ATTENTION! OCTOBER 11, 2011
Due to the redesign and now final release of the 64drive, this preview is now obsolete and remains only to show what the beta boards were like.
A review of the final product is available here.
Around a year ago the world got to see the very first N64 "copier" device in the shape of the Neo Myth 64, since the N64 hey days with Mr. Backup and the Doctor V64,
something a lot of people had looked forward to since the Neo Myth announcement back in 2006.
The device wasn't exactly easy to use though and it was built to use a remaining stock of custom NDS expansion port cartridges Team Neo had in stock from a previous project. As if
that wasn't bad enough the device had to rely on third party support to actually get the buggy and incredibly slow device to work.
Well around the time the Neo Myth 64 was released, I was informed that "some guy" was working on a project similar to what Team Neo had attempted to create with the Neo Myth 64.
This project, which at the time had no real name, wouldn't have the same awful flaw of using custom storage for ROMs, but instead it would make use of a Compact Flash card - a format that
was chosen because of speed issues.
The author, Marshallh, of what later would be renamed to the 64drive has now been working hard on the project for roughly a year and the release is almost there - revision 2 of the
64drive circuit board blueprints has just shipped to the manufacturing plant, while bugs in the firmware, bootloader and menu are being ironed out while other new features are added.
The first run of 64drive circuit boards, revision 1, happened a few months back consisting of a mother board a and piggyback board which in revision 2 supposedly has merged to one and as a
bonus to some, revision 2 may include MicroSD support, the card slot is there.
Anyway roughly a month ago Marshallh decided to sell the remaining stock of revision 1 boards so that other people could beta test if they wanted to. Now these babies weren't given away for
free of course, but at $200 each, for a complete 64drive, including an original CIC for either Europe or USA/Japan and a reused, original shell, for housing the entire thing.
As an N64 fan I decided to jump the wagon and placed an order for a Europeanized 64drive, and a few weeks later the beauty arrived in my mailbox. The decide came preloaded with firmware and
bootloader, the only thing I had to do was copy a "menu.bin" to the root of my FAT32 formatted CF card along with some N64 binaries (games?) and I was ready to roll (play).
Please note that everything written in the following review is based on my experience with the revision 1 "beta board" and work-in-progress software. Therefore a lot of the things mentioned
may change for the release of the final product.
The 64drive specs are:
- 64Mbytes (512Mbit) SDRAM
- CompactFlash memory card slot (up to 128GB)
- USB: 7-8 megabytes/second
- CF: 8-9 megabytes/second
Supports all known save types
- EEPROM (4k, 16k), SRAM, FlashRAM
COMPACT FLASH (ISSUES) AND SAVE SUPPORT
The first CF card I used was an old Kingston 512MB from 2003'ish and it reported various errors when the 64drive booted. I later learned from Marshallh that some very old CF cards could have speed
issues and that was most likely the cause of my gaming misery. Fortunately the 64drive has a compatibility mode built-in. By pressing Z during boot the 64drive will load any CF card.
The funny thing is that I have an even older Kingston 128MB card that works flawlessly. I later tested with a brand new Kingston 16GB and it works flawlessly.
If a game uses onboard saving, either being EEPROM, SRAM or FLASHRAM, the 64drive will then create a save folder in the folder containing the rom. While EEPROM and SRAM saving works, the FLASHRAM saving
is still buggy at this point - and no, Dezaemon 3D with its special 768Kb SRAM also won't work at this point.
One thing that is worth mentioning about on-board saving is that you have to press reset after a game with on-board saving has been played for the save file to be written from RAM to a
file on the CF card. If you choose just to power off the N64, your save is lost. One thing I've experienced is that when reset is pressed, the 64drive menu doesn't always show, but the save file
is written to the CF anyway.
Loading and booting a 128mbit game from the 64drive took roughly 8 seconds using my old 128MB CF card, however ROM loading was a lot faster when using the brand new 16GB CF, incredible 4 seconds
for a 128mbit game.
USER INTERFACE (MENU)
The GUI of the 64drive is simple and easy to use, some not so user friendly "features" has already been ironed out, but one that remains is the size of the font used for the file structure on the CF
card. If you use the GoodN64 filenames you will end up seeing only half of the file name in some cases.
However, it would be nice if a smaller font could be used, but then there's the question of it being too small and impossible to read, so I really don't know what is best, maybe an option to pick font size
which then can be saved to the 64drive config file.
So far I haven't experienced a game that wouldn't run. The bootloader will allow you to load US ROMs on a PAL 64drive and vice versa, but some games feature region protection that at this point
can't be circumvented and you're presented with a "not for this region" or just a black screen.
Games such as Excitebike 64 will report a corrupted save file, but simply press reset once to let the game create a save file and you're ready to play. One thing I've asked Marshallh to implement is
the option to either pick a "return to 64drive" or "reset game" when the reset button on the N64 is pressed.
I do not yet know if this is possible though, but it would be nice if a game could be reset without having to load it all over again. Another 64drive "feature" is that if you press reset on the 64drive
menu, the screen just goes black. Of course it doesn't make sense to press reset while at the menu, but it's still an odd "feature" that the screen just goes black and you have to power the system off
and then on again.
The 64drive is capable of playing MP3 files off the Compact Flash card. MP3 files are marked with a music icon within the menu, so if you have a list of mixed ROMs and MP3's you'll still be able to
tell one from the other.
Right now there's a small "bug" or whatever you'd want to call it. It seems there's a 16megabyte limit to the size of an MP3 file. But I bet it won't be a problem to most quite honestly.
The MP3 feature doesn't support play lists or anything of that sort, it's at this time a very basic player that'll play one selected MP3 and that's it.
My belief is that the MP3 feature is more of a "just for the heck of it" sort of feature, more than a really useful feature. Then again, if you own a portable N64, you just added an "iP*d"
feature to your portable N64, now that's really something! Well a cool feature none the less.
Another feature, as of menu update "0.03" is that the 64drive is capable of booting NES ROMs with some help from the NeoN64 emulator that was created some years back by Halley's Comet Software. As a
little service to PAL users I can tell you that NeoN64 version 1.2b has PAL mode properly implemented. If it's not detected you can press C-UP on the title screen of the NeoN64 and it'll switch to
The NeoN64 is a well made NES emulator for the N64 and there's not really much else to say about the NES emulation other than it works, oh and NES SRAM saves to a Controller Pak (NeoN64 feature).
UPDATING THE 64DRIVE
The 64drive makes use of 3 parts of software to be able to run. First one is the firmware for the FPGA on the cartridge, the chip that makes everything run. Second is the Bootloader used to actually boot
N64 ROMs and finally the menu binary that allows you to actually see what's on the Compact Flash card.
When you get a 64drive it's of course pre-loaded with firmware and bootloader, but at new features are added and/or bugs are removed, new versions of these 3 files are released.
While the menu file is added to the Compact Flash root like any other file, the firmware and bootloader have to be upgraded via the miniUSB connector placed on the side of the 64drive.
To be able to use the USB port a D2XX driver must be downloaded and installed first, it can be obtained from www.ftdichip.com/Drivers/D2XX.htm. An important thing to remember is that the 64drive must
not be inserted into the N64 console when updating firmware and bootloader and it's especially important to be careful when updating the firmware as wrong doing could brick the 64drive.
An additional USB Loader is supplied by Retroactive once the 64drive is available for purchase.
UPLOADING A ROM USING THE USB PORT
The USB port is not only used to update firmware and bootloader, it can also be used to upload a ROM to the 64drive. Power off the N64 console, use the Retroactive's USB Loader to upload a ROM, power on
the N64 and you're ready for gaming, or testing your homebrew.
I believe the USB ROM load function is mainly targeted at developers of homebrew though. I see no reason to use it unless you would want to quickly test something without having to copy it to a Compact
Flash card first.
I have tested a lot of games the past weeks and game compatibility is great, however there are some games that will not boot at this point, if your 64drive is equipped with a standard 6102 or 7101 CIC chip.
Below is a list of "A" titles that either works, or doesn't work.
- 1080° Snowboarding
- Command & Conquer
- Conker's Bad Fur Day
- Diddy Kong Racing
- Donkey Kong 64
- Excitebike 64
- F-Zero X
- Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
- Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- Mega Man 64
- Perfect Dark
- Resident Evil 2
- Dezaemon 3D (Works, but can't save)
- Banjo Tooie (Doesn't boot)
COMPETITION AND CONSLUSION
The review has come to an end and I have to make some sort of conclusion to end it all. I'll have to be honest and say that I was really saddened when I saw how the Neo Myth 64 was rushed, okay maybe it wasn't
rushed as it was delayed by a few years, but the design was/is horrifying.
Now the good thing is that the 64drive is everything the Neo Myth 64 could've been.
I know I've said a lot of nice things about the 64drive and mentioned all the features, making it sound almost like a sales speech. Isn't there something bad to say about it you ask?
Well the 64drive is a solid product and you get a complete product ready to use, there's no need for a cart to piggyback the 64drive, like the Neo Myth 64, and that may very well be the only major downside I
can think of.
The actual cartridge isn't universal, meaning it'll either work on a Japanese, American or European because of the lockout chips, also known as the CIC, and a negative tab on the cartridge that fits a into
a plastic tab inside the N64.
Now the tab part can be circumvented by simply removing the plastic part inside the N64, but the CIC will still make the 64drive non-universal. But at present it's technically impossible to make a 100%
universal device without a custom CIC and a custom cartridge shell, but that would only add to the cost of the device.
Another downside may be the price tag of the 64drive, which at present, is a whopping $200 + shipping. I've heard a lot of people mention the price as being high, but the Neo Myth 64 is well over 200 dollars
if you need everything to operate it. Another project just release, the Everdrive64 claims to have a price of $99 + shipping. However at that price you only get the Printed Circuit Board, without CIC and the
plastic shell. If you want an Everdrive64 fully assembled it'll cost you $144 and then you'll even need an extra accessory if you'd like to firmware upgrade it.
So the $200 64drive price tag is not higher than the competing carts on the market.
Both the 64drive and Everdrive64 have their pros and cons, so it's really up to the buyer to choose the path to take. At this point I have only have tested the 64drive and am highly impressed by it, so I would
of course encourage people to go for the 64drive.
That's it for now though - stay tuned for updates.