1541 Ultimate-II - Is this the ultimate device for a C64/128? [ Hardware Review ]


With every review that we had done last year, from the C64SD to the SD2IEC nearly every bit of feedback we've had from our readers so far is, "you should get a 1541 Ultimate!". So thanks to Gideon of Gideon's Logic Architectures we now have that device and tape adapter in our hands for a very special review. For those of you who don't know, the '1541 Ultimate' is a storage solution for your Commodore C64 and C128 home computer. This piece of hardware implements a 'real' 1541 disk drive for Commodore computers and features some impressive goodies that we are now going to feature!


The first port of call is the contents and as you can see from above, we were provided the full package to get the best out of the 1541 Ultimate-II. A serial port connector, a set of instructions, 8GB Micro SD and the all important 1541 Ultimate-II with tape adapter attached. With all the goods provided and very helpful instructions manual I can assure you, you wont get lost.

Next we take a look at the device and the many features and attachments of which people have spoken so highly of these last few months. On the right hand side you may notice my usb stick on the side of the Ultimate, that's because the Ultimate not only supports MicroSD cards but also USB sticks such as my Cruzer 4GB. On either storage thousands of games can be stored with CRT, D64, G64, PRG and even .TAP files (useful if you have the tape adapter). FAT/FAT32, with sub-directories and long filenames are supported.


On the top of the 1541 Ultimate-II are three buttons which play a major role in usage throughout the review. On the top left a freeze button menu, middle button for SD access and top right for resetting your C64. As for the lights beneath the buttons, Green : Drive Power, Red : 1541 drive status, Yellow : Cartridge activity and Green : Storage activity. On the far left a serial port connection and stereo output port. Finally underneath (Optional) a tape module and connector.


Although we didn't actually open the device, the features inside are also impressive going by the specifications. 2 MB Flash ROM, 32 MB SDRAM, Configurable IDs Configurable ROM (1541/1541C/1541II or custom), RAMBOard memory expansion (up to 40K), Ultimate Audio module, Built-in SID player; plays SID files on either 'real' SID or emulated SID, C64 cartridge emulation such as Epyx Fastloader and much more!

Now usually we move straight onto attaching, loading up, and then fiddling with games. But this time we went directly onto the internet after attaching our MicroSD adapter, made a number of clean directories and dumped as many .D64,.TAP etc files as we could find, from the latest homebrew to some rather special demos which didn't work on the SD2IEC. We didn't bother with any fancy browsers, file loaders just the files, as according to the instructions that's all we needed.



After making sure the device was attached correctly and with tape connection, we booted her up and was greeted to a menu. F1 - Configure memory, F3 - Normal Reset, F5 - Utilities (Such as changing device ID) and F7 for installing FASTLOAD. Usually in all the previous devices we've tried, we've always had to either press run/stop or type some command in, then go through another menu before loading a game we want. But with this device no, with a simple press of the middle button on the 1541 Ultimate-II, we had access to our MicroSD and every file contained within!

( Extra configurations for the more hardy C64 users )

Every file was neatly listed as we had set through our PC, all the .D64 games and .TAP files easily accessible. Through a handy pop up menu on selection, you can even rename files, delete them or run. As is the case with my love of retro gaming I just had to test out my favourite games, and unlike previous reviews I wanted to see how tapes were loaded and not just disk files


You'll be pleased to know that I was gob smacked! With the use of the joystick and scrolling through to Arkanoid.tap and selecting it, a menu popped up of which I selected Run Tape, and that's all I had to do. This added tape adapter was a brilliant addition for the 1541 Ultimate-II. I did not have to do any fiddling with pressing buttons on the device to pause or start, or any commands, just "Run Tape". Seriously, how cool is that for tape players?


Ghost Hunters also worked great!

After having a good hour playing Arkanoid and then Ghost Hunters, I hit the third button for reset and was back to the main boot menu. Again pressing the middle button for the SD-card I decided to load up disk based games. Same as before, a good scroll and click through the listing and up pops a menu. But unlike "Run Tape" I was greeted by a number of options, but as I don't have years of experience with a C64 (I'm an Amstrad man), it had to be just "Run Disk".


But this is when I came across an issue, game loading was painfully slow, pretty much everything I loaded was slow. Now as I was used to the Epyx Fastload Cart, this device implements a 'real' 1541 disk drive, so it was going to be as slow as a 'real' disk drive. But for me that wasn't good enough, I wanted more speed! Yet according to the instructions an "Epyx Fastloader" was integrated into the Ultimate. But I couldn't find anything in the instructions to load games via the fast loader, although it did have a press F7 - Install Fastload option in the boot menu.

Thankfully Gideon was at hand to help me through the process! All I had to do was press the F7 button from the main menu to install fast load, mounting the disk instead of running it through the SD Card and then finally under Retro Replay I could type Load"*",8 and run to have the game use fast load. It worked perfectly! It was that simple to do. Yet I think I would've struggled as a newer C64 user for faster speeds if Gideon wasn't on hand.

- Update (09/01/15) Thanks to a helpful tip from Simon Scott, another way to load the disk instead of typing Load"*",8 and then typing run. Is just pressing the F1 button then the enter button, while on the FastLoad/Retro Replay Screen (after you have mounted the disk as per my paragraph above).


Arknoid disk, almost instant loading!

Moving on from from game based disk loading, there was something nagging at the back of my mind. Could this device play every single demo, could it easily load multiple disks. So without further ado the first demo to test was "Uncensored"; a multi disk demo that features some pretty impressive music and effects for a C64.


After doing the fast load install and mounting the file, it ran perfectly! What's more, when the demo asked to flip the disk or swap the disk. Simply pressing the middle button on the 1541 Ultimate-II and selecting the second disk and mount, the demo continues as usual.You can even see the activity light flashing away as information is being loaded. Another brilliance of the 1541 Ultimate-II which I must mention is it plays everything! It worked with every single demo I tried how ever many disks they needed. It doesn't have the limitations of the C64D or the SD2IEC.

Furthermore as it is a cart, you can also load .CRT cart files. Again another impressive feat for the 1541 Ultimate-II. Is there anything this beastly device can't do?


So it comes down to this, my final thoughts

Let me just say I am blown away! Even though I haven't yet delved into every option this device has, I am more than satisfied with the 1541 Ultimate-II. It has loaded everything I wanted it to load, every demo, every game disk or tape. It is so simple to use, it is so simple to mount another requested file. As someone who barely has a month if not less in experience with a C64, this has given me a good excuse to spend even more of my time with it.

When our readers said you've got to get a 1541 Ultimate-II, we did, and I'd say so far it's the best product we've ever had!

The 1541U-II is available for € 129.95 (incl. 21% sales-tax), thus € 107.40 excluding VAT. Plus you may need to factor in the tape adapter and micro SD, which I recommend to make it feature complete.

Complete list of features :

Full, cycle accurate emulation of two real Commodore 1541 diskdrives.

  • Uses .D64 and .G64 files stored on MicroSD card or USB stick
  • Supports .G64 files as well (Read/Write)
  • Configurable IDs
  • Configurable ROM (1541/1541C/1541II or custom)
  • RAMBOard memory expansion (up to 40K)
  • MicroSD or USB storage device (stick, card reader, and even HD)
  • FAT/FAT32 support, with sub-directories and long filenames
  • ISO9660 support with Joliet, for reading .ISO files and access external CD/DVD drives through USB
  • Supports SD V1.1 cards as well as SD V2.0 in High Capacity mode (SDHC)
  • Battery backed up Real Time Clock
  • Command Interface module with UltimateDOS
  • Accessible module through I/O space that allows direct commands to Ultimate-II
  • Ultimate-DOS, I/O space driven direct file access to SD/USB
  • Dual SID implementation, optionally 8 voices each
  • Ultimate Audio module
  • Up to 7 voices of sampled audio simultaneously
  • Accessible through I/O space
  • 8- or 16-bit samples
  • up to 48 kHz sample rate
  • Built-in SID player; plays SID files on either 'real' SID or emulated SID.
  • C64 cartridge emulation:
  • Final Cartridge III
  • Action Replay
  • Retro Replay
  • Super Snapshot
  • Turbo Assembler w/ Codenet
  • Epyx Fastloader
  • Custom 8K/16K carts
  • Custom Ocean / System3 carts (up to 512K)
  • Commodore 1750/1764 REU
  • REU Compatible
  • Size selectable from 128K up to 16 MB
  • Can be combined with Retro Replay and SuperSnapshot compatible roms
  • Flexible freezer menu
  • select, mount, create D64 images, browse disk images
  • create new directories, delete files
  • Ultra fast DMA load of single file programs (.PRG files on SD/USB, inside .D64 or .T64)
  • Configuration screen, with resident settings
  • Tape emulation, through 6-pin header on the bottom of the board*
  • Load .TAP files to C64
  • Capture tape data from C64 to .TAP file
  • Capture tape data from a datasette and store it as .TAP file
  • Write .TAP files back to tape, using a Commodore tape deck
  • Totally rewritten firmware, for easier expansion and maintenance

 * Tape emulator cable is an accessory, which is needed to work with tap files.

Available to buy HERE
Specifications
Gideon is also available for contact if you wish to know more about any other features we didn't mention, which probably requires a deeper understanding of the C64 and the 1541

13 comments:

  1. Great review! You should also try out the EasyFlash features of the 1541U-II. It lets you run a lot of the EasyFlash cartridge images that are available on CSDB. The only limitation is that you cannot save to the cartridge like you can with a real EasyFlash cartridge.

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  2. Thank you SkyDivinGirl, I shall look into that over the weekend. :)

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  3. - Update (09/01/15) Thanks to a helpful tip from Simon Scott, another way to load the disk instead of typing Load"*",8 and then typing run. is just pressing the F1 button while on the FastLoad/Retro Replay Screen (after you have mounted the disk as per my paragraph above).

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  4. For those of you who were wondering about .G64 files, "Defender of the Crown (Kryoflux) .G64" works great! Has only just been tested about 5mins ago

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  5. Christophe Lourman9 January 2015 at 23:31

    1541-U2 is a wondeful cartridge !

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  6. Here is an audio output test using Fantasy World Dizzy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Q0A7gD6XSw&feature=youtu.be

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  7. Thank you so much for your positive feedback, have a great weekend Christophe

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  8. And even faster would be to press Shift+Run/Stop, which performs F1 & Run together :-)

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  9. Why there is Sid Left/Sid Left: this is because it is a "DUAL SID Emulation." Hence, the 1541U-2 does not only emulate one SID Chip, but it can emulate 2 Sid chips at once, thus doubling the voices from 3 to 6 :-) 3 Voices on the left stereo channel (Sid 1 on the left = Sid left) and another 3 voices on the right channel (Sid 2 on the right = Sid right.)

    So in your example you actually chose to emulate just only one normal Sid with standard 3 voices (mono output, just as a real C64 would also do) and you mapped the sound of this mono Sid (=left sid) to the right and left audio channel, to hear sound on both of your speakers. Therefore the sound in your video coming out from the 1541U-2 audio port is a software emulated sound of a Sid chip, not the original sound of the Sid chip in your computer. Btw, I like most to map "Drive A" to the left and right sound channel. Try this and load some games from d64 files ;-)

    With special programs you could also hear both Sids at once (eg. used in some scene demos, music editors) giving you audio with 6 Sid channels. Some C64s nowadays have built in custom so called "Dual Sid" boards, where you can put in a second real Sid chip into your real C64. The 1541U-2 can emulate this behavior with those settings, where you e.g. keep the Sid left at the original address at $D400 and set the Sid right at e.g. $D420, and then map Sid left to the left audio channel and Sid right to the right audio channel. And you can also choose between two different sid chips - 6581 or 8580. Just google "Dual Sid" or search for dual Sid videos on YouTube for more info. Also check this link for the DualSID hardware for the real C64: http://koti.mbnet.fi/malinto/dualsid/index.shtml

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  10. Oh, and by the way: the 1541U-2 can also easily play 4 channel stereo Amiga Pro Tracker modules. Just copy some Amiga modules onto the SD card or USB stick, select them and choose "Play MOD" - very fascinating ;-)

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  11. Thanks for that very knowledgeable post, I have approved it. Oh and welcome to IRN.

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  12. Sweet! I think I have some newish MOD samples I could use, I reckon my neighbours have never heard of sound so good ;)

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  13. The next person who tells me how to run it quicker, will probably just tell me to smile at it :p Thanks for the tip I'll try that over the weekend

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