August 2008 Archives

Atari 800

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While on vacation, I made certain to periodically check the Bay Area Craigslist, just in case some interesting hardware bubbled up in my absence.

Sure enough, a couple things surfaced. The first: a complete NeXTstation mono slab system (including the laser printer) - free for pickup. I was apparently too late to capitalize on that one though as my e-mail inquiry garnered no response.

The second was an Atari 800 (listed as a 1200XL), with 1050 diskette drive, manuals, programming books and software (original diskettes for Zork, Atari DOS, SynFile and PrintShop, with BASIC and AtariWriter on cartridge). I grabbed it just this morning from San Francisco (my second Atari system from that city), all for $25. I can honestly say I’m getting better at navigating around San Francisco. Scads of retro computing hardware seems to crop up there, so I’ve been getting a lot of practice!

Upon testing the machine, I only ran into a couple of minor snags. The system came with an old-school RF converter for video output, which isn’t really something I can use on anything modern. Vexingly, there are no Atari monitor cables on eBay at the moment.

Fortunately, the DIN to composite cable I’ve been using on my TI-99/4a also generates a usable picture on the Atari 800. The image quality should improve considerably if I can source a Atari DIN to S-Video cable. I’ve fired off an e-mail to a vendor that’s apparently offered them in the recent past. (Update: I’ve been informed they will have the cables back in stock the first week of September.)

After temporarily resolving the video problem, my first functional test was to boot up Zork from diskette as shown below:


It was at this point that I discovered the keyboard was largely unresponsive. I wound up exercising each key individually before they began to work reliably. It took a bit of time, but all the keys are now fully operational.

Here’s a shot of Atari DOS 2.0S - it reminds me a lot of the Apple ///’s SOS with a menu based approach rather than the “traditional” command line shell. From what I’ve been able to gather online, I apparently have an early 1050 drive which shipped with Atari DOS 2.0S instead of the newer 3.0 (or even 2.5) supplied with most 1050s.


I’d never really played extensively with an Atari 8-bit machine before. I find this to be one of the coolest aspects of retrocomputing - it affords me the opportunity to toy with hardware I’d only read about while growing up. I did have a childhood acquaintance (Aaron Osborne or Darryl Schroeder) who owned an Atari 400, but my somewhat fuzzy recollection is that he used it mostly as a cartridge based game system. I don’t recall him having a diskette drive, though he probably had cassette.

Coincidently, there was a recent Slashdot article on the early history of Atari which mentioned they’d fired “a young programmer named Bill Gates” who was apparently slow to produce a BASIC for this machine. Atari BASIC was ultimately produced by Shepardson Microsystems, Inc. (SMI) rather than Microsoft.


I’m looking forward to searching out interesting software for the 8-bit Atari and putting it through the paces. Earl Evans of the Retrobits Podcast had some glowing things to say about Star Raiders and the Atari 800 system in general, devoting podcasts to both (shows 11 and 82). I’ll need to put Star Raiders on the lookout list.

Eight inch disks are both a blessing and a curse in the retro computing world. They’re awesome in that for the time, they stored a generous amount of data - even a single density double sided 8” diskette could hold half a megabyte, which was impressive considering early microcomputer hard drives (such as Apple’s ProFile) topped out at only 5 megabytes.


The problem with eight inch diskettes today is not so much the disk capacity, or even obtaining blank media (it’s still surprisingly easy to find inexpensive media thanks to IBM’s support of the format long after the microcomputer industry had moved on). The issue is how to get new data on one of these beasts in this day and age.

Some back story is in order. One of my recent Craigslist fueled acquisitions was an absolutely beautiful TRS-80 Model II with all the trimmings. The Model II is a very rare backplane based Z-80 system in the spirit of the S-100 style machines - separate cards for disk control, CPU, video, etc. situated on a “dumb” backplane coupled to a eight inch diskette drive.

The “trimmings” I mentioned included everything from original media, manuals, cables, books - even an unopened box of original TRS-80 Model II diskettes still in their shrink wrap! Despite the glory of the haul (all for $20), I soon ran into a rather large issue.

The problem became apparent as I tried to boot the system from the original TRSDOS floppy. After several unsuccessful attempts, I discovered that the magnetic coating of the diskette was literally wearing away where the read heads had touched it. You can clearly see the ring patterns in the shot below.


Of course at this point I cleaned the drive heads, but it seems this phenomenon is more due to the age of the media than any abrasive residue left on the heads themselves.

Afterwards, I found a backup TRSDOS floppy in the morass of diskettes that came with the machine which did boot successfully. No problem - simply copy the working TRSDOS diskette to a fresh blank, right? Unfortunately, no - for some reason, even though the diskette seems to boot and operate just peachy, it won’t copy; errors out with a message that the boot sector can’t be read. It too is probably on its last leg, and I’m reluctant to use it much considering the same fate could easily befall it. The Model II is useless without a bootable OS diskette - it has nothing in ROM to fall back on.


Now we get into the nitty gritty. There is a way to get fresh TRSDOS floppies, even a newer version than the one I have now. Also, a CP/M by Pickles & Trout is readily available. The catch? The software is only available on disk images that must be downloaded and written out to eight inch disks via a PC using MS-DOS. Yuck.


I did put out some feelers to see if I could locate someone who had already assembled such a system, maybe to create media for S-100 systems (or even a Model II). Unable to find any leads, I resigned myself to assembling my own imaging system.

Some of the first parts have begun to trickle in. I picked up a couple new boxes of eight inch floppies off eBay for $15 per box of ten. I also purchased a throughly nifty eight inch drive adapter card from D-Bit that should make hooking up an eight inch drive to a PC a much easier task. Oh, and I bought a Shugart 801 diskette drive similar to the one found stock in the Model II.


What remains is to locate a PC with a compatible floppy controller chipset to do the grunt work and some sort of external chassis or power source for the eight inch diskette drive. As I work through these remaining issues I’ll post updates on them. Should be fun, and hopefully once this is all up and working I’ll be able to offer pre-made floppies to others so they won’t necessarily have to go through the same pain themselves.

And now I’m off on vacation for a week to take a break from the grind at work, so blog posting will most likely halt for a bit. Until then, happy computing!

Osborne 1

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Over the past few days I’ve picked up a couple “new” machines - an Atari 1040ST in perfect condition with all manner of software and accessories (more on that one as I explore further - lots of things to look at) and just this evening, an Osborne 1.


I picked up the Osborne in Morgan Hill form a Craigslist seller with the understanding that the floppy drives weren’t working. After my recent experience with the TRS-80 Model III I figured it could just be a power supply. Since the machine seemed to power up okay otherwise I wasn’t too worried - whatever it was would most likely be an easy repair.

Once I got the machine home and started troubleshooting, I discovered a stuck key was blocking it from booting - it won’t perform a disk seek unless you hit ‘enter’. This also explained why the screen would flash a few times after power up - the stuck key was forcing screen redraws until the keyboard buffer filled up. Exercising the keys a bit cleared the stuck key and everything now checks out. I also took the opportunity to fully disassemble the unit and “de-bunny” it as Dr. Dave would say.

The machine also came with a small collection of diskettes in the right-hand storage compartment, including copies of Osborne’s CP/M and WordStar.

All in all it seems like a pretty cool machine, though the display is impossibly tiny - I imagine quite a few Osborne fans opted for an external display when portability wasn’t a concern. After using it for a bit I feel Kaypro certainly had the advantage on the suitcase form factor with a useable screen size.


SGI Cube Demo Reloaded

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Martin Steen has posted an update of his cube demo with several added features, including command line options to control the axis of rotation, custom image maps and windowed mode - there’s even a new “cow mode”!


More info and discussion can be found in this forum thread.

Nekoware Software Roundup

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Though a lot of Nekoware updates of late have been of the maintenance/update variety, emachine has been busy over the past couple months porting some new and unique Nekoware packages.

First up is Icarus Verilog, a hardware description language for modeling electronic systems. This package can be found in Nekoware as neko_iverilog on your favorite mirror site, and further information and discussion can be found in this thread.

Next is Bochs 2.3.7, an x86 system emulator capable of running operating systems such as FreeDOS or Linux. The pacakge can be found in Nekoware as neko_bochs-2.3.7. For further discussion and information, see this forum thread.

Now on to a bit of fun - SuperTuxKart 0.5, a 3D cart racing game. I tried this out on my Onyx2 not long ago and it ran nicely and was a lot of fun, though I seemed to spend most of my time off road, no doubt due to my amazing skill. The game can be found in Nekoware as neko_supertuxkart-0.5 and the thread with further info and discussion is here.


Finally we have KEGS - Kent’s Emulated GS - an emulator for the Apple IIgs. This is another fun program that lets you run the gamut of Apple II software. Certainly worth checking out if you’re a retro computing fan. This package can be found in Nekoware as neko_kegs-0.91 and further discussion/info can be found here.


Thanks go out again to emachine for creating these packages - be sure to check them out and say some nice things in the linked forum threads.

Wanted to point out that edefault has purchased another set of PMC RM7000C-600T CPUs and is gearing up for another run of 600MHz O2 modules. You’ll need to supply your own RM5271 module for the conversion.

More info can be found in this thread.

I’ve one of edefault’s conversions in my clear cased O2 and I couldn’t be happier with it. The image below is of my own board - the “blue wire” mentioned in the thread can be seen on the module toward the bottom.


ROM Upgrades

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One of the projects I’m working on as funds and time permit is the restoration of a Neo Geo arcade cabinet.

An upgrade I performed not long ago was the installation of a Universe BIOS ROM. This handy little upgrade enables all manner of cool features on the Neo Geo hardware and is really something no Neo Geo enthusiast should be without; if you already have an EEPROM programmer it’s even a free download. Not having such I beast myself, I opted for the pre-made chip.


The chip arrived on the same day as a new Kickstart ROM for my Amiga 2000 (though from a different source), so it became quite the chip swapping event!



Next on the agenda is to install new joysticks and buttons as the ones I have now are pretty worn (they work, but they’re a bit sloppy). For sticks I’m thinking Sanwa JLF-TP-8T or JLW-UM-8; still undecided on whether to go with bat or ball style handles. Undecided on the buttons too, though the Seimitsu PS-14-KN looks interesting.

As always, more to come!

SGI Cube Demo and Die Planeten

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Martin Steen from the Nekochan forums has created a couple of new IRIX applications to check out.

The first is a demo featuring the classic SGI cube. It’s pretty nifty - gave it a spin (literally) on my Onyx2 last evening. More information - including the download link - is available on his forum post.


Next up is Die Planeten, a solar system viewer which allows you to explore the various planets and moons in 3D. It’s a very impressive application and well worth the download. You can find out more about it in Martin’s post.


Of Floods and Tritorn Final


As retro machines get older, preserving software becomes more important as the media isn’t often as long lived as the machines themselves. Diskettes can be destroyed by ordinary wear and tear, the environment they’re stored in, and even extreme weather such as hurricanes or floods. But sometimes not all hope is lost. Today we’re going to look at reviving flood damaged diskettes.


I’ve gradually been collecting “new” software for my Sharp X68000 XVI; it’s usually fairly difficult to find titles on these shores - most things need be imported directly from sellers in Japan. Earlier this year I found a series of auctions for X68000 software in the United States that had been in a basement flood and were being sold as non-working scrap for pennies.

I bought a few of these packages, and in most cases the water hadn’t made it into the sturdy plastic boxes that most X68000 software ships in, so only the paper slipcover inserts looked a little ratty. One title was throughly damaged though - Tritorn Final.

The game packages had been stored in boxes with biodegradable packing peanuts made of starch. When these peanuts get wet, they break down and become a sort of goo that gets into everything. The Tritorn disks, though dry when I received them, were completely fused in their jackets due to the starch.

I now wish I’d taken a few photos of the actual process - just didn’t think it of it at the time - but the first step was to get the diskettes wet again so they could be separated from their jackets without damaging them further. After a soaking in water, I used an Xacto knife to cut the welds at the top of the disk jacket, and while wearing gloves, carefully removed the inner mylar disks. Next, I throughly rinsed and placed the mylar disks on a clean, lint free micro fiber towel. Another micro fiber towel was placed on top to guard against contamination.

Once the mylar innards were removed, the disk jackets were throughly rinsed, then stuffed with bubble wrap to prevent the inner padded lining from bonding together while drying.


After everything was completely dry, I reassembled the diskettes, sealing the top seam with small drops of cyanoacrylate near the locations of the original welds. I also wound up placing tape across the seam as they were getting stuck in the disk drive.


The result of all this pain was a working copy of Tritorn Final as seen in the attached images. At this point if you have means, duplicate the diskettes onto fresh blanks. Unfortunately, some titles are copy protected which can often make this difficult.




This is a really cool hack courtesy of deBug on the Nekochan forum.


I’d attempt it myself but I’m afraid I’d wind up with two broken mice when all was said and done. Looks great though and I certainly prefer optical mice whenever possible.

(Note: I’d originally posted this in the forum, but it’s probably better suited as a retro computing blog entry. I may have one of two more like this I’ll bring over before we get into some of the newer stuff.)


One evening toward the end of June I ordered a veggie pizza and buckled in for some fun installing Apple III Pascal on my newly acquired ProFile drive. It was kind of an interesting process, so I figured I’d share it here.

The following is based on an OCR’d scan I did of the relevant entry in the ProFile documentation:

The Pascal Language System

Adding Pascal to Profile Drive

The following information is intended for those persons whose programming requirements are primarily based on the Pascal language system. The files making up the Apple /// Pascal System are supplied on three diskettes identified as PASCAL1, PASCAL2, and PASCAL3. The following table lists the system files found on each diskette.







To eliminate the inconvenience of having to repeatedly swap the Pascal diskettes to access the different files, you can transfer the files from the Pascal diskettes to your ProFile drive as follows:

Note: The Pascal system must be booted with your boot diskette in the built-in drive. You will find it easier and more convenient to perform the other steps of this procedure if you have an external drive such as a Disk III, or a Disk II for Apple ///, attached to your Apple ///. If you do not have an external drive, all of the steps can be performed on your built-in drive, but the operation will require more frequent exchanges of diskettes.

  1. Make copies of PASCAL1, PASCAL2, and PASCAL3 using the Apple /// Utilities diskette.

  2. Use the Disk Format Utility on the Apple ///’s Utilities diskette to format a new diskette called PROFILEPASCAL.

  3. Use the Systems Configuration Program (SCP) on the Apple ///’s Utilities diskette to add the .PROFILE driver from the ProFile device driver diskette to the SOS.DRIVER file of the PASCAL1 diskette as described in Chapter 3. Write the combined driver file onto the PROFILEPASCAL diskette as /PROFILEPASCAL/SOS.DRIVER. (It is necessary to write the file onto the PROFILEPASCAL diskette because there is not enough space on the PASCAL1 diskette.)

  4. Place the copy of PASCAL1 you made in step 1 into the Apple ///’s built-in drive and boot the Pascal system.

  5. Enter the Pascal Filer and perform the following transfer commands to transfer files from the PASCAL1 diskette to the PROFlLEPASCAL diskette:





  1. Remove the PASCAL1 diskette from the built-in drive and insert the PASCAL3 diskette.

  2. Enter the Pascal Filer and perform the following transfer.


  1. Remove PASCAL3 from the built-in drive, insert your PROFILEPASCAL diskette, and reboot the Pascal system.

  2. Place the PASCAL1 diskette in an external drive.

  3. Enter the Pascal Filer and transfer the SYSTEM.FILER from the PASCAL1 diskette to your ProFile disk drive using the following transfer commands:


  1. Quit from the Filer.

  2. Remove the PASCAL1 diskette from the external drive.

  3. Enter the Filer — this will execute the copy of the Filer which you just recorded on ProFile.

  4. Place the PASCAL2 diskette into the external drive and use the following Filer Transfer command to copy all of the PASCAL2 files onto the ProFile drive:


  1. Place the PASCAL3 diskette into the external drive and use the following Filer Transfer command to copy all of the PASCAL3 files onto the ProFile drive:


After completing the above steps, your ProFile drive will contain all of the necessary Pascal files, and PROFILEPASCAL will be the only diskette you need to boot the Pascal language system. This results in the following advantages to a Pascal user:

• faster program initiation

• minimum ProFile storage space is needed (approximately 175 kilobytes)

• convenience

• less shuffling of diskettes.

Detailed information on the Apple /// Pascal system can be found in the following three manuals:

Apple /// Pascal: Introduction, Filer, and Editor Apple /// Pascal: Program Preparation Tools Apple /// Pascal: Programmer’s Manual (Volumes 1 and 2)

Whew! It does work perfectly if you follow the instructions to the letter, but we definitely have come a long way in ease of installation. It’s just amazing how much complexity a presumably novice computer user was expected to perform 25 years ago.



Power to the TRS-80 Model III

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A couple weeks ago I picked up a nice condition TRS-80 Model III from a fellow in Antioch via a Craigslist ad. The seller was also the original owner and had used the machine in high school. That’s usually a good thing to hear when picking up retro machines as they tend to be in better than average condition and often have more accessories such as documentation and software.


When I arrived he had the machine set up on a workbench in his garage. A prompt, “Cass?”, was on the display. Everything seemed to be in order, so I gave him his cash and loaded the machine, a couple manuals and a nondescript box of diskettes into my car.

When I got home I ran into a couple minor disappointments. For one, the box of diskettes was actually old MS-DOS software from the late eighties/early nineties. The other was that the “Cass?” prompt was due to the internal disk drives not being recognized - it was in fact prompting for a cassette. Indeed, no power seemed to be getting to the drives at all.

I confirmed this by checking for power on the floppy drive molex connector and traced it back from there to the 35 watt ancillary power supply that runs the floppy logic and drives.

My first thought was to simply recap the supply and go from there, but as luck would have it, I found a vendor on eBay (computernews80) that had new “old stock” 35 watt power supplies suitable for use in both the Model III and Model 4 at a reasonable price. While I was at it, I ordered a few additional items from the same seller - TRSDOS 1.3, LDOS 5.3.1 and LSDOS Systems Utilities/File Utilities.

Shortly after ordering those goodies, I discovered a couple TRS-80 web sites of interest. The first, and perhaps most important to those without the means to create floppies from disk images, is Ira Goldklang’s TRS-80 site. He offers a service where you can send in a donation and receive premade floppies of several TRS-80 operating systems. I was graciously provided diskettes for DOSPLUS 3.5, MULTIDOS 1.6, MULTIDOS 4.01, NEWDOS/80 2.0 and Super Utility 3.2. He also provided a couple additional diskettes with some nifty games software.

The diskettes from both sources and power supply all arrived on the same day. After a quick removal and replacement operation, I fired up the Model III and the drives sprang to life!


I was a little concerned at first as the Model III apparently doesn’t display an on-screen message if it can’t find a bootable diskette - it just sits there, screen completely blank. After inserting a bootable diskette into the drive and pressing the reset button, I was in business.

Below is a photo of the failed power supply - after removal it was pretty obvious that one of the capacitors is a little burnt. There’s no residual odor so I’m guessing the damage didn’t occur recently. I’m planning on recapping the supply and keeping it around as a spare.


One interesting thing about this particular Model III is that both floppy drives are in a single bay, leaving the top floppy bay free for something else. Free for exactly what, I’m uncertain - but hey, it can’t be a bad thing!

The games that Ira sent along are actually quite good; I haven’t played them all yet, but the ones I tried were fun, simple arcade games in the spirit of Space Invaders.

It should be noted that if you do have the means to create physical floppies from disk images, there are several websites that offer all of the operating systems I noted above - and more - in downloadable disk image format. This requires a PC with a compatible floppy controller and disk drive. I myself don’t currently have such a machine, though it’s becoming evident that I’ll need to put something together, particularly if I hope to get my Model II up to snuff. It craves Pickles & Trout. (The Model II itself is another story I’ll relate in a future entry).

Some sites offering disk images for the Model III:

Timm Mann’s TRS-80 Pages - Offers an incredible amount of technical software including LDOS, compilers, assemblers, utilities, etc. All of Misosys’ catalog has been released to the public, and there are a lot of awesome things in there I’d love to try out.

System 80 - More interesting things from games to word processing.

Dave’s Old Computers - Disk images for various vintage machines, including the Model III.

  • Note: If you do need to get back to the “Cass?” prompt (to use the built-in ROM BASIC for instance), just hold down the BREAK key while hitting reset.


Of TransWarp and Loose Oscillators


I had some (unexpected) fun installing an Applied Engineering TransWarp GS card in my Apple IIgs.

I bought the card on eBay after searching for a few months - most TransWarp GS cards were going for amazing amounts of cash. Fortunately I lucked out and got a hold of a semi-reasonably priced “Buy-It-Now” auction before the hordes descended and bid it into the stratosphere.

The card arrived late last week, and I eagerly unpacked it and took a photo for posterity:


I was pleased to note it wasn’t simply a stock card, but had in fact been upgraded with new parts (presumably) from ReactiveMicro - a 32K cache board, high-speed GAL set, etc. Of course, despite noticing the shiny upgrades, I failed to notice an oscillator was missing from its socket.

After repeated attempts to get the card working met with utter failure, I was stumped. Could it be the upgrades had essentially tailored it to the system it was removed from? Was my machine pickier about timing? After perusing the ReactiveMicro site some more, I noticed all the various oscillator speeds they offered. Then it hit me - where’s mine?

I shook the anti-static bag the card had shipped in* and out fell a mangled ECS-2100 35MHz oscillator, its four legs hopelessly crumpled. My attempts to straighten them only led to one breaking clean off.


After an order to DigiKey and a few days, the replacement 35Mhz oscillator arrived in a ridiculously oversized box filled with copious amounts of packing material. While installing the new part, I made certain to securely fasten it to its socket via a small tie-strap.


I reinstalled the card in the machine, now nervous that the repeated removal and replacement of the CPU may have caused excessive socket wear. After flipping the power switch once again, I was greeted with a cool warp sound effect and animated high-res graphics title screen. The card lives!

With all that aside, it’s a really nice card - the speed boost is noticeable just tooling around in the Finder. My next goal for the system is to outfit it with a compact flash “hard drive” card, either by ReactiveMicro or R&D Automation. I’d considered simply going with a Apple High-Speed SCSI card, but they tend to go for a lot of cash (about the same as a CF solution).

Once I have a mass storage solution in place I can finally install System 6.0.1 and have some fun :)

  • (You can actually see the oscillator still in the anti-static bag in the card photo above - it’s right below the ribbon cable!)

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