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Change of product direction, good and bad news!


What should we do?  

371 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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12 minutes ago, zeropolis79 said:

As for finances, have you considered doing crowdfunding to help? 

Given that filling the orders for Planet X2 really stressed Dave a lot, I doubt he wants to go that route again.

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First, a big thanks to all who is involed in this project. 👏👏👏👏👏👏

I followed this project from the beginning.
As David explained his idea of a simple based 'VIC20' with bank switching, I was excited.

I like the idea of a 65C02 @ 8 MHz with a standard RAM and ROM + 2 MB of bank switching.
+ VGA/Sound/(SD Card), PS/2, serial bus (Commodore bus) and have my own cards in the expansion port(s).

- The size of the board (ATX) is imo too large. For Phase 1 it's okay.
- And I would prefer an additional 2MB RAM card than a 2MB onboard RAM.

I don't need the YAMAHA sound chip(s) and neither I need the (S)NES ports so long as I have a connection to a user port or so.

Now to the kit:
Kit 1: Motherboard
Kit 2: Motherboard + all the passive components.
Kit 3: Only the active components (CPU, RAM, etc.)

Edited by canada2002
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About the X8, I think it would effectively split the community, so I'm quite against it even if honestly it's still appealing to me... Anyway if you ever release it please do some magic bytes in ROM so we can write software that'll detect which Commander is executing it. (like for the emulator)

An idea would be doing some preorders of the X16 and that's the only way to get an X8 (that'll be shipped first).

Anyway, tell me a price and i'll surely buy it day one 😄

Edited by VincentF
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I think it's great that David so openly shared this information with the community. We could feel that there were hurdles, but it's better to have first hand information.

If money is no object, I'm personally most interested in the phase 1, whether in kit form or pre-assembled.

Converting assembly programs from X16 to X8 may very well prove to be a hassle. The differences, as described, seem to be quite substantial: no banked RAM, less VRAM and different access logic to VERA. It feels like X16 and X8 are no more related than cousins, like VIC20 and C64 for instance. A X16 program could be ported to X8 but would take some effort and the result would in many cases be restricted in some ways. Attracting developers and building a sufficient software library might be the most demanding aspect of successfully launching a new computer platform. Therefore you need to think carefully before dividing the developer efforts between two platforms.

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I have to say that the project needs to find a route that is as cost effective as possible or you guys will never recoup your investments.

Go all DIY on the phase-1, if the board fits a micro atx as planned getting a case won't be a problem. Get it out - Make it simple.

Then go to phase 2 and get everything in the wedge computer shape you want all along for the mass. 

x8 sound like a bad idea, acorn electron vs bbc micro and commodore 16 vs plus 4 is two good examples why. 

I'd gladly buy a diy phase 1 and put it in a case of my choosing since well. that's what I have wanted all along.

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I participated in several crowdfunding projects as a baker, but I don't fully understand how it works under the hood. How bad for a campaign to fail the goal sum? I understand that all money should be refunded to every baker. How much of a hassle is it? If it's not a problem to make refunds it would be useful to make a crowdfunding of each of these polls, and this would surely show what people really ready to pay for, and what not.

May be a lame suggestion. Sorry. Just making a thought.

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I work with a bespoke SFF case manufacturer. There's no minimum order, the cases are manufactured ad-hoc. The case could be designed from scratch around the X16 and supplied in kit form or fully assembled. Right at the start, before you announced the official case, we were looking at offering our own product to go with the X16. 

I'd love to work with you and produce an official case, or if you don't want the hassle of managing a new case project maybe we could just produce our own complimentary product? 

Hope this post doesn't get lost in the noise, please drop me a PM. 

 

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Being creative on the commodore machines for me was always about trying to get awesome results despite the limitations of vic/vic2/sid/ted chips. The X8 platform seems to provide a platform suitable for plenty of "brain masturbation". I could program on it and have fun with graphics and sound. That's what it's about for me.

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Speaking only for myself - I'm most interested in the VERA and hoping the RTL for it eventually gets open sourced. Sell that by itself and I could build the rest of the system. However since you've already got the board done, I'd purchase one of those also (if it comes with schematics so I'm not having to guess which parts to insert into which holes).

A part of me still has high hopes for the project. Having been a small player in large teams that have brought a number of Intel products and later Microsoft hardware devices to market, I looked on with great fascination. I had suspected that some of the choices made would end up consuming a lot of time and money, but I have only experienced hardware development from the perspective of a tech giant with deep pockets. I hoped to learn something about how a small nimble team brings products to market on a budget.

Even if the product doesn't reach the market, as I tell my kids: it's only a failure if you fail to learn from it. (And if you think that sounds like a completely vapid adage, they'd agree with you.) It seems like you've now got material for a several part documentary on the story behind the X16, what went wrong, and the things to look out for when building a new computer. Obviously looking in from the outside, I don't know what happened internally, but I can think of a few BKMs I'd bring with me were I to give the startup scale development thing a try.

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I've been kind of watching this project pan out and commend you on your energy to see it through this far David.  I feel compelled to share my commercial opinion. 

I run a small business, we've been operating for 17 years.  We have launched loads of new products in our range.  Some successful, some not so much.

What I can tell you is that it matters little as to how well refined the product is or how close it is to a detailed complicated specification when you are budget constrained.  It matters more that the product is delivered.  And it matters most WHEN the product is delivered.  For that reason you should proceed with your first model and get it to market.  It doesn't matter if it gets superseded.  That just creates history for the lineage.  You can fix things as you go, and you know you will have to anyway.

You will never please everyone, and often the noise from the people in the community outstrips the thoughts of the people who will immediately buy the product.  The majority of the caucus may not be the majority if the buying public. Trust your instincts, it's the only way you won't regret decisions you make. 

Whatever we you decide, best of luck!

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For what it's worth, I'd like to see all effort and energy put into production and shipping of the Commander X16 mainboard with a list of components and where to obtain them.

I don't really care about a branded case or a deluxe keyboard at this time. I just want to get my hands on a mainboard and have a go at building it.

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The X8 and X16 sound somewhat like the VIC20 and the C64... To be honest, I do not want to be bothered with large cases, atx power supplies and space huggers anymore. I just don't have the space anymore. Commodores. Spectrums, Ataris all over the place, and I just emulate everything these days... NOT ideal, naturally.

That's just me of course. A single board PI size X8 with USB would suit me just fine. IF the price for the X8 is very low (say up to $50), then people would have no problems in buying both the X8 and X16.

When this brilliant project started, my first thought (as a PCB designer) was "There are way too many variables for this to get off the ground." It seems it is reaching a point where I can say "I told you so" , although of course, in a sad way!!! 

I am a former PCB designer, now IT Administrator in an industrial electronics company. Our waiting list and delivery times for components are running into many months (as much as 18!). Prices are off the scale of any chart we came up with and we simply cannot see any way past it. And we buy in MILLIONS of EUROS worth of components. Mostly surface mount. Components are so so hard to come by these days. Small amounts will be simply rejected or priced beyond reach.

If the design of the X16 were redone using 1206 components, they would be very viable for somebody at home to solder. 1206 components are being now put to the side with many unsold millions still lingering.

As it is, send me an X8 please. Sincerely hoping you sort this out as it is a massive achievement to bring to fruition.

Edited by Chris Grillo
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I’d go with a phase 1 kit if buying the prebuilt one would add significant cost. 

Personally I can’t see the point in phases 2 or 3. The original goal was a computer where you could understand every part of it. Phase 1 fits that scope much better. Also, it seems to me that planning subsequent phases just makes the project bigger. I’d suggest concentrating on phase 1 and shipping it before making further plans.

Being realistic, very few people will buy this if they’re not interested in retro computer architectures or programming already. It’s not going to have a software ecosystem to compete with today’s consoles. I’d take that clarity of purpose and super optimise for it.

I’m more conflicted about the X8, but would probably lean towards not releasing it for the same reason. The difference in accessing VRAM is my main concern — that would make X8 software incompatible with the X16. 

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I'll start my answer with a question:  Why is the Phase 3 X16 even needed?  Or Even Phase 2?

It seems to me, most 8 bit enthusiasts love the openness, freedom and hackability that these systems offer.  Condensing all of it down to a single chip (or close to it) seems to me, to be antithetical.  Just because it can be done, should it?

If someone wants to run their X16 software in a portable way, couldn't a phone/tablet/Raspberry Pi emulator, or all of the above be created?  Wouldn't running an emulator on a Raspberry Pi essentially be the same experience?

Having said that, I'd like to go back to your Elon Musk/Tesla analogy you started this project with.

The X8 is your Roadster: small, fast, sexy.  And here's how it doesn't disrupt the X16 market:  charge a substantial premium for it.  Diehards will want it, and will buy it, and they will fund what you really wanna do: the X16.

The X16 is your Model 3, the workaday, every man's model.  The more comfortable, and more attainable version, with a lot more practicality.
Keep it open (as possible), and hackable, and available.  Let people figure out how to case it, customize it, do whatever with it.
Oh, and ship it with 2megs RAM, do your best to make sure everyone has the same platform.  RAM "Upgradeability" for this system isn't a good idea, in my strong opinion.

What's your Model S?  Do you need a Model S?  I don't really think you do.

Edit: Down the line, maybe do the surface mount version (Phase 2).  Maybe.  But right now you need to get this thing out there, get people excited and doing things on it.  Phase 2 will be a nice to have, not a must have.  Don't even think about it right now, imo.

Edited by x16tial
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Just my 2c. The original idea to use all real chips was not realistic. Sourcing all those chips and the logistics involved is not cost effective or reliable enough for a commercially viable product with limited production. I’d release the X8 or some variant of it with a custom case like the Sega Genesis mini.  I also don’t want a massive case and power supply sitting on my desk.

I like the idea of a computer inside the keyboard also. Tech might be far enough along to install a SBC into a keyboard.

 

Either way, we are enjoying the videos and progress. Don’t worry about your fans reaction to changing course too much. We will be here and support you whichever way you decide to go.

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2 minutes ago, ryanyoder said:

Just my 2c. The original idea to use all real chips was not realistic. Sourcing all those chips and the logistics involved is not cost effective or reliable enough for a commercially viable product with limited production. I’d release the X8 or some variant of it with a custom case like the Sega Genesis mini.  I also don’t want a massive case and power supply sitting on my desk.

I like the idea of a computer inside the keyboard also. Tech might be far enough along to install a SBC into a keyboard.

 

Either way, we are enjoying the videos and progress. Don’t worry about your fans reaction to changing course too much. We will be here and support you whichever way you decide to go.

I actually have a keyboard with a powerbank and an RPi 0 in it. All DIY stuff of course. Many seem to be forgetting one important thing here. The actual cost. In a troubled time, I am surprised people want the full, more expensive unit.

Edited by Chris Grillo
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David and team, in the back of my mind I've always expected the X16 to come out around $500 when fully assembled with a case.  ($700 with the fancy upgraded keyboard which I've already purchased a year ago).  I have always been a programmer at heart and although I am perfectly happy to assemble a computer, I am not interested in soldering parts to a board.  I'd much rather buy a board assembled with a small warranty (90 days is plenty).  I want a case themed for the system, but I have no problem putting the system together so long as the board arrived assembled. 

You all have my utmost respect for what you are doing here, and this shouldn't be a not-for-profit thing for the good of the community, you deserve to make a profit from your time, labor and expertise. 

If you decide to go the parts direction, please at least offer an option to pay for an assembled board, and point us to a case we can purchase separately as a minimum.  (I LOVED the design Perifractic and the team has already shown).

Thanks for your consideration of my opinions and desires.   🙂

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5 hours ago, The 8-Bit Guy said:

Would it have an effect that people would simply code software for the X8, thus making the X16 be sort of like the Commodore 128 or the Plus/4, where all of the software is written for the lowest compatible system and therefor never taking advantage of the full system? 

Yes, it would absolutely have a negative effect. Not only if you release an X8, but I think that creating phase-2 and/or phase-3 versions of the X16 would further dilute what an "X16" is to the layperson. Earlier, ZeroByte wrote "I never had any interest in phase 3. A Raspberry Pi running an emulator would give the same experience." and I think that he is not alone in thinking that. To further expand on that, I don't really see much point in the phase-2 version either; to me it just seems like a cut-down version without purpose.
 

Having multiple SKUs with differing feature sets will fracture the user base. This is already going to be a somewhat niche product, why fracture that into two, three, or even four segments? I think that only offering 3 different variations of the phase-1, the only phase, is the correct move: as a kit with or without a case, or fully pre-assembled in a case.

From my perspective, the X16 is all about learning; I think the future of the X16 will be determined based on the quality of the documentation it comes with. You want everyone who uses one, young and old, to be able to say "look at those chips, I know what every one does and how it all works together!". I think going with the vintage IBM style of documentation would be appropriate; Include three-ring binder(s) and plenty of thorough, easy-to-understand paperwork, detailing every aspect of using, diagnosing, and developing for the system. I believe having a physical copy of the documentation is vital. Having the docs solely on the internet or a phone app would be distracting. It also fits with the "Old Style, but Modern Perspective" theme.

 

Consider the potential users of this system. I think that the demographic is tech geeks and children. At this point you can probably stop thinking about the geeks since everyone who's seen your videos has probably already made up their mind about whether or not they will purchase one when they're ready. That only really leaves children. How will they feel when they open the box? The first time they turn it on? The first time that they look at the documentation? The first time that they need to troubleshoot? First impressions are really important, especially with children. This is why I think that having good docs will go a very long way. Of course it is possible to overdo it though; lots of paperwork can be intimidating.

 

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Love him or hate him, I recently read an article about Steve Jobs and how he trimmed the Apple product offerings that might apply here.  That being said, this is more of a niche product so maybe the process in the article doesn't apply.

https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/why-intelligent-minds-like-steve-jobs-elon-muskembrace-wtp-rule-to-make-better-decisions.html

Edited by Norman F
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Like others have said, I see the X8 and the X16 as two different things that can coexist in the same ecosystem. I would probably like to have both eventually. This is why I have three variants of a Raspberry Pi and two variants of a Beagle Bone today. In fact experiments with connecting the X8 and the X16 could lead to some interesting ideas and concepts.

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5 hours ago, ZeroByte said:

Me, I'm happy to pay the extra to have you or Kevin assemble mine, and will purchase a phase 1 system the very day it's available.

 

Ditto, and I don't think $200 for that service is at all unreasonable.   I realize others need/want the costs to stay as low as possible, so the only way appease the masses is to sell the kit with an assembly upgrade option for those who prefer it.

I think the one thing that is universal is that a X16 exists, and we can buy it.  Drop the X8 for now.  While interesting and also fun, it's not what attracted most of us here to begin with. 

If you have to ship with some minor unresolved issues, then do it, just so long as you are confident that those can be corrected once they're in people's hands (assuming they are not show stopping issues of course).  I think most of the folks here trust the team and have faith this isn't a take the money and run situation. 😉 

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Commander X8 is what this project should have been from the start.  Wasn't the whole point supposed to be retro bare-metal programming on a reliable, relatively inexpensive platform? Write off X16 as a bad idea and release the X8.

I never understood why anyone cares what package the transistors live in, surface mount vs. through-hole, etc.  It's the architecture that matters, not the appearance.

An FPGA 6502 core is no different than a discrete 6502.  Heck, all of WDCs new work is cores in FPGAs.

The biggest problem isn't manufacturing, it's licensing.  If you don't own your kernel (sic) you don't own your product.

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