When it comes to adding a modern storage solution to the Commodore 64, you have a couple of options. Either buy the hideously good but rather expensive 1541 Ultimate (£120ish with a long lead time) or pluck for one of the many variations of the SD2IEC device (around £30-£50, cased or uncased). For those not in the know, the SD2IEC basically allows you to attach an SD card to the C64’s IEC serial interface. To the C64 this looks much like any other device, such as a 1541 floppy drive. Once the device is attached you can launch a special file browser which allows you to browse the various disk images on the C64 and pick one to load.
That’s the good news, now the bad news. Although the SD2IEC supports disk images it does not fully emulate a 1541. This means that some games with special fast loaders just won’t work. These are apparently few and far between, though I must admit I had mixed results trying out various images downloaded from the web.
Around 40% of these simply wouldn’t work due to lacking drive emulation. I may have been unlucky though and your mileage may be better than mine. However, there’s no need to spend ridiculous amounts of time trying out different game images from the web, since one of the official UK suppliers of the device – The Future was 8-bit – has made available on its hallowed pages a huge collection of games guaranteed to be compatible with the device. The collection includes pretty much everyone’s favorite C64 games – downloadable quickly as a large ZIP archive which you can then decompress onto the SD card. You can download it from here. Games that make it into the collection include Mayhem in Monsterland, Chuckie Egg, Monty On The Run, Auf Wiedersehen Monty, Dynamite Dan, The Untouchables, Batman and Outrun. In all there are over 1000 titles in the collection, making it highly likely it contains one you’re after. The site contains a wealth of useful information to help you get the SD2IEC up and running. I cannot recommend it enough for the tips and tricks alone.
Another issue with the SD2IEC is that it’s slow – as slow as a 1541 drive. You can however speed this up. The device is reportedly fully compatible with the JiffyDOS fast loader ROM along with a number of cartridge-based fast loader solutions – see the website for more details. I haven’t used any of these yet, but look out for a future review when I get a hold of a JiffyDOS ROM.
The final restriction is that the SD2IEC does not support tape images – it’s disk images only. The good news is that quite a few tapes have been dumped onto disk over the years, so there’s a good chance with a web hunt you’ll be able to find games on disk. The real problem titles are likely to be some of the UK budget games, but quite a lot of these have made their way to disk and, in fact, classic budget titles such as The Human Race are included in the collection.
Hooking up the device to the C64 is very easy. It comes with two plugs, one that fits to the tape adapter (it is from here that the device draws its power) and a six-pin din that plugs into the IEC serial port (commonly known as the disk-drive interface). From there you can access it just like you would a real 1541 drive. To load the File Browser software for example you’d type ‘LOAD “FB”,8,1’. Once the program has loaded, simply type ‘RUN’ to launch the File Browser interface. From there you can pick your game.
For games that come on more than one disk, the device has a disk swap switch that can be pressed. This automatically loads in the second disk, which is configured by a special file in the game’s directory. Full details are available on The Future was 8-bit. This isn’t something I’ve tried yet since most of my favorite games happily fit on one disk, but it’s a really nice feature to have for those multi-load games.
The device can be bought either cased or uncased. The cased version should suit most people, with only those wishing to install the device inside their C64 or build their own case needing to buy the uncased version – which also requires you to install your own disk swap switch. I bought the uncased version since I plan to integrate it inside one of my C64s in the near future. The cased version has a number of designs, including one that looks like a tiny version of the 1541 floppy drive!
In operation, the SD2IEC has two LEDs to indicate status. A green LED shows disk activity – as long as it’s lit, a program is loading into the C64. The second red LED flashes whenever there’s a disk load error. When this happens it’s likely that there’s some incompatibility between the disk image you’ve chosen and the SD2IEC’s emulated 1541. Your only recourse is to find a different disk image to try.
Sure the SD2IEC has a few restrictions, which are not present on the 1541 Ultimate system, but it’s less than a half the price and for that reason alone it’s extremely good value for money. So if you have a C64 and don’t have the room to keep all the games, want to play games only available on the net, or simply like the idea of a neat little device housing all of your favorite titles, then why not give the SD2IEC a go – you won’t regret it.
The SD2IEC is available from a number of places. NKC Electronics supply US customers, while The Future was 8 Bit supply the UK. Cost of the UK version is £30 uncased or £44.99 cased (currently there’s a sale on). Both companies ship internationally for an additional cost. Note an SD card is not included with the SD2IEC package and this will need to be ordered separately.
Reviewed by Damien