STF upgrades plan for 2021

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STF upgrades plan for 2021

Post by exxos » Thu Jun 11, 2020 2:24 pm

This is a little bit tricky of a subject but I will give it a go.. I just want to outline the future plan of action more than anything and the reasons why. A lot of this I have already mentioned in previous posts over the past few years anyway. So for most people this is nothing of great surprise anyway.

As myself and others have said, upgrading these old machines is turning into a huge problem. Basically because they just have so many bugs and issues right from the start that it makes upgrading these machines somewhat of a nightmare. It is mostly problematical enough to even get a stock machine working, never mind trying to upgrade it which generally lands people in a lot of trouble.

IMHO, Original stock machines should basically be left alone other than general servicing and maintenance, and maybe various tweaks and fixes to keep them operational. But as I have said a couple years ago, as soon as you start manhandling these boards something will normally break.

I put this down to bad soldering on the boards which is just simply starting to let go in recent years. I found exactly the same a few months ago, where a brand-new looking board had perfectly good-looking soldering, and yet the machine did not boot. I literally had to re-solder half the motherboard and now it works perfectly. But this is unfortunately the shape of things to come and upgrading these machines isn't not going to get any easier.

Not only that, as people know, there are just so many variations of motherboards and they all have their own quirks, that it is extremely difficult to produce a reliable upgrade which will work on every board. This isn't so much of problems with upgrades themselves, it is the fact that these upgrades should be tested on every revision of the board which just creates a considerable amount of work making it not worthwhile doing. Even two seemingly identical boards can behave totally differently. Its exactly the reason why I was motivated to create a new motherboard, to start off with something which is fixed and reliable right from the start. With original motherboards, they can be working for some months, put them on the shelf, bring them back off a couple months later and they are dead.I had exactly that happened to me multiple times over the past year.

So how things are looking to me, keeping original stock machines working is just going to be a battle in its own right over coming years. Mix in the fact that they already need various bug fixes and tweaks to even get a stock machine working reliably in the first place. It looks to me like original machines ideally need the whole motherboard re-soldering to keep them operational. So my motivation to create upgrades for original machines somewhat dwindling rapidly.

While as people know, I am moving in the direction of the H4/H5 remake boards, that will ultimately become my main area of focus. Currently I will produce upgrades which will work on STFM's and Hx series of boards as both of these can plug into a 68K socket and both run on 5V. Though I think I am not going to officially support original machines anymore with these upgrades.

For example, development will be done on the H4 board, while they can still be used on the original machines, if they "have bugs", I am not spending the time anymore in figuring those problems out. Because almost certainly, there will be issues with the motherboard itself somewhere. Mix in the fact that people need to at least do all the mandatory fixes even before fitting any upgrades, which just compounds the problem that people just generally do not do this to start with.

Another problem is just the cost of 5V parts. 3V parts are generally a lot cheaper now, which is again motivation to create future upgrades which will work on the H5 with a 3V bus. This will make development a lot faster and cheaper, and of course the price to people will be a lot cheaper. As I am generally spending about £2,000 a month to just buy parts for various kits and keeping on top of the volumes of components and the costs of things is very problematical for me. So moving to 3V parts I just see as a good thing to do.

This also backs onto the point that while the remake boards are expensive to produce, for a lot of people, by the time you have purchased various upgrades, or paid someone to do all the soldering and fixes for you, you might as well just purchased a remake board to start with everything already fixed. Then there are upgrades you can plug-in yourself without having to pay someone to do the soldering work for you. Again the problem with original machines is that they are likely not working to start with. Repairing them and fault finding them is just not a realistic thing to do any more, Unless you have lots of time and cash to throw at it continuously that is.

With more and more people supporting original machines with various upgrades, which is of course a great thing to happen, I don't see a future "market" there for such upgrades for me to keep producing them as well. I'm not getting drawn into "price wars" with people again like I was on evilbay years ago. Another problem is that some items in my store were produced a few years ago like the 4MB RAM kits. if I was to produce it again today, I could probably do it at half the price now. So newcomers who sell a similar kit at half the price, a lot of the customers will just go for the cheaper option. Which I have course don't blame people on doing, but when I have 39 of them (at the time of typing) that's currently £2,340 worth of stock on that one kit alone..If there is a downward trend of sales then of course I will just not produce that kit again. But again,£60 to buy the kit, £50 shipping of your machine to pay someone £50 to fit it, when you can plug a £10 simm into a H4 and job done.. It really is a no-brainer which direction to move in.

This does not mean I will stop producing kits which I am currently doing, if people are still buying this stuff, then of course I will still produce it as long as possible. Though as stated above, upgrades for the H5 will be by main area of focus. While some upgrades can work in original machines (5V stuff that is) I am not going to officially support those machines because of the never-ending problems which go with it. I am more than happy to let other people design and build updates and have all the hassle of getting stuff working on those machines ;) I have been spending likely 95% of my time debugging original hardware rather than debugging hardware add-ons. Having done this for many many years, it is just time to move on.

But again, I think keeping stock machines working even as a stock machine, is a ongoing nightmare in its own right. Having read about all the issues on the forum, and seen first-hand on trends of 100's machines I've had over the years, IMHO, I think stock machines should just be kept that way from now on. Nothing wrong of course in having original machines, if you have the time and money to spend on then fixing them, there is of course nothing wrong with that. But my perspective of bug fixing and future upgrades, the only sensible direction is to move over to a new motherboard which is exactly where I'm aiming for now.

I do of course thank everyone who is buying items from my store! You guys are keeping me going. Plus of course, the great help by everyone in this community in pushing projects forward. I think moving over to our own "stock platform" aka H5 series is the only sensible direction to move in.
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Re: STF upgrades plan for 2021

Post by Darklord » Mon Jun 15, 2020 2:26 pm

Breaks my heart, the thought of abandoning support for any of our beloved old machines, but
I do agree with the logic of your assessment Chris. It just makes sense.

So...when is the H5 version of the STacy motherboard coming out? :lol: :lol: :lol:
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Re: STF upgrades plan for 2021

Post by Velociraptor » Mon Jun 15, 2020 2:40 pm

That all sounds eminently sensible.

Speaking for myself I have two things in mind.

* Keeping a "real" machine working
* Playing about with stuff for fun

I have an ideal ST setup in my mind - and it's to have an STM at close to stock as I can, with a real 314 external drive and an atari 14" colour monitor. It'll use disks and nothing else. And also to have an STE with a 17" monitor, a Gotek and a Satan (or equivalents) and a speed booster.

For me a "real" ST can have a replacement Mongrel motherboard. It could have a reproduction case, it could have some ICs replaced with FPGA or arduinos etc. In fact the entire thing could be a modern fabrication if it got their piece by piece from a real ST.

In other words a Ship of Theseus ST is a real ST in my mind. So I completely agree with what Exxos is saying.

Hopefully there will eventually be an STE and an STM Mongrel board, but I'm not in a rush so I'm quite happy to wait. It does sound as if it's the only way we'll have them all running still in 20 years time.

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Re: STF upgrades plan for 2021

Post by exxos » Wed Jun 17, 2020 11:34 pm

Darklord wrote:
Mon Jun 15, 2020 2:26 pm
Breaks my heart, the thought of abandoning support for any of our beloved old machines, but
I do agree with the logic of your assessment Chris. It just makes sense.
Yeah, I'm just spending 90%+ of the time fault finding stuff relating to the motherboards all the time. Its just not a constructive use of time. The younger generation can troubleshoot the stuff ;)
Darklord wrote:
Mon Jun 15, 2020 2:26 pm
So...when is the H5 version of the STacy motherboard coming out? :lol: :lol: :lol:
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Re: STF upgrades plan for 2021

Post by exxos » Wed Jun 17, 2020 11:42 pm

Velociraptor wrote:
Mon Jun 15, 2020 2:40 pm
I have an ideal ST setup in my mind - and it's to have an STM at close to stock as I can, with a real 314 external drive and an atari 14" colour monitor. It'll use disks and nothing else. And also to have an STE with a 17" monitor, a Gotek and a Satan (or equivalents) and a speed booster.
There will be a "stock" STM style board at some point. But if you want addons you need the STF style boards like the H4/H5.
Velociraptor wrote:
Mon Jun 15, 2020 2:40 pm
For me a "real" ST can have a replacement Mongrel motherboard. It could have a reproduction case, it could have some ICs replaced with FPGA or arduinos etc. In fact the entire thing could be a modern fabrication if it got their piece by piece from a real ST.
Moving to FPGA is the only way forward from a stock machine. Though its the age old issue of, at what point do you end up with a MiST. This is why I work on "stock" machines and keeping them alive.
Velociraptor wrote:
Mon Jun 15, 2020 2:40 pm
In other words a Ship of Theseus ST is a real ST in my mind. So I completely agree with what Exxos is saying.

Hopefully there will eventually be an STE and an STM Mongrel board, but I'm not in a rush so I'm quite happy to wait. It does sound as if it's the only way we'll have them all running still in 20 years time.
As we are using suska FPGA cores, those are actually STE cores anyway. So there may be some limited STE support at some point. But I want to work on my own sound system next anyway. I want to start from the stock ST and go in my own direction with new hardware , rather than re-inventing stuff used in the STE, Falcon or whatever.
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Re: STF upgrades plan for 2021

Post by terriblefire » Thu Jun 18, 2020 12:29 am

Having built an H4 and compared the Stability of it to my STFM... No question. Like the man says if you want to preserve the ST do so. If you want a pimped ride get a remake
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Re: STF upgrades plan for 2021

Post by Velociraptor » Thu Jun 18, 2020 1:49 pm

exxos wrote:
Wed Jun 17, 2020 11:42 pm

There will be a "stock" STM style board at some point. But if you want addons you need the STF style boards like the H4/H5.
That's brilliant to hear. I have an STM and eventually I'm sure it'll fall over and need this. I do want to have a "basic" ST though, as well as an accelerated one.
exxos wrote:
Wed Jun 17, 2020 11:42 pm
Moving to FPGA is the only way forward from a stock machine. Though its the age old issue of, at what point do you end up with a MiST. This is why I work on "stock" machines and keeping them alive.
I don't think it's ever a MiST so long as it was once an ST, even if each and every part was replaced. I don't know if you're familiar with the U64 but it's an FPGA C64 which accepts 1 original SID chip from the C64 (I think it might allow you to double up) but has port spacing so it can go into a C64 breadbin or C64C case. Once it's in there you can't tell it's not a real C64. Would something like that be a real ST? I don't know :)


exxos wrote:
Wed Jun 17, 2020 11:42 pm
As we are using suska FPGA cores, those are actually STE cores anyway. So there may be some limited STE support at some point. But I want to work on my own sound system next anyway. I want to start from the stock ST and go in my own direction with new hardware , rather than re-inventing stuff used in the STE, Falcon or whatever.
From my perspective I'd like a stock ST as I said above. But in an ideal world I'd like an ST/E/Falcon compatible ST, using a Mongrel type board with FPGA replacing the custom ICs and modern equivalents/same as vintage where it's cheap etc. But I don't think I have a rigid thing in mind so I'll keep my eyes open and eventually I'll pick a Mongrel of some kind up.

I'm not sure how realistic it is having Falcon compatibility is, but it'd be nice :)

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Re: STF upgrades plan for 2021

Post by Cosmic Puppet » Fri Jun 26, 2020 12:56 am

It's fantastic to think that in the future when my Atari dies, I will be able to buy one of your new boards.

I've put so much time and money into re-building the set up I used in the noughties.

It's great to think I could have this forever thanks to your work. :thanksblue:
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Re: STF upgrades plan for 2021

Post by JezC » Fri Jun 26, 2020 9:40 am

Cosmic Puppet wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 12:56 am
It's fantastic to think that in the future when my Atari dies, I will be able to buy one of your new boards.

I've put so much time and money into re-building the set up I used in the noughties.

It's great to think I could have this forever thanks to your work. :thanksblue:
:goodpost: :bravo:
Totally agree @Cosmic Puppet

One of the main reasons for getting the two H4s (and pledging support for the H5) is to protect my/our investment(s) for the future.
I'm also hoping to eventually work out which MIDI sequencers/editors etc. are OK with different upgrades (accelerators/CPU + memory upgrades) etc. though I'm sure that some will only work on the original spec.

Good luck with the monitor - I've got a plan to try mine before/after a PSU recap (and possibly video circuitry too) & see what difference if any that makes.
I've got mine connected to an ST via the Ubeswitch but also want to try it with my exxos version when I can (and eventually on my H4 as well...just need to work out how to connect that up...)

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Re: STF upgrades plan for 2021

Post by Cosmic Puppet » Fri Jun 26, 2020 10:08 am

That's cool @JezC !

Just remember with Notator to run as clean a system as possible.(Though I've managed to get a stable faster version of Notator running the last EmuTos coupled with NVDI5 (which is needed or it will be slower to use than the original)

I have two systems for that reason. One SD card running Notator and other midi programs and one SD card for monochrome games, chiptune playback and things like MSA to floppy conversion.

I think my video circuitry needs a recap, but I'm not sending my board away as it was new old stock just last year so very precious to me.
I'm moving all music ideas off the PC onto Notator so need it just now.

I got a similar thing to the Ubeswitch elsewhere but it is just monochrome and audio as I knew my LG wasn't multisync.

Will be interesting to see how that goes.
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