Thursday, September 10


Daily News Stuff 10 September 2020

Top Eleven Edition

Tech News

  • There are now no Intel processors among the top ten results in PassMark.  (CPUBenchmark)

    The 3995WX leads the way - about 10% faster than the 3990X - with the rest of the places distributed among Threadripper and Epyc and the Ryzen 3950X.

    Intel did have some CPUs - two chips on a package - that would likely have scored in the top ten, but they didn't sell any so they don't get counted.

  • Speaking of the 3995WX, it can be yours for just $18,000.  (Tom's Hardware)

    That configuration does include dual Nvidia Quadro RTX 6000 GPUs which retail for $4000 each.

  • If that's too rich for your blood you might want to look at the Armari Magnetar X64T which is a much more affordable $14,000.  (AnandTech)

    But only comes with one RTX 6000.

    Rather than the 3995WX this one has a water-cooled overclocked 3990X, running at 4GHz on all cores.  Expensive as it is, it outperforms $30,000 Intel-based workstations by 50% on real-world tests, and is 35% faster than a stock 3990X on CPU-intensive workloads.

  • AMD has announced Zen 3 and RDNA 2 announcements.  (AnandTech)

    Zen 3 will be announced October 8; RDNA 2 and Radeon RX 6000 will be announced on October 28.  Not clear when anything will actually ship, except for after those dates.

  • Full specs are out for the Sbox.  (Tom's Hardware)

    They're exactly what I posted before, so whoever updated the Wikipedia page had the correct details.

    The Xbox Series X will be released the same day at $499.

    The Sbox comes with 512GB of SSD but supports the same 1TB upgrade card as the Series X.

    They've done something weird with the Sbox memory bus too.  It has five 32-bit 16Gb memory chips on a 128-bit bus.  Why, Microsoft?  Was the upgrade from 8GB to 10GB a last-minute decision?  That's at least plausible, I guess.

  • What games do we want to be able recreate - closely or just in spirit - for the Imagine?

    Civilization, Warlords, and SimCity I've got covered as far as art assets go.  The Time Fantasy series has old-school RPGs covered.  SunnyLand is a nice little platformer bundle.

    What are the other true classics?  Populous, Railroad Tycoon, Syndicate, Master of Orion, Master of Magic.  Elite, but that's primarily 3d.  Cannon Fodder, Dune 2,  Oh, UFO, of course.  Alpha Centauri, which you can pick up for under $2 on GOG right now.  Some of these came out years after our imaginary system and would really stretch its capabilities, but in most cases there are art assets available to do something similar.

    Not Railroad Tycoon though.  Nobody likes trains for some reason.

    The SSI Gold Box games can probably be covered with a combination of Time Fantasy and Tyler Warren's pixel-graphics battlers.  The feel isn't quite the same; D&D was more realistic and less cute than JRPGs, but it will work.

    Star Control II?  That would be hard.  Reach for the Stars?  Easier.  

    Space strategy - Master of Orion, Reach for the Stars and similar - are fairly well covered.

    The designer of those planets has some great space stations too, but unfortunately they're licensed "no derivatives" so they can't be used for anything you want to share with other people.

    This isn't pixel art - each of the icons as delivered would fill the Imagine's entire screen - but could probably be squished down.

    And there is - no surprise - a better way to produce pixel art from hi-resolution assets than fussing about in something like Affinity Photo.  Currently on sale for $15 too.

Disclaimer: The art assets are out there.

  • Sort-of 256-colour mode.

    I added a 640x360 monochrome mode the the Imagine's specs after finding that my selected HSYNC rate for 480x270 60Hz was within spec for PC-compatible monochrome monitors; it just needed a 16MHz pixel clock instead of 12MHz.

    The problem is this doesn't divide neatly into the 120 memory cycles available per scan line. That's perfect for 480 pixel mode - four pixels per cycle - but drops the ball on 640 pixel mode.

    But the video chip also has a 40 (or possibly 64) byte input buffer. Primarily used for sprites, but available for other stuff. And a full scan line is 160 cycles, with the other 40 cycles being nominally outside the visible area, and used for fetching sprite data and actually drawing stuff.

    So if we steal 8 of those cycles to pre-buffer 16 bytes (memory accesses can fetch two successive bytes per cycle) we can get a nice neat four bits per pixel in 640x360 monochrome mode - and eight bits per pixel in 320x270 colour mode by switching the dot clock down to 8MHz and keeping the refresh rate at 60Hz.

    Of course now (a) the pixels aren't square and (b) we still only have 32 colour registers, but it doesn't involve switching the palette between groups of pixels. We can simultaneous have 32 colour registers and 64 fixed colours and either HAM or EHB and an alpha bit for translucent overlays.

    Which also means that the if the 1987 Imagine 1200 model had a 20 bit bus at 4.5MHz (matching the cycle time of the 120ns DRAM available at the time) without page mode it could do 480x270 in 256 colours.

    There's not enough pins on a PLCC to have dual memory buses the way I've laid out the video controller on the Imagine 1000, so it would have one memory bus and one system bus with multiplexed address and data pins like the original IBM PC and Apple IIgs.

    (And sticking with 120ns DRAM timings, that 4.5MHz chip could perform a regular memory access and a subsequent page mode access in 1.5 cycles - exactly twice as fast as the 1000.  It's kind of weird to do that, but weird isn't necessarily bad.)

    So that will be the second target for the emulator after the model 1000 is working.

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