G3/G4-based accelerator cards for classic Amigas, gone “vapor”!

             Phase5 used to be the dominant force in classic Amiga acceleration in mid 90's. This dominance was the direct result of the Commodore demise in 1994 as well the strategic partnership with Amiga Technologies which gave Phase5 the advantage for migrating the Amiga universe towards the PowerPC processor solution!  Together, Amiga Technologies and Phase5 were planning to develop the first PowerPC Amiga, but before that Phase5 had to port the PPC technology to Classic machines through trapdoor acceleration while Amiga Technologies would develop the first PPC port of the AmigaOS, respectively Workbench. This partnership was short lived as Escom, Amiga Technologies' mother company, went into liquidation in 1996, leaving Phase5 alone to continue this difficult migration to PPC. Phase5 finally managed to create the first accelerator cards in  1997 for A4000 as well A1200, name Cyberstorm PPC and Blizzard PPC ,respectively. Phase5 also developed two models of graphics cards to install along with the accelerators, named Cybervision and BlizzardVision

        Both accelerators offered a dual processor solution, meaning a PPC processor 603+ and 604, the equivalent of a G2 processor, and a 68k Motorola processor (68040 as well as 68060). The processing power was there but it needed software to run when there was none to be found! At the same year (1997) Haage & Partner released the first major Amiga Operating System upgrade, the AmigaOS 3.5 which replaced the former Workbench 3.1. This was a great development but still there was no support for PPC. It was only until 1999 that  the operating system began to support the new technology with the release of the last AmigaOS 3.5 update and later the AmigaOS 3.9 and the WarpOS kernel for the PPC architecture. There is also a website created in order to register all PPC cards and download the needed libraries to use with the operating system, hosted by the forum www.amigaworld.de  which site is live even till present time. At the same time, Phase5 was also planning to release its version of a complete PPC machinery, named A/box which went into a vapor stage very quickly and was replaced in 1999 by a more ambitious project called the Amirage K2. It was that year “of our lord” when Phase5 also decided that it was time to progress the accelerator cards to a new level with the famous vaporware G4 and G3 accelerator boards! The new cards were planned to be pure PPC architecture, completely disregarding 68k hardware which will be supported only through emulation. The base processor speed would have been that of 400mhz  and they would have been able to support up to 1GB of RAM in two DIMM memory banks. The new accelerators would also have had PCI 2.1 interface in order to allow the connection of other modern devices such as Ethernet cards or graphic cards. All this would have been available at a price of 1.995 DM , probably the equivalent of 1,000 euros at that time. The cards were announced with great excitement on March 1999! There were press kits and even a web site dedicated for pre-orders was setup, but nothing was ever developed. The company filed for insolvency on April 2000 and all projects along with any pre-order were lost! Fortunately for Amiga users, DCE bought the licenses to produce accelerator cards before liquidation and carried the task for a bit longer but without any great breakthrough... Some of the Phase5 engineers carried on at bPlan to create the PPC based Pegasos board, 5 years later.

           

         During the aforementioned developments, there have been several vaporized projects concerning the development of PPC cards. The most prominent was that of the AmiJoe card by a company named Met@box. The AmiJoe card was a pure PPC card, unlike the CyberStorm and Blizzard cards. The specs were comprised of a G3 processor at speeds between 250 and 400Mhz, 68k emulation through a flash rom , up to 512MBs of ram in a SO DIMM memory bank and a PCI bridge busboard created by RBM with support for PCI and AGP expansions. AmiJoe came only in the form of a trapdoor expansion for A1200. The card based its architecture on the JoeCard accelerators , which were produced, from the same manufacturer for Apple and the PowerMac models in 1999. Only three prototypes were ever produced which never did booted into any operating system.  The year 2000 passed with no news on the cards release date thus considering this product as a major vaporware for the Amiga hardware scene.

                                                                                               

                                                                                                                                                    AmiJoe front view

 

                                                                                                 

                                                                                                                                             AmiJoe back view

                     AmiJoe was neither the first nor the last PPC card vaporware. During the “dark years” for the Amiga, many PPC projects were announced and canceled. A company called Escena also announced the development of a G3 accelerator board with a 68k co-processor as well as the Twister PPC from a company called Titan. None of those were ever made. Though the most developed product, that of Escena, was later used as the base for the production of the AmigaOne board, by Eyetech. The Escena card existed as a prototype and was also demonstrated in Computer Show of 1998 with a Zorro III busboard

                 Close view of SharkPPC at an exhibition

 

 

               SharkPPC vs Sonnet Crecendo 7200

The need for PPC acceleration was gradually increasing as a new PPC native operating system appeared for Amiga computers, in 2000, named MorphOs. This development created the need for PPC acceleration in classic Amigas and the only solution out there was still the old Phase5 products. At that time a new Polish company called ELBOX appeared to provide the market with busboards that made new technology available to old Amigas. Those busboards, called mediators, offered PCI slots and give access for Amiga, to numerous new hardware such as Voodoo 3 and ATI VGA cards, Ethernet cards, IDE controllers and Sound Blaster sound cards!

These products are available till today, but the main announcement that is categorized as major vaporware, was that of the SharkPPC card. The card intended to offer a G3 and G4 solution through the PCI connection of a standard Mediator busboard, as well as a max of 768MB or RAM! Following the steps of Met@box, the card architecture was based on Sonnet's Crescendo 7200 cards which were being sold in the PowerMac market at the price of 500 USD. Of course, in the years that followed, SharkPPC was also intended to support the new AmigaOS 4 operating system which was released by Hyperion Entertainment  but did not mentioned any intention for supporting MorphOS

 

       The card was in fact a modified Sonnet card in every way. Elbox used to host the announcement of the hardware in the official web site for many years, when lately they silently must have decided to cancel the product and it officially went into the vaporware universe! Many Amiga enthusiasts bought the Sonnet card and tried several ways of booting a Mediator equipped Amiga, but in vain,  as there was a crucial firmware missing which Elbox never intended to release to the public or it was never produced in the first place. ELBOX also offered another great vaporware to the community... the Dragon Coldfire accelerator which was a 68k accelerator of the new generation and not a PPC. The philosophy was the same as that of SharkPPC but it was not quite clear what software or operating system would support such a machine. Elbox officially, still hosts the Coldfire web page but it was last updated back in 2006!

           

      SharkPPC ended a full 15 years of vaporware PPC cards for classic Amigas. There is also another, contemporary effort called UltimatePPC, which is a independent project, but it seems that the web site has not been updated since January 2013, so it would be logical to consider that project also dead or vaporware. In 2014, the old working Phase5 cards are getting too old for the task.... almost 17 years old... Many of them will be dead shortly and the Amiga community either will have to face the fact of complete migration to the new generation boards such as SAM 460 and AmigaOne X1000 or someone will come as a messiah to rescue the classic community. Lets hope that messiah will not be vaporized!

            

Product range of Phase5:

Cyberstorm PPC for A4000                                                               Cybervision for A4000

        

Blizzard PPC for A120                                                              Blizzard Vision for A1200

   

 

Nikos Panagiotopoulos © RETRO PLANET

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