Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima

#Amiga

Sidecar Restauration, Part 3

In the third and final part, I am going to futureproof the Sidecar and finally test it. Will it work after all the hours and patience I put into the repair?

Gotek Drive

I probably only own a single 5¼" floppy disk, back from my time at school. However the Sidecar won't do much without floppies, so I decided to add a Gotek drive.

The modification must be fully reversible, and I also wanted to keep the original look of the Sidecar with its floppy drive. I designed a Gotek bracket for the expansion slot and a control panel with OLED display and encoder. The panel is screwed to the front air grille, so no holes need to be drilled into the case.

The Gotek bracket on the expansion slot. The control panel, ready for mounting. The control panel, mounted to the front of the case.

I made a new flat cable to connect the Gotek drive and the floppy drive to the mainboard. The Gotek drive is supposed to be drive A:, while the floppy drive should be B:. Both drives can be configured with jumpers, so there is no need to make a twisted floppy cable.

First Test Run

For the first test run I did not connect the Sidecar to the Amiga yet. If something on the Sidecar was badly broken, it wouldn't damage the Amiga that way.

So I turned on the power. The fan spun up, the power LED lit up, but nothing else happened. Well, since the Sidecar is not meant to work as a standalone PC, this is probably normal. At least there was no magic smoke and no smell of smoldering electronics. I took the opportunity to check the voltages, and they were all correct and stable.

Things looked pretty good.

Making a Janus Workbench

The Sidecar is controlled by the Amiga. It has no connectors for a monitor or keyboard. Fortunately, the driver disk can still be found on the internet. For installation, I first had to make a copy of the original Workbench 1.2 disk, and then run the installer from the install disk.

On my Amiga 1000 however, the installation failed because the RAM disk ran out of memory. My Amiga is equipped with the maximum 512KB of Chip RAM, so it was supposed to work. I tried it multiple times, but always got this strange error.

I gave up and set up a UAE instance of an Amiga 500 with Kickstart 1.2 and 2 MB of Fast RAM. On this machine I was finally able to complete the installation.

The installer is a bit strange and not based on the Amiga installer tool that came later. It is best to use the default options and wait patiently for each step to complete.

Test Runs and Fixes

My test configuration, with the Amiga 1000 and the Sidecar. It takes a lot of space. It's finally time for a real test run.

Connecting the two devices isn't easy and can damage the hardware if done wrong. First I unplugged the power cords from the Sidecar and the Amiga. Then I connected the Sidecar to the expansion port of the Amiga. It's a bit tricky to find the correct position, but the joystick and mouse connectors are a good orientation guide. There is no need to use force.

The Sidecar also has a power cord extender. I plugged it into the Amiga's power connector and made sure that the Amiga's power switch was turned on. Both devices can now be controlled with the power switch of the Sidecar.

CAUTION: You must never turn on power to the Sidecar unless the Amiga is already powered up. Otherwise you will damage your Amiga! You can avoid this problem by using the power cord extender and making sure that the Amiga's power switch is always on.

Now it was time for the truth. I booted the Janus Workbench I prepared above, but got a Guru Meditation during startup. I tried other driver versions and other floppy disk images I could find, but it always ended with the flashing red square.

Fortunately, the hardware registers are well described in the A500/A2000 Technical Reference Manual, Section 4.1. The description is for the A2088XT bridge board, but it is very similar to the Sidecar.

I quickly hacked some small diagnostic tools. They confirmed that the 128KB bridge RAM and the six replaced bus drivers were working fine.

I also found that the PC reset did not work. I only managed to actually reset the PC once. It played a chime and then actually accessed the MS-DOS disk I had in the Gotek drive. This means that the PC side was basically working, but the bridge board was having problems.

There are four PALs and three FPLAs on the upper board. The PALs have a specified memory retention time of about 20 years, which is long past. I remembered that the PALs on my MaestroPro were already having memory problems due to old age.

The fusemaps of the PALs can be found on the Amiga Wiki. I replaced the four PALs with modern ATF16V8C-7PU GALs.

After that I was able to reset the machine reliably. The Guru Meditation was also gone when I booted the Janus Workbench. But the Sidecar still refused to come back out of retirement. What I got now was a garbled PC screen.

No Guru Meditation, but the screen content isn't good yet.

But I was on the right track! There is also a single PAL (and two FPLAs) on the lower board. I replaced this PAL as well, and also replaced the ribbon cables that are connecting both boards. The original cables still looked good, but the wires may have been damaged or corroded, and replacement is cheap.

The Sidecar with the replaced PALs and new cables.

Next attempt. And finally, this time I was successful! I tested the machine for about an hour, formatted some floppy disks I bought somewhere, started Turbo Pascal. Everything worked reliably, and it was impressive to see MS-DOS running in one Amiga window and still have the full power of Amiga's multitasking to run Amiga software.

MS-DOS in one window, Amiga Workbench and Clock in other windows.

I was lucky. The PALs were easy to replace, as compatible GALs are still being produced today. The FPLAs can also potentially lose their programming, but there are no modern replacements. Mattis Lind designed a replacement board that uses a modern CPLD, but there are no corresponding JED files for programming them.

And there it is, my fully restored and futureproofed Commmodore A1060 Sidecar!

The Sidecar, fully restored, and with Gotek controller.

The restoration was much more difficult than I expected. There were many bad surprises waiting for me, and more than once I was close to giving up the project and storing the Sidecar away for later.

This beast is difficult to repair. First of all because of its size. The Amiga 1000 plus Sidecar was too big for the table in my tiny workshop, so I could not use my scope. Also there is not much use in running the Sidecar alone, so you always need a running Amiga 1000 for troubleshooting. Third, it's hard to find a place to put the Sidecar's PSU while probing the boards. The open nature of the PSU also poses a risk of electrocution if accidentally touched. All in all it was an interesting experience and I have learned a lot about Commodore bridgeboards in general and the Sidecar in special, but I probably wouldn't do it again.

Sidecar Restauration, Part 2

In the first part, I disassembled the Sidecar. In this second part, I will fix all the broken things and put the Sidecar back together in its original state.

Let's start with the mechanics. The floppy/PSU frame had some rust spots. I used a sanding machine to remove them all. Then I used zinc spray to protect the metal and restore the original look. The result was much better than expected. The frame now looks almost links new.

The PSU/floppy frame, coated with fresh zinc.

I got the overhauled PSU back. @DingensCGN, who already overhauled my Amiga 1000 PSU, did an excellent job again. He replaced all electrolytic capacitors and the power filter, removed the luster terminals and inserted a new pull relief. I also asked him to add a connector for a 12V fan. The original fan was a 230V model and was said to be awfully noisy. I never liked noisy computers, so I will replace it with a modern 80mm Noctua fan.

The overhauled PSU without the metal cage.

I'm always relieved to know that a power supply is safe to use, properly grounded, and won't damage the machine or electrocute me. 🙂

I was also lucky enough to find a Chinon FZ-502 at an online auction. This type of floppy drive type was commonly used in a Sidecar and would restore the original look of the front.

The PSU in its cage, and the new old floppy drive.

There is a metal shield supposed to be around the floppy drive, but unfortunately it was lost. It's not a required part though, and no one would notice it was missing once the case is closed.

Next problem: The legs of the power LED were broken off and the LED is stuck. I had no choice but to use brute force. I drilled out the LED and the plug that held it in place. I had to be very careful. If I drilled too deep, I would ruin the look of the front.

I then used a new standard rectangular red LED and 3D printed a plug to hold it in place without glue. The new LED is held firmly in place, but could still be removed by gently pushing it out from the front side with a screwdriver.

The LED is drilled out, fortunately without damaging the front. The new LED and the 3D printed plug. The replacement LED is ready to use.

The mechanical part is done. Time for the electronics.

On the upper board only a single electrolytic cap had to be replaced. But it took a lot of unsoldering work to remove the broken Zorro connector and the six bus driver chips. The original Zorro connector was held in place by two rivets, and I had no choice but to drill them out, slightly damaging the board in the process. I then washed the board thoroughly with IPA.

The upper board: cleaned, recapped, new Zorro connector, and the six driver chips seated in sockets.

There was also a tantalum capacitor, which I replaced with a new electrolytic one. This is not really necessary, but I don't trust old tantalums. They cannot leak like electrolytic ones, but they can catch fire or explode, causing even more damage to the board than electrolyte.

On the bottom board, there were ten electrolytic caps due for replacement. I also replaced the rusted piezo buzzer, which was a bit difficult because the new one turned out to be surprisingly sensitive to heat.

I don't like empty sockets, so I organized an 8087 FPU. Eight 41256 DRAM cells will upgrade the machine to the maximum possible 512 KB RAM. (The famous 640 KB can only be reached with a RAM expansion card.)

The installed Sidecar V2.06 firmware was the latest version I could find, so I just gave the original EPROM a new label, as the old one came off because the glue had dried out.

Lower board: Recapped, new piezo, new FPU, DRAM fully extended.

The board needs a new configuration after the change. Fortunately the original manual can still be found.

I also replaced all screws with new ones.

And finally, it's time for reassembly. Probably for the first time in decades, the Sidecar's case was closed again.

Lower board, back in the case. The reset line is reconnected. Floppy/PSU frame and upper board (below, not visible). The screws of the new fan are still missing. The restored Amiga 1060 "Sidecar".

Isn't she a beauty? 😍

That's all for the second part. If you've been following my article closely, you'll have noticed that I haven't turned on the machine yet. That's right. I avoid powering up old computers without at least having the PSU inspected, because there is a risk that (after decades of storage) the PSU is defective and could damage the machine or go up in smoke.

In the third and last part I will connect the Sidecar to my Amiga and finally find out if it works.

List of Capacitors

Lower board:

  • 2x 100µF 16V radial
  • 8x 47µF 25V radial

Upper board:

  • 1x 100µF 16V radial
  • 1x 47µF 25V radial (as replacement for the tantalum at C57)
Sidecar Restauration, Part 1

Front view of the A1060 Sidecar, but with a gaping hole where the floppy drive is supposed to be. I was lucky and got hand on a Commodore A1060 "Sidecar". This first part is about the teardown of the Sidecar, and the damage assessment.

But what is a Sidecar? When Commodore released the Amiga 1000, its graphics and sound capabilities were unmatched in that price range. However, because the machine was based on the Motorola 68000 processor, users were unable to run existing MS-DOS software on the machine.

The German Commodore factory in Braunschweig tried to solve this problem with the Amiga 1060. The machine was connected to the Amiga 1000 and provided a full IBM compatible PC. Although it was a standalone computer, it had no video and keyboard ports, but was fully controlled by the Amiga. Because it was connected to the right side of the Amiga, it looked like the sidecar of a motorcycle, which gave it its nickname.

The Sidecar came relatively late to the market, could only be used with the Amiga 1000, and was quite expensive. For this reason, only a small number were produced. I could not find any official figures, but according to Dr. Peter Kittel (an engineer at Commodore Braunschweig) only between 3,000 and 5,000 units were sold in Germany, and certainly even less worldwide.

My A1060 came with an open case top. The reason was that the 5¼" floppy drive had been removed, and a full-height hard disk drive had taken its place. It was so tall that it didn't fit in the case, and it was also surprisingly heavy.

The case cannot be closed for a reason. With the case top removed, there is a huge harddisk where the floppy drive is supposed to be.

Many screws were missing or oxidized, but otherwise the machine was in used but acceptable optical condition. The previous owner had added a reset button on the front, and a second D-Sub connector on the back (which later turned out to be a second floppy drive connector, for whatever reason).

I decided to take the entire machine apart for cleaning and damage assessment. My plans are to restore it to its original state, which also means removing the oversize hard drive and its controller board.

There is a frame that holds the floppy drive and PSU. I found a lot of strange rust on it, which looks a bit like moisture damage, but that wouldn't explain the shape of the stains.

A lot of rust stains on the floppy/PSU frame.

The PSU looked okay-ish. Luster terminals were used for the floppy power connector. Also the pull relief for the Amiga power cord was missing, instead I found a knot in the cord.

The PSU looks good, but the caps certainly need to be replaced. A knot as pull relief. Please don't try that at home!

I gave the PSU to an experienced technician at the a1k.org Amiga board for overhaul.

I also found that the pins of the power LED were broken off. The LED was held in place by a superglued plastic plug. It was impossible to remove without force. The replacement power LED was just hanging loosely in the case.

The power LED, with the legs broken off. I couldn't pull it out. The replacement LED.

Let's dig deeper. The computer consists of two boards. The lower board is the PC compatible, with three XT bus slots, a socket for the FPU, and eight sockets for another 256 KB of RAM. The upper board serves as a bridge between the Amiga and PC side. Both boards are connected by two flat ribbon cables.

At the first glance, the upper board looked dirty, but otherwise okay. On the bottom side there are a lot of bodge wires, additional resistors, and cut traces. At first I thought that this modification had been done by the previous owner, but then I found similar photos on the internet, so it seems to be a standard post-production factory fix.

The upper "bridge" board. The bottom side shows many hardware modifications.

Then I found that six 74HC245 bus drivers had been replaced with 74LS245 ones. The replacement was a little "creative". The old chips were cut off the board leg by leg, and the new chips were then soldered to the remains of the old legs. This was certainly not factory-made.

On the one hand, I was glad that the previous owner did not try to unsolder the chips, as he could have damaged the board. On the other hand, it looked very DIY, so I decided to clean up the mess later.

The driver chips, just soldered onto the board.

Replacing the 74HC245 with 74LS245 turned out to be a common fix to make the Sidecar more compatible with Amiga memory expansions. I decided to keep the 74LS245, but to use sockets so that it would be easy to undo this modification.

I also found that the Zorro connector was unfortunately damaged beyond repair. Two pins were broken off and another one was bent so it could cause a short.

Closeup of the damaged Zorro connector.

It was impossible to find a replacement 88-pin edge connector that could also be riveted to the board, but I did find a new connector of the correct size but without the rivet holes.

The lower board was even dirtier, but otherwise seemed to be unmodified and undamaged. The buzzer, however, was rusted, so I would have to replace it.

The lower "PC" board, dirty but otherwise okay.

In the end, there is a lot of work to be done:

  • Clean the case, remove the rust, replace all screws
  • Fix the power LED
  • PSU overhaul
  • Replacing all electrolytic caps, the buzzer, and the Zorro connector
  • Clean up the six bus drivers at the upper PCB
  • Find a new floppy drive

More of this in the second part of this article!

CD32 Refurbishment, Part 2

In the first part I successfully repaired an Amiga CD32 that got broken due to leaking capacitors and a botched restauration attempt. In this part I replace the laser pickup and calibrate the CD drive.

The old laser pickup of the CD32 might be worn out due to age and use. A common symptom is that the CD32 is unable to play CD-R media, or it is only capable of playing music CDs. There is no way to make the CD32 accept CD-RW media though, since they use a dye instead of pits that reflect too little light.

But before we start, read this:

CAUTION: The laser pickup is very sensitive to ESD. Use protective measures (such as an antistatic wrist band).

Make sure that the laser is always covered when the machine is turned on. Do not look into the laser beam.

I should also mention that I am not a trained technician. I have read manuals about how to calibrate CD drives, and it has worked for me. However, I don't claim that this is the best or most professional way to do a calibration.

You will need a soldering iron for the pickup replacement, and you will definitely need a scope for calibration. The drive might work without calibration after replacing the pickup, but the result will not be optimal.

Pickup Replacement

I started with disassembling the CD drive. I removed it from the case. Then I carefully disconnected the pickup and the motor unit, and removed the four screws that hold the pickup frame. There is a metal shield covering the pickup that needs to be removed as well.

The frame with the laser pickup, spindle motor, and tracking mechanics.

The laser pickup unit is a Sony KSS210A. It is long out of production, but replicas are sold at online marketplaces for a few bucks. To remove the old pickup, I first removed the white cog wheel, then I pulled out the metal rod (it is secured by a plastic clip that can be pushed to the side). Since I was on it, I cleaned the old grease from rod and the cog wheels, and applied a bit of fresh silicone grease. After that, I mounted the new pickup and reassembled the CD drive just in the opposite order of disassembly.

After the new pickup unit has been connected to the controller, a solder blob on the pickup unit must be removed! It protects the laser from ESD, but will damage the drive controller if it is still there when powering on the drive.

Closeup of the pickup module, with the solder blob on the top right.

If you want to keep the old pickup module as a backup, you can also apply a solder blob there before disconnecting it.

Preparation

For calibration, I opened the metal shield of the drive controller, and found a surprise underneath. There was a tiny board glued to the main PCB, and connected to some points with seven wires:

A tiny modification board is glued and connected to the PCB.

I first thought this could be some kind of mod to circumvent copy protection measures, but then again, the CD32 does not have a sophisticated copy protection scheme. Later I found the answer in a YouTube video: This modification immediately cuts the power from the laser and the spindle motor when the lid of the CD drive is opened. I could find many photos of the controller board without the modification, so I guess that it was a product safety requirement for selling the CD32 on the German or European market.

Okay, let's get back to the calibration. As a preparation, I first soldered wires to the VF, RFO, TEO-1, and FEO-1 test points. I recommend to use wires of different colors, it makes the calibration much easier. Unfortunately I only had red wire at hand, so I had to check each time which wire went where.

Wires are soldered to the VF, RFO, TEO-1, and FEO-1 test points.

After that, I noted down the current settings of the four pots on the controller board, and of the pot on the laser module, using an ohmmeter. If I should mess up the calibration for some reason, I could always go back to these settings. (A photo of the pot positions is not sufficient, as very tiny changes can already make a huge difference.)

The four pots for calibration are on the side of the controller. See the silkscreen for which pot does what.

For the calibration, the drive needs to be connected to the mainboard again. The case top (with the LEDs, reset button etc) needs to be connected as well, since the CD32 won't attempt to read the CD unless the drive lid is closed. The laser pickup is moving during operation, and should have sufficient room for that.

To fix the CD to the spindle, I removed the spindle clamp from the inside of the lid, and used a bit of tape to keep the loose part fixed in the center of it. It is held to the spindle with a magnet, and ensures that the CD won't slip on the spindle.

Calibration

The calibration process is explained in this blog article by TSB. My attempts to explain it would be far worse. 😉

However, it turned out that on my drive, the process didn't work like that. After doing the first steps of the calibration, my drive was suddenly unable to spin up the CD for reading. I was lucky that I noted the pot positions (like recommended above), so I could revert to the original settings and start anew.

Then I first calibrated the TEB pot until there was approximately 0 mV between TEO-1 and VF. The drive was still working after that. However, after I calibrated FEB like documented, the drive stopped working, so I reverted that change again and moved on with calibrating the laser power.

CAUTION: Be very careful with the pot on the laser module and only turn it in very small increments. Otherwise the laser may be permanently damaged.

There is a drop of varnish on the pot from production that may require some force to break, so it might be a good idea to first turn the pot while the device is powered off, and then use an ohmmeter to return it to the factory setting that you previously noted.

To calibrate the laser power, I connected my scope to RFO and ground. Then I put a music CD on the spindle and started playing track 1. The scope should now show a so-called "eye pattern":

The tricky part is to turn the pot on the pickup module carefully while the CD is playing. I turned it very carefully until I reached a peak-to-peak voltage of about 900 mV. Take care never to exceed 1200 mV!

After that, I adjusted the FEB pot on the controller board until I reached a maximum amplitude on the eye pattern.

The last two pots, FEG and TEG, are calibrated by scoping the FEO-1 and TEO-1 test points against ground, respectively. The drive should play track 1 of an audio CD and should be in pause mode while calibrating.

I tried to find the sweet spot where the signal on the scope was as smooth as possible, and the correction noise from the optics was as silent as possible. There is a trade-off between these goals, and I found that the best results came from listening to the pickup noise and using my intuition.

The calibration is complete after that, and the CD32 can be assembled again.

One final tip: burn CD-Rs for your CD32 at the lowest speed supported by your recorder. This will increase the contrast of the data on the CD. Also, prefer CD-Rs that are not transparent when held up to the light.

CD32 Refurbishment, Part 1

An Amiga CD³² Game Console in good condition. I found this CD32 for a fair price, and bought it. The optical condition of the case is quite okay. It has some visible scratchmarks. The previous owner tried to fix them, but made it even worse. At that time, I wasn't aware yet that this would be the main theme of the whole restauration.

Together with the console, I got a PSU and an edutainment CD for learning math. The PSU wasn't the original one, but a simple power brick with a CD32 connector soldered on. The gamepad was missing, unfortunately, but I found a Honey Bee joypad as replacement a bit later.

Let's have a look inside the machine.

The State

The seller sold it as broken because it showed no picture. When I opened the case, the machine told me a completely different story. There was an attempt to recap the machine. It was abandoned after replacing the TH and the 100µF SMD caps, probably because the picture was gone after that.

I also found blotches of green varnish, presumably simple nail varnish. It was under the replaced SMD caps, but also on solder joints and some vias. The varnish made no sense at all, except of maybe cosmetical reasons.

And I found this:

Closeup of a Sony CXA1145 Video Encoder chip. The first pin is cut off, and the PCB underneath is damaged.

I assume that when the picture was gone, the guy who tried the refurbishment assumed that the video encoder chip got damaged, but had no equipment at hand to unsolder an SMD chip, and attempted to cut it from the board pin by pin instead.

I found no further traces of mistreatment of the poor board. It's going to be enough of work to fix the current mess already.

To be honest, I am pretty upset about that. There is a difference between if the machine shows no picture after decades of storage, or because of a botched refurbishment attempt. The seller should have pointed out that fact.

Fixing the Mainboard

First I attempted to restore the picture by replacing the obviously broken video encoder chip. I also replaced an electrolyic cap next to it that looked suspicious. Unfortunately that did not bring back the video signal.

The question was now whether I was getting no picture because of further errors in the video area, or because the machine is not starting at all. To find out, I inserted a DiagROM and connected the CD32 to my PC. The DiagROM started and logged no errors to the console. So the good news was that the machine is basically working.

I then decided to remove everything from the previous restauration attempt, so I could start anew with a known state of the mainboard. I removed all the electrolytic caps, even those that had already been replaced, and cleaned off the green varnish with acetone and IPA.

There was a strange solder blob on the bottom side, covered with a layer of varnish. When I tried to clean it up, I smelled that revealing fishy smell of old electrolyte. I generously removed the SMD parts on both sides in that area, cleaned the board and checked the tracks and vias.

The bottom side of the audio area, as I found it. There is a strange solder blob covered in varnish. I generously removed all components around the affected area, and cleaned it. Fresh components soldered in. A track was damaged and needed to be fixed with a wire.

Unfortunately, I ripped off a few pads on the 100µF capacitors while doing so. I guess the leaked electrolyte and the thermal stress of two recappings was just too much for them.

Then I soldered in new components in that area, and fixed the broken pads with bodge wire. For two SMD capacitors, the board offered an alternative use of TH caps, which I thankfully accepted. The area is now looking quite ugly, but at least it should work again.

The top side of the audio area after removing the SMD caps. Two 100µF caps lost a pad due to thermal and mechanical stress. The same area, with fresh SMD components. Two of the SMD caps are replaced with TH ones. A broken track is fixed with a wire.

When I checked the tracks and vias at the other 100µF SMD caps, I found broken connections at C236 and C237. They are used for the luma or composite video signal, so the broken connections caused a black image.

The connection between the left pad and the via was broken, presumably while scraping off the solder mask. The only way was to fix it with a piece of wire. The connection between pin 20 and the right pad of C237 was broken as well, and disconnected the composite signal from the outputs.

I also found a broken via near C409, which carries the CSYNC signal. The missing connection causes a missing video sync signal at the outputs. I fixed it by opening the via and exposing the connected tracks on both sides, then soldering a thin wire to the tracks.

The broken via, before I fixed it with wire.

So there were more than enough reasons for this board to show no video picture.

The TH capacitors on the board are a bit special. For C408 and C811, the silk screen shows the positive end at the wrong side. Even Commodore soldered in the capacitors in the wrong orientation, and you will find many CD32 out there with bloated caps at that position. I decided to solder in SMD caps there instead, which can be soldered in like shown on the silkscreen.

After that, I checked the machine, and to my amazement, it was working again:

So the mainboard was repaired and refurbished. I checked all the video and audio connectors, and found a signal everywhere. The machine was also running stable.

The refurbished mainboard.

I'm glad that the machine turned out to be repairable.

In the next part, I will replace the laser module and calibrate the CD drive.