Playing Game Music without a PC: The Roland SB55

Roland produced a number of SoundCanvas and related products. The SoundCanvas 55 came with an optional device called the SoundBrush 55. This was a floppy based MIDI recorder and player. Musicians could use it to either play back MIDI files or alternatively to record their performances. We will of course use the device to play back video game music without the need of a PC! I will have a look inside this device, which is well over 25 years old and also will hook it up to my SC55 and the MT32.

Pimping the C64

A good friend of the channel by the name of matze79 supplied me with a rather cheap C64G. As I didn’t own a C64 at the moment, this was an excellent opportunity. The poort little C64 came with two missing keys, which were fixed by 3D printed replacements. While this looks interesting and is impressive in its own right, I wanted a more long lasting fix. The C64 was also missing its SID chip and came with a nice little SwinSID. But again, we have some better replacement on hand! So let’s open up the machine, fix those things and enjoy the fantastic world of programs the C64 has to offer!

Let’s Code MS DOS 0x17: Come On Let’s Twist

One ubiquitous demo effect that can be seen on a wide variety of demos and intros is the twister or the twister bar. There are numerous examples in productions for the Amiga, Atari ST and 2600 that I know of (and even at least one on the Sega Master System). And probably a lot more that I don’t know. However I have never seen this effect in any of the old PC demos, except maybe in Future Crew’s PANIC, where something very similar was used for the vertical scrolling greetings. But it was not quite the same still. So today we will code a variant of the twister using Turbo C for MS DOS!

Retro Burner: Refurbishing and Retrobriting the Galep III

I got an old Galep-III universal EPROM programmer from a friend. He couldn’t get the device to work under Windows 10, since it is quite old and uses the parallel port. This device is perfect for my 486! And since I just finished assembling an XT CF Lite card, I needed something to write its EEPROM with.
The device looks a bit aged, due to dirt and severe yellowing, so we will clean it and retrobrite it, to make it look like new. This is only my second attempt (after an experiment with my serial mouse), so let’s hope for the best!

Let’s Code ESP8266: The SI7021 Temperature and Humidity Sensor

The SiliconLabs SI7021 is a very popular sensor for measuring temperature and humidity. It uses the I2C bus and is easily accessed from the ESP9266 or ESP32. Some breakout boards use different variants of the chip, namely the measurement Specialties HTU21D or even the Sensirion SHT21. These chips are more or less compatible to one another, but some don’t implement all the commands. However temperature and humidity can be used on all those chips. Today I’ll walk you through a tutorial of accessing the SI7021 via the Arduino Wire library.

Upgrading The VGA RAMDAC

The VGA cards for historic PCs have an analog video output that is being driven by a so called RAMDAC. This is an IC that converts the digital framebuffer information into analog VGA signals. Modern PCs don’t need this anymore since they use digital output (like HDMI and DisplayPort) and digital displays. But our old retro machines use this to drive either an LCD or a traditional CRT. There are good RAMDACs out there and bad ones. One problem some RAMDACs have is noise when the VGA palette registers are written. This happens in games and demos for example when the screen is fading in or out. I found a supplier of new old stock INMOS RAMDACs, and I hope that replacing the cheap ADV RAMDAC on my Tseng ET4000 will remove the noise that I am seeing.

Let’s Code MS DOS 0x16: Fire Exclamation Mark!

It’s summer and it’s hot. And what better to code than another classic demo scene effect: the ubiquitous fire. But we will do it with a twist. The naive implementation is slow, very slow. Especially on older 286-486 computers. We will optimize the actual algorithm a bit and utilize a hidden VGA function that gives us scaling in the X-direction by a factor of 4 for free.

So you want a Gravis Ultrasound?

The holy grail of PC soundcards include a few special devices. But one of them is surely the Gravis Ultrasound. It allowed mixing of 32 independent channels with (near) CD quality. This could be used for sound effects or music, and was particularly popular in the demo scene. But also game classics such as Jazz Jackrabbit, One Must Fall, Epic Pinball and Pinball Fantasies used the card to great effect. However today an original Ultrasound costs anywhere between 200-400 EUR, which is a bit too expensive in my opinion. So we try out a cheap homebrew clone! Meet the GUSar lite!

The ATX2AT PC Saver

In 2019 Sam Demeulemeester (he’s actually Belgian, although I say French in the video) did a Kickstarter for the ATX2AT smart adapter. It allows you to safely attach a modern ATX PSU to a retro mainboard with AT connectors. That is your precious 286, 386 or higher will now be safe from overcurrents due to wrongly inserted CPUs, broken expansion cards, failing tantalum capacitors or rogue power supplies. It might not save the world, but it will probably save your valuable retro PC. I already lost two precious mainboards and am glad to have finally received the ATX2AT smart adapter!

How To Learn SMD Soldering

There are two kinds of soldering PCBs: through hole and SMD. Through hole uses components with leads, which are threaded through holes (hence the name) in the PCB and then fixed to the PCB with solder. SMD uses Surface Mounted components. That is, very miniaturized components that are soldered onto the surface of the PCB, without using leads. 

Due to the small size of the components it is at first much harder to solder than for classic through hole parts. To save you from the misfortunes of failed projects, there are practice kits available. We will assemble one such example today and I will try to teach you the basics of SMD soldering as well as some more advanced tricks.