Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Schneider EuroPC


More of a picture show again, I haven't been able to get this fully working. I've got some beeps out of the BIOS but as I do not have a display, I'm unsure about the performance of this unit.

(Edit: It does work. Check this blog post for more info.)

I would not have guessed that I'd see PCs as being very nostalgic as yet. But it's true, some of the more "family-friendly" brands of PCs have been around for more than 25 years. EuroPC's appearance owes to Amiga and Atari ST, with everything inside the same unit. Compared to these multimedia machines, it's a rather laughable set: 8088 processor, Hercules/CGA display adapter, beeper sound. I think it has 512 k of memory instead of 640, no hard drive as standard. As an entry-level PC, it would have been nice, I guess. It would run word processors and things like that quite well. Learning how to use a PC and MS-DOS might have been important to many at those times, and why not take this route? I'm still glad I had an Atari ST instead, though.

It's yellowed somewhat...
The motherboard is not that big compared to the case. It goes to show how PC tech was actually quite small at that point. There's no need for ventilation, fans and big internal power supply units which took quite a lot of room in the more serious models. Looking inside, the layout's not much different to Amstrad CPC or Sinclair 128 machines. It's also tempting to draw some comparisons between the general layout of EuroPC and Sinclair QL (Board at the middle, expansion space to the left, storage to the right.) Of course, here one of the more attractive aspect of PCs is lost: It's not very expandable. There's only one (8-bit) ISA port, no room for hard drive etc.

Squeezing somewhat, the heart of the computer could fit in 50% less width.
Doing some net searches, I've learned that pretty much the same hardware was also packaged as Sinclair PC200 and Amstrad PC20. There seemed to be some kind of minor rush to get these "desktop" PCs into the market, that vaguely looked like Amiga or Atari, to try to ride on their success. This I think was largely a failure, but Schneider EuroPC, I've understood was still a pretty popular and well regarded computer. I don't have the numbers but I'm a afraid it might have been a bit too expensive compared to Amiga 500 and the likes, on face of the lack of features. I do remember this being advertised back in the day and that was at least my impression back then.

At the bottom of the picture, the external hard drive connector.
It has the most pins ever I've seen in an external connector.
The hard drive, I though initially might have something to do with IDE, but not really. It might be possible the computer can be made to work with IDE hard drives with an 8-bit card. I could work with floppies, though, it's not like software back in the day was very big. For me, the display issue is the biggest turn-off here. There's a 9-pin connector for a display at the back of the computer, and as I've learned a VGA monitor does not easily connect to this computer.

Three options seem to present itself: 

1. Connect to some monitor from that time: CM-8833-II, or Commodore 1084, with 9-pin TTL inputs. 
2. Buy a 8-bit VGA adapter card. 
3. Get a video-adapter box that transforms legacy outputs into VGA.

Options 2 and 3 would somehow miss the point, as lot of the "feel" of using this computer would be lost. But I would also be disappointed to get one of those old, large displays which are not guaranteed to work anyway. So, it looks like I won't be using this computer anytime soon.

Edit: It's possible to make a CGA-Scart RGB conversion box and connect to an RGB display. It's somewhat more complex than a simple RGB cable, though, but probably the best option now.


Case possibilities

This does not preclude from thinking about interesting casemods. What impresses me with the EuroPC is that the case and the chassis that keeps the keyboard together are very well designed for dis-assembling and putting the computer together. Nothing like the Amigas and Ataris which were really painful to tear apart. Also, the keyboard unit lies on a sturdy metal frame, which is simply laid over the plastic bottom. 

Please tell me it was designed by Germans, I'll believe it.
The computer almost looks prettier without the plastic top.
Opening the plastic case requires finding the correct points at the backside of the seam, but after knowing this the process is simplicity itself. These are pushed in and the lid lifts from the backside and then sort of hinges upward from the front. Some force needs to be used, but also some care, as the plastic clips may break. After the backside has been loosened the case top has to be yanked out with some force and it will come loose. 

Opening the case with a flat-head screwdriver.
Starting from the corner, the clip positions are pushed in and out one by one.
Then there's one cable that connects to the metal frame, but this is not screwed in. After taking it loose the metal frame can be pulled out and turned upside down, hinged on the ribbon cable that connects it to the motherboard. If there are screws that keep the case together, I don't think they are required. The screws that keep the floppy drive in position need not be removed. 

Attention to detail.
I'm not too keen to get the EuroPC up and running, but maybe I would not want to ruin it entirely either. Because the insides are so nicely arranged, one could fit many quite interesting things under the frame. The depth of the board is something like 17-18 cm, so possibly, a ZXevolution, or any modern motherboard with mini-ITX form factor might be made to fit inside. (Dunno if the mini-ITX boards are a bit too tall, though, what with the heatsinks and all.) However, the keyboard is not something one can easily make work with these solutions. So there would have to be either a complete rewiring of the keys (again!) or a modern keyboard, which would be a bit difficult to fit.

The keyboard membrane

I had to have a peep into the keyboard unit, and no, I don't think there will be any "rewiring" of these keys.
Click to zoom in. It's awesome.
Looking inside the keyboard unit reveals what is, apart from a very few exceptions, an one-layer keyboard membrane. I wonder if it is computer-generated, because I can sort of see the human brain getting a bit messed when trying to come up with something like this. Each of the keys complete the circuit, rather than push together two layers. As the connection points for each one key are somewhat apart, other lines, unrelated to that key, can go between the connection points. Nice.

19 comments:

  1. I guess IDE hard drive, not ISA?

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    1. Whoops, yes! It's now corrected. I wrote this one very quickly...

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  2. The HxC could be put into a good use here?

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    1. I doubt it, now that I checked it the board has a 25-pin floppy connector. HxC promises to emulate "all 34-pin floppy disk drives". I don't know if this means its impossible. It would make the machine a bit more interesting if it could.

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    2. So it's a special floppy drive? Non-standard connector at the floppy drive end?

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    3. It's not 34-pin drive, it's also 26-pin except it has even less actual pins. It does not seem that special otherwise. I've seen now some information on the net that suggests a 26-34 adaptor could be built, but I don't know what it might mean for the HxC...

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    4. Probably easy to to build an adapter, but not necessarily fun :)

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  3. I recently went to a retro computers exhibition, and they had a working EuroPC (attached to a Schneider monitor). I even played Rick Dangerous and it was fast!

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  4. Hi,
    How are you going with the Euro PC? Put it to work already?
    I got one of these, but mine is in really bad condition, and even the flat cable to the keyboard is torn apart.
    Do you think I can fix this in any way and bring the keyboard back alive?

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    1. Hi, I haven't really done anything to it.
      I think the plastic sheet might be difficult to repair. Maybe if the flat cable can be cut cleanly from a different point, it might be possible. Then a new connector part would be needed, something that would lead the wires to the board.

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. hi there Tero!

    i have aquired a schneider euro pc there days from a friend and i really need to clean it up because it's so dirty i can't even look at it :) Could you please send me some information on how to open it? I can't really figure it out...

    Thanks in advance

    Kostas

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    1. Hi! I added a few pictures to the blog post to make it a bit clearer how to start out opening the case. It is possible there are different case models, though.

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  7. No you helped me a lot thank you very much i opened it :)

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  8. Hello,

    Have you any idea for the pinout of keyboard membrane? I want to read the kayboard with an arduino.

    Thanks in advance,

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    1. Hi, I've not found a motivation to do this as I don't have a working system. It should be possible to figure out even from the above photograph of the membrane, although it is a bit messy and low resolution.

      I would trace the two pads from each key to the corresponding pins, building a picture of the matrix in the process. Some lines connect to the LEDs so those can be ignored.

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  9. Fiddling with this particular EuroPC right now:

    - PSU adapter built and works
    - TTL RGB adapter for a Philips video monitor, works
    - The floppy drive started working, too

    So far no luck with HxC, tried a couple of different configurations and pinouts, but no. Need to replace the BIOS battery as well.

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    1. More improvements:
      - SCART cable (works)
      - Replaced the CMOS battery, needs to be charged at least
      - Installed an SB clone, games play music and all now

      No luck with HxC - seems the machine detects a specific signal from trk0, but the HxC doesn't generate it.

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  10. Did you make the Scart cable yourself?
    Can you link to CMOS battary that workes?

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