In this post, I wanted to focus on protecting the Amigas from being eaten alive by their own components. On the face of it, this sounds far-fetched and it wasn’t until I was told of the dangers by a couple of people that I did some research and discovered just how damaging it can be.
I mentioned in my last blog post, that when I bought my A600 the seller told me that I should get my A500+ open as soon as possible and get the battery out.
I took to google and quickly discovered that it was common for batteries to leak and damage the Amiga, in some cases irreparably.
What I found out was that on the stock Amiga 500 there was no Real Time Clock (RTC) and it was only with the addition of a 512k memory expansion that gave the RTC option. This, therefore, meant that the memory expansion card included a battery. When the Amiga 500+ was released the RTC function was added as standard and the battery moved onto the mainboard.
The issue was that the batteries were prone to leaking. I’m sure most of you will have experienced opening an old battery-powered device at some point that has been left unused for a while with the batteries inside, only to find ‘battery acid’ (actually alkaline) all around the battery compartment.
Given the battery only serves to keep the internal clock ticking and poses such a risk to the fabric it’s a no-brainer to just get rid of it! If you really do want to tell the time on your Amiga (perhaps you have misplaced your watch and smartphone) you can now buy replacement coin cell batteries.
Armed with this newfound knowledge (and fear that my Amiga may already be suffering) I set about removing the battery. The A500+ still had its warranty stickers intact, so I knew for sure that the original battery was still in there.
The battery appeared to be soldered directly into the board and had indeed leaked, although at first glance the damage did not appear to be significant. At the time I didn’t have my soldering iron or many of my tools easily to hand, so I just got some wire cutters and carefully cut the legs close to the board, not the best way the remove the battery, but it got it out immediately and ensured that no further damage could take place.
With the battery out, I neutralised the alkaline on the board using white vinegar.
I followed this by cleaning the area with isopropyl alcohol (https://amzn.to/2MBC0pf).
I tested the A500+ using the Gotek drive from my A600 and it seemed to be working ok. At least I was able to play Lemmings.
So, moving onto the A600. When I bought it, I was told that it hadn’t been ‘recapped’. I had heard the term but didn’t know anything about it. Again, I took to google.
Recapping is the process of replacing the capacitors on the mainboard of the Amiga.
It seems that ‘back in the day’ Commodore had been intent on cutting costs of the machines and in doing so used increasingly cheaper components. This is particularly noticeable between the A500 and A600 (so I have read) and is the reason that A500 and 500+ machines often don’t need to be recapped, whereas the A600 and 1200 do.
The caps that are predominantly an issue are the surface mounted electrolytic ones. Like the Varta batteries in the A500 series machines, the caps leak and eat away at the board.
Now that I knew about recapping, I decided that should be the first thing I spend any money on, even though my A600 appeared to be working perfectly.
I had seen that a local member of the Norwich Amiga Group, Peter Mulholland had been recommended many times for recapping, so I got in touch with him. Immediately after sending the message, my A600 stopped working. When I powered it on the screen was blank, and the caps lock key just flickered. Good timing, or was I too late?!
Peter responded quickly and confirmed that a recap would cost me £35, but that if there were any repairs (now the 600 wasn’t working that seemed likely), that they would start from £50. My priority was to get my beautiful orange Amiga back up and running, so I agreed to take it to him the next day. Having dropped the A600 off at around 7 pm, I was stunned to get a message at 10:45 the same evening to say that the recap was done and that it had fixed the issue with the Amiga as well!
Not only that, but Peter had kindly replaced one of the joystick ports that had been previously repaired, using a wired in socket rather than a PCB mount socket.
I honestly can’t recommend Peter enough!! If you would like to contact him to get your machine recapped or indeed any other repairs, you can contact him via his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/peter.mulholland.
In order to protect your Amiga, it is recommended that you get it recapped as soon as possible. Many people suggest that you can see whether caps are leaking and need replacing, although Peter confirmed that in many cases the caps look fine, but when removed you can see the damage that has been done to the board underneath. Personally, I don’t think it is worth taking the chance!
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