I recently found a rare 80’s technology gem on the attic: An (almost) functional Commodore 1520 plotter. This was the only plotter ever sold by Commodore. It was a C64 peripheral, although even back then, it was pretty unknown (and fairly useless).
Surprisingly, after 25 years of deep sleep, the device powered up to self test. Two motor gears needed some glue and the ink in the pens had dried. A bit of water brought at least the blue pen back to life (the plotter has four pens in different colors, for a “perfect multimedia experience”).
Commodore, like just about everyone else back then, used a propietary protocol to drive the plotter. It is a weird serial protocol – in our official Everykey protocol weirdness scale, it beats most other protocols by far, making I2C and SPI look boring and straightforward. There’s even some (partially incorrect) documentation on the web. And you can still buy the 6-pin DIN plugs. There are some projects to control the Commodore 1541 floppy disk drive, but we didn’t find any good approaches on bringing the 1520 back to life. Challenge accepted!
The implementation was surprisingly simple – after categorizing the existing documentation into a) usable, b) incomplete or c) just plain wrong. The Everykey connects through USB to a computer and shows up as a virtual serial port. It implements a tiny parser which interprets simple commands (such as MOVE, LINE, PRINT or COLOR) typed into the terminal and translates them into something that can be understood by the plotter. Here’s an early result (just blue – as mentioned, the other pens are still dry):
The output quality is not perfect (for example, you can see that the vertical feed is off a little), cleaning the mechanics and replacing the pens should help. Even in perfect condition, the results could not compete even with the cheapest inkjet printer of today. So why did we do it? Because we can.
Code and schematics are not online yet since we decided to stop spamming our base repository. If you’re interested in how it works, let me know. If you have other peripherals waiting for resurrection, we might be able to help – did you know that we are for hire for this sort of stuff?
There’s a video of the plotter in action on youtube.