Let’s just get stuck into it shall we?
A few days ago I had the house to myself and decided that the time was right to haul everything out and see if it still worked.
I was a little nervous. What if it sparked and smoked and then fizzed out never to beep again? Or worse, what if it did absolutely nothing, thus robbing me of at least the opportunity to say goodbye before it departed to 8-bit heaven?
Then what would I write about? Still, at least I could grab a few pictures, and if worse came to worst I could photoshop a screen shot in and pretend that it was all good for a little while.
To that end, here is the beast unearthed for the first time in almost 20 years.
Here it is in its somewhat yellow, spotty glory. It is a bit dusty and one of the front LEDs is misaligned, but otherwise looks like the trusty workhorse I remember.
Like many plastic items of any reasonable age it has started to go a bit yellow, although there is a suspicious white patch in the middle which I believe was the disc drive. The computer was setup most of the time in front of the TV so that makes sense.
I was hoping that there was something I could do about that, but a quick search around suggested, as always, that prevention was the best cure. For more information, the following is an excellent analysis of the problem of yellowing of our beloved retro machines.
So, moving on I figured a spit and polish would at least remove the fly crap, but hopefully the inside remained pristine. Two screws from the back and 2 from the front-bottom and flipping off the lid revealed the following:
A bit dusty inside, but I’ve seen worse (any modern computer with a fan that sits on the floor springs to mind). The wires sneaking out the back were a dodgy pass through for the speaker so I could hook it up to an external speaker for more audio goodness.
A better view of the keyboard. Back in those days each key was individually switched mechanically, at least on quality keyboards like this. Cheaper machines had membranes or rubber keyboards that made an electrical circuit but didn’t have proper on/off switches. They sucked for typing on. I think modern keyboards use membrane-like technology, but with effort put into giving that real ‘switch’ feeling so you feel like you are making a connection.
Pretty standard really. Just above the keyboard ribbon cable you can see the text ‘Issue 7’. This may have been the last revision of the BBC Model B main board. I’m not sure, but it does seem the most common.
The beeb was famous for its array of expansion options, including the ability to add a second processor (and not just another 6502 – a Z80 was an option amongst others). This is available via the ‘Tube’ connector. On the far right, partially obscured, is a black connector for auxiliary power, in this case I use it to power the disc drive.
More options on the back, including three different video output options (no HDMI unfortunately), an analogue port for things like joysticks, an obligatory tape input and the famous Acorn Econet system. Not fitted to this machine, Econet was Acorn’s low-cost networking system which proved popular in schools. I’m not sure what is involved in adding this option but it was pretty sophisticated for the time and included filesharing capabilities via a fileserver.
Spit and polish has been liberally applied and it is looking a lot more respectable. I’ll get in between those keys a bit better once I know the bugger is still running.
I unsoldered my dodgy speaker cable and fixed it back to the original configuration. After realigning the LED at the front and cleaning up the function key strip (the clear plastic above the keyboard allowed you to slip in dedicated function key templates above the red function keys that explained what they did depending on the program you were using)
Only one way to found out if it works. Luckily that weekend a friend of ours had her garage sale and I picked up an antenna two-into-one connector in anticipation of this moment, so after wrestling to get to the back of the TV managed to hook it up neatly.
Turning it on produced that satisfying two-tone beep that everyone remembers, and I knew that we were in with a chance, but first I had to tune the TV. Switching to the long forgotten analogue tuner I got the TV to scan everything in, and lo and behold, there is was!
The old and new come crashing together as I fire it up hooked up to the Sony 52 inch Bravia. Who could have imagined this back in the 80s?
Exactly as it says, it has 32 kilobytes of RAM, and is fitted with a 1770 Disc Filing System and of course the famous inbuilt BBC BASIC.
It appears all the keys work, include the real ‘pound’ symbol. The fact that the BBC has a key that produces this symbol is yet another reason why emulators aren’t as good as the real thing 🙂
Ok, so I get a prompt, but could I make it do anything useful, or was my collection of games and half-finished software no more use than an old America Online coaster CD?
Find out next time!