Atari Lynx Screen Mod By McWill

The Atari Lynx arrived on our shelves 27 years ago in the winter of 1989, only two months after Nintendo released the Gameboy and a year before the Sega’s colour handheld the GameGear saw light of day. Featuring the first backlit colour screen on any portable gaming device, the Lynx boasted accelerated 3D graphics.
Developed by former Amiga designers R, J Mical and Dave Needle, the ‘Handy Game’ came about after former Amiga manager David Morse approached them about designing a portable gaming system for Epyx. In 1989 faced with financial difficulties Epyx found itself partnered with Atari Inc, who agreed to handle production of the ‘Portable Colour Entertainment System” leaving Epyx to handle software development. Between 1989 and 1995 the Lynx was reported to have sold 3 million units world wide, but ultimately failed to beat the Gameboy even though technically superior in many ways. The Lynx is a fantastic system to add to any collection with 72 games released officially, varying from run of the mill to great titles like Chip’s Challange,

Lines the bane of any Lynx owner

Todds Adventures in SlimeWorld and California Games. However like most systems from this time its not without problems, the most predominant of which is screen failure. Usually this appears first as one or two lines running vertically or horizontally across the screen, more follow until the display is unusable. The root cause of this is the ageing ribbon cable that links the logic board to screen, over time becoming fragile and brittle. As it is an integrated part of the LCD display the only way in which you can cure the fault, is by swapping to screen for a new one. Which wasn’t a problem back when the Lynx was new, but in 2017 you might be faced with a problem, that is until now.

A Proper Solution

Stock screen looking less then great.

On AtariAge back in 2015 a user by the name of McWill came up with an interesting solution to solve the problem that had been plaguing so many Lynx owners. By developing his own custom display board he was able to replace the old failing screen with a modern LCD which not only offered superior picture quality but an optional VGA out. Unsurprisingly the board was an absolute success with Lynx owners far and wide, who finally had the means to repair their ailing consoles. Last year I was lucky enough to buy one of McWills kits, the board requires some self-assembly and a reasonable understanding of how to solder is needed. McWill does offer and installation service for those who don’t feel confident installing the kit by themselves. I was completely blown away with the image quality, which is ten times better then the original 90s LCD. The picture is sharp and the back light more linear, the full screen is now illuminated and gone is the incandescent tube glow of the original florescent light. The new screen uses modern EL technology which has come on leaps and bounds from when the Lynx was originally released. Ghosting and trailing has been significantly reduced, if not illuminated compared to the original 90s screen. If like me you’re accustomed to viewing your games on the old screen, seeing them for the first time on the new one can be a pleasant if not slightly shocking experience. I was honestly left wondering how the heck I’d managed for so many years without McWills screen mod.

McWills screen, there’s no denying the difference.

Priced at around 100 Euros the kit isn’t cheap however if you figure in the fact you’re getting a custom printed PCB and LCD its actually not bad value for money. The PCB is well made and laid out easy enough for even the budding amateur to follow. However the single sheet manual could have been written a little better as I stumbled to following it wiring to the TPR solder point. The wiring for this can depend on your model of console and what I didn’t know at the time was that I needed to close a jumper on the custom PCB. Labelled in small print as JMP1 in the printed manual its easy to miss and nowhere else is it referred to by this name. For instance here is an excerpt from the instructions.

‘For LYNX-II with chipset 1 (C104129-001) you have to use TPR (testpoint 27) only. For using TPR jumper is closed, for using RES jumper is open !’

Well laid out, McWills screen mod is relatively easy to install.

 

The instructions feature several diagrams with all the solder points labelled with names such as GRD, TPR, RES, CL2. I’m not entirely sure why the solder point is referred to as ‘Jumper’ and not JMP1, but it definitely threw me and I was left poking around the board until I consulted AtariAge. There I thankfully discovered I wasn’t alone and others were also being thrown by the same issue. This isn’t to say the manual is bad because it isn’t, only that it could probably benefit from a slight bit of revision to prevent others from getting stuck. Fortunately Marco aka McWill is a very helpful and friendly chap and after shooting him an email I was back on track.

Assembly will probably take you a couple of hours and I certainly advise taking your time and not trying to rush it. Some of the soldering can be fiddly, especially when it comes to attaching wires to the display pins on logic board. Using a fine tipped soldering iron is highly advisable. For wiring I used a good old trusty IDE cable, fine enough to fit on the small traces and flexible enough that i can manipulate the screen and board without working loose a connection. You will need to remove seven components from the main logical board before you can begin hooking in the new screen. You may also have carry out a 5 Volt check after removing the require components, so as to make sure the board isn’t exceeding 5.45 volt.

A fine tip is your best friend when soldering these pins

According the instruction the screen mod also has the ability to emulate the scan line effect of the original Lynx display, however I’ve been unable to get this to function. Not that I think I would really use it as the crisp look of the new display is pleasing enough and the games simply look amazing. If your Lynx is looking a little tired and you fancy giving it a face lift, I highly recommend getting one of McWill’s kits. While admittedly pricey, it will likely out live the life of the Lynx itself and beats replacing one old screen for another. As it’s only a matter of time before the ribbon cable degrades and your left looking for yet a replacement from a donor system.

 

Until next time, keep on geeking!

 

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Picade Build and Cabinet Art

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Produced by Pimoroni, a British company based in Sheffield, the Picade is an all singing and dancing tabletop arcade cabinet that can be put together in an afternoon. For £180 you get everything needed to build your own working cabinet (minus the Raspberry Pi) such as:

  • Black powder-coated cabinet panels
  • Picade PCB (Arduino compatible with stereo 2.8W amplifier) pre-loaded with the Picade software.
  • LCD panel mount with protective overlay
  • 8″ LCD panel & driver board
  • 2x speakers
  • 3.5mm stereo panel mounted headphone socket
  • Attractive decals for the marquee and controls
  • HDMI, audio, and USB cables
  • A proper arcade joystick
  • Twelve micro-switch arcade buttons
  • Custom assembled wiring looms
  • All other fixings, fastenings, nuts, and bolts

The kit is primarily geared towards users of the Raspberry Pi, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t use it with a mini ITX board or Odroid. In fact the rear door on which you mount the logic board has markings for several different models of computer not just the Pi. Anticipating the needs of their customers, Pimoroni have designed the kit with the hacking and modding community in mind, something they do with a lot of their products.

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Everything you need to make your own arcade

In 2012 when Pimoroni began their Kickstarter for the Picade I had an opportunity to try a working unit, needless to say the experience was enough to leave me wanting one. It wasn’t until the early last year when I finally got one of their kits but sadly didn’t have any time to assemble it. So the kit sat waiting on my to do list till October came around, when finally my partner and I put it together over several evenings. Assembling the Picade is pretty straight forward so long as you follow the PDF guide provided on Pimoroni’s website. There is also a video guide but in my opinion it is in need of updating, as it led us astray more than once. In the end we resorted to consulting the PDF exclusively, my partner reading the instructions as I placed the pieces together. Contrary to what the video tutorial suggests, make sure to tighten all the screws and nuts using a screw driver, otherwise your cabinet will soon begin to wobble and come apart as mine did after a few plays of DigDug.

The black power coated finish of Picade really sets it off with an old arcade feel, the buttons and joystick are of good quality and fairly responsive to use. At some point I will likely swap them out for more 80s recessed style buttons, but for now they get the job done and look fine.img_20161123_154601

The Picade comes bundled with an 8” flat panel LCD screen. Originally the kit was available with a 12” panel but I understand supplies dried up and Pimoroni have been unable to source any more at a reasonable price. At first when I removed the panel from its packaging I thought it was mighty small and had some misgivings about its effectiveness for playing games on, but honesty I hadn’t need for concern. The 8” panel compliments the cabinet really well and once your in playing Pacman or Pole Position you really don’t notice it. The picture is clear, sharp and the colours a vibrant, my only regret is the absence of any scanlines, but that’s more a personal preference and something I can probably fix within the Retro Pie software.

With the cabinet built, it is just a case of flashing an SD card with the relevant Retro Pie image, which you can download via their website @ https://retropie.org.uk. Setup is relatively painless and straight forward and should see you up and running in no time at all. Something I did discovered on my first outing, is that RetroPie has more than one Mame emulator to choose from and some ROMs work better in one than they do the other. If you find like I did that a great many of img_20170217_185138your ROMs aren’t working, you may wish to try using the other Mame emulator. The reason this happens is down to the chipsets the Mame is running, different revisions can sometimes expect different files to be present within the ROM archive. Newer revisions tend to be more compatible but unfortunately the one available on Raspbian isn’t, which is why RetroPie comes with more then one Mame emulator. Swapping between the different versions can be as simple as copying your ROMsets to the appropriate folder on your SD card. It is also possible to change it from within Retropie, just after selecting your ROM the option appear on screen to change the default settings, this also includes which version of Mame is used to run the selected ROMset.

When put together, the Picade and Retro Pie compliment one another well and one can hardly imagine one without the other, both are polished and easily accessible products.

Unfinished Business

img_20170213_151551When I began to assemble the Picade, I knew from the get go that I wanted to design some custom cabinet art for it – something that harkened back to the days of my childhood with crazy neon colours and funky 8 bit sprites. One thing about the Picade is that the only decals that come with it are for the marque and the control panel, the sides of the cabinet are left alone. As pretty as the powder coating is, I couldn’t help feel there was something better to do with them, such as cover them up with something bright and retro! So I went about designing the art on my recently aqcuired 15” Powerbook G4. Anyone who says PPC has had its day can go suck a lemon as far as I’m concerned, as this laptop not only oozes style but clocking in at 1.55Ghz it runs Photoshop without breaking a sweat.

img_20170119_162942As you can probably see in the photos from an early stage there was a very distinct 80s theme going on. One thing I had to keep in mind was to make sure the decal art lined up with the side panels on the cabinet, as I wasn’t just contending with the outside edge of each panel but also the various screw holes and speaker grills that the decals would be covering.

The side art is protected by 1mm thick sheet of clear acrylic that has been cut out to the same shape and size of both MDF side panels. Eventually I plan on making the marquee backlit so that the Picade logo and colours are more vivid to the eye.

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Off The Spectrum!

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Hi folks!

In my continuing mission to fiddling with my QL and Spectrum, I was hoping to write an article pitting the two systems against one another. All of that seemed to been scuppered when it appeared that getting Tasword on my +2 would be a painful ordeal. While I do own the software on tape, getting any sample documents off on to the PC would have been a challenge to say the least. Fortunately my friend Zetr0 came to the rescue and with some programming wizardy, I now have a fulling working version of Tasword on my internal compact flash drive. So expect to see an article explaining all real soon!

Over the weekend I attended the Retro Games Fair in Leeds, if you havent been I highly recommend a visit. While a little packed there are some fantastic bargains and the atmosphere is warm and cheerful. I came away with a selection of games, including Knightmare and Dragons Lair for the Speccy.

For more info check out the following link

Retro Gaming Fair UK

 

 


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!


Converting an Amiga Joystick to USB

AmigaPiReaders of my blog will probably have seen the Amiga 600PI I built not so long ago, using a Raspberry PI 2 under the hood. Out of all the projects, I honestly have to say this was a labour of love and a lot fun project to build. But like any build, there are the obligatory tweaks that must be made to fix things that might have been missed the first time around. Issues that only became obvious after using a build for a week or two. Which is pretty much how it was for me with the AmigaPi.

After using the AmigaPI for a couple of weeks, I began noticing one or two problems. First on the list, wasn’t so much a hardware problem as software. UAE4ARM is the de facto Amiga emulator for the Raspberry pi, in shorts it’s pretty amazing. But as fantastic as it is, there is yet to be any support for remapping the keyboard. This is useful if you like playing games using the cursor keys or say your old skool and prefer using the good old Spectrum controls Z,X,O,P. At the time of writing, this still isn’t an option, which means its still isn’t possible to make use of the built in joystick ports on my KeyRah V2 interface. Sadly it seems no matter how much people plead for the feature to be implemented, those bringing UAE4Arm to the Pi are focusing on performance over functionality. Which is understandable, as any good emulator requires a decent level of real time performance. Afterall nobody wants to play Amiga games at a snails pace with choppy sound. But in the pursuit for good performance, other features have been neglected. Making UAE4Arm a good attempt, but still vastly lacking when compared to FS-UAE or Win-UAE. Both of which offer a far more advanced level of configuration, we can only hope that UAE4Arm will one day follow suit. Given the number of people using their Raspberry Pi for gaming, it would be a missed opportunity if it didn’t.

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Controller of choice for most Retroarch fans

In the meantime the only way to play games on UAE4Arm is using a controller, usually this means hooking up an Xbox 360 joypad. I know a lot of people use these on their RetroArch gaming setups as they’re easy to get hold of. Chances are if you own a 360, you already have one laying about the house. However for me, seeing one hooked up to an Amiga 600 seemed as out of place as a Chippendale in a nunnery.

My AmigaPi needed a proper looking joystick, not some Microsoft rubbish. Now there are a couple of ways this can be achieved. Firstly, you can purchase the ready made USB Competition Pro by Speedlink. It looks just like the original, except for the USB connector on the end of the lead. I did seriously consider getting one of those, however digging a little deeper, I discovered more then a few people complaining about lack luster performance. While opinions on the internet are ten a penny, usually where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And at £20 a pop, I didn’t fancy finding out which opinion was right. Especially when I was pretty confident that I could build my own joystick for a fraction of the price.

Buiding A Joystick

The first thing I had to find was a bust Amiga Joystick, I certainly wasn’t about to break a working one just for a hack. At least taking something that is broken and giving it a new life, you’re recycling and not just throwing it in landfill. Luckily in my loft I had a non-working Cheetah 128, which had been
a spare for my Spectrum, until it died.PRODPIC-13190-1

Taking it apart, I was surprised with the simplicity of the internal workings. Unlike some of my quickshot sticks, the Cheetah use simple metal pads to create open and shut gates. Press forward on the joystick and two metal pads would connect to make a circuit. Luckily for me, this would actually worked in my favour, as it would make converting the stick to USB pretty simple. The only problem now was finding the right sort of USB controller. Scouring the net, I found one company that sold a custom analogue to USB adapters, however they wanted £16! I thought this was a little pricey for a single sided, through hole PCB with only chip. It was after all, doing essentially what all the cheap Chinese controllers were doing – translating the inputs from a series of switches / buttons into something the computer could understand as UP, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT and FIRE.

Ebay is full of USB controllers styled after SNES, NES and 360 joypads, which you can pick up for as little as a few quid. I was pretty sure one of these would contain everything I needed to convert the Cheetah to USB. So biting the bullet, I bought myself one and waited for it to arrive in the post.

A Note on Retro Game Pad Copies

Clones, not always as good as the originals.

Clones, not always as good as the originals.

After arriving at my doorstep, the first thing I noticed was the quality or lack of it Looks were pretty much the only thing the USB pad shared with the original super Nintendo controller. Unlike the latter, the build quality was cheap and flimsy and not at all solid as you’d expect. A quick game of Super Frog on the Amiga Pi quickly revealed how bad it really was, with the D pad often mashing two directions together. Resulting in a lot of unintentional left and right jumps that left me crying for it to end. After ten frustrating minutes I’d had enough and unplugged it. After seeing how rubbish it performed, I felt less guilty about scavenging it’s innards for my joystick mod.

 

Fitting A Square Block In A Round Hole

Inside the controller, I was faced with a major problem. The joy pad wasn’t constructed anything close to how I’d been expecting. Spanning the full width of the pad was a single PCB, populated with contact-less switches. I’d foolishly been expecting the pad to use mechanical switches, which I could have easily rewired. However a friend later explained to me that a lot of things these days are built using single a PCB to cut down the cost on components. In light of this revelation, I faced having to solder to the surface of the board. While not my joystick1preferred way of doing things, I’d just have to like it or lump it. If that wasn’t bad enough, the darn PCB turned out to be 2cm wider then the base of the Cheetah. I’d have to work some serious magic with my Dremmel if it was ever going to fit in the base.

One of the hazards with chopping up a PCB, is that they don’t usually work afterwards, not without a bit of rewiring. Such as reconnected broken ground planes etc, which are needed for the circuit board to function. Lucky for me the design was pretty simple, but I was still thrown a couple of times, chasing the ground. Having never attempted anything like this before, it was a learning process for me, figuring out how the board worked and where best to solder to. This was especially true, as I began cutting portions away to make it fit inside the base. After removing almost all the direction pads and three of the fire buttons, the PCB was finally narrow enough to fit inside the Cheetah, hurray!

joystick2If you fancy trying your hand at hacking your own joystick, my advice is to take your time, don’t rush and make a photographic record of your progress. Pictures can come in really handy if a wire pops out and your left wondering where the heck it came from!

To reduce the number of wires I had floating around inside the joystick, I shared the ground from one point on the PCB to all the other contacts. Interestingly, unlike other joysticks of the day, the Cheetah uses a cloverleaf for the main directional stick (pictured left). The only other joystick I know that shares this design, is the original Sinclair sticks that came with the grey Plus 2. This design actually made wiring everything up a lot easier, as its much simpler than those with internal switches. Beneath the star shaped metal plate are four contact screws, which represent UP, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT. Using wire I’d stripped from an old IDE cable, I hooked the contacts up to those on controller’s D-pad. This is when having photo’s comes it really handy, as more then once I lost my way with the traces on the board. But consulting some photos, I figured out what I was doing wrong and soon had UP going to UP, LEFT going to LEFT and so on.

joystick3

IDE cable is great for fine work like this

In theory, when connect to a USB port, the board would register the movement of the stick just as it had the original D-pad. While I recycled a lot of the Cheetah’s original wiring, I also used a lot of wire from an old IDE cable. Not only is it very flexible, but its also very low gauge, which makes it perfect for soldering to the tiny traces on the joypads PCB.

First Test

After the wiring, came the next challenge: hooking the joystick up to a USB port and hoping it worked. I’d already had the pad albeit in original form, connected to my Windows PC. It worked straight out the box with a minimal amount of setting up. Hooking it back up, I was pleased to find everything worked first time! joypad4After a game of Stunt Car (obviously!) on WinUAE, I began wondering about the buttons in the base of the Cheetah and whether or not they could be made to work. True the wiring inside was more jammed than a sumo wrestler in a phone box. But I wasn’t satisfied, I wanted those darn buttons to work. After all, the natural way of holding the Cheetah was with both hands. The whole time I’d been playing Stunt Car, I kept feeling the urge to use the lower buttons instead of the trigger.

Achieving this feat took some hacking, I can tell you. First I had to find room for the micro switches. There was barely any for them to sit between the PCB and the lid, the only option was to cut out a cavity in the buttons for the switches to sit inside.

 

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From left to right, a converted button next to one waiting to be altered.

As you can see pictured, this was finally how the buttons looked, with the switches recessed inside the red plastic housing. It took several failed attempts on my part, before I found the right depth for the switches. But eventually I was firing nitros in Stunt Car without a hitch. I think the scariest moment was when I screwed everything together. With the top and base finally secured, I was worried everything would squashed together. Luckily, I didn’t need to worry, as it worked fine.

 

And here is a final image, which I think pretty much captures my feeling at the end of this hack.

 

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This trophy’s bigger then my head!!

 

 


Raspberry Pi 4th Birthday Bash

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Held in Cambridge on the 5th and 6th of March at the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, the official Raspberry Pi birthday celebrates the fourth year since the release of the original Raspberry Pi Model B. Going from strength to strength since its initial release, the success of the Raspberry Pi can’t be denied. This is made even more apparent by the fact the birthday bash is a sold out event, with people coming from all around the country and also Europe to celebrate this tiny micro computer. Attending the event where Pihut, CPC, IQaudio, PiTop, { Code Club }, Pimoroni and LinuxUser Magazine, to name but a few. This only skims the surface, as the event was teeming with clever boffins with something to display. If you missed this year’s birthday bash, I highly recommend trying to attend one or any Pi event in your area in the future. The atmosphere is inspiring and the people warm and friendly.

End of Day One

Thoroughly geeked out, the first day was a blast. This was my first time at a Raspberry Pi event and I have to say, it was an eye opener. Making it certain that I’ll be attending more in the future. Over the Saturday, I met some wonderful, friendly people, such as the

Amazing Pi Laptops from Pi-Top

Amazing Pi Laptops from Pi-Top

fantastic peeps from LinuxUser, who are clearly just as passionate about retro gaming as they are about Linux. The dead give away to this was the Pi Zero powered Xbox controller on their table, running Retroarch. Not only was I invited to play a game of Doom, but they even gave me a copy of their Magazine, containing tips on the Linux Terminal. Now I ask you, who can turn their nose up at that, seriously? Next in line for a mention is the chap from Pi-top, if you’ve not heard about Pi-top, they produce two impressive cases specifically for the Raspberry PI and I highly recommend looking them up. Having played around with the laptop model of the Pi-top, I can honestly say I was impressed. As you can probably tell from the photo, the striking green case it certainly eye catching. Pimoroni were also present, showing off their popular Picade and Flotilla products, which as one can expect, drew in a crowd.

Raspberry Pi3

Released only days before the birthday bash, the Pi 3 comes with Bluetooth and wireless built in, not to mention an A53 processor, clocked at 1.25Ghz. 10x faster than the original Pi, the Pi 3 is a quad-core computer like the Pi 2, however unlike the P2, which uses a 32bit CPU, the Pi 3 is 64bit. This step up, will scientifically improve the performance of the Pi, placing feasibly within the same realm of some laptops and Atom based net tops.

At the time of its release, the Pi 2 Model B was considered by many, myself included, as a lightweight desktop computer. That being the case, the specs of the Pi 3 most certainly elevate the fruity micro from just an educational computer to something that could easily be used at home for surfing the net and playing games. And while the primary goal of the Pi is to get kids back into computers (something it is doing remarkably well), both the Spectrum and C64 of yester years, owe much of their success to the games that were developed for them. Many of the kids playing those games back in the day later become programmers in their own right. Perhaps it’s just nostalgia, but I would love to imagine there are a bunch of kids out there some place, learning Python or Scratch, developing the next Dizzy or Crash Bandicoot on their humble Raspberry Pi 2/3, perhaps because playing games on Retroarch, inspired them to do so.

 

Day Two

The beginning to the second day at the birthday bash, began with a sausage sandwich and a cup of tea. Not very technical I know, but essential if you want the grey matter in your noggin to boot up! Fuelled up, the first event on my schedule was to sit in on Eban Upton’s talk about the Rapberry Pi. I had intended to record the talk for you guys to hear, so I set my Nexus 5 recording throughout the session. Sadly the recording sounded more akin to a scuba diver dictating into a baked bean tin while riding upon a flatulent whale. Instead you’ll have to settle for a photo of the Eban I took just before he beganeban. The talk overall was insightful and fun, Eban was down to earth in explaining the development of the Pi 3. He also made a point of crediting the people behind its development, the faces we don’t see who work tirelessly to develop, innovate and burn much of the midnight oil in an effort to make the Pi 3 a reality.

There was also mention of the AstroPi, which recently travelled in to space, on its way to the international space station. Without the doubt, the Astro Pi is one of the most expensive Pi every built, requiring a specially built enclose and mounts, made from some pricey materials.

After the talk, I found myself chatting to Jon Prove, director of Sales for Pi Top, a cool guy, who is clearly enthusiastic about the Raspberry Pi in general. I’d already spoken to one of his colleagues the previous day. I had seen Jon, but he was knee deep in people interested in his product.

Later I caught a talk on Sonic Pi, an adaptable music generator which you can program to create a wide variety of sounds. At the party the night before, its creator, Dr Sam Aaron performed live. Being as it was my first exposure to Sonic Pi, I have to say I was impressed. At times the music Aaron was playing, sounded uncannily like Daft Punk. It certainly left me wanting to learn more about the software, which thanks to the talk I now feel a little more informed about.

Dr Sam Aaron rocking with SonicPi

Dr Sam Aaron rocking with SonicPi

Not all the vendors who attended the first day, were present on the Sunday. CPCs table was unoccupied, but left on their table were freebies and a note, wishing everyone a fun day and to help themselves to one of the goodies they had left behind, ranging from Pi shaped coasters, pens, stickers and even some Pi cases. Now wasn’t that jolly well nice of them? FYI, I nabbed a coaster!

One of the nice features of the event was the layout, the ground floor held all the vendors and talks, the second and third floor were for workshops and also quiet spaces. Handy if you happen to be carrying around your G4 iBook and wanting to quickly jot down notes for your blog. Thank goodness I bought a new battery as the old one would never have lasted long enough!


The Raspberry A600PI AMIGA

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What do an Amiga A600 and the Raspberry PI have in common? Well at the time of their release, both were considered small micro computers. So what do you get when you combine the quad core power of a RPI-2 Model B and the compact design of an Amiga 600? In theory, a compact quad core Amiga, that runs Linux. But that’s just a theory right? No one’s actually gone to the trouble of making such a freaky hybrid have they? Well actually yes, in fact plenty of people have been putting Raspberry Pi in all sorts of things, ranging from Spectrums, C64s, toasters and pants. Ok I made that last one up, but you just wait, the day is coming when someone will develop digital ‘smarty’ pants. That day is coming my friend. Most of the time the A1200 and A500 are utilised for modding purposes, most likely because of the space afforded in both machines.

Measuring in at 14” by 9.5” and 3” high, the A600’s small size works against it for modding purposes, it also lacks a full size keyboard, so there is no numerical pad. Even back in 1992, the A600 came under fire from people criticising the short comings of its design. For a machine intended to replace the aged A500+, it did a pretty poor job in many respects. Later the managing Director of Commodore UK, David Pleasance, would describe the A600 as a “complete and utter screw-up”

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David Pleasance – Not the A600s biggest fan

As a kid at the time, I recall thinking the A600 looked like a waste of time compared to my expanded A500+. It wasn’t until later that year, when I saw the A1200 in Amiga Format, that I began drooling. Fast forward 23 years and here I am staring at a 600 case, wondering what I can do to it. In my head, I was picturing a useful Linux machine capable of going online, playing games and running UAE (Ultimate Amiga Emulator). I had a Keyrah sitting on the shelf begging to be used, so what am I to do? Initially, I did nothing. Back when the Raspberry Pi was first released, it was intended for hacking LEDs & light sensors together or acting as the brains inside an electronic project. It wasn’t meant to be a desktop computer, it simply didn’t have the memory or power to handle it. Gradually, the Pi evolved, more RAM was added, the design was refined, software was optimised, until finally the Foundation released the Raspberry PI 2 Model B. Upgrading the tiny computer with a quad core Arm Cortex A7 processor, this update opened the door to variety of new possibilities,  including my shelved Amiga project.

The RPI 2 Model B was a beast compared to the B+

The RPI 2 Model B is a beast compared to the B+

The Pi is very affordable when you compare it to other SBC boards. It also has the benefit of a rich and active community. Not to mention the copy cats that have emerged since its release. While some people might critisise them, I think it’s ace – competition is healthy. Children are once again wiring up things to their computers, learning how to program, learning LOGIC. Some of these kids might go on to shape our future and possibly develop the next breakthrough technology. But in the meantime, here at ByteMyVdu, we are more interested in seeing if a RPI2 can be merged with 20 year old Amiga…So read on and find out.

In the Beginning

Even before I started drilling or ordering parts, I knew one thing for sure, I wanted the hack to be neat, not just that, I wanted the Amiga PI to look no different to a regular Amiga. I wanted people to see it sitting on my desk and think it actually was an Amiga running Linux. But how to go about it? After all the RPI has vastly different ports to the Amiga. Instead of serial and parallel, we now have USB, and in place of composite there is VGA or if you prefer DVI / HDMI. There is also the RJ45 port, allowing you to hook the PI up to your network. Back in the day, the Amiga used serial or a PCMCIA modem to talk to the outside world. One thing was for certain, the back of the Amiga was going to look vastly different with all the new ports and connections, utilising the existing holes cut in the case would only end up looking odd.IMG_20151021_152425 So I decided to craft a new back panel from 3mm acrylic. Taking measurements of the rear panel of the A600, I spent a Saturday designing a vector on my Macintosh Classic. Originally I’d been planning to write an article for BMV about the Manchester Play Expo, but the idea popped in to my head that it would be more fun to design the back panel. Surprisingly the process was very easy and transferring the design over to the main computer went without a hitch. So anyone who says that 68k Macs are useless really needs to have a rethink.

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With the back panel cut from white acrylic, I began buying the cables necessary to extended the ports of the PI to the rear of the Amiga case. I shopped on eBay for all the things I needed, while Amazon might have stocked them, I wasn’t so enthusiastic about buying from them after being burnt in the past.

The list of parts I needed was as follows

  • 1x Panel mountable, RJ45 extension cable
  • 2x Panel mountable USB extension cable
  • 1x Panel mountable Micro USB female to male cable
  • 1x 3.5mm stereo to female RCA phono cable

IMG_20151022_135544With all the cables together, I went about installing the new back panel. Having already cut out the back from the Amiga case, I offered the new panel up to see how it look. Fortunately for me, my measurement had been pretty good and the new panel fit nicely against the back of the A600. Once the case was together, it was time to attach all the cables, screwing and gluing them in place where needed. While doing this, I discovered a handy Y shape USB splitter on eBay, turning one USB port in to two. It was only after I had installed the cable, that I discovered the splitter was only good for charging. No matter what I hooked up to the ports, nothing would appear. The only device that DID work was a mouse, pretty much cementing the fact, that the cable was complete rubbish. Luckily I’d bought two USB extension cables prior to seeing the splitter, so it was just a case of swapping the cables around. Even though I had glued the splitter in place, I was still able to extract it. With the new cables installed, I now had two fully working USB ports on the back of the case. As for the USB splitter, it went in the bin. The next step was installing the Keyrah. This little device from IndividualComputers turned the Amiga keyboard in to a USB device, enabling me to use it on the PI, so it was important I found space inside the Amiga to accommodate the PCB. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the joystick ports on the Keyrah lined up perfectly with those on the 600 case. I’m not sure whether this was intended, needless to say it made installation easy. The Keyrah does sit rather close to the floppy drive, which might cause problems in the future, should I wish to fit a disk drive. Later models of the Keyrah have a slot for connecting the keyboards ribbon cable, but mine is an early revision. So instead of a slot, the contacts are printed on to the PCB and a bar is used to hold the ribbon cable in place. All I shall say on this earlier design, is that I understand why they changed it. Every time I open the AmigaPI the ribbon cable would move, taking out the keyboard.

Keyrah, handy kit so long as you leave it alone.

Keyrah, handy kit so long as you leave it alone.

Because of the limitations of the A600 keyboard, the Keyrah has an on board switch, that swaps between two keymaps. Essentially giving you access to a full keyboard. Because the Keyrah resides inside the Amiga, I’m not sure exactly how they expect me to access the switch. Unless I was meant to cut an ugly hole just below the floppy drive, hmm I don’t think so! Perhaps at a later date, I will wire up a new switch and mount it on the back of the Amiga. One final aspect to wiring up the Raspberry PI with the Amiga case, was case lights. In what has to be the most hairy bit of soldering I’ve done. I removed the surfaced mounted LEDs from the Raspberry PI to gain access to the solder points below. Then using some IDE cable, I attached wires from the motherboard directly to the legs of the LEDS. Holding my breath, I turned the machine on and what do you know, the power and drive light came on. Not the sort of soldering I want to do on a regular basis, as my heart was in my throat the entire time I was soldering to the tiny PI board.

Power

Yes, they work!

Yes, they work!

The combined power requirements of all these devices undoubtedly pushes a PI to it’s limits, at it’s best the PI has 1.2A devoted to the USB bus. If one or two of your devices are power hungry, the 1.2A cap can quickly become annoying. The only solution is to use a powered hub, which is exactly what I did. Due to the limiting space factor, I tried to avoid using as many connectors as I could inside. Instead opting to chop the ends of cables and solder the wires directly to the points on the hub. The PI hub has a 5v 2A port dedicated for powering the PI, so instead of using the intended USB cable, I soldered wires straight to the 5v and ground. I then soldered them to the power points on the PI motherboard, just below the micro usb power port. I also converted the power socket of the hub in to a female micro USB socket, which I glued to the back panel of the Amiga case. This meant I could continue using PI specific power supplies.

Feeling Wired

Soldering all these wires together, I made a very rookie mistake, by not taking in to account the resistance of the wires on the whole circuit. This became apparent the first time I booted up the PI. Even though I was using an official Raspberry PI psu, the square rainbow under volts icon appeared in the top right corner of the screen. Running a volt meter over the ground and 5v pin on the GPIO port, I discovered it was reading around 4.5v, not the 5.15v that I was expecting. If there is one thing I learnt during this build, it is that USB cable makes a poor substitute proper gauge wire. If you want to reduce high levels of resistance, make sure to use a decent gauge wire.

I learnt this lesson the hard way, leading to me to rewire everything a second time. After which the voltage over the GPIO port was restored to just over 5v. The original psu for the PI hub is rated at 5.2V 2A, which is more then enough to power a PI under normal circumstances. In the AmigaPi’s current configuration, it appeared just enough to power everything, the under volts icon appears whenever the rear ports are in use. With this in mind, a 3A power source will likely be on the cards.

Software

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War, never been so much fun!

Under the hood the AmigaPI runs the latest version of Raspbian, I have also installed UAE4ARM, the lastest Amiga emulator for the Raspberry PI. Not only does it receive regular updates, but it quite possibly the fastest Amiga emulator you can get on the PI. Configuring it to work can be a little tricky and keyboard support is not all there yet, but anyone who spends time reading on the Raspberry forum have little trouble getting it running.

There are a surprising number of Linux games available for the PI, ranging from Doom clones to arcade Galaga, you can even get point and click adventure games such as Beneath a Steel Sky. All of these work fine with the Raspberry Pi and are definitely worth a look at. DOSbox is also available  I’ve yet to test it out, so I can’t say how good it is at emulating a DOS machine. But if UAE is anything to go by, it will hopefully manage 486 games without breaking out a sweat.

Being a Purist

As I mentioned earlier, I wanted the AmigaPI to look like an Amiga, with working Joystick ports, a functional floppy drive and PCMCIA port. Admittedly the rear of the computer looks different, but that couldn’t be avoided. The PI doesn’t have a serial or printer port like the Amiga, nor does it have an composite or RF connector. The only option I had was to give the new back panel an Amiga feel, which is why the power connector is in the far corner, why is has phono connectors for audio and two USB ports, in place of the old serial and parallel ports. The floppy drive is still a work in progress, as the floppy to USB adaptor I bought is sitting on my desk untested. Until I have a new power supply, I don’t wish to risk corrupting the SD card by causing a brown out. But hopefully in the near future the familiar click of a floppy drive will return to the old A600 case. Fitting the Amiga PI with a PCMCIA port seems a little redundant to me, as I had an old CF card reader kicking around, I decided to compromise. After all, when my A1200 isn’t on WIFI, it spends most of its time with a CF card adaptor stuck in the side. Equipping the AmigaPI with CF, meant I could easily transfer files, pictures, mods and ADFs back and forth between the AmigaPI and my regular Amiga’s. Something I envisioned being pretty useful at LAG meetings, when we are taking pictures of the meeting.

Final thoughts

I honestly can’t believe I’ve finished this project, that I’m sitting here at this moment, typing on what looks like a regular Amiga 600. Except the badge bares a berry shaped logo and next to it, reads Raspberry A600PI. Ok it’s not a next generation Commodore product, but then when are we likely to see that happen? The reason people are still rocking Commodore products is because of the mindset behind them. The passion that drove the team who made the Amiga, still lingers, the embers faintly glowing from a fire that blazed decades ago. All I know DO know, is that I get a certain buzz from using a computer that fits inside a keyboard. Unlike my Windows 7 tower, I can thrown the A600PI in my bag and take it with me and who knows, maybe even play a game of Sensible Soccer over at a mates. Yes its dirty filthy nostalgia  but on top of that, it’s turning the PI from a mass pile of wires, in to a compact, usable computer. I only have to connect power, VGA and mouse to get the AmigaPi up and running. Everything I need, is self contained within the confines of the A600 case. With a regular PI, I have to find my VGA to HDMI adaptor, WIFI dongle, powered hub, keyboard and mouse, before I even begin to think about powering it on. In short, its a real faff, but not any more!

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So if you’ll excuse me, I feel the need to play Cannon Fodder now, till next time keep on geeking!!

No Amigas were harmed during the making of this project, but one ropey looking, long dead 600 was given a new brain.