Who Needs Widescreen Resolutions?

Displaying aspect ratios properly — please don’t stretch my pixels


This is a quick post. I haven’t had much tender loving time with the Amiga lately due to busy work and family schedules.

Life can be quite hectic for man in his late-thirties 😉

I went thrifting and obtained an 19″ 4:3 ViewSonic VP930 LCD/TFF monitor for the Amiga. I got it cheap — seems that people are just happy to unload this stuff these days. I almost got paid to take it.

ViewSonic VP930

I was looking for a very basic 4:3 monitor, because Amiga was originally designed to support these classic TV friendly aspect ratios and resolutions.

Note, you can also create proper 16:9 widescreen Workbench resolutions.

Making a modern 16:9 monitor work properly with the Amiga can be achieved quite easily, but especially with games you are always confronted with the massive black borders around your gaming screen — alternatively your screen gets forcibly stretched to widescreen. That gets ugly.

The VP930  is pretty capable monitor — albeit the contrast ratio and sharpness are not comparable to today’s high-end monitors.

Maybe this actually is a good thing?

I think that original Amiga games should be played with CRT monitors (having visible scan lines etc.), but it is not very practical anymore.

Commodore 1084S
Commodore 1942
Classic CRT monitor screen rastering

The original graphics were drawn by the artists using the available CRT display hardware of the time — pixels were expected to blur a little. That became part of the process of managing the limited 32 colour palette.  [Photo credits ilesj’s blog]

With the ViewSonic VP930 Workbench looks as I remember it.

Workbench screen

Quick circle test with Cloanto’s PPaint in PAL 320×256 resolution.

Drawing circles with PPaint

It is a circle — not an ellipse.

Testing a few favourite classic games.

Superfrog
Worms – The Director’s Cut
Captive in 320×200 (NTSC)

I am using the Indivision AGA MK2cr for VGA / DVI output, see my previous post.

Additionally — I can use the monitor as a second screen for my daily setup. The VP930 is tilt-able and supports multiple inputs, so it can be effectively used for browsing and coding.

Browsing
Browsing Deluxe Paint source code

By the way, the classic Deluxe Paint source code has been made available at the Computer History Museum. Check it out!

Memories 🙂

Getting Amiga Online with PCMCIA LAN card

Getting into the Internets with Amiga 1200 using ZyXEL’s ZyAIR B-100 PCMCIA LAN card


Internet connectivity is very essential — even when working with the classic Amigas which date from the simpler era of null-modem cables, modems and dial-up BBS services.

My Amiga was shipped from the seller with the ZyAIR B-100 PCMCIA LAN card. I haven’t had time until now to have a proper go at it.

The christmas holidays always provide a good break to focus on the important things 😉

Let’s get started.

ZyAIR B-100

I found the original user guide, and data sheet.

ZyAIR B-100

The card contains FCC ID: O6M-WE302, which can be used to look-up interesting details of the device.

The ZyAIR B-100’s data sheet specifies supported security encryption options as: “64/128-bit WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) Encryption”.

Seems that only WEP is supported.

I was a bit bummed at this point because WEP is not considered secure anymore — and has been superseded by WPA.

My wireless router and most of all modern routers only support WPA and WPA2.

In the end, the missing support of WPA and WPA2 didn’t prove to be an issue, so I think that this LAN device may have had it’s firmware upgraded at some point.

I was not able to find any manufacturer’s firmware updates for this device though.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, and need a firmware upgrade, take a look at this (warning — not for the faint-hearted).

IEEE 802.11b standard is supported by this device.

Prism chipset drivers and Amiga TCP/IP stack

There are quite a few guides around to walk you thru the process of setting up the prism chipset drivers and Miami TCP/IP stack.

Many of the said guides link to older version of the prism drivers. For WPA and WPA2 support, get the latest prism2v2 package.

Installing the prism2v2 is simple — just extract the package and run installer.

Give the name of your wireless network SSID.

Provide the wireless network password. Notice that WAP/WAP2 is not supported prior the prism2v2.

Click proceed.

Click proceed.

Now you have the prism2.device properly installed.

Restart your Amiga and proceed to install the MiamiDX TCP/IP stack. See the guide for installing MiamiDX here.

I had previously installed the ClassicWB and it contained the installation packages for Miami Deluxe (DX), they can be found at the ClassicWB’s Workbench screen “Drawers/My Files/Install”.

Alternatively — you can opt for the modern Amiga TCP/IP stack using Roadshow. Roadshow is a commercial product which is actively developed and maintained. It think that the price tag of 25 euros is well worth it.

But for the time being, I’ll go with Miami.

Run the MiamiInit.

Click continue.

Choose the “Ethernet, cable/ADSL modem” option. Click continue.

Click continue.

Write the “prism2.device” to the device input field. Set unit to zero, unless you have multiple boards installed.

Click continue.

MiamiInit is looking for the DHCP which will assign an IP address from your private subnet.

Press enter, to accept the resolved subnet mask.

Press enter to accept your Internet gateway IP.

If the above steps fail, check your SSID and network password.

If you run into this message, provide a hostname and press enter.

Give your connection a name and press enter.

Enter your name and a username.

Next, start the MiamiDX, and import the MiamiInit settings (see the menus: Import settings from MiamiInit)

Save the imported settings as default.

Click online.

You should now have a working internet connection.

IRC-client
AWeb Browser

Browsing the web is somewhat limited experience with the classic 68k Amigas these days — but it was fun to set it up 🙂

Make sure to install AmiSSL for https support.

Check my previous post about applying patches for Amiga’s PCMCIA port related bugs.

Amiga ROM 3.1 Upgrade

Amiga Kickstart 3.1 ROM chip upgrade


I decided to order 3.1 ROM chips few weeks ago.

After having downloaded the ROMs not-so-legally for the past 15 years — seeing the actual chips felt kinda good.

3.1 Twin Chips

My A1200 originally came with 3.0 (39.106). I’m not really sure about the in depth details between 3.0 and 3.1.

Here is the list of differences between modules contained in Kickstarts:

========================Kick3.0==Kick3.1==
bootmenu                39.19    40.5
card.resource           37.11    40.4
carddisk.device         37.11    40.1
con-handler             39.8     40.2
console.device          39.28    40.2
dos.library             39.23    40.3
exec                    39.47    40.10
expansion               39.7     40.2
filesystem.resource     39.2     40.1
filesystem              39.27    40.1
gadtools.library        39.356   40.4
graphics.library        39.89    40.24 (AGA)
icon.library            39.3     40.1
input                   37.12    40.1
intuition.library       39.2084  40.85
keymap.library          37.2     40.4
layers.library          39.61    40.1
mathffp.library         39.1     40.1
mathieeesingbas.library 37.3     40.4
ramlib                  39.5     40.2
romboot                 39.27    40.1
scsi.device             37.64    40.12
shell                   39.13    40.2
trackdisk.device        39.4     40.1
utility.library         39.10    40.1
workbench.library       39.1     40.5

The official Commodore release notes are probably already lost in time.

The 3.1 contains bunch of bug-fixes, better support for WB 3.9 and the modern 4.X AmigaOS versions.

Kickstart 3.0 doesn’t support Amiga OS’s later than 3.1.

Amiga 3.0 ROM Boot Details

The last (official?) ROM 3.0 version  was 39.115. Check the Cloanto’s listing of all the different Amiga ROM versions and revisions.

The installation is really simple, just locate the ROMs on the motherboard.

3.0 ROM Chips

The ROM chips on my motherboard were a bit difficult to remove due to dirt and grime accrued into the sockets. If you have access to a tool specifically design to removing chips from sockets, use it.

Otherwise, just take your time to ease the chips out without using excessive force.

When socketing the replacement chips, make sure that all legs are aligned properly before pushing the chip into the socket. It takes surprisingly little force to push the chips in.

Interesting to see that the leftmost pins of the sockets are not populated. Maybe there is some folklore available about this design decisions?

New Chips Seated Nicely

Amiga boots just fine, but seems that it takes a bit longer than with the older 3.0 ROMs.

The 3.1 actually adds some start-up delay for checking available hard drives to get around some 3.0 related bug.

Amiga 3.1 Boot Details

Amiga 3.X ROMs are also available for purchase these days. I didn’t see the need to grab those — the changes are not really that relevant, and I wanted to maximise the compatibility with the old games and software.

Additionally I like to remain in the 90’s when it comes to Amiga platform 😉

Kickstart ROMs explained.

Moving Files Around

Transferring files between Mac/PC and Amiga using PCMCIA CompactFlash adapter


Quick update on how to set-up the PC compatible FAT/FAT32 formatted CompactFlash PCMCIA adapter to work in Workbench.

The process is quite simple, but I couldn’t find any universal quick-to-google-how-to guides related to the setup.

Using the CF cards is by far the simplest way to transfer files to Amiga, especially if you don’t have the Amiga online.

I’m planning to get the Amiga online soon, but having also the CF option to transfer files into and out of Amiga is really handy.

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CF card and the PCMCIA adapter

I noticed that after having installed the ClassicWB, inserting unformatted CF card via PCMCIA adapter didn’t bring up the CF0:NDOS icon on the Workbench’s desktop.

This is how I got it to work properly.

Download the following files and extract the archives to ram disk:

  • cfd.lha — Use CompactFlash cards in PCMCIA slot
  • fat95.lha — Win95/98 compatible file system

Copy cfd/devs/compactflash.device to System:devs/ and files cfd/devs/CF0 and CF0.info to System:devs/dosdrivers/.

Next — download packages CardPatch and CardReset and copy the files to the System:C/.

Edit your startup-sequence, and add the following two rows:

...
C:CardPatch
Run >NIL: C:CardReset TICKS 50
...
C:LoadWB

Insert the rows somewhere before the LoadWB command.

CardPatch basically fixes bunch of bugs related to handling PCMCIA slot.

“When a PC Card is plugged in the PCMCIA slot and cnet.device is not run then Amiga system slows.”

“CardPatch patches this ‘slow bug’ and other bugs in card.resource.”

“The CardResetCard() function is patched and each ‘new’ card is reseted after it is inserted in the PCMCIA slot”

Applying the patch should enable the CF cards to work properly.

Note that it may also fix other PCMCIA related issues which you might happen to run into when using, for example network cards.

To add the support for FAT/FAT32 filesystems,  copy the file fat95/l/fat95 extracted from fat95.lha archive to System:L/.

Now you should be able to use Amiga and FAT/FAT32 formatted CF cards with the PCMCIA adapter.

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Plugged-in

Pixel Perfect

VGA and DVI-I/HDMI video output with Indivision AGA MK2cr


I’m happy to be the owner of an old 14″ Commodore 1084s-D1 monitor which is perfect for retro Amiga gaming, but using the Workbench in higher resolutions is another epilepsy inducing story.

Sadly, the said monitor has not fared very well the past few decades in storage, and shows the expected symptoms of the old-age.

I might try to do some work on it at some point, but I’m afraid that the problems are not resolved by just simply replacing the capacitors. Replacement part(s) might be quite hard to come by.

Anyways — I came across this little device Indivision AGA MK2cr. It is basically a flickerfixer/scandoubler which can be fitted over the A1200’s Lisa chip.

It captures the signals and converts the video to digital (DVI-I) and analog (VGA) signals.

Maybe I can make due without the old barrel sized CRT monitor after all?

I ordered this directly from Individual Computer’s web shop.

asdf
The Indivision AGA MK2cr
The LISA chip
The LISA chip

Installing it doesn’t require much — no excessive force needed,  just enough push to get a firm grip on the chip.

Plugged on top of the LISA
Plugged on top of LISA

The cable can be easily routed under the floppy drive, and thru the A1200’s empty trapdoor. The backplate can be modified to house the DVI connector.

You can also purchase a separate DVI jack compatible backplate.

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It all fits quite nicely

Closing the hood and giving it a try.

First — the VGA output.

VGA
VGA signal output

I noticed quite horrible ghosting (not visible in above photo) and interference in the analog VGA output.

Similar issues are apparent in the digital signal.

Digital DVI output
Digital DVI output

My monitor is definitely not a quality one, and I’ve had issues also with my Mac, PC and PS4 — nothing this severe though.

I downloaded the AGA MK2cr’s config tool and available cores to check all the configuration options.

There seems to be quite many options to tune 😉

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Indivision AGA MK2 Preferences

First thing I did was to remove concurrent output of both VGA and DVI signals. I switched to use only VGA.

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Output options

That got rid of the major interferences in analog VGA signal.

sdr
Clear VGA output

The video output is actually crystal clear, the photo above doesn’t really do it justice.

The DVI digital signal problems are not completely sorted out yet, but I will give it a try with another monitor or TV.

I believe that my monitor just doesn’t support the current HDMI signal setup — I need to continue tweaking the config tool.

People have also shared their AGA MK2 configuration files, which might solve the few problems I have noticed so far — like the not-so-smooth scrolling and problems in centering the screens.

This seems like a good 50hz  config for gaming.

Check out this guide also.

This configuration is also worth giving a try.

I’ll probably post my configuration here in the future, or a link to the one I have found most optimal for my setup.

Conclusion

I was hoping to have a fit-for-all solution with AGA MK2cr, but instead I’m reading thru endless forum threads dwelling into mysteries related to the configs and esoteric PAL/NTSC screen problems.

Sadly seems that the vendor has obviously given up on improving the configuration tool.

I’m going to give this a proper try — getting stuff like this to work was not supposed to be easy, right?

I can always fall back to the SCART option for gaming purposes.

Update 8.11.2016:

I have managed to get a decent setup for casual Workbench use.

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Nice and spacious Workbench desktop

See monitor drivers for the SuperPlus and HighGFX modes – packages available here and here.

I’ve had good experiences with HighGFX with 1024×768 resolution, but seems that some Amigas work better with higher graphic modes than others.

My setup start to flicker quite badly after 5 minutes from the initial cold boot. The flickering  goes a way completely after about 10 minutes.

Go figure.

Scotty, We Need More Power!

Upgrading the Amiga 1200 with ACA1233n 40Mhz


This little piece of accelerated coolness arrived in the mail today.

ACA1233n

The CPU speed is not the necessarily the most important feature — the amount of memory is the thing.

Additional memory allows you to do cool things like setting up WHDLoad for gaming directly from the Workbench.

The ACA1233n packs whopping 128MB of memory.

The obligatory list of  specifications:

  • For Amiga 1200 and Amiga 500 with ACA 500
  • Full 68030 with MMU running at 40MHz
  • 127MB Fast Memory (32-bit) with burst mode support
  • 1MB reserved for MapROM feature
  • Dynamic clocking for power-saving
  • Card enable/disable in software
  • Memory available to onboard CPU if accelerator is switched off (not ACA 500)
  • Faster clockport for RapidRoad gives 55% speed increase
  • New software compatibility settings
  • Improved A1200 compatibility
  • PCMCIA compatible

I decided to also include the RTC (Real Time Clock) shield to retain the system date and time  between restarts.

The RTC shield can be used also without the accelerator card, and can be connected directly to the motherboard.

Installation was really easy — no tools required.

Done installing

The ACA1233n was listed properly in the Expansion Board Diagnostics. Check the Amiga Hardware Manufacturer Registry.

You can get into the boot options by holding left and right mouse buttons during the boot.

First boot

The ACA1233n does a good job in configuring itself. I didn’t need to run any additional configuration utils, or install any libraries to get the basics working.

Avail and cpu
ShowConfig

I didn’t notice any heat related issues. The 68030 did get a little warm after longer period of use, but nothing compared to the typical temperatures of today’s CPUs or video cards.

Sadly the ACATune application doesn’t seem to support the ACA1233n. Running it brings up the Guru Meditation.

I would especially want have the MapROM  functionality working. The idea is to load the ROM contents into memory — this should increase the overall system performance significantly.

Some alpha/beta release tools seems to exists for enabling the MapROM — need to give them  a try bit later.

sdr
Sysinfo stats

Now, off to do some proper WHDLoad gaming…

Lifting the Skirt

Before powering the Amiga I wanted to check the state of the internals


It’s always a good idea to have a quick peek of the overall condition of the hardware before powering it up for the first time — especially as it may have been laying dormant for few decades.

Seems that someone has been here before

Commodore really played it safe with the RF shielding of the unit. I have seen microwave ovens with less RF shielding than this…

RF-shieding

My Amiga didn’t come with a 2.5″ hard drive so I added the IDE CF drive, which was something I was planning to do anyway.

Of with the shielding

The overall condition of the motherboard is really good. No leaking caps or burnt out resistors in sight.

Absolutely no corrosion on the motherboard — as it had just arrived from the factory. Seems that the unit has also been recapped at some point.

The motherboard revision is 1D4 which was the last revision made by Commodore, the later ones made by Escom were 2B.

A1200 motherboard revision details

For the common timing issues and related fixes check this.

Other details on motherboard revisions are available here.

The previous owner of this Amiga had done a brilliant job of keeping the old lady in good shape.

Interesting design choice for the mouse port

Nice to see the original quality assurance markings made the assembly line workers some twenty odd years ago.

QA Markings

Let’s get the Amiga started — I couldn’t find any issues on the Amiga nor the power brick.

After partitioning the HD and installing Workbench using WinUAE, I had the Amiga boot up just fine.

Avail and cpu details

The specs of A1200 — there is still quite some room for improvement here 😉

The Amiga Has Landed (again)

Amiga makes the mancave


I bought the classic Commodore Amiga 1200 from an online auction site while ago.

It has now arrived, and I’m happy.

Amiga 1200

I actually never had this third-generation Amiga model, which sadly became known as the last affordable consumer Amiga Commodore released before declaring bankruptcy in 1994.

Commodore A1200 Badge
A bit of personal history

My first exposure to computing was the venerable Amiga 500 back in the late ’80s. I was the cool kid with a home computer capable of producing amazing graphics and actual multi-channel stereo music and sound effects.

Shadow of the Beast almost drive one of my friends into insanity.

After few odd years the coolness started to die down, as I was not able to play Doom on my beloved Amiga. The other kids in my neighbourhood had access to their dads’ work PCs with hard-drives and happily played Wolfenstein and Doom on a screen scaled down to the size of a matchbox.

I believe that 3d games played a major role in the demise of Amiga, and the Amiga gaming community.

Check this great video related to the Amiga FPS games — and the apparent limitations caused by the Amiga HW.

For me having an Amiga meant creating music, graphics and collaborating in games programming. I was never a huge gamer myself.

I accessed my first email account using Amiga back in 1994. I had managed to talk my dad around into buying a blazingly fast 14400 baud modem for the purpose of paying bills thru online banking services — I don’t think that he ever did.

My first exposure to programming was AMOS, which was the gateway drug to C and 68k assembler.

The level of access you had to poke the hardware is something missing from today’s systems, and still makes the Amiga architecture an interesting platform to develop onto.

A history of the Amiga — Ars Technica’s insightful series of articles about Commodore and Amiga history.

What next

After I have revisited majority of my childhood gaming memories, I’ll try obtain some modern upgrades — and pimp-up the Amiga 🙂

First — I need to figure out how to properly connect the Amiga to my flatscreen TV.

This composite shit won’t do!

Sadly it’s not a “retro” filter.

Welcome to Retro Hardware Stuff

I have started Retro Hardware Stuff blog about my adventures into old-school computing and hardware


I’m hoping to start some restoration projects, write about my progress and provide some details of the problems I might — and presumably will run into.

This blog will probably focus mostly on good old Commodore hardware, but I also have some Nintendo gaming systems in desperate need of repairs and restoration.

I will also try to have some time to look into programming for various platforms. Especially the low-level stuff like assembler.

Lets see how this turns out…

What is the midlife crisis for?