Saturday, 15 January 2022

SD2IEC+Epyx Fastload combo cartridge

SD2IEC + Epyx Fastloader cartridge

SD2IEC has long been the sort of standard inexpensive way of accessing C64 files from a modern media. But it only becomes powerful when combined with a fastload cartridge such as Final Cartridge III or Epyx Fastload.

Juggling with the carts and power cables can be a chore, so someone got the clever idea of combining the fastload ROM with the SD2IEC for the Commodore 64. Here's a DIY version, my cart was based on this design. This was acquired from a certain tinkerer from Akaa, which I'm beginning to think is the C64 capital of Finland.

So, one-cart does all, and as a bonus it gets rid of the 5V power cable. As is usual with drive emulation, the serial needs to be connected.

Just as the plain SD2IEC, the cart has buttons for mounting the next/previous disk image and DIP switches for setting the device number. The Epyx combo comes with a reset button, drive reset button and a serial through-port has been included so for example a real drive can still be connected.

Switch the fastload on and turn on the C64, you'll see the minimal "fastload" message.

Epyx fastload cart isn't the most comprehensive or user-friendly cartridge, but it has enough functions, mostly single-character shortcut commands, a DOS wedge, disk operations menu and even a minimal monitor. It's worth reading through the manual.

LEDs shouting. At top, prev/next buttons and the drive reset. At right, C64 reset.

%filename loads machine code files, $ brings up the directory without erasing your BASIC listing. C= together with Run/Stop loads the first file on the drive.

My tiny gripe with Epyx is that $ for viewing directory is quite slow, and the loading commands don't auto-run files. Unlike other carts, the function keys do nothing. But then again the SD2IEC system works fine with the fileselector.

Plain SD2IEC also works with VIC-20, Plus/4, C16, C128, whereas this combo cart only works with the C64, so bear this in mind if you have more hardware.

Ahhhh.... weekend

For example, I copied my old SD2IEC card contents to my computer, then copied only my C64 folder to the new microSD card and the fb64 fileselector. This way, using C= + Run/stop keys I can run the selector almost instantly after turning on the computer.

There's a button on the cartridge that resets the drive. So if you have previously mounted a disk using the fileselector, you can reset the cart, press this button and bang, you are at the root and can run fileselector again.

Most people probably get the SD2IEC to load games and demos, but as a drive emulator it's also versatile for development on the C64, for saving and loading BASIC files for example. In this case it's probably better to work with the root directory, even if it can get cluttered eventually.

It has to be remembered the SD2IEC is not 100.0% compatible with a C64 floppy drive and especially fastloaders give trouble, but it's true enough and if you find a game that doesn't load there's probably a version somewhere that does.

I've also seen a variant with changeable EPROM, which could be nice for that added tinkering value.

Physically the SD2IEC+Epyx cart looks like a heavy deal, and it is quite close to the core functionality of the mighty Ultimate: a drive emulation with built-in fastload. However, the Ultimate also offers much, much more, such as injecting PRGs directly to memory, choice of cartridges and so on.

Still, the Epyx combo is very neat and not too expensive package for the Commodore 64.

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