Wrenching on my old Apple IIe! Adding an FPGA HDMI and sound card

I am a sucker for new hardware for old bits of tech. I’ve covered a number of flash cartridges over the years for old game consoles that add new functionality like save states, integrated cheat devices, audio expansion and more. My Apple II collection also has a bunch of new, modern hardware installed. You can see what my Apple IIgs has inside here.

In my latest video I detail a new piece of Apple II hardware called the A2FPGA. This card, featuring a built-in FPGA, initially allows for a clean 480p HDMI video output with audio and simulates the old “Mockingboard” sound card. I say initially because the FPGA on the card is programmable and it will likely be able to replicate the logic of many other expansion cards with future firmware updates. The card is an open source design but can be purchased fully assembled at ReactiveMicro for $199.

The card comes with the most recent firmware preinstalled so it’s mostly plug-and-play. There are a few dip switches on the front of the card which I left mostly in their default settings, although I did disable the option for scanlines to appear in the HDMI output.

On first boot everything worked great – the video output was the cleanest I’ve ever seen out of this computer as before our only option was a composite output. The first game I booted up was my old copy of Skyfox that has support for the Mockingboard audio capabilities. It was really cool to hear the enhanced stereo soundtrack that was locked away on the floppy disk for decades!

The only other hardware modification I made was to unplug the Apple //e’s built in speaker. It will output simultaneously with the HDMI and there is no way to disable the internal speaker short of unplugging it from the mainboard.

I tested out a few other things too like 80 column text mode, and a game called the Halley Project that made creative use of the native Apple II sound system to play around 20 seconds of digitized audio. Everything worked flawlessly.

I am excited to see what new capabilities will be added to this card in the future! If you are curious about what an FPGA is, Bob from RetroRGB and I did a fun explainer at Retro World Expo a few years ago. You can see it here.