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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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What a decisions Mr Murray (and his team) has to make.

David and the team have put lots of effort in to Phase 1.

Phase 2 with maybe only 1 expansion port could prove disappointing at some point.

Phase 3 is a hardware emulator.

The X8 has too many missing bits compared to the X16.

Some points to ponder:

Is it a good idea to potentially fracture the user base? Look at what happened to Sega in the 90’s.

The front page of the X16 website uses words such as inexpensive, reliable, real CPU, classic chips.

Do any of the options really match all of these yet?

The current Phase 1 has issues, such as things not working properly, parts availability and so on.

It will also cost too much for most except retro enthusiasts and many in this community.

 

Is there another option not yet considered?

How difficult would it be to do an X8 on a board with a few other nice to haves?

Like the best of X8 and X16 merged.

For example, an X8 (maybe enhanced) replacing the X16 VERA and 65C02S, stuck on a board with extra RAM, YM2151, SNES controller ports and some expansion slots.

Simplify anything can be, such as the RAM bank switching.

Now it’s basically an X16 with a 12MHz CPU and cheaper/easier to make.

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Just upload or email a blueprint of the case for 3d printing, man! You're so obsessed with retro stuff that your totally ignoring the virtues of the present, this is the future of the past, and we need your x16 to avoid y2+2k

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1 hour ago, The 8-Bit Guy said:

 I have been considering doing some sort of crowdfunding where it would literally just be asking for donations to keep this project alive.  [...]  If everyone just donated $5 that would probably be an incredible help.

Here's an idea:

So, the trick with Kickstarter is setting the price.  If you have a good idea of the eventual price of your product, you can offer it to backers at around that price.  With the uncertainty of the chip market these days, though, it's surely hard to get even a ballpark on what an X16 might cost.  Start a Kickstarter now, and you run the risk of locking backers in at a price that's too low (which hurts the dev team) or too high (which will anger some backers).

So, how about this: take donations in exchange for a discount off of whatever the eventual price of the X16 will be.  A backer donates $5 now, they get $5 off the eventual price of whichever model of X16 they decide to buy.  This way, you're not locking into the wrong price too early, and whatever the price turns out to be, each backer's investment will still count toward their purchase.

It could even be graded: donate $50 now and get only a $40 discount... backers will understand that the extra money is going to support the development, and the amount that their 'overpaying' is fixed ahead of time and not a gamble on the chip market.

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I don't know why everyone keeps talking about 3d printing a case for the phase1 system. It's literally designed to use MicroATX (if I'm getting the right mini/micro prefix correct - the larger of the two) so anyone can already 3d print anything that would work for that form factor. Or, they could just buy a case of that type w/ power supply, and have done.

 

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4 minutes ago, ZeroByte said:

I don't know why everyone keeps talking about 3d printing a case for the phase1 system. It's literally designed to use MicroATX (if I'm getting the right mini/micro prefix correct - the larger of the two) so anyone can already 3d print anything that would work for that form factor. Or, they could just buy a case of that type w/ power supply, and have done.

 

That's true, it's not as if anyone can own the MicroATX form.

 It's hard to know why or what happened but the project has taken a strange turn, their has been more updates of other computer kits on the youtube channels over the last 12 months than updates of this project;. No appetite for a kickstarter which imho is the only way to go now but the begging bowl has appeared instead!!

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2 hours ago, The 8-Bit Guy said:

Regardless of whether a crowd funding platform requires something or not, I have a reputation of integrity to uphold.  The last thing I want is people saying that the 8-Bit Guy took their money and didn't deliver on a promise.  However, I have been considering doing some sort of crowdfunding where it would literally just be asking for donations to keep this project alive.  An infusion of $20,000 with no requirement to repay it would go a LONG way to pushing this product out to the public.  $100,000 would guarantee a successful launch.   But that's a lot to ask.  I know there are several thousand people interested in this.  If everyone just donated $5 that would probably be an incredible help.

If you release the x8 with a $5 development fee tacked on to the final price, it will be the easiest way to raise extra capital for the next step.

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I understand where you're coming from, Mr. Murray.  I almost don't want to say this next part, but I find myself unable to restrain myself, so...

I had been planning to buy this for my nephew for Christmas or his birthday.  He'll be 11 years old as of next week, but I trust neither him, not his parents with the soldering iron and wire cutters needed to assemble it from a bare board, diodes, resistors, transistors, ports, switches, and loose chips.  Installing sockets on the motherboard for my nephew, brother, and/or sister-in-law to populate should theoretically help in that matter, except that it would be about as much labor as soldering those chips directly, and adds at least 2mm to the height of the board, complicating parts packaging.

Since a keyboard-console version was never in the cards, if forced to go with a kit version, I would have mated it with a Silverstone HTPC/Horizontal Upright case, probably either the GD08 or the CS350, and looked for some monitor solution from PC Part Picker.  I'm lucky to live (relatively) next to a keyboard supplier and an electronics store with new production third party Super NES game controllers, and I know I could have furnished the total package at an affordable price with a (relatively) favorable value proposition.

I also considered the C256 Foenix and the Mega65.  However, Madame Allaire won't have the version I would have planned to have gotten before April of next year, and the Mega65 crew have no timetable for production or even feature finalization whatsoever.

The upshot of this exercise is that if you can't feasibly realize your project, my personal dream project is even further out of reach! 😭

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1 hour ago, x16tial said:

 

Sell me an X8 for $100. (This is double your $50 Max you mentioned)
Or whatever the equivalent is in the current circumstances, to a $100 X8 when the market was "normal".

I'm guessing a lot of other people would pay this.

You know, when you put it that way, I'm more interested in the X8, as a way to fund further work, no crowdfunding needed.

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The X16 should take hints from the X8. Honestly, feature creep plagues the X16. The Yamaha chip, the Nintendo ports: it's for a niche audience, and that's what makes the X8 appealing: the X8 looks like feature creep never happened, it looks simple, it's fresh air. I can't see people willing to learn, code and assemble (the original stated goals of the X16) needing an FM chip or Nintendo ports. With all the sympathy I have for the project, the day the FM chip was discussed was the day I saw the ugly face of feature creep entering the project.
 
If it were my project, I'd build an enhanced X8 with 256KB to 1MB of memory and USB or DB9 ports as an FPGA and sell it as soon as possible (or sell the cores for the MiST and MiSTer, which would reduce the manufacturing and shipping costs to 0 and allow real and fast profit). During the next months after the release, I'd get the system rock stable (the beauty of FPGA is that not only the firmware but also the specs can evolve if some roadblock occurs) and I'd get a good software library for it thanks to the community. As a bonus, it would make the current chip shortage irrelevant.
 
Then, when the rock stable FPGA is done (18 to 24 months later), I'd build the X8 as real hardware (in that scenario, phase 1 occurs at the end of the development). I'd name the "chips version" Commander X16 and the only difference would be that the X8 is FPGA and X16 is a kit or assembled computer made of as many real parts as possible (the idea of having certified assemblers around the world for people wanting it done for them looks perfect – and it would avoid customs nightmares, especially in the EU).
Edited by Stéphane
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You guys have put so much work into this project and you've got a bunch of fans.  Now it's time for US to put up or shut up.  Find a way, like kickstarter, to get commitments on purchases and lets get this moving. It worked well for the Spectrum Next project.

What started out as a passion project shouldn't put you guys in the poor house.  Time to ask fans to start helping out and at least this fan is ready.  We all prefer to have the X16 I think, but there's room for lesser options too if it helps keep you guys solvent and keeps the project going.

 

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I think it may make sense to release the X8 but only if the BASIC it uses is compatible with the X16 BASIC with enough keywords to implement compatible graphics and sound functions.  This could make it possible to write BASIC programs for the X8 that can be immediately moved to the X16 and thus can get you started with a usable code base before the more ambitious X16 is completed. It gets the project some cash flow now, gets you a BASIC application code base the X16 can use and if there is a good machine language entry point for the graphics and sound functions it would be possible to write compatible code there too. Some programmers like myself appreciate the extra discipline of coding to lower specs.  I wouldn't brand it with the Commander name though.  Think of it as the VIC-20 to the Commodore 64.  Heck, since it's almost a 21st century VIC-20 why not call it a VIC-21? After the X16 phase 1 is complete we can reconsider a phase 3 device to replace the X8 and the X8 code should still run on it if you choose to proceed. I wouldn't implement it faster than 8MHz though to keep the apps compatible. 

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I would much rather just contribute directly to the effort than buy an x8, which I am not interested in, just to get cash into the x16 phase 2, which I am interested in. I guess what I'm saying is that even if the x8 gets released to fund the x16, there should be the option to not buy it and still help fund the x16.

Edited by Cullen
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I am not any kind of an expert at computers. I don’t even own a soldering iron. All I know is that I love a good game of any genre. I’ve been playing games on my PCs since 1981. I really liked the idea of the x16. I would like to see this come to fruition in the way that David conceived it in the beginning. 
 

Looks like I’ll have to buy THEC64 for now. Good luck gang.

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33 minutes ago, Larky said:Looks like I’ll have to buy THEC64 for now. Good luck gang.

It’s a nice ‘machine’.  I bought two, one to keep for a rainy day.  Be sure to watch all 3 of “8-bit Show and Tell” (Robin’s) YouTube videos. They (and it) are very good. 

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4 hours ago, calags said:

I think it may make sense to release the X8 but only if the BASIC it uses is compatible with the X16 BASIC with enough keywords to implement compatible graphics and sound functions.  

 

That is impossible in the current state of things.    There are not basic commands for graphics or sound like the C128 or Plus/4.   Its all pokes and vpokes, that true for sound, sprites, tiles, etc.   The only exceptions are simple graphics like putting a pixel or a line on the bitmap.   

That means if X8 comes out with a vastly different VERA interface it will nuke all the work people have done on the emulated platform that's been out and targeted with development for years. (Edited to add:   Its one thing to say 'don't rely on official kernal calls; they may change' and quite another to say 'oh, the core video is getting torn out after 2 years, so sorry!')    There's a lot of ways to burn goodwill besides just not delivering on a kickstarterer.    Having some rando (to you) subject matter expert dedicate 100+ hours on a an assembler core, or IDE, or music tracker, or etc., etc., etc., only to say "oops, just rewrite your work to use a vastly different VERA" is like slapping that guy in the face.   Not only will he be reticent to go all in for your project again, but anyone who watches it happen will be likewise hesitate.  

The X8 will kill this project and ecosystem in my view.    Just go to the 'downloads' section of this site and ask:  How much of this stuff would actually work with what has been described as the X8.     That sort of pivot would be tantamount to a bait and switch.   Sorry if it is rude or uncouth to say so, but somebody has to. 

EDITED:   I've edited to moderate my tone slightly.    Sorry for the language prior to the edit. 

Edited by Snickers11001001
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If I'm going to buy something to help get some cash into the project, then given the choice between an X8 and a caseless Phase 1 kit (which you mentioned might be sellable soon), I'd take the X16p kit.  I enjoy soldering and was always going to get the kit anyway, plus (as @Snickers11001001 mentioned above) the X16 is the system we've all been preparing for.

That said, the extra speed of the X8 is a little intriguing. I'd still like to know how much more difficult the USB inputs will be to program for (say, in Assembly).  Does the hardware do most of the handshaking work or will we have to implement that by hand in our assembly code?

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22 hours ago, The 8-Bit Guy said:

Phase 2 would likely have 1 or possibly 2 expansion slots compatible with the phase-1 system.  Phase 3 would have no expansion capabilities.

One is probably enough, if the new version slot is like the previous slots with the slot number selects going to each slot ... because with the slot number selects going to each slot, a riser board can be made if you want two slots.

You really could have a "no opinion" on question 3 ... I voted pre-built, since if my financial circumstances suddenly became much better, that's the one I'd buy ... but I'm only realistically in the market for the Phase2 system.

I would get the X8 in parallel with Phase2, to make sure I can develop Forth vocabularies on the systems that are cross system compatible.

And seriously look at whether with a larger FPGA in the same family, whether a soft YM2151 can be included in the X8. That is the key difference with the X16 Phase3 in terms of how software developed on the X16 then ported to the X8 would be developed. The other differences are mostly #ifdef X8 / #ifdef X16 stuff.

Edited by BruceMcF
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2 hours ago, Stéphane said:

The Yamaha chip

The YM2151 predates VERA PSG in the design. It's a real through hole ASIC. It has standard IO mapped ports. It was one of the original contenders as THE sound chip. It's only breaking the "no new old stock" rule, which isn't so bad because its output is digital, and an FPGA core exists that can stand in for the real McCoy with sample-accurate output.

Not a good example of "feature creep."

Edited by ZeroByte
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23 hours ago, The 8-Bit Guy said:

I know Perifractic has already invested a 4-digit number of Dollars towards this project.  Myself, that number is 5 digits.  And up to this point, none of us have made a dime back

Wow!

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On 8/19/2021 at 11:32 PM, The 8-Bit Guy said:
  • The second option would be to build-to-order.  So you place the order, we build the computer and add a substantial mark up for the 8-hours of labor to assemble it.  But you get a fully working and tested board, which would come with some minimal warranty.  I don't have specific numbers for cost.  But I'd imagine a fully assembled kit would have a markup somewhere in ballpark of $100 to $200 over the kit version.  I know that sounds like a lot, but when you see how much time is involved, it only makes sense. 

Also both the kit and pre-built machine will come with the custom keyboard.  I've already paid 50% down for the PS/2 keyboards, so it makes sense for me to pay the rest and have those included with the computer.  

So, the bad news is, you don't get a case with phase-1.  But on the bright side, this change means the kits could be available relatively soon.  However, as you saw in the last video there are still some Kernal bugs that need fixing and our primary Kernal developer has taken a small hiatus due to some other large project that is consuming his time.  We're not sure at this point when these bugs would be fixed.  However, we could start shipping limited number of "development" systems to people who are already writing code.  And hopefully all we'd need is a ROM update to fix these boards when the kernal bugs are addressed.

My concern with buying this one, would be the Kernal bug(s). How would I get my system patched?
I would like to buy a pre-assembled phase-1 and not have to worry about phase 2/3.
Is this already being sold or pre-orders being sold?

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You know, thinking about this, we just don't know enough about the X8.

First off, why was it created in the first place? Hats off to Frank for doing it, the guy is just a super genius, to be sure.  But was it something like "USB is too hard?  Hold my beer."  or what?   I'm a bit puzzled by its very existence, while still being impressed by it. (12 Mhz!)

@The 8-Bit Guy, you said there was an emulator.  As part of this feedback process about how to go forward, can't we get access to the emulator?

You said 64K of RAM yes?  So are the ROMs switchable, a la the C64?  How is the RAM vs ROM treated then, if not very similar to the C64?

Have you fully ported Petscii Robots to the X8?  What were the pain points, if any, in that process?  Or were the X16 and X8 versions simply developed in parallel?

In all honesty, the X8 does really muddy the waters.  Doing both the X16 and the X8 just seems like "too much".   The choice, as hard as it is, probably need to come down to:  which one do you kill?  And at this moment, I for one, am not sure which.

Like, would snes controllers be usable with usb adapters, on the X8?  Like this: https://www.amazon.com/Tomee-SNES-USB-Controller-Adapter-pc/dp/B00HM3QCT6

Is the IEC port really needed?

I haven't done much sound work yet, but is the Yamaha chip critical?

And USB is more tantalizing than old, tired PS/2, to be honest.

As I think about this more, it seems like we're talking more and more about a VERA ecosystem.  It's doing the I/O, the sound, the graphics, and basically the X8 sounds like a VERA ate a 65C02, met a nice USB interface and moved out on its own.

So if you basically have the "VERA ecosystem" and it's processor agnostic, then you have the X8, as a standalone, but then you'll want to make add-on cards for C64, the Vic 20, and why not other 65xx systems, like the Apple II, and others?  Maybe just embracing the VERA is the way forward.

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7 hours ago, The 8-Bit Guy said:

Regardless of whether a crowd funding platform requires something or not, I have a reputation of integrity to uphold.  The last thing I want is people saying that the 8-Bit Guy took their money and didn't deliver on a promise.  However, I have been considering doing some sort of crowdfunding where it would literally just be asking for donations to keep this project alive.  An infusion of $20,000 with no requirement to repay it would go a LONG way to pushing this product out to the public.  $100,000 would guarantee a successful launch.   But that's a lot to ask.  I know there are several thousand people interested in this.  If everyone just donated $5 that would probably be an incredible help.

That is a great idea to ask for donations.
I would be more than happy to donate to the project; would love to see an X16 and get one.
Perhaps pre-orders could help too maybe?

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