The ESP32 SoftCard for the Apple II

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Loving the way all this is

Loving the way all this is going. Such a great card and am looking forward to the version 3 firmware when its all good and ready :) 

 

I do have some dumb questions though.

 

1. I have a Rev 4 motherboard in my apple ii and it doesn't do lowercase, which has never bothered me. I quite like the simpler earlier versions of the apple ii. But on a whim I decided to hotspot the esp32 card off my iphone and the current password has lowercase in it. I dont want to modify the computer, I want to keep it in all its Rev4 glory. But it got me thinking, is there a way to implement a key combination that would allow lowercase when the esp32 has control of the system. Just a thought. Lowercase would also be handy in the upcoming ibm pc emulation.

 

 

2. Was there some documentation for the esp32 commands? I thought there was but now think I was mistaken and its all currently provided onscreen by the "HELP" command only. Online only does make sense while the system is still being progressed.

 

Cheers

 

Dave

 

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This is a very good idea. I

This is a very good idea. I can easily hook up <Ctrl><L> to toggle lowercase on the Apple II+ and that would benefit both the Macintosh and the upcoming PC emulator.

 

This is still only part of the solution of a much bigger problem for the PC emulator on the Apple II+. Many of the  PC/XT applications of the day made extensive use of Alt, Ctrl and the F1-F10 keys. On the Apple IIe I used the left apple key for Alt and the right apple key in combination with the numeric keys for F1-F10 as well as a right mouse click. The Apple II+ however doesn’t have the two apple keys (unless you have a joystick), so the experience will still be somewhat limited.

 

There is no separate documentation apart from the HELP command, but I am considering extending it per command.

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Maybe adjusting the joystick

Maybe adjusting the joystick "dead zone" to a little larger would be good? Or adjustable somehow. Right now if I use the JOYSTICK screen to make sure it's centered, I can get it pretty solid about 128 / 128, but then if I move the joystick around (left/right and up/down) when it re-centers it may have drifted by a couple in some direction. And if I press one or both buttons, the center will drift down and to the right, which I assume is just some issue with the joystick using more power to close those connections which changes the resistance of the stick. Weird. It's still inside the center square, but just barely, touching the lower right corner.

 

It's a minor issue though... I don't mind unplugging the joystick if I wanted to just use the mouse and not worrying about the joystick causing things to drift.

 

I still can't figure out the audio issues... I tried several different 44.1K and 48K streams. The 44.1K streams all seem to work pretty well, even with higher Kbps (from 128K to 192Kbps or above, although at 192Kbps I might get a drop every now and then). But with 48K it seems like I consistently have dropouts.

 

I think some of those example URLs I shared before are geotargeted so you would hit them in Europe whereas I'm hitting them from a US server. That may or may not make a difference. I can setup my router to VPN all traffic to another location (or just for certain clients), so maybe I could try that out and force the ESP32 to pretend it's in Europe somewhere just to see if it changes anything.  In the case of that "Indiana Dunes" stream, I never had any issues, but they may geofence it to US addresses... that's too bad, it's a fun station. :)

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I found and fixed an issue

I found and fixed an issue with the 48K streams. By increasing the audio buffer from 1K to 4K, they no longer skip while playing. The fix will be in version 3.0 of the firmware, which will be posted shortly.

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Firmware Update: PC Emulator

Firmware Update: PC Emulator

 

Here is version 3.0 of the ESP32 SoftCard firmware, which adds an IBM PC/XT compatible emulator to the mix, capable of running DOS and Windows 3.0: Package iconESP32 SoftCard FW v.3.00.zip

 

Version History: (Continued)

 

v3.00

    - Added an IBM PC/XT compatible emulator. To start just type PC.

    - Added the ability to toggle lowercase using <Ctrl><L> when the host is Apple II+.

    - Audio player: fixed a bug that was causing streams with 48K sample rate to skip.

 

To update, place the BIN file found inside the ZIP archive in the /Firmware directory of the SD card and then run the UPDATE command.

 

I also put together an example collection of floppy and hard disk images: PCDiskImages.zip

 

Simply place the 3 directories found in the ZIP archive on the SD Card. If the PC Emulator is started from the root of the SD card, it looks for disk images in /PC. However if it is started from a sub-directory, it will look in the current sub-directory first. So if you want to run CPM86 or GEOS, simply type CD CPM86 or CD GEOS and then type PC to start the emulator.

 

One really convenient tool to manipulate floppy and hard disk images is WinImage.

 

Hard disk images can be created on a modern Wndows PC from command prompt. For example to create a new 40 MB hard disk image:

      fsutil file createnew HardDisk1.img 41943040

Then from inside the PC emulator use the DOS programs FDISK and FORMAT as you would with a real hard drive.

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Just updated mine ...

I love this board.  One of the best creations of 2023 IMO.  Thank you for keeping us updated and for all your work on this board.  Pretty amazing.

 

Question:  Would it be possible to add VGA video to the next PCB iteration?  Is there room in the ESP32 module for that?

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Feedback on 3.0

Here is version 3.0 of the ESP32 SoftCard firmware, which adds an IBM PC/XT compatible emulator to the mix, capable of running DOS and Windows 3.0

 

This is very cool. I haven't tried out a lot but here's a few things I noticed:

  • - I found this on version 2.02 as well but only saw it today... when I "connect <myssid>" specifically, rather than picking from a list of SSIDs, it doesn't mask the password after typing it like it does when picking from the list or when it comes up from a "listen" or "ftpserver" command that also presents the list.
  • - The 48K audio streams that were giving me trouble are still having dropouts
  • - Probably expected, but I happened to be listening to an audio stream when I was copying over the new firmware, and the audio stream really started to stutter and dropout. That made me think that a high bitrate stream is just too much for the ESP32 to keep up with? I haven't done the math to see what the actual bitrate would be for some of these streams that have 48K... I think they're 16 bits per sample and just 2 channels so that would work out to about 1536Kbps (192KBps) and since I'm currently seeing an average FTP copy (using the DOS hard disk image 1 to test) of 180-200 KBps, that 192KBps audio stream may just drop too much to keep the buffer filled? I've even seen some streamers use 24 bits per sample but I didn't even bother testing those...  With a 44.1KHz stream, I calculate that around 176 KBps so that would tend to play nicer with what I'm seeing for transfer rates.
  • - I stopped the audio stream and then noticed there is static coming from the speaker while that file transfer is in progress. It's not loud or anything, just interesting. Once the transfer stopped, the static went away. At least it's an audible cue when the file is done copying if I have that window hidden. :)
  • - I tried out the GEOS image. It boots okay and shows the initial Geoworks screen, but then the video goes into a rapid roll. I tried again using NTSC50 and PAL instead of NTSC (my LCD monitor can handle all 3 formats) and also tried the different video settings when starting the PC emulator but it did the same thing each time. Maybe it's just something with my LCD though and a real CRT doesn't do that.
  • - DOS runs fine but when I run Windows 3.1, as soon as it switches to graphics mode, it does the rolling screen. Same thing with NTSC50, PAL, or any of the options for color, mono or Hercules.
  • - In fact, when I run the PC emulator with any video mode (NTSC or PAL) and use the Hercules option, the screen just rolls right away even in the text modes of the emulator.

 

The regular DOS (and I just barely tried the CPM) work great so it seems like it's the graphic modes that cause the rolling screen, but if it's just something that happens with my LCD, I wouldn't be too surprised... I haven't seen the rolling screen with any of the other game console or Mac emulators though so it was a surprise. :)

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Regarding the rolling screen

Regarding the rolling screen when using Hercules/MDA graphics (Windows 3.0, GEOS or any other time you use it), the same thing that applies to the Mac emulator described here in detail also applies to Hercules. 

 

Or in short, you need a monochrome CRT monitor that has V-size and V-hold controls and be able to adjust them. In addition you might have to also use <Ctrl><E> and <Ctrl><X> to adjust the picture if it still rolls.

 

Also it might not be obvious, but selecting the default PC graphics adapter during launch doesn't restrict you to that graphics adapter. You might start with CGA/MCGA/Tandy, but as soon as you run Windows 3.0 or GEOS it will automatically switch to Hercules. Windows switches to Hercules as soon as you run WIN, while GEOS displays its title screen in 640x200 CGA and then it switches to 720x348 Hercules.

 

GEOS looks better than Windows 3.0 in my opinion:

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MPBApple wrote:- The 48K audio streams
MPBApple wrote:

- The 48K audio streams that were giving me trouble are still having dropouts

 

The 48K audio stream fix in v3.00 only applies when you don't see "Slow stream, dropouts are possible". (It was a small buffer issue, independent of the quality of the connection.)

 

When you see "Slow stream, dropouts are possible", it will be skipping no matter what. However I still believe it has to do with the Wi-Fi connection, because I only get these messages with your stream list when I am connected to my weaker-signal hotspot.

 

There is a pretty cool feature in Windows that can be very useful when analyzing bandwidth/connectivity issues. Unfortunately Microsoft considers the average user too dumb to even know about it, which is why it has no UI. It basically allows you to turn Windows into a wireless router with its own hotspot: https://www.c-sharpcorner.com/article/how-to-set-up-wi-fi-hotspot-in-windows-10/

 

If you then connect the ESP32 SoftCard to the Windows hotspot, you can see the bandwidth it uses through the Task Manager or use Wireshark to analyze the traffic.

 

Btw, thanks for finding the CONNECT <SSID> not masking the Wi-Fi password issue!

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CVT wrote: The 48K audio
CVT wrote:

 

The 48K audio stream fix in v3.00 only applies when you don't see "Slow stream, dropouts are possible". ...

 

 

I thought about instrumenting up some network capture at my firewall level to get a better picture of what's going on, or at least looking at my access points to see what it's reporting for the RSSI to confirm the connection quality. I've just been too lazy to do that so far. :)

 

Looking at my access point, it's showing the same -53 dBm RSSI level that I saw when doing a CONNECT and looking at the SSID list. that's a stronger signal than some other items on that same acces point like some wifi cameras, a couple of Rokus, etc. A Roku probably has a similar tiny antenna, and those are further away from the access point so I'm not surprised by that. But those Rokus are able to stream multi megabit per second (up to 4K video). :) But then again, those Rokus (they're 7th gen) have ARM A53 processors in there which are probably much more powerful than the ESP32.

 

If I get a chance I'll try to setup a port mirror and capture the ESP32 traffic while streaming and see if anything stands out.

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I spend some time analyzing

I spend some time analyzing some of the icecast.walmradio.com streams. They all have a sample rate of 48K, but that is not the problem. The problem is that they all stream this old-timey music (probably from vinyl) with lots of noise at a very high bit rate, usually 320000 and there is no need for that. Noise is chaos and you cannot compress chaos, so it ends up taking almost as much bandwidth as the bit rate!

 

I set up a hosted network in Windows as described above and connected the ESP32 SoftCard to it in order to see what is happening. Here is that I see listening to icecast.walmradio.com:8000/walm2 when the bitrate is 320000:

 

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I did a quick look at the

I did a quick look at the traffic while streaming. I put ntopng on my OPNsense and watched the traffic from "icecast.walmradio.com"...

 

Couple of interesting things... first, I realized (and I should have checked this earlier) that "walmradio.com" is indeed located in Europe (Moldova). My latency to their streaming server is 212ms.

 

Second thing I saw is that while streaming (and dropping quite a bit) it was receiving at a rate of about 172 KBps.

 

I'm going to do another test in a bit with the same stream but using VLC since I know that works, and see what the bitrate is for it that way, so I can get a baseline of what it should be when it works right.

 

So, something I learned (which I should have known) is to check the source of the streams. Because the latency can be a killer. Especially if it the buffer is small, the latency is going to kill the stream.

 

I'm happy to pick different streams. I don't know why but I just assumed that "walmradio.com" site had hosts in the US... the idea it was only hosted in Moldova didn't even cross my mind. 

EDIT:

Oh, I posted before seeing your last post. Seems like you saw 272 KBps so that must be the actual rate it needs. Yeah, those are old timey, and probably not very well compressed.

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Firmware Update

Firmware Update

 

This is a minor version release containing a couple of fixes found by MPBApple and others: Package iconESP32 SoftCard FW v.3.01.zip

 

Version History: (Continued)

 

v3.01

    - The Wi-Fi radio is now off until it is needed. This reduces to power consumption of the card by 70 mA.

    - Command prompt: fixed a bug causing the Wi-Fi password to remain unmasked when using CONNECT <SSID>

    - Command prompt: fixed a bug causing spaces to be removed from the SSID also when using CONNECT <SSID>

 

Justification:

 

Someone from eBay was asking if it's possible to turn off the Wi-Fi, because he is sensitive to microwave RF radiation. I started looking into it and realized that there is no reason for the Wi-Fi radio to be on all the time. Actually it was being turned off in some cases, but only in order to free some very much needed internal memory. From now on it will be off by default and it would only be turned on if needed. Coincidently this reduces the power consumption on the 5V rail by 70 mA.

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3.01 seems to be working okay

3.01 seems to be working okay for me, with those things mentioned being patched.

 

The other day I picked up an old CRT (an old Sylvania 13" TV/DVD combo). It works great and the 4:3 picture looks so much "better" than my 16:9 LCD screen did, for the ultimate retro experience.

 

Unfortunately in my case it doesn't work well with the 50 Hz (or lower) signals. It shows the image but rolls. There are no external controls on this at all (it probably dates to 2006-2008... even has a DTV tuner) and even the service modes don't have any controls. When I have time I may pop the case off and see what kind of vsync controls exist. It would probably need to be some compromise between working well at 60 Hz for the regular Apple II NTSC, and working for some of those emulated graphic modes.

 

In the meantime I may just need to keep an eye out for other, older, CRTs. The place I got this one from (RePC in the Seattle area) had a couple other older models, TV/VCR combos, but I wouldn't hold out much more hope for those either. It might just be better to find out which brands for sure support the multi frequencies and an lock on solidly, or have external vsync knobs, and bide my time looking for one of them.

 

The other emulated things (NES, Sega, TG) all look great. Better than the LCD, I think. Just a crisper, more vibrant looking picture.

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MPBApple wrote:...The other
MPBApple wrote:

...

The other day I picked up an old CRT (an old Sylvania 13" TV/DVD combo). It works great and the 4:3 picture looks so much "better" than my 16:9 LCD screen did, for the ultimate retro experience.

...

 

I am glad you are enjoying it on a real CRT TV! I was looking at the service manual of what I assume is the Sylvania 6513DF 13" TV/DVD and it has V-size through the service menu, which is typical for CRT TVs of this time period. To get to the service menu, some TVs use a special sequence on the remote control, while others had a service remote. From what I am seeing in the service manual, yours allow you to modify its standard remote in order to turn it into a service remote, which you can then use to activate the service menu.

 

Here is the service manual: https://www.applefritter.com/files/2024/01/25/sylvania_6513df_sc513df.pdf

 

It doesn't seem to have V-hold though, which leads me to believe that it's only able to sync at 60 Hz.

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I think I saw that when I was

I think I saw that when I was looking for a service manual, but the one I ended up getting is a Sylvania CD130SL8 so it's a little different. Plus it didn't come with the remote (I think if I went back there and dug in the pile of remote controls I might find it, or a similar one). I was just using my universal remote to switch inputs.

 

I'll have to look back at the monitors you were using and see if I can find something like that, or I was looking in ebay for monitors that list themselves as both NTSC and PAL compatible. I figured if they support both of those, that's a good start and may work at lower rates as well. But that's a gamble... you never know. :)  At least I can put this Sylvania on my other Apple II if I find one that's better to use on the system I have the ESP32 card in.

 

I was just thinking back to all of the old TV's I had 20-30 years ago and how those would probably all be awesome at this. A 27" CRT with all kinds of controls, inputs, etc. Oh well. They're in a landfill somewhere by now.

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This Sylvania is a really good 13” color TV

This Sylvania is a really good 13” color TV. Right before their demise, CRT TVs got as good as they could possibly get and yours is from that time period. However I can tell you that you will not find a CRT TV that supports PAL in North America, unless you go for a PVM, which have become unreasonably expensive due to the rise of retro-gaming. In Europe however you can still get 14” CRT color TVs super cheap and they support PAL, NTSC, sometimes even NTSC-50 and have a SCART input. BUT they are expensive to ship to North America and 50% of the time will arrive with the CRT broken and gone to air.

 

However you can still find older color CRT TVs in North America that can sync to 50 Hz. This is the reason I added NTSC-50 to the ESP32 SoftCard. More details here: https://www.applefritter.com/comment/103649#comment-103649

 

But keep in mind that a PAL or NTSC-50 color CRT TV will still not be able to sync to 45 Hz and fit 350 vertical lines, required by the Mac emulator’s 512x342 resolution or the PC emulator’s 720x350 resolution in Hercules/MDA mode. Only a monochrome CRT is able to do this. Not only that, but the color CRT’s shadow mask is not fine enough to horizontally fit 720 discrete pixels for Hercules/MDA. A monochrome CRT doesn’t have a shadow mask (or an aperture grille) and it has no such horizontal limitation.

 

Now what are the advantages of PAL or NTSC-50 over regular NTSC for the ESP32 SoftCard? Well, you get 40 extra vertical lines, but only for the following features:

 

      - Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, which both support 320x240.

      - The video player. The PAL/NTSC-50 resolution is 320x240 for 4:3 videos vs 320x200 in NTSC and for 16:9 it’s 320x180 vs 320x150.

      - The command-line text mode, where individual rows are better separated, so neighboring rows never touch.

 

All the other features, including the game console emulators and the PC emulator in CGA/MCGA/Tandy mode don’t need 240 vertical lines. Actually the game console emulators go over 200, but these lines end up in overscan on NTSC and nothing important renders there. But if you really want a modern 13” multi-standard color CRT TV in North America, there is also this approach: Video 1, Video 2.

 

Now for the Mac emulator and the PC emulator in Hercules mode I am considering adding 480i (interlaced mode), which can fit 350 vertical lines without the need drop to 45 Hz and having to adjust the V-size and V-sync, but it will introduce other issues. In fact there is a very good reason why all retro computers and game consoles use the progressive 240p instead of the interlaced 480i, but we’ll see how it goes.

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I remember seeing those

I remember seeing those videos from Adrian with that replacement TV board. It's a pretty impressive mod for sure. I'm afraid if I tried it, I'd end up with his first version where it looked kind of janky with the controls just hot-glued to the front of the set. :)

 

The LCD I had been using is a 19" Jensen TV (made for RV installations) and I was glad to see it supported NTSC50 and PAL modes just fine. The Mac emulator displayed okay except the top/bottom were missing and this TV has no controls for vertical size unfortunately. But I could see enough to try things out a bit. It just couldn't handle those other resolutions you mentioned where it needs 45Hz... the screen would just roll, no vsync at all.

 

I wondered about this before, and I'm thinking about it again now, but would the Retrotink be able to work on those signals? I've heard about them but I haven't looked into the specs on it to guess if it could handle those frequencies or not. If it could, I'm guessing someone could create a profile to handle this output and display it? From what I understand, the Retrotink has profiles (some come with it, but you can customize them as well?) to help properly display the signal from various devices. The 2x pro isn't cheap (I see it listed for $139.99 right now) but if it worked, it might be something easier to setup and then use an LCD, plus have a lot of other use for retro nerds. I think the nice thing would be the (potential) ability to lock on to different signals just by changing the profile to match, rather than fiddling with controls on a CRT.

 

On the other hand, like I mentioned, the CRT picture looks so cool compared to the "softness" or whatever that the LCD shows. I think I'd probably stick with the CRT if I were just playing things that work on it without modification. I need to do the RCA jack modification so I can pipe the internal speaker to the CRT and control the volume easier.

 

This Sylvania set is funny... it has the analog and digital tuners, a composite video input, and just a single audio input. I get that it's a small 13" TV but it was funny it didn't even have stereo inputs. It probably only has a single speaker in it, I haven't really checked. :) In some ways it seems modern like the ATSC tuner, but in other ways it's like a relic from the 80's (which makes it great for retro systems I guess). I'm definitely keeping it and I might just toggle back and forth for now between it and the LCD, depending on what I'm doing. :)

 

I was checking ebay yesterday for those Sony Trinitron PVM models and yeah, they're ridiculously expensive at the moment. $400 for a 14" monitor? Nah. The 8" models are cheaper and I see a few for about $100 USD right now (that includes shipping) but I don't know if I'd want to go all the way down to an 8" screen. 

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Tried different TVs

Just for fun over the weekend, I hauled my Apple II setup to different rooms of the house, trying different TV's that have composite inputs.

 

My results are that an older Panasonic Viera 42" (plasma screen) didn't work at all ... not even regular Apple II composite video. Oh well.

 

I also tried a Mitsubishi 82" DLP (rear projection) and it displayed the regular video just fine (NTSC 60).

When I tried NTS50 and PAL, it kinda worked: It would lock in okay on the signal but the screen size didn't adjust and the top of the image was about halfway down the screen. I didn't look to see if the Mitsubishi had any kind of screen adjustments for position, size, etc. since this was just for fun, to see.

Further, when I tried something like GEOS in the PC emulator, it was similar... it locked in to the signal just fine but did the same thing where the image was halfway down or so and cutting off the other half. But still, this was way better than on the LCD TV (Jensen) I'd been using where that particular mode doesn't lock at all, or the CRT where even the 50-Hz modes don't work.

 

Mainly I was curious to try it out for fun and build up a little more data on what kinds of TV's might work. Both the Panasonic and Mitsubishi are probably mid-2000's or so (can't remember when I bought them) so I figured it would be a long shot. I was surprised more that the DLP was locking on okay, and only needed some (possible) screen position/size to get it to render correctly.

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The one "native"

The one "native" North American TV that I still own (a 46" Sony Bravia XBR4 LCD TV) only supports NTSC-60 though the composite video input, however it manages to sync to 45 Hz when I start the Mac emulator and use the Y-component input. However it cannot fit all 342 lines and the top and bottom are cut off. If any of these TVs have a component input, perhaps it's worth trying.

 

More details here: https://www.applefritter.com/comment/103769#comment-103769

 

If the picture ends up syncing at the middle as you describe, try hitting<Ctrl><E> or <Ctrl><X> a few times to get it to sync at the top.

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Oh, hmm... I forgot I could

Oh, hmm... I forgot I could adjust the screen placement with the hot keys. Whoops.

 

The 82" TV that showed the image, just in the wrong place, I was actually doing exactly that, using the Y input since that TV didn't actually have a composite input so I gave that a try. That might be why it actually showed better than I expected. I think my 42" TV has component inputs as well as the composite so that might be interesting to try.

 

In the meantime, when I'm not trying any of the games on there, I still enjoy just listening to some streaming station while I'm working on something else. It gives off all of those good "retro vibes" :)

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Firmware Update

Firmware Update

 

This is a minor version release containing fixes for the PC emulator: Package iconESP32 SoftCard FW v.3.02.zip

 

Version History: (Continued)

 

v3.02

    - PC Emulator: made the Hercules/MDA vertical synchronization requirements the same as the ones for the Macintosh emulator.

    - PC Emulator: fixed a bug preventing the typing of numbers or pressing the left mouse button on all Apple II+ with no joystick.

    - PC Emulator: fixed a bug causing all Sierra On-Line AGI games not to display properly when TGA or CGA is selected.

    - PC Emulator: fixed a bug causing incorrect colors in 256-color MCGA mode for games that update the palette dynamically.

 

Details:

 

The Hercules/MDA vertical sync requirement being the same as the Mac emulator basically means that if a TV or a monitor can sync the Mac emulator, it will also be able to sync the PC emulator running Windows 3.0 or GEOS without rolling the screen. This addresses the issue of some monitors being able to sync the Mac emulator, but not the PC emulator in Hercules/MDA mode.

 

The second bug was there from version 3.0 and it is simply a result of me forgetting to test the PC emulator on my Apple II+ with the joystick unplugged, while the last two fixes are for bugs that I found trying various adventure games.

 

Even though I used the racing game “Cycles” to gauge the PC emulator’s performance, I don’t think fast games are its milieu, considering that the game console emulators provide a much better experience. When it comes to the PC/XT, I believe that adventure games were the ones that allowed it to truly shine. This is due to the early Sierra On-line text interpreter titles King’s/Space/Police Quest as well as the later point-and-click titles like “The Secret of Monkey Island” or “The Legend of Kyrandia”. I wanted to make sure that these types of games not only can run, but are also playable.

 

The Secret of Monkey Island:

 

The Legend of Kyrandia:

 

Leisure Suit Larry 5 is another 256-color point-and-click adventure game and even though it requires a 286 machine, it is still playable. I was never a fan of this series, but this particular version uses direct palette manipulation – something the PC emulator was not handling properly:

 

There is however one Sierra On-Line game that is really close to my heart: “Gold Rush!”. It was the very first game I ever purchased and I was stuck right before the end for several years, until I finally found a walk-through on the Invernet. Here it is in its 16-color glory using TGA:

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I was going to try out the

I was going to try out the new firmware this morning but when I turned my Apple IIe on, it's doing the same thing it did originally where it shows it found the ESP32 in slot 1, finds the mouse in slot 4, and then just hangs there. It doesn't show the text about making sure the monitor is connected or whatever.

I haven't turned it on for a few days, maybe a week. The Apple IIe itself seems fine. I'm running the Apple IIe diagnostics right now and besides a high pitched whine from the CRT it's all great.

When that happened before, I didn't do anything and it just started working on its own after a while, so I'll do some other things on there today and try again, or maybe try unplugging the joystick and mouse (both tested okay) in case something is going on there.

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Try running the Apple II RAM

Try running the Apple II RAM Test Utility: http://www.ivanhogan.com/kfest/MemUtil/

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Tried the latest firmware

Tried the latest firmware this week, excellent work!!!

 

I must say as a complement that may seem weird to some people, it's fantastic that your CLI actually seems to handle spaces in directory names themselves. I usually do not use spaces in file/dir names, deliberately, but I had a space in the name of my PC images directory name. I already had set the monitor atop the IIe so I tried it anyway, and it works great. 

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skate323k137 wrote:Tried the
skate323k137 wrote:

Tried the latest firmware this week, excellent work!!!

 

I must say as a complement that may seem weird to some people, it's fantastic that your CLI actually seems to handle spaces in directory names themselves. I usually do not use spaces in file/dir names, deliberately, but I had a space in the name of my PC images directory name. I already had set the monitor atop the I

 

Thanks! Yes, long filenames (and directory names) were supported from the very first release, however I limited their length to 64 characters in order to reduce the memory footprint of the FAT library. Any filename longer than 64 characters will appear as tilde-abbreviated short filename.

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CVT wrote:Try running the
CVT wrote:

Try running the Apple II RAM Test Utility: http://www.ivanhogan.com/kfest/MemUtil/

 

I did some extended testing and it's interesting...  If I kept powering off and on, eventually it would go ahead and boot to the ESP32 prompt, maybe 1 time out of 5. But then about half the time it did that, the keyboard wouldn't work. When the keyboard did work, I could do some things, listen to streams, I launched GEOS in the PC emulator, etc. but eventually it would just freeze up.

 

So I did something that I didn't do last time because it started working reliably and I didn't bother. But this time around, I popped the cover off and removed all of the extra cards in there so all I had was the 80-column card, the ESP32 (in slot 1), and a disk II controller in slot 6 (with the FloppyEmu).

With just that, it works every time, not a problem.

 

Then I started plugging cards back in one at a time to see what caused the issue...

First I put the super serial card back in (slot 2)...works.

Second I put in my 2nd Disk II controller (with 2 disk II drives attached) into slot 5, and again, that works fine.

Last, I put my Mouse Interface card in slot 4, and... that was it, it doesn't work reliably when that's in.

 

So, I wonder if it's something that happens when the mouse card is there, because I would always get the message that it detected the mouse in slot 4, and then nothing else after that. By removing the mouse controller, does it just skip whatever routine might have been hanging it? I'm just guessing.

I tried again with the mouse controller installed and just pulled out the super serial card instead, thinking maybe all those cards was reducing the voltage enough that the ESP32 is on the margin of getting enough, but it just wasn't happy no matter what, as long as that mouse card is installed. I also just tried it with the super serial and the second Disk II card removed, and yeah... it's only when the mouse interface is in there that it locks up right after it shows the "MOUSE CARD FOUND IN SLOT 4" message. I did try it with the mouse unplugged but that didn't help either, it still froze up in the same place.

 

I hope that helps, or makes you think of something that it could be? It's a real Apple branded "MOUSE INTERFACE" 670-0030 and it has been working reliably since I got it. The mouse is an official Apple II mouse that was one of those "new, old stock" floating around in eBay, fresh out of the factory plastic.

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I thought I'd mention, I

I thought I'd mention, I tried the mouse interface card in other slots (3 and 7) and same result. It sees the card in those slots and then freezes.

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MPBApple wrote:I thought I'd
MPBApple wrote:

I thought I'd mention, I tried the mouse interface card in other slots (3 and 7) and same result. It sees the card in those slots and then freezes.

 

I am glad that you found a combination that works, but keep in mind that it might be temporary. All these issues are happening because the ESP32 interface program keeps freezing, which mean there is some issue with the Apple II, most likely RAM related. From personal experience with my test machines I can tell you that any problems you keep getting after not using the machine for a few days without changing anything inside are usually related to bad socket connections or bad solder joins.

 

Very often after you add or remove a card, you end up flexing the motherboard and the issue goes away, but this is only temporarily. That can sometimes make you think that a particular card in a particular slot is the cause, but usually this is not the case. The ESP32 SoftCard should work with the Apple II Mouse Interface card no matter which slot either one of them is in.

 

Also another thing to consider is that when there is a mouse card, the ESP32 interface program uses more and different parts of the Apple II RAM, which also points to intermittent RAM related problem with the Apple II.

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CVT wrote:Try running the
CVT wrote:

Try running the Apple II RAM Test Utility: http://www.ivanhogan.com/kfest/MemUtil/

I just let this run for 100 iterations testing all RAM and it tested fine. I've used other utilities too when I first got this system (but not this one) to make sure the RAM was all okay and they all gave it a passing grade too.

 

I can try pulling the 80-col card and see if it matters... I don't know if the ESP32 card works with just the basic memory? I assume it would be okay? That would help eliminate any issues with extended memory at least even though it's all testing okay.

 

If I really need to, I have this other Apple IIe I can test it in, but right now it needs a few keyswitches replaced (I have them, I just need to solder them in) and I haven't really done a lot of testing on it. It's non-enhanced but I don't think that would matter.

 

One other thing to mention is that the Apple IIe I'm using now has the ROMxe installed, but it sounded like at least one other person is using that as well since he romified the boot disk for this, and I assume it's working okay for him. :) Maybe I should try booting the ROMxe with the unenhanced ROM, or try some other things just to see if I get any different results. I have the original ROMs I can put back in if needed but I don't really think that would be the problem.

 

EDIT: Yeah, after letting it run 100 passes of the memory test and everything was okay, I tried the ESP32 again and it at least brought up the command prompt but then it froze up, no keyboard output. That happened before about every 1 out of 10 times...  On the ROMxe I noticed that one of the included options is that same memory test utility, so I actually have run it before, I just didn't remember. And if I boot the unenhanced ROM it didn't boot, just gave me the ] prompt. Maybe I was using the Prodos disk though.

I also just pulled the 80 col card and got the same error... it's booting more reliably to the ESP32 command prompt but then I can't type anything and I assume it's frozen/locked up?

The only thing that's guaranteed to make it work is by removing the mouse interface card. Works every time. I guess it's possible I got a bad mouse controller but it works in regular Apple II apps just fine, never had any issues with it.

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Is your mouse always plugged-in

Is your mouse always plugged-in to the Apple II Mouse Interface card?

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CVT wrote:Is your mouse
CVT wrote:

Is your mouse always plugged-in to the Apple II Mouse Interface card?

That's correct. I tried it yesterday by just unplugging the mouse (and joystick, just in case) and leaving the card installed, but that didn't change anything.

EDIT: Just to see what happened, I just swapped the ESP32 and mouse cards around, so the ESP32 is in slot 4 and mouse is in slot 1, but it did the same thing... freezes up right after it said it found the mouse in slot 1. If I remove the mouse card, it sees the ESP32 in slot 4 just fine and starts up normally. So it really does seem to only be an issue when the mouse card is installed... very weird. :)

I'm happy to provide any other info you can think of that might help. I wish I had another mouse interface card to test, but I don't. :( 

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Hmm, in this case perhaps the

No, the mouse should be plugged-in to the interface card. When it's not there are issues.

 

So, at this point perhaps the best test would be to try both the ESP32 SoftCard and the Apple II Mouse interface card in your other Apple II, even though it's missing some keys.

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CVT wrote:No, the mouse
CVT wrote:

No, the mouse should be plugged-in to the interface card. When it's not there are issues.

 

So, at this point perhaps the best test would be to try both the ESP32 SoftCard and the Apple II Mouse interface card in your other Apple II, even though it's missing some keys.

 

LOL - I was afraid you might ask me to do that. :)

I moved the ESP32 and mouse interfaces, and one of the Disk II controllers, to my other Apple IIe. It boots fine *without* the mouse controller, and if I plug the mouse interface card in, it does the same thing that it did on the other Apple... it says "MOUSE CARD FOUND IN SLOT 4" and then just hangs there. So... same problem but on a different Apple. Different memory, different 80-column card. The ESP32, mouse card, and disk II card are all the same but everything else is different.

I'm looking at the mouse interface card with my magnifying visor and everything looks okay. All the slot contacts are good, pins all look fine on the ICs (no corrosion). The only thing that looks odd is one of the jumper pads, X1, has been cut through and I'm not sure if that's normal or not... about to look that up. Okay, yeah, just looked it up and X1 is supposed to be open, X2 closed, so that's all normal. The socketed chips on it all look to be original with the (C) APPLE stickers on there. The mouse cable and socket all look good too... no tears/rips/etc and the connector is nice and clean.

 

And as mentioned, the mouse has been working fine... even when it was working okay previously with the ESP32, I used the mouse test on there to try it out and it was all good, and using the Mac or GEOS emulator, there weren't any issues moving the mouse around.

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MPBApple wrote:LOL - I was
MPBApple wrote:

LOL - I was afraid you might ask me to do that. :)

...

 

Please check your messages - there is a message I sent you on Jan 8th. We can proceed with that if you like.

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Well... this is interesting..

Well... this is interesting...

 

I mentioned I had my magnifying goggles on and everything looked okay. I got a flashlight on there as well and noticed a little piece of white "something" stuck between a couple pins of that non-socketed IC on the interface card (the AMI 8402 chip). 

It looked like just a piece of styrofoam peanut, honestly, and may have been lodged in there by the ebay seller during packaging, or who knows what.

At any rate, I got a pick and managed to pull it out... sure did feel like styrofoam but it was just a small little thing. I don't remember which pins it was inbetween, sorry, but probably around the middle of the chip on the "lower" side of it.

After removing that, I tried again on the other Apple II and it actually worked!

I just moved everything back over to the first Apple and it's working there as well.

I really doubt this thing was conductive, so I wouldn't think it was shorting a couple pins, but maybe just barely enough to make a difference in some cases? And I could see how it would be intermittent, just based on whether or not gravity had pulled it closer to the pins, or maybe it was able to build up a tiny capacitance that made enough of a difference in whatever pins it touched?

 

I'm still too nervous to say for sure that was the problem all along because it seems too easy, and also too weird, but it sure seemed to fix it. It went from not working at all to working 100% the past few times I've power cycled it, and I'll just keep doing that until I'm confident. I'm leaving the case open and the cabling just temporarily in place since I want to be certain it's fine before I put everything back together.

 

Well, if that's all it was, I really need to apologize for wasting your time when it was a flaky mouse card the whole time. Sorry about that. :/ Now I want to look up the specs on that chip and see if I can guess what pins were being kind-of bridged.

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MPBApple wrote:...Well, if
MPBApple wrote:

...

Well, if that's all it was, I really need to apologize for wasting your time when it was a flaky mouse card the whole time. Sorry about that. :/ Now I want to look up the specs on that chip and see if I can guess what pins were being kind-of bridged.

 

No apology is necessary! I am glad you found the issue and nothing turned out to be defective. I don't consider this wasted time, but if it is, then it's time well wasted. :)

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CVT wrote:No apology is
CVT wrote:
No apology is necessary! I am glad you found the issue and nothing turned out to be defective. I don't consider this wasted time, but if it is, then it's time well wasted. :)

 

I looked up the datasheet on that IC and that strange white piece of whatever was in the PA0-7 or PB0-7 pins, for the peripheral data lines. I guess it could have caused some corrupted data in/out which could cause strange results when it polls for mouse activity. I saw you've posted previously about that chip (it's the 6821... I was reading the wrong part of the chip id) so you probably know more than I do, regarding what that could do if a couple of those lines were shorting intermittently. I think it's more likely that that crud was in the PB0-7 pins but it could have been around PA7 - PB0.

 

If I had to guess, it must have been something that didn't really cause problems when apps were doing normal mouse polling since it was working fine in native Apple programs, but if it was causing some strange things in the bus that normal apps would ignore, I guess that could cause problems with other things like the ESP32. Since the issue always seemed to happen right after it said it deteced the mouse in slot 4, perhaps there's something it's doing to check if a mouse is actually plugged in, or if it merely enables those mouse features like you suggested, and that's when unexpected noise coming from the interface would make it trip up.

 

Thanks for being gracious enough to look into it for me. I'm glad you don't consider it wasted time. Same with me... even though that's probably all it was, it gave me a chance to clean up some of my internal cards and wiring, and it forced me to get that other Apple II going. Now I've pulled the keyboard out so I can get those replacement switches installed... something I've put off doing for the past month since I got the new ones in the mail. :)

 

Oh yeah, FYI, version 3.02 is working good. I think I mentioned that GEOS is showing up now without the vertical rolling I had before (on my LCD monitor). So it's the same as how it was on the Mac emulator. I can use the Ctrl keys to move the screen up/down. At some point if I keep doing that, it actually starts scrolling again so I can only go up or down a little bit before that happens, but there's probably nothing that could be done about that. I guess unless the code actually changed where it starts/stops rendering the screen based on those offsets, which is probably too complicated and doesn't really solve the problem of the resolution simply being too high for a "240" monitor to show. :)

 

I'm going to keep an eye out for a used Retrotink 5x ... I'm hoping someone will upgrade to a 4K and sell off their 5x for a decent price. Or just keep looking for a decent Trinitron PVM on ebay that won't cost an arm and a leg.

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Oh... now that it's working

Oh... now that it's working better, I had a chance to try the game emulators again with 3.02 (I tried NES, Sega and TG16) and they all roll the image vertically. Worked fine in Doom, Wolf3d, etc...

 

I was freaking out, thinking I damaged something when fussing around, and then I remembered that when I was trying out GEOS, I was using the Ctrl keys to move the image up/down and I guess it "remembers" those settings even with a power cycle? :)

 

I hit Ctrl-R to reset and then it was fine again. Whew. I even pulled all the cards back out in case I did something weird when I put them all back in. LOL

 

I guess it's a general question then... those screen up/down/left/right settings are persistent? Would it be possible to have different settings for each screen mode so that Hercules, for example, would have one setting, and then other modes like the 320 x 240 or plain 320 x 200 would have their own? If not, it's not a big deal... it was one of those things where I changed it and then forgot about it, and didn't realize it was sticky between reboots.

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MPBApple wrote:I guess it's a
MPBApple wrote:

...

I guess it's a general question then... those screen up/down/left/right settings are persistent? Would it be possible to have different settings for each screen mode so that Hercules, for example, would have one setting, and then other modes like the 320 x 240 or plain 320 x 200 would have their own? If not, it's not a big deal... it was one of those things where I changed it and then forgot about it, and didn't realize it was sticky between reboots.

 

Yes, the picture position settings are saved in the non-volatile memory of the ESP32 and at this point they are common to all modes, but it's indeed a very good idea to have separate ones for each mode. I'll add this in a future firmware update.

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eBay profile name change

I just wanted to let everyone know that I renamed my eBay profile from which I sell the ESP32 SoftCard.

 

The new name is cvt-retrolabhttps://www.ebay.com/usr/cvt-retrolab

 

Any cards that I have for sale will always appear under that profile. If for some reason there are no items, just check again a few hours later.

I always list them one at a time in order to prevent being overwhelmed at times.

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If anyone hasn't bought one

If anyone hasn't bought one yet, you should.  It's really one of the most interesting cards for the Apple II that has come out in years and it just keeps getting better.

 

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Project Update: 480i for NTSC and 576i for PAL coming soon

Problem

 

One of the biggest shortcomings of the ESP32 SoftCard when it comes to the Mac emulator or the PC emulator in Hercules mode is the need for a monochrome CRT monitor with a V-size and V-hold controls. This is because the composite standard 240p (288p for PAL) is limiting the vertical resolution to only 200 in NTSC and 240 in PAL. So in order to fit Macintosh’s 512x342 and Hercules’ 720x348 resolutions, I ended up inventing my own composite progressive standard with a 45 Hz refresh rate, let’s call it 350p for now. And even though this "standard" works on retro monochrome monitors, most modern flat Plasma/LCD/LED monitors cannot sync to 45 Hz and will show a rolling screen. In the rare cases when they do sync, they cannot display all 350 lines, leaving the top and bottom portions of the screen cut off.

 

 

Interlaced 480i to the rescue

 

Now there is another composite standard than can easily fit 400 lines in NTSC. This is the interlaced 480i and every single NTSC TV supports it, because it is the standard of low definition broadcast TV. However there is a good reason why all retro computers and game consoles do not use interlaced mode, but use progressive instead. In progressive mode the entire screen gets refreshed 60 times per seconds (50 times for PAL). However in interlaced mode you still get a refresh 60 times per second, but only for every other line: it refreshes every even line, then every odd line, etc. So if you have a single pixel or a horizontal line with a height of one pixel, it will refresh only 30 times per second and appear to flash. The flashing is even worse in PAL, where instead 30 times per seconds it’s 25.

 

However there are some good news: the flashing only happens on CRT TVs and monitors. Modern flat screen Plasma/LCD/LED TVs and monitors do not flash in interlaced mode, because they simply treat 480i and 480p the exact same way before they digitize it. This means that we can take full advantage of the extra vertical resolution 480i provides on a flat screen TV/monitor.

 

 

Preliminary results

 

Here is the Mac emulator on my 46” Sony Bravia XBR4 NTSC TV in 480i mode - this TV could not sync to 350p over the NTSC composite input and was rolling the screen. Now in 480i it fits the screen and there is no rolling or flashing:

 

 

And here is GEOS showcasing Hercules 720x348 also using 480i:

 

 

The next firmware update will come out in a week or so and will contain the 480i mode for NTSC and the equivalent 576i for PAL. The old 350p will still work, since it is still the best option for monochrome CRT monitors. The user will be prompted to select one or the other.

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Great work as always! Never

Great work as always! Never did I think I'd be happy to see interlaced 480i over 240p; the surprises never stop :D 

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Nice work on the 480i support

Nice work on the 480i support.  Hopefully most HDMI up converters can handle the new video modes, that will make things a lot more flexible.

 

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softwarejanitor wrote:Nice
softwarejanitor wrote:

Nice work on the 480i support.  Hopefully most HDMI up converters can handle the new video modes, that will make things a lot more flexible.

 

 

Thanks! I totally forgot about composite to HDMI converters. The one I have is pretty crappy (no 4:3 aspect ratio), but it works now in 480i with my desktop HDMI monitor, while it also wasn't able to display the old 350p:

 

 

skate323k137 wrote:

Great work as always! Never did I think I'd be happy to see interlaced 480i over 240p; the surprises never stop :D 

 

Thanks! On a CRT monitor 480i is still pretty bad and the flashing can give you a throbbing headache! :)

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CVT wrote:Thanks! On a CRT
CVT wrote:
Thanks! On a CRT monitor 480i is still pretty bad and the flashing can give you a throbbing headache! :)
 

 

You get it; I just learned how to enable 240p on an arcade board that for some reason defaults to 480i and is installed in cabinets with roughly 27" CRTs. The interlaced mode is definitely... "shakey" when you're sitting 18 inches from a tube that big :'D 

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Interlaced 480i to the rescue
CVT wrote:

 

Interlaced 480i to the rescue.

 

Thanks!  This will be a big help and make the card even more enjoyable.

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This is very welcome news. I

This is very welcome news. I tried every LCD/plasma in the house as I mentioned and didn't really come too close except for this 19" LCD TV I've been using (which locks on but doesn't have the resizing necessary). For fun I may hook up this CRT I got just to see how bad the flashing really is, but I believe you, it wouldn't be pleasant. :)

 

Now I'm chasing another problem which may or may not be related to the funky mouse interface card issues I had. The card has been starting up reliably ever since I dug out whatever crud was on the interface card's chip, but every now and then when I'm doing something with the ESP32 (or even nothing at all like it's just sitting there at the prompt, or when streaming audio), the keyboard will lock up and won't accept any input. The card seems to be running fine because if I'm streaming audio, it keeps on streaming and will update the screen with whatever comes in, but no keyboard input. Today it did that (just a few minutes ago) with a brand new symptom: one of the physical floppy drives did a head seek and just started spinning. I had a disk in there but didn't have it closed, so that was unexpected. Happened when I was streaming some online station, which kept playing, until I heard that drive seek and saw the disk activity. No keyboard input... I just shut it down.

 

Of course with all my tinkering, and knowing that the mouse interface card had the previous issue, I'm suspicious that it's still doing something weird so I'll probably just pull it out again for now. I could just get another interface card. I was hoping I'd resolved the issue but there may be more to it. I could even desolder that entire chip and give it a good scrub in case more crud got under it. Of course, just my luck, it's the one chip on there that's not socketed... but I do have a desoldering gun so it hopefully wouldn't take too long to do that just to make sure, recheck all the other traces.

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MPBApple wrote:This is very
MPBApple wrote:

This is very welcome news. I tried every LCD/plasma in the house as I mentioned and didn't really come too close except for this 19" LCD TV I've been using (which locks on but doesn't have the resizing necessary). For fun I may hook up this CRT I got just to see how bad the flashing really is, but I believe you, it wouldn't be pleasant. :)

...

 

Now I started using 480i on a color CRT monitor for testing, because it allows me to test all the features on a single monitor without having to adjust it. The flashing is not so bad at night under low lighting, since I can dial down the brightness and let the phosphorus of the CRT do its job.

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