1541 Ultimate, original vs Ultimate-II

1541 Ultimate old vs new

It’s been already quite a while since I last wrote anything about 1541 Ultimate. In the meantime I’ve gotten myself also the new model, the 1541 Ultimate-II. It’s a good time to recap the project and device status at the moment, especially since the latest firmware update brought some nice new features.

So what’s different from the previous model?

Let’s start with the physical differences.

1541Ultimate old vs new 1541 Ultimates side view

Obviously the appearance has changed a lot. The most apparent change is that this new model comes in a case, and is more compact. Now it actually looks like a cartridge, and it doesn’t have those silly legs the previous model was standing on. And yes, having  the case on it is a definite plus.

The smaller size comes with a downside though. The SD card slot is replaced by a microSD card one. Regular size SD cards are much nicer to handle I think. But it’s not only that! Since the first few production batches the microSD card slot part had to be changed due to sourcing issues. Mine is with the new slot, and I must admit, the new microSD slot is a bitch. With this new card slot, the microSD card goes deeper inside the cartridge. You need to have something thin to insert or eject the card. You just can’t do it with the tip of your finger.

The microSD card can be seen inside the unit.

The microSD card can barely be seen inside the unit.

But! As to make up for the nasty microSD card slot, there is now a standard USB port. The USB port supports all kinds of USB media – so you can use things like USB sticks, card readers or even external hard drives. Just keep in mind that everything you plug into 1541U will be powered trough the C64 PSU (unless externally powered USB media). My advice is to try to keep the power load in minimum unless you have a higher grade PSU for your Commodore. The C64 standard power supply just isn’t that good. They never were, and now they are also old.

USB card reader plugged into 1541 Ultimate-II. Both this and the internal microSD card are accessible from the Ultimate menu.

USB card reader plugged into 1541 Ultimate-II. Both this and the internal microSD card are accessible from the Ultimate menu.

In addition to the USB port, a new feature is a port for tape adapter. Yep, the 1541U can now emulate also the Datassette. More on that further down.

What is no longer present is the optional Ethernet port. So no on-board network possibility anymore. Another thing that is gone is the standalone operation mode. Anyhow that’s something I don’t miss at all, since if the cartridge is not connected to the expansion port, you basically miss everything that the 1541U is great for (cartridge emulation, on-screen UI and so on…).

New firmware features

Inside the cartridge there’s a bigger FPGA processor that makes it possible to have more features than before. The Ultimate-II introduced the new firmware generation that goes by number 2. The old model is also able to run special builds of these 2.X firmwares, but with limited set of features. The last officially released 2nd generation firmware to run on the old model is 2.4c, for the time being at least. At the end of the post  I have photos of setting menus to give an idea what are the differences between latest FW versions for both 1541U and U-II.

However, I have understood that those who have the motivation and knowledge to compile the firmware by themselves from the available sources, can choose which features they want. I have no interest for that so I’m going with the firmware versions that gets published on the 1541 Ultimate web site.

But now on with the more interesting new features!

The tape adapter is an option you can choose upon ordering. It plugs into a small port in the cartridge's back side.

The tape adapter is an option you can choose upon ordering. It plugs into a small port in the cartridge’s back side.

The tape emulation. With the optional tape adapter it’s possible to run TAP files. So if you’re into those fancy tape loaders that have music, pictures and flashing borders on them, you can run them straight off the SD card. With the adapter, you can also copy real tapes to TAP files and vice versa. It’s also possible to create empty TAP files and save stuff on them. I have nostalgic feelings for tape loaders, so I warmly welcome this feature. Not to mention the possibility to back up some of the old tapes.

Since the recent firmware update of 2.6 the 1541 Ultimate enters to EasyFlash 3’s domain and offers the KERNAL replacing functionality. A nice bonus I must say. It’s possible to run custom ROMs for both the C64 KERNAL and the emulated disk drive. Isn’t that nice or what?

Another welcome feature is the one called UltiCopy. When there is a real disk drive connected to 1541 Ultimate-II with a serial cable, UltiCopy reads the disk in drive and saves it as a .d64 disk image. It only takes a few moments. Again, very handy for taking backups from your old stuff. Sadly though the UltiCopy works only one way. Writing disk images to actual floppies still needs to be done by running some C64 native copy utility between real and emulated disk drive.

The SID emulation is also something for the 1541 Ultimate-II only. As the cartridge has an audio out anyway, it can also be configured to output emulated SID sounds. My C64s play music fine by themselves, so I really haven’t really gotten into this feature. Anyhow, it’s an option, and one to have a stereo SID sounds too!

Sure there are yet something more, but these are the highlights for me. For the rest, have a peek on the screen shots at the end of the post.

Is the new model worth it if you have the old one?

The 1541 Ultimate is an awesome device for any active C64 hobbyist. While true with both the old and new, the new model is even more so, offering more features.

Still, with the original 1541 Ultimate, the fundamentals are the same. More than anything else, the 1541 Ultimate is a highly compatible emulated 1541 disk drive.  In addition to that it offers a whole bunch of other features and emulated peripherals. Everything I wrote about the original model years ago still applies to it.

It’s just that the feature list has grown a lot since then. Only some of the new features have been made available for the old model (as an official firmware build), and that is what finally made me give in. I believe the feature list will continue to grow, and in that regard the current model that gets much better support is a must.

Still – they’re both great.

Overview of setting menus

On left column: 1541 Ultimate-II with 2.6d
On right column: 1541 Ultimate Plus with 2.4c

Main settings menu:

1541U2 settings menu 1541U settings menu

USB settings (Ultimate-II):

1541U2 USB settings

Audio output settings:

1541U2 audio settings 2 1541U audio settings
1541U2 audio settings

Software IEC settings (Ultimate-II):

1541U2 software IEC settings

C64 and cartridge settings:

1541U2 C64 and cartridge settings 1541U C64 and cartridge settings

1541 emulation settings:

1541U2 1541 settings 1541U 1541 settings

File browser menu:

1541U2 file browser menu 1541U file browser menu

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5 Responses to 1541 Ultimate, original vs Ultimate-II

  1. Andy says:

    Interesting article. I have the original 1541Ultimate from the very first batch then came out and i am still totally satisfied with it. It was one of the very first boards, which dont has extra-ram, so i can only use the firmware until version 1.72b, but all the software works perfect. some months ago, i opened a new thread in the 1541Ultimate-Forum and asked there if people can tell me a software which runs with Firmware 2.5 but not in 1.72b and nobody could tell me a single game or demo. So the compatibilty of 1.72b is also perfect you just have not so much possibilities that in the newest firmware, but most of this possibilities i dont need at all. I just wanted to have a SD-Card-Floppy which can run all my C64-Software and this the original 1541Ultimate can do as good as the 1541Ultimate2. And like it was mentioned in the article the 1541U1 offers some possibilites that the U2 dont has, like Ethernet (mine not because like i said its from the first batch) and a normal SD-Card. and the normal SD-Card is definately better then the Micro-SD, because some people mentioned in the 1541U-forum about problems in taking out their Mikro-SD-Card from the mikro-SD-slot. also Mikro-SD cards are more sensitiv then the normal one. so, like it was told in the article all of the two SD-Floppies has their advantages or their disadvantages, but i would say – people who have a 1541U1 dont need a 1541U2 then, for this they are to similar.

    • ilesj says:

      Exactly. With the 1541 emulation, which is by far the most important feature, you are not losing practically anything with the old model. It was just the new features that lured me into getting the 1541U-II. One thing that I like about the 1.X firmware is the menu interface with shortcuts like ‘Mount and run’ with a single F3 key stroke. FW 2.X has these replaced with context menus, which needs few more key presses to get the desired function. On the other hand, it’s possible to use the menu with a joystick.

  2. Ugo says:

    Thank Yoy very much mate for this great review :-)

  3. Already saghi says:

    I want buy an 1541 ultimate please give me some information about price and order way.

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