The Computer Saver (C64 Saver)

Ray Carlsen created a protection circuit for the 5Volt DC line on the Commodore 64 computers, as well it can be used for other Commodore computers and other units that use a 5Volt DC input. The Commodore 64 power supplies supply both an unregulated 9Volts AC and a regulated 5Volts DC supply. The old 5Volt Regulators tend to fail and just quit regulating, causing the full power to goto the Commodore Computer, which can’t handle more than 5.5V input. When at 5.5Volts that is the maximum voltage the Commodore 64 Ram chips are designed to handle. The circuit is designed to cut power to the computer if the power goes to 5.4Volts or higher. Ray custom selects his components to get the proper fixed trip point.

Console5.com sells a kit that includes the components to build one of these circuits. Ray Carlsen also sells his as built calibrated units. The one thing is that the 5.4Volt cut off wouldn’t be ensured suing the Console5 kit. Ray mentions adding some additional resistors to fine tune it when building the circuit. I don’t know how far off it may be without doing the tuning. I took Console5’s diagram and compared it to Ray’s. Ray had since added a capacitor on the one transistor as well as a 220k resistor that were not on his schematics. With that information I decided to come up with a circuit board design using Console5’s kit that I picked up. I was able to find the Relay footprint in Eagle. I could not find the Fuse footprint though. I ended up modifying a footprint from a 20mm fuse to match up the 15mm version to. I think I got that right.

Here is the revised schematic. C1 is the added capacitor. R8 is the added 220k Resistor. I have replaced R6 with a multi-turn trimpot in the diagram, it is for fine tuning the calibration of the trip point to 5.4 Volts. This is NOT the exact diagram that was used for the prototype circuit board in the pictures.
Here is the revised circuit board layout. It has C1 and R8 as well as the Trimpot for the voltage adjustment. Below in the pictures you will see C1 is present, R8 is not, and instead of the trimpot I have paired some spots for regular resistors.

After coming up with what I hope to be a proper layout. I started to try to make the board. I had been on the lookout for a potential printer to use for Toner Transfer PCB work. I came across a HP LaserJet P2015dn. It was quite dirty, and the toner was low, but it was printing. I had been tossing around the idea of buying a new cheap laser printer, and I am glad I didn’t as I was looking at a Brother laser printer and they apparently can’t be used for toner transfer due to the higher melting temperature of their toner.

So I started off cutting down a piece of circuit board material.

Here I scored a line with a utility knife and square.

This board is a piece I picked up back over 20 years ago at school. It was old stock then.. It is very thick and very strong fiberglass based board.

After first marking it, I put it in my vice and scored the back side a little as well as the front deeper.
Here I folded it back. I was a bit impatient, and it was a very hard and high quality board. It took a good bit to snap it off.

After breaking the thin strip off I cut that down in half again. Then I sanded the surface to get any tarnish off. Any tarnish will prevent etching, or mess with it atleast. It can also make the toner not attach properly. Then I cleaned it with some IPA to get any residue off as well as any oils that may prevent the toner transfer.



Next I then split it down in half length wise as well. That was a bit easier. I then sanded the surface down to remove any oxidation. I then used a bit of 91% IPA to clean any oils.

Next I taped the cut out print to the board.

Here is wrapped the board with the print out.
Here you see the back side. No this is not the copper side.

Here we see the final result. Well I knew the toner was low and the printout very light. Due to that fact I was quite happy to get as good as I did. I wasn’t seeing any distortions, or smearing the toner. I was really testing if I could do it at all with the toner and iron. A trick to using the Iron is you aren’t trying to make the iron as hot as you can. You are trying to make it hot enough, but not so that it completely liqufies the toner. When it does that it smears it around and bleeds etc. So the other thing is that pressure has alot to do with it. I picked up a small sturdy iron ( I hope it is sturdy, it looks to be) that I could put a lot of weight on.

Well it didn’t work out. The toner was too low in the printer mostly.

Since that went pretty well overall considering the toner level. I figured I would risk a new toner for this very old HP Laserjet. I picked up a cheap aftermarket one, it worked and was better than the empty one, but the toner is not quite 100%. I also tried printing on a glossy magazine page. Both worked great, the print was great, very dark and clear. The paper took the toner well.

Here I started over with a new toner cartridge. This time using a glossy page from a magazine instead of the expensive toner transfer paper.

I prepared the other sample board, again sanding to polish it clean and IPA to clean it. I then cut out and wrapped the board wit the print out. There you can see the setting I used on the iron, a little past half way. I had read about iron temps, and used an ir thermometer to check the temp of the iron to get something close to what was recommended in a post I was reading over. I have a piece of old mdf or some fiber board there, then a smooth light blue painted aluminum plate that I placed on my workbench to iron the board with. First I let the iron heat up, then I set it on the board for a minute. I then put as much of my full weight on the iron for about 30 seconds (per the instructions I was following). I then applied heat and pressure to the board moving the iron around for another minute and a half or so. Then the board was placed in a bowl of cold water to get the magazine paper to break down to be easy to remove without pealing off the toner. I found the magazine paper to remove very easily, the expensive toner transfer paper doesn’t do that. You can see the first board and this second test here as well. The main issue I had was keeping the board from sliding around. I have some silicon thimbles (well that is what they look like), and put one on a finger to help me hold it without burning myself too much. The silicon does help alot, but doesn’t stop all of the heat so be careful. I actually use them when soldering, they also help with the heat there, but there you also can still get too much heat through if you aren’t careful.

Here is the little iron I picked up for this usage. It is small, which may be a problem with a bigger board. But I can put a lot of pressure on it with it’s design.

Here on the top you can see the new board. It came out almost perfect from what I could tell. Only about 3 minutes to transfer this design was great.

Now that new top board looks much better. There were two nicks in the print, the one on the outer marker line on the top and that little spec on the ground plane around the middle of the bottom. The spec was missing from the printout as seen above though.

My method of etching a board is based on a post I read about using Peroxide, Vinegar and a bit of Salt. I have this stuff around, it seems to likely be safer than other methods. Cleanup is easy. It is slower. I doesn’t see how it is as fast as the author said, but it does seem to work. 2 to 3 ratio of Peroxide and Vinegar, plus a fair measure of salt (enough to keep the solution green instead of blue). When it goes blue it will pretty much stop, but if the salt is added and it goes green that pulls out some of the copper from being reabsorbed into the solution basically. This is a very small board, and I have a nearly full ground plane, so the solution didn’t change color, at least that I could see in the dark here. Yes I etch it outside for safety and I don’t know what fumes come off of it if they may corrode other metal nearby. Here yo can see the reaction and that yes the copper went green from it.

Here is the board after I took it out. Just a little before I took it out, I scrubbed it with an old toothbrush and some of the toner started to come off. I could see a trace with some copper in the area that needed removed, so I put it in for a short time anyways. The copper is fairly thick on this board, and it was only a tiny bit longer. It did cause tarnish in those exposed areas.

Here is the etched board, you can see where the toner started to fail. Real HP Toner may have held up a little better.

Here is the board after cleaning with some acetone and then a light sanding again to remove the bulk of the tarnish. What is left should not hurt anything. I will inspect the board that everything is etched enough and no shorts are there. You can see that little gap at the bottom on the outline. That was that little bit that didn’t transfer. I did touch up the other mark on the top where that spec was missing with a Sharpie before etching.

Some areas do look pretty close, but it is late and I am going to get some sleep. I will be looking at this tomorrow hopefully. Then if any bridges are found I will see about clearing them up and drilling the holes for the components. I am afraid solder bridging will be an issue. Those gaps between the traces are not that big. The picture above looks to be a bout double size to the real thing when compared on my monitor. It might not be the most fun to solder. If I had made the gaps wider, it may have been hard to keep a good ground path to everything, but I could see if that could be tweaked a bit. Still I only have 1 kit here and I don’t see why I would be etching another.

If anyone wants a copy of the design let me know. The custom thing is the library that has the fuse holder on it.. I don’t know how to to share that out. I guess I could put the board files on Github or something?

Console5 Kit: https://console5.com/store/commodore-64-power-saver-circuit-kit.html

Ray Carlsen’s pages: http://personalpages.tds.net/~rcarlsen/cbm/c64/SAVER/

Toner Transfer Post: http://www.robotroom.com/Toner-Transfer-Etching-2.html

Etching Post: https://www.instructables.com/id/Is-the-best-PCB-etchant-in-every-kitchen-/

Of course after I finished the board, I found Ray had added a 220k Resistor (R8 which is on the revised layout and schematic). Well I will see about adding it in, but for my current board it would be a bodge wiring bit to get it in there for this initial test board.

I decided I had so much time in this board, and it was close enough that I could still build it and see what I came up with.

First I checked for any shorts across any of the traces, and everything checked out there. Next I moved on to using the Drill Press to put in the holes. There are several sizes of holes, all quite small. The largest size, for the Fuse Holder and Relay did fit in my drill press, although it nearly didn’t get tight. The next couple smaller sizes wouldn’t get gripped by my drill press. So I took the bottom off of my metal Pinvise Drill and put it in the chuck, I left the other size piece inside it to provide some extra support to help reduce the chances I would crush the tube. I tried to put just enough pressure on it to keep it from slipping as to help reduce the chances of damaging my pin vice. It did work out, and there was no real damage to it in the end thankfully.

Drilled board.
Here it is completed, the mounting holes are a bit too close to the circuit though. You can see there are several sizes of holes.

Next I tinned all the copper and used some solder wick to grab up any bridged areas. Then I retested for shorts and corrected one created by the solder. I next went on to test fix the Fuse Holder and Relay, they fit perfectly. I removed them and started soldering in the lowest components first. That was the Zener Diode and the other Diode. Next I worked on the Standup resistors, transistors and capacitor. Then I did the four 2pin headers, the input, output and two LEDs. I don’t want the LEDs on the board. I did not set them up as Pin Headers though, so while the holes were properly spaced being 3mm LED pads, the holes were too small. I do have some “pin type” header pins, that on the bottom side are smaller round pins and not square the whole way through. I used those. Finally once everything else was installed I went on and did the Fuse Holder and the Relay. As I went I kept checking for solder bridges, and it was a bit of an issue without the solder mask as I expected. My next board I will see about leaving a larger gap on the ground plane.

Bottom side finished. It was not the easiest to work with a board like this with such close traces it liked to get solder bridges a lot.
Here is the top side completed. You can see the two points for the adjusting resistors. I need those too as it is flipping way to early.

So I tested it out and it it throwing at 4.76Volts. That is way to early. I was concerned with the resistor values being matched at 470Ohms when Ray’s was not matching resistors. That and Ray’s mention to have those secondary ones to help adjust it. Changing the one would change the trip point up and changing the other the trip point down. In reality the two will both go both ways, if the one is set higher then it will push it one way then if it is lower it will go the other way. I guess having both makes it more flexible based on what it needed to get it right to the 5.4Volt trip point using common resistor values. So I will work on that later to get it tuned in and see what it takes.

After further testing, I found it about impossible to get the trip point set with the resistor values on hand. I resorted to using a mini potentiometer, that let me set the trip point. I put it in the circuit at R6. After doing that I found that the trip point wasn’t remaining stable. I took a long break from it as I was quite disappointed in it. I have finally went back to look at the circuit again. I had someone ask about a C64 power supply, and well I happen to need to build a second supply myself for another C64 I have since purchased and repaired. So tonight I revisited this circuit.

I did some more searching on the circuit, and found a Github project with a board design for the Saver Circuit. “OpenC64Saver”. Looking at it, it is Ray’s diagram with the 220k and the capacitor included. The only change they made seems to be swapping the one resistor for a multi turn trimpot like I had ended up wanting to do. Although my board only fit a single turn mini pot on it. I like the layout, but I don’t have Kicad loaded to be able to look at the board design except their rendering. The footprint seems to be the same footprint as the Console 5 kit includes. The resistor values are different I believe, and a few other components. It could be a good start though to get one of those boards and the Console 5 kit.

https://github.com/SukkoPera/OpenC64Saver

So I looked at my prototype again. It was still being unstable. I got to thinking, I wonder if putting a load on the output would help? By adding a small load to the output (150Ohm Resistor, should be about 36mA so not much of a load), it has apparently fixed the stability issues. I have had it running for over half an hour now and it started out set to 5.41V as the trip point, now after being warmed up, it is occasionally tripping at 5.38V but so far solid on at 5.37V. I say that is close enough to being 5.4V trip and being stable. Granted I wouldn’t use this board as built, the single turn pot can accidentally slip or get changed without warning, maybe even by dropping or such.. So I would want at least to have a multi-turn in there instead. I am also not certain that the traces on the board are heavy enough to handle the current required to power the c64 and any cartridges or other items that may be plugged into it. They possibly are, but I think if I were to use this, I would want to make up a new board with the revised layout at the top of this post, or just make the OpenC64Saver board.

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