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The PowerPC Amigas

Even though Phase 5 had launched their range of PowerPC accelerators in October 1997, it took another 4 years before the PowerPC processor finally made it to the Amiga mainstream, as it were.

In 2001, Amiga, Inc. licensed the development of AmigaOS 4.0 to AmigaOne Partners, collectively Hyperion VOF and Eyetech Group Ltd, who wanted to develop a Power PC based architecture to replace the ageing Classic Amiga, yet still maintain a level of support for applications and games already developed for the 68xxx platform. AmigaOne Partners have the right to distribute AmigaOS 4.0 into the AmigaOne desktop computer market and into Cyberstorm PPC enabled devices. However, distribution into any other market or device requires a new licensing and distribution agreement with Amiga, Inc.

The AmigaOne was finally released to a limited number of people in November 2002. The AmigaOne is essentially a series of motherboards running the Power PC processor which bear no resemblance to the Classic Amigas developed by Commodore. The boards were designed by Mai Logic Inc (formerly known as Mentor ARC Incorporated) based on their Articia chipset, and manufactured by an unknown company (probably in Taiwan) for EyeTech, an English company with long-time Amiga associations. Using standard PC components that are compatible with the motherboard, these could be used to build a new AmigaOne system.

The motherboard could be configured to suit each individual's system using a re-writeable NVRAM chip known as "U-Boot", and as development progressed enhancements could be made and the chip upgraded on the fly. While the role of this chip might look similar to the BIOS chip on conventional PCs, it works quite differently and it is this chip which makes the PPC boards unique. It was planned that OS4 could not be used without it, but that is yet to be proven.

The first motherboards were supplied with Suse Linux, but due to a shortfall in availability it was changed to Debian Linux. Meanwhile, the new Amiga Operating System (OS 4.0) designed to drive the AmigaOne was being written by Hyperion Entertainment based in Belgium, was still more than a year and a half away from limited release, and users would have to make do with Linux in the meantime.

Initially the AmigaOne was released in two versions, the 600MHz G3-based AmigaOneG3-SE, and the 700MHz G4-based AmigaOne-XE, with a third cheaper 700MHz G3-based AmigaOne-XE to be released later. A dual processor board was also  promised. In June 2003 the G4-based boards were supplied with the 800MHz G4 processor (upgradeable to 933MHz warrantied and 1066MHz unwarrantied). Then in September 2003 the 1066MHz G4 (upgradeable to 1.3GHz warrantied) AmigaOne Lite was announced and but this was then renamed to MicroA1. Subsequent to this, it was then announced that there would be two versions of the Micro, "C" would be the Consumer version and "I" would be the Industrial version, both with reduced specifications from the original announcement and these would become available late in 2004. At this time only the Micro A1-C has been released, but in limited numbers.

Since this time both Eyetech and MAI have ceased trading and the prospect of any further A1 development is unlikely.

Due to the relatively high-cost of the AmigaOne boards and general unavailability for prolonged periods, a couple of people decided to design an alternative hardware solution which they intially referred to as 'Prometheus', and by July 2005 had produced some rough specifications and drawings. In September 2005, they announced they had formed a partnership with Guru Meditation which they named 'Troika', which is said to mean "The sum of one and one and one" or "A modern Russian...alliance". Their goal was to produce an alternative PPC motherboard which they called 'Amy 05', details of which were released on September 24 2005, with initial production scheduled for later that year, a somewhat ambitious and unrealistic target. It was to be a board built by Amiga users specifically for OS4, and the concept was to produce a simpler board, with fewer connectors and dependencies, that utilised USB for all I/O connections. At this time no hardware has been produced for sale (although it is understood that several developer boards have been produced) but no further time frames have been released.

Subsequent to this they have announced another prototype board named Panda which so far can only run Linux. This board is not suitable as a production board in its current state but will be used as a development board in the meantime and will be professionally redesigned after that. Many have questioned the logic behind this, but because development boards contain a plethors of options, they are costly to manufacture and would not be practical to release.

On the other hand, Adam Kowalczyk of ACK Software Controls, Inc. in Toronto, Canada, has been talking about producing a PPC based board called Power Vixxen LT which would be capable of running AmigaOS 4.0 connected to an A1200, but it seems little progress has been made due to a lack of suitable connectors. In April 2006, Adam mentioned that he could however obtain connectors and produce cards for the A3000 and A4000 machine with similar or even better capabilities. Since these comments, there has been a flurry of activity and it is understood that a source of connectors has also been identified as a result, but at ludicrous quantities and prices. Since then he talked about making several upgrade boards for the A1 but getting a licence to run OS4 on them could be an issue. Stand by for further updates, but don't hold your breath.

Then in September 2006, a small group of Italian Amiga companies (Alternative Techologies, Soft3 and Virtual Works) announced there were developing a motherboard called Samantha (SAM440), which they demonstrated at Pianetta 2006. They showed 3 prototype boards with different specs, 2 boards with an AMCC440EP at 533 Mhz and one board with a 440EP at 667 Mhz. All boards were Micro ATX format had 512Mb RAM onboard, ATI Mobility M9 chip with 64 Mb onchip, Serial ATA controller with 4 ports, Nec USB 2.0, Cirrus Logic audio chip, and a LatticeXP FPGA chip with a 96 pin expansion connector, PCI and mini PCI slot. They have since formed a new company, ACube Systems, to develop the SAM440.

There was a bit of a buzz in late 2006/early 2007 when P.A.Semi made a number of announcements regarding their plans to produce low power PPC based motherboards, but so far no Amiga connection has been made. However, there are those in the Amiga community who are watching P.A.Semi closely to see what eventuates, in case the technology could be utilised for the Amiga.

In March 2007, Hyperion announced they had formed some kind of partnership with ACube for the manufacture and support of Amiga OS4.0. However, it was only a matter of days later that Amiga Inc announced they had signed an agreement with ACK Software Controls for the manufacture of new machines capable of running AmigaOS 4.0, the specification of which were released in May 2007. A low-end machine and a higher-end machine were both discussed, with a number of possible hardware configurations, but a short while after this everything ground to a halt with the announcement that Hyperion and Amiga Inc could not reach settlement and were heading for court, with Amiga Inc claiming that Hyperion had violated copyright, and Hyperion claiming that because Amiga Inc had been declared insolvent, they (Hyperion) owned the code. In fact it also involves the developers who haven't been paid and they won't release the code either. Litigation is still proceeding.

Disclaimer: Amiga Auckland have prepared the above information for the use of its members based on our experiences and as such is subject to revision at any time. Amiga Auckland cannot guarantee any of the information and cannot be held accountable for any issues that may result from using it.

Copyright 2006 Amiga Auckland Inc. All rights reserved.
Revised: December 24, 2006.