An Unexpected Amiga Network Interface

The retrocomputer enthusiast has increasingly to grapple with not only runaway computer prices but the astronomical cost of vintage peripherals. A welcome solution in some cases comes from the Raspberry Pi, which has proved itself fast enough to emulate those add-ons for a lot less outlay. A good one comes from [Niklas Ekström], who’s made a Pi-based network adapter for the Commodore Amiga 1200. Better still it doesn’t hog the main expansion port or the PCMCIA slot, instead it sits on the 1200’s rarely-used real-time-clock port. Software wise it uses an updated version of his earlier project for the Amiga 500. It provides access to the Pi command prompt, as well as a SANA driver and a mounted filesystem.

While many of us view the Amiga from 2023 as a retro gaming platform, for those of us who used it at the time it was a desktop productivity machine on a more affordable budget than the Macintosh. At the time the thought of having a UNIX-like operating system running on a super-powerful co-processor in your Amiga would have been beyond our wildest dreams, but whether it provides enough now to make a 1992 machine compete on the desktop is debatable. Who wants to run Firefox from the Pi in an X server on the Amiga?

A New Motherboard For Amiga, The Platform That Refuses To Die

If you go out and buy a computer right now, how many choices do you really have? Generally speaking, there’s PC or Mac. If we were being generous you could consider Chromebook and perhaps even mobile, but let’s be honest, computing is a two-party system with the ability to dump the OS and run Linux as the obvious third-party disruptor. It wasn’t always like this.

In the early years of personal computing there were a slew of serious contenders. A PC, a Mac, an Atari ST, an Amiga, and several more that all demanded serious consideration on the general purpose desktop computer market. Of all these platforms, the Amiga somehow stubbornly refuses to die. The Amiga 1200+ from [Jeroen Vandezande] is the latest in a long procession of post-Commodore Amigas, and as its name suggests it provides an upgrade for the popular early-1990s all-in-one Amiga model.

It takes the form of a well-executed open-source PCB that’s a drop-in replacement for the original A1200 motherboard. CPU, RAM, and video are broken out onto daughterboards, with PCMCIA replaced by an SD card slot. The catch: it does require all the custom Amiga chips from a donor board.

The original Amiga 1200 was a significant upgrade to the architecture of the 1980s originals, and this certainly provides a much-needed enhancement to its underwhelming 68EC020 processor. It’s fair to say that this is the Amiga upgrade we’d all have loved to see in about 1996 rather than waiting until 2019. It’s still a delight for a retrogaming enthusiast; many of those who keep it alive remember the Amiga was the best multimedia platform that could be had for a few glorious years.

We’ve brought you a host of Amiga projects over the years, including the resurrection of an A500 and of course another A1200 PCB.

Thanks to [Eric Hill] for the tip.

Amiga In The MiST Gets Online With An ESP8266

While he couldn’t quite come up with the cash to buy one in their hayday, [Bruno Antunes] has always been fascinated with the Amiga. When PCs got fast enough he used emulators like UAE to get a taste of the experience, but it was never quite the same thing. Not until he found the MiST anyway, which uses an FPGA to implement several retro computers such as the Apple II, Atari, and of course his beloved Amiga.

The only downside for [Bruno] was that the MiST has no network interfaces. To get onto the Internet, he had to install an ESP8266 inside the device and spend some quality time tweaking various software settings to get everything talking to each other. The end result is a BBS hosted on an Amiga 1200, that’s running on an FPGA, that’s connected to WiFi via an ESP8266. What a time to be alive.

Adding the ESP8266 to the MiST was actually quite straightforward, as there’s an unpopulated serial port header right on the board. Though [Bruno] cautions this header has been removed as of version 1.4 of the device, so if you’re in the market for an FPGA retro box and might want to get it online at some point, that may be a detail to keep in mind. The ESP is running a firmware which implements Serial Line IP (SLIP); which allows you to use TCP/IP over a serial port, albeit very slowly.

The hardware implant went well enough, but unfortunately [Bruno] found the ESP8266 was unable to communicate through the thick metal case of the MiST. He enlisted his girlfriend to make a new papercraft enclosure for the MiST that the ESP could talk though, and it even has the added benefit of glowing thanks to the internal LEDs. We probably would have just got one of the ESP modules that includes an external antenna, but to each their own.

With the hardware taken care of, the rest of the considerable write-up details how he got the Amiga operating system to talk to the Internet through the SLIP connection. He goes over everything from setting the system time with NTP to getting a Telnet daemon installed. As you might expect, this involves installing a number of additional software packages, but [Bruno] is kind enough to provide links for everything you’ll need.

We’ve seen the ESP8266 used to get other retro computers onto the modern Internet before, but it’s usually through the use of an external device. This internal modification is very clean, and seems like a no-brainer for anyone who owns a MiST and a soldering iron.

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Recreating The Amiga 1200 PCB From Pictures

In the past we’ve talked about one of the major downsides of working with vintage computer hardware, which of course is the fact you’re working with vintage computer hardware. The reality is that these machines were never designed to be up and running 20, 30, or even 40-odd years after they were manufactured. Components degrade and fail, and eventually you’re going to need to either find some way to keep your favorite classic computer up and running or relegate it to becoming a display piece on the shelf.

If you’re like [John Hertell], you take the former option. Knowing that many an Amiga 1200 has gone to that great retrocomputing museum in the sky due to corroded PCBs, he decided to recreate the design from scans of an unpopulated board. While he was at it, he tacked on a few modern fixes and enhancements, earning his new project the moniker: “Re-Amiga 1200”.

To create this updated PCB, [John] took high quality scans of an original board and loaded them up into Sprint Layout, which allows you to freely draw your PCB design over the top of an existing image. While he admits the software isn’t ideal for new designs, the fact that he could literally trace the scan of the original board made it the ideal choice for this particular task.

After the base board was recreated in digital form, the next step was to improve on it. Parts which are now EOL and hard to come by got deleted in place of modern alternatives, power traces were made thicker, extra fan connectors were added, and of course he couldn’t miss the opportunity to add some additional status blinkenlights. [John] has released his Gerber files as well as a complete BOM if you want to make your own Re-Amiga, and says he’ll also be selling PCBs if you don’t want to go through the trouble of getting them fabricated.

It seems as if Amiga fans never say never, as this isn’t the first time we’ve seen one brought back from the brink of extinction by way of a modernized motherboard. Whatever it takes to keep the vintage computing dream alive.

[Thanks to Anders for the tip.]

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Hackaday Links: September 13, 2015

One more go at new enclosures for the Amiga 1200. Yes, it’s a Kickstarter campaign, and we mentioned a similar the same campaign last month. The previous campaign received a little more than half of the desired funding in a 30-day campaign. The new campaign received half its funding in a week. The only difference? Now you can put a Raspberry Pi in a newly manufactured A1200 case. And they say Raspberry Pi consumerism isn’t a thing…

Cheap SLA printing service. [Ian] and Dangerous Prototypes have made a name for themselves with dirt cheap, acceptable quality PCBs. Now they’re going for custom prints on a resin machine. It’s $0.95 per gram (density is 1.3g/cc). That’s cheap.

[James Willis] built a floppy drive orchestra. There are 16 drives in this orchestra, all controlled by an FPGA. Here’s the writeup.

Here’s a video overview of a real, huge, rideable hexapod robot. ‘Wow’ is just about the only thing we got for this.

Western Digital introduced a hard drive made specifically for the Raspberry Pi. It’s a hard drive with a USB interface, and a USB cable that connects to the Pi, the drive, and a power adapter. In other news, externally powered USB hard drives exist. You can buy a 2TB drive for the price of the 1TB PiDrive. What was that thing about Raspi consumerism?

Next week is the Open Hardware Summit in Philadelphia. We’ll be there (or rather, I will). We’ll have a post on the OHS badge up on Monday. Would anyone like to go see the lady made out of soap? It’s right around the corner from the venue.

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Hackaday Links: August 2, 2015

Over the last few years, Maker’s Asylum in Mumbai has grown from a garage to a very well stocked workspace with 140 members. They’re getting kicked out at the end of the month and they need some help. We just had a meetup at the Delhi branch of Maker’s Asylum, and these guys and gals are really cool.

Speaking of crowdfunding campaigns for hackerspaces, South Central Pennsylvania might be getting its own hackerspace. The 717 area code is a vast wasteland when it comes to anything anyone reading Hackaday would consider interesting, despite there being plenty of people who know their way around CNC machines, soldering irons, and welders. This needs to happen.

Need some help with Bluetooth standards? Tektronix has you covered with a gigantic poster of the physical layer. If only there were a repository of these handy, convenient reference posters.

Forgings and castings make for great YouTube videos, and this aluminum bell casting is no exception. There’s about 18 pounds of aluminum in there, which is pretty large as far as home casting goes.

Electronic Goldmine has an assortment of grab bags – spend a few dollars get a bag of chips, LEDs, diodes, or what have you. What’s in these grab bags? [alpha_ninja] found out. There’s some neat stuff in there, except for the ‘SMD Mixture’ bag.

Remember the found case molds for the Commodore 64C that became a Kickstarter? It’s happening again with the Amiga 1200. This is a new mold with a few interesting features that support the amazing amount of upgrades that have come out for this machine over the years. Being new molds, the price per piece is a little high, but that’s your lesson in manufacturing costs for the day.