I’ve moved my blog to a new home at http://blog.slor.net. It remains to be seen whether or not my post frequency will increase…
I have followed the Atari Coldfire Project (http://acp.atari.org) off and on for nearly three years now. This April, I decided it was time to fnally see about getting one. Here’s a brief timeline:
April 20: Contacted ACP to place order. Got in touch with Mathias, who was very helpful in getting me up to speed on the project status.
April 25: Sent my payment with the expectation it would still be a few weeks before shipping due to the timing needed to acquire the cases and prepare the OS image for the complete systems.
May 20: Mathias wrote to confirm my shipping address. In other words, they were nearing time to ship!
June 4: Notified by Mathias that my FireBee shipped that day! Now it was just a matter of waiting for it to make its way overseas.
June 18: I got back from an early meeting to find this box sitting on my desk:
In other words, my FireBee had arrived! It was tough, but I made it through the rest of the workday in anticipation of getting to play with the machine that evening. As I already knew, one thing that would not be included is a power adapter. Rather than take a chance on a 15-year old laptop adapter or similar, I invested just a little more cash on the way hope in a new laptop adapter providing plenty of voltage (19.5VDC) and current (4A).
After initial unpacking, here’s what I found very well packed inside the shipping box:
I was very impressed by the professional look of the packaging, including the box, slipcover labeling, and getting started guide inside the box. Of course, then, this is the part of most interest:
The FireBee itself is housed in a case about the size of a Netgear 16-port switch. In fact, with the blue case I chose, it might go unnoticed in a pile of said switches. And the back:
The external ports I’ll be most interested in for the short term are:
USB: For my modern keyboard and mouse.
DC-IN: For power, of course.
POWER: Power off/on, reset.
SD (side): Floppy disk emulation.
DVI (side): Video out to my panel.
Ethernet (side): Gotta be hooked up to everything else.
A quick look inside:
If you’re saying to yourself “it looks like they did the whole thing on a PCI card”, you are correct. Besides running bare or in the specially designed case, you can run the entire machine from the power provided by typical PC expansion slots. That’s great for someone who might like to convert an old desktop/tower case into a FireBee host.
As you can see, there are all kinds of things going on in there, including the Coldfire processor, ram, flash containing upgradeable firmware, lots of ports, and even a battery to provide a short period of operation without connect power. The CF card in there comes pre-staged with a base MiNT installation and a few options for desktop environment selection. Once hooked up, here’s what my desk looks like:
It’s finally time to turn it on, and after some silent blinking of lights from the FireBee, I’m greeted by my first setup decision to be made:
As a kid, cut his teeth on the TRS-80 Color Computer. It was a wonderful machine for its day, featuring a relatively powerful Motorola 6809 CPU. Although his CoCo was theoretically more powerful than its Commodore and Apple contemporaries, the graphics and sound capabilities of 's first love paled in comparison to his friends 6502-based machines. A little jealously and thirty years go a long way, because now is…
You know how some things tend to snowball? Well, let’s just say my last week has been rapidly rolling downhill, getting larger and larger as it’s moved on. If you recall, I stated in my last entry that I would be posting photos of the machines I’ve been working on the next day. That was just over a week ago. Here’s a summary of events that have taken place between then and now:
- I decide it’s time to take some photos to post here.
- In order to be able to take decent photos, I figure I’ll need to finishing cleaning up the computer room.
- Just after I’ve started cleaning again, I’m notified that someone in the area is looking to part with a VAX system cheap. As is my tradition when I’m not sure if I should buy something, I offer the guy half of what he what he’s asking for the system. He says “yes”, so that’s another half trunk full of stuff I need to find room for. It’ll have to stay in the trunk until either my room or the garage has some space freed up.
- As I get back to the cleaning, I figure it would be stupid of me to get everything all packed up and put away again without taking out, photographing, and settin aside the multitude of “stuff” that I have been meaning to get rid of for a while now. This, of course, means making the mess worse before it gets better. The VAX stuff makes itself comfortable in my trunk while I tear up the computer room and garage some more.
- Each time I start to clean up again, I run across a piece of hardware that I can’t put away in good conscience without installing whatever upgrade has been sitting around for it. There are a couple late nights gone.
- After a good chunk of time upgrading, photographing, and setting aside items to sell (more on that later ), I am finally able to make some progress putting things away.
- Today, I am finally able to walk through the room again, take some photos, and write this blog entry.
As you’ve probably already noticed, the RetroChallenge ended 3 days ago, so that pretty much means I made ZERO progress in finding something “interesting” to do with the machines I spent the previous days getting up and running. Am I disappointed by that? Yeah, a little, but my disappointment is greatly overshadowed by my happiness that those machines are now working, I have organized a bunch of stuff to get rid of, my work area is nearly a work area again, I eventually found a nice spot to put the VAX(guess what my next restoration project will be), and it’s only been a couple weeks. I’ll credit the RetroChallenge for getting me on gear on a lot of that, and perhaps I’ll enter myself for the “Most Untimely Yet Productive U-Turn in a RetroChallenge” prize. At the very least, I’ll be ready when the next one comes along!
For what it’s worth, here are some photos of the machines I worked with for this challenge. In the next few days (no, really), I will do another post or two to detail all the machines currently in this room that is nearing museum level and shoot more pics of the everything in sight. Anyway, thanks to the RetroChallenge for some motivation, and on to the photos:
I received the Amiga OS 3.1 install floppies I had been waiting for yesterday, and needless to say I was itching to give them a shot. The I stuck the first disk in, turned the machine on, and finally saw its first sign of bootable life since its original system disk was destroyed. Straight to the disk utilities I went to get the hard drive set up, but wait – no hard drive was found by the Amiga. Uh-oh. Knowing that I sometimes have SCSI hardware just plain configured wrong, I took a shot at changing the jumper settings just a bit. After a little bit of work, finally the Amiga could see my hard drive. Unfortunately during the process, though, I found that the machine had trouble reading some areas of both the Install and Workbench disks, which of course did NOT bode well for getting the OS put on the hard drive. With a little cleaning, the Install disk seemed to get past its issues, but there were 4 blocks still on the Workbench disk that could not be read. As I expected, this prevented the Workbench from being installed on the hard drive.
After wallowing for a bit, I thought perhaps I should give the emulation idea one more go. Since I had changed the drive configuration and managed to get it formatted in the actual Amiga, perhaps WinUAE would have more success using the disk. Lo and behold, and few minutes later, I could see the drive in my emulated Amiga. All I needed now was a good set of disk images to use for the install, so I went back to my disk supplier (who I now REALLY owe) and asked if I could possibly get him to email me a set of disk images to give this a shot. By the time I got a reply with the images that might do it for me, I was already falling asleep in my chair and way too tired to give it a go. That turned out for the best, because later this morning I received a followup email stating something like “Ignore that last email – THESE are the images you want.” It was tough to actually go to work today knowing I was so close to getting this machine working, but willpower won out.
When I got home tonight, the moment of truth was near. I fired up my emulation host, got WinUAE configured as closely to the configuration of my physical Amiga 3000 as possible, and booted with the 3.1 install image. The install did its thing (and did it fast at 8x floppy I/O), and I soon had a hard drive ready to run. There was nothing left to do but move the drive back to the Amiga, turn it on, and cross my fingers. Could this actually be my victory? Well, if the thing hadn’t booted up from the hard drive, you can bet you bottom dollar I would still be working on it instead of writing this blog entry!
Part I: Revive all the non-functional machines lying around in the retro graveyard – CHECK.
Tomorrow will be photo day – I’ll get some shots of all the machines involved in this project and possibly some others relating to my retro collection. I now have 5 days to get them all doing something “useful”. Will that require putting the Amiga 3000′s hard drive back on my PC in order to get the appropriate networking utilities installed? I certainly hope not, but that has yet to be determined…
The Amiga is my last machine to get up and running, and it’s definitely testing my patience. Unlike most computers I own, there are not too many ways to get a completely raw Amiga up and running without having actual Amiga-formatted floppy install media, and there is apparently no way to create an Amiga-formatted floppy on typical modern PC. Of course, I was not aware of that tiny detail until after I had stolen the the machine’s hard drive a while back for use in another, more pressing project. The only idea I have seen that circumvents this process is to put your hard drive in a PC, use the WinUAE emulator to boot and load an OS onto the drive, and then move the drive back to the Amiga. I gave that a number of tries, but I have thus far been unsuccessful in getting the emulated Amiga to find the SCSI device and allow me to load the software.
The better news is that I recently had someone contact me (yes, in response to a newsgroup post) and offer to send the necessary boot media for only the cost of shipping. I jumped at that, and I’m now playing the waiting game to see how long it takes to get here. Being the big spender I am, I have offered to pay for priority shipping, so I hope to see the disks soon. Until then, I’m using my time to further improve the machines I’ve already rebuilt and clean up the computer room (no small task).
I have some ideas for making all these computers “useful” as a group, but I have not yet settled on a formal goal. With 10 days left in the month, though, I should have PLENTY of time.
I couple nights ago, I swapped the spare 500 MB drive into my Mac IIci (which happens to be a Low End Mac best buy) and booted it up with my Mac OS 6.0.8 install floppy. The IIci is the most comparable machine to a Mac Plus that I own, and one thing about the OS is that you can install it for “all Macintosh systems” to include support for every system OS 6.0.8 is aware of, so off I went for quickest OS installation I’ve done in a while – I believe it took about 5 minutes.
The next thing I had to do was gather up the necessary parts to hook the drive up to my TT’s ACSI port. That included an external enclosure I grabbed from work, my ICD AdSCSI ST host adapter, mounting bracket, and a few cables. Once I got all that put together, I turned on the TT and configured HDDriver to scan the ACSI bus, and I was pleased to see it recognize the drive on reboot (along with the CD-ROM drive I added to the enclosure for future tinkering). It seems perhaps I’m finally learning how to configure a SCSI chain properly on the first try.
Now for the moment of truth. The only thing left to do was start up the software to kick off Spectre and try to use the drive. Not surprisingly (since RTFM is always my last resort), it took me a few tries to get the configuration settings right, but once I finally did… Well, that’s where the “no freakin’ way” comes in. The Mac BIOS was able to find and boot from the transplanted hard drive, and right in front of me sat my new Macintari TT Plus! My floor is just a bit cleaner now, so I DID do the Dance of Joy for this one. The hardware emulation runs quite smoothly, and I’m eager to get back to it tonight to test out some apps on it. The Spectre, even though it plugs into the TT’s cartridge port, does absolutely nothing but stay out of the way unless you tell it to take over. This means I can just leave it plugged in all the time – even when I’m just doing ordinary Atari stuff on it.
Only one machine remaining to get functional, and then I can start making them useful!