I'm writing this blog to the sound of the annual Christmas pop song medley playing on the radio and with shops and cafes adorned with images of robins, Santa Claus, reindeer and snow. Even in New Zealand, where it's approaching mid summer and the pohutukawa trees are in full bloom! So while the Northern hemisphere freezes, down-under we are looking forward to our traditional Christmas barbie on the beach. Having said that, after a few days of sunshine it's now raining again and Wellington is living up to its title as the original "Windy" city.
But, the really good news is the world did not end on December the 21st as "foretold" by the Mayan prophecies. I noticed one 2012 "doomsday" website which had been predicting the end of times has now (unsurprisingly) changed it's message. It claims we are now entering a new beginning. A period of renewed enlightenment, peace and harmony with hope, change, love and understanding. Actually that not a bad idea, whatever our preferred Amiga flavour - Strictly Classic, Red or Blue, Emulation or Next-Generation, lets make 2013 the year in which we all work together for the greater Amiga good. By the look of it, I think it's already shaping up to be an excellent year.
When Amiga hardware wizard, Jens Schönfeld (Individual Computers) introduced his Catweasel universal floppy disk controller in the Summer 1995 little did he know that it would become one of his most successful products. His original plan was to design a hardware-only HD-floppy disk controller to allow the Amiga to use a standard PC floppy drive. Unfortunately, this proved unsuccessful and he continued to work on the problem for a several months. Finally after an all night session on a PC based CAD system he came up with the prototype ISA model.
For company he had the TV running in the background and early in the morning he noticed an episode of Catweazle, a UK children's TV programme, about an old, eccentric, dishevelled and smelly (but lovable) 11th century wizard who accidentally travels through time to the year 1969. Jens thought that Catweazle was a cool name for his new board but changed the spelling to Catweasel to avoid potential issues with the naming rights. Later, he designed Kylwalda as a companion device to Catweasel which was a simple adapter that lets you use one floppy drive with two floppy controllers which he named after Catweazle's pet toad.
If you check Jen's posts in popular Amiga forums he often uses words like "electrickery" and "wiesel", terms which hark back to the original Catweazle TV series. Jen's first Catweasel design supported the A1200, big-box Amigas equipped with Zorro slots and PC's with ISA slots. He went on to create several Catweasel versions and device drivers were written for AmigaOS 4 by Kjetil Hvalstrand (NutsAboutAmiga) for the Mk IV model based on the original cwfloppy Linux driver created by Michael Krause. Amiga Developer Ian Gledhill later created additional device drivers under GPL for AmigaOS 4, MorphOS and AROS. With the inclusion of RunInUAE in the latest AmigaOS 4.1 updates we decided it would be a good idea if the A1-X1000 could also read standard Amiga floppy disks. The Mk IV model, which works well in the AmigaONE X1000, is now out of stock and there are no plans for any future productions runs.
However, the good news is there are stocks of the Catweasel Mk2 model and additional units can be manufactured. With the hardware side sorted we still needed device driver software and who better than Ian Gledhill the developer of the most recent drivers for all Next-Generation Amiga flavours. Although this is predominantly for the A1-X1000, owners of other Next-Generation machines will also benefit. The Catweasel drivers are now complete and AmigaKit will be stocking the new Catweasel Mk 2 bundle with the device driver and interface cable in the New Year. Details will be provided on the AmigaKit website when the Catweasel kits are available.
A slice of Raspberry Pi?
I've been following all the hype and excitement surrounding the Raspberry Pi single board computer. OK I know that the Raspberry Pi is not meant to be a computer powerhouse but more a fun "toy" to teach today's youngsters the joys of basic computer science in schools. If little Jane or Johnny spills their coke or treads on the board the low hardware costs means it's not a financial disaster for the school or the parents. One commentator described the Raspberry Pi as the Sinclair Spectrum for the modern age. Personally I'd rather think of it as the C64 but then again I always had a Commodore bias! Having seen a Pi system in action running Linux, the experience is not exactly life in the fast lane. However, there are lots of unusual and exciting projects being attempted with this low cost hardware.
Therefore I was very interested to learn that Pat Wall, our very own Linux Distro Jedhi Master, had emulated a Raspberry Pi systems on his AmigaONE X1000 using QEMU. QEMU which, according the Wikipedia, is short for "Quick EMUlator", is free and open-source software that performs hardware visualisation. It emulates CPUs through dynamic binary translation and provides a set of device models, enabling it to run a variety of unmodified guest operating systems. Simply put QEMU allows you to emulate any CPU and operating system, on almost any hardware. It also provides an accelerated mode for supporting a mixture of binary translation and native execution similar to VirtualBox and VMWare Workstation. It can also be used for CPU emulation for user level processes, allowing applications compiled for one architecture to be run on another.
Pat has filled his emulated Pi with Raspbian, a GNU/Linux system based on Debian and optimized for the Raspberry Pi hardware. According to the developers Raspbian, which was completed in June 2012, is supplied with over 35,000 packages and pre-compiled software optimized for best performance on the Raspberry Pi. The developers have somehow managed to get the LXDE desktop running in a mere 39MB RAM, which is really quite amazing. According to Pat the emulation is not that speedy, compared to running GNU/Linux natively on the A1-X1000, but never-the-less it works perfectly.
OK using the A1-X1000 to emulate an OS created for the Raspberry Pi is total overkill I know, but I learned two new things. First. The A1-X1000 can readily emulate other CPU architectures and OSs using QEMU; and secondly we now have another Linux distribution that can be installed on the A1-X1000, albeit through QEMU emulation. Thanks Pat, I think? Now about the GNU/Linux Installation guide rewrite.............
PowerPC is Dead! - Part 2
The Raspberry Pi might not have it all it's own way in the low cost, single board computer stakes. There are a couple of PowerPC options which have recently been announced that, while not as cheap as the Raspberry Pi, are both under US$200! Freescale have released the TWR-P1025 module as part of its Freescale Tower System portfolio, a modular development platform which it claims enables rapid prototyping and tool re-use through reconfigurable hardware. Interestingly, the TWR-P1025 processor module, which includes a QorIQ P1025 dual-core PowerPC processor can also be operated as a stand-alone single board computer development platform. More details can be found on Freescale's website.
Servergy announced a Linux-on-Power development platform called P-Cubed at the recent Ubuntu Developer Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. According to its developers, "the computer is an all-in development board catering primarily to enterprise Linux programmers, but is can also be used by educators and serious hobbyists as well."
"It features Power Architecture in an SoC (system on chip) that encompasses high-end hardware, including multi-core with hardware virtualization, which help the board to deliver a level of quality that is not available for other similar solutions."
Apart from Ubuntu the new board will support Debian, Fedora, and openSUSE. Again the CPU is PowerPC dual-core and although the final price of P-Cubed has not yet been revealed it is expected to retail for less that US$200. For more information please check out Servergy's website.
With over a dozens companies now developing hardware who said PowerPC was dead?
(Power) Mac the knife!
I recently contributed to a MorphOS.pl bounty to help port MorphOS to an Apple PowerMac G5 machine. Wiktor "Pampers" Glowacki, the co-owner of the MorphOS.pl portal is supplying the PowerMac machine and Mark 'BigFoot' Olsen has undertaken the task of porting MorphOS. The 3000 Euros needed to open the Bounty was donated in record time and the G5 machine is being shipped to South Africa, where Mark Olsen currently lives. Under the requirements of the bounty Mark has to port MorphOS to a Power Mac G5 model from A1047 7,3 - M9747LL/A series within a 3 month time-frame from receipt of the donated hardware. If successful, he will take ownership of the PowerMac hardware. Although not required for the bounty, support of other PowerMac G5 models is not precluded. However, support for the Bluetooth module, the AirPort (WiFi) module or multicore CPU support is not required.
In anticipation of the bounty being completed, and after taking advice on the correct model to purchase, I managed to track down a couple of reasonably priced G5 machines in New Zealand.
Unfortunately, I ran into a typical problem I've experienced when buying used hardware. One of the machines, an elegant iMac iSight was shipped in its original Apple packaging and arrived in good shape. However, the second machine, a very heavy 2.5Ghz PowerMac G5 brute was very poorly packed and arrived damaged with part of the metal frame bent where the box had been dropped in transit. Really annoying! Fortunately both machines still booted to Mac OSX OK but I was quite surprised how noisy the fans were on the PowerMac which constantly wound up and down as I put the machine under "stress" by browsing the web. No such issues with the iMac however. The moral of the story, if you going to buy any used hardware always ask the shipper to double box the package and use extra insulation to reduce the risk of damage in transit. As an Amiga collector I've lost count of the number of times I have received damaged items through the post, usually caused by a combination of inadequate packaging and heavy-handed couriers. "Soapbox" rant mode off.
Now I just need to sit and wait patiently for the MorphOS port, altogether now ............ "two more weeks"
As I sign off for the last time in 2012 all that remains to be said is Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all.
Let's keep this party going!
The Power of One Radeon HD
Frank Menzel, one of the clever developers at AmiBoing (& Entwickler-X) recently posted a YouTube video to show the performance boost that the new Radeon HD drivers can provide even on a lower powered entry level machine. He has written a special parallax scroller which included multiple parallax layers and plenty of high resolution bitmaps/textures which is part of a Pig-run game that is in development for AmigaOS 4. He used a Sam440/733 Flex which only has a PCI bus and installed a RadeonHD6450 using a PCIe to PCI bridge. He carried out a series of comparative video performance tests of the HD6450 card against a Radeon 9250 and the result are very revealing. In 800x600 window mode on a 1920x1080 Workbench the Radeon HD card outperformed the 9250 by 236%. Pretty good, but on a full screen 1920x1080 HD Workbench the Radeon HD outperformed the 9250 by a massive 1450% and achieved an average frame rate of 31fps as opposed to 1-3fps with the 9250.
It should be added that the Radeon HD6450 and 9250 are relatively low-end cards and the PCIe HD6450 was restricted by running on a PCI bus. Imagine the performance gain with some of the more powerful cards in the Radeon HD series on an AmigaONE X1000. All I can say is bring on Warp3D and Gallium. Pig-Run YouTube Video
Hans de Ruiter, the developer of the Radeon HD drivers for AmigaOS 4 wrote on his website, "The Radeon HD 6450 leaves the Radeon 9250 in the dust. The Radeon HD 6450 can render the scroller at full HD at smooth frame rates whereas, it bumbles along at ~1-3 fps on a Radeon 9250. If this were a game, then it would only be playable in full HD using the 6450. What these results show, is that the Radeon HD cards really are a game changer". A full report and analysis can be found on HRDLab's website.
Pieces of 8?
When I was travelling through various airports during my recent trip to AmiWest and Amigakit I spent several hours whiling away the time in various airport "Duty free" electronics stores checking out the latest mainstream digital goodies. As you might expect the stores were full of PCs, Laptops, Netbooks, Tablets and smart phones. However, what was a little surprising was the number of systems running the latest version of the Windows operating system. Of course I'm talking about Windows 8. Whether it was San Francisco, Hong Kong or London Heathrow Windows 8 based products were everywhere. When I returned home to New Zealand I found all the computers stores pushing the same hardware. Love them or hate them you've got to be impressed by the sheer marketing power of Microsoft and the relationship they have developed over the years with mainstream PC retailers. Of course computer stores want and need to sell hardware and Microsoft need to sell its software licenses so it's no surprise that Windows 8 is getting a lot of publicity and shelf space. If you have not yet seen Windows 8 in action, (do you live in a cave? ), it is claimed to be Microsoft's attempts to seize the tablet era without losing its Windows advantage. The software is touch friendly and more socially connected and more importantly, the major hardware manufactures are creating special designs to match its "unique" features.
Is Windows 8 any good? It probably doesn't really matter as the company controls over 90% of the world's desktop OS market and with its dominant position is now going after the mobile space. With Microsoft's own Windows 8 Surface tablet about to hit the stores should Apple and Android (Google) be worried?
Could Android be our new Gynoid?
Hidden among all the Windows 8 machines I can across a new (to me) Android Netbook/tablet. Nothing new you might think, but while the salesperson was directing me to the sleek, stylish and expensive Sony Windows 8 Notebook with a duty-free price-tag of £850,
my attention was drawn towards the ASUS Transformer Pad, TF300T complete with a mobile docking station and version 4.1.1 of Android Jelly Bean with a much lower price of £350. I have been using an Acer Iconia TAB A500 Android Tablet, but over the past year I have been using it much less. To be honest Android is very usable but IMHO a tablet is no substitute for a Netbook or Notebook if you have serious work to do while you are travelling. I also use Android on my Samsung Galaxy SII smart phone and although this has replaced the Acer tablet for most of my quick access mobile needs it is again no substitute for a Netbook.
Enter The ASUS Transformer Pad. This has the best of both worlds. When connected to the keyboard it looks like a slim, compact Netbook. Not only does it have a full QWERTY keyboard and Touchpad, it also has an active Touch screen you would expect to find on a high-end tablet. It also comes complete with 32GB of internal storage, a USB port, an SD card slot and 8GB of free online storage. The TF300T is powered by an NVIDIA Tegra 3 4-Plus-1™ Quad-core CPU which supports super smooth 1080p HD video playback. New 3D video effects have also been added but ASUS claims that the unit still has a 15+ hour battery life.
As you would expect it endorses all of the 'touchy, feely' concepts common with other Android tablets and is highly geared towards social networking. The customised Android keyboard nicely protects the tablet screen and can be easily detached if you prefer the full tablet experience. However, if you are really serious about working while on the move, the TF300T is supplied with Polaris Office, a mobile office suite which is compatible with Microsoft Office documents, better still a version of Libre Office is also in the works. Overall it is an excellent product. So did I buy the Windows 8 Sony Netbook? What do you think?
And then there is the reality. For my sins I've been running a Windows Vista server to control my home network. As you might have guessed, as an Amigan, I am not the typical Windows user and do not change out my hardware every year. Despite all of its drawbacks I have been using a Vista machine and for the past 4-1/2 years if has performed OK once the inevitable Service Packs were installed. That was until a few days ago when suddenly the HDD went "clunk". Fortunately I had all my valuable data backed up on my A1-X1000 and a series of USB HDDs. Actually I had an early lessons of the potential frailty of HDDs. My first Amiga 2000 in 1988 came equipped with a massive, for the time, 2oMB HDD. From new, the drive failed to spin-up until the A2000 had warmed up. Gently tapping the drive would encourage it to spin-up and once it was up and running it worked fine until the next time I powered up the A2000 from a cold start. Obviously, I changed the drive out under warranty as soon as I could. However, this early experience made me paranoid about backing up valuable data, something I make sure I always do.
Re-learning old tricks!
During AmiWest, Len Haggblad, a Canadian Amiga enthusiast, confided that he had been trying to buy a Phase5 CyberstormPPC accelerator to upgrade his Classic A4000 system.
I knew I had sent a faulty CSPPC card to J.J. Boulet of Amiga Repair Centre in France several years ago and that he had returned the board to me in working order. However, I kept the card as a spare to back-up my working CSPPC systems. These boards have become increasing scarce over the years and continue to sell for a premium on eBay, often at levels up to and exceeding the original purchase price. I took pity on Len and promised to check out the board when I returned to New Zealand.
I managed to track down my spare board and installed it in one of my working A4000 CyberstormPPC enabled systems. It booted up first time to AmigaOS3.9. As a more complete test, I decided to create a new AmigaOS4.1 installation and partitioned an old IDE HDD. The installation went fine but when I attempted to reboot the system all I got was a blank screen and the rhythmic clicking of the floppy disk drive. As a check, I re-connected my old drive and successfully booted into OS3.9 once again. What could be wrong? I had remembered to locate the boot partition in the first 4GB of drive space and decided the HDD, which was very old, was probably faulty and managed to find another one hidden in the cupboard. I re-partitioned the replacement drive and performed the installation once again. Again I got the same result and, as the ever clicking floppy disk drive continued to mock my failure, a little light went on in my brain.
I decided to read the installation guide! Almost the very first thing I read "Adding a file system into the Rigid Disk Block (RDB)". I had totally forgotten this step, which is not required on an Amiga Next-generation system. I quickly installed the L:SmartFileSystem and re-partitioned and formatted the HDD. I re-installed AmigaOS4.1 and after a short delay was surfing the web with IBrowse and OWB. Magic.
And the moral of the story is. "You" are not as clever as you thought "you" were and always RTFM!
An unexpected journey
On Wednesday 28th November I got the chance to attend a function organised around the World Premiere of The Hobbit, Kiwi film director Peter Jackson latest movie, to meet some of the companies leading the next wave of New Zealand's global screen and digital adventures.
Not only did I get to see some of the stars of the film walk down the red carpet I also met some of the excellent people involved in the local film and TV production industry. Better still, I also got the chance to talk with several game developers who are working on the next generation of online game engines. Interesting stuff. Oh and I managed to have a few drinks as well. A good afternoon all round.
..and finally, Oppa Amiga Style!
With the strangely addictive Gangham Style video breaking the YouTube all time record for number of plays (~897,000,000 at the time of writing) it was a nice surprise to receive my own "tribute" in the form of an anonymous JibJab video card parody. They had obviously see my previous "outstanding" disco performance in the "dancing Trevor" video.