Introducing the ‘Just CPC 2’ for Amstrad CPC 464

Introduction

I ordered the Just CPC 2 from SellMyRetro some time ago and it turned up relatively quickly considering it was built by hand. It was nicely packaged, and more importantly it was very nicely wrapped with loads of protective bubble wrap, in addition there was a copy of the invoice in Polish and a scart/svideo cable included, so far so good.

What was not included was any sort of manual or explanation of what the board was or it’s intended use. I had to google and ask Piotr Bugaj, the maker of the hardware to confirm some things. I hope this post covers most points to save you guys the hassle.

To the right of the photo above you can see pins 1 & 3 are jumpered, this will power on the Just CPC 2 when 5V is connected. You can pull out this cable and connect up your standard cable coming from the CPC donor (to allow the red LED to work and the on/off switch on the side of the CPC).

But what is the Just CPC 2, and what can you do with it ? What I do know is as follows:

It is a clone of the CPC 464 motherboard that fits in a CPC 464 case (long board) and it’s designed and hand built by Piotr Bugaj (otherwise known as Zaxon). Let’s take a quick look at the board.

Below you can see it sitting on top of the anti-static bag that it shipped in. In addition, I’ve connected my 5V power connector and I’ve also plugged in the scart adapter which was supplied with the unit.

Included on the Just CPC 2 motherboard are a few extra features.

  • -Floppy drive interface
  • -total 576 kb RAM
  • -512 kb flash rom
  • -digiblaster
  • -reset button

The printer port is replaced by a disk drive port to allow you to easily Zaxon’s USB floppy emulator (the red DDI3 in the pic below, at least, I think it’s a DDI3).

What do you need ?

You need an original case from an Amstrad CPC 464 (long board version), 5v power and an external monitor (or LCD), you’ll also need a working keyboard with that case otherwise you can’t type anything.

It would be awesome if this version had a USB keyboard option, I know that there is an ATX version which offers PS/2 keyboard support but it would be great to get USB added to a later revision of Just CPC 2 so you could get this working without even having to have a real CPC.

Base unit modifications required

You’ll also need a drill (or something pointy and hot) to poke some holes in your CPC base in order for the reset button and two additional switches to see the light of day.

I’ll be honest, I don’t like modifying original hardware unless it’s really worth it or unless it’s practically invisible, but this was a design choice that Piotr made and we are stuck with it.  In addition to the holes, you’ll have to remove one plastic support on the base.

Connecting it to a CPC 464

Ok, so now we know a little bit about the board let’s connect it up. I opened up three CPC 464’s and the first keyboard didn’t work, so I tried the next, only some keys worked when plugged into the Just CPC 2.

I located another CPC 464 and this one finally worked, however some keys wouldn’t work at first, for example shift @ to get the | symbol. Maybe I did something wrong, I dunno.

Once powered on you can see that it’s advertising itself as a 6128 basically (Amstrad 128k v.3) and includes BASIC 1.1 and a ROM manager from Spring.

Type |ROMAN to see the ROM manager from Spring.

This allows you to add or remove multiple ROMS using the manager. The M4 board from Duke offers something similar.

Next I plugged in my Dandanator Elite +

and fired up some games, all looked good to me.

The benefit

I guess the benefit of this board is that it gives you the ability to give life back to a dead CPC 464 (assuming you have one with a dead motherboard. It also allows you to add 32 ROMS and use 576k of RAM, to run things like SYMBOS on your CPC 464. It also offers a built in Digiblaster and that’s something very cool indeed.

The cost

The board cost me 150GBP plus shipping, so it was not cheap, it’s very well built, and I think the white motherboard looks lovely especially when you compare it to the usual green motherboards in CPC computers.

I think the motherboard is so cool looking that I’d love to see a see-through CPC showing off this mobo on the inside, maybe someone who is good with plastics can help me with that ?

The scandal

While researching this board I came across the following forums post. Long story short, some people accused Zaxon of salvaging old Amstrad CPC 464’s to pull out the custom Gate Array chips made by Amstrad. There are 5 pages of replies from different folks including Piotr so if you want to take a look go ahead.

Conclusion

Great hardware let down by poor documentation, but hey, that gives people like me something to do 🙂

Posted in Amstrad, CPC 464, Just CPC 2 | Tagged | Leave a comment

Video: First looks at the DDI5 for Amstrad CPC 464

Introduction

I blogged about the DDI5 here and I wanted to also do a video showing the capabilities and challenges I had with the device, please check it out and subscribe if you haven’t already.

The comments on the video were interesting, some people saying that the folder navigation behaviour can be changed by customizing the firmware, and that’s something I need to test later on.

Update firmware procedure. Copy latest Flash floppy firmware from the Keir webpage, copy the UPD file to your pendrive . Press the hold the right button, power on interface. Release the button, the firmware update will start. After few seconds , it is done. Simple as that https://github.com/keirf/FlashFloppy/wiki/Downloads

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First looks at the DDI5 for Amstrad CPC 464

Introduction

Anyone who is active in the Amstrad scene today should be aware of the myriad of 3rd party retro hardware available today for their Amstrad CPC’s, and the DDI interfaces from Piotr Bugaj (Zaxon) are no exception.

He has recently released a new version called the DDI5 for Amstrad CPC 464. DDI stands for Disk Drive Interface and this is the 5th iteration.

So Let’s take a look.

But first off, what is the DDI5 exactly ? In it’s simplest form it’s basically a floppy disc drive emulator that allows you to connect a USB drive and read DSK files on the USB drive directly as if they were floppy disks. What’s more, there’s an external FDD connector on the side of the DDI5 to allow you to connect up a real Disk Drive or Gotek drive.

What else, it has a 512KB expansion RAM pack built in (cool, check out this list of software that works with > 64k ram on a CPC) and you can flip between the built in AMSDOS rom and PARADOS 1.52. There were earlier versions of the DDI devices from Piotr, and he’s even selling the DDI4 interface currently on sellmyretro. I chatted with him to get an idea of the differences between the earlier devices and the DDI5 and here’s what he said (edited).

The DDI 3 is an earlier version of the DDI5. The difference is : DDI5 has a 3d printed case, it also has a 512 ram expansion and different display. Both the DDI3 and DDI5 have on board USB floppy emulator for loading games from a pen-drive. The DDI 4 doesn’t have a USB floppy emulator on board so you’d need your own Gotek or floppy drive to use with the DDI4.

 

The hardware

So let’s take a look at the hardware. Below you can see the device in it’s nicely 3D printed case, complete with a small LCD and 50 pin edge connector (Amstrad 464 only).

If we look at the top of the device there are a bunch of buttons, switches and a USB port. the first 3 buttons are for navigating your files/folders on the USB key. Then you have 2 switches. The first switch allows you to switch between normal AMSDOS and ParaDOS. The second switch flips the DDI from a default |a drive to |b (otherwise known as an ABBA switch).

finally, to the right of the USB port is another button and that resets the CPC.

Using the device

To use the device you’ll need your own USB key (or an external DDI) and copy games to that key.  I already owned another Zaxon based hardware called the Amstrad CPC USB floppy emulator , budget version 😉 which uses the same type of methodology as the DDI5 so I had a ready and waiting USB key with Amstrad games in .DSK format on it.

Plug in the USB key and then connect the DDI5 into the expansion port on your CPC 464 and power on the machine. The mini LCD should light up telling you the version of flashfloppy.

Selecting different disk controllers

In the screenshot below it’s running AMSDOS (the built in Amstrad Disc Operating System).

And below it’s running ParaDOS 1.2, this is done by ensuring the CPC is off and then by selecting the first of the two switches and moving it to the RIGHT.

Here you can see the switch is flipped over to ParaDOS.

Changing the DDI drive from A to B and vice versa

To switch between the default |a drive to say |b, use the second switch and move it to the right most position. This will mean that the DDI5 will only respond to |b as the drive letter (|a will be reserved for external FDDs).

On the right side of the DDI5 you can see the connector to connect up an external disc drive interface or a gotek.

And here you can see the ABBA switch moved to the drive b setting

and notice how the CPC use the DDI5 as drive letter B here.

Navigating files/folders

To navigate files/folders use the first three buttons. These 3 buttons allow you to navigate , mount and un-mount DSK images.

  • First button = select or move forward
  • Second button = move backward
  • Third button = more options for flash floppy, or leave folder if on [..]

I find navigating hard on this device if you have multiple files/folders such as the below with each of those folders containing a file in .dsk format.

PD

-PD

–3_5_inch

–3_inch

–m4

Here’s the issue, if I press the first to select, it will show me the file or directory name in the LCD.

If it’s at the root of a folder or directory it’ll show 2 dots. [..]

Pressing the third button at this point seems to go ‘back’ one step. But it’s tricky to master and easy to get stuck in a folder or set of sub folders if you are not careful.

The easiest way to use this is to have several .dsk files copied to the root of the USB key, and then it’s very easy to use.

Launching a game is easy, once you’ve selected a .dsk file navigate to the drive letter by typing |a or |b depending on your ABBA switch settings. Then run “disc (or whatever the game is called).

Here you can see Prince of Persia running with ease.

and here is Robocop, complete with audio ‘speech’ enhancements due to the extra RAM detected.

When it loads a game from the USB you can hear it emulate the sounds of reading disks, which is a cool touch, it’ll also show the virtual Track that it’s reading from, a nice touch. Loading games is about as quick as if it was loading from a real disc drive, definitely way faster and more reliable than tape.

Getting a DDI5

If you’d like to buy one of these devices then head over to SellMyRetro.com, but be warned, they are not cheap. 90GBP plus shipping plus customs. I don’t get anything from the link but tell Piotr I sent you 😉

Final thoughts

The device is really nice, very nicely 3d printed and feels solid, Piotr is a quality hardware maker and has been doing retro stuff for Amstrad and other hardware for a few years now. This is a great way to support multiple drives on your CPC 464 and to add 512kb of ram and it allows you to store vast amounts of games on a single USB drive.

You can also use this device to attach another disk drive to the CPC so that you essentially have 2 drives (A and B). Your tape deck doesn’t become non-functional either, just type |TAPE to use it.

Downloading and copying games to the USB key is easy, anyone can do it, no apps required. Starting the games is easy and fast.

The 512KB ram will allow you to take advantage of things like voice sampling in RoboCop.

If i have any gripes about it it would the navigation of games when there are folders involved, I find it easy to get ‘stuck’ in a folder particularly if that folder has sub folders, I’ll show what I mean in my coming video. Aside from that the device is 464 only and at this cost that limits it’s use to only Amstrad 464’s and nothing else. That’s a shame. Dandanators or M4 boards can  be used on multiple Amstrad devices.

Lastly, as the device is 464 specific, it would be great if it would sit flush with the back of the 464, it doesn’t (or at least it doesn’t on my 464). The top part of the printed 3d case is too low and therefore the DDI5 can’t sit totally flush, but rather at a slight angle, this might cause issues.

Well that’s my quick look at the DDI5, what do you think of this device ? stay tuned for my video, coming soon.

cheers

niall

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Amstrad, CPC 464, DDI5 | Leave a comment

Video: First looks at the CPCuiTape for Amstrad CPC

Introduction

I blogged about the CPCuiTape here and you can now watch a video where I connect it up and try it out, please check it out and give me a like (and subscribe :p)

 

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A quick look at the CPCuiTape

Introduction

It’s amazing the number of active hardware projects available for the CPC computers today, we are literally spoiled for choice and there are some very clever people out there designing new hardware toys for us to play with.

One such device caught my eye and it is called the CPCuiTape, a hardware device based on the MaxDuino firmware and is available for Amstrad CPC computers (and others) from YouMakeRobots.com.

This device gives prolonged life to all those tape games that were converted to digital format (.tzx .tap or .cdt), and allows you to store your entire collection on one SD card.

Here you can see my device complete with a usb cable (for power) and a CD Car cassette adaptor (for Amstrad CPC 464 models), in addition I have an SD card which I’ve pre-copied with some CDT files.

Note: If you want to connect this to a CPC 6128 then you can use the tape in connector on the left of the device in conjunction with the following adaptor.

I downloaded thousands of CDT files by going to the following link and scrolling through near the end, there are a couple of links to RAR/Zip files that you can download. Once done I extracted them onto the FAT32 formatted SD card and was ready to test it.

I then inserted the SD card into the SD slot in the center of the CPCuitape. Next I connected the USB connector to power and finally inserted the CD Car Cassette adapter into the tape deck.

Note that you need to actually press the play key on your tape deck to get this to work (in addition to CTRL+Enter and press any key). It doesn’t matter if your tape deck needs new tape belts this will still work as it uses the read head to read the output from the CPCuitape.

The device itself has a little LCD which shows you the file it’s playing and various other info (such as folders when browsing). The up down arrows or for browsing through the SD card and the Play button is to start playing. The stop button does just that.

Once you’ve started playing a game it’ll appear on the screen and load exactly the same way it would if you were playing from a real cassette tape. I.e. slowly 🙂 and complete with the beep bop tweet tweet noises.

and after a while your game will appear ! Awesome !!!

There are some additional things to keep in mind, SD card class 10 cards work perfectly well (The SDFat library has been improved since that warning was put in the original firmware.) in CAS/TZX/MAXDuino. Also the CD to tape adapters have a head that is more the issue than the read head of the CPC464. It is better to add a 5-PIN DIN cassette port to the same specifications as the 6128 cassette port or an external ear but with the external ear socket you do not get the benefit of Motor Control which you do with the cassette port. (Thanks Duncan Edwards for this update).

Lastly, you cannot record to the CPCuiTape, only play.

Please do Ricky a favor and check out his stuff, you can get a CPCuiTape yourself from the following link, it’s only 29.99 GBP !!

https://www.youmakerobots.com/amstrad/35-131-cpcuitape.html#/2-cable_option-without_usb/17-cassette_converter-without

thanks for reading !

cheers

niall

 

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Video: first looks at the 464 +

In this video I unpack a 464 + which  I bought recently, and then I attempt to connect it up, I also test it with a Dandanator Elite +.

Give it a look and a like 🙂

To connect the Dandanator Elite + to the CPC 464 plus I used this connector from Neotienda, you can get it here https://neotienda.es/index.php?id_product=411…

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Video: Using an M4 board on an Amstrad CPC 464

Introduction

I’ve already blogged about how you can connect to Wi-Fi using the M4 board and copy games and load ROMs, and here’s a video showing you how to do that from scratch.

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Adding ROMS to the M4 board

Introduction

In a previous post I looked at the M4 board from Spinpoint, please check that out and get your CPC connected to Wi-Fi before trying this part.

A ROM (Read Only Memory) is a dedicated chip that stores programs or functionality together in one place and they take up very little of the CPCs’ memory. Each ROM is usually 16K in size. Below are some famous ROMs that were available back in the late 80s’.

Download ROMS

I will use a few ROMs freely available from here in this blog post. Download a few sample ROM files, and unzip them if necessary.

Adding ROMS

Once your M4 board is connected to Wi-Fi, using a computer that is on the same Wi-Fi network as the CPC, browse to the IP address revealed in the |netstat command. My CPC is using IP address 10.0.0.4 so I’ll use that as the web address.

http://10.0.0.4/ and click on the Roms heading as shown below.

Next, select a free Rom slot, for example Rom slot 4, and choose Upload. Give the Rom a name and then click on Choose File and point to the extracted ROM file.

Finally, click on Upload. After some moments, you’ll see the ROM listed.

Add a few more ROM’s but avoid sticking them in ROM slot 6 (used by the M4) or 0 (reserved for BASIC ROM’s).

Here are the ROM’s I uploaded.

At this point you can power off the CPC and power it on again, you should see your ROM’s listed ! Cool or what !

Convert CPC 464 to Basic 1.1

Next, let’s convert the CPC 464 built in Basic from 1.0 to 1.1. To do this you can use a program created by Duke. You can download it from the CPC if you have setup the WiFi. Make sure to type it exactly as I have it here (case sensitive web server), the file downloaded should be 33k.

a$="spinpoint.org/cpc/ROMUP464.BIN"
|httpget,@a$

or download via your web browser from http://www.spinpoint.org/cpc/ROMUP464.BIN and copy it to the microSD card.

To use it run the program via…

RUN "ROMUP464.bin

This program will also set the M4 ROM to 7, which is best for compatibility with games. After running the program I was informed to press M4 reset on the board itself and when I did that the CPC revealed the new Basic 1.1 ROM

which is again confirmed in the Web browser UI.

Cool !

and if for whatever reason you want to again use Basic 1.0 simply unplug the M4 board.

 

 

 

 

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First looks at the M4 board for Amstrad CPC

Introduction

I’ve seen people referring to the M4 board on various forums and facebook groups so I was intrigued and wanted to see what the fuss was all about. I mean, think about it, an internet connection via Wi-Fi on an Amstrad computer from the mid to late 80’s. This was something I had to try out. So here are my initial thoughts on the M4 board from Spinpoint.

What is it ?

The M4 Board is not new, it is an expansion card from 2016 which enables WIFI access to and from CPC, Romboard and using an SD-Card as a mass storage device. That’s right the device first surfaced in 2016, and they are still in production today and you can still buy them. You can read more about it at http://www.spinpoint.org/cpc/m4info.txt

First of all, you’ll want to acquire one, to do so is relatively simple, head over to http://www.spinpoint.org and leave a comment asking how to buy one. I emailed him directly and got a quote for the board with EDGE connector and shipping for 47.5 Euros. Not cheap, but a lot of functionality to play with for the coming years.

In the photo below you can see my M4 board plugged directly into the back of my Schneider coloured CPC 464. It reveals itself at post, along with a version number of the firmware.

A closer look. Here you can see the board is extremely well laid out with a main chip in the center and connectors and buttons scattered around, everything is very well labelled. for those so inclined, my board is dated 2019 even though I purchased it in April 2021, I guess he has a bunch of those older PCB’s still lying around.

The board offers more than the cool Wi-Fi abilities, you can also plug in an SD card to gain access to gazillions of games copied to the card, you can also store up to 32 ROMs on it, and that’s a pretty cool function indeed. In this blog post we will take a look at getting it connected to Wi-Fi and copying some games from a PC to the local storage.

Getting connected to Wi-Fi

Before starting, insert a FAT32 formatted SD card into the SD slot. This is needed to store information such as your Wi-Fi settings.

To get connected to Wi-Fi you’ll need to use the |netset command along with some parameters so it knows how to connect. Below is an example of that on a CPC 6128.

|netset,"name=CPC6128, ssid=Amstrad, pw=amstrad-noob.com, dhcp=1, dns1=8.8.8.8, dns2=8.8.4.4, ntp=time.windows.com"

Note: Don’t worry if you make a typo, the CPC has a very nice ‘copy’ ability so you can copy commands previously typed by holding down SHIFT, then move the cursor to where you want to start copying, then press COPY, it’s that easy.

I’m using a CPC 464 in this blog post so if you try entering the above you’ll get a

Type mismatch

error shown here.

The solution (on a CPC 464) is to assign a variable to the input as basic 1.0 doesn’t work well with this. So if you are using an Amstrad CPC 464 try this.

noob$="name=CPC464, ssid=Amstrad, pw=amstrad-noob.com, dhcp=1, dns1=8.8.8.8, dns2=8.8.4.4, ntp=time.windows.com"

If all went well, the output should say:

“Ready”

Next type

|netset,@noob$

This tells the M4 board to use the settings you applied using the variable as input for the parameters.

If all went well, the output should say:

“Ready”

Next type

|netstat

It should reveal your current internet settings including mac address, dns settings and IP address.

If it doesn’t and instead says “No AP found” or “Connecting” try the command again.

If it stays on “No AP found” make sure to type the SSID using the exact same case (upper/lower) as you can see the SSID being reported on your normal computer. So if your SSID shows up as “Amstrad” then use that SSID in your parameters, for example “amstrad” won’t work, it must be “Amstrad” in this example.

To prove things are working type

|time

it should retrieve the time from the NTP server specified in the parameters, it took a few attempts but as you can see it is reporting today’s date/time below.

How Awesome ! The date and time are synced via the internet on an Amstrad CPC !!!

Copy games from a PC to the M4 storage

Next, on a Windows (or other internet connected computer), make sure that you are first connected to the same network router as your CPC is connected to, mine is a Netgear router for this test. In the Netgear admin interface i can see that both this computer (Surface Book 2) and the CPC (CPC464) are connected.

Now that I know both computers are on the SAME network, I can do stuff on the Windows PC.  Browse to the IP address of your CPC in a web browser in the following format http://x.x.x.x where x.x.x.x is the ip address revealed using |netstat

You should see something like this in your web browser.

As you can see you have a bunch of options there, in this blog post I will only try and run a game by copying it to the M4 from a Windows computer. In the Make Dir: section, enter GAMES and press OK.

It appears in the view like below.

Next, click the GAMES directory you just created and you should see that it’s listed as the current directory

Next, you can select Choose file, select one game, and select Upload to upload one game..

Or drag and drop some games…by selecting a bunch and dropping them into the square, this did make my browser show some ‘unresponsive errors’ but just wait… and it will work.

After mine was done copying all the files it  looked like the blue box on the left of the screenshot below.

So now that’s done, back to the CPC !

Navigating the M4 storage

On the CPC type cat, You should see the GAMES directory (and others) you just created.

Note: on CPC's with Basic 1.0 (CPC464), RSX commands work in a different way, you can't pass the parameters directly to the rsx.
You will have to do it using a variable.
Ie. change into a sub directory called "DISCS". Type:  A$="DISCS":|cd,@A$
To make it easier to navigate for basic 1.0 users a prompt was built into |cd command.
You can press |cd (enter) then type or use cursor copy for the name.

As I’m using a CPC464 with Basic 1.0 in this blog post, I had to use the tip above ^

So first I typed cat followed by pressing |cd and enter, this then prompts you to type something so I typed the name of the directory, games and pressed enter again, it said Ready.

At this point I can type cat again to see what is in that directory.

As you can see all my games are in DSK format (disk). To launch them, use the |cd command and press enter. Next, enter the name of the game disk, eg: whodare2.dsk

If all went well, it has mounted that disk and you can see the contents of the disk itself using cat.

finally, to run the game type the name of the game as normal

eg run “wdw2

Success !

Download games from the Internet

Now that you have connected to Wi-Fi it’s time to test downloading something. I wanted to first create a directory to store games downloaded from the internet called “www”. To create a directory type |mkdir, “dirname

but… as this is a CPC464 I had to do it this way.

dir$=”www”

|mkdir,@dir$

Now that the directory is created use |cd as described previously to navigate to that directory.

There’s currently nothing in the “www” directory. To download a game from the internet we are told to use the following command (on a CPC 6128).

|httpget,"spinpoint.org/battro.dsk"

But this is a CPC 464 so I have to do it this way.

file$="www.amstrad-noob.com/Games/arkanoid.dsk"

then issue the following

|httpget, @file$

This works fine but the downloaded file is 1k instead of 190k,see below screenshot.

After some tests and emails to Duke it was confirmed that the M4 board doesn’t support HTTPS, only HTTP. So for now I’ll download the following file from Dukes HTTP site and I’ll work on getting a HTTP version of my amstrad-noob.com/games available.

file$="www.spinpoint.org/battro.dsk"

then issue the following

|httpget, @file$

after mounting the downloaded file using

|cd

then

battro.dsk

I was able to run the demo !

Awesome or what !

Conclusion

After using the device I can say I’m definitely impressed, it gives internet and storage support (32gb max) to the Amstrad and that’s awesome. I wish it also supported HTTPS but it doesn’t. It’s a bit trickier to use on a CPC464 due to the way |RSX commands work  on that platform, much easier with Basic 1.1.

 

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Video: Fixing a loose power connector and LED on an Amstrad CPC 464

In this video I show you how I fixed a loose power connector and dead LED on a CPC 464, I also explain a brief story about why this one is coloured the way it is.

Posted in Amstrad, CPC 464 | Leave a comment