Restoring An Atari 800 XL That’s Beyond Restoring

Sometimes the best way to get a hacker to do something is to tell them that they shouldn’t, or even better can’t, do it. Nothing inspires the inquisitive mind quite like the idea that they are heading down the road less traveled, if for nothing else to say that they did it. A thrown gauntlet and caffeine is often all that stands between the possible and the impossible.

Preparing the PCB for epoxy injection

So when [Drygol] heard a friend comment he had an old Atari 800 XL that was such poor shape it couldn’t be repaired, he took on the challenge of restoring the machine sight unseen. Luckily for us, his pride kept him from backing down when he saw the twisted and dirty mess of a computer in person. He’s started documenting the process on his blog, and while this is only the first phase of the restoration, the work he’s done already is impressive enough that we think you’ll want to follow him along on his quest.

There’s no word on what happened to this miserable looking Atari, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it was run over by a truck. The board was cracked and twisted, with some components missing entirely. The first step in this impossible restoration was straightening the PCB, which [Drygol] did by clamping it to some aluminum bar stock and heating the whole board up to 40C (104F) for a few days. Once the got most of the bend out, he used a small drill bit to put holes in the PCB laminate and inject epoxy to add some strength. It’s an interesting technique, and the results seem to speak for themselves.

Once the board was straight, he went through replacing blown passive components and broken chip sockets. All the ICs were pulled and treated to an isopropyl alcohol and acetone bath in an ultrasonic cleaner to get them looking like new again. The CPU was cooked and needed to get swapped out, but otherwise it was smooth sailing, and before long he had the machine booted up. While most would have been satisfied to just get this far, [Drygol] considers this to be the easy part.

He next straightened out the metal shielding with a mallet, sanded it down, and sprayed it with a new zinc coating. The plastic around the keyboard and the metal trim pieces were also removed, cleaned, and refinished where necessary. Rather than going for perfection, [Drygol] intentionally left some issues so the machine didn’t look 100% pristine. It’s supposed to be a functional computer, not a museum piece behind glass.

We’ll have to wait until the next entry in this series to see how he repairs the absolutely devastated case. Any rational person would just use a case from a donor machine, but we’ve got a feeling [Drygol] might have something a little more impressive in mind.

In the meantime we’ve got plenty of incredible restorations to keep you occupied, from this sunken VIC-20 to a Pi-packing Osborne.

PCB Solder Pad Repair & Cleanup

What do you do when your motherboard is covered in electrolytic grime, has damaged pads and traces that are falling apart? You call [RetroGameModz] to work their magic with epoxy and solder.

While this video is a bit old, involved repair videos never go out of style. What makes this video really special is that it breaks from the common trend of “watch me solder in silence” (or it’s close cousin, “watch me solder to loud music”). Instead, [RetroGameModz] walks you through what they’re doing, step by step in their repair of a motherboard. And boy do they have their work cut out for them: the motherboard they’re working on has definitely seen better days. Specifically, it was better before corrosion from a leaking electrolytic capacitor and the well-meaning touch of its owner.

After a quick review of the damage, all of the components are removed from the battle zone. Then the cleaning begins, taking special precautions not to rip pads up. After everything’s cleaned up, things get really interesting. [RetroGameModz] starts to make their own pads from raw copper using the old pads as templates to replace the missing ones on the motherboard. After a bit of epoxy, it’s hard to tell that the pads were handmade, they fit in so well.

This epoxy trick is also used to deal with some heavily damaged traces, cool! During this repair, [RetroGameModz] used an epoxy that is heat resistant up to 315°C for 60 seconds. If you ever find any kind of epoxy on the market that is specified to be heat resistant up to more than 315°C, [RetroGameModz] would be quite happy if you could leave some info in the comment section, as they’ve found high-temperature epoxies quite difficult to source.

This goes to show that some repairs really should be done by professionals. [RetroGameModz] surely agrees, stating that “If you are not a repair technician and your motherboard has stopped working, it would be in the best of your own interest not to attempt a repair that you really cannot handle.” Good advice. But, we can never resist trying to fix things ourselves before handing things off to the more experienced. Call it a vice, or a virtue; we’ll call it fun.

What do you think? Are there some repairs you rely on technicians for? Or do you fix everything yourself? Let us know in the comments.

Continue reading “PCB Solder Pad Repair & Cleanup”

Tombstone Brings New Life To Board

Making revisions to existing PCBs with surface mount components often leads to creative solutions, and this insertion of a switch over a tombstoned resistor is no exception. According to [kubatyszko], “this is an FPGA-based Amiga clone. R15 serves as joint-stereo mixing signal between channels to make it easier on headphone users (Amiga has 4 channels, 2 left and 2 right). Removing R15 makes the stereo 100% ‘original’ with fully independent channels. Didn’t want to make it permanent so I decided to put a switch.”

Whether [kubatyszko] intends it or not, this solution is not going to be permanent without some additional work to mechanically secure the switch. We’ve tried this sort of thing before and it sometimes results in the contact area of the resistor being ripped off the substrate and separated from the rest of the resistor, rendering it useless. However, the creative use of the pads to get some additional functionality out of the board deserves some kudos.

We love creative fixes for board problems but it’s been a really long time since we’ve seen several of them collected in one place. We’d love to hear your favorite tricks so let us know in the comments below.

Extreme Repair Of A Burnt PCB

[xsdb] had a real problem. His JBL L8400P 600 watt subwoofer went up in flames – literally. Four of the large capacitors on the board had bulged and leaked. The electrolyte then caused a short in the mains AC section of the board, resulting in a flare up. Thankfully the flames were contained to the amplifier board. [xsdb’s] house, possessions, and subwoofer enclosure were all safe. The amplifier board however, had seen better days. Most of us would have cut our losses and bought a new setup. Not [xsdb] he took on the most extreme PCB repair we’ve seen in a long time.

After removing the offending caps and a few other components, [xsdb] got a good look at the damage. the PCB was burned through. Charred PCB is conductive, so anything black had to be cut out. The result was a rather large hole in the middle of an otherwise serviceable board. [xsdb] had the service manual for the JBL sub. Amazingly, the manual included a board layout with traces. Some careful Photoshop work resulted in an image of the section of PCB to be repaired. [Xsdb] used this image to etch a small patch board.

The amplifier and patch were milled and sanded to match up nearly perfectly. Incredibly, all the traces aligned. [Xdsb] soldered the traces across the join with small sections of wire and solder wick. After soldering in some new high quality capacitors, the amplifier was back in action!

If you’re a big fan of burned PCB’s, check out Hackaday Prize Judge Dave Jones latest EEVblog video, where he works on a Ness home alarm panel with a similarly cooked section of FR4.

[Thanks for the link JohnS_AZ!]