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MattPilz

My first foray into Atari 8-bit with an XEGS

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Posted (edited)

Although I grew up with a 2600, Atari's 8-bit computers seemed to entirely escape me even when I got into other 8-bit systems, until this month!

 

I recently acquired a box with 400 and XE systems that had been stored open and in the elements for decades. Over the weekend I managed to clean up the filthy XE and all that is left is to replace the microswitches for the main buttons. I tried self-repair but the original rubber pads under those buttons are too warn and corroded. I verified the switch circuitry is working fine and the self-tests all pass successfully, keyboard is working fine now that it is all cleaned up too!

 

I have a floppy drive for it that I need to clean up and test as well, but I was just really happy to see it finally working after all the cleaning. BASIC works perfectly as do cartridges. To me this represents the best way to dive into the Atari world since it is compatible with the 400/800 titles, has expanded memory and a real keyboard instead of the sad membrane style of the 400.

 

I haven't began any research into what third party expansions and multicarts exist for it. But I look forward to discovering all of it!

 

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Edited by MattPilz
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Man! That was one nasty looking XEGS!

 

Of course, that just makes the results that much more dramatic. She looks beautiful now. You did a great job restoring it.

 

Congratulations on your first A8!

 

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Just now, bfollowell said:

Man! That was one nasty looking XEGS!

 

Of course, that just makes the results that much more dramatic. She looks beautiful now. You did a great job restoring it.

 

Congratulations on your first A8!

 

Thank you! I wish I had taken more "before" shots as most of what I captured was already after quite a bit of cleaning. Here's one more when I ran a spung tip across the keyboard just a couple times. 🤢

 

 

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Wow man, what a transformation.  Looks darn good now.  I clean every new console and computer that comes into my house and I don't think I have gotten one that dirty ever.  Congratulations and welcome to the world of Atari 8-bit.

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Posted (edited)

Wow!! Great job cleaning it up! Looks like it didn't need much solder and trace repair which is good to hear.  You might consider spraying deoxit or some sort of protectant over the whole motherboard and chip legs to halt further corrosion, which will eventually creep into the IC's.  Unsure where to get replacement carbon contacts for the start/select/option/reset keys. I think that's what you meant to say weren't working. Try Best Electronics.  Difficult site to navigate but they have stuff.  Otherwise a big electronics distributor may have something. Best Elec also has modern replacement cups for the keyboard (XE Touch, IIRC). 

 

The best multicart is AVG-Cart. I think a good place to get it is here.  Problem is it doesn't fit well into the narrow XEGS cart slot. At least on mine it doesn't fit well (very difficult to remove). Strongly recommend shaving the sides of the AVG-cart so it will not permanently damage/scuff the cart slot.  Also highly recommend you get a FujiNet.   Let us know how it goes please! Looks great.

Edited by Sugarland
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10 hours ago, MattPilz said:

I recently acquired a box with 400 and XE systems...

 

Nice work!

 

What about the 400?

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Posted (edited)
On 10/4/2021 at 11:15 PM, Sugarland said:

Unsure where to get replacement carbon contacts for the start/select/option/reset keys.

Actually, any standard 6mm gap by 11mm high two lead tactile switches work perfectly as replacements (unless you're going for maximum authentic internals). I took care of the faulty buttons tonight and they are working excellently now, probably even better than the factory originals since they have a nice and subtle 'click' to them.

 

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Final Problem: I suspected this may be the case when I originally tested after doing the full clean, but tonight confirmed that the FIRE BUTTON of JOYSTICK PORT 1 [TRIG 0] does not ever register. The directional controls work perfectly and all controls for player 2 are working as intended. I tried cleaning the contacts, Deoxit D5, but there was no improvement. This presumably should be an easy fix, by tracing pin 6 of the 9-pin port and checking for continuity along the path. Hopefully it isn't a fault with the GTIA chip itself (pin 8). Am hoping for just a dry solder joint somewhere or bad trace, maybe just a poor DB9M socket.

 

21 hours ago, ClausB said:

What about the 400?

It actually had two of them, in similarly poor cosmetic shape. Have not tried either of them but that'll be my next project. Hopefully between the two I will be able to get one working set, and maybe both will be fine!

Edited by MattPilz
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18 hours ago, MattPilz said:

Actually, any standard 6mm gap by 11mm high two lead tactile switches work perfectly as replacements (unless you're going for maximum authentic internals). I took care of the faulty buttons tonight and they are working excellently now, probably even better than the factory originals since they have a nice and subtle 'click' to them.

 

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Those look great! First using an XEGS I was disappointed in the clunky feel of these console buttons.  Where did you order these? What is the part # please?

 

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15 minutes ago, Sugarland said:

 

Those look great! First using an XEGS I was disappointed in the clunky feel of these console buttons.  Where did you order these? What is the part # please?

 

I had quite a few different switches around to test, but these would be from the simple kit here:

 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085SWHFMK

 

90 pieces for $9, includes 10 of each 4.3mm to 12mm. The 11mm work excellently and would be what I recommend. The 12mm should also be fine since the originals are around 11.5mm.

 

I read a few overly complex guides on trying to remedy these, including penciling in the original rubber pads, prying them off with tweezers and rinsing in chemicals, or even 3D printing stands for shorter replacement switches. I didn't spend much time on that given the condition of the original switches, and this approach is way easier.

Edited by MattPilz
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Good news! I recognized immediately that there was no continuity getting between the pin 6 lead and the back of the PCB. I desoldered the entire port and removed it, to discover pin 6 had been fractured midway through so was not reaching the back. My makeshift solution was to take the lead off a random resistor and solder it to the broken pin, then cut it so the pins were even. I reseated the socket and reflowed all the points with solder and it is now 100% perfect. Both controllers, all buttons and keyboard working like new. Thanks to Sugarland and after researching the mentioned products, I have FujiNet 1.5 and AVG-Cart on their way so look forward to enjoying that. In the meantime I have a few dozen cartridges and tonight enjoyed Cavern of Mars! Next up will be to fix up and test my cassette player and floppy drive even if they will be largely redundant when the multicart / SD reader comes.

 

@Sugarland and anyone else who is interested, below is a video of the replaced microswitches for the four console buttons. You can see and hear how close they now resemble the power button (which is a much more sturdy metal switch). Before they seemed to have about the same sponge-type feel as the Help button on the keyboard does.

 

 

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I still think someone needs to make a pizza box case for the XEGS, perhaps even with an inbuilt 3.5" FDD. If done right it could look really good, and fitting to the era.

 

Nice job on the restoration, ugh those dust Bunnies.

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On 10/5/2021 at 3:20 AM, ClausB said:

What about the 400?

Follow-up! Tonight I fully cleaned and inspected one of the Atari 400s I have. It was much easier to clean than the XE given the membrane keyboard and not as many areas for grime to collect. The end result is a great looking machine that also is working perfectly! Also I now have a Fujinet that is working well on my XE and I have a lot to learn about that but all is well.

 

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Are you gonna have the 400 AV-modded or are you gonna run her through the stock RF? And how do you run your new XEGS, AV or RF? You REALLY SCORED BIG-TIME with your acquisition, nice job on cleaning both of your new units, now since you already have your collection of 2600 controllers that'll also work with your 8-bit units, if, you choose to run your 400 or XEGS via RF do you plan on using a CRT or do you have an HDTV? If you have an HDTV, here is something you might consider using for it. And, also, if you want to get a whole slew of ROMs for that AVG Cart you can hook up with the Homesoft Collection as well as hit any of us to help with extra programs not offered on the Homesoft Collection, such as the Glenn The 5200 Man collection and also some other programs I also have for my XEGS too.

 

 

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1 hour ago, BIGHMW said:

If you have an HDTV, here is something you might consider using for it.

Thank you! That seems like a perfect adapter idea and one I had never even thought to look for. My flow for RF to modern typically involved going from RF to RCA modulator, then that into another switch and finally into a composite-to-HDMI... This seems way more suitable.

 

For the XEGS I am using composite video/audio on an HDTV, simply because it's all I have space for in the location it's at. For all others I use traditional CRTs straight through RF (or composite when available). The 400 looks pretty sharp on my Trinitron even with just RF and with minimal noise, so I won't be rushing to mod it. Thank you for the names of those collections I only am aware of the Homesoft Collection. I do have an AVG-Cart en route so wil see what else I may need after exploring all of that. This coupled with my Fujinet's SD capabilities should give me plenty to work with, I do have a box of actual carts too although some really seem iffy and not well functional even after cleaning--but I never did a deep clean by opening the cases up.

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On 10/4/2021 at 11:15 PM, Sugarland said:

At least on mine it doesn't fit well (very difficult to remove). Strongly recommend shaving the sides of the AVG-cart so it will not permanently damage/scuff the cart slot.

@Sugarland - I received my AVG-Cart yesterday and at least my copy fits perfectly as-is, it is not tight and appears to be identical in width to standard cartridges. It sounds like you may've had a misshaped molding on yours. I haven't had a chance to even try it yet but have been sent this link as a recommended guide. 

 

https://atari8bit.net/tutorials/de-re-avgcart/

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On 10/21/2021 at 3:43 PM, MattPilz said:

@Sugarland - I received my AVG-Cart yesterday and at least my copy fits perfectly as-is, it is not tight and appears to be identical in width to standard cartridges. It sounds like you may've had a misshaped molding on yours. I haven't had a chance to even try it yet but have been sent this link as a recommended guide. 

 

https://atari8bit.net/tutorials/de-re-avgcart/

That's great to hear!  Thanks for the FYI.  If there is scuffing I think a magic eraser may do a decent job of removing the black plastic rubbing off onto the XEGS cart slot. I will try this soon on the one here with before after photos.

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You've done a nice job cleaning those up. Always great to see an old piece of hardware rescued and given some love.

You find some crazy stuff inside them. My personal fav was this Apple IIc I found at a thrift once. Took it home, cleaned it up, and plugged it in. Flipped the switch. Thing shrieked like a banshee, started smoking, drive went nuts. Scared the crap out of me! I yanked the plug. It tested ok. Opened the unit. Nothing amiss, looks fine. Finally I pull the power supply cage top... and found, to my amazement, a fairly blackened set of 1980s car keys that had fallen inside the power supply cage 30 years ago. Removed the keys, and the damned thing still works, believe it or not.

 

You'll have a blast with the fujinet and AVG cart. Of all the classic computers,I think the Atari has the best modern WiFi/SD interfaces. Some amazing homebrew too.

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