Dextrose.com, 23rd May 1998

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CD 64 Review v. 0.9

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Welcome to the Dextrose Review of the latest Backup Device from Hong Kong called CD64. Actually, the CD64 manifactured by UFO Company hit the streets in HK on 22nd of March.
The Price today is 180 US$ incl. CD-Rom, though the unit can be bought without CD-Rom and RAM as well for 116 US$. However, if you want to exchange Data between CD64 and a PC you also must buy a ProComm Link Cart which is another 30 US$ to spend then. Nevertheless it is actually quite cheap compared to other available units so far. After reading the review you will know if the unit is also cheap in quality or can actually compete with the standards set by others.

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The Package of CD64

The small colourful package unveils a black CD64-Unit with a standard IDE CD-Rom fit into it as well as a manual in chinese language. And that's actually all. Depending on the Source you buy the CD64 there may be a seperate AC-Adaptor or even Game CD's. However the standard package comes without one, but it isnt really necessary anyways.
The CD64 works perfectly without additional AC-Adaptor since it uses the voltage coming from the N64, you may only need it for certain CD-Roms or other future devices. The built-in Matsushita-CDRom however worked fine without connecting a second AC-Adaptor..
The Bios preinstalled on the unit and which we used for testing is version 1.08 . We will say a few words about the improvements in the latest Bios later.

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Installation and first Impressions

The N64 is placed on top of the CD64. No additional connector or a lockout-adaptor is necessary. An original Nintendo-Cartridge must be inserted into a port located at the front of the CD64. That means that the N64-CartPort actually is not used at all.
The CD64 works on NTSC as well as on PAL-N64's. We noticed that the Menu-Screen seems to be a lot brighter when using a PAL-Unit which leads to sometimes hard readable menu-items. On the PAL-Machine we were for example not able to read the CD64 Config Information in the upper right corner.
**( cd64's tech : already improve in bios ver.1.11)

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Also we had problems installing the BackupDevice on two NTSC-N64's. The Screen just remained black. The Problem seems to be a loose connection between CD64 and N64. On a third NTSC-N64 it worked fine. The Manifacturer already recognized that problem and as of 19th of May, they offer a new so-called flexible pins connector which shall ensure 100% connection between the two units. Users with an old connector have the possibility to update it. ** (cd64's tech : already improve on May 19 )

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An additional CD 64-feature is a Multi-Out as seen on the N64, a Parallel-Connection and a Connector for an external AC-Adaptor. On the bottom of the CD64 there are 2 Expansion Slots, one used for RAM (Standard PS/2-Simms), the other is said to be used for a future addon devices for example a MPEG-Decoder card.
On top of the CD64 there is a cover which unveils two socket chips.
What you will notice first is that there are no buttons at all on the BackupDevice, neither for powering it on nor for any other actions.

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By powering on the N64 you will be welcomed by the CD64 Startup-Logo followed by the MainMenu. The Menu is english, very colorful and can be comfortably controlled by the N64-Joypad. "How have they done this ?" you may ask, and here is the answer: The CD64-Bios is actually a N64-RomImage which is loaded into the CD64-Ram and mapped into an unused memory-space so it doesnt interfer with the usal N64-Rom. The bios ROM does not only contain the Menu, but also allows CDRom-access through the N64 as well as the transfer between CD64 and N64. We were really astonished to see such a development from a Backup-Device-Manifacturer (no offence of course :) ). Congratulations on that part.

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Controlling the operations via joypad is a unique feature and not seen on any other N64-Backup-Device yet. If you have owned one of the old SNES-BackupDevices you will love this.

The Main-Menu shows a lot of Information. Look at the Screenshot as everything is self-explanatory.

Now we will go through every single menu options for you, one by one.

1. LOAD CD64-File

By selecting this option, the CD64 will try to load the directory of the inserted CD. Interesting on that point is that CD64 doesn't care how you name your files but scans the whole directory and displays the filenames as well as the header name and country-information. If the header is in Chinese, you will see real chinese characters and no garbage. Now you can select a game and start loading by pressing "A"-Button.
While loading, no Status-Bar is displayed. A Point which may need improvment. However after loading you may start the game or go back to Main-Menu.

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2. START CD64-File

This option starts the ROM-Image currently in RAM which you may have loaded by using the previous menu-option or dumped with the Download-Option. The actual ROM-Image-Name is displayed on the bottom of the Menu-Screen. It will return an error if no file is present.

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Read out the the inserted N64-Cart to CD64-Ram by selecting this menu-option. The reading-out progress is very fast but again not visual by a status-bar. A 64Mbit-Module takes around 14 seconds to backup into DRAM.

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Execute the Cartridge plugged into the CD64-Slot.

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The Manifactures didn't write a whole new SRAM-Manager here, but actually used the SRAM Manager 1.0B released by RBubby quite some time back. It is built-into the CD64-Bios. You may as well use the SRAM Manager 2.0 from Blackbag, but of course you will need to load it from CD/PC first.

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X-Terminator is a cheat-utility based on certain codes similiar to GoldFinger- or Action-Replay-Devices. We will discuss X-Terminator later in this review.

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7. CD64 Tools

The CD64 Tools-Option will lead to another menu offering a Hex-Editor to edit DRAM, a Checksum-Calculating Utility, a Byte-Swap Utility to flip bytes from Binary-Format into byte-swapped format (V64) and vice versa and an option to activate the ProComm-Link-Connection. The Byte-Swapping only needs a few seconds. We will go deeper into the Hex-Editor-Function later.

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8. CD64 Test

In this menu you will find a few test utilities such as download and verify a cartridge or verify DRAM. The third option will format the X-Terminator-Buffer to disable codes you selected before in the X-Terminator-Menu.

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CD64 offers the use of so-called X-Terminator-Codes which are basically Cheat-Codes you normally enter by using a Datel ActionReplay or Goldfinger (seen on several SNES-Backup-Devices such as ProFighter X).

The Idea behind those Codes is that you first load a Rom-Image into DRAM and afterwards enable a cheat, like for example infinite lives. The Information for the amount of lives in the game will be manipulated by entering the right code in the X-Terminator-Menu.
Now the good news is, that the CD64-Bios already holds a lot of pre-defined codes but you can also add new codes yourself or wait for a new bios-version which features an updated library of Cheat-Codes.

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Here we go with an example to make you fully understand the procedure. After loading a game into DRAM (in our example Extreme-G US-Version) you go back to MainMenu and select the X-Terminator-Option. Here you can roam through a list of available cheats sorted by Game-Name. Often there is more than one cheat available per game. After selecting "Extreme-G [USA]" you can select pre-defined cheats and enable them by using the "A"-Button or enter a new one yourself. You can enable more than one cheat at a time. The selected codes will be displayed in a different color and the amount of cheats selected is displayed in the lower right corner of the screen.

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If you are satisfied with your selection, go back to main menu, the botton status bar now shows "XTERM [ON]". On selecting the Option "Play CD64-File" Extreme-G will be started with the cheats enabled.

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Notice that you can format the X-Terminator-Buffer by using the Format-Utility in the "CD64 Test"-Menu. This will disable all cheats again. Of course you may also turn them on/off manually in the X-Terminator-Menu one by one again.


CD64 Hex-Editor

As stated before, the CD64-Tools-Menu features a hex-editor.
The HEX-Editor can be used to, you guessed it, hexedit the DRAM.It is so to speak a very simple version of Hedit or Niew you know from PC. Maybe helpful to change a few things for advanced coders. Changes can be checksum-calculated afterwards. The question is of course if it is faster to re-edit a rom-image by using a PC-keyboard and reupload it or to use the CD64 and a joypad which takes ages if you want to change a lot. Though this is a nice extra-feature of course.

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Transfering Data

If you are wondering why this Review has the Version Number 0.9, here is the reason. As a matter of fact, we didn't received the ProComm-LinkCard for File-Transfer between N64 and PC. For some reason it is not possible to enable a usable connection between N64 and PC without that. Though from different sources we have the confirmation that transfers are actually working whenever you use a ProComm-LinkCart. We hope it is only a matter of time until the Bios can be improved so a transfer without the additional card is possible. Your only other possibility up to now is to burn the stuff to CD and load it from there. So with the next Version of the review we will fully inform you about this matter.**( cd64's tech : already release the parallel port adaptor , so the end-user can link to pc through parallel printer port )


Bios 1.09 Features

The latest Bios of the CD64 can now play the previously cracked version of 1080X snowboarding.
Some improvement in ProComm-Linking for faster transfer has been implemented.
The Cheat-Library has been updated and holds now 458 cheats for 65 Games..
Then there are some improvements in the EditDram-Option as well as a new Initialization-Option to reset the CD-Directory Buffer.


Deep into the Hardware

As we unscrew the CD64 and we see a standard IDE-CDRom from Matsushita which is screwed to the bottom part of the CD64-Case.

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The Mainboard looks quite tidy, there are not that many chips onto the board so there isn't much we can explain here, but remind that the CD64 uses the N64 CPU for processing and that also might be reason why it is cheaper than other Units.

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Our Mainboard had the Revision-Number 1.1 inscribed.Here we have the backside and frontside of the mainboard. Left you can see the different processors. The single Ram-Socket for the PS/2 Simm is located on the backside. You will be able to exchange the Ram in future.

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A closer look on the Power Supply of the CD64, which you might not need at all.

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The Parallelport and IDE-Cable for the CD-Rom. Between those notice the two golden pins which have the inscription L and R. So we assume its an Audio-Out. But there is nothing leading to the outside from there.

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And a last overview. Now you should have an idea of the inside of the CD64.

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So What ?

We are happy to say that our bad feelings about this unit have not been confirmed ! When we first heard about the low price we feared to see very low quality, but the CD64 actually is a nice Device with a whole bunch of smart features although it needs improvements here and there. The Menues are unique, the control via joypad pretty comfortable. Features like X-Terminator-Codes will delight a lot of users as well. What we missed actually is the support of direct uploading SRAM-Savegames from PC or CD as well as .IPS-Support. Also there is no Transfer-Utility to use with the Parallel-Connection for you use with a standard pc printer port, if this is possible at all ? So at this time you should also own a ProComm-Link-Cart to make transfers between CD64 and PC (cd64 answer: the parallel port adaptor was release on June 5. So the user can transfer files through the PC's printer port ). We also see some danger in the fact that the Bios of the CD64 is actually a N64-RomImage and therefore can be upgraded via N64 code. Which on the one side is a real cool development and holds unbelievable potential for future development, makes on the other side the bad dudes able to totally destroy your bios.Also it should be quite easy for a manifacturer to check if a CD64 is present and to rewrite the bios,so someone could do some real rude things to it. Thats why the CD64 needs something like a Bios-Reset to prevent this (cd64 answer: the developer already put a strong protection to prevent this could happen ). From the legal iusse we doubt that a Manifacturer will include a routine to destroy a backup device, but an average hacker who wants to take revenge for being kicked out of #doctor64 it may be an option. But actually its not THAT easy as the Flash-Programm of the Bios still has a CRC you have to crack, so don't think every idiot can do it. We assume that it is also the fault of the unstable Bios, that a lot of CZN-Intros are not working at all. The machine crashes after loading an image linked with one of those intros. (cd64 answer : We already send a cd64 to CZN, so that they will release the patch also compatible with cd64 in the future. )By powering off/on the N64 your CD64 will be still in a good shape but you of course miss all the fun of the CZN-Productions. The only possibility to avoid the crashing problem so far is to hold down the start-button of the N64-Joypad while powering on the N64. The intro will then be skipped. Not a very elegant solution of course. Here is still some work to do.

The 1.08 Bios also had problems to start a few games at once like 1080X but this has been solved with the recently released 1.09.

All in all the CD64 is a very good buy As we see a good support from the manifacturer we are sure the Bios will advance more and more and the inital teething problems will soon vanish.
We love the idea of having full control over the CD64-Hardware using an N64-Image. What do you think about a MP3-Player which loads the MP3-Files directly from the CDRom while playing ? Or what about a MegaDemo longer than 128Mbit which can continue loading data from the CDRom ? And what, we ask you, do you think about a bios that emulates a 64DD ? Of course, this is future watch, and we are at this point not sure if the manifacturer have ever thought about that stuff or try to develop it, but the N64Dev-Coders will surely give the one or other idea a try as soon as they get familiar to the bios.
But be careful, we warn to update Bios-Versions which you didn't find at Dextrose, the UFO Company Website or any other RELIABLE Site on the net, as there might be a few people out there who like to destroy your CD64 with a modified Bios-Version.


This was the fourth Dextrose Review. More to come. We invite all manifacturers to contact us for reviewing their hardware.

Also comments by our readers are as usal very welcome in the guestbook.

Words: ACTRAiSER Photos & Design & Additional Ideas by Hartec.