Atari Falcon

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Atari Falcon030
The Atari Falcon030
Type Personal computer
Release date 1992
Discontinued 1993
Operating system TOS/MultiTOS
CPU

Motorola 68030 @ 16 MHz

Motorola 56001 @ 32 MHz
Memory 1 ~ 14 Megabytes

The Atari Falcon030 Computer System was Atari Corporation's final computer product. Codenamed Sparrow, the machine was based on a Motorola 68030 main CPU, and had a Motorola 56000 digital signal processor, a feature which distinguished it from most other microcomputers of the era.

History[edit]

The Falcon was released in late 1992[1] and subsequently cancelled in late 1993 as Atari Corp restructured itself to focus completely on the release and support of its newest product, the Atari Jaguar video game console.

The Falcon's performance was not as great as it could have been, mostly due to Atari Corp.'s decision to put the 32-bit 68030 microprocessor on a 16-bit data bus, similar to the Macintosh LC II and its derivatives which were widely criticised for this, and 386SX based IBM PC compatibles which were more accepted in the marketplace. This was a side effect of the prototype system being based around the 68000, with the 68030 a separate expansion card.

Atari Corp. created a number of prototypes of the Falcon040 (based on the more capable fully pipelined, integrated-FPU, Motorola 68040, and using a "microbox" case), but canceled it in order to focus developers on the Atari Jaguar.

The microbox case designed by Atari Corp. looks a lot like the Sony PlayStation 2, right down to the ability to run it vertically or horizontally.[2] It is even referenced in the PS2 patent applications.[3]

Shortly after release Atari Corp. bundled the MultiTOS Operating system in addition to TOS. TOS remained in ROM, and MultiTOS was supplied on floppy disk and could be installed to boot from hard disk.[4]

In 1995, the music company C-Lab bought the rights to the Falcon hardware design and began producing their own versions. The Falcon Mk I was a direct continuation of Atari Corp.'s Falcon030 with TOS 4.04. The Falcon Mk II addressed a number of shortcomings in the original design, making it more suitable to use in a recording studio (these were unofficially termed 'Cubase modifications') such as accepting Line-level audio in without the need for a pre-amp or mixer.[5] The Falcon Mk X was mounted in a 19" 1U rack case, with external keyboard and space for internal SCSI hard discs.

Today, the Falcon is one of Atari Corp.'s most popular machines for hardware modding.[citation needed] Due to its expansion capabilities, several accelerators have been produced. Some of them overclock the CPU and/or the bus, while others upgrade the CPU to a Motorola 68060.

Specifications (Falcon030) [6][edit]

  • Processor: Motorola 68030 at 16 MHz with MMU and 256 byte instruction and data caches.
  • FPU: optional Motorola 68881 or Motorola 68882, PLCC socket
  • DSP: Motorola 56001 DSP chip at 32 MHz (16 MIPS).
  • Graphics: "VIDEL" fully programmable video controller.
    • Palette of 262,144 possible colours (18 bit), 256 new color registers
    • Bitplane modes of 2, 4, 16 or 256 colors (1, 2, 4 or 8 bit)
    • Chunky 16-bit truecolor mode[7]
    • RGB output can feed either 15 kHz RGB monitor or TV, old Atari SM124 monitor or a VGA monitor
    • Despite the capabilities of the Videl, the plain TOS allows the user the choice of only a few resolutions up to 640×480 (or even less in the case of 16-bit mode and VGA). In order to achieve the full potential of the Videl one has to use one of the numerous existing alternative utilities, such as "Videlity", "Videl Inside", "Blow UP" etc..
    • BLiTTER graphics co-processor at 16 MHz (mainly for the backward compatibility with STE)
    • Backwards compatible with all ST resolutions.
  • Audio:
    • 16-bit audio input and output up to 50 kHz - 8 stereo channels
    • SDMA sound/DMA Co-processor
    • Yamaha Y3439-F 3 Channel PSG (for the backward compatibility with ST)
  • Memory: 1, 4, or 14 MB of RAM with 512 kB ROM.
  • Bus Speed: 16 MHz, Bus width: 16 bit
  • Drives and I/O
    • 2.5 inch IDE - internal
    • 1.44 MB 3.5 inch PC compatible Floppy disk - internal
    • External SCSI-II connector
    • MIDI IN and OUT
    • 2x serial ports
    • Bidirectional LPT port
    • DSP port with I²S buses for external expansions as ADCs/DACs, S/PDIF or ADAT interfaces
    • 2× 9-pin mouse/joystick ports
    • 2× analog joystick (compatible with STE and Jaguar)
    • ROM/Cartridge port used mainly by dongles and some expansion cards
    • LocalTalk compatible Local area network port

Hardware[edit]

The heart of the system is the 32-bit Motorola 68030 clocked at 16 MHz. It runs at about 5.76 MIPS while displaying video modes with the fewest colors. Despite the 32-bit CPU, the Falcon does not have 32-bit architecture throughout its design, as it has a 16-bit data bus and a 24-bit address bus. Performance will not feel maximum benefit from the 68030's burst mode.

The microprocessor is supported by a DSP Motorola 56001 clocked at 32 MHz and performing no less than 16 million instructions per second. Although it is oriented to sound processing (it is directly connected to the RAM and codec via an interconnection matrix), it is also capable of graphics processing (calculation of fractal, deformations, 3D projections, JPEG decompression). It can even, jointly with the 68030, play MP3 files in real time.

Another innovation (for the time) is Videl. The possibilities offered by the graphics processor are limited only by its frequency (25/32 MHz core and could rise to 50 MHz with a hardware accelerator) and the slowness of the RAM because the graphics memory is shared with system memory which can degrade performance significantly when using high resolutions or video modes requiring many bit planes. The parameters are numerous, each timing of a video line (start, end, number of pixels ...) is adjustable, the image may be interlaced or not and the vertical frequency can go down to 50 Hz interlaced to display on TV. The number of colors is also adjustable when Videl operates in bit plane mode. This mode is available for compatibility with the previous generation, but is quite complex to manage. There is also a true color 16 bit mode where bits defining each pixel are grouped together to display 65,536 colors simultaneously, though CPU performance is severely degraded while displaying this mode.

In addition, Atari adopted the IDE bus in addition to the SCSI bus for connecting hard drives and CD-ROMs. This allows for less expensive disk and CD-ROM devices, as SCSI interfaced devices remained relatively expensive. However, the IDE connector is internal and requires case modification to connect two hard disks or a single CD-ROM. The other drawback is that IDE uses programmed I/O unlike a SCSI drive that can directly access the RAM (DMA).

Emulation[edit]

  • Hatari is able to emulate an Atari Falcon on a variety of different OSs using the SDL library.
  • Aranym is able to emulate generic Atari hardware on multiple hardware.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hutchinson, Andy (October 1992). "Falcon Launched to the world". ST Format 39: 24. 
  2. ^ Smith, Tony. "PlayStation 2 apes ancient Atari?", The Register, 1999-11-17. Retrieved on 2008-07-28.
  3. ^ US patent D452688, Teiyu Goto, "Arithmetic and control unit", issued 1999-12-21 
  4. ^ Richards, Paula (July 1993). "Multitasking for all Atari Machines". ST Format 48: 7. 
  5. ^ Peers, Nick (March 1995). "Battle of the birds". ST Format 68: 11. 
  6. ^ "Atari Falcon 030 Brochure". Classic Computer Brochures. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  7. ^ Atari Corporation, "Atari Falcon030 Technical Documentation", 1992-10-1

External links[edit]