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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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On 10/11/2021 at 10:21 PM, kelli217 said:

This recent discussion has raised a question in my head: How much would it cost to turn the VHDL for VERA into custom-fabricated fixed silicon?

That's a difficult question to answer exactly, but from what I can find via Google searches, you're looking at an up front cost of multiple tens of thousands of dollars, then a volume of at least 10k per year to bring the costs down to the sub $2 range per IC. It's not impossible but not practical for the expected scale of something like the X16. That all assumes some of the least expensive processes would be usable.

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There is also the point that once you go fixed--silicon, that's it. So, it kind of makes sense it is the last step in a project like this If it is to be done at all. Even if the feature-set would be fixed early on, the upgradeability of an FPGA can be very helpful in low-volume hobbyist projects. We do have some precedence for this though in the Commodore community: the hobbyist C-One (FPGA) evolved into the higher volume C64 Direct-to-TV (ASIC).

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On 10/12/2021 at 4:33 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.

You are correct, and what you suggest is a good analogy. There is a circuit out there as a program to be simulated on a computer known as a FPGA.

A FPGA is a computer itself, it has computing hardware, runs a program, takes input gives output same as any computer.

At the moment, the entire experience of the X16 is 'available' in the simulator, if that is what you desire. FPGA is another simulator which can run the same simulation. The simulation can be ported to windows, linux, or FPGA as you please.

Personally, I don't see it as the same as the 'real thing' where you can hold and understand each part and with that understanding you get the best abilities to program, repair, expand, adapt the design to your desires. Just as to understand the simulator on Linux, you have to understand the software running the simulation, the operating system supporting the software, the hardware supporting the operating system, to get the most out of it. You have to learn the software and toolchain and hardware which supports the FPGA itself in order to get the most out of the simulation. It is what I consider to be an unnecessary layer of abstraction from the circuit itself.

Perhaps the simulated circuit is indeed so sprawling and verbose that economy prohibits discreet parts, however I think the circuit objectives are modest. With todays lower costs of all the parts needed to build 80's level computers, I see the actual real world as a good environment for the computer circuit to exist in discreet components.

I see putting in the effort to optimize a circuit so it can be realized in discreet parts with low chip-count as necessary for the desired experience of the end user because how can you interface with a simulation? There are the added obstacles of learning every layer of abstraction, and in the end, you'd just stick to learning one or two which most suit your goals. Learning programming on the linux machine rather than learning programming on the linux machine PLUS learning programming in the simulation so you can modify and interface to the simulated x16 better and create addons, well there is the extra layer of busy work right there.

The Pi is bad enough as you cannot solder every signal and even where people do not want to pick up an iron there are benefits and innovation from other people with that same hardware to benefit from.

Less layers of abstraction equates to less learning required for access. So I'm personally against FPGA, it's not worth learning for me, I'd sooner just design AND THEN OPTIMIZE the circuit so its easily built economically.

On 10/12/2021 at 5:06 AM, picosecond said:

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.

Has anyone here built his video card circuit? I have not, but I think that some of the inverters can be omitted from his circuit without changing it's function or even the circuit beyond the omissions. I should try to contact him perhaps, but I'm sure he's busy, maybe someone else has built it.

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On 10/12/2021 at 9:20 AM, Oldrooster said:

A FPGA is a computer itself, it has computing hardware, runs a program, takes input gives output same as any computer.

After all, "takes input, gives output" is certainly not restricted to a computer ... "takes input, gives output" is what a 74x09 does, where the inputs are up to four pairs of signals and the outputs are the ANDs of each pair.

Now, suppose that instead of four ANDs, it had four circuits which could either be an AND or a NAND, based on four bits in a serial shift register. It has two more pins, which are used to shift the four setting bits in.

Is that a computer?

It has a "program" ... the four bits that determine which gates are ANDs and which are NANDs. It takes input. It gives output.

I would say, no, it certainly is not a computer, because it does not RUN the program. The "program" is just a set of switches that either turn on or turn off the inverter that follows the NAND inside the quad AND chip.

It's the same with an FPGA.

It's "program" is the specification of the interconnections between its logic and latch resources ... including those connected to pins ... and built in specialized components (I/O, DSP units, block RAM, SPRAM,). Once the "program" is loaded, it does not RUN, in sequence, it is contained in latches that determine the connections between NAND and NOR gates and other components built into the FPGA.

Some FPGAs HAVE a CPU as a component, and a sufficiently complex FPGA can be wired up as a computer, but an FPGA simply is not "a computer itself" precisely because it does not run a program. The FPGA itself is not given a sequence of instructions to execute. Instead, it is given the set of interconnections to make between its various components.

 

Edited by BruceMcF
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On 10/12/2021 at 8:35 AM, BruceMcF said:

Some FPGAs HAVE a CPU as a component, and a sufficiently complex FPGA can be wired up as a computer, but an FPGA simply is not "a computer itself" precisely because it does not run a program. The FPGA itself is not given a sequence of instructions to execute. Instead, it is given the set of interconnections to make between its various components.

Exactly. Really, a CPU is not a computer either. It is but one component of a computer. A C=64 with a pristine 6510 but without a VIC II is a paperweight. Or a pair of 6526. Or the right number of RAM chips. I mean, they are fancy paperweights that do various forms of blinky lights or sounds or whatever depending on what is missing, but the computer is a complete collection of parts and interconnections between a number of components.

I agree with the philosophy that it is nice to have a discrete component based system for a certain set of reasons. In like fashion, the MOnSter 6502 is a nice recreation of a MOS 6502 made from all "discrete" components. It would also be cool to see a 6502 made from all vacuum tubes. But some of these are impractical, even if they are cool and have other positive attributes.

The beauty of an FPGA system is that, for a sufficiently large FPGA, it is possible to recreate all the individual components that go into a computer in a single chip. There is still more to do of course. You have to get input from the outside world into the FPGA through IO pins, and get output to the outside world through other IO pins. That has certain benefits and certain detriments, just like the other things listed above.

And that is the entire world of engineering: Understanding what is possible and weighing the pros and the cons and coming up with the right solution for a given problem. If one wants to create a video system out of all discrete components because it "simply requires optimization" then I say, go create it! I was reading just yesterday about the C74 project which has as a goal to create an entire C64 out of 7400 series logic chips. Someone is "working" on the VIC II portion of that. I hope they succeed, it will be a sight to behold I'm sure. But it isn't "practical" for an intended mass produced system in this day and age. And that's okay, not everything has to be practical. But if you are hoping to build a computer that can be used by people, practical is a really good thing to strive for.

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On 10/12/2021 at 7:35 AM, BruceMcF said:

After all, "takes input, gives output" is certainly not restricted to a computer ... "takes input, gives output" is what a 74x09 does, where the inputs are up to four pairs of signals and the outputs are the ANDs of each pair

 

On 10/12/2021 at 6:20 AM, Oldrooster said:

A FPGA is a computer itself, it has computing hardware, runs a program, takes input gives output same as any computer.

See, this is not quite correct...an FPGA can do none of these things by itself. If you simply feed power to an FPGA, it will sit there. It requires programming and peripherals to perform even a simple operation. 

It's most appropriate to say that an FPGA is part of a computer, just like the Broadcom BCM2837B0 is part of a computer. Context and programming matter, and we don't think of cash registers, arcade games, or air conditioning thermostats as computers - even though they may contain a microprocessor and perform fairly complex tasks.

Clearly a smart thermostat has all of the requisite properties, but we're never going to confuse a Nest thermostat with a desktop PC. 

Context matters, and while a complex FPGA can be one component of a computer, it's not "a computer" any more than the Broadcom SOC. It's just one piece of a system that may or may not itself be a general purpose computer.

 

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On 10/12/2021 at 2:04 PM, TomXP411 said:

It's most appropriate to say that an FPGA is part of a computer, just like the Broadcom BCM2837B0 is part of a computer. Context and programming matter, and we don't think of cash registers, arcade games, or air conditioning thermostats as computers - even though they may contain a microprocessor and perform fairly complex tasks.

And, further, since the FPGA doesn't necessarily contain a microprocessor, unlike devices controlled by a microcontroller, it will in many cases be incapable of executing a program in the sense that most people mean when they use the term.

So, while the Gameduino had a J1 microprocessor core, and the X8 has a 6502 core, Vera has no processor core at all, and is entirely incapable of executing a "program" in the sense that most people mean. And the Gameduino did not "emulate" the J1, nor does the X8 "emulate" the 6502 ... in both cases, interconnections between hardware components are used to implement the processor functions.

The early FPGAs were sometimes programmed by explicitly designing their circuits, until they gained so many components and connections options to sort out that this was replaced by function specification languages and tools that converted the resulting generic netlist into an optimized interconnection list for the FPGA ... similar to the way that hand laid out circuit boards have been replaced by optimized circuit layout tools.

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On 10/12/2021 at 10:53 AM, Scott Robison said:

Really, a CPU is not a computer either.

Quite ... hence the "central" in Central Processing Unit. The CPU processes instructions, by accessing instructions stored somewhere, to operate on data stored elsewhere (in memory or I/O devices) , and store the results elsewhere (in memory or I/O devices) ...

... and in the "programming" phase of "programming" an FPGA, there is no storage of a sequence of instructions to be executed ... the reason the same verb is used for both types of actions is that, back in my day, the original hardware "programming" was burning a "Programmable" ROM to contain the program to be executed by a CPU. But even back in my day, a ROM "programmer" did not have to be used to store a computer program ... eg, it could be used with a latch and glue logic as part of a state machine.

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On 10/12/2021 at 1:54 PM, BruceMcF said:

Quite ... hence the "central" in Central Processing Unit. The CPU processes instructions, by accessing instructions stored somewhere, to operate on data stored elsewhere (in memory or I/O devices) , and store the results elsewhere (in memory or I/O devices) ...

... and in the "programming" phase of "programming" an FPGA, there is no storage of a sequence of instructions to be executed ... the reason the same verb is used for both types of actions is that, back in my day, the original hardware "programming" was burning a "Programmable" ROM to contain the program to be executed by a CPU. But even back in my day, a ROM "programmer" did not have to be used to store a computer program ... eg, it could be used with a latch and glue logic as part of a state machine.

From my time in radio, "programmer" or "programming" has very different meanings in that context. Those of us with software experience think of it as meaning one thing when it actually has broader implications. Deciding upon the sequence of songs to be played is programming. Configuring a VCR to record shows at a given time is programming. And writing HDL descriptions is programming in that the HDL has rules and syntax of a sequence of keywords, which is subsequently transformed into a bitstream that has its own sequential format that is loaded into the FPGA, just as the programming of a ROM determines a set of values returned in a sequential manner based on address pins.

Which is to say, you are correct. It is not programming in the limited sense many people think of programming, but it is surely a form of programming just as other examples are as well.

In fact, one can (if one wants) consider Word or Excel or {insert example program here} an interpreter that allows one to write programs in a domain specific language using a rigid IDE. An expert with those (or comparable) tools can do incredible things. And old timer machine language programmers (those who coded in hex, not in assembly) can look down their noses at those of us that only know high level or assembly language because we're not doing it the right way either.

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On 10/13/2021 at 1:35 AM, BruceMcF said:

Is that a computer?

Totally is.

Of course, there is no defined set limit as to what is a computer, so people interpret it according to their own desires, same way the USA declared space to be a lot closer to the reach of their weak and slow rockets after the USSR launched mankind into orbit on Vostok 1.

A computer does not need to be electronic, I would say that is a universally accepted point, and a computer can and often is a person. Some people, trained at the art or not are fabulous computers. Mentat, rain man, what have you. A logic gate is a perfect example of a computer as it encapsulates the very idea of computation. Nicola's invention defines computing in it's most elemental form, you just can't get it any simpler than that. Well, I'm sure a salesperson like gates will get a stick and spruke it as the best computer ever invented, but that's liars sales for you.

Now to define FPGA as computing I can't see that as any kind of controversy, it's pretty apt, and where you draw your lines will depend a lot on where in time you are, not so much because of moores law, but AI and quantum computing and so on. If the impossible were to happen and development were to suddenly go on a steady increase over time, then yeah, we'd look back and say lol, a pentium is not a computer, what can it do, that's absurd.

In the X16 it adds too much of an abstraction so that people can't see the hardware at all, because it doesn't exist. Software can be anything, an operating system, intuition on the amiga, the executable file, a script, so on.

 

On 10/13/2021 at 1:35 AM, BruceMcF said:

I would say, no, it certainly is not a computer, because it does not RUN the program. The "program" is just a set of switches that either turn on or turn off the inverter that follows the NAND inside the quad AND chip.

I don't get you there, you are defining computer and then saying its not a computer. Wouldn't you stop to agree that a computer may have many component parts such as hardware, software, program and data ? Missing some or all of them is not relevant to the essentialist viewpoint any more than you can say a three legged goat is no longer a goat because all goats have four legs everyone knows they do. Is a new computer with a blank memory and blank bios not a computer ? People will soon spend a lot of time building the project I'm helping with and it has nothing on it at first.

The X16 FPGA is a computer in it's own right, and I can make that clear with the proposition that change the program running on the FPGA computer and you no longer have your X16, you have something else.

The FPGA is the computer, the 'configuration' you load onto it is the program, and the X16 you run on top of that is the data. Then for the X16, the you move it all up a level data becomes hardware or software becomes data or however you want to play the musical chairs for that game. Doesn't matter, people understand intuitively that the objective of a dream computer, in their own heart has been compromised.

On 10/13/2021 at 1:35 AM, BruceMcF said:

It's the same with an FPGA.

It's "program" is the specification of the interconnections between its logic and latch resources ... including those connected to pins ... and built in specialized components (I/O, DSP units, block RAM, SPRAM,). Once the "program" is loaded, it does not RUN, in sequence, it is contained in latches that determine the connections between NAND and NOR gates and other components built into the FPGA.

Hold on a minute, it depends on the viewpoint entirely. The program is the planet X robots from the 'programmers' point of view if they are writing that program, and the operating system is the part which, let me quote you, "Once the "program" is loaded, it does not RUN," because the operating system from the gamer programmers point of view is not the program, it's the computer you've ported your game to, A 'windows computer' or a 'linux computer' or an 'apple computer' according to their point of view they refer to the operating system itself as the computer in their vernacular. Talk to the FPGA programmer and you'll get a different language and a different viewpoint of which part is which, and having a CPU in a FPGA is simply a macro, a common subroutine written in silicon so you don't need to write it out in full whereas any other part of the FPGA can be used for essentially the same purpose. Large enough FPGA means just cut and paste the code for a CPU core. Give a soldering iron and 8,000+ transistors to a determined person and they have a Z80 compatible CPU right there (could be twice that many depending on how you whittle the parts down).

So to sum up, when our dear friend Ju+Te enquires about a FPGA, and considering he invents and builds his own hardware, then yeah, a FPGA is a computer which runs a program. The program is not called 'robots go mad' it's called 'X16' and you could change the software to 'my personal ZX-81 clone' and so on, at which point it's not really so much of an X-16, sortof, you just use the same hardware for three different kinds of computers, did I say 8? they're just popping up here, wait, no, they're not, because nobody likes FPGA, they're boring at parties and everyone wants to hang out with the Z80 or over at the 6502's house... (whisper)FPGA's lack personality and require a personality injection to get them started at parties.

 

Edited by Oldrooster
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Well I've explained my X16 FPGA answer and viewpoint thoroughly, and would only like to add that I think the best programming language is solder.

 

It is a variation on Bob Pease who say's it's his favorite. I'd like to point out in the sh* world we live in that solder can't be hacked. Also, I'd like to point out that if I ever say anything idiotic, banal or offensive then it was not me using my account.

actually the text I refer to in the link is halfway down the linked page "The horrifying Identify and Disrupt bill which allows Australian police to hack people’s devices, collect, delete and alter their information and log onto their social media was passed through Parliament at jaw-dropping speed last month. "

Apparently the 5 eyes countries can just funnel your internet through Aus and therefore edit anyone's text.

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On 10/12/2021 at 8:58 PM, Scott Robison said:

I think this thread has jumped the shark. Perhaps it needs to be locked, too.

When the conversation about the final release plans of a modern retro computer has turned to what technically constitutes a “computer” and a “program”, the plot has truly been lost. Something tells me that Murray and company learned all they needed quite some time ago.

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On 10/13/2021 at 3:02 AM, Calculon said:

When the conversation about the final release plans of a modern retro computer has turned to what technically constitutes a “computer” and a “program”, the plot has truly been lost. Something tells me that Murray and company learned all they needed quite some time ago.

I wish that was the worst of it.

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On 10/12/2021 at 10:50 PM, Oldrooster said:

Totally is.

Of course, there is no defined set limit as to what is a computer, so people interpret it according to their own desires, same way the USA declared space to be a lot closer to the reach of their weak and slow rockets after the USSR launched mankind into orbit on Vostok 1.

A computer does not need to be electronic, I would say that is a universally accepted point, and a computer can and often is a person.

It is clear from the context which sense of the word "computer" is being used, so discovering that one word can have multiple meanings doesn't advance the position that FPGA's and emulation are fundamentally equivalent ... neither does suggesting that an operating system is not, in fact, executing instructions when a user program makes a system call simply because the author of the user program did not think about what instructions would be executed when the system call was made.

Indeed, an FPGA that loads its connection set-up at power up can be "hacked" in the sense that if someone can get to the board to load something new into the serial flashROM, they can change the way that it behaves ... but if someone with a desolder, solder and a soldering gun gets at a soldered board, then that board can be hacked in the same sense. But in either case, the Ozzie police need physical access to the board to do so (setting aside just what the use case is for the Ozzie police wanting to hack an X8 board).

Edited by BruceMcF
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On 10/13/2021 at 10:02 AM, Calculon said:

When the conversation about the final release plans of a modern retro computer has turned to what technically constitutes a “computer” and a “program”, the plot has truly been lost. Something tells me that Murray and company learned all they needed quite some time ago.

I would imagine they would have had a look at this to get views and ideas on the various platforms and possibilities, but I doubt we can significantly affect anything. Probably the most useful post is Bruce McF's ideas about having a serial extension if they do go round the X8 route.

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On 10/13/2021 at 1:22 PM, paulscottrobson said:

Lots. Whilst Block RAM is probably mandatory for VRAM, given that it's clocked at 8Mhz I would wonder if it would be better to use an external RAM chip.

Vera doesn't rely on the Block RAM for the "Vera Video RAM" space, it uses an internal 1MBit SPRAM module, accessed as 128KB, and it is indeed vital for the functioning of Vera for it to access it faster than 8MHz. I guess it might use Block RAM for the FIFO buffer for the PCM.

And, yeah, I expect that for the 512KB High RAM, an FPGA with enough I/O pins to access a 512KB SRAM might be less expensive, but it seems like it would be pricier than the FPGA they use for Vera.

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On 10/14/2021 at 10:22 AM, BruceMcF said:

I expect that for the 512KB High RAM, an FPGA with enough I/O pins to access a 512KB SRAM might be less expensive, but it seems like it would be pricier than the FPGA they use for Vera

I was looking for FPGAs on fleabay and the bare minimum systems and development boards available and they are in the $30-40 range and up of course, which made me feel that the project I'm working on compares favorably to the X16, I had been worried today doing pricing for the BOM, which so far is about $23 - 30 for the keyboard and $20 for the CPU board. That excludes the SVGA/XVGA video board, which I was estimating to be perhaps $30-50 by itself. I think the video is going to take the most money on parts but I shudder to think what the X-16 will cost with it's own FPGA given the minimum cost of FPGA would buy a lot of silicon real estate in generic components. I think both projects blow the $50 budget, but the one i'm working on does it by a much smaller margin and takes up the slack by allowing things like adding 512k extra SRAM/VRAM to be a trivial pursuit on an open board and accessible design.

I am still convinced that one or more of the video solutions in development would beat out the FPGA version on both feel and price, but I do indeed enjoy expanding my vocabulary as I learn more about the X16 FPGA implementation. I did have to look up one or two things, and so I shall save readers the bother with links for readers to pulse code modulation (PCM), block ram (BRAM) & FIFO BRAM, single-ported RAM (SPRAM) as opposed to the regular and expensive Dual port VRam which can be used this way but is more commonly referred to by hobbyists in the capacity of video memory, (VRAM) where the programmer can write into the video ram anytime and the display card can read out the pixels at the exact moment required to write them on screen without causing conflicts.

Dual port ram is tricky to come up with in discreet components, but there are solutions to address it's purpose even though they are not pure dual port solutions.

 

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I hear (have 'seen' vs. read and understood) so much about VERA and about what it is or isn't.

My fundamental question is... "is it?"  In other words, does it exist in finished form and can it be acquired for use in other projects or was it in the midst of being developed, somehow forked to support this project and was then stricken by malaise, scarcity of supply, or some other problems?  I think I remember reading that somebody thought putting it into a cartridge for a C64 was attractive but also that moving data to/from it over a SCI* interface was a nonstarter (too slow).

EdIt: As Bruce McF pointed out, it's "SPI"; SCI is the Scalable Coherent Interconnect that I spent a lot of time with in the 90s.  it was Sun Microsystems passive, copper based 25 Mbps interface that we leveraged for Oracle Parallel Server (OPS) which was used for their shared global area (SGA) on top of Sun Cluster.  If only those skills were still useful today!  Too many TLAs.

Edited by EMwhite
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On 10/14/2021 at 2:29 AM, Oldrooster said:

Dual port ram is tricky to come up with in discreet components, but there are solutions to address it's purpose even though they are not pure dual port solutions.

I don't know the details of the Vera implementation ... not only is the circuitry specification not public, but even if I had it, I would probably have to study up quite a bit in order to understand everything going on ... but one can speculate that with the dataport is driven by an 8MHz clock and Vera running an internal 50MHz clock, that Vera might access the SPRAM 3 cycles out of every four, and the fourth is when the SPRAM can accessed by the dataport.

It also seems likely that it works with a rotating pair of rowbuffers, like the Gameduino ... one being used by the pipeline that generates the upcoming scanline bottom layer, intervening sprites, top layer, and any sprites on top, while the other one is being used to generate the current scanline ... and those would be in Block RAM as well, given that so much of data accessed by the video generation pipeline originates in the SPRAM.

But while I am less than a beginner in terms of using FPGAs, I have seen the FPGA used for Vera quoted at under $7 Q1 at Mouser, and I have seen other FPGA with far more pins at over $20 Q1, so I am always a bit skeptical about confident assurances that "so and so" can "easily" by done when the "ease" may well involve simply throwing three times as much money at the problem.

Edited by BruceMcF
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On 10/14/2021 at 8:47 AM, BruceMcF said:

But while I am less than a beginner in terms of using FPGAs, I have seen the FPGA used for Vera quoted at under $7 Q1 at Mouser, and I have seen other FPGA with far more pins at over $20 Q1, so I am always a bit skeptical about confident assurances that "so and so" can "easily" by done when the "ease" may well involve simply throwing three times as much money at the problem.

Indeed. The proof is in the pudding. If it's easy, go do it and show us the better more enlightened way. I know it is hard for some people to find time to do such things when writing, derailing thread topics, and fighting to keep foreign governments from making us appear foolish take so much otherwise productive time...

It seems it would be a great investment for the world if one could take the Ben Eater world's worst video card and turn it into something comparable to VERA.

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Replying to @Scott Robison ... Prob only 5% of the fanbase here will be interested but if you look at Day 1 of VCF east (YouTube link), you'll see just that...  Ben Eater's worlds worst video card implemented in FPGA by Stefany of C256 Foenix.  The hour went by quickly but if you start with the basic of what Ben did in hardware and know what an FPGA is and is not, you can see her walk via verilog, and provide a start into what is required in order to make this wonderful fungible hardware behave in any way one desires.

She gets nowhere near what she did with VICKY II (sprites, tiles, various video modes, Gideon SID, and everything else) but it's still interesting.  Probably could have used an 8 hour workshop or a week of training/hands on.  But in the absence of nothing, it was something.

 

 

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On 10/14/2021 at 10:45 AM, EMwhite said:

I hear (have 'seen' vs. read and understood) so much about VERA and about what it is or isn't.

My fundamental question is... "is it?"  In other words, does it exist in finished form and can it be acquired for use in other projects or was it in the midst of being developed, somehow forked to support this project and was then stricken by malaise, scarcity of supply, or some other problems?  I think I remember reading that somebody thought putting it into a cartridge for a C64 was attractive but also that moving data to/from it over a SCI interface was a nonstarter (too slow).

It was a project idea, with a prototype offered when David put out the call for something that fit the desires of the project better than the FPGA based Gameduino, then developed as part of the project, it went through a couple of changes in feature set, including a UART backed by an input FIFO buffer being added and then stripped out again so the register address space could be expanded from eight to thirty two bytes ... and then the word was passed through from the team that the features were considered locked down, so people could stop posting "how about adding this to Vera!" threads.

So the module that we can see plugged into the most recent prototype boards are, as far as we can tell from the outside without a definitive declaration, finished.

The original Gameduino C64 card used for early prototyping several years ago now was bit banged SPI (not SCI), and, yes, that would be too slow.

If I was guessing, I would that Frank is going to let the Commander project be the initial release of Vera, and releases for other systems ... either the X16p subsystem, or system-specific designs (like my wish-list C64 cartridge with Vera and geoRAM compatible 512KB RAM memory expansion) ... will come after.

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