20 Answers with Alan Redhouse of Eyetech

Date 7-Jun-2005 7:46:28
Topic: hardware OS4

Amigaworld is pleased to announce that the 20 Answers to the 20 Questions as asked by our members are now available to Read...

(Warning Not for the faint hearted)

Before answering these questions I think it is worth having a quick resume about how we all arrived at this point.

At the WoA show in Kensington, London in July 1999 Jim Collas announced a wonderful revival for the Amiga in which existing platform supporters, such as us, were meant to become very closely involved. Less than a month later he was sacked, and by the following New Year the Amiga IP had once again changed hands. In the summer of 2000 Bill & Fleecy with still some vestige of their original venture capital left, were focussing on their DE vision. That left the existing dealers such as us with no 'real' Amiga product to sell in the foreseeable future, and therefore the need to explore other, non-Amiga, avenues.

The following September Fleecy visited me and asked if we would consider project managing and funding the development/manufacture of a new PPC-based Amiga. Amiga Inc themselves were to develop - or fund the development of - a port of Amiga OS 3.9 to run on this new platform. This really was not our type of business, but as nobody else was prepared to do anything I (probably foolishly in retrospect) took up the challenge in order to prevent the Amiga as we know it from fizzling out. We spent money with Escena to produce an A1200/PPC hybrid but that in the end proved technically too complex for Escena to implement. We subsequently came to a licencing arrangement with MAI logic to use a board design that they had commissioned as an Articia development system as the basis of the new AmigaOne platform. We hold all the schematics and build files and (obviously) the licence to continue to build existing A1 products using the board manufacturer of our choice.

Amiga Inc ran out of money and so couldn't fund OS4. Ben, Fleecy and I brokered a deal whereby Hyperion ported OS4 at no charge to Amiga Inc and, in return, Hyperion would keep the subsequent sales revenues for OS4 on the AmigaOne platform. In the end this turned out to be a much, much bigger task than Hyperion had reckoned on, and several times the project came very close to folding. We had to step in on more than one occasion to keep it afloat. Please make no mistake, without Eyetech putting its money on the line there would not just have been no AmigaOne, there would have been no OS4 either.

The fact that new hardware was delivered, together with a functional version of OS4 is against all odds. And the fact that Hyperion and we ever decided to make it happen defies all commercial logic. What has been delivered is not perfect, but is absolutely remarkable given the pitifully small potential market to support the product. This is a product by enthusiasts for enthusiasts, not some mass volume high street product. It was conceived for delivery in the forgiving optimism of the Amiga community that was the defacto mood around the new millennium, and before the blue/red troll wars poisoned all genuine initiatives on both sides.

The bottom line is that we got very low volume, new (and therefore defacto not mass tested) PPC hardware into peoples hands when nobody else would do anything. We did that on the basis that we would keep the costs as low as possible for those early adopters who were prepared to share some of the risk. The alternative would have been to price the boards to cover that risk (in consumer terms) making the boards at least three times as expensive to end users. (And prices must be based on manufacturing costs for these small volumes, and not the sales prices of bare, mass-produced PC boards). More realistically this would almost certainly have represented a level of risk too far, with the result that there would have been no AmigaOnes and no OS4. After all anyone could have bought essentially the same product (without UBoot or OS4, but with full support) direct from from MAI Logic for $3900.

In fact as it stands today it would have been far cheaper for us to have given all current board owners $500 each not to buy a board and walked away from the whole Amiga scene in early 2001. We didn't - we stuck with it. In this context you can understand it is hard to feel anything but frustration when the forums are full of armchair lawyers, designers, hardware experts and business analysts who all claim to be able to do better but seem curiously reluctant to take the same risks, exposure and initiative that we have.

So in the light of this I have attempted, as always, to answer the questions as honestly as I can as of the time of writing. Also as always, things may arise in the future which are not known now, just as we now have more knowledge now than we did 2 or 3 years ago. Please note however that I am not interested in playing retrospective word games with professional point scorers and will limit my responses accordingly.

Alan Redhouse, Eyetech

1: Paulsamiga What is the current situation regarding the A1-XE & SE fixes and warranty?

There are no 'officially sanctioned' XE UDMA repairs. There is no layout issue with the motherboard as far as the IDE stuff is concerned. IDE UDMA works fine unless the ethernet driver is started. This is either a driver or (more likely IMO) a VIA initialisation issue. All the 'fix' does is to use a hardware trick to give the VIA higher bus priority which, by chance, was found to stop it putting out illegal data on the PCI bus (causing the DMA to hang) when the ethernet is in operation. It may yet turn out to have side effects and is NOT a solution recommended by us.

The XE usb is missing 15k pull down resistors on the data and clock lines due to a misinterpretation of the VIA documents by the board designer. However it works fine unless you are continuously plugging and unplugging usb devices. If you use a ~3 minihub (or a bay mounted cardreader etc) for those devices you wish to hotswap then that fixes the problem and is cheaper than any other solution, including postage.
Warranty on all products shipped by us is 12 months in the end-user's hands or 15 months from us shipping to the dealer, whichever is the shorter. This excludes damage caused by any kind of fiddling about by the end user (eg overclocking or cpu voltage experiments) and all forms of consequential loss.
We offered generous trade-in terms on the SE boards up to 12 months from purchase, as we had a commercial outlet for the traded-in boards at that time. That opportunity is now long passed, and any purchasers who did not take up this offer will have to live with their (non) decision I'm afraid.
There are no known additional USB faults on the SE boards (over that of the XE boards) and as these have been obsolete since the XE's came out we have no boards, expertise (or budget) to look into this further

2: MetalJoe: There are some concerns from a few people in the community about the chances for new companies wishing to licence hardware for AmigaOS 4. Amiga Inc have stated that any such licence approvals will be made in consultation with their partners (i.e. yourself and Hyperion), so as not to interfere with their business plans. Can you assure people that Eyetech will not hold a monopoly and will welcome other hardware solutions?

It is such a tiny market and the costs of entry are so high that no commercial concern in its right mind would get involved. Without a 'monopoly' this tiny market would be even more fragmented, making for even smaller production volumes and much higher prices.

Part of the deal that Hyperion and we struck with (the Bill and Fleecy) Amiga Inc was that there would be exclusivity on the use of the AmigaOne name for us, and of the Amiga OS4 brand for Hyperion's OS development. This was in order to protect our respective large investments in the A1/OS4 project from sudden changes of mind by Amiga Inc. In particular, as Amiga Inc were desparately short of cash at that time, both Ben and I were concerned that financial pressures may force Amiga Inc to unilaterally decide, for example, to allow MorphOS to be rebranded as OS4 even though much earlier negotiations between Amiga Inc and MorphOS had apparently irretrievably broken down. These safeguards were therefore embedded in our respective agreements, as is normal, sensible business practice.

This exclusivity is in itself no big deal. Competition only has any significant effect on prices when the market is large and unrestricted and volumes reaches mass-production (500,000+ per year) proportions. Selling at a loss to try to gain market share in a tiny, finite market is obviously unsustainable for any company that tries it (there have been examples) and is not actually in the long term interests of end users either.

3: Jahc: What details can you give us on upcoming CPU upgrade modules? Speed, price, estimated date of availability, etc..

These are being developed by third parties and are dependant largely on the price/volume of cpu's and MegArray parts. The general feeling is that the cpu prices on offer are too high to allow the developers to sell the minimum order quantities of cpu's, largely because of the current demand being generated by the Mac Mini. We expect the prices of low power consumption G4 cpus to fall later this year which will hopefully make this a viable option for those third parties.

4: Toaks: we need more developers , why not consider a renting service for AmigaOne's to potential developers?

That is something that would have to be done locally (by dealers or enterprising individuals - perhaps yourself?) to fall within specific countries credit regulations, and also to stand a reasonable chance of actually receiving monthly payments and the return of the boards at the end of the rental period.

5: Hondo_DK: Has something been planned for the release of OS4?, special cabinets, marketing, new boards, etc??

No, this would be down to individual dealers.

6: Chunder: Are the previously planned versions of the AmigaOne (e.g. A1-I, A1-XC, etc.) still going to happen? Have the specifications changed; have the boards been prototyped fully yet? Is there a scheduled production run yet (not necessarily the date, just a

No new board designs will be made (by us at any rate) specifically for the 'Amiga Enthusiast' market. It just simply is not viable given the tiny potential sales.

Both the A1-I and A1-XC have been designed and the A1-I has been prototyped. The final specification for both boards (and other designs/variations) will inevitably be modified before they go into production, if and when this happens. Boards will only go into production when we have volume orders for them from industry.

7: RWO: If/When the AmigaOne XC become a reality will there be a trade-in/exchange for SE/XE motherboards at a lower price (with/without cpu module) ?

No, not from us although individual dealers may devise such schemes. It would not be cost effective to produce/sell incomplete boards or re-test traded in boards or modules.

8: Swoop: Is there a PPC set top box planned based on AmigaOS4 ?

Not by us

9: Gnarly: What (if anything) are you doing about the problems running Linux to its full potential on the AmigaOne boards?

Nothing - that is not a general purpose market that we are addressing. Others can address it if they wish using A1 hardware, but it is difficult to see how a PPC-based general purpose computer can be cost effective against a mass produced and better supported x86 based product. For the 'embedded' (ie limited-range functionality) applications we will use the most cost effective software/firmware solutions for the job in hand (which obviously takes development status and licence fees as well as OS characteristics into account).

10: MetalJoe: What are your plans for the server market? Will you be assisting with LinuxPPC (or even BSD) support for the AmigaOnes?

We have no plans to address this market yet (see linux comments above) and therefore no plans to devote resources to it.

11: Eric_S: If a good business opportunity regarding (selling) non Mai hardware presented itself, would you act on it? Or are you tied in (directly or indirectly) your current business dealing with Mai in such a way that you can only deal/sell their hardware?

Any significant business opportunities for which we have a good prima facie chance of success (ie making an adequate financial return) will be evaluated (as always). The current 'Amiga Enthusiast' ppc board market is not such an opportunity in itself, either with the MAI or alternative northbridge components. However if you have a fully costed, realistic alternative business proposal to put to us then please do so.

BTW MAI do not make hardware (or chips for that matter) - they are a fabless chip design and marketing company.

12: Wegster: RAM seems to be causing issues for many users, going back to both the SE and XE boards, in some cases, RAM purchased from Eyetech even being incompatible. While it may be unreasonable to expect an exchange for older purchases, it remains a problem with the uA1-Cs with their 256MB of RAM and single socket limitation, as many users want to run at least 512MB of RAM to dual boot AOS and Linux. Are there plans to either offer 512MB as a standard configuration so users don't 'throw out' the 256MB they are currently forced to purchase with the uA1-C, or any plans to produce compatible 'guaranteed' RAM at a more reasonable cost?

The only instances that I am aware of where RAM from us was incompatible with the XE/SE boards is in the handful of cases where we ordered Kingston RAM with Infineon chips and were shipped DIMMs with Toshiba chips. A few got sent out before we realised - we contacted those affected and asked for them to be returned at our expense to be replaced by the correct ones. Most did, a few didn't so there may still be the odd incompatible stick out there.

For the A1 we specified that the boards were to be tested with compatible RAM before shipping to us. We specified 256MB because 512MB would have pushed the price up quite a bit and was on a long leadtime (so there would have been no A1's for Christmas).

We will look at the cost and availability of 512MB - and its effect on the end user pricing - for subsequent production runs - but no promises. Whatever the outcome all boards in a manufacturing run will have the same type/size of SODIMM.

13: Wegster: Alan, you've been fairly quiet in the community lately for some time now, while many try to ascertain the state of their warrantees for fixes of their XEs, as well as owners of the older SEs. Some feel particularly betrayed as XEs were marketed as 'consumer grade,' and the lack of public attention to this has left many users cold. Does Eyetech have any intention of honouring their warrantees, and/or provide a solution for SE owners of any kind? Can you clarify this situation for once and for all?

All these points have been dealt with elsewhere in these 20 questions

14: Argo: There have been discussions on various websites about users rather bad experiences with current dealers in regards to boards in stock, shipping, and service. Even Mr. Hare mentioned difficulty in purchasing an AmigaOne. What is Eyetech doing or planning to do to improve dealer issues?

The dealers are doing their best in the face of the tiny volumes and small overall returns they can get from the 'Amiga Enthusiast' market. Many of them are keeping going because of their love of the platform rather than for any business rationale. All have other revenue streams which dwarf their returns from the Amiga market (or they have day jobs as well) - they must have in order to eat!

Eventually dealers will polarise themselves into those addressing industrial markets and those serving the residual 'Amiga Enthusiast' market

Due to bad experiences with shipping boards to some dealers on credit terms last year we now do not send out any boards without payment clearance before shipping. In every case I have seen (which is not many) where a customer reports that a dealer has told them that they are waiting for us to ship boards, it is because we are waiting for that dealer to pay us.

On the specific issue of Amiga Inc - they asked us to save two boards for a specific dealer to build up into systems for them. We did, but the dealer never sent us the money for the boards, so we never sent the boards to him. I do not know, or wish to know, the particular arrangements that Amiga Inc entered into with the dealer concerned, whether he managed to buy boards from another dealer or even if Amiga Inc bought their systems elsewhere.

15: Zorro: The GX cpu that Eyetech fitted on almost all the A1 are causing some random issues to the users and, mostly important, to Hyperion and other developers (Ibrowse). If this will take to a hardware fault, do you plan to replace/fix those cpu modules? (this is an end-user board)

These issues are I believe down to software/firmware not being set up correctly to take account of the different cache sizes between the Fx and Gx cpus. In the cases brought to our attention it has been resolved by a UBoot update.

16: RedMelons: Up until Summer 2003, Total Amiga magazine contained the always informative 'Alan Redhouse Column', and full page advertisements for the AmigaOne. Do you intend to re-commence advertising/publicity for the AmigaOne, and hopefully also your column in Total Amiga?

No, for two reasons. Firstly our original support (adverts, my column, our promotion of individual copies and subscriptions to our own customer base) was to help get Total Amiga off the ground to the point that the subscription levels made it a more-or-less a financially viable entity. I believe that this has been achieved.

Secondly the 'Amiga Enthusiast' market does not generate sufficient profit for us to be able to indulge ourselves (in reality myself - all our former 'Amiga' staff and most of me are off doing proper revenue-earning things unconnected with the Amiga Enthusiast market) in non-essential time consuming activities. Even these 20 answers are being typed on my laptop on holiday!

In reality - because I really like the Amiga platform - I personally spend far more time on 'Amiga Enthusiast' activities than can possibly be justified from a business point of view. But we all have to make a living by doing other things (and this includes the dealers) and fit in Amiga stuff when we can.

17: Ktadd: If a large China, or other large, deal doesn't come through, is the current demand for Amiga One boards enough to support continued manufacturing and investment?

No - there never was (or will be) enough demand alone from the 'Amiga Enthusiast' market to support manufacturing and investment, either in the past or in the future. The availability of updated A1 products for the 'Amiga Enthusiast' are entirely determined by our success (or otherwise) in promoting A1/OS4 based solutions into external commercial markets. That is why we have been spending our time working hard for success in these markets, rather than with the day to day goings on in the 'Amiga Enthusiast' market as typified by the AW membership. I cannot overstress the point that it is only success in these commercial markets that will bring more advanced, lower cost A1/OS4 type products to the Amiga Enthusiast market - and not vice versa.

I have to say that the negative comments about the boards (and Eyetech) posted on AW and elsewhere do not help instil confidence in potential commercial purchasers, even though those comments do not directly relate to the specifications required by those potential customers. In other words the more vociferous the criticism the less likely you are to see new products.

18: Dauber: I have the microA1-C, which is said to be able to handle up to 2 gigabytes of RAM. How is that possible with only one SODIMM slot and with no SODIMMs bigger than 512 megs available?

Clearly the board can support SODIMM sizes up to 2GB if they are/become available. The single SODIMM slot was not a secret suddenly sneaked in to the specification after you bought your board!

19: Billt: How does one apply to become an official and/or approved rework facility for AmigaOne motherboard modifications?

There is no officially approved rework for the AmigaOne - see above.

For people with a provable reputation that they know what they are doing, and who are prepared to accept all the consequences of screwing it up then we can release the USB/UDMA 'fix' information on receipt of a signed NDA/disclaimer.

20: Mikey_C: Where do you see the Amiga platform in the short to medium term and do you hope Eyetech will still be involved?

Into industries/applications where the OS itself is not important, but where there is a major drop in cost of ownership by employing ppc and/or OS4 technology, however invisible to the end user.

We will continue to support the Amiga Enthusiast community provided it continues to be fun and, overall, pays its direct costs. I'm afraid I don't do things that aren't fun any more, other than for relatively short periods of time - life's just too short!

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