Back in the distant past of the 1980s, software was distributed on audio tape. Ones and zeroes were encoded as tones of different frequencies, and tapes were decoded by specialised hardware which could then spit out raw digital data to an attached computer. While software methods now exist to simply record audio from old tapes and turn them into data, [Francesco] wanted to do it the hardware way, and built a PC interface for his Commodore 64 Datasette.
The TrueTape64, as it has been named, is built around an Atmel ATTiny2313 microcontroller. This interfaces with the original Datasette hardware which takes care of reading the analog tape output and turning it into digital data. From there, the microcontroller communicates with an FTDI232 serial-to-USB adapter to get the data into a modern PC, where it’s compiled into a TAP image file via some Python magic.
It’s a barebones build, which goes so far as to run the Datasette’s motor off the USB power supply via a boost converter; those facing issues with the tape mechanism might do well to look there first. However, it does work, and a done job is a good job at the end of the day. We’ve seen similar hacks before, too – it’s great to see the community keeping cassette software alive!
If you are of the generation who were lucky enough to use the first 8-bit home computers in your youth, you will be familiar with their use of cassette tapes as mass storage. Serial data would be converted to a sequence of tones which could then be recorded using a standard domestic cassette recorder, this recording could then be played back into the machine’s decoder and loaded into memory as a complete piece of software. Larger programs could take a while to load, but though it was rather clunky it was a masterful piece of making the best of what was at hand.
[Mike Kohn] was working with some microcontroller infra-red communication projects when he saw that the same techniques could be used to produce a tape interface like those on the home computers of old.
Over the years he has returned to the project a couple of times, and his original Atmel processor has been supplanted by a W65C265SXB development board based on the 16-bit derivative of the 6502. This made generating the tones as straightforward using his processor’s built-in tone generator, but decoding still presented a challenge. His earlier attempts used an LM2917 frequency to voltage converter to decode tones to logic levels, but on further consideration he decided to move to the LM567 tone decoder. This chip is designed specifically for an on-off logic output rather than the 2917’s analogue voltage output.
His recording device was originally a hi-fi separate cassette deck after experimenting with microcassettes, but eventually he used a data recorder designed for a Radio Shack TRS-80. All his code can be found in his GitHub repository.
It’s probably true to say that [Mike] has made a better cassette interface than the one you could have found on your home computer back in the day. We’ve featured a few data cassette hacks over the years, including this Commodore tape deck with an LED counter, and a tape deck emulator capable of holding an entire software archive.
For present-day owners of vintage Commodore computers, keeping data and programs safe and backed up is top priority. Disk drive storage was more common in the US, whereas in Europe, the audio cassette was the preferred medium of storage.
The Datasette device was what allowed interfacing the cassettes to the computer. Tape head alignment was critical to successfully writing and reading data to the cassette. Some models of the Datasette came with a small hole above the keys, to allow access to the adjustment screw of the tape head azimuth position. Tweaking this while looking at a signal meter could help you improve the signal from a bad cassette and prevent load errors. [Jani] tried a commercial solution called “Load-IT” which had a LED bargraph, but it couldn’t help much dealing with tapes with very bad signals. So he built a signal strength meter for his Datasette. He calls it the VU-sette since it uses an analog style meter quite similar to the VU-meters found in many audio equipment.
The hardware is simple and uses commonly available parts. The analog meter is extracted from a Battery Checker sourced from eBay. An op-amp drives the analog meter, and another transistor drives a separate speaker. This can be used to listen in on the cassette, if the speaker is enabled via a push button. [Jani] first breadboarded and tested the circuit before ordering out prototype boards.
To test performance, [Jani] used FinalTAP, a tool for examining, cleaning and restoring digitized data cassette tapes (TAP files) for the Commodore 64 computer. The “LOAD-IT” version worked well with tapes that were in fairly good condition. But his VU-sette version allowed him to adjust the head more precisely and get out a much better read from bad tapes. While on the subject, check out this nice 7-segment bubble LED digital counter for the 1530.
Continue reading “A VU-meter Indicator For A Commodore 1530 Datasette”
Ah, the humble Commodore 1530 Datasette drive. It never enjoyed much popularity in the USA, but it was the standard for quite some time in Europe. [DerSchatten13] still uses and loves his 1530. When a co-worker showed him some 7-segment bubble LEDs, he knew what he had to do. Thus the 1530 digital counter (translated) was born.
[DerSchatten13] started out by building his design on a breadboard. He used every I/O pin on an ATtiny2313 to implement his circuit. Tape motion is detected by a home-made rotary encoder connected to the original mechanical counter’s belt drive. To keep the pin count down, [DerSchatten13] multiplexed the LEDs on the display.
Now came the hard part, tearing into the 1530 and removing the mechanical counter. [DerSchatten13] glued in some standoffs to hold the new PCB. After rebuilding the circuit on a piece of perfboard, he installed the new parts. The final result looks great on the inside. From the outside, one would be hard pressed to tell the digital counter wasn’t original equipment.
Operation of the digital counter is identical to the analog unit – with one exception. The clear button now serves double duty. Pressing and holding it saves the current count. Save mode is indicated by turning on the decimal point. If the user rewinds the tape, the counter will stop the motor when the saved count is reached. Cueing up that saved program just got a heck of a lot easier!
Continue reading “Commodore 1530 Datasette Gets A Digital Counter”
[sweetlilmre] is just beginning his adventures in retrocomputing, and after realizing there were places besides eBay to buy old computers, quickly snagged a few of the Amigas he lusted after in his youth. One of the machines that didn’t make it into his collection until recently was a Commodore 64 with Datasette and 1541 drive. With no tapes and a 1541 disk drive that required significant restoration, he looked at other devices to load programs onto his C64.
These devices, clever cartridge implementations of SD cards and Flash memory, cost more than anyone should spend on a C64. Realizing there’s still a cassette port on the C64, [sweetlilmre] created Tapuino, the $20 Commodore tape emulator
The hardware used to load games through the Datasette connector included an Arduino Nano, a microSD breakout board, a 16×2 LCD, some resistors, buttons, and a little bit of wire. The firmware part of the build – available here on the Git – reads the .TAP files off the SD card and loads them into the C64.
[sweetlilmre] posted a very complete build post of the entire device constructed on a piece of protoboard, Pop that thing in a 3D printed case, and he can have the entire C64 library in his pocket.