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Philippe Ferrucci's Report on the Samantha Board

At the Alchimie show in France, Philippe Ferrucci who is an AmigaOS 4 betatester met the people behind the Samantha board. Enrico Vidale (Virtual Works) and Libero Moschella (Alternative Technology) brought the PowerPC board with them to show it to the French Amiga community.

This report which was originally posted in the Amiga World forums deserves a spot in the new headlines as he reveals some interesting details.

Philippe Ferrucci's Report

Virtual Works, Alternative Technology and Soft3, all three Italian Amiga retailers (letís call them the Trio from now on) worked together many years. Back in 2005, they evaluated the opportunity to build a new hardware. After one year of discussion they started this project in February 2006.

Apart from the already known specs (CPU 440EP, USB2, SATA disks), here is a list of features the board offers:

- Smartmedia card reader
- disk-on-chip ready

The board has a socket ready to fit a disk-on-chip in. These flash disks are very expensive for now but they were asked by one of the customers of the Trio. As this customer is pretty important, they added this feature to their board. One could store the OS in this chip and boot the whole system in a few seconds. Well, there are 3 solutions to boot Sam : either from a Disk-on-chip, a Smartmedia card or a SATA disk.

- Onboard memory

Industrial customers can select the amount of onboard memory they want. Thus the board can suit specific needs.

- DVI connector at the back
- VGA connector onboard
- TV Out connector

There are 3 (!) video output connectors on the board. They could be used to display information on 3 monitors at the same time.

- LCD connector

I donít remember the name of this connector but it allows to connect a LCD (touchscreen included) monitor to Sam.

- Serial connector

The good old RS232 is still here as it is still in use nowadays.

- 2 RJ45 connectors

These could be used by customers that need a device to analyze packets transmitted over a network or to do a firewall.

- 5.1 sound

Thereís an optical connector at the end of the board and other pins are also on the board.

- Clock port equivalent (sorry, canít remember the name)
- FPGA chip and bus

These two offer endless expansion possibilities. As an example, the FPGA could be used to create a CPU expansion.

- mini-PCI possibility

The version of Sam we could see didnít have a mini-PCI slot, but the place for it can be clearly seen on the rear of the board. The Trio says they know a mini-PCI card with wireless and bluetooth at the same time.

- Scalability

This is something I didnít think of. As CPUs of the same are pin compatible with the one used in these prototypes, customers can choose to buy a board with a different CPU. The board will then be produced at no additional cost. For example, industrial customers could prefer to buy a board with a less powerful CPU, thus reducing the overall cost of the board. Same for the onboard memory, same for the Disk-on-chip. It means that the same design can be used to produce several products to suit perfectly to customer needs.

Also, it is important to note that the Trio evaluated both the AMCC CPU and the MPC5200. The decided to choose the 440EP for several reasons. Of them is the roadmap of AMCC for their product. They should produce pin compatible CPUs at higher speed (800, 933 and 1000Mhz) for next year. This choice seems to be clearly a clever move.

The board was produced by 4 companies and not less than 16 people worked on it. This is another reason why I find this project well designed.

Today, the board prototypes are being tested. These tests should not end after the end of year. Letís hope everything will progress well (and Iím sure it will).

New Update from Philippe Ferrucci

Industrial market: They are aiming at industrial markets because this is where the money is. And at the same time they want to target all markets with different versions of the board (with or without disk-on-chip, with a slower/faster CPU...etc)

Pricing: this will go down if/when more people will buy it. And as they have good contacts with industrial customers, it will probably go down enough. Now please remember that many Amigans said the A1 was too expensive. These people should be interested by this board at this price. Also read below why they will be interested.

Speed comparison: I forgot to say probably the most important reason why I was impressed by this board. They did speed comparison between the Yosemite (evaluation board) and the ĶA1. The Yosemite was more than twice faster than the micro. And the final Samantha should be a bit faster than the Yosemite.

Operating systems: Linux already runs on the board. Not on the one that was shown but on her sisters. This is how they did their speed tests. The Trio said they want all operating systems on this board : MorphOS, AROS, Linux and of course OS4. If you want to port an OS, just ask them. A present, there are already 13 Linux distros that run on the Yosemite board. So upgrading them to support Sam should be pretty easy.

Readers can see pictures of the Samantha board and the show in France from the AFLE website.

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