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Change of product direction, good and bad news!


What should we do?  

341 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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44 minutes ago, BruceMcF said:

Yes, @The 8-Bit Guy this was the most important missing option in Question 1:

1. Option 4: Yes, release the X16 kit in beta to a limited number of selected developers willing to build or pay for a built board, then once the the X16 is ready for full release, release the X16p, X16c and X8 at the same time. No wait for the X16e, so no Osborne effects either way.

If that option had been available, that would have been my vote: use the X8 to avoid the x16e development phase altogether.

As a side benefit, this would also give time to contact Stefanie to see if she can help @Frank van den Hoef integrate a soft YM2151 core into the X8 design on an FPGA that can handle both. Then you have the same audio feature set, the X8 is a subset of the same video feature set, and you have much less "feature fracturing" between X16 and X8. Given the raft of FM chips and FPGA soft cores of FM chips on the Feonix256, having the YM2151 in the X8 would also narrow the porting gap between X16 software and the Feonix256.

Indeed.  I'm willing to lay down money right now on a built board, with things not quite right yet.  

I have put a LOT of hours of assembly language programming into the X-16, and the game I'm writing now absolutely requires accessing VERA exactly as it is in the documentation.  I don't care much about the keyboard being flaky, as long as I can type LOAD"ACOM.PRG",8,1  RUN

Seriously consider populating the Store; at least put a PayPal Donate button on there.  Keep the 8 bit guy Patreon strictly for 8 bit guy, so that accounting and taxes don't become a nightmare.

And I think you're far enough along in the design and testing that the issues with the keyboard and SD card can be resolved.  That means that this project is ideal for a Kickstarter.  It isn't vaporware.  You've got the license to use the commodore Kernal, you've got tons and tons of documentation out there (much of it on youtube).  You're on the third iteration of the board and almost got it.  All you need is cash to offset your own costs and get the project rolling.  You mentioned $100k to guarantee the project gets off the ground.  Put up a kickstarter: if you get your 100k within a month of the launch, then good.  If you get significantly less, you'll know it's time to reevaluate.  But at least people wouldn't be voting in a poll, they'd be voting with their wallets.

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(yeah, I'm posting a lot on this thread, but this subject has me very jazzed)

Something occurred to me, by mentioning the incompatibility between the VIC20 and the C64:

1 hour ago, The 8-Bit Guy said:

It's nowhere nearly as difficult as porting between something like the VIC-20 and C64 which have very different video/audio systems.

 you touched on something very interesting.
The C64 was a success *because* 1) it was better in most ways and 2) incompatible with the VIC20, an already successful computer (which was the first computer to sell a million units).
This is proven out by what happened with the C128.  A nice computer, but a roaring success?  Not so much.  And also to a lesser extent the C16 and Plus/4 are another example.

The X8 actually seems better in many ways.  Faster clock speed, USB, more efficient video access, as you said, etc.  Yes, less RAM, but with fast access to external storage, is this a big handicap?  Is it a handicap at all?

The X8 seems like a cool product, and at the price you mentioned, very accessible.  But should it be compatible with the X16?  I'm thinking now, probably not.

Why did you make the choices you did with X16?  Discrete chips, and everything else.  I seem to remember you being pretty dead set against anything FPGA, but now you're arguing fairly strongly for the first product you release to be one that seems to be at cross purposes with all of that.  But it is cheap, and it's available now.

Cheap and fast does tend to be a bad strategy most of the time, I have to say.  These are tough decisions.

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10 hours ago, The 8-Bit Guy said:

... The X8 could be available immediately and be well under $50.  I'm not sure how far under $50.  I'd say as low as $25 and as high as $50.  

The Phase 1 system sold as a DYI kit could be well under $300. Maybe under $250.  Add another $100 to $150 for a pre-assembled kit.

Again, you can't hold me to these numbers because so many things are unknown right now with the cost of chips.  But that hopefully puts things in a ballpark for people trying to figure this out.  

For those trying to figure out what the advantage would be of an X8 versus what is envisioned for the X16 Phase-3 (known as the X16e).  Well, the X8 would still be half the price.   For example, the X8 might be $35 and the X16e would be like $70.   There is simply no way to ever produce an FPGA based X16 as cheaply as the X8 can be produced.   And the X8 brings with it most of the functionality and personality of the X16.  And it's not an emulator.  So, there's that. ...

A separate reply because this is more as a professional Economist who brought my exposure to these markets in the 80s into my doctoral studies in the early 90s than as a not all that competent 6502 assembly language and Forth programmer ...

... that price break between the X8 and the CX16e ... whether [25/50], [35/70] or [45/90] pretty much nails it down for the X8, leaving the only question as release timing.  There is no question that in that double digit price range, half the price is well over twice the sales.

Even more, for the built versions including the assembly charge and limited order quantities per production batch on the CX16pm, that is a classic vertical price ladder. To have two mass market options and two deluxe options, you really want the higher priced mass market option around 50% higher than the budget option. The X8 (evidently) dominates the market for those who are not worried about how close it is to the system reference design, but at twice the price, the X8 will cannibalize much of the CX16e market even among those in the two digit price market even if at the same price they would have a strong preference for system compatibility. The CX16e in turn would cannibalize some of the CX16c market.

With three product price ladder, the market segregates much more cleanly. For the target market for the CX16c, there isn't really any cannibalization by the X8 ... for the target market for the CX16p, whether kit built or prebuilt, the X8 only enters into consideration as an optional additional purchase.

As far as timing, the launch of the crowdfunding for all of the pre-built options should be available in parallel at the same time. You want the crowd-funders choosing system options based on system preference, not based on timing. Hitting the individual crowdfunding targets literally decides which ones launch. Set the crowdfunded built CS16p option with a size cap, don't cap the DIY CX16p, the CX16c, or (obviously) X8.

 

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3 minutes ago, Ed Minchau said:

Indeed.  I'm willing to lay down money right now on a built board, with things not quite right yet.  

I have put a LOT of hours of assembly language programming into the X-16, and the game I'm writing now absolutely requires accessing VERA exactly as it is in the documentation.  I don't care much about the keyboard being flaky, as long as I can type LOAD"ACOM.PRG",8,1  RUN

Seriously consider populating the Store; at least put a PayPal Donate button on there.  Keep the 8 bit guy Patreon strictly for 8 bit guy, so that accounting and taxes don't become a nightmare.

And I think you're far enough along in the design and testing that the issues with the keyboard and SD card can be resolved.  That means that this project is ideal for a Kickstarter.  It isn't vaporware.  You've got the license to use the commodore Kernal, you've got tons and tons of documentation out there (much of it on youtube).  You're on the third iteration of the board and almost got it.  All you need is cash to offset your own costs and get the project rolling.  You mentioned $100k to guarantee the project gets off the ground.  Put up a kickstarter: if you get your 100k within a month of the launch, then good.  If you get significantly less, you'll know it's time to reevaluate.  But at least people wouldn't be voting in a poll, they'd be voting with their wallets.

I've been watching all your dev videos on the asteroid commander game and yours is one of the projects that I though of when this thread landed.       

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45 minutes ago, Snickers11001001 said:

... If the X8 has no banking, what happens with range $A000 to $BFFF?  

Though it hasn't been said there is no banking, it's just been said there's only 64K system RAM (because that FPGA has only 128K RAM internally). If they wanted to do the CX16 memory map in discrete parts but skip the 512K SRAM's, they could set the banking to 3 8K banks in the 64K Low RAM. That would be even easier to do in an FPGA, just allocating the lowest two bits at the $0000 address.

If the Kernel and Basic use Bank 0, that would leave two 8K banks in the "High RAM" window for program use.

All speculation, of course, due to only having a vague description of the X8 previously and not much more now, but that's the approach that would make porting between the two systems the simplest.

Edited by BruceMcF
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I thought about the whole situation for a bit more. I still think it's best to release the Phase 1 X16 first. About the next steps I'm not so sure any more...

1 hour ago, Cyber said:

Since it is all inside FPGA, is it possible to implement in X8 one more way to accces VRAM - the way it is in X16. Developer would be free to choose either use 256 byte window or 4 registers. I mean, if you already implemented 256 byte window, implementing 4 byte window along side should not be a problem. Thus way X16 programs would run on X8 without modifications.

Yes - this!

Regarding the X8: If it as the same VERA interface, then I will support it. Ok - I would have to throw away all the bespoke sound tracks for the YM 2151 I have sourced. But because of the limited RAM those would not be usable anyway, so my games then will be without any sound. Also graphics would have to be tuned down, and I personally won't make use of the double VRAM on the X16 in the future.

But I won't go into the hassle of supporting 2 different VERA interfaces. If I would, then there were different ways of addressing this, which I don't like:

  • Use wrapper functions: impacts performance.
  • Use conditional compilation (cc65) / macros (assembler): harder to maintain,  makes code less readable, no impact on performance
  • Maintain different/mixed code bases: even harder to maintain, but also no impact on performance.

Yes all of the 3 options would work and also the additional effort is maybe not that big - but it is there and would take away time from the actual fun development.

If it is possible: integrate a YM2151 in fpga. So we would be able to use existing music trackers like Deflemask etc. Otherwise it will be hard to create high quality sound tracks. All the instruments and samples need to be recreated, for the YM everything exists. 

So: please if you release the X8, then make it's VERA interface identical to the X16. And tune down the CPU speed to 8MHz. It would be so hard to explain why the little brother of the X16 is 50% faster. If possible integrate a YM2151 FPGA implementation.

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16 minutes ago, AndyMt said:

And tune down the CPU speed to 8MHz. It would be so hard to explain why the little brother of the X16 is 50% faster.

I think explanation is pretty simple: just because it can, so it is shame to waste this ability.

I can think about compromise: X8 runs at 8 MHz out of the box, but 12 MHz mode can be activated by user with a special command (or jumper or switch or whatever).

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On 8/20/2021 at 8:33 AM, Kevin Kelley said:

I would look at the Commander X8 and the Commander X16 like the Vic 20 and the Commodore 64. I like the idea of both. I am not opposed to kit versions and would more likely consider one as I understand the time and cost associated with populating the board.

I agree with that ... however, if the Vic 20 and the C64 had been released at the same time, would anyone have developed for the Vic 20?

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20 minutes ago, Cyber said:

I think explanation is pretty simple: just because it can, so it is shame to waste this ability.

I can think about compromise: X8 runs at 8 MHz out of the box, but 12 MHz mode can be activated by user with a special command (or jumper or switch or whatever).

Even simpler would be because the FPGA external reference clock is 25MHz, doubled internally to the 50MHz VGA dot clock, and 12.5 is exactly 1/4th of the internal FPGA clock. If the 6502 core uses four internal cycles to simulate one 6502 clock cycle (which actually makes a lot of sense given the 6502 timing diagram), then 12.5MHz would be the exact top speed. One an internal bit set, stretch the low and high PHI2 phase by one more internal clock cycle, you get 8.33MHz, which is "pretty close" to 8MHz. Or else, one internal bit set, and the C64 circuits use an external 16MHz clock module, doubled internally to 32MHz to run one simulated cycle in exactly 8MHz. So one way or the other, the two options seem pretty plausible.

Confused consumer, "Why can the X8 go faster?" ... Second or third line of the X8 spiel, "For the X8, the RAM is inside the FPGA, so it's can run 50% faster. The external SRAM available for the CX16p kit does not allow going any faster than 8MHz".

______________

43 minutes ago, AndyMt said:

Regarding the X8: If it as the same VERA interface, then I will support it. Ok - I would have to throw away all the bespoke sound tracks for the YM 2151 I have sourced. But because of the limited RAM those would not be usable anyway, so my games then will be without any sound. Also graphics would have to be tuned down, and I personally won't make use of the double VRAM on the X16 in the future.

One of the main points of Forth is to make wrapper functions relatively cheap, so I'd just land the Vera access page at $9Exx if possible, lose one of the two terminal buffers (if there is no slot, there's a lot fewer use cases for two terminal buffers), and plow ahead. However, the High RAM library modules would be CX16-only, so any fancy video things implemented in those would be CX16-only.

 

Edited by BruceMcF
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5 hours ago, BruceMcF said:

this would also give time to contact Stefanie to see if she can help @Frank van den Hoef integrate a soft YM2151 core

Why on earth would you assume Frank would need help for this?  That's borderline insulting.

Besides, I seriously doubt there is sufficient unused space in the X8 FPGA for a YM2151 core.  That makes no sense at all.

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4 hours ago, BruceMcF said:

Though it hasn't been said there is no banking, it's just been said there's only 64K system RAM (because that FPGA has only 128K RAM internally). If they wanted to do the CX16 memory map in discrete parts but skip the 512K SRAM's, they could set the banking to 3 8K banks in the 64K Low RAM. That would be even easier to do in an FPGA, just allocating the lowest two bits at the $0000 address.

If the Kernel and Basic use Bank 0, that would leave two 8K banks in the "High RAM" window for program use.

This at first sounds neat, but then I realized it would change how I code for the X16.  I would code for only two banks.

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1 hour ago, picosecond said:

Why on earth would you assume Frank would need help for this?  That's borderline insulting.

It is so far from insulting to assume that someone who has done a process already may have useful experience to share that I don't actually think you can see the borderline of insult land from there.
 

1 hour ago, picosecond said:

Besides, I seriously doubt there is sufficient unused space in the X8 FPGA for a YM2151 core.  That makes no sense at all.

You deleted where I explicitly said "on an FPGA that can handle both". Given that she integrated four FPGA's in her original design into two, and has gone through a switch of FPGA families for better availability under current conditions, she likely also has useful experience on appropriate FPGAs families and models for precisely that kind of integration.

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53 minutes ago, rje said:

This at first sounds neat, but then I realized it would change how I code for the X16.  I would code for only two banks.

Like I said, it would kill one entire ring of my hoped for three ring HighRAM circus ... high RAM segments for the Forth dictionary, to substantially increase the effective capacity of the base Forth compiler / interpreter / application in Low RAM, Block files broken up into pieces and loaded into High RAM segments, and integrated module application and data objects in High RAM segments, with the last one not an option. As far as the first two, going from block files in 32K chunks to block files in 8K chunks is a process that can be automated, so its not a big issue. And as far as the dictionary ... when the 8K is full and it goes to grab another segment to continue, it hits the minimum block bank lower limit right away and the dictionary is full.

I wouldn't target the X8 explicitly, but then if using Block files as mass storage, a lot of what I could do in Forth could be ported, it would just be substantially faster on the CX16 than on the X8 (12MHz notwithstanding).

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27 minutes ago, BruceMcF said:

I wouldn't target the X8 explicitly, but then if using Block files as mass storage, a lot of what I could do in Forth could be ported, it would just be substantially faster on the CX16 than on the X8 (12MHz notwithstanding).

I started thinking about that too.  I think the speed boost but the slight incompatibility and capability reduction (if that’s the term) creates two ecosystems for the price of one.

Performant code — faster games and perhaps even a 3rd gen interpreter - use the X8.

Bigger, perhaps more resource demanding code, as well as expansion based code, would use the X16.

Edited by rje
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3 minutes ago, rje said:

I started thinking about that too.  I think the speed boost but the slight incompatibility and capability reduction (if that’s the term) creates two ecosystems for the price of one.

From remembering the eighties, there are very few things where a 50% clock boost will be a bigger effective performance advantage than 512K or more of RAM available as a RAM disk or external data object store.

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9 minutes ago, BruceMcF said:

From remembering the eighties, there are very few things where a 50% clock boost will be a bigger effective performance advantage than 512K or more of RAM available as a RAM disk or external data object store.

Of course if your software fits in RAM and doesn't access a disk, the CPU speed matters more, unless the speed of RAM isn't increased along with the CPU clock, generally speaking.

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17 minutes ago, Carl Gundel said:

Of course if your software fits in RAM and doesn't access a disk, the CPU speed matters more, unless the speed of RAM isn't increased along with the CPU clock, generally speaking.

The software where everything fits comfortably into 64K RAM (well, 54K of RAM taking system RAM use into account) are the "very few things" that I was referring to.

How quickly people have forgotten how little room 64K of RAM really is.

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Just now, BruceMcF said:

How quickly people have forgotten how little room 64K of RAM really is.

In fairness, until  the last couple days the enthusiasts on this forum didn't really have to care.    It's only the pivot to discussion of the X8 that raises the issue of ram scarcity. 

   

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At the risk of repeating myself (ok, I *am* repeating myself) I just don't understand why we can't be given more information (read: ALL the information) about the X8.  And access to the emulator.

Also @The 8-Bit Guy, if you really do think it'll take only 1 or 2 hours to port Petscii Robots (or maybe just "get it working"), can't you find that time to give us the lowdown on the experience?

 

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Had some rest since this thread came out and here goes my second thoughts on this X8 platform :

First, release all the technical details on the X8 with its emulator and let people have a look at it for a week or two. Make a FAQ thread to collect community's questions about it. Redo a proper survey like on Google Forms and broadcast it on the YT channel, FB page, etc to get as many feedback as possible.

Second, do understand that people may not be willing to use that new platform. All these years of learning for the X16 only to be changed to a restrained version of it. I'll personally never release any X8 software, not interested enough (that doesn't mean I won't code anything, though). This push of the X8 feel so pressed it's just suspicious to me. It just fell off like it was always there and people waited for it. I'm not. It's my choice to avoid it, I'm here for the X16, not a ripoff of it (sorry for the word I can't find a more suitable one) that is creating conflicts inside the community. My first point can eventually resolve my concerns.

Third, it's not because I'm ranting here (something I do too often I think) that I don't want to see this project released. It's the absolute contrary ! Release a donation link and I would gladly donate to it.

All of this mess just zapped away my will to work on the X16. I'm pausing until things cool off.

Edited by VincentF
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19 hours ago, The 8-Bit Guy said:

The X8 could be available immediately and be well under $50.  I'm not sure how far under $50.  I'd say as low as $25 and as high as $50.  

If you announced the X8 coming out now for $50, it'll be a case of "shut up and take my money". 

The main problem with kit forms for me are that my hands are too unstable for soldering.. In fact, they're that bad, I'm having to get a friend of a family friend to do a composite mod on my Atari 7800.. 

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I’ve been following this project since your first video.

My first choice would be a first phase assembled, my soldering skills may never get the kit working.  The second phase would be my backup with the third as only if I can’t get the first 2.

I liked the case shown but can find one and install it.

As for the x8, if you sell it to raise money to bring out the x16 I would definitely buy one, might buy one anyway you can’t have too many SBCs.

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So, I'm just going to answer a few more concerns about the X8.

One person said I was clearly in favor of this, or something to that effect.  Well, I made that clear at the beginning. I wanted to release it 6 months ago.  I haven't tried to cover that up.

Several people seemed concerned about how much money I was going to make from this project and how the X8 might reduce that.  I know I have said this before, but I'll say it again.  This project was NEVER about money for me.  In fact, I've made it clear many times that I never intended to profit from this project at all.  All profits made from the X16 would be split between Kevin, Frank, Michael, Perifractic, and a few other people.  I have told the entire time many times I didn't want anything.  I'd rather my "profit" be sacrificed to help reduce the cost of the system.  My main goal was to have my dream computer, and that other people would have it too.  Now, if it ends up selling millions of units, ok, we'll re-visit that conversation.  But that's not likely.

I haven't released the emulator for the obvious reason that if this product is to be buried and never see the light of day, I'd rather the emulator just not be out there.  So we'll release that if it is decided to go forward with it.

I suppose I could find some time next week to port Petscii Robots to the X8 for demonstration, since some people were asking about that.  It shouldn't take long. Petscii Robots doesn't use any banked RAM.  After all, it was originally designed for a computer with 32K.   However, I was going to be using banked RAM for the new soundtrack eventually.  But at the same time, having access to the SD card can compensate for that.  I could load each song in as needed, for example, rather than storing them all in RAM at once.

Some people seem confused on why I'm in favor of releasing this.  So I'm going to open up and totally lay it out here.  This is my honest opinion on that matter:  The X16 has taken much longer to bring to market that I thought.  There were many times where development was halted for 6 months or more because of unsolvable bugs.  And even though we are close to being able to release a kit fo the X16, it's going to still take more time to get this out the door and the people wanting fully assembled systems will be waiting extra time. The X16 is definitely happening.  The X8 is not meant as a replacement for it.  But, I felt like the X8 with it's super-low price-tag and easy manufacturing could help keep interest in the project much like "The C64 Mini" did, even though everyone was wanting a full-sized machine.  This would keep development on-going, and most anything made for the X8 could easily be ported to the X16 later.    I do not believe X8 sales will cannibalize X16p sales.   And sales of the X8 could even help to fund more development on the X16 surface-mount version and eventual X8-FPGA version.  And for those people that don't want an X8, it seems like the solution is simple.  Just don't buy one.  Buy the X16p instead.  Or wait for phase-2, or whatever.  

 

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