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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.

Commodore 64 and Nintendo Make Beautiful Music Together with SYNCART

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[Dan] has been hard at work developing CYNCART to get his Commodore 64 and original NES to play together. We’ve seen [Dan's] handiwork before, and it’s pretty clear that he is serious about his chip tunes.

This project starts with something called a Cynthcart. The Cynthcart is a Commodore 64 cartridge that allows you to control the computer’s SID chip directly. In effect, it turns your Commodore 64 into a synthesizer. [Dan] realized that the Commodore’s user port sends out simple eight bit values, which happens to match perfectly with the NES’ controller ports. In theory, he should be able to get these two systems communicating with each other.

[Dan] first modified the Cynthcart to send data out of the user port on the Commodore. This data gets sent directly to the NES’ 4021 shift register chip in the second player controller port. The NES runs a program to turn this data into sound on the NES’ audio chip. The first player controller can then be used to modify some other sound settings on the NES. Musical notes are played on the Commodore’s keyboard. This setup can also be used to play music on both systems at the same time. Be sure to watch the video of the system in action below.

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C64 Emulator For The Arduino Due

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Almost a year ago, [miker00lz] started a thread on the Arduino forums telling everyone about a 6502 emulator and BASIC interpreter he wrote for an Arduino Uno. The chip inside the Uno isn’t a powerhouse by any means, and with only 2KB of RAM it’s far less capable than just about any computer from the 70s. Arduino works on a lot of different chips, though, and after a few months, [Jan] turned an Arduino Due into a Commodore 64 emulator.

[Jan]‘s code isn’t limited to the DUE, and can be used with any chip with enough memory. If you’re feeling fancy, you can connect a TFT display for all the vintage goodness of PETSCII graphics, all while running a faster BASIC than the very stripped down EHBASIC.

Because the emulator is using software to talk to the outside world, it should be possible to use this project to interface with the cooler chips found in Commodore machines – SIDs for one, but also the cartridge port for some vintage Ethernet goodness. It’s not even limited to Commodore machines, either: the POKEY chips found in Atari 8-bit micros are seriously underutilized in the chiptune and demoscene, and having modern hardware to play with these chips couldn’t hurt in the slightest.

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Programmable Logic I – PLA/PAL

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Yeah I am still a little pissed that the competition is still around and we aren’t, and by “we” I mean Commodore Business Machines (CBM). It was Commodore that had the most popular home computer ever in the C64 (27 Million) and it was a team of MOS engineers after all, that had the idea to make a “micro” processor out of a 12 square inch PCB.

MOS Technologies logo and address

MOS Technology in King of Prussia/Norristown

Of course they did work at Motorola at the time and “Mot” did not want anything to do with a reduction of the profit margin on the pie-plate size processor. Of course MOS got sued by Motorola but that was an average Tuesday at MOS/CBM. I absolutely credit CBM with buying the MOS Technologies chip foundry, as together we could make our own processors, graphics chips, sound chips, memory controllers, and programmable logic.

With this arsenal at our call we didn’t have to make compromises the way other companies did such as conforming to the bus spec of an industrial standard 6845 or having to add extra logic when a custom extra pin would work. We could also make sprites.

6502 Design Team

6502 Design Team (EE Times 1975, archive.archaeology.org)

The compromise we did have to make when designing was cost, and I mean the kind of cost reduction where finding a way to save a dollar ($1USD) saved millions in the production run. I knocked $.90USD out of a transformer one day and I couldn’t focus the rest of the day due to elation.

Cost reduction is a harsh mistress however as you can’t just do it a little some of the time or only when you want to. The mental exercise of multiplying anything times a million was always there, it made it hard to buy lunch — I’d be blocking the lunch line while figuring the cost of a million tuna sandwiches FOB Tokyo [Read more...]

C64 MIDI and Flash Cart

KerberosThe SID chip inside the Commodore 64 and 128 is arguably still the gold standard for chip tunes, and the C64 itself still a decent computer for MIDI sequencing. [Frank Buss] realized most of the MIDI cartridges for the Commodore computers are either out of production or severely limited, so he set out to create his own.

Unlike the few Commodore MIDI cartridges that are available, [Frank]‘s Kerberos has MIDI In, Out, and Thru, controlled by the 6850 ACIA chip, just like the old 80s interfaces. This allows the Kerberos to interface with the old Sequential Circuits, Passport, and Datel software. He’s offering the Kerberos cart up on a crowdfunding site, so if you’d like to grab your own, have at it.

Because the Kerberos is also a Flash cart, it also ships with some of this software; [Frank] got permission from Steinberg to install their Pro 16 software with the Kerberos.  SID Wizard is also pre-loaded on the cart, along with a few other fabulous trackers and sequencers. Of course, there’s no requirement for the Flash portion of the cart to only host MIDI and synth software. You can always upload a few games to the cart over a MIDI interface. Video of the Kerberos below.

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An Emulated Commodore 64 Operating System for the Raspberry Pi

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It’s no secret that Commodore users love their old machines with the Commodore C64 being chief among them with 27 Million units sold worldwide. Speaking as a former Commodore Business Machines (CBM) engineer the real surprise for us is the ongoing interest and devotion to an era typified by lumbering 8 bit machines and a color palette consisting of 16 colors. Come to think about it, that’s the description of Minecraft!

Jump forward to today and it’s a generation later. We find that the number of working units is diminishing as age and the laws of entropy and physics take their toll.

Enter the Commodore Pi, an emulated Commodore 64 operating system for the Raspberry Pi. The goals of the project include an HDMI and composite compatible video output, SID based sound, Sprites and other notable Commodore features. They also plan to have hooks for more modern technology to include Ethernet, GPIO and expansion RAM.

A video demo of the emulator can be found below. If you’re just warming up to the Commodore world, you’ll definitely want to know the real story behind the C128.

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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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