Category Archives: Vintage computing

Making ROMs for the BBC Micro

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Here’s something I’ve only just learned about the BBC Micro: you can burn ROM chips using modern EEPROMs. Who knew?* One of the strengths of the BBC Micro was the way it handled ‘language’ ROMs. The quotes are there because while many of these ROMs were, indeed, programming languages, others were applications such as word processors, spreadsheets, utilities and so… Read more »

Fun with chips #2: SN76489 sound generator IC

If there’s one sound that makes me nostalgic, it’s the brrrrr-BIP! noise of a BBC Micro being switched on. And that sound – as well as pretty much all the Beeb’s audio capabilities – can be traced to one chip – the Texas Instruments SN76489. This chip was used in a whole host of devices, including Sega consoles and arcade… Read more »

Fun with chips: #1 MC1441 bit rate generator

I’m easily pleased. Leave me alone with a breadboard, multimeter, oscilloscope and a previously unencountered IC, and I can amuse myself for hours. Well, minutes anyway. It’s fun to fire up a chip and watch it do its stuff. And even more fun if it’s an old chip. But before we get to the IC itself, let’s fill in some… Read more »

BBC Master power supply – repair or replace?

There are three things that are certain in life – death, taxes and blown capacitors in old electronic equipment. But at least you can do something about the last one. Powering up a 35 year-old computer that has sat in a loft for the past two decades is foolish. But we did it anyway. The BBC Master ran fine for… Read more »

Feels like 2001: a fresh Windows XP install

Ah, there’s nothing quite like the feel of a fresh, crisp OS install. It’s just that the OS I’ve just installed is Windows XP. Now that makes no sense… Or does it? As I’m now playing with my BBC Master again, I felt the need for a Windows machine to have alongside it. There’s a bunch of utilities that run… Read more »

Flowchart your way to success

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Does anyone still use flowcharts for programming? What with today’s complex development frameworks it seems unlikely that anyone’s stopping to draw diagrams on paper. But maybe if they did we’d have fewer security vulnerabilities – just sayin’. My addiction to computers, in the early 1980s, was driven in part by ‘30 Hour Basic‘, an introduction not just to the language… Read more »

The Master is back!

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My BBC Master micro is alive again, thanks to a generous donation. So what was wrong with it before? Buggered if I know. The Beeb suddenly developed a fault a couple of years ago. On powering on, it would show the OS greeting and sometimes the disk filing system greeting but would then hang. I tried a few things but,… Read more »

Epson MX-80 Part 4 – ESR check of the dodgy caps

It seems strange that both the capacitors and the transformer – the chief suspects in the investigation as to why my Epson MX-80 F/T III dot matrix printer belched out smoke – tested fine with a multimeter. As far as the capacitors were concerned, I measured resistance directly across their leads (having removed them from the circuit board) looking for… Read more »

Epson MX-80 Part 3 – well, this is strange

And so to the next instalment of trying to get my Epson MX-80 F/T III dot matrix printer back up and working. Previously on Epson MX-80… Just over a year ago, lots of smoke came out accompanied by a crackling noise. I’ve removed the main smoothing capacitors from the PCB and tested them. They seem fine. I tested the transformer…. Read more »

Epson MX-80 Part 2 – out damn cap

Time for the next step in my attempt to bring my beloved old EpsonMX-80F/T III dot matrix printer back to life. But first, some pictures of gorgeous old retro components. As we’ll see, they might be all I have left. I do love old resistors. They have so much character. And look how thick the wires are. There’s also a… Read more »

From the archives: Computers in photography

Having written two long articles for Personal Computer World on one of my great passions, aviation (here and here), it was perhaps inevitable that I would sell them a piece on an even greater obsession of mine – photography. This was published in the March 1991 issue. The article mentions the Sony Mavica. This wasn’t a digital camera – it was… Read more »

From the archives: Good Software Guide

Like the Good Hardware Guide (here, here and here), this 1991 publication was an attempt to produce a book listing all the most important products on the market. Yes, one book. Can you imagine trying to do that now? These are just the items I wrote – my mate Steve Gold covered far more, and there may have been other… Read more »

From the archives: Good Hardware Guide – Peripherals etc

This is the third part of my contributions to the Good Hardware Guide, published in 1991. This sections covers printers, scanners, a couple of modems, monitors (and one graphics card) and other peripherals. These include CR-ROM drives which were seen as exotic then – as compared to today when they’re regarded as obsolete. That happened quickly, didn’t it? The Miracom Courier… Read more »

From the archives: Good Hardware Guide – Laptops

This the second part of my contributions to the Good Hardware Guide published in 1991. The fact that this list of laptop PCs is much shorter than the desktop ones is probably significant. Laptops were still ruinously expensive in 1991 and, from a performance point of view, still significantly compromised when compared to their desktop brethren. Macs & Desktop PCs Laptops… Read more »

From the archives: Good Hardware Guide – Macs and Desktop PCs

My old mate Steve Gold got me into this. If memory serves, the editor of this book, Richard Jones, had some kind of wheeze as to how this publication was going to be packaged and distributed. It was ultimately published by Kogan Page in 1991. But the truth is I’ve forgotten most of the details of this project, other than… Read more »