Sunday, 3 August 2014

Sony Xperia Z Lego dock prototype.

Having got fed up with my cars headunit poor support for large MP3 collections through it's USB port I decided to use my Xperia Z to provide my tunes on the move. The main obstacle with this is that no dock or mount would support the phone in the Case-Mate Tough case for my phone and allow me to charge to phone without opening the USB flap all the time. At first I purchased one of these docks from Amazon (click picture for item page):

My plan was to take a Dremel to it to widen it enough to accept the phone and case but upon disassembly that proved to be a non starter as the phone case is just too bulky for the charge pins to reach the connectors so on to plan two.

 Borrowing the internals from the above dock and a quick mod to a couple of bricks I now have a working prototype for my in car dock, in a rather amazing coincidence it happens that my Honda must of been built with the dock in mind as it fits exactly into the width of the cubby hole I wanted to place it in.

Prototype Lego dock

Top view showing charge pins from purchased dock.

Rear view, I will eventually add a better
connector maybe something magentic.

Modded Case-Mate case to accept charge pins.

In car shot, will look much better when painted.

Somehow Honda managed to make
the flap exactly the right size :)

Eventually the design will be tidied up and painted black, safety wise all is good as the headunit can change tracks and the console recesses far enough to be well out the way of the gear stick.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Reading Amiga floppies on PC back in 2006

I love the old Commodore Amiga and still play some of the games from time to time, however originally getting the games onto the PC to play in WinUAE could be a chore. You could download them but sometimes you might not be able to find the game or download it in a reasonable time (early pre-meg broadband) leaving you to make your own image. In 2006 you had three main choices Disk2FDI, The Amiga itself or the new fancy Catweasel cards that cost quite a bit.

Back then I made my little contribution to the cause by suggesting an oddball idea that got picked up, played with and then after time a release, thanks to to the amazing efforts of the folk on the English Amiga Board including Toni (WinUAE) Wilen and Simon (fdrawcmd.sys) Owen we now had a way to read some Amiga floppies directly in a modern OS as long as you could physically attach a pair of floppies to your system to perform the read with.

It all started with this post:

Hello everyone

I was trawling the net just now and totally at random fell upon this floppy driver basically it allows low level access to the floppy controller under xp/xp64.

As some of you may know the catweasel board is currently out of production due to germanys new enviromental laws (the catweasel pcb used some now banned substances) so until that situation can be solved no more catweasel

If someone here with uber programming skills has some spare time would they cast an eye over and see if it could be used to generate adf files or even allow some form of native access under WinUAE?

The full thread including the subsequent release of ADFRead is here:
Could WinUAE make use of frawcmd.sys (I am/was Oberth on this forum)

There was an updated 1.1 release of ADFRead over on WinUAE but after that better solutions came along and modern PC's stopped with the whole floppy drive thing. It was a small contribution granted but I am pleased that it actually became something usable even in a limited form. 

Currently in 2014 we are lucky to have the Kryoflux USB Floppy controller that will read just about anything floppy based, I will buy one when I have nothing else to buy one month as I still have a pile of Amiga floppies and would like to backup some of my disks and maybe find something to contribute to the Software Preservation Archives.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Nvidia GeForce FX5900 Mega Cooler

I found this pic in my archives and thought I would throw it up just to show you some of my older mad ideas.

Sometime around 2003ish I had a Leadtek Winfast A350 powered by an NVidia Geforce FX5900 core. It was the top flight card when I purchased it and did fancy things like that new fangled DVI stuff (through a separate chip no less)

However after some time there developed two problems, the first was that the clever fan shroud stopped being clever due to the fans packing up, the second was the newer FX5950 based card that my father possessed, it was not much faster but in those days FPS scores were everything. Thus the MEGA COOLER was born.

Essentially what you are looking at might well have been the first triple slot cooler. It had a stock Socket 939 cooler bolted to it (hence the bent fins) The blue ram coolers were from some DDR cooling kit I had knocking around mounted to the existing ram cooling plate using my favorite combo of superglue with thermal compound (As seen in the ASUS WL-520G heatsink upgrade)

Initially it was a great success, overclocking proved no issue due to the stupidly huge heatsinks and airflow, and you could keep your FX5950 cards thank you very much. However not long after PCI Express came along and showed us a bright new world where even the lowest cards ran light years quicker. I can't remember what happened to MEGA COOLER, I could hardly palm it off at Computer Exchange. Maybe, just maybe it's hiding in a cupboard somewhere waiting to be found and perhaps benchmarked ....

For the insomniacs you can read all about the card itself it at Leadtek's own page and at Toms Hardware 

Kohjinsha SC3 SSD Upgrade

A few years back due to a lucky bit of eBay-ing I managed to acquire a Kohjinsha SC3 for £50 with a 'boot drive error' After much faffing around it turned out the data cable was damaged and therefore the drive was not recognised. A bodge in the form of a bit of card wedged underneath the cable at the right point fixed the issue (as long as you never knocked it too hard) and all was well.

Recently it failed again and being fed up with having to dismantle the unit every few months and fed up with the painfully slow speed of it's Toshiba MK6028GAL 1.8" drive I decided to treat it to a SSD upgrade and  replace that pesky cable. I could of bought a Kingspec or Runcore Zif PATA SSD but they seemed either very pricey or not much faster than the drive I was replacing, In the end I threw an 80GB Intel 310 mSATA SSD together with a mSATA to ZIF adapter and a new zif cable (look for Toshiba suitable ones, mine was 15cm long.) The upside is the mSATA drive would ensure the chipset on the SC3 is the limiting factor.

I have taken a few pics to help show how to wrangle one of these apart and a couple of before and after benchmarks using CrystalDiskMark

Lets look at the interesting bit first, the original drive as you can see if just painfully slow, 1.8" drives were never really meant for desktop OS use more iPods and integrated applications. The Intel 310 SSD can achieve much higher reads which shows the limit of the SC3's chipset, however it's pretty much hit the write speed limit of the drive so I'm happy overall.

Original Toshiba MK6028GAL

New Intel 310 mSATA SSD

The installation:
Taking apart one of these is not difficult just fiddly due to it's size. I ditched the TV module ages ago as it cannot receive UK DVB signals and I never had the GPS or Bluetooth modules so you will find in places that things may look different to yours. Follow the captions in each image paying attention to the green arrows and you should be fine. Click the images for a much larger size.

The Kohjinsha SC3, the lump on the right side is my USB 3.0 card.

Firstly remove the flap in the center, I just pulled it up with using my finger nail.

Flip the unit over and remove all the screws marked by the arrows, make sure they don't get lost.

Remove the SO-DIMM and Pen (and Battery if you have not done so)

Flip back the right way and angle the screen as shown, the top plate at the rear will lift off with gentle pressure. If it will not come away make sure all the screws have been removed from underneath shown in the above pictures.

Remove the screen hinge and keyboard screws, make sure the screen does not flop over and break any cables.

Flip up the latches for the keyboard and touchpad zif cables, be gentle with the connectors.

Remove all the screws and connectors shown, the screen connectors in the top right just need a gentle tug upwards. If you have a TV module it's in the top left and has a small zif cable and the two antenna connected to it. You will need to remove these and put the module aside.

The top half pulls away from the lower, start at the back and slowly pry the top from the bottom, if everything is ok it should just come apart. If something feels stuck check all screws are removed. Watch for the little metal bits where the arrows are, they like to fall out when your not looking. Once done remove the three screws show as well.

You should now find the board lifts out, you can remove the ethernet port as I have done if you wish to.

Flip the board over and you can see the drive plus the screw that holds the cage in.

As you can see the dent in the cable around the 94V lettering is why mine stops working, the previous owner had dropped it and managed to damage the cable. You cannot buy these anywhere :(

My partially assembled lash up to image the old drive and run the benchmark. I used the same setup with the new drive to re-image and make sure everything worked before putting it back together.

Macrium Reflect is pretty awesome, it's free, it works with modern stuff like USB 3.0 and actually images in decent time unlike some of the alternatives.

New and old side by side, the Intel and adapter are slightly higher at 6.5mm than the 5mm drive but it fitted fine.

New drive held in place underneath with a small sticky pad, also fitted a new longer lead (maybe a bit too long) to replace the old duff one. Needed a small fold when reassembling but nothing that will cause it harm. To reassemble just reverse the disassemble steps.

Some eagle eyed viewers may notice my WiFi card is not the stock Via chipset one, I ditched that ages ago in favour of a modern Atheros Azurewave AR58XB72 card that supports WiFi N traffic, I had also used an Intel 3965ABG in this as well so you can pretty much chuck any card at it you want . I did at one point try a combined WiFi and Bluetooth card but that was just hopelessly awful. I posted about it here Combined WiFi/Bluetooth Card on pockatables and I try not to think about it too often.

If you have other older Kohjinsha units or any other the other smaller netbooks/tablets/pocketables from around this time you should find this setup will work for you, two things to bear in mind are 'will it actually fit inside?' and 'what is the max drive size my BIOS will recognise?'  I cheated and bought an 80GB as it was large enough to do the job and small enough to fit under the 128GB BIOS limit which I'm not sure the SC3 can handle.

The big question is was it worth it? Well costwise it was cheaper than buying a PATA SSD (just) and while the unit will always be slow at least it's not like waiting for a ZX Spectrum to load a game anymore just to open notepad. While not in daily use it's sometimes handy to have a proper Windows system for some jobs, this can hide in my bag next to my fancy Ramos i9 tablet for when it needs to show Android how things are done. (Albeit slower than the Ramos could do it if it could)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Ramos i9 on order, a new tablet for playing with.

I finally decided to treat myself to a new toy and have ordered a Ramos i9 tablet (with GPS version) from DealExtreme / 

After having a read around and watching YouTube reviews until I went cross eyed this looks like a great device and quite rootable/tweakable. Should have it delivered in the next week so will look to get my own mini review posted soon.