I Adore My Commodore

see it at flickr

My Old Computer,
originally uploaded by Phil Strahl.

When my mom brought me the car from the autoshop after a minor crash last year (not my fault, though), she also brought along my now weak and old PC, formerly known as “The Beast” that I used before assembling my new Beast, which is after two years also losing some teeth and is not the fastest one out there anymore. I remember the days when I was bragging about the Athlon FX-53 chip in its cozy 939 socket on my Abit AV8 motherboard. Yes, I was a proud daddy!

When I turned it on a couple of days ago I was happy that it still worked after those many days of neglect. Somewhat. I got a beeeeeeep — beep — beep — beep — beep error code and the thing turned itself off. On closer inspection the fan of my ancient graphics card was not operating so I pulled it out of its cute AGP slot and the next day I bought a new one — a nVidia GeForce FX 5200 for as little as 35 €!

In the good old days the nVidia GeForce FX 5900 T I had to replace served me well as a trusty ally through endless open fields and creepy dungeons filled with dynamic lighting and vicious polygons. In its hey-days it cost me a small fortune.

Click to see it at flickr

Back at home I plugged it in and — nada. Same error code, same delay when starting up. I suspected the PSU to be defect so the following day I invested in the cheapest 400 W PSU I could find: A UNIQ 400 W PSU, that cheap floozy came in a naughty see-through plastic bag and cost me only fifteen bucks and had only the most common power connectors: Three Peripheral Plugs and one floppy drive plug — that’s it.

My hopes were low so I already kept the invoice to return the PSU the following day but I gave it a shot. And it worked! After some troubles connecting a keyboard via a USB to PS2 adapter and recalling my old admin password I was on my old desktop again.

It was a strange sensation, like returning to a place you left in a hurry two years ago; a place that resembled much like what was inside your head at that time. According to Sherry Turkle that’s what computers are anway — outsources of our brains. So what greeted me was my old XP desktop with a flashy wallpaper Lisa once made in Maya and Photoshop. Many icons were scattered around, of the games that were hot in 2007, my studies, my ideas…

Everything had to go. I need a reliable audio-computer and there were so many programs and apps installed that it took me almost two hours to uninstall and clean everything. With this new clarity there also came a new name for my former flagship, Cassio. And I hooked up Cassio and my current beast (which has no name) through a LAN cable and began installing only applications I would really need: Sound drivers, trackers, sequencers, synths, and a MIDI controller.

But when I was really paying attention when looking at my old machine, I noticed something odd about its front. Not the missing casing, but rather the prominent black 5.25″ floppy-drive staring at me with its bleak open hatch. Then I recalled what else was plugged into a PCI slot inside my old grace: A Catweasel Mk 4 floppy controller, that makes it able to read and write Amiga, Atari and Commodore 64 floppies. But not only that: It has two sockets for certain Commodore chips: MOS 6581 and MOS 8580, two numbers that instantly evoke passionate feelings in every chip-tune musician or retro-afficionado: Those are the Commodore’s sound synthesizer chips, also known as SID chips.

Click to see it at flickr

Gone was my urge to fill my new old PC with audio apps and I was high with memories and chiptunes and swiftly installed the GoatTracker, a Commodore-tracker for the PC that makes use of the SID chips on the Catweasel controller. In a tine between two projects I spent some hours covering Spybreak! by Propellerheads in GoatTracker and now I wanted to find out, what it sounded like on an actual SID chip. Listen below and feel free to obtain the SID file to compare it to your own SID chip or emulator.

texx sound – Spybreak!. Propellerheads cover. 2009

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Download 6581 SID

Suddenly the urge in me arose to play my SID file on my real Commodore 64 that was resting underneath a cloth for many months now and serves as a stage for my SNES. After countless attempts to write a 1541 1-compliant disk I realized that it was not possible: What I could was read all old Commodore floppies and make .d64-files backups of them, still the files I wrote via the Catweasel Mk 4 controller weren’t legible by the real 1541 disk drive.

But I was persistent and so I found a way to get it going. From former attempts a couple of years ago I still had an XM1541 cable around but never got it quite working. Still I was like giving it another shot today. So I hooked the cable to the printer port of Cassio and the other end into the 1541. So far, so good. To spare you the gory and most likely boring details of my flops, here’s how I got it working:

I’ve downloaded the latest i386-compiled version of OpenCBM, unzipped it and copied all the .dll and .sys files into my c:\windows\system32 directory. Then I downloaded the GUI for it and copied the single .exe file into the OpenCBM-folder with all the .exe-files and started it.

Click to see it at flickr

And that was it. I could write, read and format any disk I fed the 1541 with with ease.
As a test disk I exported my SID file as .sid from GoatTracker and with PSID64 converted it to a self-playing .prg for the C64. With yet another tool, the C64Editor I created a new blank disk-image and imported my .prg file there. I didn’t bother adding fancy stuff as separating bars and ASCII art (although I could if I wanted) and saved the disk image as .d64 file. I tested that with an older hence free version of the CCS Commodore 64 emulator for Windows and it worked there exactly like it should. So time for the big moment: I wrote the file with CBM4WIN and, just as anticipated, the written files worked no-problemo with the real Commodore. Rejoice!

Below is a picture of my success. Don’t bother about the somewhat pale, rather non existant colors: I suspect my C64’s color RAM to be defective. Once again. Time for another Commodore as spare-parts-galore!

Click to see it at flickr

  1. 1541 stands for the famous Commodore 64 disk drive which was just as huge as the old breadbox and as heavy as a brick. And it read and wrote 5.25″ floppy disks

Leave A Reply


Cubziz (Mar 31, 2009)

Glad to hear you got the stuff working. I wanted a CatWeasel for years, but never could afford it.

Recently picked up a XM1541 converter (as I have plenty of DIN cables) and was able to get CBM4WIN working and via VICE can again access all of my old floppies.

Eventually I hope to convert over those old disks to .D64 images as I’m sure they are slowly deteriorating from 20 years of non-use.

Glad to see I’m not the only one impressed with the current state of “retro-ology”.