This isn't what we were expecting

mikeitstop

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I may not be qualified to write this, but I'll give it a go and beg forgiveness if needed. Vampire standalone is what's troubling me. Quite a few years ago, a talented engineer called Jerri Ellsworth, made a version of the beloved Commodore 64 computer, as a handheld, tv attached gaming console. It sold like hot cakes. She even ensured that it could be expanded by eagle eyed hobbyists, thanks to various crucial IOs broken out on the circuit board. Then the inevitable question came to the fore: If this could be done with the 8 bit C64, how long before the 16 bit Amiga? We're talking about the 68000 models such as the A500 here, at least to begin with.
Well thanks to incredible work done by some passionate Amiga fan engineers, devices like the Vampire Standalone have been introduced within the last couple of years. Starting as an FPGA based super accelerator for our beloved miggy machines, the ultimate offering is a device which requires no Amiga to work. Because the original device is emulated in hardware, it is functionally exact - just like Jerri's C64 joystick, years earlier.
But wait, even better, this device isn't hampered by cost of components like the old days - it can emulate an Amiga like you could never own as a 1990s nerd. Wonderful stuff with one minor drawback leading to another - the market and therefore, the price. The increased complexity of hardware emulation of a fast Amiga, compared with the C64, notwithstanding, the price increase is formidable. This is not the successor to Jerri's joystick, not a fun toy to connect to the family telly to show todays kids what it was all about. It is niche and expensive and only for the die hard fans. It is unlikely to ever reach mass market sales figures. That doesn't mean it isn't brilliant either, just that this old cheapskate would love to eventually see an alternative.
When a sub £100 device appears, in a case modelled on an original Amiga model, my money will be waiting to jump out of my pocket like a great Giana Sister.

Whether you agree or not, I'd love to hear your point of view on the matter.
 

Retro

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I like these recreations and I respect the talent that it takes for these ultra enthusiasts to design and build them.

It’s just unfortunate that the market for them remains small due to their very nature. Hope this finds some success.
 

HEXdidnt

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I'm inclined to agree: an FPGA-based hardware emulated is the appearance of the machine without actually being the machine... and while it might be functionally identical, it is only an emulator in a box.

I wouldn't even consider myself an original hardware purist, and I guess in practical terms, there are those machines that, in this day and age, will only ever be resurrected as FPGA-based boxes... But the beauty of the old, original hardware was that you could open it up and identify the individual components that did all the work - the specific group of chips that made them "a ZX Spectrum", "a Commodore 64", "an Amiga", etc. The people that created those machines sometimes gave nicknames to particular chips which, in turn, gave the machine character. These new machines are just a tiny board connected to, for example, a keyboard, a set of USB ports and an SD card slot. Even if they precisely match the tactile experience of the keyboard and the specific tone of its plastic 'click', or the shape and colour of the original's case, it's not really the same.

That's not to say I wouldn't get any myself: The Saturn in particular is crying out for an FPGA-based emulator box to replace the wacky groups of chips Sega stuffed into it, as well as remove that pesky region protection and probably eliminate the need for the original physical media for good measure, considering that even CDs aren't going to last forever.

Nor is it to say they're not impressive and important in their own way. I reckon these FPGA machines are a great means of archiving the bulk of the experience, keeping it available for future generations and maintaining compatibility with modern displays and data storage media, while genuine hardware ends up either in a museum or in landfill.

I'd prefer original hardware all the way... but if my SAM Coupé ever goes irretrievably wrong, replacing it will be both difficult and expensive (for now, anyway), and I'm currently getting more frequent usage out of the emulator, simply because it means I don't have to get the real machine out of its case, find somewhere to set it up, and then play about with the mess of cables connected to my TV.
 

CosmicCruncher

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I think you all sum it up pretty well. I mostly see FPGA and original hardware complementing each other, both with their pros and cons.

While FPGA is pricey, so is the original hardware. Especially when 30-40 year old kit is an unknown quantity that often needs repairs, ongoing maintenance and some upgrades to modernise it a bit.

Something like the Mister that supports many different console, computer and arcade cores I think it's actually good value for money. Again though as @HEXdidnt says you loose that tactile hands on experience of original hardware.

Those C64 joysticks I think were only about £20 back then, or was it £40? Amazing really, I regret not getting one but didn't realise at the time what it was. I was much more interested in collecting the original computers. Back when you could get a working C64 and loads of games for around £20-30.
 

chrisns

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You had me at handheld. ;)
We've seen numerous faithful handheld recreations of consoles using original hardware. For example:
PS2: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/960845430/p-s2-portable-169-43-display-read?ref=hp_rv-1&frs=1&sca=1

Wii/GameCube: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/961...portable&ref=sr_gallery-1-7&frs=1&cns=1&col=1

While I appreciate that a computer recreation would be inherently more complex (requirement for native-style keyboard, trackball, game controller and I/O) I'm sure a talented enthusiast with succeed with a high cost prototype or proof of concept, but as a mainstream device? Unlikely.

I reckon the future of handheld machines reliably running Linux or Windows with OS emulators on top is the most likely (and cost effective) route.

*Strokes GPD Win Max lovingly*
 

chrisgreen

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Hello!

The C64 joystick could be hooked up to a 5.25inch floppy drive and a tape deck (and a variety of other peripherals), just like an original 1980s C64, but it required an enormous amount of bodge work to tap into those solder points on the pcb in the joystick. So it was never realistic for most owners to do this.

Also, at core of the joystick was a SoC, not an FPGA. It relied on a fair amount of software-based emulation. There was no 6510 inside the joystick. No VIC, No CIA, No SID. These were emulated the same way they would be in C64 Forever. It just had the interfaces that other SoC recreations of the C64 (Like the TheC64 Mini and Maxi) lack.

In comparison, the Vampire is a fully specced standalone machine. No soldering required. There’s not a lot you can plug into it beyond a keyboard, mouse and joysticks (It’s not built to be expanded with a plethora of external add-ins - what you see is what you get). But it does have SD (effectively replacing CD and Floppy drives), an internally mounted CF (in the role of hard drive), on board Ethernet and a HDMI out through which both RTG and original screen resolutions are routed. It doesn’t look like what we recognise as an Amiga, but it runs like one, has the same compatibility as an A1200 - but faster, and adds some unique chipset capabilities over and above standard Amiga capability.

Now, being an FPGA based machine, I would argue that there is no emulation at play. FPGA is instead a modern way of ‘manufacturing’ legacy chips and augmenting them. The Vampire is in effect a new hardware-based Amiga. The custom chips exist as hardware, not software. A software abstraction layer - Like an operating system under an operating system - tells the hardware how to organise itself. The instructions still execute in hardware and at a hardware level (like any other Amiga) not inside a software container (like with WinUAE)

In the same way we would not describe the AGA chipset as emulation because it can run legacy ECS and OCS software/games (and adds new capabilities), arguably an FPGA is not emulation either. It’s new hardware, but with backward compatibility - just that can be adjusted and bug fixed through an abstracted software layer rather than having to remake the chip or chips plural.

The TheC64 Maxi is an SoC, running a Linux-based emulator. It’s arguably no different from having a Raspberry Pi in there running the same software. It does this extremely well (I prefer using mine compared to an original C64 or C64c). It is also helped by the fact the chassis is a clone of an original breadbin C64, as is the working keyboard. If these elements were just for show like on the TheC64 Mini, we would likely view it in a more inferior way (like many do with the Mini)

The Ultimate64 is FPGA. No C64 Forever or any bare metal emulation in sight. Everything executed at a hardware level, with firmware serving only to organise the FPGA into to right order to be a hardware VIC, CIA, SID, 6510 etc. However, just the Ultimate64 board cost in the region of €240, and required an original case and keyboard. We can cost a reproduction case at €55 and estimate the value of a keyboard at €50 or more, making the “cost” of an Ultimate64 at €350 or about £310, against £109 for a TheC64 Maxi. Both will make a C64 fan happy and arguably deliver a better experience than a 35 year old original board and chipset.

I have had the benefit or putting the Vampire side by side with my A1200. The Vampire’s obvious performance advantage aside, there is no question that the Vampire delivers a better user experience and AV output compared to the 1200. I’m not saying the 1200 is bad, it is not, but it is hardware built for a different era and for CRT displays. The Vampire is built for flat screens and 2021 storage technologies (and CF).

The same people that brought us the TheC64s is also working on an Amiga version. We don’t know if this will be a mini or a Maxi with working keyboard, but inside it will be an SoC running an emulation app, not an FPGA in order to hit the £100-150 price range. Alas, it seems to be a victim of the chip shortage and there is currently no mown timeline for when it will go on sale (hoping for this coming Christmas, but would not hold my breath on that). It will likely be well received for the price and work fine for games and a small amount of non-gaming curiosity - just like the TheC64.
 

mikeitstop

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Hello!

The C64 joystick could be hooked up to a 5.25inch floppy drive and a tape deck (and a variety of other peripherals), just like an original 1980s C64, but it required an enormous amount of bodge work to tap into those solder points on the pcb in the joystick. So it was never realistic for most owners to do this.

Also, at core of the joystick was a SoC, not an FPGA. It relied on a fair amount of software-based emulation. There was no 6510 inside the joystick. No VIC, No CIA, No SID. These were emulated the same way they would be in C64 Forever. It just had the interfaces that other SoC recreations of the C64 (Like the TheC64 Mini and Maxi) lack.

In comparison, the Vampire is a fully specced standalone machine. No soldering required. There’s not a lot you can plug into it beyond a keyboard, mouse and joysticks (It’s not built to be expanded with a plethora of external add-ins - what you see is what you get). But it does have SD (effectively replacing CD and Floppy drives), an internally mounted CF (in the role of hard drive), on board Ethernet and a HDMI out through which both RTG and original screen resolutions are routed. It doesn’t look like what we recognise as an Amiga, but it runs like one, has the same compatibility as an A1200 - but faster, and adds some unique chipset capabilities over and above standard Amiga capability.

Now, being an FPGA based machine, I would argue that there is no emulation at play. FPGA is instead a modern way of ‘manufacturing’ legacy chips and augmenting them. The Vampire is in effect a new hardware-based Amiga. The custom chips exist as hardware, not software. A software abstraction layer - Like an operating system under an operating system - tells the hardware how to organise itself. The instructions still execute in hardware and at a hardware level (like any other Amiga) not inside a software container (like with WinUAE)

In the same way we would not describe the AGA chipset as emulation because it can run legacy ECS and OCS software/games (and adds new capabilities), arguably an FPGA is not emulation either. It’s new hardware, but with backward compatibility - just that can be adjusted and bug fixed through an abstracted software layer rather than having to remake the chip or chips plural.

The TheC64 Maxi is an SoC, running a Linux-based emulator. It’s arguably no different from having a Raspberry Pi in there running the same software. It does this extremely well (I prefer using mine compared to an original C64 or C64c). It is also helped by the fact the chassis is a clone of an original breadbin C64, as is the working keyboard. If these elements were just for show like on the TheC64 Mini, we would likely view it in a more inferior way (like many do with the Mini)

The Ultimate64 is FPGA. No C64 Forever or any bare metal emulation in sight. Everything executed at a hardware level, with firmware serving only to organise the FPGA into to right order to be a hardware VIC, CIA, SID, 6510 etc. However, just the Ultimate64 board cost in the region of €240, and required an original case and keyboard. We can cost a reproduction case at €55 and estimate the value of a keyboard at €50 or more, making the “cost” of an Ultimate64 at €350 or about £310, against £109 for a TheC64 Maxi. Both will make a C64 fan happy and arguably deliver a better experience than a 35 year old original board and chipset.

I have had the benefit or putting the Vampire side by side with my A1200. The Vampire’s obvious performance advantage aside, there is no question that the Vampire delivers a better user experience and AV output compared to the 1200. I’m not saying the 1200 is bad, it is not, but it is hardware built for a different era and for CRT displays. The Vampire is built for flat screens and 2021 storage technologies (and CF).

The same people that brought us the TheC64s is also working on an Amiga version. We don’t know if this will be a mini or a Maxi with working keyboard, but inside it will be an SoC running an emulation app, not an FPGA in order to hit the £100-150 price range. Alas, it seems to be a victim of the chip shortage and there is currently no mown timeline for when it will go on sale (hoping for this coming Christmas, but would not hold my breath on that). It will likely be well received for the price and work fine for games and a small amount of non-gaming curiosity - just like the TheC64.
This is heartening to hear. I suppose FPGAs tend to be more expensive units but I didn't appreciate that they warrant the sort of cost increase that you see over software emulated systems on SoC. Market still plays a part with greater numbers allowing profit from quantity and driving down unit cost of parts, whether that be hard recreation or soft emulation. Jerri's c64 joystick was on the shelves of shops and available in quantity (at least for a little while!) in household name online stores. How many of those sales were people who've never visited Amibay or Amiga.org etc. But they remembered Turrican and Bubble Bobble when they saw it on the shelf. How many potential customers of SoC or FPGA miggies will never find out they even exist because their existence is like a well kept secret, to be kept from people who aren't retro fanatics. Yes obviously marketing costs money and I'm sure everyone who works so hard on these devices would love to sell a million if they could afford the initial outlay. But confining production to the cult initiates keeps the cost high for everyone.
 

Mort

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FPGA machines have a place I guess, although I prefer "real" hardware where possible. Price and availability does make it hard for everything to be easily obtained unfortunately.
To be fair, FPGA systems at least feel (and technically are) more authentic than emulator only machines - like that mini C64. But some people who aren't as bothered as accuracy that way will like them for plug and play-ability I guess.
 
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