event. Originally for the PSone, the game plays almost like an episode from the show. In fact many fans consider the events in the game canon. Especially as the story for the game was written by X-Files very own Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz. Filmed using Virtual Cinema technology, the game is presented in full motion video.

ScullyAs my original PSone is somewhere in the attic, I’ve been playing the game on my Ps2. Because the PS2 emulates the PSone, it doesn’t always manage to do it right, X-files is one such game it struggles to run. The cursor along with game icon’s appear distorted. This isn’t much of an issue for the most part, but becomes annoying during the games shootout scenes. Where finding the right spot to shoot a villain can be hit and miss, leading me to reload at least half a dozen times before I passed the stage. Even after that, the game is still very playable and worth a look if you are a fan of FMV games or the X-Files TV show.

In truth, I think it is because I am a fan, that I’ve been so forgiving on the game for it’s bad shootout mechanics. This game was released in 1998 and for the day it was cutting edge stuff. I still have the PC version which I bought when it came out. I don’t recall the shootout’s being as hard on the PC as they are on the Playstation. Perhaps this is because you are using a keyboard and mouse on the PC, as opposed to a joypad.

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I remember finishing this game in the 90’s, but for the life of me I dont remember how it ends. For that matter, I don’t remember a lot of the scenes in the game. So for the most part it has been like playing the game for the first time all over again. So here’s a tip boys and girls, if you have a game you really like, wait 16 years and then play it again!! I’m getting my moneys worth twice!

 

Acorn Electron

Acorn ElectronRecently my friend Mark decided to bestow upon me his entire BBC Micro collection.

This included

  • 1x Model B
  • 1x BBC Master 128
  • 1x Acorn Electron
  • 2x Boxes of unidentifiable brick a brack
  • 1x Apple Macintosh Plus (eh?)

Originally I was meant to be getting just the Macintosh Plus, as I’d been having issues with my own and having a spare is never a bad thing. Instead he gave me all of the above, much to the annoyance of my partner. So for the past week or two, I’ve been working through the boxes and switching on the machines to see what works and what doesn’t. Sadly the Electron or Elk as I’ve learned they are called, didn’t power on. A quick test of the PSU revealed it was working fine, so the problem must lay with the micro itself. Having spoken to one or two people on the Stairway to hell forums, it could just be that the ULA chip needs re-seating. It turns out certain models of Elk can be a little temperamental.

 

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In a unique turn of events, ByteMyVdu received it’s very first freebie last week, straight from the nice chaps at TechShack. I had been reading for some time on Amibay about the UIDE interface. A device which updates the 80’s micro computer, allowing you to connect an IDE storage device to your Spectrum +2 or Spectrum +3. Most people seem to choose compact flash, the Spectrums equivalent to modern SSD! It’s small, has low power consumption and best of all isn’t very expensive. If you consider that the entire Spectrum library takes up less then 1.5Gb, you could buy an inexpensive 2Gb CF card and never had to use a tape ever again! Better still your Spectrum +2 will load many of the same files as your average Spectrum emulator, loading snapshots in at around 6 seconds. I guess that puts an end to the tea run while the game is loading!

Soon I will be writing an article dedicated to the UIDE, how to install it in your Spectrum, any pitfalls your might encounter and finally how good it is for playing games. Has the ‘Datacorder’ finally met it’s match? We’ll find out!

Until next time….keep on geeking!

Spectrum+201

 

 

 


Is your G4 iBook getting hot under the collar?

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It’s a good question and one that as an iBook owner I can answer with a definite yes. The chances are we have the late Steve Jobs to thank, his reputation for sacrificing good cooling for aesthetics’ is well documented. Anyone who owned a Macintosh in the 80’s will be aware of the hazards of passive heating. Eventually something has to give and usually it’s a component, stressed from excessive heat. The G3 and G4 iBook both share a common hereditary illness, GPU failure. The situation began in 2003, when a group of G3 owners banded together to file a class action suit against Apple. Who would initiate an “iBook Logic Board Repair Extension Program “ the following year.

The G4 also suffers from a similar issue, however some models appear more prone to failing then others. It is generally held that the 1.3Ghz & 1.4Ghz models the more reliable of the G4 range with less reports of screen failures

Symptoms

Signs that your iBook may have a video problem are if the screen freezes or if touching the screen causing it to flicker or if when powering on the laptop, the screen remains blank, but still outputs video from the external video port.

If you experience any of these issues, chances are that your white G3 iBook has suffered a GPU failure. The G4 suffers a similar ailment, but this is due to the Intersil ISL 6225CA power controller chip, which over time looses connection to the logic board. g3 extreme
The only way to fix the G3 iBook is by sending the logic board away for a reball / reflow, tho there are some extreme home brew alternatives. These hacks attempt to warm the solder beneath the GPU, enough to reflow the ball grid array (BGA) that connects the chip to the board. I would only suggest this if you have no other alternative. Given the price of the G3 iBook, it is understandable why some people choose the cheaper DIY route.

Reballing involves removal of the GPU chip, so it can be re-seated with new solder. However this fix is not permanent as the cause for the gpu to fail will still be present.

This is down to a fabrication flaw and compounded by poor ventilation. The temperatures for the iBook’s fan to kick in are set to high to be of any use. The G4’s can be revived, if the Intersil chip has it’s pins retouched with a soldering iron. However mileage varies at to how long this fix lasts. One thing for certain is that both models of white iBook suffer with excess heat issues.

The G3 GPU uses a ball grid array similar to this to connect to the motherboard.

The G3 GPU uses a ball grid array similar to this to connect to the motherboard.

Using an program called G4fancontrol via the OS X console, reveals the settings are set at 56 for the Northbridge, 75 for the CPU, and 85 for GPU. These settings are very high, possibly to avoid the fan kicking except for rare occasions. While this does keep your lovely iBook nice and silent, it also has a detrimental effect on components, which are being baked every time you use your machine. After your turn the machine off, the components will cool, until the next time you use your laptop. Anyone with an elementary understanding of metals, will know that exposing metal to heat, causes it to expand and cold causes it to contract. So the continuous cycle of hot and cold eventually causes fractures in the solder which link certain chips to the logic board. The fractures might be microscopic to the naked eye but the gaps are wide enough to disrupt the iBook’s video display, resulting in no picture.

Prevention

So if your still reading, I’ll assume you either have a working iBook or your have a faulty one and your thinking about the road to recovery. If you have found someone to reflow your logic board and now your wanting to fend off the GPU failing again, then read on, it might just save your machine.

To address the heat problem the first thing you need to do is lower the preset fan settings. 85 degrees is way to high for your GPU, it really isn’t a surprise it fails. You need to drop this down somehow to 65 degrees at least, tho I would recommend 55. Luckily there are ways to tell your iBook to engage the internal fan earlier.

G4FanControl

This application was once freeware but the developer has since decided to ask people to pay for it. I’m running version 0.5 which was the last freeware version before it became commercial. Earlier version of G4FanControl can be found online, should you prefer not to pay. However I should suggest buying the software, at the very least your supporting the developer as well as getting the most up to date version of the applications, with all the bug fixes since the freeware version.

Coming as a Terminal program and OS X application, G4FanControl allows you real time control over the presets that tell your laptop when it should engage the fan. I would recommend setting all three sliders to 55, my iBook G4 1.33 settles at around 44-46 during normal use, which is running Word and listening to iTunes. Watching movies and playing games are area’s where the temperatures a likely to raise rapidly.

Depending on your version, you should have a tick box at the bottom of the screen, which says something like “Remember and set at boot”. This means G4FanControl will remember your settings for every time your computer boots. You need to tick this for your alteration to be permanent.

While I can’t guarantee this will permanently prevent your iBook from failing, it will most certainly reduce the level of stress the logic board is normally subjected to. One thing I do know for certain is that the factory shipped temperature settings are set way to high to be of any use. If you like playing games or watching movies on your iBook, you’ll be use to the left palm rest being rather warm, enough to cook an egg on it. If it’s too warm to rest your hand on, then it surely must be too warm for the computer as well. After installing G4FanControl and adjusting my fan settings, the left palm rest still got warm but nowhere near as bad a before.

If you have a working white, you couldn’t go wrong installing G4FanControl on your laptop. As proven by the Danish Consumer Complaints Board, the G4 has an inherent design flaw, so it’s not a question of whether yours will suffer it, more a question of when. So if your still rocking a G3/G4 iBook in 2014, my guess is you would like to make it to 2015 problem free.

For further reading, please check out the following links:

G4Fancontrol

News Article regarding the Danish investigation

Lab Report highlighting the fault with the G4 iBook


PowerMac 8500 revival and OS 9 Boots Disc’s

Joys Of Old Computers

Recently while up in the loft, I dug out my trusty PowerMac 8500 with the intention of taking another crack at it. Over the last 18 months, I’ve had little success. However, unlike previous attempts, on this occasion I was armed with parts bought from a fellow 68kmla member. With video ram and a spare CPU card at the ready, I was able to get the machine working once more. Honestly, after such a long time it was a relief to hear the machine chime with the classic Apple “Boing”.

After getting the PowerMac running, I spent the next week and a half playing around with Mac OS 9.2, downloading various free apps to try out. Everything seemed to be going fine until a few days ago, the system froze. I’m the first the hold up my hands and say it was my own fault, trying to delete a gigabyte of data in my trashcan and presuming I could still run a game at the same time.
Rebooting the computer, I was greeted with the floppy disk icon, indicating the system was not going to boot from hard drive. This was not a good sign as I had files I wanted to keep on the drive. Using my OS System 9 CD, I was able to load Disk First Aid and scan the hard drive for faults.
The first scan reported an  “Invalid Extent File PEOF”. The PEOF or Physical End Of File is one of two file markers used by the system to log the allocated blocks for a file stored on hard disk. If either one of these markers becomes corrupt, bad things will start to happen. Neither Techtool nor Disk First Aid where able to fix the fault, which left me with DiskWarrior. The only problem being that my copy of Diskwarrior was designed to boot from an OS X compatible system and not a vintage like the 8500, which only supports up to 9.2.1.

Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Luckily for me an older system 9 compatible version of DiskWarrior comes bundled on the DiskWarrior 3 CD. The only obstacle was how I could get the 8500 booted and the software running. DiskWarrior has one drawback in that it can’t perform repairs on the same partition it is installed on. Meaning I had to find a way to boot the system from CD and run DiskWarrior from somewhere other than internal hard drive. The only option I saw was to make a custom boot CD, something that is not made easy on Apple computers. So, after a lot of head scratching and cups of coffee, I finally figured out how to do it and had a working boot CD with a copy DiskWarrior preloaded.
On booting up I discovered all my efforts had been futile, DiskWarrior would not run from a read only drive such as a CD. Now close to pulling my hair out, I had one last idea, which I was surprised hadn’t come to me earlier. Why had I not tried using a floppy disk? All this messing with discs and hard drives, I had neglected the simplest option. The DiskWarrior application was only 1.3mb, small enough to squeeze on a 1.44mb floppy disk. So now I had DiskWarrior on a writeable media, the next step was to use a bootable CD to boot the Powermac, which brings us to the next half of this article.  For the next half of this article, I will guide you through how to build your own custom rescue disc.

Making A Custom OS 9 Boot CD

Some things you will need to perform this task:

Roxio Toast
1x Computer running OS X (10.3 preferably)
1x Original bootable OS 9 or 8.1 CD
1x Blank CD

For this next part, you will need to load up Roxio Toast, as well as insert your Original Mac OS CD.  It doesn’t really matter if you use OS 8 or 9, just so long as it is bootable.

Once Toast has loaded, you will see four tabs labelled “Data”, “Audio”, “Video”, and “Copy”. Select “Copy” and make sure toast is set to CD/DVD copy and not Image file. If it is set correctly, go to “File/Save as Disc Image” Roxio may give an error regarding un-mounting the CDrom, ignore this and try once more to save.

It will take Toast some time to save the image. When it has finished, you will need to mount the image, unless Toast has already done so. From the menu, select “Utilities/Mount Disc Image”. Navigate to where you saved the image and select it. Toast will mount the image on your desktop. As this is a copy of your Mac OS CD, it will be titled the same as the original.

*To avoid confusion you can re-title your custom boot disc to some something different, I choose to name mine “Rescue”. You can do this by double clicking the name of the icon on your disc.

At the moment all we have is a vanilla Mac OS boot disc, so let us begin by downloading something useful. For this guide, I chose Techtool lite 3.0.4, a freeware utility that can analyse hard drives, zap your PRAM and even clean your floppy drive heads. It is available for download from the Macintosh Garden website using the following address:
(http://macintoshgarden.org/apps/techtool-lite-304)

Once you have the archive downloaded, use StuffIt expander to extract the program file to your desktop and then drag it in to the drawer of your new custom boot disc. If you double click the icon for your boot disc, you should now see the contents of your original Mac OS CD, along with the Techtool icon (See fig).toasts11 Depending on how much space you have left, you can add more apps to your rescue disc. When you’re done, return to this guide and we will finish with how to burn our custom image to CD.

Burning Your Image

For this next step you will need to load Roxio Toast. Once it has loaded up, select the far right tab labelled “Copy”. Make sure Toast is set to “Image File” mode, you should see a screen similar to the one pictured.toasts Click “Select” and navigate to where you saved your image file, it will end with the extension “.toast”. Once selected, you can tell Toast to write the image to a blank CDR.

Hopefully once your disc has been written, you should be able to insert it into any Classic Apple computer with a CDrom and boot the computer up from your new Rescue disc.


Breaking News

ITS ALIVE!!!!

Dear readers, as some of you will be aware, I’m something of an avid fan of old Apple Macintosh Computers. My first Apple computer was non other then the might Power Macintosh 8500. A technical power house of it’s day, offering impressive video editing features.

Over the past 2 years, I have on and off been trying to bring back my 8500 from the dead, after it decided one day not to boot. I’ve bought parts, ram, CPU’s and still nothing would bring it back to life. Imagine my joy when today I finally got it to BOOT UP! Has the old Apple “Boing” ever sounded so sweet!

That is all for now, as i return back to working on this beloved computer and getting it back in full working condition!

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