On July 11, Gideon Zweujtzer of 1541 Ultimate fame (Netherlands) announced an exciting new project in the works: the Ultimate64.
Currently in the mockup phase, his new brainchild the Ultimate64 would be a brand new motherboard that would fit inside old (or new) Commodore 64 cases.
In other words, take out your old board and swap it with this new one. The real beauty of this concept is that the motherboard would come loaded with all of the benefits of the Ultimate cartridge (the II+, which is the most current implementation) built-in to the motherboard. In addition, you wouldn't need to source a bunch of 30 year-old chips, assuming you don't have any just lying around your workbench.This board is a hardware implementation (FPGA) of the entire C64, and it includes the Ultimate-II+ as well.
Gideon is well-known in the Commodore community for his fantastic floppy/cartridge emulator peripheral devices, which he’s been designing and building for several years - so from a quality/support standpoint there should be little concern. His Ultimate devices look and function like cartridges and fit into the cartridge bays of original C64’s, yet offer the ability to store 32MB of retro-gaming goodness and offer several other extremely useful and powerful features. In regards to the Ultimate64, there are plans to release a slightly more expensive version which would include WiFi built-in as well - thus opening back up the User Port for many users who use WiFi peripherals today on their C64s. It appears that PAL will be released first, but NTSC will be implemented in the near future as well.
The Ultimate64 board comes with an emulated SID built-in, but you can actually install your own original SID chip should you so desire - a nice bonus for purists like myself.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.
Literally two days later on July 13, Jens Schoenfeld at Individual Computers (Germany) announced the upcoming production of his own new C64 motherboard, the C64 Reloaded MK2. This product is much closer to being released to the public as the first boards are expected to ship as early as August 2017. This board has a very different philosophy - it really is just the motherboard with empty sockets. Customers are to use their own chips and install them where appropriate. This includes the processor, sound, video and port chips:
- CPU 6510 or 8500
- Two pieces of CIA 6526 or 8521
- 6567, 6569, 8565 or 8562 video chip
- One or two sound chips 6581 and / or 8580
The board, among other enhancements, will include a USB to serial connection to allow customers to configure the board via a terminal program. This will allow users to transfer their ROM files from any modern Window/Mac/Linux or even Amiga PC via an X-Modem protocol. Interestingly, users can install up to four kernels should they so desire.The new C64 Reloaded MK2 automatically detects the installed chip versions. Not only the correct clock is set, but also the correct voltages for the different chip revisions are selected. In addition, the filter capacitors for the sound chip (s) are also selected. This means: The Commodore 64 Reloaded MK2 is a completely jumper-free design.
What’s particularly cool about this board is that Jens has actually secured the license to use the C= logo, so his board will actually be branded “Commodore”. Pretty cool, especially if you wound up snagging a transparent case off the 2015 Kickstarter project, which pressed new cases from the original Commodore molds.
It’s early days and right now and the community seems a bit torn: many are excited and curious, and some seem grumpy and cranky (mainly due to pricing, which seems to always be the case with any project like this). I think for many who already own the first rev of the Reloaded board, or an Ultimate II cartridge, this would feel like an unnecessary splurge. And there are still others who'd rather use original hardware until it dies and just replace it with more original hardware whenever that day comes. Luckily, the C64 was one of the greatest selling computers of all time, so there isn't a real shortage out there yet realistically.
For me, though, I'm actually pondering the possibility of the MK2 board while using the UII cartridge at the same time, which I already own and love. This would allow for the usage of original chips on a the new, power-saving motherboard (75% less than original hardware) combined with the excellent UII cartridge and all that it has to offer. I have a brand spanking new 64C case on the way, which I bought before these two projects were even announced. I do need to get some guts for it since I'll never harvest the organs from my beloved C64 bread-bin. Fun things to ponder...
It's worth noting that Jens bought the original molds, so it's not far-fetched to imagine a day soon when one could buy the case and MK2 (or MK3, which is already being discussed) motherboard in one single package. All you'd need are the chips! I won't be shocked to see this development in the semi-near future