C64SSD -The hardware transplant…

After experimenting with VICE on the Raspberry Pi the decision was made not to do a C64π project. I have done some loose research and some other ARM boards. Next to the Raspberry Pi model B, many other boards i.e. Pandaboard ES, ODROID-X, BeagleBoard came to my Google search hits.

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Being doubtful on the performance of the VICE on those platforms i have chosen the Intel Atom path which should provide me enough performance to make the new C64 more versatile. Also Stiggy’s ‘Commodore C64 ITX PC’ inspired me to do a similar project. An Intel based main board allows me a wider variety of operating systems. Also having all the important connections on the backside of the board is a non-compromisable requirement for me.

As the scope of the main board selection has now broadened the horizon i was able to set some more requirements although there is one major restriction: the interior dimensions of the C64. The board could not be larger than the mini ITX form factor and on top of that not high than ~2.5mm\1 inch in the front side of the board. Most boards have the power connector on the front of the board and that is a problem for a C64 transplant. Regarding powering the main board, another requirement stuck it’s head around the corner. An internal PSU would certainly not fit into the casing and a picoPSU from Mini-box.com was too high for internal head space.

So actually the wide range of possible main board was really narrowed down to a single few. Looking at the specs and versatility of the Intel boards i have made the decision to go for the recently released Atom N2800 (dual core, each core two threads) based DN2800MT. Actually the board that StiGGy used, an Intel D945GSEJT, is the predecessor of he main board that I have chosen.

The specs are really impressive, just to name a few:

  • mini ITX, low profile only 20mm (0.79 inch) high, just check out the 360° View here
  • HDMI and VGA ports and eDP/LVDS connectors
  • Many expansion options, even two miniPCI Express card slots, see interactive layout
  • On board DC-DC power (8v-19v) input allowing a wide range of laptop adapters to be used.
  • 3 years warranty (i hope that i won’t be needing it!)

So all this sound really promising… apart from the now poorly supported PowerVR SGX 545, see this review at LinuxTECH.NET. But might change in the future, i always have hope!

So here is the shopping list:

Picking the cleanest looking C64 which was in my stock made things easier. Actually the case was a little dusted but at least it doesn’t have any holes, switches, knobs or any other modification. Cleaning out the machine means: taking everything apart, all keys from the keyboard and the mainboard out. After a nice cleansing bath, using the grease eating Dasty, the C64 looks, feels and smell as new again.

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After around 0f years of 8-bit experience it is time for a change. The main board is replaced and a keyboard interface are now the new inhabitants of the good old familiar C64 casing. The Keyrah interface is still not connected internally. Just plug in a cable from one of the many internal USB interfaces on the Intel main board on the to Keyrah PCB, which is very easy. This gives the C64SSD the retro look and feeling of old skool computing.

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Clean, lean and mean that is how an computer should look like, also on the inside. Beside a few extra cables, to be precise: one internal USB connection from the main board to the Keyrah interface and a set of wireless cables connecting the on board WiFi card to the outside world, this is all what is going to be inside.

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The mainboard selfs sports a 64GB mSATA card (which is positioned top left), the Wifi/BT combo (perfectly lined up to right of the SDD card) and left to the big black heatsink the memory is located. This eliminates the messy SATA and power cabling.

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The Keyrah interface, which really puts the slogan on the spot, connects the genuine C64 keyboard via USB back to the motherboard. Also the two joystick ports can be used for some good old retrogaming. The Keyrah will be connected internally to the motherboard on a later stage. Jens Schönfeld put some, non-technical, key sentences on the Keyrah PCB, let’s see:

“good hardware for good computers”
“this is a good place for a clever line.”
“For Sirrah – the unexpected impact”
“Don’t act like someone you’re not.”

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On the rear my C64SSD now flaunts the default but interesting connectors. From left to right;

  • Power socket for the 19VDC adapter
  • Two USB 2.0 ports
  • One Ethernet port (1Gb,100Mb,10Mb/sec)
  • VGA port
  • Two high current/fast charging USB 2.0 ports
  • HDMI port
  • Line out (green)
  • Mic in (pink)

It took me 4 hours to make this first version of the main board transplantation. After cutting, drilling and grinding the base outline, the rough shape was formed. It still took me some effort to make the half height I/O shield fitted into the lower part of the C64 casing. The most difficult part is fitting the top again. I used the a poor man’s Dremel, Ferm FCt-300 Multitool, to cut out the large pieces, a large flat file for the rough outline and a set of needle files. The most part of the time is the measuring followed by the manual filing and the least time, around 15 minutes, i spend with the 230VAC powered Dremel-killer.

Still i need to do some small details on the hardware side of my C64SSD but for now version 1.0 is a fact!

Nice detail, although i need to apologise for the bad quality picture (using an iPhone 4), on the serial pf the machine.

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The serial number of my C64, “UKB1663887″, matches the serial number as defined in the BIOS of the motherboard:

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Now i need to find a nice distribution to run the software on… to be continued!

Update 2012-09-25:

Today I received the very cheap and perfectly working WiFi/BT antenna which I ordered through eBay at a chinese reseller/manufacturer. It fits perfectly the tiny connectors on the Intel Centrino 1030 WiFi/BT combo board.

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Compared to a custom C64x from Commodore USA my install looks really clean cut, IMHO!

 

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27 Responses to C64SSD -The hardware transplant…

  1. stiggyworld says:

    Fantastic work my friend, hope you’re having fun.

    Thanks also for the link, much appreciated.

    Kind regards

    StiGGy

  2. Mike Berry says:

    SWEEEEET!

  3. Karl says:

    This is awsome.
    Got me thinking about making something now …………………………

  4. fierman says:

    Nice one Berry! I just hope no working c64s were harmed in this production:)

  5. ocean says:

    Nice and clean job! Wonderful usage of miniPCIexpress slots :-D

    Have you tried running full-hd videos or desktop with it? I have D2700DC inside my breadbin with Win7 and noticed the Intel GMA 3650 graphics chip has super lousy driver – only 32 bit and unusable with aero & fullhd.

  6. ocean says:

    Ok, that sounds like fun! I think I have to buy Broadcom Crystal HD to ease the full-hd video playback…

  7. Elwood Castleby says:

    Nice, but how about showing it run vice w/some c64 games and not just a windows 8 bootup in the video?

  8. Bjarne says:

    Basically, this is another project that is never going to go anywhere … sorry bud.

    You don’t seem to get it. It’s not the “looks”, it’s the Basic interpreter that was the key to everything on the C64. Create a Basic interpreter, that has the ability to provide access to modern graphics for the user, as well as graphical user interface.

    The germans are out there in lala land, when it comes to computers. No imagination what soever. The guy who is doing “Drop the desktop” project, is more onto something than this. he’s closer to WHY C64 was ahit. Tramier was a nobody in the computer world, Peddles was the first to make the hardware … but it’s the Microsoft basic that did the trick, and that’s why Microsoft is the biggest today.

    Back to the drawing board … it’s the software that counts, not the hardware.

    • Robert-Jan says:

      “Basically, this is another project that is never going to go anywhere…”

      Are you serious?

      It seems to me this project has already finished… successfully. And if you are really in need for “a BASIC interpreter, that has the ability to provide access to modern graphics for the user, as well as graphical user interface” try BlitzBasic or the like. Have fun! :-)

      • Berry says:

        My best guess us that Bjarne confuses my project with the already *commercially* avalisten C64x from CUSA.

        Thinking that basic interpreter made the difference; Why are demos and 99.99% of the games written in assembler.

    • moijk says:

      While the Microsoft basic were a signature of the c64, Microsoft had little to do with the c64. Tramiel denied to pay licenses to Microsoft and paid a one time fee for the use of basic back in the PET days. So thats why the basic in the c64 that came years after the PET is so.. basic. Beside, Microsoft didn’t invent basic. John George Kemeny and Thomas Eugene Kurtz of Dartmouth College did.

      Microsoft became who they are because of the license deal with IBM that Microsoft got even before they have bought up the cp/m clone os called qdos that was the fundation for msdos, and the fact everyone that bought a pc computer suddenly had to pay “Microsoft tax” no matter what OS they wanted to run on it.

  9. Berry says:

    I am not sure where you are heading at but i enjoyed creating a new nice looking desktop machine next to my C64 (MOS 6510) and my Amiga machines. So i know what the feeling is of the C64 is all about and it isn’t the basic interpreter but the possibilities it gave me to explore, understand and create within the world of computers.

    So it isn’t about the looks of the hardware nor the versatility of the software but merely the potential it gave me to explore the world of computing into my own home. Therefor respecting Jack Tramiel for creating computers for the masses (and not the classes) and thanks to my dad for giving me the perfect Christmas present.

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  11. Mackie says:

    Niiiice, man!

    This is almost exactly the same as the project I have planned. The Intel DN2800MT seems like a pretty solid motherboard. Will probably run Windows 7 on it.

    • Berry says:

      Windows 7/8 runs smooth but please investigate the video driver compatibility :-)

      • Mackie says:

        Yepp, the GPU seems to be one of its weak points, at least driver-wise. I’m planning to use it as a 1) 64 emulator (running WinVICE) 2) HTPC for hd movies playback.

        I’m a bit concerned about the last part and the performance when playing Xvid and MKV (H264) movies. Have you tried that?

        • Berry says:

          Nope i rather code than watch a movie, have a look at the Broadcom Chrystal HD module. No experience with the XBMC functionality.

  12. apx says:

    I also got this idea when i noticed keyrah, i´m playing with idea of getting these cheap android 4.0-4.1 mini pc:s that are size of little bigger than usb stick. Basically just add the c64 as a keyboard. Then maybe add small battery operated screen that goes inside the c64 case. kinda like retro tablet.

    • Mackie says:

      I decided to ditch my Mini-ITX project and ordered a MK808 Android Mini PC instead. I will run VICE on it and I hope/think that the OTG-port (USB) on the device will work with the Keyrah.

  13. Peter says:

    Thanks for the effort in this blog. Suckered me into finding a case as well. Can only hope that it turns out half as good as yours :)

  14. Oliver says:

    Very nice project. I am doing the same thing at the moment and I have one question about your setup: How do you switch your system on/off? Are you using the Keyrah for this purpose or did you add a switch later?

    • Berry says:

      I use the power from a laptop adapter so either never switch the system off (when running Linux) or i use a switch from the power socket.

      Good luck and show your progress!

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