At midday on April 1st 2020 a red Parcelforce van drew up outside my home. I spied it out of the bedroom window where I was folding clothes and wondering what to do on this, my 8th day of obeying PM Boris Johnson’s instructions to stay home and save the NHS. The driver had placed a large box on the doorstep and taken a couple of steps back, confirmed my name and said his goodbyes. I had no idea what the box was and only realised it was my Checkmate A1500 Plus when I saw the name on the other side of the box. There had been no dispatch email sent to me although thinking back I was aware that Steve Jones was shipping cases from his Facebook page updates. I scurried up to the spare room to open it up.
Then I realised I would need more room so I scurried back downstairs and threw a funky orange blanket over the dining room table. Time to unbox!
Told you the blanket was funky. Ignore it and look at that box. I was immediately whisked back to the time when I got to open up my A500+…..at my Nan’s house as my Dad wanted to stop by and do a bit of work to her ridiculously large garden. Grownups just didn’t understand about the important things!
Inside the shipping box was the gorgeous red and white box for the case itself and two smaller, flatter boxes. One had the keyboard case and the other had the bundle of extension cables needed to connect the keyboard.
Looking at the A1500 Plus keyboard
The keyboard case is all metal. It has an upper and lower part and once the keyboard is inside it will all be held together by 4 screws. Painted inside and out, no skimping to save on costs. The finish is very good, no blemishes to the paint. There is a small sharp point on the top left hand corner where the metal is bent down. I’m not going to do anything about it as that would probably damage the paint and I can’t see it being an issue. You can see a few small protrusions (less than 1mm) around the cut outs for the keys which again won’t cause any issue. This is clearly where the metal has been cut or stamped. Purely from a cosmetic point of view I think it would have been better to put the screw holes on the sides if it had been possible.
If we remove the lid you can see how the A500 keyboard is held.
It really is quite simple. Thanks to the Amiga using a keyboard that just sits in place in the original case, all that was needed was a way to replicate that in the new case. I haven’t tried it yet but it seems that the keyboard simply sits on the angled end pieces and those two small metal buffers hold it at the correct position. You can see the cut outs on the rear, one for using the round 7 pin Din keyboard extension cable and the long cut out is for mounting other solutions such as a Keyrah2 adaptor should you want to use an A1200 keyboard which will connect via USB cable ( the manual points out that you would also need something like an SUM adaptor to add a USB port to the A1200 motherboard for this to work).
As I have an A500+ I will be using the keybaord solution purchased with the case.
The Zorro II / PSU interface card
I have an Alfapower external hard drive/memory add on for my Amiga which used to hold a 320mb hard drive but now, occasionally, holds a compact flash card and allows me to use a CD drive. The fact that it was possible to still use it in the new case was part of the decision to purchase the case. I have been unable to get the CD drive to work with the IDE connector on the accelerator I use so this is the best solution if I want to continue to have a CD drive. Should you want to, you can read my attempt at Installing a Compact Flash Drive in an Amiga A500.
In order to do that I needed to add the ATX Power and Zorro 2 Interface card to my order. Before the Checkmate kickstarter I had no idea that the entire Amiga system could be powered through the A500 side expansion port. This means that an internal power supply can be used, no need for the aging external brick I currently use. My original power supply is still around but after I started adding various upgrades to the A500+ I decided to upgrade it to a modified ATX PSU. I will look up which supplies are suitable, the manual contains lots of info on why some ATX supplies are not suitable. It all seems to be due to the fact that the Amiga uses relatively low power compared to a PC and may not reach the minimum draw required by the PSU to allow a stable output.
This is the Interface card. You can see the ATX connector on the right and just below it is where this card connects to the Amiga motherboard. At the top of the card is the Zorro 2 slot and just below that is slot that acts as an extension of the Amiga’s side expansion. It basically brings that connection through 180° so an expansion that would normally hang off the side of the Amiga can now be fitted internally.
Already fitted into that slot is this ACA adaptor card. This replicates the Amiga’s side expansion port as that is just a row of exposed PCB pads. This sort of connection always worried me, if a D Type socket gets damaged you can replace them but edge connectors seem like they would be harder to repair. You may have noticed some words of warning on the Interface card.
This could ruin my plan. Does this mean that this slot can ONLY be used for an ACA and therefore I cannot connect any other side expansion here? I will have to clarify this before I plug my Alfapower in. Luckily, the Checkmate A1500 Plus Facebook page is very active so I should get my answer there.
The Interface card mounts to the side of the case and is secured by 4 screws.
Looking at the case itself
For some reason I was expecting it to be larger than it actually is. Maybe I was thinking about the total size of my Amiga set up. With the machine, the Alfapower expansion and a CD drive it takes up quite a bit of room. The Checkmate should allow a much neater set up. The case is metal except for the front fascia. Overall dimensions are approx 43cm(w) x 39.5cm(d) x 10.5cm(h). I didn’t go for the optional lifter that allows you to park the keyboard underneath. I may regret that later, we will see. There is a slight difference between the colour of the plastic and the metal. The plastic is slightly darker. I can’t remember the last time I saw a new case that was anything other than black.
I like the look of the A1500 Plus. Its got just enough detail to avoid being bland while not being too busy. Plenty of ventilation all along the front. There is a cut out section that can be removed should you wish to mount audio or usb or maybe an SD or CF slot. There are two fascia plates which can be swapped out to house whatever you want.
The rear of the case is metal and you can see all the precut holes for the Amiga motherboard connectors. Above those there are two spaces for any cards to use. This could be for fitting PC graphics cards that require two case slots. The manual says that any graphics cards you fit must be “blower” types. These push the heat they generate out of the back of the case rather than just heating up the inside of the case.
The lid is retained by just 2 screws. Once they are out you slide the lid backwards almost all the way. The rear of the case needs to be right at the edge of your desk as once you get the lid almost all the way off you need to angle it down so that the lid clears the metal work underneath, only then can the lid be lifted off.
The inside of the case has many mounting points. You need to work out which are relevant to your motherboard and add metal risers before fitting. As you can see, the case has its LED and power switch wires already mounted. In the photo below you can see the optional mount tray for a CD drive. I bought that along with an optional front CD drive fascia. The CD drive I currently use is a standard size PC drive. I may choose to replace it with a slimmer, slot loader in the future. The drive bays have a raised mounting shelf and the manual says you can even add devices underneath. The perfect spot for a permanent internal storage drive perhaps.
Initial thoughts and what next
Why did I buy the Checkmate A1500 Plus case? This will take my sprawling Amiga set up and bundle it up into one, neat box. In addition, I think that it’s important to support the Amiga community when you can and when it makes sense. This is a quality product and it’s clear that a huge amount of time and effort has gone into it. It has been designed so that as many people as possible can use it in as many ways as possible. It’s not a cheap case, in total I paid £370.23 for this bundle which is a lot for a case. I don’t regret it. My Amiga set up isn’t permanent, I set it up when I have the time and the need. This has made me realise that maybe its time to get another desk.
My next steps are to discover if anything other than the ACA can be used in the Interface card and to dismantle the A500. If I cannot use the Alfapower card then it’s not a problem as the accelerator card has onboard IDE. The system will just be a little down on memory and I may have to do without a CD drive.
Update: I have now discovered corrosion on the A500+ motherboard in various locations. This puts a halt to my project for the moment while I find out how to get this repaired.
Click here for Part 2 – Keyboard Installation and Corrosion!