"Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-5-10 @ 09:02

candle_86 wrote:shame your not local, ive got an amber hercules display sitting in my closet doing nothing


Pity! I've even checked the shipment cost to Poland to see if I could actually afford that, but sadly it's exorbitant.

What's ironic is that I've actually been to Fort Worth a couple of times when I was working with my previous employer (Stockyard, White Elephant Saloon and all that).
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby candle_86 » 2018-5-10 @ 14:07

OldCat wrote:
candle_86 wrote:shame your not local, ive got an amber hercules display sitting in my closet doing nothing


Pity! I've even checked the shipment cost to Poland to see if I could actually afford that, but sadly it's exorbitant.

What's ironic is that I've actually been to Fort Worth a couple of times when I was working with my previous employer (Stockyard, White Elephant Saloon and all that).


well if you find yourself back this way let me know
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-10 @ 11:00

I think I owe everyone involved in this thread a bit of an update.

In short - I am going to hijack my own thread. You see, while this box and its components are very pretty, it is also very large. And one of my problems and the reason for unending quarrels on retro computers with my wife is the lack of physical space to keep them. While searching for Hercules-compatible amber monitor I have found something that let me kill three birds with one stone: Tandon CSP1622. It is a sort of all-in-one, AT with Hercules and compatible screen. Instead of having huge box with small Hercules monitor I have computer and display combined in a relatively small package. Naturally, I had to go for it!

Adios, Vobis AT. Hello Tandon AT.

Seller's photo:

Tandon_00.jpg

It has arrived! CMOS battery dead, so dismantling the thing to see what's inside:

Tandon_01.jpg

First success - setting disc type in BIOS. Drive operational, some German software still in place:

Tandon_02.jpg

TBC
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby Jo22 » 2018-7-11 @ 02:55

OldCat wrote:I think I owe everyone involved in this thread a bit of an update.
In short - I am going to hijack my own thread. [

Hah, that's cool. :D I'll have to remember to do this more often, too. ;)

Anyway, that 286 looks interesting to me. Reminde me a bit of the "Ergo" PC,
an 8088-PC that was built into a TTL/Mono CRT and had an ergonomic stand,
which the monitor/PC unit was mounted to and which could be moved in several dimensions.
I'm sorry, it's hard to describe. saw that PC once in my life in an old magazine.
Here's a drawing I made, maybe it gives an impression of the machine.

ergo_sctribble.gif
ergo_sctribble.gif (2.04 KiB) Viewed 131 times

The monitor was a green TTL monitor, likely in 720x350 resolution.
Not sure if it had Hercules (aka MGA, HGC) already or in IBM fashion, MDA.
When I was little, when I had my multimedia 286 PC with 4MB RAM, VGA, PAS16, HP LaserJet and a handy scanner,
I had no clue that a "boring typewriter PC" could draw such beautiful monochrome graphics.

Just recently, I few years ago, Hercules got my attention again. Probably because of DOSBox and the fact that
my father did a few scans in the 1980 with its handy scanner. And since the picture program did save screen dumps
instead of using a proper picture format, these scans could only be displayed by using Hercules hardware.
That's when I started to learn about Hercules and monochrome graphics in general, I think.

If you like, also have a look at EMÚ386. It'll emulate some of the 386 real-mode instructions,
so you'll be able to run quite a few more programs on your 286. According to the manual,
this comes in handy for ISA PnP utilities, as required for the newer Sound Blasters (SB16 PnP, AWE series).
It may also work with other programs, such as games, provided that they are dumb and don't check for a 386.
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby root42 » 2018-7-11 @ 08:31

Wow, GS-Menü brings back some memories... That software company made shareware software for small offices. Bookkeeping and such, as well as other tools, as this menu software.
My ramblings on YouTube
Me playing games on my 286 and on my Sega MD2 on Twitch
80286@12 MHz, 2 MiB RAM, Tseng ET4000 1 MiB, schlae AdLib, XT CF Lite, OSSC 1.6
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-11 @ 09:09

root42 wrote:Wow, GS-Menü brings back some memories... That software company made shareware software for small offices. Bookkeeping and such, as well as other tools, as this menu software.


I believe Herr Gandke's company is still active in the IT field (digital marketing agency, if I am not mistaken).

Jo22 wrote:I had no clue that a "boring typewriter PC" could draw such beautiful monochrome graphics.


Well put. Nostalgia is a factor, granted, but there is elegance in high-resolution monochrome graphics. I will add some screenshot(s) later in this thread.

Could I ask if you are, by any chance, able to program DOS executables with Hercules mode graphics?
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-11 @ 09:24

The second success - replacing hard drive with Compact Flash card and CF adapter:

Tandon_03.jpg

Putting the adapter in one of the extensions slots required extending 0 and +5V cables, as well as finding long enough IDE cable (old type):

Tandon_04.jpg

I have actually soldered power cable to the adapter, it came out rather nicely:

Tandon_05.jpg

This is the third success - works with new power cable and IDE cable:

Tandon_06.jpg


TBC
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby Scali » 2018-7-11 @ 09:26

OldCat wrote:Could I ask if you are, by any chance, able to program DOS executables with Hercules mode graphics?


I could help with that. I have made some helper functions in C and assembly to set the two Hercules modes (text and graphics), and tweak various things.
One of my experiments was to set up the Hercules memory to have 4 separate framebuffers, and flip between them.
By preprocessing a grayscale image into 4 buffers, I could simulate various levels of brightness by exploiting the afterglow of a monochrome monitor (basically a form of PWM).
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-12 @ 09:31

After first couple of successes there came time for inevitable failure ("HOW QUICKLY THE TIDE TURNS"). NiCd accumulator that was fine when I first opened the PC vomited acid all over the board:

Tandon_07.jpg

As it turns out, this is typical behaviour for NiCd accus that were not used for a long time and then got charged. Good thing I caught it relatively quickly, disassembled, desoldered accumulator and cleaned board so no damage done:

Tandon_08.jpg

Reassembled it to check if it works and it did:

Tandon_09.jpg

Then I went on to work on replacement. Unfortunately, this accumulator was a bit specific, so no off the shelf component would fit. I have asked a small company to build for me a custom one from button cells. Took them a while, but the result was spot on (dimensions, voltage, connections). Soldered it in:

Tandon_11.jpg

...and once again the whole thing worked:

Tandon_12.jpg

Fourth success! For some of you, this might be trivial, but for me these were the most advanced changes I ever did on a vintage machine.

TBC
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby Jo22 » 2018-7-12 @ 20:43

OldCat wrote:Well put. Nostalgia is a factor, granted, but there is elegance in high-resolution monochrome graphics. I will add some screenshot(s) later in this thread.

Cool, thanks. I'm looking forward to it. Both CGA and Hercules remind me of the Gameboy, by the way:
Firstly in terms of Nostalgia (both are 80s tech) and secondly, because they share artistic aspects.
Gameboy had 4 shades, CGA has 4 colours. Hercules is black/white and uses dithering from time to time.

OldCat wrote:Could I ask if you are, by any chance, able to program DOS executables with Hercules mode graphics?

Well, yes, I am. By far not as much as Scali, however. He's from the demos cene and knows a lot about the internals.
To give an idea, just read what he wrote about the structure of Hercules video memory and you'll see.

Anyway, here's a little bit of something that I recycled from CGAView (not to be confused with a video player of the same name).
In essence, it's just a tool that lets you create and load Hercules screen dumps.
Attachments
MGA_CRT.JPG
mgaview_test.zip
https://youtu.be/pKCphBy2jGg
(261.9 KiB) Not downloaded yet
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-13 @ 07:05

Jo22 wrote:Cool, thanks. I'm looking forward to it. Both CGA and Hercules remind me of the Gameboy, by the way:
Firstly in terms of Nostalgia (both are 80s tech) and secondly, because they share artistic aspects.
Gameboy had 4 shades, CGA has 4 colours. Hercules is black/white and uses dithering from time to time.


Spot on. I also really, really like Game Boy and its graphics. I have one with screen mod (backlight plus bivert):
20171201_202149-624x902.jpg


I also happen to have two plasma screen Toshibas and like to compare how things look in pure monochrome and four shades of orange:
viewtopic.php?f=63&t=56507

Jo22 wrote:Well, yes, I am. By far not as much as Scali, however. He's from the demos scene and knows a lot about the internals.
To give an idea, just read what he wrote about the structure of Hercules video memory and you'll see.


Superb! I'll fire a private message your way to explain why I asked.

Jo22 wrote:Anyway, here's a little bit of something that I recycled from CGAView (not to be confused with a video player of the same name).
In essence, it's just a tool that lets you create and load Hercules screen dumps.


I will definitely give it a try. Quick question, as I will only be able to test it mid-next week at the very earliest - can you export these dumps to something readable / decipherable by modern software? Such as gif, png or bmp?
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Re: "Childhood Embers" - 286 AT with Hercules graphics build

Postby OldCat » 2018-7-13 @ 12:04

With accumulator repaired and HDD replaced by CF card, I thought all I needed was to reassemble the whole thing. I was naive.

I started playing with old games and discovered that image goes all haywire on some of them:

Tandon_13.jpg

Ugh (not the game, just general sigh of disappointment).

Fortunately, fellow Vogoner 133MHz suggested a solution:
133MHz wrote:That looks like the card is putting out 60Hz vertical frequency when running those games and the monitor is only syncing to the standard 50Hz for MDA/Hercules. A quick tweak of the V.HOLD control should sort it out, but if your monitor doesn't expose said control to the outside you'll have to open it up and look for it on the circuit board to adjust it while looking at the screen. You can find a balance where it will work on both 50 and 60Hz so you don't have to fiddle with it anymore.


I had never meddled with the insides of monitors before, so I was a little nervous. Took me a while to open the monitor case, but finally did:

Tandon_14.jpg


Armed with thick non-conductive gloves, started looking inside and prodding various elements. The potentiometers weren't really in the most comfortable spot:

Tandon_15.jpg


Nevertheless, I played with V.HOLD a bit, as 133MHz instructed me to do, and - lo and behold! - it worked:

Tandon_16.jpg


TBC
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