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World’s Smallest 128GB Commodore Drive

by on Mar.01, 2012, under Hardware Design, Products in Action

uIEC with 128GB SDXC Media

uIEC with 128GB SDXC Media

It’s arguably a dubious distinction, and entirely academic, but it’s a record nonetheless.

For years, systems like IDE64 (and uIEC/IDE) have been able to marry large hard drives up to the Commodore platform.  While I don’t personally know of such an installation, I would be surprised if someone doesn’t have a 500GB or 1TB PATA HDD attached to their C64.

This ignores the real question:  Would all of the Commodore 8-bit software ever produced fill even a fraction of that space?  I highly doubt it, though there is more than one would think.  GameBase64 v7 was 5.3GB compressed, so I think one could fill 10-20GB with every version of every software package written for any Commodore 8-bit machine (PET to C65). In any case, nearly every contemporary storage solution for the Commodore line can handle that amount.  Even the lowly Secure Digital drives, like uIEC/SD, support 32GB SDHC cards.

Cautious buyers will often inquire about the maximum drive size support for uIEC/SD.  I often tell them that the uIEC/SD will support SDHC cards up to 32GB in size.  That limit is a specification maximum, listed in the SDHC documents as the absolute maximum size allowed.  That satisfies most people, but I do get followups on occasion about support for larger media.

Until recently, there were no larger media options, but 2009 saw the introduction of SDXC, which eliminated the 32GB limit.  The SDXC cards were intended for cameras and camcorders, which had moved away from tape media to flash media like SD and demanded ever more storage space.  As prospective buyers became more aware of SDXC, I received inquiries on whether uIEC/SD supported these larger media options.  With no card to test, I countered that 32GB should satisfy any need, and one could always buy 2 of them as insurance against lack of space.

exFAT

exFAT

The topic of SDXC support came up recently, and I decided to update my knowledge.  I knew about the format, and I knew that SDXC cards came factory formatted in Microsoft’s proprietary exFAT format.  But, research uncovered many people who simply reformatted their cards to FAT32 and happily used them without any issues. I had previously assumed the SDXC protocol differed in significant ways from the SDHC protocol.

So, I decided to pick up a card and try it out.  The prudent choice would have been to snag a less expensive 64GB card, but I decided to go all out and pick up a Lexar Professional 128GB SDXC (the largest I could find).  At $160.00, it’s not a cheap chip of plastic, but I decided I could always use it as a second HDD in my laptop.

Upon delivery, I immediately imaged the entire raw card using Roadkil’s Disk Image utility.  After 3 hours, a 128GB image was available, which I immediately compressed to 4MB and archived.  It’s unclear if dumping the expanded image back to the card will put the data back in the original location in the FLASH memory, but it seemed prudent to save off the image in case it was later needed.

I then used a third party utility to format the entire card in FAT32 with 32768 byte sectors.  I suspect contemporary operating systems will allow this as well, but I was in a hurry and the utility was handy.

I then copied 48GB of files to the card, to ensure new files would be forced into the area above 32GB.  After 2 more hours of copying, I was finally ready to test.  I popped the card into the uIEC/SD, powered on the SX64, and watched.  The activity light blinked very fast (possibly the bootloader does not recognize the card size), and then the activity light came on for 6 seconds and then went off (system and card initialization)

I created a small BASIC program and saved it to disk.  The activity light came on and lingered, forcing me to wonder if the unit had locked up with the light on.  However, after 2:21 (2 minutes and 21 seconds), the light went off and the BASIC prompt returned.  A disk directory showed the new file, and loading it was very fast.  Subsequent saves were very quick, even after resetting the machine, power cycling, and re-installing the card.  Files were correctly saved, and a nominal test of directory commands and disk operations showed nothing extraordinary.

Honestly, the entire event was anticlimactic.  Ignoring the fact that there can’t possibly by 128gB of Commodore 8-bit files, I think it’s just too large a card for storage.  I’ll continue to recommend 8GB cards: they deliver the best price per GB, one needs only a few to hold everything, and files can be easily segrated by platform among a few cards.  Still, if you feel the need for maximum drive size, rest assured that any product offering based on a recent build of Ingo Korb’s sd2iec appears to support FAT32 formatted SDXC cards.  However, I can say with certainty that the native SDXC exFAT disk format will never be supported in sd2iec, because it requires a license from Microsoft to use. Such an implementation would never be allowed to use the GPLv2 license, which sd2iec utilizes.

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IEEE Adapter

by on Feb.29, 2012, under Hardware Design

IEEE Adapter PCB

IEEE Adapter PCB

For reasons I can only guess, Commodore created it’s IEEE-488 cables in two forms.  The first was a standard Centronics 24 to Centronics 24 cable, with each end of the cable offering a passthrough connector (male on the top, female on the bottom).  This cable could be used to connect any CBM IEEE-488 peripheral to any other CBM IEEE-488 peripheral, creating a chain of peripherals through a single cable.  However, the second, and more important cable was the one that connected the PET or CBM machine to the first peripheral of the chain.  And, on one end of this cable, Commodore specified a .156 12/24 female edge connector.

Ordinarily, I’d guess the reason was cost reduction, and that might indeed be the truth, but IEEE-488 cables in general were not cheap, and creating a specific non-standard cable that only Commodore would use seems contrary to a cost reduction move.  My next thought was “vendor lock-in”, but if that were the reason, why bother with standard cables anywhere?

There are other theories, of course, and I don’t spend much time considering why these things occur.  However, such a design decision makes a real impact today, more than 30 years since the cable debuted.  Namely, the non-standard cables are hard to find, and no one produces them anymore (standard IEEE-488 cables are still produced in significant quantities).  Since each PET/CBM machine needs exactly one of these cables, they are somewhat important.

One can always cut a standard cable and wire up a 12/24 connector, but I recently saw a neat idea on a classic computer mailing list that concisely solves the problem: An IEEE-488 connector adapter.  The adapter is simplistic to an extreme.  One end contains a 12/24 .156″ connector, while the other contains a standard Centronics-24 connector.  Coupled with a standard cable, the search for this elusive connection option can be over.

The design seems so simplistic, I’m wondering if there is something else that can be added to the design before I send it off for production.  Comments are welcome.

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OpenCBM Archiver 1.2 Released

by on Feb.27, 2012, under Software Development

OpenCBM Archiver is a command line tool that helps automate the use of opencbm-based utilities
OpenCBM Archiver uses .net 2.0 and will also run under Mono on non-Windows systems.
Changes from Version 1.1
  • Archival program is now configurable via command line or config file. This means you can now automate nibread.
  • Made a configuration flag for whether or not to show a directory listing
  • Made the command line passed to the program configurable
  • Documented the settings in the configuration file.
Changes from Version 1.0
  • Add ability to load flags from configuration file
  • Writes seed data to configuration file
  • Specifying flags on command line overrides configuration file
  • Displays directory before archiving disk
  • Changed behavior such that calling with –help displays the help message, you can now run program without parameters.
You can download OpenCBM Archiver from the official open source project site:
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C2N Power!

by on Feb.17, 2012, under Hardware Design

C2N Power! PCB

C2N Power! PCB

Given a need to order more C2NPower cassette port power adapters, RETRO Innovations has revamped and expanded the functionality of this tiny product.  In addition to providing a tap for 5VDC for powered peripherals and a layout that includes holes for the Atmel ATTINY24/44/84 AVR microcontrollers, the new design also includes support for the MAXIM DS1307+ (and compatibles) Real Time Clock and the 24CXXXX line of serial EEPROMs.

Before we roll this new design into production, we’re looking for a couple of proficient assembly language developers who could help us develop some functions for reading and writing the time to the RTC and reading/writing data to the EEPROM.  The protocol is I2C, using the MOTOR and WRITE lines for SCK and SDA, respectively.  The only nuance is that MOTOR line is inverted.  We’re hoping some folks would like to compose a bit of code in exchange for a free  C2N Power! unit (with EEPROM and RTC supported).  Ideally, we’d like to create some common 6502 code for the basic routines that can be used on the PET, 40XX, 80XX, VIC, 64, and C128 machines with only minor variations among platforms.

Thus, if you or someone you know could help, please let us know via our contact page. Feel free to repost as appropriate.

 

 

 

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Berlin C64 Club (BCC) Party #6

by on Feb.17, 2012, under Parties

BCC Party In Full Swing

BCC Party In Full Swing

For those in or around Berlin, next weekend (February 24-26), check out the Berlin C64 Club (BCC) Party, at:

Café Inter-Nett

Kranoldstr. 16
12051 Berlin
Berlin-Neukölln
Germany

Various compo categories will be judged with prizes awarded, including 2 ZoomFloppy units.

BCC Home Page

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EasyFlash 3 Now In Production

by on Feb.15, 2012, under Hardware Design, Storefront

EasyFlash3 PCB

EasyFlash3 PCB

It’s taken longer than anticipated, but EasyFlash 3 production is finally underway.  The first 200 boards are in production, with delivery scheduled for late March.  The storefront is open for pre-orders, with pricing set at:

  • EF3 without enclosure: $59.99
  • EF3 with enclosure: $64.99

I delayed production slightly to lengthen the prototype PCB so that switches could be placed at the rear of the cartridge, and the delay allowed the design to incorporate last minute design enhancements.  However, I will admit I treaded lightly on this production, as it’s a reasonably complex unit and RETRO Innovations is not the principal designer.

I realize late March is still significantly far in the future.  If you want a unit now, please check out Retro Donald’s storefront, which has uncased units in stock.

 

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ZoomFloppy Utility: OpenCBM Archiver

by on Feb.13, 2012, under Software Development

For those who own or are planning to buy a ZoomFloppy for disk archiving and have lots of disks to get through, Payton Byrd has created OpenCBM Archiver, a utility to automates d64copy execution to minimize manual steps for archiving disks.

It’s by no means a complicated utility, but it should save time.

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OpenCBM 0.4.99.94 Windows Binary Alpha Release

by on Feb.06, 2012, under Software Development

Spiro Trikaliotis has compiled OpenCBM 0.4.99.94 into an Windows binary alpha release.  This release contains many of the most recent changes and features utilized on the ZoomFloppy USB drive interface.  If you’re up for alpha releases, try this out and report your finding to the openCBM mailing list.

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RETRO Innovations now on Google+

by on Feb.06, 2012, under Miscellaneous

RETRO Innovations is now represented on Google+.  We’ll try to keep it updated as often as possible.  Add us to your “Preferred Stores” Circle! 🙂

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Spring-Time Retro-Computing Convention

by on Feb.03, 2012, under Computer Shows

Though the Cincinatti Commodore Computer Club (C4) EXPO will not be held in 2012, Payton Byrd is planning the Spring-Time Retro-Computing Convention in Clarksville, TN the weekend of May 25-27, 2012.  The event will be held at the Riverview Inn and will run 48 continuously for 48 hours.  As evidenced by the name, it appears like all classic machines will be represented/welcome.

As with NOTACON, we’d love to hear from readers who would enjoy a meet and greet.  Tennessee is quite a journey from the store, but it’s doable.

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