MouSTer Brings USB To Retro Computers

Folks who like the take the old Amiga out for the occasional Sunday drive usually do it because they have wistful memories of the simpler times. Back when you could edit documents or view spreadsheets on a machine that had RAM measured in kilobytes instead of gigabytes. But even the most ardent retro computer aficionado usually allows for a bit of modern convenience.

Enter the mouSTer. This tiny device converts a common USB HID mouse into something older computers can understand. It even supports using Sony’s PlayStation 4 controller as a generic game pad. While the firmware is still getting tweaked, the team has confirmed its working on several classic machines and believe it should work on many more. Considering the prices that some of these old peripherals command on the second hand market, using a USB mouse or controller on your vintage computer isn’t just more convenient, but will likely be a lot cheaper.

Confirmed retrocomputing superfan [Drygol] is a member of the team working on mouSTer, and in a recent post to his retrohax blog, he talks a bit about what’s happened since his last update over the summer. He also talks a bit about the challenges they’ve faced to get it into production. Even if you’re not into poking around on vintage computers, there are lessons to be learned here about what it takes to move from a handful of prototypes to something you can actually sell to the public.

We especially liked the details about the mouSTer enclosure, or lack thereof. Originally [Drygol] says they were going to have the cases injection molded, but despite initial interest from a few companies they talked to, nobody ended up biting because it needed to be done with relatively uncommon low pressure injection. While 3D printing is still an option, the team ended up using clear heatshrink tubing to create a simple conformal protective shell over the electronics. Personally we think it looks great like this, but it sounds like this is only a temporary solution until something a bit more robust can be implemented.

As you might imagine we’ve seen DIY projects that aimed to bring modern input devices to vintage computers like the Atari ST, but the diminutive proportions of the mouSTer and the fact that it’s a turn-key product is sure to appeal to those who want to minimize headaches when working with their classic gear.

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The Amiga 1000, Still Receiving New Peripherals 35 Years Later

In the world of retrocomputing it’s the earliest models that garner the most  interest, usually either due to their rarity, or sometimes just because of their flaws. The Commodore Amiga 1000 is a case in point, it was the machine everybody wanted but its A500 home computer sibling made the Amiga a success story. Peripherals for the 500 are plentiful then, while those for the 1000 remain a rarity. Thus it’s a treat to see an A1000 peripheral appear in the present day, in the form of a memory, clock, and SD card expansion called the Parciero. It packs 8Mb of SRAM to give the Amiga some truly quick fast memory, something that would have used an eye-wateringly expensive brace of chips back in the day but now has just a single package.

We like the description of the Parciero’s case as “about the size of a harmonica that’s been run over by a steam roller“, but it conceals the effect of the march of technology. Amiga enthusiasts are used to their peripherals being chunky affairs full of through-hole chips. Its creator [David Dunklee] is a retired senior US Space Force officer, and we appreciate his humour in the silkscreen layer. It’s a small-scale commercial product, but in a field so select as Amiga 1000 owners it’s unusual enough to make it noteworthy to all retrocomputer enthusiasts by virtue of its mere existence. We congratulate him for helping keep that little corner of vintage technology alive.

The Amiga 1000 may be the original, but it’s possible that it may not be the rarest Amiga.

Amiga Now Includes HDMI By Way Of A Raspberry Pi Daughterboard

If you had an Amiga during the 16-bit home computer era it’s possible that alongside the games and a bit of audio sampling you had selected it because of its impressive video capabilities. In its heyday the Amiga produced broadcast-quality graphics that could even be seen on more than a few TV shows from the late 1980s and early 1990s. It’s fair to say though that the world of TV has moved on since the era of Guru Meditation, and an SD video signal just won’t cut it anymore. With HDMI as today’s connectivity standard, [c0pperdragon] is here to help by way of a handy HDMI upgrade that taps into the digital signals direct from the Amiga’s Denise chip.

At first thought one might imagine that an FPGA would be involved, however instead the signals are brought out via a daughterboard to the expansion header of a Raspberry Pi Zero. Just remove the DENISE display encoder chip and pop in the board with uses a long-pinned machined DIP socket to make the connections. The Pi runs software from the RGBtoHDMI project originally created with the BBC Micro in mind, to render pixel-perfect representations of the Amiga graphics on the Pi’s HDMI output. The caveat is that it runs on the original chipset Amigas and only some models with the enhanced chipset, so it seems Amiga 600 owners are left in the cold. A very low latency is claimed, which should compare favourably with some other solutions to the same problem.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an HDMI Amiga conversion, but it’s one that’s usable on more than simply the big-box machines.

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Retrocomputing Spray Paints: Amiga Beige, Commodore, And ATARI Grey

[retrohax] has provided vintage computer guidance for years, and part of that guidance is this: sometimes using paint as part of restoration is simply unavoidable. But the days of tediously color-matching to vintage hardware are gone, thanks to [retrohax] offering custom-mixed spray paints in Amiga 500 Beige, C-64 Beige, and ATARI ST/SE Grey. (At the moment only delivery within Poland is available due to shipping restrictions, but [retrohax] is working on a better solution.)

As a companion to making these vintage colors available, there is also a short how-to guide on how to properly prep and spray paint a computer case for best results that talks a little about the challenges in color matching to vintage hardware, and how getting custom paints mixed makes life much easier. Hackers may value making do with whatever is available, but we can also appreciate the value of having exactly the right material or tool for the job.

It’s not every day we see someone mixing custom spray paint colors, but off the shelf options don’t always cut it. Another example of getting specialty materials made from the ground up is custom plywood specifically designed for laser-cutting puzzles, something done because the troubles that came with off-the-shelf options were just not worth the hassle.

An Amiga Sampler 30 Years Later

There was a magic moment for a few years around the end of the 1980s, when home computers were better than professional ones. That’s a mighty grand pronouncement, but it refers to the crop of 16-bit home computers that genuinely were far better than nearly all PCs at the time for multimedia tasks. You could plug a sampler cartridge into your Amiga and be in the dance charts in no time, something which sparked a boom in electronic music creativity. As retrocomputing interest has soared so have the prices of old hardware, and for those still making Amiga music that cart can now be outrageously expensive. it’s something [echolevel] has addressed, with an open-source recreation of an Amiga sampler.

As anyone who peered inside one back int he day will tell you, an Amiga sampler was a very simple device consisting of a commonly-available 8-bit A to D converter, a CMOS switch for right and left samples, and maybe an op-amp preamplifier. This is exactly what he’s produced, save fpr the CMOS switch as he points out that Amiga musicians use mono samples anyway. At its heart is an ADC0820 half-flash ADC chip, and the whole thing is realised on a very retro-looking through-hole PCB.

For a Hackaday scribe with a Technosound Turbo still sitting in a box somewhere it’s a real trip down memory lane. It was a moment of magic to for the first time be able to edit and manipulate audio on a computer, and we’re glad to see that something of those days still lives on. See it in action in the video below the break.

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Why You (Probably) Won’t Be Building A Replica Amiga Anytime Soon

Early in 2019, it  became apparent that the retro-industrial complex had reached new highs of innovation and productivity. It was now possible to create entirely new Commdore 64s from scratch, thanks to the combined efforts of a series of disparate projects. It seems as if the best selling computer of all time may indeed live forever.

Naturally, this raises questions as to the C64’s proud successor, the Amiga. Due to a variety of reasons, it’s less likely we’ll see scratch-build Amiga 500s popping out of the woodwork anytime soon. Let’s look at what it would take, and maybe, just maybe, in a few years you’ll be firing up Lotus II (or, ideally, Jaguar XJ220: The Game) on your brand new rig running Workbench 1.3. Continue reading “Why You (Probably) Won’t Be Building A Replica Amiga Anytime Soon”

Doom Clone Shows What An Alternate-Reality Amiga Could’ve Had

Can you run Doom on the Amiga? No, not really, and arguably that was one of the causes for the computer’s demise in the mid-90s as it failed to catch up on the FPS craze of the PC world. [Krzysztof Kluczek] of the Altair demogroup has managed not exactly to remedy that status with the original article, but to show us how a potential contender could’ve been designed for the unexpanded Amiga hardware back in the day.

Many developers tried to emulate the thrill and ambiance of the id Software shooter, but they all required high-end Amigas with faster processors and expanded memory, limiting their player base on an already diminished demographic. Not only that, but even with fancier hardware, none of them quite managed to match how well Doom ran on your run-of-the-mill 486 at the time. [Krzysztof] isn’t trying to port Doom itself, but instead creating an engine custom-designed to take advantage of, and minding the limitations of the OCS Amiga as it existed in 1987. The result is Dread, a 2.5D engine that resembles the SNES port of Doom and uses assets from the Freedoom project in order to remain copyright-abiding.

It might not be Doom, but it’s a good peek at what the 33-year old hardware could’ve done in the right hands back then. Technically it already surpasses what the Wolfenstein 3D engine could do, so there’s an idea if someone ever aims to make a straight up port instead of their own game. If you like seeing Doom run on machines it wasn’t meant to, boy do we have some posts for you. Otherwise, stick around after the break for two videos of Dread’s engine being demonstrated.

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