This relates to another question about moving sprites to the border.

On my experience, sprites confuse the raster timings very badly. I found this especially problematic, if sprites were moved to the left and right border (because moving to top or bottom doesn't require so precise timings).

My impression were as if some, non-deterministic delay had been happen in the first pixel line of a sprite.

What exactly happened? How could it be compensated?

  • On a side note, there are some pretty good video explaining how to enable sprites in the border (and other tricks) at 64bites.com. Also, the CodeBase is a great site as well. codebase64.org/doku.php (PS, I'm not affiliated with these...I just use them myself)
    – cbmeeks
    May 15, 2017 at 14:30

1 Answer 1


Here are some extraction from an article: Missing Cycles by Pasi 'Albert' Ojala. In short, VIC needs to fetch the sprite data from memory. For each sprite it needs to fetch 3 bytes (one line of sprite shape) for each scanline.

If there are sprites on the screen, the VIC needs even more cycles to fetch all of the graphics data. Scan lines are time divided so that there is enough time for all action during one line. On each line, the sprite image pointers are fetched during phase 1. If the sprite is to be displayed on that line, the three bytes of image data are fetched right after that. Out of these three fetches, two take place during phase 2 of the clock, so the processor will lose these. On average, two clock cycles are lost for each sprite that is displayed on that line.

The most interesting part is that it should take 24 cycles (8 sprites * 3 bytes), but in fact it takes only 16-19 cycles. This is caused by special case of sharing the bus between VIC and CPU.

When the VIC wants to use the bus, the BA (Bus Available) signal goes inactive. This will happen three cycles before the bus must be released ! During these three cycles, the CPU must complete all memory accesses or delay them until it has the bus again.

The CPU either completes the current instruction in the remaining cycles or sits and waits for the bus to become available again. It can't execute a new instruction as long as it doesn't have the bus. This is why cycles seem to be lost (besides those stolen directly for the sprites). Usually, all 8 sprites take 17 cycles while one sprite takes three cycles. However, the CPU may continue to execute an instruction if it does not use the bus.

So VIC is 'stealing' some cycles. Here are some examples:

Let's suppose that all the sprites are enabled and on the same scan line. Then, the VIC steals 16 cycles (2 cycles for each sprite) for the memory fetches and 3 cycles as overhead for the BA signal, for a total of 19 cycles. However, it will be usually less because the CPU will use some of the cycles when the bus request is pending.

If we now disable sprite 4, no cycles are released for the CPU's use. This is because during the previous sprite 4 data fetch, the VIC already signals that it needs the bus for the sprite 5 data fetch and BA stays low (Refer to the timing chart). Thus, the CPU never sees BA go high during sprite 4 and 2 cycles are still lost.

Accordingly, if we only turn off sprites 1, 3 and 5 we get no cycles back from the VIC. So in time-critical raster routines, always use sprites in order.

And the concluding timing table for missing cycles:

012345678901234567890123456789012345678901234567890123456789012 cycles

Normal scan line, 0 sprites
ggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggrrrrr  p p p p p p p p  phi-1 VIC
                                                                phi-2 VIC
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx phi-2 6510
63 cycles available

Normal scan line, 8 sprites
ggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggrrrrr  pspspspspspspsps phi-1 VIC
                                               ssssssssssssssss phi-2 VIC
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxXXX                 phi-2 6510
46-49 cycles available

Normal scan line, 4 sprites
ggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggrrrrr  psp psp psp psp  phi-1 VIC
                                               ss  ss  ss  ss   phi-2 VIC
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxXXX              xx phi-2 6510
48-51 cycles available

Bad scan line, 0 sprites
ggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggrrrrr  p p p p p p p p  phi-1 VIC
cccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccc                        phi-2 VIC
                                        xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx phi-2 6510
23 cycles available

Bad scan line, 8 sprites
ggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggrrrrr  pspspspspspspsps phi-1 VIC
cccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccc       ssssssssssssssss phi-2 VIC
                                        xxxxXXX                 phi-2 6510
4-7 cycles available

g= grafix data fetch (character images or graphics data)
r= refresh
p= sprite image pointer fetch
c= character and color CODE fetch during a bad scan line
s= sprite data fetch
x= processor executing instructions
X= processor executing an instruction, bus request pending

You can use it to synchronize raster line using sprites.

For more information (including demonstration program), please refer to the full article: "Missing Cycles" by Pasi 'Albert' Ojala.


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