Amiga vaporware continues, from PoweUp to QNX operating system.

Following our previous article regarding some attempts to create a G3 and a G4 accelerator for classic Amiga computers we decided to dig a little further inside the PowerPC world of one of the largest and most active retro-computing communities on this planet.

There was a “storm” of vaporware PowerPC accelerators that was raging throughout the late 90’s till early 00’s. Since the announcement of the release of the Cyberstorm and Blizzard cards for Amiga, there were other announcements from various third party providers regarding PowerPC acceleration. The fact was that, for reasons of processing power, the Amiga community was looking towards PowerPC, as the current 68000 technology had come to a halt, with 68060 processor at 50Mhz. The next generation -named Coldfire and Dragonball- processors was not yet, at least commercially, available. Another reason was the decision to lean towards a new operating system, especially the QNX which, at the time was not a wide accepted commercial OS but gradually was declared the best performing operating system on PowerPC architecture (six years later on 2005)!

Anyway, QNX became the definite choice for the “new generation”, eventually vaporware, Amiga machines. When dreams for a new amiga machine started to be vaporized one after the other, Phase5 was also producing the robust Cyberstorm PPC and Blizzard PPC card for classic models. At that time Phase5 was also producing more hardware for classics, such as 68k accelerators (68030, 68060 etc) for A1200, A2000/3000 and A4000. The core products were the famous Blizzards MKII, MKIII as well as Cyberstorms MKII and other models, also known as A1230, A1260, A4060, A2630 etc. Just before the PPC cards appear in the market, Phase5, needed to collaborate with hardware and software developers around the world in order to develop and produce software and “drivers” for their upcoming products. This is why the company also produced and made available the –not so famous- Blizzard PowerUp Developers Boards, which have only recently (meaning the last 6 to 5 years) re-appeared from several directions. These boards were kind of experimental products targeted to developers. They are rare and kind of hard to come by, especially after 15 years of Phase5 out of business situation...

Phase5, had produced two models of these boards. The “large” one and the “small” one (for lack of better description). These boards, which preceded of course the actual products, were produced on late 1995 and early 1996, when, in Amiga universe, there was no support for anything regarding PowerPC.

Both models are just prototypes cards which carried dual processors, one 603e powerpc processor and one 68040 or 68060, depending on the card. Both of them originally were plugged on a Cyberstorm MKII acceleration board. The large one covered the whole length of the board and the small one was a little bit more compact...

 

  

For an owner to use it, one has to remove the original 68060, plug the male pins of the developers' board at the 68k socket and also plug the power line of the processor fan to a source, usually the floppy line. And there you go! A Cyberstorm MKII turned into an early version of Cyberstorm PPC card! The board of course carries no other extras and must make use or RAM already installed on MKII.

                              

 

People who owned developers' boards have reported that those devices do work with WarpOS and are compatible in AmigaOS 3.9 provided you install everything with “Developer Board” option. Lately and while the new AmigaOS 4.0 and 4.1 was released, there was a number of Amiga fans who owned this kind of board and experimented. They also reported safe installation of AmigaOS 4 on Cyberstorms MKII with developers' board!

But that was not it! Amiga fans, took the game, one stage further and decided to “resurrect” another Phase5 PPC vaporware: The Blizzard 2604! This was Phase5's attempt to port the PPC architecture on Amiga 2000 models. It created a PowePC card that attached itself in the A2000 cpu slot and could have given new life to this machinery. But it remained a project, as only one prototype was ever produced from this attempt. If one searches the Youtube one will eventually come across the latest owner of this prototype card with which he managed to install AmigaOS 4 on a A2000! But Amiga fans found a way to resurrect the A2604 using a “Frankenstein” method. The developers' board seemed to also be compatible with another piece of hardware, the A2000 accelerator called Blizzard 2060

Blizzard 2060 carries a 68060@50Mhz processor and 128MB of Ram. When you remove this processor and plug the developers board you can have the same result as a Cyberstorm MKII! Impressive! And that was not even the end of the experiment. The Blizzard 2060 has also another quality. It is also compatible with Amiga 500, provided it is plugged into a certain busboard. This busboard was the Micronik A500 which happened to be equipped with zorro II slots, used for Ethernet and other cards, ISA ports, video slot, and one A2000 cpu slot. The card had to be inserted to A500 side expansion port thus for all accessories to work the owner should have had a side case of some sort, 200W extra power supply or basically a tower case to house the structure. In fact Mikronik also produced a tower case for their busboards which was considerable in size! Actually amiga fans have also tried this setup with success, just for the proof of concept to have an Amiga 500 running Amiga OS 4.

After the production of the first PPC cards, we mentioned that there was a serious tendency in the Amiga community to go to another operating system, that of the RTOS , named QNX.

Actually QNX was never developed as an Amiga native OS but there was a type of host operating system for emulation. The project was developed in conjunction with Haage & Partners AmigaOS 3.9, back in 1999, when Phase5 was planning on developing complete amiga systems , based on PPC technology plus the infamous G4 accelerators for the classics, completely abandoning 68k architecture. Phase5 also made sure, at least on paper, that the new operating system, QNX Neutrino, will be bootable on old powerpc accelerator for classic amigas, thus expanding the possibilities. The development started but nothing was ever released. QNX for Amigas became a vaporware operating system.



Just after Phase5's collapse, there was an effort to revive the project in X86 machines this time with a little help from emulation. At that time the AmigaOS XL effort was at its peak as some companies were experimenting one dual booting some setups of X86 machines with linux and AmigaOS as operating systems but AmigaOS was running on a light linux distribution which emulated the OS without the user ever noticing the process! There were two versions... Amiga OS XL and Amithlon. Amiga OS XL required a QNX operating system to work while Amithlon could be booted directly on a X86 machine!

To run AmigaOS XL one should have the right hardware to run the host operating system which was that of QNX version 6.1. The Amiga OS XL could then be installed as an application that booted AmigaOS 3.9 into QNX. This is doable also in virtual environments. Of course nowadays could be difficult to acquire such an old version of QNX but it is confirmed that the system can be installed in Virtual Box. Either you can use QNX 6.0 and upgrade through the repositories inside the installation to QNX 6.1 or you can find the version directly. Then you place the AmigaOS XL / Amithlon cd in the drive and install the operating system. Unfortunately for some reasons, it is impossible to install AmigaOS either to earlier or to later versions of QNX. You have to own the 6.1 version. This was about the last level the integration between Amiga and QNX , reached on 2002, when it stopped being developed and eventually even Amithlon stopped being upgraded.

 

A few years later, another vaporware PPC accelerator came into existence. It was called the PowerVixxen LT and was designed to work with Amiga 1200 setup. The specifications were very ambitious at that time.

  • MPC 5200 system-on-chip with 32 bit PowerPC 603 core @ 400-466MHz

  • 512Mb RAM onboard the card

  • ATA/IDE Interface

  • 100 Mbit Ethernet

  • USB 1.1

  • AC97 audio CODEC (automatically integrated with Paula)

  • Graphics Mini PCI-slot

As one can easily conclude, this piece of hardware was also unreleased and unfortunately not one prototype is known to have been produced just for the sake of having an exotic photograph of it in our little article!.

That was about it, regarding PoweUP and vaporware for Amiga. We have to mention that we were extremely helped by the unlimited resources of both Amiga Hardware Database and Big Book of Amiga Hardware, from were we acquired most of the hardware images. Also an unlimited source of information remains the Amiga History Guide site, even if there have been years since it was last updated.

by Nikos Panagiotopoulos (aka npanag)

 

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