- 2019-07-13 @ 06:04 PM EDT / Video Game Memories - 1976: The Year of Pong
- 2019-07-13 @ 10:00 AM EDT / Amiga 500 Project - It's dead, Jim
- 2019-07-13 @ 08:02 AM EDT / Amiga 500 Project - This isn't looking good
I hate to say it but I really screwed up my Amiga 500. The good news is that I managed to get the GoTek drive working. This is great because it allows me to access a ton of Amiga software that i'd normally not be able to use. The bad news is that I installed the drivers for the Wicher 500i accelerator card and used the resulting configuration utility to overclock the CPU from 25 MHz to 33 MHz. That was an extremely bad idea. The entire system immediately stopped working as soon as I enabled the change. I tried rebooting several times, pulled the power, did a hard reset, and even tried booting from a floppy disk. All I got in return for my efforts was a solid black screen. I tried every trick that I could possibly think of. Unfortunately, nothing worked.
It later occurred to me that perhaps I simply needed to let the A500 rest for a few hours before plugging it back in. This little hack often works because it gives the system time to reset itself. I waited a few hours before plugging in the power supply and turning the system back on. This time I got a little bit further than before, but still not far enough to help. Instead of displaying a black screen it now boots to a super minimal AmigaDOS prompt. How minimal? I messed with it for a while and I have yet to find a single command that actually works. I'm starting to think that something is terribly wrong here. Inserting the v3.1.4 Workbench floppy disk results in the same useless AmigaDOS prompt.
Let's back up a bit and consider what we already know. I'm pretty sure (95% positive) that a solid black screen is actually a CPU post error code. This makes perfect sense considering that the last thing I did before the system crashed was overclock the processor on the Wicher card from 25 MHz to 33 MHz. So, how do I fix this? Well, there are a few pins and jumpers on the card that I can mess around with that will change certain CPU settings. I'm going to start there. My plan is to first disable the turbo option which will cause the board to default to a blistering 10 MHz. My hope is that by running the CPU at such a ridiculously slow speed that it will give the system a chance to boot to a usable desktop.
I find the current hardware bridges from old to new technology to be absolutely fascinating. When Commodore released the Amiga line back in 1985 there were very few ways to upgrade your system. Sure, they provided at least two official expansion ports within each Amiga, but no one was taking advantage of those ports at the time. They did eventually come out with a variety of upgrades over the years, but nothing compared to what we have today. Fast forward thirty plus years and Amigans are upgrading their ancient systems using ports and sockets that were never intended to support hardware upgrades.
Over the past few days I spent some time upgrading the CPU, RAM, and storage in my old Amiga 500. Did I use an official expansion port to enable these upgrades? Nope. Instead, I managed to add 8MB of 60ns EDO Fast RAM, upgraded the CPU to a 20 MHz MC68HC000FN20, and added a 4 GB compact flash HD using nothing more than a small accelerator card (Wicher 500i Rev.2a) that I plugged into the old CPU socket. That's absolutely crazy to think about. The CPU socket? Back in the day no one ever messed with that thing, ever. Now we're using it to add and expand basic functionality. It's actually a testament to how well designed these computers actually are.
Twenty years from now my current MacBook Pro will likely have been melted down and recycled into something else. My old Amiga 500, however, will still most likely be quietly chugging along, upgraded beyond anything that Commodore could ever have imagined, using whatever crazy obscure hardware that I can manage to hack into it. I'm not sure what the future holds for the Amiga in general, but I do know for sure that now is a great time to be an Amiga fan.
Next on my list of never ending list of A500 updates and upgrades is the installation of the new Glow icons system wide and the configuration and installation of an external floppy drive emulator called a GoTek drive. This is where things get really cool. The Glow icons were introduced in AmigaOS v3.1.4 and really help modernize the overall look of the Amiga operating system. The floppy drive emulator is neat because it gives me the ability to store all of my old Amiga .ADF files onto a USB thumb drive and then access those files on the Amiga itself.
I suppose you could think of an .ADF file as nothing more than a fancy .ZIP file. You're probably wondering why I would want to do this. Well, the GoTek comes in handy because my options for getting files to and from the Amiga are extremely limited. No USB ports, SD card reader, and no Ethernet and/or WiFi means I have to get creative. Yes, the A500 does indeed have a 3.5" floppy drive that I could use. The problem, however, is that the Amiga uses special floppy diskettes and formats them in such a way that makes them incompatible with normal floppy drives. The floppy emulator will allow me to download Amiga mod files, drivers, applications, etc. on my MacBook Pro and then use them on the Amiga itself.
This afternoon I converted a 4GB Verbatim compact flash card to serve as a memory-based hard drive for my Amiga 500. It took a few minutes of trial and error but I eventually got the thing installed and working properly. After that I was able to boot to a Workbench screen, pull up the new installation files, and then install AmigaOS v3.1.4 onto the newly formatted HD. Once that was complete, I had to go through the various preferences.
I was mostly concerned with getting the video output to match the display resolution. That wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. However, I eventually found the overscan settings and got it looking pretty decent. The overall image is a wee bit stretched, but the end result is a 27 inch monitor that no longer displays black bars on both sides. I can't say for sure if I'll leave it this was. I may or may not switch it back to 1:1 mode in the future.
You're probably wondering about how big of a difference the compact flash card made to the Amiga's overall system performance. Let's just say that I went from spending a few minutes manually booting the Amiga to booting it from a cold state to a useable desktop in around 15 seconds. Previously, I had to swap in and out multiple floppy disks in order to get Workbench booted properly. That was a pain to do and it always seemed like it took forever to get done.
I spent a good portion of the day redesigning the overall look of this website. I got lazy with the previous version and went with a spartan, minimalistic look that was super easy to design, code, and maintain. This spartan look, unfortunately, ended up feeling rather antiseptic and boring in general. I decided to go for the total opposite of what I had done previously. Instead of a stark white theme with little to no text I instead went with a rich, dark theme and lots of descriptive text. I have to say that I'm pretty happy with the results so far.
My only real concern is that the CSS code that I ended up creating isn't fluid at all. This essentially means that the text and graphics will not wrap nicely on smaller, mobile screens. I now have to decide if rewriting some of the render code to enable a fluid layout is really a worthwhile investment of my time. My brain is telling me yes, it is worthwhile. However, I also know what it's going to take to make this happen and it's not something that can be done quickly or easily.
I couldn't get the Micro-SD card to 44-Pin IDE adapter to work in the A500 at all. AmigaOS v3.1.4 wouldn't recognize the adapter or the 32GB SD card that I installed in it. The adapter didn't come with any drivers and I honestly don't think it needs them anyway with AmigaOS v3.1.4. I'm starting to think that I might have bought an incompatible adapter and that I should probably just go with a standard compact flash adapter instead. Jumped on Amazon and ended up buying a compact flash to 44-pin IDE adapter and a 4GB CF card for $19. Not bad at all.
I am a huge science fiction nerd. We're talking about movies, television, books, games, etc. If it's science fiction then I'm probably reading/watching/playing it. When it comes to movies and television shows, some of my favorites are Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek II, Blade Runner, Alien (1979), The Fifth Element, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, and Stargate. Some of my favorite books are Frank Herbert's Dune, John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, The Forever War, William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy (especially Neuromancer), Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Space Cadet, Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, Hyperion, Ancillary Justice, William Shatner's TekWar series, Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs series, and the absolutely massive Chung Kuo universe by David Wingrove.
I decided pretty early on that I was not only going to repair my Amiga 500 but that I was also going to upgrade it as best I could to act and perform like a modern computer. Encouraged by my recent successes, I decided it was time for some much needed upgrades. The Wicher 500i turbo card and an additional 8MB of 60ns EDO memory have now been installed along with the new AmigaOS 3.1.4 ROM. I was a bit worried about installing the v3.1.4 ROM because of its memory requirements. However, the updated operating system booted up with no problems at all.
I was even able to run Dungeon Master because of the RAM upgrade. That being said, I still think that I should splurge and buy an additional 1MB of RAM in the form of a trapdoor upgrade card. Finally, I still need to get the Micro-SD IDE adapter installed so that I can install AmigiOS v3.1.4 onto it properly, and I also need to install the Wicher 500i drivers/software and then enable those drivers in the OS so that I can take advantage of the new EC68020 CPU and bump up the speed. Finally, I need to somehow get my GoTek drive running so that I can finally get some software/games installed. I have a ton of work to do. However, I am extremely pleased with my progress thus far.
The next step in my Amiga project is installing the Wicher 500i accelerator card. This card will bump up the CPU from a 7 Mhz Motorola 68000 to a 50 Mhz 68020 and it'll bump the RAM from 512KB to 8MB. After that I'll be able to install the 8GB Micro-SD/HD and the new v3.1.4 operating system.
Hard to believe but I actually managed to repair my Amiga 500 this evening. The A500 wasn't outputting a video signal to the monitor and it wasn't showing post codes. There are two lights on the computer that typically light up when the system is booting up. These lights will flash in certain patterns in order to show a successful boot or any problems that the BIOS ran across. My system would turn on and I would get a single green light and that was it. No video, no post codes, no way to load anything from a disk.
I ended up taking the case off, pulling the RF shielding, and then checking the system board for any potential problems. I was looking for things like leaking capacitors, burnt resistors, broken traces, and missing or misaligned chips. There are a ton of custom chips on Amigas and I had to systematically check every single one before I found the problem. The Motorola 68000 CPU and the ROM chips had somehow popped partially out of their sockets. I snapped them back in place, plugged everything back in, held my breath and flipped the power switch. I was greeted with successful post lights and eventually the familiar Amiga loading screen appeared. Whew!
You should see my son's room. It's like some kind of bizarre lair for a midget mad genius. Wires and electronic bits all over the place, things buzzing and clicking, LCD screens reading out strange code that I've never seen before, LED lights hanging from everything, computers dinging and churning away at unknown tasks...
To make matters worse I can't find any of my spare parts. I'm looking for my 2016 MacBook Pro and it's no where to be found. Same thing for all of my extra power supplies, cables, USB power bricks, etc. What the heck is my 9 year-old son doing with all of this stuff? Building Skynet?
Turns out the electrical surge killed the USB-C port that the charging cable was plugged into. I can't get more than 15w of power on that port now. The remaining three USB-C ports all generate 60w. So, it’s back to the Apple store I go. This is going to be an expensive repair.
If it isn’t one thing it’s another. Last night we had some thunderstorms roll into the area for a few hours. Unfortunately, I forgot and left my 2018 MacBook Pro plugged in and charging. Let’s just say there was a flash of lightning, followed by a crack of thunder, followed by my MacBook Pro instantly shutting down. Doh!