December 28th, 2016

Eaten by a Grue podcast reviews Infocom games

Eaten by a Grue podcastPodcast hosts Carrington Vanston of the Retro Computing Roundtable and Kevin Savetz of ANTIC have joined forces to form a new podcast. Eaten by a Grue is a semi-monthly show in which the two co-hosts play and share their experiences with Infocom interactive fiction. The first two text adventure games they’ve played are Zork I: The Great Underground Empire and Ballyhoo, both of which were originally available for the Apple II and which can now be found in the Lost Treasures of Infocom, among other ports. Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

December 26th, 2016

Lon Seidman reviews the Apple IIGS

Lon Seidman, occasional sysop of the Matrix Returns BBS, recently reviewed the Apple IIGS on his popular YouTube channel. The 33-minute video covers such peripherals as the CFFA3000 and software including GS/OS, HyperStudio, Arkanoid II, and California Games.

Unfortunately, the Apple IIGS nearly went up in flames during the shoot, resulting in this "yule log".

(Full disclosure: The author of this post backs Lon Seidman on Patreon.)

January 12th, 2016

Warren Ernst starts new ‘zine “Old Tech | New Tech” with apple II content


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October 11th, 2015

Hands on with the A2Heaven Apple IIc VGA Adapter

Review written by Javier Rivera

The apple //c is a little marvel and it is a favorite among retro collectors for its beauty, versatility and size. Lately there has been a lot of development for the platform around storage and display, as media is harder to acquire and slow, and CRT displays are aging and failing. Also there’s the problem of color: a lot of old displays are green or monochrome, and the color options are sometimes hard to get. All these constraints have engaged creative minds around the world, like France, Bulgaria, Japan, Korea, Brazil and US just to name a few, to come with new and creative alternatives.

The video problem for the Apple //c has been a special one: the signal from the video port is not a typical standard, and very few attempts to use the connector have been made. The first was from Video7, who made a “video enhancer” that connected to RGB monitors. Later there was a home-brew from France called “Guimauve 2000” that connected the //c to a VGA monitor.

Lately, Nishida Radio came out with a beautiful adapter that not only worked very well, but was very small and connected to the back of the computer. The only drawback of the last two solutions is that they don’t include protective enclosures, the components are exposed.

Recently, Plamen Vasilyov from Bulgaria, a prolific Apple II hardware creator, came up with his version of a VGA adapter. I had the fortune of getting ahold of the device and it is a simple yet effective VGA converter. The device not only works flawlessly, but is also elegant and simple. Comes in a white plastic printed enclosure, with a rainbow cable that connects to the //c video port (very retro Apple II style) and provides on the output side a three-row 15-pin DB-15 VGA connector.


vga

The feature that sets this adapter apart from the others is a small button next to the connector: by pushing it will provide 8 different video modes: Color, Green, Monochrome, Mono White, Color-scanline, Green-scanline, Monochrome-scanline and Mono White-scanline. The beauty of these modes is that you can emulate different monitors with one button: a color, green, monochrome and white monochrome monitors, and with the addition of scan lines it recreates the CRT look and feel, very popular in the console game scene.


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These modes also make working with 80 column and graphic desktop applications very easy, allowing readable and crisp clear text at the touch of a button.

Green | Green w/scan lines | Color | Color w/scan lines

The device sits on the back of the computer out of sight but easily accesible to the switch, is small, light and very well crafted. I’m not surprised as his other creations (//c dclock, Senior PROM, Audio cards and his famous Disk II floppy Emulator) are known for quality and reliability.

I greatly recommend this adapter, as not only does what it is intended very well, but provides extra options found only in high end gaming devices.

At the time of this review, the price of the Apple IIc VGA Adapter had not yet been announced. Separate NTSC and PAL versions will be available.

May 1st, 2015

Testing the UA2/RM TranswarpGS clone begins this weekend

BOY HAVE WE GOT BIG PLANS FOR THE WEEKEND!

A2Central has received its TranswarpGS v1.0 clone prototype and we are going to test it in our primary Apple IIGS starting this weekend.


IMG_20150427_113533_1 - Fixed For Handout

The first run of 10 PCBs are intended for testers and developers, with the remainder being sold to a lucky few who have offered to help fund the continuation of the project by graciously offering more than the retail asking price. If testing is successful, more PCBs will be ordered within a few weeks with full availability to be announced at a later date.

Our TranswarpGS test unit came with all the bells and whistles you’d expect on an upgraded TWGS except for an on-board fan. We’ve been asked to experiment using the card at 16MHz (and higher) without it, so the only cooling will come from our Kensington System Saver (which I consider essential equipment anyway). It will be interesting to find out if, or when, the card begins to get crashy without onboard active cooling. We know the old cards required cooling at higher speeds, but the new TWGS may not necessarily behave the same way or have identical requirements.

Our test rig is a ROM 3 Apple IIGS, with a ReactiveMicro 200W power supply. Currently installed are a typical assortment of cards:

4MB Sequential Systems RAM card (RAM slot)
R&D Automation CFFA3000 (slot 6)
Apple ‘Mustang’ SuperDrive controller (slot 5)
Drewbie Stereo card (slot 4)
A2RetroSystems Uthernet card (slot 2)

I usually have a 12MHz ZipGSX with 32K cache installed in this machine, so I’m expecting to see a noticeable difference in performance.

As we test the card, results will be posted here:

TEST RESULTS PENDING

What did we get?

Out of the package, aside from the TWGS itself, we received a flyer congratulating us on our purchase that also briefly describes the benefits of the card and a set of stickers with a chart of the Scalable Oscillator settings printed on them. The stickers are for placing on the underside of your Apple IIGS lid, so you won’t lose the settings when you need them most. No manual was included, but does anyone really need one? The original Applied Engineering TWGS manual is available online from several sources, and it remains applicable to the clone TWGS board.

Our TWGS also arrived with version 6 of the 32K cache board. By the time the clone TWGS is in full distribution, the version 7 32K cache board will be shipping with it. The primary difference is the version 7 board has a flash ROM on board, with LOTS of space to tinker with the TWGS firmware in the future. I’m attaching a pic comparing the 2 cache boards side by side.


TWGS_Cache
The top two cards are version 7 cache boards, the two bottom ones are version 6.
The new TranswarpGS v1.0 clone from UltimateApple2 and ReactiveMicro has a lot going for it. For one thing, all the components are brand new instead of being 25+ years old and benefit from modernization. New logic and manufacturing techniques should equate into power efficiencies and heat reduction for longer life and increased stability. Also, modifications that were previously considered hacks and upgrades are now standard features. There’s certainly more bang for the buck with the cloned TWGS.

The new TWGS includes:

High-speed WDC 65c816
32K cache board, with the current 1.8S firmware
Scalable Oscillator (preset to 16MHz) with .25MHz incremental tuning
High-speed GAL set
Enhanced “straight” CPU cable
On-board fan, for active cooling

Pricing

The price for the TranswarpGS v1.0 clone is $550 USD plus shipping. That’s probably not the price point some people were hoping for, but at least an option now exists for the Apple II Community for a new, modernized and faster accelerator in addition to the older, used accelerators. It’s extremely difficult to achieve discount pricing from suppliers on such small, niche product runs, especially one with this much silicon on it.

I’m grateful Anthony Martino and Henry Courbis undertook this project and brought it to completion. They were able to succeed where others have not. Good job guys.

April 5th, 2015

Scalable Oscillator for TranswarpGS

We’re big fans of the Apple IIGS (well, duh) but for all its cool graphics and sound capabilities, it’s kinda pokey when running its native GSOS GUI and compatible applications. That’s why accelerators are always in demand. They replace the stock 2.8MHz processor with a faster 65c816 on a card, usually 7MHz or faster, and give the IIGS a much needed kick in the pants. Thankfully, accelerators are about to become more plentiful.

For some people though, 7MHz isn’t good enough. The TranswarpGS accelerator itself can be made better, stronger, faster. We have the technology in the form of improved 65c816 processor, newer cache RAM, active cooling and an overall better understanding of the TranswarpGS board layout and GAL logic. Through upgrades, the TranswarpGS can be reliably overclocked beyond its original specifications.

Now we get to the figurative heart of the matter, the oscillator crystal that determines the speed of the accelerator. Like most accelerators for the Apple IIGS, the speed of a TranswarpGS is derived by dividing the oscillator’s frequency by 4. So a 28MHz oscillator results in a 7MHz operation, 32MHz equals an 8MHz board and so on. But even with upgrades, we can only push our 80’s technology accelerator so far before it balks and begins to malfunction. Not all TranswarpGS boards are equal either. Some boards upgrade more easily and go faster than others. To find out, you’ll need to keep a variety of oscillators on hand. Maybe several.

If only there was a way to easily and conveniently overclock the oscillator’s frequency until the optimal speed for reliable operation could be determined.

Now there is. From UltimateApple2 and ReactiveMicro, we have the new Scalable Oscillator, a small augmented oscillator replacement that works with your TranswarpGS accelerator (and probably ZipGS).


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Scalable Oscillator front and back

The Scalable Oscillator (aka SO) replaces the fixed-frequency oscillator on your TranswarpGS. A series of DIP switches determines what speed the SO runs at, from 28MHz through to a maximum 80MHz in .25MHz increments — that’s 7MHz through 20MHz in system speed.

The DIP switches from top to bottom are labeled 1-8. Switches 1-7 control the oscillator frequency using binary code, while switch 8 enables/disables the SO. You can piggyback your original oscillator into the SO for normal operation (by setting DIP 8 to off) but… we’re here to GO FASTER! AM I RIGHT?

The binary code used for DIPs 1-7 is determined by taking the desired oscillator speed and subtracting 8 from it. For example, to run your SO-enabled TranswarpGS at 10MHz, you need a 40MHz oscillator frequency signal — subtract 8 from 40, you get 32. 32 in binary is 0100000 or off, on, off, off, off, off, off. Simple, right? Don’t worry, a handy chart will be included with all (53!) possible DIP settings for the binary challenged.

A2Central and Mike Maginnis of the Open Apple podcast were allowed a sneak peek to play with this new tweaker toy. We discussed some of our hands-on experiences in OA Episode #45 but I’ll also post some of my perceptions here.

First off, the SO works as advertised. It was relatively painless to set the SO output frequency per the included chart (which you will *not* want to lose). You might be one of those set it and forget it types, but for anyone who likes to tweak their hardware, printing the chart out and taping it to your power supply or the underside of your IIGS lid might be a good idea. That way, its always there when you need it. BTW, this is *that moment* your middle school teacher said you’d need to know binary for someday.

The SO is pretty small. I had to remove it from the TWGS whenever I set the DIPs but that’s because my TWGS also has a fan upgrade installed (another fine option from ReactiveMicro). It could be tricky removing and installing the SO (but not impossible) while under the fan… but with the fan left in place setting the DIPs with a toothpick was equally tricky. That might be attributable to my excessive (i.e. obsessive) care (i.e. paranoia) over electrostatic discharge during the handling of all the components. I’m kind of a klutz.

I have to say, I very much like the Scalable Oscillator. For me, it beats keeping a drawer full of miscellaneous oscillators around.

The anticipated price of the Scalable Oscillator is a reasonable $35 USD and will be available in quantity within a few weeks.

March 31st, 2015

UltimateApple2 and ReactiveMicro refine the No-Slot Clock

If you’ve listened to the latest Open-Apple podcast (#45), you’ll know that Mike Maginnis and I have recently had the opportunity to test a few new products from UltimateApple2 and ReactiveMicro.

First up is an improved clone of the No-Slot Clock (NSC), aka the Dallas Smartwatch DS1216E. Well, it’s more than a clone, really. It’s more of a refinement.

The original NSC was a bit of a breakthrough — no Apple II (prior to the IIGS) had a built-in clock. So if you wanted your Apple II to keep track of the time and date, timestamp documents, etc. you had to use a clock card which used up a valuable slot. For example, the Thunderware ThunderClock Plus was a popular product but it was just one of dozens of similar but incompatible competing products. The NSC on the other hand was a chip and lithium battery within a 28-pin socket. You could install the NSC into just about any other 28-pin ROM socket, piggyback the ROM into the NSC, patch your ProDOS and viola’ — your Apple II could tell the time. Compared to many of the clock cards of the day, the NSC was an inexpensive (and ultimately disposable) alternative. It’s expected 10 year lifespan seemed more than adequate… at least at the time.

The NSC wasn’t perfect for everyone though. For Apple //c users in particular, the NSC with a ROM piggybacked on it was just too thick and often interfered with some of the RAM expansion products inside the //c’s cramped interior. Even in the Apple //e, there were occasional clearance issues with thick ‘double wide’ cards.

That brings to the here and now. The NSC has been discontinued but is still available from various sources. New, old stock units with indeterminate batteries are for sale on eBay, but like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, “you never know what you’re gonna get.”

Happily, something new and better has now been produced. UA2/RM has developed an NSC successor that is slimmer and features a user replaceable coin cell battery. Why didn’t Dallas Semiconductor think of this? They probably did but wanted to sell their expendable Smartwatches as cheaply as possible.


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Compared to an original NSC, the new one is much more svelte.

We were given a couple of prototypes to examine, the original v1.0 and a revised v1.1 unit. While both function perfectly, neither represents the final product. During initial assembly of the first prototype, Henry Courbis determined a few changes were necessary to make future assembly easier (circuit routing apparently) and during our testing, we made a few suggestions of our own. There will be a v1.2 and that *should* be the final production unit.


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So how well do these new NSC units work? Flawlessly. The legacy Smartwatch software we use now works with the new NSC adapters just fine — of course you only use it to set the time and date initially, and patch ProDOS. I’m hoping UA2/RM distributes a Y2K-compliant version of the software with this product.

More good news, this new NSC fits into Apple //c computers with memory expansion ports just fine. It’s still a tight fit, but you can now have your clock and RAM at the same time.

As of this writing, pricing hadn’t yet been determined. I expect that if it sells for the same or even a little higher than the old-fashioned NSC, it will be a good value. The user-replaceable coin cell battery alone insures this will be the last clock you’ll ever need to buy for your Apple II.

UPDATE: The anticipated price will be USD $40.

January 20th, 2015

Brian Picchi reviews the Apple II, David Murray thinks the Macintosh may have been a mistake


Brian Picchi

David Murray

August 25th, 2014

ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation

I was recently given a copy of ‘ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation’ by Jonathan Zufi to review. I’ve spent the past week poring over it in my spare time. As I turned each page, I felt mesmerized and pleasantly surprised by the book’s high-quality photography of historical Apple products.

Which is odd. I’m not one for coffee table books. At least, that’s what I initially mistook ‘ICONIC’ for. I like to read books with stories that have something to say, or have something to do with science, engineering or history; in short, I prefer books that spark my imagination. Yet, that’s exactly where ‘ICONIC’ hooked me.


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‘ICONIC’ is a giant, heavy slab of a hardcover divided into 6 chapters and 340 pages. Inside, you’ll find a phenomenal collection of photographs of Apple products beginning with the Apple 1 era and ending around the 2012 iMac. The six chapters are: Desktops, Portables, Peripherals, iDevices, Prototypes (my personal favorite) and Packaging. ‘ICONIC’ indeed turned out to be the ultimate coffee table book, but there’s substantially more to it than that. It’s a pictorial history of over 30 years of industrial design evolution and pursuit of technical excellence. As Richard Attenborough’s character John Hammond repeatedly states in Jurassic Park, the author and publisher appear to have ‘spared no expense’ to produce this homage to Apple Innovation. ‘ICONIC’ is every bit as impressive as the Apple products it explores.

Accompanying the pictures are quotes from the likes of Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Nolan Bushnell, Andy Hertzfeld and their contemporaries. The book doesn’t attempt to narrate the history of Apple Computer. Mr. Zufi has wisely left that tired road for others to trek and has instead found a Zen-like approach to presenting his vision in pictures. ‘ICONIC’ was four years and over 150,000 pictures in the making, and it shows. I imagine it was an excruciating task to settle on the final set of photos for the book.

My only complaint is trivial and hardly worth mentioning. I would like to have seen more pictures from the Apple II era placed within the book, but I admit I’m biased in that regard. Still, I completely enjoyed ‘ICONIC’ and recommend it highly.

Beyond Apple fanatics, ‘ICONIC’ will appeal to anyone with a love for elegant industrial design. So much attention to detail is captured, you may discover something new each time you open its pages.

You can order ‘ICONIC’ from the book’s website at http://iconicbook.com/purchase or from Amazon.

July 27th, 2012

CFFA3000 Demo

For anyone still waiting for your CFFA3000 to arrive in the mail, here’s something to help tide you over. Blake Patterson of the Byte Cellar has posted a nice write-up and demo video of the highly-regarded Apple II card in action.  Check it out here.

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