Flea86 Retro Gaming System Project

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Chip Hageman
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.-·^·-.
Valentin Angelovski wrote:

Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to release details of the micro at this stage (I signed an NDA in order to get them, which expires in feb. 2012). What i will say is that I am particularly proud of the 320x200 Mode 13h VGA and 80x25 color text mode video output assembler functions, and yes I am pushing the silicon to the limit.. ;-)

No problem.. Still, for a microcontroller this is impressive. MVGA is great and opens up quite a variety of games that this thing should be able to play.

Mode 13h is linearly mapped, I believe. Any support (or planned support) for doing banked or the various assorted bitplane EGA modes? Or without dedicated video support hardware, is it to difficult to sustain decent frame rates on anything over than 64k of screen data?

Valentin Angelovski wrote:

Final (boxed system) pricing is still being worked out, pending transfer of the custom case design to CAD, currently underway..

However, I do have pricing on assembled system boards, where the PCB design is done and I even have a small batch of six latest-rev. boards I could sell now.. For a small run of say fifty the board cost would be around USD$55-60 per assembled/tested board.

Keep us informed of the progress, I'll start scraping some funds together. :)

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Bill Loguidice
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I just sent you a private

I just sent you a private e-mail, Valentin. It's an important one, so I just want to make sure you keep an eye out for it.

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Valentin Angelovski
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PIC and price..
Chip Hageman wrote:

Are you using a PIC for this project? If so, you must be working that thing to death. :)

Also, what are your thought's on a price point? I'll need to start scraping my cash together.

Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to release details of the micro at this stage (I signed an NDA in order to get them, which expires in feb. 2012). What i will say is that I am particularly proud of the 320x200 Mode 13h VGA and 80x25 color text mode video output assembler functions, and yes I am pushing the silicon to the limit.. ;-)

Final (boxed system) pricing is still being worked out, pending transfer of the custom case design to CAD, currently underway..

However, I do have pricing on assembled system boards, where the PCB design is done and I even have a small batch of six latest-rev. boards I could sell now.. For a small run of say fifty the board cost would be around USD$55-60 per assembled/tested board.

From all my dealings with factories in china one thing is clear: Unit pricing looks amazing at runs of 1000 boards or greater, but then with the overall costs involved in that venture we ain't really talkin' hobbies anymore..

Cheers Valentin
Post edited 19/1/2011 Reason: Cleanup

Chip Hageman
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...
Valentin Angelovski wrote:

Given the limitations of the onboard hardware i.e. only one 8-bit microcontroller with no hardware assistance for the video (or anything else, for that matter!), several compromises had to be made.

Are you using a PIC for this project? If so, you must be working that thing to death. :)

Also, what are your thought's on a price point? I'll need to start scraping my cash together.

n/a
Valentin Angelovski
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Going 32-bits and Tandy DAC
Nathaniel Tolbert wrote:

Granted I don't have a lot of older software that I would be interested in running on that classic of a machine. But what would be interesting would be to see a similar design based off of a 32-bit processor that could match with emulation the capabilities of say a 386 or a 486, as a massive amount of my software is designed for this type of machine. I understand the level of difficulty inherent in that is considerable and having no engineering skills I cannot even begin to fathom the requirements, but I would love to have the ability to have say an emulated Sound Blaster pro or 16, with real Midi ports so as to allow for attachment of a true Roland Sound Canvas and an MT-32 so I could cover all of my bases on sound and music. Still, what you have designed is very cool, but I didn't see if you included the Tandy DAC for the audio. Very nice on the VGA too.

Agreed, even doing a 386-class machine with full SB Pro/Midi functionality would clearly be a massive undertaking (and I thought doing my project was challenging enough). There is no possibility for my design to be scaled to this dimension, unfortunately. To do something like what you're asking, one would best be starting off with an ARM9 (or cortex) variant with integrated video and build from there..

Regarding your comment around the Tandy DAC - that feature requires DMA, I believe - something that my machine doesn't have (not that the vast majority of software targeting the 8086/88 needs DMA..). Other reason for copying the 3-voice sound gen because it was compatible to the IBM-PCjr's sound circuit as well..

Cheers Valentin.

Valentin Angelovski
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Software Emulation
Chip Hageman wrote:

Interesting. As long as the emulation layer is running unhindered by background processes, you are basically getting the same effect. Also, it's probably easier to alter the emulation layer than to tweak an FPGA core anyway.

Given the limitations of the onboard hardware i.e. only one 8-bit microcontroller with no hardware assistance for the video (or anything else, for that matter!), several compromises had to be made. Most significant of these centered on the goal to meet the minimum requirements of an 8MHz 8088 w/chipset timing, resulting in a TV-style display (which I like, but the classic video look may not appeal to everyone).

Only my VGA 256-colour demo on Youtube illustrates the video output in it's current form, because all the earlier demos were made with more host cpu time heaped on the CRTC module and less on the Virtual CPU/chipset. While this results in a somewhat nicer display, the virtual 8088 slows to a crawl and chipset timing accuracy going from barely acceptable to almost totally useless..

Admittedly the timing problems/slowdowns were quite noticeable in those earlier demos (especially the CGA/Tandy demos), hence the need to strike the best possible balance in this case.

Cheers Valentin
PS: I could have added a second processor to help with the display generation, but of course that would drive up the total system cost - something that I really, really dislike! lol

Nathaniel Tolbert
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A very interesting idea

Granted I don't have a lot of older software that I would be interested in running on that classic of a machine. But what would be interesting would be to see a similar design based off of a 32-bit processor that could match with emulation the capabilities of say a 386 or a 486, as a massive amount of my software is designed for this type of machine. I understand the level of difficulty inherent in that is considerable and having no engineering skills I cannot even begin to fathom the requirements, but I would love to have the ability to have say an emulated Sound Blaster pro or 16, with real Midi ports so as to allow for attachment of a true Roland Sound Canvas and an MT-32 so I could cover all of my bases on sound and music. Still, what you have designed is very cool, but I didn't see if you included the Tandy DAC for the audio. Very nice on the VGA too.

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Chip Hageman
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"Valentin Angelovski"
"Valentin Angelovski" wrote:

exotic russian Mil-spec DOS ;-)

It was something new to play around with... :) However, I don't care for their useless renaming of the config and autoexec files.. Plays havoc with automated setup programs.

"Valentin Angelovski" wrote:

My approach with the Flea86 was different however - I used a near cycle-accurate software emulation method running on a tiny (but fast) 8-bit processor to achieve almost essentially the same task.

Interesting. As long as the emulation layer is running unhindered by background processes, you are basically getting the same effect. Also, it's probably easier to alter the emulation layer than to tweak an FPGA core anyway.

"Valentin Angelovski" wrote:

The initial plan is to build/sell a small run of completed systems (including the custom case) to test the water and gauge interest. I will put up a blog post in the coming days regarding further details, so please keep an eye out for it!

Will do. I'm definitely interested in one of these.

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Valentin Angelovski
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Having more options..
Rob Daviau wrote:

Thanks so much for your post, great project! Always great to have more options for retro gaming, your work is appreciated.

Hey Rob,

Thanks for your reply - your positive comments are very much appreciated as well!

Agreed, there can never be 'too many' options for us classic/retro gamers - bring it on! :-D

Cheers Valentin

Valentin Angelovski
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Re: hardware emulation
Chip Hageman wrote:

Excellent work Valentin!

I recently got done throwing together a 386/SX-16 with 4gig CF drive running PhysTechSoft PTS-DOS 2000.. Mainly, for playing some old DOS games on actual hardware. Of course, it gets cluttered fast when you want to have actual machines instead of emulation. However, hardware emulation, such as the MCC-216, are becoming better options for taking these games off of the computer and getting them into a living room environment.

Any ideas about bringing this to market after you complete it?

Hey Chip, Thanks for the reply and comments!

Your classic PC configuration sounds an awful lot like an identical CPU system box I have - only without the CF drive port and exotic russian Mil-spec DOS ;-)

Regarding the MCC-216 - hardware emulation is obviously one (admittedly very cool) way to solve the problems of sheer clutter, classic system breakdowns, replacement parts etc. My approach with the Flea86 was different however - I used a near cycle-accurate software emulation method running on a tiny (but fast) 8-bit processor to achieve almost essentially the same task.

The initial plan is to build/sell a small run of completed systems (including the custom case) to test the water and gauge interest. I will put up a blog post in the coming days regarding further details, so please keep an eye out for it!

Cheers Valentin

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