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Atari 2600 Refurb Update

So the parts arrived! I ended up changing out five capacitors, the ones used for the main power as well as one used in the five volt circuit. I also swapped out the voltage regulator. On eBay there were a number of “refurb kits” so I decided to order one of them. I also swapped out the two capacitors used in the audio circuit, though when I had completed the upgrade I discovered this was not totally necessary in this particular instance. The audio circuit uses two polystyrene capacitors that were notorious for failing or affecting the sound quality.

The next phase was to convert the video output from the legacy RF modulator and make it a composite output. This way the console can be plugged directly into the RCA jacks on modern TV’s rather than through the cable jack on the back, which would require you to put the TV on Channel three to see the picture. The composite is supposed to be a better quality picture to boot.

You can order a composite upgrade board from some vendors on the internet, but I stumbled across a schematic for one that someone had built using a transistor, two resistors and a perf board. Since I had all these components on hand I decided I would just build my own.

The original circuit called for a 2N3904 transistor, a 2.2K and 3.3k resistor. I had a 2N4401 transistor, 2.2K resistors and some 1K resistors. The specs on the transistor were pretty close and I tied one of the 2.2k and one of the 1K together to get 3.2k (pretty close). I soldered them all together on the perf board, added wire for 5V, video and ground and I was ready to hook it to the Atari. I removed the RF modulator and a couple of resistors which effectively disables the original audio and video circuits. I was ready to hook up my new composite video board!

The Atari has it’s own custom chip that outputs the video and audio. You are basically taking the signals directly from that chip. The audio is mono, so the two audio jacks are tied together, the video signal goes through the board and boosted through the transistor.

I hooked everything up and tried it out.

Amazingly it worked!

So what’s next? Something a bit more ambitious. I want to use a modern XBox controller to replace the vintage (very non-ergonomic) Atari Joystick. I will probably use a Raspberry Pi and some Python coding to get that going.

Pictures and video below.

Atari Test 1

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Ethereum Mining and Beyond

Recently we were forced to retire 5 of our GPU’s from our mining project. The DAG for Ethereum had increased to a point where the 4GB cards would no longer support the algorithm. This came to light in December. We found that at each DAG Epoch the rig would shut down but upon restart it would mine again at an ever decreasing hash rate. As predicted, once mid-January hit the 4GB cards were basically useless. It was costing the same to run as far as power consumption but the hashrate was decreasing at each restart. We decided that our best bet was to run them until they dropped and then put them up for sale.

Some prospective buyers thought that because they had been used for mining they were past their prime and that I should reduce my asking price. I did not agree. If the card is not overclocked to extremes and the cooling controlled then there should be no issue. In fact if you have a faulty GPU it is more likely it will crap out in the first few weeks or months than it is to crap out after several months of Ethereum mining. 99% of the problems I have found with electronics tend to boil down to connections and power supplies rather than actual onboard failures. This became even more evident when our most recent malfunction with our mining rig (which indicated a fault with two GPU’s) turned out to be the power connections that supplied them. These connections were virtually melted. When I replaced the connections and reconfigured the system I found that the GPU’s were in perfect working order!

Ethereum is undergoing a change that is going to make it less desirable for the average person to mine. Ethereum 2.0 has adopted Proof of Stake rather than Proof of Work. This will greatly reduce the power requirements, as Proof of Stake can be done on a laptop, however it also requires that the validator “stakes” 32 ETH, (approximately $72,00CAD as of this post). This takes hobby mining out of the hands of your Average Joe. Though not necessary yet, some other proposed changes to Ethereum mining will take the incentives away from average miners as well.

My partners and I had decided we would sell the 4GB GPUs and then put that money toward a new set of GPU’s that could be used for mining, however, as these new concerns have come to light I am wondering that as a small scale operation we should not just sell the hardware and put the money into buying Ethereum, Bitcoin or any of the other cryptos available and exit from mining all together.

It is kind of sad. I enjoy the technical aspects of mining. Running the rig in the basement keeps it warm during the winter and how many people can say they own a heater that actually PAYS ME to keep to the house warm?

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Tuesday Focus: Ruffneck Heater

Winter is upon us again! With the holiday season behind us we start to concentrate on upcoming work and the new year. We all know how important it is to keep our products and personnel warm in these harsh northern winters.

Don’t get stuck in the cold! Northern eTech Service and Supply currently has a 7.KW, 3 phase, 208V Ruffneck FX4 heater in stock. This unit is gently used but has been tested and is fully functional. We are also offering a 30 day warranty.

Ruffneck FX4-208360-075T

Give us a call today or order on our secure website. Delivery is free in Grande Prairie and Clairmont.

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An Atari 2600 Refurb?

Atari 2600 Motherboard

One of my favorite You Tube Channels is the 8-Bit Guy. He is a computer geek who has been at it since the days of Commodore 64’s, Amigas and TRS-80’s. Not only does he restore old computers but he goes into their history and what made them unique. I have no desire to explore it to the depths that he has taken upon himself but it did get me thinking about an Atari 2600 video console system that I picked up at a yard sale around 20 years ago in Medicine Hat. The console came with one joystick controller and some game cartridges among them Asteroids, Defender and Pole Position. Not bad for 2 dollars!

Over the years I have hooked it up a couple of times to the TV. The joystick is very hard to use and in no way conforms to present day ideas of ergonomics. The only game that seems to work well is Pole Position. Asteroids is okay. The games seem to start out ok but then tend to slow down or become unresponsive. Needless to say I play around with it for a little bit then put it away. It sits on a shelf for a couple of years and then I decide to mess around with it again.

On one of the recent episodes of the 8-Bit Guy he had been collaborating with another You Tuber who was into repairing and refurbing old gaming consoles. I looked again at the Atari and then got the great idea: “Hey why don’t I clean this one up and give it an update?” It looks like fun and mainly involved replacing a few capacitors.

A little research and I discovered the one I have is commonly referred to as the “Vader” model due to its shape. Speaking of shape, it looks as though the top of the case is warped due to heat, like it was left in the sun for too long or too close to the fire. Maybe there is some internal problems, though with my brief forays into gaming with it I don’t recall any major heating going on.

Anyway, I’ll post some updates here as I get to them and let you know how things progress! — Dave