StevenCombs.com

Logo

Blog posts and video from Steven as he “COMBS” through the minutia to discover tech, retro-computing, physical computing, gadgets and sci-fi.

retroCombs Playlist

Commodore Plus/4 Series

17 February 2022

Ten ways the MEGA65 is better than my M1 MacBook Pro

by Steven B. Combs, Ph.D.
tags:

Full disclosure, I use my M1 MacBook Pro daily, e.g. this blog post, and wouldn’t think about replacing it with any other computer (including the new MacBook Pro). It is the best computer I’ve ever owned. It’s fast, has great battery life, and plows through any task I throw at it. With that confession, this blog post is a fun exercise to keep the nostalgic 1980s rivalry between Commodore and Apple alive.

I am not going to ditch my MacBook Pro and start using my MEGA65 Dev Kit full time; however, there are features of the MEGA65 that are better than a modern MacBook Pro. Many of these features are inherent in the system the MEGA65 is based on, the never released Commodore 65, and other features come from the MEGA65 development team’s hardware and software updates. And yes, before I continue, I can create another list where the MacBook Pro excels over the MEGA65, but what’s the fun in that comparison?

Before I begin, a quick MEGA65 release update. Several have made comments on past videos asking what happened to the Christmas release of the MEGA65 and questioning availability. First, the MEGA65 is now on track for a Spring, or Easter, release. In the MEGA65 teams own words from 2021-12-09:

HO HO OH NO! SANTA IS IN QUARANTINE! … Due to the current situation it is impossible for us to send out any MEGA65s in December. We are holding our breath for March. Please bear with us!

And Trenz is working frantically manufacturing and preparing our orders.

tl;dr version: We have been fighting shortage of electronic components for months and mostly succeeded. But now, last minute, seemingly trivial things like cardboard for your lovely printed boxes are unavailable! We most probably cannot ship before March 2022 and are truly sorry for this. The good news: We will then be able to ship larger quantities at once which means you might face close to or no delay at all. We will keep you updated and continue doing what we all, you - the community and the MEGA65 team, believe in.

There are positives to the delay. The initial shipment may be larger quantities than the 400 promised, which means, if you order now, you might be one of the first to have the Easter Bunny drop a shiny new, egg colored, MEGA65 on your door step!


Table of Contents


Support the Blog and Channel

You can now support me via Buy Me A Coffee page with a one-time activity or become a full member via my fun Commodore inspired membership levels. When you support the channel you get additional content and fun extras. Check out the membership levels to learn more.

Thank you to these members for supporting me at the C128 level; making them retroCombs producers:

Companion YouTube Video

Title: _‌The MEGA65 vs MacBook Pro | Ten Reasons the MEGA65 is the Winner! _

In the video below, I share the 10 reasons the MEGA65 is better than my M1 MacBook Pro.

Video Errata

None as of 2022-02-17.

Below are the links I mention in this blog post and companion video. All Amazon links are affiliate links. I’d like to thank everyone for your support of the blog and the YouTube channel by starting your purchases here!

  1. MEGA65
  2. MEGA65 Dev Kit
  3. M1 MacBook Pro
  4. THE64
  5. Combian pi/400
  6. Boxed Hibernated 1 - Director’s Cut - MEGA65

10 ways the MEGA65 is better than a my M1 MacBook Pro

Let’s begin our list of the 10 ways the MEGA65 is better than my M1 MacBook Pro.

1. Boot Time

Commodore computers, like all early 8 bit computers, have fast boot times. I can’t think of any 8 bit computer that doesn’t beat a modern Mac to startup. Despite the M1 MacBook Pro booting faster than any other Mac I’ve owned, it can’t compare to the MEGA65. Flip the switch and two-seconds later, it’s ready to go. The MEGA65 boots almost as fast as the time it takes to hold down the power button on my MacBook Pro. Once booted the MEGA65 is ready to go; however, on the MacBook Pro after boot, you need to login and wait longer as the remainder of the operating system (OS) loads. Granted, the MacBook Pro is no slouch when it comes to boot up, but it can’t top the MEGA65.

What about reboots? No competition. Toggling the MEGA65 power switch is faster than using your mouse to find the Restart option in the Mac OS menu bar.

To reboot the Mac, select the option from the menu and Mac will shutdown and restart the entire boot up process. The MEGA65 includes a reset button. Tap it, and even faster than a power cycle, the MEGA65 is ready to go.

The MEGA65 continues the tradition of Commodore fast boot and even beats wonderful modern systems such as THE64 and my Combian pi/400. And the MEGA65 even includes fast system updates.

2. Fast Updates

The MEGA65 receives regular updates to both its Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) core and the closed ROMs. Prior to 2022, “flashing the core” was a slow process; however, a recent update increased core flash update speeds by 1809%! That is not a typo! You can check watch the comparison in the video below:

When the MacBook Pro receives an OS update, it means a multi-Gigabyte download, followed by a series of restarts. Even with the speed of the M1 processor, the update can take ten minutes or more. Prior to the updated MEGA65 flash utility, upgrade times were similar to the Mac; however, the MEGA65 now blows the MacBook Pro away. Even when I add the time it takes to download and transfer a core to the SD card, the MEGA65 process is faster. Update times will continue to decrease once/if the MEGA65 includes the ability to download the core directly using the built-in Ethernet port.

During the updates, we use the MEGA65 keyboard and there’s something special about this keyboard.

3. The Keyboard

Apple’s had a tough time with MacBook keyboards the past couple of years, but current MacBooks includes a fine keyboard; however, the MEGA65 includes a mechanical keyboard that is a pleasure to use and even better than the one on my Macbook. To quote the Museum of Electronic Games and Art (M-E-G-A):

Our friends at GMK have done an incredible job producing these uncompromising mechanical keyboards. Metal frames, cherry MX switches, four RGB LEDs, CPLD based bus system and other details make the best keyboards we can imagine.

Typing on the MEGA65 is a joy and while Commodore computers had better keyboards than many 8 bit systems of their time, e.g. Atari 400 and Timex Sinclair, there was room for improvement. The MEGA65 adds the best keyboard ever to grace an 8 bit Commodore computer and includes Cherry MX switches attached to a steel frame. Typing is comfortable, responsive, and clicky!

The layout of the MEGA65 keyboard is an upgrade to the Commodore 128 keyboard; but omits a numeric keypad. That space has been replaced by the internal 3.5” floppy drive. The MEGA65 keyboard follows the design and layout of the Commodore C65 closely but with an upgrade; both the CAPS and SHIFT Lock keys include an LED indicator not found on the prototype for the C65.

The MEGA65 includes two LED indicators at the top of the keyboard, one on the left and one on the right. The left indicator includes two internal LEDs (left and right) and can be color programmed in assembly or BASIC, via a POKE command. The LED indicator on the right is for disk activity. Imagine games that make use of the left LED indicator for application alerts or game accomplishments. Since Apple decided to kill their Touch-bar (which I love), these LEDs now allow the MEGA65 to provided visual feedback that current MacBook pros lack.

Because the MEGA65 team stuck to the original Commodore keyboard layout, your keyboard muscle memory is confused on the MEGA65. When typing symbols like ", @, (,), and =. With the inclusion of function and modifier keys, there are a lot of keystrokes to learn on the MEGA65 that are not going to transfer back to a MacBook Pro. But that’s a good thing.

We want the original Commodore keyboard experience for BASIC programming and immediate mode.

4. Immediate Mode, BASIC Programming and Text

The MEGA65 boots to a blue screen called the Screen Editor. At the top left of the screen is a color rainbow and in the center is copyright information that includes the ROM version, date, and time. A blinking cursor waits and without loading software, there are three things you can begin doing in this empty blue space:

  1. Immediate Mode - Test BASIC programming lines of code or make calculations.
  1. BASIC Programming - Use the enhanced MEGA65 BASIC version 10 programming language to create your own programs. It’s the best BASIC of any Commodore computer and software can run BASIC at a blazing 40Mhz using the BASIC FAST command or slowed down using the SPEED command. MEGA65 BASIC includes enhanced editing features such as page scrolling with the DIR W command and search and replace via the CHANGE command.
  1. Text Mode - Use EDIT ON to activate text mode. When you do, the text on screen is no longer parsed by the BASIC interpreter and the READY prompt changes to OK. Use line numbers to organize the lines of text. To automate line numbering, use the AUTO 10 command (or other increment number). Save the text to disk as a .SEQ file using the DSAVE command. To recall the file, use the DLOAD command. If you want view a text file on disk, use the TYPE command. You now have a Commodore text editor at your disposal. Use EDIT OFF to return to BASIC mode and the READY prompt.

In order to do these three things on my MacBook Pro, I have to load a calculator, BASIC emulator (since BASIC is no longer a part of Apple computers, and that’s a shame), or a text editor.

Once an application loads, who knows if I will be able to get any work done once the MacBook Pro distraction begins.

5. Distraction Free

MEGA65 use is free of notifications. It’s you and the MEGA65. There’s no notification system to distract you. That’s a nice change of pace from modern computing devices that want to disrupt your life every two minutes. MEGA65 applications don’t lurk in memory and bug you when you are focused on another task. It’s a small thing we retro-computing enthusiasts appreciate about our 1980s computers.

You mean there are applications available for the MEGA65? Yep, and in boxes!

6. Boxed Software

At the time of this writing, the first boxed software, Hibernated 1 - Director’s Cut - MEGA65 from developer Stefan Vogt (Puddle software) and publisher poly.play was released for 35€/$37. The publisher describes it as:

Hibernated 1 - This Place is Death (Director’s Cut) is an Infocom style interactive fiction game. It’s a complete rewrite of the classic, award-winning Hibernated game using Infocom’s Z-machine standard, with tons of additional narrative content and riddles. If Infocom had been asked to recreate the classic Hibernated, the Director’s Cut would have been the outcome.

The shrink-wrapped box includes:

These features add to the nostalgic feel of purchasing software. My copy is ordered and I can’t wait to open my box and dive in. Stay tuned for a full review and let’s hope this is the first of many boxed software releases for the MEGA65.

I don’t remember the last time I purchased physical software for my Mac. It’s all, “App Store this and App Store that.” While App Store convenience is nice, for games, I miss those little extras like printed maps, patches, and stickers.

Hibernated runs from a 3-1/2” floppy disk but, if you can’t wait for your MEGA65 to arrive, the SD card includes a .D81 image you can use with the Xemu Xmega65 emulator. Start your adventure now!

7. OS Flexibility

The MEGA65 includes an internal SD card and an external microSD card for auxiliary storage. An internal SD card serves as the default SD card. Inserting a microSD into the external slot overrides the default and allows for multiple ROM experimentation.

The MEGA65 includes 7 slots for cores. Cores are now available for the MEGA65, Gameboy, and ZX Spectrum with Commodore computer cores to come. Stay tuned for more collaboration with the miSTer community to bring more cores to the MEGA65. I’d recommend sticking to Commodore cores since the keyboard is better suited for these computers but the MEGA65 allows you to make that decision.

For a list of cores available or in progress, see What are “alternative” MEGA65 cores? | m65cores

Try downgrading or using alternate OSs on your Mac. The M1 chip does allow emulation, but the experience requires emulation software and complete OS installs and popular emulation software for Intel Macs are not yet supported on M1 Macs.

The MEGA65 core and SD card solution provides an interesting and authentic experience. Because the FPGA is programmable, each core can use and enhance the operation of the numerous ports on the MEGA65.

8. Ports

My MacBook Pro three ports. If I need additional connections, I plug in a dongle. Out of the box, the MEGA65 includes:

One of the three ports on my MacBook Pro is a headphone jack, there’s that! But the numerous MEGA65 connectors provide compatibility with older Commodore devices and new creations like the Pi1541 that simulates a 5¼ or 3½ inch floppy.

9. Built-in 3-½” Floppy Disk Drive

While the MEGA65 supports .D81 disk images (and soon other disk image formats like .D64), the MEGA65 includes a 3-⅓” floppy drive. This is something an Apple computer will never have again. There’s no room for it!

A 3-½ inch drive provides ample storage for your MEGA65 programs. Programs are tiny compared to their modern siblings and MEGA65 developer Paul is committed to pushing the limits of what is possible with a 3-½” floppy disk on the MEGA65.

He’s stretched capacity for the original 1581 drive from 800Kb to 2+ Mb! I don’t see Apple messing with firmware and the “kernal” on my MacBook Pro to push file storage on my internal 512 Gb to 1Gb!

But there’s another reason the 3-½” floppy is a nice addition and it’s the nostalgia factor.

10. Nostalgia

I hinted earlier that BASIC was no longer available on Apple devices by default and new Macs have no connection to their older 8-bit parents. The Apple II/Commodore 64 battle was won by Commodore. They outsold Apple and the Commodore 64 became the best selling computer of all time; however, in the end, Apple won the war and while you can say modern Macs have the legacy of the first Mac, there is no legacy system for the Apple II line.

The MEGA65 picks up the Commodore legacy and brings it forward to the twenty-first century in a way that is both retro and modern. TheC64 came close, but the MEGA65 is a true successor and when they ship, you will open the box, plug in the cables, flip the switch, and say, “Commodore is back, baby!”

Conclusion

As I stated earlier, this post and companion video was a fun exercise to help you learn more about the MEGA65. I can create several LONG lists where the Mac excels over the MEGA65 but that should not be a surprise. The fact that the MEGA65 has advantages is an indication that we’ve not come too far with computer technology to not recognize computing history’s past. If nothing else, I hope this blog post and video ramp up excitement around the spring release of the MEGA65. Even though I have a Dev Kit, I’m excited to see the final product arrive, in a box, with a manual, on my doorstep. The Easter bunny can’t get here quick enough!

Join the Fun

Don’t miss the retro-computing fun. SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel and check out my other posts.

Help make this content better! Leave your comments, corrections, additions, and thoughts in the comments below. You can email me at retrocombs@icloud.com. Thanks for reading and if you are inclined, please let others know about the blog using the hashtag #retroCombs.

🕹️ retroCombs, OUT!

comments powered by Disqus