C64 Diagnose: Blank Screen

Ray Carlsen CARLSEN ELECTRONICS… a leader in trailing-edge technology.

Blank screen is the most common symptom, and a failing PLA chip is the most common reason. However, quite a few other failures can cause it as well, such as a bad power supply (check with a known good substitute), bad RAM chip(s), and in general, just about any other chip in there because many chips share multiple data lines. If any one of those lines is loaded down or missing a signal for whatever reason, it can produce that symptom. To narrow it down a bit:

Turn the computer off and back on rapidly about five times. If the screen ever comes up with flashing colors or all one color, the PLA is suspect. Replace it to check. Try a cartridge, such as a game. It essentially „replaces“ some of the chips in the computer when it runs. If a cart works, check the ROMs. The screen may have a normal border even if the CHARacter or BASIC ROMs are bad. A bad Kernal ROM will produce no border.

The internal RF unit outputs a signal that goes to the antenna input of your TV. If the picture is snowy, suspect the RF modulator, assuming the direct video output of the 64 is normal. If the computer is „dead“ but is getting power (red LED on), the modulator will produce a black screen… darker than the blank screen of a failing chip in the computer. A missing 9VAC (power supply problem) is a possiblility. Note that the later C64C will still work without the 9VAC or if the internal fuse opens. However, you will have no sound, the cassette will not work, and the TOD clocks will not work.

See if any of the RAM chips (there are eight of them) get warm or hot… feel each one with the back of your finger after the computer has run for about 5 minutes. Shorted chips will get hotter than the others. Note: bad RAM doesn’t always get hot. See if the computer resets the other components in the system like the drive and/or printer. If so, try a „blind“ disk command and see if the drive responds.. try formatting a disk. If that works, you may have a bad VIC chip (no screen display). Sometimes a bad SID chip will produce a blank screen… pull it out and try the computer. It will run without it, although you will have no sound, and a proportional mouse will not work. The few large chips that normally run hot have a high failure rate: in rough order… the PLA, SID, MPU and the VIC. Static zaps usually take out chips like the CIAs. A shorted CIA can produce a blank screen. Note that you will get the startup screen with the CIA’s removed. You can use that as a diagnostic. The smaller so-called „glue logic“ chips (TTL) run cool and are pretty rugged. Although they rarely fail, I’ve had a few that drove me crazy by making me unsolder a dozen IC’s until I found the bad one. With the above noted exceptions, removing a chip will not allow the computer to produce the startup screen. Removing a chip will in most cases produce a blank screen.

The only practical way to check chips is by substitution. The easiest way to do that is by inserting each suspected chip into a working computer that already has all chips socketed. (You can chase your tail doing it the other way around if you have more than one bad one.) I made a test board for just that purpose. Suspected chip(s) can be tested one at a time and only the bad ones need be replaced. At the very least, you need a source of known good chips for test purposes. Be careful… they are static sensitive. If you don’t want to go to that much trouble to diagnose the problem, you will probably be better off hunting up another C64. Chips are hard to find and expensive. Keep a spare „breadbox“ or two, even if only for parts.

C64 BLANK SCREEN 02-22-99

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