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Your own early 90s dream retro computer


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So, heavily inspired by @Kalvan's post (or maybe even a "rip-off"), but 90s tech is what faschinates me the most during the "retro" era of computing and game systems.

But instead of 70s/80s computers, why not make it from the beginning of 1990s, where Sega Genesis and SNES were in brutal battle at full force, fighting each other in the most brutal way possible.

Well... I carried away with that post, so I decided to simplify things.

So, here's my dream early 90s computer, probably around 1993-1994.

 

CPU: Intel 486DX2 at 66/33 Mhz (later models would use 486DX4)

RAM: 16MB (expandable to 64MB or 4GB via expansion slots)

Video Card: Eh, that's a tough question to answer, so I'll go with something customized, much like here with X16's VERA, but a bit more powerful, like 1056 colors out of around 65536 available colors to choose from. It would preferably have 5 layers (each layer supporting up to 256 sprites), smooth scrolling, parallax scrolling, inter-sprite collision detection, transparency support, 512kB main VRAM (expandable to 1.5MB) with 1MB sprite VRAM and 256kB text VRAM, aspect ratio of either 4:3 or 16:9, a resolution of 800x600 and everything from 4x4 to 512x512 pixel sprites. Each layer can be in either text, tile or bitmap mode. Text mode should support a lot of common character keys like Latin, Extended Latin, Cyrillic, Greek, Japanese characters, etc., as well as characters very reminiscent of PETSCII. The max numbers of tiles would be 1812. Optionally, something similar to SuperFX with 32X capabilities (rendering 150,000 polygons per second) and its own RAM (probably 2.5MB RAM for 3D, 5MB RAM for 2D graphics, you can use them simultaneously) and allow 18-bit colors on this system (with 123,736 colors displayed at once from a palette of 262,144 colors to choose from) would also be nice, though later models would have those built in. I'd like to call it "Advanced Video Alternative Reality", acronymed as "AVAR".

Sound CPU: a clone of Zilog Z280 at 2.41Mhz

Sound: 3xYM2610B (yup, the Neo Geo/Taito arcade sound chip, I even selected three of these to paritally make up the inferior quantity of FM sound channels to YM2151) paired with YM3012 DACs, 4xSID 6581 (via 16v8 SLD), a Seta X1-010, a speech synthesizer chip and National Semiconductor LMC1992. You can also use CD-DA tracks in games as well, in parallel to YM, LMC, Seta and SID chips, at the same time, since most games would probably come with a cartridge, plus an accompanying CD disc. Optionally, you can put a daughterboard containing YM2151, YM3812 and SN76489. It would be cool to have a special effects chip to not only have YM, SID, Seta, SN, LMC1992 and CD-DA sounds to go through, but to support a wide range of digital effects including reverb, delay, echo, flanging, chorusing, reverse reverb, reverse echo, ducking, ring modulation, exciter, harmonizing, equalization, and distortion (hard clipping, fuzz or soft clipping, or a combination of those), and to be capable of generating multiple effects simultaneously, plus to force 5.1 surround sound to all audio.

Sound RAM: 1.5MB (expandable to 16.5MB)

Sound ROM: 6MB

Media: a 1.44MB 3.5 inch floppy disk (or floptical if possible), 2x CD-ROM with playback of CD-DA and even a cartridge slot. Optionally, a LaserDisc ROM (a bit equivlent to BBC Master) would be great, as well as playback of MUSE Hi-Def and normal NTSC and PAL LaserDiscs if possible. Plus, you can in theory use all the sound channels (analog and digital) from LD/LD-ROM and mix with other sounds as well, or even doing the same with graphics. You can even pair it with Pioneer LaserRecorder and Recordable Laser Videodisc WORM technology, even all three simutaniously. Perhaps, my dream computer should even support Roland MT-32, so it would have MIDI input and output as well.

OS: Again, tough question, so let's start with UNIX System V Release 4, with BSD 4.3 extensions. Then, we'll build an original GUI based on Motif and X11, plus a C shell. And a very advanced and sophisticated dialect of BASIC would be great.

It should have PCMICA slot, have PS/2-compatible keyboard and mouse, seven expansion slots, and output for VGA, S-Video, Composite, SCART, TV/RF (with Channel 3/4/5 switch), 3x EXT SYNC (for genlocking), headphones and microphones, Ethernet, telephone jack and TOSLINK. SNES-style gamepad and Atari-style joysticks are fine too, espeically if they had a pause button.

It would be cool to have a purple motherboard, a la PE6502.

Carbon-reinforced black plastic instead of ABS (so my dream computer won't yellow) on case, monitor and keyboard, with the curved edge inspired by Streamline Moderne would be awesome.

Lastly, it should be able to convert different voltages so it can be used in Japan, Europe, Canada, USA, etc. without the need of anything external.

 

 

What is YOUR dream retro computer of early 1990s?

 

Edited by xanthrou
grammar
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My dream computers existed in the early/mid 90's, was just talking about them in a different thread, Silicon Graphics machines were high on my list of wants but could never own. Significantly too expensive for what I wanted back then. haha

As for my own dream home computer, I was lucky enough to own what I considered the "best"  for me. At that point, I was building my own machines and upgrading whenever possible. That's where a LOT of my money went at the time. I was a bit...obsessed. haha

An Intel Pentium based PC, 16 to 32MB+ of RAM, and a Sound Blaster AWE32/AWE64 Gold. Must has 1.44 floppy and optical drive. DOS and Windows were my OS of choice since it's what everything was made for. I really liked Windows 95.

The video card... also more difficult for me, as I owned several. I really had no "brand loyalty", I liked ATI, Nvidia, and 3DFX through the 90's, as long as it did what I wanted. Many of my cards were ATI and 3DFX through that time frame, I didn't own many Nvidia cards.

Good times. 🙂

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Xanthrou, your design feels like the the chipset revision the FM Towns Fresh/II/FMV Towns should have been but sadly wasn't.  It also works as high-end (for the time) arcade hardware turned into a professional workstation, much like my Eighties concept.  That said, for the sound CPU I would have used a Zilog Z280 at double the clock speed, so that the sound chips could reach closer to their potential relative to the rest of the chipset.

As for my ideal Nineties computer, well, it would probably be a further evolution of my proposed Eighties computer featuring a MIPS R4200 or better.  Realizing that would probably demand at least an FPGA Arcade Replay Board 2 for prototyping...

Edited by Kalvan
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My ear!y 90s was using a C64 for word processing in my apartment and PCs in the computer lab for spreadsheets, then for a brief period a hand me down Kaypro IV for access to the University timeshare, then an Amstrad PPC640 for word processing and spreadsheets and C programming. So I reckon if I add a fast Z80 CP/M card to a CX16, I'd be pretty much covered for any residual early 90s nostalgia.

 

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On 2/18/2021 at 1:16 AM, Kalvan said:

Xanthrou, your design feels like the the chipset revision the FM Towns Fresh/II/FMV Towns should have been but sadly wasn't.  It also works as high-end (for the time) arcade hardware turned into a professional workstation, much like my Eighties concept.  That said, for the sound CPU I would have used a Zilog Z280 at double the clock speed, so that the sound chips could reach closer to their potential relative to the rest of the chipset.

As for my ideal Nineties computer, well, it would probably be a further evolution of my proposed Eighties computer featuring a MIPS R4200 or better.  Realizing that would probably demand at least an FPGA Arcade Replay Board 2 for prototyping...

Yeah, the Z280 makes more sense. But nice dream computer you've got. It has grunt and would beat the competition in 80s.

I'd call my dream computer "Győr Acronyx". 

Didn't realize that my dream computer shares a huge similarity with FM Towns II. (Though the music would sound like a hybrid of Neo-Geo AES, Commodore 64 and Amiga)

But yeah, my computer was made to function as a workstation for professional use (especially with Laserdiscs) and as a high-end arcade-quality gaming machine simultaneously. (Google YM2610 and click on Wikipedia for specs) I made sure however, that everything is expandable, even sound and CPU speed. You could add an optional daughterboard with more Yamaha chips (containing YM3812 and YM2151), a SN76489 and 1 more SID chip. (While not a lot of games would support that, probably around 120 or less as the built-in triple YM2610B combined with quad SID, Seta X1-010 and LMC1992 would just destroy everything and are good enough, those that do support that would have a monster sound.) As for the CPU, you can add an accelerator to speed up your 486DX2 without changing your processor. As for the 3D video card addon, not only it gives my dream computer 3D graphics, but also 18-bit RGB colors for both 2D and 3D, let's reiterate that 2.5MB RAM for 3D, 5MB RAM for 2D graphics with 123,736 colors displayed at once from a palette of 262,144 colors to choose from, you can use them simultaneously (plus having exact same other things the base AVAR has, like 6 layers, 256 sprites per layer, etc.), which is perhaps must-own (And have that built in in later models), probably a lot of games would support it since its release.

1892945371_AVARPalette.png.a669f78d72bbd25671490a196f080de3.png.256d563634a94ac58a78dc199e5e6733.png

 

(I searched an appropriate 512-color palette in the internet for AVAR and found the Deluxe Paint for Amiga one, so I decided to make a 1056-color palette based on that. I know, kinda strange looking, but with these you can make an amazing pixel art. A portion of colors are taken from X11 colors, as well as Commodore 64 and NES. Note that the last color, on bottom right, is transparent. Again, this is the default palette and you can redefine it however you like.)

And one thing, according to you, how would my dream computer do in the marketplace if it existed back then?

Edited by xanthrou
AVAR palette
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7 hours ago, BruceMcF said:

My ear!y 90s was using a C64 for word processing in my apartment and PCs in the computer lab for spreadsheets, then for a brief period a hand me down Kaypro IV for access to the University timeshare, then an Amstrad PPC640 for word processing and spreadsheets and C programming. So I reckon if I add a fast Z80 CP/M card to a CX16, I'd be pretty much covered for any residual early 90s nostalgia.

 

Aha, you took that idea from my Z80 expansion board for FPGA SID and CP/M, didn't you? (Can't blame you if you did, glad that you appreciated it)

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Amazes me that so many people stayed on Commodore and other systems so long into the 90's. I was on the Commodore train for a very long time, my very last system was the Amiga 2000 HD (mine had dual 1.44, a 5.25 floppy, and a 50'something MB hard drive on a card), and I loved that thing. Was still using it into the early 90's. My main holdout was the sound and graphics quality and overall gaming experience.

amiga2000.jpg.f85a841d3ffab4a8644c5c119a876e77.jpg

For me though, once I moved to DOS/IBM PCs' I never looked back, except for nostalgia. Once those machines could "game" like I wanted and I could build it all myself, it was over. That all started happening for me in the very late 80's and by 1990, I had moved almost all my daily use to a 486 based machine. I still had a C64, Amiga 500, the 2000 HD, and a few other computers, but I had all but stopped using them.

In fact, the only computer I bought outside the traditional IBM style back then was the Tandy 1000. I really liked that machine as well. Kept it around a long time too. haha

Edited by Strider
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I was in love with my Amiga 500.

Replaced after a few years with a A4000.  This thing lasted me until about halfway into the 90's because I fully kitted it out with cpu accelerator, VGA graphics card, cd-rom (I played MYST on the miggy), network card .  PC came after that but this was late enough in the 90's so that the first one I bought was a pentium-II 300Mhz with windows 95 so I completely skipped MSDOS

I would have loved to see an Amiga with the actual "AAA" graphics they envisioned originally but which was severely cut back into "AGA", but alas, Commodore screwed up

 

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1 hour ago, desertfish said:

I was in love with my Amiga 500.

Replaced after a few years with a A4000.  This thing lasted me until about halfway into the 90's because I fully kitted it out with cpu accelerator, VGA graphics card, cd-rom (I played MYST on the miggy), network card .  PC came after that but this was late enough in the 90's so that the first one I bought was a pentium-II 300Mhz with windows 95 so I completely skipped MSDOS

I would have loved to see an Amiga with the actual "AAA" graphics they envisioned originally but which was severely cut back into "AGA", but alas, Commodore screwed up

For a while there, I had quite a few different machines running other than my main "DOS/Windows" PC. Mainly Commodore/Amiga and Tandy machines. By that point, I was picking up "obsolete" computers I had missed out on earlier, just to play with them. I had a good job and could afford to indulge, while in the 80's, I was still in school, and those computers we so expensive. By the 90's you could pick them up second-hand for pennies on the dollar. 

I really liked DOS, not really sure why, even when I had Windows installed I was still spending most of my time in DOS. It was Windows 95 that started to slowly pull me out of it, that, and support for most games was slowly moving out of DOS.

I would have loved to have seen Commodore survive as well. The Amiga line of computers were so far ahead of most of the other home offerings, at least in my opinion. Like I said, I loved their graphical and sound quality, and it would indeed have been cool to see large developer support for "AAA" games on the platform. If it had only survived...

I was actually torn between my love for my Amiga and moving to "PC". They both had pros and cons, but like I said above, the fact I could build/upgrade my PC and trick it out to make it do what I wanted sealed the deal. I am a very hands on hardware guy. Software and coding was fun, though I am not very good at it and have not done it in years, my love was in the hardware. Some people liked fast powerful cars, I liked fast powerful computers.

😛

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The biggest mistake computer companies made in the 70s an 80s was to ignore software and backward compatibility. Tandy killed themselves by making Model 1 and Model 2 incompatible. How hard would it have been to make the VIC-20 run Pet software? Apple Macintosh would have been more successful early on if they had included an Apple ][e on a chip and allowed it to boot into Apple ][ mode like Commodore did with the C64/C128. The TED machines flopped because they had no software and were no more capable than the C64. Atari ST and Amiga also struggled because they began with very little software.

The second mistake was to delay networking. Computers are far more valuable when connected. Commodore was closest to getting it right when they connected a bunch of Pets to a pair of disk drives. Acorn's tube architecture for connecting multiple processors was brilliant. It should have been ubiquitous. It would also have helped with the new-machine-no-software problem.

There is no reason Amiga's indirect color palette could not have existed in every video display interface built in 1979, or even earlier. Three ubiquitous 7489 chips and some glue will give you 16 of 4096 colors with a simple circuit. There is no excuse for CGA's grotesque colors.

Higher resolution video was hampered by the cost of memory and because we didn't know how to deal with EMI at the frequencies we needed. Memory was starting to get cheap enough by 1980 to allow 640x480, but higher resolutions needed purpose built-monitors and high-bandwidth cables. Only purchasers of high-end CAD workstations could afford the extra expense.

Atari ST made a hit by including MIDI ports in the base machine: Another win for ubiquitous connectivity.

Specify high-quality capacitors in every design. Every battery that could explode or leak is isolated on its own board and placed where it cannot destroy critical circuits.

 

1975:

  • homebrew 6502 with 4-16k RAM (code name: uqim)
  • split ortholinear keyboard (like keyboard.io Atreus)
  • video interface like Processor Tech's VDM-1
  • Kansas City cassette interface
  • receipt printer for hard copy: write fixed-point budget software to manage family finances.

1976:

  • Turn the main board of the previous system into a controller for a SA-400 mini-floppy.  (code name: Kepler)
  • Build a new main board with more RAM. (code name: Archimedes)
  • Connect the two with RS-485 interface, (call it CFLL: common fast local link. code name: Hermes - god of travelers, messenger of the gods.) similar to Commodore's IEC serial port, with a packet-oriented protocol that generalizes to more than just disk drives. Makes SCSI and ATA unnecessary. Vastly simplifies OS code because everyone writes to the same API and most of the work is done by the interface card.
  • Build a Z-80 card that will run CP/M (code name: Zeus). Create my own CP/M replacement -- called Ubiqs -- that will also run on 6502
  • Buy an Apple I and adapt Zeus to it. Create a CFLL card.
  • create a plotter to help me design and produce PCBs.
  • Improve the cassette interface to include motor control. Write code to copy data between disk and cassette. (Sell this to software houses for duplication, and/or offer software publishing as a service myself.)

1977:

  • Write VisiCalc for Apple ][, CP/M, and Ubiqs (Yes, I know: VisiCalc wasn't released until May 1979. As long as I am dreaming, I may as well dream of writing a killer app.)
  • Use the profit from VisiCalc sales to fund hardware development.
  • adapt Zeus to Apple ][
  • create CFLL cards for Apple ][, S-100, and TRS-80.
  • I'm not sure whether it would be easier to port CP/M VisiCalc to TRS-80 or to adapt Zeus to run inside. I might do either or both.
  • maybe adapt Archimedes to run inside a TRS-80 as an attached processor. (Will run VisiCalc/Ubiqs)
  • Sell standalone disk drives with Kepler board and 4 CFLL ports as a universal NAS. (code name: Euclid) (think: Commodore disk drive that will attach to any computer via CFLL.) Apple ][ users need not wait for Disk ][ (mid 1978). Schools and businesses can easily share files between TRS-80, CP/M, PET, and Apple computers.

1978:

  • adapt Zeus to Commodore PET. adapt CFLL card to PET.
  • add 2.4 GHz wireless capability to CFLL cards - create WIFI standard with encryption and zero-knowledge authentication built into the base protocol.
  • develop video display card with capabilities similar to Commodore 64 (code name: Astro)
  • develop a sound/MIDI board (code name: Rosie). Dedicated audio RAM much like video RAM on VERA. 8-bit stereo DAC and ADC. 4-voice synth with ADSR modulation.
  • prototype 8086 compute engine to attach to my main board the same way Zeus does. (code name: Hades - programming the 8086 seems like living in the underworld, but 64k is getting cramped for the applications I want to build, so we deal with it until the 68000 is ready.)
  • port VisiCalc to Hades.

1979:

  • sell Hades as an accelerator for VisiCalc. UI and I/O runs on the host computer, compute happens in Hades as in Acorn "tube".
  • finally release Archimedes workstation to the public with Astro, Rosie, Zeus, Hades
  • Update NAS to support hard disks and RAID. This will be a boon to software companies everywhere.

1980:

  • develop upgraded video display card with VGA-level capabilities (code name: Elroy). Video input for frame grabber and genlock.
  • develop a digital RGB monitor to go with Elroy (code name: Iris)
  • develop upgraded sound/MIDI board (code name: Judy). 16-bit DAC and ADC.
  • release 8086-based workstation (code name: Ptolemy) with Judy. Includes 6502 processor to run all legacy software. Runs CP/M software under Ubiqs. 80-column Astro video display for fast text. Elroy and Iris add-on for those who can afford it.
  • (also at November Comdex) release Ptolemy all-in-one luggable like the Osborne 1 with a 9-inch CRT. Designed to fit size requirements for carry-on luggage. (code name: Rubius -- reminds me of Hagrid. big and awkward, but also strong and friendly.)
  • create CFLL card for Apple /// (if the Apple ][ version doesn't work)

1981:

  • 68000 compute engine (code name: Poseidon - as the waters cover the earth...) cf. DTACK Grounded.
  • bull case: IBM licenses Ubiqs instead of MS-DOS (which came from Seattle Computer Products. Oh. Maybe I should *buy* SCP.)
  • CFLL card for VIC-20, IBM PC
  • adapt Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon to attach to IBM PC (Why Hades? To make IBM look silly. It will already be more powerful than the PC. But it works: the host computer is just a terminal, and the software has already had 2 years to mature running in older 8-bit hosts.)

1982:

  • 68000 workstation (code name: Copernicus)
  • Ptolemy-based laptop with LCD screen (code name: Albus)
  • CFLL card for C-64 (would the VIC-20 version work unmodified?)
  • adapt Archimedes, Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon to attach to C-64
  • 2-D raster graphics accelerator (blitter) (code name: Demeter - goddess of agriculture. Think: rows of grain)
  • Create laser printer and launch desktop publishing industry.

1983:

  • create CFLL card for Apple Lisa. It won't matter, but I should do it anyway.

1984:

  • create CFLL card for Apple Macintosh (Experience I have gained with hard disks and RAID will make NAS users very happy and Apple hard drive sellers very sad.)
  • compute engine based on ARM or ARM-like core (code name: Galileo) The new low-power RISC chips will be important for the next big leap. Motorola and Intel will be sad. The new engine will plug in seamlessly to the architecture I developed over the previous eight years.


 

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18 hours ago, xanthrou said:

Aha, you took that idea from my Z80 expansion board for FPGA SID and CP/M, didn't you? (Can't blame you if you did, glad that you appreciated it)

Nah, mate, I wanted a proper Z80 on an 80 column Commodore-ish machine since my brief ownership of a C128D. You can find a 2019 post I made on the Facebook group about one of Hfjalfi's videos about his Amstrad NC200 Z80 laptop.

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4 hours ago, BruceMcF said:

Nah, mate, I wanted a proper Z80 on an 80 column Commodore-ish machine since my brief ownership of a C128D. You can find a 2019 post I made on the Facebook group about one of Hfjalfi's videos about his Amstrad NC200 Z80 laptop.

Have you ever looked at MSX? The MSX2+ is 80 columns, and there's a pretty good FPGA emulation on MiSTer. It's like CP/M and the Commodore had a baby.

 

 

Edited by TomXP411
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19 hours ago, TomXP411 said:

Have you ever looked at MSX? The MSX2+ is 80 columns, and there's a pretty good FPGA emulation on MiSTer. It's like CP/M and the Commodore had a baby.

Yes, I'm aware of MSX and was aware of MSX when I posted

In my circumstances, there's no real helping doing MSX via emulation or an FPGA chameleon system, and doing that with an MSX in order to run CP/M programs on it is going the long way around when those already exist directly for both CP/M-80 and CP/M-Plus.

Edited by BruceMcF
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On 2/18/2021 at 4:50 PM, Strider said:

Amazes me that so many people stayed on Commodore and other systems so long into the 90's.

My A1200 was still my main (in fact, only) computer until 1999, although by then it was in a tower case with VGA graphics, ethernet, TV tuner, PCI slots, a PowerPC accelerator and around 10GB of storage. I used it for gaming, web-browsing and email, playing MP3s etc. In 1999 I got given a PC which was just about capable of playing Half-Life, that's what finally pulled me to the dark side 🙂

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In the '90s?

ANY computer was my dream computer!

We didn't got one up until the early 2000s.

Until then, there was the school's Videoton TVC (just one!), the math teacher's Plus/4 (she had to bring her own one when the TVC was down), a friend's C64 (when the datasette was working). Then the school got a bunch of MS-DOS PCs in the late(!) 90s. Oh, and I sometimes saw a P1/Win95 PC in the office of my dad's boss (that was the one given to us later).

Any thing else that played video games? A tetris handheld, my sisters Tamagotchi, and cheapo chinese Famiclones that popped up in our circles around 99/2000.

That was all I knew in the 90s. Everything was fascinating but borderline out of reach.

Edited by Wertzui
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