Commodore The Inside Story - Two Books in One

This book is the result of many chance encounters all rolled into one. I think it is safe to say it wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the ongoing Amiga show scene. Funding of the book wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for crowdfunding. And yes, my name is listed along with many other backers. Printing of the book wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for a certain active Amiga dealer. Needless to say, it was a long journey for this book so I was eager to find out if it was worth the wait.

The book is split into two parts. This was a bit of a surprise for me because I was expecting a book full of insider stories from David Pleasance alone. The dual personality turned out to be a blessing because, as I found out, David was really just a sales guy when you get right down to it. So he flushed out the book with a series of guest writers who handled the more technical insider information. The end result is a much more balanced work.

The first part is David Pleasance's stories of his time at Commodore. David's stories are simply amazing. I expect this is what happens when big money is flying around in a business that was still finding its place in the world. Through it all, David managed to keep his integrity in tact which is more than we can say for many of the other characters at Commodore.

The second part of the book is a series of articles by Commodore insiders. I especially enjoyed the stories from RJ Mical, Dave Haynie, Gail Wellington and Beth Richard. There is some really fascinating things that went on inside Commodore and it was nice to have several perspectives to pull from.

My only real criticism would be the out of place piece by Stephen Jones. It just doesn't seem to belong in a book about insiders at Commodore and reads more like an advertisement. My other criticism is that there are not enough insider stories! Let's hope he adds a few more in a second edition some day soon.

The AmigaOne X1000 Experience

I received my AmigaOne X1000 system on Tuesday, September 20 after it had been held captive by Canadian customs for an extra day or so. It has been a long journey since I first got wind of this “most ambitious project” years earlier. Thanks to a bunch of lawyers, the model name on the case reads “AmigaOne” but at its heart beats the original Amiga operating system (AmigaOS) which has evolved significantly since its debut in 1985.

Now let’s get this brand new Amiga computer assembled.

The X1000 is based on Fractal Design’s Define R3 case with a couple of cosmetic changes described below.


The front panel has been etched with a nice boing ball pattern. There is also a raised case sticker on the bottom. The less obvious change is the blue LED has been exchanged for a red one to nicely match the red motherboard.

On the top of the case there is easy access to a couple of USB ports and an eSATA port.


The front panel opens to reveal the drive bay covers and space for two 5 1/4” drives. There is also a tiny reset button on the right side about half way down.


First to go in is the power supply. A high quality 600 W or higher power supply is currently recommended so I went for the minimum. The graphics card states it needs at least a 400 W power supply alone.


I installed the SATA DVD drive next which is a simple Samsung OEM drive I’ve used successfully with my other AmigaOS systems including the Sam440ep-flex and Sam460ex.


The SATA hard drives were next. I decided on a couple of 500 GB Seagate drives and installed them into the upper drive bays initially. Notice all the room for plenty more drives and there is a fan on the right hand side which keeps things cool. An extra fan can be installed if you have more drives. Later on I decided to move the drives to the bottom of the case which is no problem with those white tabbed brackets.


Next up was the motherboard itself which is what all this fuss is about. Apologies for the poor camera work but I’m no photographer.

Note that all work was done on a properly grounded antistatic mat which has that funny blue colour to it. I have a wrist strap which plugs into the mat as well.


This unique board was commissioned by A-EON Technology CVBA which is a company created for this purpose. It is hoped A-EON will continue to create many more AmigaOne products in the future. Nemo is the code name for this board which was developed by Varisys Ltd.


AmigaKit is the sole distributer for the AmigaOne X1000 and has been providing boards to the beta testing team. They have been testing each and every board they ship.


Part of what makes this Amiga computer system special is the inclusion of Xena. Xena is an XMOS XS1-L2 chip directly on the motherboard. This chip is directly tied to the CPU, PLD and the Xorro slot which is pictured to the left below. The Xorro slot is physically a PCI Express x8 card edge connector but it is not compatible with PCI Express x8 cards. More details on Xena and Xorro are included with the technical reference manual which is not yet publicly available.


The next couple of pictures show the connectors on the back of the board. There are plenty of USB ports and a gigabit ethernet port along with some audio options.



On the bottom of the board is the obligatory signatures of the designers.


Here is a shot of the entire bottom of the board.


With two memory controllers two really is better than one with the X1000. Preliminary test results with dual DDR2 memory sticks are quite favourable. These memory controllers are not fussy either and do not require custom memory as did the older discontinued Eyetech AmigaOne and MicroA1 boards. The X1000 supports 1.8V DDR2-800, unbuffered, non-ECC, DIMMs. The maximum amount of memory supported by the hardware is 16 GB. AmigaOS itself currently has a limit of 2 GB.

The CPU is hiding under the heat sink and fan. It is the truly unique PA Semi PWRficient PA6T-1682M. This CPU has dual 1.8 GHz PowerPC cores with 2 MB L2 cache. It includes a double precision FPU and an AltiVec unit. With 24 SerDes channels this is truly an I/O powerhouse as well.


Two PCIe x16 slots support single or dual PCIe graphics cards. Three PCIe x1 slots are provided as well as two 32bit 33MHz PCI 5V slots for plenty of expansion options. Note one PCIe x1 slot is inline with the Xorro slot.


PATA and SATA connectors on the board are provided via the AMD SB600 south bridge.


The following picture is a bit fuzzy but what I’m trying to highlight is the rescue BIOS. Updating firmware is always dangerous so the designers have provided dual serial flash EEPROM chips. The rescue BIOS is always available in case something ever goes wrong during a firmware update.


A couple of serial ports are provided primarily for debugging purposes these days. I have connected serial port 0 to my Sam440ep-flex system to capture debug logs.


Audio fans have not been forgotten with a CD audio and SPDIF input on the board. I would also like to point out there are no less than two extra fan connectors on the board which is a nice bonus.


It is now time to get this board installed into its special case. Here it is installed with nothing connected yet.


Here it is after connecting up everything. I tossed in a Radeon 4650 1 GB graphics card which works nicely with AmigaOS.


Here is a shot of me installing AmigaOS for the first time via a CD ISO image.


No Amiga computer system would be complete without a proper keyboard and mouse to go with it. Besides the obvious raised sticker, the keyboard also features a Help key and boing ball command keys in their proper locations.


Documentation for this beast is coming along. Being a beta tester I have access to the preliminary documentation of course. Here is a shot of some of the information provided.


I now have my X1000 booting up into a bog standard AmigaOS 4.1 Update 3 configuration. The next step will be to load up the beta components as we work our way towards the final AmigaOS 4.2 release. It is quite snappy as you would expect but some drivers and features are not yet complete.

If you would like to see this system up and running in person I suggest you attend AmiWest 2011 in Sacramento, California from October 21 to 23. I will be there with my X1000 and you can try it out for yourself. In the mean time, keep checking Hyperion’s development blog where progress on AmigaOS 4.2 will be posted.

Disclaimer: All specifications and features are subject to change without notice. This is a beta board and things could still change.

Cat Herding Drivers

Cat herding (managing software developers & engineers) is difficult enough. It certainly doesn’t help that your cats... er... people become demotivated when offered things like large cash bonuses. Why on earth would a large bonus not motivate people?

This is what I wanted to learn more about and this is why I picked up Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink.

I discovered this book after attending a Calgary Agile Methods User Group seminar by Jonathan Rasmusson. His seminar was entitled The Surprising Science Behind Agile Leadership – Why We Do What We Do and you can find the slides at the link.

Plenty of scientific research has been done on what drives us to do what we do. The basic biological human drivers include hunger, thirst and sex. Responding to rewards and punishments in our environment is a second long understood drive we all have. The surprise comes from the third drive which some call “intrinsic motivation” which causes us to behave rather irrationally at times.

What can happen when the second drive is leveraged (a large cash bonus) and the third drive ignored (no autonomy) is that people can become severely demotivated. This intrinsic motivation is so strong that it can even give you more of what you don’t want: unethical behaviour, addictions and short-term thinking.

The third drive is not universally applicable which is likely why we don’t understand it as well as the other drives. You need a situation in which people are comfortable (paid enough) and use their brains a lot (knowledge worker). This pretty much describes life in many software development organizations although some will argue they are never paid “enough” of course. The point is that the intrinsic motivation dominates when the other needs are already satisfied. And yes, you want this intrinsic motivation to be satisfied.

Working crazy hours for nothing, coming up with fantastic solutions, higher quality, contagious enthusiasm, incredible dedication and smiles all around. This is what you get for free with satisfied intrinsic motivation. All the things the large cash bonus was hoping for.

Drive explores how to enable this elusive third drive and avoid the negative behaviours you get with disincentives. The trick is knowing when intrinsic motivation is the dominant factor in any situation. You don’t hope for intrinsic motivation to kick in at the local burger joint for example--wrong venue.

I found the book is very approachable so I refer anybody interested in this topic to give it a quick read and make up their own minds. It is rather short and includes some fluff at the end to pad it out. The one thing I really didn’t like about the book is the operating system analogy like Motivation 2.0 and how it needed an upgrade to Motivation 3.0. Being a software guy, the operating system analogy was annoying but tolerable.

REBOL Style Browser

Many events have now been implemented in the AmigaOS host kit for REBOL 3. Double clicking, keyboard events and mouse moves are some examples. These events make the GUI quite functional now.

Thanks to a patch from Richard Smolak (aka Cyphre), the REBOL 3 style browser now runs as well. The style browser is used to help test the REBOL GUI.



Text rendering is now functional from REBOL but not all the features are quite there yet. Richard Smolak (aka Cyphre) provided a much needed patch to enable the use FreeType instead of the proprietary Windows font system. Another big thanks goes out to Michael Trebilcock who provided me with the latest FreeType port.

Additional changes were needed because of the assumed wide character support and also some lingering little endian issues. There is also some work left to do to enable bold and italics. We still need to resolve the issue of font naming as well since default Windows fonts are not available on other platforms.

The following are the results of some of the tests:


Note in the test above there is still an issue with the calculation of line length when using FreeType fonts.