Ultimate Commodore Amiga 1200 Project

I’ve been an Amiga computer fan since the original A500 was released. For my latest project I wanted to take an Amiga 1200 and substantially modify it while keeping everything contained inside the iconic wedge case. Back in 2001 I picked up a mint condition Commodore Amiga A1200 computer from a car boot sale for the princely sum of £20. Soon after I added an internal hard drive and a Blizzard 1230 MkIV turbo accelerator card. The system had been used for occasional retro gaming until recently when I decided to expand it. Below I present the photo build log for my ‘Ultimate Amiga 1200’. Quite possibly the most tricked out A1200 you will ever see. This will be a long read, so grab a coffee and put some old school tunes on.

System Specifications

To whet your appetite, I’ll fast forward to the end result briefly. The basic idea of this project was to take an A1200 and apply my PC-case-modding experience to create a black Amiga with all the bells and whistles – gobs of RAM, DVI video, Wi-Fi, USB, replacement capacitors, etc. I wanted to take advantage of the numerous aftermarket Amiga upgrade products that have hit the market in recent years and see what sort of customised system could be created. The finished Amiga 1200 can be seen below:

Booting up the finished black Commodore Amiga A1200 system and selecting an ADF floppy image file for the HxC emulator.

The finished Amiga 1200’s specifications are as follows:

  • Painted black case with OEM black keycaps
  • Custom system LEDs with PCMCIA activity LED
  • Internal case LED back-lighting
  • Blizzard MkIV 1230 MkIV turbo card overclocked to 50MHz
  • 64MB RAM
  • Motorola 68882 FPU
  • ICOMP Indivision AGA 1200 Mk2 flickerfixer
  • FastATA MkIV IDE controller
  • 32GB internal SanDisk compact flash HDD
  • ICOMP Rapid Road USB controller
  • Lotharek HxC FDD emulator
  • 16x2 LCD screen for FDD emulator
  • 3.1 ROM chips
  • ICOMP Micromys v4 with ‘Amiga’ optical mouse
  • 120-watt internal PicoPSU
  • Linksys PCMCIA Wi-Fi adapter
  • Cumana CAX354 external floppy drive

In the following sections I will present these upgrades in some more detail.

Replacement Black Keycaps

The first order of business was to set about replacing the standard keyboard keycaps with black ones to match the case which would be painted black. Using keycaps from a black PC keyboard was not really an option because the Amiga uses a different keycap stem design (and has some Commodore specific keys/legends). I didn’t want to paint the keycaps and use DIY legends either as it wouldn’t look too great. Back in the day, Commodore also made a games console called the CDTV, which included a black keyboard which was identical to the A1200 keyboard – so the plan was to obtain one of these keyboards and transplant over the black keycaps.

Hate mail disclaimer: Some people get quite upset to see CDTV keyboards used in black A1200 projects, presumably because the CDTV parts are already rare enough without A1200 modders increasing market demand for them. Readers should note that I recycled a broken CDTV keyboard and gave the carcass to a CDTV owner for spares. Furthermore, I don’t think this is really much of an issue today thanks to the A1200.Net replacement keycap project.

The CDTV keyboard I obtained was absolutely filthy. The keycaps were removed and thoroughly washed in hot soapy water:

Comparison between the original A1200 white keycaps and the black CDTV keycaps.

The Amiga 1200 has an unusual membrane keyboard switch design, which includes metal springs rather than rubber domes to support the keycaps. The A1200 keyboard was removed from the computer and disassembled for cleaning:

Removing the original keycaps and springs from the A1200 keyboard.

The keycaps clip in to a captive plastic tube held in the keyboard’s base plate, which pushes down on these small rubber membranes:

Closeup of the rubber membrane used on the A1200 keyboard.

The flexible PCB keyboard membrane itself is sandwiched between the lower metal and upper plastic keyboard plates:

Another view of the A1200 rubber membrane base.

Black keycaps from the donor board were migrated over to the A1200 board. The large keys like the spacebar have Cherry-style stabiliser bars. Using the A1200’s original keyboard springs, the black CDTV keycaps were installed:

Starting to fit the CDTV keycaps to the A1200 keyboard.

Fitting the keys simply involves placing a spring over the white plastic tube and then compressing it by pushing a keycap on to the tube.

More original CDTV keycaps fitted to the A1200 keyboard.

This transplant procedure did not take too long. Once completed, I had a black Amiga 1200 keyboard using all Commodore original parts:

The completed black A1200 keyboard.

The ‘new’ keyboard was then fitted back inside the Amiga to test it was working properly:

Black keyboard fitted back inside white Amiga 1200 chassis.

During this phase of the project I realised that the A1200 case had been damaged by the previous owner using case screws which were too long (causing the dimple marks seen above). A replacement A1200 case from eBay was sourced.

Motherboard & Case Mods

After the keyboard transplant, I completed a number of modifications to the Amiga 1200’s motherboard and case to support the system upgrades that were planned.

The motherboard was removed from the case and cleaned as seen below. Some mild corrosion on the lower metal RF shield around the rear connector ports was cleaned off using metal polish.

Removing the A1200 motherboard from the chassis and cleaning it.

There are several revisions to the A1200 motherboard design. This Amiga has the final revision, version 2B:

Amiga 1200 A1200 Revision 2B motherboard.

In addition to the ‘trapdoor’ expansion slot, the Amiga 1200 also has a unique 8-bit interface called the clockport. This was originally designed as a connector for aftermarket battery-backed clocks (to maintain the system clock between power downs), but it has since been re-appropriated as a general purpose expansion header. This version of the motherboard did not appear to have the clockport header pins installed at the factory:

Amiga 1200 P9A clockport connector without factory installed header.

To allow later use of the clockport, the missing header pins were soldered in:

Installing the missing clockport header to the A1200 motherboard.

Similarly, the circuit components to enable the PCMCIA activity LED is missing on all Amiga 1200s. A modification to allow an LED to be connected to the motherboard was performed:

Adding missing components to activate the PCMCIA activity LED circuitry.

As a USB controller will be added to this machine, it was necessary to cut out mounting holes in the case for the connectors. After a lot of wrangling I determined it would be possible to mount the double USB connector on the right-hand side of the case. The ICOMP Rapid Road USB controller came with a backplate which was used as the cutting template:

Templating the cutting pattern to add two USB connectors to the side of the chassis.

To prolong the life of the system and reduce the possibility of any weird problems later, the electrolytic capacitors on the motherboard were replaced. Some of the capacitors can be a bit tricky to access with a soldering iron:

Audio capacitors on the Amiga 1200 motherboard.

At this point the Amiga case was painted black with VHT satin black vinyl dye. This automotive product is a dye rather than a paint, which works very well for refinishing plastics like the Amiga 1200 case. Sadly I didn’t take any photos during the painting process. It was cleaned in the same way as the keyboard keycaps and then given four coats of the black dye. I was really pleased with the end result, which matched the black OEM keycaps well.

Graphics & Storage

The Amiga 1200 uses a proprietary display connector that provides a 15KHz video signal that most modern computer screens cannot display. To connect directly to a modern monitor the Amiga needs a ‘flicker fixer’ to resample the video output signal to something more compatible. A popular product for doing this is the Individual Computers Indivision AGA Mk2. This provides a DVI video connector and a signal which modern displays can work with. One of these cards was obtained and installed on the motherboard.

Hard disk support on the A1200 is provided by a single 44-pin internal IDE connector. Elbox Computer produce the FastATA expansion card which supports more drives at a faster throughput speed. It also facilitates using drives larger than the original 4GB limit. A FastATA MkIV card was purchased and fitted to the Amiga’s motherboard.

The photo below shows both the FastATA and Indivision AGA cards installed. Normally these two cards are physically incompatible due to their size and location, but two extra DIL sockets were used to raise and angle the FastATA card so that it would overhang the Indivision card:

Bench testing all of the various modifications and additions to the Amiga 1200 motherboard.

A side-effect of raising the position of the FastATA card was that it is very close to the metal keyboard plate. To avoid any short-circuiting on the FastATA, the keyboard was insulated with some electrical tape:

Insulating the back of the A1200 keyboard to prevent electrical shorting on the FastATA addon card.

A 3D printed DVI socket plate was made so that the Indivision’s DVI connector could sit in the Amiga’s rear expansion port:

A 3D printed backplate for the A1200 rear trapdoor slot where a DVI connector is mounted.

It’s not shown here but I also 3D printed a vented expansion trapdoor cover to improve the cooling for the Blizzard 1230 card as it can run quite hot.

Internal ATX PSU

To support the various expansions being added to the Amiga, a more powerful replacement to the standard external power brick was required. I fitted a tiny PC power supply called a PicoPSU inside the Amiga’s case. Using a modern ATX power supply makes future maintenance/replacement easier.

I created a small power distribution board to sit next to the PSU, with screw terminals on it to make connecting (and removing) accessories easier:

A DIY ATX power distribution board for connecting devices inside the Amiga 1200 case.

The Blizzard 1230IV accelerator card runs fairly warm inside the normally passively cooled Amiga 1200 case, largely due to it being overclocked through replacing the crystal oscillator with a 50MHz part. A low-profile PC case fan will be attached to the inside of the grill in top of the case. The photo below shows the power distribution board and fan being tested:

A slimline 12v PC cooling fan for use inside the Amiga A1200.

Commodore did not use the PC’s AT/ATX power supply interface, so the PicoPSU must be attached to an adapter board before it can be used with the Amiga motherboard. Ian Stedman sells an Amiga/ATX adapter on his website.

The PicoPSU, ATX adapter board and power distribution board were mounted on the small shelf at the rear of the case using hot glue. A section of thin plastic was glued between the PSU and the Amiga case, to provide some insulation between the underside of the PSU and the Indivision board underneath:

Side view of PicoPSU with hot glued plastic insulation underneath to protect Indivision AGA addon board.

Fitment of the power distribution rail is shown below. The Molex connectors from the PSU were trimmed off so that the PSU’s outputs could be connected to the screw terminals on the distribution board. To power the motherboard, fly leads added on the Amiga (in place of the original power socket) connect to the screw terminals on the PSU adapter board.

Fitment of the PicoPSU and Amiga ATX power adapter to the Amiga desktop case.

The PicoPSU is itself powered by a small external power brick. This connects to the Amiga using a barrel-jack socket fitted where the original Commodore power connector was. Being an ATX power supply, the PicoPSU needs a momentary on/off switch in order to operate. A connector for this switch is provided by Ian Stedman’s adapter board. Using thin plastic sheet and hot glue, a small power switch was fitted to the case:

Push switch for controlling the ATX PSU fitted in place of the RF modulator socket.

Modernizing the Floppy Drive

Today, the double-density floppy disks used by the Amiga are a vintage oddity that are tricky to source. To make getting software on to the Amiga a bit easier I replaced the original floppy drive with a floppy drive hardware emulator. This device loads floppy disk images stored on a modern memory card. There are a few different options for doing this, but I went with the HxC SD SC34 emulator by Lotharek. The HxC supports using an optional 16x2 SPI LCD screen, which is being tested in the photo below:

Preparing the HxC floppy drive emulator for installation in the chassis.

The HxC Slim drive comes with a metal backplate that is mounted in the Amiga using the existing screw holes:

Adding the HxC to the Amiga chassis.

The LCD screen is mounted in the top of the Amiga case. After testing and measuring, a 4-wire SPI cable was made up to connect the screen and HxC:

Connecting colour coordinated cables to the HxC emulator.

When the Amiga is running, the LCD screen displays information about the current status of the HxC drive, including what disk image is currently active:

Testing the 16x2 LCD display for use with the HxC floppy emulator.

The grille area in the top of the case was cut out to hold the LCD display. This was very easy to fit as the LCD board was exactly twice the width of two vertical plastic supports that are under the grille.

Fitment of the HxC LCD display in the upper section of the A1200 desktop case.

External 3.5” FDD

A side effect of replacing the internal disk drive with the HxC was no longer being able to use floppy disks. An external Cumana CAX354 3.5” drive was purchased on eBay as a means of reading old Amiga disks in my collection. To match the Amiga case, it was painted black using the same VHT vinyl dye product:

Cumana CAX354 external floppy drive painted black.

The data cable for the drive was also modified to match the black colour scheme:

The CAX354 drive cable refinished in black.

The CAX354 has a plastic clamshell style case with a metal backplate. This metal was very dirty so it was cleaned with metal polish. A new “enable/disable” switch label was applied:

Rear of the CAX354 floppy drive after being cleaned.

Originally the disk drive had beige rubber feet. These were replaced with matching black feet (the same was also done to the A1200 case after painting):

Replacement black rubber feet added to the CAX354 floppy drive.

For good measure the drive’s activity LED on the front of the unit was replaced with a blue LED:

Blue LED modification for Cumana CAX354 external floppy disk drive.

USB Controller

In what I think is an impressive feat of engineering, Individual Computers have produced the Rapid Road USB expansion board for the Amiga 1200, which adds two USB ports via the clockport interface. The Rapid Road includes the necessary software to use a number of USB peripherals such as mice, joysticks, keyboards, network adapters, memory sticks, etc. on the Amiga. One of these controllers was squeezed in to the case in between the FastATA controller and Blizzard turbo card:

Installation of the Rapid Road USB addon card and routing wiring around the Blizzard 1230 IV accelerator board.

The female USB port cable from the controller is attached to the cut-out previously made in the side of the case.

Case Lighting

No hot-rodded computer is complete without some custom LED lighting. I found these purple LED strips on eBay, which when placed inside the Amiga emanate a warm glow through the cooling vents:

Mounting the purple LED backlighting strip to the chassis.

With the LEDs switched off it’s a bit easier to see how these were fitted:

View of the LED strip when switched off showing fitment location.

The self-adhesive LED strips were fixed to the vertical part of the RF shield in the bottom half of the case. Some clear parcel tape was used to insulate the RF shield from any mishaps on the cheap LED strip’s flexible PCB.

Assembly & Testing

With the installation of the purple LED lighting, it was time to close up the Amiga case. The photo below shows the final layout of the modified Amiga 1200, including Rapid Road USB, ATX PSU, Blizzard 1230IV, FastATA IV and HxC emulator:

The completed internal Amiga 1200 assembly with all addon cards and wiring installed.

Closing up the case with all of the extra components inside took a bit of care, but everything does fit inside properly. I think the purple backlighting inside the case accents the black case well:

Testing the LED case lighting with the A1200 case closed.

During the earlier keyboard rebuild, I replaced the 3mm LED for the caps-lock key with a blue LED to match the rest of the design, shown below. A replacement metal case badge from Mateoproceo was also fitted:

Testing the blue caps lock LED modification. Also note custom case badge above.

It isn’t very clear from these photos but the HxC LCD has a blue coloured backlight. The brightness is adjustable using a potentiometer on the rear of the display. The screen makes it easy to see what the emulator is doing when using the machine:

HxC floppy drive emulator LCD in operation.

Quite some time ago a user called ‘vibros’ was selling custom case LED boards for the Amiga 1200 on Amibay. Unfortunately, I don’t believe these are available anymore. This board provides a blue power LED, white FDD LED and red HDD LED:

Replacement Amiga case LED board in operation.

Thanks to the earlier PCMCIA LED modification it was also possible for a green PCMCIA LED to be used on the custom LED board:

Modified PCMCIA LED in operation.

The Finished Ultimate A1200

With the system reassembled and basic tests completed, the hardware modification phase of the project was finished. Hooked up to the TV, it was time to install some software and test out the various modifications.

SD cards packed with floppy disk images can be easily inserted in the side of the Amiga where the floppy disks were once going:

SD card inserted in HxC floppy emulator.

On the left-hand side of the case, the Amiga 1200’s PCMCIA expansion slot can be used to add more functionality to the system. I use a compact flash adapter and a modified Linksys Wi-Fi adapter on this machine. Compatible Wi-Fi adapters like this one are regularly sold by ‘Sir_Lucas’ on the Amibay trade forum. Hilariously this old machine can now get online using 802.11g Wi-Fi with WPA2 encryption:

Wi-Fi and Compact Flash PCMCIA adapter cards for the Amiga.

The Rapid Road’s two USB connectors are accessible on the righthand side of the case. I probably should have used black bolts for attaching these, but I was still pleased with how this modification turned out:

The two external Rapid Road USB connectors.

Made to order dust-covers were provided by RetroProtect, also via the Amibay website, to keep the system looking its best:

The complete black A1200 system with matching black dustcovers.

The completed system also included a black PS2 optical mouse provided by AmigaKit. The Amiga uses an Atari style 9-pin connector for mice, so an Individual Computers MicroMys4 inline PS2 adapter was used. The adapter also enables the use of a mouse scroll-wheel in the Amiga operating system.

Black A1200 with black external floppy drive and mouse.

A closer view of the powered off black Amiga 1200:

Closeup of the finished black ultimate A1200 Amiga by phraxoid.

Normally I use a 19” LCD monitor for the Amiga, but during the initial setup of the machine I was using it with the large TV seen below. The HxC emulator provides a pre-boot environment where the unit can be configured and disk images loaded on to the two virtual floppy drives:

Booting up the finished black Commodore Amiga A1200 system and selecting an ADF floppy image file for the HxC emulator.

AmigaOS version 3.9 was installed on the Amiga for prolonged testing of the hardware modifications. The OS software was supplied by Vesalia Computer on CD-ROM – transferring the contents to a suitably prepared compact flash card made it possible to install AmigaOS via the PCMCIA adapter. Ultimately, I have installed ClassicWB39 on the machine, with the PFS3AIO filesystem.

Installing AmigaOS 3.9 for testing the system.

Aftermath

Since the build project, I’ve loaded up the A1200 with loads of retro games and have been using the machine as a novelty IRC client terminal. I’ve taken it to a few Amiga user group meetings where the project seemed to be very well received.

The Blizzard 1230IV turbo card has since been expanded with the Blizzard SCSI-kit daughterboard and an additional 32MB of RAM. To make use of the SCSI interface, I’ve obtained an external SCSI Iomega Jaz drive and 36GB SCSI hard disk.

When time permits I will upload some videos to my YouTube channel of this Amiga in action, so either subscribe over there or follow me on Twitter to get notified when that eventually happens.

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