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Commander X8 Disussion


Mtemal
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Commander X8 Interest POll  

19 members have voted

  1. 1. Would you buy the Commander X8 if it were made available to purchase next month?

    • Yes
      11
    • No
      8

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  • Poll closed on 10/19/21 at 02:24 AM

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What are your thoughts on the Commander X8? 

Extract from David's Announcement Post:

 

 

  • The Commander X8 - Believe it or not, this product already exists.  I've had one sitting on my desk the last 6 months.  This is entirely designed by Frank.  It's a 100% FPGA implementation.  It is sort of a subset of the Commander X16.  It has mostly the same architecture, but it has minor differences. There is also already an emulator for it.  It's about the size of a Raspberry Pi.

So what is the deal with the X8?  Frank and I were in favor of bringing this product out 6 months ago due to the delays of the X16.  But some team members didn't like the concept, saying it would dilute the image of the X16.  And they made some good points.  So, we decided not to release it at that time.  But now that things are changing, I thought at minimum I should explain what it is and see what kind of interest people have in it.  On the bright side, it is a product basically ready to be released.  But does fall short of some of the cool things on the X16.  So let me explain how it differs. Most of these concessions and incompatibilities boil down to using a smaller, cheaper FPGA design.

  • It has 64K of base RAM and 64K of VRAM. It does not have any banked RAM beyond that.
  • BASIC works essentially the same and should be compatible with most X16 programs that are coded in BASIC.
  • VRAM access is fundamentally different.  There is a 256 byte window into the VRAM which is mapped to a section of base RAM.  You can move the window around. This is actually more efficient than what we do with the X16 and is only possible because it is all inside an FPGA. This does mean software written in assembly language will need to be tweaked to be compatible.
  • The Vera is more or less the same.  All of the same registers.  Same PSG sound features too.  But, programs that use more than 64K VRAM would need to be modified.
  • There is no Yamaha sound chip.  However, as we've seen already.  The 8-voice sound system in the Vera is pretty darned capable!
  • Uses a USB keyboard instead of PS/2.  and USB for controllers (so, no SNES ports)
  • Runs at 12 Mhz instead of 8.

 

So, I just wanted to address some of the questions/concerns about the X8.

Just to reiterate, BASIC code should be compatible unless it uses a bunch of pokes and peeks.  You could literally take the SD card out of the X8, stick in in the X16 and the code should run.

For machine language programs, as for the differences in how the Vera is accessed, it's not nearly as many here are thinking.  I saw one person who seemed irate over the idea that we'd be throwing away all of the coding work people have done.  It's still the same features, the same registers, and same behaviors. The sprites, the layers, the PSG, it's all the same.  The primary difference is how you copy data to VRAM.  I suppose with some software this could be a major problem.  But in most cases, I suspect it would be less than an hour worth of work to convert a game from X16 to X8 or vice-versa.  I haven't actually ported Petscii Robots yet (since I don't know if this product will see the light of day) but I suspect I could have it running on the X8 in maybe an hour or two.  It's nowhere nearly as difficult as porting between something like the VIC-20 and C64 which have very different video/audio systems.

The reason it has USB, or more specifically, the reason it CAN have USB is because this is all handled by the FPGA.  There was no way we could handle USB on a 6502 system due to the enormous complexity of USB.  However, the USB support would be limited to keyboards and controllers.  

For the person that asked why on earth you would want this and compared it to a C64 and then saying a C32 instead.  Well, the main benefits are: half the price and immediate availability.  As i've mentioned before, the X16e might never see the light of day because it is going to be dependent on the X16p being a success before that gets developed.  But we could have this available now.  And it will be so darned cheap, there's no reason you couldn't have this along side the X16p, or use this to develop on and wait for the X16e or whatever.

For those asking where to donate.   I haven't set anything up yet.  I've already seen a few paypal donations come in. But I'd rather people wait until we have some official account for the X16 development.  

 

Could the X8 be bundled with PETSCII ROBOTS?

Absolutely.  I had already planned to bundle Petscii Robots with the X16.  And it can certainly run on the X8 as well.

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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Edited by Mtemal
Added David's Other posts covering the X8
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Based on a comment from the Facebook page, the X8 is probably not going to happen as originally described because it wasn't quite similar enough to X16. Apparently a larger FPGA is being investigated.

So I would buy an X8 if there was nothing else, but it doesn't appear it will be coming as originally described.

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On 10/14/2021 at 7:40 PM, EMwhite said:

I see you just got here from FaceBook.  Welcome, but have a look around.

I think a few hundred people have by now said “no” to X8 in the Mega-thread in the official announcements forum.

Yep, I saw that result. I was wondering if the general sentiment had changed since the original post. I hope the X16 FPGA get's completed and sold instead of being shelved. It's amazing how far this community has developed with just the emulator. If anything the X8 has introduced me to KICAD and I am loving this software.

 

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On 10/14/2021 at 7:26 PM, Scott Robison said:

Based on a comment from the Facebook page, the X8 is probably not going to happen as originally described because it wasn't quite similar enough to X16. Apparently a larger FPGA is being investigated.

So I would buy an X8 if there was nothing else, but it doesn't appear it will be coming as originally described.

Im surprised that they decided against releasing the X8 in march. It would have been a great way to roll out the hardware while helping to recoup some of the costs that have been sunk into developing the X16 Chip & Dip Version

 

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On 10/14/2021 at 7:49 PM, BruceMcF said:

No, because the shipping & logistic crisis just ate up all of my money.

But if I can get some work going now that I am back in the US, maybe sometime early in 2022.

Sorry to hear about the vanishing money, but welcome back to the states.

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On 10/14/2021 at 9:49 PM, BruceMcF said:

No, because the shipping & logistic crisis just ate up all of my money.

But if I can get some work going now that I am back in the US, maybe sometime early in 2022.

I would hope that sourcing some parts in the UK wouldn't drive the costs of the X8 up too much but I'm sure there will be some kind of impact. It's worth thinking about how the FPGA shortage in the Automotive sector is now bleeding into other industries (besides this community of course).

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On 10/14/2021 at 10:44 PM, Scott Robison said:

Good point. You made my mind up for me. I can by an X8 next month and an X16 FPGA edition six months later. 🙂

That's what I thought most folks were going to do

 

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On 10/14/2021 at 9:45 PM, Mtemal said:

That's what I thought most folks were going to do

 

The original thread is very long, so I don't blame anyone for not starting it at this point, but I've read it all (I think). There were many people who bemoaned the fact that X8 would fragment the community, because people would only buy the cheapest thing that was available and would never buy the big brother of the X8, leaving it orphaned, effectively.

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On 10/14/2021 at 11:08 PM, Scott Robison said:

The original thread is very long, so I don't blame anyone for not starting it at this point, but I've read it all (I think). There were many people who bemoaned the fact that X8 would fragment the community, because people would only buy the cheapest thing that was available and would never buy the big brother of the X8, leaving it orphaned, effectively.

I spent the past week going through these forums and it was a challenge to make it through all 30 pages of the Official Announcement thread. Lots of ideas in there but I can see why there is so much resistance to the X8. It's not a guaranteed easy path for adapting X8 software to the X16 Chip & Dip and it's got one honking FPGA that seems to do it all. A nice block diagram, the KICAD files and a presentation on how the FPGA core actually works would probably help alleviate some of that apprehension. 

In one of the threads David mentioned that porting Robots to the X8 should take a couple of hours and that he would post a video once it was done. With all the noise since the change in direction post I get the feeling that project may have been put on the back burner. I really hope the project delivers hardware sooner than later and it looks like the FPGA path is going to be the only way that happens soon.

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On 10/15/2021 at 3:37 PM, Mtemal said:

What is that and what can it do? 

it's a project I am helping with there is a thread about it, or there was, here...

that board is deprecated for a simpler board, it's not the final version of the keyboard. I don't have a pic of the final version but in a few weeks I should be able to take photos of an actual prototype.

 

It can eliminate the need for both an EPROM programmer, because 16 of it's keys and the custom interface allow typing direct to blank memory so you can copy a bootloader (maybe 200 characters) into the blank memory. Costing for the BOM is $30. Full computer should be less than 100 at this stage.

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sorry, mean to specify the bootloader is copied out of a user manual or from screen into the keyboard and the keyboard puts your typed Hex code into blank memory. Then you throw a switch and boom, your in business to let the computer load the rest through a simple means of communication.

Edited by Oldrooster
tried to edit last message but replied instead (ergh)
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On 10/14/2021 at 11:38 PM, Oldrooster said:

When I look at it, I would ask myself does the X-16 emulator work on the Raspberry Pi, and would the end-user experience be identical ? I have a Pi which I never use. Pii's are a bit that way.

I like the Pi since it can be reliably made into purpose built machines. I use one for [ADS-B tracking](Stratux.me) and one of my PiZero's for adblocking by running [PiHole](https://pi-hole.net/). I also have a PiZero that is my Commodore/VICE emulator. It runs [Combian64](https://cmaiolino.wordpress.com/). 

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On 10/14/2021 at 11:44 PM, Oldrooster said:

sorry, mean to specify the bootloader is copied out of a user manual or from screen into the keyboard and the keyboard puts your typed Hex code into blank memory. Then you throw a switch and boom, your in business to let the computer load the rest through a simple means of communication.

The PCB layout aesthetic reminds me of the PCB that is in my Ti-99/4A Power Supply. I liked that video you linked showing the old acid etching process. I remember seeing it on Hack A Day a few years ago. Looks like it would be well suited for what you are trying to do. 

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well thank you, your comments are appreciated and yes, it looks somewhat retro, retro looks, techniques, build, everything except specs, which adapt to the lower cost of some IC's such as memory both for the computer specs (it can address massive massive amounts with a trivially cheap MMU) and the display. You couldn't dream of large memories in retro times because of the cost, however applying the same video design rules from years ago to todays prices results in some better specifications.

 

If you think the PCB looks good, can't wait till I can release the copper designs.. now they are breathtaking, even to non-hobbyists.

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Yes, provided it won't cost more than $100 CAD to get it to my door. I'd rather that cost be closer to $70 CAD to be honest.

Some feedback on the board layout:

  • It's irritating that the USB ports and the SD card slot aren't also on the back edge, because it would be easier to mount the board inside something if all the connections were on the same edge.
  • The reset switch is positioned between the video cable and the power cable. I could see this being fumbly and irritating to use. Stick it on either the right or left end of the rear edge so it's unobstructed.
  • Pin headers for a power switch, reset button, and a power led would also assist in mounting the board into one's desired case.

Honestly, a reliable small board like this is far and away more appealing to me than one built from discreet parts. Especially if it's cheap enough to just buy a new one if it does break (and perhaps send the broken one back to be refurbished by someone who has the skills and tools to do so). I don't need to look at a giant board full of chips to understand the architecture, diagrams with explanations are fine, better even. Guess how many times I opened my VIC20 and looked inside it to understand how it was running the software or how a POKE command was accomplishing its task.

I would buy an X8, because it's an affordable 8 bit computer that is small enough to use at my desk without cluttering it up or otherwise getting in my way. I mean, l loved looking at my Compaq Deskpro 4000 setup, but I am much happier leaving that portion of my 6' x 6' personal space clear for other hobbies. Same with the C64c that I sold and the VIC20 that I packed away in a tub of other neat stuff when I finally ran out of shelf space.

When David revealed the X16 design, I completely lost interest in the project for two reasons:

  1. Too rich for my blood!
  2. I don't have space for something large.

An X8-like device is all I am interested in (FPGA based, not software emulation).

Edited by Tatwi
Added pin header suggestion
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My overall thoughts on the X8 (now that the Megathread which started to metastasize into Yet Another Why This Project Should Be A Different Project argument in its last few pages has been locked):

  • I did not worry about "Osborne effects", but thought there was was a risk that if released before the X16 comes out in some physical form, there was a risk it would set the broader concept of what the X16 system is.
  • If the team wanted to release the X8, I favored releasing it alongside the X16p DIY and a capped number of X16p built boards
  • I also thought that the X8 design needed whatever tweaking was workable to open it up to making extension "hats" for it ... with an SPI bus already used for loading the Basic/Kernel binary on "reboot" and for micro-SD card access, only one pin and a register bit somewhere in the address space would be required to make one external SPI device available, and with a single external glue logic chip, 2 external select lines could be readily selected. (Two is as many as you need, since one can be used to define a set of extended selects in a GPIO extender or serial shift register, and the other to select output of the currently defined select).
  • In any event, I'd get an X8 kit including keyboard if I could, but I'd be more likely to use it for tinkering with things on a breadboard if it had the option for a hat that let me add more GPIO.

 

On 10/14/2021 at 10:01 PM, Mtemal said:

I would hope that sourcing some parts in the UK wouldn't drive the costs of the X8 up too much but I'm sure there will be some kind of impact. It's worth thinking about how the FPGA shortage in the Automotive sector is now bleeding into other industries (besides this community of course).

The X8 wouldn't have been a through-hole kit, it would have been a small board made with surface mount parts and produced in batches by a producer equipped to produce boards like that efficiently.

The FPGA they are using seems to be a fairly popular part, but it's not in stock at Mouser ... they have 27,000+ on order, with two September 2022 delivery dates.

 

Edited by BruceMcF
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On 10/15/2021 at 10:33 AM, BruceMcF said:

but it's not in stock at Mouser ... they have 27,000+ on order, with two September 2022 delivery dates.

Such as shame, those pics above were "right-perty*" and had 8 out of 12 people sold.  Now what?

(Also, what happened in the mega-thread?  did somebody drop an F-bomb?  I see the mod-squad shut down the show)

 

*a Tex Avery - Southern Wolf reference as voiced by Daws Butler

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On 10/15/2021 at 10:42 AM, EMwhite said:

(Also, what happened in the mega-thread?  did somebody drop an F-bomb?  I see the mod-squad shut down the show)

Extremely off topic ramblings which lead to moderate hostilities, because nerds will nerd. It's what we do. There were pages of off topic discussion, which I am sure a mod would have been happy to move to its own thread if the mod had more time to do that kind of thing; No one wants to shut down dialog, but it is important to organize and guide it to some degree.

Please, stay on topic in this thread. Thank ye! 😍

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