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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

My Ultimate 64 Has Arrived

by intric8 Tue Oct 09, 2018 8:33 pm

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Ladies and gentleman-man-an-n… staaaart your FPGA hardware engines!

My Ultimate 64 (U64) has arrived! I pre-ordered my board back in June, 2018, and it arrived today!
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For those that don’t know (it’s possible) the Ultimate 64 is a complete Commodore 64 motherboard replacement. It’s an FPGA board - Field Programmable Gate Array technology - which is a hardware emulation strategy that provides all of the raw circuitry one would need to copy the C64 down to the nth degree, but does a lot of the magic in software as well. This approach allows the creator, Gideon Zweijtzer, to continuously improve the experience without any changes to the hardware. Think of it as a modern approach the the original Amiga kickstart conundrum on a larger scale hardware-wise.
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For example, just one week ago when some US customers started to receive their new boards and install them, the audio quality was very poor. It would pop and hiss even while the board might be equipped with an original SID sound chip. But last Tuesday Gideon released firmware V3.3 / V1.06 and within a few minutes of updates, most (not all) of the sound issues were vastly improved. Since that time, four more software updates have been posted related to audio and dual drive support.

And this is the promise of FPGA.

With a solid hardware product, software updates could be released - in theory - in perpetuity, thus continuously improving the user experience over a very long period of time.

This, like it or not, is one very solid future path for some retro platforms that are lucky enough to have talented designers and engineers with the will and financial incentive to create them. Some of us might shout out, “Why not just use your laptop and use an emulator in a window for a tiny fraction of the cost?” And for some this is certainly a very real option. But for many others the abilty to use one’s own original keyboard, case, joysticks and even monitors is a really big deal. The potential of the U64 (and its far safer power supply) gives many the perception of their old machines being given a brand new lease on life for the next thirty years!

The Ultimate 64 is an interesting hybrid approach to the emulation world. It provides the FPGA motherboard and modern circuitry, but it also provides (amazingly) ports for legacy monitors, ancient 1541 floppy drives and even old school joysticks.
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But the U64 also provides an HDMI port for more modern monitors as well as a couple of USB ports.
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That all being said, the U64 is still VERY early days. It is currently set to PAL mode - with NTSC support on the way. The motherboard will support both modes eventually, which is awesome especially when it comes to the new games being created. It even has WiFi built-in, but it is waiting for promised software updates for that to work. The only thing holding the U64 back is the current early state of the software side. Considering it is a closed platform that means the updates are completely dependent on Gideon to produce and release them for now. So investing in the U64 requires a good deal of patience especially for NTSCers. But I personally believe that patience is well-justified. I own the Ultimate II cart and I love it. And that technology is built right into the U64 design, too, as an added bonus. And if the UII experience is any guide, I like where the technology is headed.

Here is my crazy plan which is very much set in motion:
I now have in my possession the U64, which I’m extremely excited about. I also have a never used, brand new Commodore 64C case that was made from a Kickstarter a few years ago (picked it up for $24). En route from the UK I have a new 64C case badge. Also, I have an “in-box” Commodore 64C which will be donating a few of its parts (none of the pieces left behind will be hurt or damaged in any way; they are all fully working and worth carefully preserving). The 64C will be donating its keyboard in the short-term. Long term it may only be donating its keycaps, as I have a brand new MechBoard 64 on the way as well.

When it’s all said and done, my goal it so produce one of the only 90-95% completely brand new Commodore 64 computers around.

But since the Ultimate 64 isn’t really ready for North Americans - not really, let’s be honest - I have an MK2 board on the way, too. I’ll talk more about it later, but it is also a brand new “green” Commodore 64 motherboard replacement. It's not of the FPGA variety. It uses real chips from a real C64. And it automatically detects the chips and sets itself to PAL or NTSC accordingly. It also has a user port, so I’ll be able to use my WiFi modem with it right off the bat.

I’ll most likely be building that while I wait for U64 updates to roll out that meet my personal needs.

But damn, I’m stoked to have one! I can’t wait for the U64 to eventually be a totally rocking and highly flexible C64 option. What a great time for the C64! (And I still have a coupe of perfectly fine Commodore 64s in excellent working and cosmetic condition, which you'll have to grab the from my cold dead hands some day).
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Bulletdust

Re: My Ultimate 64 Has Arrived

by Bulletdust Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:06 pm

I've got a transparent kickstarter 64C case that I was planning on installing a Ultimate 64 into. Problem is the lack of a user port and the fact that I like to use my retro machines to communicate in relation to the BBS scene. Can the ethernet port on the Ultimate 64 be used for telnet communication or like the 1541 UII+ is it limited to FTP only?
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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

Re: My Ultimate 64 Has Arrived

by intric8 Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:18 pm

@bulletdust I'm not sure. But I do know the U64 has WiFi built-in, so BBSing is definitely in its future. We're going to have to wait for the software support to enable it, however.
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Bulletdust

Re: My Ultimate 64 Has Arrived

by Bulletdust Tue Oct 09, 2018 11:28 pm

It has WiFi? Really?

I didn't know that.
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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

Re: My Ultimate 64 Has Arrived

by intric8 Wed Oct 10, 2018 6:48 am

Yeah, it's currently a hidden feature.

Gideon:
Yes, the Ultimate-64 will have a WiFi module on board. Software support for WiFi will be added after the initial hardware release.


My hope - now that I have one - is to sit and be patient over the course of the next year while occasionally blasting it with firmware updates. When it has full NTSC support, WiFi enabled and a few more bugs ironed out it's going to be totally rocking.

Here's where the WiFi module is located.
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Zippy Zapp
CA, USA

Re: My Ultimate 64 Has Arrived

by Zippy Zapp Wed Oct 10, 2018 4:45 pm

Awesome! I was so close to ordering one of these a few months ago but I decided to just stick with my plain 64's and 64C's. I do have a, basically, brand new reloaded MK1 board that has been installed in a transparent kickstarter case with a brown keyboard. It is sitting on a shelf waiting for the, probably never to appear, translucent blue keycaps I backed on Indie-no-go for it. It is configured with an NTSC VIC II and New Old Stock 8580 SID, although I could swap it out for a 6581 as I have a couple of spares of that version too.

Anyway, sorry for TLDR, looking forward to reading about your experiences with this.
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Bulletdust

Re: My Ultimate 64 Has Arrived

by Bulletdust Thu Oct 11, 2018 12:49 am

They are a sexy bit of gear, I'm so tempted to buy one.
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BloodyCactus
Lexington VA

Re: My Ultimate 64 Has Arrived

by BloodyCactus Fri Oct 12, 2018 5:46 am

Im interested in one but I'm going to wait until the hardware revisions tick up a bit I think.
--/\-[ Bloody Cactus :: http://kråketær.com :: http://mega-tokyo.com ]-/\--
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Bulletdust

Re: My Ultimate 64 Has Arrived

by Bulletdust Fri Oct 12, 2018 12:16 pm

That WiFi IO header is also very interesting?

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obitus1990
Louisiana

Re: My Ultimate 64 Has Arrived

by obitus1990 Sun Nov 04, 2018 6:35 pm

What kind of issues do NTSC users have with it? Mine arrived a few weeks ago, and, I plugged it right into my flatscreen TV via HDMI, flashed it with the kernel ROM, basic, and character ROMs, and was on my way. Played a game of Commando while I was at it, using a Swinsid Ultimate for sound. I live in the USA, so, yes my TV is NTSC.

I too have mine in a blue KS case, robbed a keyboard from a 64C I recently picked up (had to bleach the keys since they were a beautiful "smoker's yellow"), and will eventually get a mechboard for it. This one will be my "completely new" C64 when all is done. I have two Reloaded MK2 (one fitted with NTSC VIC-II and the other with a PAL VIC-II), both in kickstarter cases (plain-jain beige, alas), so that will make three practically new C64s for me. :) THe wifimodem (at least the one Jim Drew makes), creates a lot of interference on the MK2, which Jens blames on improper filtering design on Jim Drew's part. Odd that it doesn't do the same thing on my real C64s, though.

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