As you probably know, I’ve already been doing this series of episodes on Commodore history. I’ve done quite a few already, but I have at least three more episodes to finish! One of the episodes I want to create is a series on the Commodore PC compatible, or MS-DOS compatible computers that Commodore made. A lot of people don’t even realize Commodore made MS-DOS compatible computers but they did! Quite a few models actually. Were going to focus on restoring the Commodore PC 1, PC 10, and 386.
Watch the Commodore Restoration Video
Visiting the Rhode Island Computer Museum
I already had a couple of these that have been donated to me, but there were a few of them that I was just not able to find. So I started reaching out to some of my contacts. One of the places was the Rhode Island Computer Museum. Last year I had an opportunity to visit a convention in Rhode Island called the Neon Retrofest. In one of the rooms they had a selection of computers setup which were provided by the Rhode Island Computer Museum. One of the guys from the museum offered to drive me to their warehouse to see everything they had. It was really an amazing sight to see. There were just shelves and shelves piled with vintage technology. And not just personal computers either, but big mainframes and minicomputers too.
Obviously the organization was not perfect. And to be honest, if they had all of these machines exhibited in a proper museum layout, the amount of square footage they would need would be staggering. This place actually rents out vintage electronics to movie studios who need props. For example, this Next Cube they had on display was the exact one used in the intro sequences of the TV show halt and catch fire.
One of the things they mentioned was that if I was ever in need of anything I couldn’t find, to let them know and they would ship me whatever it was. So, I reached out to them and they did have a Commodore PC-10, which they shipped me! That’s great, but I was still not able to find a PC-1.
My Trip to Austin Texas
Therefore, in the last video I kind of reached out to the public and I nonchalantly asked you know if anybody had a PC-1. And, I did receive several offers but they were all out of the country. The closest offer I actually had was from Bo Zimmerman and he lives close to Austin, Texas.
I recently traded in my Chevy Volt for a Tesla Model-3 and I’ve been looking for an excuse to take it on road-trip and try out the supercharger network. It’s about a 3 and a half hour drive, so not terribly bad. So, I drove down there to pick it up. Bo also had quite an impressive collection of Commodore equipment. So, let’s take a closer look at some of these computers.
Commodore PC Restoration
I’m really picky that the computers look original, especially when it comes to my historical documentaries. The metal here is the original color, so you can see the front bezel plastic has yellowed some, and the keyboard has yellowed even worse. So, that’s one thing I’ll need to take care of. But unfortunately, this computer suffered some minor shipping damage, which you can see in the pictures. I’m not even entirely sure how this would have occurred since it is not crushed in, but rather bowing out, but after taking a picture of it I was told this damage was not there before shipping. So, I’m hopeful I can repair this as well. Looking at the back, it appears some of the expansion cards were jolted out of their sockets. I hope there is no damage to the motherboard!
OK, so let’s take a closer look at the PC-1. No shipping damage since I drove this home myself. It looks like the main issue here is just yellowed plastic. It’s hard to say for sure, because the color is fairly uniform. But this follows the same design language as this old 1571 disk drive, so I’m guessing the color should be the same as that. I’m going to make an attempt to Retrobrite this.
I have this 386 which I also borrowed from Bo. It actually looks pretty good, except for this corner. Hopefully you can see that the corner here is yellowed for some reason. So, I think this will probably be the easiest one to do. And yes, I do have permission from both owners to do the restoration attempt.
Restoring the Commodore PC-10
I’m going to start with the PC-10 here. This computer was in unknown condition even before they shipped it, so there’s no telling what I’ll find here. It has screws at the front and then some on the rear. And something doesn’t seem right about these screws. One just pulled right out. One I had to unscrew, but I just don’t think these are the screws it came with from the factory. I’m going to open this thing up and see what sort of damage we got during shipping.
It also looks like the little plastic brackets at the other side which hold the really long cards in place have been knocked off. I’ll put them back into place. I think they will be okay. I noticed something doesn’t look right about the RAM card. I don’t even think it is in the socket. So, I’m going to unscrew it from the case. It was made in 1986 and I couldn’t get it to go back down on the pins. Taking a closer look, I realized a few of the pins were bent.
Damaged Transistor Repair
I took a screwdriver and started to bend them all back. Then I was able to get the card to go back into place. And, of course, screw it back down. Just an interesting observation, the motherboard was made in 1985. So the RAM card might have been an upgrade later. I also noticed a transistor that I believe that hard card had knocked it over, and I think the leads on it may actually be touching each other. I was able to pry it back up some. This is easier said that done because I could easily damage something if I used too much force.
Let’s take a look at the video card. It is an ATI CGA card, which actually has some pretty cool features, but I’ll wait until the documentary to tell you about them. However, it is missing a nut, which is one of my pet peeves for these sort of computers. Fortunately, I have a stash of extra ones, so I’ll go ahead and put one on there, and then tighten it up properly so it won’t come out next time. I put the card back in the computer and tightened it down.
This card can run at different frequencies for a monochrome or color monitor, so I’ll need to set it for monochrome. That’s because I have an official Commodore 1901 monochrome monitor to try it on.
I’m going to try the first power on, and see if any magic smoke comes out. Fortunately, it appears to actually work, as I have a picture. So, this is a good first sign. It also does appear to detect all 640K of RAM, so the RAM card is still working. I put a DOS boot disk in and it looks like the bottom drive lights up, so I guess that is A drive, which is weird. So I’ll move the disk over.
Unfortunately, we still get a boot disk failure message. I discovered the top drive wasn’t even plugged in. So, I fixed that. I tried the top drive again and well, it made this horrible sound and then of course, still failed to boot.
I pulled the disk out and noticed it had left his ring of damage on the disk surface. Well that’s irritating. My first guess was that there was some debris or something stuck to the heads, so I used some alcohol to clean them. And then rather than risk a good disk, I grabbed a blank disk. And you can see there is no damage here. So I’ll stick this one in and give it a try. Since it’s blank the drive only spun for like 1 second.
However, looking at the disk you can already see a faint scratch on it. So, I decided to take the drive apart. I know that if I unscrew the heads and take them off, there’s a good chance the drive will be out of alignment and thus still won’t work, but at this point I just want to see what is causing the scratching because I figure I can’t make things any worse. With the heads attached, I can only see the bottom head, and I really want to get a look at the top.
Well, here we are. And the sad part is, I can’t see anything wrong, nor can I feel anything abrasive with my fingers. So I’m at a total loss on this.
Let’s move along and get this machine ready to retrobrite. I have a limited time with all three of these borrowed machines and I’m up against another deadline, which is the weather. According to the forecast, I have exactly one day of sunny weather, and maybe two days with a little sun here and there. So I’m going to have to move quickly to get all three of these computers done.
The very next morning I went outside with my usual crate. However, my usual spot was in the shade so I had to put my crate in the driveway. It was a little bit cold this morning since it is still spring here in Texas, and I could tell this water might be too cold. So, I checked the temperature and sure enough it was only 67 degrees. That’s way too cold for retrobriting. So, to warm it up a little, I boiled a pot of water on the stove and then poured that in. Checking the temperature now, it is at 100 degrees, which is a good start. I’ll let that continue to warm up outside while I disassemble the computer.
While it looks pretty clean I figured I should clean it anyway just to be sure. I would also need to remove the bezels on the floppy drives. These are usually pretty easy to do, with just a couple of screws and then popping off the lever. Although, this was one of the most stubborn levers I’ve ever had to remove. But it did finally come off. And then the bezel came off easily. The second drive was a little more cooperative.
Fortunately, enough time has passed that I can move my crate over to the usual spot. Now, as you can probably see, the height of walls on the crate I’m using casts a shadow during this part of the day. So, in the morning, it isn’t getting much sunlight. And then during the middle of the day, it gets a lot of sunlight, and then by evening it’s back to having a shadow again.
On the bright side, apparently heat plays as much of a role in this process as UV light does, so by covering the top like this, it does create a greenhouse effect, to help amplify the heat of the sun. So, even if the sun isn’t directly above, it is still heating the crate.
Ideally, if I could find a shorter crate, that might work out better. Anyway, I’ll set my stopwatch and we’ll come back in a few hours and check on it.
While that’s going I need to get this keyboard ready to go as soon as the other parts are done. Now, surprisingly, the keys look fine, so I won’t need to pull them all off. I can just remove the bezel, and hopefully that’s all I’ll need. It’s a pretty standard keyboard design for the time period and there are just some screws on the back to remove. Looks like there is an RF shield on the bottom. Interestingly, the keyboard was made by Cherry.
On the other side, there’s another interesting thing, apparently it was not only made by Cherry, but it was made in West Germany!
It’s been about 2 and a half hours. The cling wrap is fogged up, which just means there is a temperature variation. Obviously it is hotter on the inside than the outside. Since these weren’t terribly yellow to begin with, it’s kind of hard to see any change out here. Anyway, I’ll go ahead and put the keyboard parts in instead.
Now, I need to turn my attention to this bent metal. This is definitely an area I am not an expert in. I came up with this method using two blocks of wood and a hammer, hoping it would work without causing further damage to the metal. And, actually, I think it worked pretty well. So, the real test will be to put the cover back on and see if it fits right. And I think it does.
And that brings us back to these screws. I seriously think these are screws somebody bought at the hardware store. So, I’m going to replace them with traditional computer case screws like these.
And the only thing left to clean are these vents in the rear.
Anyway, back outside, several more hours have passed, and you can see the shadow is now on the other side. So I think this has run its course. The water inside is still nice and warm at 102 degrees. And even out here I can already tell significant improvement in the color of the keyboard parts. Let me dry these pieces off and we’ll see what the color is like.
The color now perfectly matches the front bezel of the computer, but it doesn’t match the paint of the case. However, I don’t necessarily think they were exactly the same from the factory and at this point it would be hard to be sure one way or the other. And being that the inside of the keyboard is the same color, which shouldn’t be faded any, that re-enforces my belief we are back at the correct color. Overall, I’m happy with the outcome of this one. It’s definitely good enough for the documentary video that I’m going to be working on next week.
Restoring the Commodore PC-1
OK, time to move along to the little PC-1. It’s pretty clean, but I went ahead and gave it a wipe down. This case is made entirely from plastic, which is unusual for a PC of this era. There are just two screws on the bottom to take it apart. The inside lid has some weird dust patterns, which I’ve seen before. I’ve wondered if static electricity is the cause for these patterns.
On the back, there is a left-over warranty sticker, which I’ll go ahead and peel off. I think it’s safe to say Commodore won’t be doing any warranty repairs on this. Some alcohol will take off the residual adhesive.
So, I’m a little concerned that this may actually be the original color, because it’s not a significantly different color on outside than it is on the inside. I think maybe its like 10% whiter on the inside. So, I don’t know what the retrobrite is going to do. But, we’ll give it a shot. So, again I’m starting early in the morning. This is actually the same water that was in there yesterday, but it has cooled down to 59 degrees overnight. If this were Summer, it’d probably still be pretty warm. Anyway, I guess I’ll give it a little head start on warming up.
The biggest problem I have using this method is that sometimes this stuff forms bubbles and floats to the top. So I do have to still check on it every hour or two. Also, regrettably I lost some footage here somehow, but I took this top piece back inside after a few hours and compared it to the bottom and I could clearly see a contrast, proving that it was definitely yellowed some.
Of course, now I have to do the bottom half as well. So, I’ll start taking things apart here. Believe it or not, there are only like 3 screws holding the power supply in, and everything else in this computer is held down by plastic snaps. So, to remove the floppy drive, you just have to use a flat tipped screw driver and pry some snaps loose.
The motherboard is held is much the same way. You just have to be careful that once you’ve freed it from one snap that it doesn’t re-snap while trying to free the remaining snaps. This thing uses the same floppy drive mechanism as the PC-10 we just finished, so I already know the drill here. And here are some more warranty stickers to remove. Once removed, I could clearly see a contrast where the original color of the plastic is shown. Same with this one on the rear.
After some alcohol, it comes right off and you can see the original color. Anyway, fast forwarding a bit, the bottom piece is now finished retrobriting and I’ll just compare the two pieces. I think it looks good, so I’ll start re-assembling it.
I noticed these rubber feet do not look like the originals, and there is some sticky stuff on and around them. So, I decided to pull them off and replace them with feet that seem to fit better in the space provided. I think these will work much better.
Here’s the PC-1 all finished. I think it looks a lot better.
Restoring the Commodore PC-386
The last machine we’re going to work on today is this Commodore 386 computer. The first order of business is to clean the rubber feet marks off of the top case. Alcohol seems to work well for this. OK, so there are just two screws on the rear to take this one apart. The front bezel on this computer is held in by snaps instead of screws. Let’s not forget the power switch, which is just this long plastic rod going straight to the power supply.
The floppy drive is also slightly yellowed in places. So I’ll be removing its bezel as well. And so these little pieces here are the only things we need to retrobright today.
OK, fast forward to the next day, and I have attempted to retrobrite this, but you can still see yellowing there. And even the floppy drive bezel is still slightly yellowed and so is the end of that button. So, I don’t know why it didn’t work. Maybe this is a different sort of plastic. But, I’m going to try it again. I was lucky enough that the weather held up a little longer than originally forecast. But this was it, because as you can see with the forecast now, there’s like two hours of sunlight left and the entire next week will be thunderstorms.
So, let’s open this thing up. Arg. Guess what? Can you believe this thing is actually upside down? The only thing that could have caused that was the formation of bubbles. So, no telling how long it has been this way because I had some errands to run while this was going. However, drying it off now, I do think there is some improvement over before. But it isn’t a huge improvement. I mean, you can still see that it is yellowed in the corner. But I think it is maybe 50% better now.
Well, I’m out of time. I have to get this re-assembled so I can start shooting the documentary videos, because I am headed back to Austin in a matter of days and there won’t be any more sunlight. Hopefully it won’t be too noticeable. Anyway, here is the finished result. And of course, here are all 3 of these units finished. I have a few other Commodore PCs I’ll be showing in the documentary but these are the only 3 that needed restoration work.
Well that’s it for restoring Commodore PC! So, stay tuned for the next episode of Commodore history, and thanks for watching!