VOGONS


Reply 80 of 113, by Tiido

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ITE8888 and all other PCI only bridges require few special signals from the chipset to do ISA DMA and IRQs, same ones that PC/PCI / SBlink use. I'm not sure since which ICHx they got deleted.

T-04YBSC, a new YMF71x based sound card & Official VOGONS thread about it
Newly made 4MB 60ns 30pin SIMMs ~
mida sa loed ? nagunii aru ei saa 😜

Reply 81 of 113, by LightStruk

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Tiido wrote on 2020-12-20, 13:51:

ITE8888 and all other PCI only bridges require few special signals from the chipset to do ISA DMA and IRQs, same ones that PC/PCI / SBlink use. I'm not sure since which ICHx they got deleted.

ICH6 and later. As stated in Implementing Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) with Intel® Express Chipsets:

2.1.1.1 Distributed DMA Distributed DMA is not supported in any of Intel’s I/O Controller Hub variants. […]
Show full quote

2.1.1.1 Distributed DMA
Distributed DMA is not supported in any of Intel’s I/O Controller Hub variants.

2.1.1.2 PC/PCI DMA
The PC/PCI DMA protocol is supported on all I/O Controller Hubs from ICH to ICH5 (excluding 6300ESB). These parts have dedicated Request and Grant signals – REQ[A:B] and GNT[A:B] – to implement the hardware aspect of the protocol. From ICH6 onwards these signals have been removed and, therefore, these devices no longer support the PC/PCI protocol. As a result, it is no longer possible to support ISA DMA or Bus Master transactions using a PCI/ISA bridge. A system designer should be aware of this limitation before using such a bridge.

The Atom N400 / N500 on the other hand might support ISA DMA:

Legacy support for ISA regime protocol (PHOLD/PHOLDA) required for parallel port DMA, floppy drive, and LPC bus masters

The AMD G-Series Brief, however, insists that it supports ISA with that exact PCI/ISA bridge:

Full ISA bus support available, please see Delivering Full ISA Support with the AMD Embedded G-Series Platform and the ITE Tech, ITE888 PCI to ISA Bridge posted on the AMD Embedded Developers Web site PID (51762)

Reply 82 of 113, by cyclone3d

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According to the BIOS, it supports ISA DMA:

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It doesn't have a floppy controller so I can't hook up my test CF card. I wonder if it can boot from a usb floppy. That would be nice and make it a lot easier to set it up for testing. Once I clean up the other project I am working on, I'll do some tests with this board.

Yamaha YMF modified setupds and drivers
Yamaha XG resource repository - updated November 27, 2018
Yamaha YMF7x4 Guide
AW744L II - YMF744 - AOpen Cobra Sound Card - Install SB-Link Header

Reply 83 of 113, by cyclone3d

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It does support boot from USB so that should make this fairly easy to work with.

Any specific sound cards you want me to test?

Yamaha YMF modified setupds and drivers
Yamaha XG resource repository - updated November 27, 2018
Yamaha YMF7x4 Guide
AW744L II - YMF744 - AOpen Cobra Sound Card - Install SB-Link Header

Reply 84 of 113, by LightStruk

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cyclone3d wrote on 2020-12-21, 04:04:

It does support boot from USB so that should make this fairly easy to work with.

Any specific sound cards you want me to test?

You're the best. If you have either or both of the following, please test them:

  • OPL3-SAx / Yamaha Audician 32 Plus (YMF71x),
  • CMI8330 Audio Excel / SoundPro 1896V (supports SB16)

Reply 85 of 113, by Ozzuneoj

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This just popped up on my Google news feed:
https://www.extremetech.com/gaming/318616-dos … -easier-to-play

A streamlined version of DOSbox that makes launching games easier for those with no DOS experience. It also apparently tries to configure controllers as well.

Maybe some of the work done for that project could be helpful?

Now for some blitting from the back buffer.

Reply 86 of 113, by LightStruk

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Ozzuneoj wrote on 2020-12-23, 17:11:
This just popped up on my Google news feed: https://www.extremetech.com/gaming/318616-dos … -easier-to-play […]
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This just popped up on my Google news feed:
https://www.extremetech.com/gaming/318616-dos … -easier-to-play

A streamlined version of DOSbox that makes launching games easier for those with no DOS experience. It also apparently tries to configure controllers as well.

Maybe some of the work done for that project could be helpful?

I don't think any of the engineering in DOSBox Pure can be used here. That project does share a guiding philosophy with this console idea, though - playing DOS games in the modern day by remapping inputs from modern hardware can be hassle-free.

Reply 87 of 113, by ragefury32

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LightStruk wrote on 2020-12-21, 02:03:
ICH6 and later. As stated in Implementing Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) with Intel® Express Chipsets: […]
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Tiido wrote on 2020-12-20, 13:51:

ITE8888 and all other PCI only bridges require few special signals from the chipset to do ISA DMA and IRQs, same ones that PC/PCI / SBlink use. I'm not sure since which ICHx they got deleted.

ICH6 and later. As stated in Implementing Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) with Intel® Express Chipsets:

2.1.1.1 Distributed DMA Distributed DMA is not supported in any of Intel’s I/O Controller Hub variants. […]
Show full quote

2.1.1.1 Distributed DMA
Distributed DMA is not supported in any of Intel’s I/O Controller Hub variants.

2.1.1.2 PC/PCI DMA
The PC/PCI DMA protocol is supported on all I/O Controller Hubs from ICH to ICH5 (excluding 6300ESB). These parts have dedicated Request and Grant signals – REQ[A:B] and GNT[A:B] – to implement the hardware aspect of the protocol. From ICH6 onwards these signals have been removed and, therefore, these devices no longer support the PC/PCI protocol. As a result, it is no longer possible to support ISA DMA or Bus Master transactions using a PCI/ISA bridge. A system designer should be aware of this limitation before using such a bridge.

The Atom N400 / N500 on the other hand might support ISA DMA:

Legacy support for ISA regime protocol (PHOLD/PHOLDA) required for parallel port DMA, floppy drive, and LPC bus masters

The AMD G-Series Brief, however, insists that it supports ISA with that exact PCI/ISA bridge:

Full ISA bus support available, please see Delivering Full ISA Support with the AMD Embedded G-Series Platform and the ITE Tech, ITE888 PCI to ISA Bridge posted on the AMD Embedded Developers Web site PID (51762)

Well, you are kind of in luck (maybe). The NM10 Express Chipset data sheet specifically mentions support for LPC DMA (https://datasheet.octopart.com/CG82NM10-S-LGX … et-76215416.pdf), and that's the usual platform controller hub supporting the Pineview/Cedarview Atoms.

As for the G-series stuff, I am not sure if there are inexpensive implementations with an ISA bridge/slot setup. Fujitsu does have a thin client with a G-series with a PCI slot (Futro S900) but AMD chipsets don't work with PCI sound cards for the old-school stuff.

Reply 88 of 113, by LightStruk

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ragefury32 wrote on 2020-12-23, 18:30:

Well, you are kind of in luck (maybe). The NM10 Express Chipset data sheet specifically mentions support for LPC DMA (https://datasheet.octopart.com/CG82NM10-S-LGX … et-76215416.pdf), and that's the usual platform controller hub supporting the Pineview/Cedarview Atoms.

Nice find! The data sheet specifically mentions support for 16-bit LPC DMA, which is more than I can say for the Geode LX companion chip (which explicitly says it can only do 8-bit DMA). Having access to those signals means PC/PCI and LPC->ISA bridges are possible with this chipset.
Finding a supply of any Pineview or Cedarview Atoms and NM10 chipsets might be hard. I don't see many in-stock at various distributors. It's just as out-of-production and end-of-life as platforms from decades ago. AMD keeps its embedded products in production for a minimum of 10 years, while Intel never feels the need to make such guarantees. The Geode LX was planned to be in production for 16 years from 2003-2019, and then congatec negotiated with them to extend production even further.

Reply 89 of 113, by ragefury32

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Eh, concentrate on getting it to work first, then the logistics of building it. Even a casual search for an NM10 based thin client with a single PCI slot returns at least 3 results.

I don’t think the world is dealing with a major shortage of those oldschool chips even today - there’s probably at least a single warehouse in Southern China with a pallet of those “for the right price”.

Reply 90 of 113, by mikedebian

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Ozzuneoj wrote on 2020-12-12, 03:15:
I'm not trying to be a turd... please take this as constructive criticism, in case you haven't thought about these questions... […]
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I'm not trying to be a turd... please take this as constructive criticism, in case you haven't thought about these questions...

I agree that it'd be really neat to have a little board with an integrated CPU, VGA and ideal DOS sound, but it will still have the limitations of a similar system made from old parts. The main differences being that the board will be proprietary and not as expandable (can't swap CPU, VGA, sound, etc.), it will likely cost far more than a pile of old parts (the components needed for a DOS gaming PC are not rare or expensive... it's not like you're integrating 3dfx hardware), and the elephant in the room is that it doesn't really have the draw of "vintage" hardware since it's a modern custom device. And this isn't even touching on the idea of turning into an entire console (which implies ease of use, customer service... and profit?).

Also, if a nearly perfect OPL3 clone is sufficient, why not one of the nearly perfect OPL3 emulators, like the one used in DOSbox (after some tweaking?) or Nuked OPL3? I keep reading that people find them indistinguishable from a real OPL3.

For the SoC choice, how would you handle speed sensitivity? What is going to manage the speed of the CPU to ensure that every game runs smoothly, but doesn't have glitches? DOSBox does a good job of this automatically, and it can be adjusted manually with little effort. With physical hardware, you either have to spend time with each game, experimenting and tweaking (disabling caches, messing with FSB or multiplier, etc.) or you have to build different systems for different types of games. With a pre-built DOS console, obviously the second option won't work, so is the user going to be responsible for doing all the tweaking for each game? Would someone have to program something that would launch games with tweaks set for each one? Who is going to program that and then make configurations for all the games, assuming it is possible with the hardware chosen?

And in the end... how is this experience more authentic than running an emulator, aside from the physical chips doing the processing? DOS-era PCs were never known for having console like ease of use, so having a launcher that is carefully set up to optimally run specific DOS games is not going to set off the nostalgia center of any geeky brains that I know. Currently, retro PC gaming enthusiasts likely fit into one of two camps:

1. Someone wants to use an old computer to play old games (either because of nostalgia or an interest in learning about them), and they get to experience what it is like to use the original hardware to run the software they want to run. They can have as much authenticity as they want. Real OPL3, ball mouse, noisy hard drive and a CRT... or CQM, USB mouse on an adapter, SSD and an LCD with some converters? On top of this they get options that nothing outside of real actually vintage hardware can give them (the look of a DOS game on a CRT, their favorite game music playing on one of the many fascinating wavetable and FM implementations on various sound cards, scanlines from 3dfx SLI, the look of 24bit-16bit dithering in Glide on a Voodoo 3, the sound of Aureal A3D in real time, the amazement of seeing an old game looking better than ever running on the very latest hardware that can run it... or the ability to play games that only work in Windows 9x for that matter).

2. Someone simply wants to play old computer games and they don't so much care about all the hassle of building and operating an old computer (can you blame them?). They can either buy from GoG, or they can download DOSBox, read the existing documentation online about how to make that work, and then they can play whatever they want. They can get nearly perfect visuals, amazingly accurate sound (even MT32 or Roland GM\GS synth are possible), the ability to run it on nearly any computer (and any display + peripherals), and there's a massive community to support either option.

If there is going to be a third option... who is looking to game on a device that brings most of the quirky downsides and complication of gaming on an old computer but has limited upgrade options, software that few people have experience with (since it likely won't run MS-DOS and will have other custom software), and none of the authenticity of running an old computer... but they still are picky about hardware FM synthesis (but not necessarily a real OPL3!) and that the CPU is 486-like but is a totally modern design.

Again, what is the goal? Who are we designing this for? 😮

Hi!

So, one of the issues where I live is that old hardware is really rare, and really expensive. Crazy expensive, as I can get an Intel 6500 with an RX580, and 16 gigs of ram (complete computer)for about the same price as an old 286-486. Building it myself should in reality be a non-issue, problem is that it is almost impossible to scour individual parts here. On top of that, there is shipping. Heavier items have a tendency to get damaged more in the mail.
If somebody ships to me from abroad, not only have I pay an insane amount of shipping costs, but also hope that it does not get lost within one of the countries the package is currently traveling to before reaching its destination. Also, tolls and taxes on top of that can give me quite a hefty bill, (basically, if the package (shipping, etc) has an estimate at over 30 dollars).

"how is this experience more authentic than running an emulator"

Well, as an amigan, there's the debate not only over FPGA, but some purist swear to not using any ram expansions or copied diskettes. Different strokes for different folks. I've been stuck with emulators for years. I have a few retro systems. Some since they were new, others paid way over MSRP in todays value, because of difficulties with shipping, tolls, etc.

Basically, it's about the feels (tm). I'm a bit tired of emulators. Bit tired of not being able to get my hands on real hardware.
I make it sound like its impossible to get, but it's not really.
Tight budget, wife, kids, a lot of bills to pay, food on the table, etc.
Sometimes, I'd just like to sit down, relax and find some sort of peace within feeling at home with a sense that what I'm toying with, is the "real" thing.

"Who are we designing this for? "

Dreamers, tired and nostalgic people, people that enjoy hardware as a hobby, more than the software side of things. People with a lot of new gear (USB, HDMI, etc, since it is often cheaper) that doesn't want to have to fork out the rest of his money for peripherals. People with space constraints.

On a more personal note, I had an IBM with a 4.77 MHZ CPU growing up, upgraded it to a 486 eventually (going through 286-386) and used "it" installed with dos upgrades and eventually Windows 3.11FW up until 2001. From a black and green display (w/pc speaker) up to a vga card (with monitor), SB compatible card, hard drive, cd rom drive at 1x and a 3.5 inch 1.44mb drive that I got in 1996, but was unable to use until 1998.
These days, my kids get a lot of things. Christmas is great, birthdays are great, everything is great. But when I was a kid, there were no birthdays, no Christmas, etc. I was very poor, and I loved hardware. I'd get printouts of different hardware manuals for late night reading, visit the library to study the faster computers there and read books about hardware.
Sure, eventually times got a bit better, or a lot better depending on how you look at it. I always had this fascination with hardware though, and when my computer got lost (an entirely different story. We moved a lot), I was very distraught, because growing up, it was my escape, and it was my babysitter. It was the one place where I could filter out the "noise" from rest of the occupants in the house I was living in. Using it, I was able to mentally escape the bullying, the fights, etc. that were going on daily. So, eventually I got a job, got money, moved out, steady life and all that. But, the world had moved on hardware wise (people toss old computers in the garbage instead of selling them), but I found myself enjoying pc speakers music, "tracker" music, vga palettes and old operating systems still. I guess it's because I had it for so long.

So, even though my kids have it different, I sometimes want to be a kid on my own too. It's one of the few fond memories I have. I want to have my own personal hardware "toy".
Luckily, I got an old IBM computer a couple of years ago. I paid in spades for it, but it was worth it, but due to space constraints (toys everywhere, wifes decorations) it is shelved until we move some day. If I'd sell it, I could probably upgrade my 1800x ryzen system to a new 5900x, with motherboard and ram [joke, would never do that].

Anyway, that's a tidbit. Long story, short answer is the feels.

"does using virtualization (not emulation) make it no more compelling than RetroArch?"

I've had to resort to that for many years. Gives an empty feeling. I still use it though. Replaying commander keen 4 for the gazillionth time. Don't have the time to sit down and play deep games like I used to because of kids. Absolutely worth it though, having kids!

Reply 91 of 113, by Jorpho

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This just turned up on Foone's twitter:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBsv-jRiIT8

Using PC/104 components to build a mini 486 MSDOS gaming PC. I'll publish a full build guide including how to construct the PC/104 soundcard in a future video. Get subscribed!

Reply 92 of 113, by ragefury32

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Jorpho wrote on 2020-12-24, 01:29:

This just turned up on Foone's twitter:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBsv-jRiIT8

Using PC/104 components to build a mini 486 MSDOS gaming PC. I'll publish a full build guide including how to construct the PC/104 soundcard in a future video. Get subscribed!

Eeeeeh. Okay, this kinda substitute one set of problems with another. PC104 is not a consumer standard and pricing can get ridiculous before long.
TheRasteri is based in the UK - Someone in France sold that VSX-6154-v2 for 120 Euros and it's possible to get one shipped to his home for not too much. No such luxury in the US - One of the official ICop vendors (WDL Systems) quoted one for 205 USD plus shipping, and they are backordered for at least 3 weeks. is it worth that 205 dollars for something this old, and you'll still need a soundcard for it?

I am not sure about the bang-for-the-buck factor here. Most PC104 gear from known vendors (not liquidators) start at around 125 USD on evilbay, and you still have to think about what it is, and whether it comes with bundles of cables, power supplies and the such. Sometimes you luck out on an E3825 for 100 bucks, sometimes you see a 440BX based PC104 SBC go for around 300 USD, and there are so much poorly documented stuff out there.

I asked RTD for a quote on something that is not based on a DM&P chip, specifically something like a Pentium-M...which sits on that sweet spot between vintage and modern, with the reasoning that most would be EOL by now, and they'll be desperate to dump stock.

https://www.rtd.com/PC104/CM/886/158886/CMX15 … 86-1400-BRG.htm

The number I got back weren't nearly as eye-watering as the 4500 USD quoted on their website, but it's not that pleasant, either.

There's also something like a Fastwel CPC-308 (which is a Diamondville Atom based PC104 SBC with full ISA DMA support), and even then it's not that fun:

https://www.fastwel.com/products/pc-104-cpu-boards/cpc308/

Weirdly enough this PC104 version of an Atom netbook is still considered a current product (it's not EOLed yet). The documentation is good enough to get some work done, but good luck trying to get one at a reasonable cost...you probably can't.

Last edited by ragefury32 on 2020-12-27, 04:27. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 93 of 113, by LightStruk

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ragefury32 wrote on 2020-12-26, 04:24:

I am not sure about the bang-for-the-buck factor here. Most PC104 gear from known vendors (not liquidators) start at around 125 USD on evilbay, and you still have to think about what it is, and whether it comes with bundles of cables, power supplies and the such... good luck trying to get one at a reasonable cost...you probably can't.

Sure, I'd like to get my development boards for a low price, particularly if I need to buy more than one to decide what platform I'm using! If I ever go to production, then I won't use an embedded module from one of these manufacturers. The price is too high, the features I need are missing, or both. Making my own PCB will be the only path, and if I use a modern SoC, I will need experienced PC board engineers, or I will need to contract out the board design.

Reply 94 of 113, by creepingnet

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I'd say the best approach for this would be a larger company taking it on, or someone starting a Kickstarter or someone with hardware and software skills coming up with the actual internals of the device - rather than just taking pre-exsiting platforms which will cost more in the end. That's part of why those plug'n'play consoles like the Atari Flashback and NES Mini are so affordable (when they are not a hit and out of stock as it is with the latter).

My idea would be a SIMPLE SOC based "PC Console" Plug N' Play sort of thing. Just a little wireless keyboard/trackpad and a little box that attaches to your HDMI port - that's it. Maybe an SD Card Slot that allows games to be put on it or to add to what's already approved preinstalled content to draw people in, and an extra USB port or two to allow for expansion with floppies. So for me -it'd be a RPi sized credit card PC based on the Vortex86 with a tiny, cheap SSD on board and a few preinstalled, menu accessible games. It would also contain a ROM with the default setup already stored on it so the device could be "Reset" to factory by the user via a command or a button on the bottom. Price point would be between $35 and $75. Still cheaper than a MS-DOS based Laptop or Desktop computer that does not require extensive fixing. Maybe preinstall Lemmings, Leisure Suit Larry, Monkey Island 1 & 2, Alleycat, Planet X3, Scorched Earth, GTA 1 & 2, and Ultima VI - something like that Keep it simple. Make the hobby more accessible to others, not just us who are technically skilled.

This would mean it would need to be small, easy to use, not require vintage hardware to work, not require a whole bunch of configuration that requires a 25 page manual to setup, and has obvious connections. Everything a Raspberry Pi, DOSbox, Exult, or original steel requires to have a good user experience.

An idea business arrangement would be a company like Jaks Pacific or whoever comes out with different editions based on hardware....ie....each "edition" comes with preloaded games from that game company.....and what's out there is availible periodically - maybe even base the case design off the era, to make them collectable as well - so people might want to buy more than one of those.

- Apogee Edition - Duke Nukem games, Commander Keen..... - miniature Compaq Deskpro styled case
- Lucasfilm Edition - Maniac Mansion, DOT, Monkey ISland 1 & 2, X-Wing, Dark Forces, etc... - miniature Acer Premium style case
- Sierra Edition - Space Quest, Police Quest, Leisure SUit Larry 1-6, etc... - Miniature Tandy 1000 style case
- Shareware Edition - Chekkers, Maxit, Tank Wars, Zentris....etc... - Miniature XT clone style case

It would not replace our expensive vintage gear, or emulation - it'd just be one more option, aimed to people or console gamers who'd rather just have it all in one little box on their TV rather than owning 3-10 old PC's or spending almost as much time tweaking/tuning settings as you do gaming.

~The Creeping Network~
My Youtube Channel - https://www.youtube.com/creepingnet
Creepingnet's World - https://creepingnet.neocities.org/

Reply 95 of 113, by LightStruk

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For anyone still following this insanity of mine, here's a project update.

Speaking of the Vortex86, I just purchased a cheap PC/104 Vortex86 DX3 board, a PC/104 ISA backplane, and a CMI8330 sound card. At least one of those is on the slow boat from China, so I have a couple of weeks to wait. But, when they do arrive, I can test that particular hardware combination for video and sound compatibility. I wasn't previously considering the Vortex86 DX3, but it does have a full ISA bus, unlike some other Vortex86 products, it's clocked high with lots of cache, and has integrated everything in one package except for the RAM. This particular PC/104 board has a pin header for LVDS and parallel pixel bus for an LCD in addition to VGA, and it's that LCD header I will use for the 70 Hz HDMI video output project. This setup means that I can prototype and test without building a processor PCB, and eventually I'll be able to compare my console PCB to a known working system.

If it works well, then I can move on from considering any EOL'd SoC, including old Intel Atoms, AMD Geode, AMD Elan SC520, or STPC Atlas.

The backplane has seven 16-bit ISA slots, so I won't have to remove the sound card to test other ISA bus projects I'm working on related to this console.

I haven't ruled out a multi-SOC approach to getting a nice GUI. It's the only plausible way to have a modern console experience with a pretty frontend that actually uses all of the widescreen pixels, since I sincerely doubt the Vortex86 VGA core has VBE 3.0 to let me drive a widescreen resolution from DOS. But, there's still ways to get 90% of what I want from a single computer in the box, and it's vastly simpler.

Reply 96 of 113, by LightStruk

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creepingnet wrote on 2021-01-05, 21:49:

My idea would be a SIMPLE SOC based "PC Console" Plug N' Play sort of thing. Just a little wireless keyboard/trackpad and a little box that attaches to your HDMI port - that's it. Maybe an SD Card Slot that allows games to be put on it or to add to what's already approved preinstalled content to draw people in, and an extra USB port or two to allow for expansion with floppies. So for me -it'd be a RPi sized credit card PC based on the Vortex86 with a tiny, cheap SSD on board and a few preinstalled, menu accessible games.

RPi-sized is smaller than I need. That's probably a 12-layer PCB to get it quite that small. I'm aiming for 4 layers. It's saner for a hobbyist to attempt. Buried vias? No thanks.

creepingnet wrote on 2021-01-05, 21:49:

It would also contain a ROM with the default setup already stored on it so the device could be "Reset" to factory by the user via a command or a button on the bottom.

That's not a bad idea, I'll keep that in mind.

creepingnet wrote on 2021-01-05, 21:49:

Price point would be between $35 and $75.

Only way to achieve even a $75 price point is with an outdated, underpowered, off-the-shelf ARM SoC with everything integrated. That's how the various mini consoles do it. That, and very high production numbers. The Bill of Materials I have so far is not crazy expensive, but three of the chips I need to build this thing each cost more than one of those ARM SoCs.

creepingnet wrote on 2021-01-05, 21:49:

Make the hobby more accessible to others, not just us who are technically skilled.

This would mean it would need to be small, easy to use, not require vintage hardware to work, not require a whole bunch of configuration that requires a 25 page manual to setup, and has obvious connections. Everything a Raspberry Pi, DOSbox, Exult, or original steel requires to have a good user experience.

Yes! Exactly.

Reply 97 of 113, by ragefury32

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LightStruk wrote on 2021-01-06, 20:40:
For anyone still following this insanity of mine, here's a project update. […]
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For anyone still following this insanity of mine, here's a project update.

Speaking of the Vortex86, I just purchased a cheap PC/104 Vortex86 DX3 board, a PC/104 ISA backplane, and a CMI8330 sound card. At least one of those is on the slow boat from China, so I have a couple of weeks to wait. But, when they do arrive, I can test that particular hardware combination for video and sound compatibility. I wasn't previously considering the Vortex86 DX3, but it does have a full ISA bus, unlike some other Vortex86 products, it's clocked high with lots of cache, and has integrated everything in one package except for the RAM. This particular PC/104 board has a pin header for LVDS and parallel pixel bus for an LCD in addition to VGA, and it's that LCD header I will use for the 70 Hz HDMI video output project. This setup means that I can prototype and test without building a processor PCB, and eventually I'll be able to compare my console PCB to a known working system.

If it works well, then I can move on from considering any EOL'd SoC, including old Intel Atoms, AMD Geode, AMD Elan SC520, or STPC Atlas.

The backplane has seven 16-bit ISA slots, so I won't have to remove the sound card to test other ISA bus projects I'm working on related to this console.

I haven't ruled out a multi-SOC approach to getting a nice GUI. It's the only plausible way to have a modern console experience with a pretty frontend that actually uses all of the widescreen pixels, since I sincerely doubt the Vortex86 VGA core has VBE 3.0 to let me drive a widescreen resolution from DOS. But, there's still ways to get 90% of what I want from a single computer in the box, and it's vastly simpler.

Yeah, the beauty about the DX3 is that you could (in theory) run 2 OSes at the same time - the master core running Linux which can do the managerial stuff, and the slave core that will run the actual DOS environment. Since the I/O is on a soft-configurable crossbar the ISA should be fine. As for the Vortex86 VGA core, it's SiS based . The original Vortex86 is called the SiS550 SoC and uses the 2D engine off the SiS315 (SiS301) and later versions of that 2D engine is known as the Volari z9s (which are sometimes used in server BMCs). I am not sure about VBE3 but it should be fairly compatible in DOS.

Reply 98 of 113, by LightStruk

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ragefury32 wrote on 2021-01-06, 22:41:

Yeah, the beauty about the DX3 is that you could (in theory) run 2 OSes at the same time - the master core running Linux which can do the managerial stuff, and the slave core that will run the actual DOS environment. Since the I/O is on a soft-configurable crossbar the ISA should be fine.

You're thinking of the EX2, not the DX3. The DX3 comes in single core and dual core variants, but the dual-core variant is a Symmetric Multiprocessing (SMP) CPU, like a typical dual-core chip.

As for the EX2, it only offers the ISA bus to the Master core. It does not have a VGA core integrated, but it does have a simple unaccelerated frame buffer interface that Linux can use. So OK, run DOS on the master and Linux on the slave, use the frame buffer interface to draw the fancy modern GUI, and let the HDMI transmitter combine the DOS gfx with the Linux gfx. Not so fast - there's conflicting information as to whether the slave core has access to the "frame buffer" interface, and DMP did not answer this question when I asked them directly.

Finally, it's not clear to me that using the EX2 buys me much over using a separate ARM SoC. The board design seems simpler at first; there's one SoC instead of two, and there's only one set of RAM chips. On the other hand, the Master core does not have VGA, so I still have to put another chip on the board. It doesn't have WiFi integrated, just Ethernet, so add another chip. The Slave core, which is a 586-class processor running at just 400 MHz with no L2 cache, is way slower than a modern ARM would be. Since it doesn't support i686 instructions, most modern Linux distributions cannot be used. I don't relish the thought of trying to create a nice UI at 1080p with no video acceleration on a 400 MHz CPU with next to no cache.

ragefury32 wrote on 2021-01-06, 22:41:

The original Vortex86 is called the SiS550 SoC and uses the 2D engine off the SiS315 (SiS301) and later versions of that 2D engine is known as the Volari z9s (which are sometimes used in server BMCs). I am not sure about VBE3 but it should be fairly compatible in DOS.

That's promising! The SiS 315 does relatively well for a later GPU according to the compatibility chart, and later SiS chips at least claimed VBE 3.0 support with possibly a usable widescreen mode of 1280x768.

Reply 99 of 113, by ragefury32

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LightStruk wrote on 2021-01-07, 03:32:

You're thinking of the EX2, not the DX3. The DX3 comes in single core and dual core variants, but the dual-core variant is a Symmetric Multiprocessing (SMP) CPU, like a typical dual-core chip.

As for the EX2, it only offers the ISA bus to the Master core. It does not have a VGA core integrated, but it does have a simple unaccelerated frame buffer interface that Linux can use. So OK, run DOS on the master and Linux on the slave, use the frame buffer interface to draw the fancy modern GUI, and let the HDMI transmitter combine the DOS gfx with the Linux gfx. Not so fast - there's conflicting information as to whether the slave core has access to the "frame buffer" interface, and DMP did not answer this question when I asked them directly.

Finally, it's not clear to me that using the EX2 buys me much over using a separate ARM SoC. The board design seems simpler at first; there's one SoC instead of two, and there's only one set of RAM chips. On the other hand, the Master core does not have VGA, so I still have to put another chip on the board. It doesn't have WiFi integrated, just Ethernet, so add another chip. The Slave core, which is a 586-class processor running at just 400 MHz with no L2 cache, is way slower than a modern ARM would be. Since it doesn't support i686 instructions, most modern Linux distributions cannot be used. I don't relish the thought of trying to create a nice UI at 1080p with no video acceleration on a 400 MHz CPU with next to no cache.

Wait, did I read their block diagrams incorrectly? I went through their Youtube channel and they had an almost 2 hour deep dive of the EX2. It's in Mandarin Chinese, but the slides are in English.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AB9paYWC5Qo

The way how I interpret the architecture is that the crossbar I/O setup can be mapped to either cores at any time, and the master core has access to re-map if needed, so they share the entire I/O fabric - the idea is that it was supposed to run 2 segregated OS in the same hardware, but with the more powerful one moderating I/O access to the weaker one. You "should" be able to put a PCIe video card (like the Vortex86 VGA card) onto the EX2, map it to the slave, map the GPIO pins for the ISA sound chip to it as well and then use USB (which is mapped to the master) for Wifi and/or Bluetooth for the controller, then maybe have the master moderate keystokes/controller positions/whatever to the slave. Then the master can write to that LCD framebuffer for implementing menus. The awkward thing about the Vortex86EX2 deep dive is that they never really talked about what CPU instructions are supported in the core.

Okay, so I am going to make 2 assumptions:
a) The slave core in the EX2 is basically the same core as the one on the EX (which is used in the 86duino) - hmmm, /proc/cpuinfo for it exists here, and we can see if it's a i586 or an i686 if we look at the eflags:

http://www.86duino.com/?page_id=85/installati … g-1/linux-image

The ones to note:
fpu tsc cx8 sep cmov mmx
FPU/TSC is pretty standard fare for anything p5 and above.
Note that it has cx8 (common on p5), mmx (that's on the p55c and later), cmov (that's a P6 class instruction) but mtrr is not there. So it's probably i686 kosher, but you can't mess with the MTRR to combine block transfers like you can on a K6-2 or a Pentium 2+, although you'll probably need to play around with one to determine that.

b) The master core is an EX core but with more stuff inside, and here's the /proc/cpuinfo with eflags.

https://tortoiseit.blogspot.com/2020/09/infor … 86-ex2-soc.html

The ones to note:
fpu pse tsc msr pae cx8 apic sep pge cmov pat mmx fxsr sse sse2 nx cpuid pni ssse3
FPU/tsc is assumed, PSE is a p5/p6 option, it does have the SSE-SSSE3 stuff, PAE/NX (usually found together in anything newer than a Banias Pentium-M).
So basically, it claims about the same features as a Yonah Pentium-M (well, Core Solo but with much less L2)

So no, the EX2 is probably more powerful than you think....but D&MP's technical information is rather vague and doesn't answer the tough questions.