Dream CPC setup

Started by StealthGary, 14:12, 22 May 22

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StealthGary

Hi all,

One of the first computers I used as a young child back in the mid 80's was a friend's CPC 6128. Several other friends ended up with CPC 464s and I adored them. I had a Spectrum first and loved it to pieces, but the CPC was always a desirable upgrade.

I came late to the party however, and ended up with a CPC 464 Plus one Christmas - even though 8-bit was somewhat past its sell-by date by then. I didn't really understand about 16-bit; I thought I was getting the best of both worlds as consoles were becoming popular and I naively assumed that the GX4000 would have a slew of titles giving the Master System a run for its money... (I only ever had Burning Rubber of course!)
In hindsight, I probably should have held out for an Amiga, but I *loved* my 464. I began, slowly and painfully, to learn snippets of BASIC and write a few dodgy programs.

Some years later I migrated to a 386 PC, and never looked back.
Except... now I do nothing but look back! I miss my Amstrad. I'd like it back. Actually I'd like every computer I had or desperately wanted as a kid. Maybe start a collection?
(Me in ten years: "So then I had to rent this warehouse for my collection...")

What I was wondering is, what's a good setup these days?
I've sated my Spectrum lust with a Next, which is wonderful. I'm not aware of any similar project for the CPC, but I suspect there are a bunch of clever bits of hardware that can make an older CPC the best it can be. What should I be looking for?

Ideally, I'd like to get a Plus, as that was my machine growing up. What's the best thing I can get my hands on and how much would I expect to pay for it? Anything to avoid or look out for?
I'm thinking a 6128 Plus with SD storage, possibly a memory upgrade & any other clever bits that are considered essential these days... I'm not likely to make a great deal of use of the extras - I'll probably just play some games and tinker in BASIC or even some machine code if I find myself with a lot of spare time - but I kinda just want the best setup I can get, just to have it. For the culture, etc.

So I guess I'm asking... what's your dream CPC setup?

abalore

Hello,

unless you specifically want to play Plus games, the best choice for compatibility with games and demos is a CPC6128 with real CRTC (not cost down model). The Plus has some compatibility problems. Also you can fit a new storage device like a Gotek drive, or M4 board, or both. Or my cartridge adapters "Plus2CPC" or "Play2CPC" to play modern cartridge games like Alcon2020, game compilations, or fit a cartridge emulator C4CPC with plenty of converted games.



XeNoMoRPH

My CPC hehe, no one is most powerful  8) 8)


https://youtu.be/LReyUaJawuo
your amstrad news source in spanish language : https://auamstrad.es

StealthGary

Thanks for the info @abalore - I've got a lot to research now!!

I wasn't aware there were compatibility issues with the plus models, but that might explain why I had so many problems loading certain games back in the day. I'd always assumed my cassette player was dodgy!

You mention ensuring I have a 'real' CRTC, but I'm not sure what a 'cost down' version would be or how I would tell the difference.

I had a read through your threads on the Plus2CPC and Play2CPC, but probably only understood about half of it. So, these wouldn't allow me to play games that make use of Plus features, is that correct? Do any expansions allow this? I never really played Plus games as a kid, but I hate the idea of people developing cool new stuff that I'd be unable to run.

I was aware of the Gotek drive, but not the M4 board. The board looks way cooler tbh - mass storage plus WiFi transfer?! Any reason to own a Gotek as well?

I've seen a few posts around here where people seem to have insane amounts of memory on their machines. Any real reason to do that in terms of new software that's available?

@XeNoMoRPH
I have no idea what I'm looking at, but it looks amazing. ;)


asertus

Basically, if you want Plus features, you need a plus. Otherwise, you just need 128Kb (for some games that require it), and the M4. Actually nothing else.

Gryzor


eto

My personal opinion: 

464:
Do you love to hear the sound of the cassette being loaded and do you enjoy the 10 minutes to wait until you can start a game, then go for a 464. For the 464 there is the DDI5 extension, which adds USB support, 512K Ram and a floppy controller. 

6128:
If cassette loading is not a sentimental requirement, then the CPC 6128 is the sweet spot. It comes with everything you need for 99% of the app and games library. 

SD-Card/USB: Definitely a good idea. There are basically 3 choices for you on the 6128:
- M4 
- USIFAC II
- Gotek

As 3" disks are rare and expensive, you will probably want to load your programs from a USB/SD-Card solution in most of the cases. You can look for a 6128 with a broken/missing disk drive and replace the drive with a Gotek. The process is straight forward and you can find bundles on Ebay that include cables + 3d printed front. This could be the cheapest and still flexible solution to get started. 

Ram-Upgrade: I have one and I have NEVER used it. If you have 128K, there are very few reasons you need more. The alternative OS' SymbOs and FutureOs benefit from it. Except for that, I only had the "disadvantage" of swapping a disc more often, when doing a copy. 


664:
No reason to get this one except if you are a collector.

6128 plus:
I personally love it. But as already pointed it out, it has some compatibility issues. I'm not sure if they are crucial, as many games have been patched. The biggest downside is its prize. It's rare. With a french keyboard they are relatively easy to get, but still not cheap. You will pay as much for the 6128plus alone as you pay for a very decent 6128 set-up including the most important add-ons. 

Although I love it, I don't see a point in buying it. There are so few games that support the new features. And even if they do, the CPC version is not much worse. Only very few exclusives exist. They are fantastic, absolutely. But the don't justify to buy a Plus. 

464 plus:
I don't understand why this was even released. Imho the only reason to buy this is, because you desperately want/need Plus features but can't get a 6128plus. You can at least upgrade it more or less easily to 6128plus features, but it needs some soldering and it's not that much cheaper than a 6128plus, that it would be a cheap alternative. 


StealthGary

This is all great advice, thanks chaps.
I'd still love a 6128 plus, but expense aside, I've found hardly any coming up on eBay or Facebook marketplace. I've been humming the Burnin' Rubber music for weeks now, but that's probably the only reason to get the Plus! Although, I do seem to remember the ports being better on the Plus.

Anyway... Seems like the original 6128 is going to be the way to go. Of the three storage options, it looks like USIFAC II  is the best, though I don't understand half of the features!! (Am I correct in thinking that it has a WiFi module like the M4 so I can copy files from my PC?)
I like the idea of keeping the original drive in place if possible. As a kid, I desparately wanted a disk drive... both for my Spectrum and for my 464 Plus. I could never afford one. I may never use it, but it seems appropriate for me to have one now.

As for why the 464 Plus even exists... well, tbh I could ask why the Plus range existed at all, surely Amstrad would have been better off releasing a full 16-bit machine to compete with the Amiga & ST?? From my perspective we simply couldn't afford at 6128 Plus when I was a kid. I think the choice was between a 6128 Plus with a monochrome monitor, or a 464 Plus with a colour monitor. I went for the 464 thinking that I could simply add an external disk drive at a later date while upgrading the monitor would be more tricky - and while the 6128 had the extra memory, very few games made use of it. I mean... why would you alienate a huge part of the market as a game developer?
Come to that, I've never understood why anyone bought the monochrome or green screen monitors... perhaps if business was your only use-case I guess.

So, I've been floating about on eBay for a few weeks now waiting for the right deal to come up. I think it's most likely I'll end up with a 6128 & colour monitor.
I will no doubt report back and have many questions. ;)

Gryzor

Yes the USifAC II has wifi and BT modules. It's kind of a swiss knife for CPC users :) And the developer is very friendly and responsive (then again, most if not all of the Amstrad devs are of that same ilk).

(I got a 464 with green monitor when I was a kid; the cost is always the same: cost. Already the green set was a pretty heavy burden on my parents' account, I doubt they could really afford to get me the deluxe version...)


StealthGary

Ahh, well this is where we were a little spoit here in the UK... The ZX Spectrum came in at something like £120. I think the colour 464 was about £399 at the time!
I'm not sure of the prices of the Plus, but I remember that the Amiga was that much more and out of our price range.

Gryzor

What many don't consider when comparing prices: by the time you could get your hands on a Plus machine, you could also very easily grab a second-hand 16-bitter. That's what I did and moved from my 6128 to my 1040STFM, so there was no discussion...

StealthGary

Yup... in hindsight, the Plus wasn't a good buy!
I'm not sure about the second-hand market at the time... there was no internet connection, I was too young to be involved in any kind of computing community and no second-hand shops existed around my area. So really, my only chance of a second hand machine was friends & family, or car boot sales!
We got my Plus from a mail order catalogue that let you spread payments over 3 years... The same catalogue offered more expensive machines, but they were out of reach. As a kid with no money, getting a machine that my friends had was also a consideration, as we could swap games in the playground.

By the time I migrated onto PCs, I was a bit older. We had a weekly paper here in the UK called 'Loot', and it just had tons of classified listings of people selling cheap and second hand machines. I travelled hours on the train with some older friends to go and buy a second hand 386 from some dude I found in there. It was absolutely massive and by the time I'd got it home the hard drive had been damaged, presumably by lugging it all over public transport. Luckily the seller took pity on me and drove a replacement to my house, and all was well.

Gryzor

Well there you have it, magazine ads. That's how I found my Atari (plus a huge number of "games") at least! 

eto

Quote from: StealthGary on 15:50, 23 May 22As for why the 464 Plus even exists... well, tbh I could ask why the Plus range existed at all, surely Amstrad would have been better off releasing a full 16-bit machine to compete with the Amiga & ST?? From my perspective we simply couldn't afford at 6128 Plus when I was a kid. I think the choice was between a 6128 Plus with a monochrome monitor, or a 464 Plus with a colour monitor. I went for the 464 thinking that I could simply add an external disk drive at a later date while upgrading the monitor would be more tricky - and while the 6128 had the extra memory, very few games made use of it. I mean... why would you alienate a huge part of the market as a game developer?
Come to that, I've never understood why anyone bought the monochrome or green screen monitors... perhaps if business was your only use-case I guess.

It was not so stupid: The GX4000 was the main driver. AMS looked at the market for 8Bit consoles and thought "we should be able to make something that can compete and sell a few hundred thousands". Then Amstrad did. And based on the market figures that was not so stupid. However: Unlike in 1984 with Amsoft, they FORGOT to ensure that they need games. This time they relied on 3rd parties. And this did not work out. 3rd parties always tended to "wait and see" if a new system, that is not ground-breaking, is successful. Of course it was not. If it would have been successful, having a range of home computers that can play the same awesome games would have also worked out for a few hundred of thousand of machines. It was meant to be quick money, not really a new range of computers.

For the 464plus: It's not so much the cassette drive, it's more that they did still go for 64KB of Ram and did not populate the floppy controller. It would have been OK, if it would have been a 4128. Sure, lots of cassette games lying around, but why not at least make sure, you can easily upgrade to a floppy? I mean, you couldn't even get a floppy controller for it.

Regarding green screen: I got a CPC 6128 with green screen as it was exactly the same price as a 464 with colour screen. And I simply did not understand, why I should go for cassettes. ;-) There was one more thing: Mode 2 on a GT65 is much better compared to a CTM. If you tend to program in BASIC that is a huge advantage.



Mark_wllms

I just want to point out that the USIFAC II interface will work just as well with a 464. It emulates the Amsdos ROM so it will appear as a disc drive and can also use DSK images and snapshots.

villain

Probably everything already written here is true, but:

* The design of the 6128 still looks good today, but the 6128 Plus looks f***ing good. :-)
* You get a second joystick port with the Plus
* If you get a color monitor with your Plus it's far better than the CTM 64x


StealthGary

Aaaaah....  Now, I remember something about this from back when I was a kid. I read somewhere that it wasn't possible to upgrade my 464 Plus with a floppy drive. That seemed insane to me, and over the years I'd just assumed that I read it wrong and completely forgotten about it until now! So, is it actually the case that you could add an external floppy to a 464, but not a 464 Plus?! That's just crazy.

I do love the design of the Plus machines, they're less iconic than the coloured keys on the 464, but really slick nonetheless. What I wasn't aware of, is that you're saying the colour monitors on the Plus range were better than on the original CPCs - is that correct? That might sway me.

I do remember the ports being better. I bought a second hand dot matrix printer at one point and the guy I bought it from used the specs in the manual to come up with a custom cable for me to use. It didn't work - so we ended up just trying a standard (centronics?) cable and that worked fine. I guessed the manual was a hangover from the original 464 and his custom cable would have worked on that, maybe.

2 joystick ports was good - though I can't remember playing any 2 player games. Computer geeks didn't have many friends in the 80's! ;)

If (it's a big if), I got a French 6128 Plus, how easy/possible is it to convert the keyboard to a UK layout?

Interesting to hear people's takes on colour vs green screen. I was mostly interested in games, so colour was a must - I just assumed everyone felt the same!!

eto

The Plus line was just a failure, so they never released any additional hardware for it. There is no official floppy controller for the 464 plus and also no official secondary drive for the 6128 plus. You can however reuse existing hardware, with slight modifications. 

You can also upgrade the 464 plus internally to a 4128 plus by adding the missing components. That includes the floppy controller. Then you can use an external drive or a Gotek. Just recently I read that you could also add a DDI-1 to the 464 plus, as long as you removed the ROM chip (as the cartridge already includes Amsdos). 

Regarding the ports, Amstrad basically took over the Centronics ports from the German Schneider 6128 line. That was a good thing for printers as it's just a normal Centronics port. BUT (and that's again something I really don't understand) they changed the pins for the floppy by one pin compared to the Schneider models, so that you have to get a different cable to attach an external floppy.

To change the keyboard layout, you just need to use a UK cartridge. However you will end up with some keys in the wrong place.  You can use stickers. You can also try to find a replacement keyboard. That's what I did after I got my French plus. However that was pure luck that I found one. I have never seen another one. 

Prodatron

#18
Quote from: StealthGary on 01:29, 23 May 22@XeNoMoRPH
I have no idea what I'm looking at, but it looks amazing. ;)
There are some more cool videos about the Graphics9000 connected to the Amstrad CPC:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plQf9_7zPSA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6sSikeGMYw

And if it is only about enough RAM and not much more you can have this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mtlfr-ZNp20

And just with the M4Board and some additional Ram you can do something like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bB6X7V6fVyE

But the topic of this thread is probably very individual:

"What do you see as a dream setup?"

1.) starting old/typical games on the CPC in a very comfortable way
2.) extending the CPC to a very powerful Z80 machine (see videos above)

For 1.) you are great with a Gotek/HxC and even better with an M4 board.

For 2.) you should have an AMSDAP with M4Board/XMem/Alibreo or a SYMBiFACE 3, a Graphics9000 and an OPL4 soundcard. This includes a lot of RAM, ROM, mouse connector, realtime clock, mass storage, advanced graphics and sound and more.

Everyone has it's own attitude, some like to have a minimal system, like in the early 80ies. Some others like to check, how much you can get out of a 4Mhz Z80 and possible expansions without removing the core of the Z80 system.

GRAPHICAL Z80 MULTITASKING OPERATING SYSTEM

villain

@StealthGary 

Maybe it's because the 464 already was the past when I got my 6128 in February 1987, so there's nothing iconic with the 464 for me. And as Germans we learned about coloured keys even later. :-) 

If I compare my CTM 644 with the CM 14 the picture quality of the CM is way better. Maybe others will confirm this... Furthermore the CM contains stereo speakers. 

StealthGary

Oh man... now I just have more and more to consider!
I didn't realise the CM14 had a better picture, or that it was stereo while the 644 is mono. The plus has an improved sound chip too, right? Damn... I'd all but settled on a 6128, but now I'm hankering more for a plus.

It sounds like it'd be possible to get a 464 plus and upgrade it to a 4128, then add a USIFAC... that might be a good way to go, but I'd still prefer a 6128 plus... and I'm not sure I'd have the skill to do the upgrade anyway.
Hmmm... I think I'm just going to find myself checking ebay and facebook every day, waiting for that golden opportunity that's too good to miss... and if I get bored waiting I'll pick up a good 6128 deal and make do!

@Prodatron, I take your point... the stuff in those videos is next-level incredible, and I love to see it... but I can't imagine I'd spend the time and effort it'd take to get there, and doubt I'd make much use of it if I did. I'm probably more in the first category - old games loading quickly.
However, just like with the ZX Spectrum Next, if someone were to put together a new machine that contained all the extra hardware and OS - I'd probably be a customer. ;)

ComSoft6128

I have a 6128 and a 6128 Plus both with Gotek's.

I would recommend the Plus due to the enhancements.

I don't know about game incompatibility on the Plus (is there a list somewhere?) but have found a few utilities and demos that won't run.

As for the monitors, aside from the stereo speakers, I'm not sure what the difference is - maybe one of the hardware guys could comment?

Personally, if I was starting over again I would opt for a 6128 Plus with a Gotek and a Scart cable - assuming of course you can find a modern TV with a Scart input.



eto

Quote from: StealthGary on 01:36, 25 May 22Oh man... now I just have more and more to consider!
I didn't realise the CM14 had a better picture, or that it was stereo while the 644 is mono. The plus has an improved sound chip too, right? Damn... I'd all but settled on a 6128, but now I'm hankering more for a plus.

Hmmm... I think I'm just going to find myself checking ebay and facebook every day, waiting for that golden opportunity that's too good to miss... and if I get bored waiting I'll pick up a good 6128 deal and make do!
The Plus has exactly the same sound chip like the CPC. But it has DMA sound capabilities, which allows to get slightly better sound out of the same chip with less overhead. However, like all Plus features, it's rarely used. 

I also went first for a CPC 6128 and later bought a 6128plus, when I had the chance to. You can reuse everything from the CPC 6128 on the 6128 plus with an adapter.


StealthGary

Thanks for the info... That sounds like a good compromise as it goes - get a ubiquitous 6128 while I wait and keep an eye out for the dream plus to turn up! Prices on eBay are pretty crazy tho. £1.2k for a plus from Greece! The whole retro scene has gone a bit mental in recent years.

Any particular reason you guys are preferring a Gotek over an M4 or a USIFAC? Both of which seem better options.

I think I'd prefer a monitor over a scart or HDMI option though. That monitor powering the machine was a big part of my CPC memories!

ComSoft6128

Gotek is basically Plug n Play, the other two options require setup and updates/tweaks neither of which I can be arsed with - I'm still using Windows 8 and have turned off updates on that. Having said that a recent Android update on my phone caught me out - it updated up to 75% and then hit me with an "accept" new Apps option (twitter & various games) that I have no interest in - with no decline option - sneaky b*st*rds >:(

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