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5Sep/200

Philips CDI 450 – Laser Replacement

The Philips CD-i (Compact Disc-Interactive) brand/tech was released back in 1990 to add a level of interactivity to CD-ROM based entertainment. Philips, from 1990 through to 1998, produced and released multiple devices for both the home and educational markets based on this technology. One of those models was the CDI 450 and I just happened to stumble across one a long time back at a Belgian flea market. It's been in a box for quite a while and I've only just gotten around to looking at it... The driving factors were: #1 COVID lockdown is driving me crazy and #2 there's a version of The 7th Guest for this unit!

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The unit came with the power supply, a controller with it's face missing and, randomly, a game CD in the drive.

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The controller was obviously useless, so I went to GAME OVER? in Amsterdam and picked up the cheapest controller I could find.

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There's the standard rule of 'sunk cost' where you don't spend large amounts of money on something that could be dead. I then returned to Australia and the unit has been in the box since. Only recently did I turn it on...

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Cool! It works! My French is rusty, so I wanted to try and get other games working. No matter what I tried, the unit would not read CDRs. Every google search I tried lead me to believe that the laser was gone, or going, so I scoured eBay for a replacement. It turns out that searching for VAM-1201 will give you shops in China that have the exact 'new old stock' component that I needed! I ordered one, expecting it to take years, instead having it arrive in just under two weeks!

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Popping open the CDI was easy enough. There are four screws in the unit. Two are in the CD bay and two are in the 'optional module area' to the left. Open the CD lid and then remove the plastic shell to the left. It has two clips that need to be pushed in. Woah, what's this? My unit has the Digital Video Cartridge!

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With the screws out, you'll now find the RF shield in the way... remove this evenly, prying it up from each corner and making sure there are no wires in the way.

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Mine had a lovely amount of discolouration... maybe from the rain that was falling in the flea market in Belgium? Fortunately the motherboard looked pristine.

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The Laser aparatus consists of the laser unit and drive motor in a plastic housing, attached to a metal plate via rubber suspension joints. This whole component is held in place by the two screws from the main case and two plastic lugs along the top frame. Gently lift the whole lot, evenly pulling it up. The top two lugs are quite tight, to make sure to ease the unit vertically away from them until it's free. Once done, don't lift too high as you'll first need to disconnect the data ribbon cable and power cables underneath.

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Once done, you then need to remove the laser unit from the metal plate. It's held there by four rubber spacers. Note that these are old now, so be very gentle when sliding them out laterally from the slots in the laser housing. I managed to break one when doing so, but fortunately this didn't impact the ability of the unit.

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Once you've slotted the new laser on the housing, place it back into the main unit. This is as simple as lining up the lugs at the top, holding the unit at 45-degrees whilst doing so. Note that the wired cable might be longer than the original... just place the wires somewhere in the spacing to the bottom-right. Also make sure the wires don't get pinched when you place the RF shielding back in!

From here? We test...

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And the icing on the cake:

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A perfect game to test out the DVC! It worked very very nicely.

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1Sep/200

Atari 2600 Jr – Reset/Select Switch Repairs

I've recently come across an Atari 2600 Jrs with faulty select and reset buttons. Turns out that the mylar strip that conducts the button presses to the motherboard is toast. It doesn't conduct anything at all and I can't work out exactly where the break is.

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To test if the button area even works, you can insert wires as above and check for continuity. In this case, they did, so I considered the following options to repair them.

Silver Conductive Pen

This nearly worked, but I couldn't get the paste to set correctly. The pen is from Jaycar and the basic idea is to draw a line where you want the circuit and let it set. I drew some pretty bad lines on the plastic film, but my first attempt seems to have failed as I drew the tracks too thickly. The 'ink' only becomes conductive once it's totally dry and I'm blaming winter and the fact that I don't have an incandescent bulb in the house anymore.

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The next attempts were seemingly too thin. It also seems that you can't 'restart' a trace... the joint isn't conductive? Finally, the resistance seen down the track is totally erratic... but that may also be due to wet ink.

Threaded Wire

I punched a few holes in the mylar and threaded copper wire through. It was a little too stiff but, once in-place, seemed to work quite well! The main issue with this method is that, at either end of the plastic strip, adhering the wire to the conductive trace is difficult. Of course, at the motherboard end you can just jam the wires in the socket!

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At the button end, you need to slip it in under the top-layer of plastic. I didn't feel confident that I could keep a valid joint and therefore didn't pursue this technique.

Microswitches

Prior to opening and testing the methods above, I was always intending on just replacing whole plastic strip with microswitches. There's a nice plastic base behind the push buttons and one could easily drill in some switches. This would also give a nice tactile experience to what is (from the factory) a really awful and mushy button press.

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I went ahead and drilled holes slightly smaller than the switches. From here, I gouged out the rest of the required space as I wanted a tight fit. Of course, I was imagining things thinking that I tight fit would be enough to hold the switches in place... a hard button-press would probably send them into the case.

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Therefore I glued a strip of plastic (yeah, it's a cable-tie) along the back of the holes as a backing plate for the switches. This worked perfectly! I probably should've soldered the wiring first, but it was each enough once the switches were in position!

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Once it was all back together, it turns out that the buttons were pressed in 100% of the time. To fix this, I had to drill out a section of the plastic where the button meets the switch. This worked nicely. I then decided to remove the rubber as the press was being overly-softened by it. I'd recommend you test it both ways to see which feels the best... you can also try mounting the rubber on the actual case to make sure the alignment is correct.

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From here, I just soldered the wiring up to a standard pin-header which fit snugly into the socket on the motherboard.

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Testing began and the switches performed perfectly!

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9Jul/200

Atari Portfolio

This item popped up on eBay recently and I was very happy to have my offer accepted. The unit came even with a serial adapter! I quickly found 3 AA batteries and inserted them...

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The Atari Portfolio is an IBM-compatible 'Palm-top' PC from 1989. If you were paying attention whilst watching Terminator 2, then you would've noticed it was used to break into an ATM. You can even still download the software they used to fake the hack. The unit itself is just bigger than a VHS cassette, but the profile changes once you attach the serial port adapter.

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The unit is DOS 2.x compatible, with a few apps already built in. There's a text editor, spreadsheet, calendar and phone book. When I read that it had these features, I instinctively just typed edit on the command line when the unit first powered up. The response of Bad command or program not found came as a slight surprise, but then I thought that it must have another name as it's not official MS-DOS. I then tried ed, editor, nano, emacs, vim... all to no avail. It wasn't until I looked a little closer at the keyboard that I saw that 'Editor' was the Atari-text (the function that executes when the Atari button is held down) under the E key! Nice! It's actually multitasking?

Using the text editor

Just because I found this slightly harder-than-expected, here's a quick primer. The text editor is actually really cool and can be opened by pressing Atari+E. Use Fn-1 (aka. F1) to get to the File menu to start a new file, open a file, etc. F2 gives you a help menu and I seriously recommend that you go through the items in the list. There's a ton of shortcut keys that'll come in handy. F3 is the clipboard menu with options for copying and pasting. At any time, Escape will exit menus and even exit the app right back to the command prompt.

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Note, when opening files: if you don't know the file name then just type an asterisk and press enter to get a list of 'openable' files from the hard drive. For fun, I created a simple text file with a random sentence and saved it to C:\. This became useful when testing the serial port.

Note that, at any point in time, Fn + O will turn the unit off. Spacebar will wake it back up.

Initiating serial communications

My unit came totally blank, so I had to fumble my way through getting files transferred over to it. For those playing at home, what follows is the most-simple step-by-step process to get it up and running. These steps were borrowed and modified from Paul Rickard's blog post titled Atari Portfolio Serial Interface: How To Get Terminal Software.

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Firstly, we'll need a cable to connect your PC to the Atari. I happened to have a USB-Serial adapter that W10 was happy to use, so I plugged that in and grabbed the relevant converters to get from DB-9 to the DB-25 Null-Modem adapter that I had in the junk box.

Download and extract CoolTerm and get it up and running. Set the 10ms delay option and choose a low BAUD rate with no hardware controls.

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Power up the Atari and open Set Up via Atari+S. Configure the serial port to BAUD 300, leaving the other settings alone. Make sure you select Initialize! at the end. Next , open the Editor and type a sentence, saving the file to C:\. It'll default to unnamed.txt. With CoolTerm open and connected, type the following:

copy unnamed.txt com1

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If you're in luck, the file will have been spat out to the CoolTerm console. If not, then go over everything again... specifically making sure that your cabling is correct!

Transferring actual files

For those that have a valid connection, you can now try and transfer files. Using the DOS copy method above, I tried to copy files bigger than 1kb, but it always failed. Even with CoolTerms transmit delays, I couldn't successfully do it. This is probably the reason why Paul has used xload/xterm. So, the next step is to set up a proper terminal app on the Atari. To do this, you'll need to download both xload and xterm and extract them somewhere.

We'll first use the basic DOS copy command to get xload.com over. It's a tiny file that does the same as DOS copy, but has the ability to copy larger files. To get this over, type the following in the Atari, but don't hit enter:

copy com1 xload.com

Now, on CoolTerm, choose Connection -> Send Text/Binary File. Set the filter to all files and find xload.com. Select it, but don't hit Open just yet. You'll want to hit enter on the Atari, wait around 3 seconds and then hit Open on CoolTerm.

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The Atari wont flinch, but you'll hopefully have a transfer window in CoolTerm flash past (it doesn't stay open as the file is so small) and the file will be transferred. A few seconds later, DOS will drop you back to the prompt and you can list your files to see what copied over. If you have an xload.com with a size of 178 bytes, then you've succeeded. Type xload and see what happens. If it has failed, or it's the wrong size, then repeat the steps above until it works!

With xload now on your Portfolio, you can use CoolTerm once more to send the larger xterm.com file. xload will only ever copy serial bytes to a file called xterm.com, so don't try and use it for anything else. So, in CoolTerm, select to transfer a file and get ready to hit Open on xterm.com. On the Atari, type xload and press enter. Once you see the screen below, hit Open on CoolTerm. Note that at this point you have the option to switch the BAUD on both units to 1200... I left it at 300 for safety-sake.

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After a successful copy, you should have xterm.com in your C:\ at a ginormous size of 1984 bytes. Type xterm and hit enter... crossing your fingers at the same time.

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Nice... trashed binary. I re-did everything again and sent exactly the same... maybe I left it a second longer between hitting enter on xload and choosing Open on CoolTerm...

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Yessss! We have a terminal application. xterm on the Atari supports XModem file transfers, but I couldn't work out how to do this with CoolTerm. I was on Windows 10 and managed to find two applications that can do XModem: Hyper Terminal and ExtraPuTTY. For fun... we'll use the former:

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Hah. It still runs on W10... so ugly. It'll throw crappy errors at the start, telling you that you need a modem installed... just ignore/skip/cancel where appropriate.

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Configure your serial port exactly as you'd done in CoolTerm, turning off any flow control. You can then open xterm on the Atari, choose F2 and send the files from Hypertrm via XModem.

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If it's working, then you'll see the dots across the screen... if you don't send via XModem, then the guts of the file will be printed out to the Atari and shit will get weird!

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Transferred and executable!

Games and other software

Most Atari Portfolio software is compressed as LZH. 7-Zip had trouble with most of the files I downloaded, so I had to grab an archiver and do the extraction on the unit. As that there's very little spare space on C:\, this became quite a shuffle. For example, there's a file called yankee.lzh which plays the Yankee Doodle Dandy tune. To decompress it, you'll need lzhe.com on the Atari as well. Transfer both files using xterm and then try and extract the files by running lzhe yankee.lzh. It'll fail on the last file as xterm + xload + lzhe + yankee.lzh + half of the extracted files take up the entire internal storage. To fix this, delete xterm as you don't need it anymore. Leave xload as it'll help when you need to bring xterm back. Inside the LZH file is ptune and it's documentation. The .doc file is actually useless to us, so delete it and then use the editor to create a file of the same name with 0 bytes in size. When you then try to extract the contents of Yankee again, it'll ask to overwrite, but just say no. Finally you'll have yankee.bat that, when executed, will play the tune (poorly) and present the lyrics...

All of this shuffling would be circumvented if I had a memory card in the left-hand slot!

Memory cards

Atari chose the Mitsubishi Bee Card as their memory card type. This card allowed sizes ranging from 32Kb to 128Kb. Any memory cards with larger sizes were 'banked' and required powering off, switching banks and rebooting. The Bee Card was also used in MSX and Korg/Roland music equipment, and so you'll find that there are a variety of options when trying to source cards. There are also home-brew multi-cards, such as this one, if you have the cash and if COVID won't stop your shipments.

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24Jun/200

Quantum Bigfoot 4320AT

I remember these drives... they became available around the time I had a Cyrix CPU and an S3 graphics card. We were not willing to cough up for a proper Pentium ~200mhz. Anyway, these were the budget drives also, making use of space instead of enhancing technology to fit more bytes in smaller places!

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The Quantum Bigfoot pictured above is the 4320AT model, meaning it's listed capacity is 4.3gb. Of course, partitions never manage to give a drive's entire space to the user, so a FAT32 partition via USB-IDE via Windows 10 formatted out to 4.03gb.

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This drive usually wouldn't even warrant a mention, but this model has a specifically interesting feature. It also seems quite rare, since googling didn't result in too many versions of this style of Bigfoot. Looking above, you'll see a transparent sticker over a window in the drive. It's actually a window that exposes the read heads! That's a really strong sticker... or so I hope, I haven't tried to remove it. Regardless, it lets you actually see the head has stopped when it's powered off... better yet, you can even watch it move when it's in operation!

Totally random! And amazing to watch!

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16Jun/200

Atari Controller Test Rig

Long-story-short, I've got a new night-job, bringing a large quantity of Atari-related paraphernalia back to life. I've done it before with the 2600 Jr, and I'm ready to do it again, and again, and again, with this batch.

First up is a box of gamepads and controllers. My initial plan was to get one of the Atari units in a known-state, and then test the controllers from there... but that could lead to issues if the console wasn't actually 100%. Instead, why not just rig up a DB-9 port to a simple 5v LED circuit to test each button?

Google will produce a crap-load of results for Atari Joystick Pinout, so find one of them and get started. I chose this one. It turns out the controllers are very straight forward... they just act as a conduit to ground. Pin 8 is the common ground wire and all buttons (directional-pad inclusive) just join their respective pin to this wire.

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The above rig was therefore constructed. Voltage is supplied from my desktop power supply and a miriad of LEDs were selected from the junk box. A selection of 48ohm resistors tie them all to the 5v rail. Their anodes all go to a respective pin on the controller port... starting with Up, Down, Left, Right, A, B from the left-most green LED. Of course, A and B are contentious, as the 2600 only utilises one fire button. Even better, the DB-9 socket also supports trigger, so that's the clear LED placed awkwardly on the left-hand side.

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First controller to be tested was an Atari gamepad and it instantly misbehaved. Upon opening it, I found that both A and B buttons were tied high with resistors.

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A little googlin' declares that these gamepads are actually for the Atari 7800, which supported two buttons. They've nicely made them backwards compatible though, allowing either button to be the standard button for the Atari 2600 jr. Regardless, those pull-up resistors meant that my A and B button LEDs were always dimly-lit!

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Upon pressing either button, their respective LED fully-lit, and so did the left-most trigger LED. This makes me think that trigger is the actual 'button' for the Atari 2600 Jr and A/B are for newer systems. Regardless, the unit still had an issue. For those keenly-observing the photos up until this point, you'll have guessed that the directional pad's right button was crapola. It worked sometimes... and then it worked all the time when you jiggled the cable at the entry-point to the controller. So, what to do? Truncate!

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Take a good length off, away from the game pad. Cable fractures, when entering casing/housing, are a very standard thing. Usually, very much like this unit, there's 'protection' inside the casing where the cable is held in-place to prevent it from being wrenched out and putting pressure on internal components. This 'protection' in this case is a zig-zag of pins to hold the cable in place without putting serious pressure on it.

For this unit, this 'protection' has done its job and kept the internals safe, but the cable has instead formed an issue directly after it exits the controller case. Here, thanks to humans like me, waving the controller around (rather than pressing the correct buttons), causes undue stress internally and ruptures the wires. In this case, it actually severed the wire that conducts a directional-right press.

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As above, strip the newly truncated cable and tin all ends. Once done, de-solder the original chunk of cable, re-soldering the newly cut ends in the same order. Make sure to keep the white bridging wire between both PCBs. Finally, run the cable through the zig-zag and hold it there for a bit to make sure it understands its new role. If you just place it and let go then the cable tends to want to return to it's standard straight-line form. It's actually tough for a thick cable to make those curves, but as mentioned above, it's for the sake of the guts of the contorller.

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Finally, test, test, test and test again! Ah... that GREEN RIGHT LED is beautiful.

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1Jun/200

Atari 2600 Jr – Recapping + Controllers + Composite

Another one of these little units came across my workbench. This time it was a full set with two joysticks and a lot of games... including a boxed version of Frogger! I'd played with one of these before in my previous-previous apartment, so it must be nearly 4 years ago that I met my first Atari. This one wasn't as clean-and-tidy as the previous version, but it still worked nicely.

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The first task was to upgrade the unit to composite output, so I jumped over to my previous post on the topic. I purchased all the components needed from Jaycar and, just before I was about to solder to the pins on the IC, realised that the actual mod instructions showed you where to solder. Not to the pins of the IC, but to the legs of the surrounding resistors.... the diagram is even colour-coded. I therefore also didn't have to scratch back a ground pad either!

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In no time, the composite signal was being sent out and my TV Tuner card was picking it up nicely. Whilst I was performing the mod, I noticed that the surrounding electrolytic capacitors weren't looking the cleanest, so I replaced those too. After another trip to Jaycar, purchasing 4x 4.7uf and 1x 2200uf (unfortunately they didn't stock double-ended!) capacitors, I went about removing the old ones and soldering in the new ones. Solder wick really works well here to clean the holes in the PCB prior installing the new capacitors. The positive pins are also nicely marked on the PCB.

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With everything replaced, there was no noticeable change in video quality or system stability, but neither were a problem to start with. This was more for longevity! I slapped in the multi-cart and tried Pitfall out. The Quickshot controller worked OK, but felt very sticky and the buttons weren't responding to each keypress... what to do? Pull it apart.

The board was not clean... so I grabbed some isopropyl wipes and gave it a good once-over. I also re-soldered the main A button wire as it had previously been compressed by the case and didn't look like it'd hold out much longer. With the unit back together, I could now jump on-command with the button on the base, but the trigger button up top wasn't overly responsive. The stick itself has three screws that hold it together, so I popped them out to have a look.

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Turns out the top button had been mashed to within an inch of its life and the previous players had actually punched a hole in the PCB, removing the trace that the button was meant to make contact with.

A little bit of solder was added, which caused a height increase of the pad. I was slightly concerned that this would mean the button could mis-fire, but the spring prevented that from occurring... instead it just meant the button didn't have to travel as far to make contact. I could now jump through Pitfall reliably! Mario Bros was also now a lot more fun!

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I suppose the final step now is to find a new ball for the top of this chewed-on stick!

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25May/200

Sega Mega Drive – Composite + Region-Free

On a total tagent from recent Amiga stuff, I found this in a box whilst I was moving house. I'd totally forgotten that I'd picked it up from a flea market prior to the Christmas Trip overseas.

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I grew up a Nintendo-kiddie with Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt, so the likes of California Games (oops, that's master-system-vintage) and Sonic were a weird adventure whenever I went to friend's houses. This unit arrived slightly scratched-up, but in perfect working condition. It came with a power pack and RF switch, but I wanted Composite output... so I started googlin' for hacks. Then I looked at the back of the machine and realised it had an 8-pin DIN for A/V output. A quick search found off-the-shelf cables, as I didn't have a properly degree'd DIN plug available that'd fit the socket. Your standard 8-pin DIN has the top two outer pins at a different degree and therefore wont fit.

Instead I had to make one from a 5-pin DIN as it turns out the pinout of the A/V Output port has all the pins I'll need at 3 o'clock, 6 o'clock and 9'oclock!

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I purchased a 5-pin DIN port from Jaycar and hacked a standard stereo composite RCA video cable in half. From there, I joined ground together and soldered that to pin 3 on the 5-pin DIN. I then twisted L+R together, as this unit produced MONO sound and soldered that to the left-most pin, when looking at the back of the plug. Finally, the central wire from the yellow video plug was soldered to the right-most pin.

From here, the unit worked perfectly! Of course, to test I only had one game...

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To make this fit, I had to actually gently file the cartridge slot.

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Turns out the japanese-release games are square, whereas the Australian (and probably elsewhere) release carts have 2 rounded corners. After making it fit, the game just worked... although it might play slightly faster on a 60hz clock!

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25Apr/200

PCMCIA Cards on Desktop PCs

The PCMCIA (or PC Card) standard was built for portable machines which involve smaller form-factors than desktop PCs. Similar to ISA and PCI cards in desktop PCs, the cards offered expansion capabilities for portable machines including storage and communications. The most common cards are either ethernet, modem or wireless. Storage became an option with both flash memory cards, IDE interface cards and SCSI cards.

Desktop machines can be fitted out with PCMCIA card interfaces. Below I'll cover ISA to PCMCIA, PCI to PCMCIA and USB to PCMCIA, noting the limitations of each. I've had an IBM External CD-ROM 0991-011 in the collection for a while and I'd always wanted to check out its capabilities noting that it has a sound-card built-in!

The desktop machine that'll be running the tests is a PIII-500 with 512mb RAM. It's got enough storage internally to support multiple versions of Windows, so we can test compatibility across the board. I've actually taken out ethernet and sound cards, and disabled unnecessary onboard peripherals, to prevent hardware conflicts with any installed PCMCIA bridge.

PCMCIA Cards

I've tested the following PCMCIA Cards during this article. I wanted to make sure I had a card from each category, since I'd expected that certain adapters wouldn't handle all types of cards.

Device Description Driver
SanDisk 1.2gb Memory Card Flash Storage Uses the standard Mass Storage Driver
Belkin 11g Wireless Card Wireless Network Download
IBM External CD-ROM + Sound Card + Gameport External IDE Interface + Extra Download.EXE

I'm pretty much in-love with the IBM External CD. It's got the beautiful 'Aptiva'-esque styling and a bloody sound-card built-in!

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Yup, that's the amazing all-inclusive IBM External CD-ROM, but we'll discuss its capabilities at a later date. Following are the two boring (aka. just-work!) cards...

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Super boring. They didn't even try to use a differing palette!

PCMCIA Interfaces

To slap a PCMCIA card into a desktop machine, you'll need some kind of adapter. The following are the units that have been tested throughout this article.

Device Connection
IO-Data CardDock EX/DV ISA
Ricoh PCI
Ricoh PCI
Condor PCI Super Card PCI
AirFree USB

First up, here's the Condor PCI Super Card. It's huge and seems to have been custom built for a specific chassis? It might actually have been for a Kodak photo kiosk or somesuch where there are card slots on the front of the case. Based on it's length, I could see this card providing ports to the front.

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Unfortunately, it wasn't detected by any part of the system!

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The other Ricoh 485-based and 475II-based cards...

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Hagiwara Sys-Com Airfree

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And I-O DATA's CardDock2-EX/DV...

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The results are as follows. The basic finding have been that the newer PCI/USB interfaces only support specific classes of PCMCIA devices. Those being Mass Storage and Network. As soon as you bring in a card that needs interrupts or other low I/O ranges then you're out of luck. On the flip-side, newer versions of windows don't support the older ISA hardware, meaning that the ISA PCMCIA bridge that I had just wont work on anything newer than Millenium.

Bridge Device Operating System Result
IO-Data CardDock EX/DV All Windows 98 SE Fully operational.
IO-Data CardDock EX/DV Any Windows XP Card cannot be installed. Drivers wont recognise hardware and Add/Remove Hardware doesn't auto-detect it.
Ricoh 485/475II Sandisk Flash Storage Windows 98 SE Works, but cannot be easily re-partitioned. Needed to use BOOTICE. (see information below)
Ricoh 485/475II Belkin 11g Wireless Card Windows 98 SE Worked perfectly. Used Odyssey Client 4.52 for WPA2 access.
Ricoh 485/475II IBM External CDROM Any Failed with resource issues. Hardware could not start.
Condor Super PCI Any Any Entire card couldn't be recognised. Even the BIOS didn't list it. Going in the bin... but it's so cool-looking!
Hagiwara Sys-com Airfree Flash Storage Windows 98 SE Works fine. A bit tricky to install on the US English version of Windows 98 SE as the installer just drops out. Works perfectly on Windows 98 SE JP.
Hagiwara Sys-com Airfree Belkin 11g Wireless Windows XP Works fine, as above with installation.
Hagiwara Sys-com Airfree IBM External CDROM Any As above with the PCI cards, it just doesn't work at all thanks to resource limitations.

Partitioning Removable Media In Windows XP Or Lower

I'd somehow managed to trash the partition table on the SanDisk Flash Memory during the testing above. It hadn't caused the resource errors above (I went back and re-tested the scenarios after I'd realised the disk wasn't actually readable), but it had caused errors when trying to access the drive in My Computer... when it actually chose to show up. Both FDISK, DISKPART and Disk Management in all forms/versions/flavours of old-windows didn't want to touch the partition table. I also tried Partition Magic 7.0, but that didn't care either.

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Actually, FDisk in Windows 98 SE JP managed to show the card, but then suggested that it was onlt 136mb in size? I actually tried to follow through with it and that's what probably really killed the partition table.

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Thanks to this post at lancelhoff.com, I was directed to an older version of BOOTICE which disregards all forms of safety and allows you to totally wipe and re-partition removable media in older versions of Windows.

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Choose the correct disk and click 'Parts Manage'. You'll be presented with the screen below...

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I was expecting an option to set up the actual parition table, but nothing was presented. Instead you need to choose 'ReFormat USB Disk' and choose the top option.

WPA2 on Windows 98 SE

As mentioned above, you can install the Odyssey Client 4.52 on Windows 98 to enable connections to WPA2-encrypted wireless networks.

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I expected that I'd have to build a guest network with WEP encryption, or worse - no encryption, to test the wireless PCMCIA cards... but I didn't! This software worked perfectly!

Conclusion

The IBM External CD-ROM is super-cool! The fact that it comes with a sound card inbuilt and a gameport/midiport is awesome. I suppose it's really suited to an older laptop that doesn't have a soundcard. I actually tried using the joystick port and it works fine, but don't expect all joysticks to work 100%. I'll post about that soon.

As for the PCMCIA to PCI or USB, you're mileage may vary. If you just want to use flash storage or ethernet cards, then go for it... but why not just get an ISA or PCI card? I remember back in the day I really wanted a PCMCIA to PCI adapter for a wireless card to join the Canberra Wireless network... as actual PCI wireless cards were still a pipe-dream. That never happened... and now I have a surplus of the technology and no real reason to need it. Actually... that's the point behind too many posts on this blog!

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8Apr/200

Restoring an Azure DB Bacpac into SQL Express

Every so-often, one receives a request out of the blue to revive things that one has totally forgotten about. In most cases, it's comments on pages on this hideous blog asking questions about things that I've gotten rid of, in one form or another, and can't answer! Fortuantely, this time I could: it was a request to revive a project which had been on ice for a long time, but had been well-backed-up... or so I thought.

Firstly, it took me two days to find the files... not cool. If you shut down a project, get EVERYTHING and put it in ONE LOCATION. The system comprised of a zip of the IIS inetpub folder, a zip of the data drive and finally, a database backup from the SQL-as-a-service database. This, thanks to Azure not providing direct access to the server, takes the form of a bacpac file.

Back in the day, when developing, the preprod server was located on a HP something-something with 44gb of RAM which hosted multiple VMs. It made a fantastic noise when it first booted, making sure the fans could hit the required RPMs, and so it was left on most of the time. It was quite the powerhouse and did everything we needed. To save cost, the preprod server only ran SQL Express, so whenever we needed to back-port the production database to diagnose and squash bugs, we needed to manipulate the backups to make them fit.

What do I mean by this? Well SQL Express (or, at least the old 2014 version running in the VM) isn't as capable as Azure DBs and therefore you needed modify the backups so that they wouldn't throw errors when they were being restored. Below is a perfect example (this happened tonight) of such errors...

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All looking OK, taking large amounts of time, and then...

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Bang! With is not a valid operator... what's it doing embedded in a SQL script? Let's find out! Did you know that a bacpac file is just a pkzip archive? Install 7-zip, right click on the bacpac file and choose Open Archive.

database-5

Nice, contents. You'll find the database tables stored as BCP files in the Data folder and actual entire structure and scripts in the model.xml file. If you have your favourite editor installed correctly, then you should just be able to double-click model.xml and edit the file inline.

We know that the error is about shared access keys, so I CTRL-F'd the relevant keyword and the result was at the very bottom of the file. It's trying to store the logging and auditing on Azure shared storage... which is obviously not a good idea if we're running a private server. It's also totally incompatible with SQL Express, so lets rip it out.

<DataSchemaModel>
	<Model>
		...
		<Element Type="SqlDatabaseCredential" Name="[https://azure.net/sqldbauditlogs]">
			<property Name="Identity" Value="SHARED ACCESS SIGNATURE">
		</Element>
		<Element Type="SqlDatabaseCredential" Name="[https://azure.net/sqldbtdlogs]">
			<Property Name="Identity" Value="SHARED ACCESS SIGNATURE" />
		</Element>
		<Element Type="SqlFullTextCatalog" Name="[SnomedCatalog]">
			<Property Name="IsAccentSensitive" Value="True" />
			<Relationship Name="Authorizer">
				<Entry>
					<References ExternalSource="BuiltIns" Name="[dbo]" />
				</Entry>
			</Relationship>
		</Element>
	</Model>
</DataSchemaModel>

I also ripped out the Full-Text Searching block above, as shown, and another block much further above that was also referencing this block. Once I'd made all the changes to the zip file, I closed my editor and went back to 7-zip.

database-6

Yes, 7-zip, I very muchly would love to commit the changes back into this 1gb archive, thank you. From here, I attempted to deploy the bacpac to the server...

Ok, right, by editing a file inside this archive, we've trashed the thumbprint. A checksum is a magical calculation of a chunk of binary data that, somehow, resolves it down to a unique number that indicates the bits. If a bit changes, the checksum number changes and this allows software to know if things have been tampered with. That's what has occurred here... we've actually tampered with it and it's changed the calculation.

The SQL Server has run a calculation on the file and the result has mismatched with something, but with what? Turns out that in the original.xml file is a checksum value! We need to change this value to the new checksum, but how do we calculate that? Don't even bother thinking, just copy the following script into a file called checksum.ps1 and store it in your home directory.

$modelXmlPath = Read-Host "model.xml file path"
$hasher = [System.Security.Cryptography.HashAlgorithm]::Create("System.Security.Cryptography.SHA256CryptoServiceProvider")
$fileStream = new-object System.IO.FileStream ` -ArgumentList @($modelXmlPath, [System.IO.FileMode]::Open)
$hash = $hasher.ComputeHash($fileStream)
$hashString = ""
Foreach ($b in $hash) { $hashString += $b.ToString("X2") }
$fileStream.Close()
$hashString

If you've never run scripts in Powershell before, then you'll need to run the following command first if you get an error like 'checksum.ps1 cannot be loaded because running scripts is disabled on this system.'

set-executionpolicy remotesigned

Once sorted, run the following:

PS D:\> checksum.ps1
model.xml file path: d:\model.xml
898D9323A53F0C52B782867B9E8343D8371059A1192849F793CEA168FEAC7AA0

That final number needs to be pasted into original.xml in the archive. Save it back into the archive and deploy once more. Note that, before you try to deploy again, you'll need to detach the half-deployed database and delete the mdf/ldf files that were half-stored in the deployment folders that you set when you tried previously.

I then hit another error, a long way into deployment where the server said that AT was a shit command. Turns out one of my previous developers had tried to cast a datetime into a timezone using the query getdate() AT TIME ZONE 'UTC' AT TIME ZONE 'Aus Eastern Standard Time'. Neat! But SQL Express hates that... so... open the archive, edit model.xml, save it, copy it out of the archive, checksum it, edit original.xml and deploy again...

database-7

Fiinnnnaaalllyyyy....!!! IT'S ALIVE! ... Hah... it's not...

database-8

dbo.Sort Failed? What dat? Google! There's always someone else that has had your error before... tempdb full? Let's add a new 100gb disk and slap tempdb over there. You can do this by running the following in a new query editor against master...

USE master;
GO

ALTER DATABASE tempdb 
MODIFY FILE (NAME = tempdev, FILENAME = 'T:\MSSQL\DATA\tempdb.mdf');
GO

ALTER DATABASE tempdb 
MODIFY FILE (NAME = templog, FILENAME = 'T:\MSSQL\DATA\templog.ldf');
GO

And you'll need to restart SQL before it applies...

The file "tempdev" has been modified in the system catalog. The new path will be used the next time the database is started.
The file "templog" has been modified in the system catalog. The new path will be used the next time the database is started.

Completion time: 2020-04-08T22:55:04.1929547+10:00

Of course, you'll need to change T drive to something else! Enjoy!... or not... what the hell is this error?

database-9

Right, memory? Is that physical memory? Swapfile memory? Or storage space? Fortunately, it's a VM, so lets increase every one of those. If you have the RAM, then that's easy... slide that slider to the right. Disk space is a little trickier. Open the main Virtual Box console and choose Virtual Media Manager from the File menu. From here, select your disks, slide the slider to the right and then hit apply. Note that this will only change the dimensions of the disk, it wont touch the partitions.

database-10 database-11 database-12

So, to extend the partitions, open Disk Management (right-click the start button) and then find the drive. Once located, right-click and choose Extend Volume. If the free space is directly after the drive, it'll already be selected and you can just hit nekk-nekk-finish. Enjoy!

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4Dec/190

Atari Mouse – Replacing Microswitches

I'd recently acquired an Atari 520STFM (more about that later) and the package came with two mice. One is actually optical and has a switch that allows it to also be used on an Amiga, but it really hated the kitchen bench. I do remember, back in the day, that first-generation optical mice couldn't deal with glossy single-coloured surfaces. The other mouse was the original Atari 2-Button Ball-Mouse. It tracked nicely, but the buttons were as soggy as a wet week?

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Open 'Er Up

Very easy to do... two screws up the top-end where the cable enters. Lift at the front, up near the buttons and pull forward to clear the latch at the bottom end.

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From here, the microswitches are your PCB-mounted standard, easily available from Jaycar. I toddled off and purchased some of the exact-same replacements, but also two slightly-taller switches. The latter had a much clickier click. The standard replacements were also clickier than the existing switches, but I wanted moar.

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A quick look at the circuit board underneath saw that only one side of both microswitches was in use. You can see, per four-hole-mounting of each switch at the top left and top-right of the board, that only the bottom left and bottom right pins are used respectively. The top two are bridged, but the 4th pin on each goes nowhere.

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Just because things change over the decades, I quickly checked that my microswitches contacted on the same dimension...

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A simple de-soldering saw the old switches out. With the solder removed from the holes in the PCB, I could trial the clearance with the taller switches...

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The case was easily re-assembled to test...

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But, as you can see, the case wouldn't even close. Testing the buttons, with the case half-ajar, saw them super clicky... maybe toooo-clicky. So I switched in the new same-sized switches and these were nice!

DSC02267

Although they're not that clicky when they're just in your fingertips in the shop, they're great once mounted in the mouse!

Testing...

All soldered up and plugged in, it was time to test it all out. Previously I had to mash the left-mouse-button a few times to get one click, so I was happy to see that a single click working perfectly!

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And yeah, straight into Railroad Tycoon... damn that Grasshopper is a slow first train!

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