1541 – Why so complicated

May 14, 2014

1541YUNO

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 »


Maniac Mansion bootleg cartridge

November 29, 2013

Maniac Mansion bootleg cartridge

Here’s what I made as a 30 year birthday present for a friend of mine. Maniac Mansion cartridge for the Commodore 64!

Of course a cartridge like this never existed back in the day, as the original Manic Mansion released for the C64 was disk only game. It’s only thanks to the crackers, patchers and hardware developers of recent years who we can thank for the possibility to have this much acclaimed and loved game in a C64 cartridge format today.

You’ve probably guessed already that it’s an EasyFlash cartridge in a ‘custom’ Maniac Mansion themed cartridge case. And on the EasyFlash, there is written the excellent EasyFlash-patched Maniac Mansion Mercury by Onslaught.  Read the rest of this entry »


1541 Ultimate, original vs Ultimate-II

April 13, 2013

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. 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 »


Getting familiar with C64 graphics converting tools

November 23, 2011

Like I told in my previous post I wanted to enter one of the graphics competitions in this year’s Alternative Party. I wanted to make my picture using C64 graphics formats, but I wasn’t planning to pixel the picture in native formats in the first place. Instead, I was planning to draw the picture using modern tools and then convert it! Shocking!

I already had a concept in my mind that I wanted to try out: to combine and use different screen modes for different parts of the picture. Of course it wasn’t possible to actually use different screen modes with the picture, especially with my non-existing programming skills. So the road I had to take was to draw the picture elements separately which I then converted to different graphics modes. The parts would have to be combined, and then finally, converted into final picture.

This gave me a good reason to start checking out the different graphics converting tools. Read the rest of this entry »


While I’m unboxing my own stuff…

April 18, 2011

It feels like it’s been ages since my last post. One reason for this feeling is probably the fact that I have moved during this break. Being more specific, I have moved in with my special lady. Who does her best to understand my interest to old computers and other weird stuff including my peculiar electro-analogish taste of music. Wish me luck ;)

Not starting a relationship blog here and still sticking to old computers and weird stuff; Some interesting SID related updates have emerged in the meantime for both SwinSID and 1541 Ultimate projects.

Micro SwinSID has got two firmware updates since my review. The updates have improved the ADSR envelope and filter emulation closer to real SID chip. The latest firmware also introduces 6581 filter emulation that can be selected by e.g. a switch by grounding one of the AVR pins. Unfortunately I haven’t had the change to get first hand impressions of the improvements as I’m lacking the means to program the microcontroller. Read the rest of this entry »


New C64 hardware rolls out

February 28, 2011

New hardware just keeps on coming for the C64. Now, a new device called Alien Flash Cartridge and the long-awaited Chameleon cartridge are available.

The Alien Flash Cartridge was revealed at Lemon 64 Forums only two weeks ago. It is 16 megabyte Flash memory cartridge that has EasyFlash support and Action Replay compatibility. It also features USB connection that can be used for flashing the cartridge and also to download programs directly to C64 memory. Basically the cartridge has 16 one megabyte memory banks and each of them act like EasyFlash cartridge – except those can be flashed over USB connection. This alone is awesome, plus add the Action Replay mode and the ability to push single load programs to C64’s memory over the USB connection. Certainly a very interesting piece of kit!

If this sounds like must thing to have better act fast. These cartridges can be preordered now and the preordering is open only until 6th March! The developer Stingray sells the cartridges over at his website Multimeter Calibrations Australia. Check the link to Lemon discussion for more info. Find also the few demonstrative YouTube videos.

If I didn’t have EasyFlash and several Action Replay compatible devices already I would be placing order right now!

The Chameleon, in turn, has been in development for a long time. It started out as a “VGA box for C64” but bloated out to become something much greater.

Since the C64 does not provide any higher spec video signal than S-video, the starting point idea for Chameleon was to replicate the VIC-II video chip using a powerful FPGA core and have it generate the VGA video signal to have high quality picture for today’s monitors and televisions. Since there’s some serious processing power available, why not use it also for something else? Well, they did. Read the rest of this entry »


C64 EasyFlash

February 13, 2011

New hardware for the C64 appears like it was still a production machine. It’s amazing. This time I’m talking about EasyFlash cartridge. EasyFlash has existed for some time already, and now I got myself one of those.

I bought mine fully assembled from Mike Betz via Lemon64 Forums. These carts are nicely finished with quality case, stickers and all. And of course I peeked inside – the case hides the real quality of the cartridge; Professionally made PCB, all socketed chips and flawless soldering make up these EasyFlash cartridges.

So what’s EasyFlash?

EasyFlash is a Flash memory based programmable cartridge for C64. Basically it works like any original game or software cartridge except that the cartridge binary (data, or cartridge image) can be easily erased and rewritten. And this is done using no other tools than the C64 and software called EasyProg. Any standard (8k & 16k) or Ocean Type 1 (128k & 256k) cartridge image can be written into EasyFlash and it effectively “becomes” that cartridge. Read the rest of this entry »


New DualSID boards

January 1, 2011

SID-goodness just keeps on coming. Some while ago Tomi Malinen released his DualSID twin-SID PCB. Depending on how the board is assembled and configured you can add either SID model to any C64 model. Additionally, the second SID address can be configured using jumpers. With DualSID board you can have both SID models in one C64 or configure yourself a stereo SID setup for any twin SID application. Anything goes. It’s probably the best and most versatile PCB design so far for adding another SID chip into C64.

I ordered myself few kits already a good while ago, but I have been lazy with my C64 activities lately and have not yet assembled them. I will have to come back to this topic once I have assembled and installed one.

Meanwhile if you’re interested for such board get familiar with the DualSID web site.

Here’s a picture of the kits I ordered:

DualSID-boards and components unassembled

Three DualSID boards and components for one 6581 and one 8580 model. While the board is the same there are different ways to assemble it depending on which SID model you are going to have as the second one. The FAQ on the site will help to understand the possibilities, limitations and why there are two different ways to assemble the boards.

Also, HVSC update 54 is out!


Micro SwinSID – an AVR based SID replacement

November 21, 2010

SwinSID88 and 6581

SIDs are sought after sound chips. Being semi-analog they are difficult to emulate. They also break easily from e.g. static discharges. If one is to build a SID synth or you need to replace broken SID chip you may have trouble finding the chips.

SwinSID is a project that I have been keeping an eye on for many years now. Swinkels, the man behind the project, has been prototyping and developing a SID compatible custom sound card for C64 or other SID-utilizing devices such as MIDIbox SID.

Originally the SwinSID was not aiming to emulate a real SID chip but rather to be a pin-compatible SID-like sound device with some enhancements. The hardware is based on one or two (stereo) Atmel AVR microcontollers and some additional circuitry including a DAC.

But now Swinkels and Crisp have developed a new model of a different goal. It is called SwinSID88, or Micro SwinSID, and it’s a direct replacement for the SID chip. It is mono only and it aims to emulate the sound of 8580 SID chip as good as possible. Read the rest of this entry »


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