Does this ‘all-in-one’ Commodore 64 solution live up to its hype? The VITNO team has received their board and spends a couple of days of putting it through its paces.
The 1541 Ultimate series of cartridges, including the Ultimate II+, has become a standard for the modern day C64 enthusiast, providing a highly reliable and versatile file storage solution. Its designer, Gideon’s Logic Architectures, has launched the Ultimate 64, a hardware implementation (FPGA) of the Commodore 64.
The Ultimate 64 is delivered in a motherboard format. This means that you will need to supply your own case and keyboard in order to make use of the hardware.
The Ultimate 64 is certainly a highly versatile bit of kit that features:
- Commodore 64 FPGA implementation
- 1541 drive implementation (Ultimate II+)
- Data cassette implementation
- Cassette port
- HDMI & RGB output
- SID emulation
- Physical dual SID sockets (accepts 6581 and 8580 variants)
- LAN / Ethernet
- Two controller ports (9-Pin)
- Three USB ports (2 external, 1 internal)
- Fast-load / Freeze cartridge emulation
- Cartridge port
- User Expansion port (internal)
- PIN header for keyboard
- LED connection
- WIFI module (currently not enabled)
The above list is not exhaustive of what the Ultimate 64 but is enough to show that it can certainly be considered as a suitable replacement for a real Commodore 64 unit.
As we mount the Ultimate 64 inside a ‘breadbin’ style case, and connect the supplied 12V DC power supply, the machine comes to life. The Ultimate 64 is hooked up to an LCD TV via HDMI with an output resolution of 720 x 576 at 50hz for PAL (576p). Given that the Ultimate 64 contains an analogue AV socket, you can also connect the system up to a Commodore monitor.
Upon initial boot up, you are informed that the system does not come with system ROMs installed and that you will need to source these files yourself, copy them to a USB stick and then flash then on to the system.
With the ROMs flashed onto our Ultimate 64 and USB stick full of images attached, the fun begins as we test out what the system can do. We start off with something easy, successfully loading a D64 image of Cogitare Computing’s Counterweight Kate (with and without a fast loader) before moving on to confirm that it can also run the Speedball Ultimate EasyFlash CRT image.
The Ultimate II+ cartridge had the capability to run ‘tap’ images but only with an optional adapter, which tended to result in a somewhat messy looking solution coming out the back of the C64. Fortunately, Gideon has added ‘tap’ functionality as a built-in feature and we have a go a loading up Rocky Memphis: The Legend of Atlantis. As the game loaded up, the background simulated sound of the data cassette loading up a program bought a smile to our nostalgic faces.
The beauty of having all of the Ultimate II+ functionality be part of the FPGA implementation is that it frees up the cartridge port. So we decide to see if the Ultimate 64 can handle Sam’s Journey, which loaded up with no problem at all.
The HDMI display from the Ultimate 64 was crisp and well defined. The system’s settings give you the option to include scan lines while in HDMI. We tried this out and it looked quite good. The lines are subtle, not too heavy.
During our two day testing of the Ultimate 64, we did not come across any games or programs that did not work confirming the high level of compatibility on offer. However, the system is not 100% compatible and the community is currently in the process of documenting the various demos and programs that do not work so that compatibility can be improved via future firmware updates.
It has been a real pleasure to use the Ultimate 64 (note that we did pay for our board) so far. While there will be people who will still prefer to stick with the real C64 hardware, we appreciate that the Ultimate 64 offers a more efficient and convenient way for enthusiasts to continue to enjoy their C64 experiences within a modern and reliable infrastructure.
For a bit more of an in-depth look at the Ultimate 64, please check out the video link below.
The Ultimate 64 can be pre-ordered from Gideon’s webshop.