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Change of product direction, good and bad news!


What should we do?  

357 members have voted

  1. 1. Should we release the Commander X8?

    • Yes, it should replace Phase-3. It's good enough.
    • Yes, but you should still offer a Phase-3 Commander X16 eventually too.
    • No, don't release the X8, stick with the original plan.
  2. 2. Should we still make a Phase-2 product?

    • Yes, Phase-2 is what I want
    • No, skip and go straight to Phase-3
  3. 3. For the X16 Phase-1, do you prefer a kit or a somewhat more expensive pre-assembled board?



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10 hours ago, xcv330 said:

I am coming late to this, from the facebook group, but I wanted to say for whatever its worth, the X8 sounds exactly like what I was hoping for when this project first began. I think if the price point is low enough, this really would be useful for teaching as well. If it sells in numbers you can get a much broader base of people wanting to develop for it.

Someone mentioned slowing it down so that it would not be faster than the X16. That strikes me as a terrible idea that's been tried before.

I totally agree!

For either X8 or X16 to thrive, they need to be largely accessible.

Just a glimpse at the "Introductions" thread shows that there is global interest, with many people also signing up from Europe and Australia. Importing heavy and bulky hardware from the US to the EU can easily double to almost tripple the initial cost, as we pay import taxes on the total price including taxes and shipping (which is currently going through the roof worldwide).

So getting a phase 1 X16 in a case, with a heavy power supply, manuals and etc would sadly not have been accessible or made sense for many people outside of the US. 
The X16 DIY kit will bring many more people on board and make it way more affordable.

The X8 now brings a whole new perspective to the project. A light, cheap board, mostly accessible for anyone, anywhere in the world. 
This will lead to a larger user base, more software and games etc. Those who want to, can later on port their projects to the X16.
 

The fact that many here are worried that the X8 is "too good" compared to its big brother is actually reason enough to release it, and a testimony in disguise to its potential.
Most users who want to tinker with a phase 1 X16 are likely to get one regardless, when it's released.

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It sounds like the decisions have been made already. I can understand the procrastinating but think just need to get on with it, I am ready to buy an x8 and I expect thousands of others will too.

 

As someone else suggested, I think the x8 should be 8mhz by default, with 12mhz being a turbo mode you can enable. Seems to make more sense to me if the x16 happens alongside.  Most would then code for the 8mhz and should be plenty for this kind of computer, but if you need a specific use case then they can bump to the 12mhz.

 

 

Edited by Radfoo
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The X16 turned out to be an odd abomination, with it's mix of fpga and old ICs, certainly not a computer built from off the shelf parts originally envisaged. The X8 is not what was originally envisaged either, it's just fpga, a poor relation to the likes of the Mega 65 or the Sinclair Next and the Raspberry Pi4. 

What's worse is it could be seen as a poor attempt to clone the C64 mini.

Seems madness that there is no crowdfunding at this stage,  I think they would get the funds they need no problem. Which makes me wonder why not then? Maybe it's the company structure, or is there in-fighting over who owns what, who is owed money and how much.

 

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On 8/20/2021 at 5:32 AM, The 8-Bit Guy said:

So what is the deal with the X8?  Frank and I were in favor of bringing this product out 6 months ago due to the delays of the X16.  But some team members didn't like the concept, saying it would dilute the image of the X16.  And they made some good points.  So, we decided not to release it at that time.  But now that things are changing, I thought at minimum I should explain what it is and see what kind of interest people have in it.  On the bright side, it is a product basically ready to be released.  But does fall short of some of the cool things on the X16.  So let me explain how it differs. Most of these concessions and incompatibilities boil down to using a smaller, cheaper FPGA design.

  • It has 64K of base RAM and 64K of VRAM. It does not have any banked RAM beyond that.

Hi David,

cc64's author here. Can I ask a question about the X8's RAM layout? Where do the 64K live? Is there RAM underlying the ROM, C64-style? Are the 24K RAM that aren't needed for $0000-$9EFF mapped in as 3 RAM banks at $A000-BFFF?

I'm asking because the base RAM from $0800-$9EFF turns out to be the limiting factor for further development of cc64, and I'm thinking about how to use banked RAM for code to overcome that limit; if banked RAM isn't available, then that would cap cc64 development on the X8. And even now, just compiling cc64 on the X16 needs one bank at $A000 to be present.

Cheers
/Philip

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4 hours ago, Radfoo said:

It sounds like the decisions have been made already. I can understand the procrastinating but think just need to get on with it, I am ready to buy an x8 and I expect thousands of others will too.

As someone else suggested, I think the x8 should be 8mhz by default, with 12mhz being a turbo mode you can enable. Seems to make more sense to me if the x16 happens alongside.  Most would then code for the 8mhz and should be plenty for this kind of computer, but if you need a specific use case then they can bump to the 12mhz.

I think the whole point of the post and the poll is that the decision HASN'T been made but David is getting to the point where he thinks its time to make the decision.

I agree with launching by default in 8MHz (or "8MHz-ish" if it's the one-sixth of 50MHz 8.33MHz) and having an internal setting that can speed it up to 12MHz. The IBM-AT and a number of 286 clones did that with a turbo-mode button. That was introduced in 1984, so it seems appropriately retro to me.

 

3 hours ago, Shauny said:

The X16 turned out to be an odd abomination, with it's mix of fpga and old ICs, certainly not a computer built from off the shelf parts originally envisaged. The X8 is not what was originally envisaged either, it's just fpga, a poor relation to the likes of the Mega 65 or the Sinclair Next and the Raspberry Pi4. 

What's worse is it could be seen as a poor attempt to clone the C64 mini.

Seems madness that there is no crowdfunding at this stage,  I think they would get the funds they need no problem. Which makes me wonder why not then? Maybe it's the company structure, or is there in-fighting over who owns what, who is owed money and how much.

I do concede that while it seems like nobody could fairly describe the CX16 it as a "poor attempt to clone a C64 mini", nobody could fairly describe one FPGA, one old IC, and 25 or more off the shelf through hole ASIC parts ... one off the shelf 8bit CPU, one off the shelf 8bit microcontroller, 2 off the shelf 8bit I/O support chips, one off the shelf flashROM, five off the shelf SRAM, one off the shelf RTC chip, and over 10 of those lovely off the shelf glue logic chips as "it's mix of FPGA and old ICs", and yet that is your description.

But they can't really let the fact that some people will make unfair descriptions of things stop them, unless something is perfect, because that is the recipe for never accomplishing anything at all.

They are definitely taking a cautious approach to the crowdfunding, but it is true that if they are building boards to send to beta testers, they really should be funding those board and their construction out of the crowdfunding of the CX16p.

14 hours ago, xcv330 said:

I am coming late to this, from the facebook group, but I wanted to say for whatever its worth, the X8 sounds exactly like what I was hoping for when this project first began. I think if the price point is low enough, this really would be useful for teaching as well. If it sells in numbers you can get a much broader base of people wanting to develop for it.

Someone mentioned slowing it down so that it would not be faster than the X16. That strikes me as a terrible idea that's been tried before.

FPGA simulators being cycle exact to what they are simulating is not uncommon, but since this is not a simulator of the X16 but rather a simulator of a non-existent little brother to the X16, I do think they should include a turbo mode to let it run at 12MHz.

 

12 hours ago, EMwhite said:

I just re-watched the Part 1 and Part 2 of 'my dream' and saw that $50 was one of the initial price point targets, or upwards of $100.  

Then later, David was talking about scope creep and showed a board design that looked nothing like the initial 'must haves'.  I think he said $250-$300 at that point.

But note that even without feature creep, which was then pruned out, the initial "must haves" could never be done anywhere close to under $100.

The real CX16s cannot possibly hit that price point. But they can have the real ASIC parts, the ability to understand all the way to the bottom, the extended RAM, and the expand-ability.
The CX16e can't really hit that price point, but it can come close, at least for a bare board, and retain full compatibility with the CX16.
The X8 hits that price point, and can run the same Basic programs as the CX16 up to a point, but sacrifices full compatibility with the CX16.

And (1) they could have launched the crowdfunding for the X8 in mid April (never launch a crowdfund too near to April Fool's Day), (2) the CX16p is at the stage where the crowdfund could be launched if they would just bite the bullet, work out the final development budget and do it and (3) there is not technical obstacle to the CX16c design that they haven't solved with the CX16p design, they just have to finalize their product design decisions to be able to launch that crowdfund at the same time.

So I reckon, just do it. Aim to have a crowdfund launched sometime in the next month or two.

 

8 hours ago, Getafix said:

I think we can argue over a lot in part because there is no certainty about what's to come but I'll explain what I meant when I wrote this.  Perhaps best explained as a sequence of events that I think will unfold. 

The Commander X8 will become available and people will post their unboxing and experiences.  That will make more people buy it (also, a bird in hand is better than 2 in the bush - the CX16 is in uncertain territory till the finances get settled so may as well get the X8 now).  Then, those of us that have made software for the CX16 will convert our software to run on the CX8, and go on to write more software for it.  Soon, there will be more X8 software than CX16 software.  When the CX16 finally becomes available, will it make financial sense to buy machine that's slower but has more RAM and isn't compatible with all the software now out there? (this all depends on how long it takes to come out, of course).  I think for many the answer would be no.  For some the answer would be yes - those that care about the fact that the machine isn't all FPGA or maybe want to build the kit or can afford both and see value in the CX16.  It will also absolutely sell less than if the X8 doesn't exist (if only by 1 - me) - and this is more true if the CX16 is only in kit form.  Retro computers are loved for their look and feel along with their inner workings.  A kit computer just doesn't have that same identity.

Obviously I made assumptions and as the facts cement it could alter the script but for now I think the CX16 launches later, probably as a kit or maybe as a somewhat expensive ready to go system and the above narrative plays out.

Speaking just for me - If the X8 launches, I'll buy it and be done.  If the X8 doesn't launch, and a CX16 ready-to-go launches, I'll try to buy that if I can afford it.  I don't make the distinction between all FPGA and partially FPGA.  It's real, it's hardware and I can make something for it.  It's not a simulator or emulator.  What I make runs exactly the same for all others that have it - unlike on an emulator.  I am not a collector that want's something to display only - I want to use it and share my experiences with others that use it and the X8 will do all of that nicely at a low cost allowing more people in the ecosystem and that works for me.

One thing is, the development of CX16 applications on the emulator won't stop just because the LX8 ships. That is a big difference with a system that is going to be primarily supported by commercial software ... if it is support by hobbyist and open source community contributions, and it is definitely going to come out, the application development won't halt.

And another thing that people lose track of is that the most popular open source software is going to get ported whether or not the original author is interested in porting it, since that is the kind of "learning to program" challenge that someone can set for themselves before they feel confident to tackle designing their own software from scratch.

So the image of "all of the software is for the LX8, little is for the CX16" ... I'm not sure I buy that in terms of the most popular applications and games. The ones that won't be ported as much are the most demanding of the CX16 applications and games that simply cannot run effectively on 64K of system RAM.

For the core markets for the CX16p and CX16e, there isn't going to be any appreciable cannibalization. For the more fringe markets, as you describe above there might be some, but I think it is less than you are describing above, and as implied by what you describe above, what cannibalization there might be can be avoided by simply launching the crowdfunding campaigns in parallel.

Edited by BruceMcF
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2 hours ago, BruceMcF said:

One thing is, the development of CX16 applications on the emulator won't stop just because the LX8 ships. That is a big difference with a system that is going to be primarily supported by commercial software ... if it is support by hobbyist and open source community contributions, and it is definitely going to come out, the application development won't halt.

Well, the amount support from hobbyists and open source contributors depends on their level of motivation.

While application development for the X16 doesn't have to halt, I worry that shipping the X8 could affect the motivation level of the hobbyists who are making software for the X16. Even the suggestion that it could exist is already having an impact, unfortunately.

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Is there an official or quasi-official place that details the various codename / product names that are being discussed here with a one-line description of what is at play.

For the longest time, forum members have been asked to not talk or ask about release dates or push for features but it appears that the lid has been blown off now and the detail is overwhelming in both good and not-so-good ways.

Between the original proposed list of products and those that I see that appear new, it's a dizzying array.  Forgetting about specific capabilities, a simple list of ranked (least cost to furthest from release/assumed highest cost) would be helpful.

I don't think I'm alone but maybe I am?

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6 minutes ago, David Snopek said:

While application development for the X16 doesn't have to halt, I worry that shipping the X8 could affect the motivation level of the hobbyists who are making software for the X16. Even the suggestion that it could exist is already having an impact, unfortunately.

Yes - it definitely had an impact on my motivation already. Probably I'll regain it when the decision is made, let's see 🙂. I don't want to be too negative on the situation.

I already learned a lot with the X16 emulator. Maybe developing for the X8 will be another fun journey. As I said earlier: if the VERA interface for the X8 will be made compatible with the X16, then I'll develop for both. Otherwise probably only for one of the two.

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3 hours ago, pzembrod said:

Hi David,

cc64's author here. Can I ask a question about the X8's RAM layout? Where do the 64K live? Is there RAM underlying the ROM, C64-style? Are the 24K RAM that aren't needed for $0000-$9EFF mapped in as 3 RAM banks at $A000-BFFF?

I'm asking because the base RAM from $0800-$9EFF turns out to be the limiting factor for further development of cc64, and I'm thinking about how to use banked RAM for code to overcome that limit; if banked RAM isn't available, then that would cap cc64 development on the X8. And even now, just compiling cc64 on the X16 needs one bank at $A000 to be present.

Cheers
/Philip

Can I suggest starting a new thread and tagging @The 8-Bit Guy in it? 

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8 hours ago, zapposh said:

So getting a phase 1 X16 in a case, with a heavy power supply, manuals and etc would sadly not have been accessible or made sense for many people outside of the US. 
The X16 DIY kit will bring many more people on board and make it way more affordable.

Let's say there are 9,000 people who would be willing to buy a complete computer and 1,000 that would only buy it as a kit. But let's say 1/2 won't because import duties and taxes increase the price too much for a full computer, but all 1,000 will buy the kit but would not buy the complete computer.

That means that 4,500 complete units can be sold, but only 1,000 kits.

I've made up all these numbers, but I use them only to illustrate that a DIY kit does not necessarily bring many more people on board. There are too many unknown variables at present to say either way with certainty. Other number can be made up to prove the point as well, so I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm just saying "we don't know". I do know many people who love to write software, and I know many people who enjoy assembling a PC style computer from parts, but the number of people I know who enjoy soldering their own computer is a tiny fraction of the other two groups.

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51 minutes ago, Scott Robison said:

I do know many people who love to write software, and I know many people who enjoy assembling a PC style computer from parts, but the number of people I know who enjoy soldering their own computer is a tiny fraction of the other two groups.

I guarantee that at least one person on this forum is a coder who would be terrible at getting an X16 kit working.

 

Edited by rje
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1 hour ago, rje said:

I guarantee that at least one person on this forum is a coder who would be terrible at getting an X16 kit working.

Wait, how did you know that I ...

... OH! I get it ...

... make that two.

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4 minutes ago, James Anders Banks said:

Number 4 already making a mess with solder over here ... !

Five with me, my poor soldering skills will probably make a fried potato instead of a computer !

Edited by VincentF
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3 minutes ago, VincentF said:

Five with me, my poor soldering skills will probably make a fried potato instead of a computer !

Mmmm, fried potato!

Don't get me wrong: I've soldered things before.  I've even soldered things within the last three years.

But they were 5-pin VL53L0X units, and a few Raspberry Pi Zero headers.

But... solder an entire X16?  Me?  Fail!

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4 hours ago, EMwhite said:

Is there an official or quasi-official place that details the various codename / product names that are being discussed here with a one-line description of what is at play.

For the longest time, forum members have been asked to not talk or ask about release dates or push for features but it appears that the lid has been blown off now and the detail is overwhelming in both good and not-so-good ways.

Between the original proposed list of products and those that I see that appear new, it's a dizzying array.  Forgetting about specific capabilities, a simple list of ranked (least cost to furthest from release/assumed highest cost) would be helpful.

I don't think I'm alone but maybe I am?

I know that references to the Commander X16p, X16c and X16e are scattered through the FAQ, but I don't know which is the announcement or discussions where Perifractic described them more compactly.

Basically, the X16p is the direct end goal of the boards that we have been seeing. All through pin ASIC chips, mostly all of the shelf, except for the Vera board assembly, and one "in stock" old IC, the YM2151 sound chip.

The X16c is the proposed cost-reduced version of the X16p. Still mostly off the shelf ASIC chips, but surface mount where available, for modern automated assembly and oven soldering. The specific features can't be ticked off, because no final feature checklist has been released ... quite possibly, it is not finalized yet ... but it seems like it will have only one slot, and the over 10 or more "glue logic" chips that the CX16p uses similar to the glue logic in late 70s and early 80s designs may be replaced by one Complex Programmable Logic Device (CPLD). The smaller size of the surface mount chips, and possible reduction in addressing logic chip count, means the board can be smaller. And the X16e, the version that has most of the X16 system hardware implemented in an FPGA.

The X8 does not appear in the FAQ (at least, not yet). It seems to have been a "proof of concept" prototype for the X16e, though fitting it into the same FPGA used for the Vera Video/Audio system on the X16 involved some sacrifices and some departures from the X16 system. This is the one that David asks about in the first question, but although it is a completed design, it hasn't been a public part of the current development path, and we have relatively few specifics about it.

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2 hours ago, rje said:

I guarantee that at least one person on this forum is a coder who would be terrible at getting an X16 kit working.

 

14 minutes ago, BruceMcF said:

Wait, how did you know that I ...

... OH! I get it ...

... make that two.

 

7 minutes ago, Scott Robison said:

I'm willing to give it a try, but I suspect I would make three.

 

5 minutes ago, James Anders Banks said:

Number 4 already making a mess with solder over here ... !

 

2 minutes ago, VincentF said:

Five with me, my poor soldering skills will probably make a fried potato instead of a computer !

I'm glad to see folks respect the difficulty of the kit, as I recall Dave questioning a year or so ago whether folks would be over-eager to buy a kit and then fail to assemble it -- and need extensive troubleshooting support, assuming they haven't simply toasted various components through their molten metal mis-mangement. As I said earlier, I'm also intimidated. Willing to spend money and try, but still intimidated.

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5 minutes ago, StephenHorn said:

 

 

 

 

I'm glad to see folks respect the difficulty of the kit, as I recall Dave questioning a year or so ago whether folks would be over-eager to buy a kit and then fail to assemble it -- and need extensive troubleshooting support, assuming they haven't simply toasted various components through their molten metal mis-mangement. As I said earlier, I'm also intimidated. Willing to spend money and try, but still intimidated.

I'd buy one just to support the project (unless it looked like there was a limited number, I wouldn't want anyone to miss out).

 

Well, I guess I'd have a go at soldering it one night after a few pints!

 

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X8 & X16……

if you are of a certain age and from the U.K. this has a feel of BBC micro and Acorn Electron. Everyone who bought an Electron wanted a BBC model B and wished their parents hadn’t got them the cheapo version with missing features. A version that was more expensive to upgrade as well. 
 

my choice would be a DIP DIY version of the full X16

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At the risk of throwing a monkey wrench into the discussion... I was thinking (always dangerous) that if one of the issues is to help recoup costs, then why not release the VERA module?  I'd love to have a video interface like the VERA for some other projects.  This would let me connect something like the STM32 to a monitor or TV, or add some cool features to Ben Eater's 6502 kit.  The VERA could become a whole product on it's own with higher priced versions that could go up to 720 or 1080i/p HDMI.  I'd be happy with a version that might still have some bugs in it if there were a simple way to "Field Program" it.  (get it, get it, eh, eh... sorry)  Since it's an FPGA the feature set could evolve over time or allow for some trade offs that might not make sense for the X16 but might for other applications.  Just thinking out loud.

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6 hours ago, BruceMcF said:

 

For the core markets for the CX16p and CX16e, there isn't going to be any appreciable cannibalization. For the more fringe markets, as you describe above there might be some, but I think it is less than you are describing above, and as implied by what you describe above, what cannibalization there might be can be avoided by simply launching the crowdfunding campaigns in parallel.

The only problem is that we may have something of an externality akin to the "New Coke Problem".   

The CX16 has been actively touted (and yes, promoted) in the form of its core architecture (banked RAM, VERA working the way VERA docs say VERA works) for quite a long time.   And not just with the glossy mock ups or purely 'paper spec.'   No, there's been detailed docs with a programmer's reference guide for both the system and the VERA with revision histories going back to 2019.  There's a  frequently updated emulator that has had 38 releases (and with r39, we must assume, being close to ready).  The X16 emulator (just from the time this site came into being and started tracking its downloads ( and not counting any other download locations or people who built their own from the repo) has something approach 9000 downloads.   

There's an ecosystem of software going back years.    There are literally HOURS of tutorial videos (and I'm just counting hours of stuff where the creator walked through code that teaches people about VERA according to the current official VERA documents and not the alternative VERA of the X8.   

There are folks who are working on programming languages (e.g., PROG8), compilers, environments, text editors, other dev tools and plenty of demos games.  As I look at the listings, it appears to me that most of those among the top downloads (especially with the vast majority being written in assembly, C, or other non-BASIC langauges etc., ) will currently use RAM banks,  VRAM access through the published data ports specifications, etc.    Heck, even many of the BASIC programs are specific to the X16 and use banks, the YM chip (there's one that demos a hell of a good song and sounds amazing on the X16 emulator), sprites, tiles and PSG stuff. 

Now personally, I didn't have any big problem with New Coke versus Coke "Classic", but market sentiment is not necessarily rational.  There's a potential for  something akin to a sunk opportunity cost value that people will subconsciously assign to their own time that has been spent working up stuff on the X16 platform, and there may be sour grapes if there's release of a drastically altered version and any questions at all on the timeframe for the 'original' conception of the project to see a real release.    There's also the thing that's caused 8BitGuy so much obvious frustration these last many months... the hurdles and pitfalls they've run into getting the X16 protos to a release point without timing issues, board issues, etc., and  that 'uncertainty and doubt' can also have an effect.   I don't blame him, he's had a string of total rocking successes with Planet X series of games, PETSCI Robots and pretty good channel growth.   But those gremlins that the team is having to battle,.. could also cause some question marks about the timing and assuredness of the X16 release even if  (as I agree they should) the Kickstarter goes up tomorrow.    I can't quantify the impact of any of this, and maybe it won't alter things things at all on balance. (After all, geeky enthusiasm is an externality in the other direction). 

Some of these concerns can be at least partially ameliorated with release of some specific details about the X8 nuts and bolts -- especially the specifics in a level of detail similar to what we have for VERA now -- regarding how that 256 byte window works, and what the story is with the address range from $A000 to $BFFF on the X8.    Info on whether there's RAM that can be accessed under the ROMs, for example.   And finally, getting that X8 emulator in people's hands will let those interested take a shot at porting over their existing X16 programs to the X8.   Those smarter than I have mentioned potential upsides to the 256 byte window for VRAM access depending on the setup and details of moving the window, so having the emulator in folks' hands will cancel out the uncertainty factor. 

Bottom line, as a practical matter I'm not sure the 'parallel' crowd-fund launch would really behave like a parallel launch of product tiers unless, on the one side there's video of a functioning X16 with the keyboard and SD card timing issues squashed , AND on the other side, there's been some hands-on access to the emulator and detailed specs for the X8 so that it can be judged according to the same level of immersion the X16 platform enjoys even now at this moment.  

 

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