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Commander X16 vs. Mega 65


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On 9/30/2021 at 10:14 PM, Scott Robison said:

I intend to use it as a better FPGA development platform than the Nexys 4 DDR I already have. But I cannot fault you for your logic and reasoning.

I think it's worth it to buy an FPGA development platform if you're into FPGA development. Endless amounts of entertainment there that you can't otherwise experience.

I priced out a minimal mister setup (excluding input and screen devices) and it would be roughly $350 CAD ($235 DE10-Nano), which is not bad for something that can be every 8bit and 16bit computer and console, physical attributes aside. Though a $48 Raspberry Pi or an already paid for PC would offer almost the same experience. Almost...

To the topic at hand,

A fully realized Commander X16 is far and away a better device than the Mega65, because of its physical expansion capability and its otherwise equally functional/retro keyboard/case design. They are different form factors and devices that seem to serve different audiences (Mega65 being more software oriented), but if a person had to pick between on these hobby computers, I think they would get more out the Commander X16. That is, unless they also wanted an FPGA game console, in which case the Mega65 would be more useful for them. Really, they seem to serve different purposes when looking beyond their chassis. Not really an apples to apples comparison.

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On 9/30/2021 at 11:51 PM, Scott Robison said:

The primary FPGA is a larger version of what is on the Nexys A7 / Nexys 4 DDR / Nexys 4 that they used for development. Apparently the keyboard has a CPLD that is being referred to as an FPGA because it is similarly reprogrammable. There is also a third FPGA that I think is part of the hardware management. So the workhorse is the primary one and the others provide support services to it much as other chips provide support to a CPU.

I'm not 100% up to speed on everything about MEGA65. What I listed above are just my rationalization as to why I'm getting it. Having a system with an integrated keyboard and more connectivity to the outside world is appealing for what I would like to do with it above and beyond its MEGA65 personality.

That makes sense. I don't think it's a bad deal ; it's not the chips or the board that are expensive so much as the case, the disk drive (never understood this one !), the specialist keyboard. You could probably produce the same thing as a bare board PS/2 SDCard model for half that or even less.

It's just a lot of money for me personally on something I mightn't use a great deal.

Each to their own though.

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On 10/1/2021 at 9:04 AM, paulscottrobson said:

the case, the disk drive (never understood this one !)

I think they wanted Mega 65 to look like unreleased Commodore 65 as much as possible. This explains me everything.

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On 10/3/2021 at 9:57 PM, Cyber said:

I think they wanted Mega 65 to look like unreleased Commodore 65 as much as possible. This explains me everything.

Indeed. Keep all the retro about it, but add on the new stuff too. It's really no wonder it took so long to get it done with all volunteer effort (except for the manufacturing which they have outsourced).

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On 10/4/2021 at 4:57 AM, Cyber said:

I think they wanted Mega 65 to look like unreleased Commodore 65 as much as possible. This explains me everything.

It's fine. You can have the fancy version with the keyboard and disk drive , or the functionally equivalent version by putting a Nexys A7 in a box which would cost a couple of hundred quid. Each to their own.

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I completely understand where @paulscottrobson is coming from. MEGA65 isn't for everyone, and I get that. For me personally, I can get much of the MEGA65 experience by just installing an available bitstream on my Nexys 4 DDR. But it doesn't give me the identical experience, so I tried to come up with something closer to an apples to apples comparison (though really it is more like green apples to red apples ... they still aren't the same).

image.thumb.png.1876deb17c1d0b7f1abd8d114df6e19c.png

I dug around searching for information trying to figure out what it would cost to make an "equivalent" MEGA65 out of parts only. No cost of labor, integration, testing is included in this.

The base price is the biggest difference. $265.00 for a Nexys A7 vs $773.33 for the complete MEGA65. But it doesn't come with case, keyboard, or a number of parts. Digital video would require an extra PMOD to add the capability to the Nexys A7. That doesn't seem to include digital audio, and I can't find a PMOD that supports that directly, or perhaps the digital video PMOD would handle it as well (that point isn't clear, but it isn't mentioned which leads me to believe it isn't).

The primary FPGA is twice the size, and there are two other FPGA-type devices in the system. Prices are for quantity one since I'd be doing it for myself.

Nexys A7 doesn't include an IEC or expansion port, and the only way I can think of to get those would be to buy a dead C=64 and scavenge them. I picked $50 as an arbitrary number, given what used dead C=64 units seem to be going for online. It could be a lot cheaper. Maybe even free if you find someone willing to give one away.

The case and keyboard I used for comparison is from https://myretrocomputer.com/.

Nexys A7 only has one SDHC slot, so a little more to add an extra. No RTC either, so a little bit extra. And $10 for a used 3.5" drive on ebay.

Using my part price estimates, there is only a $43 diff. I'd easily use that up in time spent trying to get all the pieces to fit together given my level of experience and the fact that the other team has been working on this for 5+ years.

Now ... not all of that is necessary. If one just wants to run a MEGA65 personality, they certainly can save a lot of money. And the Nexys A7 likely has much more RAM available.

For me, I'm paying in part for the integration of all the pieces and for the artistic expression of those pieces. I may regret it at some point. Hopefully that point doesn't come until long after I've received it and had hours of enjoyment out of it.

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Oh, and I forgot to include C=64 game ports. I could get the parts from the dead C=64. Even with all the extra PMODs, I don't think there is enough IO exposed to connect everything extra, but even if there is, it will still require a ton of effort on my part. Also, the price on the Artix A7 200T is the difference between a 200T and a 100T unit, just to try to create parity between the two offerings.

Edited by Scott Robison
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On 10/3/2021 at 11:57 PM, Cyber said:

I think they wanted Mega 65 to look like unreleased Commodore 65 as much as possible. This explains me everything.

The built in drive is part of why, if I was in the market for a $500ish toy, I would definitely consider the Mega65. The 3.5" drive is a much better capacity for Forth programming than the old 1541 was ... plenty of room for a compiler, several bespoke SAVESYSTEMs, and a good sized set of blocks (however implemented).

But I'm not ... and since I don't play the lottery, I can't even hope for a big lottery win to bring it into reach.

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On 10/4/2021 at 5:57 AM, Cyber said:

I think they wanted Mega 65 to look like unreleased Commodore 65 as much as possible. This explains me everything.

This would be an anti-feature for me. Even my old 8-bit machine has an external keyboard - it is much more ergonomic. I hate using notebook keyboards/mousepad for the very same reason. IMHO, for a new 8-bit system, it is useful to combine the advantages of the 8-bit world (direct hardware) with more modern parts and ideas (hence I prefer the x16 to have a USB keyboard connector). Maybe for some customers the bad usability also is a feature of the nostalgia, but I like to avoid this.

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On 10/5/2021 at 9:07 AM, Ju+Te said:

Maybe for some customers the bad usability also is a feature of the nostalgia, but I like to avoid this.

It is true. But only occasionally when you are in the mood for it. Maybe for some people this happens more often, for others less. Depends of one's will and available time. If you have time, and don't rush anywhere, it's a pleasent feeling to insert floppy, listen to drive's motor, wait for it to load, etc. But yeah, overall it gets to waiting in frustration. Especially when you don't have much free time, then you want some quicker alternative.

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The floppy constrains the coders to a set size and read rate, which imho is a good thing as it adds to the challenge.

The X16's virtually unlimited and near instant read size of SD Cards does let you do things that aren't quite of the time.

 

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On 10/5/2021 at 12:07 AM, Ju+Te said:

This would be an anti-feature for me. Even my old 8-bit machine has an external keyboard - it is much more ergonomic. I hate using notebook keyboards/mousepad for the very same reason. IMHO, for a new 8-bit system, it is useful to combine the advantages of the 8-bit world (direct hardware) with more modern parts and ideas (hence I prefer the x16 to have a USB keyboard connector). Maybe for some customers the bad usability also is a feature of the nostalgia, but I like to avoid this.

I assume you mean an external keyboard *can* be more ergonomic. I've seen many non-ergonomic external keyboards.

I'll all about getting a good quality keyboard. I bought two of the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard (https://ultimatehackingkeyboard.com/) so I could have one for work and one for home. But I don't really think the keyboard on the MEGA65 looks *that* bad from a purely functional perspective. It is definitely better than most laptop / notebook keyboards.

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On 10/5/2021 at 2:19 AM, Yazwho said:

The floppy constrains the coders to a set size and read rate, which imho is a good thing as it adds to the challenge.

The X16's virtually unlimited and near instant read size of SD Cards does let you do things that aren't quite of the time.

Personally I think there is plenty of challenge getting code to work well in the constrained memory environment. I don't need slow media to make that a challenge. 🙂

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On 10/5/2021 at 6:18 PM, Scott Robison said:

I assume you mean an external keyboard *can* be more ergonomic. I've seen many non-ergonomic external keyboards.

I'll all about getting a good quality keyboard. I bought two of the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard (https://ultimatehackingkeyboard.com/) so I could have one for work and one for home. But I don't really think the keyboard on the MEGA65 looks *that* bad from a purely functional perspective. It is definitely better than most laptop / notebook keyboards.

An external keyboard (with a state-of-the-art connector) allows to change it, it allows to position it where it's best for you. As a software developer a decent keyboard is one of my mostly used tool. Hence I'm using good ones for a longer time. Haven't thought of bad keyboards because I would not buy bad ones.

Having a floppy sounds like a strange thing to me, but for some it might contribute to the retro feeling. And finally, retro computers are nearly only for the feelings of the "good old times", for the feeling of youth, like an affordable time machine.

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On 10/5/2021 at 11:13 AM, Ju+Te said:

An external keyboard (with a state-of-the-art connector) allows to change it, it allows to position it where it's best for you. As a software developer a decent keyboard is one of my mostly used tool. Hence I'm using good ones for a longer time. Haven't thought of bad keyboards because I would not buy bad ones.

Having a floppy sounds like a strange thing to me, but for some it might contribute to the retro feeling. And finally, retro computers are nearly only for the feelings of the "good old times", for the feeling of youth, like an affordable time machine.

My first thought was "when a computer comes with an external keyboard, it is more ergonomic" and thus my query. I agree. As I said, I like having a good keyboard. Still, this keyboard on the MEGA65 seems better than most "integrated" keyboards. It looks better than the Surface Pro keyboard I'm using as I type this! 🙂

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On 10/4/2021 at 12:52 PM, Scott Robison said:

The case and keyboard I used for comparison is from https://myretrocomputer.com/.

135£ + 45£ shipping = $308 CAD, before duty and 13% tax (on the value in CAD, which is, of course, a lager number than 13% of the value in GBP, because screw me for being born here I guess). For a plastic box with a keyboard. That said, I appreciate the comparison, because in the UK it works out quite well, spiritually and numerically! 🙂

For Commander X16 compatible comparison though, I could buy this steel and tempered glass ATX case for $120 CAD and this "tenkeyless" keyboard with an aluminum plate and Cherry MX switches for $80 CAD, with free shipping. Both are total overkill and both offer better build quality than either retro case. Furthermore, there are plenty of cheaper options for both cases and mechanical keyboards that have comparable build quality.

But... what ya just can't get for a reasonable price in North America is a frick'n keyboard chassis with room to install a computer underneath! Well, unless you count the $95 Raspberry Pi 400, which I don't, because that keyboard is balls awful and the case only fits the Pi 400.

Again the fully realized X16 wins, because it's compatible with any ATX case and there's an enormous variety of keyboards one could use, from a new Unicomp Model M ($104 USD) to a $1 Salvation Army special. While that case + keyboard combo isn't the same look and feel as the computer-inside-the-keyboard paradigm, there is still plenty of nostalgia to be had from the case + keyboard design (especially if one is willing to modify an actual retro case or to create their own custom case).

More importantly though, this isn't 1985. Back then the capabilities offered by these machines were state of the art, but today no one needs these computers for anything. In other words, they're both toys. Expensive toys. Now, a low price tag can make any nick knack intriguing to the general public, but a high price tag? Yeah, that will give anyone pause. Will I use this? Why do I need this? Do I want this instead of that other thing I was looking at earlier? I can't help but feel that the X16's lower cost of entry, combined with its greater compatibility and expansion capability, make it a more enticing product to a wider audience.

At $200 USD, an X16 board would allow a person to jump in and start using the device with the peripherals they already own. That's roughly 1/4 the cost of the Mega65. This is a worthy consideration for anyone but the most extreme fans of this subject matter.

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On 10/7/2021 at 10:17 PM, Tatwi said:

135£ + 45£ shipping = $308 CAD, before duty and 13% tax (on the value in CAD, which is, of course, a lager number than 13% of the value in GBP, because screw me for being born here I guess). For a plastic box with a keyboard. That said, I appreciate the comparison, because in the UK it works out quite well, spiritually and numerically! 🙂

For Commander X16 compatible comparison though, I could buy this steel and tempered glass ATX case for $120 CAD and this "tenkeyless" keyboard with an aluminum plate and Cherry MX switches for $80 CAD, with free shipping. Both are total overkill and both offer better build quality than either retro case. Furthermore, there are plenty of cheaper options for both cases and mechanical keyboards that have comparable build quality.

Right, my comparison was in no way "MEGA65 vs Commander X16". It was "MEGA65 vs Nexys A7 / Nexys 4 DDR + all the stuff necessary to bring it up to the level of the MEGA65 offering". I don't see any way to make an "apples to apples" comparison between MEGA65 & the X16. I love them both, or at least I will someday when I actually have both in hand. Just like I love my RV and my electric commuter car. They are both great at what they do, and I expect MEGA65 & X16 will serve great niches as well, even though neither is likely to replace Intel Windows / BSD / Linux based systems.

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On 10/7/2021 at 10:51 PM, Scott Robison said:

Right, my comparison was in no way "MEGA65 vs Commander X16". It was "MEGA65 vs Nexys A7 / Nexys 4 DDR + all the stuff necessary to bring it up to the level of the MEGA65 offering". I don't see any way to make an "apples to apples" comparison between MEGA65 & the X16. I love them both, or at least I will someday when I actually have both in hand. Just like I love my RV and my electric commuter car. They are both great at what they do, and I expect MEGA65 & X16 will serve great niches as well, even though neither is likely to replace Intel Windows / BSD / Linux based systems.

And I already have a Nexys 4 DDR. For me the value proposition of the MEGA65 is fueling my interest in learning more about FPGA, and for that the MEGA65 should serve a valuable purpose to me. The fact I can use it as a C=65/MEGA65/C=64 out of the box is great as well. Also that I can connect it to HDMI with all the compatible devices I already have.

Edited by Scott Robison
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On 10/8/2021 at 12:51 AM, Scott Robison said:

Right, my comparison was in no way "MEGA65 vs Commander X16". It was "MEGA65 vs Nexys A7 / Nexys 4 DDR + all the stuff necessary to bring it up to the level of the MEGA65 offering". I don't see any way to make an "apples to apples" comparison between MEGA65 & the X16. I love them both, or at least I will someday when I actually have both in hand. Just like I love my RV and my electric commuter car. They are both great at what they do, and I expect MEGA65 & X16 will serve great niches as well, even though neither is likely to replace Intel Windows / BSD / Linux based systems.

I was trying to loop the discussion back around to the intended topic of the thread. However, for a new user I do think something similar can be said about spending less on a minimal FPGA dev kit and using it with stuff one already owns rather than getting the Mega65 for FPGA dev. If you're absolutely sure that you want to focus on the C64/65 ecosystem, then a Mega65 would be convenient and probably worth the investment. However, if you're just going to turn into an arcade/console machine after a few months of toying with it, then one of the less expensive FPGA setups would make more sense.

This, of course, does not apply to you personally, as you already have and know what you want.

Edited by Tatwi
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On 10/8/2021 at 12:06 AM, Tatwi said:

I was trying to loop the discussion back around to the intended topic of the thread. However, for a new user I do think something similar can be said about spending less on a minimal FPGA dev kit and using it with stuff one already owns rather than getting the Mega65 for FPGA dev. If you're absolutely sure that you want to focus on the C64/65 ecosystem, then a Mega65 would be convenient and probably worth the investment. However, if you're just going to turn into an arcade/console machine after a few months of toying with it, then one of the less expensive FPGA setups would make more sense.

This, of course, does not apply to you personally, as you already have and know what you want.

I want all the toys. Commander X16. MEGA65. MiSTer. Tesla. List some more, I probably want them. 🙂

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