Lyonsden Blog

Category - Reviews

WiC64 Review


The WiC64 might possibly be one of the most interesting devices for the Commodore 64 I’ve seen in years. It’s not just the hardware (which is great) as there have been a few Wi-Fi interfaces released already for the C64 over the years, but more how the software that’s been created for it leverages the new hardware to achieve something truly special. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this could be the future for modern day 64 enthusiasts – I’ll explain why during the rest of this post.


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This glorious gizmo was sent to me by Tim Harris over at Shareware Plus. Inside the rather unassuming box there’s the main host board, an ESP32 module, a teeny tiny OLED display and a card with a link to a website to go to for more info.



Contents of the WiC64 package.


So, what is it and what does it do?

Basically the WiC64 is a plug-in Wi-FI accessory that connects to the user-port of the Commodore 64 providing internet access. (It also works with the SX64, C128 and VIC20 computers though I’ve not tested it with these). However unlike existing Wi-Fi adapters that utilise serial mode data transfers and are thus restricted to stuff like accessing BBS due to their slow communication speeds, this bad boy operates in parallel mode, utilising 8 data lines, 2 handshake lines and one control line. This is all handled by the ESP32 module.

Basically it’s super fast and capable of loading a typical C64 program in the blink of an eye across the Internet. Yep you read that right, with this device you will be able to download (and upload) programs and files directly over the Internet on your C64!


Putting it together

No manual is provided but then again it is 2024 so having online documentation is to be expected. Following the link on the product card takes you to the website where you can download assembly instructions, a launcher program in PRG format and some STL’s to print a nice case for it.


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Assembly was an absolute doddle and just requires you to fit the ESP32 module and screen to the host board. They both simply push into the sockets provided – all you need to be careful with is the orientation of the ESP32 module but there’s photos in the PDF manual showing which way around it needs to go.


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After putting the WiC64 together I decided to 3D print the case for it so loaded the STL’s into my slicer software to prepare them for printing. The model has been well designed so no support material is needed when you place each part flat on its largest side.


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Just over an hour later (I have a Bambu Labs P1S printer so it’s fast) the print was complete and looked fantastic.


Freshly printed case halves


The two buttons on the host board pop through matching holes on the side of the case whilst there are a couple of little push buttons incorporated into the top of the case so you can still depress the ones on the EPS32 module.


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Unfortunately I ran into my first problem here when I tried to plug the newly encased WiC64 into the user port of my C64C – it simply wouldn’t fit! This was through no fault in the design of the board or even the case but just bad luck on my part because of where I had chosen to locate the switches for my SIDFX install.


Houston, we have a problem!


The case was clearly never going to fit so I had to abandon that idea and go naked. Even without the case it was an incredibly close fit with just a couple of millimetres clearance between the board and the switches. To be honest though, apart from the obvious lack of protection, I think I prefer it without the case as it does look incredibly cool with all the LED’s glowing and the little OLED screen displaying messages and such. I’ll just need to be careful to never drop a paperclip down the back of my C64!


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Teething Problems

With the WiC64 now plugged in it was time to test it out! I downloaded the Launcher from the site (currently at version 2.5) and copied it over to my 1541 Ultimate II+ cart (via ethernet)  so that I could run it.


Ground control to Major Tom…


It popped up a message saying it was searching for Wi-Fi and a few of the lights started to flicker on the board…


Lights are on but nobody’s home…


However it never got any further than this. After about a minute of trying the launcher would simply crash leaving me with a blank screen.


This doesn’t look good!


Needless to say I tried this a few times but got the same result each time. I even tried activating the hotspot on my iPhone (with maximised compatibility) in case it didn’t like my Wi-Fi 6 router but it still failed.


Updating the Firmware

With nothing seeming to work I decided to have a go at updating the firmware as I remember seeing this mentioned on the card. The whole process is web based and conducted within the browser itself. I had to unplug the WiC64 board from my C64 and then hook it up to my Windows 11 PC using a MicroUSB cable.


WiC64 Flashing

WiC64 ready to be flashed


Needless to say I had to install a driver for it first as the UART device was showing as unrecognised in Device Manager…


How it appears in device manager


There’s step by step instructions on the ‘Online Flasher’ page and it directs you to a Silicon Labs website to download the drivers. I have Windows 11 so chose the CP210x Universal Windows Driver which worked out well. Installing the driver was just a matter of right-clicking the device and selecting ‘update driver’ and then pointing it to the folder where I’d extracted the driver previously.

Driver successfully installed


Flashing the device is actually done within the browser but it must be Chrome, Edge or Opera. I use Brave but thought I’d still be OK because it’s Chromium based but the Connect button never appeared for me until I changed over to Edge. Then I was able to select ‘CP2102 USB to UART Bridge Controller (COM7)’ as the serial port to begin the process. Sadly within a few seconds of starting the update it failed with an error. Although I never did find out what caused the error the solution was to hold down the ‘BOOT’ button on the ESP32 module whilst performing the update and it then worked without a hitch.

With the firmware now updated it was time to put it back in my C64 and see if I could get it to connect to my Wi-Fi.

I hooked it back up to my user-port, turned on my 64 and loaded up version 2.5 of the launcher once more.


Now we’re getting somewhere!


Much to my delight this time around it displayed (just) my 2.4Ghz SSID (I have a Tri-band router) and I was able to enter the password to connect to it just like you would expect to do with any modern day device.



BOOM! We’re in business!


After a few moments it connected and my C64’s IP address was displayed on the OLED screen, along with the SSID, signal strength and current firmware version.


WiC64 Welcome Screen

WiC64 Welcome Screen


The launcher menu screen also loaded up with new options to Login and Register. I didn’t have an account so I selected Register to create one which only took a few moments and then I was finally into the system proper.


WiC64 Menu Screen

WiC64 Menu Screen


Let the Games Begin!

There’s a lot of sub menus and interesting things tucked away into the WiC64 Launcher menus but I’m just going to pick out some of the things I found interesting – in no particular order!


Offline Games List


I’ll start with the games as there’s quite a lot of them. They’re split between Offline games (found in the File Area>Games section) Online games and online multiplayer games. The mind blowing thing about these games is that they load onto your C64 over the internet, but not only that they load in just a matter of seconds. I decided to give Shadow Switcher a quick blast as it’s a game I know and love. I selected it from the menu and BAM, a second later it had loaded and I was able to play it. Absolutely incredible.


Shadow Switcher


The Online and Multiplayer games have their own section which splits off into another 4 sections containing approximately 20 games. The ‘Online’ games are existing games that have been modified to incorporate persistent High Score tables where you can compete for bragging rights against other WiC64 players. There’s a global ‘all time greatest’ score table and also a ‘Todays Greatest’ which is a cool feature that gives everyone a shot at fame no matter their skill level as it gets wiped every 24 hours.


All-Time Greatest and Todays Greatest High Scores


I decided to have a blast at Great Giana Sisters next, which being a bigger game, took a bit longer to load, coming in at a whisker over 20 seconds.  Still mightily impressive and if you don’t own or have a copy of the game to hand the sheer convenience of this system is game-changing. Imagine having an entire catalogue of hundreds of games and being able to tap into them whenever you want and play them on your real C64 with persistent high scores stored in the cloud adding a new competitive edge to the gameplay.


Great Giana Sisters – WiC64 High Score Edition


There’s currently only 2 multiplayer games; Artillery Duel Deluxe and Multorio. Multorio appears to require the username of the person you want to play against upfront before it will do anything so as I don’t know anyone else using it I’ve not been able to try this.


Artillery Duel Deluxe


However Artillery Duel Deluxe is a lot more user friendly and will let you play against random people online, play local multiplayer or even just play solo. It even has a spectator mode called ‘Onlooker mode’ where you can watch other players duke it out! I’m not sure if this is live or more of a replay of past battles but it’s still entertaining!


Artillery Duel Deluxe


Obviously this isn’t Steam or Xbox Live so finding other users online can be tricky which is why the solo mode is much appreciated. I assume this is probably why the developers seem to be focusing on asynchronous gameplay, affording everyone the opportunity to compete against others, any time they want.


Internet Radio

WiC64 Radio is another program I found myself coming back to time and time again. It’s tucked away in the ‘Apps’ section of the ‘File Area’. Personally I would have thought the Internet section was more appropriate but it didn’t take long for me to remember where it was located.


WiC64 Radio

WiC64 Radio


I absolutely adore SID chip music and this program supplies a never-ending stream of it over the internet directly into your SID chip. The program will just keep playing an endless stream of fantastic SID tracks until you close it. If you come across one you’re not so keen on you can just tap space to skip it and move onto another,


WiC64 Radio


Not only that but you can create a custom playlist of your favourite tracks too. The screen displays lots of info about the track currently playing including the author, title, it’s release date and run time. I tend to load this up and just leave it running in the background – you can’t beat some classic SID tunes being played through real hardware.



One of the things I used to love doing in my youth was watching and listening to scene demos on both my C64 and later on my Amiga. Well the WiC64 has got me covered here too with a nifty Demo section containing 8 demo’s filled with pulsating graphics and sound for that shot of nostalgic dopamine.


“Quadrants” Demo


Most of these demo’s loaded pretty much instantaneously for instant retro gratification. The Elite Code Mechanics demo soon proved to be a particular favourite due to the amazing music which I could (and did) happily listen to for hours.


Elite Code Mechanics Demo


The still pictures obviously don’t do the demos justice but I just couldn’t get my iPhone to capture video off my 1084 monitor without it turning into a horrid flickering mess.


Crystal Gazer Demo


Ideally I’d like to see many, many more demos appear here so hopefully the developers add to this section over time, after all, most of them are probably in the public domain (unlike the games) so there shouldn’t be too many obstacles to making it happen?



WiC64 seems to be a predominantly German project right now so the Chat and Message board areas are dominated by German users which is a shame but I’m sure in time as more of us come on board this will change


Sadly most, if not all, the messages seem to be in German


However I was intrigued by the ChatGPT option at the bottom of the menu. Surely this couldn’t be THE ChatGPT that is all the rage right now?


Surely not, ChatGPT on the C64?


Chat GPT

Well yes, actually it is. Incredibly the AI revolution has made it to our trusty C64’s in 2024. You can ask it any question and get a near instant reply. It works just like it does on a modern computer, simply ask it a question and it will respond with an answer almost immediately.


ChatGPT in action on the C64


Obviously unlike, for example, Copilot in Windows 11, it is unable to create images but I wouldn’t really have expected that anyway. It also does seem to lack the continuity you get when interacting with ChatGPT on modern systems. For example if you try to tell it a Knock Knock joke it will respond with ‘who’s there’ but then thinks your answer is a new question. Likewise you can start a game of hangman but your guesses don’t seem to be recognised. It’s probably churlish of me to nit pick things like this when the fact it works at all is an astonishing achievement, but it would be the icing on the cake if they could fix this. However ask it any other straight question and you will get just as comprehensive a response as you would on a new computer which is just incredible.


Google Maps!

Yes you read that heading right, WiC64 also gives you a portal to Google Maps on your C64 and what’s more its actually useable too! This is arguably even more impressive than ChatGPT given the graphical overhead involved in drawing them.


Google Maps


You can search for a place or post code from the menu screen or just dive straight in. It seems to have a rough idea where you are already, presumably based on your external IP address, unless it was just pure coincidence that it started me off in Merseyside! Once the map is visible on the screen you are able to zoom in and out using the function keys and pan around using WASD. There’s a choice of satellite view or road map view. Each page refresh takes about 5 seconds or thereabouts to display – eminently useable and I was able to find and navigate around places I know very easily.


Google Streetview!


But there’s more! Pressing ‘V’ toggles Street View so you can look around in glorious 8-bit 3D at your street and even find your house, all on your Commodore 64. I would not have believed this possible if I’d not experienced it myself. It’s an absolutely astonishing accomplishment.



There’s plenty more programs and features to be discovered that I haven’t mentioned yet too. For instance there’s an entire sub-menu devoted to a collection of Real Time Clocks (synced to the Internet of course), ranging from a simple digital clock to some downright convoluted affairs that require some serious thought to decipher!


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C/Place Pixel Project

There’s also something called  “C/Place Pixel Project” which is an interesting little concept. It’s basically a community art project – you take it in turns with other users to place a single pixel on a 40×50 screen in order to ‘paint’ a picture. If nobody else is around you can make a picture on your own instead! It also has an option to let you watch a timelapse of pictures being created which can be quite mesmerising to watch and a really neat extra feature.


c/place Pixel Project



WiC64 Media Center

This is yet another really cool feature that lets you upload your physical disks into the cloud, either for public use or your own private use.


Uploading one of my disks to the WMC


You simply pop a disk in your drive, enter a few details to help catalogue it so you and/or others can find it in future and then hit upload. Naturally you can also download the disks too.


Downloading a disk from the WMC.


In just a couple of minutes I was able to download a game from the WMC cloud onto a floppy disk with just a few keypresses and then load it up and play it.


Playing the game I’d just downloaded.


There’s a whole repository of disks already waiting to be accessed in the cloud too. This is the sort of thing I could only dream about back when I was a teenager but it’s now a reality thanks to the WiC64.


Honourable Mentions

There’s even more stuff to play around with that I’ve not covered yet including:

  • MOSCloud Compiler (a facility to upload your BASIC programs and have them compiled in the cloud).
  • Remote Image Viewer (enter an image URL and it will render it on your C64). I didn’t have much success with this as most online images have horrendously long and complex URL’s and it’s very easy to make a mistake entering them without the option of copy’n’paste. However even when I was absolutely sure I had the URL correct I’d get a ‘failed to process image’ error. Hopefully it’s just a glitch and will be ironed out in due course.
  • CSDB Browser to keep up to date with the latest C64 releases
  • RSS Feed viewers for Forum64 and Tagesschau – sadly both in German only.
  • Telnet program – with a few provided servers to try (similar sort of experience to BBS’s) or you can try entering your own.
  • A DiskMags section – I found the intro screens and accompanying chip music a lot more entertaining than reading some of them but as always with these things YMMV.


Excess RapidNews DiskMag



I did have a few crashes and lock-ups but nothing major and considering what it’s trying (and succeeding) to do I can totally forgive a little instability. Besides, on the odd occasions it happened I just reloaded the launcher via my 1541 Ultimate-II+ cart and was immediately returned to the exact same position in the menu that I’d launched the program from. It was a minor inconvenience at most. There were also few little issues I had during setup but nothing major and they were all easily solved by a spot of RTFM. There were a couple of sections that seemed to be dominated by German speaking users but hopefully that will change as the device becomes more popular, but even if it doesn’t it only affects a tiny fraction of what’s on offer anyway.

Without a doubt this is an absolutely incredible hardware and software package that really brings the venerable C64 into the 21st Century. It offers so many new ways of accomplishing things, new ideas to try out not to mention the potential new features it may bring in the future. This is one of those devices that every C64 user owes it to themselves to get hold of. Whether you are a gamer or a tinkerer there’s something to interest everyone here and at just £35 it’s a bit of a no-brainer too. SharewarePlus has them in stock now so what are you waiting for? Go get one!

Andy’s Utility Cart Review

In this post I’ll be taking a look at ‘Andy’s Utility Cart’, a collection of 12 utilities (and one music demo) from SharewarePlus, all combined onto a single C64 cartridge..


Andy's Utility Cart

The Cartridge and Instruction Manual

The cartridge comes packaged in an attractive cardboard box along with an ‘instruction’ booklet. However this is just a small folded sheet containing a list of what programs are on the cart. No instructions for any of the included programs are actually provided.


Inside the Cartridge

Removing the solitary Philips screw and opening the cartridge shell reveals a smart looking white circuit board hosting a 1Mb Atmel AT27C010-70PU EPROM along with a couple of ancillary chips. The Atmel chip is a ‘one time programmable’ affair that contains all the C64 programs.


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What’s on the Cartridge?

So now that we’ve seen the hardware inside the shell it’s time to see what programs are on it. See below for a full list of what’s included.


  1. 64 DOCTOR
  2. 64 TESTER
  5. DISK TOOL b.S
  8. 1541 ALIGNMENT
  9. 15 SEC FORMAT
  11. 1541 ALPS CHECK
  12. TURBO 250 [Bonus Program]
  13. DIAGNOSTIC [Bonus Program]


All of the utilities on the cart are selectable from a handy menu screen as can be seen in the photo below. There’s no way to exit most of the programs or get back to this menu screen so you will need to power cycle your C64 to achieve this.


Andy's Utility Cart

Andy’s Utility Cart Menu Screen


Strangely for a compilation that is described as ‘twelve utilities for the Commodore 64’ there’s actually 13 in total. Not sure why there’s a discrepancy. Maybe they considered 13 to be unlucky?   Perhaps it’s because one of the programs, Thrust Concert, isn’t actually a utility at all but more of a scene demo? Alternatively it’s conceivable that they felt some of the programs were a bit samey? Who knows… but I’m certainly not going to complain about having an extra program included!


Andy's Utility Cart

Back of the box (and a list of what’s on the cart)


Here’s quick look at each of the 12 13 Utilities


64 DOCTOR (Diagnostic sequence by Computer Software Associates)


This is a comprehensive diagnostic program that can help with troubleshooting issues with your C64. It can test the keyboard, video, audio, joysticks, disk drive, datasette, RAM and even an attached printer.  You are able to launch a complete systematic scan or you can select a specific test and just run that.


Menu Screen for 64 Doctor


In the photo below I ran the keyboard test which marks each character on the screen as you press the corresponding physical key on the keyboard. Great for seeing at a glance which keys might be faulty on an old keyboard.


Running through the keyboard test


64 TESTER (Comprehensive screen, keyboard & joystick port tester by Tim Cannell)


This is another diagnostic program that focuses on testing the screen, keyboard and joystick ports. The tests are displayed on-screen immediately on launch and includes character maps, colour palette (including overscan borders), along with sprites, and the current status of both joystick port axes.


C64 Tester Screen


Additionally a counter ticks upwards at the bottom, presumably so you know the program is still running/not crashed and a rather annoying ‘Close Encounters’ style 5 note beep jingle is stuck on repeat too which had me reaching for the volume knob after about 30 seconds!


FAST LOADER (Commodore 64 fast disk loader with shortcuts by MR. BYTE)


This one is a floppy disk fast loader utility, presumably similar to Epyx Fastload and the like. Unfortunately in my testing I didn’t have much luck with it and nothing would load with it enabled.  At first I had both my 1541 drives on and I was getting an error in German saying ‘Bitte nur floppy anschalten’ which translated to ‘floppy only please’. Not very helpful but I took it to mean ‘one floppy drive only’. Thinking it didn’t like having both drives on I turned one off and tried again. This time I didn’t get that error but instead the screen would just go blank when attempting to load stuff, unsuccessfully. I tried a variety of disks and programs but nothing made any difference. Some instructions for this one might have been helpful – maybe I was missing a vital step. I also made sure my JiffyDOS ROM was disabled, but that too made no difference. Maybe it just doesn’t like my C64? The brief description did mention ‘with shortcuts’ but I have no idea what they are and whether they were optional or a necessity to get it working. In the end I had to throw in the towel and admit defeat with this one.


I may never know how speedy Mr Bytes fastloader is…



TURBO NIB COPY – (Copy Q turbo nibbler disk copier with error scanner by Cracker & CSS)


This is a very handy and easy to use ‘nibbler’ disk copy utility that can copy the contents of one disk to another using either one or two 1541 drives.


Turbo NIB Copy Initial Screen


An option screen allows you to select drive unit numbers for both the source and destination drives letting you configure disk to disk copies if you have more than one drive.


Options Menu


Obviously copying disks is quicker and more convenient using two 1541 drives but it’s still perfectly possible if you only have a single drive at your disposal.


Reading phase


In the case of single drive copying, disks are copied in sections with you swapping the source and destination disks in and out of the drive. It takes four passes (8 disk insertions in total) to completely copy a single disk although the fourth and final pass is much faster than the previous three.


Writing phase


A visual representation of the tracks and sectors being copied is displayed on screen in real-time providing reassurance that progress is being made.


DISK TOOL b.S (Disk Tool V6.5 with comprehensive floppy & disk monitors by Klaus Raczel)


This program includes a whole raft of disk related tools ranging from the mundane like formatting and verifying to advanced sector editing.


Disk Tool Title Screen


Unfortunately the menu’s are all in German which I cannot understand (it’s been nearly 40 years since I studied it at school and I was never particularly good at it anyway). Some of the German words were close enough to their English counterparts that I could understand them, but others, not so much.


Some of the German is easy to understand… some is not


Basically I struggled to use this utility. I did try the translation feature of my iPhone which did a pretty good job of translating the photos I took of the menus to be fair but it made using what is already quite a complex program a chore. One rainy day maybe I’ll go through all the menus and translate them into English…


CASS.AZIMUTH (Cassette Azimuth for aligning & adjusting your datasette by H Diebek)


This is a really useful tool when you are having issues loading software off tapes from your datasette unit. Apart from having a dirty read/write head, azimuth (head alignment) is probably the main reason for having games and programs fail to load. On Commodore’s datasette units you can adjust azimuth using a small Philips screwdriver but you need real-time feedback to let you know whether your are making things better or worse. This program provides that feedback.


Menu/Instruction Screen


I do already have software to do this that I purchased back in the 80’s from Interceptor Micro’s. It came with a little Philips screwdriver and a pointer to attach to it so you could see how much you had rotated it. However it’s one glaring flaw was that the software came on cassette. Not ideal if your read/write head is totally out of whack!


Alignment screen – clearly my drive needs some adjustment…


The program displays the data being read off a C64 tape in real time as little black dots falling down the screen. This allows you to fine-tune the azimuth on the fly by adjusting the screw until the dots appear as orderly and distinct thin vertical lines (rather than be splattered across the screen). In the photo above there is certainly room for improvement on my deck.

However it’s important to remember that azimuth can vary on a tape by tape basis as much depends on the azimuth of the machine that recorded the program onto the tape in the first place!


HEAD ALIGN (Minimal head alignment v1.1 for your datasette by Enthusi)

This is basically another Datasette azimuth alignment program only this time a more streamlined, bare bones version that doesn’t require you to press any keys to start the process. It also didn’t like having my JiffyDOS ROM enabled and refused to supply power to my cassette port until I disabled it. Not a big deal, just something to be aware of.


Head alignment screen


1541 ALIGNMENT (Commodore 1541 disk drive track & sector alignment by Antiram)


This is a comprehensive track/sector alignment tool for tuning 1541 drives. Happily my drives are in perfect shape so I didn’t mess around with this program at all but it’s a very useful tool to have in ones toolbox for when the need arises for sure!


1541 Alignment Menu Screen


15 SEC FORMAT (Fast 15 second formatter by Mike J. Henry & Alf Maier)

This literally does what it says on the tin – load it and it prompts you for a disk name and ID number. Enter these and press RETURN and away it goes!


The name’s Bond…


In fact calling it ’15 Sec Format’ actually does it an injustice as I found it was consistently formatting disks in 12 seconds. Using JiffyDOS made no difference to the speed in this case. The program ends once the format is complete but you can simply RUN it again to format another. If you have a whole bunch of disks to format then this would be a great solution.


THRUST CONCERT (Music concert featuring Rob Hubbard & Jeremy Smith by Stoat & Tim)


This isn’t a utility but still a welcome addition to the cart. I suppose it could be considered a ‘sound test’ but that’s a bit of a stretch.


Stoat and Tim Present…


This is basically a music demo and I do actually remember listening to this quite a lot back in the day. The demo features the music Rob Hubbard created for the budget Firebird game callerd ‘Thrust’ and is ‘played’ by a band of animated computer characters.


Rob Hubbard on keyboard (bottom right)


If, like me, you love Rob Hubbard’s music then this demo is an essential listen.


1541 ALPS CHECK (Alps 1541 drive alignment with LED & stepper motor tests by Commodore)


This is another terrific 1541 diagnosing program that allows you to test/adjust everything including the LED’s, head alignment, stepper motor speed and even the write protect tab. A very useful program to have, especially on cartridge in case your drive is in no state to load up your utility floppy.


1541 ALPS Check Menu



Bonus Programs


F1. TURBO 250 (Turbo cassette load & save by Mr Z)

This is a pretty simple but effective program that allows you to save (and then subsequently load) programs onto cassette tape in turbo format. It cannot load non-turbo programs from cassette at faster speeds as the speed itself isn’t altered. What this program actually does is increase the density of data saved onto a tape. With more tightly packed data, any given length of tape will contain a larger section of the saved program and thus when read at the same speed, loads more of that program into your C64’s RAM. Ultimately the result is that the program loads in a fraction of the time.


Turbo 250 Menu Screen


Of course densely packed data is more susceptible to read errors but with this cart you have the tools required to sort that problem out too!


F3. DIAGNOSTICS (Diagnostic Program 324528, by Commodore)

This is another C64 diagnostic program that tests things like RAM, Timers, Memory and Colour output.


Diagnostics Test


It runs all the tests automatically on launch and loops through them continually. A counter is updated at the end of each test cycle allowing you to keep track of how many times it has run, useful for bench testing a machine after a repair for example.


Colour Test


Final Thoughts

Andy’s Utility Cart is a really useful collection of utilities to have in your arsenal. Sure, there are a few duplicated programs but this allows you to pick the one that suits your needs best.

It’s a shame I couldn’t get the Fast Loader to work and that the Disk Tool utility is presented in German but there are loads of other programs available so it’s far from a dealbreaker. There are no instructions provided (nor links to online documentation) so you either need to know what you are doing or be prepared to do a bit of research and hunt around online for information in order to get the most out of some of the packages.

Priced at just £18 it’s easy to forgive these minor shortcomings anyway. I certainly had a lot of fun playing around with all the programs on the cart and have no doubt I will be using several of the utilities to maintain my disk drives and datasette.

The cart is available from Tim Harris over at Shareware Plus priced at £18 at time of posting.

C64 User Port Expander

Over the years I’ve amassed quite a number of C64 peripherals that attach via the User Port. Off the top of my head I have a Wi-Fi modem, FM Radio, MP3 Player, sound sampler, Parallel printer device, Power Monitor, webcam interface not to mention DIY contraptions from various electronics projects. I’ve probably got other stuff that I’ve forgotten about too. Constantly swapping all these device over is a bit of a pain and not only that it must exact a toll on the user port which has already seen decades of wear and tear. Suffice to say that this all lead me to the idea of getting hold of some sort of user port ‘expander’ device.


C64 User Port Expander

Don’t press that big red button… unless you want to reset your C64!


I reached out to Tim Harris over at SharewarePlus who stocks a plethora of Commodore 64 peripherals and as luck would have it he had such a device in stock and sent one over. Once attached it provides three user port edge connectors instead of just one. As an added bonus it also incorporates a handy (impossible to miss) reset button on the board too.


C64 User Port Expander

Underside of the user port expander.


I immediately set about attaching everything I could to the expander to see what would work and what wouldn’t. There’s certainly one glaring issue right away in that anything you hook up to the right hand connector is going to interfere with the datasette port.


C64 User Port Expander

Nothing is connecting to the right-hand side unless I remove that tape adapter!


I had to disconnect my 1541 Ultimate II+ tape adapter to be able to attach anything I owned on that side.


C64 User Port Expander

A losing combination of user port gizmo’s.


The other issue is that not everything plays nicely with other devices as they are sharing the same connections. My FM Radio was particularly anti-social in this respect and refused to work at all when anything else was attached to the expander. However my MP3 player, Wi-Fi modem and Power Monitor were all much better behaved in this regard. I had a great time listening to some tunes from my MP3 player whilst browsing BBS’s via the Wi-Fi modem. Awesome stuff!


C64 User Port Expander

Winner winner, chicken dinner!


I haven’t tested every combination of devices together but it definitely requires a level of experimentation to see what will work. Don’t get one expecting to be able to just attach three random devices and for them to just work. I will be leaving the expander connected most the time, even if it means only having a single device attached to it. Why? Because it will stop the wear and tear on my user port – the poor thing has been getting used and abused for forty years now, it deserves a rest!


C64 User Port Expander

Happy compromise so that I don’t lose access to my datasette port.


The reset button worked well although I usually just use the one on my 1541 Ultimate II+,  it’s nice to have another option. My only other criticism would be that the expander isn’t supported in any way so the weight any devices attached causes it to droop down at an angle. This isn’t really that much of an issue since the user port is quite low and the length of the board means the angle it comes to rest at is pretty shallow.


C64 User Port Expander

Added a couple of silicone feet to the board.


However my OCD just couldn’t let it slide so I had a rummage around my junk drawer and found a few silicone feet that were the correct height and attached them to the bottom of the board.


C64 User Port Expander

Board is well supported now.


With the little feet attached I was much happier as I knew the weight of the board and attachments wasn’t going to put any strain on the solder joints.


Pros & Cons

This is a great little device to have in your arsenal of C64 peripherals and can potentially offer a lot of convenience and functionality, provided the devices you choose to hook up are mutually compatible. It will also help to protect your C64’s user port and if you don’t already have one, the reset button comes in really handy and saves wearing out the power button on your C64.

It’s by no means perfect though, especially if you want to keep using your datasette port. Doing so effectively means you lose the use of a connector. I suppose a version with vertical slots would help here, but in my case that would create a new problem as my monitor stand only offers 8cm of headroom. Some extra circuitry to allow you to disable a slot if an attached device won’t play nice would be a boon too. Regardless I’m really happy with it as it lets me use two devices at the same time and when I do need to swap over to a difference device I know that it isn’t wearing out that edge connector on my 64.

If you would like to get a user port expander for your own C64, head over to SharewarePlus and drop Tim Harris a message to let him know what you are after and he’ll sort you out.

A C64 MP3 Player!

Given that the much more powerful 16-bit Amiga 500 is unable to play MP3’s you could be forgiven for thinking that the lowly 8-bit C64 has no chance. Well it’s time for a re-think because equipped with this nifty little C64 MP3 Player device your humble C64 can now play MP3 files without breaking a sweat!


C64 MP3

The C64 MP3 Player Top View.


This slick little device was designed and hand built by a chap called Pietro in Italy. It consists of a larger PCB, approximately 7cm x 7cm  in size with a smaller 4cm x 4cm Mp3 ‘daughterboard’ attached to it in one corner. It didn’t start out looking like this though. Pietro’s first prototype consisted of a bunch of wires and components soldered directly to a user port connector. Only once he knew it all worked did he set about designing the PCB to do the job in style.

The larger PCB links the power and control lines of the MP3 module to the corresponding connections of the C64’s user port. He also added a few extra components into the mix to enable an LED illuminate when the device is playing music.


C64 MP3

You can clearly see the tracks snaking around the board on the back of the device here.


Pietro tells me that it started out in life as an MP3 ‘voice playback’ module he picked up off AliExpress. Although the module was designed to be used with an Arduino device, after some tinkering he figured out which pins controlled things such as next/previous track, volume up/down etc. He then set about writing the software to control it in C using the CC64 compiler along with a bit of Assembly where speed was a factor.


C64 MP3

From left to right; MicroSD card slot, 3.5mm headphone jack and line out.


There’s a lot of connectivity packed onto that small daughterboard including a MicroSD card slot, 3.5mm headphone jack, line-out connection and also a Micro USB socket. You can control the output level of the line-out using a small potentiometer on the daughterboard.


C64 MP3

The blue cube in the centre is a potentiometer to control the line out level. Note also the Micro USB socket that allows connection to a PC.


The last thing of note to point out is the bright red DIP switch array. There are three little switches here that can be configured in different positions here according to which piece of software you want to use it with.


Lets Play Some MP3’s


The first thing to do is get some music onto a Micro SD card. It doesn’t seem to be fussy about what cards it will read so I just used a cheap one off Amazon and have had no issues with it.


C64 MP3

Micro SD card inserted.


To actually get music onto the device you can either pop the MicroSD card into a reader on your PC and copy it across, or alternatively, you can connect it via a Micro USB cable and it will appear on your PC as a mass storage device allowing you to copy music across that way. The device is able to play MP3’s at up to 320Kbps without issue and also lossless WAV files. However FLAC files appear to be unsupported so if you have a bunch of these you want to listen to then you’ll need to convert them over to MP3’s.


C64 MP3

A blue LED will light up once the board is connected to a PC via USB cable.


Obviously the board must be plugged into the user port and connected to either an external powered speaker (my personal preference) via the 3.5mm headphone jack or a suitable amp via the line out but I didn’t have one available to test this side of things.


C64 MP3

MP3 Player hooked up to the C64’s user port.


There’s a few different programs that Petro has written for the player. The “basic” program toggles the 8 pins to select a track number from 1 to 255 whereas the “one” version as he calls it uses the One-Line interface from which you can also change the volume, EQ setting and more. Naturally as the second one offers the most features it’s the version I opted to use.

Once the software has loaded (only takes a couple of seconds) you are presented with a screen reminding you about which mode the program is using and how to set the DIP switches. Assuming they’re in the correct position simply hit ‘return’ to continue. If the switches are set wrongly then you must do as it suggests and turn off the computer and move them into the correct positions before trying again.


C64 MP3 Player

Checking the DIP switches are correctly set.


Sadly file/track names are not supported here so you must know the number of the track you want to play. If there was one feature I’d like to see in a future version, track names would be it!


C64 MP3 Player

The MP3 Player Interface.


The main program screen provides pretty much all of the features you would expect from an MP3 player. You can start, pause and stop a track, skip back and forth and navigate through directories too as these are also supported. There’s a full repertoire of extra functions, such as repeating a single track, repeating all tracks or repeating everything within a directory.  Random track play is also supported in a similar way. If you know which track number you wish to play you can skip straight to it using the ‘select file’ option.

The player software also includes an Equalizer that really has a dramatic effect on the sound playback. The choices provided are; ‘Normal’, ‘Pop’, ‘Rock’, ‘Jazz’ and ‘Classic’. Finally you can control the volume in 30 increments using the +/- keys.


Final Thoughts and Availability

This really is an amazing and fun little device that adds yet another string to the C64’s already impressive entertainment bow. The quality of music playback is terrific and provided you keep a little printout of what files are on the card handy, navigating around your collection is fairly straightforward. The one caveat I must point out though is that you do need a powered speaker or headphones with a suitable pre-amp to listen to it. This is because the device itself lacks an amplifier of it’s own so although you can plug headphones directly into it, the sound you’ll experience is quiet and tinny.


The Original eBay auction advert for the MP3 Player.


Unfortunately Pietro informed me he only made a handful of these devices for fun so doesn’t have any more of them available for sale right now. However he says he’s totally open to the idea of making more if the demand is there so if you fancy one of these for yourself get in touch with him over at his eBay store and let him know!

Commodore 64 FM Radio Module

If you’ve ever wanted to have an FM radio built into your C64 then your dreams have just come true. I spotted this cool little device whilst browsing around the SharewarePlus website a few weeks ago and have been putting it through its paces since…


What’s in the box?

Included in the box is the radio module, a real time clock (RTC) module, small telescopic aerial, program disk, battery (for the RTC), some fittings and finally some instruction sheets.


C64 FM Radio

Kit Contents.


The board is nicely made and incorporates sockets for stereo audio output, aerial input and a 6-pin female socket header to accommodate the RTC.


C64 FM Radio

Close-up of the Radio board.


C64 FM Radio

Audio port (left) and Aerial port (right).


The RTC features mostly surface mounted components on one side along with 6 header pins that will allow it to be plugged into the Radio PCB.



The RTC module.


The reverse side is dominated by a battery holder for a 3V Lithium CR2032 battery which is required to power it.



3V CR2032 button cell goes here.


The RTC attaches neatly to the main Radio PCB as shown in the photo below.


C64 FM Radio

Here the RTC ‘daughterboard’ has been securely attached to the radio PCB.


A couple of small screws top and bottom with a stand-off sandwiched in-between ensures the RTC stays in place as you can see in the photo below.


C64 FM Radio

Close-up showing how the board attaches with the stand-off spacer.



Getting it Working

The FM Radio module plugs into the User Port at the back of your Commodore 64. Sound is output via a standard 3.5mm jack so you can attach a pair of headphones, or, as I did, hook it up to a powered speaker. In order to actually pick up any stations you also need to plug in the included telescopic aerial.


C64 FM Radio

FM Radio plugged in a ready to go.


With the radio board plugged into the C64’s user port, speakers and aerial attached it’s time to power on the C64 and load up the supplied software to get it working.


C64 Directory Listing

Contents of the supplied floppy disk.


The supplied floppy disk contains a number of different programs for both the  C64 and C128 but the one I was interested in to get the radio working was the first one in the list above; “fmradio-64.prg”.


C64 FM Radio

Initial screen.


Loading it up will initially present the screen above where it will confirm the presence of the RTC, show the current date and time and give you the option to set it too. Pressing ‘space’ loads up the actual FM Radio program.


Using the Radio

With the program running you can control the radio via a basic but functional user interface (UI) that displays all the information you need.


C64 FM Radio

FM Radio Software UI.


The top-left portion of the screen is dedicated to showing the following 6 things:

  • CPOWER – Power status (Green=ON / RED=OFF)
  • Mute – on/off
  • Bass Boost – on/off
  • Scan – Indicates if the radio is currently scanning for a channel
  • Stereo – Shows whether channel is playing in Mono or Stereo
  • 50us de-em – ‘de-emphasis’ 50us or 70us setting that can help remove unwanted noise/interference

Moving across to the larger section on the right we can see details about the currently tuned channel along with the volume level and signal strength. If you have stored a channel in a ‘preset’ and named it then that will be displayed too under ‘Station name’.

In the strip below (providing you have set it already) the current date and time will be displayed.

Finally below all this and occupying the majority of the screen is the channel preset/listing area. This is basically a list of all the channels you have stored and the names you have assigned them.


How well does it work?

As the C64 FM Radio is digital rather than analogue, tuning in to stations is really simple. You can initiate an automatic channel scan up or down the FM frequency by tapping ‘;’ and ‘:’ respectively. Alternatively you can nudge the tuner up or down 100Khz at a time to fine tune a station yourself by using the ‘U’ and ‘D’ keys. The radio will not automatically retrieve channel names but once you have tuned in a channel you like you can press ‘C’ to store it and assign it any name you like  (up to 12 characters) and save it into one of the 16 available slots. These presets are saved to disk when you quit the program. The first 10 presets can be quickly accessed by simply pressing the corresponding number on the keyboard. Alternatively, you can use the cursor keys to move up and down the list and press ‘return’ to select one.

Here’s a short video of me using the radio, switching channels and so on, all from my C64.



Once you have tuned into a particular station you have the option of changing between mono and stereo reception and toggling a ‘de-emphasis’ setting to improve the audio. I found tuning to be mostly ‘all or nothing’ meaning that most of the stations either tuned in perfectly or barely at all so I had no use for these tools but it’s nice to have them available. Of course you can also alter the volume level, add Bass Boost or mute the audio all from your C64. The bass boost works quite well too, at least with my Bose speaker anyway.

I was only able to pull in a couple of local radio stations initially with the supplied telescopic aerial but I do have a lot of electronic equipment in my man cave that could well be affecting reception. However I replaced the supplied aerial with a 2m long aux cable I had lying around and was then able to pull in a few more channels. Who knows what I could pull in if I had an even longer one! If it’s been a while since you used an FM radio then you might have forgotten how finicky they can sometimes be depending on where they are placed and what direction the aerial is pointing in etc. Luckily for me, my favourite radio station (Greatest Hits Radio) was one of the two I could receive with the supplied telescopic aerial. The quality of the reception was spot on too so I was quite happy to continue using the stock aerial.

I should point out that the FM Radio hardware is doing all the work here. The C64 just interfaces with the board to provide power and interact with it via software. This becomes pretty obvious once you quit the program or reset your C64 because the radio continues to work. However this allows you to play a game on your C64 whilst listening to the radio so is actually a positive for me!



The included RTC works with GEOS (after you install a small driver to read the time from it) which is amazingly useful and really cool. Sadly this latest radio design (there have been at least 3 different ones used that I’m aware of) doesn’t yet work with GEOS but the guys behind this project are working on a revised PCB that should fix this in the future.

I was able to get hold of an older version of the Radio hardware that still works with the GEOS Radio program and it’s a really slick experience. It provides a modern, mouse driven UI for the radio with a nice chunky digital channel display. You can see how attractive the radio app is in the photo below.


Radio program running within GEOS.



Where to get one?

I picked up my C64 FM Radio kit from Shareware Plus in the UK. If you fancy getting one yourself you can find them here. It’s not only a fun piece of hardware to tinker around with but its really useful too. The clock feature for GEOS alone made it worthwhile for me. Just be aware that if you have your heart set on using the radio with GEOS then hang fire until they revise the board to work correctly with it.

Wireless Amiga and C64 Gamepad Review

I spotted this wireless Amiga gamepad in an advert in the latest issue of Amiga Future magazine and ordered myself one immediately. Reading a physical Amiga magazine in 2023, seeing an advert in it and actually being able to order the item in that advert is a pretty special experience for me as a retro gamer. Normally when browsing through old Amiga magazines I see adverts for products and from suppliers that are long gone, but this was like being back in the early 1990’s all over again!


wireless Amiga gamepad

Advert in Amiga Future Magazine.


It’s full name is the “TURBO 2000 Super – Deluxe Wireless GamePad Controller” which is ridiculously OTT in a loveable 80’s kind of way. I picked mine up from their eBay web store but they’re available elsewhere online from other retro retailers too.


wireless Amiga gamepad

The box front.


Despite coming from Germany delivery took less than a week and I had no import fees to pay. Yippee! 🙂


wireless Amiga gamepad

Back of the Box.


It came packaged in a pretty slick and colourful box that definitely wouldn’t look out of place on the shelf in your local game store.


Batteries Not Included

Opening up the box reveals a couple of instruction sheets, a dongle with a standard 9-pin DSub plug and of course the gamepad itself.


wireless Amiga gamepad

Everything you get inside the box.


They actually make four different versions of the gamepad for the Amiga, C64, Atari VCS and Atari 2600. They’re all the same physical device though, it’s just the vinyl sticker on the controller that differs for each version.


wireless Amiga gamepad

The wireless dongle and gamepad.


I chose the C64 themed controller as the colours just appealed to me the most.


wireless Amiga gamepad

Bottom of the Gamepad.


The controller takes 2 AAA batteries (not supplied) that fit into a little compartment on the underside.


wireless Amiga gamepad

AAA Battery Compartment.


Connecting the Gamepad to the Amiga

Connecting the dongle and gamepad to the Amiga could not have been any simpler. You just plug the dongle into the joystick port as normal (or in my case my Roboshift), power on the Amiga and then power on the gamepad.


wireless Amiga gamepad

Hooking the Wireless Dongle up to my Roboshift device.


When you first plug the dongle in and power on your Amiga, a red LED on the device flashes signifying that it is trying to pair with the controller.


wireless Amiga gamepad

The Wireless Dongle.


As soon as I powered on the gamepad (which also had a small red LED above the D-Pad) both LED’s became solid red right away.


wireless Amiga gamepad

Notice the little Power/Connectivity LED above the D-Pad.


What’s it like to use?

The gamepad is well constructed and nicely finished in a textured matte black plastic. The vinyl sticker on the front is really well made and looks professional. The textured finish makes it easy to grip and having a set of batteries inside it means it has a nice bit of weight to it.


wireless Amiga gamepad

Close-up of the buttons.


The gamepad features 3 fire buttons (labelled 1, 2 & 3) and a dedicated ‘UP’ button which is a real boon in platform games. The ‘MAP’ button is used to switch around the fire buttons depending on your preference or system being used. It can also be used to switch the ‘UP’ button with fire button 1 should you wish. The ‘AUTO’ button toggles the auto-fire feature on and off. 4 different auto-fire speeds are configurable on the pad; 1, 5, 8 and 13 ‘clicks per second’.

The D-Pad is very responsive and easy to operate without accidentally triggering a diagonal direction unless you actually want to. The fire buttons are quite stiffly sprung and require a firm push to depress which gives plenty of tactile feedback. It did take me a little while to get used to though. Compared to say an Xbox or PlayStation controller they require much more pressure to operate.


Turrican 2 AGA

Turrican 2 AGA


Having 2 fire buttons that work on the Amiga is terrific. Playing the new Turrican 2 AGA for example (awesome game by the way) is so much better when you have the 2nd fire button to help trigger extra weapons/abilities instead of having to reach for the keyboard all the time!


Turrican 2 AGA

Turrican 2 AGA – 2nd Fire Button Configuration.,


This gamepad would be equally awesome for games that support 2 fire buttons on the C64 too. Games like Super Mario Bros 64 and Chase HQ 2 for example.

Another useful feature is that the gamepad turns itself off after a period of inactivity to conserve battery life. Turning it back on just requires a quick press of the ‘AUTO’ button for near instantaneous reconnection.


Final Thoughts

This is an awesome controller and I’m so glad I bought it. I have a ton of retro joysticks and gamepads now but this one has quickly become my favourite. The combination of auto-fire, configurable extra fire buttons and of course the wireless capability means it’s a no-brainer for me. It’s reasonably priced too, coming in at around the same level you would expect to pay for an Xbox or PlayStation controller. Considering this is a low volume product I think the price is very fair indeed.

Needless to say I’m going to order some more so I can leave one permanently attached to each of my Commodore machines! Highly recommended.



I’ve included scans of the instructions below in case anyone is curious about exactly how the button mapping or pairing works.



Retro Cassette HDD Enclosure

Retro Cassette HDD Enclosure

Picked this funky little retro cassette HDD enclosure up off Amazon a few days ago as I just couldn’t resist the look of it. It’s nothing special, just a cheap enclosure that you can pop a 2.5″ HDD/SSD in for some portable storage. However it’s been designed to look like a cassette tape which is what attracted me to it.


Retro Cassette HDD Enclosure

Front of the box.


It supports USB 3.0 as you would expect and claims a 5Gbps transfer speed which I’m not going to bother testing. I’m here for the looks!


Retro Cassette HDD Enclosure

Back of the box.


What’s in the box?

Inside the box you get the ‘cassette’ enclosure, a short USB 3.0 cable, some stickers and some rudimentary instructions in Chinese and ‘Chinglish’ as is expected with cheap electronics these days.


Retro Cassette HDD Enclosure

A look at what came inside the box.


The enclosure is made from transparent plastic and it came with a protective wrap to prevent scratches which peeled off easily.


Retro Cassette HDD Enclosure

Sliding the enclosure open.


Opening the case seemed like some sort of fiendish Rubik’s puzzle at first… until it finally dawned on me that the two halves slid apart instead of unclipping! To be fair the instructions did mention the word ‘slide’ but it was by no means obvious!


500GB Drive fitted snugly inside.


I had a bunch of old 2.5″ laptop drives rattling around in the bottom of my desk drawer so installed one of those inside the enclosure, a process which took all of about five seconds.


Retro Cassette HDD Enclosure

Lid back on the enclosure.


Putting the lid back on proved to be far easier than taking it off!


Retro Cassette HDD Enclosure

Close-up of the business end of the enclosure.


My HDD was pretty chunky so it fit snugly with no room to spare which means it didn’t rattle around. A piece of self-adhesive foam was supplied in the enclosure which could be used as padding for thinner drives such as SSD’s to prevent them from moving around inside the enclosure.


‘Cassette’ stickers.


Of course at this point it still looked like a transparent case with a hard drive inside it. Time to affix the stickers!


Retro Cassette HDD Enclosure

Looking a lot more like a cassette now!


Two stickers are supplied in the box, one for each side. I found it much easier to see what I was doing without the drive installed so I took the enclosure apart and removed the drive. Once I’d done that I found them very easy to align and stick on.


Retro Cassette HDD Enclosure

Transformation complete.


With the the stickers applied the transformation was complete and I had a cassette tape with a 500GB storage capacity! It definitely looks the part and is a lot more interesting to have than a plain old boring black plastic case.


Retro Cassette HDD Enclosure

If you don’t look too closely it certainly looks like a tape…


Below is a photo alongside a regular cassette tape for comparison. Clearly it’s quite a bit bigger but it needs to be so that a regular 2.5″ drive can fit inside.


Retro Cassette HDD Enclosure

Comparison with an actual audio cassette tape. Absolutely awesome song too!


Final Thoughts

It worked without any fuss when I plugged it into my PC, just as you would expect really. However it did so whilst looking cool, which is something you can’t say about the majority of storage solutions available these days! It brings a smile to my face every time I get it out of the drawer and everyone who sees it on my desk comments on it which makes it totally worth the few quid it cost in my book.

If I wanted to be really flash I’d probably install an SSD, however I bought it as a fun (and cheap!) way to make use of an old drive so I’m quite happy with it the way it is.

On the off chance anyone wants to pick one up I’ve included an affiliate link below 🙂

Building a Mini PET Kit

Mini PET

I’ve long been a fan of those little electronic DIY kits that Maplin used to sell for a few quid. They would have little Xmas trees made up of LED’s, alarm clocks with a handful of digital number displays, that kind of thing. So when I spotted the Mini PET micro-computer kit over at TFW8b I snapped one up straight away. Of course this kit was £350 – a far cry from the inexpensive little packs I used to pick up in Maplin so I was quite nervous about starting the project and messing it up. To reduce the chances of this happening I bought a few inexpensive electronics kits to practice my soldering skills on before letting myself loose on the Mini PET.


SpikenzieLabs calculator

My completed SpikenzieLabs calculator kit.


Probably the most fun and useful kit was the calculator pictured above that I picked up from SpikenzieLabs. I also picked up a Pinecil soldering iron which I can highly recommend. I paired the Pinecil with some leaded 60/40 solder which I find flows infinitely better than the lead-free stuff so prevalent nowadays. Suffice to say that I procrastinated, researched and practiced quite extensively before I finally felt ready to move on to the main event.


Mini PET

The Mini PET Kit box.


What do you get in the box?

Inside the box you get everything needed to build a fully working ‘Mini PET’ computer including the motherboard, all electronic components, chips, sockets, switches, keys, keycaps and screws. You also get an attractive perspex case complete with stand-offs and screws to build around your completed computer. There’s also a suitable PSU supplied in the box.


Mini PET

Here’s all the Mini PET components included in the box.


Besides the computer components you also get a comprehensive spiral bound assembly guide and a PET game on cassette; ‘3D Monster Maze’. Also included (as an optional extra) was an SD2PET device which I think is a pretty essential addition. There was also some fun merchandise included too; a fabric mouse mat, a ‘floppy disk’ coaster, a rubber and a snazzy biro/iPad stylus.


Mini PET

The rest of the box contents including the all important manual, SD2PET device and 3D Monster Maze game plus assorted merchandise.


Getting Started

The first stage of building the kit involved fitting all the smaller electronic components to the board, starting with the resistors and capacitors. The instructions helpfully included colour code charts to help identify the correct resisters but I double checked each one with my multi-meter just to be on the safe side.  I found a magnifying glass to be pretty useful here too as some of the coloured bands are pretty small and the writing on the caps was almost invisible to my middle-aged eyes.


Mini PET

The Mini PET mainboard with resistors and caps installed.


Next up was the fitting of the single timing crystal along with sockets for the chips and the resistor arrays. The sockets were a little tricky to install as I couldn’t bend over their legs like I could with things like resistors. I ended up using lumps of blue-tack to keep them fixed whilst soldering them as I found this worked really well.


Mini PET

The board now with added sockets, timing crystal and resistor arrays.


The DIP switch array, large electrolytic capacitor and the power and video sockets were installed next. The RGB socket in particular needed quite a bit of solder to anchor it into position so I whacked up the temp on my Pinecil temporarily to make this easier. Again blu-tack came to the rescue here to keep them in position whilst the board was upside down.


Mini PET

…with added DIP switch, ports and electrolytic capacitor.


Following on from that it was time to install the piezo AC transducer (speaker) and the coloured LED’s. The green LED is used to show that the board is receiving power whilst two RED ones will indicate motor activity on the datasette ports. The other red LED is used to signify that the system is ‘ready’ and should be outputting a video signal. This is to aid in troubleshooting any issues further down the line.


Mini PET

…with added speaker and LED’s.


Building the Keyboard

Finally it was time for the part I’d been secretly dreading – constructing the keyboard. Each key is constructed using a physical key plunger attached to the mainboard, a keycap, a printed keycap label and a keycap cover.


Mini PET

Carefully cutting out the keycap labels.


The coloured keycap labels were supplied on a glossy printed sheet and needed to be carefully cut out, one by one. For this I used a craft knife and a small steel ruler that I got out of a Christmas cracker! Immediately after cutting each label out I sandwiched it between a keycap and cover as you can see in the photo below. They were much less likely to get wafted off my desk and onto the floor like this!


Mini PET

The keycaps and a plunger switch.


Now all the plungers needed fitting to the board. Thankfully from a soldering perspective their little wire legs grip the board really well so once attached they stay put.


Mini PET

This pile of plunger switches aren’t going to solder themselves…


This was a very good thing indeed as you cannot solder them to the board yet – you have to attach all the keycaps to the plungers before proceeding any further.


Mini PET

Keyboard starting to take shape now.


You also have to fit the keyboard overlay over the keycaps and fasten it to the mainboard too. This is to ensure that all the little plungers are perfectly aligned before they are permanently soldered into position.


Mini PET

Really starting to look like a computer now!


So began a marathon soldering session. Each of the 77 keys needed soldering to the board. Each key has four pins so that’s over 300 little pins that needed to be soldered. Once you get into a rhythm it’s not too bad though. Before I knew it they were all done and I was ready to begin installing the chips.


Mini PET

Each of these little pins (below the text) need soldering…


Installing the Chips


Mini PET

All of the ‘brains’ of the PET have been installed now.


Helpfully all the chips were already correctly positioned on the anti-static protective foam. Consequently it was just a matter of transposing them to the corresponding sockets on the mainboard. Most of the chips had legs that were splayed out too far and needed bending into position to fit into their socket. If I had to do this again I’d probably buy a proper tool to achieve this. As it was I used my desk surface whilst applying a slight rotational force to the chip to bend the legs into the correct position. It got the job done but not always on the first or even second try!


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Above you can see some close-up photos of the various chips used in the kit.


Powering On!

With all the chips installed it was time for best bit of all – powering on for the first time. I was obviously pretty nervous but I plugged in the PSU and switched it on. A dim green LED lit showing the board had power but the red ‘ready’ LED wasn’t lighting up.


Mini PET

Mini PET Power LED.


For a few moments I thought I’d really messed something up, until I remembered that there’s a key on the keyboard that turns the PET on/off. Doh! Pressing that button elicited a little electronic ‘chirp’ and the ‘ready’ light lit up. Hurrah!


Mini PET

Mini PET ‘Ready’ LED.


I hooked the PET up to my trusty Commodore 1084 monitor and was delighted to see a “MINI PET BASIC 4.1 – 31743 Bytes Free” message appear. So far, so good.


Mini PET

Mini PET boot screen.


The instruction guide referred to a built in test you could run to make sure everything was working properly. It’s accessed by entering the command “SYS 40960″… I entered the command and hit Return and immediately knew something wasn’t right. All the text was garbled, showing graphics characters in place of some of the letters as you can clearly see in the photo below.


Mini PET

Uh oh – test failed 🙁


I powered it down, got out the magnifying glass and carefully inspected every single solder joint for issues. Sure enough I found 5 pins across the various chip sockets that I had somehow managed to miss completely with the soldering iron. I heated the iron back up and soldered the ones that had got away and tried running the test again.


Mini PET

Mini PET- test passed! 🙂


Bingo! This time everything passed with flying colours. Just to be on the safe side I let the test run for a while but happily every test cycle completed successfully. Not really sure how I managed to completely miss soldering some of the pins but I was just glad it was a simple, easily rectifiable issue.

With the tests complete it was time to install my new baby inside it’s protective Perspex case. This was a simple matter of peeling off the protective film from the Perspex sheets and fastening them together with the supplied plastic stand-offs and screws.


Mini PET

Looking good.


I have to say it looks amazing in its case and I love the way it has a transparent top section so I can admire my hard work. I think it looks really cool and ‘industrial’ showing the chips inside and having the little LED’s lit up.


Mini PET

Power and video sockets.


The photo above shows, in order from left to right; the power socket, composite video output and RGB video output.


Mini PET

View of the rear ports.


This next photo shows the ports at the rear of the Mini PET. From left to right, Datasette Port 1, Datasette Port 2, User Port and finally the IEEE-488 Interface Port.


Mini PET

The finished kit in all its glory.


Just look at those sleek lines… Bootiful – as Bernard Mathews used to say… An additional neat touch is that the names of all the ports and sockets are etched into the Perspex case itself. You can just make this out in the photo above.


Mini PET

Chiclet style keyboard up close.


Here’s a close-up of the keyboard. It’s been designed to replicate the chiclet style keyboard of the original PET machines and I think it does an admirable job. It’s actually quite comfortable to type on too – I’ve certainly used worse keyboards on other devices that’s for sure!

SD2PET Device


With my Mini PET build complete it was time to put it to good use. I hooked up my SD2PET device to the IEEE-488 port and Datasette 2 port (for power). This is a clever little device that fools the computer into thinking it has a floppy disk drive attached. Files on the card appear as virtual disks to the PET.



SD2PET plugged into back of Mini PET.


The SD card must be formatted as FAT32 which is easy enough to do on a Windows 11 PC. Next I transferred a few PET games and demos to the card, inserted it into the SD2PET and fired up the Mini PET.



SD2PET – Rear view.


The Mini PET has a nifty little feature if you press the dedicated MENU key (bottom right).



SD2PET File Browser.


It brings up the file browser for the SD2PET allowing you to select a program to run straight away as shown in the photo above. By the way, I apologise for the quality of the photos in advance. I found it very hard, if not impossible to achieve an exposure that could both capture the bright green luminous display on my 1084 CRT and avoid the flickering scanlines. The images look pin sharp and vibrant in real-life but not so much in my photos…


Demos and Games


PET Games

Space Invaders


I found a really terrific version of Space Invaders that both looked and sounded the part and was as addictive as ever to play with keyboard controls.


PET Demo

Back to the PET demo.


I also ran a few demos and was particularly impressed by one called “Back to the Pet”. It featured some pretty groovy music given the hardware it was running on and some flashy graphics including parallax scrolling. This demo was only released this year so it really pushes the limits of what the PET can achieve. I certainly never thought the humble PET was capable of something like this!


Back to the PET demo.

Another Back to the PET capture.


I also tried Attack of the PETSCII Robots which felt appropriate given the name and was pretty impressed with how well it ran.


Attack of the PETSCII Robots

Attack of the PETSCII Robots Title Screen.


This game actually allows you to swap out the physical character ROM chip in order to get some enhanced custom graphics. This involves programming an EPROM and is something I might look into as a project for the future but right now I was content to just play the game ‘as is’.


Attack of the PETSCII Robots

Attack of the PETSCII Robots Game Screen.


At this point I remembered that a copy of 3D Monster Maze was included in the box so I hooked up my Datasette to Port one and loaded it up.



Graphically this is quite a simplistic game but it ran really well.  It was easy to control with the keyboard and I had a fun experience while it lasted.


Rounding Off

All in all I’m super impressed with the Mini PET. It was much easier to build than I’d anticipated and I definitely wish I had gotten round to making it sooner instead of putting it off. Although it probably cost almost as much as a real Commodore PET on eBay it’s built with new components so should be much more reliable. It’s also a fraction of the size of those behemoth PET machines plus I’ve had the satisfaction of building it myself.

My experience of building the Mini PET computer has certainly left me a lot more receptive to the idea of building my own retro machines in the future now too. If they ever offer a build your own Commander X16 kit then I’m all in!

The Future

TFW8b sell a hardware expansion for the Mini PET and some more games on cassette so I’ve ordered these and will post some more updates when they arrive. I’ll also be keeping a look out for any books or magazines containing BASIC listings for the PET computer so that I can have a go at typing them in in true 1980’s style!


The C64 Collectors Guide to Mastertronic Kickstarter Bundle

This is a compilation of mini reviews of stuff I got with ‘The Commodore 64 Collectors Guide to Mastertronic’ on Kickstarter a couple of months ago. It includes the book itself, ‘Hammer Down’ C64 game, ‘Classic C64 Soundtracks’ Tape/CD and a 25th Anniversary remaster of the first edition of Commodore Zone magazine.


Collectors Guide to Mastertronic

What I received in my bundle.


As you can see in the photo above I received quite a few items in the bundle. The book, a reproduction Commodore Zone magazine, Classic C64 Soundtrack CD and Cassette tape and a C64 game on cassette; Hammer Down. ‘Didn’t he do well!’ as Brucie used to say.


Collectors Guide to Mastertronic

The Commodore 64 Collectors Guide to Mastertronic.


The hardback book itself is a weighty tome, coming in at over 500 pages complete with glossy protective jacket. The cover takes its styling cues from the Mastertronic £1.99 range of its subject matter and is visually very appealing.


Collectors Guide to Mastertronic

The back cover.


Inside the Collectors Guide to Mastertronic Book

Inside there is coverage of every Mastertronic game ever released for the Commodore 64 alongside screenshots, game descriptions and mini reviews. It’s basically an encyclopaedia of everything Mastertronic for the C64. The presentation of the book is lovely with full colour box art and screenshots on glossy paper with a real premium feel to everything. The original Zzap! 64 scores for the games are also included where they exist (they may be present for every game but I certainly haven’t read every page in the book to check).


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I’ve had a lot of fun just randomly browsing through the book, stopping when a particular game catches my eye. I was quite shocked to discover that one of my favourite Mastertronic titles scored a measly 37% in Zzap! 64. I’d have given it at least double that score as it entertained me for many a rainy Sunday afternoon as a kid until I finally completed it.


Collectors Guide to Mastertronic

Shockingly low score for The Last V8!


Although I got the Collectors Guide to Mastertronic book as part of a Kickstarter campaign, it is available to be purchased separately from the Fusion Retro Books website. If you want to pick yourself up a copy don’t forget to use my code ‘LYONSDENBLOG’ to get yourself a whopping 15% off the price.


Collectors Guide to Mastertronic – C64 Soundtracks

Also included in the bundle was a collection of excellent C64 SID soundtracks on both CD and Cassette. Each contains exactly the same tracks but I wanted both just so I could play them on both my Hi-Fi and Walkman. There are 13 tracks in total and most are native SID tracks but there are also a couple of orchestral versions at the end taken from the 8-bit Symphony album.


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Just like the book, the design of the albums is based on typical Mastertronic releases from the past. This is especially true for the cassette version which would look right at home amongst my collection of classic games.


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The cassette features full colour labels and a J-card complete with track listings. The recording, whilst on a standard ferric cassette, sounded terrific and has been completed to a high standard.


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The CD is a thing of beauty too. The music has been recorded onto one of those vinyl record style black CD’s which makes it look like a diminutive 7″ single. It features an expanded version of the cassette artwork on the front and needless to say it also sounds fantastic.

Sadly I don’t think the soundtracks are available to buy anywhere now as they were limited edition runs.


Hammer Down Game

Also included in my Collectors Guide to Mastertronic bundle was a new original game for the C64 called ‘Hammer Down’. The game comes on cassette with a suitably Mastertronic style cover. Look carefully though and you will see that it’s actually made by Psytronik, the prolific modern day C64 game publisher.


Hammer Down C64.

Hammer Down cassette case.


The yellow cassette is very eye-catching and has colour artwork screen-printed directly onto it and looks fantastic.


Hammer Down C64.

Hammer Down tape and cassette case.


Likewise the yellow case and full colour J card complete with screenshots looks equally great.


Hammer Down C64.

Binatone Data Recorder – Loading…


The game takes a few minutes to load but during that time you are entertained by a very catchy SID tune and some great game artwork.


Hammer Down C64.

Press Play on Tape.


Hammer Down C64.

Hammer Down Loading Screen.


The game itself is like a cross between ‘The Last V8’ and ‘Action Biker’ which is no bad thing. The gameplay side of things comes from ‘Action Biker’ whilst the top-down view (rather than isometric) comes from ‘The Last V8’.


Hammer Down C64.

Hammer Down Title Screen.



Once the gamer finishes loading you are greeted with a neat ‘chequered flag’ title screen along with another great piece of SID music. This screen also displays your high score and the games credits. A really nice touch here is that the MPH and RPM dials become VU meters with needles that bounce away in sync to the music.


Hammer Down C64.

Never forget where the petrol station is!


You play as a motorcycle courier who must ride around and collect all the packages dotted around a small town. Of course it’s never quite that simple so in time honoured tradition you have 3 lives and will lose one if you hit an object or run out of fuel. Your fuel level drops at quite an alarming rate so you need to keep a close eye on it. Thankfully a warning will sound when the level gets critically low. Fill-ups are free so it really pays to keep your tank topped up.


Hammer Down C64.

GAME OVER – Expect to be seeing this screen a lot!


Like the games upon which it is based, controlling the bike in Hammer Down is quite tricky and takes some getting used to and navigating the scenery can be tough. The main problem is discerning what elements of the environment are fatal if touched and those you can get away with. For example there are thick black areas around walls and buildings which I thought would kill me. After a few minutes I realised they were shadows and I could safely drive through them. Conversely sometimes elements I thought were road markings turned out not to be resulting in a life lost. Basically a lot of trial and error is required but that’s all part of the fun.

Another skill that needs to be mastered is the U-turn! Your bike has no reverse so if you head down a dead end (which you must do to collect many of the packages) a U-turn is your only option! The bike has a pretty small turning circle but it can still be extremely tricky to turn around without hitting something!

There’s limited sound effects in the game, being mainly limited to explosions, a low-fuel warning/refuelling ‘glug’ and a parcel pickup chime. However the SID music that plays during the game more than makes up for this. It’s a terrific rendition of ‘The Return of the Los Palmas 7’ by Madness. They were one of my favourite bands back in the 80’s so this added greatly to my enjoyment of the game. Obviously your mileage may vary here!

All in all this is a terrific little game and I’m really glad I chose to add it to my Kickstarter bundle. I highly recommend it, especially if you are a fan of either ‘The Last V8’ or ‘Action Biker’. It definitely has that ‘one more go’ appeal as you strive to collect a few extra parcels on your next round and beat your high score.

If you would like to get yourself a copy Psytronik will be selling it on their website soon.

Commodore Zone 25th Anniversary Edition

Last but by no means least I picked up a ‘remastered’ 25th Anniversary Edition of the first issue of Commodore Zone magazine. For those unfamiliar with Commodore Zone it was a fan made A5 magazine produced in the UK in the mid 1990’s and ran for 16 issues.


Commodore Zone

Commodore Zone Remastered edition.


The original magazine was completely black and white, even down to the cover. Access to a colour printer was a luxury most of us couldn’t afford back then!  The photo below shows the original magazine from September 1995 on the left for a direct comparison.


Commodore Zone

Original and remastered edition side-by-side.


Clearly a lot of work has gone into this as you can see from the comparison photos below. It’s not just the addition of colour but also many of the pages have been completely redesigned to incorporate a more modern look and feel. The guys that did this have done a tremendous job and I really hope that they give the same treatment to the rest of the back-catalogue in the near future.


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The only thing missing is the coverdisk but as I have all the original discs already that’s no great loss. Here’s a photo of the (double-sided) disk I received with issue one 27 years ago!


Commodore Zone

The original coverdisk from issue 1.


Sadly printed versions of Commodore Zone aren’t available to purchase anywhere today (unless you get lucky on eBay). However you can buy a CD containing scanned copies of all 16 magazines along with .d64 versions of all the coverdisks here.

The A500 Mini Review

Despite the fact that I already own a real A500 an A1200 and a CD32 I still pre-ordered ‘The A500 Mini’ as soon as they were announced, such is my love for these old Commodore machines. I also picked up both ‘The C64 Mini’ and Maxi despite owning a VIC20 and C64 which they both emulate. I suppose even if I never use them much they’re still really cool devices to own and display but the truth is I just can’t resist these (or any) sort of gadgets.

First impressions were terrific. The A500 Mini came in a very attractive and colourful box adorned with pictures of the computer and peripherals on the front and a gallery of the included games on the back. The box was surprisingly heavy too, something I definitely wasn’t expecting.


The A500 Mini

Back of The A500 Mini Box.


The A500 Mini comes with the following 25 games pre-loaded:

Alien Breed 3D
Alien Breed: Special Edition’92
Another World
Arcade Pool
ATR: All Terrain Racing
Battle Chess
California Games
The Chaos Engine
Dragons Breath
F-16 Combat Pilot
Kick Off 2
The Lost Patrol
Paradroid 90
Pinball Dreams
Project-X: Special Edition 93
The Sentinel
Simon the Sorcerer
Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe
Stunt Car Racer
Super Cars II
Titus The Fox: To Marrakech And Back
Worms: The Director’s Cut
Zool: Ninja Of The “Nth” Dimension


What’s in the Box?

Opening up the box revealed the A500 mini itself, an optical USB Tank mouse, CD32-esque USB controller, quick start guide, HDMI cable and a USB C power cable.


The A500 Mini

The A500 Mini (with plastic cover).


The mouse and controller were tucked away under the A500 Mini inside their own little boxes.


The A500 Mini

Controller and Mouse Boxes.


The tank mouse is a perfect, slightly smaller replica of a real Amiga tank mouse.


Tank Mouse

The A500 Mini Tank Mouse.


The design of the gamepad was clearly inspired by the CD32’s controllers.


The A500 Mini

The A500 Mini Controller.


A suitably beige USB C power cable and HDMI cable are also included. I have to admit it was nice to see the adoption of USB C for the power as most of my modern day kit uses this standard now. You have to provide your own USB power socket but that was to be expected – most of us have plenty of these lying around.



USB C Power and HDMI Cables.


The Quick guide is literally just that. Strip away all the pages devoted to other languages, health and safety gubbins and a list of the package contents and you are left with a meagre 2 pages of instructions. The full 48 page English instruction manual is provided online – here’s the URL given in the quick guide. For a retro product I did find this disappointing and would much rather have had all of this info in a nice spiral bound or hardback manual. Hopefully they release this as an optional extra shortly like they did with the ‘The C64 User Manual‘.


The A500 Mini Guide

The A500 Mini Quick Guide.


A Closer Look at the A500 Mini

From the photos you could certainly be forgiven for mistaking the A500 Mini for a real A500 especially if you last used one in the 80’s or 90’s. Obviously it doesn’t have the Commodore logo on display but it’s only really when you see the USB ports on the back that you realise something isn’t quite right.

If you try to press any of the keys you will quickly realise something else isn’t right too. Just like with The C64 Mini the keyboard is completely non-functional and just for show. It’s certainly very convincing visually though with each key perfectly formed!


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The attention to detail on the case is amazing and really makes me wonder why I’ve been waiting for four years now for my ‘Compatible A500 case’ to be made!


The A500 Mini

Spot the subtle differences from a real A500.


The case displays the wording ‘The A500’ rather than Amiga and their own logo rather than the familiar Commodore ‘Chicken head’ which is obviously for copyright reasons.


The A500 Mini

Those keys look so real!


The floppy drive and eject button are very convincing but totally non-functional. Its a real shame they didn’t incorporate an SD card slot for expanding your game library here. At the very least they should have put an extra USB port here so we could insert our USB stick like it was a floppy disk…


The A500 Mini

Close-up of the non-functioning ‘floppy disk drive’.


The diminutive scale of The A500 Mini becomes instantly apparent when compared to a 3.5″ floppy disk!


The A500 Mini

A500 Mini Compared to 3.5″ Floppy Disk.



Unlike the original A500 the The A500 Mini come with a very modest selection of ports comprising USB-C for power, a full-size HDMI for video and 3 USB ports for the mouse, controller and memory stick with extra games on. There’s also a power switch included on the back.

I really think there should have been an extra USB port included here for attaching a USB keyboard. If all you are interested in is arcade style games then you’ll be fine. However if simulation games are more your thing (like the Microprose games that needed keyboard overlays) then you are going to need a USB hub to add a keyboard which is going to make for a very messy setup indeed.


The A500 Mini

Connectivity: From left to right, Power button, USB-C power socket, HDMI Video, 3x USB ports.


Here’s a photo of everything you get inside the box. The relative size of the A500 Mini becomes apparent when it is sat next to the mouse and gamepad.


The A500 Mini

Contents of the box.


What’s it like to use?

After plugging all the cables in and pressing the on/off switch the power LED came to life. Surprisingly the drive activity light doesn’t actually operate when loading the UI or any of the included games.


The A500 Mini

All plugged in and ready to go!


After approximately 8 seconds of staring at a blank TV whilst it booted up a very snazzy red and white A500 Mini splash screen appeared.


The A500 Mini

The A500 Mini Boot Screen.


As this was the first time the device had been used a couple of configuration screens popped up allowing me to choose my language and also whether I wanted to use 50Hz or 60Hz.


The A500 Mini

TV Settings Screen.


Naturally being in the UK I chose the superior 50Hz option for the optimal frame rate. 🙂


The A500 Mini

The A500 Mini User Interface.


After a quick test to make sure the mode was compatible I was presented with a gorgeous user-interface (UI). The UI features a scrolling carousel of Amiga game box art along with changing graphic montages from each game in the background. Some very relaxing ambient synth music plays softly whilst you navigate the UI too.

There are icons showing whether each game utilises the controller and/or mouse and how many players it supports. Each game can have a user star rating too, from 1 to four stars. As the carousel allows you to change the sort order between Author, Genre, Year, Publisher and Favourite this affords you the option of having the games displayed by order of preference should you want it.


The A500 Mini

The Chaos Engine playing as good as ever.


Over the course of an afternoon I had a lot of fun trying out all of the pre-installed games on The A500 Mini and they all ran perfectly. I didn’t do any side by side comparisons but nothing gave me pause for concern and I was very impressed with just how slick everything was. Games loaded in seconds – there’s no simulated loading times here.

There are plenty of quality of life features too. For example each game supports up to 4 ‘save states’ allowing you to instantly save your progress at any point in any game. It even includes a ‘disk label’ incorporating a screen capture of exactly what you were doing at the moment you created the save state to help you recognise it in future! I think these are a great feature and who knows – in 30 years time someone might be using using a PS5 mini console and using save-states to brute force through a boss encounter in Elden Ring…


The A500 Mini

Alien Breed Save State with thumbnail ‘disk label’.


Some of the included games need rudimentary keyboard support in order to work. Pinball Dreams is a good example, requiring the use of the function keys to select which level you want to play. The handy virtual keyboard (invoked by tapping the menu button) worked like a charm here. However for games that require frequent keyboard inputs or text adventures like The Pawn you would definitely need to use a USB keyboard.


The A500 Mini

Selecting a level in Pinball Dreams using the virtual keyboard.


Happily the tank mouse is a pleasure to use in the games that support it, in Simon the Sorcerer for example. I should point out that the main UI doesn’t support it at all though – you must use the controller to navigate around that.

Unlike the original A500 mouse this new one incorporates a modern optical sensor under the hood and is all the better for it. I’m not really nostalgic about the old ball mice – they were a pain and required constant cleaning. Even when new they were not as accurate in use as a cheap optical mouse is now. I’ve been using optical mice with all my Amiga machines for years which should speak volumes.


Simon the Sorcerer

Using the mouse in Simon the Sorcerer.


Tweaking the settings

So the included games all work like a charm – but there’s still room for improvement. There’s a bunch of options you can mess around with to alter each game to your personal preference. The settings screens all feature a Workbench 1.3 Window effect which is a nice nod to the past and another example of the thought that has gone into this product.


The A500 Mini

Display Options.


The Display Options screen allows you to select the zoom size of the screen. Some games are displayed as small 4:3 windows so you can use these settings to make the screen fit your display better. There’s also a CRT effect filter that adds scanlines to the image to make it appear as if its displayed on an old CRT monitor.


Alien Breed



The effect is subtle but quite effective which you can hopefully see on the two screenshots. Above is a screenshot taken without the CRT filter and below with it turned on.


Alien Breed

WITH CRT Effect.


The System Options screen allows you to adjust the mouse sensitivity, music volume and Power LED behaviour. The ‘mimic Amiga behaviour’ option just made the LED act weird when loading WHDLoad games (it would keep turning off) so I left this option disabled.


The A500 Mini

System Options Screen.


The Shutdown Device option allows a safe way to shutdown the A500 Mini and will probably be my go-to method for powering it off. If I invest a lot of time into a game and save my progress I don’t want to come back and find it’s been corrupted due to me pulling out the plug!


The A500 Mini

Safe Shutdown.


There’s also an ‘Advanced Options’ screen which is home to some less frequently needed settings. Here you can re-visit the 50/60Hz mode options, tweak whether a game should utilise the ‘border’ section of the screen, access System info, creator credits and also perform a factory reset.


The A500 Mini

Advanced Options Screen.


Loading Your Own Games

One of the advertised features of the console is being able to play your own selection of games on the device. However this isn’t explained at all in the Quick Guide, for this info you need to head online to their website: THEA500 Mini support (

In a nutshell these are the requirements for getting your own games onto The A500 Mini.

  • A USB stick formatted using FAT32.
  • The USB stick must have ‘THEA500 WHDLoad Package’ installed on it.
  • The WHDLoad programs all have to be LHA files.
  • The WHDLoad programs must be a complete archive of the program and
    not just the program’s WHDLoad installer.


My FAT32 Formatted 16GB USB Stick.


Once you’ve downloaded the ‘THEA500 WHDLoad Package v1.0.1 ‘ you simply unzip it to the ROOT of your USB stick. It should look like the screenshot below if you’ve done it correctly.



Games are simply copied into the root of the USB stick as well, or if you have a lot then you can also organise them into directories too. All the games must be in LHA format. I put a handful of games on my stick and it looked like the screenshot below. Note the ‘states’ directory and the various .uae files. These were all created by the A500 Mini itself and contain the save states and configuration options for my custom games. Don’t delete these files!


My USB Stick with a bunch of games ‘installed’.


The USB stick plugs into the spare USB port at the rear of the A500 Mini – assuming you aren’t using a USB keyboard of course.


The A500 Mini

A500 Mini with USB Stick plugged in.


If it has been setup correctly then a USB Stick icon should appear on the carousel as shown in the photo below.


The A500 Mini

USB Stick icon on the carousel.


Clicking ‘Start Game’ will then bring up the contents of the stick. In my example below I had put a few Lotus games on my USB stick to experiment with.


The A500 Mini

Selecting a custom game.


When loading the games the drive activity LED finally sprang into life!


The A500 Mini

The A500 Mini Drive activity light.


Lotus 1 loaded up and played just fine, but it was only using a fraction of the available screen space…


Lotus Turbo Esprit Challenge.


The Game Settings screen offers numerous tools to tweak how the game runs, including how it appears on screen.


The A500 Mini

Game settings screen.


By using a combination of auto-centre and auto-crop I was able to achieve the result in the next photo which was infinitely better. These settings are remembered for each custom game too which means once you’ve only got to configure things the way you like then the one time.


Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge looking much better now that it’s using most of the available screen.


Mouse support is disabled by default which I discovered when I loaded up Walker for a quick blast. This was easily solved by going into the Game Settings screen and enabling the Mouse on Joystick Port 1. I also had to adjust the sensitivity as it seemed way over-sensitive to me. Once I’d sorted those two things it played perfectly.




I’m not sure exactly how powerful the A500 mini is but it’s definitely much faster than a stock Amiga 500 that’s for sure. Here’s a video of it running the intro from Frontier Elite 2. Anyone who has seen this running on a stock A500 will know that it really struggles to keep up the framerate during most of this 3D animated sequence. The A500 Mini on the other hand makes it seem effortless.



Wing Commander also ran super smooth too which I remember being another game that really needed a decent CPU to shine. It actually runs better on the A500 Mini than it does on my TerribleFire 330 equipped CD32 which has a 50Mhz 68030 CPU.


ADF Support

You may have noticed that I’ve made no mention of loading ADF disk images so far and that’s because they are simply not supported. I have to say that this is a huge disappointment for me personally as I’ve purchased a lot of modern day Amiga games and many of them only came in ADF format. I’ve also converted many of my old original physical game disks into ADF images and I’m unable to use any of them. Furthermore I have no idea how to create WHDLoad versions of any of my games so I am faced with either not being able to play these games on the A500 Mini or having to search around to see if anyone else has created WHDLoad versions of them. I really hope Retro Games Ltd. add this feature in a firmware update soon as it really limits the devices appeal at the moment for me personally.


The A500 Mini is a beautifully designed and executed piece of kit and it seems evident to me that the guys who created it are passionate Amiga fans. The UI is beautiful and I love the slick implementation of save-states and simple to configure options to tweak my gameplay experience. The mouse and controller both look the part and work really well. Most importantly of all, the games appear to run great on the device and at an improved frame-rate too, for games that support it. The lack of a decent printed manual is a bit disappointing but hardly a deal-breaker. The lack of ADF support on the other hand is a bit more troubling and quite a let-down for me personally. If using ADF images is important to you too then maybe hold off until Retro Games Ltd. announce they’re going to add support for them. For anyone else thinking of taking the plunge though, just get one – you won’t regret it.

SDBox Review


If there was one take-away from my recent clean install of AmigaOS3.2 it was that transferring files across to a stock Amiga system is a real pain in the arse. Sure you can use CrossDOS, but that is limited to 720K files. If you have a CD drive then you can burn stuff to a CD which raises the limit considerably to 650mb. However this is pretty time consuming and my drive refuses to read CDRW discs so means I have to use CDR’s which is downright wasteful.

Enter the SDBox – a little expansion for any Amiga system that enables it to read and write data to MicroSD Cards. A few years ago I wrote a post about adding an SD Card to an A500, however that relied on having a Vampire accelerator card. This device just requires a parallel port to operate, something which all Amiga’s have.

What’s Included

The SDBox is actually a public domain Amiga community project that you can construct yourself (see here). However due to the inclusion of some surface mount components I chose to buy one ready made from I can normally solder stuff OK but dealing with tiny surface mount components is beyond my skill level.



SDBox – package contents.


Included in the package was the SDBox device in a nice 3D Printed case, a 4GB MicroSD Card with adapter*, instruction booklet and a 3.5″ floppy containing the software to make it all work. A mini USB cable was an option too but I’ve accumulated dozens of them over the years so didn’t see the point in getting another one.


Connecting the SDBox

With the Amiga turned off the SDBox simply plugs into the parallel port socket round the back. It also requires 5V of power to function which can be provided via a mini USB cable.



The Micro SD card slot and Mini USB power socket on the back of the SDBox.


I found there was just enough clearance at the side for it to not interfere with my RCA audio plugs but this might not be the case if you have thicker plugs.



The SDBox plugged into the parallel port.


When powered on the box glows red from inside – presumably this illumination comes from an LED on the Arduino Nano. It’s not quite as noticeable as the photo below would have you believe and it’s not a big deal.



Red glow from the Arduino Nano inside.


Installing the Drivers

With the hardware powered on and connected the next task is to pop in the floppy and run the installer to install the driver software.



Contents of the floppy disk.


The floppy comes with a handy installer (in both English and Spanish) to copy over and configure everything necessary to use the SDBox.



SDBox Installer now finished.


A few moments later a message appears on the screen to inform you that the install is complete and where it has put the SD0 device.


SD0 DOSDriver

This is the SD Device it installs in DEVS/DOSDrivers.


A quick reboot and my SD card was showing up on my Workbench screen, just like any other drive would. I brought up the drive info window for SD0 to confirm it was reading the card properly.


SD0 Information

Icon Information for the SD card.


SD Cards

I chose to get an SD Card with my SDBox but you can use any MicroSD card you may have lying around. The one caveat is the device is only capable of accessing 4GB partitions so if you have a bigger card you must create a 4GB (or smaller)  partition on it for it to work. There’s some info at the end of this post describing how to partition a MicroSD card in Windows if you need it.



If you look carefully you can see the packaging has been opened already…


*Clearly were unable to source a 4GB card for me as they actually sent me a 32GB MicroSD card that had been manually partitioned to 4GB.


Using the SDBox

In use the SDBox performed well and exactly as described. It’s not going to set any speed records but given it’s hooked up to a parallel port that’s to be expected. To give an idea of transfer times I copied an 880K ADF file from my RAM Disk to both my internal CompactFlash card and the SDBox. It took about 1 second to transfer to the CF card and 6 seconds to the SDBox. Next I tried a bigger file;  AmiSSL 4.12 which was 5.7MB. It took 6.5 seconds to transfer to my CF card and 39 seconds to complete the transfer via the SDBox. Approximately six times slower but still perfectly acceptable.



MicroSD card being inserted in the card slot.


The SDbox doesn’t support swapping thecard whilst the Amiga is running so don’t expect it to update the contents if you do – it’ll just result in an error. It requires a full reboot to refresh the contents of the card but again this is not a great inconvenience.


Fly in the Ointment – Conflict with Indivision AGA Mk3 Flicker Fixer

On a slightly more sour note I did encounter one issue with my unit. Whenever the SDBox was accessed, whether that be reading or writing data, my screen flickered/wobbled around. You can see exactly what I’m on about in the little video clip I recorded below. After testing all sorts of things I narrowed it down to an issue with using interlaced HIGHGFX screenmodes on my Indivision AGA Mk3 flicker-fixer. Normal Amiga screenmodes, including interlaced ones, worked just fine as did non-interlaced HIGHGFX modes (all of these still going through my flicker-fixer).

Naturally Sod’s law meant that my screen was utilising ‘HIGHGFX Super-High Res Laced’ which is why I witnessed the issue from the start. It’s certainly not a deal-breaker – it’s more of an irritation than anything else (especially if you are a bit of a perfectionist). It doesn’t affect the operation of the SDBox and I can certainly live with it – just something to bear in mind for anyone with a similar setup.



I tried many things to get rid of the issue and also contacted the manufacturer of the Indivision card but so far I do not have a solution. If I ever get to the bottom of the issue I’ll update this post.


How to make a 4Gb partition on a larger SD Card.

This is a pretty straightforward task to accomplish in Windows. I used a nice bit of free software called ‘MiniTool Partition Wizard‘ to do the job along with a spare 16GB MicroSD card that I had lying around.


MicroSD Card

A generic 16GB MicroSD card I used for testing.


Basically what you need to do is load up the software and then find your card in the list of drives. They normally show up slightly smaller than the stated capacity. For instance I popped in a 16GB card and it showed as 14.43GB under the list of available drives.

Once you’ve located it simply right-click it and select ‘Delete Volume’ then do the same again but select ‘Create’ to make a new, smaller partition. On the ‘Create New Partition’ screen select ‘FAT’ as the file system (see screenshot below) and it will shrink the size of the partition down to 4GB automatically. Give it a name (this will appear on your Amiga workbench) and then click ‘OK’ and then ‘Apply’ to make all these changes happen.


Partition Wizard

Partition Wizard – New Partition Settings


Now if you right-click the SD card and select ‘Properties’ in Windows you should get the screen below showing that the card is now recognised as being 4GB and formatted with the FAT file system.


Windows 10 Drive properties

Checking the size/format of the card in Windows.


Back over to the Amiga – pop the card into the SDBox and boot up your Amiga. You should now see the card appear on Workbench with the name you gave it in Windows. You can go to ‘Icon’ > ‘Information’ to bring up a similar properties screen to check it’s all setup correctly.



SD Card properties displayed on Workbench


And that’s all there is to re-partitioning an SD card to work with the SDBox. Enjoy!


Rogue64 Review


It’s been a good while since I reviewed a game but after recently picking up Rogue64, a new game that has just launched for the Commodore 64, I suddenly felt the urge to write one.

The game, created by Badgerpunch Games (credits in the image below), is available both physically (from Bitmap Soft) and digitally from priced at £35 and £4.60 respectively. I picked up my copy of the game digitally.


Rogue64 Credits

Rogue64 Credits


The download included a CRT cartridge image along with a very attractive PDF instruction booklet. An Easyflash cartridge version is also available to download. At the time of writing the game is only available in cartridge form (whether that be physically or digitally).


Rogue64 Instructions

Rogue64 Instructions


I ran the game via my 1541 Ultimate II+ cart (and via emulation) and it worked without a hitch.



The story, according to the games page, goes like this: “You are Zendar the explorer, looking for treasure and fame in the dungeons of Mordecoom! Rumour has it that there is a magic item at the bottom of the dungeon, and you want it! The only problem is that there are evil cave dwellers lurking in the dark, waiting to attack as you travel deeper and deeper into this cube-like tentacle terror maze. The dungeons of Mordecoom are waiting!”


First Impressions

On first running the game there’s a ‘Bitmap Soft Presents’ screen complete with digitised speech before reaching the main title screen. From here you can choose to see the game credits, some instructions or begin your descent into the dungeons of Mordecoom…



Rogue64 game screen


The game screen is attractively presented, which considering this is all you will ever see, is just as well. The game utilises the C64’s hi-res graphics mode to achieve a detailed and crisp display. A good use of colour ensures that the screen is still attractive to the eye and everything is presented clearly.

In time honoured tradition your score and high score are displayed across the top of the screen along with the name of the game.



Gameplay window showing current room


The main screen is split into 3 main sections. On the left is the information panel where you can see your health, strength, inventory and status effects. The central window is where we can find our hero and where all the action takes place. The right hand side displays a map of the current dungeon and is updated automatically as you explore. Each dungeon level has a name which is displayed across the bottom of the screen.



The aim of the game is to battle your way through multiple dungeon levels and ultimately face off against the final boss. Levels get progressively more difficult as you journey deeper down and new monsters are introduced. Thankfully our hero gets stronger too thanks to magical gems that can be found as you explore. These can grant him extra strength or increase his health bar.

Grabbing gold bars adds a nice chunk of points to your score whilst various potions scattered around each level can help or hinder your progress. Green potions always recover health but the red and blue ones could do anything at all. This is because their contents are randomised at the beginning of each game to add a bit of variety to each play through. Some of their effects include freezing time for a number of moves, killing all monsters in a room, making you drunk so you move erratically and so on. This definitely adds an interesting element to the game as you drink one for the first time to discover what it does!

Hearts can also be found on each level and will recover our hero’s health on contact. However unlike the green potions they cannot be carried so you have to decide on the most opportune moment to use them.



Character stats and inventory


Each dungeon is split up into several small rooms and each of these is displayed in full within the central window. There’s no scrolling – your character stays within the confines of that window – it flips as you move from one room to another. Rooms tend to be a little maze-like in appearance and will incorporate one or more exits that allow you to move around the level.

Speaking of movement, our hero is controlled with a joystick in port 2. You simply push in the direction you want him to go. Objects can be picked up by simply walking over them and go straight into your inventory. I think the clever ‘use item’ system is worthy of a mention too. To select a potion within your inventory you hold down the fire button and move the stick left and right until it is highlighted and then simply release the fire button to use it. Very simple and slick, much like the rest of the game.



Enemies can be attacked by standing next to them and pushing our hero in their direction. Combat is automatic and uses RNG along with your strength, active potions and health to determine the outcome. As RNG is employed both your attacks and those of the monsters can and will miss their target occasionally so it pays to be careful. If a fight looks like it’s going the wrong way, running away is a viable option. You can come back to finish them off after you’ve healed up. It’s important to note that the game is turn based so enemies only react or move when you do which which makes it quite a relaxing experience overall.

Occasionally monsters can inflict a status effect on you that will last for a number of turns. I managed to get poisoned by a snake and kept taking damage after every move. If I hadn’t had a healing potion on me I would have been dead for sure. Likewise some of the potions you take have status affects such as making you stronger or intoxicated for a few turns and so on. This adds a certain level of unpredictability to the game and keeps you on your toes.

To progress onto the next dungeon you must find the exit to the current one (a yellow door) and also the key required to open it. Both of these are randomly somewhere with each level. You could choose to rush to the exit in each dungeon as it is quite possible to avoid contact with a lot of the monsters. However you’ll miss many vital upgrades doing this and end up being ill-prepared for the final boss fight. Far better to take your time and explore each room fully, defeating every monster along the way. Besides, this is what I’d call a ‘high score chaser’ game and the only way to get a decent score is to kill and collect everything in sight!



I really appreciate the way the game screen has been designed – it’s very aesthetically pleasing and everything you need is always visible. No need to toggle map screens or inventories – it’s all there, all the time. The game employs an auto-map feature which is pretty neat. When you enter a room it is added to the map straight away and all available exits indicated too. This makes it easy to see at a glance if there are any rooms you haven’t discovered yet. Occasionally you can pick up a potion that will highlight all the rooms in a level immediately but I didn’t find these terribly useful.

It’s all thoughtfully laid out, intuitive and everything fits in the space allotted for it. Each room fits within the confines of the central window and each dungeon map fits within the map window. Inventory space is very limited so it pays to use the stuff you find rather than try to hoard it for later.


Rogue64 Map Screen

Rogue64 Auto-Map


Sooner or later you will meet a grisly death and be greeted with the Game Over screen. This gives you a handy summary of your progress including level reached, score attained and what monster offed you. I should point out that there’s no option to save your progress with this being a ‘roguelike’ game so bear that in mind before you start your dungeon crawl. None of your progress or hero upgrades carry over to your next play through – you are back to square one every time.


Rogue64 Game Over

Rogue64 Game Over screen


Music and Sound

Playing throughout is a terrific SID tune that really suits the game and certainly never gets tiring. Sound effects are minimal but are there when required. Battling, picking up items, exiting a room and so on all have their own little effects that add to the immersion of the game. There’s also a screen shake effect that occurs when you take a hit in battle which is a really nice touch.



There are a few little things I wish had been incorporated into the game. For example, as great as the automap system is – it would be even better if it was able indicate the exit (after you have discovered it of course) to make it easier to find once you’ve located the key. Likewise if it could identify rooms with discovered but uncollected items I’d find that a real boon too.

Another feature I would love to see is an option to save your game, although I can understand why it’s not there. If you are 10-15 minutes into a game and something comes up it would be nice to have an option to save your progress. Whilst I don’t mind leaving my PC on for extended periods of time, leaving my 40 year old C64 on with a game paused is a definite no-no for me. Finally the big draw of replaying the game is to beat your high score – it would be awesome if the game actually saved this for posterity too.


Mobile Gaming

I’m not a massive mobile gamer but occasionally I’ll stumble across a game that I like to while away my lunch hour playing. This is one of those games. The turn based combat, addictive gameplay and simple control system make this a perfect game to play on a C64 emulator on my phone. There are quite a few C64 emulators out there for Android users; I use C64.emu and this game runs absolutely flawlessly on it. An added benefit of playing on my phone is that I can just flip it shut and the game is paused indefinitely until I come back to it. Nice! If smartphones had existed in the 80’s I would have failed all my ‘O’ Levels for sure…



Rogue64 running on my phone via the C64.emu emulator



Normally roguelike games infuriate me. I hate losing my progress and having to slog through a game just to get back to the where I was up to. That’s definitely not the case with Rogue64 though. Through a combination of slick game design, simplified controls, easy to master turn based combat not to mention a great SID tune and a fair but addictive gameplay loop, Rogue64 keeps me going back for ‘one more go’. Sure I could kick myself when I die stupidly after failing to reach the next dungeon, but there there’s also a real sense of satisfaction when I finally do and beat my high score in the process. I’ve not yet reached the last level of the dungeon or seen the boss monster but I’m determined to keep trying until I do!