22 August 2019

Modding a Commodore Amiga 500 to Run Games on USB

Not long ago, I got a great deal on a Commodore Amiga 500 complete in box. I already had an Amiga 500, but it's a PAL version and was missing some important components like the power supply, video adapter, mouse, and any software. But now I had an NTSC machine with everything I needed to play games. Or rather, one game.

08 August 2019

Calculator Review: Langenscheidt German Electronic Translation Machine and Calculator

It's been too long since my last calculator review. I never intended to stop doing these, but I became obsessed with vintage computers so that has consumed a majority of my life. But I've still got a huge collection of calculators and they aren't going to review themselves.
Langenscheidt German Electronic Translation Machine and Calculator. Say that thirty-eight times fast.

06 August 2019

Commodore 128 Part 3: RF Modulator Issues

When I first booted up the Commodore 128 and saw that it was working just fine, I figured the restoration would be a fairly simple task. The computer was dirty and yellowed, so some scrubbing and retr0brighting would be enough. Or so I thought.

01 August 2019

What came with the Commodore SX-64

Getting the Commodore SX-64 was exciting enough, but the seller included a box of software and accessories. I was mainly focused on ensuring that all of the components of the SX-64 were in good working order, but eventually I got around to taking a look at the box.
That's my foot in the lower left.
It's a crazy amount of stuff, so I still haven't gone through all of it. But I'll discuss some of the highlights.

30 July 2019

Commodore 128: Keyboard Retr0brighting

The summer heat wave has been horrible but that doesn't mean I can't take advantage of it. The sun puts out at least 20% more UV than my two 15 watt black lights, so I might as well save a bit of electricity and use nature for what it's intended.

It didn't start out this way though. I tried using the black lights to restore the keyboard keys. Here are the results of that attempt.

25 July 2019

Commodore 128: Teardown

Project 64 is on hold while I wait for parts to come in the mail, and I'm unable to create calculator review videos since Microsoft Windows Movie Maker has stopped working. I guess it's time to focus on some other computers in my collection.
I had a hard time finding one of these. This is the Commodore 128, the successor to the Commodore 64. It's one of the first computers to be fully backward compatible with a previous generation. All software and hardware that worked on the C64 will work on the C128.

23 July 2019

Inside the Commodore SX-64

My favorite part of getting any cool retro tech is taking it apart and cleaning it up to make it look new again. Making something that has been neglected for years look nice again is incredibly satisfying and there are many successful YouTube channels that do just this.
That being said, I had to draw the line with the SX-64. It was not cheap, and I'm not likely to find another one again in the near future for the price I got it. In the Meet the Machine post, I said I'd be giving this machine a deep cleaning. I won't be doing that. Not now, at least.

18 July 2019

Commodore Project 64 Part 9: More Keyboard Stuff

Despite all of the other neat stuff I've been discussion on this site, I have been continuing work on Project 64. I've had a bit of luck with one of the non-working boards that hadn't been putting out any video. It's still not working correctly, but this is what it's showing now:
This was after replacing several chips on the board. The troubleshooting guide suggests this is a RAM issue, but so far replacing those hasn't solved the new problem. I've ordered more chips to see if this fixes things, so we'll see.

16 July 2019

Meet the Machine: The Commodore SX-64 Executive Computer

Holy crap. I got a Commodore SX-64!
Today's post isn't going to be particularly informative or productive. I managed to get my hand on what has been my holy grail for vintage computer collecting. I never actually thought I would own one of these. This is a computer I have only ever seen in person once before and it wasn't working. And now I have one in my possession that works perfectly.

11 July 2019

Radio Shack Robie Junior: A Robot from 1986

This may come as a shock to people who know me, but I love robots. I'm the kind of person who immediately feels empathy for a robot in distress despite knowing full well its conscious is just lines of code written by someone. I don't care though because they're great. I'll gladly accept them as our overlords when the singularity occurs.

I recently found this Robie Junior Remote Command Intelligent Robot at a yard sale for $5. I knew I had to take him home with me the moment I laid eyes on him, just sitting there mixed in with a bunch of other toys and junk someone didn't want anymore. I had no idea what I was really buying at the time. It was missing a remote control and manual, and it didn't look like it was in great shape, but at the very least it would be a cool thing to have on display.

09 July 2019

Power Mac G4 Part 3: Cleaning

After many hours, I have completed the cleaning and rebuilding of the Apple Power Mac G4. This was a much more difficult process than I had expected it to be, but I still enjoyed it.
Using an electric duster, I sprayed air at the electrical components to remove much of the debris. This ended up working really well and I only had to use a small amount of isopropyl alcohol to clean some of the tougher spots.

04 July 2019

Power Mac G4 Part 2: Teardown

Last week I mentioned how easy it was to get inside the Power Mac G4 with its latch and hinged side. This remains true, but to completely tear down the machine, it was a hell of a lot more difficult than a modern Windows PC. But this needed to be done so I could get the interior of this computer as clean as possible.

I started with the DVD drive because it's the most easily accessible component. It's not screwed in or held in place with latches or anything.

27 June 2019

New Old Computer: Apple Power Mac G4 from 2000

To post more often, I'm switching to Tuesdays and Thursdays so that I only have to do two a week. This should make this website more manageable and give me more time to post interesting stuff.

Last week I received an old Apple computer that I knew absolutely nothing about. I have very little experience with Apple products, but I've always liked the way their older computers looked. So when my brother-in-law offered me a free Power Mac G4, I happily accepted it not knowing whether it would work or not.

25 June 2019

Commodore Project 64 Part 8: Retr0bright Phase 4

At last, I've reached a point where I have something assembled. It's not much, but I'm still excited! I began phase 4 of retr0brighting hoping it would be the phase that finished it. I made a few changes to the method to increase the chances of it being successful.
First, the top and bottom of the chassis were painted with a thick layer of 40 volume creme. I then wrapped the parts in clear plastic wrap, which I did for the sun attempt but not the UV light. This would prevent the creme from drying much.
This time around I wanted to focus on the sides, so I set up both lights to be as close as possible and left it like this for twelve hours. The following twelve hours were used for the other side, and then I let the UV lights shine on the rest for another twenty-four hours. 

So was forty-eight hours enough?

20 June 2019

Commodore 16 Part 2: Cleaning

I spend more time cleaning things than I do using them. It's my favorite part of collecting. I want my machines to look as new as I can possibly make them so that I can be proud to show it to others. Also no one wants to touch a filthy keyboard.

After disassembly, cleaning a Commodore machine isn't difficult. With all of the electronics out of the way, you can use soap and water to scrub the heck out of the plastic parts of the chassis.

18 June 2019

Commodore 16 Part 1: Teardown

Since Project 64 is on hold until some needed parts arrive, I figured it's time to take a look at other computers in my collection. These haven't been cleaned or worked on, only tested for power.
 Here's a Commodore 16. At first glance, it looks a lot like the Commodore 64, but it's got a black chassis and grey keys. This computer came out after the C64, but is actually the next version of the Commodore Vic-20. It's kind of confusing, which might be why this didn't sell all that well in North America. It was apparently pretty big in Europe though.

14 June 2019

Meet the Machine: (Former) Toolbox PC

My original plan for the Meet the Machine series was to discuss the vintage computers I have, but for very sentimental reasons, I'm expanding the concept a bit. The computer in this post was built in 2013, but it played a significant role in my life. This is going to be a long post, so buckle in.
Behold, the Toolbox PC before it had an operating system. 
I had built a few PCs before this one, so I had a pretty good grasp on it. But those PCs were designed to stay in one place. At the time, I was going on extended trips and thus didn't have access to my Steam library. At first I brought an Xbox 360, which was fun, but PC games allowed for so much more. 

So I needed a PC that I could take with me that would withstand a bit of abuse. I expected this thing to be dropped a few times (and it was). I spent a few weeks searching the Internet for PC cases built for abuse and nothing at a reasonable cost turned up. What I did find were some interesting custom cases, but they too were either cost prohibitive or designed more for style than utility. 

Then the idea hit me: the Toolbox PC. I could get a rugged toolbox built with strong materials and add shock absorbers to the components. 

13 June 2019

Site Update

Hey friends,

I've been making some changes to this website to make it more open to things other than calculators. I'm keeping the name The Calculator Review even though I'll be discussing more than just calculators because I like it.

I've added a links page so you can see where I get a lot of my inspiration from, as well as to make this part of the Commodore 64 community. Please check them out if you find this stuff interesting.

Thank you so much for reading, and if you have feedback, I'd love to hear it!

12 June 2019

Commodore Project 64 Part 7: Backup Board!

I mentioned several times that I'm concerned that I won't get the board for P64 working since I've had no luck in finding out what's wrong with it. I purchased a Commodore 64C for super cheap with the hope that it wouldn't work so that I could repair it and keep my theme of the project. [Un]forunately it worked perfectly.

But recently I was lucky enough to find an untested Commodore 64 breadbox computer among a lot of other neat things.
This one looks way worse than other breadbox I've had.

10 June 2019

Commodore Project 64 Part 6: The Power Supply

I wasn't planning on doing another P64 post until I did something interesting and worth sharing. But two of my Commodore 64 power supplies died on me and the third isn't putting out the correct voltage. This left me with no means of using any of the machines for a few weeks until the new one I ordered arrived.

Of course I can't live with that, so I thought back to a video from Perifractic's Retro Recipes in which he built a cheap and simple power supply.
This blew my mind because the original C64 PSU is big and ridiculously heavy. I guess electrical technology has improved over the past thirty years.

So I've been planning on building one of these for a while but hadn't had a reason to bother with it until now. I even had the components I would need already, so I spent some time analyzing some things Perifractic didn't explain clearly and doing a little bit of my own research elsewhere to figure out exactly what I needed to do.

07 June 2019

Meet the Machine: Commodore 64 One

As I mentioned in the beginning of the Commodore Project 64 series, I have several C64s. The focus so far has been on one that doesn't currently work, so now I'd like to discuss the ones that do, as well as other vintage computers in my collection.

I'll start with the one that looks the best.
I call it the Commodore 64 One because it's the first system I restored.

The chassis is in fantastic condition, showing hardly any signs of age. It's actually the chassis that the Project 64 board originally came from. The board comes from the first C64 I ever purchased.
Inside, all of the radial capacitors have been replaced. Every chip that put out any sort of heat was fitted with a heat sink to keep everything nice and cool.
But the most important thing done to this computer is the PLA chip was replaced with a modern U17 PLAnkton. These can be found on Ebay for about $20, but I purchased mine from Retroleum.com. It's a small UK-based store that sells spare and replacement parts for vintage computers and vital for any Commodore 64 enthusiast.
The PLA chip is apparently the most common point of failure for a Commodore 64, so replacing this one with a modern chip reduces the chances of this computer dying on me. The U17 PLAnkton also generates significantly less heat than the old PLA, which can only be a good thing.
This machine was modified for reliability and performance. It's my go-to C64 for gaming, and it runs like a dream. I love this computer even though it isn't stock.

05 June 2019

Commodore Project 64 Part 5: The Keyboard

While planning out this project, I was concerned about the motherboard never working. As I've said before, it gives me nothing more than a black screen even after having all capacitors replaced and testing the chips that are usually the biggest culprit in a non-working machine. So as a fallback, in case I never got the Project 64 board working again, I ordered a supposedly non-working Commodore 64C for about $50 from Ebay.
This is the Commodore 64C, a later revision of the world's most popular computer. I personally love the breadbox design more, but the 64C has its own beauty. This machine is in rough shape. It's missing keys and is quite filthy. Also it has a weird smell. But I figured if it didn't work, I could take the board from inside and use it for Project 64.
But alas, it works flawlessly. That's good because I won't have to fix the board if I do end up using it for P64. But it's also kind of bad because it breaks my rule of using only things that wouldn't otherwise be a part of a working machine. Regardless, I'm not going to scrap this C64C chassis of course.

Today's post isn't about the 64C, but the Vic-20 keyboard I intend to use for Project 64.
Yikes. 

Okay, it's actually not that bad. I've disassembled and cleaned many Commodore keyboards and it's pretty straightforward. I also don't care that it's missing keys because I'm going to be 3D printing new ones anyway. But I needed to make sure the keyboard would work.
I brought out my main Commodore 64 that currently works flawlessly. I won't get into what makes it special for this post because I'd like to write something for each of my vintage computers.
From what I can tell, the keyboard used for the Vic-20 is identical to the Commodore 64. It plugs in just fine, so I booted up the Commodore 64 and attempted to type "TESTING VIC-20 KEYBOARD ON COMMODORE 64."
Hmmm, not quite. I wasn't sure if this was being caused by a faulty keyboard or if the Vic-20 keyboard wasn't compatible with the Commodore 64. So I brought out my working Vic-20.
My desk was getting cluttered with Commodore products, but the test proved that a Vic-20 keyboard is perfectly compatible.
The weird pink color isn't the fault of the Commodore 64. I think the television I'm using is having problems (yay a future project!). But more importantly, I learned that I was going to have to repair the Vic-20 board for Project 64.

I've never fixed the keyboard of a Commodore machine before, so I'm going to stop here for now. I'm guessing the missing shift lock key might be the cause of the problems, but I don't have a spare currently to verify this. 



03 June 2019

Commodore Project 64 Part 4: Retr0bright Phase 3

The first three phases of retr0brighting were intended to be experimental. I wanted to find the best method for me to restore the old electronics in my collection. Unfortunately, as this post will reveal, none of the methods I've tried have proven to be consistent.
For Phase 3, I purchased two 15W ultraviolet lights so that I wouldn't have to rely on unreliable sunlight.
I brushed 40 volume creme over the top and bottom of the chassis as well as half of the printer cover of the calculator. I put all of the parts on top of the dryer in my laundry room and set up the black lights to cover as much as possible.

A few hours into this experiment, I figured I should add another yellowed thing that hadn't been retr0brighted at all and see what kind of effect this setup would have.
I have two Sega Dreamcasts, one in amazing shape (left) and one that shows its age (right). This would be the perfect opportunity to see if I could restore something back to its true original color with the method.

I taped off a section so I could see definite changes, if any were to appear. This square was coated lightly with creme, which may have been the problem later on.
All parts were rotated and the lights rearranged to get better coverage and so I could fit the Dreamcast on top of the dryer. Take notice of the angle of the Dreamcast because this yielded strange results after 20-something hours.


The sectioned off square hardly shows any difference, but the right side of the yellowed Dreamcast is slightly brighter. The side that was hit the most with UV light is more yellowed than the shaded side. My guess as to what happened here is that the UV negatively affected the plastic that wasn't covered in 40 volume creme. 

I think the very thin layer of creme I used on the Dreamcast just wasn't enough to do anything useful, but there was a difference. It's hard to see in person, but at certain angles I can definitely tell the sectioned area was brightened.

Anyway, back to the Vic-20 case.

Side note: after 24 hours of checking on this under a black light, seeing this case under normal light was really weird. Here's everything before I washed off the creme.

And this is after, with a picture of the chassis from before on the left. These pictures don't really tell the whole story because the lighting is different between them. For future projects, I'll need to find a way to get consistent lighting between pictures to get a better idea of how well the retr0brighting process works.

Once again, not much has changed on the bottom of the chassis. I'm honestly pretty happy with where it is anyway. 
The melted portion on the top of the chassis came out fantastic. There's still a slightly peach color remaining, so I'll hit this lightly with some sandpaper to see if that helps remove it completely.

I have not attempted to retr0bright the interior of the chassis at all, but even it has whitened in parts where there was creme. 
The left and right sides of the top and bottom chassis still need some work because I didn't leave them in the UV light much. 
Finally, here's the part from the severely oranged calculator. I only brushed the half beneath the window so I could see definite changes. I wouldn't say it's brighter than the rest, just different. I wonder if this calculator was also in an area thick with cigarette smoke. I'm going to need to find a different method to fully restore this calculator. But I did discover something very interesting during my first attempt to clean it.
While attempting to fix the plastic panel over the display, I got some super glue on the chassis of the calculator. I wiped it off as quickly as possible, but it revealed the true color beneath the sickly orange. This clearly damaged the plastic, but I wonder if there's an ingredient in super glue that could be used to clean this up. 

Anyway, that's all for the Project 64 for now. I still don't have a working board and I'm waiting on some components for my 3D printer to move ahead with the keys. I will need to put this on hold until something of significance happens because there's only so much to say about retr0brighting the same machine. I'd like to use what I've learned so far to retr0bright something else, so once I figure out what that is, I'll write about that.

Thanks for tuning in!