Archive: Computer Collector Newsletter / Technology Rewind, Jan. 2004 - March 2006
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Atari 2600 to Media PC conversion
by Evan Koblentz
A recent poll at www.engadget.com asked: "What do you do with your old gadgets?" A reply from "VoodooRay" grabbed my attention: "Hang on to them and 'repurpose' them, like I took my old iPaq and made a tiny desk size Pacman Machine with it, I took an old dead Atari 2600 and made it into a Media PC, stuff like that. Old gadgets can have cool and unexpected new lives if you just get creative."
Well said! I contaced the user, who turned out to be Ray Iddings, a 35-year-old from Indianapolis -- or as he put it, "mild-mannered commercial loan guy by day and a self-professed tinkerer by night."
So we inquired further...
EK: You converted an Atari 2600 into a Windows XP Media PC. What inspired this and why did you choose the Atari for this project?
RI: I have quite a few videogame systems, Pong, Intellivision, Coleco, Vectrex, C64 and several others, anyway as old technology does it breeds and I ended up with two Atari 2600's. Well one day one Atari stopped working and I didn't have the heart to throw it away. I carried around this dead 2600 for four years, through a couple of moves, my wife thought I was insane. Then I saw someone had modded a ship model into a PC and they used a Mini-ITX PC (www.mini-itx.com). So I thought this might be a great solution for my Atari Project.
EK: What are the new system's specs?
RI: Straight from the place I bought it:
- VIA C3 E-Series 1.0GHz Processor, Nehemiah core
- VIA CLE266 + VT8235 Chipset
- One 184-pin DDR DIMM slots Up to 1.0GB of PC2100 DDR SDRAM
- 1 PCI slot
- Integrated VIA CastleRock AGP graphics with MPEG-2 decoder, S-Video and TV-Out
- Onboard VIA 2 channel AC'97 Codec
- Two Onboard VIA 10/100 Base-T Ethernet Controllers
- 1 Floppy Disk Drive Port
- 2 Dual-channeled Enhanced IDE Ports support UDMA 133/100/66
- 4 USB 2.0 ports (1 pin-header for 2 additional external USB ports)
- 4 Serial Ports
- Hardware monitoring: Temperature/ Voltage/ System fan control monitor
- Mini-ITX Form Factor, Micro ATX Chassis Compliant
- ATX Power Supply Compliant
- Dimensions: 17.0cm x 17.0cm
- 80G Maxior HD 512mhz DDR Ram
It runs Windows XP pro. I would like to upgrade it to Windows Media XP at some point... Logitech Wireless mouse and Keyboard.
EK: Did you find a way to make use of the Atari's switches and cartridge slot?
RI: I saved the original switches, they are currently attached to the Atari but non-functional, I have a two year old who likes to grab at stuff so I thought I would wait until he was a little older before I incorporated the buttons into the system. The cartridge slot currently has a game in it. My plan for Atari 2.0 is to use that slot for a card reader, just haven't got there yet.
EK: Was it a challenge to fit all the parts inside (i.e., motherboard, power supply, etc.)?
RI: The great thing about the minis is the power supply is outside the case. The biggest problems were with my Dremmel skills. Inside the Atari case there are four posts that need to be removed. I was so inept with the Dremmel that I ended up NOT installing a CD-ROM drive because I was afraid of messing up the only case I have. Now that I have used the Dremmel more and more I plan on cutting the case for Version 2. The project was pretty easy. I think I had more trouble mounting the mouse and keyboard receivers inside a couple of old Atari joysticks than anything.
EK: Did you post photos and/or a project diary on the web?
RI: Working on this right now, but if anyone wants pictures or has questions just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EK: You also built a miniature Pac-Man console, what's the story there?
RI: Ahh the mini-Pac, well I had an old iPaq 3635 PDA. The older iPaq is notorious for having batteries that would not hold a charge, and that is mine, a handheld that only works when it's plug in. So my friend Tom and I where sitting around one day playing Pac-Man on my current PDA and he made the comment, "Wouldn't it be great if this thing had a joystick?" So after a couple of days kicking around that thought I went to the hobby store and bought some model airplane plywood and with my trusty router I built an exact replica of a Pac-Man machine that is 11 inches tall. I painted it to look like a Pac-Man machine, installed a couple of super-bright LEDs to light the marquee, rerouted the PocketPC speaker so I could mount it like it is in a real Pac-Man. And I built a custom ball-top joystick for the control panel. The hardest part of this project was soldering directly to the iPaq (which I took completely apart). The iPaq has a DLink 650W CF wireless card, so I have a mini Pac-Man machine on my desk at work AND it's wireless. It makes me very popular in the office.
EK: Do you have any other retro computing projects planned?
RI: I have a couple, I have an old C64 that doesn't work that I would like to turn into a desktop, I really want to use the existing keyboard so I need to give that some more thought. My 3-year-old son and I are building a robot with the ER1 kit from Evolution Robotics. I'm kicking around how to make a Barbie PC for my 6-year-old daughter for Christmas, any ideas?
EK: Have any thoughts on what vintage technology can teach us about the future?
RI: I'm not sure what this teaches us but I am amazed at the connection most of my generation feels towards old technology. I think it's because we are the first generation to get the future. I can't tell you how many people smile when they see my Pac-Man machine and my Atari Media PC, it speaks to people. More directly it shows anything is possible. Look at someone like Phillip Torrone (www.flashenabled.com) -- I appreciate how he is always exploring new and different ways to void his warranty with new technology. I hope more folks get that spirit.
EK: Are you a collector as well, and what's in your collection?
RI: I collect most old videogame machines -- I have a Pong machine, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Intellivision, Colecovision, Vertex, C64, Vic-20, Timex Sinclair 1000, Sega32, NES, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, Sega Dreamcast, PSX, XBox... 25 or 30 old handhelds, i.e. hockey, football, basketball... an arcade machine that runs MAME, a TRON arcade machine and I think that's it.
EK: What is your favorite vintage computer, and why?
RI: My favorite vintage computer has got to be the TRS-80. When I was in high school I took our school's first computer class, the class was BEFORE school, we had 10 TRS-80s. I wrote my first programs in BASIC on a TRS-80. Now if I could just find one of those!