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A500 to The TOWER OF POWER: Simple Hacks in Lieu of Upgrading!
[Note: With ANY sort of hardware upgrade or hack, you should feel very
confident in what you are doing. If you don't, find someone who is. If
you can't, don't do it. If you do, and blow something up, it's still not
our fault, nor is it the author's fault. Please, don't do something you
might regret. If you DO try it, though, tell us what happens. -Jason]
While Finishing up the last of my upper level EET classes at Texas A&M
University about 10 months ago, I began to notice how many hard core Amiga
users were making the choice of either upgrading to the "New and Improved",
32 bit, AGA power houses, or jumping ship all together and getting a
486DX66, a double speed CD ROM player, and the latest "Lucas Films Saga" on
CD. I also noticed, working as a part time "Authorized Commodore"(?!)
Amiga Tech, that many of my customers were beginning to squirm at the
prospects of throwing out all their old gear and making the leap of faith
into the AGA realm. After all, we had all heard the _HORROR_STORIES of
"Incompatibilities" and how all those great games that we once played until
numb, in the world of AGA would leave one blankly staring into the now
politically reformed guru message, "Software Failure"!. These two harsh
choices were making Amiga owners across the land , and admittantly myself
also, second guess their position and wonder wether or not they stick with
their ole faithful , lowly A500 systems, dump it all and buy a Klone, or
just "Take the AGA Plunge"!
This got me thinking... Well.. I have acquired quite a system here over
the years and have just got it set up the way I like it! I don't wanna
sell it to some little snotty nosed, teenageNintendoMasterWannabe! Hmmm..
If I could only mold my system into...
THE TOWER OF POWER!
I already had a MASSIVE (for when I bought it) 160Meg, 5.25", HH, SCSI
drive, a 44Meg SyQuest (that I bought off some blonde bowhead at the
Dallas 1st Saturday flea market for $35 (she thought it was a floppy
drive! HA!)), a CLtd Kronos SCSI controller, and my little Supra RX with
4 Meg of Fast RAM! My first move to the T.O.P. was to kick up my
I had always been a keen observer of Amiga technology and never leaped onto
hardware bandwagons. As having been an Amiga tech since '89, I found it
was much wiser (and cheaper) to watch others jump on the bandwagons and
learn from their mistakes in the form of unsupported hardware, defunct
defacto standards, and unstable hardware add-ons. But now it was time for
me to make my move... GVP was liquidating their 16 bit machine
accelerators and my best friend, my Visa card, was my ticket to ride! I
watched all the mail order prices like a commission brochure and caught an
A530 40MHz 030 with 4Meg of RAM and NO DRIVE for $399! WOW! What a LEAP!
My next big move was to get a tower case... I mean my A500 was like 6 feet
wide with all the stuff I had plugged into it! I was sick of all the
wires, cables, extra power supplies, and besides, all my Klone friends had
those nice elegant cases... Why not me! So, with one of my techie
acquaintances, I managed to get a Diamond Black Mid Tower Case for $140
delivered (whole sale cost), which due to an ordering error ended up being
dark grey, but I could wait no longer, I had the fever! I had chosen this
case very carefully, keeping in mind the dimensions that I would need to
make my machines metamorphosis feasible. The case had 4 5.25" exposed
drive bays and two internal 5.25" HH bays, a 300W power supply, a cool case
stand, and an real slick CPU speed/indicator panel. It was 8.5" inches
wide inside which would give me more than enough horizontal space to mount
the A530 in that orientation. I went to work!
My first move was to make sure that the mother board could be mounted...
I was in luck.. the two screw holes on either side of the Zorro Expansion
connector matched up perfectly with two of the mounting brackets of the
case leaving my machine oriented with the rear connectors towards the
rear, and the right hand side of the mother board flush with the top of
the inside of the case! This was great! But two mounting points were not
enough. I needed AT LEAST one more point for ANY stability. I found
another bracket on the case that would do but I would have to <gulp> drill
a hole into the double sided mother board... "No Problem" I said.. I've
done more hard core mods than this (but just never to my own baby!)... I
carefully lined it up so that I was only cutting through a ground plane,
and then, made the first incision! <Whew!>.. It was clean (thanks to my
handy Dremel Moto Tool). I then turned it over to examine for any
mischievous, loose copper shrapnel... and.... <GASP!> I was devastated!
I just drilled through three address lines on the top side of my baby
Rocklobster!!! Arrrrrgggg! ....<sigh> I knew now there was no turning
I cleaned up the hole, cut back the address lines and rerouted them
leaving room for the metallic screw to form it's grip. I then finished
mounting the mother board on brass standoffs, and with the help of an old
power connector off a now retired KlOnE 286 PC board, made a power cord
adaptor that skipped that old square DIN connector all together and used
the IBM power supply's standardized Molexish connector to give my bantling
back its breath of +5, +12, -12, and GND that it was so desperately crying
for (in my head). I powered it up. It came to life and uttered the
familiar "pause...click-click" that took me back smiling to the good ole
days of floopy based operation. I then took on the MAJOR task of bringing
each and every connector on the back of A500 to the back of the T.O.P.'s
case... this could be an article all unto itself!
The next step was to bring the A530, 40MHz, 68EC030 power house into
play... "Hmm.. I know that I needed an 86 pin zorro female for this job
if I am to mount the A530 as I have imagined." , (in the bottom of the
tower case...) But where to get one?! I could have ripped one off an old
A1000 expansion device if I were back home surrounded by dead Amigas, but
I had to make due... Digikey and Mouser were no help... So I tucked my
tail between my legs and went to... "The Shack"... Yea.. Thats right...
The Rat Shack, The Hole, The Idiot Shack.. All the Engineer's derogatory
slangs for Radio Shack rang through my ears as I walked through the door
to the ever predictable and greedy welcome of, "May I help you find
something?"... "Heh.. I doubt it..." I muttered under my breath...
"Uhh.. Sir.. Are you looking for something in particular?" ... Hmm...
Ok... I'll play... "Yeeeeea.. Ok.. I need a standard female, 16 bit,
ISA bus expansion connector with either wire wrap or PC mounting
solderable connectors."... <silence> "Mmmm... Ahh Iiii'm afraid we don't
have that, but our Tandy 2500SX/33 has THREE of those ISA thingies in it
and it's on SALE right now for..."... "Uhh.. Yea.. I'll just go have a
look here in the back.. Thanx anyway..". I got my connector, chucked it
on the counter and as fast as I could udder the last four digits of my
phone number, I was outta there.
I got back home, made the required and carefully measured marks on the
connector to make the cut and then sicked Mr. Dremel on that nasty, ugly
IBM ISA connector. The cut was clean and looked accurate enough. I then
whipped out my trusty LOCTITE, 2 part, cold welding epoxy and lined up the
two halves of this home made Zorro connector that I had sliced into being,
let it dry on a sheet of wax paper over night (making sure that it was
perfectly straight lest I have to go back to the Rat Shack) ..."and if all
goes well, I should have my Zorro connector in the morning!"
In the morning I skipped my first 5 classes and decided to tear out the
ribbon cable and make this 3 inch ribbon nightmare a reality. I must say,
it's some of the toughest soldering I've ever done. I had to solder 86
pins onto that hacked ISA connector and then the other 86 pins to the
board side of the connector on the GVP A530, having to _BEND_ every other
connector leg to get my solder tip in tight enough to get the job done! I
never sweat so much in my life. After I finally got THAT up and running,
I could now take all of my previously external SCSI drives and shove them
Some of the other hacks I had previously made to my system over the years
just seem to fit into place as if by devine enlightenment, as if planned
in the past by something outside myself, something that knew that the
T.O.P. -M-U-S-T--B-E-...! <hehe> sorry.. got carried away there... My
switch debounced, TTL buffered, LED indicated, NTSC/PAL switch was set up
so that it could be hooked directly to the cases elegant RESET button and
Turbo LED. The A530's Game switch was now hooked up (with ease I might
add) to the ever powerful TURBO button. The front LED MHz display was
easily set to "40". The C= HD floppy drive took some doing trying to get
to fit into a Klonez 3.5" to 5.25", 1/3rd height, floppy drive adaptor,
but the pieces were quickly coming together!
The next step was to internalize my fairly new purchase of one Line Link
14.4kBaud V42.bis, Voice/Fax modem into one of the 5.25" drive bays. This
was tricky and I was not sure it would work because I had to cut the hell
out of the multi layer board it was manufactured on to get it to fit, but
I knew the areas I had to cut did not bear any important signals but
merely the Vcc and GND planes so I did it and it worked. I did, however,
have to build a new power supply (9VAC) out of a 12.6V Rat Shack Xformer,
and a few clamping diodes to dissipate some of the extra juice. I then
drilled holes in the dummy face plate I was mounting the modem behind (for
the LED's to peep through) and brought the power switch up to the front.
I needed, of course, to access the phone jacks on the back of the modem,
so for this I got a hold of an old 1200 baud internal Klone Head modem
(for free) and took great pleasure in cutting the hell out if it to
extract the needed PC backplane with the RJ-11's in tact. By simply
cutting a Male to Male RJ-11 cord in half and soldering IT to the
backplane jacks and plugging it into the back of my modem, I was set!
Then for the final touches, I used rub on lettering to define the modem
LED indicators and the power switch. The T.O.P was beginning to take form
an elegant and usable form!
I decided THEN that I would DEFINITELY not want people coming over and
mistaking my T.O.P. for some run of the mill, MSB, Klone headed, 386DX40,
so I stenciled onto the side in big 3" High Letters, "AMIGA" for the whole
world to see...
All in all it turned out rather nice. I got my T.O.P. dream machine
(with a little epoxy, solder, sweat, & tears), have a unit that turns 12+
MIPS (about 486sx25 speed), have plenty of room for expansion, and even
enough case room to maybe even put in a dual Sling Shot type device for
preparation of my REAL dream of: a GVP EGS 24 bit Spectrum Board (for
emulated AGA) and an Emplant Mac/586DX emulator!!!
With a little patience and some good technical support, anyone that's handy
with a soldering iron can do these types of modifications. Even if you
DON'T choose the T.O.P. route, there are still MANY options open to the
often scoffed at, and lowly A500 user! The only limits are your own
imagination... (and your current credit card status.)