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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 really love an X16 phase 2 or 3 system in a Raspberry Pi 400 format. Personally I'd be happy with an X8 but I think it's best to focus on a single product line. I don't mind getting kb and mobo as parts and 3D print the (RPi400 format) case myself.

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Here is the problem with polls. Everyone has an opinion. One is of what they want personally. That one is authoritative, but still missing details and context. No one will buy any phase if it costs $1,000,000 (not that it ever would). Everyone would want one if it was $0.01. "No one" and "everyone" are used figuratively, not in absolute terms of course. Maybe some billionaire would buy one at $1M, and plenty wouldn't be interested at 1c, but you get my meaning.

Then everyone has an opinion on what will / won't help or hurt the ecosystem, if they even care about ecosystem and "mass" adoption.

Phase 1: Important to get people who are excited to have / use it and possibly write code for it.

Phase 2: Important to get people who don't care about the through hole style boards and all discrete components but still want to have some expandability (either for their own tinkering or to be able to buy third party hardware offerings).

Phase 3: Important to get people who don't care about the other two but still want a way into the environment so they can acquire and run software. We know there are plenty of people who are willing to buy "non-programmable" mini / retro machines based on Atari / Nintendo / etc mini releases. The fact is there are people who would buy phase 3 just to run software. The fact that they might eventually try writing software on it is just a bonus.

All three phases add to the population of X16 compatible hardware and support one another. To discount any one of them is a risk to viability of the platform over all. They attract different audiences, and none of those audiences is unimportant just because it doesn't include "you" (whoever you are).

Now, I haven't personally invested five or even four figures of my own cash in this, so I don't mean to suggest that any particular phase is sufficiently important that David should continue indefinitely to guarantee all phases come to fruition. That is a call only he can make. I could be overestimating the value of any particular level, too. I'm just a guy with an opinion and a microphone ... wait, I'm not on air. I'm just a guy with an opinion and a keyboard.

As for the whole X8 vs X16. It would be ideal if X8 had the same interface to VERA as X16 has, but I don't think that's a show stopper. I've not seen it, but 38 years of programming experience leads me to believe a couple kernal routines can paper over the difference between accessing the two interfaces, or a couple routines in the program if not available in the kernal, or even conditional compilation and assembly for maximum speed. It means either a little overhead (JSR to a routine that will LDA STA to VERA) or releasing two versions of a program (one for X8 and one for X16), but these machines are virtually identical. It is not like there is some massive porting effort to get a program that works on X8 to work on X16. The reverse is only problematic if one tries to use > 64K of VERA memory. It's not like a AAA title that has to be completely customized for XBox and Playstation and Switch and Steam and Windows and Linux and etc.

How many of us are "Patreons" of David already? Spoiler alert: I am not. I intend to rectify that today. Maybe I am alone and everyone else has been contributing, but I suspect that's not the case. If you are interested in seeing the X16 come to fruition in more than just a kit (which feels pretty much assured at this point given all the work that's already gone into it) and not supporting David financially, now seems like a good time for us to help out a little in defraying the expense he's already poured into it. Not everyone can, and I get that. Just an observation.

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1 hour ago, rje said:
  • Phase 3 is essentially no different than emulation.

In the case of the X8, the big difference is that "the hardware is the HDL". If there is a bug in the HDL so that it doesn't work the way originally intended, it is a "feature" (just like VIC-II tricks discovered over the years used in demos; they weren't intended features, they just fell out of the design). A software emulator is going to be constantly chasing 100% compatibility.

It is all but inevitable that someone is going to create a bare metal emulator at some point. The license of the emulator itself virtually guarantees it. ROMs are another story, though that doesn't keep emulation enthusiasts from ignoring copyright law. I'm not advocating this, just stating truths.

For a lot of people, emulation will be more than adequate for their wants. I live with my bare metal commodore emulators because I simply refuse to spend hundreds of dollars on 27+ year old hardware that may or may not work and certainly has no expectation of longevity at this point.

The one point having to do with emulation though, especially today, is that few have an emotional reason to emulate the X16. This is not the machine they remember from their childhood and there isn't a critical mass of software that only works on an X16 compatible platform. We live with the emulator today because we want to use something like this, but we're in the minority of the total population.

Edited by Scott Robison
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Is nobody talking abut pricing? Will the X16 price itself out of what is a hobby market with limited sales? 

1. Hold back the X8 (say $40)

2. Continue on the X16 (say $300)

3. Realize you just simply will not drop 300 bucks on the X16

4. Be left with nothing.

 

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5 minutes ago, Chris Grillo said:

Is nobody talking abut pricing? Will the X16 price itself out of what is a hobby market with limited sales?

I've talked about it twice above, as it is an important consideration. That being said, the product has to pay for itself (which includes reimbursing those who've invested in its development so far if at all possible). Certainly David et al should not be expected to further subsidize development with zero expectation of being made whole. So if the actual price of hardware (be it a kit or whatever) does not cover its cost (which is more than just the hardware you receive, as there are other expenses that have to be considered and factored into the price), then it is not a viable product. If that means that the X16 has to price itself out of the market, then that's just the sad reality. No one will pay $1,000,000 for this computer (number made up just for an extreme example, not to suggest an actual considered price point).

Edited by Scott Robison
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I'm keen to get the Phase 1 DIY option, I want to make the hardware. That way it will I'll have more personally invested in my small bit of the project. It'll be have more sentimental value in that respect. 

Someone already noted about the X16 being the first computer for their kid. I'm of the same mind for building it with my boys... They won't get that experience from an i-pad. 

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As of reading your comment, @Scott Robison, I'm thinking a bit more objectively on the problem of X8 vs X16 🤔

So, we have two platforms with some differences in hardware. It would be effectively ideal to have those two having the same interface so the work to convert software is not that complicated.
Everybody's talking about having the X8 but with the X16's VERA interface, but why not doing the inverse of that, making the X16 actually using the X8's VERA interface ? Or a mix of the two, to lift a bit of constraints on the final hardware.

As of splitting the community, I would finally say "It depends". Looking at Raspberry Pis, today a majority of devs have moved away to the Pi 4 for example, there isn't much anyone left using the first version of the Pi.
The "magic" behind this is in my honest opinion due to three main factors :

  • The releases are years apart from each other
  • It's really cheap to upgrade (with less than 50$ a board)
  • There are no major breakings between each release, the newer versions can run software from the older ones

Getting back to the X8 vs X16 problem, I think if we can at least have the X16 being able to run X8 software flawlessly and push the X16's release one or two years later, the idea can start to be viable.

I may be wrong but I just want to move things forward and give ideas.

 

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1 minute ago, VincentF said:

So, we have two platforms with some differences in hardware. It would be effectively ideal to have those two having the same interface so the work to convert software is not that complicated.
Everybody's talking about having the X8 but with the X16's VERA interface, but why not doing the inverse of that, making the X16 actually using the X8's VERA interface ? Or a mix of the two, to lift a bit of constraints on the final hardware.

I am not an HDL expert (and David's post touched on this), but: Everything in an FPGA can be configured to have tighter coupling. Thus it is "easy" to have the 65c02 soft core share a 256 byte window with the VERA when they are both built into the FPGA. When the two chips are separate (as they are in phase 1 & phase 2), you can't magically gain access to a window of bytes between the chips. There probably aren't enough IO pins available to do it.

What I suspect would be more doable from a compatibility perspective is to have the X8 use the same addressing & IO (just with a smaller amount of RAM) as the X16. But I don't think it is essential. Desirable, yes. But it should not be hard to bridge that gap if they remain separate and distinct. Certainly easier than porting code between Windows and Linux.

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In the end, I think David needs to revisit his former self: the one that imagined the "Dream Computer".

Is the X8 that computer?  I think he's indicated that it isn't; not quite. It's pretty neat, but is it the Dream?

I think the X16 full version, was, and still is, that dream computer.  If so, that should be the focus, everything else is distraction, and when you don't have unlimited time and money, distractions are killers.  And it seems they can be even if you do.

David will have to decide if I'm wrong, but focus is needed.  What would "Dream Computer" David have wanted at this moment?

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For me this project alway was about the full retro experience with a modern twist. I want to understand how it works by just looking at the board.

I'd order a kit version any time. Also offer it pre-assembled for those who don't want or can assemble it themselves. As for the case: just point to places where we can get them on our own. I will 3d print my own wedge style case anyway.

Skip phase 2. I don't think its needed.

Then the X8. While it has its appeal, I would not release it. Maybe I would support it, if it had the same interface to VERA. I then could just trim down the programs and games I did for the X16. But different access to Vera would probably drive me away from both.

And here is the next problem: few software would use the full potential of the X16. You would end up with mostly X8 only software.

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Was doing an edit to my post, but I think that deserves more attention :

Another thing that is problematic between the X8 and X16 in a compatibility standpoint is the clock speed : Either we limit the X8 at 8 MHz or the X16 will require at least a 12 MHz clock.
Because why people will want to "upgrade" from 8 to 16 if the 16 part is slower that the old machine ?

21 minutes ago, Scott Robison said:

I am not an HDL expert (and David's post touched on this), but: Everything in an FPGA can be configured to have tighter coupling. Thus it is "easy" to have the 65c02 soft core share a 256 byte window with the VERA when they are both built into the FPGA. When the two chips are separate (as they are in phase 1 & phase 2), you can't magically gain access to a window of bytes between the chips. There probably aren't enough IO pins available to do it.

You are right, it's maybe too hard to make the X16 work this way, it's easier to map FPGAs  internally but real wires are like, real, and they surely cost money if you put them everywhere

Edited by VincentF
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This is frustrating news, and must be more so for the team that has invested so much in getting it to this point. 

I’ve been developing a game for this system since the emulator was first available. With this news, I think I will be pausing development until a real system becomes available. I don’t want to develop for a moving target or a fragmented system, and to me that’s what the X8 seems to represent.

I have always been excited by the prospect of a singular new system, packaged up and ready to explore. I am not excited by the prospect of spending some hundreds of dollars on an electronics kit that I need to solder together with a high possibility of failure. 

It reads to me like the possibility of the original plan at a reasonable price is unlikely. I’m unsure why there has always been an apparent resistance to running a Kickstarter campaign. I know they take a significant cut, but isn’t the scenario you describe exactly what Kickstarter is for?

If you offer the option of paying a premium for a preassembled kit, then to be honest that just sounds like a ticket for a place on a lengthy waiting list. A launch that manifests as a slow trickle of new machines would surely be death for any new platform. I won’t invest in a system that has no user base, or prospect of gaining one. 
 

I hope this hasn’t come across as overly negative. I really hope to buy an X16 one day - the work so far has been amazing -  but I will now be sitting watching, waiting to find out what that actually means. 

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55 minutes ago, x16tial said:

In the end, I think David needs to revisit his former self: the one that imagined the "Dream Computer".

Is the X8 that computer?  I think he's indicated that it isn't; not quite. It's pretty neat, but is it the Dream?

I think the X16 full version, was, and still is, that dream computer.  If so, that should be the focus, everything else is distraction, and when you don't have unlimited time and money, distractions are killers.  And it seems they can be even if you do.

David will have to decide if I'm wrong, but focus is needed.  What would "Dream Computer" David have wanted at this moment?

This is exactly right.  

 

But Phases 2 and 3 aren't *really* his Dream Computer, either. 

 

Edited by rje
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I think when they added a micro controller to the X16 there was no point of building it using discrete classical components since it was not that easy to explain what the micro controller did. I think the X8 is more the way to go using only FPGA. Then when the FPGA capacity increases one could have an X8 with IEC, PS/2 ports, SNES joystick ports, and external RAM. I already have an Olimex FPGA that runs Apple I and it can also run Donald Knuth's Mix Computer and then also use the external RAM. Also a Raspberry Pi 4 B can hardly emulate X16 now and could not emulate X8 at 15 MHz, which is an advantage since then there is a reason to buy an X8 - "The modern retro computer that the fastest Raspberry Pi can't emulate in real time". Since FPGAs usually have a lot of connections I hope they can squeeze in a serial port or two in the first X8 since they are useful for debugging and more (the serial port only needs to be 3.3 V and holes you could solder pins to). Also X8 is a better name since 65C02 is an 8-bit CPU. A USB PETSCII keyboard is also useful to have with emulators (and I hope it also supports PS/2 with a passive adapter). I guess you would also need to ship the X8 with two USB SNES controllers or say exactly which chipset is supported by the X8 USB ports. USB mice are hopefully standard enough.

It is of course slightly difficult to explain the special 65C02 that is strongly connected to the graphics card.

Edited by mobluse
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Hi, 

I am an embedded software engineer who is much too young to have been part of the 8-bit era of computing, having grown up in the age of the internet. I like writing code and flashing it onto hardware so much that it became my career, so I have been patiently waiting for this hardware to play around with. I have toyed with the idea of putting together my own 6502 computer, and there's even someone on YouTube who shows you how to do it on a breadboard, but I really like the idea that this is a fully designed, mature and tested system with a full kernel and advanced features without the significant drawbacks of real vintage hardware. That said, I don't think an FPGA board really counts as hardware, and I don't think I would personally see any reason to write a program and flash it to an emulation when I can already run an emulation on my computer. What I want is a real 6502 chip, connected with copper to a real memory IC, but I don't want a giant board that takes up my whole desk. I will be sad if phase 2 gets canceled, because that is the most interesting learning tool for me personally. I can see how people might just want to load up games or key in basic on the FPGA version, and other people might want the nostalgia of the big through-hole chips, but I just want an old-school computer I can mess around with in assembly that isn't large just for the sake of being large. I'm happy to assemble it myself, and happy to pay the full price of the big version for the phase 2 version, because while the big version is David's ideal 8-bit computer, the surface mount version is probably mine.

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21 minutes ago, x16tial said:

Yeah, I said "full version", but should have said "Phase 1"

Oh!  I didn't quite understand your post, although it all read perfectly fine.  That's my fault.

12 hours after first reading 8BG's post.... I now think that Phase 2 / 3 / X8 should be all about Ecosystem.  I think that means the X8 is a true distraction, Phase 3 is emulation, and Phase 2 *could* boost the ecosystem.

Edited by rje
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1 minute ago, Carl Gundel said:

I would also be willing to participate in some sort of crowdfunding effort.

I think crowdfunding would be interesting ...

but then you have to address people who may not or not yet have the insight into 8-bit computers ...
that is, appealing software and games, possibilities of the computer in the game and learning area.

In general, even without crowdfunding, these would be points that would contribute to the "success" of this platform.

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7 minutes ago, Roughnight said:

I think crowdfunding would be interesting ...

but then you have to address people who may not or not yet have the insight into 8-bit computers ...
that is, appealing software and games, possibilities of the computer in the game and learning area.

In general, even without crowdfunding, these would be points that would contribute to the "success" of this platform.

Yeah, I think that those interested in the success of the Commander X16 can go onto social media and also to our different communities and promote the virtues of the CX16 and encourage interest!  I'm very happy to do so myself.

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