The Falcon Project

Steve Sweet builds the Frankenstein of CT60 tower systems - don't try this at home!


Well here we all are, at Cheshunt Computer Club, mingling about, drinking coffee, dunking biccies and just generally bitching when in walked this new face, a face I later got to know to be Mark Branson, what an ugly old sod I thought.

He had brought some equipment in that he was tasked to dispose of.

This was to be the last time that Mark would bring anything in; from here on he'd be taking it all out, to his home where it got stored, in bulk containers stacked in his garden.

He was later promoted to Club Junk Secretary and to this day still holds that post.

Following this short visit he soon became a regular face in the crowd, he was addicted to Atari and soon to be appearing with his new pride and joy. He'd bought himself a bird, an Atari Falcon as we know them. What did he do with this Falc', well, he turned it on and looked at it a lot, over the months he bought lots of software and installed it, then turned it on and looked at it a lot more.

One month in particular he had this big grin on his face, he'd discovered that some fella was designing an accelerator for the bird, I eagerly listened to his tales, being an accelerator fan myself, I'd owned The Beastie for some while, an Atari Mega STE with a 40 MHz PAK 030 fitted, to keep it company a FRAK was also purchased to take care of an additional 16 MB of fast RAM, giving a total of 20 MB of memory, more than a lot of PCs had at that time and with a graphics card running 1,024x 768 it put a lot of Intel crap to shame.

With this in mind Mark spent a lot of time checking over and comparing software that he had that ran at blistering speeds on my Beastie. He was convinced! He was going to buy one of these new boards for his Falc'. The board eventually had a name and every other word escaping from Mark's lips was now "CT60", boy, I wish he'd shut up!

[Photo: CT60]

We had various conversations where he'd ask my opinions on the practicalities of chucking together custom set-ups. Between us we'd actually planned out how he was going to approach the CT60 project, but, I began to realise that Mark was not only gleaning information, he was actually grooming me, for a mission much higher, it was to be that I was the chosen one who would actually put this dream of his together.

Next month...
At some point he'd decided what sort of case he'd need for this project, he had found one on-line and committed himself, his credit card had now officially joined the team, Project Falc' was now assisted but not sponsored by Barclaycard.

At a later date...
Mark turns up at club with his newly imported tower case. Within minutes he had the case out of its protective wrapping.

He now looked like an expectant father whose baby was up for adoption the second it was born, how protective can a bloke be over a few bits of bent metal, he was a complete pain in the arse. He took it apart really slowly and we talked through every move we'd need to make.

Drastic talk was needed, I sat him down and told him straight, if you want this project to work you're gonna have to let me touch the bloody thing, and occasionally I'm gonna have to hit it very hard and attack it with sharp implements. Thank god for Cheshunt Computer Club coffee, soon he had calmed down and relented to open the box and let me look at it from about ten yards away! Sucker, little did he know!

Face it Mark you're gonna have to let me at it! "Perhaps you'd better take a walk," I said as I unboxed a large Bosch drill! Within seconds he was unconscious, by the time he'd come round I'd drilled out the rivets holding the motherboard mount in place, not a quick job, there were about 20 of them, he awoke slowly and emitted a blood-curdling scream, "That %^*) case cost me &(&^ 's and you've wrecked it! I had that imported and you've turned it into Meccano, what about the warranty!"

Oh ye of little faith, "I've just snuffed any warranty you had big time!"

[Photo: Uh-oh...]

[Photo: Motherboard mounted on tray]

[Photo: Steve ripping into it]

My attention now turned to his Falc', I'd whipped off its covers and prised out the motherboard complete with shielding, I made a running decision the shield would stay. Mainly for strength while I handled it and some static protection.

I placed the bare board on the steel tray and we muttered and whinged a bit longer, me muttering about the Falc', and Mark whingeing about the war!

I picked up a centre punch and marked out the mounting holes and with a "click" we were committed, each click was accompanied by a squeak from Mark, the same as you'd get from drawing teeth without anaesthetic.

I reached for the drill again and Mark went out like a light, maybe he's had a childhood experience with Bosch I don't know about, a few screeching noises later and I had a plate with extra holes, "At least we could use it for straining vegetables," I said as he tried to attack me with sharp implements again!

Within minutes I'd fitted a few brass stand-offs with some locking washers and nuts and the base board was now ready for its new place in the order of the universe. This was offered up to the case and was re-riveted back in place.

"So did you need to strip the case?" he asked.

"Probably not," I replied.

Mark went for one his special walks that he later got well known for.

That part of the project drew to a close, it was time to re-assemble his Falc' in its own case and as it was 22:20 and the club caretaker called time and we headed homeward.

We mulled over the necessary steps on the way to our cars and decided that we'd have to take the project elsewhere for the next stage, "You'll have to visit Castle Welshgit for surgery, and bring your own sheep."

A week or so later and Mark turned up on the doorstep, early in the morning and with a big grin on his face.

We began to fill my kitchen worktop with piles of tools and stuff!

At a previous planning meet we'd decided that at each stage I'd leave the machine usable in whatever phase of the project it was in and so a temporary affair for the keyboard was called for, I cut the cable off a spare STFM keyboard and connected it to a socket to match a Mega STE curly cable. We'd decided to use a spare Mega STE keyboard until he acquired his planned Eiffel board. I instructed Mark in what I wanted him to do to beef up the socket, it was to be shuttered in cardboard and epoxy resin would be poured in and allowed to cure over the weekend after he'd left.

[Photo: Precision soldering]

[Photo: Power supply wires hanging out]

I turned to the power issue. The CT60 demanded an ATX power supply so I proceeded to cut off the Falc's original power plug and snip the leads on the ATX box, slip on some heat shrink sleeve and solder the cables together, followed by a squirt of heat to seal the joints with the sleeve.

The Falc' was removed from its case and offered up to its new tower home, a few new shiny screws and it was home, I plugged in its new power source, fitted the monitor cable and poked it through a slot in the case, leaving it waving in the wind, and offered up the new keyboard adapter and switched on! Boy was he happy.

A later date...
The CT60 arrived, Mark hadn't slept for weeks, and he looked like a lab rat on extra Prozac! He had e-mailed me and arranged for another session at Ches', the CT60 needed a few mods that its developer had decided on in order for it to work with the next incarnation of its BIOS, I took a few minutes to fit the necessary bits and sever some tracks, it was now ready for fitting.

I reverted the PSU cable back to its original state, in hindsight this could have been left as it was until the CT60 arrived - hey ho!

I prised the CT60 from Mark's clammy hands, snapping a couple of fingers in the process, and fitted the memory card, pulled some links off the Falc' motherboard processor plug and pushed it into place. I checked the fitting 'structions and connected up the ancillary switch and indicator cables.

It was in a state now where it could be powered up; the moment of truth had arrived! So I decided to keep him waiting for a bit and knocked up a switch/cable assembly so he could switch between Falc'/CT60 modes for whatever requirement.

Euston, we are go for launch, T -6 seconds and counting, Mark held his breath and I flicked the power switch, he grinned so widely his skull separated from his jaw/neck assembly requiring staples. Mark was reborn, the Falc' booted to the desktop, he needed some private time with his new love. Private time, yeah right, this was Ches' Club, no chance! He was surrounded by enthusiastic members, none grinning as widely as him!

The machine was now in a state where it could be used, but to complete the project and get the case closed up we needed to take the Falc' to the outside world. We talked about this and adjourned to a later meet.

[Photo: Assorted cables]

We needed some cables!
Mark had discovered that he could obtain most of what we needed by mail-order and had ordered them.

This left the serial ports, printer port, the floppy drive and the video cable to deal with. I made a series of adapters out of recycled ISA backplanes for the 9-pin serial socket, the printer port and his video output, I cannibalised his original cable for this and used crimped D plugs and flat cable for the rest.

The floppy drive was a problem, I decided to fit a header plug from a duff PC card to the Falc' motherboard, a standard floppy drive cable could then be used for the job, leaving the future possibility that Mark could have two floppy drives to play with.

I made up some cables to take audio in/out to another cannibalised backplane and fitted an ISA backplane mounted power adapter, I had suggested this to enable the use of external powered speakers. A SCSI cable was fitted along with one internal SCSI drive, the end of which appeared at the rear of the machine where it could meet external appliances or just a terminator plug. Mark is looking for a coaster burner that may be fitted internally (I can't work him out so don't bother trying yourself).

The keyboard was still an issue, but planned for, we had obtained an Eiffel board, I fitted this to a steel bracket and poked it - yep you've guessed it - out of an ISA backplane, this was nailed into place, an extension cable was fitted to connect to the Atari keyboard motherboard plug about a foot away, and a PC keyboard pressed into service. We now had external sockets for keyboard, mouse, serial, printer, video, audio, SCSI and auxiliary power.

With the covers now fitted it no longer looks like an Atari, until you switch it on and try to catch it, this is now one fast bird! No cat is gonna catch this.

Euston, the Falcon has landed! Now, I need an Atari badge! Project Falcon is complete! Until he sees something else he can plug in to it.

[Photo: CT60 splash screen]

[Photo: The finished article]

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MyAtari magazine - Feature #5, June 2004

Copyright 2004 MyAtari magazine