” I’m going FAST with FASTchip //e..“

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What is it and what it is for?

It’s here! We have now newly produced accelerator made for 8-bit Apple’s from the Bulgarian electronics genius of Plamen Vaysilov of http://a2heaven.com

It’s called “FASTchip //e” and it works as the name indicates, with Apple //e (6502 & 65C02) at the moment & more support is coming i.e. for ][+. All you need is free slot on your Apple II and you can experience the accelerated speed up to 16.6 Mhz (!) of pure  s-p-e-e-d. The 16.6 Mhz makes it fastest 8-bit Apple II accelerator available today.

The FASTchip //e is based on 65C816 processor with 512KB of fast SRAM memory (expandable) where it stores the software run in accelerated speed.

Acceleration for 8-bit Apple II’s have been around from very early 80’s. There’s been: Number Nine Apple booster, Saturn/Titan cards, SpeedDemon, AE Transwarp I and II as well ZipChip’s – and these have been very sought after products. Computers are never too fast and if there’s an way to make it operate faster, be it overlocking or accelerator chip, there’s market for that. That however can be problematic with 8-bit Apple II’s. You pretty much mess up the timings of the original games that are designed to run with 1 Mhz 6502/65C02-processor. Surely 1 Mhz 6502 processor wasn’t much to work with so lots of games/software indeed would run better accelerated, more or less.

But there are other software than games too. If you do use AppleWorks, work with databases or you want to take advantage of the higher processor speeds with your programming projects, now you can. The final FastChip //e user’s guide will contain FASTchip //e “Programmer’s references” how to use the chip with your programs, so the modern “home-brew” – software developers can use the FASTchip //e with their code and take advance of the accelerated speed on their products.

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The package contains:
– FASTchip //e – card
– External control panel (these are beta-testing models, actual production model might be different)
– Cable to connect the FASTchip //e and the external control panel.

Installation:

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It’s easy to install, all you need free slot (1-7) on your Apple //e or enhanced model. It does not override the 80-column function of the slot 3 when used in Apple //e-models.

The FASTchip //e – card comes with external control panel :

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(picture 1 : beta model of the external control panel)

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(picture 2 : beta model of the external control panel)

The layout of the external control panel is as follows (based on picture 2)

“STOP” (left) you can change between current and standard 1Mhz CPU speed.
“PAUSE” (center) you can pause the CPU.
“FUNCTION” (right) button you can choose which function will be displayed on the LED-screen in the middle of the unit.

Display messages:

cp  – FASTChip //e is in setup mode ( [ESC] is pressed after Power Up )
freq – FASTChip //e show working frequency (3.00 Mhz)
normal – FASTChip //e in normal 1Mhz non-accelerated mode.
stop – FASTChip //e in PAUSE/STOP mode.
slinky – Show current RamFactor page if RF is enabled.
sl_off – RamFactor is disabled.
rw – Show current RamWorks page if RW is enabled.
rw_off – RamWorks is disabled.
softsw – Show state of some soft switches (see table below)

table

It also have 4 digits LED-display as well rotary knob to set the working frequency of the 65C816-processor itself from 0.20 up to 16.6 Mhz. The card also have built in 192KB fast RamWorks compatible RAM and 256KB fast RamFactor (slinky) compatible RAM. It’s modern design and it is low power design for cool operation. The Acceleration works for programs running in both main and auxiliary memory. It is compatible with most interface and expansion cards for the Apple II.

It have an easily accessed from power-up, built-in control panel, which let’s you control the processor speed, joystick, speaker speeds and other options available.

The Control panel:

005_menu_control_panel_sThe FASTchip //e have settings you can alter built-in by accessing the control panel by pressing ESC -key during the boot-up animation of FASTchip //e.

With arrow keys up and down you can choose the setting you want to choose and with left and right arrow keys (or space) you can choose to alter the value.

Speed:
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With speed settings you can choose:

– Using the Space to switch between OFF and 16.6 Mhz
– Off and 1 Mhz are normal Apple II speeds.
– Off = FASTchip //e is disabled and uses original CPU
– Off = if you use another DMA device
– When set to 1 Mhz or anything else up to 16.6 Mhz the FASTchip //e is been used.

Using the external control panel is handy. You can STOP the CPU, adjust the CPU speed as close to perfection you desire for each software you are using.

Slot Configuration:
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Here it allows you to define the FASTchip //e speed setting for each of the slots. If you have card that can’t run at accelerated speed, select “Normal” by pressing the spacebar. This is more like “trial-and-error” but that’s something you have to get used to.

Sample configuration:
SLOT 1 – Fast – Parallel Printer Interface Card
SLOT 2 – Normal – Serial Interface Card
SLOT 3 – Fast – FASTchip //e
SLOT 4 – Normal – Apple Mouse Card
SLOT 5 – Normal – Virtual slot for CFFA3000
SLOT 6 – Normal – Floppy Disk Controller Disk II
SLOT 7 – Normal – CFFA3000

I basicly setup all other slots Normal expect FASTchip //e and RAM-cards and everything worked fine.

Miscellaneous Options:
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With miscellaneous-menu you can choose more basic settings, i..e wether you wish to see the startup graphics animation (boot time is slightly faster without).

With sound-mode you can choose from: distorted, fast, normal, music or HIFI.

With the DISTORED – setting the sound will be depended of the speed of the FastChip //e, in FAST – mode there will be 1ms delay, NORMAL – is the standard setting. With some music programs they might require the sound being slowed down a bit so if it doesn’t sound right, you can choose MUSIC – or HIFI. HIFI – is required by few music programs – you can try this if the sound is still too fast at NORMAL or MUSIC setting – but this however will slow down the acceleration.

Joystick delay : You can choose NONE, SHORT or LONG. Mostly the LONG – setting works for most of the games where the timing is sensitive. Some games might work with SHORT – and might work faster with NONE.

And, RamFactor and RamWorks! FASTchip //e contains build-it emulation of 256KB Fast RamFactor (slinky) and RamWorks 192KB. RamFactor you can enable them here and setup the slot.

Backlight led of the card : set or disable the backlight illumination modes from Disabled, Fade, Speed, Red, Green, Blue.

System test:
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With system test you can do basic hardware testing to see if the FASTchip //e works with your Apple II or if there’s any issues to be solved.

Save configuration
You can save your configurations here. The settings are saved up in FASTchip //e.

About FASTchip //e
Information screen about the manufacturer, A2heaven.com and contact information.

Quit Fastchip //e
When you have made all the settings & saved them up to your configuration, this makes the Apple //e cold boot.

Testing the FASTchip //e:

I used as a testing unit my Apple //e enhanced (ntsc) with ZipChip 4000 installed on it and few common cards :

  • CFFA3000
  • EDD4+ card
  • Uthernet II
  • Mockingboard-T and Mockinboard v1a
  • RamFactor 8M
  • RamWorks 8M
  • Apple Mouse Card
  • ZipChip 4000
  • RamWorks III + VGA addon card

Of cos having ZipChip on this computer how is pretty useless but it did not interfere the FASTchip //e in any point.

Beta testers tested several hundred of original Apple II 5.25″ floppy software & games and we could easily say the success rate is very close to 100% at this point. The FASTchip //e firmware wasn’t final version yet and is soon finished with more support i.e. ][+ and full support for Platinum //e – model. However more testing is been still done as well more programming-releated tests and code compiling tests by Plamen Vaysilov and Antoine Vignau.

Playing games was great FUN! The rotary knob is insanely great idea (seriously it is!) when you have an game which runs somehow slowly. You can find the perfect speed for it from anywhere from 1.1 to 16.6mhz range. I found games like “Xevious” very much more playable when i accerated it up to 3-4mhz.

Youtube video playing “Xevious”:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6x7UmMbTs8

And of cos, i just had to, test the “Alien Downpour” by Michael Packard and slow it down! That game feels quite difficult to me so i slowed it down a notch, and all the sudden it left me more time to response in all those aliens 🙂

Youtube video playing “Alien Downpour” (sorry lower quality):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4wdP_dIpZE

For the huge performance gain is available with simulators. I tested “The Jet” and you’ll be the judge is it fast enough?

Youtube video “The Jet” (demo mode):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DImR-TI3aCU

Apple II Desktop / Mousedesk was really an nice experience when run from .dsk image using CFFA3000 and accelerated. Now you can actually do something productive with it, if you choose to do so. I run out of time at this stage to test with GEOS but that’s something i’m intended to test soon.

Final thoughts?

FASTchip //e must be one of the most versatile accelerators made for Apple II 8-bit computers. The built-in menu is very user friendly, quick to access and you can adjust lots of things.

Some people might think accelerating 8-bit Apple II’s is pretty much waste of time. That really depends. But with FASTchip //e it’s made so easy, as you can find the “sweet spot” for the gaming speed which is perfect, not too slow, not too fast. The rotary knob is absolutely perfect for this. I believe this is first accelerator, atleast for Apple II, that does have such feature – and it makes great difference what comes to usage. Honestly, to me this is the selling point.

It does also make it possible to run the “difficult” shoot’em ups like “Alien Downpour” (or i just suck on it) slower than standard 1 Mhz, if you wish. That’s one cool feature if never even thought of before! You never know when you might need this kind of feature as well.

I personally think the FASTchip //e is brilliant modern product and gives lots of advanges to any Apple II -user today. You don’t need to run everything… 16.6mhz!

setup_of_cards_sThe final FastChip //e user’s guide will contain FASTchip //e “Programmer’s references” – how to use the chip with your programs.

Price for the FASTchip //e is 150 USD shipped everywhere.

This quick preview was based on preview beta-unit.

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FASTchip //e is ™ by Plamen Vaysilov of a2heaven.com 2017.

Jorma Honkanen, 16.06.2017.