The IBM PS/1 (or IBM PS1)

The IBM PS/1 (or IBM PS1)

The IBM PS/1, sometimes called the IBM PS1, was a line of 1990s personal computer systems, not to be confused with the Sony Playstation video game console that’s also often called the PS1. The PS/1 was IBM’s second attempt at a mass market consumer PC, after the ill-fated PCjr.

You can neatly divide the PS/1 into two generations. While they ran the same software, they had major philosophical differences. Perhaps more than any other computer line, they represent IBM’s change of heart in the early 1990s as it tried to survive in an extremely competitive and crowded market.

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Review: X-Kim GPTL-00A

I think the last time I saw a halfway original idea for a game was around 1992. Everything I’ve seen since then has just been a re-hash of something old, with incrementally better graphics to make it prettier to look at, better AI to make the game harder to beat, and perhaps a new setting.

So I don’t play a lot of games. And when I do, I’d rather play an old game for an old system, which of convenience’s sake usually means running an emulator. But video games on a keyboard–even a really good keyboard–isn’t much fun, so I bought myself a cheap USB game controller.

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Buffer overflows explained

Buffer overflows are a common topic on a Security+ exam. The textbook explanation of them is confusing, perhaps even wrong. I’ve never seen buffer overflows explained well.

So I’m going to give a simplified example and explanation of a buffer overflow, similar to the one I gave to the instructor, and then to the class.

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Why your old computer or game system turned yellow

I found an article today telling why plastic cases discolor with age. It explains why your old computer or game system turned yellow.

Executive summary: It’s the nature of the material it’s made of.

I’ve noticed that plastics turn brittle with age, but some happen more quickly than others. When I was a kid and built plastic model kits, some kits turned brittle within just a few years–quickly enough that I noticed it before I was in the seventh grade.

I also have some relics from Dad’s childhood–the Plasticville buildings he used on his Lionel train layout. While most of these didn’t discolor too badly, they do seem more brittle than something made of the same material (styrene) made last year. They don’t have as much flex to them and would break more easily than something made with the same molds this year.

The article explains that exposure to air causes plastics to break down over time. Exposure to heat and certain kinds of light greatly accelerates the process. This is why monitors and Macintosh computers tend to yellow really badly–they generate more heat than a video game system does, so they turned yellow much faster.

The color of the plastic also makes a difference. Darker colors hide the yellowing better than lighter colors. So a Nintendo 64 probably won’t change color over time very much, but a Sony Playstation has that possibility.

Since it’s a chemical change, you can’t reverse the process. There’s a trick with hydrogen peroxide that can help, but the system can turn yellow again. Your other options are to paint the case, or swap the case with a non-working system that isn’t as yellowed.

That’s just what I needed: An excuse to hoard non-working vintage game systems that have stopped working. Although I’ve only ever run across three that I couldn’t get working, and I think my chances of eventually fixing those are pretty good.

Read the article for more info.

Replace your video game system’s power cord cheap

This weekend I found myself in search of a power cord for an original Playstation. It’s the same plug that the Sega Dreamcast and Saturn and Sony PS2 use, but it seems like online almost everyone wants $10 for a suitable replacement. I learned how to replace your video game system’s power cord cheap, and I’ll share the secret with you, too.

I found out by accident that the local Game Stop sells them for $4.99. I had to run an errand about four doors away from a Game Stop anyway, so I dropped in. It took me a little while to find, but I found the cable.

It’s not the same. What they sell as a “universal” AC power cable has two round sides on the plug, not a round and a square like the original Sony cable. I knew I’d seen the connector on the end of that Gamestop cable before, so I didn’t pay $5 for it. It turns out it’s universal because it also fits the original Xbox. An Xbox cable works on a Playstation but not the other way around.

Replace your video game system's power cord cheap. Look for this connector.
This super-common power connector fits most video game consoles. If you find one of these in a junk drawer, it can replace a missing video game power cord. Image credit: Miguel Durán/Wikipedia

I did some digging, and I found that the official name for the connectior the Playstation uses is IEC 60320 C7P. The “P” stands for “polarized.” The “universal” connector on the cable Gamestop was selling is the IEC 60320 C7. The nonpolarized plug fits the polarized connector, but not the other way around.

A ton of home appliances use the IEC 60320 C7. Every tape recorder or boombox I ever owned, for instance. It’s the most common connector used for devices that draw 2.5 amps of current or less. Well, my boomboxes are long gone, so I raided my wife’s. Hers just happens to be different. Rats. I ended up swiping the cable from a dead laptop AC adapter. Wouldn’t you know it, it plugs right in to the Playstation’s power port. That old laptop cable was probably made in the same factory as the cables Gamestop sells as universal video game power cables.

I’m happy. I saved five bucks. (The wasted trip to Gamestop doesn’t count because I walked there from someplace I had to go anyway.)

It wasn’t long ago that you could find this type of AC cable anywhere for a two or three dollars, tops. By anywhere, I really do mean anywhere–discount stores, Radio Shack, consumer electronics stores, maybe even dollar stores if you’re lucky.

Cables are high markup items, but even at $3, these things offer a healthy profit margin, so they should still be readily available at something near that price. I know sometime in the last decade I’ve bought one of these things at Kmart.

So before you pay even $5 for a replacement cable, raid the drawer where you keep all your stray electronics wires and see if you can find one that fits. Failing that, look around for something else around the house, like a boombox, VCR, or DVD player, that has a power cord that will fit. If not, hit the electronics section of your local discount store. Odds are it’s closer than the closest game store, and a suitable cable should cost less there too.

Don’t go into a store asking for an IEC 60320 C7 because they won’t know what you’re talking about, of course. The name may be listed on the packaging. The United States doesn’t require that name to be molded onto the cable, although some countries do. Study the image above and you should recognize the cable on sight in a store. If worse comes to worse, print out the picture above and bring it with you to compare. Miguel Durán drew it to be helpful, so let it help you.

So why does Sony use the polarized connector? Probably to fool people into buying a replacement cable from them at an inflated price to replace a lost cable. They fooled me, and I should know better.

How to get Black Friday specials without camping out before the crack of dawn

So, tomorrow’s the biggest shopping day of the year, with deals like 2-gig SD cards for digital cameras for $25; Sony Playstation 3s for, well, regular price while they last; 1-gig USB disks for $13, select CDs and DVDs for $9.99 and under, laptops for under $300, and so on.

Did you know you can get some of that stuff without leaving home?Right now I’m buying a USB disk and an SD card for a digital camera from OfficeMax’s web site. They’re actually offering the specials today. Some sites don’t offer the specials until the stroke of midnight. But if you don’t want to fight the crowds and camp out in parking lots, or if you’re like me and–ahem–have to be at work tomorrow (I was going to say “have to work,” but we all know how productive tomorrow’s going to be), it’s still possible to get the deals.

So, hit the newspaper or your favorite Black Friday site (blackfriday.info isn’t a bad place to start), find what you’re after, then start hitting the web. Maybe you’ll have to stay up until midnight tonight, but that’s a lot easier than getting up at 4.

I won’t keep you.

Original Sony Playstations as high-end audio components?

I saw an MSNBC article this week about people using the original Playstations (not the later streamlined version pictured at the top of the article) as high-end CD players.I haven’t had time to try it yet. The model that you want, for a couple of reasons is the SCPH-1001. It’s easy to recognize because it has separate RCA jacks for audio and video. Later models, such as the SCPH-7501, use an odd cable that connects to a proprietary Sony connector on the back of the unit, and has RCA plugs on the other end. These days, that cable sometimes costs more than the unit, and the quality of the cable is open to debate–especially if it’s an aftermarket cable.

An SCPH-1001 unit lets you use high-end audiophile cables if you want the best sound, or whatever you have laying around, if you’re like me.

I’ll have to try it out. I have a couple of Playstations that I almost never use, and the thought never occurred to me to try one out as a CD player.

So, if you’re looking for a cheap but good-sounding CD player, look for a Playstation on, say, eBay or Amazon. If you’ve got a Playstation in the closet that you’ll never use again, if you want to sell it online and get the best possible price for it, make sure you mention the model number in your description–especially if it’s an SCPH-1001–and it may not hurt to play up the audiophile angle a bit.

The AT’s coming out of retirement

Scary thoughts. UPS dropped off a pair of Soyo AT socket 370 motherboards while I was at work yesterday. So I’ll be picking those up from the apartment office after it opens this morning. That only means one thing. My PC/AT is about to come out of retirement.

Let’s think about that for a minute. When this ancient thing was built, Ronald Reagan was just starting his second term. The Soviet Union still existed, and the Evil Empire loomed large. The most popular game console wasn’t the Sony Playstation–it was the Atari 2600. Some popular rock’n’roll bands of the day: The Police and Duran Duran. U2 was on the map and rock critics knew them, but to the majority of people, the name conjured up images of a spyplane if it meant anything at all. The minivan as we know it today was just coming onto the market.

Dell Computer Corp. existed only as an operation out of a dorm room at the University of Texas at Austin, and it was known as PCs Limited. Gateway 2000 didn’t yet exist. The #2 maker of IBM-compatible PCs was Tandy.

Popular movies included Romancing the Stone, The Terminator, and Sixteen Candles.

U.S. airlines that were still in business: TWA, Eastern, and Pan Am. The most troubled airline at the time was Branniff Airways, which was in a long bankruptcy proceeding (it would later make a comeback, then die again).

Anyway… I pulled the PC/AT case out of storage, dug out some drive rails, found some Phillips screws that fit it (IBM insisted on using old-style slotted screws for some insane reason–I hate those), and I even dug out a vintage YE Data 1.2 MB 5.25″ floppy drive like IBM used. Then, noticing the 17 years’ worth of accumulated grime, I gave the case a bath. Now it looks two years old instead of 17. Actually, it looks pretty darn good. They don’t build ’em like that anymore. Of course, for what that case would cost to build today, an OEM can probably build an entire PC.

I’ve also accumulated other components: a junky Trident-based AGP video card is also about to come out of retirement, as is my old Media Vision Pro Audio Spectrum card with SCSI interface. That CD-ROM drive died long ago, but I’ve got an NEC 2-speed SCSI drive that looks great in the case. (This system’s all about retro looks; if I need speed, I’ll use a CD-ROM drive off my network.) To accomodate that, I’ve got a D-Link 10/100 PCI NIC.

Just one thing’s holding up this project: Computer Surplus Outlet just shipped my Celeron processors. I ordered the boards and chips the same day. That’s annoying.

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