Gaming

The crack that almost sunk an Atari STE

After investing in an UltraSatan and a new joystick for my work-in-progress Atari STE, I settled into some further retro games fun and checked out a few chestnuts. Doing so eventually exposed a rather serious problem that I had missed earlier and in the long term could’ve caused me some real trouble if I left it as it was.

It all started with me playing an obscure but challenging game called Kennedy Approach, an air traffic control sim from Microprose that was notable at the time for its use of digitised speech on both 8 and 16 bit platforms. Think of it as a serious version of the mobile game Flight Control. The speech was a gimmick but it really helped sell the game’s concept of putting you in the role of an air traffic controller and I loved it. Anyway, one of the best ways to issue orders to planes is to use the keyboard as they are each identified by a letter so that you can jump between them without needing to move the onscreen cursor. It was doing this that I found a few letter in the middle of the keyboard weren’t working.

Thinking it might be more dirt, etc messing up the contacts I opened up the case and pulled apart the keyboard to check it over again. Because I knew exactly which keys were causing problems now I looked a lot closer at the circuit board and noticed a few of the tracks were significantly deformed and lifted from the board itself. That explained why the keys weren’t working but how it happened still needed a bit more investigating. Flipping over the board soon confirmed the problem: the tiny crack in the back of the board at the same location as the deformed tracks which looked to me like impact damage. My guess is perhaps something had dropped on the keyboard hard enough for the circuit board to flex, hit the internal casing and crack.

Whatever the true cause, the end result is that the circuit board is a write off – bodge wires to rejoin the broken tracks might be possible but would also be a nasty fix that I’m nowhere near experienced enough to do and there’s not a lot of room to ensure that such a fix would be safe from further damage. So the only chance I had to get this resolved was to get a good deal on parts and thankfully a seller on eBay had a full replacement keyboard available that would be a simple swap out. Postage was the real killer but to ensure it safely made the trip from the UK to Australia it was a necessity.

After a couple of weeks of waiting the replacement arrived and as hoped it was just a case of disconnecting the old and plugging in the new. Throw in a quick clean with isopropyl alcohol and it didn’t look much different from the original. To confirm it was working again I loaded up a word processor from an old magazine coverdisk to test all the keys and ended it with another run of Kennedy Approach just for kicks and I was really happy with the results.

Though the circuit board on the old one is broken I can at least cannibalize it for replacement keys and the controller chip (one marked “fix” in pic) if they’re needed in the future. Additionally I ordered an extra set of case screws (again on eBay) to help better secure the case as the STE’s previous owner had lost some and used alternatives that weren’t too effective. All I can say is thank goodness for the popularity of the Atari ST series of computers in the UK because finding the parts I needed saved me a lot of heartache and got me back on track to working on more for my machine. 🙂

[UPDATE] Looking at the pics I’m wondering now if the previous owner had actually tried to solder over the cracks in the motherboard after the impact damage to fix the connections… that would explain why it looks that way on the tracks. Any bit of flexing of the keyboard from that point on though would have a good chance of breaking the connections again. Either way, a replacement was still the best option.

Categories: Gaming, Opinion, Technology

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