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This is a question that I’ve been pondering for ages. A “What if?”.

 

What would be your acceptable minimum specs for an alternative everyday computer/games system? Maybe not a complete replacement, but a useful secondary system.

 

In comparison to a few years ago modern computers:

Seemingly do almost anything.

Simultaneously more efficient, yet can demand much more power!

Near photo realistic graphics, but requiring £1000+ graphics cards to do it.

 

What would an alternative be like?

Something that maybe mixes the simplicity of older computers with the efficiencies of newer tech and manufacturing processes.

Not an emulation system, but something designed as a new ecosystem.

 

Keeping things simple, I think these specs would be enough for me:

 

32 bit CPU, maybe dual core, with a good FPU (probably an ARM CPU)

1GB RAM

Sound chip capable of MIDI, FM synthesis and PCM (CD quality)

Dedicated audio RAM (1MB) for FM and MIDI

2D/3D graphics chip or chips

Dedicated VRAM, 1GB

A dedicated 2D graphics accelerator; tiles, sprites, scaling, rotation…

100’s of tiles and sprites with effects applied

A dedicated 3D graphics chip with some fixed function features

Resolution: 1920x1080, 1280x720 or 1360x768, 640x480, 320x240 natively

Colour: 32, 24, 16 & 8 bit natively, palettes/colour look up tables

Inputs/outputs – VGA, HDMI, USB, stereo headphone jacks...

 

If using an ARM CPU there is some software already available that could be useful.

Option to boot to a version of BASIC designed to take advantage of this systems capabilities.

 

How much would something like this cost if mass produced? Would it be viable? (A "What if?" question).

 

What would your alternative system be like, or do you already have a decent secondary system like ARM, Amiga or other?

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Considering how much I was able to get done with a 386 with VGA, including 320x200 256 color graphics, I could return to that if needed.

For an imaginary machine that doesn't currently exist, I would like something like that but that built around a 32 bit descendant of the 6502. Not the 65832 that was proposed once upon a time, necessarily, but something that had a real 32 bit bus, not just 32 bit internal registers. In many ways ARM is that 32 bit (or 64 bit) descendant, even though I am not fluent in ARM assembly language.

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On 12/28/2021 at 10:31 PM, Fenner Machine said:

This is a question that I’ve been pondering for ages. A “What if?”.

 

What would be your acceptable minimum specs for an alternative everyday computer/games system? Maybe not a complete replacement, but a useful secondary system.

 

In comparison to a few years ago modern computers:

Seemingly do almost anything.

Simultaneously more efficient, yet can demand much more power!

Near photo realistic graphics, but requiring £1000+ graphics cards to do it.

 

What would an alternative be like?

Something that maybe mixes the simplicity of older computers with the efficiencies of newer tech and manufacturing processes.

Not an emulation system, but something designed as a new ecosystem.

 

Keeping things simple, I think these specs would be enough for me:

 

32 bit CPU, maybe dual core, with a good FPU (probably an ARM CPU)

1GB RAM

Sound chip capable of MIDI, FM synthesis and PCM (CD quality)

Dedicated audio RAM (1MB) for FM and MIDI

2D/3D graphics chip or chips

Dedicated VRAM, 1GB

A dedicated 2D graphics accelerator; tiles, sprites, scaling, rotation…

100’s of tiles and sprites with effects applied

A dedicated 3D graphics chip with some fixed function features

Resolution: 1920x1080, 1280x720 or 1360x768, 640x480, 320x240 natively

Colour: 32, 24, 16 & 8 bit natively, palettes/colour look up tables

Inputs/outputs – VGA, HDMI, USB, stereo headphone jacks...

 

If using an ARM CPU there is some software already available that could be useful.

Option to boot to a version of BASIC designed to take advantage of this systems capabilities.

 

How much would something like this cost if mass produced? Would it be viable? (A "What if?" question).

 

What would your alternative system be like, or do you already have a decent secondary system like ARM, Amiga or other?

 

I think it is fantastic how much computer you can get today for so little money. Like you say it is something that even we that grew up with computers in the 80's probably never could image or dream of.

Last year I was awaiting my new MacBook Air M1, and needed an alternare cheap computer quickly before it could be delivered.

I got  a budget machine from HP instead. I was only a two core Celeron, but with a better IPS 14" 1080p anti glare display (fantastic quality for the price and low budget). It also came with an Office 365 license free for a year.

In total a fantastic deal for just around €200. Amazing! 😄

Today I keep it in my trunk of my Tesla as an alternate computer, and if I need to use a computer while waiting for charging (not very often) or for my family (most common), I just fetch my cheap HP portable and my car desk tray. Great as a spare computer and machine!

HP Notebook - 14s-dq0003no Product Specifications | HP® Customer Support

 

Product number
1E6Z4EA
Product name
HP Notebook - 14s-dq0003no
Microprocessor
Intel® Celeron® N4000 (1.1 GHz base frequency, up to 2.6 GHz burst frequency, 4 MB L2 cache, 2 cores)
Chipset
Intel® Integrated SoC
Memory, standard
4 GB DDR4-2400 SDRAM (1 x 4 GB)
Video graphics
Intel® UHD Graphics 600
Hard drive
64 GB eMMC
Optical drive
Optical drive not included
Display
35.6 cm (14") diagonal FHD IPS anti-glare micro-edge WLED-backlit, 250 nits, 45% NTSC (1920 x 1080)
Wireless connectivity
Realtek RTL8821CE 802.11b/g/n/ac (1x1) and Bluetooth® 4.2 Combo
Expansion slots
1 multi-format SD media card reader
External ports
1 USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C™ (Data Transfer Only, 5 Gb/s signaling rate); 2 USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A (Data Transfer Only); 1 AC smart pin; 1 HDMI 1.4b; 1 headphone/microphone combo
Minimum dimensions (W x D x H)
32.4 x 22.5 x 17.99 cm
Weight
1.46 kg
Power supply type
45 W Smart AC power adapter
Battery type
3-cell, 41 Wh Li-ion
Webcam
HP TrueVision HD Camera with integrated dual array digital microphone
Audio features
Dual speakers
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Like @JimmyDansbo, for me, it already exists, and it's the Raspberry Pi. The Pi4 is a more than capable alternative for me. I use an 8GB model, running off SSD over USB3, and it's impressively fast. I use it for most of my Arduino and circuit design, and do a bit of gaming on it. I use the 3B+ for classic console emulation, and between the two that's good enough for my alternative.

That being said, I am VERY tempted to grab a Atomic Pi, an x86 single board, so you have more OS, software options, and more horsepower to play with. It's powered by an Intel Atom x5-Z8350 quad core @ 1.44GHz with a 480MHz IGPU. It's limited to 2GB DDR3L-1600 RAM, but for my needs, that's more than enough. I want to use it for more demanding emulation, or see if I can get it running something like Win 95 OSR2.5, just for kicks. The big drawback is drivers for older operating systems, but I may still give it a go and see what I can get to run on it.

 

Edited by Strider
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I've thought about this myself a number of times and it's really difficult, if not impossible, to answer objectively. Even if we're talking about a totally imaginary universe, we're still colored by reality that we can get an enormous amount of computing power in the real world for very little money. With that in mind, I would rather think of it as what type of software environment and end user experience would I be happy with, because then the question of hardware would be answered simply by, "whatever it takes to accomplish that smoothly".

Ideally, I think it would be great if everything ran from (attached to, physically and/or wirelessly) to a smartphone no larger than my old Samsung Galaxy S6. Except it would use the Window Phone 7 UI, because of all the mobile UIs, WP7 was the most simple, useful, elegant, and enjoyable. When attached to a keyboard, mouse, and external screen, it would have all desktop publishing, CAD, and programming functionality one would expect, except it would all be one coherent system rather than a mishmash of UI/UX paradigms (Blender/GIMP vs. Adobe vs. Corel etc.). Everything would work the same in phone, desktop, and laptop modes. Modern Unreal Engine level 3D graphics would be possible, but then so would everything 3D and 2D below that level of complexity and detail.

The best part would be that the system would consist of...

  1. The 5" screen smartphone. 
  2. A "home cloud" storage brick that holds data for multiple users and can be linked to an online storage account.
  3. Whatever human interface devices you preferred to use, from huge displays to the laptop form factor.
  4. A coherent user interface throughout the entire software package, including a software development suit that has common functionality for several languages, from C# down to ASM, such that one can use the system to create all possible software that would run on the system.

In today's real world, everyone except high-end gamers and scientists who need real super computers would be content with octo-core bigLITTLE ARM based SOCs computers. Add a super GPU dock and you'd have the gamers too...

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On 12/28/2021 at 11:31 PM, Fenner Machine said:

This is a question that I’ve been pondering for ages. A “What if?”.

 

What would be your acceptable minimum specs for an alternative everyday computer/games system? Maybe not a complete replacement, but a useful secondary system.

 

In comparison to a few years ago modern computers:

Seemingly do almost anything.

Simultaneously more efficient, yet can demand much more power!

Near photo realistic graphics, but requiring £1000+ graphics cards to do it.

 

What would an alternative be like?

Something that maybe mixes the simplicity of older computers with the efficiencies of newer tech and manufacturing processes.

Not an emulation system, but something designed as a new ecosystem.

 

Keeping things simple, I think these specs would be enough for me:

 

32 bit CPU, maybe dual core, with a good FPU (probably an ARM CPU)

1GB RAM

Sound chip capable of MIDI, FM synthesis and PCM (CD quality)

Dedicated audio RAM (1MB) for FM and MIDI

2D/3D graphics chip or chips

Dedicated VRAM, 1GB

A dedicated 2D graphics accelerator; tiles, sprites, scaling, rotation…

100’s of tiles and sprites with effects applied

A dedicated 3D graphics chip with some fixed function features

Resolution: 1920x1080, 1280x720 or 1360x768, 640x480, 320x240 natively

Colour: 32, 24, 16 & 8 bit natively, palettes/colour look up tables

Inputs/outputs – VGA, HDMI, USB, stereo headphone jacks...

 

If using an ARM CPU there is some software already available that could be useful.

Option to boot to a version of BASIC designed to take advantage of this systems capabilities.

 

How much would something like this cost if mass produced? Would it be viable? (A "What if?" question).

 

What would your alternative system be like, or do you already have a decent secondary system like ARM, Amiga or other?

Mine would be similar, except that it would have a modern Intel Pentium processor instead (with an ARM and/or RISC-V coprocessor), plus an additional PSG capabilities for sound.

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On 12/28/2021 at 9:31 PM, Fenner Machine said:

What would be your acceptable minimum specs for an alternative everyday computer/games system? Maybe not a complete replacement, but a useful secondary system.

An Amiga 1200 with ethernet, VGA graphics, '030 CPU and 16MB of RAM. Modest, but very usable for productivity and gaming/emulation 🙂! These days, I'd opt for the Vampire V4SA!

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On 12/30/2021 at 4:49 PM, Ffin72 said:

An Amiga 1200 with ethernet, VGA graphics, '030 CPU and 16MB of RAM. Modest, but very usable for productivity and gaming/emulation 🙂! These days, I'd opt for the Vampire V4SA!

Would that work practically? I mean would it not be too underpowered to browse the modern webb in any meaningful way?

Personally I think a computer with a Geekbench 5 score of  between 500-1000 would be an absolute minimum for any practical purpose.

Edited by martinot
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On 12/31/2021 at 5:20 PM, martinot said:

Would that work practically? I mean would it not be too underpowered to browse the modern webb in any meaningful way?

Personally I think a computer with a Geekbench 5 score of  between 500-1000 would be an absolute minimum for any practical purpose.

Facebook and YouTube would be out of the question, but there are plenty of sites that work fine with Amiga browsers, such as Aminet and English Amiga Board. I can live with that.

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On 12/31/2021 at 6:53 PM, Ffin72 said:

Facebook and YouTube would be out of the question, but there are plenty of sites that work fine with Amiga browsers, such as Aminet and English Amiga Board. I can live with that.

I would miss YouTube, but not Facebook. I also suspect a lot of other modern sites would be extremly difficult, like banks, etc.

I would probably personally not be able to live with that. :)

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On 12/31/2021 at 7:34 PM, martinot said:

I would miss YouTube, but not Facebook. I also suspect a lot of other modern sites would be extremly difficult, like banks, etc.

I would probably personally not be able to live with that. 🙂

Phone and tablet apps easily fill in the gaps.

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On 12/31/2021 at 2:34 PM, martinot said:

I would miss YouTube, but not Facebook. I also suspect a lot of other modern sites would be extremly difficult, like banks, etc.

I would probably personally not be able to live with that. 🙂

This is why I think you have to make an entire imaginary universe to go along with your imaginary computer. There just aren't any logical reasons to not use modern computers/tablets/phones for one's modern life, even when factoring in cost, availability, and compatibility. But hey, nothing stopping us from reveling in the imaginary!

It would be neat to live in a world where computers never advanced passed the 8 bit design. For some foible of physics that was just the best that could be achieved. Yet we had most of the other neat tech, such as giant LCD TVs, smartphones, wearables, e-books/e-paper, etc. The 8 Bit universe... what would that look like?

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On 12/31/2021 at 10:27 PM, Ffin72 said:

Phone and tablet apps easily fill in the gaps.

Sure. But that is a little chearting, beacuse then you can say that a toaster will fulfill all your computing needs; just just other devices that you have at your disposal. 🙂

Kind of defeats the question in the thread start.

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On 12/31/2021 at 11:08 PM, Tatwi said:

This is why I think you have to make an entire imaginary universe to go along with your imaginary computer. There just aren't any logical reasons to not use modern computers/tablets/phones for one's modern life, even when factoring in cost, availability, and compatibility. But hey, nothing stopping us from reveling in the imaginary!

It would be neat to live in a world where computers never advanced passed the 8 bit design. For some foible of physics that was just the best that could be achieved. Yet we had most of the other neat tech, such as giant LCD TVs, smartphones, wearables, e-books/e-paper, etc. The 8 Bit universe... what would that look like?

Yes, I like retro machines for nostalgia reasons and hobby, but I would not like to stop the computer evolution/revolution that we have seen.

I think the future would be in worse shape if we stopped technology from being better and improved.

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On 12/31/2021 at 11:35 PM, martinot said:

Sure. But that is a little chearting, beacuse then you can say that a toaster will fulfill all your computing needs; just just other devices that you have at your disposal. 🙂

Kind of defeats the question in the thread start.

Not really, I don't use Android for gaming, emulation or any kind of office tasks (spreadsheets, word processing, CAD, email etc.). An Amiga can fill all of those needs.

 

As for banking, I use it once or twice a month. Using an Android device, especially one as old as mine, doesn't seem like cheating to me. I'm more likely to use it when I'm not at home, it's never going to be my main device.

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On 1/1/2022 at 1:00 AM, Ffin72 said:

Not really, I don't use Android for gaming, emulation or any kind of office tasks (spreadsheets, word processing, CAD, email etc.). An Amiga can fill all of those needs.

 

As for banking, I use it once or twice a month. Using an Android device, especially one as old as mine, doesn't seem like cheating to me. I'm more likely to use it when I'm not at home, it's never going to be my main device.

I think you totally missed my point (and also the whole point of the thread). But I give up. Instead I wish you Happy New Year! 🙂

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On 12/28/2021 at 7:47 PM, Strider said:

Like @JimmyDansbo, for me, it already exists, and it's the Raspberry Pi. The Pi4 is a more than capable alternative for me. I use an 8GB model, running off SSD over USB3, and it's impressively fast. I use it for most of my Arduino and circuit design, and do a bit of gaming on it. I use the 3B+ for classic console emulation, and between the two that's good enough for my alternative.

That being said, I am VERY tempted to grab a Atomic Pi, an x86 single board, so you have more OS, software options, and more horsepower to play with. It's powered by an Intel Atom x5-Z8350 quad core @ 1.44GHz with a 480MHz IGPU. It's limited to 2GB DDR3L-1600 RAM, but for my needs, that's more than enough. I want to use it for more demanding emulation, or see if I can get it running something like Win 95 OSR2.5, just for kicks. The big drawback is drivers for older operating systems, but I may still give it a go and see what I can get to run on it.

 

The problem I have with the Pi is that the modern web slightly overwhelms that machine. Something similar to the Pi, but with about 2x the CPU power would probably be ideal for a simple desktop system. 

 

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On 12/31/2021 at 8:20 PM, TomXP411 said:

The problem I have with the Pi is that the modern web slightly overwhelms that machine. Something similar to the Pi, but with about 2x the CPU power would probably be ideal for a simple desktop system. 

The 4 and 400 are so close to being acceptable for everyday use, at least when you have a maxed-out 8GB RAM version.

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On 12/31/2021 at 8:12 PM, kelli217 said:

The 4 and 400 are so close to being acceptable for everyday use, at least when you have a maxed-out 8GB RAM version.

Yes, that's what is frustrating... it's "almost there." 

My biggest complaint about the Pi platform, aside from the anemic CPU speeds, is the lack of local bus storage. The Pi seriously needs either an M.2 or SATA storage interface. 

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On 12/31/2021 at 8:20 PM, TomXP411 said:

The problem I have with the Pi is that the modern web slightly overwhelms that machine. Something similar to the Pi, but with about 2x the CPU power would probably be ideal for a simple desktop system.

The biggest problem I run into is it sometimes struggles with 1080 video streaming (YouTube), but it's hit and miss, sometimes it plays fine, sometimes it hiccups. To be honest, a vast majority of the web usage I do while on the Pi 4 runs great, but that's mainly forums, tutorial or technical doc viewing, or searching for information I need for whatever I am doing in that moment. So I really have not had the chance to really push it all that hard in that respect. I will have to do that one of these days.

To be fair, like I said, I run everything from that M.2 SSD and have it hooked up via cat6, I don't use the wireless on it.

Overall I am quite happy with the Pi 4's performance for what I am asking it do to. It's definitely not a desktop replacement, but as an alternative, it's not bad. I could honestly see me using it as a daily driver if I had no other choice. However I definitely see room for improvement for the next gen Pi. Just like you I would love to see a faster processor, and if nothing else, M.2 or SATA. The SSD over USB if lightyears ahead of using an SD card or flash drive, but a lot of the Pi's performance issues come from the highly limited storage speeds.

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On 1/1/2022 at 12:43 AM, TomXP411 said:

Yes, that's what is frustrating... it's "almost there." 

My biggest complaint about the Pi platform, aside from the anemic CPU speeds, is the lack of local bus storage. The Pi seriously needs either an M.2 or SATA storage interface. 

Yeah, if I was trying to use a Pi for it, a Pi 4 B and external M.2 NVMe SSD would be the bare minimum.

Indeed, an advantage of the Pi 4 B over the Pi 400 is that there is a case available that allows you to put the "external" M.2 SSD inside the case, using a "U" USB 3.0 connector to pass the connection from the Pi 4 back to the SSD underneath.

Tom's hardware looks at how much faster the SSD is than relying on an SD card for a Pi 4.

I feel like I might be OK with a Pi 4 B with SSD, but I am OK with my cheap Chinese laptop with the Gateway branding, and have neither the cash nor the time to spend on experimenting right now. And of course, if I had jumped in last year when I had more of both, it would have been more like a Banana Pi of some sort than a RPi, since I was in China.

As far as "hide away from computer distractions and just write", a Pi Zero 2 W with SSD and LibreOffice might be good enough. A Pi 400 with external SSD might be good enough if there was a way to upgrade the keyboard.

Edited by BruceMcF
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On 1/1/2022 at 7:29 AM, BruceMcF said:

Indeed, an advantage of the Pi 4 B over the Pi 400 is that there is a case available that allows you to put the "external" M.2 SSD inside the case, using a "U" USB 3.0 connector to pass the connection from the Pi 4 back to the SSD underneath.

The ArgonOne m.2 case. I love mine  I have one m.2 case and three of the standard cases. They are very convenient  

 

 

image.jpg

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That Tom's Hardware article is one of the reasons I gave it a try. Though since it's writing, performance has been improved and you can boot straight from SSD now, so boot times are better than before. One good trick is to disable Bluetooth in Pi OS, that speeds up boot time as well, if you're not using it of course. That helps no matter what boot media you use.

I want to do some "benchmarks" on my Pi now that I am thinking about it more. I am putting in a 12  hour shift today at the hospital, but I have the next 2 days off. Gives me something fun to do. lol

I can say that LibreOffice runs fantastic, but it should. I will test boot time, app launch times for whatI use, and mess around with 1080 video streaming more. I also use the Pi with Steam Link, and that works wonderfully as well. Now I can't wait until tomorrow to mess around with it. 😜

EDIT:

@TomXP411 Best case for the Pi 4 in my humble opinion. Honestly, I don't think I would be using it as much if it wasn't for that case. It's just so darn convenient, tucks right where I need it.

20220101_132424318.jpg.a8d8b9170426d2ebae543ba3b42224d7.jpg

 

Edited by Strider
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On 1/1/2022 at 5:12 AM, kelli217 said:

The 4 and 400 are so close to being acceptable for everyday use, at least when you have a maxed-out 8GB RAM version.

 

On 1/1/2022 at 8:54 AM, Strider said:

The biggest problem I run into is it sometimes struggles with 1080 video streaming (YouTube), but it's hit and miss, sometimes it plays fine, sometimes it hiccups. To be honest, a vast majority of the web usage I do while on the Pi 4 runs great, but that's mainly forums, tutorial or technical doc viewing, or searching for information I need for whatever I am doing in that moment. So I really have not had the chance to really push it all that hard in that respect. I will have to do that one of these days.

That is why I think a cheap latop with Celeron N4K is a way better minium daily driver, even if it only has 4GB RAM and 64 GB eMMC. Not any speed monster like my Core i7 or Apple M1 laptop, but it will manage 1080p streaming and all my other basic daily tasks.

That said I really love the RetroFlag caes! I actually have a NESPi Case Plus even it I do not have any Pi for it. They are such nice small cases and perfect for any embedded project.

I have a plan to modify it to fit a MiSTer board, but so far I just enjoy the cute case as it is! 😀

763105_88030_6.tif?ref=EBA6CA7938&format51VPDJWL+uL._AC_SL1500_.jpg

 

Edited by martinot
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