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The brain behind CENTurbo

Thomas Raukamp of st-computer interviews Rodolphe Czuba

stc: Rodolphe, every Atarian remembers your excellent work on the CENTurbo accelerators for the Falcon030. Now you are working on a 060 version. How is the work progressing?

Picture of Rodolphe CzubaRodolphe: Fast at the beginning of the project (September 2000), but since December it is slower because I am also working on a very important PowerPC project for a new US company. Since early January I started to work more on the CT60 design because I really want to finish as soon as possible - because I feel I will have no time later. At this time, the logic for the interface between the CT60 and the Falcon motherboard is done and ready. It is a complex design. Now I work on the SDRAM controller, a thing that was never designed for a 060!

stc: In the first stages of this project you said you needed orders before the CT60 can be produced. Has the required number of orders been reached yet?

Rodolphe: Yes, after a period of doubt, I reached 130 persons! Now I have 122 persons (some of them asked to be removed for different reasons - left Atari Falcon or no more money). Considering some of them may yet leave, I think I will have my 100 buyers to produce. To be precise, I only have the e-mail addresses and no cheque/money was requested.

The final confirmation (I need) will be asked when the prototype is ready to be produced.

stc: When did you start the project?

Rodolphe: September 2000

stc: How stable does the CT60 work at the moment?

Rodolphe: It doesn't work right now, from a physical point of view. But I really think it will work even better than the CT2.

stc: A tough subject is the operating system. Milan and Medusa put some hard work into a stable TOS on their 060 machines and prototypes. Which version of TOS will you use for the CT60 and how is compatibility realised?

Rodolphe: We will use the TOS of the Falcon. We have coded a boot for the flash memory. The software initialises the CT60 registers (the SDRAM for example), and this one copies the ROM into the 1 MB flash by patching some things like the PMMU tree. The 060 FPU library is also in the flash.

stc: There have been some changes in pricing for the CT60. What's the reason for that?

Rodolphe: Changes? The 060 is still the same: the full 060 (with FPU and PMMU).

stc: Another interesting feature of the CT60 will be an open bus for expansion-cards. Which expansions are planned at the moment?

Rodolphe: Yes, in fact it is here essentially for two things :

  1. The PCI/AGP1x module I will design later...
  2. The PowerPC card for the two developers of the flash - they may code an emulation or a native PPC TOS if nobody has done this before. This card will not be for customers. The goal is to be able to provide a new PPC motherboard later. By that time I will have the SDRAM (and maybe DDR SDRAM) and PCI/AGP logic thanks to the CT60 design work.

stc: Will you be able to use the Eclipse PCI adaptor with the CT60? Or will customers have to wait for your product?

Rodolphe: Like it is explained on my web site, all Falcon slot cards can run with CT60! But it is sure that my PCI card will have 8x faster data transfer rate and will also be cheaper!

stc: An expansion with PCI and AGP is ideal for modern graphic cards. Are there any developers working on drivers for the Voodoo or ATI cards, for example?

Rodolphe: We have contacts with interesting developers that have already coded some nice things in this domain...

stc: In the Amiga market you have some 060 and even PowerPC accelerators for the Amiga 1200. Wouldn't it be easier and less expensive to find a way to let them work in Atari's instead of developing your own project?

Rodolphe: They are not so cheap, and I don't know exactly if the bus protocol may be adapted... Some specific Falcon features like 8-Bit devices (the DSP) force me to develop a specific logic design for the Dynamic Bus Adapter...

stc: We found some information about an acceleration board for the Atari TT on your web site. It states that all you need are 20 buyers. How far is that project?

Rodolphe: I have 28 persons on this project. It is a concept and nothing is coded/designed yet, even if it may be very quick to do because all is taken from the CT2 technology. My first idea was to design this card because I have a sleeping stock of 20 68030RC50 CPUs! I try to sell them! Would somebody like to buy them at a low price? Now I really think that it may be better to adapt the CT60 to the TT. It may interest more people.

stc: Would the CENTurbo TT fit in the original case?

Rodolphe: Yes, sure, and with a 060 it may be the same fitting method used for the Falcon: Remove the original power supply to make a big space, and use a standard ATX external power supply for the 3.3V supply.

stc: The Milan II died. What's the future for the DSP card we see in the photos?

Rodolphe: None! No people or companies seem to be interested to produce it! I want to sell at a low price the complete design with my design rights and the prototype you can see in the photos! Maybe 700 EUR all inclusive (we can discuss). If anybody is interested, please contact me...

stc: One year ago we heard some rumours about the RioRed-G3/G4-board with the chance of running MiNT on it. Is Silicon Fruit still in business and do they still plan this machine?

Rodolphe: The RioRed design was stopped in June 2000. After a long examination of the changing electronic components market, we concluded that there is no solution to design a good modern PPC motherboard using the current poor range of PPC north bridges. Only two chips are on the PPC market:

  • IBM CPC 710 (chosen for the RioRed).
  • Motorola MPC107 (used by Apple in the PowerMac G3).

The first costs nearly $75(!), more than a good PC motherboard! The second costs $40 but has no 133 MHz version. Both are missing some important features:

  • AGP
  • DDR SDRAM (none planned at this time)
  • Modern south bridge (Intel or VIA) hub port

I remind readers that the old architecture uses a south bridge connected to the north bridge by the 133 MB/s PCI bus, which is too slow now for modern needs with Ethernet, DSL, 56K modems, 6 channel audio, USB 2.0 and Firewire. It is why, since one year now, all the new north bridges from Intel and very recently VIA give a direct private link between the north and south bridges. It is called HUB (and HUB2) at Intel and V-Link at VIA! The HUB transfers at 266 MB/s and the HUB 2 and V-Link transfers at 800 MB/s!

It is also what is used by the new very well featured south bridge of the X-Box machine! People have to understand this:

  • The PCI south bridges are dead and it is maybe now impossible to find an "old" south bridge with PCI connection to north bridge!
  • The CPC710 and MPC107 will never have a HUB or V-Link bus!
  • It is impossible to code with logic a HUB or V-Link port because these buses are confidential and no data sheets are available about their protocols!

The conclusion is easy: impossible to do a motherboard with PPC and modern I/O features! Except if you buy all the I/O as logic libraries (with expensive licenses) and integrate it into ASICs, like Apple did on the G4 machines.

Sure, this conclusion fights against the X-TOS project, too! I don't trust it because of the components market evidence! I'm sorry to see some Atari people become enthusiastic without any technical knowledge that may let them see that X-TOS is not a technically defined project!

Currently and since December, Silicon Fruit is working on a (revolutionary?) hardware concept to let people use a IBM PPC750CXE (new G3: Sidewinder) or a MPC7450 (G4+) on a standard cheap PC motherboard, first for the Linux market (customers and embedded). It may give another chance for the Atari world with a PowerPC TOS/MiNT. But it is the responsibility of the Atari software developers! Are they ready for such a hard project?

stc: Rodolphe, thanks for the interview. When can we expect the first CT60 cards?

Rodolphe: I don't plan a CT60 prototype before March 2001.


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This article is reproduced with kind permission of
ST-Computer magazine.

MyAtari magazine - Feature #3, March 2001

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