After our BIG review for the DDI3 USB Floppy Emulator for the Amstrad CPC 464, developed by Zaxon also known as Piotr Bugaj. We thought it was about time the Amstrad 6128 also had a device of its own, so it too could play demo's and games stored on a USB memory stick. Thankfully Zaxon was happy to help and after a couple of months of teasing at the design stage, we finally have ' The Amstrad CPC 6128 USB Floppy Emulator ' in our hands for the second of our Amstrad reviews!
Now the first thing that strikes you if you had the DDI3 USB Floppy Emulator for the Amstrad CPC 464, is how small the Amstrad CPC 6128 USB Floppy Emulator is in comparison. It's like the difference between a large CD and a tape, but then the 464 version has to deal with the DDI-1, have stored roms such as Parados, an external floppy connection and yes the LCD display. The 6128 version doesn't have this however, which is understandable in terms of the DDI interface and already having a floppy drive. It is just a shame it is lacking the LCD display, but then the price is much lower... More on that later.
Next up it's time for a close inspection of the Amstrad CPC 6128 USB Floppy Emulator! You can probably just make out the connections, but unlike the last time when we struggled to work out what button did what, Zaxon aka Piotr has listened to our concerns and not only done an online picture guide, but has also linked to the software and set up an online support. But if you haven't visited the guide yet, the bottom connection is to push the device onto the back of the Amstrad slot, the top right is the USB connection, the top two buttons are for switching disks/slots, the jumpers are for swapping drives A/B and finally the top left is the 5V power connection. Other such features include Gotek compatibility and HXC firmware installed.
But before I move on to connecting it all up, I thought I'd show you my HxC SD S Floppy Emulator SLIM and to talk about just how difficult this device was to connect up to my Amstrad 6128. Unlike the two devices Piotr sells for the Amstrad, the HxC isn't specific to this hardware, which means it wont be just a connect and go affair. Although it does work on many different systems (even the Amiga), for the Amstrad you'll still need to buy a floppy cable with in line switches A/B which had to be purchased from Europe and a 5V power adapter, which takes its power from the back of the Amstrad 5V line to power the HxC.
Furthermore it was a right pig to set up, I had to make sure the floppy cable was the right way around, the jumpers were set correctly for the Amstrad and at the time I didn't know how to use the HxC software to get the Amstrad to even talk to what was on the SD Card. Did I have to have the switches up or down, jumper 1 up or jumper 2 down? It was so confusing, I spent many hours waiting on forum responses to finally get the thing to work, hell even someone asked me on FB how to set it up, as he too was struggling. Factor in the cost of all the parts and the frustrations, it took awhile to be happy with it, even though I am now, as it works as it should. But we do have to be thankful for the HxC and the creator as the compatibility with so many systems and the firmware used for these Piotr devices is just mind blowing.
Putting the HxC aside, I attached the Amstrad CPC 6128 USB Floppy Emulator to the back of the Amstrad 6128 and what a difference it makes to the look of the Amstrad. Which I'm sure even you can see in the screenshots above, it looks clean and takes away all the mess of the floppy cables. It would probably give the C64 a run for its money in modern attachments.
But here is our first issue and one that would become a problem during the later testing stage. When I first powered the computer up, I could not get it working and as it was my mistake I forgot to plug the power connection into the USB Floppy Emulator. But according to the guide I needed a 5V power supply, so at first I had to use the 5V connection from the Amstrad, but if I did that my Amstrad wouldn't power up and I couldn't use the power in line connection either from the HxC as one side of the connections is different.
Thankfully I had a power supply from an Amstrad-TV kit, which is exactly the right power requirements. which means my Amstrad is now fully powered and so is the Amstrad CPC 6128 USB Floppy Emulator! Finally I am at a stage when I can give this device the proper play test, of which I have been looking forward to for some time.
Turning it all on and doing the usual CAT command the first file to show up was the HxC, which to me says that it was working perfectly. This was lacking in the 464 hardware review, that needed deeper software delving to be set up. However one thing I would've liked was an LED on the emulator hardware to say it was getting power and the selected device. Lights don't just look good but it gives peace of mind for the user.
As you can now see after doing Run"HxC I was straight in to the HxC Floppy Emulator Manager software which is currently being provided by NoRecess. This manager software enables the gamer to select each game file to a disk slot on the hardware device. Which means when you press the disk change buttons on top of the addon you can swap between each saved disk to be played and not have to worry about all that annoying disk swapping.
As a first test we loaded up the awesome Batman demo, which sounded and looked fantastic. It is also thanks to Piotr who provided the 8GB stick, that already had the software installed including the manager and a number of demos and games. This is not something that comes with the purchase but he has said it can be available for 5 GBP extra and without games, only config and few demo's.
This I highly recommend because if you read our previous review, you'll have to set up and configure the software yourself ( If you want more games, you'll still need to convert them from *.DSK to *.HFE ). - On that note I may do a guide at some point so it's even easier for you to do this.
After the game test, I was about to say everything was working sweet and the review was almost done. But I ran into problems of which I mentioned above. Just turning off the computer and on again, it could no longer read the hardware emulator. It just kept on coming up as Drive A: disc missing. I turned it off and on again, still the same thing. This time I took the jumper out, put it back and powered it up, the 6128 USB Floppy Emulator was once again working. So I decided to run a different game this time and picked the awesome Pacman, sure enough for the most part it worked fine...
But as soon as I switched the Amstrad off and on and to play another game ( No reset switch? ), it stopped working just as before. But unlike previously no amount of jumper changing made any difference, it just didn't want to access the USB/Drive A: So I took the entire device out from the back, put it back in and it worked, at least I thought it was working until I found out that every time I turned my Amstrad off and on, it had lost all the saved disk slots. Which should not be happening on any HxC based device.
Before I gave up and decided it was faulty, I swapped over the power supply connection and used the purchased power supply to power the Amstrad and the main Amstrad 5V to power the Amstrad CPC 6128 USB Floppy Emulator and to my shock everything worked. The Amstrad was working fine, the games were playing as they should and what's more it was saving everything to each disk slot and they stayed there, even when the accessory hardware was powered up after being powered off. Now I'm not sure why the power supply would make a difference as it was by specification in the buying guide and powered my Amstrad 6128 all these months without fault ( It is the recommended one for this Amstrad 6128 and is 5V ).
Moving on, as a final test I wanted to make sure my games that I had already converted using the HxCFloppyEmulator V184.108.40.206 would work after being copied over via my pc from the previous SD Card. So making sure the configuration files such as Autoboot.HFE and HXCSDFE.CFG remained untouched, I copied over all my directories and inclusive files and then put the USB stick back in the USB Floppy Emulator and turned the Amstrad back on.
Sure enough as I expected really, it worked great! Every converted *.DSK to *.HFE saved to a slot and loaded without fault. Which was a good test for anyone wondering if they could play their own converted games rather than any demos just listed on the USB stick, if you decide to pay the extra. If you don't want to pay for a USB stick with inclusive configuration software, you can follow my previous review and as I said just use the NoRecess downloadable manager.
So what do I think of it overall? Well I wasn't too impressed with the power connection situation as although it says it needs a 5V supply, with mine it didn't work so good and if it wasn't for the fact that I had a spare supply, I would not have been able to use The Amstrad CPC 6128 USB Floppy Emulator at all. It actually works far better coming out from the original Amstrad 5V connection, so It would be really good if Zaxon (Piotr Bugaj) could provide a power splitter, which could go inline with the Amstrad, even if at a little extra cost. Another thing I'd like to see added and I'm sure it would be easy to do, is an LED showing it being powered up and working.
But here comes the positives, and this comes down to accessibility, ease of use and cost. Would you believe that the Amstrad CPC 6128 USB Floppy Emulator only costs £26.99 + Shipping? Yes indeed and if you factor in the USB Memory Stick, and if needed power supply/adapter. That is still just over the price of a PC game, and could last you for many many years of USB stored Amstrad gaming fun.
Another positive for me at least, is the fact that it is so neat and tidy, it could almost be hidden from view away from that big chunk of floppy cable I had previously. Lastly with the latest installed software or guide that is now being provided, and yes that 5V supply, it is simply a matter of plugging in and loading up! If anything it's way easier to set up than the Amstrad 464 DDI3 USB Floppy Emulator, it's just a shame about the lack of a nice LCD display.
Would I recommend you buying this if you have an Amstrad CPC 6128? YES ( Great price too )! Would I recommend this over a HxC? For me that's still a yes, however if you have lots of retro computers and not worried about the added cost and messing about setting it up for each system, then the HxC is good enough.
UPDATE 21/02/06 : I have just been contacted by Zaxon(Piotr Bugaj) regarding the power splitter for the Amstrad 6128 and USB Floppy Emulator, and he has now provided a link so you can buy from the main sale site which can be found HERE . Also if you're interested in buying the easy use USB Memory stick, as mentioned in the article further up, that can be found ( HERE )
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