Click through to read my synopsis of the current coldfire activity in the Atari world.
Current Projects: Firebee!: An entire community of people is working with no compensation whatsoever to bring you this board hopefully within just a month or two left of development. Probably it will be longer but we can all be hopeful right? Amazing contributors include (but are by no means limited to!)
-Mathias Wittau: diligently rounded up the entire community to get the project moving. Nobody would be anywhere without his hopefulness and insight into whom to contact. He has never wavered in reaching out and talking to anyone necessary to take this project from an idea to reality. -Fredi Aschwanden: Medusa computer owner created the board as well as a lot of FPGA code. Fredi is a leading contributor and has done an amazing amount of work, as well as taking financial risk to realize this. -Wolfgang Förster: Donated pretty much all Suska code to a project that will net him no profits. Try to imagine taking an ST with a gluechip or other chip that is essentially a black box and figuring out every logic bit it has and reverse engineering it in VHDL (a hardware description language). He has done this! It must have taken a very long time, and was finished before the firebee project even started. If you can afford both, BUY A SUSKA! in addition to the firebee. -Didier Méquignon: Years of hard work on Firetos, as well as sound driver, CTPCI, PCI driver and Radeon driver! Didier has the amazing ability to do an incredible amount of work in a short time. Without him we would not be where we are. -Vincent Rivière: Tons of work on GCC, emutos coldfire port, work on the firebee bios (BaS), and lots of testing with Fredi. Another important contributor without whom we’d be nowhere.
In the beginning of the project I desired to do a lot to help out with development. Sadly, thus far, it hasn’t really worked out that way and I feel guilty as a result. In reality I have a lot of work to do to this end but have to start somewhere. My piece of this project is nothing compared to these other contributors. We owe them a great debt to continuing the atari hardware legacy. Amazing that a small group of people can do what an entire corporation does.
I cannot say enough how inspired I am by the entire firebee project. I’ve never seen a community effort so powerful in my life since the linux kernel. There is basically no fighting, no disagreements, and everyone is working hard toward a common goal. The amount of hours people are putting in for free is incredible.
M5484LITE and M5485EVB: These are an evaluation board created by Freescale. We have determined that they are able to be used as a full coldfire computer but only in one configuration: 1 ATI Radeon card for video, and 1 USB card for keyboard/mouse (or one coldfire eiffel) and possibly a CF card for storage but more likely a USB HDD. They lack audio currently without doing lots of soldering. They lack MIDI ports, ACSI port and many other things Atari users have gotten used to having. Didier Mequignon has singlehandedly patched and replaced parts of tos with coldfire versions as well as developed his own new parts of TOS to create FireTOS which will also be available on the firebee. Vincent tested emutos builds on the M5484LITE board. This board will serve an important place in history as being a potential option to get Atari coldfire software running. That said, you should definitely prefer the firebee over this board! It’s important to note that Freescale sent me 5 M5484LITE’s for free which I then forwarded on to important hands to jumpstart the project. Without Freescale’s generosity perhaps this may never have gotten off the ground. These boards are quite expensive.
To explain what these are, they are a coldfire development board that is in the Mini ITX form factor. The LITE version has 1 PCI slot, 64MB of RAM, some flash and a CF slot. There is one serial port and one CAN bus port. The LITE version can support 2 PCI devices through a riser card. The M5485EVB version is a much more expensive and much harder to locate full scale computer. It has a realtime clock, onboard video (lynxem), 2 PCI slots, 2 can bus ports, 2 ethernet ports, 2 serial ports, and a CF slot. It also has more RAM at 128MB. This full version also has USB host but we have determined that it is defective. Nonetheless you can still utilize a USB PCI card just like with the M5484LITE.
Discussion of options (Software): When it comes to running Atari on Coldfire there are some things to understand about the Coldfire architecture itself. Coldfire is a SUBSET of 680x0 and this has several important implications. The primary one being that in order to run our normal 680x0 code on the Coldfire, the missing instructions will need to be emulated. This causes a speed penalty, but this method gets us up and running immediatately. The way to do this is with something called CF68Klib and Didier is doing this with his TOS port.
BUT we don’t need to depend on TOS. We have a completely open source TOS system from the ground up that can be recompiled for Coldfire native eliminating the need for CF68Klib. This will be the natural progression and will make things much faster. If development goes well we will have what is called an illegal instruction handler. If you attempt to run a normal 68K program that is not built for coldfire, it will emulate only the missing instructions and run your old 68k programs on coldfire with a minor speed penalty. The coldfire running fully emulated is roughly as fast as a CT60 falcon so it’s not exactly a prison ;) The concept is nearly the same as Rosetta on Mac OSX