Monthly Archives: June 2017

” I’m going FAST with FASTchip //e..“

004_fastchip_e_logo_s

What is it and what it is for?

It’s here! We have now newly produced accelerator made for 8-bit Apple’s from the Bulgarian electronics genius of Plamen Vaysilov of http://a2heaven.com

It’s called “FASTchip //e” and it works as the name indicates, with Apple //e (6502 & 65C02) at the moment & more support is coming i.e. for ][+. All you need is free slot on your Apple II and you can experience the accelerated speed up to 16.6 Mhz (!) of pure  s-p-e-e-d. The 16.6 Mhz makes it fastest 8-bit Apple II accelerator available today.

The FASTchip //e is based on 65C816 processor with 512KB of fast SRAM memory (expandable) where it stores the software run in accelerated speed.

Acceleration for 8-bit Apple II’s have been around from very early 80’s. There’s been: Number Nine Apple booster, Saturn/Titan cards, SpeedDemon, AE Transwarp I and II as well ZipChip’s – and these have been very sought after products. Computers are never too fast and if there’s an way to make it operate faster, be it overlocking or accelerator chip, there’s market for that. That however can be problematic with 8-bit Apple II’s. You pretty much mess up the timings of the original games that are designed to run with 1 Mhz 6502/65C02-processor. Surely 1 Mhz 6502 processor wasn’t much to work with so lots of games/software indeed would run better accelerated, more or less.

But there are other software than games too. If you do use AppleWorks, work with databases or you want to take advantage of the higher processor speeds with your programming projects, now you can. The final FastChip //e user’s guide will contain FASTchip //e “Programmer’s references” how to use the chip with your programs, so the modern “home-brew” – software developers can use the FASTchip //e with their code and take advance of the accelerated speed on their products.

001_package_contents_s
The package contains:
– FASTchip //e – card
– External control panel (these are beta-testing models, actual production model might be different)
– Cable to connect the FASTchip //e and the external control panel.

Installation:

003_apple_iie_setup_of_cards_s
It’s easy to install, all you need free slot (1-7) on your Apple //e or enhanced model. It does not override the 80-column function of the slot 3 when used in Apple //e-models.

The FASTchip //e – card comes with external control panel :

panel_1_s
(picture 1 : beta model of the external control panel)

panel_2_s
(picture 2 : beta model of the external control panel)

The layout of the external control panel is as follows (based on picture 2)

“STOP” (left) you can change between current and standard 1Mhz CPU speed.
“PAUSE” (center) you can pause the CPU.
“FUNCTION” (right) button you can choose which function will be displayed on the LED-screen in the middle of the unit.

Display messages:

cp  – FASTChip //e is in setup mode ( [ESC] is pressed after Power Up )
freq – FASTChip //e show working frequency (3.00 Mhz)
normal – FASTChip //e in normal 1Mhz non-accelerated mode.
stop – FASTChip //e in PAUSE/STOP mode.
slinky – Show current RamFactor page if RF is enabled.
sl_off – RamFactor is disabled.
rw – Show current RamWorks page if RW is enabled.
rw_off – RamWorks is disabled.
softsw – Show state of some soft switches (see table below)

table

It also have 4 digits LED-display as well rotary knob to set the working frequency of the 65C816-processor itself from 0.20 up to 16.6 Mhz. The card also have built in 192KB fast RamWorks compatible RAM and 256KB fast RamFactor (slinky) compatible RAM. It’s modern design and it is low power design for cool operation. The Acceleration works for programs running in both main and auxiliary memory. It is compatible with most interface and expansion cards for the Apple II.

It have an easily accessed from power-up, built-in control panel, which let’s you control the processor speed, joystick, speaker speeds and other options available.

The Control panel:

005_menu_control_panel_sThe FASTchip //e have settings you can alter built-in by accessing the control panel by pressing ESC -key during the boot-up animation of FASTchip //e.

With arrow keys up and down you can choose the setting you want to choose and with left and right arrow keys (or space) you can choose to alter the value.

Speed:
008_menu_speed_s
With speed settings you can choose:

– Using the Space to switch between OFF and 16.6 Mhz
– Off and 1 Mhz are normal Apple II speeds.
– Off = FASTchip //e is disabled and uses original CPU
– Off = if you use another DMA device
– When set to 1 Mhz or anything else up to 16.6 Mhz the FASTchip //e is been used.

Using the external control panel is handy. You can STOP the CPU, adjust the CPU speed as close to perfection you desire for each software you are using.

Slot Configuration:
007_menu_slots_s
Here it allows you to define the FASTchip //e speed setting for each of the slots. If you have card that can’t run at accelerated speed, select “Normal” by pressing the spacebar. This is more like “trial-and-error” but that’s something you have to get used to.

Sample configuration:
SLOT 1 – Fast – Parallel Printer Interface Card
SLOT 2 – Normal – Serial Interface Card
SLOT 3 – Fast – FASTchip //e
SLOT 4 – Normal – Apple Mouse Card
SLOT 5 – Normal – Virtual slot for CFFA3000
SLOT 6 – Normal – Floppy Disk Controller Disk II
SLOT 7 – Normal – CFFA3000

I basicly setup all other slots Normal expect FASTchip //e and RAM-cards and everything worked fine.

Miscellaneous Options:
006_menu_options_s
With miscellaneous-menu you can choose more basic settings, i..e wether you wish to see the startup graphics animation (boot time is slightly faster without).

With sound-mode you can choose from: distorted, fast, normal, music or HIFI.

With the DISTORED – setting the sound will be depended of the speed of the FastChip //e, in FAST – mode there will be 1ms delay, NORMAL – is the standard setting. With some music programs they might require the sound being slowed down a bit so if it doesn’t sound right, you can choose MUSIC – or HIFI. HIFI – is required by few music programs – you can try this if the sound is still too fast at NORMAL or MUSIC setting – but this however will slow down the acceleration.

Joystick delay : You can choose NONE, SHORT or LONG. Mostly the LONG – setting works for most of the games where the timing is sensitive. Some games might work with SHORT – and might work faster with NONE.

And, RamFactor and RamWorks! FASTchip //e contains build-it emulation of 256KB Fast RamFactor (slinky) and RamWorks 192KB. RamFactor you can enable them here and setup the slot.

Backlight led of the card : set or disable the backlight illumination modes from Disabled, Fade, Speed, Red, Green, Blue.

System test:
009_menu_system_test_s
With system test you can do basic hardware testing to see if the FASTchip //e works with your Apple II or if there’s any issues to be solved.

Save configuration
You can save your configurations here. The settings are saved up in FASTchip //e.

About FASTchip //e
Information screen about the manufacturer, A2heaven.com and contact information.

Quit Fastchip //e
When you have made all the settings & saved them up to your configuration, this makes the Apple //e cold boot.

Testing the FASTchip //e:

I used as a testing unit my Apple //e enhanced (ntsc) with ZipChip 4000 installed on it and few common cards :

  • CFFA3000
  • EDD4+ card
  • Uthernet II
  • Mockingboard-T and Mockinboard v1a
  • RamFactor 8M
  • RamWorks 8M
  • Apple Mouse Card
  • ZipChip 4000
  • RamWorks III + VGA addon card

Of cos having ZipChip on this computer how is pretty useless but it did not interfere the FASTchip //e in any point.

Beta testers tested several hundred of original Apple II 5.25″ floppy software & games and we could easily say the success rate is very close to 100% at this point. The FASTchip //e firmware wasn’t final version yet and is soon finished with more support i.e. ][+ and full support for Platinum //e – model. However more testing is been still done as well more programming-releated tests and code compiling tests by Plamen Vaysilov and Antoine Vignau.

Playing games was great FUN! The rotary knob is insanely great idea (seriously it is!) when you have an game which runs somehow slowly. You can find the perfect speed for it from anywhere from 1.1 to 16.6mhz range. I found games like “Xevious” very much more playable when i accerated it up to 3-4mhz.

Youtube video playing “Xevious”:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6x7UmMbTs8

And of cos, i just had to, test the “Alien Downpour” by Michael Packard and slow it down! That game feels quite difficult to me so i slowed it down a notch, and all the sudden it left me more time to response in all those aliens 🙂

Youtube video playing “Alien Downpour” (sorry lower quality):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4wdP_dIpZE

For the huge performance gain is available with simulators. I tested “The Jet” and you’ll be the judge is it fast enough?

Youtube video “The Jet” (demo mode):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DImR-TI3aCU

Apple II Desktop / Mousedesk was really an nice experience when run from .dsk image using CFFA3000 and accelerated. Now you can actually do something productive with it, if you choose to do so. I run out of time at this stage to test with GEOS but that’s something i’m intended to test soon.

Final thoughts?

FASTchip //e must be one of the most versatile accelerators made for Apple II 8-bit computers. The built-in menu is very user friendly, quick to access and you can adjust lots of things.

Some people might think accelerating 8-bit Apple II’s is pretty much waste of time. That really depends. But with FASTchip //e it’s made so easy, as you can find the “sweet spot” for the gaming speed which is perfect, not too slow, not too fast. The rotary knob is absolutely perfect for this. I believe this is first accelerator, atleast for Apple II, that does have such feature – and it makes great difference what comes to usage. Honestly, to me this is the selling point.

It does also make it possible to run the “difficult” shoot’em ups like “Alien Downpour” (or i just suck on it) slower than standard 1 Mhz, if you wish. That’s one cool feature if never even thought of before! You never know when you might need this kind of feature as well.

I personally think the FASTchip //e is brilliant modern product and gives lots of advanges to any Apple II -user today. You don’t need to run everything… 16.6mhz!

setup_of_cards_sThe final FastChip //e user’s guide will contain FASTchip //e “Programmer’s references” – how to use the chip with your programs.

Estimated price for the FASTchip //e is 150 USD shipped everywhere. Product is not yet released.

This quick preview was based on preview beta-unit.

a2heaven_logo
FASTchip //e is ™ by Plamen Vaysilov of a2heaven.com 2017.

Jorma Honkanen, 16.06.2017.

CEC-I : China Education Computer – Part 1

Most of us are aware of Apple ][ -clones made mainly in Taiwan, but also other countries like Bulgaria, Brazil etc but how many of us have heard of Apple //e clone made in Mainland People’s Republic of China? 

There are two models that i am aware of (Apple II clones that is) made by the Shaanxi Province Computer Factory and Huaming Computer Co.
– CEC-I – made in beige and red colors
– CEC-E – made in beige color, more rare of the two.

I’ve collected some information what i’ve been able to gather around with google/translate:

CEC-I Chinese learning machine is organized by the Ministry of Electronics Industry Computer and Information Bureau, Tsinghua University presided over the joint design, the electronics division six, state-owned 734 plant, Shaanxi Province Computer Factory and Huaming Computer Co.., Ltd. to participate in the development of a smart Type microcomputer. The CEC-I Chinese learning machine is compatible with the Apple IIe computer and has the same functionality as the Apple IIe.

The CEC-I Chinese learning machine is compatible with the Apple IIe computer, and its functionality is comparable to Apple IIe, which can run a variety of software running on the Apple II , including numerical and non-numerical software, primary and secondary school teaching software , As well as games and other software. Host has a solid monitoring program, BASIC language, Chinese BASIC language Words, and LOGO language , so a boot user can use these languages, without having to read from the floppy disk or tape memory.

CPU 6502, 8-bit microprocessor, 64K addressing space, 1MHz frequency.
Memory 64K bytes of RAM, two 50464 (64k x 4).
ROM 32K bytes, curing monitor and BASIC, LOGO (subset) language, one piece 27256.
Chinese character system GB2312 one, two Chinese character font (two one trillion ROM)
Chinese character management system (to provide location and Pinyin input method, another piece of 27256)
Display interface PAL system RF signal (RF), PAL system TV video signal (CVBS)
The recorder interface is used as a memory. Output voltage 25mV, output impedance 100O (MIC).
Input Signal Peak – Peak Voltage 1V, Input Impedance 12kO (EAR)
Keyboard 69 key, on the panel of the host
9-pin joystick interface.
5.25 “single-sided floppy drive interface. 0.25W, 😯 speaker.
A [apple] series of 50 lines of expansion slots compatible with APPLE II.
25W switching power supply.
Half of each clock cycle is read by the display interface for display, and the memory is refreshed at the same time.
The other half of the time by the processor to read and write memory.
ROM contains a small assembler. ROM in the BASIC is APPLESOFT, adding a few statements

I was lucky enough to find an CEC-I thru a collector in Mainland China.

cec-i_manual
“User’s Guide for the CEC-I”

cec-professors
Looks like some Chinese teacher investigating the CEC-I (red version of it).

cec-class-cn
Full class of CEC-computers. That does look like CEC-E model in the desk.

box_1
My CEC-I came in a box, however in really bad shape (possibly have mold on it, so i must throw it away). They seem to have produced the CEC-I’s in Red and beige colors.

box_end
End of the box. All wet at sometime.

01_cec-i_outside_s
So this is it: the CEC-I Chinese Education Computer 1 in it’s all RED glory. It does have an feeling of Japanise MSX computers at the time as the arrow keys are arranged in grid, like in some Sony MSX computers had. And there’s an slot opening in top for expansion cards/modules.

02_cec-i_logo_s
CEC-I XUE XI JI

03_cec_i_connectors_s
Connectors in the right side are: Joystick (left) and “Casette player” (right). Oddly the casette port (DIN) have been covered by manufacturing sticker (or moved there).

04_cec_i_connectors_power_s
And another side we have the switch for the power.

05_cec_i_back_connectors_s
In the back we have connectors for : disk II drive, monitor and composite video input.

08_cec_i_bottom_s
The bottom of the case is missing few rubber feet and there’s no serial badge either. The plastic is hard and i can imagine it breaks easily and scratches easily.

09_cec_i_opened_keyboard_s
When opened, there’s just 6 screws to remove, we can see the keyboard and the logic board. There is one slot for expansion, but i am not sure how you can add any cards to it as the space so small.. it should fit outside the case. Some sort of module maybe?

10_cec_i_keyboard_pcb_s
Keyboard pcb from the bottom.

12_cec_i_logicboard_closeup_serial_s
Model number, serial number and two ROM chips.

13_cec_i_logicboard_rom_s
ROM chips.

14_cec_i_logicboard_chips_sChips of the board.

15_cec_i_logicboard_chips_2_s
Keyboard controller & other chips.

16_cec_i_rfmodulator_sRF-1 modulator.

17_cec_i_disk_ii_connector_s
There’s the Disk II drive connector integrated on the logic board directly.

18_cec_i_powersupply_s
Close up of the power supply.

19_cec_i_speakers_s
And of cos we need an speaker.

In Part 2 i’ll have the CEC-I cleaned up and will boot it up and see what happens….

 

Apple /// – working finally (mostly)

Apple ///’s are strange beasts. They are not by any means as simple and sophisticated as Apple II’s were/are, no. They have their own many flaws but due different kinds of sophistication. This leads to funny situations. Like if your keyboard light is burned, the system wont boot. Aiming to perfection maybe?

My Apple /// (5v) is not working quite good after the Universal Powersupply-installation. Only problem seems to be the floppy drive. It does read most disks, but it fails to format disks itself..so that remains one issue to be solved. Or : if anybody have extra Disk ///-drive to sell me?

a3_keyboard_light
The light is on! That’s an good sign. We’ve running system.

a3_led
The led of the internal floppy drive is there, so we’re good to go… maybe.

a3_hardware-test_menu
Apple /// dealer test. Everything else Passed expect the disk drive. It wont format the test disk. Maybe little cleaning will do the job.

a3_graphics_test
Graphics tests went thru nicely. The Apple /// graphics are quite good i think. Just of cos, would like to get somehow this all in Color..

a3_utitliesSystem Utilities v1.1.

a3_clockOrdered the Apple /// clock upgrade-kit from http://Vintagemicros.com (thanks Javier “Mr Retr0bright” for the help!) so we’ll be able to keep the time in the future.

a3_setup
The whole nine yards. My “mostly” working Apple /// in all it’s glory. Sure the Monitor II looks bit silly in top of the Apple /// but the Monitor /// i have is kind of questionable condition, meaning, i am hesistant to powering it up. Maybe i’ll find one or there’ll be VGA/DVI/HDMI option-card for the Apple /// someday in the future.

a3_aliendownpour_a2_mode
Got the “Alien Downpour”, a new homebrew game programmed and released by Michael Packard http://www.berighteous.com (order your 5.25″ floppy or c-casette tape) run in Apple /// in Apple ][ -emulation mode. I’ve tried to get this to boot few times (same media, proven to work with Apple IIe) but now it managed to boot itself. The game is difficult but really great coding and graphics. Michael is writing an book about the process of programming the game, wich i really look forward reading!

Now.. it would be really great if some of the Apple II/III community hardware wizards would make adapter so we could use Apple II joysticks with the Apple ///…. anyone?

Forgot totally, there’s an custom made cable’s made by Option8 at:  https://www.tindie.com/products/option8/apple-iii-disk-ii-cable/
That allow to use of Disk II-drives with Apple /// – or if you wish, an SD-card drive like SDFloppyII from http://a2heaven.com/webshop/index.php?rt=product/product&product_id=124

So i ordered one of each of the cables. Finding working Disk /// -drive(s) is very difficult so this will do for the time being very nicely.

Needed & to-do-list:
– To find, Apple Monitor /// (230v)
– To find, External floppy drive, Disk ///
– Cleaning, repairing the internal floppy drive.
– Testing my ProFile drive & Interface cards
– Testing if the ClassicIDE-card (basicly CFFA2) works with Apple /// (CF-HDD)

 

Installing the Universal Power supply to Apple ///

I finally got around getting the “Universal Power supply” sold by http://ReActiveMicro.com for my “troublesome” Apple ///. Actually i have two Apple ///’s, the earlier 12v board version and later, 5v version. The 5v unit is far more better condition so naturally i wanted to get that running nice and smooth. I did earlier the 115>230v power supply pin-change in order to get it working in 230v AC but seems that the power supply would have needed total recapping as it just didn’t have the juice to boot anything up. So, the best solution was to get the “Universal Power supply”.

I am *not* an electronical wizard, so i was slightly worried about about the installation, even i knew it would be rather easy job, as otherwise, of cos, ReActiveMicro would not sell them.

There is two different kinds of kits available, one for the Apple II-series (II,II+,IIe,IIgs) and one for the Apple ///. They contain different parts due the nature of power supply model differences between Apple II-line and ///.

001_a3_upsu_partsHere where it all begins. The package came with the power supply PCB itself, the new power supply and few needed connectors and screws. I also ordered new power cable in order to get it all done right.

002_a3_psu_bottom
First thing is of cos to remove the old power supply by opening the screws (10 pcs).

003_a3_psu_removed
When done, removed the old power cable and the old power supply (save the screws!).

004_a3_cables_removed
The Apple /// power supply have two cables you need to remove from the power supply chassis. The LEFT BROWN cable (from the power switch) and the BLUE -cable from the old power supply connector.

005_a3_reallign_groundBefore installing the new PCB the ground connection cable needs to be slightly moved in order to give little bit more space the PCB to fit nicely. Loose the screw from the bottom and move the cable out of the way.

006_a3_board_installed
The new PCB installed. You need to use only 6 of the screws so i put the remaining one to the connector (far right) so it wont be lost.

007_a3_install_new_cables
The new power supply installed.

008_a3_install_wires_to
The new cables installed. The new cables didn’t needed to be peeled or anything, as the connector itself does than when you press the cables inside the connector.

009_a3_and_ready
After installing the stress relief cap over the newly made connections and we’re DONE.

 

I must admit it was really easy. It’s basicly impossible to do it improperly if you follow the installation instructions!

My troublesome Apple /// now works perfectly and i am very confident to use it in the future.

 

You can get yours from:
http://store.reactivemicro.com/

Installation guide and help:
http://reactivemicro.com/wiki/Universal_PSU_Kit