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.

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Video: Loading Amstrad diagnostics on a Dandanator

Introduction

If you’ve seen my previous blog post about loading games onto a Dandanator mini, then you are ready to also change the extra rom on the Dandanator and instead, load the new Amstrad Diagnostics from Noel’s retro lab.

I released a video on my new youtube channel here which explains the process from start to finish and goes over the features of the new Amstrad Diagnostics.

Here is the video, enjoy !

 

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First looks at the Amstrad Dandanator Elite + from Rancanuo Team

Introduction

Anyone that has been reading my posts or who has seen my videos about the Dandanator Mini from HobbyRetro will know straight away how excited I was about the technology, for such a small device it delivers a whole lot of functionality. It’s a definite ‘must have’ for anyone who cares about Amstrad CPC’s.

Please see my earlier blog posts (and video) about the Dandanator Mini.

Based on my knowledge about the various Dandanator products available for the CPC there are actually at least 4 Dandanator models available to buy from various sources:

  • Dandanator Mini (built in rom)
  • Dandanator Elite (rom is on a cartridge)
  • Dandanator Elite + (same as Elite but also supports DES in rear slot)
  • Dandanator DES (different hardware, different team)

If you wonder where the Dandanator name comes from, it’s based on hardware designed by Dan Leon himself.

This blog post is about the Dandanator Elite + primarily so let’s get stuck in.

I was browsing a Spanish Facebook group and came across some screenshots of a new Dandanator device called the Dandanator Elite +, I was intrigued, so I asked where to buy them and ordered one. I ordered mine from a Spanish website called Neotienda. It wasn’t cheap, but there’s a lot included.

First of all here is how it arrived after I removed it from the packaging.

What you can see from the above photo is it was well packaged, and comes with 2 cartridges, one has a button on it (red cartridge)  which allows you to flip between 2x512k roms.

The other cartridge (green) is just one 512k rom.

This Dandanator has 2 slots. The rear slot is marked for DES cartridges. DES cartridges are not compatible with Elite cartridges. The DES (Dandanator Entertainment System) cartridge goes in the rear slot with the Elite cartridge in the front.

Note: To use the rear cartridge you’ll need to order a separate DES compatible cartridge from these guys > https://auamstrad.es/hardware/dandanator-entertainment-system/

The paper warning translates to the following:

The DES cartridges should be inserted with their rear facing towards you.

But what I think it should really say is:

Only insert Elite cartridges front facing in the FIRST slot (marked Elite). The rear slot is only for DES cartridges. DES cartridges should be inserted with their rear facing towards you.

I can tell straight away that this device is stronger and heavier than the Dandanator mini, it feels very solid and well made with a really nicely 3d printed box. You can order your own chosen colour too. I picked the yellow one as I think it’s looks cool !

The front of the device has an edge connector to slide into the back of your CPC, it works with the CPC 464 and 6128 models although I’m not sure about + devices. To connect it to a CPC 664 you’ll need a pass-through cable (or rom box) as physically it’s NOT tall enough on it’s own (the 664 is too tall).

It didn’t come with any specs or info so I emailed the seller and he very kindly pointed me to the Rancanuo team who I guess designed the Dandanator Elite and Elite +.

Here’s what they say about their devices.

Dandanator CPC Elite+

Like the other two models we currently market (Dandanator cpc Elite and Dandanator zx Elite) are the same with respect to the technical characteristics of its precursor Dandanator mini, in that it uses practically the same electronic components and has the same functions.

Rancanuo Team has evolved the design to use Gameboy advance sp cartridges instead of having the ROM built in. This make’s it quick to change cartridges and easy to change what you want to play. In principle we have two models, one with 512k on a single chip and one with two chips which are selectable by a jumper, allowing the device to work with twice as much memory.

First we developed the “Dandanator CPC Elite” with a design based on the Dandantor mini but with some improvements, especially regarding the manufacture, because even if the operation is the same, now, having interchangeable and collectible cartridges the user can purchase these cartridges so that they do not have to be continuously rewriting their romsets in the same memories.

This allows you to create your own collections of games in a more showy and professional way.

Technical characteristics common to the three models we have (CPC Elite, CPC Elite + and ZX Elite):

  • All equal to the precursor dandanato mini,.- Interchangeable cartridges with one or two memories of 512k each, selectable by jumper.
  • Cartridge detection switch that allows our cpc to start normally when it does not have cartridge inserted (the zx model does not carry it)..
  • Allows hot cartridge change (although not recommended).
  • 3d housing design of high quality retro style..
  • Assembly in SMD, as I suppose you know, are surface mount components.

Cpc Elite+ model.

  • It also includes a port for cartridges of a similar development called DES DES archivos – AUA (auamstrad.es), (they are not copies between them, they are two developments that emerged in parallel, perhaps that of AUA a little earlier, so we consider ethical adapting our device to the pinout of its cartridges).

As you can see, with regard to technical characteristics in its (functional) design there are not much differences, but in its assembly and its “vision of the future”.

Here’s an article about the team (in Spanish) Rancanuo Team Retro Parla

If you want you can follow them @EliteCpcZx

And finally here you have the project released on github  Rancanuo/Dandanator-CPCElite- (github.com)

I’ll follow up with a video soon show casing this device in action on one of my CPC’s, stay tuned !

Buying a Dandanator

I don’t have any affiliation with any of the sites below, if you do buy from them, do me a favor and tell them ‘Niall from Amstrad-noob’ sent you :-).

The price is 69 euros for the Elite + or 59 Euros for the Elite model, you can get them at Neotienda’s website. The Dandanator CPC Elite + is compatible with all these computers CPC 464, 664, 6128, 464+
You can connect the Dandanator to the rear EDGE port without the need for adapters, however the 664 model requires a cable.You only need the Centronics adapter for the 6128 + computers and the 6128 German model that uses the Centronics port then you need this adapter.
  • Dandanator CPC Elite + here
  • Dandanator CPC Elite here
  • Dandanator CPC mini here
  • 2 x 512k switchable blank Cartridge here
  • 512k blank cartridge here
  • Dandanator DES here
  • Dandanator mini from HobbyRetro here
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Video: Repairing or replacing keyboard membranes for the CPC 664

Introduction

I put together a video on youtube showing the different ways you can troubleshoot a failing/failed keyboard membrane and how it’s possible to test and maybe even fix it.

It’s a tricky business that’s for sure but if you want to give it a go then you’ll need some conductive pain, there are two main types, black or silver.

 

Resources

Below are some of the resources I used.

Here is an A4 sized graphical representation of the CPC 664 keyboard, simply save it and print if off to help with marking which of your keys are faulty. Via link.

Below I am testing the conductive paints, links to them below.

  • Bare conductive paint (they have a problem with their website, but here‘s the link.)
  • LeitSilber conductive paint – ebay
  • Fluke 117 multimeter

I bought my new membranes from SellMyRetro here

and here’s the video link

cheers

niall

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