The Ultimate drive! from issue 79


A brand-new disk drive is bringing the C64 bang up to date with faster access to lots more data. At a mere £99 the TIB drive could revolutionize C64 gaming and is an invaluable tool to programmers. ZZAP! recently put the drive through its paces.

If you've used the 1541 disk drive you'll have learnt to love its unique 'characteristics'; slow access,repeated disk head hammering when things go wrong and the sheer bulk. A Mk II version, somewhat slimmer but little faster, is currently out for £129 bundled with eight games. The 1541 isn't a bad drive, but 5.25" disks are old fashioned; flimsy with low storage capacity and slow access.

In fact, Commodore launched a 3.5" drive for the C64 three years ago. Unsurprisingly it flopped — the 1581 drive cost £299.99 and software support was nonexistent!

Enter TIB, holding out the promise of bringing C64 diskdriving up to date with 3.5" disks. The first thing you notice about the drive is its compact size; 4" wide, 5.9" long and just 1" in height.

What is novel is how this drive connects with your C64, ignoring the slow serial port and plugging into the C64 cartridge port. The drive is automatically accessed when you turn your C64 on. The demo disk of Ninja Rabbits autobooted, bringing up the title screen in seconds.

If there's no disk in the drive, or no autoboot, then the standard C64 startup screen appears. To access the drive now you can use some simple BASIC commands. The TIB drive is known as device number 9. so rather than typing in 'LOAD "*",8,1' you type 'LOAD "*",9'.

There's the full range of standard disk commands: save, load, format disk and file delete/rename, Files can be loaded in from C2N or 5.25" drive, then saved to TIB — if you can break into the program. The TIB is definitely not intended as a piracy device there's no magic memory back up buttons If you're saving your own programs you'll obviously have no problems breaking into the program. Commercial programs try to prevent you breaking into them to insert save commands, so only experienced hackers will be able to to abuse TIB for piracy purposes.

More innocent programming functions will be supported by a utility disk supplied with the drive. For example, although the drive doesn't support sequential files, all routines can be called from BASIC through a jumbo jump block which will be in a complete ROM source file on the utility disk. Also on the disk will be several text files to show the 6502 machine code user how to create files in random access and how to mark blocks being used by a program.

Alongside these the disk will have more conventional utilities allowing the user to read and display a text file or hex file on the screen, monitor the state the of the disk and — time permitting — there will be a utility to read and modify sectors and write them back to the disk and modify file addresses. TIB hopes to have a utility disk similar to the powerful Norton Utilities utility disk for the PC.

3.5 vs 5.25 — IS SMALL BETTER?

3.5" disks inevitably score over 5.25" in being smaller, tougher and offering more memory storage: 720K on a formatted double-sided disk compared to 166K per side on a formatted double-sided 5.25" disk. They also save you having to flip the disk over to access the 'B' side; 3.5in drives read both sides of the disk. So far, so good. But what about speed? Ninja Rabbits from MicroValue is the first software title to make the transition to 3.5" drive so we used that comparison point, testing loading times on the TIB, standard 1541 and 1541 with the Action Replay Mark VI cartridge (which has a hyperloader function). Both 3.5in and 5.25in versions of Ninja Rabbits have an intro load followed by a main game load and it's these we tested the drives with.


Its technical superiority and handy utilities disk make the TIB ideal for hobbyist programmers and for professionals. The ability to rapidly access 720K of data with no disk-swapping gives a lot of storage capacity for some very big games. More importantly in the short term, the drive's PC-DOS format is the same as the PCs which most programmers work on, so disks can easily be swapped between machines.

But what about your average C64 gamesplayer? Are the shelves going to overflowing with 3.5" disks from Ocean et al? MS-DOS formatting means it's very easy for software houses to transfer their games onto TIB-compatible 3.5" disks. But do they want to?

Ocean's Paul Patterson was enthusiastic. 'It's an amazing piece of technology, just what the C64 needed 2—3 years ago. We're certainly going to support it. We're probably going to release a couple of games for Xmas at a £15.99 price point. We can put games on 3.5" disk drives very quickly indeed [due to MS-DOS format].'

Unfortunately most other companies were less enthusiastic. Many thought it was a good idea being launched several years too late. Demonware's Mungo had a typical response: 'Whether we support it or not really depends on reaction from the trade, from the distributors who we sell to, if they place orders... we'd have to weigh up the costs of supporting a new format against the demand. We're always prepared to support new technology, it's just a question of economics. At this time don't think anyone knows whether the TIB drive will take off.'

Some companies became warmer to the idea when MS-DOS compatability was mentioned, Audiogenic, for one, accepted it would make a voucher exchange system easy to operate. Colin Courtney of MicroValue/Flair was initially dismissive, despite having a game on the launch compilation. 'Interesting but about two years too late. All right it's good for compilations, there's a lot of storage space for that, but I see no real merit in it... If the system takes off, we could well support it. If it's true it is going into Dixons and Tandy, and both Gremlin and Ocean are supporting it, then there could well be several thousand units out there. We could make Elvira available on 3.5" disk, and although there's no plans as yet, there's a very good possibility the original Elvira could be made available. It's just a pity it didn't come out two years ago.'

System 3's Adrian Cale similarly bemoaned the fact the drive hadn't come out five years ago and felt success now was unlikely. The company was on a 'crusade' for cartridges now.

Domark, Gremlin and Mirrorsoft claimed to have never heard of the drive, neither at the PR or technical level. US Gold had heard of it, but were unlikely to support it until there was strong public demand.

Clearly then, the shelves are unlikely to be groaning under the weight of C64 3.5" disks this side of Xmas, if ever. However, Ocean is the 900lb gorilla among software houses and their support will not only make available quite a few good games, they could also persuade other software houses to follow suit given good sales. This is obviously the crucial point: if you lot buy loads of drives and games then support will follow.

However, TIB are well aware of this 'chicken-and-egg' situation and are busily trying to get around it. They're determined that the numerous TIB users they expect — from apparently substantial orders from distributors in the UK and abroad — are fully supported. A voucher system whereby gamesplayers are given the option to upgrade their cassette or 5.25" disk is under consideration.

TIB are also investigating publishing games themselves, as SAM Co have attempted for their Coupe. So for example all users would get a newsletter offering licensed 3.5" versions of popular games via mail order. Software houses such as US Gold would thus be spared the risk of producing 3.5" conversions themselves for the company it would be like offering a magazine cut-price software for subscriptions offers.

TIB are also talking to publishers of serious utilities, such as word processors and spreadsheets, to get permission for producing 3.5" versions.

In conclusion the TIB drive is technically impressive, should be very reliable (using an established drive mechanism) and is very cheap (costing less than the ancient 1541). The software supplied with the drive is relatively weak, but new titles may yet be brought in. As for achieving the Herculean task of establishing a new C64 disk format, that's a tough challenge but TIB are working on lots of ways of getting around it. Ocean's cut-price carts offer strong competition to the new format, but 3.5" disks have bigger and cheaper storage capacity. If you're interested in new technology, TIB are offering a very good gamble.

The TIB drive comes with a one year guarantee. Further information on the TIB 3.5 Disk Drive can be obtained from TIB plc, 36-50 Adelaide Street, Bradford BD5 0EA. Telephone: (0274) 736990.

Commodore 1541 5.25" drive
Intro — 48 seconds
Main Game — 130 seconds

Commodore 1541 5.25" drive (plus Action Replay Fastload)
Intro — 8 seconds
Main Game — 11 seconds

TIB 3.5" Ultimate Disk Drive
Intro — 3 seconds (virtually instant, as drive takes about 3 seconds to initialize)
Main Game — 6 seconds
(However, if there is more data on the disk, times may be substantially increased).


Overnight TIB have risen to headlinegrabbing stardom with some of the most exciting C64 hardware in years. namely the brand-new 3.5" disk drive. The cartridge interface also allows faster data transfer, and can load a full 64K in less than six seconds. At last it looks like C64 owners have what they've needed for so long: a fast, reliable disk drive at the very reasonable price of £99.99 — including seven titles; Gutz. Firefly, Ninja Rabbits, Equinox, Pyjamarama, Quack and Frostbite. And now, thanks to TIB's generosity, you could win one of three Ultimate Drives All you have to do is answer these three multi-choice questions which even Hoggy could get right (with a bit of help from a grown-up).

1. Up to how much data can each DD-OO1 3.5" disk hold?
(a) 32 bushels, (b) Phil King’s lunch, (c) 64K, or (d) 720K.

2 How big is the DD-001's external power supply unit?
(a) quite big, like a well-fed ferret, (b) it hasn't got one, (c) the size of St Paul's Cathedral, or (d) almost as big as Phil King's lunch.

3. How much does the DD-001 weigh? (a) 1 pound, (b) 3 stone, (C) the weight of a rather sizeable juggernaut (including fatso, Yorkie-eating driver), or (d) even heavier, almost as much as Phil King.

Write your answers on the back of a postcard (or sealed envelope) and send it to: Newsfield, THE ULTIMATE DRIVE COMP, ZZAP!, Ludlow, Shropshire SY8 1JW. Entries must reach us by January 30th.

This feature was typed in/OCRed by Iain