C64 Reloaded – first impressions

May 24, 2015

I mentioned about C64 Reloaded in my previous post. Let’s talk a bit more about it.

C64 reloaded

Because here it is!

The C64 Reloaded is a new C64 motherboard. It is recreated according to the schematics of C64B3 model, ASSY NO 250466, and is designed to use the original C64 chipset. A good description you’ll find on the announcement on Individual Computers’ website. Basically, it’s a real Commodore 64, only manufactured with today’s standards.

I haven’t had enough time to spend with this machine to call this a review yet. Instead I’ll share a pictorial overview of the board and some of the nice details on it. Read the rest of this entry »

How about newly produced C64s?

May 17, 2015

Long time no posting. Once again there’s some interesting things going on in the C64 community. Especially one of the on-going funding campaigns I would like to bring to your attention.

First a quick recap.

C64 Reloaded. Image (c) Individual Computers

C64 Reloaded. Image (c) Individual Computers

Already last year on April Fool’s Day Individual Computers announced the C64 Reloaded. Being no joke, it’s a newly produced C64 motherboard using the original chipset to celebrate C64’s 32th anniversary. After some changes in pricing and availability schedule, these new motherboards should be available on Individual Computers’ web shop shortly.

New C64 C cases. Render (c) Thomas Koch

New C64 C cases. Render (c) Thomas Koch

More recently, on March 2015 an interesting Kickstarter project surfaced. It was for newly produced C64 C casings using the original molds. The project has an interesting back story, and the project funding goal of $ 10,000 was met in no less than a day! Eventually, the Kicstarter for the new colored and transparent C64 cases was so popular, that the initial funding goal was filled almost ten-fold. The cases are in production at the moment, and backers should receive their rewards sometime soon.

As to complete the lineup, there is now another crowd funding project going on for new C64 key caps in various colors. The funding goal is quite high, € 25,000. This is no wonder, as this time also the molds for the casting process has to be made. At the time of writing, roughly 60 % of the funding has been met, and the funding period will last for one and half weeks still, ending somewhere around 28th May 2015.

The C64 Reloaded and new C64 casings already came true. I’m hoping that also this third re-manufacturing project becomes reality. Not only hoping, I’m of course backing also on this effort, and I would like to encourage you to do so too!

Read the rest of this entry »

SwinSID analog controller hack

July 24, 2014

SwinSID paddle hack

I’ve covered SwinSID micro and nano few times before. It’s a great idea – a micro controller based SID chip replacement, working as a spare part  for a C64 or C128, or as a substitute to some other application like a DIY-synth. For Commodores, it’s especially suited for a gaming machine, as only very few games feature such tricks that would not sound about right on the SwinSID.

However, there’s this downside with the SwinSID that it does not support analog controllers. This is because it’s the SID chip that handles the reading of analog controllers in the C64, and the A/D converters are not implemented in the SwinSID. The number of games supporting paddles, mice or analog joysticks is not that big, but still it’s a shame that they won’t work with SwinSID. Also the few games that support second joystick button are affected. They behave as if the second button would be triggered constantly.

So there is a lack of fully featured replacement for a SID chip. This is a shame as SID chips are sought after, and supply for good and working chips is getting more and more scarce. The demand of SID chips have been recognized, as it’s not that difficult to find a supply of SID chips from Asia. It’s just that many have found out that these chips are often dead, faulty or downright fakes, and often rebadged.

Knowing that there are a lot of these faulty SID chips with bad filters or missing sound channels, it had occurred to me that maybe these could be combined together with SwinSID to make at least a fully featured replacement for the SID chip. Sound from the SwinSID, and A/D converters from an otherwise faulty SID.

Recently I ordered some spare parts from Mutant Caterpillar Games, who have a selection of chips for 8-bit computers in stock, including SID chips. As we were talking together with Ian Gledhill about SID sourcing challenges among other things I mentioned this idea of mine. He kindly sent me few faulty rebadged SID chips to test it out.

So, off I am to build an adapter that allows me to install SwinSID and a ‘badSID’ to the C64. Read the rest of this entry »

1541 – Why so complicated

May 14, 2014


The Commodore 64 has a disk drive that is unique in many ways. Not only is the Commodore 1541 said to be the world’s slowest disk drive, but it’s also big, bulky, noisy and has a reputation of being unreliable. Also, it works in an unusual way. In many ways it’s the disk drive that has defined our experience with the C64.

In addition to the original model 1541 there were also the updated models 1541C and 1541-II from Commodore. The drives have different looks, differences in hardware and in ROM versions, but the basic functionality and features are principally identical.

Some later models in Commodore’s 8-bit serial disk drive range were improved in some ways, but those have less importance today. For a C64 as a retro system, the 1541 is the de facto standard. Still, in this time of emulators and hardware add-ons, compatibility with the original 1541 disk drive is regarded as a must.

And today, for someone who doesn’t want to resort to emulators only, the large and unconventional disk drive brings some practical challenges. So understanding the 1541 helps us to understand the options we have for replacing it! Read the rest of this entry »

MMC2IEC, a uIEC alternative

June 17, 2013

MMC2IEC P Sieg plate

Already good while ago I bought this MMC2IEC kit from Retro-Donald together with other junk. Basically it is just one hardware design variant that runs the popular and widely used sd2iec firmware. Just like the uIEC, SD2IEC, C64SD and many other devices. If you randomly come by an SD card drive for 8-bit Commodores, it’s probably some sort of SD2IEC/MMC2IEC variant.

This particular variant of the hardware goes by name Peter Sieg Platine, Peter Sieg plate. It’s Lars P. hardware configuration – which is important information when flashing or updating the AVR firmware. The kit came with ATMega 1284 AVR – a 128k chip that is likely to fit also the upcoming updates of sd2iec firmware in future.

Anyhow, this one was not a complete ready to use device, but a DIY kit that consists of nothing but the board, the SD card slot and an optional preprogrammed AVR chip. The kit with programmed AVR didn’t cost very much, and the remaining electric components were only few euros from a local electrics shop.

Even though this kit is no longer available from Retro-Donald’s Sinchai shop, I’ll go ahead and run down what I did with mine and how I built it. After all, this device is so simple, that it would be fairly easy to build one without any kit. If you have the possibility to make the PCB and program the AVR, plus solder all the parts together, you can basically make this very device from scratch.

The PCB design and layout files are also available in different formats here and on the author’s page. Read the rest of this entry »

The beauty of simplicity

February 4, 2012

You know the classic Suncom’s Totally Accurate Controller MK2, right? Better known simply as the TAC-2. The favourite Atari-standard joystick of countless people, with the reputation of being indestructible. Other than durable, it’s also a very good game controller. The design is simple, you can hold it in your hand very comfortably, no matter if you’re left or right-handed. And the feel and tactile response is top-notch.

While not completely fail-proof, at least TAC-2 withstood abuse much better than most other joysticks that were commonly used with Commodore 8-bits, Amigas and Atari computers.  Both the durability and usability are result of very, very simple yet functional design.

I mean, have you ever looked inside of that controller? It appears that there isn’t anything that could ever fail.

Here’s a picture of TAC-2 dismantled. You can completely take the stick apart and put it back together without using any other tools than a screwdriver, which is needed for the three screws that hold the case together.

The buttons and directional switches are nothing but robust construction where metal part presses against another when you press a button or the stick into some direction. In its simplicity it’s ingenious.

But in fact there are some common issues with TAC-2. The buttons tend to become unresponsive over time. As with any switch, metal oxidation is the main reason. Or plain dirt. Eventually this may happen with the directional stick too. But in fact, you could try to rub the contact surfaces clean to make better contact without even opening up the controller. Just wiggle the stick around or rotate the button with your thumb while pressing it. You know you used to do that! Read the rest of this entry »

Stuff from Retro-Donald

January 21, 2012

Just a quick heads-up, I recently ordered some stuff from Retro-Donald’s Sinchai-Shop. Finally the goods arrived, and above you can see the loot I got.

Top: Micromys V3. Below, from left to right: EasyFlash 3, MMC2IEC + programmed AVR, Nano SwinSID, Super PLA.

Sinchai.de is an online shop that is specializing in Commodore 8 bit accessories and DIY kits. Unfortunately the site is in German only, as is all communication and support. Additionally the information and instructions for the products may be very slight, and most of the product support seems to be at the German C64 forum Forum-64. The shop supports the community there and vice versa it appears.

At least the product assortment is very interesting, and they ship worldwide. And Google Translate is your friend if you are like me and don’t speak nor read German.

Apart from the language barrier and almost three weeks’ delivery time I’m very pleased with the experience. Might be that Donald is busy putting the now-released EasyFlash 3 boards together! The pieces I finally got are of good quality, and the packaging was well done. Postage rates were reasonable, and generally, so are the prices at the shop. My recommendations.

Quick run-down of the stuff I ordered Read the rest of this entry »

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