Last year, a group of people have founded a new company, A-EON, in order to provide to the Amiga scene a new machine: the AmigaOne X1000. Trevor Dickinson is one of the founder of A-EON (director) and we asked him some questions.
Hello Trevor, could you introduce yourself?
My full name is Robert Trevor Dickinson although I have always been called Trevor. I'm British by birth and have lived in several countries including USA and Cyprus. I currently divide my time between London and Wellington, New Zealand. I trained as a geologist many years ago and am old enough to have purchased a new Amiga 2000 in 1988. I have a number of hobbies including flying, football and stamp collecting but my real passion is the Amiga and the AmigaOS. I am a director of A-EON technology and have several other non-computer related business interests. I am a part-time Amiga journalist and author of the long running "Amiga Retrospective" series in "Amiga Future" magazine as well as several other "Amiga" related articles, some of which have featured on the Obligement website.
About four years ago, I set up and funded a Hardware Loan/Donation scheme to put next generation Amiga computers into the hands of talented developers to enable them to produce quality software for AmigaOS 4. My intention was to purchase AmigaOne and µA1-C systems from Eyetech but unfortunately they left the Amiga scene and other PowerPC hardware failed to materialise. For a couple of years I supplied developers with used AmigaOne (and some Pegasos) systems I managed to track down on the Internet, but since ACube System started making its Sam440ep range I've been able to supply software developers with new "Amiga" hardware. In total, I've donated about 16 or 17 systems to date.
When and how did you discover the Amiga?
I had always been a Commodore fan after purchasing a Commodore PET 4032 in 1981. This was followed almost inevitably by an upgrade to the C64 then C128D before I purchased my first Amiga while living in Houston, Texas. The move to Amiga might be considered "divine intervention" as my C128D system was zapped during a severe electrical storm. I used the proceeds from the insurance claim towards purchasing an A2000. During the 1990's I used A3000's and A4000's in my business for DTP, graphics work and video editing but eventually moved to other platforms as software and support for the Amiga dried up following the collapse of Commodore and the failure of subsequent attempts to revive the Amiga's fortunes. However, I retained all my Amiga computers and in recent years have amassed quite a collection.
What are your Amiga configurations and what do you do with them?
"Cough", well this is quite embarrassing really. I've always had a soft spot for Commodore and Amiga computers but in recent years I've had the opportunity to really expand my computer collection. In all, I probably have over 150 Commodore and Amiga computers (photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4 and photo 5), ranging from the original Kim-1, the PET series (2001, 3000, 4000 and 8000), the PET B series, 8-bit gaming series (VIC-20, C64, C128, C128D, C64GS, Max, C64SX), the Commodore TED series (C16, C116, C232 and Plus/4), all the classic Amiga models and Powered-by-Amiga Tower clones including a DraCo workstation. I also have various Commodore PC clones and even a Commodore 900 Unix machine.
My "Amiga" next generation collection is also very extensive and includes all the Eyetech, ACube and Genesi models running a combination of AmigaOS 4, MorphOS and Linux (Debian and Ubuntu). I'm also interested in "Amiga" emulators and derivatives such as Amithlon, Amiga Forever, AROS and FPGA implementations. I have one of the first iMica Atom and Pro AROS based systems and a dual booting AROS/Ubuntu AresOne. I also have a couple of Minimigs and a dedicated Amithlon x86 system. However, I still use Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, which surprisingly is my least favourite and probably dates back to my original decision to buy Commodore rather than Apple all those years ago. ;-)
I still get a lot of fun tinkering with my Classic Amiga systems and I'm involved with a long term project in collaboration with AmigaKit to create the ultimate multi-booting Classic Amiga computer using an Amiga 4000 motherboard, CyberVisionPPC/68060 accelerator together with all the latest Classic add-ons (Deneb USB 2.0, Indivision 4000 fitted with a monitor switcher, ZorRAM, Compact Flash solid state drive and Buddha IDE controller, etc.). It's probably no surprise that I'm really looking forward to adding an A1-X1000 to my Amiga collection. ;-)
Could you tell us the story behind A-EON?
A-EON Technology CVBA is a privately funded, independent Belgian company formed in mid 2009 with the express purpose of developing new hardware for AmigaOS 4 and beyond. The three principal shareholders include Ben Hermans of Hyperion Entertainment fame, Tony Moorley my long term friend and business partner and of course myself. We formed a strategic partnership with Hyperion Entertainment to provide the Amiga community with a dedicated high-end PowerPC based platform for AmigaOS 4 which aspires to be worthy of the Amiga hardware tradition going back to the original Amiga 1000 from Commodore.
Nobody in the real world would create a company for such a tiny market. It's very risky financially. Do you consider this as part of the "Amiga spirit"?
Sssh don't tell Tony Moorley! ;-) Seriously, although the Amiga market is very small we believe there is still a demand for a powerful high-end Amiga computer for professionals and serious hobbyists. As an Amiga enthusiast I have always been intrigued by the uniqueness of the Amiga hardware/software and the incredible loyalty of the Amiga community and as a fully paid up member of the community I wanted to see new hardware that would put the smile back on the faces of Amiga users. As all Amigans know, 2010 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Amiga's birth and we thought it would be a great idea to celebrate the event with the launch of a powerful desktop AmigaOne computer.
Personally I would be happy if we just recovered our original investment but, in reality we will also need to generate some profit in order to re-invest in new hardware development and possibly attract additional funding if we are to see the AmigaOne product line continue to flourish in the future. We are hoping that the development of A1-X1000 will inspire a new generation of Amiga enthusiasts which will see the platform last for another 25 years. However, I brought in my business partner, Tony to make sure we keep on a sound financial footing and make the right commercial as well as technical decisions. We have worked together for 35 years in several successful businesses but, more importantly he is not a computer enthusiast and hopefully will help keep me grounded. For me at least, the A1-X1000 is partly an extension of my desire to see the Amiga platform and AmigaOS continue to survive and evolve in a computer world totally dominated by a few major players.
Earlier this year, A-EON announced the arrival of a new machine, the AmigaOne X1000, in a very original way. Who had the idea of this "teaser"? Is A-EON appreciated the result?
We were really pleased and to be honest a little surprised by the massive response we received to the teaser website which also created ripples in the computer mainstream. There was a lot of rumour and speculation about "Hyperion's Most Ambitious Project" and we wanted to release information about the new hardware in an entertaining way rather than the usual "sterile" press release.
As it was approaching Christmas I suggested creating a kind of "Amiga Advent calendar" to reveal either on a daily or weekly basis clues about the new hardware we were planning to release. Fortunately, Andrew Korn, who in a previous life was deputy editor of CU Amiga and editor of Amiga Active magazines, came up with a much better idea. He wanted to retain the element of suspense and mystery by slowly revealing details of the new hardware through the puzzling teaser website. Some of the AmigaOS 4 developers and beta testers also pitched in with ideas and suggestions and so the teaser website was born which quickly took on a life of its own. The approach was not to everyone's taste but the vast majority of Amigans really enjoyed the fun, so much so that the AmigaWorld.net website was overloaded on the day the A1-X1000 computer was finally due to be announced.
I think it's fair to say we were very happy with the response. The "teaser" website has now been replaced by a more traditional, but hopefully still amusing, temporary website, with a distinctly Amiga feel, to provide information and updates while we concentrate on the releasing the A1-X1000. The temporary website has been designed to run under OWB and other modern web browsers although there is a fallback mode for Classic Amiga Browsers such as IBrowse and AWeb. It is our intention to replace this temporary website when the A1-X1000 is released. However, given the (mainly) positive reaction to the new website format we will probably retain many of the key "Amiga-like" features.
A-EON is not alone is the AmigaOne X1000 adventure. Who are your partners? And what is their role? When did A-EON received the first motherboard and when did Hyperion start working on the port of AmigaOS 4.x?
Prior to beginning the development, we assembled a hardware review team which included Hyperion and key AmigaOS 4 developers. After some intensive research and discussions, the team drew up a "wish list" specification for the ideal AmigaOS 4 computer. Having decided on the specification, we searched for a suitable engineering partner with the proven skills and capabilities to help us achieve our aims. Eventually we selected a British company with a successful track record in hardware design and production who also had considerable experience with the PowerPC applications and more importantly understood the Amiga. We commissioned them to develop the "Nemo" motherboard for the A1-X1000. Unlike the original AmigaOne the A1-X1000 is not based on a pre-existing reference design but is a totally new, high specification board for the Amiga enthusiast's and power user market.
Once the design contract was signed they immediately began work on the Nemo hardware, having already spent some months on the board layout and design. The first boards were manufactured in 2009 and Hyperion began porting AmigaOS 4 towards the end of 2009. Our engineering partners are obviously a very important part of the story. We are sure the community will be as impressed with them as we have been. We anticipated the massive interest that the announcement of new AmigaOne hardware would create within the community and wanted the designers to be able to concentrate on finishing the project, which is why we haven't formally introduced the partnership yet. We will of course release full details as soon as we can.
A-EON presents the AmigaOne X1000 as a new high-end Amiga, 25 years after the A1000. In your opinion, what are the common points (similarities) between the AmigaOne X1000 and the A1000?
The Amiga 1000 was a ground-breaking machine that was truly years ahead of its time. Its unique combination of pre-emptive multitasking, elegantly simple graphical user interface and custom chipsets to unload the CPU created the first multimedia computer in a world dominated by the monochrome, single tasking IBM PC (and PC Clone). It's a testament to the original design team that the Amiga's multimedia concept is now the de-facto standard for all modern personal computers. Even with the best will in the world we can never hope to have the same impact as the original Amiga but at least we can try to build on its legacy and provide the Amiga community with a powerful new machine that is at least worthy to carry the Amiga name.
Fortunately the A1-X1000 will be supplied AmigaOS 4 which is the direct descendant of the original AmigaOS. The latest AmigaOS 4.1 Update certainly flies on ACube's excellent Sam440ep/Sam440ep-Flex system. Imagine the performance on a 1.8 GHz+ dual core Power processor. Custom chipsets are no longer viable but with the additional of Xena and software defined silicon we can at least have "customisable chips" which will hopefully appeal to Amiga enthusiasts and developers alike. Also, just like the original Amiga team we are trying to create the A1-X1000 on what is a shoestring budget compared to the multi-million dollar development funds available to the computer industry giants. Did I mention I've always like a challenge? ;-)
The processor's name remains a mystery although it is known that it's dual-core and and can support 64-bit. Do you have extra information about it? Why there is it so mysterious?
There has been a good commercial and confidentiality reason for withholding the identity of the Power CPU. To date, only CPU test samples have been used to build the A1-X1000 prototypes and to avoid potential damage we have not run the CPU to its maximum rating. A purchase and supply contract has been negotiated and agreed with the CPU vendor and, at the time of writing, we are awaiting delivery of the first batch of pre-paid production CPU's. Once these have been tested, full details of the A1-X1000 CPU will be revealed. It will be the first time this CPU has been used in any "desktop" computer and suffice to say we think it's quite special.
Which version of the AmigaOS will run on the X1000? AmigaOS 4.1 Update 2, 4.2 or other?
Initially the A1-X1000 will run an almost standard version of AmigaOS 4 which has been configured to run on the new hardware similar to the way that AmigaOS 4 has be modified to run on the AmigaOne, Sam440ep and Pegasos II.
Currently (April 2010), which parts of the AmigaOS 4.x works on the AmigaOne X1000?
At the time of writing the kernel is up and running and the A1-X1000 can already boot up the AmigaOS 4.1 Update Workbench/install CD. This is the first time that an AmigaOS has run on a 64-bit Power CPU. About 90% of AmigaOS 4.1 already runs and work is continuing on the few remaining drivers and a couple of other minor adjustments and hopefully by the time this interview is posted the system should be fully operational. Watch this space.
In the initial A1-X1000 release, AmigaOS 4.1 will not make use of the second CPU core but this is something that the AmigaOS 4 developers are planning for a subsequent update.
The dual-core and the 64-bit mode will result in incompatibilities with existing AmigaOS 4.x software. Is it possible to limit these incompatibilities?
Yes, although obviously special features that make use of the A1-X1000 dual core will not be compatible with other "Amiga" models. Also any software that requires the use of Xena will not be able to run on hardware without a Xena chip, and anything that requires the higher-end graphics hardware that the A1-X1000 allows (GPGPU streaming applications, for example) will be limited to hardware with the capability to run it.
The PCI-e will require new graphic cards. Which cards will be supported in the AmigaOne X1000? Will you work with Hans De Ruiter for this?
PCI-e does indeed open up the option of more modern graphics cards, but not without drivers. Hans De Ruiter is involved and we anticipate that the A1-X1000 will support Radeon HD4xxx cards, possibly HD3xxx and older X1xxx graphics cards. In the short term, we have specified a single hardware/driver combination that will ship with the A-1X1000 as standard, based on the ATI R700 GPU.
What are Xena and Xorro? Why including such material?
It was our hardware partners who originally suggested the X-Core technology. They have a lot of experience working with XMOS products and said "why not add an XMOS chip?" The original Amiga had custom chips, so we decided to give the A1-X1000 "customisable" chips. XMOS calls it "Software Defined Silicon", we call it 'Xena', a nod to the old Amiga custom chip names. It's a cheap addition to the board and in some ways is a gift to the Amiga's geek heritage. It's also the inheritor of the 'transputer' concept, and it's something we're quite excited about. Capable of eight concurrent real-time threads with shared memory space, at up to 500 MIPS, Xena gives the A1-X1000 a very flexible, very expandable co-processor. The uses are endless; control hardware, DSP functions, robotics, display - even SID chip and console emulators.
Similarly, as homage to the Amiga's original "Zorro" interface we chose "Xorro" as the name for the Xena interface. In addition, XMOS have recently announced a new 500 MHz of its XS1-L1 and, as an added bonus, we have decided to specify the new chip in the A1-X1000 production model to give Xena a 25% performance boost. It is our hope that by including the "customisable" Xena chip on the motherboard we will also provide the A1-X1000 with certain capabilities that no other computer has as standard and makes it a baseline feature that is safe for 3rd parties to support. The Amiga has seen some truly ingenious hacks and add-ons in the past and hopefully Xena can take this to a whole new level. It will take a while for the full possibilities to be realised.
Is it possible to program Xena from AmigaOS 4.x? Is there any tools for this?
We are working with our hardware partners to address this issue.
Will you distribute the AmigaOne X1000 as a complete configuration or it will be possible to buy only the motherboard?
It's our intention that the A1-X1000 will be sold as a pre-built, pre-installed AmigaOS 4.x system complete with an officially branded case, mouse and keyboard and complete with RAM, HDD, optical drive and graphics card. We have no plans to release the motherboard separately at this moment in time.
Can you list the elements of a complete AmigaOne X1000 configuration?
The A1-X1000 will be supplied with the AmigaOS 4.1 Update in a branded tower case along with keyboard and mouse. A monitor is not included. The current pre-release specs* include:
We have recently concluded a supply agreement for a high quality, specially branded "Boing Ball" tower case with a European manufacturer noted for the simplicity, elegance and quality of its case designs. We believe the A1-X1000 case, which will also sport an A1-X1000 badge, has enough expansion potential to satisfy even the most demanding Power user. We are also working with an Amiga retailer to provide a matching branded Amiga keyboard and mouse set, without the dreaded Windows keys. It is also our intention to ship the A1-X1000 in custom branded packaging and we are utilising the impressive graphics skills of Andrew Korn, of CU Amiga and Amiga Active magazine fame, who has also designed the branding for the A1-X1000 computer case.
Yes, we intend on producing a generic branded version of the X1000 case (without the X1000 logo) to make available to Amiga enthusiasts who wish re-house or upgrade their existing computer systems. We are also working with an Amiga retailer to supply AmigaOne branded Keyboard (and mouse combinations) separately from the X1000 package.
Will you provide AmigaOne X1000 development boards to third party developers? How to become a developer for the AmigaOne X1000?
Our first aim is to get the new hardware into the hands of the current AmigaOS 4 beta testers and as a result of all the recent progress A-EON, in cooperation with Hyperion Entertainment, is expanding the beta test program to recruit up to 100 serious beta testers to thoroughly test the software and hardware prior to the main commercial release of the A1-X1000. Beta testers signing up to the program will be able to purchase their A1-X1000 machines at a substantial discount from the final retail price. We are also keen to hear from third-party Amiga developers who believe they have and an idea or project that can add value to the A1-X1000 system.
About the price, the first idea of A-EON was "a little cheaper" than the Amiga 1000. The A1000 was sold 1295 $ in 1985. So can we still expect a prize around 1295 $?
Our initial price estimate was related to UK pricing (since the machine is being built in the UK) and according to the Amiga History Guide the Amiga was launched in the UK at a price of £1500 in September 1985. We are currently in the process of deciding the final specification for the standard A1-X1000 production model. We know exactly what parts we want, but we have to ensure that those parts are obtainable in the quantities we need, with suitable volume discounts and lead times. Once this process is complete we will have a better handle on the total system cost and be able to provide details of the initial retail price. Obviously the final price point is something that everyone wants to know as soon as possible, but a degree of uncertainty is inevitable with an immature supply chain. We already know the cost of the motherboard and CPU. When we have the full bill of materials and expenses and talked with the Amiga dealers and settled on margins we'll know the price for sure. My estimate is the price for the standard A1-X1000 system will be in excess of 1500 euros. However, the A1-X1000 is built with expandability in mind, and we anticipate that it will be sold through existing Amiga retailers who will be only too pleased to supply additional expansion options and accessories.
Is the release date (before summer 2010) still valid?
Subject to supply of components from a number of different sources we still anticipate a summer release. Of course there is always the possibility of delays somewhere in the supply chain, but at the moment we aren't aware of anything that would cause any significant delays.
While I personally have no objection to other Operating Systems being ported to the A1-X1000 our main aim is to provide a modern power platform to showcase the advanced features of AmigaOS. The A1-X1000 has been developed specifically to run AmigaOS 4 and will be supplied with AmigaOS 4 from the beginning. However, we certainly won't discourage people who want to port other Operating Systems to the new hardware.
Amigans believe that the release of the AmigaOne X1000 will "hit" ACube. What is your opinion about this?
I think the A1-X1000 and Sam series are aimed at very different markets and because of the substantially different price-point, there is little competition between these two projects. I am very impressed with the Sam hardware and have supplied almost a dozen Sam systems in my Developer Hardware Loan/Donation scheme. If you want to buy a Sam440ep (or 460 when it's available), do it. It's an excellent entry level machine and is a perfect companion for AmigaOS 4. I am fortunate to own both the Sam440ep (667MHz) and a Sam440ep-Flex (800MHz) and will probably buy a Sam460ex when it's released, as I'm sure AmigaOS 4 will be ported to it. However, if you want and can afford the most powerful Amiga ever created buy the A1-X1000. The choice is simple and depends on your budget and needs. Whatever you decide, if you can afford it, buy at least one of the systems. That will ensure that AmigaOS and new Amiga hardware continues to be developed in the future.
In the future, do you plan to produce other AmigaOne models? For example a laptop or a small version of the X1000?
I would like to think that the A1-X1000 will be the first of many high specification AmigaOne computers but the development of future models is very much dependent on the success of the A1-X1000. Personally, I believe there would be a market for an "Amiga Netbook" but it would have to come with software to support mainstream social networking applications that people have come to expect. We are trying to address this by assisting software developers wherever possible. The Amiga developer community is also very active and programs like Timberwolf (Firefox) and Open Office are currently being ported to AmigaOS 4. The other main problem for any Amiga hardware development is economy of scale. It is very difficult to compete with the sheer volume of cheap x86 Netbooks that have flooded onto the market. However, I have always believed no problem is insurmountable but first of all we need to make sure the A1-X1000 computer is a success.
Is A-EON have any contact with Amiga Inc.? What Bill McEwen thinks about your projects?
We've had no contact with Bill McEwen and I am unaware of what he thinks about A-EON or our plans for the future of the AmigaOne and AmigaOS.
Is an AmigaOS integrating AmigaAnywhere is still planned?
Although I can't speak for Hyperion, A-EON currently has no plans to integrate AmigaAnywhere into the A1-X1000 at the moment.
You wrote an Amiga retrospective for the magazine Amiga Future. So you know the "up and down" of the Amiga history. What is your opinion about the 2000-2009 decade? And what is your prediction for the 2010-2019 decade?
Yes, in a perverse way I've really enjoyed researching and writing about the highs and lows of the Amiga scene over the past ten years. I must admit I never expected when I began writing the "Amiga Retrospective" series for "Total Amiga" in 2007 I'd still be writing the series for "Amiga Future" in 2010, let alone be involved in helping to fund new AmigaOne hardware. The past ten years have been a struggle for the whole Amiga community with constant failure, disappointment and setbacks coupled with litigation, division and flame wars. It is no surprise that we have ended up with a fractured and disparate community. I would like to think that the next ten years will bring more harmony and stability and that new Power hardware, like the A1-X1000 and the recently announce Sam460ex will re-invigorate the whole community. I always think of John Lennon's classic lyrics from his song "Imagine":
"You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the (Amiga) world will be as one"
Only time will tell.
Is there a question I didn't asked you, and that you want to answer to?
Another key factor is the availability of modern software application and utilities which incidentally should benefit all AmigaOS 4 users, whatever machine they are using. A-EON is trying to address this by assisting software developers wherever possible. For example, a Sam440ep-Flex system was supplied under my Developer Hardware Loan/Donation scheme to port "Open Office 4 Kids" to AmigaOS 4. In reality, it should be called Open Office lite as it includes all the features you would expect in a modern office suite. It is fast loading; less cluttered and retains compatibility with both Open Office and Microsoft office files.
What is your favourite Classic Amiga computer? My favourite Classic Amiga has got to be the A2000HD which was my first Amiga computer. Ok, it was not very stylish, looked like a brick and was built like a tank but in my opinion set the standard for big box Amigas that followed. It introduced the "Plug & Play" Zorro slot, was very expandable and formed the basis for several other Amiga models; A1500, A2000HD, A2500HD, A2500UX and of course the first Video Toaster from NewTek. I still have very fond memories of my A2000HD. It included a Commodore 68020 accelerator card, 8MB RAM expansion card and an XT Bridgeboard. I still have the case but unfortunately the motherboard succumbed to "death by battery" several years ago but at least I was able to salvage parts for other A2000 repairs. I also really like form and style of the Amiga 500 keyboard case. The Commodore engineers certainly knew how to make good products.
A last message for the Amiga community?
We will do our best to ensure that the A1-X1000 is a product that can live up to the tradition and legacy of the original Amiga hardware and bring some fun back into AmigaOne computing. Thank you for the chance of presenting our plans to the Obligement readers.
One small step at a time, hopefully forward, with the occasional giant leap...
Director, A-EON Technology CVBA