Over the years I have grown to love the Commodore 64 almost as much as my main area of interest – the ZX Spectrum. Playground debates over which is the best machine have become nothing but fond memories for me as I explore the intricacies of each machine, their respective strengths and weaknesses often balancing out. In recent years though, I must admit to using my Spectrums a lot more, mainly due to the convenience of the SD card storage that has become available.
Thanks to thefuturewas8bit.com and their range of Commodore based SD solutions, that has now changed. I was kindly sent a well packaged box of goodies containing 2 SD2IEC units and an Epyx Fastload Reloaded cartridge by Rod at TFW8B to review here on RGC. I have since been busying myself getting to know what these wonderful storage solutions can do and how they could change the way I use my Commodore machines forever.
Produced in a range of colours to match or compliment your current setup, including units made of recycled plastic from old Commodore computers, the SD2IEC plugs into your IEC serial port and cassette edge connector and lets you access a correctly formatted SD card that is inserted into the device. The benefits of this are many, but simply put, by using SD storage you can potentially have thousands of .d64 and .prg files on tap – all accessible within a few keystrokes. The Epyx Fastload cart is a reproduction of the original Fastload cartridge produced back in 1984 but now available in lots of funky colours. The addition of the Epyx Fastload Reloaded cart speeds loading times up by 8-12x and includes a handy reset button. It also simplifies using the SD2IEC as I will explain below. Another bonus is that the SD2IEC is also a multi-computer solution and can also be used on C128, C16, C64DTV and VIC-20 computers, although the Fastload Reloaded cart is only useable on C64 and C128.
Hands on with the SD2IEC and Fastload
I wasn’t sure how I would get on with the SD2IEC to be honest, I had only ever used the C64 for gaming having loaded things via datassette before (yes, really!) so consider myself a novice to disk based gaming on the 64 and I had imagined some of the commands to be new to me. I shouldn’t have been worried however.
The unit itself is smaller than I had imagined, which is a very good thing. It’s light weight and small size means it can sit happily on your C64 without getting in the way and if you wish to move your machine around there is no need to unplug, it won’t put any undue stress on your IEC and cassette ports even if it slid off. It feels very well put together, and small details like the ‘tfw8b.co.uk’ impressed into the cassette plug add to the feel of something that has been really well thought out.
Supplied with the SD2IEC units and Fastload cartridges are instructions as to their use, which explain amongst other things how to prepare your SD card and install the needed FileBrowser software which is freely available online. I won’t go into details here on how to get .prg and .d64 files for inclusion on your card, sources are plentiful and Google is your friend.
Once your SD card is set up with the necessary files (FileBrowser and games/utility software) you are ready for action.
To access the FileBrowser menu type:
A program included with the FileBrowser software will auto-detect which machine you are using and open the appropriate FileBrowser for your computer.
If you have an Epyx Fastload Reloaded cartridge inserted you can bypass typing anything in and just press the <COMMODORE> and <RUNSTOP> keys together which will bring up the FileBrowser menu.
Opening .prg or single disk .d64 files is as simple as navigating to them using the cursor keys or joystick, then pressing enter/fire to choose. Multiple disk files are a little different in that you will need to set up an AUTOSWAP.LST file within the same directory as your disk images to tell your SD2IEC which disk files to swap to (and in what order) when the disk swap button is pressed. All quite straightforward though, and fully explained in the included instruction sheet.
The Epyx Fastload Reloaded cartridge is a great addition to the setup as it is not just useful for speeding up loadtimes and reducing the need to type commands. It also contains a full set of disk tools and tools for advanced programming via its built-in assembly monitor.
This diminutive and low cost mass storage device could well transform the way you use your Commodore computer. It is unobtrusive, well made, easy to use and great to look at. I have had more fun with my Commodore machines since I have had these than I have ever had and can’t recommend these products highly enough. Got a VIC, C16, C64 or C128? Visit thefuturewas8bit.com and take a look at what is on offer. You will not regret it.