Project Commodore: 8-bit Insanity!

Discussion in 'Project Depot' started by Mossman, Jan 9, 2020.

  1. Mossman

    Mossman Well-Known Member

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    A couple of weeks ago, some of you might remember that I put out a call on the forum to anyone who might have an old C64 collecting dust in their attic or garage (or maybe their parent's house), that I might be able to purchase, as I had recently become interested in retro-computing after stumbling upon a rather large and active community of 8 and 16-bit computer enthusiasts who are doing truly impressive things with the C64 in music and graphics. There's also a cottage industry of of third-party hardware manufacturers and software developers for these "vintage" machines that add modern capabilities and emulate hard to find peripherals. The response, and show of interest in that thread was much greater than I ever expected, so I thought I'd post a thread detailing the assembly of the system, the work-arounds, and most of all... the MODS!

    Big props go out to @uwmcscott and @jimytheassassin for answering the call and offering to check with their folks (even if it was a bust, I appreciate it!), but as luck would have it, I happened to come across a fully restored C64 on ebay for a good price ($163 shipped) that according to the description had had full testing and diagnostics done with all failing components and RAM chips replaced. It had also been recapped (which is something you have to do on these old machines), so that saves me some work. The keyboard had also been disassembled and cleaned, and it looked like it was new.

    I was surprised to see that it was not on auction, but a BIN. Most of the working machines you see on ebay are auctions, while the BINs are usually: "untested" or: "as-is" (which is a clever code for: "broken"), while others are working, but have missing keys or broken cases. You do see working ones in good shape pop up now an then on BIN, but they evaporate pretty quickly.

    I was actually spoiled for choice at the time, because there were two others available on BIN for around the same price. One of them had a hardware upgrade (JiffyDOS), and the other was just a garden variety C64 in good working condition. I had a good feeling about the restored one, and the seller was just south of Los Angeles (cheaper shipping) so I snagged it. It was supposed to be here on Friday, but I got it Yesterday!

    I will have to build a power supply, and the parts for that won't arrive until tomorrow, but in the meantime, let us bask in its austere beauty.

    new c64.jpg

    Looks almost new, except for a few minor scuff and scratches. No discoloring of the plastic.

    I wanted to see how honest the seller was about the restoration, so I cracked it open.

    full board.jpg

    Looks very clean inside. All caps look shiny and new.

    A lot of these RAM chips look new, or rather NOS:

    ram farm.jpg

    Connectors look clean, though a little worn:

    rear ports.jpg

    But here's the star of the show for me. The mighty SID chip:

    mighty mos.jpg

    I have one of these pcbs on the way so I can run dual SIDs for 6 voice polyphony!

    sid02.png

    With MIDI and tons of workstation capability!

    mssiah_cartridge.png

    I just have to find another SID chip.

    I also have to decide what I'm going to use for media. I decided against the expense and trouble of rolling with a 1541 disk drive. While that would complete the C64 "experience" for me, it's just impractical. I mean, where am I going to be getting stuff on 5.25" floppies, anyway?

    I was originally thinking of buying this SD2IEC card reader:

    SD2IEC.jpg

    And a modern, tricked out Fast Load cartridge:

    fast load.jpg

    Or, I might use a Raspberry Pi as a 1541 emulator. The Pi would cost about the same as the SD2IEC, but it would be more work to set up and get working. On the other hand, it would be a complete emulation of a 1541 drive, and therefore be 100% compatible with all software. The SD2IEC is not a full emulation, and if the software calls for specific routines on the 1541 that it can't emulate, then the program will crash.

    I don't know how big an issue that is, or how commonly it occurs. I need to do some more research into that...

    I also need to drill down on a monitor solution, but I can use my TV until I find something.

    It'll probably take a while for the MIDI cartridge and dual SID card to get here. That's coming from Poland. Most of the stuff for the C64 and Amiga comes out of Europe.

    But in the meantime, I'm kinda psyched!

    Oh yeah... Diagnostics from the seller:

    diagnostic.jpg
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2020
  2. Mossman

    Mossman Well-Known Member

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    Nostalgia nerd bump.
     
  3. AnotherJim

    AnotherJim Well-Known Member

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    Some of you guys here just amaze me. Awesome! Even though I have no aptitude for this, I am interested in the journey. Plus I really dig making older things really useful and relevant!
     

  4. Mickey

    Mickey Gandalf the Intonationer

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    EGADS! What an idiot!
    My kind of guy! :)
    T'is funny how much more powerful the Pi is than the C64, yet these days we are happy to sacrifice the master to the slave.
    Good luck and do keep us in the loop!
     
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  5. rrobbone

    rrobbone Well-Known Member

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    I can relate about the retro aspect. I've taken a liking to building cabinets of all shapes and sizes and stuffing them with retro video games. It's too cold to build outside right now, so I've been dabbling in the handheld aspect of that hobby. I bought and set up a small device that runs any game ROM up to and including PS1. It holds a storeful of games in a device 3" x 5". If ten year old me had seen that thing back then, his head would've exploded.

    I have a couple soft synth emulations of the infamous SID chip. Cool little piece of tech, even today. That'll be fun to dive into.

    Play some Last Ninja 2 for me!
     
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  6. Zipslack

    Zipslack Well-Known Member

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    Skip the drive...go for the Datasette!
     
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  7. Mossman

    Mossman Well-Known Member

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    Everything that's old is new again... :) This kinda reminds me of when I was in my late teens and twenties. A lot of the stuff that I owned and used back then had been "broken" at one point, or simply discarded because of some minor problem. I would gladly accept my friends' non-functioning electronics, or pick stuff up left out for the garbage man. I've done a fair amount of dumpster diving too... It's amazing what people throw away. I had multiple VCRs, CD players, TVs, monitors, old computers. I even had a dual, side-by-side 8.5" floppy drive unit in a wooden cabinet, that I found in a dumpster behind the office building where I worked. The thing was ENORMOUS, and the computer it went with (I assumed) was the same size, so I stacked them on top of each other (drive on top) and used them as an end-table... Put my dot-matrix printer on top of it. :)

    Yeah, I thought the same thing. In emulation, I could flawlessly run a C64, Amiga, AtariST or any other vintage computer you care to name on a Pi, but it wouldn't be the same, and I couldn't do any of the harware hacks I have in mind, so yeah, the dog walks the human.

    Yeah, I think I recall following one of your arcade game build threads a while back. I was digging that. But I think there was a lull in the thread, or something, and I guess slipped my mind... I assume it's finished by now?

    I thought the same thing when I first saw people emulating all these games on a Pi. Just think of the home consoles we could have had as kids if the Pi was around in the '70s or '80s... It sure makes an Atari 2600 look like a frickin' yo-yo, and it would be less than half its size.

    Speaking of which, I saw a video on YouTube recently by a guy who made a hand-held version of the Atari 2600. I don't remember what he used (I've been watching a LOT of retro-tech videos these last few weeks), and I think I heard about a C64 hand-held too. Are you doing a thread about your build?

    Yeah, it's a real, analog synth chip... Not just a frequency generator. It's gotten pretty popular among electronic musicians lately... So much so, that people are complaining that too many C64s are getting cannibalized for the SID chip, with the remains being sold for parts, or just thrown away. There is an alternative, though. There's a third-party manufacturer that makes both versions of the SID that Commodore made (called: "SwinSID"). People say that they're not quite the same as the original chips (I guess there are Commodore purists now), but used and NOS SIDs sell for anywhere between 50 and 100 dollars. A SwinSID costs $25. Apparently, there have been some commercial modular synths on the market that are built around a pair of SwinSID chips.
     
  8. Mossman

    Mossman Well-Known Member

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    Haha! I'm not getting any younger, ya know.

    Even if I use an SD2IEC or Pi emulation, I'll STILL have to use a Fast Load cartridge!
     
  9. rrobbone

    rrobbone Well-Known Member

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    Oh yeah, It's done. I built it for last Xmas. I enjoy it, but the kiddos have moved on. Neither one of them is much of a gamer these days. I'm the one with the unkickable habit. I'm going to build myself a small one or two player cab to keep in my office this summer - simply for the pleasure of building it.

    The little unit I'm talking about does all that. It'll run a emulator for almost anything PS1 and older. The coders who tackle this stuff are nothing if not thorough.

    No current arcade builds going. Just Neckbolt builds, and I don't really post here about those anymore.

    I've seen a few of those, hardware just doesn't work for me. No room, no cash for it. Softsynths do just fine, and can usually get a little crazier than hardware.
     
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  10. fullonshred

    fullonshred Well-Known Member

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    Even though I lack the skills and/or desire to learn to do this old tech stuff, I always enjoy following the threads of those who do them.
     
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  11. andrewsrea

    andrewsrea Well-Known Member

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  12. Mossman

    Mossman Well-Known Member

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    No, I meant the hand-held project.

    Yeah, I just have a MIDI keyboard, using an ipad as a synth engine, mostly. I can plug into a laptop too, but there are so many great synth apps for the ipad it's crazy. And that's just the free ones... But I still find myself looking at small hardware synths, like the IK Uno, or one of the Korg Volcas. Even Behringer has been getting a lot of buzz for their line of modular synths lately. They're all pretty cheap too ($150-$200), so it's tempting. But I haven't even scratched the surface with software synths yet.
     
  13. Mossman

    Mossman Well-Known Member

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    Pac-Man?? Puh-leeze.... The C64's got way better games than Pac-Man... That's kid stuff! :D
     
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  14. rrobbone

    rrobbone Well-Known Member

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    I see. It's not a build, it's a bought. Looks like thus:

    rg350.jpg

    There's some setup involved. The one I bought had games on it already, but I had to get a few more emulators up and running before I could put what I wanted on it.
     
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  15. tlarson58

    tlarson58 Well-Known Member

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    Fantastic thread! I look forward to your updates.

    If you're interested, Stuff you should know did an excellent podcast called "Is E.T. the worst video game ever made?" It has a lot of cool retro stuff in it.

    'Loves me some SYSK.
     
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  16. Mossman

    Mossman Well-Known Member

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    Ok, I've been kinda quiet lately because I've been continuing my deep dive into the world of retro-computing and synths while I've been waiting for parts and cables to arrive. I swear I've learned more about the C64 in the last couple of weeks than I ever did when I was using it as my main computer... and more about synths than when I was an actual, gigging keyboard player!

    I've learned a lot of interesting things... For example; did you know that the SID chip has an audio INPUT pin? I didn't know that. I also didn't know that it's been accessible this whole time through pin 5 of the A/V port on the C64!

    You know what this means, don't you?

    SAMPLING!

    "But Moss, surely you can't be serious", I hear you say, "Any sampling you could do on an 8-bit computer would certainly sound like unmitigated dog vomit!"

    Wanna bet?





    More info here: https://brokenbytes.blogspot.com/2018/03/a-48khz-digital-music-player-for.html

    I wonder how long of a sample you can get if you drop the frequency to 44.1 khz (CD sample rate)? I'll bet you could drop it to 35Khz and get a longer sample with little noise. Still, 90 seconds is way more than you need for the purpose of synthesis... Just imagine an original song with REAL sounding instruments coming out of a Commodore 64!

    Now I got very excited about this... I was already planning to build a cable for video and audio output from the A/V jack to S-Video and RCA audio respectively, but when I found out about the pin-5 SID input, I knew this was going to become an even more awkward cable! I was starting to wonder if I could by-pass the AV jack altogether and just hard-wire everything straight out of the C64 when I came across this beauty:

    AV breakout.png

    It plugs into the AV port and has composite and S-Video out, an RCA input to the SID, and stereo output if you have 2 SIDs installed... Which I will... This arrived last week:

    SID 2.jpg

    Finding a monitor that will work with this computer was a little harder than I expected it to be. Old monitors with S-video are not as easy to find as I had assumed, and it was looking like my best option was to get a converter and use a monitor with a VGA or HDMI connector (I've got a stack of them at work), but my research indicates that's a gamble. While all the cheap ($15-$20) converters on Amazon may look identical (with different branding), they can have different chip sets, so some people say they work great, while others throw them in the trash. The only other alternative after that (besides buying an old CRT monitor) is an upscaler, and the last one I looked at cost $400 (no freakin' way).

    I did find an old monitor with S-video input from the early '00s on Goodwill's auction site for the princely sum of $9.99 plus shipping (which was like $14), but I've got my fingers crossed. When I went to copy the photo from the listing, I happened to notice it was listed as "untested". I didn't notice that when I bought it (I guess I was just excited that it had S-video). On ebay, "untested" usually means "broken", so I guess we'll find out when it gets here.

    monitor.jpg

    For a drive, I decided to go with a Raspberry Pi Zero with a Pi1541 emulator HAT instead of the SD2IEC, due to greater compatibility and sheer cheepness.

    Pi-Zero-WH__94402.1546973888.jpg
    1541 emulator.jpg


    The Pi1541 does such a great job of emulating a real 1541 disk drive that it loads slow as molasses, just like the real thing! (it's still going through a serial connector). So a Fast Load cartridge is just as necessary today as it was 100 years ago... Many of these contemporary after-market products for the C64 come from across the water, so I won't have this until early February.

    fastload grey.png

    I also ordered a PS/2 mouse adapter and a cheep, generic mouse from Amazon. No, a mouse wasn't commonly used on a C64, but some software (like the editing programs that come with the MIDI interface) work better with a mouse. Commodore came out with a mouse (1351) for the C64 very late in the machine's lifespan as kind of an after-thought, but they're hard to find and cost way more than what you want to pay when you find one, so I'll have one of these sticking out of my joystick port:

    mouse adapt.jpg

    I was going to build the power supply this weekend, but then I realized the case I got to contain it was a little too small... Or I should say, one of the components was a little bigger than I expected it to be, so I'm going to have to wait until Tuesday for the new box.

    I also bought a joystick... It's been over 20 since the last time I bought a joystick! Of course, I had to buy an old one:

    epyx 500xj.jpg
     

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    Last edited: Jan 19, 2020
  17. Mossman

    Mossman Well-Known Member

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    I came across this video of the hand-held Atari 2600 build and thought you might be interested in seeing it:

     
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  18. littlebadboy

    littlebadboy Well-Known Member

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    Commodore 128 for sale!
     
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  19. bleys21

    bleys21 Well-Known Member

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    This is cool, and bringing back even more memories of my C64 days. I remember needing the Epyx Fastload cartridge, as the 1541 was horribly slow. So, does the flash emulator make the funny knocking noises that the 1541 read/write head did when accessing the disks? Lol
     
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  20. Mossman

    Mossman Well-Known Member

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    Yeah, it does... and the grinding, and the whirring, apparently. :)
     

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