130 XE Upgrades

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Not too long ago I was wanting something new to explore for my Atari 130XE. There is an Atari freind in Poland who goes by “Lotharek" who makes some very nice hardware.  I bought a NetUSBee (ethernet and USB from the cartridge port) from him for my STe, and I really like it.  It is much more compact than my old EtherNEC boxes, and recently someone finally wrote working drivers for USB storage.  It is so nice to be able to transfer files with a USB stick from a Mac, PC or another Atari system with USB.  Lotharek’s hardware is first class!

I started out on my quest to improve the 130XE by purchasing the SIDE2 cart.  I have used a MyIDE cart for years, but that cart required an IDE adapter along with a compact flash card.  It served me very well, but I was curious to see if the SIDE2 would be an improvement.  I always learn new things when I try out new hardware.  The SIDE2 doesn’t need the IDE adapter and includes Spartadox X and a real time clock.

I found that for my purposes, the SIDE2 was not better than the MyIDE (at first), because I like to use AtariWriter Plus, and it was not compatible with the SIDE2 cart because the Spartados in the cart uses the same memory area.  I discovered if I were to install the Ultimate 1 MB upgrade, then things should work.

When I started to check out the Ultimate 1 MB upgrade, I found out there is an excellent word processor, “The Last Word” by Jonathan Halliday that supports the VBXE upgrade.  All this really got me interested, so I decided to make this a major upgrade project.  After all, it takes things awhile to get here from Poland, so I thought it would be fun to purchase most of the available upgrades in one order.

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While I was waiting for my order, I looked for a good upgrade candidate 130XE on eBay.  I wanted to keep my 130XE in stock condition.  It is has been a good old “freind”, and I didn’t even want to think about drilling any holes in the case or anything like that.  It is possible to do the upgrades without “hurting” the machine, but I was planning some slight case mods.  I also wanted to keep a machine on hand do use during the upgrades.  It turned out that the upgrade machine was never really “down” during the process, so that was not a concern.  I found another nice, working 130XE.

I ordered the Ultimate 1 MB upgrade, the VBXE, the Simple Stereo (dual Pokey), and the P Covox (another sound upgrade).

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Everything was easy to install (you need basic soldering skills, and it does not hurt to have some electronics knowledge).  It is good to plan ahead and make sure you have the correct sockets for the IC chips and a Dupont connector kit with the various pin connectors you will need.  I used ribbon cable wires to make the various connections and it worked very well.

Some great resources for planning include atari8.co.uk and the AtariAge 8-bit Computer forum.  I viewed every YouTube video I could find about these installations before my order arrived.  It really saved a lot of the guess work.

Everything went as I planned until I got to the P Covox.  In order to install that upgrade, I had to bend the pins on the Simple Stereo upgrade upward at a right angle because the two upgrades are right next to each other (PIA and POKEY chips).  I bent the pins up and used some insulating tape to make sure the pins on the Simple Stereo were not touching the pins on the PIA chip for the P Covox.

Also, I had no idea where the base address for the P Covox should be set.  I read somewhere that the default base address may conflict with something??? I do not know what.  I ended up using the default base address, and I have not had any issues with that.  Also, the instructions state that it is not recommended to use the same outputs that are used to send the sound to the speakers for the Simple Stereo upgrade.  I wasn’t about to drill more holes for another set of RCA outputs, so I just decided to run a wire with a 3.5 mm stereo connector attached through the hole that is already there for the PBI connector (I’m not actually using a “real” PBI device, so that port is not needed).  The input to my speakers is 3.5 mm stereo (like a headphone connector) and there are two inputs, so it worked out nicely.  If I want to get slick about it later, I may install a bluetooth transmitter inside the case connected to the P Covox outputs, but I doubt I’ll ever go to that trouble.

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In the photo above you see my only screw up.  I mounted the RGB DB9 jack too low.  The screw would meet with the motherboard, so I could not put a screw in the bottom.  I was not happy about that!  One of those measure twice, cut once moments.  Everything needs to be measured with the motherboard in the case!!!

I thought that the video output for the VBXE was going to be tricky, but it was actually very easy.  Others are installing an RGB connector (I think it is 13 pins) like you find on an Atari ST, which is pretty slick, but I had no option for an RGB monitor and wanted to use a nice LED VGA monitor.  I am actually using an LG TV, so I have a DB9 connector on the back of the 130XE case to which I connect a scan converter (RGB to VGA) and then a small box convert VGA to HDMI.  This sounds crazy, but I tried a nice VGA monitor, and I actually get better quality with the LG TV, and I can connect the original Atari output to the composite on the TV and switch back and forth from original output to VBXE if I wish.

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It is important to work slowly and carefully and double check everything as you go.  Make sure you don’t skip steps in the instructions.

This was a very fun project, and considering all the chips I removed to install sockets, it was quite easy.  I was amazed and glad that I did not break anything, and that everything worked when I turned on the power switch!

I think the only upgrade I did not install was the Rapidus.  I just didn’t see a need for the 130XE to run faster, and truthfully I don’t think much software will be developed that would need such a thing.

I did pre-order the BIGGUS DICKUS Sio2sd.  I don’t have an Sio2sd, and it looks cool and the name is funny.  After all, this is mostly about having a little fun after some very long days at work!

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