Archived news from Retro-Kit

Your body is the controller, how 1980's!

In the mid-1980's Hybrid brought out a synthesiser that plugged into the BBC Micro and BBC Master computers and provided a full stereo, polyphonic synthesiser that could be programmed using the language "AMPLE" using the software that ran on the BBC Micro. This system was called the Hybrid Music system and whilst it's quite well know in the retro-computing scene, there are parts of the modular system that are still rare and exotic beasts.

The Hybrid Music 6000 sensor module is such a rare and exotic beast. It introduced the concept of using your body and gestures to control the Hybrid Music system instead of a traditional keyboard. It was squarely aimed at the special needs educational market and was used as a kind of music therapy.

The Hybrid Music 6000

This strange looking device plugged into the Analogue port of the BBC Micro and using special software controlled the audio generated by the Music 5000. You can find out how it works and watch a video of it in action on the page dedicated to this Hybrid 6000 Sensor.

Posted on: 22 Nov 2012@22:34:33, updated on: 22 Nov 2012@22:34:33.


More VELA updates shedding light on more revisions

Over the years that the VELA (Versatile Laboratory Aid) was in production, it went through several revisions from the original Mark I to the Mark II and finally the VELA PLUS and rebranded RS Components Multi-Function Intelligent Data Logger.

The VELA PLUS featured increased accuracy and was originally built using the Mark II motherboard and later receiving a full overhaul resulting in motherboards with the phrase "PCB 3" being found on the PCB indicating it was the VELA Mark III. I've recently been asked to repair an early VELA PLUS which contained the daughter board modification to reduce signal noise being fed into the ADC chip as can be seen below.

The VELA MkII daughter board upgrade for VELA PLUS

As you can see from the photo above, this VELA PLUS also contained a full suite of ISL ROMs from 1 to 4 delivering the full suite of functionality that was made available over the years that the VELA was in production. I've been able to image the ISL ROM suite and they are now available for download from this site.

I've also been able to revise all of the information that I have on the VELA based on what I've learnt from this VELA and some small VELA related acquisitions such as an original VELA to BBC Micro connecting cable which you can read all about on the dedicated VELA pages on this site.

An original VELA to BBC Micro connecting cable

Posted on: 10 Oct 2012@17:37:20, updated on: 10 Oct 2012@17:37:20.


The final A3000 restoration page - The keyboard

In the final part of the Acorn A3000 restoration project, I tackle the keyboard. It's a time consuming job but the outcome is well worth the effort taking a keyboard from something like this:

Acorn BBC A3000 dirty keyboard

To something like this:

The Acorn BBC A3000 keyboard cleaned

Yes, these two photo's are of the very same keyboard so as you can see, the few hours it takes to clean are well worth it! You can read about the A3000 keyboard service in full as part of my A3000 restoration project series. Enjoy!

Posted on: 25 Sep 2012@18:37:24, updated on: 25 Sep 2012@18:37:24.


An Acorn BBC A3000 repair and restoration project

With the completion of the Acorn BBC A3000 restoration, I'm pleased to announce several new pages on the site covering case repair and restoration, floppy drive servicing, cleaning the keyboard and finishing touches such as tips on cleaning the mains cable in addition to the newly updated battery maintenance page for the Acorn BBC A3000.

Each page details repair and restoration techniques that can help restore an Acorn BBC A3000 computer to its former glory with minimal impact on the originality of the machine leaving you with an excellent example of the machine that should look and work great for years to come.

The Acorn A3000 after restoration

Posted on: 20 Sep 2012@15:14:07, updated on: 20 Sep 2012@15:14:07.


Acorn A3000 maintenance updates

As the first part of a set of updates covering the maintenance and restoration of an Acorn A3000, the site is sporting a fully updated, fully illustrated battery maintenance process showing the removal of the old battery, cleaning up of the PCB and fitting of the new battery which prevents the old battery doing any further damage to the motherboard due to leakage. So if your A3000's battery looks like the one below, It's time to get moving and replace it before it does too much damage!

The A3000 original battery showing signs of leakage

In addition to the new battery maintenance page, over the coming weeks I'll be adding information covering case repairs for common issues and cleaning tips and techniques for the full restoration of an A3000.

Posted on: 13 Sep 2012@10:02:37, updated on: 13 Sep 2012@10:02:37.


Blockbusting Music From the Amiga

When Issue 12 of Amiga Format was released, it had on its cover not only a cover disk containing the usual collection of public domain software and demo's of commercial applications but it also had an audio cassette containing several audio sections and single track recordings illustrating different parts of a composition that was created especially for the magazine.

Blockbusting Music from the Amiga - Amiga Format 12 Audio Cassette

After rooting around in my loft for a while the other day, I came across my original cassette and I've been able to recover the content of the cassette and put it on the website for everybody to hear.

Posted on: 30 Jul 2012@19:24:02, updated on: 30 Jul 2012@19:24:02.


Experimenting with two VIDC Enhancers

The later Acorn computers from the A5000 onwards had the capability to generate refresh rates that were compliant to the VGA standards for display output. This was due to the addition of both a 25.175MHz and a 36MHz oscillator.

Most VIDC Enhancers that were targetted at the older Archimedes computers only provided a 36MHz oscillator as the on board 24MHz clock signal was just about good enough to drive the VGA modes as long as the connected monitor was "forgiving".

Watford Electronics created the Super VIDC enhancer that was able to deliver both 25.175MHz and 36MHz clock signals thereby matching the output capabilities of the A5000 and later machines.

The Retro-Kit design interpretation of Andreas Barth's VIDC Enhancer provides a modular way to plug in multiple VIDC Enhancer boards and as such it can be used to deliver both additional oscillator speeds of 25.175MHz and 36MHz like the Watford Electronics Super VIDC board.

The VIDC Enhancer board installed in dual configuration

You can read all about how the dual board VIDC Enhancer configuration works on it's own page showing how the VIDC Enhancer boards can deliver standard VGA refresh rates for all relevant screen modes when connecting a VGA or SVGA monitor to an Archimedes.

Posted on: 29 Jun 2012@02:07:50, updated on: 29 Jun 2012@02:07:50.


Retro-Kit VIDC Enhancers available to buy

Now I've completed and tested the VIDC Enhancer boards in an A300, A400/1 and A3000 and have formulated fitting instructions I'm making several available for purchase.

The VIDC Enhancer allows the Archimedes to drive a suitable modern monitor at screen resolutions of up to 800x600 pixel resolutions and can be controlled by software or optional manual control.

The VIDC Enhancer configured for an Archimedes A300

If you want one of these limited run VIDC Enhancers, you can place an order for one here.

Posted on: 24 Jun 2012@18:31:40, updated on: 24 Jun 2012@18:31:40.


Quite possibly the funkiest monitor stand ever!

Today I received what is quite possibly the funkiest monitor stand ever made. It's a stand that was built for use with one specific computer, the Acorn BBC A3000 and has the rather fun nickname of the "Bird of Prey" for reasons that will become apparent when you look at the photo's below.

The A3000 monitor stand nicknamed the "Bird of Prey"

As you can see from the shape of the stand, it is designed to fit onto the back of an Acorn BBC A3000 exactly, with the two "wings" resting on the shoulders of the Acorn BBC A3000's case. The stand has a single leg at the rear and provides a stable platform on which a monitor can be placed.

For comparison, the photo below shows a model of a Klingon Bird of Prey ship from the popular Star Trek franchise which illustrates why the monitor stand got its nickname.

A model of a Klingon Bird of Prey from the Star Trek franchise

You can see how the stand fits to the back of the A3000 on the AKF20 monitor stand page.

Posted on: 15 Jun 2012@13:53:39, updated on: 15 Jun 2012@13:53:39.


The Retro-Kit VIDC Enhancer project is complete

Over the last couple of months I've been working on a modified VIDC Enhancer project to improve the video output of my Archimedes computers so that they can output higher screen resolutions at better refresh rates and support VGA and SVGA resolutions like later Acorn models such as the Acorn A5000, A4000, A3010 and A3020. The project I've created is suitable for the original Archimedes A300, A400, A400/1 and Acorn BBC A3000 series of computers.

The Retro-Kit VIDC Enhancer board

Using an existing design created by Andreas Barth, I made modifications to it in order to provide a simple reversible way of also addressing the Sync on Green issue that several Acorn Archimedes computers have due to a bug in the motherboard design which traditionally required a track or pin cut. The VIDC Enhancer board I designed addresses the Sync on Green issue by adding a couple of jumpers to the board that allow the relevant track to be interrupted without the need of cutting a track. In fact, using the manual override switch and the correct jumper settings, once fitted, the Archimedes can output a video signal that is suitable for the original AKF11 and AKF12 monitors right through to a modern LCD SVGA or multi-sync monitor without the need to remove the VIDC Enhancer board.

Designing the board in such a transparent way was important to me as I believe that upgrades and modifications to retro computing equipment should if possible be carried out in such a way as to not damage the original design and be achievable using techniques that are in keeping with the era in which the equipment was originally made. All the connecting wires that can be seen in the photo connect to the original Archimedes motherboard using existing headers or headers that can be fitted to existing areas where Acorn did not fit them (which was quite common in the A300, A400 and A400/1 series machines).

In order to make the board, I decided that I'd prefer to have a board that was of a professional quality and to that end, I designed the PCB layout using Eagle PCB design software from Cadsoft. Also, due to the scarcity of the 36MHz oscillators, I ended up ordering a batch of them to be custom made as 36MHz is no longer a commonly required frequency for such devices making them hard to come by unless you order them direct from the manufacturer. 

My A410/1 booting into RISC OS 3.11 desktop at 800x600@4bpp

You can find out all about the VIDC Enhancer that I've built on the VIDC Enhancer page and the VIDC Enhancer project page which details the process I went through creating the board and because I had to buy the boards and oscillators in quantities more than I required, I'll be building a few boards up for people to buy and they should be ready in the next couple of weeks. Watch this space!

Posted on: 8 Jun 2012@16:17:09, updated on: 8 Jun 2012@16:17:09.


Another version of the VELA data logger surfaces!

This week, I received what I thought was a fully boxed VELA in the post complete with manuals and original PSU. In fact, on opening the parcel, I thought it was a VELA PLUS however, I was mistaken. On removing the VELA from the box, the branding on the front of the device gave it away as an RS Components - Multi-function Intelligent Data Logger.

RS Components Multi-function Intelligent Data Logger branding detail

On further inspection, the manual revealed that the ROM image this VELA shipped with was significantly different from the ISL1/ISL1* ROM that shipped in other VELA devices. In fact, it included a range of programs from ISL1*, ISL2* and ISL3* that supported data transfer to and from a microcomputer for saving user created programs and printer routines for the direct printing of graphs without the need for a micro computer at all.

The RS Components VELA which was called the Multi-function Intelligent Data Logger

In a completely separate turn of events, I'm also pleased to report that I now have a full set of VELA manuals and a partial library of supporting books that I intend to scan and make available for download in the future.


Posted on: 26 May 2012@15:24:14, updated on: 26 May 2012@15:24:14.


New VIDC Enhancer boards are in progress

About a month ago, I started to re-design the VIDC Enhancer board that had been published online on and on the Qube RISC OS Server projects page as a DIY project for improving the capabilities of the Archimedes range of computers when it comes to connecting to modern monitors. Specifically, the A300, A400, A400/1 series of Archimedes along with the Acorn BBC A3000 need a little help in providing a suitable signal for modern VGA and SVGA monitors.

I'd already created a fix for the SYNC on Green issue associated with the A300, A400 and A400/1 series Archimedes and when I began looking at the VIDC Enhancer board, it seemed like a natural thing to incorporate the SYNC on Green fix into the VIDC Enhancer board so that is what I've done. By incorporating this fix into the VIDC enhancer board, it allows the board to draw power via the riser rather than needing to have an extra set of flying leads to connect power.

VIDC Enhancer board component and solder side

The new board has been designed so that it can also be used as a VIDC Enhancer board without implementing the riser board and SYNC on Green fix if desired and can be used as the original VIDC Enhancer design was intended. To find out more about my VIDC Enhancer board, you can read all about the current progress of the design, manufacture and build process on the VIDC Enhancer project page.

Posted on: 9 May 2012@11:31:05, updated on: 9 May 2012@11:31:05.


Even more VELA resources go online

At the risk of boring everyone with my VELA - Versatile Laboratory Aid, I've been busy over the last month or so going through a large amount of photo's and PDF documents that have been sent to me on CD by Mr Robert Boyd of Glossop High School in Adelaide.

To that end, I now have information and resources detailing the VELA Mk II and the VELA PLUS along with several photo's of different peripherals and sensors that can be used with the VELA.

I've also been able to re-create a copy of the "VELA Mk II Standard EPROM Quick Reference Card" in a pure digital form based on the photo's I've received and have as a consequence uploaded a pdf version of the reference card to the VELA pages. 

As a result of all the extra information that I've amassed about the VELA, the dedicated VELA page has now expanded into an entire section of the website and it is continuing to grow as more information is gathered.

I'd also like to pass on my thanks to Dr. Ashley Clarke who has sent an original copy of the VELA handbook "Get to know your VELA - for chemists", from which the illustration below is taken.

The front cover illustration of Get to know your VELA - for chemists

Software development

Work is continuing on the development of software to run on the BBC Micro to help with the analysis and storage of result sets from various experiments and the current alpha version has the following features:

  • Transfer data from the VELA to the BBC Micro.
  • Save and Load data sets to disc for future analysis.
  • Zoom in/out features to examine data in detail.
  • Ability to create custom functions of Y to manipulate the data.
  • Support for 6502 Second Processor for faster data transfer and analysis.

Other features that are planned include:

  • Data smoothing.
  • Movable zoom window.
  • Improved support for other VELA programs.
  • Raw data dump to screen or printer.

Posted on: 5 Jan 2012@17:26:30, updated on: 3 May 2012@12:15:02.


Retro control hardware for the BBC Micro

The BBC Microcomputer was renowned for the interfacing capabilities that it provided to its users with connectors with names such as Tube, 1MHz port, User port and parallel port to name just a few. Because of the possibilities that these interfaces provided, the BBC Micro had more than its fair share of peripherals and additional gadgets that could be plugged into and controlled by it.

In the education sector, devices like the VELA from Data Harvest and Control IT buffer box from Deltronics became available allowing school children to experiment with hardware control and monitoring systems easily.

Control IT buffer box from Deltronics

In addition to the more robust devices such as the VELA and Control IT buffer box, other devices were available which simply provided a more convenient way of accessing the parallel and user ports for use in control systems and the BBC Input/Output adapter from NCST was one such device which although rudimentary, provided the ability to monitor and control the same number of data lines as the Control IT buffer box but it did so without providing power supplies or interface protection circuitry which could lead to damage of the BBC Micro if not connected correctly.

BBC Input/Output adapter

Posted on: 30 Apr 2012@23:12:56, updated on: 30 Apr 2012@23:12:56.


New software for the VELA - First Release

VelaXFER showing a sample of Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love in both RAW and smoothed formAfter quite some time in development, I'm pleased to be able to release a first version of my software that provides data analysis tools on the BBC Micro for the VELA data logger.

The software has been tested as running on a BBC Micro with a 6502 second processor and the BBC Master series of computers. It has also been tested on an Archimedes and on both of the popular emulators, B-em and Beeb-em. Currently, only the BBC Micro and Master series of computers provide full functionality with data transfer facilities not working on the Archimedes or under emulation. However the Archimedes provides a welcome speed boost and higher resolution screens with which to render captured data.

For more information about VelaXFER and links for download, take a look at the VELA software page on this site.

Posted on: 16 Apr 2012@17:58:04, updated on: 16 Apr 2012@17:58:04.


Retro-Kit at the Beeb@30 event

On Sunday the 25th of March 2012, I took several of my Archimedes and BBC Micro's to the Beeb@30 official BBC Micro birthday party held at ARM Holdings in Cambridge. The event was a great success with several exhibitors, live bands, keynote speeches from Hermann Hauser (of Acorn fame) and Eben Upton (of Raspberry Pi fame) and most importantly, cake in the form of the trusty old Beeb itself!

The Beeb@30 birthday cake!

Later in the day, we all managed to get a photo opportunity with some of the original BBC Micro development team together with David Allen and Chris Searle (right) who produced and presented the BBC TV series "The Computer Programme" respectively as part of the BBC's Computer Literacy Project for which the BBC Micro was developed.

The BBC Micro Team and David Allen and Chris Searle

Front Row: David Kitson, Chris Searle

2nd Row: Chris Turner, David Allen

3rd Row: Steve Furber, Sophie Wilson

Back Row: Hermann Hauser, Andy Hopper, Chris Curry

In total I took along my BBC Micro Iss. 4, BBC Micro Iss.7, BBC Master 128, Archimedes A410/1, BBC A3000 and the Acorn A5000 along with a VELA, BeebSID, ReCo6502 second processor, Competition Pro joystick and all the other peripherals that go along with these mighty machines.

You can read more about my time at the Beeb@30 event on the Retro-kit Beeb@30 page.

Posted on: 26 Mar 2012@18:53:36, updated on: 26 Mar 2012@18:53:36.


Getting my Archimedes A410/1 to output in VGA

In an effort to jiggle my monitors around and make some space, I resolved to get all my RISC OS based Acorn machines using a flat screen VGA monitor that I have spare. I'd already got my A3000 working with the monitor as can be seen in the picture below but the A410/1 although launched only months apart from the A3000 is a whole different matter.

My A3000 using an Iiyama E430S 17" monitor next to my A410/1 using a 14" AKF12 15KHz SCART RGB monitor

The Archimedes A410/1 should theoretically support a VGA display but it needs a minor hardware tweak to get things working just right and you can read about my solution to the problem of getting the Archimedes A410/1 to use a VGA monitor here.

Posted on: 22 Mar 2012@00:56:13, updated on: 22 Mar 2012@00:56:13.


Going to Beeb@30? See you there!

Beeb@30 logoSunday the 25th of March 2012 sees the official Beeb@30 anniversary event which is being held at ARM Holdings in Cambridge. As part of that event, there'll be displays of Acorn hardware including several of the Retro-Kit collection on display and for visitors to interact with.

The event promises to be one to remember with special guests from Acorn's history, displays of Acorn and related hardware with both old and new systems side by side.

So if you've got your tickets, drop by the displays, say hello and tinker with some of the machines on display.

Posted on: 21 Mar 2012@00:00:11, updated on: 21 Mar 2012@00:00:11.


Reproduction ST/Amiga Format Cover Disk

I've been hunting high and low to see if I can find an original ST/Amiga Format Coverdisk for my original issue 12 magazine that I bought in 1989. Sadly as yet, I've been unsuccessful in finding one but, I have been successful in creating a reproduction disk that will do the job admirably until I do find an original.

A reproduction ST/Amiga Format Issue 12 coverdisk

For comparison, here are a couple of original 1989 vintage ST/Amiga Format coverdisks to take a look at.

Original ST/Amiga format coverdisks for magazine issues 11 and 13

Posted on: 5 Mar 2012@17:49:27, updated on: 5 Mar 2012@17:49:27.


Amiga Format magazine collection online

I've just completed the addition of photo's of every Amiga Format magazine in my collection including all the Special Editions and magazine supplements that accompanied this prestigious Amiga magazine. It seems my collection is one issue short of a full first six years of Amiga Format and after that, I bought issues occasionally as I'd already started to move away from Amiga's to IBM PC compatibles due to my studies at University.

Amiga Format - Issue 1

All that's left to do now is to add photo's of all the cover disks that go with the magazines and then the collection will be fully documented.

To view the entire collection, you can browse through the Magazine library.

Posted on: 19 Feb 2012@23:55:56, updated on: 19 Feb 2012@23:55:56.


Acorn A5000 added to the Retro-kit collection

In early February I acquired a free Acorn A5000 which was refusing to boot due to damage caused by a leaking battery in exchange for recovering all the data from its Hard disc drive. After recovering the data, I set about a fair bit of work to repair the damaged part of the motherboard and cleanup the A5000 as it had been stored in garages and attics for around ten years and was in need of some TLC.

The A5000 was restored to full functionality so now it has become the fastest Acorn computer in my collection, being just a shade faster than the ARM3 upgraded A410/1 and A3000 which is mainly due to the faster memory bus.

The A5000 after restoration


Posted on: 9 Feb 2012@17:10:39, updated on: 9 Feb 2012@17:10:39.


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Versatile Laboratory Aid (VELA)

The Versatile Laboratory Aid

The VELA was a device that could be used as a stand alone data logger or used in conjunction with one of many different 8-bit computers of the day for use as a data capture and reporting tool..

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Pre-order your Ultra VIDC Enhancer now

I opened up a list of pre-orders in anticipation of creating a new batch of Ultra VIDC Enhancers in 2016. Due to delays, they're now going to be ready in July 2020. Please contact me to enquire about being placed on a pre-order list. No payment is necessary until the Ultra VIDC Enhancers are ready to ship.

A3000 Ultra VIDC kit

The anticipated price should remain the same at £32.50 each + £6.95 P&P to locations in the UK (other countries may incur greater shipping costs). The package includes the Ultra VIDC Enhancer, all connecting cables, headers and jumpers required for your Archimedes and a 3.5" floppy disc with the software on.

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