December 1, 2020

Small, Inexpensive 1541 Replacement

2 min read
The Commodore 64 (and its siblings the VIC-20 and Commodore 128) were some of the...

The Commodore 64 (and its siblings the VIC-20 and Commodore 128) were some of the best-selling home computers of all time. Their appeal has never fully waned, and many C64 collectors still actively create new hardware and software for these beloved machines. The 1541 floppy drive was one of the most popular ways to transfer files between Commodore machines (in North America, at least — the UK tended to use cassette tapes more). However, 1541s that are still around are getting old, requiring maintenance and know-how to keep them running in tip-top shape. Naturally, collectors have come up with solutions to these problems, and the Pi1541 Nano is a particularly attractive design. Because it uses the Pi Zero, it’s very small, and with the OLED interface, it’s very easy to use — assuming you can get your hands on a Pi Zero, that is.

The 1541 used an unusual design. It essentially had another entire computer inside, making the C64 file routines much simpler as it didn’t have to deal with the low-level floppy interface. This had the downside of making the 1541 very expensive, and incompatible with any other machines. However, the upside is the protocol is quite simple, allowing a low-cost, low-power computer like the Pi Zero to emulate it. This makes life much easier for those who still use their C64s a lot, and saves wear and tear on the floppy drive and the floppies themselves. With the (relatively) huge amount of memory on a Pi Zero, you can hold thousands and thousands of 1541 floppy images and swap between them easily with the OLED screen and button interface. Also, there is an option to include the DIN cable needed to connect this to your C64, if you didn’t already have one!

The small size makes me think it would be possible to actually embed one of these inside a C64, if you were willing to cut out a hole for the screen and buttons. I know most collectors wouldn’t be keen on doing so, but it’s something I might give a try! Then you would have an all-in-one C64 system with no external parts. Note that the Pi1541 Nano does not have a pin for the SRQ line, meaning it will not work with a Commodore 128. However, the original Pi1541 will.

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