Another Commodore 64 Black Screen Repair

(This was originally a Twitter thread on September 23, 2018)

September 23, 2018

On the bench today is a Commodore 64 picked up from @Recta_Pete at Atari Party East 2018. This revision is the cost reduced long board because of the sparse components around the VIC-II. I already spot several problems.

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Commodore 64 Black Screen Repair

(This was originally a Twitter thread from September 26, 2018)

September 26, 2018

Next on the bench is an early #c64, 1982 original motherboard with 5 pin video out and a lovely ceramic VIC-II. These tend to be tricky in my experience.

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Commodore 1520 Plotter X/Y Gear Repair Guide

Commodore 1520 Printer/Plotter
Commodore 1520 Printer/Plotter


NOTE! New replacement Alps gears for the Commodore 1520, Atari 1020, etc are now available! Click here to order your set.

You’ve just unpacked your new Commodore 1520. It was most likely sold as untested, as-is or condition unknown. You plug in the cable, turn it on, and it buzzes and grinds for a couple of seconds then the red LED on top flashes. Silence. You might be lucky and get a little movement on the print head.

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Getting Programs For The C64 CP/M Cartridge

Picture of Commodore 64 CP/M Cart and Boot Disc


The Commodore 64 CP/M cartridge was released sometime in the early 1980’s, shortly after the introduction of the C64 itself. The cartridge contained the necessary Z80 chip inside to run CP/M software natively. While a novel idea, it was a bit too late with the popularity of CP/M waning which itself had been released almost a decade earlier. To make matters worse, it seems to only work on very early revisions of the Commodore 64. I personally am only able to get it to work reliably on a Rev A motherboard (1982, with no s-video output).

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The Jameco JE520 Voice Synthesizer

Jameco JE520 Voice Synthesizer for C64The latest acquisition is the JE520 by Jameco. This external voice synthesizer came in two variants: the JE520-CM for Commodore and JE520-AP for Apple II. The only difference was the interface connection to the computer. The Commodore version, the one I have, connects to the user port while the Apple II version connects via an interface slot card. Otherwise, I believe the rest of the hardware to be the same. I found an advertisement for it in RUN issue 7 1984— it retailed for $115-$150.

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Commodore 1520 Plots .SVG Images

Commodore 1520 Plots SVG Files
NOTE! Split gears causing causing or plot errors? New replacement Alps gears for the Commodore 1520, Atari 1020, etc are now available! Click here to order your set.

I’ve put together a quick program that can convert an .SVG file into data statements that can be used to plot it on a Commodore 1520 Printer/Plotter. The program doesn’t run on the Commodore 64 (yet) but instead runs in the browser. It’s not ready to release yet as it’s fair picky about the types of .SVG files you feed it.

To whet your appetite, I’ve prepared a .D64 disk image that has four BASIC programs that will plot four different Commodore logos.

Download the disk image here.

And if you need plotter pens for your Commodore 1520 printer, you can get new old-stock pens from @futurewas8bit!

Reddit/r/RetroBattlestations BASIC Week 3– C64 port

Under The Sea: BASIC Week 3 C64It’s BASIC Week on Reddit/r/RetroBattlestations and I ported the BASIC Week program “Under the Sea” to the Commodore 64. The original code was written by FozzTexx for the IBM PC which allows for variable names longer than two characters. The Commodore 64 BASIC version 2 would probably still work using the longer names, it would just ignore everything after the first two characters. Doing this though would run the risk of overwriting variables so it was best to convert them. You can find a list of the variable name conversions at the end of the post.

If you’re keen to type the program in yourself, you can do so here. There’s a few special characters used the code. “CBM-” means hold the Commodore key (lower left) and hit the character after.

If you want to simply run the program from a disc image or to make a floppy, you can download a D64 disk image of Under The Sea here.

The BASIC version is quite slow and there’s room for optimization of the display code. Instead, I ran the code through the BLITZ! BASIC compiler and it runs much faster. This version is on the disc as “c/underthesea”

There’s three keys used the game. ‘A’ makes the turtle (you) go up, ‘Z’ goes down and ‘Q’ will quit the game.

Variable name conversion

Turtle$ = t$
TurtleWidth = tw
TurtleHeight = th
TurtleErase$ = te$
TrutleDead$ = td$
Enemy$() = nm$()
EnemyErase$ = ee$
EnemyW = ew
GameOver$ = go$
GOWidth = gw
GOHeight = gh
AirMax = am
Sea$ = se$
TurtleY = ty
Surface = sf
Score = sc
LastY = ly
TurtleX = tx
NumEnemies = ne
BubbleX = bx
BubbleY = by
Enemy X = ex
Enemy Y = ey
EnemyHit = eh
Food$ = f$
FoodX = fx
FoodY = fy
NewX = nx
NewY = ny
EnemyC = ec
NumBubbles = nb
NumFood = nf
exV = xv
eyV = yv
rows = rw
cols = cl

3D Visualization on the Commodore 1520

Riz1520_Plots00011
NOTE! Split gears causing plot errors? New replacement Alps gears for the Commodore 1520, Atari 1020, etc are now available! Click here to order your set.

Recently on the Lemon64 forum, user Rizthomas posted some excellent scans of some plots that he did on a Commodore 1520 Printer/Plotter back in 1986. The plots were well executed and very intricate. Some were 2D “string art” and some were 3D functional models. Unfortunately, Rizthomas was unable to locate the original disks for his plots (still hopeful they’ll turn up!) but was generous enough to point everyone in the direction of where he began.

One route was Transactor Magazine Volume 6, Issue 4 which contained a program called The Projector by Ian Adam of Vancouver, B.C. The program was of combination BASIC that built on top of a series of machine language routines (from Transactor Volume 5, Issue 6) that made it easy to draw lines, circles, and text on a hires screen. The routines were called with a SYS command from BASIC and were passed coordinates as variables. This made it incredibly easy to patch the program to also send those coordinates to the Commodore 1520 Printer/Plotter with a few modifications.

  • The hires screen coordinates (320×200) doesn’t match the 1520 plotter (480,999) but that’s easily taken care of by scaling the coordinates by a factor of 1.5.
  • The program includes several functions to plot contained in REM statements. I broke those out into a menu system so you can choose a function to plot.
  • I eventually matched Rizthomas’ color choices by making horizontal lines blue, vertical lines green, bounding box green and text black (on the plot only).
  • The origin of the plotter (current pen location at start) is (0,0). Below that point is the negative Y axis so you need to advance the paper up by 300 and then send the “I” command which sets a new “relative origin” point. Now the coordinate systems match screen coordinates (bottom left is (0,0)). Sending the command “R” instead of “M” for moving (pen up) will now use the new relative origin as does “J” instead of “D” for drawing (pen down). The 1520 manual is a great resource to understand the coordinate system of the plotter.

3d 1520 plots

You can download the program (and required ML program) here.

The nice thing about the program is that it will draw a line on the screen while drawing it on the printer simultaneously so you can see both evolve together. Enjoy and a big thanks to Rizthomas for the pointers to the code! If you’re able to get it working, let me know in the comments (and let’s see what you plotted).

Here’s a quick Vine of the plotter working:

DIY RS-232 Interface for Commodore C64 for under $15

If you have a Commodore 64, chances are you’ll eventually need to connect a modem or other serial device to it. You’ll find that’s not quite that easy since the C64 doesn’t have a standard RS-232 serial port. What it does have is called the “user port” and it can do serial over this port but it needs to be changed from TTL levels (0 to +5v) to RS-232 levels (-15v to +15v).

If you’ve ever attempted to purchase a VIC-1011a terminal type, SwiftLink or Turbo232 from eBay you’ll quickly find out that the price gets out of hand. Expect to pay upwards of $100 or more for these adapters.

Luckily, there’s an inexpensive way to get a RS-232 port on your C64 and it’ll cost you less than $15. Ready?

You’ll need these parts for the project.

Connect the RS232-TTL module directly to the C64 user port edge connector using the table below.

RS232-TTL Module C64 User Port
GND A & N
TXD M
RXD B & C
VCC 2

Update! Alwyz from 1200baud suggested that connecting VCC isn’t necessary and potentially dangerous. I’ve had zero problems with mine as listed here. I’m providing this warning so you can make your own decision!

C64 RS-232 Adapter

Observe which side of the user port connector is the top (it’s the one with numbers– letters are on the bottom). It’s helpful to write on it with marker. For wire I used female jumper wire that I cut one end off. For GND and RXD you’ll need to jumper two of the pins together on the user port connector. I used a small bit of CAT5 solid core wire.

Once you’ve got it connected, add the null modem adapter and connect your modem. You may need to also use a gender changer and/or a 9 pin to 25 pin adapter depending on your modem.

Fire up CCGMS, Novaterm or Striketerm, set the baud rate to 2400, set the port to the user port and give it a few “AT” commands. You should see “OK” being returned. If it doesn’t, make sure you have a null modem adapter (test it on another machine to confirm) and double check your connections.

As with any tutorial you find online, be responsible and double check my work and your work before proceeding.