Amiga A570 CDROM drive

January 6, 2013

As far as strange business decisions go, Commodore was always capable of making the highlight reel. The Amiga A570 CDROM attachment was certainly right up there, for more than one reason. The A570 was compatible with the Amiga 500 and only the Amiga 500, a model of Amiga that was discontinued by the release of the external CDROM drive.  The base Amiga that was being sold at the time – the Amiga 600 – went without ever having a similar device released for it (in fact the 600 has the impressive reputation as one of the least expandable legacy Amiga models available).  The fact that an Amiga 500 with an A570 attached was also functionally identical to Commodore’s other CD based platform – the multi-media CDTV – and could run all CDTV software without issue hurt sales and confused the user community to no end.

 

So why talk about it then? Because that which failed at retail release often makes a fine and interesting retro collectible and the A570 is no exception.

If you have an Amiga 500 and have the chance to grab an A570 (uncommon though they are) then do so. It’s a cheap way to get into some great CDTV software and games like the CDTV release of Xenon, a game possessed of some of the most rocking soundtrack music ever. That’s right, ever.

The A570 simply bolts directly into the side of your Amiga 500 via the Zorro II expansion port on the left side of the Amiga, zero configuration required – true plug-and-play!

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My A570 is sadly bereft of its Commodore badge. I hope the neighbours don’t notice.

With the A570 attached, your humble A500 will boot to the CDTV animated logo screen. I’m willing to admit straight up that this is freaking awesome to see on screen. I remember as a kid seeing this logo on CDTV systems advertised in Amiga magazines and thinking how awesome it would be to own a CDTV. These days with the prohibitive price and scarcity of working CDTV systems, this is the closest I’ll likely ever come!

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Back when the image of a CD disc was the epitome of cool.

There are a few downsides to the A570 design. First up, it needs its own power supply to run, and not just any PSU, but the lovable Amiga ‘brick’. The exact same brick in fact, as the Amiga 500 itself. While this means you have to run both power supplies to keep an Amiga and A570 running, if you happen to find a CDROM drive without a power supply and have a spare A500 PSU, you can use that to power it.  The other downside, is the devices use of CDROM caddys.

“CDROM what now?” I hear you say. Believe it or not, in the early days of CD ROM media, some devices required that you put your CD into a plastic caddy before inserting it into the drive. Pain in the arse? Hell yes. Capable of driving you to madness when you can’t find a caddy anywhere? You better believe it.

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Why caddy, why?

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I’m looking forward to chasing down some ISO images of CDTV software to play around with and going through what will no doubt be the arduous task of finding the right media settings for burning said images to CD. For now though, I have a handful of original games and discs to muck around with. The gem of the bunch is the Assassin’s Ultimate Games CD compilation.  A disc packed with 600 MB of public domain games and programs for the Amiga (some made in AMOS, some not) the CD has hours of entertainment stuffed into its easy to navigate menus. Highly recommended if you end up with an A570.

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Empire strikes out

January 1, 2013

Today I learnt a valuable lesson. The 1980s Star Wars arcade games don’t translate well onto home platforms, not even the mighty Amiga.  I fired up Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back today and was left feeling pretty underwhelmed when comparing the experience with my time spent in the cockpit of the original arcade cabinet.

It seems that when you strip away the cabinet itself and replace the original vector graphics with standard wireframe 3D, Star Wars loses appeal like a clean shaven Wookie. The conversion is reasonably faithful, with good sampled speech from the films and decent frame rate as you whirl around taking out Tie Fighters and Walkers but the whole gig pales in comparison with the arcade experience.

Probably a game best suited to being put on the Vectrex, and then having the Vectrex mounted inside a replica Star Wars cockpit. But then, if you’re going to go to all that trouble, you might as well just shell out a couple of grand for the arcade machine!

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My games room – wide angle style.

December 26, 2012

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Random retro gaming

November 20, 2012

Just thought I’d give you a little window into a few of the games I’ve been playing lately. As usual, I don’t like to spend too long gaming on one system (apart from the Amiga) so there’s a fair rotation of platforms going on. If you get dizzy, just hold onto the hand rails.

First up was Virtua Racing for the Megadrive. I think I found this at a market in a box of utter trash (not the treasure kind of trash either, the ‘USB printer cables and water damaged Tazos’ kind of trash).  The cartridge box had no label, so I was pleasantly surprised when I opened it to find Virtua Racing.  As you can see from the photo the Virtua Racing card is differently shaped to a standard Megadrive cart thanks to the inclusion of the Sega DSP chip, some nifty silicon that lifts Virtua Racing from an average game to a stonkingly awesome racing simulator.

Thanks to the DSP’s polygon pushing power, Virtua Racing is a seamless, smooth 3D experience that has you hurtling around tracks in F1 cars. Based on the arcade game of the same name, Virtua Racing on the Megadrive is a flawless port. Seriously, you could just find an F1 cockpit shell, a CRT TV, a Megadrive and this cartridge and be experiencing that arcade racing feel. Very impressed.

Next up was the Amiga. I can’t stay away from this machine for long. The addition of the HxC Floppy Emulator to the Amiga 600 means I’ve got 13.5GB of Amiga disks at my disposal. Gaming overload. Recently I’ve been playing a bit of Phantasie III, one of the titles I spent the most time with back in the days when the Amiga was new. An old school RPG with turn based combat and an emphasis on exploring over land and in dungeons, Phantasie III is a great way to lose hours to simply wandering, fighting and micro-managing your party of Wizards, Priests and Warriors.

The games difficulty is equal parts frustrating and awesome.  Thanks to random encounters, you often make it all of three steps out of a town before you’re confronted by monsters whose skills and potency well outstrip your party. In a few rounds, you’ll have armless Priests, dead Rangers and a Wizard sans left hand. You’ll hobble back to town, get new members and venture out again. It can be disheartening, but it does make victories all the sweeter, and the cultivation of a decently high level party of adventurers who can survive the more dangerous encounters is a rewarding experience.

And last but not least, I received a few additions to my Atari Lynx collection recently. The pick of the bunch is Viking Child, an amusing – if slightly pedestrian – platformer.


Updated collection pictures

November 18, 2012

Just took a fresh round of photos to add to the collection page here, so if you’ve got a few spare minutes, head in and check them out :). As usual, as soon as I looked over the pictures I realised I’d left plenty of things out, but these will have to do. One day I’ll be clever enough to get a comprehensive gallery in here of everything I own.


HxC Floppy Emulator Review

November 2, 2012

W. B. Yeats included the line “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold” in his famous poem “The Second Coming”. Many ascribe the inspiration for this work to the atmosphere of post-war Europe, but I’m positive Yeats was talking about floppy disks.

The staple media during the 80’s and 90’s, the magnetic storage of the floppy disks of the day has just about run its course. Sad news for retro computer gaming buffs, who regularly come across games stored on 5.25″ or 3.5″ disks which no longer work due to the deterioration of the media itself.

I know this pain all too well.

Having purchased a bulk lot of Amiga disks – including boxed games – along with a couple of Amiga 500’s, I was torn up to discover upon inspection that most of them had been stored in a damp place and suffered all kinds of nasty mould damage. I still managed to harvest a chunk of working games out of the lot – but for how long? They’ll likely fail too, it’s the inevitable journey of the floppy disk.

So what’s a retro gamer to do? Well, there’s emulation of course, but we all know that never feels quite the same. Game speeds don’t match up, you’re not using original input devices (e.g. legitimate Commodore joysticks) and the whole experience really isn’t recreated. Another option, is to do as I did and invest in the HxC Floppy Emulator. This brilliant little device is made by a chap in Poland, and has the ability to mimic the workings of a floppy drive from a huge array of retro computers including the Commodore 64, Atari range, Amiga’s and Amstrad.  The kicker is, instead of using floppy disk media, it allows you to run floppy disk images straight from SD card. Bam! In one hit you have done away with the entropy of the floppy disk and stepped into the almost infallible world of flash card storage.

The way it works is simple. Into one end of the PCB, you re-route the floppy data cable and power connector from your chosen computer, and in the other end goes your SD card – loaded up with all the games you want to play. The set up is more involved than that – which I’ll get to in a moment – but that’s the basic principle. It’s an SD to Floppy cable data converter. Neat! This turned out to be the perfect solution to my desperate need to play Amiga games as often as possible, and in true blog fashion I detailed the steps of setting it up so you can get an idea of what’s involved, and whether it’s something you’re interested in.

First up, I picked a victim computer to test on. My Amiga 600 seemed like the best choice. Small, portable, in great condition and compatible with a fair chunk of Amiga titles. While the HxC floppy emulator is undoubtedly designed to be fitted inside the case at some point, short term I was happy to have mine attached in a rough fashion. First step, was to up end the Amiga 600, as I needed to pop the case to get to the floppy cables inside.

Would you believe the warranty seal was still intact? I felt like I was disturbing some ancient crypt as I popped the screwdriver through the seal. Hey, it’s for a worthy cause!

I had my HxC floppy emulator and specifically purchased SD card sitting close by and ready to be installed. Note the funny shaped SD card. It’s actually called a ‘UD’ and has a USB connection sticking out one side. Extremely handy for people like me who don’t have card reader in their PC, this allows me to just plug it directly into USB to download floppy images, then use the SD end into the emulator.

 

With a bit of ‘levering’ on some plastic tabs around the A600 case, the case popped open, and as you can see it was pretty easy to gain access to the internal floppy drive cables.

 

It’s a pretty simple affair to get the HxC connected, but make sure you read the instructions online carefully! You’ll need to ensure you set jumpers correctly for the drive(s) you want to emulate, and it’s also important to know which way your floppy ribbon cable goes onto the board (as it’s different for different machines) and what the led indicator lights on the PCB refer to (it will make diagnosing teething issues a hell of a lot easier)

 

As you can see, I went for the rough and ready ‘hang it outside the case, but only on the left side, yeah that’s the crip side’ look. If you’re more handy with case modding, you’ll want to fix it inside the case, with a window for the LCD.  Once installed, it was back to my main PC to prepare the SD card. A few things to note, firstly – read the documentation carefully. I can’t stress this enough. Because the HxC is designed to run on multiple different machines, you’ll have to be aware of the particular settings for your vintage computer as well as how to set the SD card up so that it boots the way you want (via a customisable config file placed on the SD card). There is a program you can download that allows you to customise the config file entirely, but you’re far better off initially using one of the ‘pre baked’ config files ideal for what you want to achieve. We picked one that auto loaded a ‘floppy manager’ (basically a game chooser GUI) when you run the HxC connected to an Amiga.

After you’ve configured the SD card, you just need to convert your floppy images into the HxC native .hfe format. Thankfully, this is super easy – in the case of my Amiga 600 I was using a ton of .adf files, and the same program that allows you to customise the config file also allows you to batch convert any number of disk files to .hfe format. Once I’d converted a few hundred games, they were loaded on the SD card, and it was back to the Amiga to fire it all up and test!.

The HxC is a thing of beauty when it’s fired up and ticking away. Interestingly, just because it’s running an SD card, doesn’t actually make any of the load times particularly fast, as the data still has to travel along the floppy cable.

 

 

Pictured below is the floppy chooser menu. Even if you’re only emulating a single drive (DF0 in the case of the Amiga) the floppy chooser allows you to assign a floppy image to a number of ‘slots’ in the HxC, and if you need to swap disks during use, you just press a button on the PCB to swap from one slot to the next. Very handy!

 

So, the moment of truth, did it work? Yes, yes it did 🙂

 

It’s a fantastic device, and I’m having immense fun trawling through a library of Amiga games to play the way they were intended to be played – on an Amiga, and a 1084S monitor. It’s a worthwhile investment for me (costing $100 approximately) and I know I’m going to get hours and hours of use out of it. If you’re happy running emulators, that’s fine to – but for anyone who is really digging that original experience on an Amiga, Atari, Amstrad, Commodore or any number of other retro computers, check out the HxC Floppy Emulator, it may just save you from all the pain and frustration of floppy media.

 


The arrival of the Commodore 1084S-P1

September 12, 2012

My Commodore 1084S-P1 monitor arrived today and I wasted exactly 0.00 seconds getting an Amiga 500 hooked up to test out both the quality visuals and the sweet stereo sound. I was not disappointed in any way, shape or form.

This screen has the goods. Check out the inputs on the rear! It’s the late 80s / early 90s version of a Samsung Smart TV.  The 1084S was so far ahead of its time.

 

Not only do you have RGB and composite (meaning this will do a fine job of providing audio-visual goodness for a SNES, Megadrive or Neo Geo (yes, I will be testing those out!) but you get a full range of H and V controls and other assorted goodness. Truly a gift from the Gods. For testing the screen on the A500 there was no going past RGB.

While you can already see from the above image the clarity that the 1084S spits out, you really need to get up close for a true appreciation…

Feast your eyes upon the crystal clarity of the Amiga 500 displayed via RGB. The above and below are shots from Dynablaster, one of my all time fave puzzle games on the Amiga.

I also fired up Shadow of the Beast – a Psygnosis classic – because Dynablaster didn’t have enough palette variety in the graphics to give me a real impression of where my $40 of hard earned cash had gone.

Shadow of the Beast did not disappoint, in visuals or sound. The 1084S stereo speakers were incredibly clear, and the amount of volume the monitor can crank out is truly impressive (although I didn’t leave it pumped for long…too many visions of this ancient wonder exploding into a thousand pieces of PCB due to being overworked)

Conclusion? Simple really. The 1084S in all its variations (including the P1) is simply THE monitor to have for a retro computer and game enthusiast. It’s an amazing all-rounder, providing the perfect companion to any Amiga system, as well as promising to be a great way to view a SNES or any other Composite or RGB enabled console. Sure, the 13 inch viewable area isn’t exactly going to rock your jocks, but it’s a small niggle amongst a wonderland of screen-awesome.  I’ll throw up some shots in the near future of other machines hooked up to the 1084S-P1.

 

 

 

 

 


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