Python Resurrects Dot Matrix Printing

These days a printer — especially one at home — is likely to spray ink out of nozzles. It is getting harder to find home laser printers, and earlier printer technologies such as dot matrix are almost gone from people’s homes even if you’ll still see a few printing multipart forms in some offices.

[Thomas Winningham] bought an old Commodore dot matrix printer in a fast food parking lot for $20. How hard could it be to get it working? How hard, indeed. Check out the video below to see the whole adventure. The principle behind the printer is simple enough. The head has one or two rows of pins each controlled by a solenoid. The head moves across the paper and your job — should you decide to accept it — is to make the pins push out at the right spot. An ink ribbon like a typewriter uses — oh yeah, more vanishing tech — leaves ink on the paper where it gets punched by the pin.

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VCF East XIII: Another Day in Retro Paradise

While the weather alternated between mist and monsoon for most of it, the thirteenth annual Vintage Computer Festival East was still a huge success. People came from all over the country, and indeed the world, to show off computers and equipment that was easily older than many of those in attendance. From 1980’s robots to recreations of the very first machines to ever carry the name “computer” as we understand it today, there were a dizzying array of fascinating exhibits to see for those who made the pilgrimage to the InfoAge Science Center in Wall, New Jersey. The people who own and maintain these technological touchstones were in many cases were just as interesting as the hardware they brought to show off; walking encyclopedias of knowledge about the particular piece of vintage gear that they’ve so lovingly shepherded into the modern day.

Through it all, save for a brief intermission to get chili dogs from the nearest WindMill, Hackaday was there. We got up close and personal with [Brian Stuart]’s impressive ENIAC emulator, listened to some ethereal chiptunes courtesy of [Bill Degnan]’s MITS Altair 8800, saw relics from the days when the “app store” needed stamps from [Allan Bushman]’s impressive colleciton, and got inspired by the [Alexander Pierson]’s somewhat more modern take on the classic kit computers of the 1970’s.

But those were’t the only things on display at the Vintage Computer Festival, not by a long shot. There were over 100 individual exhibits this year at VCF, and that doesn’t even include the workshops, classes, tours, or the daily keynote presentations. To say you get your money’s worth on the ticket is something of an understatement.

It’s fair to say that there’s no real substitute for seeing a show like this in person. But in addition to the aforementioned articles, a rundown (in no particular order) of some of the interesting exhibits and attractions from this year’s VCF is a decent consolation prize. If this piques your interest, we’d invite you to keep an eye out for the next Vintage Computer Festival. We’ll be there.

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The Best New Amiga Title of 2018?

Just because a system becomes obsolete for most of us doesn’t mean that everyone stops working with them. Take a look at this brand new game for the Amiga 500 called Worthy, which is sure to make most of us regret ever upgrading our home computers, despite the improvements made since 1987.

The group who developed the game is known as Pixelglass and they have done a lot of work on this platform, releasing several games over the past few years. Their latest is Worthy, an action-adventure game that looks similar to the top-down perspective Zelda games from the SNES. It’s an impressive piece of work for a system that few of us own anymore, but if you have one (or even if you have a good emulator) you might want to give it a whirl.

If developing games for retro systems is your style, this isn’t limited to personal computers like the Amiga. We’ve seen development platforms for the Super Nintendo that will let you run your own code, and even other methods for working with the Sega Saturn if you’re feeling really adventurous.

Thanks to [Chappy1978] for the tip!

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Bringing a VIC-20 Back from an Oily Grave

No matter which platform you’re into, retrocomputing is usually a labor of love. The obsolete, the unpopular, the downright weird – old computers of every stripe are found, restored to something like their former glory, and given a new lease on life. It’s heartwarming, in a way. But when a computer has obviously been abused, it takes a little extra effort, of a lot in the case of this oil-submerged VIC-20 restoration.

In the two-part video below, [The 8-Bit Guy] goes through the gory details of bringing this classic Commodore back from the grave. The first video shows the cosmetic rebuild, which given the filthy state of the machine was no mean feat. Cracked open, the guts were found to be filled with an oily residue; [The 8-Bit Guy] chalks that up to a past life in some kind of industrial setting, but we see it more as flood damage. Whatever the sad circumstances on the machine’s demise, the case required a workout to clean up, and it came out remarkably fresh looking. The guts needed quite a bit of cleaning too, mainly with brake cleaner to cut through the gunk.

Part two focuses on getting the machine running again, and here [The 8-Bit Guy] had his work cut out as well. With a logic probe, signal injector, and some good old-fashioned chip swapping, he was able to eliminate most of the potential problems before settling in on some RAM chips as culprits for the video problems he saw at power-up. It all worked out in the end, and the machine looks and acts like new. We’re impressed.

Maybe we shouldn’t question [The 8-Bit Guy]’s call on the VIC-20 being from an industrial setting, though. After all, the “little Amiga that could” ran a school’s HVAC system for over 30 years.

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Raspberry Pi Becomes Cycle Exact Commodore Drive Emulator

The Commodore 1541 disk drive is unlike anything you’ll ever see in modern computer hardware. At launch, the 1541 cost almost as much as the Commodore 64 it was attached to ($400, or about $1040 at today’s value). This drive had a CPU, and had its own built-in operating system. Of course, anyone using a Commodore 64 now doesn’t deal with this drive these days — you can buy an SD2IEC for twenty dollars and load all your C64 games off an SD card. If you’re cheap, there’s always the tape drive interface and a ten dollar Apple Lightning to 3.5mm headphone adapter.

But the SD2IEC isn’t compatible with everything, and hacking something together using the tape drive doesn’t have the panache required of serious Commodoring. What’s really needed is a cycle-accurate emulation of the 1541 disk drive, emulating the 6502 CPU and the two 6522 VIAs in this ancient disk drive. The Raspberry Pi comes to the rescue. [Steve White] created the Pi1541, an emulation of the Commodore 1541 disk drive that runs on the Raspberry Pi 3B.

Pi1541 is a complete emulation of the 6502 and two 6522s found inside the Commodore 1541 disk drive. It runs the same code the disk drive does, and supports all the fast loaders, demos, and copy protected original disk images that can be used with an original drive.

The only hardware required to turn a Raspberry Pi 3 into a 1541 are a few transistors in the form of a bi-directional logic level shifter, and a plug for a six-pin serial port cable. This can easily be constructed out of some Sparkfun, Adafruit, Amazon, or AliExpress parts, although we suspect anyone could whip up a Raspberry Pi hat with the same circuit in under an hour. The binaries necessary to run Pi1541 on the Raspberry Pi are available on [Steve]’s website, and he’ll be releasing the source soon.

This is a great project for the retrocomputing scene, although there is one slight drawback. Pi1541 requires a Raspberry Pi 3, and doesn’t work on the Raspberry Pi Zero. That would be an amazing bit of software, as ten dollars in parts could serve as a complete emulation of a Commodore disk drive. That said, you’re still likely to be under $50 in parts and you’re not going to find a better drive emulator around.

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Emulating A Complete Commodore 64

When the Commodore 64 was released in 1982, it was a masterpiece of engineering. It had capabilities far outstripping other home computers, and that was all due to two fancy chips inside the C64. The VIC-II, the video chip for the C64, had sprites and scrolling, all stuffed into a single bit of silicon. The SID chip was a complete synthesizer on a chip. These bits of silicon made the C64 the best selling computer of all time, but have also stymied efforts to emulate a complete C64 system on a microcontroller.

[Frank Bösing] has just managed to emulate an entire C64 on a Teensy 3.6. The Teensy uses an exceptionally powerful microcontroller, but this is a labor of love and code.

The inspiration for this project comes from a reverse-engineered SID chip that was ported to the Teensy 3.2. The SID chip is the make it or break it feature of any C64 emulation, but the Teensy 3.2 didn’t have enough RAM for the most recent versions of reSID. With the release of the Teensy 3.6, [Frank] figured the increased amount of RAM would allow a complete C64 system, so he built it.

The new C64 emulator uses a Teensy 3.6, with a small add-on ‘shield’ (or whetever we’re calling them) to provide connectors for joysticks and the Commodore IEC bus. There’s audio out, support for USB keyboards, and support for an IL9341 SPI display or a regular ‘ol VGA display.

The entire development of this Commodore emulator has been documented over on the PJRC forums, and all the code is over on GitHub. It’s a fantastic piece of work, and as the video (below) shows, this is a real Commodore 64 that fits in your pocket.

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Converting Power Supplies for Antique Computers

Just because something is “never used” doesn’t mean it’s good. [Inkoo Vintage Computing] learned that lesson while trying to repair an Amiga 500 and finding parts online that were claimed to be “new” in that they were old stock that had never been used. The problem was that in the last 30 years the capacitors had dried out, rendering these parts essentially worthless. The solution, though, was to adapt a modern PSU for use on the old equipment.

The first hurdle to getting this machine running again was finding the connector for the power supply. The parts seemed to have vanished, with some people making their own from scratch. But after considering the problem for a minute longer they realized that another Commodore machine used the same parts, and were able to source a proper cable.

Many more parts had to be sourced to get the power supply operational, but these were not as hard to come across. After some dedicated work with the soldering iron, the power supply was put to use running the old Amiga. Asture readers will know that [Inkoo Vintage Computing] aren’t strangers to the Amiga. They recently were featured with a nondestructive memory module hack that suffered from the same parts sourcing issues that this modification had, but also came out wonderfully in the end.