Tag Archives: Commodore64

Computer Station

Today I bought a new shelf to replace the old orange card table I removed during spring cleaning. My plan here is to build a permanent place for my Commodore 64 and Vic 20 computers. Since they will not get much real usage, comfort should not be an issue, this is really more for display.

 

The very top will probably hold misc stuff like my scale Green Lantern Power Battery or perhaps the Portal Gun. The second shelf, which is empty right now is where a TV set will go. My plan is to head to a pawn shop and see what I can get for under $50, if I can’t find anything reasonably priced, I will head to Walmart and see what they have, I am sure I will find something for under $100.

Edit: I changed the picture to the completed display. The TV would not fit on the 2nd shelf, so I put it on top.

Me and my Vic 20

I got my first upgrade for the Vic 20 I purchased a couple of weeks ago. I got a 32K expansion cartridge, because well 3K is not enough to do anything more than write a couple of dozen lines of Basic code. The Cart cost about $30, it was easy to configure and worked like a charm. I downloaded a game called Pentagorat, which required a 24K expansion and was written in just the last couple of years. I figured this would be the best test possible for how the new memory was working. It amazes me that there are still people out there not just writing code for these things, but building and selling hardware for them as well.

I thought about getting the PENULTIMATE Cartridge for the Vic 20 instead, it not only had the memory expansion but included a bunch of games as well. Unfortunately this thing is made in the UK and would have cost me $150 to get and that seemed too ridiculous for this project.

My new project

I accidentally won an ebay auction for a Vic 20 Computer. I say accidentally, because I have never actually won an ebay auction before. Normally I just hit the buy it now button if I really want something. When I do bid, I set a max bid and adamantly refuse to go over my max bid, this is usually not enough. Well this time $41 was enough and shipping was only $15, so I got a fully functional Vic 20 with a cassette drive for $56. Pretty good price when you consider most people selling them set ridiculous prices on shipping like $60 or $70.

Fortunately my SD2EIC drive is compatible with the Vic 20, so is my 1541 disk drive, so all I have to do really put some programs on the SD card and I am good to go. I spent a year fixing and upgrading my Commodore 64, so I expect I will do the same with this. I think I will do a JiffyDOS upgrade on the motherboard and maybe buy a PENULTIMATE CARTRIDGE which provides a memory upgrade and several ROM games.

I know, it looks a lot like the C64.

Server is still down

My server system is still in the shop being fixed. I was sort of waiting for it to post anything meaningful, but I think it is going to there a while longer.

I think I missed my calling in life. I should buy broken Commodore 64’s, repair them and then resell them. I think I could make some money on this and I seem to have a knack for it. For the last year I have been restoring and upgrading a C64 I bought on Ebay last August while the wife was away. This week I fixed the final piece, which was the 1541 disk drive. Last year when I got it, the drive worked for about 20 minutes before it stopped. Since then it has been a low priority because I had a SD2IEC device, which allowed me to run programs off an SD card. This week, I decided to try again and I noticed, the drive powered on and even the red drive light lit up like it was trying to read the disk. So I pulled it apart and noticed the drive head looked really grungy from years of reading floppies. So I cleaned the head with some alcohol and a Q-tip. While I was in there, I re-seated the ROM chips, figuring it could not hurt. When I got it back together, it worked magnificently. I am now waiting on a “Y” splitter cable so I can use it and the SD2IEC together. I know the 1541 has a pass through port on the back, but cable lengths and desk positioning make it impossible to use, therefore splitter.  So now the work is done and I have a fully operational C64.

One of the great services I found for the C64 community is CommodoreServer.com, they are an online service that allows you to sign on over the internet and use disks stored there. It is a very cool service provided free, although you can donate and get some premium services. It is a bit weird to get hooked up, but once you have figured it out, its fine.

LOAD “V-1541″,8,1
SYS 49152
NEW
OPEN2,2,2
PRINT#2,”ATDTCOMMODORESERVER.COM:1541”
CLOSE2
LOAD “@USERNAME,XXXX”,2
LOAD “CSMENU”,2
RUN

I know, it looks cryptic, but it works. This does requires some sort of network to serial conversion, I use the WiModem and it works perfectly. for some slightly more detailed instructions, try here.

The C64 stuff has distracted me a bit from my Oculus Rift. Considering it cost me way more the C64 did, I suppose I should pay more attention to it, and I promise I will as I go along. But the big thing that has been weighing on me about it, is just how far along we really are not on virtual reality. In this regard, I think technology has really failed to live up to its potential. When you think about it, we have had all of this technology for at least a decade, but we are now just getting first generation hardware. When I think about this, there really is no particular reason why I should not have had one of these in 2007 and I might even argue it was possible in 1997. Okay, processors and video cards were not what they are today, but look at what people accomplished with the C64’s in their time, I look at those old demos and I am amazed at what they accomplished with 64 KB of RAM. Why was it not possible to produce even crude VR with 500 Mhz processors with 512 MB of RAM or how about 2 Ghz processors with 4 GB of RAM? Yes I acknowledge that small LCD screens we use for Cell phones were not all that developed in 1997, but how about in 2007?

I think the issue here is probably one of low expectations, back in the 80’s technology, computers specifically were going to change the world, and they did, but not as radically as they should have. I have always said, games drive computer technology advancements, but for some reason, in the 90’s we got caught in doing other things with computers, they became communications devices and tools we used to get work done and they stopped being fun, they stopped being life changing, we took our eye off the ball. Back when Doom originally came out, we loved the game, because that is what we wanted our computers to do, we wanted to walk around in virtual worlds and have experiences the real world could never produce, we wanted out computers to provide us with an interface we could interact with, but somewhere along the road someone somewhere decided, no one wanted that. Instead of Operating Systems we could build worlds on, we got databases, spreadsheets, word possessors and web browsers. We have computers today in 2017 that really don’t work much differently than they did in 1997.

RE: C64 in the modern age

Earlier I wrote about what a modern Commodore 64 needed to look like. Well here is my completed setup. The butt ugly green cartridge is the EPYX Fastload, the blue box with the 2 buttons is the SD2IEC SD card reader and beside that is the WiModem.

Pretty much all of these devices work as promised. I cannot surf the web or run World of Warcraft, but it certainly makes the thing way more useful. I can store boatloads of C64 programs on a single SC card rather than maintaining a bookshelf full of decaying old floppy disks. I like the hot keys it provides as well, Commodore Key (C=) + RUN/STOP key saves me the trouble of typing “LOAD”*”,8,1″ and then “RUN” to get programs going. AND of course the best reason of all is, I do not have to wait 8 minutes for a game to load and as you can see;

I can telnet to the odd C64 BBS. The EPIX cart has another nice feature as well, a reset button, I cringed every time I cycled the power on my C64, thinking, this will be the one that ends it all, the reset button does not power down the system, so I feel better about using it. Sadly, since I bought it on ebay, I did not have a choice of colors, I suspect the butt ugly green is not their best seller.

So there you have it, the Alienware of its time, the best selling computer of all time, the computer than influenced a generation of programmers, hackers and nerds.

Homemade WiFi Modem for a C64

I have started the attempt to build my own WiModem, this is my stage 1 prototype, I am not 100% sure about the wiring at this point, and I have not sorted out the firmware yet. So I am not plugging it in until I figured everything out.

The C64 breakout board cost $17, the MCUNode ESP8266 costs $10, you can probably find them cheaper than that.

Making my Commodore 64 useful

This folks is how you get a Commodore 64 (C64) on the internet. What this is, is a WiModem, essentially it is a WiFi card that fools the C64 into thinking it is a Hayes Compatible Modem. It is actually a really clever use of an ESP8266, I am thinking I am going to build one of these myself. Once you have this device setup and connected to your router, you can connect to telnet BBS’s using old terminal programs just like it was 1985. On the surface this probably seems a bit dumb, considering it is not 1985, it is 2017. However, I would like to point out, its Commodore 64, not an Alienware Aurora R6 and if I wanted to connect to the internet like it was 2017, I’d just use my Alienware.

C64 in the modern age

There are three things every Commodore 64 (C64) needs in the modern era of computers.

  • SD2IEC, which bring a modern storage solution to the C64 in the form of SD cards.
  • EPYX FASTLOAD RELOADED cartridge, which updates the C64’s terrible disk access routines and speeds up the loading of programs.
  • WiModem, which gives the C64 access to the internet by emulating a Hayes compatible modem.

Now don’t get me wrong, adding these to your C64 is not going to fundamentally change anything about the C64, but what it will do is make life easier for you and make the retro experience less frustrating and more fun. These upgrade will probably cost you $200 when all is said and done, but they are easy to install and none require you to open the system.

There is some argument to be made that a JiffyDOS replacement ROM is a necessary upgrade as well. I disagree, it is a nice to have, but not a need to have. My first problem with the JiffyDOS ROM is it is not much better than adding the EPYX cartridge and the keyboard shortcuts are not all that short. The second problem is, the ROM requires you to de-solder the old ROM chip to install the replacement. This is a process I am unwilling to undertake, while I am competent with a soldering iron, running the risk of destroying my C64 is entirely too high, so for me and I think most people this is a no go.

So now I guess the question is, what do you do with your spiffy super fast internet connected C64 with a ton of storage space?

Me and my C64

Last year while the wife was off in Montana helping to take care of my mother, I bought an old Commodore 64 with intent of gutting it and putting a Raspberry Pi in it. Long story short, I was actually able to repair it with a 20 minute soldering job. Since then it has been a center piece of my nerd cave, while I do not use it much, I do occasionally fire it up and play Zork or Hammurabi. Well a couple of week ago I came home from work and found it on the floor, apparently knocked off the desk by one of the cats. When I booted it up, all the characters were funky. A quick run on google showed this was actually a common problem when shipping these boxes. The character ROM (901225-01) is socketed and occasionally come loose and the fix is to open it up and re-seat the ROM. This morning I got ambitious and opened it up for the 2nd time, it did not take long to figure out which was the correct chip, but the process was fairly easy. and when I put it back together, it booted up fine and dandy.

 

As you can see, I am back into Zork without too much hassle.

Commodore 64 Part II

Okay, PezWitch needs to come home, I am obviously sick and cannot be trusted unsupervised. This one is a later model C64C, I got it even cheaper than the last one and this time, I made no effort to repair it. I simply gutted it and installed a Banana Pi into it

c64c-2

I actually like the looks of the C64C better than the original model, it is definitely more stylish and has a more “Cyberdeck” look to it. Although I will say this, the original case was really sturdy and rugged, while this case seems to flimsier in comparison.

c64c-1

As you can see, once I removed the motherboard there was plenty of room for the BPi. I had to deface the right side slightly with a knife so I had easy access to the SD card and the power jack.The Video lined up pretty easy with the rear cartridge opening. In the center is a neat little board that turns the native C64 keyboard into a USB keyboard, the cable on the outside connecting this board to the USB hub on the left was a necessary evil, because I wanted external access to the mode button on that board. The mode button changes how the keyboard is mapped, switching it between standard PC key mapping and Commodore 64 key mapping.

Commodore 64

Kind of a funny story. With PezWitch away, I am fairly bored, I can really only spend so much time reading the internet and masturbating. I was entering the long dark tea time of the soul. So to entertain myself, I bought an untested (meaning broken) Commodore 64 with the plan to gut it and put a Raspberry Pi inside and use it as a retro gaming console or a media center. $50 I got the computer, a 1571 floppy drive and two joy sticks. I thought I could use the floppy drive to house a couple of hard drives, the joysticks were basically useless, but what the heck.

I opened the system to pull the motherboard out and I noticed a broken solder point. It looked like not enough solder was used during the manufacturing and at some point it got bumped, which broke the connection. I am pretty good with a soldering iron so again, I said the heck, if it does not work, I am out 20 minutes of my life and 3 cents worth of solder. So I go at it, most of the time spent was waiting for my iron to warm up and what do you know, the thing boots up and I am feeling pretty smug. But of course now I feel guilty for wanting to gut it.

c64So now what? Well I happen to own a copy of Basic Computer Games by David Ahl and Creating Adventure Games on your Computer by Tim Hartnell. Both of these are books about programming games in Basic from the bad old days of the 80’s.
cover-thumb
But first I need a floppy disk, which begs the question, who has 5 1/4 inch floppies laying around. It just so happens PezWitch works at a computer store that has a vintage computing display and what do you know, they have an old floppy they are will to give up to my grand experiment. This works great, for about 20 minutes and the then the drive stops working, my first thought is, bad disk because well the disk is at least 20 years old. So next step is find and buy some unused floppies. I find an unopened box of 10 for $10, including shipping and a couple bcg_coverof days later, I basically find out that is not going to work either. So back to ebay where I find a used sd2iec for around $30, an sd2iec is a device that makes an SD card look like a really big floppy disk to the C64. So again, I wait a few days and I am in business again. Problem is, it does not work either. Now I am beginning to think it is the serial port on the C64, but when I try to access it, I do get a blinking red LED, which tells me it is communicating on some level. While I am researching the issue, I note, that some SD cards from certain manufactures do not work and the one I was trying to use, is one of those cards. I did not really want to use one of my 32 GB cards, but that is all I have so, I give it a try. AND BOOM, works perfect and I am in business.