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Kids and Old Computers

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There is a way to see many old computers running in one room in Czech Republic. It’s called Bytefest and it is probably the biggest public retrocomputing event in the country. I took about twenty computers in my car with me this year in order to show the evolution of portable computers.

There were a lot of people walking around and some of them brought their kids. It is somehow nice to see little kids trying to do something with computers that are few decades older than they are. When they grow up there is a high chance that these computers will not work anymore.

SGI 1600SW

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A friend of mine gave me this interesting piece of hardware. SGI 1600SW Flat Panel was introduced in 1998 which was quite before LCDs became common. There were not so many LCD screens for desktop computers before this and those which were available usually had smaller resolution – 1600×1024 is not bad even by today’s standards.

Commodore SX-64 (1984)

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Commodore stated this as the first color portable computer. I’m not sure if it’s entirely true but it was quite common to have only monochrome screens in portable computers back then (Osborne, KayPro, Compaq/IBM Portable). I was surprised how small this machine is when I saw it in real life. Second surprise was its weight – with about 10 kilograms it is a heavy machine for its size. On the other hand for less than $1000 you could have a portable computer with a 5-inch color screen, 64KB of RAM and a built-in floppy drive to run advanced software like VisiCalc.

People see C64 mostly as a gaming machine. I’m not sure if this was so different in the 80s but SX-64 was not a huge success. It doesn’t make much sense for portable gaming and business customers were probably more interested in CP/M compatible machines (although more expensive).

Anyway, I like SX-64 a lot. It’s a very nice portable computer with a good color screen and a comfortable keyboard.

TCP/IP on Amiga

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It was a very successful day today because I’ve managed to get TCP/IP working on Amiga 1200. There is a problem that the first version of Amiga OS with built-in TCP/IP stack is from 1999… and I don’t have it and I don’t want to install it on such old machine. There were some third-party packages available before this date but they were not for free or even cheap (~$50).

I’ve installed AmiTCP which looks like something ported from UNIX (like many text-mode software packages on Amiga). There are installation scripts where you can configure all addresses and select the NIC driver but the result is not working with PCMCIA cards. I had to change three script files by trying various combinations (and install two PCMCIA OS fixes) before it started to use the network driver the right way. Whole procedure was definitely more complicated than on any other operating system I’ve ever used.

This is the end of copying software to/from Amiga using floppies or cortex floppy emulator. I can download anything using FTP now. Hooray!

Btw I use 3com Etherlink III (3C589C) PCMCIA network card which is supported in many operating systems. I’ve used it also with Windows 95/3.x/NT3.51/4.0, Windows 2000/XP, Windows CE, Mac OS 7.5 and many older Linux boxes. If you needs PCMCIA networking solution, this is the best one.

Phase5 CyberVision 64/3D (1996)

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CyberVision 64/3D is a graphics accelerator for Zorro II/III slots used in professional Amiga computers. It was introduced in 1996 and uses S3 ViRGE chipset which was for a very short time period something like a leader of the home 3D graphics market (ViRGE stands for Virtual Reality Graphics Engine).

S3 ViRGE (86C325) was designed for PCs with PCI bus so Phase5 developers had to add some programmable logic to convert signals from the Zorro bus used in Amiga. The card is autosensing and can work with Amiga 2000 (1987) where only 16bit slots are used. Full 32bit transfers are available when the card is inserted in newer Amiga computers (A3000, A4000).

The first problem was high price ($399) when compared to the PC world. You could buy a way more powerful 3Dfx Voodoo Graphics PCI accelerator board for $299 and there was plenty of decent 2D cards under $100 for standard PCs. In addition to price there was no support for OpenGL 3D acceleration in Amiga OS in mid-90s. The main reasons for buying this card were its fast 2D acceleration (in comparison with outdated Amiga on-board chipsets) and support for 1024×768 with 16 millions of colors on a standard VGA monitor.

LightWave 3D 3.5 (1994)

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LightWave is my favorite 3D modeling software. I remember when I had it running on a 21-inch Silicon Graphics CRT screen connected to a PC with Matrox graphics card. I was quite interested how fast and usable LightWave was on Amiga computers in mid-90s.

My A1200 is upgraded with 50-MHz Motorola 68030 and it is much faster than original 14-MHz 68020. LightWave 3.5 is very advanced software and even this old version has almost all features that are necessary for easy 3D modeling. That’s why I’m really surprised how fluently it can run on my Amiga computer. If a scene has under 1000 polygons 68030 without mathematical co-processor has still enough computing power for low-poly graphics used in 90s 3D games.

Speed becomes an issue when you want to render a scene. A very simple car needs more than a minute to be rendered in 24-bit mode and 640×480 resolution (without any texture, advanced materials or reflections).

Result? 3D modeling is ok, but you have to be very patient even for static pictures. Animations would take weeks of rendering.

Now I’m curious how fast LightWave can be on a PC with a 486 processor, because 486-based PCs could be purchased for about the same price as A1200 with the 68030 upgrade back in 1994/1995.

3D modeling in 1988

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Long time ago (before I went to college and then got a job) I played a lot with 3D modeling software on PC. My favorite one was LightWave3D. Recently I tried its very beginning – there is something called VideoScape 3D which is kind of predecessor. In the package there is a small program Designer3D which (unlike other 1988 modelers for home micros) allows to make a 3D model using graphical interface instead of text commands.

You can see in the video how creepy the interface was. There are three viewports that cannot be resized or zoomed. I’ve modelled a simple “space ship” with only 20 polygons and it took me an hour to do this.

However, I see very interesting that there is a 10-page manual program that can describe all functions of the program so even somebody who never did anything in 3D can understand it. This is not so easy with today’s 3D modelers.

Amiga 2000

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This is my only professional Amiga at home. Amiga 2000 is the first Amiga that has big case which is ready for inserting additional cards. In addition to Amiga-specific slots there are also standard 8-bit ISA slots known from IBM PC. However to enable them you have to insert a special PC emulation card which had price set to about a half of whole A2000 (basic one with 1 MB RAM and no hard drive).

The original one (which you can see above) is equipped with 4,7 MHz 8088 CPU, 512 kB RAM and CGA compatible video adapter. This card was bundled with PC-compatible 360kB 5.25” floppy drive, however there is emulation layer that allows you to share Amiga floppy/hard drives so it is not necessary.

This puppy is still waiting for some performance tests but it’s in a working condition.

Fixing and Cleaning Amiga 500

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Another dead Amiga was repaired. There was necessary to replace a blown capacitor next to main CPU. We also cleaned the motherboard which was covered with some dirt.

A Bit of UNIX in Amiga

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It is nice to see that so many Unix programs were ported to Amiga even when the computer was new. With Aztec C you can use familiar commands like ls, make and cc in Amiga Shell. I wanted something to plot data from our custom benchmarks and I’ve just discovered that Gnuplot still supports Amiga OS among other operating systems. Yay!