Refurbishing Six Commodore 64s in Parallel

[Drygol] found himself with six Commodore 64’s in various states of disrepair. Because batch work is often more efficient, he detailed the process of restoring all of them in parallel in this one-, two-, three-part series.

The first step was to whiten the cases. Old cases turn yellow from the degradation of the fire retardant additives in the plastic. The proven method to fix this is with a paste called Retr0bright. [Drygol] used hair bleaching paste which is very similar. The cases came out nicely whitened from their treatment.

Next he repaired the keyboard PCB and whitened the keys as well. Drinking was involved, but it all came out okay. The circuit boards were cleaned and inspected. There were a few corroded spots, broken chips, and bad solder joints to be repaired. A few common mods were also installed.

In the final part of the series two of the C64s have SD cards installed into them. A few interesting fixes were done to repair broken plastics. Lastly the two worst cases were painted. In the end [Drygol] found himself with six perfectly working and attractive C64s. Who know’s what he’ll do with them, but we all know that was not the point.

Parent To The Power Wheels Rescue

If the [realjohnnybravo] is the one from the show, it appears he finally managed to get a girlfriend, marry her, and produce at least one son. As the old schoolyard rhyme goes, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes filling the whole *!$&# backyard with brightly colored plastic garbage. One of these items, a Power Wheels quad bike,  suffered a blow from planned obsolescence leaving behind a traumatized child. [realjohnnybravo] decided to fix it.

He made frequent mention of how one could go to a store and purchase replacement gears for the toy. Perhaps it’s a German thing. Regardless, he shows experience with internet comments by justifying his adventure in gear manufacturing with, paraphrased, “I’m having fun and learning so back off you pedantic jerks.”

Resin casting is great, and is often overlooked vs 3D printing. He purchased some hardware store RTV silicone and some slow-cure resin. The faster cure resin would get too hot with this much volume and potentially burn.

Materials procured he took apart both gearboxes from the machine. He first made a silicone mold of the broken parts (from the good copies out of the working gearbox) and removed the master. Without a vacuum or pressure casting chamber, the molds came out a little rough and bubbly, but it’s nothing some work with a carpet knife can’t fix. For big gears like this it hardly matters. Next he poured the two part resin into the molds and waited.

After some finishing with regular woodworking tools the parts fit right into the voids in the defective gearbox. His son can once again happily whir around the lawn, until the batteries die anyway.

Fixing a Broken Bandsaw with a Custom Steel Part

When a large bandsaw broke down due to a cast iron part snapping in two, [Amr] took the opportunity to record the entire process of designing and creating a solid steel replacement for the broken part using a (non-CNC) mill and lathe.

For those of us unfamiliar with the process a machinist would go through to accomplish such a thing, the video is extremely educational; it can be sobering both to see how much design work happens before anything gets powered up, and just how much time and work goes into cutting and shaping some steel into what at first glance looks like a relatively uncomplicated part.

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Fixing A Complicated Scrollwheel

[Thomas] loves his Logitech MX Master mouse, which has a pretty elaborate scroll-wheel mechanism. Perhaps too elaborate; it broke on him after a week of use, just when he was getting used to the feature. So what did he do? Took it apart and fixed it, naturally. And as a bonus, we get a guided tour of the interesting mechanism. Check out his video below to watch it in action.

The weighted scroll wheel switches between two different modes, one with a detent like you’re probably used to, and one where the wheel is allowed to spin freely for long-distance travel. And to do this, it’s actually got a little motor inside that rotates a cam and throws a lever into the side of the scroll wheel for the detent mode, and pulls the lever out of the way for free spins. It must also have some logic inside that detects how quickly the scroller is spun because it re-engages as soon as the scroll wheel stops.

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Classic Amplifier Reborn With Modern Transistors

Someone brought a dead Marantz amplifier to [Lansing]’s attention, a rather nice model from the 1980s with one channel entirely dead and the other very quiet. His account of its repair is straightforward, but provides some insights should you find yourself with a similar item on your bench.

Opening up the box, he was presented with 35 years of accumulated dust. It’s the annoying side of cracking open classic kit, we all have our dusty horror stories. His first task was routine: to replace all the unit’s capacitors. The mains voltage in France has gone up by 10 volts from 220V to 230V as part of EU harmonization in the years since the amp was built, so he used capacitors with an appropriately higher rating to compensate. We might have waited until the rest of the amp was proven fixed before splashing the cash on caps, but maybe we’re more thrifty.

The quiet channel fix turned out to be from a muting circuit designed to keep the amp quiet during the turn-on phase and suppress that annoying “thump”. A dead transistor replaced, and all was well. The dead channel though had a whole slew of dead transistors in it, which turned the problem from one of repair to one of transistor equivalence. Quite a few of the 1980s parts were no longer available, so modern replacements had to be found.

It is tempting to think of particularly all small-signal transistors as functionally equivalent. You will get away with this in logic and switching circuits in which the device is either On or Off and never in between, but in an audio amplifier like the Marantz things are not so simple. A lot of effort will have been made by the designers to calculate resistances for the current passing through them to deliver the right DC bias points without sending the circuit into wild oscillation. An important part of that calculation comes from the current gain of the transistors involved. [Lansing] had to carefully select his transistors for equivalence, though it some cases he had to do a bit of creative lead-bending to fit a different pin-out.

So, all dead transistors replaced with appropriate equivalents, and the amp was reborn. Success, and very much worth the effort!

We’ve covered a lot of amplifiers here in the past. Some were dead, like this little amp with blown capacitors or this smokin’ subwoofer. Others are more esoteric, like this ion wind 1KV tube creation.

Re-Capping An Ancient Apple PSU

It sometimes comes as a shock when you look at a piece of hardware that you maybe bought new and still consider to be rather high-tech, and realise that it was made before someone in their mid-twenties was born. It’s the moment from that Waylon Jennings lyric, about looking in the mirror in total surprise, hair on your shoulders and age in your eyes. Yes, those people in their mid-twenties have never even heard of Waylon Jennings.

[Steve] at Big Mess o’Wires has a Mac IIsi from the early 1990s that wouldn’t power up. He’d already had the life-expired electrolytic capacitors replaced on the mainboard, so the chief suspect was the power supply. That miracle of technology was now pushing past a quarter century, and showing its age. In case anyone is tempted to say they don’t make ’em like they used to, [Steve]’s PSU should dispel the myth.

It’s easy as an electronic engineer writing this piece to think: So? Just open the lid, pop out the old ones and drop in the new, job done! But it’s also easy to forget that not everyone has the same experiences and opening up a mains PSU is something to approach with some trepidation if you’re not used to working with line power. [Steve] was new to mains PSUs and considered sending it to someone else, but decided he *should* be able to do it so set to work.

The Apple PSU is a switch-mode design. Ubiquitous today but still a higher-cost item in those days as you’ll know if you owned an earlier Commodore Amiga whose great big PSU box looked the same as but weighed ten times as much as its later siblings. In simple terms, the mains voltage is rectified to a high-voltage DC, chopped at a high frequency and sent through a small and lightweight ferrite-cored transformer to create the lower voltages. This means it has quite a few electrolytic capacitors, and some of them are significantly stressed with heat and voltage.

Forum posts on the same PSU identified three candidates for replacement – the high voltage smoothing capacitor and a couple of SMD capacitors on the PWM control board. We’d be tempted to say replace the lot while you have it open, but [Steve] set to work on these three. The smoothing cap was taken out with a vacuum desoldering gun, but he had some problems with the SMD caps. Using a hot air gun to remove them he managed to dislodge some of the other SMD components, resulting in the need for a significant cleanup and rework. We’d suggest next time forgoing the air gun and using a fine tip iron to melt each terminal in turn, the cap only has two and should be capable of being tipped up with a pair of pliers to separate each one.

So at the end of it all, he had a working Mac with a PSU that should be good for another twenty years. And he gained the confidence to recap mains power supplies.

If you are tempted to look inside a mains power supply you should not necessarily be put off by the fact it handles mains voltage as long as you treat it with respect. Don’t power it up while you have it open unless it is through an isolation transformer, and remember at all times that it can generate lethal voltages so be very careful and don’t touch it in any way while it is powered up. If in doubt, just don’t power it up at all while open. If you are concerned about high voltages remaining in capacitors when it is turned off, simply measure those voltages with your multimeter. If any remain, discharge them through a suitable resistor until you can no longer measure them. There is a lot for the curious hacker to learn within a switch mode PSU, why should the electronic engineers have all the fun!

This isn’t the first recapping story we’ve covered, and it will no doubt not be the last. Browse our recapping tag for more.

Don’t Tempt the Demo Gods

Including a live technical demonstration as part of a presentation is a lot like walking a tightrope without a net. Which isn’t to say that we don’t do it — we just keep our fingers crossed and bring our lucky horseshoe. The demo gods have smote [Quinn] a mighty blow, in front of a class at Stanford, no less.


[Quinn]’s scratch-built computer, Veronica, failed to boot in front of a hall of eager students. When the pressure was off, in the comfort of her own lab, [Quinn] got to debugging. You should read her blog post if you’re at all interested in retrocomputing or troubleshooting of low-level hardware bugs. But if you just can’t spare the five minutes for a pleasant read, here’s a spoiler: watch out for flaky card-edge connectors. All’s well that ends well, with a game of pong.

We’ve been following Veronica from her very first clock cycles, so we’re happy to see her back on her feet again. Good job, [Quinn]!