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Education Adventures in retro games/systems

Discussion in 'General' started by Byron C, 15 Apr 2020.

  1. Byron C

    Byron C Probably isn't Hitler, but definitely a muppet

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    I've been meaning to do this for a long time. I cleaned one of my Model M keyboards yesterday, ahead of repairing it, and it kinda spurred me into action.

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    This is my Atari STe which I've had since Christmas 1989 - as in, my Atari STe from my childhood, not an ebay/charity shop find... It's absolutely filthy, time to tear it apart and clean it up.

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    Mmm... Lovely crusty gunk....

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    I've pulled this thing apart so many times over the years that it's almost second nature now:

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    Remarkably the main PCB is in really good condition. I can't see any leaking caps, swollen caps, corrosion on the board, scorched components, etc. No battery on board it appears - leaking batteries are always a big danger with retro systems, that stuff absolutely destroys PCBs, components, traces, etc.

    Also, yes, that is a fully populated bank of SIMM slots - 4MB RAM, aw yeah! :grin:

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    Although the PCB is very dusty... Cleaning that will have to wait for another day; I'm waiting on delivery of some antistatic brushes so I can brush it off and give it a scrub with some isopropyl alcohol.

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    Even the keyboard contacts look like they're still OK, as well as the carbon paint on the rubber domes. Also spot the repair done by a friend of the family nearly 20-odd years ago. The keyboard and joystick connectors are mounted directly to the keyboard PCB, meaning they're subject to a huge amount of stress and strain...

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    I don't know if I'll ever be able to replace those two broken keys. The only person I've found selling spares doesn't have those two keys :sigh:. I'll have to ask about on some Atari forums I'm on, see if anyone can help...

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    What I can do something about however is the state of the keyboard's plastic shell. I had to pull the keys off without any gloves, because I haven't been able to find any disposable gloves and I don't have a keycap puller (not that the latter would have helped). It was as gross as you think it was :eeek:.

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    The plastics are easily sorted with some watery soap - this was the state of it after I'd finished, and yes, I had my bare hands in that gross murky goop. (I'm going to leave the reveal of what it looks like now until I'm done)

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    Have you ever washed individual keycaps by hand with a toothbrush? It is exactly as tedious as it sounds, and this is the second day in a row I've done it now.

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    Like I said, I'm waiting on some antistatic brushes before I can do any more cleanup, so more to come.

    EDIT: I'm probably not going to retrobrite any of the plastics. It'd be nice to have a machine that looks brand-spanking new but this is a computer I've had for more than three-quarters of my life, I think I'm going to leave it exactly as it is to reflect that heritage.
     
    Last edited: 16 Apr 2020
  2. Vault-Tec

    Vault-Tec Green Plastic Watering Can

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    I do my mech boards twice a year using that method. It's super tedious.

    Great thread dude. Love seeing old things made shiny again.
     
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  3. Guest-44638

    Guest-44638 Guest

    I seem to recall owning an Atari of that ilk... forget if it was an STe or an STm, though.
    I do recall trying to upgrade it to 2MB of memory... and it not quite working, so I had to revert it to 512k.
     
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  4. Byron C

    Byron C Probably isn't Hitler, but definitely a muppet

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    The case itself looks so much better now, it's amazing what the most basic cleanup can achieve. The keys are still drying off (and will probably be for a couple of days), but I can already see the difference it's made. I'm not looking forward to re-assembling the keyboard though! :grin:

    Once I get that Model M and the Atari out of the way I'm going to make a start on cleaning up the other retro systems I've got here.

    To be honest 1MB is the most you'll need for games; it's only really the workstation-type stuff like MIDI sequencers and the like that really benefited from >1MB...

    The STf was the model that brought the power supply and floppy drive inside the main case; the STfm had an FM modulator, allowing you to hook it up to a standard TV, and stereo sound; the STe had a bunch of extra multimedia hardware that hardly any software exploited. It's a shame really, the STe was comparable to systems like the Amiga 500 when it came to graphics & multimedia, but the ST/STfm had a far larger install base so all the software was written for that common denominator.
     
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  5. Guest-44638

    Guest-44638 Guest

    Ahh -- ST-FM sounds more familiar; meh... I slept a lifetime since I even saw the flippin' thing.
    Like the sizeable Lego Technic collection I had around the same time, it got left behind when I moved out & my brother sold/got rid of in other ways all of it.
     
  6. Byron C

    Byron C Probably isn't Hitler, but definitely a muppet

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    That's a shame... I'm kinda lucky that my family hasn't moved since 1994 (I've moved since then, but my family hasn't), it means that we've kept hold of all my old consoles & computers. Except for the Amstrad CPC 464 that was sold not long after I got the Atari STe...
     
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  7. sandys

    sandys Well-Known Member

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    Good job,

    My STe was awesome, can't remember if I ran with 2Mb or 4Mb now but having that massive RAM disk :D used to make light work of my graphics/publishing work and the printing side of things back in the day, seems I have always craved bandwidth.

    When I moved to PC that RAM ended up in my soundcard. :D

    the good old days when a few Mhz or so more than the Apple systems made my system a DTP beast :D

    I threw it in the tip a few years ago, it was probably still in good working order if it had any RAM....the shame of it, missus had enough of me storing all my old computer crap :waah:
     
    Last edited: 15 Apr 2020
  8. Pete J

    Pete J Working from home?

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    You're a brave man cleaning that dirt up.I felt a little bit of sick come up just looking at it :eeek:. At least I suppose you know it's from you :hehe:.
     
  9. adidan

    adidan Guesswork is still work

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    @Byron C :clap: for your patience - that's one big gunkfest.
     
  10. Byron C

    Byron C Probably isn't Hitler, but definitely a muppet

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    Shame to hear that another one has been lost - in good condition and fully working these things can fetch well north of £200 on ebay!

    A great computer back in the day though, I used mine for pretty much everything. You can even find people still using them today as MIDI sequencers...

    If this had been a second-hand unit I'd picked up from someone else then there is no way in hell I would have even picked it up without gloves! :lol:

    I wish I'd taken more photos of the exterior, it was really filthy before it got near the watery soap.
     
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  11. Dr. Coin

    Dr. Coin Active Member

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    Nice project. Are you just removing dirt and debris? Or going crazy and conditioning the plastic with Retr0bright (or a homemade variant)?
     
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  12. Gunsmith

    Gunsmith Maximum Win

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    oh man this thread brings back memories, I still have MY atari 520stfm from the 80's as well. I've no idea if she still works but I might see if she still fires up.
     
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  13. Byron C

    Byron C Probably isn't Hitler, but definitely a muppet

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    It's tempting, but I think I'm going to keep it in the current condition:

    For the same reason I'm not going to replace the upper shell to get rid of the cigarette burn that one of my uncles inflicted on it! I really would like to replace the two missing/broken keys though.

    I was expecting more to do with the electronics to be honest - I was expecting a lot of capacitors to be looking quite unhealthy, but everything seems to be fine. I'm going to swap out my TOS v1.62 ROM for TOS v2.06 though, just so I can have the latest version available for the STe. This normally involves moving some zero-ohm resistors, as well as replacing the two ROM chips, but if I install some pin headers in their place it'll make it easier to swap between different ROM versions with jumpers should I ever need to.

    I may also mod a PicoPSU to replace the original power supply. I can get replacement power supplies but they're quite expensive; besides, just dropping in a brand new replacement isn't really in the bit-tech spirit :grin:.

    Before you do it's worth taking it apart and giving the power supply a visual inspection (capacitor condition, check for scorching, melting, warping, etc). Blown or dodgy power supplies are notorious for killing retro computers dead. There's also a glass fuse in the power supply - I remember this popped several times when I was using it heavily back in the day.

    I should have done this before I switched this machine back on for the first time in over a decade... I've learned a lot more about restoring retro systems in the last couple of years!

    If you've never done it before then disassembly instructions can be found here: https://www.exxoshost.co.uk/atari/last/stedis/main.htm. This is for the STe, but it should be pretty much the same for the STfm - at least as far as getting access to the power supply.
     
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  14. bawjaws

    bawjaws Well-Known Member

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    Rather than trying to source those two individual keys, would you not be better off looking for a complete keyboard unit on the bay, or easier still a non-working complete ST? Appreciate that might cost a bit more than just two keys but it'd be a lot easier to find, you'd imagine.

    And great thread, btw :rock: The Amiga / ST era is my favourite in the whole of computing, and that's coming from someone who loved the ZX Spectrum to a ridiculous degree! The quantum leap of going from 8- to 16-bit was utterly mindblowing back in 1988 or whenever it was - going from a Spectrum +2 (that replaced my original Spectrum+) to an A500 was just the single biggest leap forward in home computer tech that I've ever experienced.

    For whatever reason, A500s seemed to be at least 10 times as numerous as STs round my way, and once the A500+ and A600 came out that was more like 30 times. I really must dig my A1200 out of the attic and inspect it for battery leakage, but to be honest I'm terrified of what I might find. It's been a while since it was last powered up...
     
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  15. Byron C

    Byron C Probably isn't Hitler, but definitely a muppet

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    If any such thing becomes available, then that's an option also :). I just had a quick look on ebay, and no one was selling complete keyboards sadly... I think Atari-specific forums are going to be my best bet either way - more likely to find what I need, I think.

    As an Atari fanboy it took me a long time to admit this, but the Amiga machines were far more popular and they were much better for games. They had a lot of games which actually made use of updates such as the AGA graphics chipset; the number of games which took advantage of the STe's improved hardware can be counted on one hand (and the only one that springs to mind right now is a very basic Doom clone called Substation). They also had a much longer lifespan than the ST range - you can still find people making new accelerator & expansion cards for Amigas to this very day. Hell, people are even making new Amigas to this day!

    Definitely get it out and check for leakage. From what I gather, the A1200 doesn't have an onboard battery (unless you've fitted an accelerator or memory expansion) but it does have capacitors that can leak and cause just as much damage. Check out some of Retro Man Cave's videos on YouTube, he's done a lot of Amiga repair/upgrade videos in the past.
     
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  16. bawjaws

    bawjaws Well-Known Member

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    Yeah, it has an accelerator (and 4MB RAM expansion) fitted so there's definitely a battery in there. The sheer excitement of a battery-backed real-time clock could not be understated back in the day! It also has a 330MB 2.5" IDE hard drive in there. Oh yeah, back in the day it was a beast of a machine :hip:

    Edit: have just started watching a Retro Man Cave vid about restoring an A500. He has a Phillips 8833-ii monitor, which brings back the memories. A few friends had this monitor although I had the v1, which was imho better as it had SCART and more importantly, an input select switch on the front. I had my VHS video hooked up to one input and the Amiga to the other, so I could watch TV via the video at the press of a button. Oh, and for maximum coolness, both models also had the all important green screen switch if you fancied reducing that glorious 4,096-colour palette down to 16 shades of green :grin:
     
    Last edited: 15 Apr 2020
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  17. Byron C

    Byron C Probably isn't Hitler, but definitely a muppet

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    Hopefully any corrosion hasn't spread to the main system board then, but still worth checking the caps on the main board.

    I'd love to get my hands on an Amiga; preferably an A1200, but an A500+ or an A600 would work. They cost an absolute fortune these days though!
     
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  18. bawjaws

    bawjaws Well-Known Member

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    Yeah, prices on the bay are insane.

    I've just watched the whole the Retro Man Cave video where he restores an A500. The guy has some skills! Soooooo much nostalgia in that vid, too. The best part for me was when he revealed the restored machine by unveiling it from beneath a keyboard dust cover from Gordon Harwood Computers in Alfreton, Derbyshire, which was where I got my A500 from.
     
  19. Byron C

    Byron C Probably isn't Hitler, but definitely a muppet

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    He makes things look amazing, and the best part is that most of the repair techniques he uses are relatively simple - assuming you can handle a soldering iron and desoldering pump/gun. Even just a simple deep clean often works wonders.
     
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  20. Byron C

    Byron C Probably isn't Hitler, but definitely a muppet

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    My antistatic brushes arrived, so time to get on with it. Worst job first: re-assembling the keyboard. TE-DI-OUS...

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    I accidentally lost one of the rubber domes :duh: so I'm just leaving a hole there for the time being - I'll cover it with some electrical tape to protect the contacts below. It's one of the broken keys anyway, so not hugely urgent until I can source replacement keys.

    Plastics look damn good compared to yesterday though...

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    Nary a trace of grime under there...

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    PSU (mostly) dusted down...

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    Main board also got dusted down, and a little isopropyl alcohol scrub here and there...

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    Let's zoom in a little closer here. W102, W103, and W104 here are where we set the jumpers for the ROM version. If I slot in TOS v2.06 ROMS, which I ordered last night, then I'll need to re-arrange these. Hopefully these are through-holes that are filled with solder - that will allow me to install jumper pins to easily swap between TOS v1.62 and TOS v2.06 if I ever need to. I won't find out until I come to install my new TOS v2.06 ROMs I guess....

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    The shielding still has some marks & spotting here and there. I'm wary of trying to wash or clean it, because I don't want to make the rust any worse. It did get a scrub with isopropyl alcohol though - god that stuff is so useful!

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    Rest of the shielding installed

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    Awwwww, yea, much better!

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    A keyboard I'm happy to put my fingers on!

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    Even those top case vents are no longer hiding any nasty surprises

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    Ports & stuff!

    Left to right: DB25 serial (ostensibly for a modem), DB25 printer port, DB19 port for external ACSI hard drive (proprietary Atari protocol: http://www.atari-wiki.com/index.php/ACSI,_SCSI_and_IDE), external 3.5" floppy drive, RF modulator (lol!), RGB monitor (for which you can get an RGB SCART cable), stereo phono jacks, and power switch. Not pictured: IEC mains socket and reset switch.

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    And the pièce de résistance of the ST range, the built-in MIDI ports. This is one of the main reasons the ST range sold so well; it was used by many producers and musicians, because these MIDI ports turned the machine into a low-cost DAW. Fatboy Slim made used the Atari ST; Utah Saints used Atari STs; Darude used it to produce Sandstorm; Atari Teenage Riot was literally inspired by the Atari ST when they came up with their name. Some people still use them today. See here for some more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari_ST#Popularity_with_musicians

    Apparently - and I'm not sure how correct this is - but the only reason these ports are built in is that one of the hardware designers was also a musician and thought it would be really useful to have MIDI built in. If true then I hope he had a raise, because he was right.

    Next to the MIDI is the cartridge port. Very little software was ever distributed on cartridge, it was mostly used for security dongles.

    Oh, and just off to the right there, is another one of the STe's criminally under-used features: one of the two analogue joystick ports. These ports were also compatible with the Atari Jaguar pads but, again, few games ever made use of this STe-specific hardware.

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    As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am probably not going to retrobrite the machine. This is a machine that's been with me for a very long time (barring an extended stay in a loft!), so all it's battle scars and yellowed plastics are a testament to the personal history of this machine. I'm not even bothered about this cigarette burn that one of my uncles once gave it!

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    So... Next up for this machine... I have a set of TOS v2.06 ROM chips on the way, and after that I'm going to see about trying to get those two keys repaired. Although this is a beaten and battered machine, it would be nice if it was complete. I also badly need a set of screws - the top cover is only attached with 3 out of 7 screws! I would also really like to get the floppy drive back in service for that true experience. All of my games are long lost, but obviously disk images are plentiful online; the problem with that is that I need a PC with a built-in floppy drive in order to write the images, apparently the software does not work with USB floppy drives. I haven't tried sourcing a floppy drive in a while now, but I don't even think my current PC has a floppy drive port on the motherboard! TOS v2.06 does include support for 1.44Mb disks (the STe used 720Kb), which would mean that I could write images using a USB drive, but the STe's floppy drive controller needs to be upgraded to use them properly.

    Hopefully there will be more to come!
     

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