Saturday, February 20, 2016

Amiga A1200 Update

So, after my efforts to restore my beloved A1200, he's been sitting under a chair for the last year or so. But now I have a re-purposed laptop LCD screen that can use composite inputs (another post maybe) so I might be able to get him out a bit more and actually use the hardware rather than emulating through UAE4All.

After dusting him down I noticed something rather disturbing. He was no longer white. Nope. He's gone yellow again. After all that effort, he's back to almost the same colour he was before I started the restoration efforts. This was a rather unpleasant surprise to say the least.

As I left him in June 2014

Yellow again - February 2016

A bit more obvious next to the power supply

A bit of Googling revealed that this is a known issue with the Retr0bright method. Apparently:

"The original damage from light causes degraded or free bromides throughout the case from the fire retardants. Retr0Bright only takes these away from the surface layer. However these bromides can migrate fairly freely through the polymer. They don't need light to do this."


In other words, it's only ever going to be temporary. It will turn yellow again, eventually, no matter what you do. Curse you chemistry!

There are two alternatives here. Paint it or buy a new case.

Painting is an option but something that I would probably not bother with. There are loads of pictures of painted A1200s out there. Some are very, very cool. Some are, er, not. The potential for me to bugger it up far outweighs any benefit. I'd rather keep it yellow but unsullied.

Or I could buy a brand new case. Yes, you can buy a new Amiga A1200 case (if you're quick) for the princely sum of 79euro. An amiganut ran a kickstarter to create new injection moulds of the A1200 case and it was successful! Those who pledged to the kickstarter are going to get some pretty cool custom cases. Those of us who didn't know the kickstarter was there have to go to:

White is supposedly the only colour available but I suppose it depends on the demand as to whether other colours are made too for us non-kickstarter supporters. The big thing with these cases is that they will be made of ASA not ABS and ASA is NOT affected by UV so no more yellow. Ever. EVER.

Now all I have to do is persuade Mrs Crashed that 79euro is a bargain...

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

PS4 Broken Controller

Recently, I noticed that the right stick on my PS4 controller was starting to behave slightly strangely. If I played Destiny then the character would suddenly take to looking straight down at his feet like a naughty school boy. It gradually got worse until it became unusable, with my Titan character point blank refusing to do anything other than shoot himself in the foot...

Oh dear.

Given Sony's pretty good reputation for quality I had a bit of a Google and found a website that would tell me what to do. Eagerly I entered the serial number of my controller, wondering what molten bronze droplet of wisdom Sony would bestow upon me; what will I do to rectify my problem? And the response was:

Broken. Out of warranty. You need a new one.

At sixty quid for a new one, this was not what I wanted to hear. The controller is just over two years old and I'm not what you'd call MLG (Major League Gamer for the uninitiated) so it's disappointing to say the least that such a major component fails like this..

More Googling. It turns out that this can be a common issue with these controllers. They use a multi axis analogue joystick unit which is actually the same as used in the Xbox One controller.

On to eBay. I was shocked to see how cheap these things are. Five quid for two. From China. UPDATE: Now they're even CHEAPER!

Since I started writing this blog these things are now cheaper!

For that money it was worth a punt so I clicked the Buy It Now button and set down waiting for them to arrive, not expecting them for a few weeks (they had free postage too!). Imagine my surprise when they appeared just over a week later even though estimated delivery time was four weeks. 

Anyway, first things first. Getting the controller apart.  There are four screws which are easy enough to remove.  Then it's a case of prising apart the two halves of the controller.

Four screws - one in each corner.
This was easier said than done to begin with but I started at the front of the controller near the headphone socket and then worked my way around the case with a cut up old credit card.  The loud clicks were very satisfying as the case popped apart.

Cracked it..
A few hefty pulls on the two halves (and a heart-stopping moment when a tiny spring leapt out into the carpet) and the case was properly apart, held together only by a small ribbon cable.

That spring is tiny...
Disconnecting this was just a matter of pulling the cable gently from its socket and there you have it. Two halves of a PS4 Dual Shock 4 controller. (The spring was from one half of the trigger mechanism - I managed to find it again!)

Unfortunately, the bits I need to replace require a bit (lot) more disassembly.  The battery needs to come out first. Fortunately it has a nice easy plug on the main circuit board. Then there's the black battery tray panel underneath that which just has two clips, one on either side. Next is a small ribbon cable for the touch pad on the top of the controller.  Finally, there's a single screw that holds the main circuit board onto the base of the controller.  Removing this screw frees up the circuit board but it is soldered to four wires, two on each side, for the 'dual shock' motors. These are simple motors with asymmetric weights attached to the spindles. As they spin, the controller vibrates.

Those weights on the motors make DualShock possible...
I could have tried to repair the joysticks with these wires in place but I decided to remove them so I had complete access to the board.  I'm really glad I did, otherwise I would have found it much harder to remove the old joystick units.

Talking of which, the joysticks were a real pain in the backside to get off.  The main problem was that there were so many pins to de-solder.  There were four main support pins, three pins each for x and y axis and four more for the micro-switch that activates when the joystick is pushed down (used for running in Destiny and other functions). Having removed as much solder as I could, the old joysticks just would not budge. I had to resort to cutting the two main legs I could reach with my cutters and then demolish what I could of the assembly with a pair of pliers (don't think about it too much..). This made things a little easier but it took a lot more effort than it should have done.  If you're thinking of doing a similar repair yourself I would highly recommend that you look at a solder pump as well as solder braid.  A pump would probably have made light work of the solder I had left after using the braid.  As it was I had to rely on heating the solder and then banging the board on the table to try and knock out the last bits of solder.  It's a good job these things are hardy beasts (except the joystick bit, obviously)...

At this point, I'm committed to this repair.
Anyway, after much swearing and sweating, I was ready to install the new sticks.  It really was as simple as dropping in the new unit and soldering it back on to the board. Twice. Took me less than ten minutes to do both sets of soldering.

Shiny new joystick goodness
Once I'd finished I replaced the actual joystick pads too (included in the price of the joysticks!) since the left one had the infamous rubber peeling issue. 

New pads included too!

Reassembly took a little longer than I anticipated.  First of all, the mini ribbon cable from the touch-pad got caught up and went the wrong way over the strut that the touch pad hangs off. I didn't spot it for a while and I couldn't work out why the case wouldn't close.  With that minor issue resolved I then managed to drop the small rubber barrel that is used to press the 'reset' button through a small hole in the case.

Rubber barrel is the grey cylinder below the battery
Then I dropped the freaking spring again from the trigger mechanism. Finally, after a bit more swearing and sweating I had the thing back together. 

Initially, everything looked OK.  The controller turned on, the buttons worked, the left joystick worked as I could move around the PS4 UI and run games.  So then I ran Destiny and headed to a patrol. The right stick seemed OK (no more foot shooting) and so we had a 100% success, first time.  

Not so fast there. 

To celebrate my success I had a quick game in the Crucible in Destiny.  This is basically player versus player and is a game mode where I regularly, to use the vernacular, board the struggle bus.  I did a Control match which is 6v6, since I normally get on better with this game type. Very quickly I realised that something wasn't quite right but I couldn't put my finger on it.  Then I had it. Looking left was speedy and smooth. Looking right was...not so much.  It was smooth but it was at least 10% slower than looking left.  This meant that there was an imbalance between moving the stick full left and full right just on the right stick (left stick was fine). Bugger.

After some thought I had an idea that maybe I hadn't put the joystick on straight i.e. perpendicular to the main board. This might also explain why there was a slight hint of friction when pushing the stick right when there was none pushing left. I made a vain attempt at re-doing the soldering but a quick inspection showed that there was actually nothing wrong with my installation. Arse.

Brainwave. What if it was the new joystick pad that was causing the problem? So to test my theory I removed it and left the stick without a pad.  This allowed me to see what the effect would be on Destiny in terms of speed of movement without any pad interference. Sure enough, using just the stick, pushing left was fast and smooth, pushing right equally so.  This meant that there was nothing wrong with the stick, rather, the amount the stick moved left was more than the stick could move right. Sh**.

(Wife just walked in and asked what I was doing. I said "I'm doing a blog about fixing my PS4 controller!". She yawned and walked away...)

So, how can I allow the stick to move a little bit further to the right when the pad is installed? The movement is basically restricted by the round hole in the case of the controller.  What if I were to file it out slightly on the right side so that it became a little bit more oval than round? So that's what I did.

Success! The controller now works perfectly. For £5 and a couple of hours work I have saved myself £60 on a not required new PS4 controller. I don't think I could get away with using this controller at a professional gaming competition but who cares. It works.

Take that Sony.