In storage I have an Amiga 500 and an Amiga 1200. The original computers I purchased back in the early 90’s. Actually, the Amiga 500 I kind of acquired at the time as a friend had upgraded to an Amiga 600 and gave it to my younger brothers. I did have an Amiga 500 plus as well but one of those younger brothers decided to take it, leaving the power supply, mouse and cables etc. behind, so not sure he got much use from it.
The Amiga 1200 was my pride and joy at the time. I had purchased an external hard drive and external floppy disk drive for it after driving all the way to a shop called Special Reserve in Essex. This was quite a trip from Hampshire but this was pre internet days and that is what you did. I was nervous getting it posted would result in a broken hard drive also.
A few years ago now I got the sad news that a friend of mine had passed away rather suddenly and it got me thinking about the nights we spent sat at those Amigas and the ideas we had for games and projects. We had gotten copies of Deluxe Paint bundled with our devices and later I purchased Amos and the Amos 3D extras from a dubious looking stall at Blackbush Market. They were shrink wrapped and looked legit so we asked no questions and got them for a very good price.
Amos was amazing. Before using Amos I had no experience of an IDE and had been tapping lines of code in CBM basic on a Vic 20 using the number system for each line of code. So initially getting my head round the idea of having sections of code you could just call up by name was witchcraft. We started creating a Star Trek game based on The Next Generation. My friend Justin was a very good artist and made these amazing graphics for the bridge and ready room etc. In the game you were able to sit in the Captain’s chair and pan 360 degrees around the bridge. It even had a depth to the graphics so that the part of the bridge behind the chairs where Worf would stand would move in relation to the back of the bridge. Occasionally a Klingon bird of prey would come along and it was Red Alert, Shields up. The bridge went dark and was given a red glow. The Klingons were rendered in polygons using Amos 3D. They were drawn on the screen then the bridge view screen was overlayed and updated quick enough to avoid a flashing screen. I remember when I first got that to work about 2 o’clock in the morning and I had no one to tell until the next day.
There were stars scrolling by when at Warp and the stars would stop when you dropped out of warp. They would also match the direction of the ship with a depth of field as some stars scrolled around the screen slower than others as you panned left and right etc.. There was a ready room which you could enter by clicking on the door and inside you could sit and look out the window at the stars.
I was thinking about this game and the amount of hours we put in when I decided to look into where the Amiga computer was today in the world. It turns out it has a massive following still. With Facebook groups and enthusiasts around the world contributing to forums and websites. As I trawled these websites I kept reading about the dreaded capacitor issue the Amiga 1200 faced. This was where Commodore had used lower quality capacitors in the Amiga 500 plus, 600 and 1200 to save on cost. The capacitors were prone to leaking and if not caught in time could destroy the motherboard.
I read up on which caps needed to be repaired and purchased a hot air soldering station and a pack of caps off of eBay. I practised and practised on old routers and motherboards I had kicking around and thought I had finally nailed the process, so one afternoon I broke the warranty seal and went in.
The board was in really good condition with no obvious signs of leakage but I had read that they could have still leaked and the damage would not be visible to the naked eye. I powered up the soldering Iron and went to work. After all I had an electronics ‘O’ level and had done soldering as part of my apprenticeship at British Airways so how hard could it possibly be right?
I preheated the board gently and set about removing the first few caps. That was straight forward enough and filled me with confidence. I had the board masked up with heat protective tape and had seen a top tip using a Stanley knife blade to protect areas like the keyboard connector that you might not want to heat up due to it being made of plastic. To put it simply you just put the blade between the cap and the plastic and it acts as a kind of shield. I started to work on the caps behind the keyboard connector and as it was such a confined space I was too eager in coaxing the caps off and ended up lifting the tracks from the board. My heart sank but still this did not deter me as it looked fixable.
I carried on, one cap went pop. That made me jump but did not deter me although I did put my glasses on after. By the end I had gotten all the caps off but when I looked at the circuit board up close I could see the damage I had done. The first few came off fine but elsewhere the tracks were waving up at me in the breeze. Worse news still was that the heat had somehow managed to bond the keyboard connector so that it would no longer open.
I sat there feeling a bit deflated. I had the bag of new caps purchased from eBay ready to go but it was at this point I decided I might be out of my depth and could end up destroying my Amiga for ever.
On one of the Facebook groups I was following I had heard good things about a company called Amiga Passion, now recently renamed to Retro passion. At Retro Passion they would take your motherboard and recap it. One of the services they also provided was an ultrasonic bath which meant your board would come back sparkling like new. I liked the idea although once sealed back in its plastic box I would probably not see it again for quite some time. But I felt after treating it so badly I should give it a treat.
I went to the website placed my order and after a few days took my Amiga motherboard wrapped in a makeshift protective case within an old cardboard box down to my local Post Office. It felt odd sending it off to a complete stranger. Worries and doubts start to set in. What if it were a big scam and I would never see it again. What if Royal Mail lost it enroute. What if it was handed to a complete stranger the other end who walked off into the sunset with it? (Happened to something delivered to me once when we were out)
After a couple of days I got confirmation it had been delivered by Royal Mail. Then I didn’t hear anything. The worry started to set in again so I contacted Amiga Passion like a worried Mother checking her child had turned up to school. Amiga Passion confirmed it had arrived in one piece and I breathed a sigh of relief and got a good night’s sleep.
As a side effect of lockdown it seems everyone had been clearing out lofts and storage and discovering long lost Amigas so he was clearly snowed under and it was a while before I got the Amiga back again. But I was in no hurry I would much rather a good job was done as opposed to it being rushed.
The board returned looking amazing. The new caps all shiny and perfectly fixed to the board. All signs of my massacre erased. A new keyboard connector had been fitted as well which I did pay the extra for but it really was a nominal amount.
So it’s all back in the Amiga case now which whilst the board was away I had given a good clean. I have yet to actually power it up though because the power supplies and accessories are still in a water tight box in the garage and I need a spare afternoon to commandeer the TV in the lounge as it is the only room in the house with a scart connection. I will be googling how to connect it to a modern day monitor at some point I expect there will be another saga there as well. I have a recent LG model but also a 15 year old flat screen which might work, it’s all to do with the supported frequencies evidently.
So I will post again when it is connected up and hopefully the hard drive would have survived the years of storage and not spit out a huge cloud of rust as it powers up.
I have memories of parking my space ship in a game called Frontier on the surface of Mars during a mining operation when I last played it, before buying a PC. I had a crew, they may have had families. What kind of hell have they been through surviving there for the best part of 25 years? I am also looking forward to poking around Amos and the Start Trek game.
Fingers crossed I will be able to.