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New CPU Accelerator options for 68K Macs?

Frobozz

Active member
I have been upgrading a couple of old Amigas with accelerators. You can get new 68030s boards running at 45/50Mhz (there are actually TWO different providers I'm aware of) with gobs of memory, options for drop in and card slots, etc. You can also get a FPGA based "68080" drop in replacement CPU (I don't have one of these). 

On the mac side... Novy Quik30s and Total Systems Geminis appear to be unobtanium. Options for accelerating compact 68K macs are few are far between. 

Imagine, for a moment, a drop-in CPU replacement for your 68K mac that brings it to 500-800Mhz, AND adds 128MB of RAM. Without, hopefully, a case mod. Compatible with legacy 68K software. Running 6.0.8 (and newer if you insist). $500-ish. 

Would that be interesting? To be clear: it doesn't exist, and I'm not the one to pull it off. BUT... Could it be done? 

Ingredients:

  • Vampire 68080 CPU from Apollo team. I don't have direct contact with them, but scan of forum there makes me think they'd need at least $200-300 per unit (not to consumers, to the company/person making the adapters). The full systems (which have video, etc. are 300 - 450 EUR it looks like). https://wiki.apollo-accelerators.com/doku.php/apollo_core:start
  • Engineer(s) to make the circuitry required between the vampire CPU and the mac 68000 socket. Would buy vampire units and resell with the hardware circuitry. 
  • Engineer(s) to write firmware
  • Engineer(s) to write drivers for system 6 and 7 (and 8 and 9 if that floats your boat)? Not sure about this part. Maybe connectix virtual (for memory) and the Gemini (?) control panel (for accelerator recognition) are enough? Like I said, I'm not qualified to help in any way. ;)



I just looked now, and they have a little thing on the order page that says 5655 Vampires have been sold so far. If the Amiga community can produce those numbers, would the Mac 68K community produce more? Maybe less? Amiga is kind of a special community, because of the whole demise-of-commodore thing. But I would guess there are a lot more 68K macs in circulation nevertheless. 

So... two questions:

1) What's the level of interest in something like this? Would you plunk down $500 for an accelerator/RAM upgrade? 

2) any chance one of our gods wants to take a look? Maybe somebody who has made a disk emulator or a scuzzy SD adapter or SCSI-ethernet adapter? 

Any finally, I want to ask: please don't bombard them with posts or email asking for "mac versions". They have been working on this for years, and years, and they are a small team focused on Amiga products. I believe they are open to supporting a business that was capable and serious about it; I am confident they don't want to hear from a bunch of people like me (consumers) about how great it would be to have a mac or Atari ST version. 

err, one other thought: I bought a 68030 accelerator/RAM/CF card adapter ("68030TK") for one of my Amigas, and something like that is another option. That particular project is completely open source as I understand it. Obviously still needs the firmware/etc work to happen. But cheaper, if less dramatic. 

 

Byrd

Well-known member
Hi Frobozz,

there is a great interest and it's being done, thanks to people reverse engineering Mac-specific accelerators - see threads on here by @Bolle and (potentially?) @maceffects.  I agree with you that the future Mac accelerator path is clearly FPGA, the end user investment seems to be $500+ (noting Amiga) but it would depend on market need noting such accelerators would need hundreds if not thousands of hours to engineer and I'm not sure if there would be enough demand to justify this.  There is also feature creep, adding too many features to a device and making costs climb exponentially - on the forum here previously some engineers have started out, people have requested too many features and they've tried to add too much, cue crickets never to be heard of again  :)

I'm not sure if our 68K/PPC world is big enough nor in need of a fast core 68K equivalent when software support is lacking.  With an Amiga accelerator there are some usable browsers, recent OS updates and you can almost use it as a daily driver if you are keen.  With vintage Macs, faster Macs are available dirt cheap that people could go grab instead (eg. go get a $100 PPC or G3 if you want, unlike Amiga users which have paid thousands for this very pleasure).  In another Amiga vs. us comparison, we have more choice of hardware and in turn more proprietary components making it harder to choose what an accelerator would be best in, reducing the interest when all Amiga has is a handful of models well suited to specific upgrades.

I'd say if FPGA was looked into, it would be a basic device without many bells and whilstles to keep costs down.  For example, a lesser FPGA with '040 speed for a compact Mac would be more than enough and great fun but there would be no benefit beyond this.

JB

 
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aeberbach

Well-known member
Personally I would not be interested though clearly many are. There’s a point at which the thing you have ceases to be a Mac or an Amiga and is just a FPGA or ARM in a retro case, and at that point I think a software emulator is more desirable. Also I’d hate to see the bitter divisions and FUD around the uncertain origins of Vampire and its stewardship come to 68k Macs.

 

maceffects

Well-known member
@Frobozz Would I buy one for $500, yes!  Do I have the skills needed to do much beyond basic PCB reverse engineering and assembly, no.  Would I be willing to do a Kickstarter in partnership with someone, yes.  My site gets 1000-3000 unique views per month.  Not tons of orders at all, but unlike the Amiga community there aren't many places making custom parts for old machines.   As @Byrd metnioned a lesser version for the Mac would probably get tons of interest.  I'm happy to help such a venture in any way that I can, but I am not an engineer. 

 

Unknown_K

Well-known member
The Amiga 1200, 2000, 3000, 4000 etc have special slots for CPU accelerators making them easier to produce. Amiga diehards will spend some cash on CPU upgrades but mac diehards just upgrade machines since the platform isn't dead.

If you want a faster 68k Mac you can just use a PPC mac. If you want a faster PPC mac you buy an Intel one.

The people who would spend $500 for a buggy super 68k Mac CPU upgrade are too few to make it worth the effort, especially considering it would have to be engineered to each type of machine.

I could see a Nubus to SATA card you can just stick an old laptop HD into or cheap SCSI to ethernet being useful.

Down the road there might even be a market for new motherboards for systems like the SE/30 and 840av.

 

techknight

Well-known member
Down the road there might even be a market for new motherboards for systems like the SE/30 and 840av.


I think we may already be down that road, So many SE/30s have been lost to battery explosions or other craziness.

I feel as each day passes, the chances of finding an intact machine in the wild that this hasnt happened to are slowly dwindling.  It really is russian roulette when you find em. Any early mac for that matter. 

 
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Crutch

Well-known member
Agreed, @techknight.

I think OP’s idea is cool.  Bolle’s work replicating vintage accelerators is awesome.  A brand new accelerator using a modern chip would also be awesome.  If it’s running in a vintage Mac case using all the rest of the vintage infrastructure in there, it’s not different than any other accelerator — there’s some Ship of Theseus stuff going on there, but my view basically is if you are still running a legacy motherboard — even accelerated and with an accelerated bus and RAM on the accelerator — you are still running a vintage Mac, so I don’t really agree with @Unknown_K (is my 128k with a Gemini board no longer a vintage Mac)? Making one that really flies to a ridiculous extent using modern tech would be fun.

To keep things simple I would probably make these for original 68k Macs only (128k/512k/Plus/SE) following Novy, Gemini and others who made snap-on 68000 accelerator boards using Killy clips.  (Fabricating a batch of Killy clips as part of the project would also be terrific ... if not we can do some soldering of course.)

That said I have no idea how big the market would be for such a thing.  @maceffects is probably best qualified to estimate market size for premium-priced add-ons to vintage Macs.

 
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techknight

Well-known member
Personally im down for an accelerator on machines that never originally had them, Such as the Macintosh Portable, but the speeds and power consumption would have to be within reason. and $500 (to me) is way out of the budget. 

But id rather try to use original parts such as an original 68030 CPU or something. FPGAs are cool and are more readily available though. so I tend to be on the fence with that. 

 
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Unknown_K

Well-known member
Agreed, @techknight.

I think OP’s idea is cool.  Bolle’s work replicating vintage accelerators is awesome.  A brand new accelerator using a modern chip would also be awesome.  If it’s running in a vintage Mac case using all the rest of the vintage infrastructure in there, it’s not different than any other accelerator — there’s some Ship of Theseus stuff going on there, but my view basically is if you are still running a legacy motherboard — even accelerated and with an accelerated bus and RAM on the accelerator — you are still running a vintage Mac, so I don’t really agree with @Unknown_K (is my 128k with a Gemini board no longer a vintage Mac)? Making one that really flies to a ridiculous extent using modern tech would be fun.

To keep things simple I would probably make these for original 68k Macs only (128k/512k/Plus/SE) following Novy, Gemini and others who made snap-on 68000 accelerator boards using Killy clips.  (Fabricating a batch of Killy clips as part of the project would also be terrific ... if not we can do some soldering of course.)

That said I have no idea how big the market would be for such a thing.  @maceffects is probably best qualified to estimate market size for premium-priced add-ons to vintage Macs.
I don't have any issues with an 030 board on a 128K mac, nor a reproduction of that board. My issue is with FPGA based accelerators that would probably be buggy and expensive to make (Amiga angle).

Heck I have Daystar 040's and PPC for a number of my machines.

I think quite a few people would love to see accelerators designed and made for quite a few machines but the problem is few would buy them because of cost.

 

maceffects

Well-known member
@Unknown_K Seems like you have had bad experiences with FPGA.  When properly implemented they can be better than earlier ASICs.  That said, you are right about price.  Due to limited quantities and often paired SoCs, the cost can be very high.  Though with a larger market like the Apple II, things become quite affordable.  Tons of cards with FPGA devices on the market and very reasonable prices.  A Mac accelorator would prove to be a costly endevear.

Which brings me back @Crutch's question.  Here is my personal mental break down of value:

Accelerator at $150 - 250 units

Accelerator at $250 - 100 units

Accelerator at $350 - 50 units

Accelerator at $500 - 30 units

This, of course, assumes that these will be sold over a period, not all at once.  Moreover, it only assumes a standard accelerator.  Additional features may increase price or quantity.

 

joshc

Well-known member
Imagine, for a moment, a drop-in CPU replacement for your 68K mac that brings it to 500-800Mhz, AND adds 128MB of RAM. Without, hopefully, a case mod. Compatible with legacy 68K software. Running 6.0.8 (and newer if you insist). $500-ish. 
There are a number of reasons these sorts of features (fast CPUs, lots of RAM) are not that desirable on a 68k Mac. You can run 68k software on PPC Macs, usually without a hitch, and if you have a PPC Mac, it will be more than fast enough for that software, and it will have enough RAM already. Also, Apple made enough 68k-based models that there are enough to choose from if you want a well equipped system, for example an SE/30, a later II series or a Quadra.

As mentioned, a couple of people have cloned either Daystar or DiiMO accelerators. For me, that is enough really, and those are proven designs which once cloned should be just as reliable as the originals. So what I am personally more interested in is seeing more of those available, ideally in the $200-300 range, and of course cheaper if possible.

What's the level of interest in something like this? Would you plunk down $500 for an accelerator/RAM upgrade? 
Nope. At this point, I would put that kind of money towards a machine I don't have in my collection, or further existing upgrades (RAM,SCSI2SD,PDS/Nubus cards) for a Mac I already have.

If you want a faster 68k Mac you can just use a PPC mac. If you want a faster PPC mac you buy an Intel one.
For me this pretty much hits the nail on the head, and explains a lot of why the Apple vintage market is different to the Amiga one.

There are just so many options already if you want a fast Mac to run 68k software on, be it a 68k machine or a PPC one, or heck even an Intel one using Basilisk/Sheepshaver emulation (definitely not my first choice but depending on what you are doing that can work adequately).

 

 

Byrd

Well-known member
There is also the timing of release - a certain pandemic won't push too many people to fork out $500 for a feature packed Mac accelerator, and FPGAs are getting cheaper all the time - there might be a better market in a year or two.

I'm developing big love for Amiga of late, having finally gotten my A1200 running with a functional Workbench CF install and all the games, demos I would ever need.  I find little parallel between a Mac of the era and Amiga (even though the 68K unpinned both), it really was a brilliant computer, ahead of its time but given bad management and foresight.  If I could afford (and the AUD was better) I would seriously consider said "$500 accelerator" (Vampire A1200); I wouldn't need anything else nor need to own any more Amigas.  Yet I still have the compelling need for dozens of vintage Macs because they look different and do different tasks - I've Macs set up for audio, gaming, DTP - maybe the variety is what attracts me most.

 

Unknown_K

Well-known member
I got lucky and started getting into Amiga just at the point people were ditching their setups for PCs or Macs. They are interesting machines and fairly upgradable by design but only to a point. If you just want to game a 68030/50 Blizzard IV in an A1200 is about all you need. Unlike Apple Amiga died so some diehards spent a mint on 040/060 PPC upgrades to keep it going. The machines were ahead of their time for a few years but the designs that tied it to NTSC video spec in the chipset also limited the hell out of it down the road.

Time marches on and the machines and upgrades I got for lunch money in the past are now pretty expensive and hard to find. I would have loved a socketed  030/50 for a SE/30 to mess around with but the prices they go for now are just too expensive considering the library of machines I have that can also run the same software.

 

Kai Robinson

Well-known member
To be honest i looked into this. TBH, i'd start maybe trying to adapt the Terriblefire accelerators - cheap, use Xilinx CPLD's that are 5v tolerant for I/O. I know Stephen Leary has nuked his whole github, but has given his explicit permission to anyone wanting to use his work as a springboard. 

https://github.com/FreyaAmiga/tf520

That would be a good starting point. These were designed for use with Atari ST's (the Jackintosh) and the original Amiga 500, so would be ideal to adapt to the original 68000 based macs. All the components will be less than $100.

 

 

Frobozz

Active member
There are a number of reasons these sorts of features (fast CPUs, lots of RAM) are not that desirable on a 68k Mac. You can run 68k software on PPC Macs, usually without a hitch, and if you have a PPC Mac, it will be more than fast enough for that software, and it will have enough RAM already. Also, Apple made enough 68k-based models that there are enough to choose from if you want a well equipped system, for example an SE/30, a later II series or a Quadra.


I don't see a lot of options for compact macs, especially outside of the SE-SE/30. I've always liked the compact Macs, and system 6, more than any other pre-OS X mac system. I love my Mac Pluses (when they are working), but I got a little spoiled by some custom builds of MiniVmac that start out at 8x speed (and 1280x800/etc). I run out of memory on the 4MB plus pretty easily, and would definitely appreciate a little snappier UI and faster builds from the compiler. 

I agree with your general point, and the point several people made about the non-death of Apple and the resulting unbroken string of gradual upgrades taking away a lot of impetus for CPU upgrades. On a general level. But on the specific level of the compact Macs (or even LCI/LCII/III maybe?), more speed would be really welcome. 

I feel like the 50MHz in-socket 68030TK I put in my Amiga 2000 made it a lot more fun. I'd be perfectly happy with something like that (I think the TerribleFire upgrades are very similar projects to the 68030TK project and would also be a solid model to shoot for). 

In any case, I'm glad to hear folks are thinking on similar lines already. There is so much cool engineering going on for these old computers! 

 

rplacd

Well-known member
I'd be interested in financially supporting a project but not because I intend to ever use one – I just think that the community would gain a lot from learning how to design and assemble an accelerator. Hell, if said person creates really good work logs, I'd love to learn something from the process as well, as someone who wants to learn a thing or two about digital design.

 
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johnklos

Well-known member
Not sure how many people have Macs with socketed m68000, but there's this:

https://github.com/captain-amygdala/pistorm

Since it can run on a pure m68000 machine, it should be easily adaptable to use in a Mac.

I'm sure it's just a matter of time before it, or projects like it, are extended to 32 bit CPUs for m68020 / m68030 / m68040 sockets.

 

Frobozz

Active member
I'm not entirely sure, but I *think* that's basically an entire Amiga on a Raspberry PI. It has an image of the OS and it's also generating its own video. This is the first I've heard about it, so I could easily be wrong though. 

I'm not saying I would say no to a similar mac project, if it fit into one of my compacts, but I don't think that's a simple 68000 replacement. 

 
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