Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Interview with Paul Rezendes

1. Hello and welcome from us at BlitterWolf. For our readers could you tell us your name, country and occupation please?
A. My Real name is Paul Rezendes and I am from the USA. My current occupation is with the US Department of Defense where I am an Engineering Technician with the Navy. Its a civilian position and I do a lot of support work for several Navies other than just the US Navy. Before that I worked as a Technician at Intel working in R&D. I also served in the United States Navy from 1991 through 2012.

2. When did you initially conceive the A4000 Replica board and the reason behind it?
A. I first thought of doing this project after seeing the A1K project red A500+ they did. I just didn’t know how I would be able to fund it. As many know I also do a lot of repair work and restorations of Amiga boards and peripherals. I’ve often thought it would be so much easier to replace a dead 4000 Rev B with a new board and transfer the good parts over to it. I am not a designer myself and haven’t done anything as complicated as a complete motherboard, only a few small projects that have been quite simple. The real spark that set this project in full motion though was the preview Hese showed off at Amibay and then started selling his 4000CR board. The day I first saw that board was the day I started the project funding page.

ACILL Motherboards
3. What is your drive behind continuing with A4000 Replica project?
A. My real drive is to have a good foundation to have 4000 Rev B boards available for use in repairs. A lot of the dead machines are from the battery leaking and taking out some very tight traces and key parts that make the 4000 function. It takes way too long to repair these and make any real money from it. Many people know my motivation isn’t to make money off this work and more to save machines. The next step is to take the newly released data and hope someone with the skill can update the schematic design and recreate the 4000 into a more modern form factor to allow better cases and even more features. Everything needed to do that is now released and possible. We just need someone to take up the project and run with it!

4. Accelerators always seemed popular in the Amiga community, how do you feel the Amiga community have reacted to your reverse engineered board?
A. With very few exceptions I have had nothing but positive comments and praise for this work. The speed at which it was funded shows that. In fact I was blown away at just how fast it funded, as did the company I used for a lot of the work. I don’t think they took me very serious at first actually. They are used to doing very big projects and the price was quite a lot for an old board with no real market from the point they saw. When I came back a week later and had over 50% to pay down they didn’t believe it. I think the passion and the praise that came out of everyone along the way so far speaks volumes on just how the community feels. I also think I have given an amazing gift to the community. I could have easily kept this closed and not released everything. That just isn’t me though. 

5. Why did you set out to create the board?
A. As mentioned earlier my primary goal was to have a clean base to do repairs and the ability to restore machines that would otherwise work again easily. 

6. What is the roadmap for the A4000 Replica boards?
A. I hope to see improvements get done to the board and one day see a new design come out of it. The company I am working with likes the project and had a lot of fun doing it with me. They are more than willing to do more in the future on it if asked, and of course get paid.  

7. Do you see yourself selling complete machines such as a desktop or just boards?
A. I have no plans myself to sell complete machines from this work. I only plan to sell boards and to also use them for repairs that would take longer to find the issues and repair than to just replace the entire board. I will be offering boards for sale very soon though. I have the goal at keeping them between $80-90 each if I can get a group buy going. The first step though is to finish a rebuild with one of the prototypes and makes sure it works!

8. Which version of AmigaOS will we see running natively on the board?
A. The board is a near identical clone of the A4000 Rev B. Any version that will run on the original should run on these with no problems. 

9. When it comes to the original Amiga Operating System between 1.x and 4.x which do/did you like to use most?
A. I love the 3.1 version with updates added myself for things like 060 support, USB, RTG and large drives. 3.9 is also nice, but I have found its just got too much in it and is harder to get a stable system running. I also have an AmigaOne X5000 and love 4.1FE on it as well as MorphOS. In all honesty I prefer the modern 4.1 OS over the classic environment installed for a near seamless Amiga experience on fast modern hardware if I had to make one choice. Lucky for all of us I haven’t been forced to choose though right?!

10. Have you ever been a member of an Amiga group and if so when and where?
A. Yes I have been involved with the Amiga since very early on. My first Amiga was the A1000 (Which I still own) that I bought back in 1987. I used it all through school even. I was a member of some very large user groups in California back then too. BAAUG (Bay Area Amiga Users Group) TOGA (The other group of Amigoids) and currently I am a long time active member of the Sacramento Amiga Computer Club. Home of the famous Amiwest show. I was also an active member of the group Lightforce for many years as Acill. I not only did Amiga with them for a short time but also consoles games.  

11. Did you have your most favourite played games on Amiga and what were/are they?
A. Favourites are hard to pick just one, but if I have to name some then my top choices are Super Frog, Lemmings, Speed Ball, Shuffle puck CafĂ© and Gods. Defender of the Crown sold me on the Amiga in the beginning as well! 

12. Best Amiga system of all time for you?
A. I have a soft spot for the A3000. I think it was the best built system of them all. It was done in the best times of Commodore when the money was not an issue for them and it shows. Its built so well and looks so unique that its hard not to love the machine. The 4000T is my next choice and is currently my main classic system. I have mine outfitted with everything anyone would ever want in it. 

13. Best Amiga game of all time for you?
A. The best Amiga of all time? Hmmm…. I think I would have to put the A4000T in that spot. Its just a work horse that not many people can even begin to realize. Its not the best looking, but it is by far the most powerful of them when put together right! The A3000T is a close second. 

14. What are your thoughts about what happened to Commodore - Amiga?
A. I have had an Amiga in my possession from 1987 up to now. I have owned at least one of every single model over the years as well. Commodore was an amazing company that truly brought great innovation and fantastic machines to the masses. I think the money got in the way of management and as a result they crippled innovation. Greed killed them and it made me so angry. It still does in fact. I know for sure things would be very different had Commodore stayed on a similar path as Apple. When the Amiga was released they all feared it. It was never put into the places it should have been and as a result they just let it get wasted. 

15. How do you feel towards AmigaOS4 and Amiga hardware reincarnations like AmigaOne?
A. I love the AmigaOne and own an X5000. I think its exactly what people need. Its got the feel of an Amiga and its modern. Many people say its way to expensive and I strongly disagree with that. If you look back at what systems cost new you will see its quite a deal in comparison! Even people building up the ultimate 4000 of their dreams are spending twice or more the money than what an X5000 will do out of the box at a much better speed.  

16. What do you make of the AmigaOS spin offs like MorphOS or AROS?
A. I don’t have a lot of experience with AROS. I do have a lot with MorphOS. I was one of the early users of it. I loved it so much that I sold my ultimate A3000T back just before the Pegasos II machines came out so I could get one. It’s a great OS and should be taken very serious. It every bit an Amiga in the sense of the way things are today as OS 4.1 is. I would say I use it nearly as much today as I do OS 4.1FE on my X5000. 

17. What do you see as the future for Amiga or Amiga like OS?
A. I would like to see the classic systems preserved for what they are. They are a big part of my life and that needs to be something to save. The future is not the classic machines. I think machines like the X5000 and the FPGA solutions are a great step in the future. The classics are not getting any younger and the custom chips are not available anymore. Once they are gone, they are gone. I want to see a complete and ACCURATE FPGA solution that can be plugged into something like the X5000 to give us the classic experience in hardware form and the ability to move ahead. I’d love to see the MorphOS team and the OS 4.1 team get together and build the ultimate modern OS solution. Both have amazing parts to them and together they would just be incredible! 

18. Any further comments to make?
A. The Amiga is a way of life and something those that have never owned one early on and grown up with them just cant explain to the younger generation today. Why do we love such old hardware and spend insane money to keep it alive and attempt to make it do things that a $50 computer can do in many ways faster and better? Well for me its from a time when computers were more than just a commodity item you got as a tool. The Amiga was my first experience talking with people from all over the world through a BBS or IRC. Its where I met my wife and many of my long time friends. I learned electronics and how things work through it and kept me feeling unique in a sea of plan beige boxes and boring software everyone else was using. Its part of my family and all of you that enjoy it and talk about it the same way online are just as much a part of my family as my real family is at times. I want to tank all of you for making this project possible. It would of never happened without you all and has spark new project that will keep the Amiga alive and well for years to come!!

Michael Holmes

Monday, 13 August 2018

Interview with Stefany Allaire

1. Hello and welcome from us at BlitterWolf. For our readers could you tell us your name, country and occupation please?
A. My name is Stefany Allaire and I was born in Quebec City in the province of Quebec, in Canada which makes me a French Canadian.  I presently reside in Vancouver, British Columbia. I started my career as an electronic technician which turned quickly in hardware design and the later years of my career, I got into FPGA programming and Mechanical Design.

2. Where did the inspiration for the C256 Foenix come from?
A. For a while now, I was going to get myself a C64 or C128, just to rekindle with my past I suppose. So, for some reasons, there was already a predisposition for me to get back into it. And then, the video from “The 8Bit guy” David Murray where is speaks of the “Gigagron TTL” computer happened. That was middle of April. He makes the review of a retro computer called the “Gigatron TTL” designed by 2 gentlemen from the Netherlands if I recall (don’t quote me on that).
So, at the end of the video David Murray makes the mention that all this time he has been reviewing all these different homemade computers, he never really came across the one he would have wanted. He finally tells the audience that he made a list on his website’s forum of the thing his dream computer should have. I proceed to take a look and there I decide to pursue the project. This is how the C256 Foenix project started for me. It was going to be another month before I really got into it.

3. Did you know from the start what you wanted to create, as in the specifications and the look of the machine?
A. Not really, however, I was in the right mind set to begin a new project and I was already in the retro mood. The early specifications were specified by David, so for me this was my base, my starting point. But it dawned on me quickly that what David wanted and this is my interpretation of it, was an enhanced C64; still compatible with the actual C64 but with more possibilities. And early on, in my first month of reflection that was a problem. Because I didn’t want to recreate a C64 with more features, I wanted to create something that would have followed the C128 but the capacity of an Amiga without going into full 16bits. So, some of what David wanted could be fulfilled but other stuff could not. He did mentioned also that FPGAs were not his preferred choice and an off the shelf solution for video would be preferred and this is one of the things I didn’t agree with. Because for me FPGAs could be considered as ASIC because this is what they are in the end and Commodore was very much into designing their own ASIC. So for me, FPGA made all the sense in the world to enhance the possibilities of the CPU and system in general and give an edge to video and audio. In the end, this internal FPGA discussion brought about the idea that the project should be about creating something that could have been designed by Commodore in the first place, if Jack didn’t leave Commodore. And from that moment, the whole project made sense and this is how I came about with my own specs (based heavily on what David wanted) and brought a spin on them.

4. Your slogan says "The C64/C128 long lost brother", in name only?
A. Well, like I previously mentioned, I thought that giving a twist to the design by forcing me into designing something from a different time or era would make sense, because things have changed so dramatically in the world of electronic since 1987, it’s insane. The goal was and is still to design something that could be considered the follow-up to the C128. What the next computer could have been if Jack Tramiel would have stayed with Commodore and that Amiga was never bought by Commodore considering that the C128 was not a very big success because of this idea of trying to please everybody with one architecture. Maybe, they would have decided to go clean room and reinvent what the next gen could have been and this is what the C256 Foenix is about, so in a way maybe it is more like the long lost sister! ;o)

5. Did you have any PCB schematics to work from as a starting point or is this built from the ground up?
A. Yes, everything was designed from ground up. I even decided to use a different EDA software suite than the one I was generally using. I used Eagle thinking that it would be easier to share the content, however, I came to realize that my design was going to be too big for the free edition and the standard paying version, so all in all, maybe not the best choice. Surprisingly enough, Eagle really grew on me. However, if Autodesk would not be the owner now, I think I would feel even better about it. I digress, however, aside the fact that used website like SNAPEDA to get the schematic symbols and PCB footprint. The schematic has been completely created by me.

The Product as of Today

6. Is the C256 going to be backward compatible with previous Commodore models and if so which ones?
A. The million dollars question, a straight answer to that question, is “no”. I believe that the C128 compatibility with the C64 is what limited the C128 and so I wasn’t going to repeat the same mistake being the successor to the C128. The C64 should have remained the C64 and the C128 ought to have been its own computer and thus this idea that anything design with Commodore in mind should be automatically compatible with the C64 because it has lots of game supporting it, is somewhat ludicrous to me. In the 1990’s there has been a lot of attempts for new computers and/or game platforms to come to the market and most of them failed and yes most of them was because of lack of software support. But in a lot of cases because there was a lack of time to develop new games and a lack of time to develop the right tools to support those game developers. And for me, this is the major point. I think people are ready to have a new retro platform with new games and my priority is to support the early adopters first. If you have games and it is easy to develop those games then we could see a major adoption of a new ‘old’ platform.

7. Why have you decided to call the project Foenix?
A. First, I realized quickly that if I was going to take David’s challenge seriously than there would be other and thus, I went and assume that some of them would take on the C256 name. So, to make sure that there would be no confusion with any other past or future C256 names reference to a hypothetical Commodore computer, I went with Phoenix for the fact that it is the computer that might have existed but then its rises from its ashes. So I think the image here is pretty clear. As far as the “F” is concern, well, I needed to make it mine, so Ste”F”any hence “F”oenix.

8. Have you always had a keen interest in hardware development?
A. Yes, actually the source of my interests in electronic and electronic hardware comes the C64. When I was 13, my dad bought a C64 for the family and back then I was residing in Rimouski, in Quebec province. Not a place you would write about, long and windy winter, short and windy summer. Anyhow, we just moved there and I had no friend, so I was bored. Now we are talking about 1984, so no internet or else. So, when the Commodore arrived, at first, I tried to do some things with it, but it was still very early, so there were not that many games and it is not like we could have access to those games anyway. But overtime, within one year of getting the computer we moved within the city and my brother one day brought back a game cartridge and this is where it really started for me. After a few months, we ended having a lot more games and I started hacking the games which I did many years till we moved again. I stopped doing it when I was 16, in the mean time I was doing some electronic stuff on the side.

9. Have you owned any Commodore computers in the past and if so which?
A. Yes, the C64 and that’s it. Unfortunately by the time the Amiga came around, I was already out of the C64 hacking scene and I never made the transition and by then, I was already doing stuff on the PC. A month ago, I got myself a C128 because at some point in time my brother trashed the family C64 and all the games we had (he didn’t tell me). Sad… snif…

10. Who is working on software development, such as the OS and any software, for the hardware?
A. Right now, few people have shown some interests in help with the low level stuff. As we speak, I think there is only Tom who is actively working on the firmware to create a Monitor/Text Editor for the machine. Others have shown interests in creating games and apps when the unit is ready. As soon as the FPGAs are done, I will join in for the Kernel section which is the most important to enable everybody else. Also with the FPGAs design done, then, all the documentations will be useful for developer as well. I think at this point, the biggest issue, is really to get a board and a board with programmed FPGA as soon as possible.

11. Do you intend future proofing the C256 by allowing for expansions, such as extra memory?
A. The C256 has an expansion connector and a cartridge connector. So, I believe that there are plenty of ways to go about making it better or to improve it. Memory wise, I think there will be plenty so, that won’t probably be necessary, so unless the end-user is really thirsty for it. Otherwise, the expansion connector could be used to implement different type of hardware that are more up to date, like an IDE interface, Wi-Fi module, USB, anything their heart desire.

12. What ports are going to be accessible externally?
A. External ports, we are talking about a 95% compatible USER Port (smaller connector though), RCA Stereo Line Output, Headphone with Amps Output, Midi-In, Midi-Out, DVI (D and A), Commodore 6 pins EIC Connector for the drives, then a extended version of the C64 pin compatible connector (smaller) with 64 pins that contains the 24Bits Address bus.

13. Do you have a roadmap for the C256 and possible future projects?
A. Good question, at some point in the design there was an idea to put 2 processors like the C128. In our case, it would have been the 65C816 and the MC68SHC000 in 8bit mode both running @ 16Mhz. So, if there was a follow up to the C256 maybe it could be either a dual processors version and/or to implement a real 16bit bus 65C816 into another FPGA, so to transform the C256 from 8bits to 16bits but to keep the same sound/graphics hardware. However, right now there are no plans whatsoever for any future model, obviously this is tied up to the fact that if there is no C256 that exists and thrive in the market, there is no point into making a successor.

14. Have you ever been a member of a computer group and if so when and where?
A. No, never… Never been much of a group person.

15. Did you have your most favourite played games on Commodore machines and what were/are they?
A. The games I enjoyed the most playing back in the day were mostly arcade games because while I was bored during my teenage years, close to the school there was an arcade which I spent all my money and my free time. So I got to enjoy first hand all today’s classic. As for the Commodore, I enjoyed mostly the early games like Jumpman and then there were a couple of game studios that were just making awesome games, like Epyx and Synapse that I really enjoy. But at the end of the day, I never have been much of a gamer. I would have way more fun cracking the game than to play with it! ;o)

16. Best computer system of all time for you?
A. Even if I never had one and never actually played with one or come close to touch one. I think Amiga is the computer of all time. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the C64 has played a major role in people’s life, but I think the Amiga was far ahead of its time and just set the bar to a level that just triggered everything else. So, in other words, I would say that people wise, I think the C64 has been a major game changer. In terms of technology, I think the Amiga was the computer that made the biggest difference.

17. Best computer game of all time for you?
A. I don’t have any specifics on that one. I would say that it is more like an era that made a different. So I would say, all the arcade games designed in the early 80s are the best games of all time.

18. What are your thoughts about what happened to Commodore?
A. Well, I think if Commodore would have not been so greedy and stupid (mostly from the time Jack left) they could easily be the actual Apple. They had everything to become one, but like I said, stupidity and greed just killed everything. I mean, I think Jack Tramiel was way more a visionary than Steve Jobs could ever be. I obviously don’t know the person, but I guess what he did was way more significant than Apple did, no offense to Apple fans here. Otherwise, there is very little we can say, since it is long gone!

19. Any further comments to make?
A. Well, not specifically, but I would like to thank you for giving me the chance to talk more about the project even it has been a bit overdue. Sorry about that. ;o) I hope that when the time comes people will enjoy this new “old” computer and will have as much fun with it that I got to design it and to make it happen!

Michael Holmes