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Commander X16 vs. Mega 65


Perifractic
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Hello Commandos,

As you know the Mega 65 is another great project and based on Commodore's never-released C65 computer. Obviously the hardware is a bit different as it is FPGA-based, but I was curious, what do you prefer about the Commander X16 (chips aside) and its specifications and software, over the Mega 65's OS (if anything). What drew you here?

Your friend in retro, Perifractic

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I'm not sure if I actually care if it's an FPGA. Functional equivalent doesn't bother me. It doesn't bother me AT ALL to use an SD2IEC card on my Commodores. Sure I have a 1541, but the SD card is more reliable.

I ordered a Mega 65 so I'll know more about how I feel about it when I get it.

I'm very curious how things like this will be received without at least some of the community driving the nostalgia factor. I use my C64 and 128 all the time at least in part because there's some nostalgia for it. But I skipped over the Amiga in my computer journey in the 90s. Went to DOS and then Linux in 1996.  I own an Amiga 600 and don't use it because it doesn't resonate with me like a C64 does.

Should be a fascinating thing to study really.

Edited by mrdoornbos
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There have been and are many retro/hobby/oldskool new 8/16-bit style systems in development.

They all have pros and cons.

I have been waiting for a new computer or games console as an alternative to the current ecosystem.

I have a decent PC to play the newest games if I want, but to have a low powered simple easy to use system with new games would be nice.

Something cheap, simple and powerful enough to have new fun games.

I haven’t considered programming for many years, but the Commander X16 seems easy enough to at least try.

The Commander X16 has a powerful enough CPU with a good GPU to make games that should surpass almost any 8-bit system and match 16-bit consoles.

If I have read the specs correctly, the Mega65’s CPU is about 6 times faster, but the X16 has a significantly more capable GPU, 16 times more sprites.

I know that’s not the whole story, but the X16 should be cheaper and better at games, win win.

Also the X16 development team and community are good enough that it might sell many thousands of units, maybe even enough to make it viable for commercial development by pro studios. (Well, we can hope).

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Graphically they aren't too far apart, in terms of the tile maps and so on. This isn't surprising as they are both developments of C64/C65. The Mega65 is probably more powerful but a bit messier and confusing. The X16 is relatively simple, you can figure it out mostly straight off (this isn't a criticism). The Mega65 does not have the CX16's problem of the limiting bridge between the processor and the graphic memory. The CX16 has more sprites but less options for replacing them in other ways.

There is one huge difference. (And yes I do know why, authenticity). The 6502 in the Mega65 has several changes. One is to widen the address bus so it can access 24 bit addresses (though it is still basically a 6502). Another is the addition of some 32 bit data operations. The last is the clock speed ; it runs at 48Mhz (not sure but about this but it's this sort of order). This is fast enough to put it in the same box as the ARM system David reviewed a while back ; you can write proper retro style games without having to write in Assembler, and you can run a fast enough P-Code system. Having done it on my own system I've a pretty good idea how much "poke" you need to make it work, and the CX16 doesn't quite have it (by a factor of 2-3) without big chunks of assembler. It doesn't bother me writing it, but it handicaps the beginners. The more the merrier though, why not Robotron in BASIC.

Both have similar systems software, basically bodging the C64/C65 kernel and BASIC ROM to provide limited support for the extended facilities and interface to SDCards rather than cassette tape. Sound is much of a muchness. For some reason there's a floppy on the prototype (can you buy them any more ?)

The other difference is that the M65 has a huge software base, though to be honest this doesn't really matter. If you just want to play Game X on the C64, you can either buy that Mini64 gadget, or simply run it on VICE or similar. It's easier and simpler. If you want to play a game, you want to play a game. Backwards compatibility is nice but overrated IMO, applies to the Spectrum Next as well.

They aren't really that different. The last time I looked, the FPGA was doing all the graphics, the PCM, at least some of the audio channels and the SDCard I/O. This leaves you with the CPU, RAM and ROM (which are external on the M65 I think), possibly some audio channels, and a PIA/VIA for interfacing (the keyboard port may be on the FPGA now, I'm not sure).

So basically the difference is that the M65 has a CPU in the FPGA and the CX16 doesn't.

And the prototype M65 batch is 1000 Euros. Not sure what CX16 is going tobe, other than way more than Dave's £ 30-40 estimate.

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1 hour ago, Fenner Machine said:

There have been and are many retro/hobby/oldskool new 8/16-bit style systems in development.

They all have pros and cons.

I have one myself as have countless others. It's faster than the CX16 and costs a tenner. But there is one important pro that none of the others have, except for three ; a large potential user base - the three are the Spectrum Next, the Mega 65, and the Commander X16. (there are others that have smaller bases, the Gigatron, RC2014, Zx Uno perhaps and so on).

Without that user base you don't have software, an eco system, and without that you have another in the long list of machines that were technically excellent but you couldn't do much with. In the 1980s when I was a lad there were many of them. Neither the Speccy or the C64 is a particularly good design, the aim being to maximise profit for minimum design effort. But there were so many of them people worked round their limitations to often spectacular results. In some ways it's an advantage. Without the option of flashy graphics or sound on a Spectrum, people tried new game ideas instead.

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The c65 has some design decisions i really don't like:

Built in floppy drive --> Those drives already sucked in the 80s and they still do today. Unreliable, slow and noisy. Case is bulkier and the machine becomes more expensive. But hey, it's the nostalgic touch that counts, isn't it?

Minor design flaws (e.g. the chosen battery for the RTC. Would be an easy fix, but the c65 is a very academic project approach ...)

And both designs do not offer a simple way to use modern peripherals (except the keyboard on the x16, which i really dig), e.g. USB devices, Bluetooth, Wifi, ...

And thus i chose the Mister instead of both, maybe the cores of the x16 and c65 get ported some day. The Mister is obviously done by very grounded and experienced people and that shows in hard- and software-design.

But the x16 community is great and the barebone approach has really a very nice touch. So i'd prefer the x16 over the c65 :-).

 

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I think it's fair to enjoy both systems for what they bring to the table. I'm interested in both computers, and I feel the Commander will be more of an experimenter's tool, where the MEGA will end up being primarily a modern Commodore 64 replacement.

The FPGA doesn't bother me one bit. In fact, I think the Ultimate 64 has proven that an FPGA system can be highly compatible and still superior to the original. Gideon's $240 motherboard is both faster and more powerful than anything ever made for the C64 with discrete components: The 48MHz CPU alone is a first for Commodore 8-bit computers, for example.

So both have their place, and I'm more interested in seeing how both fit into the scene than in picking a side. 

 

 

Edited by TomXP411
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The X16 also appeals to my desire to experience some of that 8-bit era of programming, through the rose-tinted glasses of modern programming environments and tools.

Personally, I've looked at a lot of the other 8-bit projects, whether based on real platforms or not, as having a high possibility of being vaporware, or else being a cash-in from the IP owners.

I don't fault the cash-ins for what they are; my nostalgia simply runs in along different veins. I'd rather see cash-ins than abandonment, and the historical preservation factor is no small part of that.

But the X16 has the "Dave factor", which to me brings two important qualities to make me interested:

  • Dave has shipped products before.
  • Dave has an audience and community he can easily promote his project with, which may not exist to the same extent for other 8-bit projects.

I happen to also appreciate the goal of implementing the system entirely without FPGAs (albeit with asterisks since certain hardware is no longer available), this makes it feel more authentically 8-bit to me, since it's not emulated magic. I actually somewhat hope there will be some hardware quirks discovered post-launch, as long as they aren't too annoying. :3

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For me the X16 appealed more for the following reasons:

  1. You will be able to look at the board and kind of "see" how it works. I love that!
  2. Memory layout and bank switching is very basic, but also easy to understand. The amount of available memory imposes pressure to optimize. I like that!
  3. Graphics is somewhat in between an ATARI ST and the Commodore Amiga, so more 16-bit era like. Which allows for good 2D graphics and I'm very happy what I've achieved so far. The pixelated 320x240 resolution adds to the nostalgic feel.
  4. The 8 MHz CPU is fast compared to the C64, but still slow enough so that you have to live with certain limitations, which is part of the fun. But it still allows me to use C for programming with some assembler to get around the mentioned limitations.

I'm looking forward to "real" hardware. I'd like to show it to my nephews (now 3 and 6 years old) in a few years, to explain and "show" them how computers actually work. I find it still very important to know about those basics. Even with modern computers this helps to understand why certain things work and others suddenly don't.

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7 minutes ago, AndyMt said:

I'm looking forward to "real" hardware. I'd like to show it to my nephews (now 3 and 6 years old) in a few years, to explain and "show" them how computers actually work. I find it still very important to know about those basics. Even with modern computers this helps to understand why certain things work and others suddenly don't.

I agree. No matter how advanced our main desktop/laptop computers become, it's not like a baby born in 2020 has Ohm's Law, Boolean Logic, and hundreds of other concepts in "factory ROM" or something. You have to start with the absolute basics. If anything, modern computers are near-overwhelming, with no single person able to build one themselves. In a way, it's better to have a much slower computer you can understand/fix than a much more powerful one that is essentially magic. But practically speaking, it's good to have both for different reasons.

For me, Dave's goal to keep the system understandable, buildable, hackable (discrete components rather than FPGA) is a big plus.

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4 hours ago, maktos said:

For me, Dave's goal to keep the system understandable, buildable, hackable (discrete components rather than FPGA) is a big plus.

But is it ?

I agree with you on the root concepts idea - I've always said people should do something like program a PIC16C84 or a C64 or something like that so they know at root what's going on (some PHP programmer told me "Boolean Algebra's not a thing" any more ...).

Not sure we're there. Might be better off doing the Ben Eater design , or something similar to do the basic stuff.

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The X16 also appeals to my desire to experience some of that 8-bit era of programming, through the rose-tinted glasses of modern programming environments and tools.
Personally, I've looked at a lot of the other 8-bit projects, whether based on real platforms or not, as having a high possibility of being vaporware, or else being a cash-in from the IP owners.
I don't fault the cash-ins for what they are; my nostalgia simply runs in along different veins. I'd rather see cash-ins than abandonment, and the historical preservation factor is no small part of that.
But the X16 has the "Dave factor", which to me brings two important qualities to make me interested:
  • Dave has shipped products before.
  • Dave has an audience and community he can easily promote his project with, which may not exist to the same extent for other 8-bit projects.
I happen to also appreciate the goal of implementing the system entirely without FPGAs (albeit with asterisks since certain hardware is no longer available), this makes it feel more authentically 8-bit to me, since it's not emulated magic. I actually somewhat hope there will be some hardware quirks discovered post-launch, as long as they aren't too annoying. :3

The ”Dave factor” is important for me too. There is a large X16 community already. I just hope people won’t be tired of waiting for the computer to arrive.

Besides that I like the balance between limitations and possibilities. As someone mentioned 8 Mhz is perfect, you don’ have to count every cycle but you still have to think about what’s possible. Likewise for the amount of memory and 320x240 is perfect for homemade games. But it’s sad that the 65816 couldn’t be used. 16 bit arithmetics get tedious to implement after a while even if you use macros.

I don’t know much about retrocomputers but I have visited the Mega65 site. It looks professional but I wasn’t able to understand much, not even if the computer was ready and for sale. The X16 site is much better. An emulator to download, two reference manuals to read and you’re on your way (still I must admit I struggled with a lot of things in the beginning...)
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I'm not a developer, just a standard user interested in reliving my youth.

I've been aware of the Mega65 for some time, but I knew relatively little about it (as compared to the X16) before Nostalgia Nerd's video released today.

Based on what I saw in the video, it seems really cool. Very capable and showcasing a lot of features. Clearly the price will have to come down, but backwards compatibility and HDMI are both really compelling!

That being said, the 'kitchen sink' model they seemed to have followed, such as having both an internal floppy and external peripheral support, having both internal SD and external microSD, and the planned Amiga and AtariST cores for the FPGA really have me concerned that the product won't be cost reduced enough for mass market. Also, the complexity they have gone for also slows down development. I don't doubt the product will eventually come out, but I am concerned how long it will take considering the time already invested and the potential for future issues as they refine the dev kits for mass market.

To use a Commodore example, to me the Mega65 appears to be (philosophically) linked to the Commodore 128, whereas the X16 is much closer to the Vic20.

My guess is the X16 will appeal more strongly to those interested in 6502 programming (over the Mega65) because of its simplicity and focus, whereas the Mega65 will appeal more to those that want to have maximum hardware compatibility with their existing Commodore collections.

For myself personally, I want a new Commodore toy that won't destroy the bank and will (eventually) feature a strong software catalogue of new games pushing the hardware in new and interesting ways.

Edited by Dingo
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Having just watched a pretty thorough walk through of  the 65, I'm pretty impressed. Sure it was expensive, but it'll get better. Maybe.

A couple things that are interesting to me:

  1. GO 64 - I can have my cake and eat it too
  2. They have shipped 100 units, so it's real(ish).
  3. The software development is already pretty mature

 

 

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I will probably end up with both systems.  I have experience with FPGA, so that isn't a religious issue for me. I spend my days on modern computers working in modern languages. In my heart I yearn for simpler times. I deal with so many layers of abstraction in my day to day that the idea of a single core with a single address space gives me a sense of peace. 🙂

I like X16 because I hopefully will have access to the hardware schematics at some point, so I can understand the system soup to nuts. I also like the possibility of creating my own expansion cards. I'm planning to begin playing with developing some simple programs over winter break.

 The Mega65 has increased memory and processor power as well as network capabilities which opens some interesting possibilities. I would love to have a system that I could use as part of my daily workflow, and the Mega65 might be able to run a simple remote shell, a code editor and a simple mail client.

I totally agree with some of the earlier comments that the community is what makes or breaks projects like these. I am excited to be a part of the X16 community and plan to explore the Mega65 community as well.

-Luke

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9 hours ago, paulscottrobson said:

But is it ?

I agree with you on the root concepts idea - I've always said people should do something like program a PIC16C84 or a C64 or something like that so they know at root what's going on (some PHP programmer told me "Boolean Algebra's not a thing" any more ...).

Not sure we're there. Might be better off doing the Ben Eater design , or something similar to do the basic stuff.

Ben Eater's designs are pretty cool.  However, I would want added:
* a version of the Commodore ROMs
* a bit more RAM -- and yes, banked would be nice
* sprites and SIDs
* A KEYBOARD

In short, the X16 gets closest to what I want:
* a PET with 80 columns, sprites, SIDs, and more RAM. 
* a C64 with 80 columns and a clean memory model.
* a VIC20 with 80 columns, sprites, SIDs, and RAM.

Banked high RAM, you say?  Sign me up!

 

The graphics and sound are ... more complex than I'd like.  I suppose that's to make it appeal to the demo scene.

 

The MEGA65... I really want to like it, but Paul is a hardware C.S. professor, and uses that architecture to teach his students some advanced juju.  It is quite beyond my energy level to learn.  Paul is also a cool guy, down to earth and all that.  And the C65 is worth vitalizing and realizing in some form today.  So, yeah, I want to like it. 

But I can't wrap my head around it, and I won't be able to afford it.  So.

 

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2 hours ago, rje said:

Ben Eater's designs are pretty cool.  However, I would want added:
* a version of the Commodore ROMs
* a bit more RAM -- and yes, banked would be nice
* sprites and SIDs
* A KEYBOARD

In short, the X16 gets closest to what I want:
* a PET with 80 columns, sprites, SIDs, and more RAM. 
* a C64 with 80 columns and a clean memory model.
* a VIC20 with 80 columns, sprites, SIDs, and RAM.

Banked high RAM, you say?  Sign me up!

 

The graphics and sound are ... more complex than I'd like.  I suppose that's to make it appeal to the demo scene.

 

The MEGA65... I really want to like it, but Paul is a hardware C.S. professor, and uses that architecture to teach his students some advanced juju.  It is quite beyond my energy level to learn.  Paul is also a cool guy, down to earth and all that.  And the C65 is worth vitalizing and realizing in some form today.  So, yeah, I want to like it. 

But I can't wrap my head around it, and I won't be able to afford it.  So.

 

I was suggesting doing both 🙂 If you work through Ben Eater's 6502 course (I've only skimmed it) you won't have much of a computer but you'll learn a heck of a lot. Then progress to a machine like the X16 and you should be able to see the links between what you learnt on the first course and what the X16 is doing. Though you'd have to view Vera as a "magic box" I think. That's basically what I did, I started with an SC/MP trainer board and then had one of chicklet key PETs. I'm very glad I didn't start by using C# or Java and never dropping down.

The Mega65 isn't that different to the CX16, the documentation isn't very clear is half the problem. In some ways it's simpler, because you can write to screen memory in the same way you do on a C64/PET/VIC. In some ways it's more complex - DMA and stuff.

Pricewise .... I suspect more M65 than SpecNext levels.

Edited by paulscottrobson
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MEGA65 is a great project, but it seems like an overkill to me. This thing does too many things and has a complicated design. Good benefit it's a new machine and has compatibility with C64. But for a modern variant of C64 I'd better choose C64 Reloaded MK2 and C64C Case from individual Computers. Well, may be I'm simply not a Commodore geek to want MEGA65. )

I like X16 for its simplicity. Though VERA adds a bit of hardware complexity, but from programming point it's simple enough. I believe in future there will alternative much simpler video card, because nothing stops from building one. Also I very much like to follow X16 project progress in David's videos, Facebook group and this site of course.

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I actually think it is an advantage that the X16 isn't backwards compatible with the C64. That brings the software we all write into focus. If people buy the computer and want to test some games, it will be the games we make, not just Blue Max, Paradroid and Impossible Mission. This is a retrocomputer but it is also a new computer, with a new hardware design and a new video chip and we write new software for it. I like that, it motivates me.

Edited by Johan Kårlin
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There is one minor upside. There are some games - Elite was demoed by someone on the M65, have seen similar on the Next - Driller is another good example, the 3D adventure that the processor couldn't really cope with. These now run at a decent speed.

Having said that , most emulators allow you to hack the emulated CPU speed anyway

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39 minutes ago, Cyber said:

Why kitched sink? ) I did not get it.

It's a saying, "everything but the kitchen sink". Just means that they threw everything into it that they could think of.

Personally, the M65 does not speak to me like the X16 does. I have zero desire to own a new computer with a floppy drive, and even less to pay more for a cute toy computer than my serious daily driver personal laptop. If I want to play C64 games, there are emulators for that.

If I want a cute toy computer, it's either going to be a Raspberry Pi, where I can run modern software and do things like have low-power servers or custom TV dongles, or the X16 where I can have a fun development target for assembly games and demos that won't break the bank. If the X16 was targeting a $1000 price point, I would not be interested at all, but I would still the admire the technical achievement, like I do for the M65.

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2 hours ago, SlithyMatt said:

even less to pay more for a cute toy computer than my serious daily driver personal laptop

To be clear, the MEGA 65 isn't going to cost $800+ when it goes to retail sale. Based on the hardware in it, I'm betting it will cost $400-500. Still not "inexpensive", but actually not far off what it would cost to build an Ultimate 64 with all new parts. 

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I just watched the video about the M65 by Nostalgia Nerd. It absolutely seems to be an impressing technical achievement and I understand the goal of the project better. But it is not for me, it is far too complicated. For me it becomes a computer for experiments with all key combinations, different startup options, menus, configurations screens and possible hardware adjustments like changing the CPU speed. I like the simple experience of turning on the computer, seeing a few lines of text and a blinking cursor. And that’s just about it. A builtin machine code monitor is ok though. But I am not sure I like that GEOS is included but I can live with that. [emoji4]

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I've been interested in the Commander because it's built from the ground up with a nod to the heritage in terms of design decisions and even the inherent limitations; has a modest MVP, and is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get platform.

The video modes are reasonable and appealing and I won't spend 1/2 my time trying to get old sw working at a specific clock rate, with a given video config, via utilities and hidden menus.  

Commander should be extensible from a HW perspective and I'm hopeful that sw dev efforts don't die out between now and when the platform is released.  

In short, the 65 looks awesome, but too-awesome.  It's not cohesive, it is utter madness in it's design running in every possible direction simultaneously.  It's the cat-dog of computers if that means anything to anybody here.  Just too schizophrenic for me.

Having said this, I have tons of ideas and some old code that I will port to Commander, but not until I can do so on THE hardware.  It's just how I'm built.

 

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