The AmigaOne X1000 is now shipping. This awesome project for the Amiga community was managed by A-Eon with the help of Varisys. Today, we offer you an interview with Paul Gentle, one of the founder of Varisys.
Hello. Can you introduce yourself?
Hi, my name is Paul Gentle and I am the Commercial Director at Varisys.
Adam Barnes and Paul Gentle from Varisys
Before working at Varisys, Adam Barnes (my business partner) and I worked for a company called Transtech Parallel Systems. We started off building boards based around the transputer (a predecessor to the XMOS chip fitted to Nemo) and progressed to building super computers using Intel i860s. When the owner of that company decided that he wanted to retire, Adam and I decided to start Varisys. Before that I worked for Ultra Electronics.
Could you tell us the story about Varisys: who founded it, when, your goals, etc.
Adam and I decided to start Varisys on a beach in Tel-Aviv in 2000. We were away on a business trip and knew that we both needed a plan for the future and we decided that Varisys should be it. Varisys started out with custom design and manufacture mainly for rugged and military applications and that still accounts for the bulk of our business. We are expanding and are currently looking for new premises to give us some more space. The future is bright.
We mainly work for military customers, people like General Dynamics, Raytheon, BAE, and Selex.
The PowerPC represents what proportion of your clients/production?
For a long time there really wasn't a PowerPC roadmap for high end designs. Then PA Semi entered the market. Once that avenue was closed after the Apple acquisition, Freescale responded by introducing high end parts based on the QorIQ architecture. The high end embedded market has been diluted with the advent on power efficient Intel parts and also more prevalent use of FPGAs.
Why working with the PowerPC today? What are the strengths of this type of processor?
The PowerPC is a great architecture for low power high performance applications. Most of our customers require our products to be supported for 10+ years and this tends to be difficult with boards based around Intel processors. Maybe this will change in the future.
Did the Apple switch from PowerPC to Intel x86 have impacted your business?
Only in that it would have been a better result for us if Apple had been a customer for PA and that variant of the PowerPC had of continued to be developed. I emailed Steve Jobs after the acquisition and let him know my thoughts although his response was very brief "Sorry. Steve.".
Is the PowerPC has a future? What are the "obstacles" that prevent to establish itself despite all its strengths?
The PowerPC has a very positive future with more multicore devices appearing on the roadmap over the next 12-18 months.
Did you know the Amiga before A-Eon contact you? Did you get an Amiga in the past?
Of course we knew of the Amiga and Adam and I were intrigued by the project. Unfortunately, I had a ZX Spectrum and Adam had a BBC Micro.
Could you tell us your first meetings with A-Eon? What was your initial reaction about the Nemo/AmigaOne X1000 project?
We first met with a representative of A-Eon in 2008 and we were put in contact by the European Technical Support guy from PA Semi. After some email communication we had a meeting in London to try and thrash out the details of the architecture. It was clear from the start that we were dealing with enthusiasts and that is really how we see ourselves - we take pride in being able to propose realistic solutions based on cutting edge technology.
What were the difficulties you encountered during the design and the development of the Nemo motherboard?
The Nemo design was quite straightforward and the first version worked well. We had some difficulties with the getting life signs out of the SB600 (South Bridge) but once these problems were overcome it was plane sailing.
The AmigaOne X1000 is probably the only computer with a PA6T-1682M processor. The idea to put a PA6T-1682M on the motherboard comes from you or A-Eon?
As I mentioned, we were put in contact with A-Eon through PA Semi so the processor choice was a done deal from the start.
The manufacturer of the PA6T-1682M (PA Semi) no longer exists. Is this processor still manufactured? What is the volume of your stocks?
The PA Semi processor is no longer manufactured unfortunately. We were able to reach an agreement with Apple for continued supply of the processor but there is a finite amount of stock.
The frequency of the PA6T-1682M is 2GHz. It seems that on the Nemo board, it is only 1.8GHz. Why?
The frequency that was quoted on the PA marketing collateral was never offered as a standard part option.
Nemo board have a nice chip on it: Xena. Why did you add this chip? What are its functions?
The Xena chip is interesting because it offers users the ability to add functionality to their X1000 machines. We have designed a Xorro interface board that will enable user to add their own circuitry. It follows the ethos of the original Amiga, where users are encouraged to get hands on and be as inventive as possible.
Do you plan to make a new revision of the board?
I am not sure I can comment on that at the moment.
How many Nemo boards were produced before the final revision (2.1)?
A handful of boards were produced to prove that the design was good. I think it was 5.
How many Nemo boards (final revision) do you plan to produce?
The final number has yet to be confirmed.
Do you think you will personally use the AmigaOne X1000 (with AmigaOS 4.2 or Linux)? Is there a utility outside of the small world of Amiga?
Having the ability to run Linux makes the Nemo board a very good general purpose development platform. We have certainly played with it extensively here although the appetite for AmigaOS amongst the younger engineers seems to be a bit of an acquired taste.
Do you consider to port AROS, or contact the MorphOS Team for a port of MorphOS, in order to increase sales of the AmigaOne X1000?
This work is not on the development road map at this point in time.
If you had to build a successor of the Amiga X1000, which processor or features would it have?
Watch this space...
Your SSC (Small System Controller, www.varisys.co.uk/ssc.html) would make a cheap Amiga computer. What is your opinion about it?
The SSC design is a little long in the tooth. Again, watch this space...
A last message for the Amiga community?
I hope that everybody that has committed to the X1000 has a good experience.