Building the Checkmate Amiga 1200 Plus Computer

Greetings, and welcome to an LGR Amiga thing! Specifically we’re gonna be dropping a Commodore Amiga 1200 into this fantastic-looking case, the Checkmate A1500 Plus A self-proclaimed “stylish, versatile, expandable” computer case that’s built to house any one of half a dozen different systems, from Amigas, to PCs, to Raspberri Pis and beyond Aesthetically, it’s based on the classic Commodore Amiga 3000 from 1990, but its roots actually go back even further than that to the Checkmate Digital A1500 in 1989 A topic nicely-covered in this video on the RetroManCave YouTube channel, so check that out if you wanna know the full story But the gist is that Checkmate made a nice desktop case for the Amiga 500 back in ‘89 and Commodore was like “nope!” Proceeding to spitefully release the Amiga 1500 in 1990, thoroughly raining on the parade of both Checkmate Digital and one of its designers, Stephen Jones And this brings us to the modern Checkmate A1500, courtesy of iMica Limited and Mister Steve Jones himself, who sent over this special LGR review unit That being said, this is not sponsored and there’s no revenue sharing going on Steve offered this review unit out of the blue and I said yes because dude, just look at it! An off-white horizontal desktop computer case manufactured in the current year, this kinda thing just doesn’t happen anymore And while I considered putting an MS-DOS PC inside, eh, I’ve done plenty of those and I was in the mood for something different So today we’re gonna be building a custom Amiga 1200 computer system using an assortment of both new and vintage components A PAL region system, no less, since many of my favorite games are designed for it and switching over from NTSC anytime I wanna boot something up gets annoying Enough with the contextual foreplay though, let’s go ahead and dive into this lovely package First up we’ve got a flyer advertising the case, showing off an aspirational example of a complete Amiga setup And down below that we get right to the good stuff The Checkmate A1500 itself, wrapped in plastic, begging to be unsheathed and put into action On top we’ve got another couple sheets displaying the black version of the case and some ordering info that is now unfortunately out of date More are being built at the time of recording though, with new batches taking 10 to 12 weeks to produce Then there’s this delightful spiral-bound manual chock full of tasty info, but we’ll come back to that Because right now, ahh, just look at this beige beauty! One that’s made with UV resistant materials, so hopefully it won’t yellow with age I can’t remember the last time I saw a brand new horizontal desktop form factor case, much less one so delightfully beige and relatively compact For comparison, this is what it looks like sitting next to an IBM AT built in 1988, it absolutely dwarfs the Checkmate Of course, by the mid 90s most desktop PCs were shrinking in size, like this Packard Bell Legend 486, but the Checkmate is still noticeably smaller That doesn’t mean it skimps on slots and drive bays though, with two 5.25” bays up front, a slot for PCMCIA on the side, and all manner of cut-outs and openings around back, with mine being preconfigured for use with the A1200 and 600 And this is a big part of the case’s modularity, since this entire back plate can be replaced to fit the I/O needs of differing systems Speaking of which, the case isn’t the only thing that arrived here Also sent over were these additional rear panels for the Checkmate, with one for the Amiga 500, a PC motherboard with vertical slots, and PCs with horizontal slots The latter two being made to fit half height expansion cards, with the case itself tooled for Micro ATX and Mini ATX motherboards And these last boxes include an array of excellent extras: a drive bay assembly with some wiring and such, two front drive bay covers, one for housing 3.5” devices and one for a slot-loading LG optical drive, and one of my favorite features of the case: the keyboard risers Yes indeed, screw these onto the bottom of the case to raise the whole thing up so a keyboard can nestle in underneath Something I’ve always admired about the Amiga 1000 and yeah, having it on a brand new case is just fun One item we won’t be using in this build is this A500 ATX power and Zorro 2 interface card, but it was included anyway so here it is Kinda wish I was installing an Amiga 500 board just so I could make use of this Instead, all we’ll need for the A1200 is this ATX power adapter kit that’s already installed in the case Oh and one more thing, check this out! Also available from them are these keyboard housings, letting you use the original Amiga

keyboards inside a metal case that matches the Checkmate So all you need are the guts of the keyboard itself, some adapters and cabling to connect it to the motherboard, and yeah this is gonna be awesome I love a big metal keyboard housing As for the Amiga parts themselves, that’s up to me to supply, and I have a few spare parts and systems to choose from I’ve got a nice A1200 keyboard assembly, a very yellow Amiga 1200 parts system from France, and an accelerator card I’m not entirely sure which of this I’ll be using yet, but there are definitely a number of promising components to try out here Namely this Blizzard 1230 Mark IV from 1995, an addon that connects to the trapdoor slot and provides a real time clock, up to 128 megs of RAM, a 50 megahertz 68030 CPU, and in this instance a 68882 FPU as well This was all generously donated by a viewer named Maximillien, so thank you again for these and the other Amiga things you sent in! And just in case the parts machine doesn’t work, I’ve also got this spare A1200 motherboard Like the other machine, this too is a PAL system, only from the UK instead of France It was fully recapped a couple years ago too, so it’s a solid standby if I run into problems In terms of power supplies, we’re gonna be using a 300-watt BeQuiet SFX Power 2 And yep, the Checkmate case needs an SFX form factor PSU or smaller, full-sized ATX supplies are too bulky And finally, I’ve got some mice, adapters, cables, and other spare parts and doodads Some of this will be necessary, like a Keyrah V2b and Sum 1200 USB keyboard adapter for the external keyboard, but others are more optional or just kinda fun Stickers, badges, spare ROM chips, disk labels, an Amiga ruler Yeah I dunno, I was getting a package imported anyway so why not Right, so let’s take a look inside the case itself, which is opened by removing these two screws here The top of the case simply slides off and [clanking around] Well, this is different You can’t just continue sliding, you have to angle the thing over an edge and slide it downward If it’s flat on a desktop, there’s no way to open the case lid, and the same goes for putting it back on According to the manual this so-called “feature” is due to the modular design, though that doesn’t make it any less irksome to deal with Once you are inside though it is quite pleasant, with ample space and all kinds of standoffs ready for mounting things And with this review unit, it came prepared for my particular build with this PSU control board for connecting the SFX power supply to the A1200 motherboard And up front is a little PCB for connecting hard disk and power LEDs, with both PC and Amiga system support I appreciate the embossed names in there too, with “Father of the Amiga” Jay Miner and Commodore engineer Dave Haynie emblazoned with respect So yeah, at this point we’re about ready to start building! But before we start screwing things in, let’s test the hardware first, cuz it’s been years since I last booted this up and you just never know with these things [computer powers on] [hard disk whirs, floppy drive clunks] Yeah so that’s promising! After a little DeoxIT on the power connector it started right up The hard disk is spinning and the floppy drive is getting power, although both are making some concerning clicky noises here and there Still, it managed to boot into Scalos, a desktop replacement for the usual Amiga Workbench OS This was something already set up and running on the hard drive back when I got this machine however many years ago, filled with all kinds of applications and games Copyright ‘Satanic Dreams Software.’ [chuckles] Gotta love that ‘90s edge And yeah, while it appeared to be working at first, I quickly ran into problems where the system would stop reading files from the hard drive, eventually leading to a Software Failure that required a reset The floppy drive fared even worse, refusing to even move the read/write head, much less recognize a single disk And considering the age, dirtiness, and unknown wear and tear on these drives, I can’t say I was too surprised Thankfully, I’ve also got this IDE to CompactFlash adapter I can use, something I’d actually planned to upgrade to anyway so this saves me a step later on It plugs into the same 44-pin header as the hard drive since it’s pin compatible with IDE, doesn’t get much easier than that And yep, this works even better, at least so far!

This time it’s running Classic Workbench Green Amiga Alien Edition, an optimized version of Amiga Workbench, filled with WHDLoad drawers to make loading floppy disk programs from the hard drive darned simple I don’t even know how many games are on here but it’s absurd, with around a gigabyte of games and demos ready to go Excellent Unfortunately though, I wasn’t able to get much of anything to actually run, with or without any memory boards or accelerator cards installed Most either started loading and then froze the system, or refused to open entirely So I set that to one side for the moment and whipped out the spare UK motherboard, installed an eight megabyte memory board and there we go! Success! Great Giana Sisters loaded first try this time around, no freezing or crashing at all And yes I’m using an Amstrad Mega PC gamepad here, with B mapped to fire and C mapped to press the up direction for jumping To do that I’ve got this little Mega Drive adapter that allows safe usage of the pads on Commodore machines, along with button remapping Highly recommended, especially for… well, the majority of Amiga platformers, like Shadow of the Beast here Pressing up to jump on a little joystick just never felt right to me, gimme a gamepad and a jump button any day Anyway yeah, last thing I tried on here was Gods since the other A1200 board refused to boot this one whatsoever And again, it’s running perfectly, while looking and sounding as great as expected Man this game, I swear. Bitmap Brothers magic is pure sorcery [slaying of creatures in a Gods-like fashion] Right, so! Before I get carried away with quote unquote “testing” every Amiga game I own, let’s get down to business and build the Checkmate! Thankfully the manual is rather comprehensive, guiding users through each step of the process for each of the intended systems and configurations, and even more exotic stuff like water cooling and PCI-X GPU placement But the first step for the A1200 board here is removing the metal shielding underneath, as it’s completely unnecessary and will only get in the way To do this, all these little guys need to be unscrewed from each port, one by one, since this is where the shielding is attached to the mainboard With that done I can now place the board inside the case to see where the standoffs need to be screwed in Turns out there are only a couple of mounting holes, so that’s not too complicated You could screw in more standoffs to provide a little extra support, but if you do it’s best to use plastic ones so as not to short anything out underneath Besides, those I/O port screws around back end up doing a lot of the work keeping things in place The board is quite loose in there before that, but once it’s all screwed in against the metal back plate, the A1200 is safe and snug where it needs to be and won’t be flopping around Next up is the power situation, something that was a little jankier than I imagined The Checkmate uses this adapter cable to connect the Amiga’s 5-pin power socket to the PSU board inside This plugs in externally, strings through a hole above that, and just kinda rests there on the back of the case all exposed It’s a pretty hacky solution, but I honestly don’t know how else you’d do this without desoldering the old power connector and adding something new inside And while there is a 3D printed cover available, I don’t yet have that so I’m just gonna put some electrical tape on here and move on for now Next up are the front panel connections, with the power button plugging into the PSU control board here, and the LEDs for power and floppy drive activity connecting to the mainboard here And now it’s time to get the SFX power supply installed A full modular PSU would be better since you don’t need 90% of these cables for an Amiga 1200, but eh, this’ll do for now Four screws screw in screwingly right here and that’s that It doesn’t rest on any kind of ledge or anything, so I had to kind of awkwardly hold it in place while screwing, but it’s solid once installed Now it’s just a matter of connecting the 24-pin ATX connector to the PSU board and that’s the power sorted Keep in mind that not all SFX power supplies have cables this long though, I’ve seen reports of other Checkmate owners needing an extension cable to reach the other side of the case Another thing to keep in mind is that with all this set up, installing a trapdoor expansion card becomes difficult Or even near-impossible in the case of this Blizzard card, sadly, since there’s no trap door underneath anymore, just solid metal, so you have to either install it beforehand or from above

If the Checkmate was like, an eighth of an inch wider it’d be doable, but as it is it’s too tight Other cards, like this eight meg memory board, have just enough space to squeeze in there But still, makes easily swapping trapdoor boards unfeasible in the Checkmate Another minor annoyance is the floppy drive situation Or more accurately, the floppy drive cable, which totally slipped my mind until it was too late Not only is the original ribbon cable far too short to reach the front of the case, but the connector on the mainboard is directly underneath the new power supply Poop Oh well, the floppy drive needs work anyway before I install it, so for now I’m just gonna boot straight from the CF card and see if we’ve got a working system! [computer powers on, nothing happens] Hrm So it’s nice that it’s powering on and all, but I can’t get the CF card to boot anymore, it just goes straight to the Workbench floppy screen In fact, the LED on the adapter board doesn’t even turn on now Actually, neither do the front panel LEDs on the case itself, weird Thankfully the latter was an easy fix, turns out the cables to the LED panel were installed in reverse But the CF card? Yeah, turns out the old ribbon cable had come apart, shearing in half after years of use Annoyingly, I don’t have a direct replacement on-hand, so while I wait for one to arrive in the mail I’m using the cable from the old 2.5” laptop hard drive seen earlier And yeah, works just fine now, albeit with gobs of extraneous cabling that perturbs my very soul Other than that, everything’s looking great and seems to be functioning perfectly! Well, everything but that poor floppy drive This thing has never worked as long as I’ve owned it, so it’s high time I do something about it For one thing, the drive is just nasty inside and out, filled with decades of enough dirt, dust, and grime to have any drive on its knees begging for relief Relief that graciously comes in the form of cleaning, and lots of it There’s no guarantee this was the problem of course, but it can be surprising how often this is all a dead floppy drive needs A little isopropyl alcohol on the read/write heads, a modicum of magically erasing the plastic eject button, a little lubrication on the rails and other metallic mechanisms, and there ya go! I also noticed the extension spring on top looked somewhat tired, and I mean, don’t we all But the result was that the disk ejection was weaker than it should be So I replaced it with a brand new spring of the same general size and yeah, much better indeed And since I still don’t have a long Amiga floppy cable I’ve gotta plop it down next to the floppy drive header back here, just for a few minutes to test things out And whadduya know: success! Workbench sees floppies no problem now, and I was able to read, write, and format like it was a new drive It still makes the occasional cranky noise of irritation, but who can blame it? Functionally it’s a hundred percent better than it was before so I’d call that a win Regrettably, getting the thing screwed into the drive tray isn’t quite so enjoyable You have to flip the entire case over and unscrew the tray from underneath in order to reach the mounting holes It wouldn’t be so bad if I did this earlier on, but I was following the manual step by step and this part was listed as one of the final instructions so, uh Yeah, maybe do this a little earlier in the process And then once I got the floppy drive screwed into the tray? It ended up sitting too low, not fitting into the front of the case! I triple checked the manual to make sure I wasn’t being an idiot, but nope I assume that certain drives aren’t the right height for the drive covers, unlucky on my part So I added some standoffs between the drive and the tray to raise it higher, hopefully to the point where it fits the case And after far too long fiddling around with trying to screw everything back in underneath sideways, yeah! It came together decently in the end Still not exactly in the right spot, but I suppose that’s what you get with a “one size fits all” case design And with that, the Checkmate build is complete! Or like, 98% complete, I’m still waiting on those replacement ribbon cables for the different drives And naturally, the keyboard still needs to be assembled so lemme take care of that real quick Mercifully this is quite the straightforward process, even with the Amiga 1200 My Checkmate kit included a number of cables and connectors for the A500, but with the 1200 here we won’t be using any of these Instead, I needed a couple of homebrew devices I bought online: the Keyrah V2b from Individual Computers, which converts Commodore keyboards over to USB, among other things And the Sum 1200 adapter from 7-bit, which adds USB keyboard support to the Amiga itself

The Checkmate keyboard case has a precut opening for the Keyrah, pleasantly screwing into place right here And now it’s just a matter of plopping in the keyboard! I’ll be using this spare A1200 board here since it’s in such good shape, all things considered Yes the keys are starting to yellow at that predictably unpredictable rate all Amigas do, but it’s a far cry better than the others I have Ahh, the warm marigold hue of stale urine So until I can Retrobright that, I’m sticking with this one The whole assembly slides neatly onto the rails on the sides of the case, and a couple nuts and screws hold it down from the top Then the top of the case plops down right here lookin’ all fancy There are four white plastic screws that go in each of the four corners, an interesting choice I thought, considering how fiddly they are to work with I’d prefer metal screws painted the same Oyster White as the rest of the Checkmate, but eh, it still looks okay and it holds things in place as needed Next up is the Sub 1200, which is a tiny little PCB that plugs in to piggyback off the U7 controller chip Then the USB interface plugs into that, with the port itself left dangling, there’s nowhere specific to put it Gotta wonder why the A1200 back plate has a spot for the A500 keyboard since it doesn’t use it And the screw holes don’t line up with the Sum 1200 either So for now I’ve taped it inside, strung a USB cable through, and brought it ‘round front to the keyboard And it looks pretty good! Though I wish it had a set of LEDs on the top-right because otherwise it’s just blank The case is really designed for the Amiga 500’s keyboard, so once again, my choice of building a 1200 means I’m left out of the fun I’d have to cover up or remove one of the LEDs in order to fit the two cutouts on the case And even then, there’s no mounting area inside to screw in this PCB, so until a better third party solution comes along, I’ll just deal with the empty holes Besides, the LEDs on the case work nicely! And despite the wonky setbacks, I think the overall aesthetic of this case is fantastic Much as I enjoy a classic Commodore wedge, I’ve always lusted after their desktops like the Amiga 3000 So having something reminiscent of that design while also giving new life to some old A1200 components? Ah it’s a beautiful thing, and the Checkmate A1500 Plus does a great service to the hobbyist community by its very existence Now, the asking price is currently £179 or around $220 for the case with a single back plate, with additional plates, covers, adapters, and the keyboard case all costing extra So would I recommend buying one? Even with its questionable quirks and odd design choices here and there, absolutely Even more so if you’re putting an Amiga 500 in there, it seems geared towards that more than the 1200 Sure, it costs a premium over mass-produced PC cases, but I mean, it’s not a mass produced PC case It’s made by a small company in limited batches, so pricing reflects that And considering all the possible configurations and the quality of materials being used, I find the price reasonable considering the cost of other Amiga cases on the market And in the end, there simply aren’t many options to choose from when it comes to brand new horizontal desktop cases in a beige color scheme Personally I hope that enough of these sell for the price to come down in the future, and for a 2.0 model to be developed that addresses some of its less-than-ideal design aspects As for this particular build though, as long as it runs Fire & Ice and Another World I’m pretty happy I do plan to change some things around and install a few upgrades though For one thing, I didn’t use the keyboard garage since the A1200 board is too tall and wide to fit underneath, so it’d be fun to build a USB mechanical keyboard with custom Amiga keycaps I’m also gonna replace the keyboard cable with a right angle USB-B connector, this lanky long one just doesn’t do it for me I’d also like to make use of the PCMCIA port, with both a networking card and a CompactFlash adapter On that note, I’ve also got a cable-free CF adapter board on the way so I don’t have to worry about IDE cables A CD-ROM drive might be nice to have too, although it’s not a necessity for me, not with an A1200 anyway A ROM upgrade is definitely on the agenda though, probably the 3.X upgrade so I can take advantage of more software I’d also like to make use of this little area up front along the bottom, maybe I can add a USB port or a memory card slot or I dunno, something cool since it’s already there And a physically smaller memory board would be nice, perhaps one with an FPU and a real time clock Or just an accelerator card that actually fits in the case, like the ACA-1233n Much as I appreciate the Blizzard 1230, it’s such a tight fit and runs so hot that I’m not comfortable using it here And lastly, I really want an Indivision AGA MK2 if it’s ever back in stock

Or some other internal flicker fixer so I can use other monitors I’ve been using this awesome Microvitec CRT I imported from the UK, specifically sought out since it supports 15kHz horizontal as well as 31 But I’d love the choice of being able to more easily use slightly newer CRTs and LCDs without relying on external video adapters and scaler boxes Anyway yeah, I’ve got ideas, but please lemme know in the comments if you’ve got any ideas yourself! I am no Amiga expert, but the homebrew scene excites the crap outta me and I love hearing about what’s possible If nothing else, I hope that you enjoyed seeing this project come together If ya did then maybe check out my other build videos of the past, or stick around, there are new videos on all kinds of stuff each week here on LGR And as always, thank you very much for watching!