The 1541 Ultimate series of cartridges, including the Ultimate II+, has become a standard for the modern day C64 enthusiast, providing a highly reliable and versatile file storage solution. Its designer, Gideon’s Logic Architectures, has launched the Ultimate 64 (U64), a hardware implementation (FPGA) of the Commodore 64 that incorporates the Ultimate II+ functionality, making it a formidable all-one-solution for the C64 enthusiast.
To use the U64, you will need to supply your own case and keyboard as the U64 simply comes provided in a motherboard format with a 12V DC power supply. Make note that while the board fits perfectly within the original ‘bread-bin’ style case, those looking to house the board in a C64c case will need consider purchasing mounts to secure it properly.
The U64 does not come with a user manual either but our research conducted by scanning through the Ultimate 64 Facebook page along with the online user guide that is currently under construction highlights that the Ultimate 64 is certainly one versatile system, with the following features:
In addition to this list, the U64 contains a WiFi module (not currently enabled), inbuilt SID player, REU, and a scanline display option.
As from v1.2 of the board, the U64 does not ship with system roms, so you will need to source these yourself and flash the board before you are able to start using it to load up your favourite programs.
As the U64 has built-in Ultimate II+ capabilities, including the tape adapter functionality, the system is able to handle a number for file image formats (including D64, PRG, CRT, T64 and TAP) off a USB stick. The system provides a high level of compatibility but it is not 100%. The U64 community is currently in the process of documenting the various demos and programs that do not work so that compatibility can be improved via future firmware updates.
Loading up an image is straight forward via the inbuilt menu manager. Using the cursor keys and context menu options, provides an intuitive and flexible method in working with file images. For example, working with a D64 image gives you the option to the mount the image (as if you were inserting a disk into a drive) or you can run the image directly from the menu. The mount functionality provides the capability to play multi-disk games.
The U64 can be connected to modern day displays via HDMI with an output resolution of 720 x 576 at 50hz for PAL (576p). The display on offer here from the U64 is crisp and very well defined. If you do enable scan lines on the HDMI display then you will be happy with the results as long as you don’t use a small size screen (10 inch for example). You can also connect the board up to your CRT monitor via its analogue AV socket.
The SID emulation on offer from the U64 is good, but by no means perfect. Audiophiles who really have a full appreciation of the sound output from original SIDs chips maybe disappointed with the lack of fidelity and will most likely want to install their own SID chips to use with the board for a more authentic experience.
Another sticking point for some will be that the User Port is no longer accessible externally but the majority of us will appreciate more that the external USB, Ethernet and HDMI ports are situated in a way so that it fits existing cases without any modification needed.
The Ultimate 64 offers an efficient, convenient and highly flexible solution for us to continue to enjoy our C64 experiences. It has proven to be a pleasure to use and I have personally made it my C64 replacement for daily operation. Great product!
A fantastic all-in-one solution providing a highly reliable and convenient C64 experience which will only get better with firmware updates.
Founder of RetroGamerNation youtube channel and regular contributor to Vintage Is The New Old and Retro Video Gamer blog sites. Passionate about the modern gaming scene for vintage personal computers and game consoles. Specialising in the Commodore 64 scene. If you would like your game or hardware reviewed, please get in touch with me via email.