This Little Amiga Still Runs School District’s HVAC

It’s the rare tech worker that manages a decade in any one job these days – employee loyalty is just so 1980s. But when you started your career in that fabled age, some of the cultural values might have rubbed off on you. Apparently that’s the case for an Amiga 2000 that’s been on the job since the late ’80s, keeping the heat and AC running at Grand Rapids Public Schools (YouTube video link.)

The local news story is predictably short on details and pushes the editorial edge into breathless indignation that taxpayer dollars have somehow been misspent. We just don’t see it that way. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is somewhat anathema to the hacker ethos. After all, there’s no better time to “fix” something than when it’s working properly and you can tell if you’ve done something wrong. But keeping an important system running with duct tape and wire ties is also part of the hacker way, so we applaud [Tim Hopkins] and his colleagues at the GRPS Facilities and Operations Department for their efforts to protect the public purse. And a round of applause is also due not only to the Amiga design team, who produced a machine that can run for nearly three decades, but also to Johnson Controls, whose equipment – apparently a wide area radio modem linking the HVAC systems in the district’s buildings – is being run by The Little Amiga That Could. Sounds like they built stuff to last way back when.

So when this machine is finally retired, here’s hoping they give it a good sendoff. Perhaps we’ll see it with some other Amigas at some future Vintage Computer Festival. Or maybe it’ll be one of those active retirees and start a career in the music industry.

[Thanks Thinkerer!]

Hackaday Retro Edition: Androids And Amigas

Tiny ARM boards are everywhere, and if the Raspberry Pi is any indication, they’re mostly used for emulating old consoles and computers. With only a $30 single board computer, it’s easy to emulate an SNES, Apple II, C64, or any of the other piece of classic 80s or 90s hardware.

Understandably, there will eventually be a few projects and products that hope to capitalize on this retro trend. Few of them will go through the rigamarole of actually licensing the relevant IP. The Armiga is one of these projects. It’s an emulated Amiga 500 with 1MB of RAM packaged in what looks like a 3.5″ external floppy drive.

Inside this tiny little box is a dual core ARM for Amiga emulation. For the most part, this is just a basic Android system, but the real selling point of this system is the Armiga Project software. This is a full emulator and game browser that also includes a legal (!) copy of Kickstart 1.3. The ‘upscale’ version of the Armiga also includes a floppy disk controller and drive, should you ever want to dump all those old floppies sitting around in your attic.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the Armiga. It was a crowdfunding campaign a year ago that was unsuccessful for reasons we can’t comprehend. The creators of the Armiga have forged on, and now these tiny little boxes of guru meditation have started shipping. The Beta units have sold out and there’s a waiting list for more.

VCF East X: Amigas And Non-Apple Macs

The Amiga 1000, the original Amiga, was introduced in 1985, making this the 30th anniversary of the Commodore Amiga. Of course this needed to be represented at the Vintage Computer Festival, and [Bill Winters] and [Anthony Becker] were more than up to the task:

The guys brought with them a representation of nearly every Amiga, and also have a few neat gadgets to plug into these cool little boxes. The Amiga 1200 has been heavily upgraded with a compact flash drive. With the proper adapters and cards, this neat machine can be upgraded with Ethernet, WiFi, or just about every conceivable networking solution.

Attached to the A500 is a Gotek floppy drive emulator, a relatively standard if weird device that turns a PC floppy drive connector into a USB mass storage solution. This floppy emulator did not originally support Amiga disk formats, but with a firmware modification, everything just works. That’s a great story in itself, and something we should probably cover another time.

If you’re wondering what it was like for [Bill] and [Anthony] to dig through their garage for their exhibit, here you go.

Portable Macintoshen

The first Macintosh was released in 1984. Macintosh users wanted a slightly more portable machine, but the first ‘luggable’ Mac wouldn’t be released until late 1989. The market was there to fill the gap, with some bizarre machines exhibited by [Matt Bergeron]:

The Outbound laptop and notebook were unlicensed clones of the Macintosh. Instead of pirating the Apple ROMs, the Outbound computers required buyers to pull the ROM chips from their Macs and install them in the slightly more portable version. This was, of course, inconvenient, and we can imagine there were more than a few ROM chips cloned.

The Dynamac was a different beast, using the entire PCB from a mac SE or SE/30. To this, the creators of the Dynamac added a custom video card and electroluminescent display that was also capable of driving an external monitor. Very cool stuff.

Reverse Engineering Unobtanium

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If you listen to [Bil Herd] and the rest of the Commodore crew, you’ll quickly realize the folks behind Commodore were about 20 years ahead of their time, with their own chip foundries and vertical integration that would make the modern-day Apple jealous. One of the cool chips that came out of the MOS foundry was the 6500/1 – used in the keyboard controller of the Amiga and the 1520 printer/plotter. Basically a microcontroller with a 6502 core, the 6500/1 has seen a lot of talk when it comes to dumping the contents of the ROM, and thus all the code on the Amiga’s keyboard controller and the font for the 1520 plotter – there were ideas on how to get the contents of the ROM, but no one tried building a circuit.

[Jim Brain] looked over the discussions and recently gave it a try. He was completely successful, dumping the ROM of a 6500/1, and allowing for the preservation and analysis of the 1520 plotter, analysis of other devices controlled by a 6500/1, and the possibility of the creation of a drop-in replacement for the unobtanium 6500/1.

The datasheet for the 6500/1 has a few lines describing the test mode, where applying +10 VDC to the /RES line forces the machine to make memory fetches from the external pins. The only problem was, no body knew how to make this work. Ideas were thrown around, but it wasn’t until [Jim Brain] pulled an ATMega32 off the top of his parts bin did anyone create a working circuit.

The code for the AVR puts the 6500/1 into it’s test mode, loads a single memory location from ROM, stores the data in PORTA, where the AVR reads it and prints it out over a serial connection to a computer. Repeat for every location in the 6500/1 ROM, and you have a firmware dump. This is probably the first time this code has been seen in 20 years.

Now the race is on to create a drop-in replacement of what is basically a 6502-based microcontroller. That probably won’t be used for much outside of the classic and retro scene, but at least it would be a fun device to play around with.

VCF East Wrapup MegaPost

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VCF East, the fabulous retrocomputing festival held in Wall, NJ this last weekend was a blast. We had a great time, dropped t-shirts and stickers to just about anyone who wanted one, took a lot of pictures, and shot a lot of video. Now that it’s over it’s time for the post-mortem, with one insanely long post.

We saw some very cool stuff that merited its own post, and much more that we simply didn’t have time to video. The previous posts from VCF East:

There’s still tons more, including a tour of the retrocomputer museum that hosted VCF East. The biggest talk was from [Dave Haynie], lord of the Amiga giving part three of a multi-year talk on the soap opera that was Commodore International.

Click that ‘Read more…’ to see all this.

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Raspberry Pi Emulates an Amiga 500 Floppy Drive

[Maurizio] loves using his Amiga 500. His classic piece of hardware has been serving him well for years, except for the floppy drive, which recently gave out on him. No problem for [Maurizio], he just cracked his case open and added a Raspberry Pi as a real-time floppy emulator. [Maurizio] didn’t want to make any permanent changes to his A500 case, and more importantly he wanted to use the Amiga’s original floppy drive interface. The latter placed some rather stringent timing requirements on his design.

The interface hardware is relatively simple. Most of the circuit is dedicated to level shifting from the 5v Amiga 500 to the 3.3V Raspberry Pi. A 74LS06 Hex inverter converts the signals to the open collector outputs the A500 requires. [Maurizio] powered his Raspberry Pi from the floppy power connector of the Amiga. His model A Raspberry Pi works fine, but a model B would pull a bit more power (700ma) than the Amiga floppy power supply is capable of providing (550ma). The user interface side of the equation is simple: Two buttons, one used to switch disks, and one to “Write to SD”. Live disk images are stored in the Raspberry Pi’s ram, so the user needs to hit the “Write to SD” button to store any changes to disk before swapping floppies.

The software is perhaps the most interesting portion of this build. [Maurizio] is emulating a floppy drive in real-time – this means emulating MFM encoding in real time. Calls have to be made with a timing accuracy of 2 microseconds. The Pi’s stock Linux Operating system was just not going to cut it. [Maurizio] coded his drive emulator “bare metal”, directly accessing the Arm Processor on the Raspberry Pi. This gave him access to the entire processor, and allowed him to meet the hard timing requirements of the floppy interface.

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An overkill network adapter for retrocomputers

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If you want to get an old Apple, Commodore 64, Amiga, or any other retrocomputer up on the Internet, this is for you. [Stian] had an Amiga 500 lying around and wanted to put it on a network. The A500 isn’t expandable, so he needed to look at some sort of adapter to put it on a network. The solution came to him in the form of a Raspberry Pi, a null modem cable, and a few bits of software.

To connect his Amiga to his network, [Stian] made a small serial converter board for his Raspi that breaks out the Tx and Rx pins on the Pi to a 9-pin serial port. With the physical connection to the Pi made, the only thing left to do was to get some software for the Amiga, namely AmiTCP and PPP. It’s not exactly a fast network connection, but this build allows [Stian] to connect to WiFi networks with ancient hardware.

One interesting aspect of [Stian]’s build is the fact it’s completely transferable to other retrocomputers – everything from old S-100 bus computers to classic macs, apples, and pretty much anything else with a serial port that supports PPP. Even with the expense of a Raspberry Pi, it’s much cheaper than absurdly expensive second-hand SCSI to Ethernet controllers and other tomfoolery.