Should some old computer do all (same) as some new ?

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Petari
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Should some old computer do all (same) as some new ?

Post by Petari » Sat Aug 11, 2018 10:37 am

The full question would be: should some old, retro computer do same things, all (well, almost all) things as some modern one ?
I put this on because I see that many people just wants to access Internet, to use Pen drives, some new cards for PCs and like - all it with 1000x and more slower computer, with again, 1000x and more less memory ...

First thing to say is probably this: good computer is balanced computer. Where all components are with close speed, what means good cowork of components, and that none will be underused (considering speed). And Atari ST is indeed such. As most of what is designed by competent people.
If CPU is not enough fast to work with larger screen buffer, it can be slow with graphic intensive SW like games - Amstrad CPC is example for that. Of course, just little slow. But what about 16 million colors graphic on some ST ? It means 24 bits instead 4 bits (low res, 16 colors) for 1 pixel. So 6x more.
Nice, and 6x less speed - that can be good enough for Internet browser. Sure ... Ahh, not good - we need bigger resolution. OK, let's go 640x400 - what is 4x more px . So, 24x more mem. to process. Now, that's just too much, even for accelerated Atari at 40 MHz.

Pen drive usage: as I know existing solutions - Unicorn are slow. Do we really need Pen drive access, or some SD card access is OK - and prices of two are pretty much same. It is just some comfort factor, I think - Pen drive is easier for PC, but just little than SD cards.

I could give some other examples. But instead it: I have impression that most of people here is not aware about huge speed diff. between some new computer and oldies. I read in some posts how floppy is slow, how OS boots slowly, some graph. operations are slow. In most cases, it is just bad observation and not knowing how it really works, what all is involved. For instance, Win will boot slowly not right after install, but later, when lot of it is installed - and user needs to take care to not install everything offered, and even more - to check and uninstall things, because many will install without asking.
Some 4 core CPU at around 4 GHz is all in all about 10000x faster than 8 MHz 68000 . Even if clock ratio says rather 2000 (4x500) . But it performs operations in less cycles, and there are additional SSE instructions for dealing with multiple data at once. And not only that. I made tests: 2 years old 4 GHz 1 core is about 7 times faster than 2.8 GHz P4 1 core. Or 1.8 AMD Sempron - so, much more efficient in same cycle time.
Much of slowness now is because not well written SW - example: Blockout II for Win has huge keyboard lag, worse than Blockout for Atari ST . Should I say that Win, PC is crap because that ? No, because most of SW is not like that. Of course, there will be always things what needs extreme processing power, and will work slow. There is no limit in that. What matters are ratios. I must mention Hatari here. Latest version(s) as 2.00 have much more faithful 68030 CPU emulation, but it costs a lot. 4 GHz CPU can be little slow for TT emulation. I find it absurd. Surely code is not good considering execution speed. I see in TOS lot of solutions to make it work faster. It was programmed by competent people, with experience. And they were forced to it, to make it fast - competition on market for instance. Could see well for instance how screen and memory clear operation progressed in diverse TOS versions, until fastest possible with 68000 (movem.l with lot of registers set to 0) . I guess that such things are now rare, especially when coding in C. But good algorithm can always speed it up, regardless from used language.
Longer paragraph above is what would be something like: pulling out maximum of machine. That was good thing always, and goal of good programmers.
Now less present, because in most cases it works acceptable even with slow code.

For the end of this longer 'rant' - video playback. Yes, that was always something very demanding. For some latest codec and full HD res even 2x core 3 GHz CPU may be slow. People wants small size, good quality videos. So, efficient compression. And that is what costs lot of CPU power, especially in encoding. Not to mention 4K . Then 60 Fps instead 24/25 . What can poor old Atari ST do in that area ? Well, ST not really, mostly because lack of DMA sound and low color count, but STE with some tricky disk adapter can:
http://atari.8bitchip.info/movpst.php
Of course, all it is not intended for some regular usage, but demonstration what is possible. Even if some Amiga people accused me for cheating, and that STE can not do it. This would be by me good example how to make it - not by copying solutions used by much faster machines - what people working on GHz 68000 clone wants - like DVD playback (what is pitty now in HD era) . To make 25 or even 50 fps, smooth video playback on 8 MHz computer you need first: to forget about any video compression. And low res is good thing in this case: less data :D Basically, I got something like VHS quality, at price of large files. What is not problem now with cheap Flash cards. About 2 MB/sec, or some 7 GB for 2 hours. Still less than Blue Ray :lol:
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Re: Should some old computer do all (same) as some new ?

Post by SolderGirl » Sat Sep 08, 2018 5:12 pm

I really understand the dilemma.
Many people just want to use a retro computer like a modern one. But i think that is mostly people who come late to the game.
But those who have worked with similar machines back in the day, they realize that that's just not how it works.

I think there is three possible routes:

Full Retro:
Rebuild a system as it would have been back in the day. Only use parts that were available at the time. If any modifications, only use what was available at the time when the computer was released or still sold.

Partial Retro:
Take a retro-system and bring it close to the modern world. Add memory cards for harddisks, floppy emulators, VGA-Adapters to use modern screens. Still keep the system compatible with original software.

Uber Retro:
Just max out everything. Add RAM, overclock to max, add whatever you can. Get to run on it as much as possible.

I think there is some point to every aproach, and there are really nice systems from each category out there. Personally i go the partial retro way with my 520, and the uber way with my MegaST. I simply can not afford a Full retro system, given the really high prices of some parts today. I never even tried accessing websites from my Atari. The only reason i wanted an internet connection was in order to connect to BBS's over telnet.

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Re: Should some old computer do all (same) as some new ?

Post by Petari » Sun Sep 09, 2018 9:00 am

Yes, I think that this is good description of main possible and common routes.

In this years, when machines go very old, I think that partial route is what is and will be most popular. Just because first one - all original becomes hard and costing. Floppies, drives, monitors are main problem.
"Uber" way may be problem because age too. Surely, it is good fun to find ways make it faster, and may be still some undiscovered ways. Adding diverse expansions like video card and like can give it new dimensions. But then comes problem of SW - you need drivers, but even with them most of old SW will not work. I think that it is some kind of demo too - showing what is possible to do on old HW base.
Partial way is most popular. I'm sure - and storage is where new technology gives best results. That goes actually already for some 20 years.

Here to add that I have impression that people is more focused on HW, and less on SW. While later has big importance too.
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Re: Should some old computer do all (same) as some new ?

Post by SolderGirl » Sun Sep 09, 2018 9:13 am

You are right, software is a big problem.

I have already tried to code a bit of C on the ST, but i did not get much beyond "Hello World".
Although i have some expirience with coding C on PIC MCUs, and even written a small console program on linux,
i struggle with GEM/TOS. There are few resources for learning, and even fewer "gurus" to learn from.
Also, much software is written in assembler, and i am just not good at that.

What i tried was a tool for viewing/editing/creating partitions on the ST, but i could not even get it to read the partition data properly. Then i gave up.
There are some people on this forum and also the german atari forum who are working on new hardware stuff, but really not much people making new software.

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Re: Should some old computer do all (same) as some new ?

Post by IngoQ » Sun Sep 09, 2018 9:30 am

I believe that part of the fun is, that it really leads nowhere. Sometimes things happen, just because someone wants to do it. Maybe because he wants to prove to himself or to others, that it is possible. Or maybe to just want to learn something.

Making sense of it is often a tasks that comes later, which explains why there is often no real strategy behind it. It's a little like a model train: Building it is all the fun, but when it is done, it's boring.

For me personally it is a bit mixed between full retro and part retro, I started all this because of the fond memories and wanting to recreate some of the things, I knew as a child. And of course explore options, that were out of reach at that time. Modifying and expanding the systems was allways a part of that experience, so it is not too far fetched to want to explore that as well. There were allways boosters, CPU upgrades and RAM expansions.

Some of the more modern expansions are a result of practicality. Floppy drives and hard drives fail after all this time, so they get replaced by flash storage. CRTs are failing as well, so they get replaced by LCDs. They are much sharper and show the bad signal quality more, so people add digital outputs. Ultimately this all does not change much, it just makes an old system usable again.

And then you start replacing failing components. They are'nt available any more, and someone makes a modern replacement. These tend to be more powerful, so your system ends up more capable. Now what to do with it? And then people start to explore more options, running different operating systems, try out video playback, web browsing and so on.

There is really no big scheme behind it all, it is just one step leading to the next.

There might never be a demand for a next gen Atari for example, but people will still try to build one. Not because they believe, there is a demand for it, but because doing so is fun. This is a hobby after all.

So to wrap it up and answer you question: Old computers should do whatever you make them to. It is about having fun, learning and exploring boundaries. In the end, there is allways a modern system more suitable to what we want to do.

And also a lot more boring.
Ingo :geek:

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Re: Should some old computer do all (same) as some new ?

Post by Petari » Sun Sep 09, 2018 9:51 am

SolderGirl wrote:
Sun Sep 09, 2018 9:13 am
...
i struggle with GEM/TOS. There are few resources for learning, and even fewer "gurus" to learn from.
Also, much software is written in assembler, and i am just not good at that.

What i tried was a tool for viewing/editing/creating partitions on the ST, but i could not even get it to read the partition data properly. Then i gave up.
There are some people on this forum and also the german atari forum who are working on new hardware stuff, but really not much people making new software.
I can recommend Atari Profibuch - if you can find book self somewhere, that would be great, but there are scanned PDF copies online too. It was my main 'tool' for programming in early ST years, and I was able to find answers on most of questions, problems there. Description of TOS (BIOS, XBIOS, GEMDOS) function calls is pretty good and detailed in most cases. Same stays for GEM (VDI, AES) . I would even say that it is not so important in what language you do program in case of SW what intensively uses TOS calls - because big part of SW consists of them.

Considering partition related operations - that is not described in any TOS/Atari document, as I know. I dealt with it, and still deal. Needed to gain knowledge from different places - and there is lot of it described well - FAT16 filesystem in first place. But Atari did not make compatible FAT16 with widely used FAT16 for DOS. And at that point I needed to do own research - finding how it solved work with larger partitions than 32 MB and so on.
For start, if you mean to continue work in that area, should go with smaller partitions, under 32 MB. When it is solved, can go on harder part.
Btw. Atari's CHKDSK3 is pretty good tool for viewing partitions (parameters), and can do some editing too - but that's dangerous of course.
Just to add that Atari made basically FAT15, not FAT16 :D - means that max cluster count is 32766 instead 65534.
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Re: Should some old computer do all (same) as some new ?

Post by exxos » Sun Sep 09, 2018 10:14 am

IngoQ wrote:
Sun Sep 09, 2018 9:30 am
I believe that part of the fun is, that it really leads nowhere. Sometimes things happen, just because someone wants to do it. Maybe because he wants to prove to himself or to others, that it is possible. Or maybe to just want to learn something.

There might never be a demand for a next gen Atari for example, but people will still try to build one. Not because they believe, there is a demand for it, but because doing so is fun. This is a hobby after all.

So to wrap it up and answer you question: Old computers should do whatever you make them to. It is about having fun, learning and exploring boundaries. In the end, there is allways a modern system more suitable to what we want to do.
Everyone has own use for the computer. Most will just play games, then want a little more speed as 3D stuff is terrible slow.

Of course bottom line is to just do something which is fun/interesting. Most people here are hardware related guys, so we mostly work on hardware. As to if any software coders would make use of the extra stuff, well maybe not. Its why I think trying to keep to original design is important, as that is where the software base is.

I see the Atari as a "fun machine", its a "play thing", either with hardware or software. I mean in terms of recent PC's, its just card swapping, modern times make people lazy and forget basic skills.. soldering is almost a lost art these days.

Of course people use machines for coding, music making, so there is "serious" use also. But of course, no real commercial aspect to it, its just "fun".

I think important thing is not to "compete" with PC. We have chrome/firefox etc which can do web browsing.. While possible on the ST/030 machines, its not something I would do for serious use. PC market has monopoly there. We can't make anything there "better". We can however make the ST range better/faster for use with old apps/games.
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Re: Should some old computer do all (same) as some new ?

Post by IngoQ » Sun Sep 09, 2018 11:01 am

Petari wrote:
Sun Sep 09, 2018 9:51 am
I can recommend Atari Profibuch - if you can find book self somewhere, that would be great, but there are scanned PDF copies online too.
Second that. The latest one is the 11th edition from 1992, as far as I know.

Funnily one of the first google search result is:

http://dev-docs.exxoshost.co.uk/ATARI%2 ... STE-TT.pdf

:-P
Ingo :geek:

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Re: Should some old computer do all (same) as some new ?

Post by SolderGirl » Sun Sep 09, 2018 11:26 am

I have a PDF of the ST Profibuch.
My description would be: "An overwhelming 1500 page behemoth of knowledge".

But then i still could not even read a single value from the Disk and get the expected value.
I might try again some day, but for now i will focus on finishing the hardware modifications.

For the 520, that is IDE-Adapter (working), HD-Floppies (working) and Flash-TOS. For the latter,
it works for use but i can not flash new TOS.

For the MegaST there is a lot more. PAK/2 with 68020 16 MHz CPU (working) , VoFa Adaptor with VGA card (not working properly), HD-Floppy (missing), internal IDE and/or SCSI Adapter for HDD/CD (missing).

Both machines will get Eiffel-style Adaptors for using PS/2 type Mouse, and also PS/2 Keyboard on the MegaST. The original Mega Keyboard i have is just borrowed and i have to give it back eventually.

Then i will use the Mega with faster CPU and higher resolution as a Workstation, for coding and stuff like that. It is also built into a nice AT-Desktop case that can be easily flipped open, so it is also ideal for swapping/testing hardware.
The 520 is planned to be fully backwards compatible for running games/demos and all that stuff.

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Re: Should some old computer do all (same) as some new ?

Post by Petari » Mon Sep 10, 2018 9:30 am

SolderGirl wrote:
Sun Sep 09, 2018 11:26 am
I have a PDF of the ST Profibuch.
My description would be: "An overwhelming 1500 page behemoth of knowledge".
But then i still could not even read a single value from the Disk and get the expected value.
....
I take it as complement to Atari :D Machine is so complex that really needs very-very long literature, documentation, that's sure.
Still, it is really not hard to find what you need in that book. It's well structured, organized.
Considering reading single value from disk - maybe here is first problem - you actually can not just read single byte from disk. It's block device. So, can access only whole block - what is called sector, and is 512 bytes. And of course, there is function in TOS for that. Name is RWABS . Read/Write absolute.
With it can access whole disk on low level, regardless from filesystem. Just to add that you need hard disk driver SW for that in TOS 1.xx . In 2.06 and later there are some specific hard disk access (ACSI and IDE) functions too - but they are not used by driver SW normally - because speed and not compatible then with older TOS versions. There are specific floppy access functions too - XBIOS 8 and 9 .
There is 2 kind of people: one thinking about moving to Mars after here becomes too bad, the others thinking about how to keep this planet habitable.

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