Tuesday 6 June 2017

Building lab-prototype MEGA65, and remembering the thrill of my first C65

After getting the MEGA65 prototype PCB up and running last night, today was time to build up the prototype in the lab.

First, with Ben's help, get the SD card adapter working correctly, and give it a bit more physical support to stop it getting broken again. We still need a bit taller legs:

Second, make sure that it boots fine:

 Third, get my Commodore 65 keyboard that I bought ages back on ebay, and one of the plastic laser-cut outlines I made when I was starting to work on the laptop concept for the MEGA65:

Work out how I was going to hold it in place. There are three hole-throughs on the keyboard:
 Looking closer at one of them:

Unfortunately, one of them is behind the space bar (which is possibly the widest space bar I have ever seen on a keyboard -- a point which is causing us some fun in getting our own production in order for our own MEGA65 keyboards.)  So I resorted to drilling some holes in my acrylic outside, and screwing a retainer strip on the back. It isn't perfect, but it works enough for now:

You can also see that I have screwed the C65 prototype motherboard down to another panel, and then added a home-made friction hinge (although it isn't strong enough to hold the keyboard open in position), so that I can open it up to get to the SD card.  We might yet extend the SD card to a better location, so that we don't need to open the "lid" all the time.

Putting it altogether and powering it up, it still looks very, very rough -- but the point is we now have a working and usable bench-top prototype, from which to progress.

Here is it is from a couple of other angles, so you can see the power connector, joystick ports and reset button:

And looking in the side, where you can really see that the temporary physical construction is indeed a gross hack.

So, now I have it working.  One of the really unexpected things was a wave of emotion and nostalgia as I started interacting with a C65 via a real feeling keyboard for the first time in close to ten years.  I didn't get this when using a keyrah and Commodore 64 keyboard on it, and certainly not using a USB PC keyboard.

But suddenly with a real C65 keyboard, it felt like I was 19 again, and using the prototype C65 again.  It's hard to explain. It might be the tactile feel of the keyboard, or even the subtle timing of where in the key press the computer registers the input, or some combination of the two. But whatever the trigger, it was like smelling a familiar smell for the first time in years, and having that rush of memory and recollection, including evoking the emotion of the moment, not just the cerebral memory of it.

It is this thrill and experience that I hope we can share as we continue with making new C65s through the MEGA65 project.  That wonder of discovering a new heir in a noble lineage of computers.  We might not be Commodore, but I am convinced that we will be able to bring the C65 to completion, and finally bring the last chapter of the 8-bit dynasty to life.


  1. I hope the Mega65 team will eventually do a Kickstarter that will be as successful as the Spectrum Next!

  2. I guess feeling is similar to using a C64 hardware and a real emulator. When running C64 software in Vice, I feel absolutely no magic, the emulation might be accurate, but the machine has absolutely no soul. However, when using real hardware as by magic you feel the soul the machine, the great C64 atmosphere. The keyboard for sure is part of that, Suzo Arcade joysticks are a major improvement over a PC keyboard. I guess the monitor will be another area: A real 15 KHz 50Hz monitor with perfect real-time synchronization gives simply a better experience than on the PC where everything needs to be converted to 60Hz.

    I first connected my real C64 years ago in 15 years, and it made me realise what I did miss those years.

    I'd say Commodore was one of the few manufacturers, perhaps the only one, that made machines that felt they had a soul. If one can feel a soul in the Mega65, I would consider that one of the best possible signs that the machine is going to succeed.

  3. I highly agree with this. Which is why I would prefer it that if the kickstart is not in an SD for mega65 but in the physical fpga chipset itself and can only be upgraded by inside the BASIC using a basic program which can be written in either pure basic with poking and peeking or in pure assembly!! (SWEARS LOUDLY) I just get horny thinking about it!

    Another added soul touch is the ability to hook it into a crt composite/rf tv/monitor for that pure 100% nostalgia feel. Which means higher resolution games/apps cannot run on it and the author have to be able to allow to set resolution based on the display output or detection of whether rf/composite used verses vga used.

    eeee that is hot!!

    1. Well, the Commodore 65 is not a 64: It has 80 column graphics, this automatically means televisions and composite monitors are not a good fit for it. Analog 15KHz RGB monitors (like the Amiga used, or SCART) might work though.

  4. yes, but this composite/rf for c64 mode