back to article It's only a game: Lara Croft won't save enterprise tech – but Jet Set Willy could

The twin planets of business and consumer technologies have been locked in a game of Pong for decades. The Apple II was aimed at hobbyists, but catalysed the revolution that put a PC on every office desk. The GUI needed hardware so expensive it could only come in boxes with corporate-sized price tags, until the Atari ST and …

  1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    I'm just glad the Spectrum Next turned out to be a real thing, and not a damp squib like the Vega+ etc...

    If you approach a problem with the right tools, right people and right discipline, it will be a success.

    1. james_smith Silver badge

      I watched the Nostalgia Nerd channel episode last night where he reviews the Spectrum Next. What a fantastic machine it is.

      1. NobbyNobbs

        It's a nice bit of kit and even since formal release a number of FPGA synthesis cores have been ported, e.g. a load of ZX UNO cores

        Sinclair QL is on the way too.

      2. laughthisoff

        Incoming

        I backed the 'accelerated' version, so I'm still waiting — patiently, and with an increasingly happy and lunatic smile — for its arrival. I'm really looking forward to getting mine 'in the flesh'. It's been great hearing about others receiving theirs in the mean time. There's been a great buzz in the community about it. I hear the 1980s calling me back :-)

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      I will be looking at the phase 2 kickstarter, I do like it a lot but I am a little bit hesitant to be chucking a couple of hundred at it right now. As much as I like this kind of thing, I don't get time to really enjoy them.

  2. msknight

    MiSTer is a modest success

    At the MiST project brought the Atari to the FPGA, the MiSTer project is worth looking into. Some people are now selling assembled and pre-programmed units complete with expansion boards... all build on the FPGA to run arcade systems as well as vintage consoles and home computers. It's breathtaking to see what's being done by some dedicated people.

    1. Wayland Bronze badge

      Re: MiSTer is a modest success

      I think we all (1980's techie teens) like to imagine improvements that we could have made to our home computers of the time. I often imagine what the Dragon 32 would have been like with a better video chip and a memory controller. It was possible to write code for that which could be run at any memory location without a linker.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: MiSTer is a modest success

        I've repeatedly said that the 68008 should have been the CPU for the original IBM PC. The wholes of the 80s programming was held back by the 8088 and the use of MS/DOS.

        I often wonder if the Dragon would have taken over the world if the 68008 had been used in that along with CP/M-68K which I think was available when the Dragon came out. I'm not sure how much use Killdall's XLT86 got but he really shot himself in both feet with that!

        1. Steve Todd

          Re: MiSTer is a modest success

          The 68008 wasn't ready in time. It wasn't released util the year after the IBM PC was launched, and IBM engineering needed lots of samples of the chosen CPU in order to validate it. The 8088 may have been crappy and slow, but it was available and programatically similar enough to the 8080 that the software world was used to to make it an attractive choice at the time.

  3. LDS Silver badge

    Arent' FPGAs only re-programmable a finite number of times?

    Are they still good to tackle a single problem efficiently, or did they improve enough so they can easily be re-programmed for different tasks and still last enough years?

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: Arent' FPGAs only re-programmable a finite number of times?

      For devices where the logic configuration is stored in non-volatile memory that is the case (at the extreme there are one-time-programmable devices), but for those using static RAM to store the configuration there is no reprogramming limit.

      e.g.

      https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/programmable/support/support-resources/knowledge-base/solutions/rd07022001_8599.html

      1. ThomH

        Re: Arent' FPGAs only re-programmable a finite number of times?

        In the next it's a Xilinx Spartan 6 which does indeed "store the customized configuration data in SRAM-type internal latches ... The configuration storage is volatile and must be reloaded whenever the FPGA is powered up." per its data sheet.

        But even if the FPGA itself isn't a concern, surely that just moves the failure to the external flash memory that contains the FPGA's bitcode? There is an update procedure for a Next with a progress bar so I don't think it's streamed from the SD card at every launch.

        This is a shame, as I own a Spectrum Next and self-justified that on wanting to play around with FPGA development. "I promise, it's for school" I told myself.

        1. the spectacularly refined chap

          Re: Arent' FPGAs only re-programmable a finite number of times?

          Not familiar with the Next but it may well be transferred to an onboard chip for initial loading, some FPGAs have only partial support for the serial memory protocols and lack e.g. clock stretching if the data source can't keep up with the device. I wouldn't worry about it "wearing out" though, some of the later chips go as far as supporting partial re-programming: you can reconfigure half the chip while the other half is still running whatever it is already programmed with.

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Arent' FPGAs only re-programmable a finite number of times?

        The F in FPGA comes from Field where the metal connection was that bit you programmed to set the functionality on a Field of components originally . A chip then would be made with about 10 expensive quartz masks and so for small production runs the original FPGAs where basically a shit load of components that you changed the wiring layer and connections - so two expensive masks to prototype on a relatively mass produced blank set of components where the cost of the other 8 became insignificant.

        Newer versions are a lot more flexible as explained elsewhere but are still considerably more expensive than something that could be produced in the millions using custom layout of the whole chip.

        1. the spectacularly refined chap

          Re: Arent' FPGAs only re-programmable a finite number of times?

          The F in FPGA comes from Field where the metal connection was that bit you programmed to set the functionality on a Field of components originally . A chip then would be made with about 10 expensive quartz masks and so for small production runs the original FPGAs where basically a shit load of components that you changed the wiring layer and connections - so two expensive masks to prototype on a relatively mass produced blank set of components where the cost of the other 8 became insignificant.

          What you are describing there is an uncommitted logic array or ULA, and they are still very much a thing. FPGAs are not mask programmed by definition: the "field" is where they are programmed, i.e. after leaving the fab.

    2. Wayland Bronze badge

      Re: Arent' FPGAs only re-programmable a finite number of times?

      You can build an entire Galaians machine in logic and then reprogram it to be a Defender machine.Not just the glue logic but the 6502 and the video chip in programmable logic. There is a whole geekdom where they do this sort of thing.

      1. ThomH

        Re: Arent' FPGAs only re-programmable a finite number of times?

        I hate myself for taking the time to say this, but: Galaxian was a Z80, and Defender a 6809.

        1. Simon Harris Silver badge

          Re: Arent' FPGAs only re-programmable a finite number of times?

          "and Defender a 6809."

          I always though Defender was two 6809s, but according to Wikipedia, it's a 6809 as the main processor, and a 6800 to do the sound effects.

  4. big_D Silver badge

    ZX Spectrum != Legacy corporate IT

    One of the problems is that the ZX Spectrum was designed as a stand-alone computer. It has no networking it has no security and it is used by one user at a time.

    The problem with legacy corporate IT is that is generally used by many people at diverse locations, whether it be in an office block or at separate physical locations in other cities or countries. If the system is easy to isolate, there are no problems, but for systems that have to stay online, but are no longer secure, an FPGA won't help there.

    On the other hand, FPGAs are a great way for modelling problems going forward. Doesn't Azure already offer FPGA instances?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: ZX Spectrum != Legacy corporate IT

      It's got a TCP/IP stack should you need one. It's got no unnecessary services running so you could argue that's security. Yes, there's no multiuser (password screen in a BASIC program?).

    2. Porco Rosso

      Re: ZX Spectrum != Legacy corporate IT

      Where is the time you bought a game-book in your local supermarket as a 9 year old ..

      Type the code over and on your fathers ZX 81 and later his Amstrad or your uncles Commodore

      To play that game ...

      Atari was big no no for my parents

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ZX Spectrum != Legacy corporate IT

      Non networked desktop machines were certainly.a legacy e.g. Apple II, Commodore PET, plenty of CP/M machines and many early desktop PCs were stand alone.

      Networks game in pretty quickly though but in in that era much if it was terminals into mainframes. I guess it's all about which aspect of Legacy IT.

      zX spectrum did have networking quite early on via interface 1, BBC machines had Econet, many also dialed into to central servers e.g. BBS type services and MUDs.

      I'm.pretty sure Intel have developed CPUs with FPGA components on die for specific compute too.

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Re: ZX Spectrum != Legacy corporate IT

        "I'm.pretty sure Intel have developed CPUs with FPGA components on die for specific compute too."

        The Intel Agilex SoC FPGA range have Quad-core 64 bit Arm Cortex-A53 CPUs on board - not sure if that's a case of a CPU with an FPGA on board, or an FPGA with a CPU on board.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: ZX Spectrum != Legacy corporate IT

          Found them. interlnAria 10 chips, mix of Xeon and FPGA way back in 2018 :)

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: ZX Spectrum != Legacy corporate IT

        Networks cams in quickly in some places. A lot of floppies went around before the price of the cards and cabling dropped to the point where it was better than wandering up a couple of floors to drop off the data/code. In fact ISTR it coincided with MS Word producing massive files where a page of A4 and a couple of different fonts wouldnt fit on a single floppy and management types couldn't work out which order to put Disk1 and Disk2 in even if they could remember how to concatenate files.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ZX Spectrum != Legacy corporate IT

      I don't think the point of this article is that it's a ZX Spectrum; it's that it's an FPGA programmed to act precisely like a legacy system, but with improvements, which could have great applications in the bigger IT world. Knocking a Speccy for not being corporate IT is not the aim of this game (which is not played via a Kempston joystick).

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: ZX Spectrum != Legacy corporate IT

        My point was legacy unnetworked tech is easier to retro-cool with an FPGA than a legacy network security nightmare...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: ZX Spectrum != Legacy corporate IT

          Yep, they still did add networking to spec next, and indeed many retro computers now have networking.

          I'd say XP is in the edge of retro but still very heavily used, e.g McD can tills and order points for a starter

    5. Ken 16 Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: ZX Spectrum != Legacy corporate IT

      It's always the support. Those legacy systems aren't a problem because they're old or because they're slow, they're a problem because the hardware supplier has end of life'd them, the OS won't get any more patches and the last person in the company who understands the software is due to retire in 18 months.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: ZX Spectrum != Legacy corporate IT

        Imagine a mid-80s DOS machine running something, both DOS and the software came with lifetime licences (as was done then), why would they need any more patches?

        Now put this esoteric software on an emulator or a VM on a Windows 10 machine. Now you do have a problem with updates and licences and the possibility that the emulator or VM won't replicate everything 100%.

        The last person in the company who understands it has 18 months to write and rewrite a document until the PFY can follow the instructions. That's not an insurmountable problem.

        1. Glen 1 Silver badge

          Re: ZX Spectrum != Legacy corporate IT

          Explaining to management that the senior engineer needs to spend time writing documentation... Is a harder problem. We have heard time and a again the tails in these halls of retired engineers being called back at £$€¥ cost.

          Having both the PFY(s) and the BOFH out of action for training (cus y'know... together) is, if not unsurmountable, going to be like pulling teeth.

          1. Glen 1 Silver badge

            Re: ZX Spectrum != Legacy corporate IT

            *tales

  5. Dan 55 Silver badge

    I wants one

    Nostalgia Nerd

    The Spectrum Show

    Retro Recipes

    Back to the article, the simplicity of the machine has a lot going for it in terms of software reliability, instead of the gigabyte-sized monstrosities which constantly update and pull the rug out from under your feet.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: I wants one

      But only if I could find a copy of the Z80 UCSD Pascal.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: I wants one

        I think this is the droid you're looking for (might need some Jedi magic though).

  6. Mage Silver badge
    Coffee/keyboard

    The Apple II was aimed at hobbyists

    Maybe initially in the USA?

    Anyway it was business people due to Visicalc that made the Apple II a success. Only very rich hobbyists could afford it and knowledgeable ones assembled S100 based systems.

    The Apple II had a built in Keyboard, only color in the USA and had 40 column (maybe upper case only).

    I bought one for our business, falling for the hype. We spend more on accessories and upgrades than the computer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Apple II was aimed at hobbyists

      "The Apple II was aimed at hobbyists, but catalysed the revolution that put a PC on every office desk"

      Putting your experience together with the above quote, it was still a small minority. It was the IBM 8088 and then MS DOS that "catalysed the revolution that put a PC on every office desk".

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: The Apple II was aimed at hobbyists

        I think "Catalysed" is the right word - Apple II participated in the reaction but remained itself (largely) unchanged. Apart from all those upgrades.

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "anything you can do in software you can do in hardware"

    I'd like to see the size of the chip that could do Windows in hardware.

    On another matter, "GPUs grew out of gaming". Globally I have to admit that that is likely true, but the very first graphic card I bought was an Orchid Farenheit 1280 in 1992. It had an entire MB of RAM !

    I bought it because it promised accelerated performance for Windows 3.11. For Windows !

    Of course, the next graphics card upgrade I purchased was a Diamond Stealth in 1995 (not entirely sure it's that exact version). That was not for accelerating Windows, I'll admit, although by that time, accelerating Windows was, apparently, par for the course.

    It's not until 1997 that my hunt for performance started, badly, with the Matrox Mystique. Needless to say, I went Voodoo 2 in the year that followed, and then it was Nvidia that reigned supreme in my PCs.

    But I'll never forget that Orchid card.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: "anything you can do in software you can do in hardware"

      I'd like to see the size of the chip that could do Windows in hardware.

      I'm sure Intel are working on it.

      1. Wayland Bronze badge

        Re: "anything you can do in software you can do in hardware"

        "I'd like to see the size of the chip that could do Windows in hardware."

        Seriously, why not. Then again our computers use the Von Neumann architecture. Basically the CPU is the pump at the centre and the memory and hard drive are tanks, the data being the liquid.

        What the FPGA offers is to make everything in the computer pumps and tanks.

        So instead of machine code having to wait in RAM having for it's turn through the CPU, it will run itself.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: "anything you can do in software you can do in hardware"

      I seem to remember Matrox cards being used in systems built for AutoCad and stuff.

      1. John Jennings Bronze badge

        Re: "anything you can do in software you can do in hardware"

        Matrox excelled in CRT driving- they had much better DA controllers than anyone else, back in the day. You needed to pair them with something like a Sony Trinetron monitor (if you could stomach the ghost lines). From the G200 they could drive twin monitors. Nowadays - I think 6-10 are possible.

        After the mystique (and later to an extent the G400) they dropped out of the consumer market. The Parhelion was no use for gaming - it was uncompetative when it came to market..

    3. Wayland Bronze badge

      Re: "anything you can do in software you can do in hardware"

      GPUs are the co-processors of our time. I remember Intel sold the maths chip separately and it made a big difference. GPUs don't integrate so cleanly into the computer as co-processors. The CPU had hooks for either calling software or hardware if present. The GPU has to be specifically loaded with a procedure and data and set on it's way. The load/unloading process is more work than many of the tasks so it has to be a really heavy task to make it worth the effort.

      I can see AMD more closely integrating GPU tasks into the CPU now they are putting mini VEGA cores onto RYZENs.

  8. Mage Silver badge

    its FPGA chip

    Mostly an FPGA is used when the volume is too low for an ASIC.

    Almost none are in applications were the configuration is changed during use. They simulate a HW design, which obviously can have a designer designed CPU core, a real CPU core or no CPU.

    Almost all are only seen during product development. The same files can produce an ASIC design, which will use a fraction of the power and may have fewer pins.

    You'd only NOT use an ASIC if:

    1) You are using initial customers as beta testers

    2) You are not quite sure of customers requirements (see 1)

    3) Volume is too low.

    4) The EXTREMELY rare case where the FPGA functions will change during use and this can't be done by loading a table into Flash or RAM paired with an ASIC or inside the ASIC.

    Also Spectrum, Apple II, Amiga etc have generally nothing to do with Legacy IT.

    It was Spreadsheets, then databases and wordprocessing that made PCs a success in business. Hobby/Home computing was more about games and quickly diverged apart from niches like MIDI.

    Perhaps the PCW series was the first and last home computer mainly NOT for games till laptops & PCs were cheap enough for home users that were neither hobbyists or gamers.

    Now games on PCs bought for games rather than phones, tablets and consoles for games are a niche.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: its FPGA chip

      It was Spreadsheets, then databases and wordprocessing that made PCs a success in business. Hobby/Home computing was more about games and quickly diverged apart from niches like MIDI.

      There were people crowbarring spreadsheets, databases, and word processors and into all sorts of computers before the x86 PC took over. Also, there was CP/M and and towards the end of CP/M's life many home computers could run it (BBC Micro, Amstrad CPC, Spectrum +3, Commodore 128).

      Also, if hardware is better than emulation for computers up to about the mid 90s. If you want an example look at this (LGR, 20 minutes). Not quite FPGA (but FPGAs for 8088 and x86 do exist) but it's still a new version of old hardware.

      You could replace one 35-year-old box which is just about to die with brand-new hardware which maintains 100% compatibility with the old software and leave it running another 35 years should you need to, only hopefully with better hardware maintenance this time around. You'd have to be brave to claim you'd get the same lifetime out of a modern PC running Windows 10 and emulation software or a VM.

    2. Long John Brass Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: its FPGA chip

      Every once an a while the stupid idea of "building" a VAX or PDP-11 on a FPGA core wombles into my mind. I hurriedly shoo it away before I loose a year of my life to it :)

      1. Down not across

        Re: its FPGA chip

        Every once an a while the stupid idea of "building" a VAX or PDP-11 on a FPGA core wombles into my mind.

        You, of course, know that there are several implementations. w11 is one fairly complete 11/70. There are of course others too.

  9. Franco Silver badge

    Any mention of a Miner Willy game immediately causes me to have "In the Hall of the Mountain King" on continuous loop in my head, so thanks for that El Reg.

  10. getHandle

    Striplights in a meeting have never dissolved a hangover for me

    Only exacerbated them! Some quiet coding on the other hand works a treat.

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Striplights in a meeting have never dissolved a hangover for me

      My problem is that a day of quiet hungover coding is then followed by two days of noisy expletive laden debugging.

  11. SVV Silver badge

    but Jet Set Willy could

    I've known this for years - if you time your jump just right in The Bathroom, it takes you into a hidden fully featured ERP application.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: but Jet Set Willy could

      And if you time your jump over Entrance to Hades wrong, you're condemned to coding in JavaScript and PHP for the rest of your lives.

  12. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    Not really sure what this article is trying to achieve, but if it's trying to say that fpgas can replace legacy systems that may be end of life..

    That may be the case in the event that the legacy system consists of hardware that is no longer manufactured, and doesn't have a modern equivalent. But the costs of implementing (including testing) something like that using FPGAs may mean it's actually cheaper to replace the entire system.

    I have limited knowledge of FPGAs, and have never programmed one. However, my understanding is they are frequently used in low manufacturing run PCBs, and often for prototyping designs that will ultimately be implemented using other means.

    Much as I like the Spectrum Next (in fact, I'm considering buying one to mess around on), I think that is a good example of a PCB with a low manufacturing run (likely to be a few thousand, rather than the millions an xbox or PlayStation would require..

  13. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "the real lines drawn on the dry-wipe whiteboards over endless cups of indifferent coffee as last night's hangover dissolves under the strip lights of endless meetings"

    You are jack Dee and I claim my £5.

  14. spold Silver badge

    So I guess we can look forward to...

    Next generation Genuine People Personalities? Or Artificially Intelligent Sexbots? Or a combination?

    >>Outside digital signal processing, where the basic mathematical blocks can be highly refined and reused, FPGAs haven't caught fire.

    Please be sure to include a fire extinguisher with the sexbots anyway.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: So I guess we can look forward to .... Terminal Alienation ‽ *

      Please be sure to include a fire extinguisher with the sexbots anyway. ....spold

      That's more passion killer than desire thriller, spold ........ and you don't need to be an Einstein or Ayn Rand to realise the latter a much more exciting driver for actions undertaken and planned for AI NEUKlearer HyperRadioProACTive Erudition of Earthed Systems in Existential Transition and Transfer to Virgin Virtual Space Centres ....... where one can frolic and play all the way in every way all day everyday if one be better than just good and adored. :-)

      As Celestial Centres for Virtual Space Virgins they can easily appear to have no peer or competitive opponent in the Phorms of Phishes in Cloudy Sees Quenching Madness and Mayhem with CHAOS and ITs Almighty Creativity.

      How else to Present Clouds Hosting Advanced Operating Systems Sharing Future Paths Taken in Service of All Those ACTivated and on ACTive Duty or Currently Still and/or Still Yet to Be Deployed and Employed and Enjoyed/EMPowered and Enjoined for Virtually Remote ACTivation or Self Actualisation. [That latter course and facility is much more for that on those on the super fast broad band casting tracks excelling in ploughing one's own fields with fertile furrows for fruits and bounty to discover and grace with life-giving harvests.]

      Surely you don't expect engraved written instructions to be delivered for despatch? That's so quaint olde time ancient school and things have move on greatly since thon and then.

      * .... A not inconsequential read which lurks in the super stealthy steady top secret non-state undergrowth of TLDR :-) ..... https://www.humancondition.com/transform-your-life-part-1/

      Do yourself a favour ... give all of it your attention and you will certainly see everything is delivered freely for future capitalisation and systems monetisation. The Suppliers of that Extremely Particular and Adorably Peculiar of Provisions are Many Time Over Richer Than Croesus and a Better Friend and Partner there be None.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: So I guess we can look forward to .... Terminal Alienation ‽ *

        And look at what El Reg informs is taking a quantum leap of faith into an extraordinarily active field ......and most probably expecting a following leading with Brothers and Sisters, Grand Vizards and Mothers Superior doing their righteous and virtuous In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti thing, for both that which works and for those who work in Praise of the Mysterious Ways ......... https://devclass.com/2020/03/02/vatican-signs-up-ibm-and-microsoft-as-ai-ethics-apostles/

        Brave New Bold Worlds Love a Dogged Trier.... and aint that the Honest Gospel Truth. ‽ :-)

        Bravo, the Vatican Academy for Life ..... and who else but an Old Nick type would not wish to agree to abide by and champion the six principled fundamental elements of good innovation lauded there.

        And yes, that is Knights Templar Round Table Crusader Territory too.

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        2. This post has been deleted by its author

        3. Tail Up

          Re: I guess....we can

          well, finally, SomeTHInG like this should have been happened one sunny day

          you certainly look informed, Doc

          "e". envy

        4. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          Re: Earthly Interventionism ‽

          And .... be the following evidence of disciples in such an extraordinary active field revealed and revelling as fellow travellers in friendly competition rather than being misrepresented and framed as a crazed opposition ‽ ..... Christians Fund AI Mentalists

          And .... for those of an atheistic and/or agnostic disposition, most likely also to be mirrored and cloned for almighty leads with pioneering works from an Innovative Skolkovo Type Operations Centre ........ and there be quite a few of those lurking around the globe nowadays ...... hiding their lights behind bushels for progress with a stealthy secret advantage?

          Such appears to be in many the human, an inhuman trait that fears what is able to be offered both with and/or without Total Command and Absolute Control.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Earthly Internetionism

            https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&q=the%20meaning%20of%20life

            Who runs this beat? Is there answer, or are there answers? (-:

  15. c1ue

    AS400 by any other name

    Not at all clear to me why this article was written.

    If we're going to talk about 8 bit CPUs like the ZX Spectrum - modern systems can perform software emulation to replace legacy DOS, Windows and Mac. All you then need is a copy of the software and some form of pipe to pull the data out of the legacy box.

    I'd think the real problem lies with Big Iron systems that fundamentally don't work like x86 architectures, i.e. the PowerPC AS400 systems.

    While you can software emulate PowerPC, the emulation cannot replace the hot swap, highly parallel and other architectural features of AS400 OS+PowerPC systems - and it isn't entirely clear to me that an FPGA could easily do the same either. This is disregarding potential copyright/patent issues IBM may have.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: isn't entirely clear to me that an FPGA could easily do the same

      An FPGA simply replaces loads of ancient logic boards, or a smaller number of VLSI boards.

      If you have the equivalent gate design of an AS400, or Power PC, you CAN perfectly implement the CPU in an FPGA. Or with more expensive FPGAs and older hardware, probably most or all of the PCB that the CPU lived on if it was a single chip.

      What you need is the actual design and then it can be re-implemented as an FPGA.

      If you debug it, then if you have 10,000 to a 1,000,000 customers (depending on sale price and complexity) you can output the files for an ASIC from a chip foundry.

      It's extremely hard to replace SW by an FPGA, (unless it's pure DSP) because you have to design the HW from scratch. It's pretty simple for an FPGA guru to re-implement any HW (CPU or other) if the original design is available.

      Conversely a simple slow VLSI chip can be implemented in SW on a PIC, ARM, Desktop OS etc, simply by having a spec of what it does, no need to know how it was implemented. Such as display/Keyboard interfaces on old machine tools, gadgets or radio sets. Older DMM chips or frequency counter chips can easily be done on a PIC.

  16. Simon Harris Silver badge
    Pint

    FPGAs are cheating for legacy hardware...

    making it out of individual transistors is the proper way to do things!

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/05/18/chaps_make_6502_by_hand/

  17. juice Silver badge

    Really?

    As c1ue mentioned, I'm really not sure how the Spectrum Next is a potential example for how to "save" legacy enterprise tech.

    The SN has been a labour of love which has arguably been achieved thanks to two things:

    1) The fact that the ZX Spectrum is arguably the best-documented computer every made, thanks in no small part to it's incredibly simple/cheap hardware, the millions of kids who played on it and the fact that millions of clones and variants were produced in places like Brazil and the USSR, long after it's commercial death in the UK

    People have spent decades researching the quirks of the ZX Spectrum and the many unofficial variants and peripherals, and have then documented them and built *software* emulators to handle them. The SN team have done a fantastic job of both producing their new hardware and successfully bringing it to market, but they had a very strong base to build from.

    2) Nostalgia

    Arguably, people aren't buying the Spectrum Next for compatibility, save ancient processes or develop new ideas in their shed. And I'd guess that most aren't buying it so that they can fire up TR-DOS and try out some of the wierd Russian games and demos, or even the modern multi-colour "Next-exclusive" titles. They're buying it because it has a case which looks like the original, and because they're old enough to splash out a bit of cash on a bit of kit they can plug into their TV and use to bore their grandkids with tales of how amazing video games were back in the day.

    I very much doubt there's anyone out there who has the same love of enterprise systems, or who would want to splash out a lump of cash for the chance to sit at a desk and relive the "good old days" of sitting in Accounting. For instance, you don't see anyone making an effort to bring ICL's One Per Desk (perhaps ironically, powered by a Sinclair QL) back to life!

    And even if by some chance there is a group of people who are obsessed with their enterprise hardware, said pool of devotees will be far smaller than for the ZX Spectrum, and the amount of documentation and research that's available to build on will therefore also be far smaller.

    As such, no-one's going to want to build hardware systems to replace or simulate enterprise systems, except possibly a bank or other FTSE-100 company with a few billion to spare and a desperate need to maintain a critical legacy system which for some reason can't be ripped out and replaced with a Raspberry Pi.

    Instead, a better example of how legacy enterprise systems might be saved would be something like MAME, where people are striving to emulate as much legacy hardware as possible; it's arguably driven by nostalgic in the same way as the SN, but there's equally also a desire to both strive for accuracy and cover as many systems as possible. Gotta catch 'em all...

  18. Muscleguy Silver badge
    Boffin

    Cross species DNA swap you say?

    Us Biologists call that Lateral or Horizontal Gene Transfer when Nature does it and it is so common you can fall over when looking for something else. I did, I was trying to find the end of a chicken gene (using 3' RACE for those who know) and threw another set of possible clone sequences at the database (I BLASTed them) and back they came. One stood out, for the paucity of results. Most had pages of possible matches across the then sequenced tree of life. This one had three hits, two human (an EST meaning it turned out in some context and the Human Genome) and Anopheles Gambiae, the malaria mosquito.

    No chimp sequences, no mouse or other mammal, no other birds, no amphibia or fish or other insects, nothing from Drosophila fruit flies (another dipteran).

    So we had two close commensals, humans and chickens/SE Asian Jungle Fowl and a vector, the mosquito which links us. The gene was a protease so likely viral in origin. So you, me and them are all genetically modified.

    The poster child for LTP is the humble sea squirt. Which is chordate (a stem vertebrate) even it spends adult life as a sessile filter feeder. The group name is the Tunicates as the adults wrap themselves in a leathery tunic to protect them. This tunic is curious though as it is made of cellulose, plant fibre. No algal symbionts could be found. The genome sequence though revealed the 8 gene synthesis pathway for cellulose in the genome. It had been pinched from a seaweed a few million years ago. EIGHT genes and a full synthesis pathway at that.

    They missed a trick though. If they had pinched the chloroplasts from the seaweed they could have given up the filter feeding and become a vertebrate plant soaking up the sunlight for food.

    If anyone is wondering the closest relative of vertebrates and seaweed is something single cellular like a paramecium, just before some of them failed to fully digest a meal of blue-green cyanobacteria and turned them into chloroplasts and become the first algae. Photosynthesis evolved once and the higher organisms (non bacteria) simply pinched it from the bacteria. Chloroplasts are like mitochondria. Former free living organisms which retain their own dna.

  19. Blackjack Silver badge

    Sadly, Is not Jet Set Radio

    Now that is a revival I would get behind.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Da, it chains the attention to the text from the very first string.

  21. hmv Silver badge

    GPUs & SGI?

    So games are responsible for GPUs? Does anyone remember a little company called SGI that produced graphics workstations that included board sets that did 3D graphics (including textures) back in the 1980s? And the three SGI employees who founded 3Dfx?

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