Hmm, been a while since I updated any of my projects. Been too busy on the Austin 7 project. This is a project I just got back into. It is one I started sometime in 2008 it seems. Sometimes projects take me a while to complete. This is one that morphed over time into this, an Apple 2 emulator in a .50 Cal ammo tin.
This was a follow on from my Tardis MAME console. The idea was to build a small portable MAME machine. My idea, not an original one it turns out, was to build a PC into a .50 cal ammo tin. I bought a tin from Kiwi Disposals on K Road, the local army surplus place. Apparently this was some time in about mid 2008 but I can’t be sure. I know I took loads of pictures of things but I can’t seem to find them!
Ammo tins are made from steel and they are very solid. They are also waterproof, have a solid catch, a carry handle and the lids can be detached. They make great tool boxes (I have one in the back of my MGB) and they have been used in the past for making other ammo tin computers. I think mine cost me about $25NZ. Apparently it heldM728 artillery shell fuzes not actual .50cal rounds.
To go inside it I wanted an older motherboard. I specifically wanted one with a joyport, the old 15 pin D ones. The idea was that I would use this machine with my ancient but excellent Thrustmaster F16 FLCS joystick. I had a look on TradeMe and came across an older motherboard for sale. It was a Gigabyte GA-8LD533 with a 1.7GHz Intel Celeron processor. I had to look in my TradeMe history to see I bought this back in June 2008 which is how I dated when I started the project!
To fit the computer into the ammo tin I made a metal sub frame to mount everything too. I am sure at the time I took pictures of all this but I can’t find them at all now. I did get everything finished and I think it was all working but I never actually used the machine for anything so it is been sitting on the floor under my computer desk for the last 3 years gathering dust. All the pictures here are new ones. I can’t remember if I actually got the thing running. I think so?
You’re probably wondering why I dug it out now. Well, that is my colleague Grant’s fault. I know several Grants. The first is old beardy from my Zeacom days. He gives me old engines to play with. The second is artist Grant who helps me with car things. The third is author Grant at my current job. He got me addicted playing Taipan on our Android phones. It turns out this isn’t a great port. So I started looking at the original versions. The one I remember is the Apple 2 one.
Now the Apple 2 is a computer I remember very fondly. It wasn’t my first computer, that was a Commodore Vic 20. The Apple was my second computer. At first I had an Apple 2 plus, bought by my parents second hand from the computer shop that used to be over the road from the old Farmers building on Hobson street in Auckland. Oddly enough I now work less that a km from there – doing computer stuff! We eventually upgraded that to an Apple 2E enhanced. Recently I discovered at my parents house my old Apple 2 folder. In 1986 that computer cost my father $1864! And that was at a discounted price since he worked at the university so got an educators discount. I was 13.
That was a lot of money then. Still is now! I guess it paid off, computers is what I do and now it pays for me to be able to spend money to recreate what I had way back then.
It’s kind of circular really.
Anyway, Grant got me into Taipan and we both fondly remember the Apple 2 version. Grant has an idea to build a PC into an old Apple 2 disk drive. I remembered my old ammo tin project and decided to turn that into an Apple 2 emulator. I had previously tried out the AppleWin emulator and knew that worked well. The latest version is now here. I decided to try Taipan on the ammo tin.
When I tried to run it the damn thing wouldn’t boot. It seems that somewhere along the line the 120GB drive in it failed. I found it wouldn’t boot up and I wasn’t able to reformat the drive to reinstall Windows XP on it. I did find an old 1.2GB drive and was able to get the machine up and running on that. Unfortunately 1.2GB is far too small for an up to date XP installation. But it was enough for me to get the machine running and AppleWin installed to make sure it was going to work. Once I confirmed that author Grant came to my rescue with an old 20GB drive I could use.
So I set about rebuilding the machine.
In the original box I had made the basic fame and mounted the motherboard, power supply and hard drive. I had bought a small PC power supply to fit inside the tin. I am not sure what the wattage on it is but it is tiny. I am using the on-board video port and have no peripheral cards at all so I should need too many watts.
The basic fame is made from aluminium sheet with aluminium extrusions in the corners.
The front panel is another sheet of aluminium with appropriate cut outs. I used two drawer handles on the front to provide an easy way to pull the chassis out of the ammo tin.
The motherboard is mounted with four brass screws fitted through the bottom of the chassis. To keep the screw heads flush I used countersunk screws. I drilled the holes for them then put the screws into the holes and hit the heads with a hammer. This indents the aluminium to fit the screw head so they fit flush with the chassis. I used a plastic sheet under the motherboard to ensure it wouldn’t short and used rubber power cord grommets cut in half as rubber spacers to hold the board off the chassis.
The motherboard was mounted into the chassis. The front panel provides cut-outs for the connectors on the back of the motherboard, the power supply and for switches, LEDs and USB ports.
The MB sits in the base of the chassis. The power supply sits above it attached to the front panel. The hard drive, in this case a 5 1/4 drive, is attached vertically to the back of the chassis.
I used a missile switch as the main power/reset switch. I added two LEDs for power and HDD indication. All of this was basically how the box was as I built it in 2008. The front panel had a large hole in it which I was going to use as storage. I never actually got around to making a liner for the hole so I made up a new aluminium panel which isolates the motherboard from the rest of the tin. This panel, forming a neat cubby hole, is held in place by the LED bezels and provide useful storage space.
With this in place the chassis was finished and it ould be slid into the ammo box. It is worth nothing that if you need to reinstall Windows or need the use of a CD/DVD ROM drive you can simply slide the chassis out and temporarily attach a drive. All the cables are present in the chassis already.
You can see how when the chassis is slid into the box the cubby hole is separated from the rest of the box.
If you look carefully you will see the third USB socket is upside down. This is one I added with the update to the build. I had two spare USB cables floating about inside the box so I made one available on the panel. I put it upside down since I have found you sometimes come across some USB accessories that won’t fit into the socket in a sensible orientation. They need to be inserted upside down! This way I have all bases covered.
Well, that’s my excuse anyway.
Everything is very snug in the box. After running it for a while. I discovered several thing. 1) it gets very hot and 2) it would be handy not to need to connect external speakers.
For the first problem I added in a second (well third) fan. The CPU already has a fan as does the power supply. All the air was being blown out of the holes on the front of the power supply and this seemed rather hot. I added in a fan to the side of the cubby hole to blow air through the box. This made a massive difference to the temperature of the box and now it runs very cool.
I also decided since all I was trying to emulate was very simple Apple 2 sounds I should add an internal speaker. The Apple 2 used a simple, small, single channel speaker. I added one inside the case held to the side of the power supply with industrial strength Velcro. I added a switch to the front panel that switches the output from the internal speaker (wired so both channels are going into the one speaker) to the normal rear (in my case front) line out socket. I did this using the front audio output socket on the motherboard. This way I can plug external speakers into the box if needed but most of the time the Apple sounds are sent to the internal small speaker, just like in an original Apple 2.
With those in place I slide the chassis into the box.
The cubby hole is used for storing the cables and mouse. I am currently using a wireless mouse with a large receiver that I got when I originally started the project in 2008 . I modified the receiver by opening it up and hot gluing a rare earth magnet into it. I can then stick the receiver to the outside of the steel ammo tin.
I will probably replace the mouse with a modern Bluetooth one to save some space. I also had a USB folding keyboard that would fit into the cubby hole. Unfortunately that broke so for now I am using conventional keyboard. I have bought a new folding one that will hopefully fit into the case.
And that is the box basically finished. Even though it is an old motherboard and CPU it is easily enough to run the Apple 2 emulator. So far every single game runs fine.
I can attach the box to a external monitor or, through an interface box, to my old tellie (yes, will get an LCD one day). Everything (hopefully including the keyboard soon) fits into the cubby hole when the box is being carried. It is all pulled out and set up to run the machine. The cubby hole is left free then so the fan is unobstructed although it does provide handy storage for temporary items.
The toggle switch is used to power the box on and off. Flicking it off will cause the box to shut down nicely rather than just killing the power.
AppleWin allows you to run the screen either windowed or full screen as well as simulating colour or monochrome screens.
Next is to download as many old games as I can. So far all of them seem to run well. It’s a real trip down memory lane for me. All the old games: Below the Root, Wings of Fury, Captain Goodnight, Rescue Raiders, Choplifter, Loderunner, Conan, Drol, Bolo, Dungbeetles! We got ya!
I also need to build the equivalent of an old Apple joystick. AppleWin allows the use of a PC joystick but I want to build a PC compatible joystick in the style of the old Apple 2 ones. I have a plan to build a small one using the analogue stick from an old Playstation controller and a couple of buttons.