An Unexpected Amiga Network Interface

The retrocomputer enthusiast has increasingly to grapple with not only runaway computer prices but the astronomical cost of vintage peripherals. A welcome solution in some cases comes from the Raspberry Pi, which has proved itself fast enough to emulate those add-ons for a lot less outlay. A good one comes from [Niklas Ekström], who’s made a Pi-based network adapter for the Commodore Amiga 1200. Better still it doesn’t hog the main expansion port or the PCMCIA slot, instead it sits on the 1200’s rarely-used real-time-clock port. Software wise it uses an updated version of his earlier project for the Amiga 500. It provides access to the Pi command prompt, as well as a SANA driver and a mounted filesystem.

While many of us view the Amiga from 2023 as a retro gaming platform, for those of us who used it at the time it was a desktop productivity machine on a more affordable budget than the Macintosh. At the time the thought of having a UNIX-like operating system running on a super-powerful co-processor in your Amiga would have been beyond our wildest dreams, but whether it provides enough now to make a 1992 machine compete on the desktop is debatable. Who wants to run Firefox from the Pi in an X server on the Amiga?

31 thoughts on “An Unexpected Amiga Network Interface

  1. “At the time the thought of having a UNIX-like operating system running on a super-powerful co-processor in your Amiga would have been beyond our wildest dreams [..]”

    Not only that, it would also seem like downgrade.
    Unix in the 80s was seen as fat, slow and clunky. Not to say caked.
    The waste of resources would have been a nightmare to Amiga fans (back then when they had ideals still), not a wild dream, on top of that. 😉

    Or in other words: Unix related to Amiga OS like Windows/Linux related to BeOS/Zeta in the late 90s/early 2000s.

    Amiga OS was very modern when it was new.
    Much more sophisticated than *nix.

    And that’s from me, someone who wasn’t an Amiga fan. 😄
    I preferred an AT compatible with Super VGA, a big HDD and a PAS16 soundcard.
    Did I mention that an 486 can emulate an Amiga with Fellow? 😝

    1. To have a coprocessor as fast as a Pi would *absolutely* not be considered a downgrade, regardless of the OS on it. That it is fast enough to run a unix-style OS which at the time was only the province of big iron would have been mindboggling.

      Of *course* Unix would be considered fat and slow if all you could run it on was the miniscule processing power of an 80’s era home computer. AmigaOS would similarly be considered completely inappropriate for mainframe use.

      1. I’m afraid you do misunderstand me.
        Amiga users had a certain pride.
        Optimizing hard and software was their way of life.
        They felt joy in coding efficient code in assembly language.
        Just have a look at the demoscene.

        *nix is the total opposite. It equals free space as wasted space.
        Resources are being given back on demand only.

        That’s not in harmony with everything the Amiga scene stood for.
        That’s what all the other users respected them for.

        *If* this Raspberry Pi had a small, quick and self-booting OS/application, then it may have been different. But Linux? Seriously? This monstrosity? No, just no. 😔

        1. That’s right, the demoscene was all about direct to-the-metal routines. We learned assembly coding from fanzines like swedish Datormagazin, neighborhood kids, reference manuals and so on. Much of this was lost with consoles and PC’s not as instantly programmable as earlier 8-bit machines and the Amiga.

        2. Joshua, you said many right things, especially on the pride of Amiga users.

          At the time I was (and somewhat still am) one of them, and I truly believed the machine was amazing for its price and the thing it brought to the masses (co-processors, multitasking, video capabilities).

          It also had many defects since its inception, that Commodore wouldn’t (couldn’t) fix. OS instability, lack of features, slow speed of the multimedia memory (masked by the efficient DMA arbitration).

          However, a 486 at the time cost more like two or three A1200, and no, sorry, it could not really emulate it fully (maybe some simple games). It took 200MHZ+ and Pentium CPUs to be able to fully support all the coprocessor tricks of an A500. Not to mention Windows 95 to see multitasking. Commodore should’ve had a business plan, but a former director confirms they never had one, they just tried to cash on the cool thing of the time, and then try to look for the next one (wasting tons of resources and money out of R&D).

          One of the biggest missed IT opportunities of all times. Had they fixed the OS and improved the chipset with a roadmap, maybe they could’ve lasted another 10 years, to say the least.

        3. Who do you think is making these peripherals in the first place? Hint: It’s the exact same people you claim have a “certain pride”, because nobody else would be interested in it.

          1. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to demonstrate criticism torwards the hardware here.

            I was merely trying to disprove the *nix statement based on my experience or memories.:

            “At the time the thought of having a UNIX-like operating system running on a super-powerful co-processor in your Amiga would have been beyond our wildest dreams [..]”

            While I do sometimes agree on the opinion that Amiga users live a bit in the past and are quick in defending their platform, I do also acknowledge their creativity, ingenuity and respect them for being so loyal. Again, I merely was a PC user at the time the Amiga was around, with a bit of of interest in Z80 hardware, as well.

        4. *nix is the total opposite. It equals free space as wasted space.
          Resources are being given back on demand only.

          I’d call that a modern problem rather than necessarily reflecting any of the historical core principles of Unix or Linux. Windows has gotten a lot worse since XP was new….

          1. I think a very similar argument can be made for the early Macintosh computers and the classic Mac OS prior to the switch from M68K to PowerPC processors.

            Obviously it’s not exactly the same, but it had a pretty impressive feature set when you realize how resource-constrained that hardware was.

            There must certainly have been people with souped up Apple II and IIgs systems that were, at least on the surface, capable of significantly more and equipped with comparable memory and hardware resources (if not greater).

    2. I think you missed the point entirely.
      AmigaOS is a Unix-like OS. That was the point.
      It’s based on Tripos, a *nix derived OS.
      Yes, AmigaOS is streamlined and much lighter due to things like Intuition, but at it’s heart AmigaOS is *nix-ish.

      1. Amiga had a “unix-inspired” OS rather than unix-like. Things like the shell, “mount lists” and multitasking might be similar, but that’s it. TripOS was not meant to become AmigaDOS, unfortunately it had to be left there to release the machine in time, and the full potential of the os was partly lost due to the extra layer around TripOS and the inconsistencies it added. Still, it was the perfect machine for geeks, and peripherals like this one still show it after almost 40 years.

  2. I did run UNIX-like operating systems on my Amiga (NetBSD, although you could’ve popped for an A3000UX and run AT&T’s S5R4) and while I wouldn’t consider it a “super-powerful co-processor” I did have a 386 Bridgeboard with a 486SLC2.

    Now one thing I desperately wished I had the money for was one of the Inmos Transputer cards of that era.

    1. Who knows…

      Unfortunately the Dreamcast’s interface is a bit more complex.

      The broadband adapter, or BBA, itself is just a PCI network interface card based on the RTL8193C plus a special bridge chip that handles the communication between the Dreamcast’s expansion bus (G2) and the NIC.

      It’s such an inconvenience that people have mostly been using the modem to get their Dreamcast online, with a Raspberry Pi being the preferred solution for a computer to interface it to a network.

  3. I’d like to see someone build a modern ZX Interface 1 for the Sinclair Spectrum. The real ones cost a lot or have overheated ULAs. I reckon the Pi Pico with its programmable IO could be a contender. Would be great to get Spectrum networking going again in 2023!

      1. I’m trying to avoid the complexity of programming a CPLD if people are going to build their own ZX Interface 1 replacements. Hence using the Pico microcontroller with its programmable IO. They’re much friendlier to work with, but I’m starting to realise they’re not 5V tolerant as you point out. Hmm.

  4. I use to have an Amiga 500. They were real cool machines, and way a head of their time. They had Gen-Lock facillities to allow Amigas to be synced to a TV broadcast station black burst. This allowed Amigas to have their video easily overlaid on top of other video in a TV station. For a while Amigas were present in a lot of TV stations because of this Gen-Lock capability. It was a very interesting machine in it’s time.

    1. It’s not clear that this is anything more than a one-off design, although there might be enough information and detail in the git repository to build your own.

      I think the chief difficulty will be getting the CPLD programmed. You know, aside from the cost and wait time to obtain parts, a pcb, and get them assembled,

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