The Ultimate-64!

It's time to announce the upcoming new "Ultimate-64" board!

In order to sustain the love for the Commodore 64, with failing machines, power supplies and flaky old connectors, I proudly present a new main board for your beloved C64 case:

 

What is it?!  This board is a hardware implementation (FPGA) of the entire C64, and it includes the Ultimate-II+ as well.  An ALL IN ONE solution!

 

 

QUMA  (Questions you may ask):

Project

  • Why?!
    • Just because the Commodore 64 is AWESOME!
  • What does the introduction of the Ultimate 64 mean for the established Ultimate-II+ product?
    • Not much. The Ultimate-II+ will be continued, alongside of the Ultimate 64.
  • How compatible is the Ultimate 64 actually?
    • At this point it is "pretty good". Just like with the Ultimate-II+, software updates are used to fix issues.
  • "Pretty good", sounds like it's not 100%? Why sell a product that is not 100%?
    • 100% is an awful number. To reach this, more feedback from the community is needed, especially from other C64 experts that can help pinpoint the issues. Without exposure in the field, it is virtually impossible to make it perfect, as different people look at different things.
  • How far are you really?  Have you ever made it to run any demos?
    • I started the project some years ago, but never designed production-ready hardware for it. Some months ago, I picked up the pieces and merged it with the latest Ultimate-II+ code. This combination was prototyped on a product from Technolution B.V. (the company I work for); a product that uses an Altera (=Intel) FPGA and has DVI output as well as USB ports. Using a USB keyboard, I managed to type on this "thing" and load some demos from the 'Ultimate' drive. Many demos and games seemed to work flawlessly. From there, I decided I should first create the hardware platform with all the required I/O, such that I could do better tests. The result of this is shown in the 3D model above.
  • So, it will still take some time before the Ultimate 64 is ready to be sent to customers?
    • Yes. As per today, July 12, the purchase order for some prototypes was sent to the manufacturer. After the summer holiday I will do some initial testing and probably start up a larger production run after the initial mistakes have been fixed. I expect the board to be ready for sale in Q4 this year.
  • Does it come with a case?
    • No. This product will be a bare motherboard, which you can place in an existing C64 case, OR in a newly manufactured case from Individual Computers.
  • What power supply do I need for this board?
    • The power supply that I'll include with the product, will be a simple 12V DC adapter.
  • If this is just emulation, I will just run an emulator on the PC....
    • No, no, no!  First of all, this is not an "emulation!"  It is an implementation. The FPGA implements the logic gates that make up a C64. So no, you won't!  How dare you!  Besides, you won't be able to attach any peripherals to your emulator, would you?
  • Oh okay, so I can attach any C64 peripheral?
    • That's the idea. See the section of I/O and controls for more information.
  • I own a 1541 Ultimate-II, or an Ultimate-II+... This new product, does that mean that no more software updates will come out for my unit?
    • No. In fact, the Ultimate-II+ inside of the Ultimate-64 is based on the same code. Updates for the U-II+ will automatically merge into the Ultimate 64 and vice versa.

Audio

  • Your emulated SID is "okay", but I still like the real thing. Tell me I can use real SID chips?
    • The board supports both 6581 as well as 8580 chips. The voltage for these chips is set by jumpers, as well as the external filter components.
  • Jumpers?  Why not software controlled?
    • There is no need for software control, because you can not switch chips on the fly under software control anyway.
  • As the SID is analog, I am wondering: Is the output of the real SID chip available when using HDMI?
    • The output of the SID is digitized on the board and the digital samples are merged with the video into the HDMI stream. So, yes!
  • Nice that I can put a real SID chip in there, but do I really need to?
    • No, you don't. The machine will run fine without. The FPGA version of the SID will then generate the audio output. So you can switch between the "real" analog and the FPGA SID.

Video

  • What resolution does the HDMI output use?
    • The output resolution is 720 x 576 at 50 Hz (for the PAL version), also noted as 576p50. This is a standard resolution that all HDMI capable screens are supposed to support, according to the CEA-861 standard. However, to meet the exact timing of a C64, the timing parameters of this video mode are slightly modified. I have not come across screens that do not accept the generated HDMI signal.
  • What are the frame delays of the digital HDMI port? 
    • None.  There is no frame buffer, so there is no need to worry. Some screens, tho, especially non-gaming screens may introduce some latency. I observed this with a 4K screen that actually resampled the output to just 30Hz. I am pretty sure TVs do not have this problem.
  • So if there is no frame buffer, does that mean that scrollers and such are perfectly smooth?
    • Yes! If your TV renders the image at the speed it is sent over the HDMI link, your scroller and game will be perfectly smooth.
  • Does the Ultimate 64 support both PAL and HDMI output at the same time?
    • Yes. PAL and HDMI are both generated at the same time.
  • About the PAL output, does it support separated Luma and Chroma, as in S-Video?
    • Yes, it does.  Both signals are available on the 8-pin DIN connector, as well as a combined composite signal. You may need a specialty cable to get the signals out, just like on an original C64.
  • You mentioned 576p... that seems like about twice the number of lines needed. What do you do with the other lines?
    • The Ultimate 64 outputs a dimmer version of the previous line just below the main video line. So every line is drawn twice. The dim line gives an awesome CRT effect!
  • But, I live in the USA.. Will this work on my set?
    • All modern screens support 576p for PAL as well as 480p for NTSC.
  • For timing compatibility with my tapes and such, I assume I need to have an NTSC version.. Will you make an NTSC version at all?
    • Yes. NTSC will be implemented in the near future as well.

Cartridges

  • Does the Ultimate 64 support external cartridges?
    • Yes, the cartridge port is fully supported.
  • So I an insert an Ultimate-II+ module and have an awesome system? :-)
    • You could, but you don't need to. The Ultimate-II+ is fully integrated into the Ultimate-64 board.
  • Oh, but how is this possible?  You mentioned I can use external carts?
    • You could see it as a port extender. Obviously, you cannot use the same features of the expanded port at the same time. But, you can, for example, use the REU from the build-in Ultimate-II+ function, together with an external music cartridge, or utility cartridge that allows some registers at $DF00.  And of course, when you turn off all cartridge emulation features of the Ultimate-II+, the cartridge port is free to use.

I/O and controls

  • Is the tape port supported?
    • Yes.
  • How do I connect the Ultimate-II+ tape adapter then?
    • You don't need to. The emulated tape drive automatically 'connects' to the tape pins when playing TAP files.
  • How about the User Port? On the picture it seems that the User port is no more.. Boo hoo!
    • You're right, the User Port is no longer avaiable at the original position. However, all signals from the User Port are available from a pin-header on the board. It is therefore possible to create an extension cable that brings out the user port.
  • So, as the Ultimate-II+ is integrated, it comes with the emulated floppy drive, correct?
    • Yes, that is correct.
  • And, I don't need to connect an external IEC cable to make use of this drive?
    • No, that is no longer required, because it is all inside of one chip.
  • Does the board have Ethernet?
    • Yes, just like the Ultimate-II+, the Ultimate 64 will also have an Ethernet port. Even more so, the plan is to release a version with WiFi as well at a modest higher price.
  • Buttons?  The Ultimate-II+ had buttons, but they seem to have gotten lost.. How do I...?
    • Relax.. There is still one button, in the place of the original power switch. This momentary switch is used to turn on the power and get into the Ultimate menu. Reset and freeze are implemented by holding the button and/or hitting the RESTORE key.  You can turn off the machine from a menu option, or hold the button for 4 seconds..

Pecunia

  • What will this "thing" cost?
    • I am still in negotiation with Intel / Altera for the final price of the FPGA. There is still some choice whether to use an FPGA that is just big enough, or one that is sufficiently big for future expansion. The price of this part determines the final cost, and hence the selling price.  A careful estimate tells me that with the smaller FPGA and no WiFi, it should be possible to squeeze it to ... € 199. This price can only be met, if I can run a production at sufficient quantity (like 200 pcs). 
  • Can I sign up for this?
    • I have not yet updated the ordering system, so, officially no. However, it is important for me to know how many boards I will need to produce, and whether is is feasible to run a sufficiently large production batch. So, if you're interested, please send me an email (info (at) 1541ultimate.net) with "SIGN ME UP" in the subject. If you won't have any specific questions, I won't reply, but your vote is clearly noted. Also, suggestions for the final product are welcome. 

 

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For backing up your floppies, also have a look at KryoFlux USB Floppy Controller

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KryoFlux is able to read Commodore floppies and create .D64 files. And of course, these work well with the 1541 Ultimates!