AMIGA alive

AMIGA alive

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Building the TerribleFire TF530 accelerator board, part 5: Testing. More testing. And... happiness.

I'm learning new things about the TF530 almost daily...

Documentation is a problem when trying to build these accelerators: there's no place where you can quickly look up how to do something. Instead you have to dig through Stephen Leary's hour-long videos on YouTube, or a single endless thread on English Amiga Board, or ask in forums. Which is not a bad thing, but it's very inconvenient if you want to make progress. That's why I created some sort of "user manual" for the TerribleFire boards:

Anyway, what's happened since part 4 of this series?

Full setup with CF-adaptor and -card
Things were actually looking pretty good. I've been using a 24Mhz oscillator to build the board, and the original firmware (from a "rev. 2 final" GitHub checkout). But I wanted to rev up the board a little... Other people are using clockrates of 36, 40, or 50 Mhz. And then there are a couple of new revisions of the firmware. And in one or the other way these have to match. I've tried a 40MHz oscillator, and two other (apart from the original) versions of the firmware. Then there's the IDE controller. Simply plugging in an IDE cable - without any device attached! - changes the A500's behaviour in combination with the 40MHz oscillator. Exchanging the 1.3 Kickstart ROM for a 3.1 one made a difference once again. Lots of testing, and lots of glitches, and more testing, and more glitches: mousepointer uncontrollable, random crashes, boot picture gone, ...

It seems that the 33Mhz 68030 doesn't like overclocking very much - but with a 32MHz oscillator (33Mhz oscillators seem to be rare), it now runs stable! I expect a few more issues - like checking RAM soldering points - but for now I declare it "working fine". It boots quickly from the 512MB CompactFlash card attached, and with the additional 2MB of RAM on the TF530 and the new 3.1 Kickstart ROM the A500 is now an up-to-date, very usable Amiga!

Yesss! I am __very__ happy with it. :-)

SysInfo speed test with the 32MHz oscillator installed
Nice to have: an LED on the CF-card-adaptor

An "in progress" conclusion

From a personal perspective, I can say that I've learned a lot. I mean: A LOT. Stephen Leary's videos give a huge amount of information, and by building the accelerator I've expanded my set of tools, improved my soldering skills, and gained some knowledge about the parts used. Overall, for me it's a huge step forward in understanding the inner workings of Amiga computers, the TF530, and electronics in general.

And of course the Amiga 500 got a huge update, it's a completely different machine now. For a very reasonable (money-wise) price.

So the whole process is a massive success for me. :-)

No outside signs of the changes on the inside... :-)

Still, there are a few things to keep in mind about the TF530 accelerator and the build process: First of all it takes an insane amount of time to build, if you don't know what you're doing beforehand. I certainly didn't. There was a lot of research involved, on all levels. Secondly, the TF530 is clearly not an industrial-grade product: it's an "in progress" project, a moving target. You have several options when it comes to CPU and oscillator, and these have some interdependence with the firmware releases, which are still going on. The physical layout of the TF530 isn't perfect, you (may) need a relocator board to fit it into your Amiga, you (may) need to use specific connectors, and still it fits only barely between the Amigas other components and casing. For example, adding a Kickstart-switch may turn out to be quite difficult now with the TF530 in place.

But all these quirks don't change a simple fact:

It's effin' great! 

Thank you, Mr. Stephen Leary!

Thank you very, very much for sharing,
and lighting up the fire - the TerribleFire!

So far, so good. I currently consider this to be the last entry in my little series about building the TerribleFire 530 accelerator board. But who knows. And there's so much more to do... maybe a TF328?

Overview and back catalogue of the series:

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The passion. The scandal. The truth?

Is this the bomb everybody was hoping wouldn't go off? Looking back on the last months of phase 5 digital products' public relations.

As you might have seen on this website, on facebook, on YouTube, or on one of the numerous other news outlets, phase 5 digital products have announced several new products, and they have done so for what seems to be a very long period of time. Developing and releasing a highly complex hardware add-on for the Amiga (or any other) computer requires a ridiculous amount of knowledge and time. Everyone who has tried - and hopefully succeeded in - bringing his/her product to marketability knows the many different steps necessary to reach this goal. phase 5 have released tiny bits of information - pictures of individual parts, unpopulated PCBs, artwork, etc. - over the last year, keeping interest high and eyebrows raised. But Amigans asked for more than just tiny bits: suspicion was also raised, due to the lack of hard proof of the existence of the new devices everyone was so eagerly waiting for.

Two events seemed to change the situation, the cat-and-mouse game of announcements and curiosity: first, the release of a list of new products, with some specification-, pre-ordering- and pricing-information, and later the Amiga32 event in Neuss, Germany, on Oct. 28th 2017, where phase 5 were expected to "finally" (in the eyes of many Amigans) show some working BlizzardPPC-2 boards, or any other of their new developments.

To my knowledge, Mr. Salvador Fernandez Gomez of phase 5 briefly attended the Amiga32 event, brought with him some unpopulated PCBs, and talked to some people, among which was Mr. John "Chucky" Hertell.

The passion

The year is 2017, it's been 32 years since the Amiga was born. Everyone who's using an Amiga computer nowadays has some individual reasons for doing so, but we all share some of the motivation: a deep passion for the nostalgia we associate with the Amiga, from back in the golden days when it ruled the world, and an equally deep, and lasting, respect for the technical achievement of it's creators. With phase 5 representing the spearhead of Amiga hardware development in the mid to late 1990s, every Amigan was instantly on the edge of his/her seat, jaw dropped, when receiving the news of phase 5 being back in business again in 2016/2017.

We've been through rough times, we've taken a lot of s**t from PC and Mac users, we couldn't play DOOM for quite some time - but with the retro movement that's going on for a couple of years now, with the Vampire accelerators out and growing in numbers, and phase 5 announcing updated and new "classic" pieces of hardware the future never looked better.

We've waited for almost 20 years - no surprise the Amiga community reacts with borderline insane eagerness and curiosity to these announcements from the former kings of Amiga hardware.

The scandal

Mr. John "Chucky" Hertell is a highly respected Amiga user. He's a hardware guru like very few others, he builds stuff that lesser Amiga-mortals can only dream of. And he's one of the administrator of the biggest Amiga-related group on facebook.

Somehow, around easter this year, Mr. Hertell managed to purchase two unpopulated BlizzardPPC-2 PCBs directly from Mr. Salvador Fernandez Gomez of phase 5. He had asked for unpopulated, production-run-quality boards, waiving support and warranty. He received them, which probably makes him the first person outside of phase 5 to hold any of their new products (or: part of these) in his very hands. 

Being a highly skilled Amiga-electronics expert, he started populating one of these boards, at least to some degree, so he would be able to see at least part of the (un-)finished product in action. He recently presented the results of his work on the boards in a facebook-livestream (which can now be watched on YouTube). Now he also published his experience, including his correspondence with Mr. Salvador Fernandez Gomez regarding the issue, on his blog website.

His discovery is staggering: There is - very simply put - no electrical current flow on the new BlizzardPPC-2 PCBs he had received. They're missing essential, vital connections between electrical ground (GND) points, which are the outlets for electrical current. Without an outlet there cannot be any flow. Complex circuits have plenty of ground points, and modern multi-layer PCBs dedicate a complete layer/plane to grounding, to which these points are connected. It looks as if the BlizzardPPC-2 PCBs he had received are missing the entire ground layer/plane.

The truth?

Is ugly. Up to the Amiga32 event in Neuss, the mood had already been poisoned by what looks like false announcements by phase 5 to many, and countless harsh, sometimes downright disturbing comments by Amigans. But Mr. Hertell's experience took it to a new level. Now even derogative pictures showing Mr. Gomez are popping up. Being an administrator of the biggest Amiga-related group on facebook puts Mr. Hertell in a special position, which now has resulted in a lifetime ban of Mr. Gomez from this group (and probably others).

Did Mr. Hertell break the boards he had received? Very unlikely, close to impossible. Did he make a mistake testing the boards? Nah, comeon, he's the man, he builds stuff like this.


...did Mr. Gomez expect Mr. Hertell not to find out? Would Mr. Gomez take the risk and send something that's not even working on the most basic level to one of the highest skilled Amiga experts out there? Who, on top of that, is also one of the administrators of the biggest Amiga-related facebook-group?

Don't be ridiculous. This wouldn't make any sense, even if Mr. Gomez would be planning a blatant fraud since day one.

We know some facts, and judging from these facts there is really not much we can look forward to, phase-5-wise. (Or... is there?) What's disturbing is the fact that for Mr. Gomez it would be so easy to clear his name from any suspicion: A photograph of phase 5's production. Or of some working boards. Where's that Blizzard 560? AmigaONE-1200? Pretty much anything will do.

But some may have forgotten: Mr. Gomez and phase 5 do not owe us anything. Everything they announce or promise is up to them. We have no right to demand. We can, and should, and have to keep our eyes open, and our money safe. Every day, and everywhere. But some Amigans are crossing the line between caution, and impudence. There's a lot of passion involved - sometimes too much.

Let's hope Mr. Hertell and Mr. Gomez are able to resolve their issues. It really shouldn't be that hard. Mr. Hertell's experience speaks loud and clearly. But it still leaves (a little) room for interpretation.

Apart from this incident, has any person suffered any loss from any of phase 5's current ( pun intended... ­čśë ) actions? Probably not, and even in this case it can still be resolved.

Let's not make it uglier than it already is.
Let's hope Mr. Gomez proves all the naysayers wrong.

The truth about phase 5?
Time will show.
And we will watch closely.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

Please keep in mind that the opinions expressed here are purely my personal feelings and observations. I'm in no way affiliated with Mr. Hertell, Mr. Gomez, or phase 5 digital products.

Please report errors in the above article by leaving a comment, so they can be corrected.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Demoscene: Nerve Axis on TV in 1998 / "Relic" live

Now this has to be a unique, and one of the rarest pieces of Amiga history ever: demo group "Nerve Axis" gets visited by TV channel ".tv" ("dot TV")!

This took place in 1998, after they had released they had won the Assembly 1997 demo competition with "Pulse" demo, and were working on the successor called "Relic".

This is probably the only time in history a TV team visits an Amiga demo group at home, at work.

(Are you aware of any other such occasion? Please leave a comment below!)

Today of course we all know that "Relic" went on to win the Assembly 1998, and became a legend in it's own right. It's a demo of biblical proportions, and it's destruction sequence is unparalleled to this day.

Thanks to YouTube we can relive the moment this got presented to the public:

For perfect quality it's of course best watched live on your AGA Amiga. :-)

But if you don't have one handy right now, and you don't mind Amiga-emulation (WinUAE), here's another hi-quality version:

Huuuuge respect and thanks to Nerve Axis for their amaaaazing work!


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Gaming news: Elfie the Unicorn, Heroes of Gorluth, Tales of Gorluth II

New games! Amiworx and Amiga68K-Productions have some new stuff waiting for you classic Amiga gaming aficionados.

"Tales of Gorluth" by Amiworx got some sort of sequel by the name of "Heroes of Gorluth". It's an action adventure platformer, and claims to have some interesting NPC interaction, boss battles, lots of action, and high quality graphics and sound. It's available as digital download, and CD-ROM edition, which is limited to 300 copies, and requires a 68020 CPU, ECS/AGA, and 2MB RAM. You can get a glimpse of it's epicness over at:

"Tales of Gorluth II", it's predecessor, which you can still purchase on CD-ROM, now is also available as a super-affordable digital download version:!/Tales-of-Gorluth-II-DIGITAL-DOWNLOAD/p/96528705/category=0

Finally, "Elfie the Unicorn" is a cute new game for kids by Amiga68K-Productions. It's a Gianna-sisters style jump-and-run game made especially for the developer's daughters, and requires a 14Mhz CPU, ECS/AGA, 2MB and Kickstart 3.0 or higher. "Elfie the Unicorn" is still in production - more testing/balancing, new difficulty levels, and maybe new levels will be done - but you can already download a beta version, and it's free:


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Building the TerribleFire TF530 accelerator board, part 4: Software and Installation

Handling ~40GB of downloaded installation archives is not for the squeamish. And I built the M68000 CPU socket connector. And then there comes the moment of truth.

Disclaimer: This is not an instruction. Use at your own risk. No responsibility taken for whatever you do. Safety first. Kids, dont try this at home. 

That's what she looks after cleaning.

Now that I have a complete TF530, it's time to upload the firmware to the Xilinx CPLDs. Wow, Xilinx really offers a lot of software for download. (And US export regulations are weird.) Picking an older, smaller (3.5GB) version of Xilinx ISE for Linux from their website didn't work out, does not recognize my Diligent-based "Xilinx Platform Cable USB" JTAG interface. Trying Windows version, no success.

Nope, this one wouldn't do the job. Need more software.

Next Linux version (8.0GB) didn't work, too. Trying Windows version, no success. I've downloaded about 25GB so far... Well, long story short: A few days and a few more versions later, namely 14.6, there's a new button in Xilinx ISE's GUI: Diligent USB device. Yay. Finally. Job done, nerves wrecked.

Connecting the JTAG cable, and uploading the firmware then worked flawlessly.

Plug it in!

I'll be installing the TF530 into an Amiga 500. The TF530 has to be connected to the M68000 CPU socket on the mainboard. My first thoughts were to build something using wires, but that would leave the TF530 floating around the Amiga's casing, requiring some support. So I decided to go with the "68000 Relocator" board and build some connector from standard 2.54mm-grid pin headers soldered to it. The CPU socket on the mainboard is pretty flat, and it turns out that when using these pin headers you have to solder them to the "68000 Relocator" just at the tip, lifting up the board from the CPU socket as far as possible. And of course we don't want to damage the CPU socket by inserting wide pins into the very narrow CPU-pin slots, so the pin headers need some filing! Only next time I will do the filing before soldering the TF530 to the Relocator board, saves a lot of cleaning... But I'm quite pleased with the results, and it looks as if I can still - should I ever need to do so - put the M68000 CPU back into the socket and it's pins will make proper contact.

Final step of installation is to connect the TF530's "A500" header to the Amiga 500's expansion port. "OVR" to pin 17, and "INT2" to pin 19. A small 2-pin header can (and probably should) be installed there, to be able to unplug the TF530 and the wires. I created it from two individual pins, because the distance between the soldering points on the mainboard is less than 2.54mm. Now that we have pin headers on both ends, a connector cable with two individual plugs on one end and a 2-pin-plug on the other, will certainly come in handy.

The INT2/OVR header, and building the connector cable.
What's left to do? Nothing!

Turn it on!

I have to admit this is quite a moment. I started this journey about nine months ago. This is the moment of truth. I'll have a bottle of cold beer ready to go. With a display and the PSU connected, I'm powering up the Amiga...

The TF530 fully installed. Will it work?


...nothing. Black screen. No floppy clicks.

Maybe we should install some jumper at "CLOCKSEL".
Let's try again.

And...'s alive!

Now where's that bottle of beer?

Next time we'll see how she really does - watch out for part 5 of our series "Building the TerribleFire TF530 accelerator board"!

Overview and back catalogue of the series:

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Web browsers: iBrowse 2.5 news & Voyager goes GPL

It wasn't a hoax: IBrowse lives! In April 2017 we reported news about iBrowse being (still?) actively developed (again?), and a few days ago the iBrowse page was updated with more information. Additionally, Voyager web browser has resurfaced with a GPL source code release!

The changes in iBrowse 2.5 are too numerous too list, but here are some highlights:

- PPC native version for AmigaOS 4.1
- AmiSSL v4, and MUI 4 & MUI 5 support
- OpenSearch support, allowing search engines to be added to iBrowse's search bar
- support for large files/downloads (>4GB, AmigaOS 4)
- updates to the HTTP, HTML and JavaScript engines
- updates to TextEditFields, disk caching, cookie handling, password manager, etc.
- various bugfixes

iBrowse 2.5 hasn't been released to the public yet, but the authors are working hard on re-establishing the process of obtaining a keyfile for users. iBrowse 2.5 will be shown at the upcoming AmiWest and Amiga32 shows.

Voyager, the third of the three classic "big" Amiga webbrowsers (the others being iBrowse and AWeb), has been made available as GPL'd source code. With Voyager's source code released we can hope to see Voyager being updated, and/or ported to other platforms soon, namely to AROS.

See links/sources below for more details.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Apollo Team Activity Report: GOLD 2.7 core, GOLD 3 core, Vampire V4

Apollo team has released an activity report on their forum website, addressing some current issues, like the halted Vampire V2 600 production, as well as ongoing new developments.

Some highlights from their report:

- GOLD 2.7 includes faster IDE, hardware sprites, optimized rewrite of RTG graphics driver, MapROM functionality, hybrid software/hardware FPU, HyperThreading, and more

- GOLD 2.7 core will be available for Vampire V2 500, V2 600, and V4

- GOLD 3 will bring AGA support to OCS/ECS Amigas, and seems to be routing Paula-audio to the HDMI output

- a list of non-Amiga website reports about the Vampire V4, which boldly shows that the outside world does take notice

Judging from the list of new features of the GOLD 2.7 core users can expect a major overall increase in performance.

Especially the Apollo core's current lack of an FPU is a crucial difference to "real" M68k based accelerators (with an FPU), but it looks as these days will soon be gone. It'll be interesting how the other manufacturers of accelerator boards will react to this - namely: phase 5 - as they now have some serious competition when it comes to floating-point number crunching.

Again, Apollo team has given us some spectacular report on their progress. Together with the latest phase 5 announcements this makes 2017 probably the most exciting Amiga year since the turn of the millenium!