Freshwater Crocodile

#Restauration

Atari ST

At the end of the 1980s, I wavered between the Atari ST and the Amiga 500 to become the successor of my ZX Spectrum. Eventually I decided to get an Amiga. In retrospective it was the right choice. The AmigaOS laid the foundation to my later career as a professional software developer. Still I stayed curious about the Atari ST. Well, now is the time to get one. πŸ˜€

I found an Atari 1040STF for a fair price. The outside is in a very good condition. No modifications, no yellowing, even the warranty seal was still intact. Also on the inside, there was just a bit of dust around the case vents.

My new Atari ST. Outside it's in a good condition. Even the protective film is still on the Atari badge. Just a bit of dust inside.

Even the keyboard wasn't really filthy, considering that the machine was in use for many years. It was still in for a thorough cleaning though.

The keyboard needs a cleaning. The keyboard's PCB, with the rubber domes. Cleaned keyboard. It looks much better.

The Atari ST has an integrated power supply, unlike the Amiga 500 with its separate PSU on the floor. On the one hand, it permits to plug the unit directly to the mains. On the other hand, it makes the machine heavier, and makes modding more risky due to the presence of hazardous voltages inside the case.

WARNING: Switched power supplies may still contain high voltages hours after they have been disconnected from mains. I strongly advise against attempting repairs or modifications yourself. Please ask a trained technician for assistance!

Inside my ST, I found a Mitsumi SR98 PSU. It looked okay, except of a bulged capacitor. However this type is said to be of poor quality, so I decided to replace it with a modern MeanWell RD-35A.

The original Mitsumi SR98 PSU. The filter capacitor is bulged.

The MeanWell sits very nicely on the original frame of the Atari ST, almost as if it was made for that purpose. In order to mount it, I removed the original PSU and the insulator sheet below, and drilled two screw holes into the frame.

The terminals of the PSU can be either on the left or the right side. I decided for the left side, so the mains and mainboard power lines are cleanly separated and won't cross each other. I had to extend the wires to the mainboard for that, though.

I also took care that the PSU, the frame, and the shielding of the Atari ST are properly grounded. For that I had to add a ground wire from the metal frame to the ground terminal of the RD-35A.

A MeanWell RD-35A as replacement. Mains and output wiring is cleanly separated. It sits perfectly on the original frame. Wired properly. A terminal cover prevents touching the mains terminals.

To be honest, I like this modification much better than the original open frame design. With a 3D printed terminal cover, all hazardous parts are now sufficiently protected against accidental touching.

The machine was sold as "LED lights up, but otherwise untested". I usually refrain from using old and unrefurbished PSUs for testing, as they might damage the computer or might even explode in worst case. With the new PSU, it was now time for a first check if there are other damages. But I was lucky. The machine just booted up without problems. The only minor issue was that the Atari logo was black, which showed that the machine still had the original TOS 1.02 ROMs.

The about dialog, with a monochrome Atari logo.

The TOS came in two strange 96KB ROMs. In order to do a TOS upgrade, I had to replace them with six (!) 27C256 EPROMs. This requires soldering in four more sockets, and changing three solder pads. But I was going to change the electrolytic capacitors anyway.

Time for recapping.

Recapping is a routine procedure for me when refurbishing home computers. Some people think it's not necessary unless one of the capacitors is actually bulged or leaking. However electrolytic capacitors also dry out over the years, and are losing their capacity. The result is that the system is still working, but might be unstable, or the audio and video quality might be degraded. The used components have usually been of a simple quality, since home computers were designed to be used for a few couple of years only, and production had to be cheap.

For soldering in the sockets, I first had to open the pads. Since I was on it, I also opened the pads for a Blitter socket as preparation for adding a Blitter chip. I no longer pursued this plan though after I found the prices of NOS Blitters. πŸ€‘ According to the feedback of Atari enthusiasts, the Blitter isn't really necessary anyway thanks to optimized CPU based routines. This is possible because, unlike on the Amiga, the Blitter is blocking the CPU during operation.

The Rainbow TOS 1.04 image was first split into an upper and lower half, and then each half was split again into three sections. I used my pynaroma tool for that, and then burned each section to an 27C256 EPROM, giving six EPROMs. When changing from two ROMs to six EPROMs, it's also necessary to set three solder pads from the "1M" to the "256K" configuration.

Recapping is done, and there are new sockets for the TOS EPROMs. Six 27C256 EPROMs. The three solder pads need to be changed as shown.

And that's it. The machine booted up again, and finally showed the Atari logo in rainbow colors.

Rainbow TOS 1.04

Since I never had an Atari ST before, I don't have any diskettes, and I'm also not too keen in making some. Fortunately Centuriontech GOEX drives are also available for Atari ST computers. It is a drop-in replacement for the original drive, but uses .st files on SD cards instead. The diskette file can be selected via an encoder and a tiny OLED display. The ST itself won't notice that there is no real floppy drive connected to it.

The floppy power cable turned out to be a bit too short on my machine, so I had to replace it with a longer one.

The OLED display is fixed to the case top with double-sided tape. The ribbon cable is then hot-glued inside, so it will sit nice and tight.

The Centuriontech GOEX drive. The OLED display cable is hot-glued on the inside. The cable will then sit nicely tight on the outside.

And that concludes the refurbishment of my new Atari ST. I'm happy to have it in my retro collection.

This is my refurbished Atari 1040STF.

Rehousing of a PSP

I was one of the fools who had backed the ZX Spectrum Vega+, in the hope to get a Speccy handheld console. The campaign was one of the biggest at Indiegogo, and ended in a disaster. The Vega+ has never been produced, and the funding money was gone after a year-long legal battle between the project initiators.

Later I learned that there has been a ZX Spectrum handheld console all the time: A Sony PlayStation Portable running a Fuse emulator. By a lucky chance, I was able to get a PSP now. It's a PSP-2000 in Ice Silver color, probably a self-import straight from Japan.

A PSP-2000 in Ice Silver.

Overall, it was in an excellent condition, except of some minor scratches on the display and the UMD drive door. The previous owner told me that the volume buttons were unresponsive, which was fine for me since replacement parts are still available. What he "forgot" to tell me though was that two case screws had been overturned in a repair attempt.

One of the two screws that have been overturned.

I tried a screw remover on them, but the screws were too tight and the screw heads were too tiny. After that, I tried to cut a slit into the screw heads, but they were too hard for that. Eventually I gave up, and (with a heavy heart) I just cut the case open.

No chance to remove them. I had to cut the case open. 😒

Rehousing

There are replica cases available from China, so I ordered a replacement in transparent blue. It came in a full set, with plastic clips, all the screws, springs, and even with fake labels for the serial number. The only parts needed for the transplantation are the hardware and everything related to it (like metal shieldings, or the LCD frame).

WARNING: Although the transplantation isn't really difficult, it still takes a bit of experience with this kind of hardware. There is a risk that parts might break, or that the PSP might not work any more after reassembly. If you plan to move your PSP to a new case, you are doing it at your own risk. Also, please take ESD precautions!

The first step is to tear down the old PSP. It's certainly a good idea to make detailed notes and photos that will help to find the correct place for each part later. Especially the UMD drive has a few small parts that turned out to be a bit tricky at the reassembly. The flat wires can be removed by either gently lifting or moving the black lever of the connector. Do not just pull them out. Never use force!

Display folded forward. Now I can start with the disassembly. Top half is emptied. Now for the bottom half with the UMD drive.

Disassembling the UMD drive was surprisingly easy. At some point the drive door needs to be taken out though, which requires a bit of force that made me feel uneasy. I was worried that the door or one of the hinges might snap.

In order to remove the WiFi antenna, the sticker in the battery compartment needs to be removed. I tried it with dissolving the glue with IPA, but it also dissolved the sticker. In retrospect, I better should have used a hairdryer or a heat gun.

And then it was done. The old PSP was disassembled, and all parts were scattered on my desk.

The PSP is completely torn down. Let's put the pieces of the puzzle back together.

The reassembly is done in reverse order. If you have made meticulous notes on the disassembly, it should be easy.

Although the replica set already contained many new case parts, I decided to reuse some of the original ones. The symbols of the direction and control buttons of the replica were printed on the top of the keycap, which looks considerably cheaper than the original parts which are printed on the inside. I also reused the shoulder buttons, the cover of the memory stick port, and the power slider.

The bottom side, with the UMD drive and WiFi antenna. The UMD drive door is still removed. Top side almost completely assembled again.

As one of the last steps, I could finally do what I originally intended to do only. I peeled off the old membrane of the control panel, and carefully put the replacement part on it. There are tiny holes in the holder and the membrane that helps to do a proper alignment.

This was what I initially planned: Changing the membrane of the control panel.

The rehousing was completed. In a last step, I cleaned the fingerprints off the LCD glass. I recommend to use a non-alcoholic LCD cleaner that does not leave streaks. I had used IPA first, but it dissolved the foam around the display and smeared it all over the panel.

The glass of the top cover was protected by two films (one inside, one outside) that needed to be removed. Then I used a camera lens brush to carefully brush off remaining dust particles and hairs from the glass and the LCD panel. Finally I closed the new case.

To my amazement, the PSP was still working! The new case doesn't look and feel as premium as the original case, but overall, the PSP looks very pretty in the clear blue case.

Transplantation was successful, and the patient is still alive.

Custom Firmware

My goal is to run emulators on the PSP. There is a lot of so-called "homebrew" software available, like emulators, tools, and even self-made games. But in order to run them, there must be a custom firmware installed first.

It's very easy to install it. First you need to make sure that the latest firmware 6.61 is installed on your PSP. If not, make an upgrade first. After that, a so called Infinity patch is installed. It takes care that the custom firmware is always active, even after a reboot. Finally, the custom firmware is installed, and then connected to the Infinity patch.

There is an excellent video by MrMario2011 that is explaning each step.

Homebrew software can be found just by searching for it. Of course, the first thing I installed was the ZX Spectrum emulator. It is based on the open source Fuse emulator. Games can be (legally) downloaded at World of Spectrum.

ZX Spectrum Emulator running the game "IK+".

There are many other emulators, e.g. for C64, Atari, Amiga, and many old game consoles. The Amiga emulator brought the PSP to its limit though. I tried to run the Red Sector Megademo on it, but it was quite sluggish and not really fun to watch.

Talking about demos: There are even a few demos for the PSP! One of the best voted is made by The Black Lotus (Amiga fans certainly remember the name of that group) and is open source. I recommend to run the version at GitHub, as the one at pouet.net might not run on the latest kernel versions. There is a video of the demo on YouTube (NSFW).

There are even demos for the PSP!

To wrap it up: While looking for software I felt like am too late for the party, as the PSP retro scene seems to have moved on already. Still, the PSP-2000 is a nice handheld console. And with the homebrew emulators, there is an almost unlimited pool of old retro games available.

The Red C64

My first home computers were made by Sinclair, and I liked them. Then one day, my brother brought a Commodore 64 that he had borrowed from a classmate. He showed me a demo called "Trap", and I was flabbergasted about the sound abilities of the SID chip. My ZX Spectrum just had a plain beeper, and since then I wished Sinclair had added a decent sound chip. Or that I had a C64 instead of the Speccy.

35 years later, this wish came true as I bought my first C64. It came in a case that is painted in a bright red color. It was sold as broken. The PLA chip was missing, and there was no way to test if that was the only problem.

The machine arrived here in a pretty good state. The paint job was actually quite well done, and everything was nice and clean. It certainly wasn't much used after the previous owner did the modification. I also found traces of further planned modificiations, like numbers painted on the PCB. Maybe the machine broke during their modification attempt, ending their endeavor.

Let's have a look inside. There is a 250425 mainboard, and the PLA chip was missing as announced. I also found that all other chips were made in 1984, except of the VIC which was made end of 1985. This might be a bad sign, maybe they swapped the good VIC with a broken one before selling the machine.

Inside there is a 250425 mainboard. The PLA chip is missing.

I first powered up the board and checked the voltages. The +5V and +12V were fine, so I could be sure that I wouldn't damage the replacement parts I was going to put in.

For the missing PLA, there is a choice of modern FPGA based replacements. I chose a PLAnkton, which just fits into the socket and even has about the same color as the main board. After that, I connected a monitor and powered up the machine again. I got a video sync, but the picture was black. Uh oh… Is it the VIC?

A C64 Dead Test cartridge quickly gave a hint. It flashed the screen four times, saying that the U23 DRAM chip was broken. Fortunately these are 4164 type 64Kx1 DRAM chips, like they are also used for repairing ZX Spectrums. I have a few of them in stock, so I could just replace it.

One RAM is replaced. It's the same type that is used for ZX Spectrum repairs.

Next test, and this time I finally got the famous blue READY prompt. A full diagnostics run confirmed that the missing PLA and one DRAM chip was all that was broken.

Everything is fine now! πŸ˜€

The board is now working again, and ready to be futureproofed. First I replaced the electrolytic capacitors. For C13, I used a bipolar capacitor, which (in my opinion) gave an audible enhancement to the SID audio quality. The old 78xx voltage regulators were replaced by Traco Power DC/DC converters that won't need heatsinks. What got heatsinks instead were the CPU, SID, and VIC. The PLA should get a heatsink as well, but the PLAnkton replacement only consumes a fraction of the original PLA power and stays cold.

I also found four MOS-77xx chips on the board. These are standard 74LS chips, but they are notorious for their high failure rate. I preemptively replaced them with their standard counterparts. The mainboard should now be fine for the next twenty years.

The refurbished board, with PLAnkton, heat sinks, new caps, and DC/DC converters.

The keyboard was in a very clean state, but anyway I decided to disassemble and wash it. I pulled off all keycaps and cleaned them in an ultrasonic bath. I also removed the back PCB, and cleaned the plungers and contacts with a bit of IPA. After that, I reassembled the keyboard. For the space key, I put a bit of silicone grease on the lever mechanics, which gave a much more quiet and satisfying sound when the space key is pressed.

Keycaps put back to their place after washing. The cleaned keyboard.

The previous owner added two extra buttons to the right side of the case. One button is a reset button, a standard modification on a C64. The other one was connected to the "bus available" pin of the expansion port. It essentially freezes the system as long as the button is kept depressed. I have no use for a freeze button, so I decided to put the reset button back, but leave the freeze button out.

I connected the reset button to C34 instead of the expansion port. When pressed, it will retrigger the reset monoflop by discharging the capacitor. This way the button is debounced, and the reset signal is kept for an appropriate minimal time. (C34 applies to 250425 boards only, for other versions see their schematics! Also make sure you're not accidentally shorting one of the decoupling capacitors.) I used Dupont connectors to make the reset button detachable from the mainboard, in case I want to remove the top shell again.

The reset button can stay, but got a Dupont connector so the upper shell of the case can easily be removed. The reset button is connected to C34.

To close the hole of the former freeze button, I was quite lucky that the case was painted in RAL 3020 "traffic red". I found that I have filament in the same color, and 3D-printed a small plug that was then hot-glued to the case. The hole is still visible, but it looks acceptable now.

The holes made for the reset and the freeze button. I don't need the latter one anymore. The reset button is back in its place. The freeze button hole is now closed with a 3D printed plug.

And that's it! I finally have my own, red C64!

Welcome, my shiny new Red C64! 😍

ZX Spectrum "Portugal"

And yet another Speccy that I could buy for a good price. The seller said it was "untested", but I allege that he knew very well it was broken. It's fine for me as I mainly buy those things for the repair fun. 😁

The computer was in a sad condition when I got it. What's remarkable is that the machine was "assembled in Portugal". It's the first time I see this, and to be honest, it was one of the reasons why I wanted to have it. According to the very few information I found on the internet, those machines were intended for the Portugese and South American market, but some of them also made it to the UK and other European countries.

The faceplate was heavily bent, and a connector of the keyboard membrane was broken off. It seems that the previous owner tried to replace the membrane, but wasn't able to remove the faceplate.

The new Speccy is in a poor condition. One of the membrane connectors was broken off and missing.  It was assembled in Portugal.

That's the first hint that the machine wasn't "untested", but underwent a botched repair attempt.

I got the second hint when I tried to power up the machine, but found that it was completely dead, with all the voltages missing. The 5V is generated by an 7805 voltage regulator. It could just have died of old age. But considering the other hint, I rather guess that the previous owner has tried to power this machine with a standard 9V power supply. It has a reversed polarity, which kills the 7805 instantly, and usually damages the lower RAM chips and other components.

Let's have a look inside. There's an Issue 6A board inside, which is the final revision of the board. But besides that, there were no surprises. Anyway it's the first Issue 6A board I own, so I'm happy to have it.

An Issue 6A board, probably built around end of 1984.

The 7805 regulator is definitely broken, but I would have replaced it with a Traco Power DC/DC converter anyway. After I replaced it, the 5V line was back. To my surprise, the 12V and -5V lines were also back, so at least there was no further damage to the power supply.

I did my usual composite mod. Then I connected the computer to my monitor and powered it up to find out what else is broken. To my surprise the start screen appeared, and the Diag ROM also found that all RAM chips are working.

The Speccy just booted up. The Diag ROM found no further defects.

Okay, so much for the "repair fun" I was hoping to get. On the other hand, this board has a second custom chip, the ZX8401, also known as ZXMUX chip. If it would have been damaged, repair would have been a lot more difficult. Not impossible though, since the ZXMUX can be simulated by a few standard SMD chips.

Now that the Speccy was repaired, I continued with replacing the electrolytic capacitors. I also found and fixed a lot of cold joints at the lower RAM chips. The refurbishment of the board was completed after that.

The board after repairing and recapping. A lot of cold solder joints.

Let's have a look at the case. The membrane connector was broken, but luckily there are new membranes available at retro shops. The previous owner tried to remove the faceplate, which is most often glued to the case. Most often, but not here. On this computer, the faceplate was just held in place by four brackets. All that would have needed to be done was to open these brackets and then easily pull of the faceplate.

The faceplate is held by four brackets that can be easily seen on the inside. All that needs to be done is to open them. The faceplate itself is not glued to the case.

Sadly, thanks to the botched repair attempt, the original faceplate was bent too much to be recoverable. It also had some visible scratches. I wished I could have salvaged it, but I decided to replace it with a new one instead. This time I took a metallic red faceplate, which looks as hot as a sunset in Portugal. πŸ˜‰

My new ZX Spectrum "Assembled in Portugal".

And there it is, another ZX Spectrum for my collection.

ZX Spectrum "Beauty"

When I started to refurbish old computers in 2021, I couldn't imagine that it was so much fun. 😁 The other day I bought another ZX Spectrum. According to the seller, it had some strange artefacts on the screen and also stability issues, so it was sold as defective. When I tried it at home, it was even worse. I just got a black screen on a white border.

Screenshot made by the seller. Here the screen was just black with a white border.

Inside the case I found an Issue 2 board. The previous owner has added a composite output on a separate connector. As the age of TVs with tuners is definitely over, there is no need to keep the modulator output. I will do my own composite mod instead, and remove this ugly cable that was hanging out.

The manufacturing dates of the components tell an interesting story. This computer has probably been manufactured around the end of 1982. However, all chips that are related to the upper 32KB RAM are socketed, and some were made in 1983. I guess it was originally built as 16K model, and has been extended to the full 48K a year later. As the only chip on this computer, the ULA was made in 1984, so maybe it had been replaced around then.

It's an Issue 2 board with a composite mod on a separate connector. I removed the ULA for testing.

My main suspicion was that the ULA was broken, so I put it into one of my working Spectrums, and was happy to find it in working order. The problem must be somewhere else.

The usual first step is to check the voltages. And bingo, the 12V line had around 7V, and the -5V line was flat. This sounded very familiar, and a look at the coil confirmed my suspicion. The coil had a purple color, and a short between the primary and secondary winding. I guess the coil was already pre-damaged when the Spectrum was sold, causing the artifacts because of poor voltages on the lower RAM chips. When I powered up the computer at home, I eventually killed it.

Well, it's not the first time I had to deal with a broken coil. I unsoldered it, rewound it, and replaced the semiconductors that usually get grilled as a result. Then I powered the system again, and found that all voltages were back to normal. Success!

A shorted coil. The purple color is looking very familiar. It was the same on another Spectrum. The repaired coil.

I put the ULA back into its socket, so I could check what else is broken. And (to my displeasure, to be honest) the computer just came up and was working again.

This is looking good! The computer is working again!

What a spoilsport! I was hoping to have some more repair fun with that machine. πŸ˜‰

Okay, what next? I started with replacing the electrolytic capacitors with fresh ones. Then I found something strange: A wire link was missing that was supposed to be there.

There is supposed to be a wire link here.

That link is important. The upper 32K RAM chips are actually 64K RAM chips, where one half of the memory turned out to be faulty after production, so they were sold with half the size for cheaper. The link configures which half of the memory is to be used. There is no pull-up resistor, so keeping it open is not a valid option. It might cause the upper RAM to randomly flip between the working and faulty memory half. I doubt that this computer has ever been working stable after it was modified to 48K. This link has just been forgotten by whoever did the modification.

The RAM chips are TMS4532-20NL4. The trailing 4 indicates that the upper part of the memory is to be used, so I added a link between the center hole and the "+5V" hole. A trailing 3 would require a link between the center hole and "0V".

I soldered in the link and replaced all electrolytic caps with Vishay ones. I also replaced the 7805 voltage regulator with a Traco Power TSRΒ 1-2450. This modern DC/DC converter is a drop-in replacement that needs no heatsink, and is small enough to still fit into a classic ZX Spectrum case.

Wire link added and electrolytic capacitors replaced.

Issue 2 Spectrum boards have two variable resistors, VR1 and VR2, for color calibration. With the aid of an oscilloscope, calibration is a matter of a minute. I connected the scope to the composite video output (or to the video input of the modulator), and then adjusted both resistors until the signal was looking as smooth as possible. There is a blog article at Spectrum for Everyone that gives more details about the calibration.

Finally, I ran the ZX Spectrum Diagnostics tool. All tests passed, even those of the upper RAM.

All diagnostic checks passed.

Another repair job well done. πŸ˜„

So there is my 3rd ZX Spectrum. Above all, I like the exceptionally good condition of the case. It seems that the computer has barely been used in its 40 years. The keys and faceplate actually look pristine, and there are also only very few and small scratchmarks.

The case is in an excellent state, considering it's 40 years old.