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.
Exactly 4 years ago I got an offer to make Bitcoin miner using FPGA and just for fun I did it using Vampire 600 V1 card and Amiga 600 as a base, showing pictures that it can work. For some strange reasons I decided that complete Bitcoin story wasn't for me at least as a person who is not regular user but developer. Lack of time, because I was digging deep into my Amiga projects was one of them. I was never prepared to leave my Amiga dreams and search for something else. Soon I have realized that my Amiga projects have no future because constant lack of money for research. Despite donations from various sides it was never enough and after lot of thinking in 2014. I made crucial decision to continue my Amiga journey as a developer but support Bitcoin idea as a regular user. With money earned from selling several Vampire 600 V1 cards I have got 9 Sapphire 280X cards and started to mine. Plan was simple, make economy for my Amiga projects who will be independent from banks, loans or donations and with recent events about Bitcoin complete Vampire development, production or anything related is financed like that. In this moment when I m writing this article just one Bitcoin cost over 15 000USD. That statement bring us back to the beginning of this story and makes me wonder how much I could earn by participating into Bitcoin story as a developer...
What is Bitcoin exactly? I won't bother explaining much just simple facts we need right now. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency based on SHA-256 hashing algorithm. It is decentralized digital currency without bank to control it. That says that middle man(bank) don't exist anymore. To simplify things, without middle man world as we know it can't survive, without taxes there is no country who could see another day. Who could blame Bitcoin users, well people finally have opportunity to OWN their money.
Another aspect of this story is that every single Bitcoin user have encrypted data of any other user in peer-to-peer network like true decentralized system. Who could stop that?
Terminology to investigate before you continue to read: Blockchain, Bitcoin wallet, Miners, Blocks, Block reward, Difficulty adjustment, Proof-of-Work, Mining pools, Mining farms...
Yesterday I was interested to calculate how much money I could earn mining Bitcoins using one Vampire 500 V2 card so I have ported opensourced FPGA bitcoin mining core to it and started to investigate.
Final result was poor as expected. I could mine 0.00000577 Bitcoins per year or in today's value exactly 0.08552 USD, so not even 10 cents per year. In other words I would need 173 310 years to mine one Bitcoin. Let's get back once more, in 2013 with same equipment making 100MH/s I could mine 2.78 Bitcoins per year, or in today's value exactly 43,372.82 USD. Funny story says that in 2013. I had about 200 FPGA chips with working FPGA Bitcoin core, but let's not make further calculations it would force me to drink some funny pills to calm down. You get the picture. So what changed is that more miners with strongest hardware increased difficulty to mine. Right question now is who can mine Bitcoins now. Simple answer is no one. Without serious equipment, ASIC based miners, loads of them, you can't do anything. Bitcoin mining is now reserved only for mining farms who costs millions and millions of dollars. Back in 2014. I was unable to directly mine Bitcoins with my GPU equipment it was that hard. Where is the trick you may wonder.
Bitcoin isn't only cryptocurrency there is more than 10 000 of others and by mining them you can earn lot more. All of them have their own developers, supporters, communities, goals and usability and most important own economy. Some of them are used just for paying for games, others are created for renting cars, rooms, buying food... Mark my words, soon every single serious company will have their own cryptocurrency based on theirs name and used as a payment method for their products. Why, because there is no middle man, because it is secured, safe and damn fast! By speaking about other cryptocurrencys we can also say one important thing they are not based on same hashing algorithm as Bitcoin(SHA-256) there are the others like scrypt, blake, equihash, keccak and many many more. With this I m able to get Bitcoins not directly but by mining other coins because tiny portion of Bitcoins mined by mining farms is always invested in other coins who have promising future and innovative ideas. Economy of others is also ensured by direct investments in fiat money. Mining other coins is much easier because difficulty is much lower than on Bitcoin. That says that just by using one Vampire card for mining I can earn lot more by mining some other coin. Especially in the terms where only several people mine one coin. It can happen that in just one day with modest power you can do very good.
Ok so then why don't we make our own coin who will establish our own economy and who will be used for reviving Amiga.
In other words I could make my own coin and offer to sell Vampire cards only and only for that coin. Same time buying those coins on exchanges would ensure stable economy and bring investors from outside of Amiga land. Trick is in one thing called opensource.
Almost every crypto coin that exist is opensourced so everyone can see how is designed. This is very important because it gains trust in potential miners or investors. Opensourcing is good and bad thing. By presenting code to the masses they can understand hashing algorithm you used in your code and using high power devices like ASIC or GPU miners they can instantly destroy any potential value of the coin by creating many of them in short period of time and selling them over exchanges purely for instant profit. But again there is a trick, ASIC or GPU miners can't handle all algorithms yet so as long you use brand new algorithm or modified old one or even combination of several algorithms you are safe. By creating semi-opensource showing everything regarding coin parameters but hashing algorithm you can be protected. You can mine it with single CPU for years without much power.
MC68000 and crypto
As said not even modern processors can handle huge difficulty on Bitcoin and other popular coins. As tested on some retro hardware old processors don't stand a chance. But think it like this, coin who can be only mined with MC68X series of CPU. Again, power is not important because others can't enter. With minimum processor power you can mine blocks and get reward in coins who gain value because they are rare. They are rare because only people who owns retro hardware can join. They are the only ones who could participate and eventually create profit. Others will be forced to just buy those coins on the exchange. Yes, they could use emulators on their PC but that could be also limited with CPU detection routines. Limited but not removed as option because using emulators you will again gain interest for retro computers. Same time those who buy them are your investors. Why should anyone buy them? As my experience says, what is rare, new, innovative and with purpose is very interesting for investors in this crypto world. By creating new coin with new algorithm you are forcing mining farms out and that's exactly what new coin developers doing right now so why not do the same with MC68000. Bitcoin remains mainstream for big investors, we don't need to mess with it directly.
Just to mention there was something called Amigacoin but only connection with Amiga was in its name because it needed to be mine on X86 architecture. Imagine coin who could be mined only on Amiga.
Our position is much different, a lot better. In the situation where we can actually build specific instructions and create our own rules Apollo-core could be next best thing outperforming MC68K in our specific coin. Joining retro and crypto coins world could become reality with millions of potential users. Popularity of Amiga and everything that follows could rise because they are lot of newcomers who are always exploring. By creating specific coin for us we could ensure two way story, buying core from end user for personal profit. Right now we have more than 1000 users of Vampire accelerators and good starting point for this to happen. If we start talking about standalone system, Apollo-core based we could open new markets spreading power of Workbench towards mining community who is getting bigger and bigger each day.
In not so distant future everything that single person possess now regarding material stuff will worth 0.01 Bitcoins, those who have 0.10 will be rich. Other coins will eventually have same value Bitcoin have now so why not create our own and continue promoting Amiga in this new futuristic world.
After holidays our suppliers and manufacturers had we resumed production of Vampire 500 V2+ but this time in much bigger quantities so there will be plenty cards for re-sellers and for those who placed orders over apollo-accelerators.com website. Same time I m already ordering parts for next batch so from now on there won't be unwanted delays between batches. I will do my best to provide constant flow. Waiting time is now reduced from 3 month to 7 days. So expect to be contacted any minute :)
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.
Someone spend incredible amount of time to report my E-bay sales of Vampire cards. He reported me for various reasons, that I m not using genuine pictures, that I have stolen them from someone, that product is fake, that I m misleading buyers, that product is not listed in proper category and so on. Yes, imagine Vampire card can't be listed in Vintage computers category. Then he reported me that I m advertising article as Amiga product, hard to explain but he reported me because I wrote "Amiga accelerator" instead "Accelerator for Amiga". It is really hard to count how many times that person reported me and for what reasons and this is something that goes on and on for more than year. Each and every time as a result card was removed from the auction. After that people who were bidding contacted me asking what is going on and asking questions about removed listing. First few times I didn't even bother to investigate what is going on thinking that this was purely E-bay's action. Then I got one more mail from them who contained this sentence "Another eBay member notified us that your listing used their copyrighted image or text without permission.". That sentence proved everything. It is just shame that E-bay don't investigate things properly. Don't get me wrong I m doing my best to respect all the rules but just search for anything retro computers related over E-bay and you will see that anything goes for everyone but for me. Well as a result, my account on E-bay is suspended yesterday, consequences are huge because this harms my reputation there and rights to buy certain components we need for cards production.
IMHO complete purpose of those attacks is to slowdown project development and for that I see various reasons.
Either someone don't like complete concept and somehow he is afraid that Amiga development will have different roadmap than he was thinking. It is perfectly fine to think like this because Amiga community is divided by various of reasons. There are groups of people who don't like PPC, FPGA, 060 or even any kind of upgrades and they think that Amiga should remain stock and used like that. Someone of them get sick when you mention AGA running on A500. Even those are divided, some thinking that AGA is good in A500 but not in FPGA environment. Some of them supports 68K only, again some gets angry when you mention PCI in Amiga and consider that as a true sacrilege. How about mentioning x86 inside Amiga or God forbid mentioning Atari emulation on Amiga. There are many examples...
Those who likes cats don't understand those who likes dogs but all of them will say that it is good thing that we have cats and dogs and possibility to chose what we like the most. I wish for more Amiga related projects, more choices, only that could move us forward. However, I think that those reports are not related to some person who don't like our roadmap. Once more I see money behind all of this.
I see much bigger frustration here and see some things connected. If you look for every article on this website you will see that someone put huge effort to vote for each article hundred of times trying to lower the score to 1. I m picturing person who don't have any real and honest friend, who don't go out, who is scared in the room full of people. Yes, I m picturing person who don't have life. I m picturing it even now when he is reading this, smiling, thinking how wrong I am, but am I wrong. Think how many days of your life you lost wasting time reading E-bay rules and regulations just to stop Vampire sales. Let me tell you that so far I have send 464 Vampire 500 V2+ cards who are sold outside of E-bay. At the end you did what exactly? How about your lost time?
Again one more report and again my account on E-bay in danger, just read what E-bay said to me. This is awesome people, simply awesome!
Please understand that you stated "Vampire 500 V2+ accelerator" in the title of the listing while the description states "You are bidding only for accelerator card" which is misleading. Misleading titles confuse buyers by making it unclear what's actually for sale in a listing. Buyers should be able to determine what's being sold based solely on the title and subtitle. Confusing or misleading information in titles and subtitles clutters the search results and creates the potential for bad buying experiences. Kindly revise / relist the item with the appropriate title of the item that is being offered in the listing.
This batch consisted of 200 cards and it was biggest batch so far. All of the cards were sent in just 20 days according to mentioned plan where highest priority had our pre-orders list then re-sellers. Next batch will be build soon and it will be even bigger than this one.
After several years of negotiations Apollo-team made agreement with AmigaKit for distributing Vampire 500 cards. For me personally this is some kind of dream come true and I m so proud for this to happen. Amigakit is the big name on retro scene and I can freely say that because those kind of shops retro scene survived. Anyway, I noticed that because of that lot of people made bad comments on various forums. just this morning I have received more than 30 mails to explain situation. Problem appeared because people from our personal pre-order list feel betrayed because they think that AmigaKit got cards before them after so much waiting. True story is that in last batch 200 cards were produced and few of those went to AmigaKit so they can test the cards and see are they interested to resell them. They tested them and said that they are interested in future cooperation. Those cards were just preparation for future sales and they are sold within 15 minutes of publishing news. Right now there are no cards left to send to anyone before next batch is done. I only have one for myself used for debugging. Our pre-order list have highest priority and will be cleared according to timeline. No one will be left out or betrayed. From previous post you can see how much cards we have done and that simply can't keep up with the demand. Again, all become insane. And again, people please have some more patience because once you get the card you will forgot about all of those problems and long waiting and you will say that it was worthwhile. After all you are waiting for something like this for 20 years not two months. Remember AmigaKit is not just re seller... Soon plan will be revealed and you will say that this was smartest move ever.
May 30, 2017.:::UPDATE:
Packages including parts for next batch arrived today. Created misunderstanding will be history soon.
You can't satisfy all but people from the Apollo-team and from complete Amiga community was right in lot of things regarding this project. First and most important thing is that new members joined the team just because they got the cards by some pure luck. In just few days they helped a lot on various areas same time saving us lot of time. That makes me think who knows how many good coders and hardware designers are out there who could help in our development but they can't because we are delivering cards slower than any developer/manufacturer in the history. In fact we failed in most important thing. We were able to do everything but to actually deliver cards. That caused lot of bad reputation and that was the reason why price manipulation happened at all. My attempt to solder cards by hands and using my Pick and Place station failed because massive demand. We still have about 2200 cards to deliver, imagine that! I only wish everyone could imagine how hard it was for me to spend so much hours each day soldering and not seeing an end, not seeing a day when I ll be free. Same time looking at comments of certain people who couldn't survive one single day with the tasks I m doing for past 4 years. No one knows that several times I ended up in emergency room after 15 hours of constant soldering. No one knows that I prepared project files and what's left of investment money to forward it to some team members to continue if something happens to me. Well who cares...
When others developers succeed with modest products we failed. They were just able to deliver number of cards in short period of time. After all we can conclude it is not so important that you have best product, all is about marketing and organization. For those who advised me what to do and how to do it all looked simple then I should just say. You have the hands, you have the brains, money and whatever is needed to do it yourself if you think that this is so simple. When I worked in electronics company we had army of people doing certain tasks, here all of those tasks fell on few people who become lost. After all everyone blamed me but I planned my moves and soon all will become clear. Next step, hiring professional company to do the job.
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.
Again, have no idea how many times I have redesigned Vampire 500, now I m done. Am I happy with latest design, well NO. Don't get me wrong design is nearly perfect, that nearly is what's bothering me. What I could do better, let's say lot of things but let's face it I ll be rude once more and say that this is best accelerator that is done so far for Amiga 500. What I wanted is to leave SDRAM as something we use and go for Mobile DDR. That design is done last year but never released, again have no idea why. To tell you the truth I didn't know what I was doing in last 3 years with Vampire 500 design. It was never clear to me what to do. Should I leave SDRAM, add Ethernet or WiFI, build card who don't connects directly on top of old CPU, use different FPGA. In fact, as we progressed with the apollo-core I have realized that my oldest design was good enough for the job. Hey, more than 100MIPS rock solid accelerator and I was thinking about what could be done better. For about one year I had bunch of Vampire 500 PCB laying around, not thinking at all that someone will be interested in those cards. As you know my pre-order lists for other accelerators were smal,l then interest from the community started to rise at the huge rate so I got scared asking myself only one question. If there is so much interest for V600 V2 what will happen to the version for Amiga 500. Constantly I was receiving lot of mails where people asked me about other models and that was definite prove that demand will be huge. Since I said that I won't run pre-orders anymore all will be handled much differently. When I solder enough cards I ll run one batch, send it to the people then run another. Waiting time will be reduced and we could cover the market in a fair way and I won't be in heavy pressure like before.
Strange thing is that lot of people lately tried to advice me how to handle stuff. Don't you think that I m capable of ordering 1000 cards pre-assembled in China on my own? Don't you think that I can pay the man who will send them or open a company, hire nice secretary to answer phone calls. Those who knows me, knows well that I m not shy or incapable of talking to the people and doing business. Right word at right place, business. I won't run it, this will remain underground project, one man in the basement doing hand soldering forever. If you could understand the feeling when you create every single card using your hands and bring it to the life. Each one is special, each one is connected to me, no matter where is it now in the world. It is piece of me forever. Each one have it's own story. For each one I burned my finger at different place. I would lost that feeling if I build them any other way. Simply it won't be the same for me. As you know all huge project were born in basements created by stubborn persons. Me and my Pick and Place machine working as one last few days, cards looks better than ever and everyone will get them in awesome package. When? Keep watching at amibay!
Vampire 500 V2+ differences over V2 version: 1. Rework on internal layers that will probably enable higher clocks.
2. Modification on headers <->DIL to support much better connectors who will ensure stable connection to the Amiga motherboard
3. Tiny improvements on video-out again regarding internal layers
4. I/O expansion header with support for WiFi module(AP, client mode) (WiFi module drivers not developed yet, but in future maybe they will be:))
5. Logo update
Vampire 500 V2+ is 100% compatible with Vampire 500 V2 version.
More pictures in Read More, Pictures, Files... section of this article.
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 my 2nd attempt to have proper cardboard boxes for Vampire cards I have realized where I actually live. For last 15 days I m trying to find someone who can do simple 110x110x40mm black cardboard boxes. Right now after 40 minutes of search for one "company" I have finally gave up. Dirty roads, no street signs or anything in the part of the city where about 30 000 people lives. Instantly you start to wonder how is possible that final product can be any good if you work and live there. Leaving that part of the city I noticed same group of people on dusty bus station still waiting. Yeah it is normal that bus didn't arrive, no one cares about lost time. No one is in a hurry, why bother, anyway most of the people don't have a job at all so why to be in a rush. Everyone are happy because most of them start drinking early in the morning. Visiting those places makes you think of American movies with titles like "Eaten alive", or "Butchered in the woods". You again ask yourself why they don't change something, how is possible that people don't see that same politicians are on the scene for last 25 years doing nothing. Actually, they are doing something but not for the people but for their own pockets. No one is guilty for closing electronic industry complexes in my city, no one is guilty about the fact that 12 000 people who worked in that sector don't have job anymore. Yeah, people still vote for the same politicians and they will vote again. Why, it is not important that they didn't build roads and pipes for drinkable water, most important thing is that few days before elections they organize huge parties with lot's of alcohol and food. People will then give their votes to them not realizing that in next 4 years every beer they had on that party will cost them 1000Eur. Talking about people, most of them are so ignorant that their only goal in life is to prove how big Serbs, Muslims or Croats are. In that situation every politician who says right words in right moment is their hero. I think when NASA discovers Martians and when they attack us world will unite to fight them, all world except people in Bosnia. They will still be busy proving their point. Best are those who left Bosnia to work in Germany and other countries doing jobs no one want's to do there. Working in a sewerage systems, they are biggest bosses when they visit Bosnia on some holidays. With rented cars using horns and national flags, again they becoming biggest patriots. For 20 years working there they were incapable to learn German language or to integrate there.
Talking about doing some business here. When you need to go and talk to someone, you can expect bunch of things. Like my friend told me, they won't do any work by phone or mail, you must go and visit them because they will just by looking at you see is it possible to trick you and take more money from you. Again, few days ago I was waiting for an meeting and after hour of waiting man told me that they need first to eat some candies for some celebration. After my initial frustration here goes another one when they told me that they can't do boxes for me in black color. Price for white boxes, I told him that I can get boxes done cheaper in USA including shipping price. Everyone is acting like they are millionaires, everyone takes work as casual thing, and everything is slow, so slow that you can order things anywhere in the world and get it faster than they can build it here. When you need something that is not standard you won't find it anywhere. Month ago when my car died I couldn't find part anywhere. Certified Opel dealer told me that they can get me part in 20 days, hey I m not certified dealer but I can get same part from E-bay in 2 days and at lower price. It is perfectly normal to wait for anything in endless lines, for hours, days. It is perfectly normal that people are selling tickets publicly to get you faster in that line. If you are member of some party or have important relatives you can do whatever you like.
In the days where each dot in the world is one click away we are 200 years behind. Yes we have cars and phones but most of our cars are used cards from Germany. It is not important that you don't have all teeth, it is important that you drive Mercedes who is discarded as scrap metal in Germany. It is important that you spend all day looking at the phone searching for someone who can donate food or clothing for your kid not thinking that you should do something instead spending time on using device you can't afford.
Anyway, most of you don't have any idea how hard was for me to do project like this. Living in the place where only two companies in the country have CE, where you have problems with everything. Nice cardboard boxes, again not an option.
As you probably know participation in Apollo-team project was 90Eur, later on price went to 120Eur because design change. For that price you were getting Vampire 600 V2 accelerator card and opportunity to have fastest and most compatible Amiga accelerator ever produced, Apollo-core ported to Vampire card with unique features and with more than 100MIPS with latest published cores. From initial core release we went up for more than 20MIPS with adding more and more instructions, more compatible video output drivers and support for MicroSD. Everyone got opportunity to participate in this amazing project seeing it as a next best thing after minimig. Lot of people realized that we inside Apollo-team could bring something to the market, beyond wildest dreams of Amiga enthusiasts who waited for over 20 years for something like this to happen. As a person who worked on hardware design for last 6 years I was under constant pressure helping the team best I could in various areas with my modest knowledge. At the time when money was needed Amiga community recognized potential of this project and placed first pre-orders helping a lot financially. Without those people none of this would happen and that's the truth. They were helping me also in other things, getting parts, equipment. There was so many energy in the air send by them. That gave me the strength to work constantly more than 10 hours per day, every single day. For two years I didn't go to fishing properly or did something else like spending some time with the family.Don't know, just go somewhere with them. I didn't find time to do any other things, this project took it all. Project was frustrating, from the point that design needed change, five times, to the fact that in process of testings I had to buy parts who are now forgotten in those changes.
When you solder by hand about 3200 0402 capacitors and loads of other parts sacrificing in front of everything my health and then when you see that someone else is making money from your hard work then you start to wonder what are you doing wrong. From the start money wasn't my motivation. If that was the case I could sell this design number of times or I could increase the price more. Why solder by hand you may wonder. Because that was the only option to keep prices low and affordable to everyone, at least it was me who was talking constantly that no one should benefit from nostalgic feelings of retro computers enthusiasts. That's why I have opensourced first version of the Vampire 600 so anyone can continue work on it. If this was about the money then I wouldn't end up in the situation where I need to find money for future projects. I was forcing kipper2k to keep prices of the accelerators low with minimum profit or close to zero and each time one FPGA dies he is left with loses. And yes those things happen, I have loads of overheated or ESD damaged parts.
Lot of questions are in my mind lately, could we get even better results if we had money to pay someone for the drivers, demos, for the test cases, instead everyone inside team was working for free. With recent Intel purchases prices of the parts went even higher, yet we kept prices down because we had stock of the parts ordered before those Intel's takeovers. Same time people started to put their Vampire 600V2 cards on eBay selling it for anywhere between 300-800Eur. You may say that's not illegal and they can do whatever they want with their cards but please be in my position to work on this so hard and still don't have money for tooling fees needed for card edge connectors. Some people are adding themselves to our waiting list because pure profit they can make by selling the card five times more than they paid for. I was at the edge to block those cards from future core uploads but I didn't do it and I won't.
Since I have enough parts only to cover initial pre-orders placed on Amibay without need for more funds and because of recent eBay events I m forced to increase the price anywhere between 230-250Eur for various models. Without this decision we are dead in the water and we will hardly find money to finance Vampire 1200. I was idealist, thinking that I should play fair and give anyone opportunity to get this piece of hardware not respecting my time or energy and knowledge rest of the team put into this. I was an idiot thinking that everyone will keep their cards and follow our progress, they didn't even bother to try latest cores, instead they went for quick money. In the darkest corner of my mind I couldn't predict that someone will sell the card instantly when he gets it... Thank you eBay sellers for opening my eyes. World turns when money talks. Finally I learned that.
Info: Project applied to M:tel Technology contest for best blog in the country
Ovaj tekst ulazi u izbor najboljih blogova u BiH na takmińćenju m:bloger kompanije m:tel m:blogger
Kako u par recenica srociti sve ono sto sam uradio na ovom projektu u proteklim godinama? Jako tesko pa se necu ni truditi da pisem o tome. Bitno je da sam sam sebi, a i drugima dokazao da u stvari nije bitno gdje zivis nego je bitno koliko znas. Prepoznace se tvoj trud i zalaganje i bices u prilici da saradjujes sa svim strucnjacima u svijetu gdje jezicke, kulturoloske barijere ne postoje. Nece im biti vazno ni ko si, ni kako se zoves ni kojoj politickoj opciji pripadas samo je vazno koliko znas. U okvirima gdje jezik tehnologije govori napravio sam mnogo ali mi je zao sto vidim da generacije koje dolaze sve manje postavljaju pitanja tipa kako, zasto, da ih skoro niko ne edukuje u tom smijeru.
I won't translate. I put this project into contest organized by our largest telecommunications company M:tel and this is one of their rules to follow. I had to publish text used in contest application form. This contest is related to Technology and I think that we fit in that category nicely :)
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.
Few days ago I have received all the parts needed to start production of the latest version of the Vampire 600. I had some small problems in soldering but as always I received some nice tips from Kipper2k :) Rest of the team worked hard on improving the apollo-core, constantly searching and killing bugs. I m certain that you were able to find lot of videos and pictures lately about this project on some other places by other members of the apollo-team but I wanted to show my configuration in everydays work. Remember, this is not latest apollo-core I m testing and not even fastest or most compatible. It is compiled more than 20 days ago just to show that latest hardware design works nicely.
More pictures in Read More, Pictures, Files... section of this article.
In the matter of hours latest and final design with all hardware problems found before removed will be sent to production. This time I have done much better job in creating 3D model of the board by using STEP models.
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.
As you probably know all the time on various forums I was complaining that I can't put latest revision of the Vampire 600 V2 to the production since HDMI is not tested. For more than month I was waiting for HDMI SMD connectors and that really delayed everything. Yesterday I have received them and after some small adjustments to the existing codes found on the net we have definite prove that all regarding hardware design is done properly, especially differential pair impedance calculation needed for proper work. So don't expect real Amiga video out yet but what's interesting here is that HDMI signals are generated from slow Amiga 7MHz clock without using any external crystal oscillators. Another great news is that HDMI signals are transferred over 3m long cable.
Last few month you could find lot of images on the web regarding Phoenix core inside Vampire 600 V1 but those are the first official pictures from me and results of Phoenix core inside new accelerator Vampire 600 V2, smallest accelerator ever produced for Amiga. I must say that Apollo-team did great job and in last few years we were working so hard every single day. Happy days for Amiga are yet to come...
Vampire 600 V2 is assembled like you can see on the image, looking small and compact. Then something amazing happened, Altera Cyclone III devices I have were detected wrongly by Quartus programmer or any other JTAG tool I was trying to use. Last few days I performed number of BST and TCL basted tests to prove that Cyclone devices are fake ones constantly thinking that something is wrong with my PCB design because chips I have looks perfect like any normal modern chip where labeling is done by etching and not by painting. In the design I have used EP3C40F484C8N and detected device on JTAG chain is EP3C16F484C8N. Difference between two of those is that one we use have 40K Logic Elements and detected one have just 16K. IDCODE for the one we used is 020F40DD and 020F20DD is what's detected, so only 2 bits are different. One more difference is that those parts are not 100% compatible regarding pins, booth have 484, but some of the pins on smaller devices are not used like I/O pins and testing those pins were definitive proof to me that this is fake device. Pin U17 I have used for SDRAM_A9 connection gave me 1.2V instead 3.3V. On EP3C16F484C8N that pin is for VCCINT(internal core voltage rated at 1.2V) and on EP3C40F484C8N this is regular I/O pin. After measuring this it was all clear to me, this is fake part and I become victim of much larger fraud that is going on in the world regarding electronic parts. Complete idea behind this is probably to buy cheaper parts in same packages re-brand it and sell at higher prices. Who could I blame I ask myself. I can't blame my supplier at all since he is manager and he send me part with exact part number I asked with perfect print on it. How could he know what is inside? So we have two options now. First one will be to order more parts from various sources in small quantities and then test them and see what are the ones who are 100% original and then order bigger quantity. This will be pure luck and playing with the fortune because you never know what someone will send you, and you can't create your judgment based on the picture of the part, price, seller ratings or the origin of the part. Second option is to redesign the board and make it 100% compatible to all Altera Cyclone III devices who have 484 pins. This will be huge task...
My only concern about this complete project was how to provide enough current for this type of accelerator to work. In worst case scenario I had to think about someone who have 2.5A Amiga power supply. What if our FPGA core at some point become so complex and FPGA needs to sink 3A to work properly, stable... External power supply was out of the question so I had to find another way. To solve this problem I had to enter the territory who is not known to me, understanding how switching regulators works. All the time in my previous designs I have used linear regulators with fix output values and that was easy to do. Let's try to compare linear and switching regulators first.
Only steps down (buck) so input voltage must be greater than output voltage
Step up (boost), step down (buck), inverts
Low, about 25% regarding efficiency VS load current
High, we are about 85% regarding efficiency VS load current
Low, few capacitors needs to be used
High, requiring inductor, filter caps, resistors
Large, part itself is not big, but together with other components needed takes lot of space on PCB
High, mostly because external components used
Medium, needs to be fixed in PCB design itself by creating AGND planes...
*Table used from article "Understanding the Advantages and Disadvantages of Linear Regulators" By Steven Keeping, simplified for our needs.
As you can see from the table above there are lot of advantages we got this way, but to simplify all let's say that we don't have heat problems anymore and that our current will be more stable and in values we need, so in short from 1.5A we have left after Amiga motheboard takes what's needed we create 3A needed for the accelerator to work properly.
Vampire 500 voltage regulation simplified
On this specific accelerator few voltage regulations are needed and 5V we get from Amiga motherboard we can use directly only for HDMI, rest of the included devices works on different voltages. To suit their needs we need to create lower voltages and enough current. First switching regulator who is connected to 5V will create 3.3V for voltage translators and dedicated FPGA I/O banks. From there we use linear regulator to create 2.5V for internal FPGA PLL. We use linear regulator there since PLL don't consumes much current and we are using it from 3.3V since voltage difference is smallest there so we will not create much heat. Last two switching regulators are for creating 1.2V needed for powering FPGA core and 1.8V for mobile DDR memory used, dedicated FPGA I/O banks.
Today I have received lot of parts for final Vampire 600 V2 production. It is not the same when you look into datasheet and search for measurements and to actually have part in your hands. It was surprise for me how Altera Cyclone III is small and in the same time how can it be so powerful. So I had to share my excitement here. I have taken some pictures to compare what we had before regarding sizes and what we have now.
Since demand for Vampire 600 V1 was so high I decided to redesign the board, add some more features, bigger FPGA, make board smaller and in any way better designed. Real reason for doing this was high demand for V1 I was unable to fulfill. All day night I was soldering to produce enough boards and I just couldn't keep up with that. Also my problems with customs I have mentioned number of times on various forums. Another reason was bug we had in V1 regarding RESET, bug was solved later in code but I didn't liked the idea to continue development of that card who has hardware bug. In V1 we had small FPGA, at the time that was more than enough but after apollo-team started to port Phoenix core to Vampire design soon enough we end up with lack of LE in our FPGA. For emulating MC68000 8K LE FPGA was enough but after we decided to emulate MC68020 instructions each day this FPGA was telling us that we are wasting our time. This time we will try to not create the same mistake. For easier soldering we are going with FPGA build in BGA package. This FPGA also have some benefits because his PLL can directly accept 7MHz signal from Amiga motherboard so we don't need to use external crystal oscillator on the board to get system synchronization to the mentioned clock signal. Memory size and model will stay the same, so for FastRam we will have 64MB of SDRAM memory who is better designed now regarding traces length. PCB itself is done in 4-layers and that will secure better GND plane and such thing is important if we aim for higher frequencies. For voltage regulation this time switching regulators are used instead linear ones and that will ensure proper work with any Amiga power supply because it will give enough power no matter how core inside of FPGA become complex and how much current it will take. On the board more capacitors are added, and there also we pickup smaller sizes 0402. All of that ensured that this board with his size of 50mmX100mm have good chances to become fastest and smallest Amiga accelerator board ever produced. Designing such board was nightmare because FPGA pads pitch was 0.8mm so Via hole diameter between those pads needed to be 0.2mm and that is something hard to produce for most of the PCB manufacturers. I played a risky game here now knowing how much production of such board can cost and placed the price of the board to 90 Eur before quotation from PCB manufacturer is finished. But after so much work it is about the time to have some luck. Board can be pre-ordered on Amibay or directly contacting me. To understand complexity of this design please look at the pictures found in (Read More, Pictures, Files...) of this article.
URGENT UPDATE: March 29, 2015
Quick update to explain new situation.
As the Phoenix core getting bigger and more complex (having 3 instructions per clk as we speak) with future possibility to add FPU and get into never seen performance at least in Amiga world I had to change few things regarding design. This will affect the price since I just can't find a way to produce card for 90Eur and satisfy Phoenix core needs in the same time. Inside apollo-team we had 3 day long discussion about this. 10K LE Altera Cyclone III could easily fit in that price range but simply that is not enough for Phoenix. So new redesign is taking place and we will use 40K LE Cyclone III FPGA device instead and that is something I can't get cheap. What is discovered that price needs to go up to 120Eur now to cover everything. Also I have decided to cover all loses for early pre-ordered cards so this will not have any affect to those who already ordered and paid for their cards. So from now I can only accept 120EUR for pre-orders. Shipping for Europe 5EUR, rest of the world 10EUR.
Last year I started Vampire 500 project, FPGA accelerator for Amiga 500 but without keyboard, floppy disks or let's say complete Amiga 500 I needed to stop that project. Goal was to have fast accelerator with emulated core and support for IDE with Gayle emulation. Few days ago I received Amiga 500 keyboard from ShK and bunch of Amiga floppy disks so now I have everything to continue this project. SysInfo results and Gayle detection are shown in Read More, Pictures, Files... section of this article.
Last few days it was lot of fun and hard work to find bug who stopped us from booting into Workbench and complete Apollo-team worked on this. Those who visited our irc channel could see huge motivation from all members to track it down. As you can see on the pictures shown in this article Kickstart 1.3 had some problems with displaying fonts so after investigation we narrowed our potential bugs to Blitter area. Next logical step was to compare information's from original CPU to the Phoenix results. I must say that it was so hard to capture all needed information's using SignalTapII because somehow I was receiving a lot of junk data and serious filtration was needed to capture only information's we can use. What we wanted is to compare those registers: BLTCON0, BLTCON1, BLTAFWM, BLTALWM.
071A 0002 FFFF FFFF
DFF040 DFF042 DFF044 DFF046
BLTCON0 BLTCON1 BLTAFWM BLTALWM
071A 0002 0000 0000
DFF040 DFF042 DFF044 DFF046
BLTCON0 BLTCON1 BLTAFWM BLTALWM
This result shows us where problem was and it means that sometimes Blitter Registers DFF044 and DFF046 are not correctly set with "FFFF" but with "0000". After isolating problem it was just matter of time when we will find it in code and fix it. And yes today we made it happen. You may ask yourself why is he writing about something that is already fixed. This article belongs in the history, today was crucial day for this project, today real magic happened and from this day on you will start to believe again!
This is the first public Phoenix core test. Despite some haters statements that this demo was written specially for Phoenix just to trick everyone that core is fast I must say that this is not true. Demo was tested in number of Amiga configurations and here are the results.
In fact you can test the demo on your system and report the results. You can find it in Read More, Pictures, Files... section of this article.
phoenix_demo4 - start from workbench
phoenix_demo4.bin - start from WinUAE selecting it as an main ROM file with 64MB of Motherboard fast.
At this point I proposed rest of the apollo-team to create some kind of competition for today. As I didn't had the chance to go to the Germany for those testings I will try something from my side, rest of the team will work together in a small Amiga meeting somewhere in Germany. Yes, Phoenix core is ready for testings inside Vampire 600. Stay tuned...
Under the radar lot of work has been done. Apollo-team didn't stopped development on new faster core who will run Vampire 600 faster than any known classics Amiga. I was away for some time but for some time I was working on new Amiga projects. Since Phoenix core is going to its final stage we need demo who will be able to show real performance of the core.
What we need:
1.Someone who owns Vampire 600
2.Have ASM coding skils
3.Capable of creating demo with very CPU demanding calculations based on real time fractal rendering or very demanding texture mapping demos with lot's of MUL and DIV
4.Coder who is able to create demo too slow for 68040 and challenging for 68060
Today I had little time to build another core for Vampire 600. Someone may ask why I wasted time on building core slower and with less memory than original one. Let's say that few people wanted core according to this specifications. MC68000 emulation with memory located at $C00000 - $CFFFFF, $200000 - $5FFFFF space, in total 5 megabytes of Slow/Fast Ram. Another reason is to again prove the concept and how easy could be to upload new core supporting another type of CPU. This core is more compatible with some problematic software. Enjoy :)
I didn't have the time to write much since I was stuck with soldering but I had the time to read various Amiga forums and I was amusing myself reading about happiness of some people when they realized that one of the Vampire 600 accelerators send to UK was not in working order. It is replaced with working one. Don't worry so much I didn't developed all of this to put you out of business. Do you feel endangered in some way? Don't be afraid. What is most important to you? To see Amiga progress or to live from selling outdated products. I must say that my complete concept was success. Users learned how to upload cores to accelerator. I forced serious developers to buy Amiga 600 to be able to work with my hardware. Soon we will have fastest Amiga accelerator ever produced. I m sorry that you made some wrong decisions few years ago. You could find some time to talk with me :) Now, 30 more boards left for me to send, next 300 will be done by kipper2k in short period of time. At the end it is nice to see that people are selling your accelerators to order mine.
Hardware needed: Windows based computer
Vampire 600 FPGA accelerator
Software needed: Quartus II Web Edition Software - Altera
Vampire 600 core
1. Please make shore that your Amiga 600 is turned off.
2. Connect USB blaster cable to JTAG header found on Vampire 600 accelerator, connect another end of programmer to USB port on your PC. Now you can power on your Amiga. This procedure is needed because we want to avoid any damage to our hardware from electrostatic discharge(ESD). Accelerator have specially designed levels of protection but it won't hurt us to be little more careful.
3. Download and unzip appropriate core from table above on your PC and Start Quartus II Web Edition Software, select Tools and then Programmer. In new window click Auto Detect option like shown on picture below. This procedure is needed to see that FPGA is properly detected and after that we select detected FPGA and click Delete.
4. Now when we have properly detected and removed FPGA we can load our core into programmer by clicking Add File. Search for place where you unzipped downloaded core and select appropriate file with *.jic extension and click open.
5. In this stage we need to remove previous core by selecting Erase and clicking Start. At this point it is completely normal that your Amiga system freeze.
6. Now it's time to upload core. Uncheck Erase option and check Program/Configure option and click Start.
Today I received first pictures from new Vampire 600 user. This specific card was sent to ShK for SAKU 2013 event held at the Finnish Science Center Heureka in Helsinki on September 21st but unfortunately card was not there on time so visitors could only see poster of Vampire accelerator at the entrance hall. It took 11 days for package to arrive from Bosnia to Finland. Please look at the other pictures in Read More, Pictures, Files... section of this article.
You may noticed that 3 Vampire 600 boards are send somewhere but no one from pre-order list have been contacted. Don't be mad just read the story. On 21 Aug 2013 I became Apollo Team Member. What is Apollo you may wonder? Apollo-core is fastest FPGA core today and it is based on MC68K series of CPU. Again, you may ask why all of this is important for us? Yes we can run it inside Vampire accelerator series and get fastest Amiga accelerator ever produced. Now you know where are those 3 boards left. For past few days we are doing lot of work regarding optimization of the Apollo-core because original core can't fit into small FPGA used on Vampire 600. New core is taking shape, code named Phoenix, targeted at 100Mips and available as update for current core Vampire 600 is using at the end of November. What is my role in coding you may ask. I will be doing integration of Phoenix to Amiga Bus and few other things. So far I have created 500 lines of code and it seems that I will need to create 1000 more to get it done. All the time I was waiting for the opportunity to work with such names and to learn from them. Don't get me wrong but again I m proud that they recognized my hard work and invited me to the team. Final conclusion is that if all goes well there will be no point of building another accelerators instead FPGA accelerators. I must say that soon no one from other developers will be able to keep up with this.
UPDATE: September 11, 2013
After publishing this information's I noticed that too much people suggesting how and what needed to be done and why all of this is not possible. The same thing happened to most of the Amiga projects where developers just couldn't keep up with various demands. Adding some non standard features to the core usable for only few programmers takes time and most of the people will never notice or use that part. All of those comments created argue in Apollo team so we agreed that we will stop talking about complete project to the day we have first results. I didn't notice anyone contacting me about using schematics of Vampire 600 I published. So instead of talking what and how something should be done do it yourself. Enough said.
If you have some soldering experience you will be able to solder most of the components on the board but soldering FPGA device can be tricky. This specific FPGA is in QFP package with very sensitive pins very close to each other. There are lot of techniques you can use but I like to use brute-force technique. This specific way of soldering is invented in China few years ago and for me it is the only way I can solder this specific device fast.
Required tools: 1. Soldering station
2. Soldering wire with flux
3. Solder wick
4. Paper based tape
5. Aethanolum dilutum 70-90%
Procedure: 1. With paper tape isolate FPGA footprint. This way you prevent damage of other components footprints.
2. Place FPGA on footprint and check for alinement.
3. Secure every side of the FPGA by soldering corner pins.
4. Apply lot of soldering wire to each side dragging soldering iron close to the pins but not touching them.
5. Apply heat on one side and hit desk with the board and all not needed soldering material will fall of.
6. Clean board with Aethanolum dilutum.
Tips: Set your soldering station at 350 Celsius degrees and be quick.
This is schematics of latest version of Vampire 600 accelerator with BOM included. Please use this document purely for information purpose and not for building idea of earning money and exploiting Amiga or some other retro scene.
As promised all work regarding Vampire 600 project will be open sourced and I think that from this materials complete Amiga community can benefit. Documentation will be published gradually when is finished followed with video materials about complex parts.All of this materials are just for educational purpose. If you decide to build something based on this materials drop me an mail but I strictly forbid building large series of accelerators for selling purpose.
I have managed to finish 3 boards and today I will send them. Their destination: Germany. I must say that assembly of the boards is so difficult and when is done detailed testings are performed. Boards are in working condition and very fast. Complete process of soldering and testing can take complete day for just one board so you need to have patience because waiting list is long. I will need to create better assembly team because there is no way I can do all of this alone. I m mad at one more thing. I should concentrate of creating new products for Amiga and instead of doing that I m stuck with soldering because complete process is so delicate and I can't trust anyone. My assembly team made so much mistakes in process of soldering that I wasted five days to discover them.
Q: Should I consider this product as finished? A: No, complete idea is about statement that product will be never finished and it will be constantly updated with better cores.
Q: Is the product completely tested? A: No, it is impossible to test accelerator in all situations on various boards and programs, games, but every single board sent to end users is completely tested on my Amiga 600. Best situation is to have Amiga 600 motherboard with Gayle version 02.
Q: How about compatibility? A: System is compatible as it can be and compatibility depends from TG68 core who has some bugs inside and since I don't have permission to modify TG68 itself we are at compatibility level like all devices using this core.
Q: Can I use WHDLoad? A: Yes but system is now too fast for running some games and you need to find way to start them using commands like NoAutoVec, NoCache and such. I don't intend to give any kind of support for starting games and various programs since I m not author of WHDLoad. You have plenty information's in WHDLoad documentation.
Q: What additional hardware or software do I need to use accelerator? A: Accelerator itself is "plug and play" and don't require any additional software or hardware.
Q: How do I upgrade my core. A: I suggest everyone to buy cheap USB blaster cable and install free Quartus II Web Edition Software on your PC so we can upload new core in seconds in case something goes wrong. Remember accelerator maybe doesn't work on your system and you need specific core to upload.
Q: Any guarantee? A: You will receive technical support and I will find the time to help you to get everything working. Don't worry I don't plan to leave Amiga scene soon :) If you are not satisfied with something there is always possibility to money refund so everyone happy :)
Q: Where should I seek for technical support ? A: On this site we have forum and section for technical support.
I received my boards but...
Q: I didn't get it some fancy box! A: You don't use a box for acceleration, and creating such boxes are not possible in my country and could increase price of final product significantly. Manufacturers wanted from me to order special tools for cutting cardboard valued 500Euro's because their tools can't produce boxes in required dimensions.
Q: I didn't get any instructions how to attach Vampire accelerator to my motherboard. A: It is so simple, one minute job, and if you need manual for that please consider leaving Amiga scene :)
If you are not prepared to learn and to understand this piece of hardware then this is not for you. Complete concept is about open sourcing complete project and future development from all of us. If you consider yourself to be just an user without much knowledge and patience then please consider buying some commercial products developed for Amiga. Buying USB blaster programmer and installing Quartus II Web Edition on your PC is something we need to find and debug potential problem on your system. It is easy task and often takes few minutes and in the same time you will learn a lot about core itself.
How can you stay normal after today I ask myself? In Bosnia, my country, where God said goodbye and where about 67% of the people have strong will to leave country I had the idea that I might succeed in life if I work hard enough so I decided to stay and to educate people that they should stay too and try to change something. But, after this morning I ask myself did I chose wrong when I decided to stay and that I just wasted my time here. But, where to go now I m 32 years old and stuck here for reasons I don't understand well. It seems to me that in Bosnia only correct approach is to became a criminal. They are untouchable by any kind of law. Favorite statement from them is "It was so hard to earn first million, next one goes easy".
But this story is not about them it is about me trying to fulfill my dream and create few technical innovations, in same time promoting my country. This morning I received phone call from customs about my packages. So I went there and talked with them for about half an hour about their desire to send back my packages to the manufacturer. There it was on the table 50 Vampire 600 accelerators looking so nice, clean, elegant. I was able to touch them but I couldn't take them with me. After so much work I was so devastated that I had lot of trouble driving back home. They said that single person can't order so much peaces of something? They had no interest to look at my papers that everything is financed by the Government of my country and that this is scientific project. They was also not interested in fact that on one package's declaration "Gift" column was checked. Yes, it was a gift from manufacturer from China because I had few orders from them in the past and they wanted to support me somehow. They said that I can apply complaint but that this won't delay execution, merchandise will be back to country of origin. Don't get me wrong I obey low and my country's law regulations and maybe all of this is normal but when you live in the country where law doesn't apply to everyone equally you start to wonder about few things. Why are my packages put on hold and investigation and in the same time it is perfectly normal here to see someone making a huge building on someone else terrain and without any prove of money origin. It is perfectly normal to rob, steal or injure someone and same day go free from police department. It is normal to bring every single firm down and take money without any investigation. It is normal to steal any country resources just need to enter the team who rules everything and then you are protected. Rest of the people, like me, if they are lucky lives with less than 300Euros per month and no they not allowed to do more. In the situation where everyone expect money just to say good day to you and where in regular bases you see that your life is not life you turn to hobbies and try to escape from everything. And yet, my hobbies are at crucial importance for the customs to prove that we must obey law. We must, we little people!!!
So, today I had to become lawyer fast. I have read hundreds of pages where I concluded that they can't do that. I haven't found any single word where is forbidden for me to import large quantities of something. Also, in documentation I found that I shouldn't pay any money to customs because this is scientific project no matter who is ordering and what is the purpose of merchandise. In other hand in customs declaration we have explanation for every electronic part and dedicated customs fee. For about 90% of electronic components custom fee is 0%.
At the end all of this was unnecessary by them and maybe attempt to prove something. They just don't like situation where people ordering something from the Internet. Only one thing I know that this could be nice civil sue from me because they didn't provide any documentations that my packages are arrived and reason why they turned them back. So on Monday I will talk to them again and maybe we will find some solution for this situation.
UPDATE: September 2, 2013
During the weekend I didn't sleep or eat waiting for Monday and this morning went to customs to get my boards. I was certain that law is on my side and after short discussion with head chief there and looking into my papers he approved my shipment :) When I back home I found out that I received one more package from China without any problems. So conclusion to this topic is that everything in my country is pure luck and strange things can happen for unexplained reason. For example one teenager end up in process of police investigation because he was successful in pay per click programs online. Automatically every news paper reported about that and everyone claimed that he is a hacker :) There is no prove of anything, there is no explanation but his life here as normal person is finished and he will never clear his name. Anyway, I might expect more problems during sending boards and receiving money but I m persistent in this and all of you are just lucky living somewhere else.
For some reason I had to see how all of this performs online and I m satisfied! Is it usable in any way? Yes it is! Like you can see on attached video simple web sites can be used, forums etc. Let me say that maybe 70% of the things you normally do online can be done. But, I have a feeling that all of this could be much better if I had opportunity to connect Amiga to different monitor. Strange thing is that MiamiDX didn't worked and it seems that he have some problems with DNS. For best performance I used Voyager and Aweb. I m disappointed to IBrowse because he was slowest so I don't use it at all. Yes I know that everyone said that he is the fastest one but not in my case. It seems to me also that Voyager have very dirty code with strong will to crash sometimes. On other side is AWEB solid and stable and with few tunings maybe can get most from new sites. Strange thing is that new browsers like OWB and NetSurf needs FPU and ixemul libraries optimised for FPU. Conclusion to this would be that developers are going in wrong way because soon we will have emulated MC68K inside FPGA capable of much more than MC68060 with FPU. On other side there is very interesting project called Merlin Web browser who works on regular MC68K and it has support for CSS it is not stable but it has potential for shore.
For some of you this may not look so strange at all but to me, person who actually never had an Amiga before, it was quite surprise to see Doom running on A600. Yes that's because Vampire 600 is doing acceleration but still I had so much questions in my mind looking at this. Without "real" graphic card, without any serious hardware and comparing that to minimum requirements for PC version gives me permission to say PC is just a trash, who stayed alive all of those years because people those days just don't know about anything else. To play PC version of Doom I had to spend serious amount of money back in the days and still game was not playable. On the paper 486 CPU is much better than older CPU's from MC68K series. Some versions are capable of 50Mips or more but for playing this type of games we needed graphic card, sound card and at least 8MB of memory so comparing Amiga 600 with all of this makes me smile. Small machine sitting on the table and able to perform much more than 486 in huge, heavy case with tons of cables and power consumption 10 times greater than A600.
After today's testing I think that I m proud to myself more than ever. Hey!!! I created my own hardware, in some basement, able to play 3D game, able to play Doom. Imagine!!!
Ok now is the time to investigate how many people are interested in Vampire 600 so I can determine how much boards to produce. If you are interested send me Mail.
What you get: CPU: FPGA emulated MC68000 or MC68010 or partially emulated MC68020(your choice)
Performance: More than 6Mips
Memory: 64MB of FastRam (Zorro III space)
Autoconfig: 32MB( for now)
PCMCIA friendly: Yes
You will be informed that your order is placed by mail and listing your name in the picture attached to this topic. Sending accelerator boards will take place hopefully next month and according to the mentioned list. When your board is ready you will receive Paypal invoice to your mailbox. If you don't want to be listed just say in the mail. About guarantee don't worry I don't intend to leave I m here to made significant influence on Amiga scene, remember :) Other components like OSD, loading Kickstart from MicroSD card and PS2 mouse support will be provided later with core upgrades so I suggest everyone to buy USB blaster programmer because I don't intend to stop at 6Mips :) Board will not have PS2 and MicroSD sockets because they are unusable inside case so we will find a way later to bring them out with another small PCB. I forget to say that all of those who had some contribution in this project will have another price or no price at all...
UPDATE: August 6, 2013
Updated Pre-Order list more than 30 reservations added. Please check that you are on the list and if something is wrong contact me. Maybe problem could be because some people Pre-Ordered board twice, once by contact me by mail and once on some other web site. So please if that happened contact me so I can add someone else to that place. It is quite confusing situation to me. I didn't believe that I would need to produce more than 20 boards. Complete day I m answering to PM and email messages and I just can't keep track what I m doing anymore. Please have patience because I m sending boards for production and I just can't answer all mails at this point. Thank you. UPDATE: August 8, 2013
Now board is 32MB autoconfig. But, haters gotta hate. It is just interesting to me what I read on various forums. There are so much people who would like to see all of this fall down, and never see real success. Why? Just so they can say "I told you that all of this will be failure". I don't know the reason for all of this but those days I realized one thing. That Amiga is not destroyed just because company died. Amiga is destroyed by developers and resellers wanted to earn huge money from Amiga name. Like vultures various people are sending me bunch of mails wanting to increase price of the boards and to resell them. Proposal prices about 200Euros :) Let me say this. If I ever seen that someone sells this card for some incredible high price I will stop him by putting tons of boards for sale at manufacturing cost. No more exploiting Amiga scene from now!!! Here is what I said one of the supporters of this project yesterday. Yes I received lot of mails for some proposals. Resellers, manufacturers all of them wanna make money and increase price and benefit from this. I will fool them all opensourcing everything. I will survive alone and do everything alone and my work will be free and I will send lot of boards for free to people and PCB also. I m waiting just for another money transfer from my government. I m in a mission remember. With true amiga spirit. UPDATE: August 12, 2013
Vampire 600 sent into production so in few days I should have first batch in my hands. I would suggest to everyone to buy cheap USB blaster cable and programmer because for sure you will need it in the future.
Now when we have Vampire 600 100% stable I had one question in my mind. Did I managed to design this accelerator properly first time back in 2011. and all of the problems I had were related to my poor coding techniques. Most of the problems at beginning was related to understanding how Voltage translation works. Basically CMOS to LVCMOS and vice verse. For that purpose I used ALVT devices who are not Voltage Translators they are just 5V tolerant transceivers and that was fine because FPGA was protected from higher voltage signals. All of the signals from Amiga bus to FPGA were translated to LVCMOS and FPGA was able to recognize them. But in situation when FPGA needs to send signals to Amiga bus we will need to translate LVCMOS to CMOS and ALVT devices are unable to do that. Next redesign of the board included ALVC devices capable of complete bidirectional translation, but in the same time those are dual voltage translators and having more and more voltages on one PCB can give lot of headache in design process. Few days ago I found some information's that Amiga chipset can recognize LVCMOS signals and I had to try that and in the same time to convince myself that my original design was fine, at least hardware part. So I found V1.1 of the accelerator and connect it with few wires to last version mainly testing behavior of Address bus under LVCMOS. Due to wires signals are slightly delayed and system is not stable all the time but it works. So maybe just maybe Amiga chipset can recognize LVCMOS signals and work stable? I have also sent mail to Philips NXP engineer who was earlier helping me with their products and we will see what he has to say about this. Someone may ask why I m wasting my time on this instead starting production because demand seems high for this product. One of the reasons for performing this tests was because ALVC devices are expensive and for me hard to find. On the other hand I have about 100 ALVT devices waiting to be used and I could easily get more.
UPDATE: August 6, 2013
Maybe most important information for me from start of this project. Today I just made few test to prove that Amiga chipset can recognize LVCMOS. Accelerator started just fine in 3.3V range :)
Since there was no way to find what is wrong with new design I decide to back one step and assembly one of previously designed boards that actually worked, and maybe then I will understand where I was wrong in new design.
Today I finished assembling old 1.3 revision of PCB. This version was created with 4 bit SDRAM memory but it is 90% compatible with new version. All of testing with V1.3 are done in February this year and published here and everything was fine back then. I was able to start any game and to perform any test and everything worked. So today I used old design, old core but I was surprised that all of the problems I have with new design are now present in old one. V1.3 of the board now does not work! It has the same problems accessing FastRam. Let me say that I used the same components, let me say that there are no problems with bad solder joints and finally let me say that code is not changed in any way. What is different than February, only that I m now in new working area. Don't even start thinking that all of this problems are because in those summer days temperatures are high. But, all of this is actually this is good situation now because I will find problems eventually because I was present in the room when old design worked. I m glad to see that old design is not working now and comparing old pictures to what I see now I will find the problem. I just need to have patience right now.