Beside the finalization of upcoming products such as the CyberVisionPPC and the BVisionPPC graphics cards, phase 5 digital products has started a new development project for a stand-alone, PowerPC-based computer system, called the pre\box, which will use the licensed AMIGA OS 3.1 and a further advanced version of the PowerUP System Software to provide Amiga compatibility on the AMIGA OS/Workbench 3.1 level under CyberGraphX V3.
"The license agreement that we have signed with Amiga International allows us to start the development project of this new machine, which had been in conceptual design for several months now. It is an important step for revitalizing the Amiga market, encouraging developers and rebuilding a market which is strong enough to maintain" says Wolf Dietrich, General Manager of phase 5. In a separate announcement Dietrich states that the A\BOX, the long-term technology project of phase 5 digital products, is postponed but not cancelled. "The A\BOX project will be continued with revised targets and specifications and with extended resources, based on the succesful introduction of the new product lines". Dietrich points out that the key for the survival of the Amiga and the Amiga market is the availability of new outstanding stand-alone hardware products as soon as possible, a goal which shall be reached with the pre\box design. "We need an expanding market in the very near future, or the battle may be lost for the Amiga computer system" he adds.
The new pre\box machines will be targeting the medium and upper price regions for PCs or Personal Workstations, but are designed to provide stunning performance. All systems will come as multi-processing systems with at least four PowerPC CPUs installed, which will allow them to provide an extremely high computing power at an outstanding price/performance relation. "Multi-processing has been one of the most important goals, if not THE most important design goal for phase 5 digital products in the past 18 months" explains Wolf Dietrich. "It is here where alternative technology can offer advantages and superiority over the mainstream products in the PC market. While our current PowerUP product line, which consists of upgrade cards for existing machines, helps the user to update his system and secure the investments made in existing hardware and software, it is a challenge to built new stand-alone hardware products which can price-wise compete with the mainstream PCs - especially under the impression that PC systems are blown out at dumping prices regularly, and that a PC system you buy today maybe outdated and nearly worthless in less than a year." Consequently, the company does not plan to build single-CPU systems which would have to compete at a similar performance level with Intel-based systems, but wants to fully utilize the opportunities which have been given with the move to the PowerPC. "Developers who jump on the PowerUP bandwagon today can make their products ready for multiprocessing quite easily. Therefore it will be possible to take two giant steps - from a single-CPU 68k system to a Multi-CPU PowerPC system - within only one year, an impressive progress for the Amiga community which many have not thought possible" Dietrich adds.
The pre\box system is designed on a ATX formfactor motherboard and incorporates a fast SDRAM-based memory subsystem with initially up to 100 MHz memory speed. Depending on the actual bus speed of the PowerPC processors which are used, the processor bus also runs at up to 100 MHz. The four PowerPC processors, which are located on a separate CPU card, will be equipped with inline or backside caches, also depending on which type of processor is actually used. As the PowerUP System Software features a software-controlled cache coherency, the pre\\box can even be equipped with CPUs which do not offer hardware support for multiprocessing, such as the PPC603e or the PPC750 (G3).
The pre\box system also has an integrated 3D graphics subsystem, which is connected via a 66 MHz PCI 2.1 bus with a peak performance of 264 MB/s and comes with eight MB of graphics memory. With this gfx subsystem, a powerful standard is provided as the minimum base configuration on which software designers can rely. But more than that: On the same 66 MHz PCI bus there is a special slot for a Voodoo2-based 3D accelerator card which is directly coupled to the built-in gfx chip. "We plan to provide, either on our own or in cooperation with other vendors, a Voodoo2-based solution as a powerful upgrade option" comments Wolf Dietrich. "We will not forget the demands of the serious gamers."
Also as standard, there will be an integrated Ultra-Wide SCSI-II controller and a 100 Mbit ethernet controller available, which will allow usage of todays powerful UW-SCSI devices and provide fast network connectivity - a feature which will also support the distributed multiprocessing concepts of phase 5 digital products.
For the use of inexpensive hardware expansions, a PCI bus with three standard PCI slots is integrated. This PCI bus runs at 66 MHz, but will also accept 33 MHz PCI boards. With the PCI bus integrated, development of new stunning hardware products for the pre\box systems is quite easy; more than that, developers can use standard PCI products and adopt them for the pre\box systems by simply writing software support for them.
Yet not decided is, if there will be a socket for an optional 68k CPU left on the board. "In this next-generation product, the consequent option for using 68k software will be emulation. We are continuously encouraging Amiga developers to support our new MP software technologies and guidelines which we introduced with our PowerUP System Software, and those who follow these recommendations will be able to provide applications that utilize the vast power of our upcoming pre\box system right away. This is where efforts should be spend now" says Wolf Dietrich.
Beside these main features, the pre\box will offer all standard functionality which is expected from a computer system today, such as fast serial and parallel interfaces, a USB bus, and an EIDE interface for use of e.g. inexpensive CD-ROM drives or additional cheap harddrives.
The pre\box release is scheduled for the early fourth quarter 1998. The pricing of the pre\box system is already determined based on the current pricings for PowerPC processors. Currently it is planned to offer the following versions of the pre\box with the following suggested retail prices:
pre\box 604/800 with four PPC604e-200 MHz CPUs suggested retail price DM 3.995,-- / US$ 1995.00/ UKP 1495.00 pre\box 604/1000 with four PPC604r-250 MHz CPUs suggested retail price DM 4.995,-- / US$ 2495.00/ UKP 1895.00 pre\box 604/1200 with four PPC604r-300 MHz CPUs suggested retail price DM 6.995,-- / US$ 3395.00/ UKP 2595.00 pre\box 750/1200 with four PPC750-300 MHz CPUs, each with 1 MByte Backside Cache suggested retail price DM 8.995,-- / US$ 4495.00/ UKP 3395.00
These prices are valid for pre\box systems in an ATX minitower, including mouse and keyboard, as well as AMIGA OS 3.1 and the PowerUP System Software, excluding memory, harddrive and CD-ROM. For an entry-level configuration of memory, harddrive and CD-ROM (32MB, 4GB, 24speed) an additional DM 750,-- (US$ 375.00 or UKP 275.00) must be considered.
(German and UK prices include VAT, US prices excl. local taxes, all prices are based on the current currency exchange rates. Specifications and prices are subject to change without prior notice).
In order to support and encourage customers of PowerUP boards for existing Amigas, phase 5 digital products will offer substantial discounts on the purchase of pre\box systems to owners of PowerUP boards. "We want to provide security for the investments of the users today. Obviously, Amiga users and developers need to see a fast growing base of PowerPC systems in these days, in order to support the progress of developments. We want to encourage the users to invest in PowerPC technology now" comments Wolf Dietrich. Owners of PowerUP boards who later take advantage of the discounts on purchases of a pre\box system will not have to return their PowerUP boards to receive this discount, but can continue to use their PowerUP-Amiga as a stand-alone system or even use it's performance from the pre\box via a link system which will be provided with the pre\box, and with which the networked multiprocessing feature of the PowerUP System Software can be utilized.
With this new product roadmap and variety of powerful and stunning products to come, phase 5 digital products underscores it's position as the leading innovator in PowerPC hardware and system software development in the Amiga market. "We want to further support the Amiga market with these efforts" states Wolf Dietrich. "Part of our efforts will also be to support the developers, and to encourage them to develop for PowerUP with our best endeavours. We will do whatever is possible for us to make existing developers stay with the Amiga, and will also try to win back Amiga developers who have left the platform or put developments on hold. Recent releases of PowerUP compatible software products, which had been realized within just a few weeks by their developers, show how easy and efficiently existing Amiga software products can be ported to support the new processor and performance generation. To convince software developers, we also need to make them aware of the market potential and the outlook to the future that we offer. All users can support these efforts, too, by contacting their favourite Software vendors and requesting PowerUP versions of their software."