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Change of product direction, good and bad news!


What should we do?  

359 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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I would rather see the Vera Cartridge for the C64 instead of the X8.  There is a large market for existing C64 users that don't want to buy a new machine, but would spend money to upgrade their existing hardware. 

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I've always been worried about the idea about using only through hole components as it was going to cost too much to assemble, and trying to shoulder the burden of building 1000+ units seems unsustainable to me. Everyone has already put in a lot of effort into the project already and you have almost reached an important milestone, so I also feel that not doing anything with the phase 1 design will be a waste. It think its best if you just offer it as a kit without warranty to let the people who are interested buy it and build it themselves, or they can just wait for the next phase. With a kit you also wouldn't have to worry about any EMC testing required by the FCC which is even that much harder to pass with a large motherboard design with through hole components.

I feel like bringing out the x8 would create a divide for a product that isn't even released yet. Its good to be able to focus your efforts onto the one product instead. I think you should also refocus your efforts onto your end goal too. There's a lot of development work that will have to be spent on phase 2 which can be used to work on phase 3 instead that can be mass produced the easiest. My suggestion is to finish phase 1 of the project, sell it as a kit to those that want expansion, an authentic retro feel et c. and start work on phase 3 to sell to everyone else. I think its also sad to see the FM chip go.

I've never been that interested in the case, so I don't mind it going. If you decide to sell it as a kit, I'm sure people won't mind that they have to source their own case to go along with it. The PS/2 keyboard seems like a nice addition but you also don't want to waste your down payment for no reason. Given that the x8 doesn't support PS/2, that's a significant amount of money spent on something that isn't even usable in its current state.

Edited by Gold
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I'd be very weary of releasing the X8 version first. It will definitely cannibalize sales of the X16 in two respects - 1) it will satisfy 90% of the demand since it can do about 90% of the work that the full X16 can do and 2) if there are any issues it will taint the expectations of the full X16 model before it sees the light of day. Your comparison to the C128 is also pretty apt - if I were you I'd hold it in reserve and treat it more like an Atari 2600jr, a later model to sell to those who couldn't afford or justify the full price.

On the assembled/non-assembled board - a choice is fine with a markup, but the maybe that too can be a release in waves - first available loose, then over time you offer it fully assembled. This from a guy who had very little skill in soldering.

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None of the available answers reflects my opinions on this, so I'll just leave a comment here.

  1. Should we release the Commander X8?
    Yes, but only if it's made compatible with the X16 from a programmer's perspective. I don't think, as others already said, that two different hardware platforms are a good idea. We can live with less RAM (no banking), as long as the memory map stasy the same for both X8 and X16, and also VERA addressing mode should be the same. Ideally, a program should be able to detect X8 easily and decide if it can run on the more limited X8 hardware: if it can, no changes should be required to the code, except for coping with the limitations.
    Having a stripped-down version of the X16 would be nice for developers, that can start making progress on a real hardware instead of the emulator. It could be a good thing to see how much real interest there is for the X16 and help finance the project.
  2. Should we still make a Phase-2 product?
    Only if it is as feature complete as the Phase-1 board. It could be good to have a mass-produced PCBA if there is enough people that can't afford the DIY kit of Phase-1 or simply doesn't have the tools or skills to build it, but still wants to enjoy a retro-style computer and be part of the community around it, without missing anything that would be made for Phase-1 hardware. I see Phase-2 as the non-DIY option of Phase-1. Release Phase-1 as a kit for those you can buy it and build it, and leave Phase-2 for all the others, but they should be functionally the same hardware, only in a different package that makes it cheaper and good for mass-production. If that's done, we don't even need a Phase-3, more so if you release the X8.
  3. For the X16 Phase-1, do you prefer a kit or a somewhat more expensive pre-assembled board?
    After all the things you said about assembly of a Phase-1 board, I think this should be only released as a DIY kit, without the option to buy it pre-assembled. That should be left for Phase-2, that should be hardware compatible with Phase-1 in every aspect, including expansions. Again, I don't see a point in having the Phase-3 if it's essentially an emulator "in hardware". It would make sense only if it's as feature complete as Phase-1 and compatible in every aspect, including expansions. Then it could replace Phase-2 of course. But I understand this might not be a viable option with an "FPGA does it all" kind of solution. A one chip solution would still make sense to me if the X16 becomes such a huge success that you're going to make a handheld gaming console out of it, with display and keypad included. Otherwise I don't see it as useful.

Basically, what I don't want is 4 different hardware platforms. Software should run mostly unchanged on anything you release under the X16 project. I understand you are calling X8 that way right because it's sufficiently different to not be an X16, otherwise you would've called it Phase-0 maybe, but... really I am afraid it could drive away people from the X16, thinking the X8 is just good enough. It could make sense only to raise some funds initially, but call it "X16-mini" or something, and make it fully compatible with X16 architecture. Sort of an appetizer for the real deal: a DIY kit with only DIP parts, released first mostly for developers or education, and an SMD version suitable for mass-production, released afterwards for everyone who could not afford the kit.

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Hi David & crew,

    I work for an electronics manufacturing company in Tennessee that has the capability to do through-hole and SMT manufacturing. Also, we may be able to help with the power supply issue, as our primary line of products are all power supply-based. I know PCBWay has done a lot to support this project, and I'm not looking to step on any toes. But I thought I would extend a greeting just the same.

Send a PM if we can be of assistance. In any case, I'm looking forward to seeing the project through and getting a kit myself.

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1 hour ago, picosecond said:

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.

I think you got the point wrong, or at least incomplete. To appeal to people's (admittedly irrational) love for retro(-like) hardware, the through-hole part is important. Also, it makes the kit version easier to build for beginners.
And don't forget the expandability of the X16 which is a very appealing aspect that the X8 lacks.

I do agree with your point about the licensing, though. I see the benefits of the current situation, but ultimately I'd love to see the X16 go completely open-source, including the Kernal.

Edited by Fnord42
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I honestly like the idea of the X8 shipping now and replacing the phase 3. As many folks have pointed out here, hardware hackers probably aren't interested in it--but that's ok, because they probably weren't interested in the phase 3 for the same reasons.

The X8 is self-consistent: it's close enough for the software oriented folks to deal with, it doesn't require a specialized keyboard or power, it's small enough that there will be 10 3d printable case designs on Thingiverse shortly after the technical drawings are public, and it's (apparently) easier to get from today to shipping than the X16, so it shouldn't be too much of a time sink.

There's a lot of assumption on my part in that paragraph, but if it's accurate, getting it out there with a little bit of a premium that helps fund the last mile of X16 development makes sense to me.

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For those who liken the X8/X16 to the V20/C64, I think that is a flawed comparison. At the time each Commodore product was released the market for computers was booming. However, for this product I'd be willing to say the market is pretty niche and stable, and I'd suspect the number of people who would buy one won't double in the next two years. Additionally, the V20 was a natural evolutionary predecessor of the C64 and not something sitting on a desk ready to go when they designed the C64.

Edited by TinyElvis
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I'd also buy an X8 without thinking twice if it were available(*), but I think the concerns about having two semi-compatible platforms cannibalizing each other's user (and more importantly: developer) base are valid.

(*) in addition to the X16 Phase1 Kit, which I still want most.

Edited by Fnord42
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The X8 sounds cool, but I think the worries about it diluting the X16 are very real. If the X8 is ever released, I think it should be long (years!) after the X16, so that the X16 has time to establish itself.

Regarding the phases: I'm only interested in Phase 1 for myself, and DIY is fine. Phase 3 is what I'm going to convince all my friends and family to get. 🙂 (But that only really works if the software for Phase 1 and 3 are compatible, which they wouldn't if Phase 3 was the X8.) I don't really see the sense in Phase 2 - who is the target audience? People who would really like the Phase 1 but don't have enough money for it? I say make Phase 1 and 3 (which have clear audiences in my mind) and then only make Phase 2 if there seems to be a sizeable enough audience that can't be addressed with only Phase 1 and 3.

Anyway, what ever is decided, I can't wait for it to be released! Or even to have a release date, then I can focus on finishing up dev on all my apps with some kind of deadline. 🙂

Thanks for all your hard work and persistence!

Edited by David Snopek
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I don't possibly see how an X8 would dilute demand for an X16. My rationale is this is such a niche sort of product in the first place that anyone interested in purchasing an X16 will do so, regardless of any sort of chopped down version. RE: development, isn't all dev being done on the emulator, anyway? Anyone who wants to make an X16 game can do so, right now, and it will run on the physical hardware when released.

While I understand why you wouldn't want to release an X8 from a marketing perspective, you can basically throw all that sort of stuff out the window when you take into account the actual audience for this product. If somehow either the X8 or X16 gain traction and become used in education as Pi replacements, two competing products is a GOOD problem to have, honestly. Opens the door for all sorts of possibilities.

Finally, a shipped product in the hands of a consumer is infinitely better than vaporware or something that takes years to materialize. People lose interest when delays pile up, so the X8 would be a good stop gap and allow proper X16 production to take place.

EDIT: The whole case thing seems like a blessing in disguise to me. This is supposed to be a kit computer, why not distribute 3D printer models for the case and let people make their own? Hell, when I built my first computer I couldn't afford a case and just used a piece of plywood to mount everything.

Edited by Brad
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6 hours ago, Tmp2k said:

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. 

 


I'd love to be able to buy a professionally-made case for my X16P.

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I'm kinda bummed people are voting to have no phase 2.  It's honestly what I would probably get, since it's still customizable (you can add RAM, etc.) but it will be smaller and cheaper than phase 1 (if I'm understanding correctly).  I'm not all that interested in soldering a phase 1 myself, or spending a lot of money to have it soldered, and the phase 3 seems kind of boring to me, like others said, you might as well just use an emulator with a RPi.  As for the X8, it seems really neat, but I'm too worried about it diluting the software ecosystem.  It seems a bit too incompatible as it is now.  I'd say either make the the addressing of the VERA more compatible with the X16 (even then, having only half the VRAM is a big limitation compared to the X16) or, as @David Snopek said, release the X8 at some point in the far future after the X16 is well-established (but maybe release the X8 emulator so that we (read: I) can play around with it 😄).

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I don't mind phase 2 being skipped asides feeling a bit disappointed that it now has less points to buy it over the FPGA board I already have. But at least please make phase 3 with all the phase 1 features, especially expansion slots. In my point of view, I'm not that interested in having all through-hole components and soldering all of them. What I'm interested more is the platform and the architecture itself. So it would be very nice if I can just have a cheaper small board with all the features intact.

Also, it's better to not release an X8. In my opinion, it's too incompatible with X16 and people would struggle porting between these two already niche platforms.

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Speaking of upgradeability - I'm curious: Is there anyone here who does not plan to max out their X16's RAM to 2MB immediately?

Leaving the X8 aside for a moment, the availability of an X16 with less than 2MB of RAM could also lead to people developing only for the smallest common platform, couldn't it?

Edited by Fnord42
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I wrote and deleted this response so many times since midnight last night.  There are so many points I agree with in this topic already.   What can I add?

 

 

****** Suggestion 1. Make the REFERENCE version ** COTS **, and produce kits slowly and deliberately.  No burnout allowed.

 

****** Suggestion 2. Make the PRODUCT as cheap + easy as possible.  [Tramiel]

...if that means an optimized emulator running on the Raspberry Pi instead of Phase 3, then so be it.

 

****** Suggestion 3. Do what's right for the ECOSYSTEM.  

 

 

 

***

Regarding the X8, I would prefer that it be on a card (or something) that could plug into other Commodore machines.  To provide X16 capabilities to PETs and C64s for example.   Make it a graphics card.  Or make it an "X8 Card".   Something like that.  THAT sounds like a non-competing product that could EXPAND the X16's ecosystem.

 

Edited by rje
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I have clicked the poll.    I hope it is the last one.     Here are a few of my thoughts for what they are worth. 

1.   Decide SOON and stick with it.     Shifting sands cause people to stop working on projects that are the life's blood of an ecosystem for this thing being a success.   Beware of poll-based decisions.     There are people (not me, I'm just a johnny come lately) on these boards who have hundreds of hours of time and effort on your platform.   Their voices ought to count louder than just poll clicks from drive by internet denizens.    Message them privately.    Get their phone numbers.   Have a discussion.   Listen.  

2.   Spend money on people instead of stuff.   Sure there are dev costs, but why keyboards need to be ordered already I can't quite understand.    Speaking of People:  Once hardware is locked down to what it will be period, then I would gladly drop $$ into a crowd-fund  if needed to provide a pool of compensation to induce Michael to put finishing the kernal and basic as his top priority.    If you look at the things other projects are getting stuck on,  and just read through the GitHub and see what he's done, I think you will have to realize he's not just the 'kernal guy'  -- he's possibly one of the internet's preeminent experts on the  Commodore kernal.   Just look at what WORKS, and works right without any issues, on the emulator so far is a testament to that.    Do NOT lose his participation!   He's an MVP.    And the sooner you get the Kernal and BASIC to a final point to where people can document not just the official kernal calls, but have the FP library addresses set in stone and all the important stuff like "VARTAB" and "TEXTTAB" set in stone (or close!) the better for development. 

3.   The 'X8" is in my opinion a cop-out option that you seem to be tempted to put out and wash your hands of this whole episode moving forward.   I urge you not to.    The Plus/4 died in part because of the Commodore 16 and even Commodore handicapping things well below the Plus/4 capabilities so it would work on the lesser machine.     Don't spend all this time only to submarine everyone's work with a lower common denominator. 

4.   Consider bringing in someone to be a project manager to drive the project with deadlines and decisions that don't amount to internet bike shedding etc.   I'm not sure how a youtube creator could have the time to take that role, but I think it would help.  

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1 hour ago, Brad said:

I don't possibly see how an X8 would dilute demand for an X16.

 

I can.  If it's easier to use the VERA on the X8, then maybe I'd rather program on that instead of the X16.

The hobby platform has to be hackable, but (in my case) accessible too.

 

Edited by rje
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I've been watching the project from the outside for a while.  For me the reasons that I like the X16 are that it is "hackable" and it's "understandable."  For a fun hacking project or for educational use these are great.  This is why I like the Phase I (DIY or otherwise) and the Phase 2 (less hackable but more attainable) but Phase 3 and the X8 both seem like a grossly under-powered Raspberry Pi.

I like the idea of all the exposed hardware that I can poke around on, troubleshoot and hack.  If you stick it all in an FPGA then I'm not interested.  I can just grab an STM32 Nucleo board or a Raspberry Pi for those things.  Or if it's a nostalgic software itch then the emulator works fine for that.  I want to hack the hardware.

For what it's worth, I would also love to see the VERA board offered on it's own for use on the aforementioned STM32 Nucleo projects.  Maybe a VERA shield (eh, eh).

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It's a pity as there would have been a market for a computer like this but in kit form you are ruling out 4/5ths of the market. I don't see why you would be getting a computer like that assembled in China anyway, did you even look into the cost of getting it done closer to home like in Mexico. It may take you a day to assemble one computer yourself but in a factory it would cost less and be faster. I'd be surprised if you couldn't get a price of less than $50 per computer to have them assembled and tested.

To be honest the project looks like it's dead in the water now.  As a kit computer it would have very limited appeal, you'll probably sell enough to get rid of the keyboards but you'd be doing well to see over half the kits assembled. 

The 8bit fpga board seems like an Idea but in reality you are competing with the likes of the Raspberry pi400 at that stage, and that blows both X16 and X8 out of the water

 

Edited by Shauny
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Ecosystem is in tension with hackability. 

  • Let's say Dave can move 1 kit a week and still have time to do everything he normally does. 
  • Say half are pre-assembled at a premium.
  • That's 50 kits a year.

 

Phase 2 and 3 are for filling out the rest of the ecosystem, whatever that is.

  • The whole point of Phase 2 appears (to me) to be the expansion slot.
  • Phase 3 is essentially no different than emulation.

 

 

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17 minutes ago, Shauny said:

in kit form you are ruling out 4/5ths of the market

To bounce off this idea, If there is an already assembled version I would go for that one. I'm terrible at soldering and would get my X16 in a pretty bad shape after a week of working on it (even if it works).
I won't refuse the challenge of assembling a kit, whatever time I may take to make it, but yeah honestly I'm more likely to buy a pre-assembled kit, even if I had to pay an extra 200$.

I assume that unlike me a majority (silent majority) will just avoid the kit version due to the fact that it's not assembled.

Edited by VincentF
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Going to point out that, David and Kevin, you don't need to be the only ones assembling kits, if people don't want to/can't do it themselves.

What's wrong with the idea of someone buying kits from you (at a volume discount even?) and running a side business assembling and even casing the X16.  They would of course have to warranty their own work, but I see nothing wrong with this idea, you don't have to do it all.
Have a section on this website where people could advertise this service.

You're either gonna have to be all in on creating "Commander Inc." or you're going to have to open things as much as possible to the userbase to figure out and do.  I don't get the feeling that you want to be CEO of Commander Inc, so crowd sourcing is the play, I think.

 

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