Monday, 10 November 2014

1541 Ultimate II Guide 5 : Cartridges

The UII has an interesting feature: cartridge support. You can select a cartridge from the UII menu, and after a restart of the machine it will be just as if you plugged that cartridge into your computer.

The cartridges can really be useful. Remember: using a UII alone does not give your fast load functionality when mounting .d64 files. So using a cartridge for this remains a sensible thing to do (unless you RUN single files straight from the UII menu of course)

There are also other useful functions available through the use of these cartridges. The UII does not come with a manual for each cartridge, so in this post I will mention the available cartridges and their most useful features and commands, and where to find more documentation.  I had to look some of these up as well as I never used several of the supplied cartridges. :)

Enabling a cartridge

Enable a cartridge by pressing F2 to enter the configuration menu, and then select 'C64 and cartridge settings'. Press ENTER on the 'Cartridge' menu item to see a list of select-able cartridge images.
Select the cartridge to use, press RUN/STOP and restart your computer.

Most of the cartridges use two buttons: a reset button and a freeze button. The order of these buttons can be changed with the 'Button order' menu item, also in the cartridge menu.

Supplied cartridges

The available cartridges vary with each used UII firmware version. I use the 2.6k firmware and it comes with the following cartridges:

  • Final Cartridge III
  • Action Replay v4.2
  • Action Replay v6.0
  • Retro Replay v3.8p
  • SuperSnapshot v5.22
  • TAsm/Codenet
  • Epyx Fastload
  • Custom 8k ROM
  • Custom 16k ROM
  • Custom Retro Replay ROM
  • Custom Snappy ROM
Some of these come in PAL or NTSC versions.

That's a nice list. What to use??!! Let's go over each cartridge and see what it can do. You will notice that a lot of the cartridges offer the kind of same functionality: fast loaders, machine monitor, etc...

Final Cartridge 3

This was a very popular cartridge. Made in the Netherlands and the cartridge of choice for many people around those parts.

I do find the fiddling with the joystick time consuming though. A mouse driven interface would have been better. Later versions of the FC3 had this option.

One of the big features of this cartridge is to freeze the current memory state to a disk or tape. This can be handy if you are playing a game with no save feature and you want to resume play at a later time. Of course, this feature can also be used to pirate software...  The freezer can also be used to cheat in games by disabling collision checks or sprites, or to enter the machine code monitor while the game runs so memory locations can be altered to gain more lives etc.

main features: BASIC extension, fast loader (disk and tape), machine monitor, freezer (save memory contents to tape or disk), cheating, utilities in the desktop mode.
manual: PDF
common commands:

  • DESKTOP to return to the cartridge menu from the basic editor
  • DLOAD (F5) and DSAVE to use the disk turbo
  • DOS"$ (F7) to list a directory
  • MONITOR (or F2) to enter the machine monitor

Action Replay (v4 and v6)

Datel started their Action Replay brand on the Commodore 64. Later on they produced Action Replay products for Amiga, PC, Gameboy, Xbox, etc. The focus of Datel was on cheating in games.

This was a very popular cartridge back in the day. There are two versions included of this cartridge. This page on C64 Wiki describes some of the differences.

Pressing the reset button will show a menu where you can copy disks, install a fast loader or perform a normal reset (the C64 did not have a reset button)

Pressing the freeze button will take you into a menu where various actions can be performed: disabling sprite collisions, looking for interesting addresses to poke in, saving a picture of the screen, editing the screen etc. All these features are aimed at cheating. There is also a command (F1) to backup the memory of the C64.  A loader for this saved memory can also be created so the backup can be loaded without the cartridge present. Yes, this was a huge piracy enabler.

main features: fast load, machine monitor, disk copy tools, freezer, cheating
manual: PDF (v6), PDF (v4)
common commands:

  • $ : show disk directory
  • MON: enter machine monitor

Retro Replay

This is a Action Replay clone, with various additions, like REU (Ram Expansion Unit) support because the Action Reply did not, and the ability to house add on hardware, like networking and a serial port connection.

Those hardware tricks are not included in this software version of course. It will therefore say: SILVERSURFER NOT FOUND - DISABLED'. The Silversurfer is an hardware add on for this cartridge.

This cartridge is developed throughout the years by the commodore 64 hacking scene. For a 'normal' UII user, the additional functionality is not very interesting.

The Action Replay functionality is interesting, of course! Check out that cartridge for functionality and manual link.

SuperSnapShot v5

Apparently, the Action Replay is based of this cartridge and a lot of the features indeed seem familiar even though the menus and screens, or the basic commands to use the features, are different.

The cartridge will show TURBO V5 above the READY prompt to show it is active after a reset.
One advantage of this cartridge is that it supports all the disk drive models, up to the 1581 and a lot of non-official floppy drives.

The 'extended life' feature is fun: it will snapshot the c64 memory, and you can return to this later. Easy for when you have one life left in your game and you can return to this state later on.

main features: memory snapshotting, cheating, monitors (memory, sprites, character sets)
manual: PDF
common commands:

  • F3: get directory
  • F8 or @@MON: open machine monitor
  • /filename : load "filename" from disk


Again, this is an Action Replay 6.0 clone, with added functionality.

After pressing the reset button, the screen title says 'Turbo Action Rom V2'. The screen looks like an Action Replay screen, but there is an added option: 'T - Turbo Assembler', therefore: Action Turbo.
Pressing the freeze button will display the usual Action Replay freeze screen.

If you want to do some serious coding on the actual hardware then this cartridge is very interesting. As the UII doesn't support Ethernet (maybe someday through USB. Keep hoping!) the Codenet functionality cannot be used.

main features: Action Replay functionality, Turbo Assembler
manual: Turbo Assembler (web)
common commands: see Action Replay

Epyx Fastload:

This cartridge was mainly sold in the US. I myself do not remember seeing this cartridge in use in the Netherlands and I've been to a lot of computer parties. So for me this was a new one to discover and use. Turns out this is a cartridge with some nice functionality.

You can tell the cartridge is operational when you see the word FASTLOAD  underneath the READY prompt.

I personally don't like the syntax of the machine monitor, so I do not use this cartridge for snooping around in the c64 memory and as other cartridges also offer fast load, this cartridge is rarely used.

main features: fast serial, machine monitor, disk copy and tools
common commands:

  • pound sign (£) to enter the disk menu
  • exclamation mark (!) to enter the machine monitor.

Custom ROMs

If you want to use cartridges or rom files not supplied by the firmware you can add these in the following manner:

  1. Place the bin file in the root of the SD card. It must be a bin file, not a crt file.
  2. Enter the 'C64 and Cartridge settings' menu item and select the Custom ROM entry with the right size.
  3. Now, enter the name of your ROM file in the 'Custom Cart ROM' menu item. Press ENTER and RUN/STOP. 

Note: .crt files are cartridge images especially tailored for emulators; you cannot use these as ROM images. .crt files can be converted to .bin files by the use of a tool. holds an entry here. You can also use cartconv.exe which is supplied with Vice. Here is the manual.


Like I said: a lot of the cartridges share the same functionality. It's up to you do decide what is the best tool for the job at hand.

I almost exclusively use the Retro or Action Replay, because of the disk fast load and machine code monitor, and no bull-shit interface and commands. I have this cartridge activated all the time as it doesn't bother me when I am running software straight from the UII, and it will use the fast load when I mount a disk and load software from it. Starting a game and then realizing the UII is loading at standard 1541 speed is ... annoying.

Too bad the highly popular cartridge (in the Netherlands at least) KCS Power Cartridge is not included, otherwise I would use that one. Old habits, you know.

Review 1541 Ultimate II+

Recently I bought the new version of the 1541 Ultimate II cartridge. It is the best investment you can do when you enjoy your Commodore 64 a...