§ Making XE1541 cable for C64

The first thing one needs to do after obtaining a working C64 is a video cable, but that is trivial. The second necessity is to be able to transfer data between the commodore and rest of the world, and that’s where XE1541 comes in. The cable itself is almost as simple as a cable can be, however it turns out that it’s important what kind of a PC setup you have on the other end. As for the cable itself there may be some hints too.

If you’re not interested in the story just read the summary.

§ Making the cable

I did the first prototype on a breadboard using old wires pulled out of some UTP cable and 1N4148 diodes. Contrary to what the cable author says on his pages, these diodes worked for me just fine.

first cable revision

At this point I was connecting it to a Pentium 4 1GHz plain-old PC. It was very unstable. You could load only very short .prg’s and it would hang more often than not. My though was that perhaps my loose-wires-and-breadboard-and-wrong-diodes-style was the culprit (which as I’ve mentioned was not). So I went and made myself the most professional cable I could with what I had.

The final cable was made out of an old printer cable. I’ve managed to fit the diodes inside the LPT plug (the recommended 1N5819 diodes this time) and I also did proper shielding and even refitted it with an outer insulator (from the original cable).

second cable revision

As you can see the DIN plug is naked - it seems to be rather difficult to find any DIN plugs nowadays, and the only one I managed to find was the mould-injected kind. I had to cut all the plastic out from it, fortunately the insides where very human-friendly. It’s also worth noting here that the cable is only half shielded - that is the shielding wire is soldered on the LPT end but not to the C64 end. It doesn’t really affect the connection stability (once you have a proper computer on the other end) and it’s close to impossible to solder anything to the outer metal ring of the socket. The only downside here is that the plug is very difficult to remove with bare hands (using needlenose pliers solves this problem) - but then it’s not that I’m unplugging it very often.

§ The other end

Now’s the culprit: one day I’ve decided to try the cable with some other PC setup. This time I had the goal to assemble the slowest computer out of the oldest parts I could find. And it worked like a charm, the connection now being super stable.

the other end

This machine is an old ECS board with 800MHz Duron and 256Mb SDRAM. As usual in such cases I’m using a CF card via an adaptor as a hard-drive. I’ve also added some graphics and networking card - but these are not really necessary for this setup (out of curiosity I’ve also installed there Win 3.11 and I’ve managed to get the network working, but that’s a story for another article). Everything is packed nicely in a cardboard box (from some other motherboard), so that it takes minimal space but still can be moved if necessary without much worry about breaking the insides.

As for the software I use the 64HDD which is, well, the best (and only?) there is. I’ve written a short .bat script, which if I were to use that machine only as a HDD for the C64 I would simply add to the autoexec.bat.

§ Summary

Also remember that you can buy the cable, but be prepared to pay a disproportionate amount of money for it.

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