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Testing/Repairing ST's

SiriusHardware

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Old time Falcon 4.0 abuser here

Ah, now you are talking. I loved Falcon ST / Amiga (Spectrum Holobyte) but when I saw Falcon 3.0 running on a PC for the first time, that was the day I went out and bought the most powerful PC I could afford at the time. Up until that day I was still using the ST as my main computer for every purpose. There were some good integrated spinoffs for Falcon 3, like FA-18 Hornet and the MIG-29 add on as well. I still have them all somewhere. Falcon 4 was great of course but always pushed whatever hardware I had to the limit and eventually it got to the point where i just could not afford to virtually replace my PC every two years.

I have to say that F15-Strike Eagle II (ST) strikes more of a balance between Game and Sim but that is not necessarily a bad thing, you can still turn the difficulty up to the point where it is not far off a hardcore SIM. It has a nice 'director' mode which automatically switches the views in a context - sensitive way so if you have just released a bomb for example it will switch to show a bomb's eye view of the rapidly approaching target and then a bystander view of the impact and resulting explosion, or it may show you the explosions in an 'over the shoulder' view looking down at the target area past your aircraft. All very nicely done.

Another great 2-player 2-machine linked game is the racing game 'Vroom' which even as a standalone game is one of the smoothest racing circuit games ever seen on the ST, but then add another human racer and it gets even better.

Oh, and... don't forget MIDI MAZE. Multiplayer maze combat with each player's ST linked to the others by a ring of MIDI cables.
 

Nicolas 2000

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I'm curious whether AutoSwitch Overscan would work with Cubase. Because that just might have a purpose in the mancave. Although that would lead me down the rabbit hole of having to spend lots of money on MIDI-to-CV stuff for the oldest synths...

Edits: sounds like Cubase is a bit picky: it requires you to run a monochrome monitor for its higher res. No idea how I'd get that going on an (Overscan) color monitor. I've found meanwhile that Cubase (not Creator/Notator) is compatible with Overscan, but I don't think it will want to run on my color monitor.
 
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SiriusHardware

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As mentioned earlier you can use a PC VGA monitor as a poor man's substitute for an original ST mono monitor provided the VGA monitor in question does not have very low value (75R) termination resistors on its Hsync and Vsync inputs - all that is required is an 'ST to VGA' cable. While you may not have a monitor with VGA-in on it, small, basic VGA-only monitors with 4:3 aspect are so cheap and generally unwanted that it might be worth obtaining one and dedicating it to this purpose.
 

Nicolas 2000

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It appears AutoSwitch Overscan works in high res mono mode so it would give me a good playing field in Cubase.

I feel where this is going to go: I might keep the modded out STFM for dedicated use with Cubase. Both the Overscan and the 4MB RAM are good for that purpose. My synth studio already has a nice LCD with VGA connector; I'd just need the ST VGA adapter and a VGA switch* as the monitor uses its VGA already for an audio recorder as well. And space to put the STFM, perhaps making a small bench so I can place it under the monitor. And space for the ST mouse... AAAARGH real estate issues!

I was a bit surprised to find that neither Gotek nor the local Console Cable shop have any ST to VGA adapter. I've found the premade cable (high res mono only, which is OK for this application) in a German web shop so I could get it from there, or I'll buy the parts somewhere else and make it myself.

Soooo that means I might keep the other, unmodded 1040STF for gaming. I'd need a second Atari mouse though, or a PS/2 mouse adapter.

(*) I wonder whether those cheap VGA switches (passive mechanical) have all the necessary pins connected/switched for this to work...It says it supports DDC / DDC2 / DDC2B and WQXGA but I'm not familiar with all that. I just know that the ST needs to see a certain pin for it to switch to high res mono mode. But as that is DIN pin 4 to ground, I can make that link in the adapter cable and the switch would play no role in that. So I'm quite sure it will work fine with a simple passive VGA switch.
 
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SiriusHardware

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I've found the premade cable (high res mono only

ST to Mono on a VGA monitor is the only common VGA cable you will find, the reason being that most VGA monitors can not go down as far as the 50Hz / 60Hz framerate of the ST's low resolution modes but the framerate of the ST's high resolution mono mode is about 70Hz which is within the native range of most VGA monitors - so - the trick used there is to split the mono video output from the ST into three equal feeds to the VGA red, green and blue inputs. R+G+B in equal measure equals white so the resulting output is either black or white, which is to say monochrome, even though it is being shown on a colour display.

Of course the display does not have to be white, you could take the ST mono out to the VGA green input only, for example, and that would give you an old-school green-on-black mono display.
 

1ST1

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ST to Mono on a VGA monitor is the only common VGA cable you will find, the reason being that most VGA monitors can not go down as far as the 50Hz / 60Hz framerate of the ST's low resolution modes but the framerate of the ST's high resolution mono mode is about 70Hz which is within the native range of most VGA monitors
Yes, most VGA-Monitors and TFTs can support ST-high resolution as it is quite close to some EGA/VGA timings. But there are also monitors capable to display ST low/med 35 khz mode...

 

Nicolas 2000

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I'll be happy with just the high res mono mode (turned to 11 with Autoswitch Overscan) as that ST would be dedicated to Steinberg software.

The idea of having an ST at the heart of my studio as MIDI sequencer is growing on me. I don't have MIDEX or anything, but I think in these days it's more straightforward to just buy a Kenton Thru-12 to give my ST 12 MIDI outputs (THRU's of the single OUT of the ST) on which I can hook all MIDI equipment as slaves without having to daisy chain anything. That apparenty also preserves the tight timing of the ST far better than a huge daisy chain of (soft) thru's.

I've already gone through my PC spares (and note that, apart from old consoles, I have no PC hobby so limited resources) and I've found two VGA cables and one VGA switch box. So that means I'll only need to order a 13 pin DIN connector to mod one end of one VGA cable and I'm good to go. Well, that and a bunch of MIDI cables and the Kenton.
 
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Nicolas 2000

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Meanwhile the STFM is on the workbench, awaiting a supply recap. I've found all required "large" caps in my collection.

I haven't dared to look below the shield of the STF yet. I don't currently have enough caps at home to recap both supplies if required anyway. I'll start with the STFM, and if that turns out OK then I'll open up the STF to have a look.
 

Nicolas 2000

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I've finished the recap of the modded STFM. I haven't tried it hooked onto a monitor yet, but it made all the right LEDs and floppy noises when booting so I assume it still works. This one will be the MIDI machine. I'll start with Cubase Lite and see where it ends.

Next I've opened the original STF. That one doesn't have a Mitsumi supply and the elco's still look good. So I left that one alone. This will be the gaming ST.

Alrighty, two 1040ST's ready for use here! And only one vintage computer left (a 520ST+) to test and sell from the entire collection.
 

Nicolas 2000

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I've made the VGA adapter cable and hooked it up through a VGA switch. It works fine. Loads of heavy moire/jailbars on the "grid" colors such as the GEM background on this LCD, none in white or black. Overall that's not an issue.

An issue is that my floppies, the way I write them, or the floppy drive are not good. I've managed to make Cubase Lite load once (without overscan). All other tries gave between 2 and 4 bombs...GEM nicely shows the contents of the floppy, but actually loading Cubase Lite didn't work except for that one time.

I've managed to get Autoswitch Overscan going on high res mode, which gives an impressive desktop. However, Cubase Lite didn't seem to like it. But I'm not sure, because after that I've never been able to load it anyway...

So I'm contemplating to put a GOTEK drive also in this Atari. That would solve all media issues at least. It would also -if I understand correctly- give me the possibility to put a bunch of MIDI sequencing software on it, and have all of them available with the press of a button. And no issues saving songs, plenty space on the USB stick. I think. I've never used a GOTEK before.
 

Nicolas 2000

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Oh by the way, that weird image on that mystery floppy that appeared something stereoscopic? In high res mode, it looks normal. It was just a TOS magazine animated splash screen. :)
 

Nicolas 2000

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I've tested different ROMs and got the same results: loads "best" (but not perfect) first time, worse next times. I blame it on the floppy/drive. I'll go down the Gotek route.
 

SiriusHardware

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Did you try writing your .ST images to real 720K discs?

In Mono mode 'grey' is made by dithering with alternate black pixels and white pixels and of course on any given LCD screen you also have a specific number of pixels across and a specific number of pixels high, so if the available pixel width and height on the LCD screen aren't a perfect multiple of the 640 pixels across by 480 pixels high of the Atari mono output then the Atari's pixels phase in and out with the screen's physical pixels as they go up and across the screen, causing that moire patterning. In an ideal world the VGA monitor would have a pixel resolution with an exact mathematical relationship to the ST's mono output, such as 1280 x 960 or 1920 x 1440 so that each Atari pixel could be exactly represented by 2x2 or 3x3 LCD screen pixels.

Of course if you use a CRT VGA monitor you won't get this problem because the display itself is not divided up into physical pixels - at least not ones which are big enough to see individually, but I don't suppose you will want to entertain the idea of inviting a CRT monitor into your workspace. ;)
 

Nicolas 2000

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Not another CRT! I don't mind the CRT that much, I do mind the hole I'd have to punch in the wall to fit it in...

Anyway, the order of cables and supplies has arrived. (sidenote: the Amiga works!! Yay!!). I've tried the 720K disc with Cubase 2.01 in the unmodded STF: worked. Only tried once. I've tried it in the modded STFM: worked the first time and sometimes after that, sometimes not. Sometimes it would freeze at the end of loading. Sometimes it would freeze after running for a while. Didn't see any bombs today though.

I think I'll try some RAMtest like YAART and perhaps running a benchmark to get a better view on the health of this STFM before deciding whether or not to buy a GOTEK drive for this one. I don't mind spending on a GOTEK, but I do if it turns out the Atari itself has other issues.

I did play extended runs of Prince of Persia and Stunt Racer on this STFM (before I recapped the PSU) and the only issue I could see was that sometimes a background in Prince Of Persia menus would be corrupted. It never crashed on me. Now Cubase is notorious for crashing, so I'm not sure what's going on. I might also test the STFM some more on games (swap places with the STF to test Cubase on that one) to determine whether or not that works before going down the GOTEK route.
 
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SiriusHardware

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I have only ever run Cubase 2.0 (not 2.01) and find that quite stable, I think I tried V2.01 and found it very unreliable. I know Cubase used multiple protection wrinkles which were not always all found by the cracking crews, so some versions may have been handled better than others. Just recently (this year) someone has managed to reverse-engineer the original hardware dongle which is needed to run original (uncracked) ST copies of Cubase 3.0 so that combination should work perfectly.
 

Nicolas 2000

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I think the reliability would depend more on the version of the crack than the version of Cubase itself. :)

I've tried YAART (RAM test) on the STFM. I've never used that software before, but at least on this ST (which has a 4MB RAM extension) it gave a high number of errors.

I've then switched the ST's: the stock STF as Cubase dedicated unit, and the modded STFM back to games. The STF does Cubase 2.01 rocksteady. Never once had it hang, everything always launched fine. Did not yet stress it with loads of MIDI events. 1MB should be enough for this Cubase. Saving songs on the same disk as the program is a bit on the limit though, given I've only got a good 30kB left... With the games I've tried, the modded STFM also works. Perhaps its problem with Cubase is only for software that puts a larger demand on RAM? Stunt Car Racer never failed, Advanced Ski Simulator idem (bad game though) and Prince Of Persia only has some glitched backgrounds in the intro screen sometimes, but that was running from 1.44MB disks so...

The plan: try some more games on the STFM. If that works, I'll order one Gotek for the STFM to easily swap games. A Gotek on the Cubase machine is a bit overkill at the moment; at most I'd do one disk swap per session. If the STFM would still end up dead, I could always put that Gotek in the Cubase machine anyway.

The mods on the STFM will not see a lot of use this way, unless I'll find programs I want to use that benefit from the Overscan. The 4MB extension is possibly dodgy anyway. But at least both machines will be used.
 

SiriusHardware

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You say the memory test gives a high number of errors on the STFM, but you don't say in which regions. The 1040STFM would have had 1MB factory fitted and I'm not sure whether your 4MB upgrade mod entirely replaces the existing 1MB with an alternative 4MB, or whether it adds 3MB to the existing 1MB. This has me wondering whether the errors are all in the upper 3/4 of the memory. Even in the second scenario, it is possible that the added-on 3MB is interfering with the operation of the original 1MB. My own STFM has 2MB added to the original 0.5MB for a total of 2.5MB, and it has always worked fine that way.

I think I'm right in saying that because the memory of the base / most common model was 0,5MB, nearly all commercial software aimed to run in that memory size so that they could be sold to the largest possible number of ST owners of course - the usual problem (for owners of enhanced machines) was that it was not commercially sensible to create software titles that only people with 1MB machines could buy, so there are relatively few examples of commercial software which require 1MB, but there are quite a few which will do something extra if the machine has 1MB. Cubase is possibly one of the few titles which does actually demand 1MB to run in.

So what I'm saying is that if you can easily de-install the 4MB memory add on and revert the machine to its original onboard 1MB memory, that may make it reliable without compromising its ability to run software. There are exceptions of course, many 'demos' will use as much memory as you can offer them and some may require a minimum of 2MB, but if so, they require 2MB of reliable memory.
 

Nicolas 2000

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It was unclear to me where YAART found the errors.

First of all, YAART talks about "pass 1", "pass 2" etc. Is all RAM already tested after pass 1 or does it have to go through multiple passes to test everything?
Second, when an error is found YAART prints the address but I can't translate that to where in the RAM it is.

Here is a picture of my RAM addition:
index.php

If those three headers are detachable, I could easily temporarily unplug it and hope the base RAM still works that way. I hope they're not soldered on.
I count 24 chips on the addition. The PCB reads "4MB" but that could stil be a marketing spin. From my limited knowledge, these are Toshiba TC-51 1000 at 1MB 1 bit, so that would give 3MB on the addition at 8bits RAM. My Sysinfo says 4MB in total, so it adds to the original RAM, apparently.

My sysinfo:
index.php

I don't know about just unplugging the headers, there might be other changes to the motherboard that need to be undone...Beyond my knowledge. I'm not even sure if it's safe to test just unplugging the headers.
 
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