EasyFlash 3 hands-on

At the end of last year skoe released the EasyFlash 3 design. Just like the original EasyFlash, the design is open source, so basically anyone is able to start making those. It’s likely that these boards start surfacing from different sources. The first place selling assembled EasyFlash 3 cartridges I found was Retro-Donald’s Sinchai-Shop, and mine’s from there.

There are already at least two board designs. One like mine here, a short cartridge with buttons on both sides. The other design has longer board and the buttons are at the back in the usual way.

You North-American folks are probably pleased to know that RETRO Innovations is going to manufacture and sell them as well.

And yes – this is your JiffyDOS on a stick .. err.. cart solution!

Seriously, calling EasyFlash 3 just that is a vile devaluation (and I’ve seen it already happen). It’s much more than “just” a KERNAL on a cartridge.

What is EasyFlash 3 and what can you do with it?

First of all EasyFlash 3 is an EasyFlash-compatible re-programmable cartridge. It has all the same functionality as the original EasyFlash design. In fact EasyFlash 3 is seven EasyFlash cartridges on one board. And all of the seven EasyFlash slots can be programmed and launched from a on-screen menu upon reboot. Which is a great thing.

But the most distinctive feature of EasyFlash 3 is its KERNAL replacing ability. It seems to be a most desired feature to some audiences to be able to change C64’s KERNAL without having to install a new ROM chip inside the machine. And that is exactly what you can do with EF3. The EF3 has eight banks for C64 KERNALs that can be programmed with different KERNAL binaries.

In addition to EasyFlash cartridge and KERNAL functionality the EF3 is able to emulate freezer cartridges. EF3 has two banks reserved for Action Replay, Retro Replay or Nordic Power compatible cartridge images. Additionally there is a bank reserved for Super Snapshot 5 image.

Last but not least the EF3 offers USB connectivity. USB can be used to transfer data and files between PC and C64 and to program or update the EF3 CPLD core. Later on it will be possible to flash also the EasyFlash banks over USB as soon as the needed software is released.

EasyFlash 3 menu

The different operation modes are selected from a built-in menu. The desired EF, KERNAL or freezer bank is simply started by a single key press. It also means that the different operation modes can not be used at the same time.

The menu starts up on C64 startup or whenever the cartridge’s menu button is pressed.

One more thing that the menu features is a built-in EasyProg. This version of the familiar EasyProg is used to program all the different banks and bank types in a similar manner as the original EasyFlash cartridge is programmed.

KERNAL replacement in a cartridge

EasyFlash 3 promises to work as a genuine KERNAL replacement, while being a fully external cartridge, with some magic and wizardry. Nothing needs to be connected to the motherboard, no strings attached so to say. The KERNAL started from EF3 cartridge is supposed to act as fully compatible KERNAL – just as if the binary was installed as a ROM chip. I have every reason to believe it does so. All KERNAL binaries I tried work as expected. Including one bizarre modified KERNAL I extracted from one of my breadbins. So any C64 KERNAL can be run very effortless with EasyFlash 3. Just make sure it’s a valid KERNAL binary and exactly 8 192 bytes.

This is very handy if you would like to have a custom KERNAL, e.g. a disk speeder, but are not comfortable grabbing a soldering iron or just not interested in taking the effort to have and install the KERNAL internally.

Having several different KERNALs available makes switching between them a childs’ play. It’s also very easy to test KERNAL binaries on a real machine with EF3.

One more benefit is the portability. The selection of KERNALs becomes available for any C64 just by plugging the cartridge in.

But do not mistake into thinking that there is no more reason or benefit in installing a physical KERNAL ROM. There are. E.g. one major benefit of KERNAL disk speeders is that they leave the cartridge port unoccupied. Obviously this is not the case with EF3.

EasyFlash 3 as EasyFlash or freezer cartridge

There’s not much into this topic really. Each of the EasyFlash banks work like a single original EasyFlash cartridge. They can hold EF or other supported types of cartridge images. From the menu it is just chosen which bank is activated.

The freezer cartridge banks work in similar manner. E.g. if you have Action Replay programmed into a bank and activate it, the EF3 acts as if it were a genuine Action Replay cartridge with additional RAM and all. In freezer cartridge mode the reset button acts like in the selected freezer and the ‘special’ button acts as freeze button.

For some reason the Super Snapshot 5 cartridge image has a reserved slot of its own.

USB data transfer

At the time of writing the official USB tool is not yet released. However there are a set of USB Utilities by Tom-Cat. These tools can be found at the Forum64 EeasyFlash 3 section. A driver for EF3 is required on the PC for the USB connectivity.

Tom-Cat’s utilities makes it possible to copy files between PC and a disk drive attached to C64, or to read complete disks to disk images or vice versa over the USB. Also executing a .prg file from PC on the connected C64 is possible with these utilities. These operations require a server program running on the C64 and then the operations are started on the PC.

Transferring disk images to or from floppy disks over the USB connection with these utilities may not be the fastest way to do it, but it is very effortless one once the setup is running. I continued my old and boring disk archiving project just for the fun of it!

One thing I leaned was that the USB port is not active if you start KERNAL or freezer mode or choose to “Kill the cartridge” from EF3 menu.

As soon as the official USB transfer tool is available, it should offer some similar features and presumably be the fastest way to program an EasyFlash bank.

Summary

I hope my description gives a good idea on what you can do with EasyFlash 3 and how its features are used.

The supply for new gears for C64 is so overwhelming that I feel spoiled. Yet EF3 manages to do something that no other device has made possible so far – being a true KERNAL cartridge. Not settling only to that, but combining it with the EasyFlash and freezer cartridge functionality plus the USB connectivity, this single cartridge gives a lot. Not to forget its easy and straight-forward useability.

In the recent years there have been so many wonderful modern hardware peripherals for C64. In my opinion, the EasyFlash 3 is amongst the best ones. I would encourage anyone with the interest for it getting one.

EasyFlash 3 board and the original EasyFlash side by side.


EasyFlash 3 under excited testing in my project machine.

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14 Responses to EasyFlash 3 hands-on

  1. LGB says:

    Is it possible to use JiffyDOS as well without installing the ROMs inside the C64? I guess it is, but it’s better to ask.

  2. tpresence says:

    I haven’t seen any detail on how to load the kernal roms into the ezflash3. Is it basically making a cart out of the dump file? I can’t imagine this is the case, but I don’t know. I created a dump file from my installed jiffydos on one machine, I just don’t want to have to mod the others…

    • ilesj says:

      The EasyFlash 3 has banks, or slots, for different types of ROM binaries (EF/std cartridges, KERNALs, freezer cartridges). They all can be written/flashed using the C64 and software that is built-in to the EF3 cartridge. EF3 has eight slots for KERNAL binaries, and they are flashed basically the same way as EasyFlash cartridge slots, using the built-in EasyProg program. So basically you just write the dumped KERNAL binary into one of the KERNAL slots. After that, the KERNAL appears on the EF3 menu which pops up during boot. From the menu you just select/start the desired KERNAL slot.

      It’s all very simple once you have the KERNAL binary file on a media/drive you can read using a C64. Shouldn’t be a problem since you have dumped the binary from your machine ;)

  3. Jacob says:

    You wrote: EF3 has two banks reserved for Action Replay, Retro Replay or Nordic Power compatible cartridge images.

    Does Final Cartridge III count as compatible with the above, cos I haven’t had any luck flashing a Final Cartridge .bin to my EF3??

    /Jacob

    • ilesj says:

      No. The FC3 uses different cartridge type, and the binary is not compatible with Action Replay cartridges. EF3 only runs utility cartridge binaries that can be run on Action Replay and clone cartridges. Plus the Super Snapshot 5.

  4. Jacob says:

    Thanks for the reply!.
    So there is no way I can use FC3?
    I’m really used to all the BASIC exstra features..

    • ilesj says:

      Unfortunately no. At least not with EF3 that is ;) However, it could be possible that the support for FC3 would be added later on with a firmware update.

      Anyway, the supported utility cartridges are well worth trying out. They offer pretty much similar features and even more, except for the graphical user interface.

  5. Jacob says:

    Thank you very much!
    I will try AR but I hope for future firmware update with FC3 support!
    The EasyFlash 3 is a great piece of equipment :)

  6. Marc says:

    I would love Final Cartridge III supported by EasyFlash, too!

    E.g. the monitor reacts a lot nicer to the BRK instruction than the monitors of Action Replay, Retro Replay and Super Snapshot do.

    :-)

  7. Carl says:

    Is it possible to flash a Trilogic Expert Cartridge to the EF3 ?

  8. Peter says:

    The “EasyFlash 3” is good hardware, but that the FC3 (Final Cartridge 3) don`t work with it, is a big disappointment. Many of my friends and also myself use their SD2IEC`s together with a FC3 and dont wanna give up this good-working hardware-combination.

    Then the “EasyFlash 3” would have FC3-compatibility, then such users could buy one and using it together with a SD2IEC like they did it before by emulating the FC3 on EasyFlash. Then the user could use the SD2IEC in FC3-mode for prg`s, some d64`s, m2i`s and p00-Files and the EasyFlash for crt`s and some other games which don`t have a working loader on SD2IEC.

    At the moment, i know from some forums, that some FC3-users hesitate to buy a “EasyFlash 3”, because then the must give-up the SD2IEC-FC3 combination, because the C64 has only one slot for the cartridges and a FC3 can not be used at the same time like a “EasyFlash 3”. Therefore i hope, that FC3-compatibility will be integrated in EasyFlash. And i really think it makes sense, to have compatibility to all the best C64-cartridges and that the FC3 is one of the best is clear to everyone.

    • ilesj says:

      True, compatibility with FC3 would be a great addition to EF3. Sadly there hasn’t been any development with EF3 for a long time. Maybe worth contacting the developer, Skoe, with the request to implement the FC3 cartridge.

      If one is to use EasyFlash 3 with SD2IEC device, I think the best combination would be to use JiffyDOS kernal, running it from the EF3 cartridge.

      SD2IEC is JiffyDOS compatible, offering fast loader similar in speed as FC3. Also single stroke function key commands for loading directory listings and loading programs from the listing are implemented in JD, though the order of function key commands is different. Also sending drive commands e.g. for navigating directories and disk images is easy, like @CD:UTILITIES.

      Of course there is no equivalent for the graphical desktop or the BASIC extensions as offered by the FC3.

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