RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Jul 19th 2016 at 08:00:00 AM by (bombatomba)
Posted under Alternative disk drive, 1571, 1541, disk rot, C64 PAL, IEC

The left shot is from my last previous article

While it could be said that I like all my video game systems, my Commodore 64 has been my "go-to" system for that quick ten minute gaming session.  But the design of the C64 disk drive seems completely against such casual activity, being notorious amongst the C64 community for its lack of speed and unreliability.  I myself have four drives, of which only one works, and that is only most of the time.  And that says nothing about "bit rot," which is the omega point for every piece of magnetic-based storage media out there.  What I offer here today is a solution (of sorts) that being a review of my recently acquired SD2IEC.

Facts first:  What exactly does this thing even do?  Simply put, the SD2IEC allows one to play C64 disk image files (primarily .d64 or .prg) placed on a SD card.  It functions in a similar way to an EverDrive, but with a few differences.  First, it doesn't play all of the disk images found in the wild (that would be the 1541 Ultimate-II) and it doesn't play cartridge formatted ROMS (that would be the EasyFlash).  Instead, it plays some disk images, most of which can be found by sorting through the search results from this website.  Basically, anything that requires "True Disk Emulation" will not play on the SD2IEC.  Of course, there are ways to get around the this sort of thing (such as copying the file from the SD2IEC to a blank floppy on a C64 disk drive).  Now, the limit sounds a bit like a bummer, but trust me, that still leaves a lot of games.

The CBM Filebrowser

Of course, anyone picking up this device would likely do so to play downloaded C64 game images.  In fact, one of the easiest ways to get your SD2IEC running quickly is to download the SD2IEC Collection from The Future Was 8-bit website, which contains the CBM Filebrowser (super easy way to navigate your SD card to select files) as well as a ton of games to play and utilities to increase the versatility of your new purchase.  There are so many titles that you could spend years trying to play them all, but I erased mostly everything and replaced them with other games.  Why?  Well, if you happen to enjoy playing games on an NTSC Commodore 64, many of the games that you will find on the Internet simply will not work on your C64.  The sad fact is that the C64, while popular in the United States and Canada, was monumentally more popular in PAL territories, with the end results being the "on-disk" DRM "cracker" scene that arose the 80's was largely from those PAL territories, and thus, the C64 disk images on the Internet today (DRM protected or no), are largely PAL and not NTSC compatible.  Bottom line:  If you only own a NTSC C64 and plan on getting the SD2IEC exclusively for playing the tens of thousands of cracked games available on the Internet, I highly recommend you not to bother and save yourself £45.99.

When I picked up the SD2IEC I had a plan in mind.  The first thing I wanted to accomplish was to backup my current disk game collection, especially since some of them just aren't available online for download, NTSC or not.  By using a combination of a physical C64 disk drive and the D64it program (launched within the CBM Filebrowser), you can transfer the disk and convert it to the .d64 file type, and later transfer it right back to disk if you so wish.  This method will not work with DRM protected games, but as most of my games don't contain "on-disk" DRM,  it doesn't matter to me.  Heck, you can even play most Tape files (.tap) on the SD2IEC by converting them to .d64 using DirMaster on Windows.  Coupled with some sort of "fast loader" cart and your tape loading times will cut down significantly.

Comparison shot of Ultima IV (left) and Ultima IV Remastered (right)

My next objective was to dip into the impressive world of C64 remakes and original games.  The two titles that I was most excited about were Ghosts 'n Goblins Arcade and Ultima IV Remastered.  The former title is a port of the Elite-published original that features a more arcade-centric conversion.  As such, it looks, sounds, and plays more like the arcade original.  I like it, though I still prefer the music by Mark Cooksey from the original version.  However, I imagine if you get nostalgic for the original Ghosts 'n Goblins on C64 you will outright hate this game.  Next up is my personal favorite, Ultima IV Remastered.  The original C64 port of Ultima IV is wrought with horrible bugs and some of the worst loading times and disk swapping ever seen on the beloved microcomputer.  Remastered not only fixes those bugs, but introduced graphics not unlike those on the VGA PC port of Ultima, along with a host of new, very impressive features (music during loading, EasyFlash cartridge, 1571, and 1581 support).  Now if only someone could do the same with Ultima V.  There are a large amount of other remakes, remasters, and even unfinished games completed by fans that one can find available, many that also have compatibility with IEC devices.

It's Magic II, a very fun and colorful platformer from Protovision.  The download costs about $5 and works great on the SD2IEC

About two years ago I was very surprised (and impressed) to find that original games were still in production for the good old C64.  While there are several places to get games from, if you want the physical kinds (as well as digital), your first stop should be Psytronik Software, purveyors of quality C64 software (and Vic-20, C-16/Plus4, Amstrad, and PC) since 1993.  Located in jolly ol' England, though they do ship overseas.  The games (for the most part), can be bought as either "Budget" disks (with disk and sleeve with custom labels), or as "Premium" sets (that include "fat" DVD-style disk holder and manuals, and sometimes other extras such as stickers, maps, and badges).  Much of the software is also available on tape, if that is your thing.  There are quite a few to pick from, some of them also come with digital downloads that can be loaded on the SD2IEC (there is also a downloads section here that contains free games).  There is just so much quality software available from Psytronik, I might have to do a separate article about them in the near future.  Outside of Psytronik, there is also digital C64 titles for purchase on itch.io, as well as by German publisher, Protovision.

Final verdict:  Is the SD2IEC worth the purchase?  I guess that depends on you.  If you are a PAL gamer, you will more than likely be reasonably happy.  But if you are a NTSC gamer, I think you would end up disappointed.  Me, I found both content and disappointment in equal measures during my time with the SD2IEC.  I've come to the realization that my owning a C64 setup that is capable of playing most any game is far from a reality.

Thanks for reading!

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As an avid C64 fan, this all fascinates me. Thanks for the thorough write-up, and I'll be looking into this in the future!
That looks awesome. I'll admit it took me awhile to realize the size, didn't look at the first pic good enough.

This sort of thing is great, the topic of downloading roms aside, it's fantastic to know there are still ways to play old games. Better ways even!

My C64 stuff sits in boxes, packed up for lack of space, it's great to see you getting to play and it gives me hope for future days with more room  Smiley

Even this week I was showing someone my collection and they were pining for the days of yore with all their fantastic games. The topic of graphics from then to now kept coming up and I pointed out that, "good games are good games, you might have been distracted by other, newer, good games but that doesn't make the older ones less good." He agreed and then the topic shifted to how to play old games,  that is a topic into and of itself for sure. It's nice to have options, and things like this are good options.
I read this the other day, but just got the time to comment. I've been looking into a solution like this for a time, and I'm not sure which to go with yet, but I like your review. I've got two working 1541's but one needs aligned and if I could load up an alignment program from a flash device it would be great. I don't really want to rely on floppy disks forever, but it's fun to play around with them from time to time.
@slackur:  Thanks for reading, Jes!

@nupoile:  Before starting up Steam last night I played my C64 out of solidarity for your C64.  I get the space thing, though.  As small as the C64 is, it just doesn't fit well on my lap, especially with the power, video, cartridge/disk/tape, and controller plugged in simultaneously.  Anyways, your C64 is calling, Nup.  It wants to play Kickman with you really, reeealy bad.

@Duke.Togo:  If you have around $160 (and six months), at this point I recommend the 1541 Ultimate-II+, as it perfectly emulates the 1541 drive, which of course is a massive pain in the boot.  As for the floppies, I really love floppies, and I agree you with no reservation regarding them.
Saw the pic of the SD2IEC, read your piece, and now I'm giving it a look on eBay. I might just be sold on this, though it'll take a while to get the funding for it. Also, I love that pic on the right! If you just gave it a casual glance, you'd think it was an actual 1541 floppy drive. Though from what I saw on eBay, there are several different case styles, most of which are quite plain and don't even try to match the C64's design.

Needless to say, big thanks for bringing this little guy to our attention...
I've not dove into the C64 waters yet, though it's something I've been curious about.  A kid in my neighborhood had one, and we used to play Zork, Spy Hunter, and a handful of other games on it, which I always enjoyed.  This does seem like the kind of thing I would enjoy tinkering with, given enough time to really utilize it.  It's certainly something to consider, as I begin to branch out into other areas of retrogaming.
I have been thinking about doing the 64HDD to one of my old PCs, is this running on the same FW?
such an awesome article. Thank you.

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