It is not so hard to tell what was the most exciting moment between Apollo-team members during work on Vampire 1200 accelerator cards. For sure, yesterdays results regarding enabling fast Vampire 1200 IDE port is on top of everything.
In the process of designing card all of the facts needed to make this type of accelerator were known, all but one. Is it possible to keep regular Amiga 1200 IDE port and have one more, same time, much faster mounted on V1200 card. In theory we did know what needs to be done, after all we did recreate Gayle chip and its registers needed for IDE to work on Vampire 500 and made very fast IDE port on that card. But here situation was different, much more complex to the point that we could only enable either Amiga IDE port or Vampire IDE but not both same time. By enabling Vampire IDE port situation got even worse, not only by disabling regular Amiga 1200 IDE port but PCMCIA got disabled too. Yeah, yeah, you may say that it is all about address decoding, Amiga memory map, appropriate IRQ handling and drivers... OK, it is, but it was very hard to make perfect combinations to not cause conflicts between Vampire 1200 and Amiga.
On last conference call between Apollo-team members we decided that only solution to this problem is to have two cores for people to chose. One with working Vampire IDE or one with working IDE and PCMCIA found on Amiga motherboard. In my own desperation I was thinking constantly that there must be some hardware flaw I did by accident during PCB design. Things started to change few days ago when we pushed harder and finally made it work :) After all of this work is polished some more all of the new features will be presented in next Vampire 1200 core release.
As you are aware Covid-19 situation made huge problems to everyone. All this time I was thinking that this is something that will go away soon and be forgotten even quicker but I was wrong. I am facing problems regarding production for long period of time now. It is nearly impossible to maintain production of accelerators in large scale and it is getting harder and harder to source parts or to get them in time or at normal prices that were listed before. Parts and following materials, tools used in this project are sourced all over the world and without having all of them, precisely selected over the years accelerator cards won't have decent quality which is not an option. Everything was a problem, from sourcing something simple as ESD bags to more important stuff like genuine Amtech flux I needed. In such situation I have decided to stop production completely and wait. For nearly 3 months I was focused to help in other areas apollo-team had needs slowly collecting parts to run production again. And yes, it is getting better now but we are not even near to say that everything is back to normal. With all of the orders I m over 6 months behind so waiting time is getting more and more frustrating for everyone. With limited quantities of cards I was making I had to postpone any cooperation with Amiga shops and I m very sorry for that but I couldn't give them false promises because simply, I can't deliver anything in reasonable amount of time.
Situation is not so good with postal services too who are under big hit constantly changing their policies for sending or receiving parcels. My postal service like others had some strange calls so when epidemic started I could receive packages from China but not send them there. Strange? Right now I m able to send to USA but unable to receive anything from there. Chile is also forbidden in my post office and several other countries. Worst thing is that I pay for shipping and then after few days they call me to say that they can't send it to specific country each time keeping the money. On top of everything fraud investigation regarding wirecard bank, widely used by developers and parts suppliers created more troubles.
What can I say, strange times, people lose jobs and maybe best option for everyone is to save money for other priorities in life than on our hobbies. From my side I can only promise that production of all versions of Vampire accelerators will be continued soon I get all needed parts.
Final decision to leave my cave and meet in person several Apollo-team members was made at the beginning of July. Destination, Gamescom 2019 who took place from August 20 - 24 in Cologne, Germany. My friend and me traveled by the car there and back for nearly 3000Km. It was crazy road trip with lot of funny things that happened. At the very beginning GPS navigation pointed us to some mental health institute. So imagine us late at night knocking at the doors to enter thinking that this is our hotel. Something was suspicious to me by looking one lady who was walking in circles constantly... But, nevermind that :) My constant fight with automatic doors and sensors equipped faucets created lot of crazy situations. For last 20 years I m thinking that someone is watching when I approach sensors equipped devices and shuts them down on purpose to make idiot out of me. But, watching Brad Pitt commercial for new movie in Swiss made public toilet, same time holding my dick was on top of everything. Come on, tablet installed in pissoir with Brad Pitt talking to me to watch the movie. After my reaction everyone started laughing there. Brad Pitt jumped from the shit and asks to suck my dick. HaHaHa
So, how was it at Gamescom. It is pointless to explain because there are no words invented yet to describe what I have seen there. In short, it does not matter are you into games, technology or not you must visit Gamescom in your lifetime. Everything there left mark in my mind and changed me completely. My views about life, world, various communities. It's simple, you are surrounded with thousands of people who are full of desire to change the world with innovative ideas.
Meeting several Apollo-team members after so many years working together was very good decision. All what I was thinking about them before was proven to be true. Hard working people with strong desire to get another life to Amiga computers. I consider myself as a person who "reads" people very quickly so I was happy to see that our team is legit without lies or hidden motives. I won't use this article to talk more about things we discussed there, let's our work talks for itself. Also, big thanks to Amiga Future for making all of this possible.
Apollo-team at Gamescom 2019
So where we stand there? It was privilege to have stand beside biggest companies in the world of technology. Despite game development progress in last few years it was amazing for me to see that kids were playing games on retro computers. Mostly multiplayer games and there I see our chance together with Indie Game Developers. Final conclusion is that our work was recognized and that we are very close to provide one more alternative to the end users.
So let's conquer the world together :)
More pictures in Read More, Pictures, Files... section of this article.
Working on 3rd Vampire 1200 accelerator revision took every piece of energy I had in my body. It was so time consuming and complex that I can't even explain. 2nd redesign revealed that we have mechanical problems. And yes that happened because I have designed accelerator without having Amiga 1200 plastic housing. In fact I have designed accelerator without even having complete Amiga 1200. I was thinking that pictures and documentation found online should be enough to calculate everything. Oh boy, could I be more wrong. Result, missed accelerator size by 3mm. It was too wide, hitting case and very hard to insert into trapdoor. It took me over one month to fix that problem. So, 3mm not much you may say, but in PCB design that's huge and had to move all components to make them fit to new PCB size, rerouting again, and again, who knows how many times.
Finally some time ago everyone jumped in to help when they heard what problem I have. Well, they were polite enough to not say that I was stupid, but I was. Like you try to make window frame on the house without measuring hole on the wall or even seeing the house. That's how designing this accelerator was. Apollo-team members send me some plastic cases for A1200. Some famous Amiga shops and case makers also did help providing me old and new, redesigned cases. I was able to measure and this time accelerator fits perfectly!
When I was redesigning the card, we, inside team talked a lot about certain features or problems connected to Amiga 1200 design. We took special attention to Amiga 1200 "dirty" clock problems and I hope that we solved that in this revision. Also, card has some other features now for potential support for other popular expansions.
Soldering first prototype took 2 days under abnormal conditions created by very high summer temperatures in my city and the fact that there has been work on the house connected to mine. Imagine soldering 0402 resistor in the situation when everything is vibrating from power drills used to destroy walls. Surrounded with hot air, heat from iron stations, vibrations and workers who are thinking that they know how to sing, it was nightmare.
As you probably know pins on Vampire 500 V2 header are very fragile and they could break on several occasions. Removing card from ESD bag is one of them for example. Another one is in process of placing card on top MC68K DIP socket. Before sending card headers are aligned properly so applying too much force can damage them. Card header should slide into DIP socket easily.
Short video how to replace broken pin.
When one pin is broken it is for the best to replace 3 pins in the row in total because that will ensure more secure connection. Now, question everyone will ask is why did we use those fragile headers at all. Simple answer because better ones don't exist and I have tried them all. We wanted to cover all different DIP sockets Commodore used over the years and also to cover DIP sockets with round female pins. If you think that all of them are the same, you couldn't be more wrong. This was big challenge from day one and solution was far away from perfect. Anyhow, in each package replacement headers are included so you can replace them on your own. Like I always say, having retro hardware and not having basic soldering equipment and skills is not an option anymore. I hope that this video will be helpful.
For some time I wanted to prove myself that I can design accelerator card around Cyclone V FPGA. It turned out that designing such card was very easy and not much different than designing card with Cyclone III. Only real difference was that I had to go with 6-layers PCB. It took me one month to do it and in September of 2017. everything was finished and prepared for testings. In this specific card I wanted to implement all knowledge gathered from previous designs. I wanted bridge between V2 models and upcoming V4 keeping SDRAM but adding Cyclone V as a base. Vampire 600 V3 code named V666 is born with 5CEFA4F23I8N or 5CEFA5F23I8N Cyclone V FPGA.
Some other components are added like DVI level shifter (PTN3360BBS) for better video out, much bigger flash is used (S25FL128SAGMFI011) and lot of expansions headers including new IDE header implemented from Vampire 500 V2+ model. There were number of fixes on microSD slot, SDRAM, power section. I have played also with silkscreen and soldermask and made card shine with red light provided by LED diodes. In general, performance of this card are not different than on V2 models and that's something I did expect. You can't get more as long you use SDRAM. Card was never planned for production and its purpose was purely as development card for the Apollo-team. This year on Alchimie 2018 card is presented and people started to talk about it on the forums so in this article I wanted to give more details.
As every project progress it is normal to have revisions. Same story goes for Vampire card accelerators. From minor fixes no one will really notice to more serious ones who enabled higher performance using same hardware parts. There were lot of various forum posts where skilled people commented design of the cards and proposed better solutions in certain areas. We started to investigate those claims and noticed that some of them were valid. This was huge boost for us from Amiga community and sign that we can do even better. PCBA factory also asked for some changes to speedup assembly process. Since Vampire 500 and Vampire 600 are very similar cards in process of designing and production what's proven to be good for one was later on implemented on other model. You may find this article very confusing but only in case that you didn't follow progress of this project closely for past several years.
Digital Video Out fix
VAMPIRE 500 V2
Development version of the card, not for sale
VAMPIRE 500 V2+ Rev:2
Added I/O expansion header, new logo
VAMPIRE 500 V2+ Rev:2.1
Added strip bars on 2 sides with fiducials for professional PCBA
VAMPIRE 500 V2+ Rev:2.2
I/O expansion header replaced with Ethernet module connector. Implemented all improvements from Vampire 600 V2 Rev: 2.1 and 2.2
VAMPIRE 600 V2 Rev:2
First version of the card with 2 SDRAM chips
VAMPIRE 600 V2 Rev:2.1
Added bottom GND layer, introduced via stitching and teardrops, added fiducials and PCB panelization
VAMPIRE 600 V2 Rev:2.2
Added top GND layer
VAMPIRE 500 V2
VAMPIRE 500 V2+ Rev: 2 and 2.1
VAMPIRE 500 V2+ Rev: 2.2
VAMPIRE 600 V2
VAMPIRE 600 V2 Rev: 2.1 and 2.2
Before we start I need to point out that first series of Vampire cards build by me or 3rd parties need those fixes. Everything build after 2016. have those fixes included or cards were replaced by never models.
By reading incomplete manuals from Alpha & Omega Semiconductor about AOZ1021A I have used as a power solution for Vampire cards I made mistake by not putting enough capacitors after inductor. As a result card was unstable on newest cores who are more and more power hungry. Even now reading datasheet for that part I see that this part is not recommended for new designs. But let's be honest, this was due to my inexperience. Later on I found out that others who used same parts in their projects made same mistakes as I did.To fix this problem you only need to add 2 capacitors in parallel to C3 and C6. That's exactly how users fixed their old cards from Silver core days and made them work on Gold versions of Apollo cores. In reality this is very simple fix but it could be ugly and sending cards like this to end users would give picture about unfinished product. Interesting thing is that someone might need this fix and someone don't. So if your card does not work properly with one of the Apollo Gold cores this is the first step.
Vampire 600 V2 card without power fix
Vampire 600 V2 card with power fix I did initially on my card. Ceramic capacitors C3 and C6 each valued 10uF before replaced with 4 22uF capacitors.
Power fix with 220uF electrolytic capacitors placed in parallel with 10uF capacitors C3 and C6.
Maybe better solution for this specific card because weaker inductors used.
Unlike ceramic capacitors electrolytic capacitors are polarity sensitive so closely observe pictures.
There was much better solution I did in final production. Solution was very slick and did the job perfectly. C3 and C6 capacitors were replaced with 22uF values, but real fix happened on bottom side of the card replacing 0805 100nF ceramic capacitors with 22uF 0805 ones. This ensured more power to the FPGA and real professional production could start.
Vampire 500 V2+ Rev:2.1 card with power fix
One step further was taken with Vampire 600 V2 Rev: 2.1 with adding two more capacitors near C3 and C6 valued 22uF. Some minor fixes regarding bottom side were taken. This made no difference but it looked more professional.
DIGITAL VIDEO OUT FIX
As for Digital Video out initially we used 0603 270Ohm resistors in series. This wasn't best solution for everyone depending on TV/monitor type used. Sometimes on higher resolutions picture was unstable.
On Vampire 500 V2+ Rev:2.1 resistors were replaced with 0603 100nF capacitors leaving Silkscreen showing R marks.
Later in Vampire 600 V2 Rev: 2.1 this was done properly and R was changed to C as it should be.
Having retro computer and not having soldering station near is not an option anymore. Simple fixes on main or additional hardware is something that become normal. After all without various people writing on forums how did they improve their hardware who knows will those things will be ever discovered. This was definitive prove that we are going in right direction with this project because community showed interest. Most of the people wouldn't notice mentioned differences in models or their flaws but I needed to point to them to clear my mind. You see, I am strange person who is prepared to sit for hours designing some card just to be able to move one trace 0.1mm to make it aligned with all the others same time moving 100 traces or components to make more room. I m well aware that this is not important and that no one will be able to see that. But, I will know, don't know how to explain... Yes, I know that I have problem of some kind. Now, right question is, am I able to make perfect design, in the terms how I see it. No, even now, when I got latest Rev: 2.2 I noticed some things that could be even better.
Well, how about others, big companies. Recently I have purchased lot of hardware for modern computers and decided to take a look. How about that you need to remove graphic card from new MSI Arctic motherboard to be able to remove battery. They had loads of options to place battery on some other place and yet they didn't see this as a problem. That's not just one mechanical issue, you can spot lot of them just briefly looking into motherboard. How about mentioned graphic card and tutorial on MSI website how to make it work properly. Seeing all of that I can only say that we are more than good with our mistakes. So let's look forward to next revision who will be perfect finally. HMmMm maybe not :)
With Vampire 500 V2+ demand it was nearly impossible to find time to run production of Vampire 600 again. In new redesign plan was to introduce various fixes on hardware side. There are number of power fixes with more capacitors various sizes and capacitance, layers are reworked, some techniques like teardrops, via stitching, local fiducials are used. For the first time I was doing PCB panelization and that created lot of stress for me. Card is more secured now with new screws and plastic spacers we will use in the future. On the video below you can watch soldering first card to confirm new redesign changes. Production of the cards will start very soon in professional PCBA factory.
It was rainy day, I was driving my family to some party when I got a call from my friend who told me that there is one Amiga 500 on second-hand market. Something like that never happens in my city. I left my family on parking and start running. There it was, in the middle of the junk, Amiga 500 under heavy rain, dirty. It was so sad to see that. I took it into my hands trying to find a seller. Finally he approached and told me 10Eur. It is mine! Well, he could put any price I would still take it but he didn't know that. Later that day I got home and after some cleaning and drying powered the machine and it started to work without any problems. There is a question I dare to ask. Do you think that your modern phone or PC would be working after 27 years? Think not!
This Amiga 500 was used for creating Vampire 500 as we know it.
Amiga 500 S/N: 2169035 build in 1991.
Two days ago after more than 800 Vampire 500 V2 cards tested this machine finally died.
I was so sad but after brief investigation I found out that only DIP64 socket is broken and that all electrolytic capacitors needs to be replaced. So not huge task you may say but problem was to find original DIP64 socket and I had to use original one because of proper alignment of headers used in Vampire cards. Luckily I had some DIP sockets with different pitch but with same metal connectors inside. So I just took those replacing broken ones inside DIP64 socket.
Capacitors were another story. I live in the place where is very hard to find anything so most of the time you have to order online and patiently wait for 2 months to get the package. Often after so much waiting you realize that you didn't get what you paid for so you have to start all over again. Trick is to think in front what part you will need for some project you will be doing next year.
Over the weekend I found 2 shops in my country who could have what I need. One of them was in my city and another about 100Km away. I woke up early and visited my local shop who was closed at the time they should be working. Right about when I decided to have road trip they showed and sold me capacitors. Yes, they had them. I was lucky and persistent waited for over 2 hours for them to open the store.
Most of the capacitors on the motherboard were nice looking not showing any traces of damage. However measuring revealed that they should be replaced. Over the time capacitance and ESR values changed a lot.
On the left side of the picture above is original capacitor from motherboard rated at 100uF, 16V. Capacitance was lower and ESR value more than two times bigger than it should be. Right side of the picture shows replacement capacitor rated at 100uF, 25V with ESR 0.78OHM like it should be according to shown chart. In total 17 capacitors needed to be replaced.
Purpose of this article was to write down serial number of this Amiga because this is the machine who took so many beatings over past three years. It is the machine who gave us Vampire accelerator and bright future to the Amiga. It still lives and I hope that it will live for next 27 years.
Each Vampire card have its own Unique ID, serial number that is integrated inside chip. For better support and future core updates who will be UID dependent please register your card by filling the form provided HERE.
Thanks to IDVORSKY LABORATORIES from Belgrade, Serbia and our team member CRVENI we were able to enter one of the latest stages of this project. EMC testings on Vampire cards are done in 150 kHz - 30 MHz - 2.7 GHz range in this specialized laboratory funded by EU. Complete test records are available upon authority request.
More pictures in Read More, Pictures, Files... section of this article.
I have informed that there are several people on various places claiming that they will be official sales representatives of the Apollo-team. Yes, there was some discussion about that matter but so far no serious agreement with anyone. So please watch out if someone asks you for money, pre-orders or anything similar. Sales are handled by me and kipper2k and only from APOLLO-ACCELERATORS.COM
March 14, 2017.:::UPDATE: Recently I have send about 10 mails to the people from our list to pay to our manager Sandy and not directly to me and send transaction details with pictures to my mail. This is done to save time and to avoid paying PayPal fees two times. Sandy will handle parts for us and I m creating some kind of fund on hers account to speedup parts delivery.
As much I don't like to write about myself and publish any pictures this time I had to. To this day this video had more than 10K views on youtube so I think that is OK to post more information's now. Yeah, you may say 10K views is nothing, but this is different crowd so number is huge.
I went to Novi Sad, Serbia on September 10, 2016 to visit BalCCon2k16, Balkan Computer Congress organized by LUGoNS, oldest Hackers community in Serbia. I was invited by Once Upon a Byte and 8bitchip retro communities and this is the best way to thank them for invitation, nice pictures they took and awesome video they have done. In the video itself I m talking nonsense most of the time, living in a dream, or am I :)
Plan was to talk more about Apollo-team and Vampire 500 accelerator. You may ask why video isn't on English, because when I started to talk with some man from USA I just froze, couldn't say any single word on English. Why, I have no idea. That's the main reason why there are only few people in the room because most of the visitors were from English speaking territories and complete plan was that everyone who present something there should talk on English. Simply I couldn't. Anyway, people who invited me there were very friendly and we talked about lot of subjects. What I liked the most, hm don't get me wrong but girl at the bar was awesome, sorry I didn't took any pictures but she is still in my mind :P
More pictures in Read More, Pictures, Files... section of this article.
In the process of making Vampire 1200 I have found only one problem. Card edge connectors with 150 pins are extremely hard to find. Fujitsu made them and then discontinued in 2000. Now they don't have replacement part. Original part number is: FCN-225J150-G/A. Connector itself is right angled with 1.27mm pitch and two separated sides. One side consists of 2x25 pins and another from 2X50 pins. Even building footprint for it was challenging. As I see it here we have only two options either we search for NOS or we manufacture those connectors. So far I have sent anywhere between 200-300 mails and made lot of phone calls with every person who had in his hands connector at least similar to what we need here. Searched over old newsgroups, tracked down people who owned Amiga shops 20 years ago, talked with every card edge manufacturer or reseller in the World. Even talked to Fujitsu directly. Most challenging was to read Japanese and Chinese web pages to be able to search their NOS. So far result is like this. In the existence there are 174 NOS connectors with insane prices and tooling fees with Sullins and Taiwan companies are huge for Amiga hobby projects. What can we say about connector itself. It is not even standard connector as Fujitsu sees it, it is not even listed in their datasheet where all versions of FCN-225J were listed. This decision Commodore made created pure nightmare for any potential hardware developer. Even back then, when Amiga 1200 was designed official proposal was to use two connectors, one with 50 and one with 100 pins, but even that is not an option now because also those are hard to find at normal prices. I keep asking myself after one week of constant searching for those connectors why did they make decision like that when lot of those pins are unused and any card edge connector with 120 pins could be used. Those connectors was standard then and they are standard now and probably they will be standard type of connectors in next 30 years. Another question is why they didn't put just simple 2.54mm pitch male header. All of this only tells me that someone tried to play monopoly game on the market, to create distance from other projects but like history teach us in some areas this is not smart to do. In reality put whatever you want inside box but for talking to outside world use exactly what everyone else uses. Talking about that makes no sense now, what is done it's done. I don't want to use PCI connectors and cut them because that won't look professional and it is time consuming if you consider that we will probably need to make at least 1000 Vampire 1200 cards. It would be also too stupid to have DDR3 on board and in the same time connector who is butchered and then glued. I ll probably find a way how to solve this problem like I solved many others in past years but situation where you need to pay for a connector same price as you are paying FPGA is not an option for now simply because makes no sense. IMHO those connectors shouldn't cost more than 5USD. Quantity we have now is enough to do one small series of cards but what happens later? Some drawings done by kipper2k and actual connector picture, datashet can be found in in Read More, Pictures, Files... section of this article.
Next logical step was to send few cards to other developers inside Apollo development team. This will speed things up lot more because so far I was the only one in the team who had actual hardware. Working in the dark for other developers was nightmare and I was stuck with constant testings and bug hunting with the Apollo core itself. With my limited knowledge I was able to help to some point but I was frustrated because I didn't had much time left for other things, like finishing final version of the Vampire 600 V2 board. Now, when they received their packages team can work properly and I can focus on sending latest design into production. I have sent boards to BigGun, ceiach, ShK and cgugl. Just to mention that this board will never enter serial production. It will be used only for development purpose.
Board sent to cgugl.
Board sent to ShK.
But this article is really about something else :) Kipper2k man from cold, cold Canada done some amazing work with current design in just two days. After me sending him design files I was so surprised to see how fast he is in soldering and getting everything running. IMHO best soldering skills that I have ever seen. From now on he will be sending more Vampire boards to the other developers.
So question is why we will succeed where everyone else failed? Because we are united in one goal to present something new and innovative to Amiga community. We are all from different parts of the world working as a perfect team for more than 15 hours each day. The same time we are acting more like family sharing our everyday stories and our experiences in various projects that's why makes it so fun. All of that with perfect guidance of BigGun and ceiach, developers who are able to motivate rest of us to learn more and contribute properly to this project.
Few months ago I was informed that there is another way to solder PCB, much faster way. Before that I didn't know that there is difference between soldering paste and flux or that such things as a PCB stencils exists. To tell you the truth I was completely unaware that there are some other methods of soldering than regular one. On the video below is my first attempt to solder PCB using stencil done yesterday.
Tools & Parts used: PCB
Soldering paste (Sn63/Pb37)
Solder paste spreader
IRDA soldering station
Selecting stencil: After reading a lot about various stencils I have decided to order each and every version that's available, also considered doing homemade version but eventually that was removed as an option because PCB is way too complex. So basically you can order stainless steel or stencil based on polyimide films (mylar or kapton). In the table below you can see my impressions regarding each of them.
~100Eur, in some cases more
Medium, stencil is not so flexible
Medium, one stencil can be used for building about 200 PCB
My vote goes definitely for polyimide film based stencils. Not just because the price is lower but because it is really tricky to apply soldering paste on stainless steel stencil where FPGA should be placed. Because low flexibility you will end up with too much paste there once you remove stencil. With polyimide stencils that is not the case. They bend nicely under solder paste spreader so you will have proper quantity of paste placed on components pads each and every time.
Soldering: Only important thing here is temperature profile you must follow if you don't want to destroy components. Each manufacturer states maximum temperature values that we can't exceed. What we need is temperature values who will solder component and not overheat it and that's something done over defined period of time. Also In each component we can find moisture so if we heat component too much or too fast component will crack. This is temperature profile I m using.