The Desktop Computer Returns As Amiga-Infused Retro Case

The desktop computer is dead. No, I don’t mean computers that are meant to sit either on or underneath a desk. I’m talking about computer cases that are placed on a desk horizontally, probably with a monitor on top. The ‘monitor stand case’ was a mainstay for most of the 80s and 90s, but died out when CRTs became too heavy.

Now, though, there’s an interesting Kickstarter project that aims to bring the desktop computer case back, and it’s doing it as an upgrade to the classic Amiga 500, Amiga 1200, and Amiga 600 computers.

The idea for this project began all the way back in the 80s, with the Checkmate A1500 computer case. This case was designed to add expansion capabilities to the low-end Amiga 500 computer, transforming it into a desktop system with extra floppies, a hard drive, and an expansion port. In effect, you could have a ‘professional’ Amiga system for half the price of Commodore’s product offerings.

Now the Checkmate is back, this time with a case upgrade that will transform an A500, A600, A1200, or even the PPC Aeon Tabor A1222 motherboard. There’s another trick this case has to offer: it’s also compatible with MicroATX and Mini-ITX motherboards, meaning yes, there is now going to be a real desktop case that you can throw a motherboard in and a monitor on top.

The death of the desktop computer is an absolutely tragic tale that has resulted in people dropping towers on a floor and propping up their LCDs on piles of books. The reason why we do this is understandable — when CRTs got too heavy for plastic enclosures, computers became towers. Now, though, we’re all using featherweight LCDs, and computers could easily return to the desktop.

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.]

Continue reading “Recreating The Amiga 1200 PCB from Pictures”

An Incredible ATX Amiga 4000 Motherboard

No matter how far modern computer hardware advances, there’s still a fairly large group of people who yearn for the early days of desktop computing. There’s something undeniably appealing about these early systems, and while even the most hardcore vintage computer aficionado probably wouldn’t be using one as their daily computer anymore, it’s nice to be able to revisit them occasionally. Of course the downside of working with computers that may well be older than their operators is that they are often fragile, and replacement parts are not necessarily easy to come by.

But thanks to projects like this impressive ATX Amiga 4000 motherboard shown off by [hese] on the Amibay forums, getting first hand experience with classic computing doesn’t necessarily mean relying on vintage hardware. By making an Amiga that’s compatible with standard ATX computer cases and power supplies, it becomes a bit more practical to relive the Commodore glory days. Right now it’s mainly a personal project, but if there’s sufficient interest it sounds as if that might change.

This board could be considered a modern reincarnation of the Amiga 4000T, which was an official tower version of the standard Amiga 4000 released by Commodore in 1994. It features a 68030 CPU, with 16 MB Fast RAM and 2 MB Chip RAM. For expansion there are four full-length Zorro III slots and three ISA slots, as well as IDE ports for a floppy and hard drive.

The board really looks the part of a professionally manufactured computer motherboard from the late 1990s, which speaks not only to the attention to detail [hese] put into its design, but the manufacturing capabilities that are now available to the individual. With passionate people like this involved, it’s hardly surprising that the vintage computer scene is so vibrant.

Of course, this isn’t the first newly built “vintage” computer we’ve seen here at Hackaday. From bare-minimum 8085 computers to the comparative luxury of the 6502-powered Cactus, it seems like what’s old is new again.

[Thanks to Laurens for the tip.]

A Tale Of More Than One Amiga 1500

If you were an Amiga enthusiast back in the day, the chances are you had an Amiga 500, and lusted after a 2000 or maybe later a 3000. Later still perhaps you had a 600 or a 1200, and your object of desire became the 4000. The amusingly inept Commodore marketing department repackaged what was essentially the same 68000-based Amiga at the bottom end of the range through the platform’s entire lifetime under their ownership, with a few minor hardware upgrades in the form of chipset revisions that added a relatively small number of features.

We’ve probably listed above all the various Amigas you’ll be familiar with, with a few exceptions you either didn’t have or only saw in magazines. The original A1000, the chipset-upgraded A500+, the CDTV multimedia  platform, or the CD32 games console as examples. But there’s one we haven’t listed which you may never have seen unless you hail from the United Kingdom, and it’s an Amiga behind which lies a fascinating tale that has been unearthed by [RetroManCave].

In the late 1980s, Commodore sold the A500 all-in-one cased Amiga to consumers with marketing based heavily upon gaming, and the A2000 desktop Amiga to businesses with the promise of productivity software. Both machines had a 16-bit Motorola 68000 running at the same speed, with the A2000 having a lot of extra memory and a hard drive lurking within that case. The price difference between the two was inordinately high, creating a niche for an enterprising British company called Checkmate Computers to fill with their provocatively named A1500, a clever case for an A500 mainboard that gave it an expansion slot and space for that hard drive and memory.

This machine’s existence angered Commodore, to the extent that they vowed to eradicate the upstart by releasing their own UK-only A1500. The result, a comically badly concealed rebadge of an A2000 with two floppies and no hard drive, is something we remember seeing at the time, and dare we admit it, even lusting after. But the full story in the video below is well worth a watch for an engrossing insight into a little-known saga in one corner of the computing world during the 16-bt era. Towards the end it becomes a plug for the Checkmate Computers co-founder’s current Kickstarter project, but if that holds no interest for you then you are at least forewarned.

Of course, if you have either A1500 today, you might want an up-to-date graphics card for it.

Continue reading “A Tale Of More Than One Amiga 1500”

An Amiga 600 With An FPGA Inside

The Amiga is the platform that refuses to die. It must be more than two decades since the debacle surrounding the demise of the original hardware, yet the operating system is still receiving periodic updates, you can still buy Amiga hardware now sporting considerably more powerful silicon than the originals, and its worldwide community is as active as ever.

One of those community projects is the MiSTer FPGA Amiga-on-an-FPGA, and it was this that caught the attention of [Mattsoft]. Impressed with the quality of its recreation of an Amiga, he decided to turn his into a “real” Amiga, so found an Amiga 600 case and keyboard, and set to work. Into the mix went the Terasic DE10-Nano FPGA board, I/O and RAM boards, a Tynemouth Software keyboard interface, a USB hub, and some well-designed 3D-printed parts allow the original Amiga case to be used without modifications.

The Amiga 600 was the base model in the final Amiga range from the early 1990s, and at the time despite its HDD interface and PCMCIA slot it languished in the shadow of its Amiga 1200 sibling. The styling has aged well though, and this upgrade certainly breathes a little life back into the case if not strictly the machine itself. If you want to learn a bit more about MiSTer then a look at the project’s wiki is in order. Perhaps you don’t have an Amiga though and would like to wallow in a bit of nostalgia without splashing out for hardware, in that case, give AROS a look.

Thanks [intric8] for the tip.

Hackaday Links: Some Sort Of Fool’s Day, 2018

A few years ago, writing for a blog called Motherboard of all things, [Emanuel Maiberg] wrote PC Gaming Is Still Way Too Hard. The premise is that custom building a gaming PC is too hard, because you have to source components and comparison shop. Again, this was written for Motherboard. Personally, I would have shopped that story around a bit more. Now, the same author is back again, telling us PC Building Simulator is way more fun than building a real computer. It’s my early nomination for worst tech article of the year.

Speaking of motherboards, This is a GoFundMe project to re-create the Amiga 4000 mainboard, with schematics. Building PCs is too hard, but the Amiga architecture is elegant. Some of these boards are dying due to electrolytic capacitor and battery leakage. This project is aiming to deconstruct an original A4000 board and turn it into Gerbers and schematics, allowing new boards to be manufactured. Building a PC is way too hard, but with this GoFundMe, you won’t have to design an entire system from scratch. Don’t worry, I already tipped off the Motherboard editors to this one.

Alright, story time. In 6th grade science class, the teacher was awesome. On the days when there was really no chance of any learning happening (the day before Christmas break, the last day of school), the teacher broke out the Electric Chicken. What’s an Electric Chicken? It’s a test tube rack, two wires, and a Wimshurst generator. “Here, grab ahold of this for as long as you can.” It got even cooler when you get a bunch of kids to hold hands and tell them pride is better than pain. Here’s a Kickstarter for a mini Wimshurst generator. It’s made out of PCBs! Hat tip to [WestfW] for finding this one.

It’s no secret that I get a lot of dumb press releases. Most of these are relegated to the circular file folder. It’s also no secret I get a lot of ICO announcements hitting my email. These, also, are trashed. I recently received a press release for an ICO that goes beyond anything else. ONSTELLAR is a blockchain-powered social media network for paranormal and metaphysical enthusiasts.  It’s the crypto for Coast to Coast AM listeners, UFO enthusiasts, and people who think PKE meters are real. This is it, we’ve reached peak crypto.

If you want to decapsulate an IC — and why wouldn’t you? — the usual way of doing things involves dropping acid, ego death, toxic chemicals, and a fume hood. There is another way. Here’s [A Menadue] decapping a quartz watch IC with just fire. The process is about as ‘hold my beer’ as you would expect. Just take a small butane torch, heat up a chip, and recover the die. A bit of ultrasonic cleaning later and you get a pretty clean chip. Microscope not included.

An Amiga 500 For The 21st Century

There was a period in the late 1980s when the home computer to own did not come with an Apple logo and was not an IBM, Compaq, or any of the other clones, but instead sported a Commodore logo. The Amiga 500 was an all-in-one console-style cased machine that maybe wasn’t quite the computing powerhouse you might have wished it to be, but gave you enough of the capabilities of the more accomplished 16-bit machines of the day to be an object of desire while also having a games catalogue second to none.

A500s have survived in reasonable numbers, but inevitably working A500s haven’t. Fortunately there are decent emulators, and it was for one of these that [intric8] has produced an extremely well-done installation of a Raspberry Pi 3 in an Amiga case. The intention has been throughout to avoid modification or damage to the Amiga case, and eventually to have all Amiga internal peripherals including the floppy drive in a fully working condition.

The result has a Tynemouth Software USB adaptor for the Amiga keyboard, and a set of nicely designed 3D printed backplates to bring the extended Raspberry Pi ports to the back of the case. The floppy isn’t yet interfaced and there isn’t a socket for the quadrature mouse, but otherwise it’s a very tidy build. He might be interested in one of the several USB to quadrature interfaces we’ve featured over the years.

You might ask why so much effort should be put in for an emulation of an A500, and in a sense you’d be right to do so. The Pi will run the emulator from any case or none. But if you happen to have a spare A500 case, why not give this one a go!