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Change of product direction, good and bad news!


What should we do?  

374 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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Seems like there are better places for some of this discussion than this already too long thread. This thread is about what to do with the X8/X16 as they exist. It is not about philosophical discussions about how it should be done.

At this point X8/X16 includes FPGA because a certain level of video capability and performance was desired, and that is the most cost effective way to realize the dream. Sometimes dreams evolve and plans change as new information and realities are realized. That's not a bad thing.

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On 10/11/2021 at 1:32 AM, Scott Robison said:

I can agree with this just because of perception. The grave interpretation was I think what was being argued against, not that updates wouldn't be welcome. Just that I can understand why updates haven't been forthcoming.

It seems to me the main reason is the developers not being active on the forums, but being active on Facebook instead, though? I am not sure how that fits with your interpretation, since some information does get posted on Facebook, right? Like the X8 tidbit. That is unfortunate given that the Facebook group is private, so the only external-facing updates are what we have here. Anyone coming from the website to the Community menu and then onwards here gets a partial picture.

People are of course free to join Facebook, but I can see why some are trying to cut down on that these days.

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On 10/10/2021 at 11:15 PM, Janne Sirén said:

It seems to me the main reason is the developers not being active on the forums, but being active on Facebook instead, though? I am not sure how that fits with your interpretation, since some information does get posted on Facebook, right? Like the X8 tidbit. That is unfortunate given that the Facebook group is private, so the only external-facing updates are what we have here. Anyone coming from the website to the Community menu and then onwards here gets a partial picture.

People are of course free to join Facebook, but I can see why some are trying to cut down on that these days.

The Facebook group has gotten much quieter over the past year.  The vast majority of activity regarding the project happens here, at this point.  I'd estimate a new post (by anyone, not just a project member) happens once in a couple of weeks.  Occasionally David will reply to a post, and it will reveal some new detail of their plans, but it isn't anything like a formal "announcement".  That's how we found out that they were planning to make the X8 more like the X16, recently.  Just a one-liner reply.  He also recently posted a short video showing the low-end keyboard.  But that didn't really reveal anything earth-shattering, either.  Plus, anything interesting ends up getting shared here by someone, within a few days.  So honestly, I don't think it's worth worrying about.  There is no need for FOMO when it comes to the Facebook group.

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Thank you for the update @Calculon, appreciate it. I still think it would be useful if even just a similar amount activity was shown here as well. I mean, a lot of input was gathered (on request) in this thread, perhaps a comment or two might have been useful in recent times. Just IMO.

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On 10/11/2021 at 12:07 AM, Oldrooster said:

So what you seem to me to be saying is that there is no possibility of satisfying the 'dream computer' objective of no FPGA because the choice for the X16 has been defined as it MUST have FPGA, not because it cant be done, rather the choice being made is that it should not be done.

Nope,  you could do it fine. It would be ridiculously expensive, very hard to design and require a large amount of board space, but it's *possible*.

But even in the 1980s most computers had ULAs or custom chips, which are the forerunner of the FPGA.

If you discount the 6845 CRTC chip as a specialised chip (like say the 6847 or 9918) then the Pet Apple Tandy Superboard group didn't have them. The ZX81 did but the design was buildable out of TTL, it was just making it cheap.

Post Pet Apple Tandy ... the Spectrum was doable (as there currently exist TTL designs I think), the Jupiter Ace didn't have one, Microbee perhaps. There were some "Iron Curtain" computers ; Galaiksja that didn't, and some home builds (the latter two were originally home builds I think ?). But pretty much everything else had a ULA or Custom chip or sometimes more than one.

I think the Ace is probably the most advanced non specialist chip design that wasn't published as a home build in something like ETI (but I'm probably wrong) but designed to be mass produced.

No .... I think the Camputers Lynx was another non ULA design (256x224x8 colour), but it's still a bitmap design, drive a RAM chip with row and column counters at the right time and generated video from it. Not technically difficult, especially if you forbid VRAM access outside VBlank.

I'm not sure if there exists a TTL design that does any graphics outside either a straight RAM to Bitmap or RAM to character generator design. It's just not economical and still isn't.

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On 10/11/2021 at 8:20 PM, paulscottrobson said:

Nope,  you could do it fine.

well thank you. At last someone has admitted it. been saying it for ages and there are many, many solutions as to how to do it.

On 10/11/2021 at 8:20 PM, paulscottrobson said:

[...]It would be ridiculously expensive, very hard to design and require a large amount of board space, but it's *possible*.

I agree on board space, it's inevitable. this thing I've seen is a real sprawler, but so are the specs. Cost I disagree, as it's a function of design, you just whittle down all the solutions to those that cost the least.

Oh, and although it is a sprawler, it IS beautiful, I must say I've rarely seen it's equal. Though, dont ask me when I'm browsing Soviet retro builds and OH! there are so many engineering things to compare, scratch my remarks, it's too impossible a comparison.

On 10/11/2021 at 8:20 PM, paulscottrobson said:

I'm not sure if there exists a TTL design that does any graphics outside either a straight RAM to Bitmap or RAM to character generator design. It's just not economical and still isn't.

I would only go so far to agree that there shall be a first. I think there are still a few nuts to crack open, one being any large number of sprites on the screen at one time. I can see a few, however combining them all into a minimum of IC's is a challenging puzzle. Others you are correct, but there are I think solutions possible to the impossible such as the dual port ram issue that all programmers adore, it's not a necessary thing, however, doesn't every beginner love the idea. So cracking that nut is a good idea, computers need adorability built in. It's required for the design.

Certainly you know your computers, and I enjoy learning new names out of your post, I've never seen or heard Jupiter Ace before.

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On 10/11/2021 at 8:20 PM, paulscottrobson said:

 .. the Spectrum was doable (as there currently exist TTL designs I think), 

a long time since my hands have held a spectrum. The Harlequin is lovely though, not ideal to my mind design-wise except as a lovely memory of spectrum. Now when I was looking at this page I get like past halfway and then WHAM Wallace and Grommit jump out and tickle me.

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On 10/10/2021 at 11:57 PM, Calculon said:

The Facebook group has gotten much quieter over the past year.  The vast majority of activity regarding the project happens here, at this point.  I'd estimate a new post (by anyone, not just a project member) happens once in a couple of weeks.  Occasionally David will reply to a post, and it will reveal some new detail of their plans, but it isn't anything like a formal "announcement".  That's how we found out that they were planning to make the X8 more like the X16, recently.  Just a one-liner reply.  He also recently posted a short video showing the low-end keyboard.  But that didn't really reveal anything earth-shattering, either.  Plus, anything interesting ends up getting shared here by someone, within a few days.  So honestly, I don't think it's worth worrying about.  There is no need for FOMO when it comes to the Facebook group.

It doesn't have to be earth shattering to feel like 2nd class.

A video about the keyboard?  That would be interesting to anyone following this project, yet no post here.  Even more disappointment and demotivation there.

A "new post every couple of weeks" would be a VAST improvement over what gets communicated here currently.

This project had the potential to grab some kind of foothold, or niche, but for me, my interest in it has come way down.  This now holds little more interest for me than any other 8 bit project you can name, and there are quite a few.

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On 10/11/2021 at 6:38 AM, x16tial said:

 

A "new post every couple of weeks" would be a VAST improvement over what gets communicated here currently.

Just to repeat for clarification: “once every couple of weeks” is not a post from one of the project members. It’s a random person with a question, or an idea, or a link they want to share, etc. Exactly the kind of thing that gets posted here multiple times *every day*. You’re not missing enough to worry about. It’s not “VAST”. It’s tiny.

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Well a lot of this is why David put out polls. See if people are expecting a fully assembled unit we don’t have the manpower or logistics. If we assemble them stateside we don’t have the manpower and if we have to assemble them in China there are logistics problems. But if it’s a DIY kit then that really helps. But not everyone is capable. I’m good at soldering and these take a while and it may be beyond a newbie. 

 

it seems the majority is fine with units minus cases and requiring users to assemble themselves. For full assembled units expect to pay a premium and have a long wait time. 
 

As for the X8 I’m warming up to the idea. 

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On 10/11/2021 at 12:15 AM, Janne Sirén said:

It seems to me the main reason is the developers not being active on the forums, but being active on Facebook instead, though? I am not sure how that fits with your interpretation, since some information does get posted on Facebook, right? Like the X8 tidbit. That is unfortunate given that the Facebook group is private, so the only external-facing updates are what we have here. Anyone coming from the website to the Community menu and then onwards here gets a partial picture.

People are of course free to join Facebook, but I can see why some are trying to cut down on that these days.

Not unreasonable desires. I think that the comments that happen on FB are far less of the "here is a big announcement" and more of the "oh, here is some throwaway information in a blurb" variety. When David felt he had a big announcement / information to share, he came here and made this post, and referred FB to here.

I think part of the problem is that we have many people here dying for a crumb of information, so they latch onto the literal crumbs that appear on FB as life saving manna, when really they aren't "affirmative notifications of progress" but rather "oh, that thing didn't pan out so someone is looking into something similar but better but there is no substantive news on that front yet".

I can't "defend" (nor can I "attack") how project leadership is handling communication with the community. For me personally, I look at it as "I would like to know more, as much as possible, but no one owes me more info; in like fashion, I do not 'owe' the project my allegiance". What each of us has to decide for ourselves at this point is "we know how this project is working; when do I reach the point that staying is no longer of value to me". It seems clear that to some people in this very long thread, they have reached or are reaching that point. It is a shame, but I can't blame them. For me personally, and maybe it's partially because I've been in the community for six months or so, I still believe that X16 will happen in one form or another, and I look forward to its eventual release. I felt the same way about MEGA65 and I was recently rewarded for my patience. I expect the same in this case. I'm only investing a little time in this at the moment.

I've told David I'm more than happy to help out however I can. If there is a way for me to help the project in a more active capacity in the future, great. If not, I'll stay here and be a cheerleader in the meantime. Others may feel differently, and they have to go where they feel they should in this whole process. I might give up at some point, but I'm no where near that point at this time.

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On 10/11/2021 at 3:03 AM, Janne Sirén said:

Thank you for the update @Calculon, appreciate it. I still think it would be useful if even just a similar amount activity was shown here as well. I mean, a lot of input was gathered (on request) in this thread, perhaps a comment or two might have been useful in recent times. Just IMO.

This is the internet. You're being entirely too reasonable in your thinking. You should work on that. 😄

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On 10/11/2021 at 7:38 AM, x16tial said:

A "new post every couple of weeks" would be a VAST improvement over what gets communicated here currently.

I think most of those new posts are mainly by the community, not the team, so it is even less than that.

Edit: I should have read everything first, I see this point was already made.

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On 10/11/2021 at 3:20 AM, paulscottrobson said:

Nope,  you could do it fine. It would be ridiculously expensive, very hard to design and require a large amount of board space, but it's *possible*.

But even in the 1980s most computers had ULAs or custom chips, which are the forerunner of the FPGA.

{snipped}

I'm not sure if there exists a TTL design that does any graphics outside either a straight RAM to Bitmap or RAM to character generator design. It's just not economical and still isn't.

When people focus on what David put in his first video, such as "no FPGA" and claim this is not in keeping with his dream, they seem to overlook the price aspect of that initial dream. We've all subsequently learned (for those who didn't know it previously) that some of those goals are mutually exclusive. You can either spend a lot more time, money, and other resources trying to build a discrete video subsystem that has all the bells and whistles that were desired (which completely destroys the cost) or you go FPGA (which is much more affordable) or you just throw up your hands and say "can't be done oh well".

David showed X8 as being possible at an affordable price point but ultimately stated it wasn't enough like X16 on FB, so they're looking at something similar that will still get close to his originally desired price point. I big part of the motivation for this was "how can people get into retro computing at an affordable price".

Here is a question for the community at large: What is better for the X16 ecosystem, a kit that only select people will be able to assemble, or a relatively inexpensive FPGA based solution that many more people can afford that won't involve assembly? While the former would be awesome to have (and I plan to buy it when it becomes available) there is far more potential buy in with the latter (which I also plan to buy when it is available).

I think there is too much "what do I personally want" and not enough "what is best for adoption so there can be a vibrant community". There are still C64 games being sold today thanks to critical mass of adoption and not nearly as much if any software being released for the KIM.

If one simply wants a retro computer to use on their own and aren't worried about a community, and a kit scratches that itch, fine. But if you want to be able to find software to run on it that you didn't write yourself, you're going to get a lot more options if the hardware is more accessible to a wider audience. In that respect, the kit is not unlike a KIM (inaccessible to all but the most hardcore fans) and the complete FPGA solution is the C64 (much more accessible and interesting to a much larger universe of potential users).

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You can either spend a lot more time, money, and other resources trying to build a discrete video subsystem that has all the bells and whistles that were desired (which completely destroys the cost) or you go FPGA (which is much more affordable)

I'm not experienced with FPGA at all, but it sounded to me like they could be programmed that they form some kind of PCB of some generic (TTL) parts. If I understood this correctly, the schematic already exists (as "program" for the FPGA). I might be completely wrong, so please correct me.

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On 10/11/2021 at 1:33 PM, Ju+Te said:

[FPGAs] form some kind of PCB of some generic (TTL) parts

Here is an over-simplified but still useful way to visualize FPGAs.

Imagine a huge Ben Eater style breadboard prepopulated with thousands of simple TTL gates and flip-flops, but no wires.  By itself this logic does nothing, but by adding the right wires one could implement many possible useful circuits.

Programming an FPGA is analogous to plugging wires into this breadboard.

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On 10/11/2021 at 8:18 AM, Calculon said:

Just to repeat for clarification: “once every couple of weeks” is not a post from one of the project members. It’s a random person with a question, or an idea, or a link they want to share, etc. Exactly the kind of thing that gets posted here multiple times *every day*. You’re not missing enough to worry about. It’s not “VAST”. It’s tiny.

That's fine, but the rest of what I said still applies.

Eh, I was gonna say more, but I just don't care anymore.

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On 10/11/2021 at 11:33 AM, Ju+Te said:

I'm not experienced with FPGA at all, but it sounded to me like they could be programmed that they form some kind of PCB of some generic (TTL) parts. If I understood this correctly, the schematic already exists (as "program" for the FPGA). I might be completely wrong, so please correct me.

I'm not an FPGA expert but you're on the right track. However, there are different physical limits on a PCB with discrete components than there are on an FPGA.

When creating the 6502, there are more or less two types of uses for transistors in the CPU. One is as gates, the other is as so called "random logic". If we were to compare them to computer programming, gate based transistor logic is like structured programming. It is relatively easy to understand when you look at certain combinations of transistors that they create various types of gates: NOT (inverter), AND, OR, XOR, NAND, NOR XNOR.

Other combinations though do not correspond to standardized gates, and those are the "random logic". It isn't truly "random" as in "random numbers" it just isn't as structured as the gate based transistors. You might call it "spaghetti code" of the integrated circuit world. You can do the same things (I think, generally speaking) with gates, but it might not be as efficient. It might require more transistors and take more time to process with gate based transistors vs random logic based transistors.

FPGA is a field programmable GATE array. So that is one difference between what one might get when implementing a 6502 in an FPGA vs in silicon, as the FPGA primarily provides for gate based design work.

Extending the definition beyond the CPU to a video subsystem: Given that there exists hardware description language for VERA, it could be implemented in discrete parts, but now you have to consider timing. With all the functionality in gates in the FPGA, which takes up millimeters of space, signals can propagate between gates orders of magnitude more quickly than they could on something the scale of a circuit board with traces between chips. Just the fact that they are further apart means things take longer. Then you also have more considerations of noise. More parts means more things to go wrong and more time to troubleshoot.

In the end, the FPGA is the most cost effective way to create this system. I love the idea of a discrete parts board with a separate CPU and IO chips and all the good stuff, but not everyone is going to love that as much as just having something that works.

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On 10/11/2021 at 7:22 PM, Scott Robison said:

I can't "defend" (nor can I "attack") how project leadership is handling communication with the community. For me personally, I look at it as "I would like to know more, as much as possible, but no one owes me more info; in like fashion, I do not 'owe' the project my allegiance". What each of us has to decide for ourselves at this point is "we know how this project is working; when do I reach the point that staying is no longer of value to me".

In my messages I have deliberately made an effort to avoid any suggestion that the project owes or should do certain things for us. I am merely offering my thoughts on what I subjectively think would be in their best interest, i.e. an occasional comment on this thread given the gravity of the topic and the amount of requested feedback gathered. It would simply seem like a good idea for them IMO.

I have been around on the Internet too and I know how it can be at its worst. However, what I see here is actually a very reasonable-looking community by those standards. I think the occasional comment to the requested feedback or a simple note on continued planning would do more good than harm for the project ands its owners. Obviously they have judged (deliberately or not) otherwise, but just my thoughts.

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On 10/11/2021 at 1:34 PM, Janne Sirén said:

In my messages I have deliberately made an effort to avoid any suggestion that the project owes or should do certain things for us. I am merely offering my thoughts on what I subjectively think would be in their best interest, i.e. an occasional comment on this thread given the gravity of the topic and the amount of requested feedback gathered. It would simply seem like a good idea for them IMO.

I agree you've been deliberate, and my comments were not directed any any particular person, just a general observation. Sorry if they came across differently, that was not my intent.

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I think that the best way to implement the commander x 16 e should be an fpga with 512 kB of block ram

Ram could be divided as follows 64 base + 128 video +320 banked

inside such a capable fpga all the chipset should find room.

 

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On 10/11/2021 at 5:44 PM, Fabio said:

I think that the best way to implement the commander x 16 e should be an fpga with 512 kB of block ram

Ram could be divided as follows 64 base + 128 video +320 banked

inside such a capable fpga all the chipset should find room.

How much does an FPGA with 512KB of block ram go for?

Edited by BruceMcF
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On 10/11/2021 at 2:06 PM, picosecond said:

Here is an over-simplified but still useful way to visualize FPGAs.

Imagine a huge Ben Eater style breadboard prepopulated with thousands of simple TTL gates and flip-flops, but no wires.  By itself this logic does nothing, but by adding the right wires one could implement many possible useful circuits.

Programming an FPGA is analogous to plugging wires into this breadboard.

Quite, which is why I rather refer the process of implementing the routing as "wiring" the FPGA, rather than "programming" the FPGA, which causes all manner of confusion to people who know a bit about programming and very little about CPLDs and FPGAs.

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