Visiting an old friend, the Micro AmigaOne (uA1)

Firstly I cannot believe it has been so long since my last post!  I’m hoping to bring more regular updates in these coming weeks especially since there are so many new and exciting things coming to the world of Amiga.

I will be reviewing new products such as the eagerly awaited ACA500 and updating my CF HD tutorial to provide a guide for advanced settings such as for using large drives and updated file systems such as PFS3/SFS.  Watch this space!

Today I’m going to re-introduce you to an old friend,  my Micro AmigaOne.  I have had this system for a couple of years now and since I will be displaying it at the upcoming Play Expo in Manchester I needed to update my OS4.1 installation and get familiar with the last few months worth of progress and updates along with new software.  I will be exhibiting some of my Commodore’s along with fellow members from the Amibay forum, Play Expo is being held at Eventcity on Manchester on the weekend of the 12th/13th of October.

 

(Below is from a review I done on the AmigaOne for Amibay.com in February 2012, some of the information has been updated today)

 

So what is the Micro AmigaOne?

The Micro AmigaOne (uA1) is a PowerPC based MiniITX system which will run the latest AmigaOS 4.1, the uA1 features a 750mhz IBM PowerPC processor which is clocked at 800mhz.  It will also run OS4 and Linux for PPC.

The uA1 supports up to 2gb Ram however I’ve been unable to find a compatible SODIMM larger than 512mb, which incidentally seems to be plenty for OS4.1

The uA1 Motherboard is MiniITX form factor and thus fits into MiniITX standard cases from x86 systems.

 

uA1 Motherboard

 

Technical Overview:

  • CPU
    – The µA1-C, just like the XE systems has a MagArray 300 connector for PPC processors made by IBM and Motorola and will handle G3/G4 CPU’s up to their current clocking limits
  • Memory
    – PC133MHz SODIMM slot.can take up to 2GB.
  • Legacy Peripherals
    – Parallel 1x EPP/ECP,
    – 2x Serial (on internal headers)
    – JoyStick/Midi port
    – PS2 kb and PS2 mouse ports.
  • Integrated Peripherals
    – 2x 1.1 USB on the motherboard rear ITX I/O panel)
    – 2 more on headers (using a front bay connecter)
    – Ethernet: 10/100 with 3COM 920C controller
    – Sound: Cmedia CMI8738 6 ch controller with 3.5mm mic, aux and speaker jacks
    – UDMA 100 2 channel interface (VIA686B)
    1 44 way (2.5″ IDE)
    1 40 way (Standard IDE)
  • PCI
    – One PCI slot on board.
    – With a suitable riser card you can add upto 3 PCI slots
  • Graphics interface speed
    – ATI Radeon 7000 AGP graphics controller on board with VGA, S-Video and composite output with 32MB of non-shared memory.
  • BIOS
    – Uboot socketed, with OS4 enabling code
  • The chipsets which are used on the A1-XE are also on the mA1 including the
    – North Bridge- Articia “S”
    which is the bridge board between the CPU, memory and PCI bus
    – South Bridge- VIA 82C686B,
    the chip that handles the system timing, interrupts, and communications between functions

 

The build process

As explained earlier the Micro AmigaOne is MiniITX form factor, therefore for this project I used an Antec ISK100:

 

Antec ISK-100

 

Antec ISK-100 (Side)

 

Although this case is very modern I thought it would make an ideal home for the uA1 as one of my aims for the project was to have a small but very powerful Amiga I could easily take along to events/meets.

It was a tight fit getting the Motherboard inside, so others may wish to use a slightly bigger case for their project, I also had to remove the CPU Fan to be able to close the case, however since this case has has a massive side cooling Fan my system runs cool enough just to use the Heatsink on the CPU. I guess a smaller CPU fan could be fitted if required.

 

Motherboard installed

The uA1 has 2.5 and 3.5in IDE headers, for this project I used the 2.5in 16gb PATA IDE SSD by Kingspec which runs cool and silent:

SSD installed

The uA1 has USB1.1 and has headers on the motherboard so you can add front USB ports, I was only able to use 2 of the available 4 on my case though.

Fitting it all in this little case was the hardest part of the build – with a more generic MiniITX case it would be much easier and there would even be space for a slim DVD drive (I use a USB DVDRW drive on this setup)

 

So how does it run?

Well, I’ve only tested OS4.1 so I cannot comment on other OS’ but I guess most people would want to use OS4.1 on a machine like this, and the uA1 runs it very well indeed. My system has a GX750 PPC chip factory overclocked to 800mhz and this seems very fast indeed. I have 512mb of Ram and this is plenty for OS4.1 even without a SWAP partition (I don’t use swap for fear of too many SSD writes)

Games like Quake II and Wipeout2097 run silky smooth as do Emulators such as Mame & Neo Geo.

At last, there is Web Browsing on an Amiga that does not make you want to slit your wrists, OS4.1’s OWB runs very well with many modern websites.  There is also now a Port of Firefox for OS4.1 called Timberwolf, I’m yet to fully test this new browser but it supports modern flash based Websites so it certainly an interesting addition to the catalog of Software for OS4.1

Here are some screen shots of the machine running:

OS4.1 Workbench

 

Various Icons and Windows

 

MiniSlug Game running

 

Directory Opus & Quake II running

(screen tearing not visible on the screen, this was captured by the screen grabber utility)

OWB Browser and Wookiechat (IRC Client)

System Specs (Ranger) E-UAE Running OS3.1

 

Here are a couple of Video’s that were taken when I first built my AmigaOne:

 

 

 

 

And one taken more recently to show new software that has been recently released.

 

 

Any drawbacks?

Well so far the review has been very positive and overall I think the AmigaOne is a great little machine which has a lot more potential than perhaps it has been give credit for, but yes there are some area’s that let the machine down.

Graphics Power, the uA1 has a 32mb Radeon 7000 on board, which by today’s standards is a fairly basic graphics card and due to limitations in the Micro AmigaOne’s UBOOT you cannot use a more up to date PCI Graphics card. This means that if you want to run a 24bit Workbench you need to turn off OS4.1’s Hardware Compositioning which is one of the nicest parts of the OS. Of course, like I do you can just run in 16bit which still looks very nice.

There is also a lack of polished software support for the OS in as much as applications available, many of the Emulators/Games that are available are not fully developed and do not run to their full potential. This is no way a dig at those who are coding and working on apps and those helping test and develop OS4.1, your efforts are really appreciated.

It is just a shame that this OS is a little too small time for the mainstream industry to get behind it.

Verdict?

Well overall, as a Next Gen Amiga I think that it does very well indeed. I like the small footprint and it has plenty of power for everything OS4.1 has to offer even if the Graphics abilities are a little below par.

You get an element of backwards compatibility via Emulation (UAE) and 020 JIT Emulation built into OS4.1 so you can run most of your old software and even WHDload Games.

If you want something a little more up to date you could look at the Sam440EP, this is also MiniITX based and has mod con’s such as SATA and DDR Ram plus support for PCI Graphics Cards.

Or of course you can look at the Full ATX Tower options such as AmigaOne XE and the Sam460EP, Pegasus 2 or you could splash out on the X1000!

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the review, I look forward to bringing some more new soon!

-Fitzsteve.