Monday, 17 December 2012

Old Computers Won't Last Forever

   When I first started looking into buying an Amiga, I found that there were plenty of different models to choose from, and so I had to do a fair bit of research at the time about each model and reading up on the history of Commodore and the Amiga range of computers, all of which was fascinating and made me hunger more for one of these old machines.

   Then, as if waking from an amnesia type brain freeze, I remembered that I already had one, an A2000 sitting in the shed, along with a tone of software. Damn my ineptitude and complete lack of foresight! Trust me to store a great computer in a damp, dusty, cobweb filled shed instead of storing it somewhere proper and safe from the environmental effects that could kill an electrical device off faster than the main man Chuck Norris. It wasn’t a machine I had in my youth, nor one that me or my parents bought at the time it was on the market, but it’s a system I acquired and messed about with until I ran out of space to store it. Yet I wasn’t into retro gaming at the time, and I knew little if anything about the Amiga or its significance, so in the shed it went.

   Of course I was kicking myself when I rescued it from the damp shed, as I was becoming strongly entrenched in retro gaming, and enjoying plenty of games and systems from my youth, and having a blast on old games as well as the latest and greatest a modern system could offer. But would it still work though, that was the question, would the A2000 still fire up after all these years in the shed? After taking the cover off and inspecting the insides, everything looked ok, the ribbons connecting all the drives looked a little worse for ware, but everything else seemed ok. Lucky for me it fired up, and after turning it on and off more times than I care to remember the hdd eventually kicked in and Workbench appeared, as you can imagine, I was relieved, more so than a vegetarian being told that what they were eating was in fact quorn balls and not hairy cows bollocks dipped in gravy.

   Though the A2000 still worked and Workbench fired up, the machine had still taken a hit: the floppy drives had bit the dust, they damaged one floppy disk then didn’t want to work, and the ribbons looked in a state of serious decay. So even though the system still lived on, it needed some serious TLC, something of which it wouldn’t need if I had looked after it properly in the first place.

   Well 4 years later and I’m still in the process of doing my Amga 2000 up, I got as far as replacing the two floppy drives and a drive ribbon, but that’s about it, but now, with the system in a permanent place under my TV, I’m ready to start refurbishing the system again. Late last year I did strip the system down, and clean the whole thing from top to bottom, all boards, the case, connections, everything. I was even pleased to find that the clock battery had not leaked onto the main board (something which I thought had happened,) and so on the advise of others, I de-soldered it from the main board as the big box Amiga’s suffer from clock battery leakage, and this has the potential to kill the system.

   One unforeseen side effect though was that when removing the main board from the system, which was a complete pain, and in hindsight was a two man job, some of the legs on the second mouse port snapped away from the board. It was far to awkward to re-solder them back on as there were other components in the way, so I wouldn’t have been able to get to the legs in question, so after careful thought, I decided to remove joystick port 2 completely. The plan was to solder wires from the main board to the corresponding legs, this I managed to do, but it was a sloppy job and the wires eventually came loose. So recently I tackled the problem again, but this time I bought a D-Sub9 connector and some soldering flux and it worked a treat. I re-soldered wires back onto the main boards D-Sub9 joystick port 2 connections, planned the route around the board I wanted the wires to take and used insulator tape to stick them down so they wouldn’t move, then soldered the wires onto the D-Sub9 and popped that into a back port plate. So now I plug a controller into the back of the A2000 where port 2 is newly located.

   I basically did what I had to do to save joystick port 2 and get it working, as many Amiga games take advantage of controllers and joysticks, but through the second port, and so if that’s out of action, it’ll make it very awkward to play many games. Upon looking at it it’s a bit of a ‘what in the Frankenstein’s monster!?’ But my A2000 isn’t getting any younger and over time things break, so I have done what I needed to do to keep the machine going, it’s not the best solution, but it works, that’s the important thing.

   As time marches on and we all continue to use these ageing machines way past their intended usage, its inevitable that things will break or stop working and repairs will have to be carried out. Some will be repairable, others won’t, it’s just the way things go, and over time it’s a fact that old computers and consoles will become rarer and more uncommon as the years tick by. Yes even all the abundant sun faded turd brown Super Nintendo’s you can find for sale online will one day become a wild and not too often seen item, more ripe chance for asshole sellers on eBay to charge through-the-arse prices on the auction site no doubt. I already own two A1200 because one has a dodgy expansion port and the other stopped outputting sound at one point, and add to that a cassette player for the Spectrum that’s now just dead electronic weight. It’s amazing that a lot of these computers and consoles are still going and we can only do our best to preserve them while actively using them, so it’s sad to think that one day, if these machines don’t re-enter production somehow somewhere in the future, that emulation will be the only real way to experience them, food for thought.


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