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.

smallxboxpad

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.

 

joystick5

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.

 

joywin

This trophy’s bigger then my head!!

 

 


Dell Inspiron 4000 Retro Gaming and ‘How to’ on Internal Wifi

dell_inspiron_4000

 

Manufactured for Dell by Taiwan based Compal Electronics in early 2000, the Inspiron 4000 was a lightweight, business laptop offering a sturdy chassis and good performance, boasting a Pentium III or Celeron processor, 512mb of memory, dual PCMCIA ports, two modular bays and an internal mini PCI port for networking.

I acquired the Inspiron a couple of years ago, thinking it would make a good portable DOS gaming system. While DosBox is a handy piece of software, it doesn’t always work according to plan and some games simply require the real thing to run properly. I do have a Pentium 133mhz DOS machine, running Windows 98, but the thing is rather cumbersome and occupies a lot of room once it’s setup on my desk. Really, I was looking for something compact and easy to put away when I wasn’t in a gaming mood. The Dell ticked a lot of those boxes, not to mention having a PIII 700mhz processor, it could still manage a little light surfing if need be.

A Functional Operating System in 2015

There is only one problem with running modern-ish applications on a single core system, everything tends to run damn slow. Especially when compared to the dual and quad core systems we have today. Even the humble Raspberry Pi eventually branched out into multicore territory last year, with the Pi 2 model B. So where does that leave the old Intel Pentium III? Down the river without a canoe or a paddle? Not really, there are in fact many distributions of Linux that will still happily run on a single core computer, Puppy Linux and Mint to name but a few. Even the now deprecated Windows XP offers a reasonable performance and if you’re wanting to run old DOS or Windows software it’s probably the best route to take. Depending on where you go on the internet, XP is either one of the best OS that Microsoft ever made and a solid foundation for a retro system, or it’s an eyesore, with more holes then a rusty Ford Anglia, continuing to linger longer after the party ended. Either way, if like me, you want to run games from 1996 to 2005, XP is really the best that’s out there in terms of hardware support and performance. Backwards compatible with Windows 98 and 2000, it will run most things you throw at it. I could if I’d been so inclined, opted for Windows 2000, which actually came pre-installed on the Inspiron 4000. But Win2k hasn’t seen an update since 2005, where as XP was only dropped by Microsoft as recently as last year. People still like XP and as long as it remains popular, software will still come out supporting it. Don’t believe me? One only needs to check the OS market share;

https://www.netmarketshare.com/operating-system-market-share.aspx?qprid=10&qpcustomd=0

As of January 2016, XP is still holding a strong third place, ahead of Windows 8.1, Mac OS and Vista the XP’s intended replacement. Why this is, I’ll leave it to you to ponder. Personally I still think XP rocks! But don’t quote me on that!

Installed and Running

Up and running with XP service pack 3, the Inspiron is surprisingly nippy for a single core machine with only 512mb ram. The only time it does slow down to a crawl is online, visiting flash heavy websites which effectively kill it. With half a gigabyte of ram, Firefox and Google Chrome gobble up memory like there is no tomorrow. Not a problem if your computer has one or two gig of ram handy, but with 512mb the strain begins to show. Things weren’t helped much by the hard drive fitted inside the laptop, a 10gb, 4200rpm, 2.5” IDE Fujitsu. Over ten years old the drive was not only noisy and slow, but once I’d removed it. I discovered had an alarming habit of rattling if tipped on it’s side or gentle shaken. Hard drives shouldn’t rattle, not unless they’ve come out of a computer that took a trip down the stairs. Chucking it in the bin, it was quickly replaced with a younger 30Gb 7200rpm, Hitachi. Being significantly newer then the Fujitsu, the Hitachi was visibly quicker at booting up and performing in general. And now with 20 gig extra space, it gave me ample space to install all my old programs and games of course!

So what games will run on a Y2k laptop you ask? Well the large majority of games from 1996 onwards will run happily on a PIII with little or no protest. Equipped with an 8mb ATI Rage Mobility video card, it’s only when we get to about 2002 that games start to expect a little more from a graphical stand point and by 2004 we are all out of luck.

Here’s but a few games that do work:

Abe’s Oddworld

Star Trek: The Fallen

Star Trek: Generations (with some tweaking)

Dungeon Keeper

The Sims

Deus Ex

Baldurs Gate

Diablo II

Star Trek: Klingon Honour Guard

There are plenty more games I could add to the list but those are just a few of the ones I plan on playing on the Inspiron and maybe even doing a review or two for ByteMyVdu while I’m at it.

If your after a cheap knock about laptop for blogging, gaming then I wouldn’t be to hasty in dismissing these early 2000 machines. Ok they might not handle newest version of Windows, run Sims 3 or handle Facebook (is that a bad thing?) but if you’re after something you can throw about in a rucksack and not worry if it picks up a dint or a scratch, then perhaps it’s worth looking at.

Networking

Equipped with an internal mini PCI 56k Lucent modem and on board ethernet, when new, the Inspiron offered users all they needed to get jacked in. However times have changed and using a phone line is no longer the trendy way the kids get online in 2016. In fact, I think if I showed a teenage a modem from 16 years ago, they would wonder what the hell it was showing them. On most old laptops, the default answer to getting wifi is to plug a wireless card in an empty PCMCIA slot. Personally I find the wireless card hanging out the side a tad ugly and just asking to be caught or knocked. Now if you recall, I said earlier that the 4000 had a PCI modem which meant the Inspiron had an internal mini PCI port. This led me to wonder what would happen, if I replaced the Lucent card with a Broadcom wireless card. After finding one with XP drivers, from Dell no less, I popped open the panel on the underside of the laptop and swapped the cards. After some fiddling, I finally got the Broadcom working. Usually when you install a wifi card in a laptop, you’ll find one or two antenna wires that connect to the “Main” and “AUX” ports of the wireless card. Because the 4000 doesn’t come with wifi, the laptop didn’t have an internal antenna. How then does one hope to get a signal? Well you could buy an antenna if one is available specifically for your laptop. This would then involve stripping down your machine and installing the antenna loom around the screen. In other words a lot of faffing about, just to get a decent wireless signal. I decided there had to be a better way and it turned out I was right. A quick look  online and I discovered Pimoroni in the UK, sold a mini 2.4Ghz wireless antennas for putting inside electronic projects. Measuring in at just 100mm, I wasn’t sure whether the tiny aerial would get much of a signal from within the base of the laptop. But after installing it, I realised there wasn’t any cause for concern. Windows reported a modest two bar signal coming from the router, even carrying it to the furthest part of the house, I was still receiving one bar and a stable online connection.

While my solution might not work for everyone, it certainly breathed life in to the Inspiron 4000 which can now get online, without needed an ugly PCMCIA card sticking out the side.

The antenna I bought can be found on Pimoroni’s website here.


Heating & Good Ventilation

Nomad Update

A couple of years ago I wrote an article on BMV about a retro themed computer I’d built, designed to look like a Z80‭ Micro ‬computer from late‭ ‬70‭s. ‬The build went pretty well and overall I have to say it was a success.‭ The front panel even had blinky lights! ‬But like many prototypes, there were one or two unanticipated bugs.‭ ‬Today’s article will cover the biggest of them all: heat, and how its ultimately in your own best interest not to ignore it. So pull up a chair, grab a hot beverage and lets get the party started.

logo

Linux offering a serious alternative to Windows

At the heart of the Nomad is an MSI Fuzzy‭ ‬945GM2‭ ‬motherboard, fitted with an Intel Core Duo T5500‭ ‬central processor and 2GB of DDR2‭ ‬memory.‭ ‬By today’s standards  the hardware isn’t very impressive,‭ ‬but powerful enough to run old DOS games, emulate other systems and still provide a decent working system. Windows XP Professional, while not so safe online, is still the best option for running most old software, while still being able to run Photoshop and Illustrator. Due to XP’s vulnerability on-line, I installed Xuntubu along side it, so I had a secure platform for surfing the Internet. Seriously if you have never considered Linux and you are moving away from XP, then I couldn’t recommend it enough. It’s free, open source and runs really well even on a system with limited resources. ‬I also discovered that interfacing my TRS80‭ ‬M100‭ ‬via serial is much less of a headache through Linux,‭ ‬than it ever was using Windows.

For those of you that may have missed my earlier‭ article‭‬,‭ ‬I originally used an ABS plastic enclosure to house the Nomad.‭ ‬At the time I thought the case would be fine,‭ ‬but later discovered the motherboard was cooking inside the tiny case. So much that the hot glue I had used to construct part of the case has melted and one of the SATA cables was stuck to the underside of the top lid.  Using a digital thermometer I’d built, I discovered the inside of the case was reaching close to‭ ‬85‭ ‬degrees‭! ‬Ouch‭!

20140729144727123

Nomad Part 2 Taking Shape

So it was back to the drawing board,‭ ‬I could either find a larger case or replace the MSI board with something cooler,‭ ‬such as a dual core Atom board.‭ ‬Having past experience with Atom chips,‭ ‬my feelings towards them was a little jaded. ‬As low cost CPUs go, they serve a purpose, but I’ve never found them to be that impressive in a desktop environment. ‬I’ve seen Atom based systems advertised as compact desktop replacements, but in my experience,‭ ‬that is a load of old twaddle.‭ ‬Atom powered machines are little more than Netbooks that have been stuffed inside a compact desktop box and we all know what happened to the ill fated Netbook‭! Using an Atom board was simpy out of the question,‭ ‬for a start I was doubtful it would handling emulating a Spectrum, let alone a Commodore Amiga. I had to stick with using the Fuzzy board, so I needed to find a better case to house the guts of the Nomad.‭ ‬Thanks to the popularity of the Raspberry Pi,‭ ‬eBay is now flooded with project boxes and kits catering for hackers and builders alike.‭ ‬ Unlike before when I struggled to find even one case, I was now faced with a torrent of cases to choose from. It still took me over a month to find a decent case that still had that‭ ‘‬Altair‭’ ‬look.‭ ‬Advertised as a Raspberry Pi enclosure,‭ ‬I have to say the seller was being modest.‭

From This

The New Nomad?

To This!

received_10153243691849419

You could probably fit‭ ‬20-30‭ ‬Pi inside the one case.‭ ‬Constructed of metal, it would be perfect for the Nomad v2. ‬Cutting out the back and front panels proved to be a challenge, ‬but I had faith in my trusty Dremmel.‭ ‬The new case was double the price of the ‭original plastic enclosure,‭ ‬but for a metal case it was still relatively cheap.‭ ‬

Once it had arrived, I began the process of transferring the guts from the old case to the new one.

Disaster…Panic…Death

A month after the Nomad v2 was built,‭ ‬it randomly stopped working.‭ At first I wondered if my fears come true‭, that exposure to high temperatures in the old case had damaged the components, leading to the main board giving up the ghost. ‬Exhausting every theory, ‬I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what was causing the machine not to work.‭ ‬In the end,‭ ‬I took the‭ machine over to friend’s,‭ ‬hoping a fresh pair of eyes would see something I hadn’t.‭ ‬Thankfully this paid off,‭ ‬unlike me,‭ ‬my friend Peter went straight for the power supply.‭ ‬Not the one inside the machine,‭ ‬but the external brick I was using to supply‭ ‬12v to the computer.‭ I’d been so convinced heat had damaged something, I’d overlooked the simplest answer. I later realised I’d overlooked the load the Nomad was placing on the external power supply. ‬The motherboard,‭ ‬CPU and drives needed at least‭ ‬125watt’s and the power supply I was using fell short by a long way. ‬Before rebuilding the Nomad,‭ ‬I sat down and calculated the systems power requirements and bought a PSU and ATX Pico adaptor better suited to the system. ‭ ‭ ‬Overall the rebuild has been a success and I always get a special buzz when someone asks about the odd looking machine on the desk.


Recent Purchase WordStar 3.40

wordstar logo

If I said I was going to the seaside, what is the first thing that pops inside your head? Ice-cream? Soft drinks? Sandy beaches? You probably would not think yard sales, charity shops and vintage computer software. Well that’s how we roll at BMV, never stopping in our quest to find old bits of computer paraphernalia. On this occasion I discovered a boxed copy of Wordstar 3.40. The box comprises of one thick reference and installation manual, another thinner training guide and a starter kit containing two floppy disks.

A Little History

micropro_wordstar_52681Some of you may or may not be familiar with Wordstar. You can be forgiven for not recognising the name. But what if I told you writers such as George R.R Martin (Game of Thrones), Arthur C. Clarke (Space Odyssey) and Robert J. Sawyer swear by the software? Released in 1979, Wordstar became one of the most widely used Word processors during the early 80s. Amongst its strengths was the fact the software was not computer specific. Originally developed for the CP/M operating system, Wordstar was intended to run on just about any CP/M computer, regardless of brand. Later in 1983 with the rising popularity of DOS based computers, Micropro released a new version, Wordstar 3.0. A direct port of the CP/M version, 3.0 retained many of the original keyboard short cuts making it easy for CP/M users to continue using the software on a newer DOS based platform.

So What?

12.wordstar

Wordstar’s distraction free environment

You might be wondering why I’m bothering with such an old piece of software and not using Microsoft Word. It’s true using Word with it’s easy to use GUI and icons would probably make things very easy, mainly because I have been using Word since I was in my teens. But should I rule out other ways of doing things, just because I’m accustomed to one way? Personally I like variety, I also like DOS and old software; DOS, old software and old computers. If there is a theme or purpose to my blog, it’s to show people that there are still ways to get things done using old hardware. Distractions like Facebook and the internet can sometimes get in the way of productivity. Goodness knows I’ve lost track of time while pottering around on the net, getting very little done in the process.

So today, armed with a cup of coffee, I sat down with the Nomad running Wordstar via DOSbox. After an hour or two I was able to get this entire blog entry written. Admittedly it will need proof reading before I upload it to WordPress, as I do not have the Spellstar add-on. Learning the keyboard layout will be the hardest challange. IBM compatible machines do not have the same keyboard layout as early CP/M computers, so not everything is where you might expect it to be.

If I have one gripe about Wordstar, it would be the default blue page background which I find hard on the eyes while typing. For the vast majority of the time, I found looking down at my keyboard helped. Which in turn caused me to focus on my typing and actually improved my typing speed and decreased my typos… well, to at least a small degree.

So for me, Wordstar 3.4 scores 6/10

Pros
– Uncluttered
– Lots of functionality
– Distraction free typing

Cons
– Old, needs DOS or DOSbox to run
– Lack of customisation e.g altering the display colours
– Keyboard layout takes some getting used to

 

If you want to check out the computer the original version of Wordstar was written on, then follow this link
barnlogo2

 

 

If you fancy trying out Wordstar, then why not try this freeware alternative:

The VDE Editor

 


Pimoroni Pihub Review

pihub_2 copy

PiHub By Pimoroni

 As some of you know, I dabble on an off with the Raspberry Pi. As a casual user, I use my pi mostly for playing with linux and the odd gaming session. The Pi is a fun little computer, so long as you don’t expect to much from
it. As an indie games platform it offers a lot of fun, so much that I have even felt myself being drawn to writing a program on the tiny computer.

Anyone who has used a raspberry pi for any length of time, will know that cables can soon start to mount up. It’s amazing that such a tiny computer can take up so much room. The RPi can work fine as a stand alone computer, but start adding a wifi dongle, keyboard, mouse, USB memory stick, card reader and suddenly you’ve run out of USB ports. There are solutions to get around the RPi’s two usb ports, but none of them are simple or straight forward as buying a powered USB hub. First and foremost if you buy a hub for your RPI, you have to get one that comes with its own power supply.

On early models of the RPi, the USB ports were fitted with polyfuses designed to protect the tiny computer from devices that might try and draw too much power, such as external hard drives or web cams. Later models did away with the two fuses and now the RPi has just one fuse. While the latest design has improved matters, you are still stuck with just the two ports which is where a power hub like the Pihub comes in, alleviating your power woes and freeing you from two port hell. The Pihub is the creation of Pimoroni, the UK company that also brought us the Picade. Their website offers supplies to a wide audience of tinkerers, modders and electronic hobbyists. One of their recent offerings to the RPi community was the Pihub, aptly named as the housing of the Pihub is in the shape of the Raspberry Pi emblem. Adorned with green leaves and red berry colours, as hubs go it is by far the cutest I’ve seen. The case is but one cool feature of this little device, and the hardware inside is pretty impressive as well. When buying your Pihub, you have the option to opt-out of  buying it with the accompanying power supply. While this might seem like a good way to save money, I would recommend spending the extra money for the PSU as it is well worth the money. Rated at 5.2 volts and 3mA/h, it is more than capable of powering the RPi along with anything else you might want to throw at it. Struggling with external CDROM drives and USB hard drive are a thing of the past. pihub_4
Unimpeded by polyfuses like the RPi, the Pihub offers the full USB 2.0 package, with a multi TT (transaction Translator) chip for bringing USB 1.1 devices in line with the high bus speeds of USB 2.0. Some devices use only
one TT chip, sharing a single 12mb/s data channel amongst several USB ports, which can significantly impede your performance and lead to a bottle neck effect, unlike the Pihub which has been designed to provide high performance. Designed with 4x USB ports, one of which is specifically engineered to power your Raspberry Pi
computer. Providing a dedicated 1.1 Amp supply, it means no longer needing two separate power supplies, you can run everything from just the one psu. For me this is a massive selling point because I found the increasing number of bits i needed for my Pi really annoying. My desk has been turned from crazy cable jungle to almost down right respectable.   While yes, powering the RPi from the Pihub does mean your taking up one of the ports. You’re still left with three full USB 2.0 standard ports as well as the spare port on your RPi. Overall I think the trade-off it worth it.
Speaking with Paul Beech from Pimoroni, he informed me the Pihub had specifically been designed with high quality chips to guarantee 100% compatibility with the RPi. This is no doubt due to the number of cheap hubs on the market, that are less then RPi friendly. Populated-panelsIn an odd turn of events, I actually observed how compatible the Pihub really was in general. After plugging my wifi dongle and mouse in to the Pihub, I connected it to a Windows XP machine. On booting, XP didn’t even ask for drivers, instead logged me straight on to the local area network through the wireless adaptor. I’ve seen few hubs work this seamlessly. High praise has to go to the chaps at Pimoroni. In conclusion, the Pihub is well worth the £20 if you’re on the market for a decent usb hub for your RPi or PC in general. 10% of profits are given back to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, who use the money to help educate future generations of geeks.

Till next time, keep on geeking!

The Pihub can be found via the Pimoroni store at
http://www.pimoroni.co.uk


Capcom DuckTales Remastered

Copyright Capcom

Copyright Capcom

Once in a while a game comes along that makes you think “I have to play that!”. Such was the case with Capcom’s “Ducktales Remastered”, which gives the popular NES game of the same name a fresh new look, ready for high def. Developed by Wayforward, who are also known for developing Contra 4.

In this remastered offering, you play as Scrooge McDuck or one of his three nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie, who embark on a classic adventure to exotic locations around the world, while searching for five legendary treasures. The stages are non linear, so it is up to the player to decide where to go. Levels play very much like any 8 bit platform back in the day, with the player exploring each level to pick up health, coins and defeat the various enemies that are out to stop Scrooge as he seeks his treasure.

Ducktales Remastered is a fantastic tribute to original 80’s platformer, as well as the original NES Ducktales game. Boasting hand draw characters and a lush 3D environment, you wouldn’t think it could get any better, but it does! Ducktales Remastered features the original Disney voice actors from the 80’s cartoon show, providing voices for in game dialogue. Did I mention the original theme tune has also been included in the game? While I have never played the original NES version, the remastered offering has every bit the feel of a classic platformer. For younger gamers who are used to Skyrim, Call of Duty or Asassins Creed, Ducktales may prove to be an acquired taste, but I believe the 5-10 year old will still get fun from playing these Disney characters.  Older gamers will buy this games out of nostalgia or a long standing love for retro games.  If like me, your a sucker for the cartoons you watched growing up, then this game will pander to your inner child. Ducktales Remaster is available on the Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, Wii U shop and Steam.

Left DuckTales NES, Right Ducktales Remastered

Left DuckTales NES, Right Ducktales Remastered

The version I played was for the Xbox 360, which lends itself perfectly for this platformer. The controls are smooth and sharp, ten minutes in to the game and I found myself humming along to the Ducktales theme tune, completely absorbed in to my game. It is said the development team poured their heart and soul in to this Ducktales and it really does show. The love for the material radiates straight off the screen. From the music score, down to Scrooge’s chest going up and down to indicate he is breathing. The level of detail which has been put in to Ducktales, makes it one of the best games I have bought in recent years.

Credit must also be given to Capcom, for being faithful to the original game and producing a quality title that does much for the Ducktales franchise. A lesser publisher might have been tempted to cut corners, to simply cash in on the name. Something that often happened in the 80’s and 90’s, much to the frustration of Nintendo and Sega gamers alike. Any one remember Total Recall for the NES or E.T for the Atari 2600? Nuff said!

All images featured are the property of the respected owners


Virgin Media Superhub Setting IP Address

Superhub
Some time ago Virgin media began upgrading customers with their new combo router/modem “Superhub”, a re-badged Netgear CG3101D. Unlike previous models, this was the first model with router abilities. In the past customers had to buy their own routers to hook it up to the cable modem provided by Virgin Media. The CG3101D tries to save you the trouble and to some extent it succeeds, if not a little clumsily. Sadly Netgear has been lobotomised by Virgin Media, in an effort to clamp down on the amount of customers screwing with their internet connection settings. By dumbing down the built in firmware, they hope to minimise the damage as well as the time it takes to get you back online.

Offensive Simplicity

Now this sounds like a great idea, but the fact is the Superhub is anything but that. I’ve read one person compare it to the freebies found in boxes of cereal and they aren’t wrong. The firmware is simplistic and oppressively restrictive to any one who is remotely tech savvy.

In most cases the firmware can be avoided by switching the Superhub in to modem only mode, thus disabling the router half of the device, leaving it up to you to pick your own router to get the job done of networking your machines. Now if you do not have the luxury of doing this, the Superhub can get the job done if you can persevere with the firmware. After the last rites where given to my Linksys, I found myself doing just that. Setting up your internet on the Superhub is as easy as it gets, but configuring the device to work how YOU want is another thing. One major issue I hit was setting the Superhub to the same IP address as the old Linksys, my whole network was after all configured for 192.168.1.1. When you try to set the hub to this address it comes back and tells you the address is reserved and there is no apparent way of setting the secondary address to anything else. So how to get round this? Well if your router is running firmware V2.38.01 like mine, then you can do the following:

Set your IP to 192.168.11.1 and let the Superhub reset, once it has cycled you might need to disconnect your Ethernet cable. Leave it several minutes and reconnect the cable, this will re-establish your network connection to the router with a new IP address from the router. You could also use the IP config DOS command, but I leave the choice to you.

Log back in to the router and go back to the section where you altered the IP address, change the address so it reads 192.168.1.1. This time the router should not error as the secondary IP address has been changed sufficiently to free up the IP we want. Click apply and the router will cycle again, but this time it will reboot with the correct IP address. You will need to disconnect the cable a final time and finally the router will be working on the right address.


Odroid x2 Review – NEOdroid – Mame Arcade box project

Odroid X2 Android Motherboard

odroidx2 Not so long ago during a visit to Pimoroni, I was asked if I would like to test and review the ODROID X2 mother board; a Samsung powered quad core Arm A9 1.7Ghz micro board with 2Gb of ram, 6x USB 2.0 ports and 1xRJ-45 port.
Measuring in at only 90mmx94mm, the board is not much larger then the Raspberry Pi but to compare the two would be unfair. The ODROID costs £88 or 165,000 Korean Won compared to the RPi at less then half that. The RPi is an affordable, cheap computer platform, suitable for a whole host of low cost projects, but a desktop replacement it is not. The ODROID X2 would seem better suited as a micro PC or an in-car computer. Its quad core CPU has enough grunt to handle applications that would leave the RPi having a mental break down.
Last year I tried running a Mame emulator on my RPi with the hope of turning it in to a mini retro gaming box. My experience was less than thrilling, leading me to give up on the idea. So when the chance was offered to try another mini board with Mame, I have to admit I had some reservations. The X2 uses a micro HDMI port and a unusual .8mm power jack. Researching the specs, I ended up buying a Gemini joypad power supply and micro HDMI to HDMI adaptor from ebay. With all the parts needed to get the board working, I downloaded one of the Jellybean SDC card image files.

Up and Running

The X2 will only boot with a working OS installed on an SD card. Turn it on without one and the board will not post, sitting there, dumb to the world. To get the image on the memory card, you will need a computer with an SD card reader, so you can flash the image.

Flashing SD Cards And Booting Your OS

Ready to go SD cards can be purchased from com.odroid.com. If you did not get one when buying your X2 board, the following tutorial with guide you through preparing your own SD card.

1. First you will need an image file, found here “com.odroid.com/sigong/nf_file_board/nfile_board.php” 

Choose the files appropriate to your board and follow the link to the image file.
2. When you have it downloaded, extract the file to your desktop. Insert your SD card in to your card reader and make a note of its drive letter, you will need it later.

3. Now download Win32DiskImager from “launchpad.net/win32-image-writer” and  extract the file and run the program as Administrator.

4. Using Win32DiskImager, select the *.img file you extracted earlier.

5. Select the driver letter of your SD card in the device box, make sure your select the correct drive letter or you may wipe your hard drive!

6. Click “Write” and wait for the process to complete. Once the DiskImager has finished, exit the utility and remove your SD card from the reader.

7. Insert the card in to the Odroid and power on. If everything went according to plan, the board should boot up.

To write a disk image under Linux, you will need to follow the process below. Be aware I’m posting this as is. I wrote my SD card under Windows XP, so have no experience with the process below.

Copying an image to the SD Card in Linux (graphical interface)

If you are using Ubuntu and hesitate to use the terminal, you can use the ImageWriter tool (nice graphical user interface) to write the .img file to the SD card.

  1. Download a zipped image from this link or other mirrors
  2. Right click the zip file and select “Extract here”
    • ATTENTION: As of this writing (15 June 2012), there is a bug in the ImageWriter program that causes it to fail if the filename of the image file or its path (i.e. all the names of any parent folders that you extract the image file into) contain any space characters. Before going any further, ensure that neither the file name of the image you’re using or the path contain any spaces (or other odd characters, for that matter). A bug has been opened for this issue: https://bugs.launchpad.net/usb-imagewriter/+bug/1013834 Once the issue is fixed, edit this page to advise people to use an updated/patched version of ImageWriter.
  3. Insert the SD card into your computer or connect the SD card reader with the SD card inside
  4. Install the ImageWriter tool from the Ubuntu Software Center
  5. Launch the ImageWriter tool (it needs your administrative password)
  6. Select the image file (example ODROID-X_31_07_2012.img) to be written to the SD card (note: because you started ImageWriter as administrator the starting point when selecting the image file is the administrator’s home folder so you need to change to your own home folder to select the image file)
  7. Select the target device to write the image to (your device will be something like “/dev/mmcblk0” or “/dev/sdc”)
  8. Click the “Write to device” button
  9. Wait for the process to finish and then insert the SD card in the ODROID

Mame and NEOGEO

Thankfully the hard days of finding a good emulator for Andoroid are behind us and now there are several to choose from. For the X2, I found MAME4droid and NeoDroid the pretty easy to set up and more importantly free to use.unnamed

MAME4droid was by for the easiest app to get working and the performance on the Odroid was nothing but remarkable. Street Fighter 2 playback was a steady 60fps with only the occasional drop to 30-40fps when a lot was going on. Had i not had the FPS showing in the top corner, I don’t think I honestly would have noticed. The sound was also perfect, unlike the RPi which struggles to offer good sound support. The Odroid handled it with ease and really pulled the rug from under my RPi Mame efforts. This was especially true when I came to play Bubble Bobble, which the RPi almost died trying to play with appalling FPS and stuttering audio. On the Odroid the game was silky smooth, the only thing missing was a proper joystick.

Neodroid

NeoGeo-Metal-SlugNot as easy to configure I found as MAME4droid, but from what i gather is one of the better free NeoGeo emulators out there, tho there is a paid version. One of the first hurdles I faced was actually running NeoGeo roms. The emulator seems almost allergic to some NeoGeo rom files and in other cases threw up errors regarding missing files names. Eventually I discovered what I believed to be the problem, the romset which comes with NEOdroid. Put simply, I think it is out of date and has one or two spelling errors such as when running Metal Slug, NEOdroid reports file 263-pg1.bin as missing. However a closer look of the Metal Slug archive revealed the existence of file 263-p1.bin but no 263-pg1.bin. This seems to be an on-going issue for many other online users as I found quite a number of threads on the subject. I also found a post by the author of NEOdroid, instructing users to use Mame roms with Neodroid and not NeoGeo roms. This has me a little confused, given that NEOdroid is meant to be a NeoGeo emulator. Okay I know the NeoGeo was basically an arcade unit in a console, but surely there are some differences between a real arcade cabinet and the console. I plan to try this app out a little more before writing it off, as it overall seems like a good emulator.

picade

Eventually the Odroid will be installed in a Picade cabinet and connected to a proper joystick and hardware buttons. It will be interesting to see how well the android operating system handles the setup. So make sure you come back to see how i get on, making an android gaming cabinet.

Keep on geeking!


LAG 33, Keyboards and Laptops

Well LAG 33 was a resounding success, I attended with my trust A3000. The beige box was finally behaving itself on this occasion. With the only real issue being the darn keyboard. Honestly there seems to be running theme with my recent computer
activities, if it is not the keyboard on the Plus, it is the Amiga giving me gripe. Luckily a quickstrip down and cleaning with alcohol wipes and a toothbrush fixed the issue. Unlike the classic Macintosh Keyboard, Commodore took an easier approach using springs instead of Apple’s self sealed key switches, which made my life easier.

Keyboard Repair

(First of all do not attempt
this while your keyboard is connected to the
computer)
The A3000 keyboard
comprises of two halves within the outer casing. First you have the
black top portion, containing the keys, below this is the main
keyboard PCB. The two parts are held together by a dozen or so tiny
screw and one large one. Once these are removed the top half should
lift off, be mindful when taking apart the keyboard as the caps
lock LED fell out on to the floor when i took mine apart. Once you
have the black upper half removed, take a close look at the
circImageuit board below. The
chances are it looks very grubby with dust build up, so if you have
a spare toothbrush and some lens cleaner solution, give the PCB a
light scrubbing down. Also gently clean the silicon / rubber feet
that are under each key on your keyboard. If they are dirty, this
well prevent the keys from making proper contact with the PCB and
cause your keyboard to work sporadically.

Once you are
done cleaning, remember to fit the LED back in place, along with
the silicon collar. Make sure you have cleaned this too, as it
passes current from the PCB to the LED. With the two halves
together, carefully flip the keyboard over and screw it back
together. Hopefully when you hook it back up your keyboard should
be working. If you still find it is acting up, give it another
clean. I had to dismantle mine twice, the second time to clean the
silicon parts more thoroughly.

Viglen Laptop

What could be inside?

What could be
inside?

If you are sat scratching your head
and wondering who the heck is Viglen, you are most certainly not in
the minority. When my friend Gaz handed me this little beastie at
the last LAG. I was left dumb founded at the brand and that was
even after a quick glance on Google. Which usually comes up with at
least a few bread crumbs to follow. Wikipedia says that Viglen Ltd
was first formed in 1975 by Vigen Boyadjian and later acquired by
none other then Amstrad in 1994. In the 80’s the company apparently
dealt mostly in the Acorn computer market, after Amstrad’s buy out,
the company began to focus mainly on the education and public
sector. Developing desktop and server systems.

This takes me back

This takes me
back

The Viglen Dossier 486 laptop has even less written
about it, the model I have is the 486 -SK4. A quick glance of the
bios tells me i have roughly 4mb ram and 120mb of internal storage.
Whats betting it is an old Western Digital or Seagate drive in
there? Originally this machine appears to have been used in the
design and production of printed circuit boards as I found several
apps for designing boards, not to mention the laptop originally
booted in to some custom designing software. Lucky for me the
previous owners had installed Windows 3.11 as well as DOS 6.22.
Eventually I intend to use this machine to test my Xircom parallel
ethernet adaptor. I bought the adaptor a little while ago to use on
the Sharp PC7200, but as that system takes up a lot of room. The
Viglen will be a fantastic DOS platform to test the hardware out
on. Internet via DOS anyone?? Well at the very least email! laptopUntil I can find my USB
floppy drive I’m unable to test the laptop as much as I would
usually like to. So expect a follow up article about this obscure
laptop and also the whopping battery that sits beneath the
keyboard! As expected the cells are long dead and a replacement
will probably cost a small fortune. Instead I’m going to hack
something together, which will be an article all to it’s own.


Minecraft and Mobile Intel 9xx chipsets – Bad video error

Minecraft logo

 

Hey everyone!

Well it might have been a while since I blogged about anything, but that’s probably because I’ve not been having too many computer problems (Gasp, shock horror!). Plus I’ve not had much time with it coming close to Christmas, to dedicate towards anything computer related. Other then playing a decent amount of L.A. Noire on the Xbox 360, which btw is an amazing game.

So as the title reads, anyone coming to this page is no doubt experiencing some sort of video fault with minecraft on their laptop. That being said, this problem arose not on my laptop but on my custom made desktop machine, which uses an integrated Intel 945GM chipset. Imagine my horror, when I discovered Minecraft didn’t want to run! (Nooo!!) In true BMV fashion I dug around to see if anyone else had hit this problem, luckily they had. To anyone who plays Minecraft I highly recommend joining the community out there at minecraftforum.net. Which is where discovered this fix, I’m reposting it here to save you digging through the pages to find it. A big thank you should also be given to WolfyB and Darknesschaos for this fix, who’s know how got everything working again.

Here is Wolfyb’s instructions as they where originally posted.

Note that this may not work for all but it works on my XP Dell Inspiron 1300 Laptop with a Mobile Intel 915GM/GMS, 910GML Express graphics card (crappy, I know).

      *Download latest Minecraft client if not already present

 

      *Rename the downloaded Minecraft.exe to Minecraft.jar

 

      *Open a command prompt (go to start, all programs, accessories, command promt) and type the following command : java -Xmx800m -jar “C:\Documents and Settings\Brandon\Desktop\Minecraft.jar”

 

      (RENAME THE PART IN QUOTES TO WHATEVER DIRECTORY YOUR MINECRAFT.JAR IS IN)

 

      *Should open up Minecraft with no problems

:)Credit to darknesschaos.After you do that you can open Notepad and put the command that worked for you in that and save as MinecraftStarter.bat and you can double click that to play minecraft, it will start it up with those commands for you.
If this works for you please post your graphics card and system specs so we know better who this helps.

***UPDATE: THIS FIX SEEMS TO ONLY HELP INTEL MOBILE INTEGRATED CARDS USED IN LAPTOPS.

Ref:minecraftforum.net