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Features

Main »» Reviews

AmigaONE Power System Review (24-Aug-2003)  Popular
(Read 18105 times)
This is an AmigaONE Power System based on the A1G4-XE motherboard. It comes preconfigured from Eyetech with a preinstall of Debian ( Linux ) and UAE for AmigaOS emulation. It also comes with a free pass for AOS4 when that ships. If you want specifics, please go to the Eyetech homepage ( Eyetech ).

Getting Started

No problems getting it out of the madly over wrapped and over packaged box. Its a real beauty of a case: Perspex front panels, silver finish and obligatory cut out side with internal blue lighting. All the ribbon cables have been converted to piped casing and the cooling on top of the processor looks like a bit of art deco. Lovely.

The case is very well built despite being very light and my friend and I proceed to do the case stress test and stand on top of it at the end of the review: no warps, bulges cracks and the computer boots up fine unlike his computer which we do the same test to.

The system comes preinstalled with a 70Gb hard drive on IDE bus 0 and a CD writer and DVD ROM drive on IDE bus 1. It comes with a swank graphics card in AGP and a gameport card in one of the PCI slots.

The USB and microphone/headphone sockets are also available from the front of the case by touching the panel marked "USB".

A single 512Mb memory module sits there in a slot with space for one more - a passkey into Geek Heaven .

Keyboard is a standard PC job with an optical cordless mouse which I have the usual "cordless mouse dance" with ( will it work wont it work which button to press to get it to start ) but all is well in the world eventually.

The system comes with some instructions that take you through installation and configuration from many perspectives but as a preinstall this should be referred to only to get the root user and password.

It also has a package of CDs for Debian and an A1 boot disk, the wallet looks like the Software Options wallet you got with old IBM RS/6000 kit and fond memories come back.

You also get a thick user manual for Debian? Shocked? I was, its a fantastic read with angles for the beginner and tips for the expert. It is "Debian GNU/Linux Bible" by Steve Hunger. Full marks to Eyetech for thoughtfulness.

System is now assembled, startup. Straight into the Graphical Login manager with no messing about, this system is actually more responsive than our comparison system - a high end system used for development at work. This is partly because at this stage of the game there are less services and concurrent users being managed.

The KDE control center is a sight for sore eyes, in minutes I have changed the default theme considerably and the desktop now looks how I like it. Not over textured but pretty sweet all the same.

Getting Geeky

Time to add software packages. The preinstall has the usual Linux syspects: games, office software, admin tools, network applications, graphics packages, editors etc.

On this first outing with the board I have a specific set of tools to install to compare it with our work systems. So its time to see what the Package Manager ( a graphical installer that wrappers Debians' excellent apt-get package tool. It allows you to select what you want and it will install them and the prereqs for you in a blink of an eye. Nice.

So I select Apache (SSL), PHP, MySQL and the development libraries I need and throw in the selection of a few games to keep me amused ( Doom, Abuse etc ) when I work.

Whilst this is all installing ( quite a few blinks ) I nip downstairs and assemble the wireless 5g router and the adapter cards. It also supports cables so I run one up through the floor ( power drill from HomeBase ) to the room the A1 is in and plug it into the NIC whilst the install is running. This was in time to respond to a poster on ANN who claimed the A1 doesn't work. Ha!

The install is done, the Package Manager takes me through the configuration steps ( I am used to doing this manually on Linux so I warm to Debian here ).

The Test

Now start MySQL ( safe_mysqld from root ) , Apache is already running with PHP. Create a few databases and tables in MySQL and and everything seems quick. This is going to be partly due to the performance of the 133 rated FSB, the good quality HD that Eyetech fit and the G4 itself.

I now need to connect to my source server and download the project source tree. I am going to be testing with a real world project source tree! This takes a few minutes ( broadband, can't get the staff ) and then its time to start the build. The build on the work box I am used to takes about 20 minutes to trawl through and come up with the project installation files. In the event it took 12 minutes 41 seconds - perhaps a factor of the low ( me only at the moment ) number of users on the A1? Still very good.

Now here is the big test, what we have here is a high performance data sharing mechanism amongst other things and a complex services layer on top with connections through gateways to commercial products. Here I have to use the Fast Ethernet device in the A1. What I expect to happen is a dramatic increase in data sharing contention rates as a result of the throttled network compared to what I get when I use the high end systems.

What will drive the system across my intranet is two high end systems used for stress tests. I turn on the simulation code on both and immediately flood the internal network ( users of #amigaworld will remember the amount of times my IRC connection dropped ).

Guess what, 24 hours later, the A1 running our code has only dropped one single transaction and that was because of a timeout over the network. Its not as good as what I am used to at work but then it costs a fraction of the price.

During that 24 hours we have been a bit naughty to the A1. We have been playing a lot of games. Shame on us. Still, it did not suffer much and the gaming experience was smooth even under maximum load. This means in any future comparisons we will have to also play games.

Shame.

Comparison validity?

Im not here to compare this sytem with Apple Macs, or motherboards that are discontinued. I am actually comparing it with x86 and POWER4 systems used in the commercial sector but the data I collect is sensitive for now, but I will collect other data using standard benchmarks later on. It clearly does not compete anywhere near head to head but it came out very well for the specs of the system on paper. I threw it in the deep end and it came up trumps.

I realise the perspective I have on this is somewhat at odds with the current userbases needs but the demands on the system are extremely high and the A1 came through with flying colours. Thus any usage that demands less power than that is as far as I can see fine. We used varying chunk sizes of data on our data sharing configuration from a few bytes up to 2 gigabytes without seeing any flaws.

As a development workstation it compares extremely well, it is near silent and thus allows you to think, the GFX card that Eyetech supplies produces crisp displays and high resolutions without a flicker. Everything you need is on the cluster of CDs shipped with the system and the keyboard and mouse are very natural.

Geeks love toys and this system is as elegant as a Mac and as responsive as an Amiga. By selecting only high end kit to go in the system Eyetech have scored an immediate goal with us.

I leave it up to others whom I know are more interested in other fields to come up with other perspectives such as multimedia, gaming, digital editing and the fluff.

UAE

Time to play with UAE. It is straighforward to get to, from the 'K' menu run straight to the top and click on UAE. It opens into an options screen which you can play with the settings and start the emulated Amiga. It boots up rapidly ( far more rapidly than my laptop running Amiga Forever ). Workbench is slightly modified but has still been hit with an ugly stick - just like Workbench 3.1 in general in fact! I will have to install patches as soon as I can be bothered. The Magic Pack and SCALA has been preinstalled and work nicely ( better in fact than my A4000 ) so thats great news for multimedia boffs.

I install a few games, software and my IDE and everything works as expected and much quicker on the AGA Screenmodes than I had got used to on WinUAE which prompts me to upgrade WinUAE.

The only thing that doesnt work are my PPC games from Hyperion, obviously because UAE is only expected to work with 68k. There is an opportunity here for UAE developers to look into supporting WarpOS natively.

Support

Eyetech have recently opened up forums on the AmigaOS specific portal Amiga World and I found people on there pleasant to talk to and work through issues with. You can also sneak private conversations with A1 owners on their Undernet chat room #amigaworld.

Eyetech will also accept support emails, and there are a number of useful mailing lists which theory has it will merge into the AmigaWorld Eyetech forums.

What was suprising ( unless you believed the rumours ) was the large number of users that already have their A1s despite claims to the contrary. Not everyone has assembled their kit it seems ( some are waiting for AOS4 before bothering ) but its a pretty vibrant community at the moment and there are a mixture of Linux experts and newbies alike. The common refrain ( out of loyalty to AmigaOS I guess ) is that people cannot be bothered with Linux. I say give it a REAL try, and install the UAE package that Eyetech provide - it is rather excellent.

Kudos to those that are prepared to put their money where their mouth is and kudos to the team for providing quick turnaround on support queries.

U-Boot

Hyperion have done a good job providing a simplified interface to U-Boot and the menu commands are quite simple once you have a complete list. The only change I had to make in U-Boot was to set it to scan the second IDE channel on startup ( to pick up the DVD and CD Writer that Eyetech preinstall ).

The Wait for OS4

Reams of utter drivel has been written on this subject for a while, but I have to say that for Amiga users Debian and UAE is a great stopgap. Whilst I type I have UAE running through a SCALA presentation and Debian showing the last position I bought the farm on Abuse and a depressingly hazardous position in 3D chess all as smooth as silk.

AOS4 has shaped up nicely on the CyberStorm based systems and what I know about it and the A1 system progress will remain as ever confidential. Still it is amusing to read through the guesswork and innuendo on the forums. It is a time of political turbulence in the marketplace with each "camp" paranoid that the other will take the lions' share of the users and thereby "kill" te other so we see endless insults dressed up as retrospective reminders. We see what can only be described as alarmist BS and we also see people who would otherwise tolerate each other going for the throat. There is room enough for the critical mass to start to build a useful market for both key alternatives. If one or both alternatives die it will be a shame, but we have the chance to make it work which is more than we had 3 years ago.

Time to get along, time to look fowrad and time to work together to manage better those that thrive on conflict.

Value for Money

This depends on what you stack apon the left hand side of the balance sheet. I'd say the system is excellent value for money but then I put the build quality, the well tuned Debian installation, the performance and the ability to get in early on helping the next big step in AmigaOS evolution. I have had the usual Linux configuration hassles and own goals but name me a user that has not?

My friend did not experience these hassles, because I fixed them, hence his rather cheeky comment below.

Is it worth the money to me? A resounding yes. I don't believe in begruding a startup venture a small profit on high quality kit. I certainly wouldn't want them to operate at a loss to try to compete with the x86 prices in the short term because how long would they last as a viable business? Nice work Eyetech, Mai, Hyperion, Amiga Inc. and all the contributers to the project.

BAFs Rating ( Blind Amiga Fanatic )

Value for money 8/10
Out of the box adrenaline kick 10/10
Eyecandy 8/10
Build quality 9/10
Performance 8/10
Fitness for purpose 9/10
Niggle Factor: 4/10 ( /etc/fstab hassle )
AmigaOS heaven: 6/10 ( roll on AOS4 )

Total: 8/10

Non BAFs Rating ( A PC Fanatic )

Value for money 6/10
Out of the box adrenaline kick 8/10
Eyecandy 7/10
Build quality 9/10
Performance 8/10
Fitness for purpose 9/10
Niggle Factor: 0/10 ( worked fine for me dude )
AmigaOS heaven: 2/10 ( whats so good about AmigaOS? )

Total: 7/10


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