What is a (1541) Ultimate-II cartridge? If you are unfamiliar, read the introduction here.
2016-09-04: Ultimate-II+ near completion!
The units are now near completion... The plastic cases as well as the first electronics have arrived from production! As you can see, the final product comes in three colors!
If you already have a pending order, please select the color of choice as soon as possible, as shipping of the first units will start later this week. You can do this by visiting your order status page here.
Fate of time - The story
Since the end of 2015, it became clear that the "good old" 1541 Ultimate-II was at the end of its life cycle. Xilinx, the manufacturer of the most important chip of the cartridge, had started to increase the prices of the chip. Also the memory chip started to be harder to get and at higher cost. When the news came that the company that made the black plastic cases for the 1541 Ultimate-II had lost the injection mold tool, it became evident that the 1541 Ultimate-II would be no more.
I have given it some thought. What would be the best way to continue with this project? When the feelings of being upset about the lost injection tool had subsided, I realized that this may be the perfect moment for an upgrade. This is when set backs change into opportunity.
Since then, a lot of work, and I really mean A LOT OF WORK has been done to create a successor: the "Ultimate-II+". Why not "III", you may ask or think. Well, the foremost reason is the software. The install base of the "1541 Ultimate-II" is rather large (>3000 units), and I do not want to let my customers down that have just purchased a unit. This means that in case of new hardware, the same software should run on both the new board, as well as on the older board. So, the new board will offer similar functionality. You could see it just as an upgrade, not an entirely new product.
Although the "Ultimate-II+" is similar, there are also differences:
- No more MicroSD! (... that needs to be pushed in with something sharp, could fall into the case, ... etc)
- More USB ports (... one to compensate for the lost SD, and just one bonus: 3 in total)
- IEC connector moved (... further back to facilitate use on some C128 models)
- Integrated Ethernet (... no more need for an external USB2LAN adapter, and a smaller step to CS8900A compatibility)
- Dual Flash (... no more worry that a software bug or upgrade failure leads to a bricked device)
- Integrated Speaker (... who connects a speaker set to the audio jack for hearing drive sounds??)
- External power supply connector with auto-switch over circuit (... for stand alone mode, and to lower the demand on the power supply of the C64)
- Improved Audio (... audio codec, 24 bit/96 kHz*, for sampled sounds and SID emulation)
- Improved Tape connector (... no more custom board and able that snaps in on the bottom, but standard USB 3.0 cable)
- Improved power supply circuits (... for some reason they seemed to break down relatively often)
- Slightly bigger and faster FPGA, as to control the new features
Sounds good? I think so, too! Now, what is the current status? When, when, when... ?
Shipping not before mid/end of August 2016!
- As it seems now, the plastic case is becoming the critical path in the project. The design of it has not been completely finalized, and I still need to find a company that is able to produce it quickly. I am considering to ask the same company again, because they owe me... On the other hand, quality wise, it might be better to just close my eyes and draw some thousands of euros to have a new mold made somewhere else. I think that the first plastic cases could be available around mid-August.
- The PCB has been released to the PCB manufacturing company. I have ordered 300 boards to start with, which is a rather large number. Taking quite some risk here, because some parts of the board have changed since the first (and only) prototype. I might therefore decide to limit the number of boards that I have assembled in the first run. This also depends on when the plastic cases become available. Here also, no sooner than end of July / beginning of August.
- Short IEC cables: A new company was found that can produce the nice short 6-pin DIN connectors at a reasonable price. They need 4 weeks to produce, and one week to ship.
- Firmware: Still some work needs to be done to let everything run smoothly on the new hardware. The cartridge interface needs re-tuning, to meet the timing requirements of the C64 cartridge port. The Ethernet port still needs a driver. (Electrically I have seen it working..), and so on... Within some weeks, when all the work lies in the hands of other companies, I will have some time to pick up this part.
- The renewed tape adapter still needs to be developed.
Some notes on the ordering process
- All pending orders will be converted to "Ultimate-II+" orders. So, if you ordered a 1541 Ultimate-II, and you have not already received your unit, you will automatically get the newer unit when they become available...
- For new orders: The unit will have the same price as the older "1541 Ultimate-II"
- The ordering system needs an upgrade, but it does not have my priority right now.
FIRMWARE 3.0 beta 5 is now available here..
COMING UP SOON: THE ULTIMATE-II+
2016-09-04: Shipping of the first ~100 units will start later this week.
More units expected later this month (September), which will ship at the end of this month or early October. The majority of boards out of this second production batch have been sold as well! This means that a *THIRD* production batch will be initiated soon!