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CREATION INFORMATION
CREATED SEP.30.2011
UPDATED SEP.08.2012
CREDITS
TEXT WRITTEN BY
MARTIN NIELSEN
64DRIVE
THE ONLY NINTENDO64 CARTRIDGE YOU'LL EVER NEED!
It's finally here. A few days ago the 64drive shipped to those who preordered. As I have received a new and final copy of the 64drive as well, I believe it is more than fair to make a new review of the device, which already had impressed me highly though.

Let's begin with a small introduction of the project that became serious development roughly one and a half year ago. It isn't a company of any sort who responsible for the development of this device, but in fact the work of one guy who has a great passion for the Nintendo 64.

I heard about the, at that time, unnamed n64 flash cart shortly prior to the release of the Neo Myth 64 cart released by Team NeoFlash, known for their numerous GBA flash carts as well as their NDS flash cart project during the early years of the Nintendo DS.

Let it be no secret that I found the Neo Myth 64 design to be broken, thanks to NeoFlash' reuse of old DS expansion paks for game storage as well as the slow as heck cart relying on third party to develop enhancements.

Author of the 64drive, Marshallh, would rename the flash cart project to 64drive early 2011 and had a beta run around June 2011 which resulted in a completely redone circuit board for the final release.

A lot has happened since the first revision of the 64drive, also known as the beta boards. The first revision was actually 2 boards, one piggybacking the other but the design proved to be a bit buggy and Marshallh therefore redesigned the board and added support for microSD cards along with the Compact Flash slot that was available on the first revision.

While the new microSD feature is very neat it unfortunately is placed a little too low when the 64drive PCB is placed in a cartridge shell, making it impossible to insert a microSD unless you have very thin fingers or use a flat screwdriver or something to push the SD into the slot. Removing the microSD is even harder, I had to use a pair of pliers to remove the card. My advise is just to use the Compact Flash slot, well knowing that there's a higher chance of people owning a microSD rather than a Compact Flash cart.

Fact is that the microSD feature was added due to demand, for a SD slot of some sort, and maybe it would've been better to use regular SD than microSD, but I'm sure Marshallh had a good reason for choosing microSD instead of regular SD, I just don't know what the great reason would be sadly.

The 64drive is available in 2 favours, being PAL (Europe) and NTSC (USA). While the 64drive board itself is indeed universal, it sadly requires a Nintendo CIC chip to run, and these aren't universal, in fact they were made exactly for the purpose of making n64 carts non-universal. A bonus "problem" is the fact that the backside of the European and US N64 cart shell doesn't match. If you check the picture below you'll hopefully notice that's a difference in the lower part of the cartridge and the region specific N64s have tab counterparts for the inverted tabs on the backside the carts.

It's also worth mentioning that while Japanese and American N64 carts share the same CIC lockout chips, the Japanese carts have same holes as the European carts. The tabs inside the N64 can be removed though, by removing a plastic plate with the tabs inside the N64.

Making the 64drive somewhat universal it's possible to use an adapter like you did back in the day when playing import games. I doubt this is recommended by Marshallh though and if you should decide to use an adapter it's on your own risk of damaging the 64drive. With that said though, I've successfully used an Ultra SFX 64 (V2) adapter for months now and haven't experienced any problems.


COMPACT FLASH (ISSUES) AND SAVE SUPPORT

I have tested my 64drive with a couple of Kingston CF and microSD cards as well as a really old Sandisk 128mb CF card. Both the 16gigabyte Kingston CF and 2 gigabyte Kingston microSD I've tested worked great. Cards that most likely will have issues are older cards. With that said, the 1999 Sandisk 128 megabyte CF card I have boots flawlessly, the 2003 Kingston 512mbit however reported that "menu.bin" wasn't found.

However by using a CF compatibility mode built into the 64drive, the Kingston card was able to boot. The compatibility mode is found by pressing Z during boot and the 64drive will load any CF card.

It's said that the 64drive supports CF cards up to 128gigabyte, but I haven't tested that ;-)

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. All types of saves, EEPROM, SRAM and FLASHRAM are now supported by the 64drive, including non-standard saves such as the 768kb SRAM used in Dezaemon 3D.

Please note that you need to press reset after having played a game that makes use of one of the 3 save types above. If you forget to press reset before powering off the N64, your save game isn't copied from the 64drive RAM to either a CF or microSD.

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)

I my opinion the 64drive has a very user friendly user interface. Please note that "menu.bin" (the menu) must be placed in the root of the CF or microSD you're using, otherwise you'll have no user interface but instead an error screen telling you that the menu is missing.

Well first screen you're taken to a file explorer screen where you can load your favourite game or demo. A binary can either be placed in the root directory or in any sub folder of your own choice. Simply select the binary and press A, you're then taken to a sub menu where you're presented with CIC type of the selected binary as well as the save type, if any. The save type can be altered but you're probably best off leaving it alone.

I did however test a beta binary of Space Station Silicon Valley which for some reason didn't activate the EEPROM save, so this had to be done manually.

By pressing B on the "browse" menu you can select either the Options or About sub menus. The options menu feature allows you to edit features such as behavior on reset, reset either to a game or back to the 64drive menu. Another feature is a smaller font size for the menu which is pretty useful if your files are from the GoodROM set.

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.

For those who wish to personalize the 64drive menu a little, one of the newer options, from Menu version 1.01, is to change the background skin. Simply create a 640x480px JPEG file and copy it to the root of the memory card you're using and the 64drive will merge it into the menu on the next boot. This background skinning is a little slow when the skinning happens, but once it's added the 64drive will boot as normal.

Please note that an N64 Expansion Pak is required to use the background skinning feature. Also, the file must not be lager than 150 kilobyte, must be full color and standard encoding.

If you'd like to change the background, simply change the background.jpg with a new image and the menu will be re-skinned.


UPLOADING A ROM USING THE USB PORT

The USB port is not only used to update firmware and bootloader, I'll get back to that part later, it can also be used to upload a ROM to the 64drive. While the N64 console is powered off you can use the Retroactive's USB Loader software to upload a ROM, power on the N64 and you're ready for gaming, or testing your homebrew.

Please note that the 64drive requires the FTDI D2XX driver, which can be downloaded from www.ftdichip.com.

However to show what the USB port is capable of, Marshallh created a small demo which allows your N64 and PC to interact, meaning you use the PC mouse to control the small demo. Basicly you load the demo ROM via USB and start a small PC application before turning on the N64, and voila - the N64 is controlled from a PC.

If you'd like to try the USB demo, it can be downloaded here.


GAME COMPATIBILITY

It's of course much easier and faster to load ROMs from the CF/microSD and I've tested a few of those that have special chips. If you wish to boot Banjo-Tooie you need to install a 6105 in your 64drive, but rumor has it that a crack is close to being done.

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
  • Banjo Tooie (Doesn't boot, unless you have the right CIC or a crack.)

MP3 PLAYER

The 64drive is also capable of playing MP3 files off the memory 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.

However, 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.

A feature like the MP3 support is more of a "just for the heck of it" more than a really useful one. Then again, if you own a portable N64, you just added an "iP*d" option to your portable N64, now that's really something! Well a cool feature even if it seems a but useless to me.


NES EMULATOR

Another extra feature is the capability of booting NES ROMs. This is possible thanks to the Neon64 emulator, which 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. However if it's not detected you can press C-UP on the title screen of the Neon64 and it'll switch to PAL mode.

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).

I won't be going further into detail about the Neon64 as it has nothing to do with the development of the 64drive, but simply place the emulator in the root directory of the memory card and you're ready to play some NES games.

.


UPDATING THE 64DRIVE SOFTWARE

The 64drive makes use of 3 different software parts 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.
  • Third is 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 the latest firmware and bootloader, but as new features are added and/or bugs are removed, new versions of these 3 files will be released.

While the menu file is added to the memory card root like any other file, the firmware and bootloader have to be upgraded via the miniUSB connector placed on the side of the 64drive.

The firmware and bootloader is uploaded to the 64drive by using an USB Loader program which is supplied by Retroactive. Unfortunately the program, at this point, is a command line utility which means that it may be hard to use for the unexperienced.

Again, please note that the 64drive requires the FTDI D2XX driver, which can be downloaded from www.ftdichip.com.

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.


COMPETITION AND CONCLUSION

The 64drive is already everything the N64 fan and collector could've hoped for, some may disagree with me but none of the competition comes even close to the quality the 64drive delivers. It's not fair to even compare the 64drive to the Neo Myth 64 which is the worst piece of junk I've ever seen.

Another product on the market is the Everdrive64 which is a little cheaper than the 64drive but doesn't offer nearly the same features or compatibility as the 64drive does. In fact it has been reported that the Everdrive isn't compatible with all version of the N64, but I'll get back to that in my review of the Everdrive64, which should happen soon.

What you get with the 64drive is a dedicated developer and I'm highly impressed by the work and thought Marshallh has put into the 64drive already, but hopefully he'll add some of my awesome ideas once he's done with the preorders, hah :-)

Okay enough with the sales speech, but the 64drive seriously IS everything an N64 fan would want.

Thanks for reading my review.

... Oh and the 64drive can be purchased from 64drive.retroactive.be.

MENU DOWNLOAD ARCHIVE
Menu version 1.10 (09.08.2012)
Bugfixes:
  • Improved region detection (Thanks radorn)
  • No longer hangs with quickstart on fresh install

    Features:
  • Easy delete option added to the image option screen.
  • Extensive controller pak management. View the contents of the real controller pak and three additional virtual paks. Format is headerless 32k SRAM dump. Same as Dexdrive files, but without the 0x1040 byte header.
  • Menu version 1.09 (03.22.2012)
    Bugfixes:
  • PController deadzone fixed. This was causing jumpy scrolling for controllers with nearly new analog sticks.

    Features:
  • Automatic region select. Reads the image header to determine the expected region and sets accordingly.
  • Menu version 1.08 (02.19.2012)
    Bugfixes:
  • Loading zero-byte files doesn't hang UI
  • Scrolling regulated for PAL users
  • MP3 playback glitching fixed for PAL users
  • Small sorting issue
  • Quickstart after picking an item caused conflicts
  • Possible fix for DK64 save issues

    Features:
  • C-left, C-right scrolls one page at a time
  • List scrolling positions remembered when returning to a parent directory
  • Enable 60hz menu for PAL users - press Z+Dpad Left, then Z+Dpad Right to toggle forced NTSC mode. This is persistent and may be of interest for those who hate black bars.
  • Menu version 1.07 (11.04.2011)
    Bugfixes:
  • Region forcing not applied in quickstart - requires updating to bootloader 1.01 to complete this fix
  • Various minor backend changes
  • Menu version 1.06 (10.22.2011)
    Bugfixes:
  • More save detection fixes

    Features:
  • Region force added in place of old CIC options
  • Quick-start! Hold Start while booting, or press it in the menu to jump right to what you last loaded.
  • Menu version 1.05 (10.10.2011)
    Bugfixes:
  • Two more save detection fixes
  • Menu version 1.04 (10.07.2011)
    Bugfixes:
  • Some save detection fixes
  • Menu version 1.03 (09.22.2011)
    Bugfixes:
  • Lagging in skinned mode with long filenames fixed
  • Proper CIC detection instead of LUT
  • Menu version 1.02 (08.30.2011)
    Bugfixes:
  • Duplicate filenames in some rare cases, fixable by CHKDSK /F
  • Handles excessively long MP3 headers, fixes hang on some files
  • Fixed settings.cfg read issue with 32k/64k cluster sizes
  • Fixed background.bin write issue with 32k/64k clusters
  • No size limitation on mp3 files

    Features:
  • Floyd-Steinberg dithering of the skinned background rendering.
  • Menu version 1.01 (08.13.2011)
    Bugfixes:
  • Memory optimization

    Features:
  • Background skinning
  • Menu version 1.00 (08.11.2011)
  • Initial public release
  • FIRMWARE DOWNLOAD ARCHIVE
    Firmware version 1.05 (05.25.2012)
    Easy upgrade utility for Firmware 1.05 is available ( download here )
  • Resolves rare EEPROM corruption.
  • Firmware version 1.04 (03.20.2012)
    Easy upgrade utility for Firmware 1.04 is available ( download here )
  • Reverting the CF drive strength back to that of firmware 1.02, 1.03 caused problems.
  • Firmware version 1.03 (02.19.2012)
    Easy upgrade utility for Firmware 1.03 is available ( download here )
  • Stability improvements, fixed black screens that was causing lost saves.
  • Firmware version 1.02 (11.28.2011)
    Easy upgrade utility for Firmware 1.02 is available ( download here )
  • Fixes incompatibilities with some micro SD cards.
  • Firmware version 1.01 (??.??.2011)
  • Initial public release
  • BOOTLOADER DOWNLOAD ARCHIVE
    Bootloader version 1.01 (10.28.2011)
  • Fix for reset to game region issue
    Easy upgrade utility for Bootloader 1.01 is available ( download here )
  • DRIVER AND LOADER DOWNLOAD ARCHIVE
    USB Drivers (FTDI D2XX)
  • Latest version directly from Future Technology
  • USB Loader (08.30.2011)
  • Initial public release
  • ADDITIONAL
    PICTURES