Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

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daveejhitchins
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Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by daveejhitchins » Sat Feb 14, 2015 8:38 am

While in down town Oslo, with DavidB and PaulB, drinking the beers that were guarded by hefty bouncers :lol: , apart from putting the world to rights, as you do (!), we discussed the matchbox CoPro and just how good the project was.

One of the topics, we all seemed to share, is the Electron . . .

Short pause for some background info:
Back to the last Halifax meeting . . . and some devastating news I received from Daniel: I was watching the Tube version of Elite and mentioned that I was looking forward to playing this on the Electron . . . Oh no, you won't, says Daniel, due to the 'split screen' it uses! Ahhhhhhhh! I said (actually, I think that was a mental [don't go there!] Ahhhhhhhh!) in reality I don't remember much after that :? my dreams were shattered :(

Back to the story:
We discussed the shortfalls of the ULA, and, of course fixed it, there and then :D It got me thinking: IF you can do all that is being done with the matchbox CoPro Why then can't you . . .

Remove the ULA socket (not to difficult, with the correct tools) and replace it with a board containing an FPGA and any require 'glue' logic (including level shifters).

The FPGA would provide the following features:
> A 3 way switch:
>>>1) Normal Mode
>>>2) Enhanced Mode
>>>3) Beeb Mode

1) Normal Mode
a) Standard Electron, no enhancements.

2) Enhanced Mode
a) Fast Ram
b)
c)

3)Beeb Mode
a) Video
b) Sound
c) Registers
d) OS ?

OK, I know I'm dreaming (maybe not, now :D ) . . . But, wouldn't it be a fantastic project?

Food for thought?

Dave H :D

Edit: Continuous
Last edited by daveejhitchins on Mon Feb 16, 2015 6:33 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by richardtoohey » Sat Feb 14, 2015 8:57 am

Just let us know when you are finished and need some testers! :lol:

Wouldn't you also need to update the OS from OS 1.00? I know BASIC 2 is the same in Electron / BBC B, but would OS 1.00 know about (for example) Mode 7? Where is the code in the Electron that says "Mode 7 means Mode 6"? Not that I know anything about it, just asking!

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by flaxcottage » Sat Feb 14, 2015 10:13 am

daveejhitchins wrote:OK, I know I'm dreaming . . . But, wouldn't it be a fantastic project?
Totally beyond my expertise or understanding to do other than testing but such an Electron would be a BEAST!
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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by daveejhitchins » Sat Feb 14, 2015 10:42 am

richardtoohey wrote:Wouldn't you also need to update the OS from OS 1.00? I know BASIC 2 is the same in Electron / BBC B, but would OS 1.00 know about (for example) Mode 7? Where is the code in the Electron that says "Mode 7 means Mode 6"? Not that I know anything about it, just asking!
Hey, Richard . . . Let try walking before sprinting :D I'm sure there will be a host of Brick Walls to overcome.

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by danielj » Sat Feb 14, 2015 10:43 am

I feel awful for shattering your dreams! :( sorry Dave.

d.

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by daveejhitchins » Sat Feb 14, 2015 10:44 am

danielj wrote:I feel awful for shattering your dreams! :( sorry Dave.

d.
:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :twisted: So you should! :lol:

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by davidb » Sat Feb 14, 2015 11:25 am

daveejhitchins wrote:We discussed the shortfalls of the ULA, and, of course fixed it, there and then :D It got me thinking: IF you can do all that is being done with the matchbox CoPro Why then can't you . . .

Remove the ULA socket (not to difficult, with the correct tools) and replace it with a board containing an FPGA! The FPGA would:
> Fix the Memory Speed issue
> Provide Mode 7
> Replicate the Beeb Video
> Is there anything else?
A simple four step plan! :D It sounds so easy. ;)

As I mentioned during our discussion, I think AlanD has already done something like this. Well, not the drop-in replacement, but I'm sure that's only because he was generously leaving that fun project for someone else to do. ;)

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by daveejhitchins » Sat Feb 14, 2015 12:21 pm

davidb wrote:As I mentioned during our discussion, I think AlanD has already done something like this. Well, not the drop-in replacement, but I'm sure that's only because he was generously leaving that fun project for someone else to do. ;)
Yes, I read AlanDs part of the thread . . . However, prices have, probably, come down now and my intension wasn't to 'replicate' the Beeb 'But' to enhance the Electron. You still wouldn't have all the I/O the Beeb has, unless, of course you added them via the Electron upgrade path: Plus 3 Plus 1 etc. And, you'd still have an Electron keyboard. I did realise there would be some who would say "why not just get a Beeb" : Well, you could say that to the Atom guys - and get some very interesting replies from them :D It's all a matter of what you like and what you, maybe, have been brought-up with. I like my Electron and just love to make it better with peripherals - and have no problem with enhancements like the slogger Turbo Board <- Would the Enhanced ULA be much different? Just better because of the available technology!

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by davidb » Sat Feb 14, 2015 1:13 pm

I'm definitely with you on the part about enhancing the Electron. There's no need to restrict ourselves to what the Beeb can do! :D

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by 1024MAK » Sat Feb 14, 2015 1:37 pm

Great idea =D>

I can shove some stuff to one side and become a important tester :wink: (he said drifting into a day dream...).

One question that has/is asked on World of Spectrum and Sinclair ZX World when talking about super class upgrades, is:-
What makes a ZX Spectrum a ZX Spectrum? Or what makes a ZX81 a ZX81?

So the same question here... What makes a Electron an Electron?
Is it the keyboard? The case? The ULA? The OS and BASIC? The PCB?
Some of these? All of these?

So if you remove the ULA and the ROM that contains the OS and BASIC, then replace them with "better" replacements that can do so much more (and make the machine more Beeb like, or with even better features), at what point does it stop being an Electron?

Also, should we / do we need to fit faster / higher capacity DRAM? Or will a modern SRAM be used? Or are we thinking of using part of the FPGA to provide fast byte wide RAM?

Right Oh, carry on :wink:

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by george.h » Sat Feb 14, 2015 1:55 pm

Is this the "Ultimate Electron Upgrade", or perhaps better referred to as "Electron as it should have been" :wink: 8)

I wish it had been around/possible when I had my Electron as it sounds truly awesome! =D>
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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by flaxcottage » Sat Feb 14, 2015 1:56 pm

Good question.

I like the Electron for what it is. I think it is cool that something so small can do so much. 8) (Just think how the Electron would have been received ten years earlier!)

I do think, though, that what is being suggested would be improving what is a great little machine. After all no one complains about the existence of the Plus 1-5 do they?
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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by george.h » Sat Feb 14, 2015 2:13 pm

flaxcottage wrote:I like the Electron for what it is. I think it is cool that something so small can do so much. 8) (Just think how the Electron would have been received ten years earlier!)

I do think, though, that what is being suggested would be improving what is a great little machine. After all no one complains about the existence of the Plus 1-5 do they?
I agree about the Elk being one hell of a good little machine - loved it when I had one. The fact it required(/es) expansion units to provide the I/O capabilities of the Beeb never bothered me (I bought a Plus 1), nor really the lack of mode 7. The speed issue due to the memory width compromise, that I found a real pain. That is the one thing I wish Acorn had never done.
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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by daveejhitchins » Sat Feb 14, 2015 2:15 pm

1024MAK wrote:Great idea =D>

I can shove some stuff to one side and become a important tester :wink: (he said drifting into a day dream...).
Hehe Hope you're not holding your breath :wink: I'm waiting for Phill to take over and have it ready be the end of next week [-o< Seriously, though . . . I don't have a clue how to program a FPGA, but I can do the PCB interface side of things. We really need someone 'on our side' who can do the cleaver stuff =D>
1024MAK wrote:One question that has/is asked on World of Spectrum and Sinclair ZX World when talking about super class upgrades, is:-
What makes a ZX Spectrum a ZX Spectrum? Or what makes a ZX81 a ZX81?

So the same question here... What makes a Electron an Electron?
Is it the keyboard? The case? The ULA? The OS and BASIC? The PCB?
Some of these? All of these?
Well, thinking about this . . . How many peripherals would you add before it wasn't an Electron anymore. Quite frankly 'it doesn't matter' Because: If you want a ELECTRON - don't modify it! If you have more than one Elk (as, probably, most of us do?) then you can have the best of both worlds :D
1024MAK wrote:Also, should we / do we need to fit faster / higher capacity DRAM? Or will a modern SRAM be used? Or are we thinking of using part of the FPGA to provide fast byte wide RAM?
Well the FPGA has the memory already - Let's not make it difficult!

Dave H :D

p.s. loving this :D
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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by poink » Sat Feb 14, 2015 2:40 pm

1024MAK wrote:So if you remove the ULA and the ROM that contains the OS and BASIC, then replace them with "better" replacements that can do so much more (and make the machine more Beeb like, or with even better features), at what point does it stop being an Electron?
It's a good question.

Personally, I think it's about the 'soul' of the machine - the set of features, and misfeatures that makes it an Electron. This needs fairly indelible features here, so it'll usually be a matter of hardware, not of software.

As such, the Electron is that ULA. The Electron's history is entirely defined by that ULA; it's both what made it possible and what made it fail. It's why most of us are playing with Beebs. It's even why we're having this discussion, because the Electron is seen to have deep deficiencies - deficiences that we all agree on.

A workalike in FPGA would still be an Electron; because it retained the Electron's feature set.

However, if you replace it with an FPGA that makes it Beeb spec, then surely that's a Beeb in an Electron case? Now, I think there's value in a Beeb - or even a SuperBeeb - in an Electron case, but I don't think the end result is an Electron.

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by davidb » Sat Feb 14, 2015 3:09 pm

There are two ways I think a new ULA is interesting:
  • It could be used to experiment with minor improvements that perhaps a second iteration of the original ULA could have had - for an Electron+, for example. paulb has written a document about those, as mentioned in this thread. I think we're mainly talking about things like slightly better hardware scrolling and improved colour support, but you'll have to wait for his input on those.
  • It could be used to wildly increase the capabilities of the original machine so that it's not really an Electron anymore. That would need a lot more work on the software side of things.
And, of course, since we're talking about a programmable one, there's no need to settle on one of these. You could aim for something in between, like support for some Beeb features, or hardware sprites. Paul's document has lots of ideas for enhancements! :D

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by roland » Sat Feb 14, 2015 3:18 pm

Did you consider designing a new Electron main board? You can replace the ULA by an FPGA, add enough ram for program memory and sideway ram in only one component and add an MMC interface. That eliminates the need for a disc drive. Won't be as easy as rebuilding an Atom but it opens opportunities for your Electron.

I think an FPGA replacement for the ULA with the video enhancements will be the biggest challenge, but you have that in your original idea.
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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by Wookie » Sat Feb 14, 2015 3:23 pm

poink wrote:However, if you replace it with an FPGA that makes it Beeb spec, then surely that's a Beeb in an Electron case? Now, I think there's value in a Beeb - or even a SuperBeeb - in an Electron case, but I don't think the end result is an Electron.
Just to play :evil: Devils Advocate :evil: .... What software is going to run on this proposed machine ?

Elk software won't take advantage of the enhancements unless it's invisible to the MOS, like Slogger's Master RAM board in "turbo mode" and even that wasn't 100% compatible.

And if your going to run Beeb software why not just use a Beeb ?

Don't get me wrong I think it's an interesting idea, but to me a big chunk of the experience is that I'm using vintage hardware, that's why I still use floppy discs rather than MMC cards.

I hate to be a damp squib but your might as well gut the Electron case completely, keep only the keyboard and sticking a mini-itx board in there and then choose to run an Elk emulator or Beeb or Master etc
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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by daveejhitchins » Sat Feb 14, 2015 6:30 pm

Wookie wrote:Just to play :evil: Devils Advocate :evil: .... What software is going to run on this proposed machine ?
Well . . . Tube Elite, of course :D :D
Wookie wrote:Elk software won't take advantage of the enhancements unless it's invisible to the MOS, like Slogger's Master RAM board in "turbo mode" and even that wasn't 100% compatible.
Some Games will run and some won't. All the electron Games 'should' run . . . So, nothing lost there (?) And, maybe a few more from the Beeb stable <- Bonus!
Wookie wrote:And if your going to run Beeb software why not just use a Beeb ?
I have a Beeb, now, but I 'like' the Electron better and I'M not trying to have all the Beeb games running (just tube Elite :D ).
Wookie wrote:Don't get me wrong I think it's an interesting idea, but to me a big chunk of the experience is that I'm using vintage hardware, that's why I still use floppy discs rather than MMC cards.
And I'll still have an original Electron that will still be used - but, hopefully, I'll also have an enhanced Electron that I'll use also.
Wookie wrote:I hate to be a damp squib but your might as well gut the Electron case completely, keep only the keyboard and sticking a mini-itx board in there and then choose to run an Elk emulator or Beeb or Master etc
This is always that option, but: - Ask the question: "why do the Atom enthusiasts keep doing what they're doing"? I believe they upgrade: because they can and because it's fun and because - fill in the rest . . .

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by roland » Sat Feb 14, 2015 7:29 pm

daveejhitchins wrote:This is always that option, but: - Ask the question: "why do the Atom enthusiasts keep doing what they're doing"? I believe they upgrade: because they can and because it's fun and because - fill in the rest . . .

Dave H
Dave, I do completely understand you. I also have a Beeb with disc drive and IIRC it has 64K ram but it is in a box on the attic for years. I have four Electrons, two of them with a Plus-1, lying on a shelve. Unused for years. And I can't get enough of my Atom. Why? I don't know. My shrink and I didn't figure that out yet :lol: Maybe it's that unique sound when typing on the keyboard, maybe the simple 32x16 text mode, or maybe the sound of that 1 bit audio interface. Perhaps it's the combination of those. But what I like the most is that such a simple machine can give me hours and hours of joy and pleasure. It's a computer that I do understand, I know how every bit works. I know where to look if something fails. I think I know my Atom better than I know my wife :oops: and that's why I love them both O:)
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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by richardtoohey » Sat Feb 14, 2015 8:05 pm

flaxcottage wrote:I like the Electron for what it is. I think it is cool that something so small can do so much. 8) ...I do think, though, that what is being suggested would be improving what is a great little machine.
What John said - this isn't about making an Electron a BBC B, this is about making a great little machine greater! :D

Having said that, all I can offer is a "that sounds intriguing and I'll be following with interest" :oops:

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by 1024MAK » Sat Feb 14, 2015 8:21 pm

Oh dear, Oh my!

@ Dave H :D, I'm sorry if the comments in my earlier post have partly derailed this thread :oops:

I am pro upgrades and modifications (and why shouldn’t I have an upgraded Elk sat next to a 6.5MHz ZX81 etc...).

But I did think that the question was an interesting one :mrgreen:

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by george.h » Sat Feb 14, 2015 8:25 pm

Just the prospect of this has had me scouring eBay for an Electron to buy.... Wish I'd never let mine go all those years ago... :(
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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by roland » Sat Feb 14, 2015 8:29 pm

george.h wrote:Wish I'd never let mine go all those years ago... :(
You can have one of mine ....
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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by Wookie » Sat Feb 14, 2015 8:33 pm

daveejhitchins wrote:
Wookie wrote:Elk software won't take advantage of the enhancements unless it's invisible to the MOS, like Slogger's Master RAM board in "turbo mode" and even that wasn't 100% compatible.
Some Games will run and some won't. All the electron Games 'should' run . . . So, nothing lost there (?) And, maybe a few more from the Beeb stable <- Bonus!
I can't remember which but some Electron games wouldn't run on the Slogger MRB in turbo mode, so you might still break some games with your upgrade.
daveejhitchins wrote:I have a Beeb, now, but I 'like' the Electron better
I'll agree with you there, I like my Electron better than my Beeb or Master, but I think a lot of that is nostalgia since it was my first computer and I've now owned it for 30 years :shock:
daveejhitchins wrote:but: - Ask the question: "why do the Atom enthusiasts keep doing what they're doing"? I believe they upgrade: because they can and because it's fun and because - fill in the rest . . .
I know what you mean, and I wish you all the best with your project if you decide to go ahead with it. I suspect that for you the actual challenge is most of the fun rather than the using the finished item.

I seem to spend more time tinkering and researching an idea than actually using the item in question when it's completed :roll:
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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by RobC » Sat Feb 14, 2015 9:22 pm

I think this is a great idea.

In fact, I'd go the whole hog and add an extended palette and pixel level scrolling in both directions. (However, given my limited knowledge of VHDL, I obviously don't mean that literally!)

We've got new software being developed for the Elk and Beeb over at RetroSoftware and I really don't see any problem in taking advantage of new features.

After all, my Elk is still an Elk even though it's got a Turbo board fitted.

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by davidb » Sat Feb 14, 2015 9:29 pm

There's also the matter of just having a modern replacement for the ULA. It seems a shame if an Electron can't be used because its ULA has failed, as was mentioned in another thread. Edit: And this thread, too.

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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by dixiestoat » Sat Feb 14, 2015 9:46 pm

My Elk has a Turbo /64k board, and i haven't come across any game it didn't like?
Apart from making a few almost too fast to play..! :D :D
Try Monsters, or Smash and Grab, hilarious in Turbo mode..! :D
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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by daveejhitchins » Sat Feb 14, 2015 9:49 pm

All: I had an idea this would be thought provoking . . . I just love everyones input - for or against - Because isn't this the whole point? Thinking - then doing - but we pick the things to think and do that interest us - and just enjoy all the other threads because it's OF interest, but not necessarily our 'bag', so to speak!

So, keep it coming. Remember, this may go nowhere unless it sparks an interest in someone that's cleaver enough for the FPGA stuff! It's fine: me having the idea and poking everyone in the ribs . . . Let's see how it runs [-o< [-o<

Dave H :D

p.s. You all probably know by now, It takes a lot for me to be offended. No one on the forum has even come close yet :D So say what you mean, with passion :lol:
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Re: Proposed: "The Ultimate Electron Upgrade"

Post by Wookie » Sat Feb 14, 2015 11:08 pm

dixiestoat wrote:My Elk has a Turbo /64k board, and i haven't come across any game it didn't like?
Apart from making a few almost too fast to play..! :D :D
Try Monsters, or Smash and Grab, hilarious in Turbo mode..! :D
Yeap, I defiantly played Smash & Grab in turbo :D

My favourite game for shutting up the "My Beeb is better than your Electron" crowd was running Syncron in turbo mode, as an already insanely fast game on a standard Elk that you need lightning reactions just to play, get it in turbo mode and you better have been overdosing on the energy drinks first. :lol:

I'll wrack my memory but I'm sure there were a couple of Elk games that don't like the Turbo mode, but it will have been 20+ years since I last tried to play them, so it might take awhile for the old grey matter to recall.

<EDIT>
I vaguely remember a problem with Felix in the Factory, it either wouldn't load from tape or wouldn't run but as I don't have my Elk set up at the moment, perhaps someone who has can try it and see...?
cheers Wookie
Overclocked StrongARM RiscPC + Viewfinder
Overclocked Arm3 8MB A310 + vidc extender
BBC Master with Matchbox CoPro
BBC B+ 64K
My original Electron from 1985 with Slogger MasterRam/Turbo,AP1,AP2 rom, AP3+4 & New AP6

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