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Thread: Dedicated Emulation Computer?

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    Default Dedicated Emulation Computer?

    I'm sure a lot of you are well aware that one of the issues with collecting computers is that you tend to fill up space extremely fast... Especially when you have whole desks dedicated to computer setups with specific monitors, disk drives, etc. Right now I have 5 computers set up across 3 desks, which in itself was not an easy task, and not all of them are as convenient as I would like... not to mention that I'd still like to set up my XEGS and Atari ST, as well as start up Spectrum, MSX, and X68000 collecting. But I simply don't have the room and I'm up to my eyeballs in cables and disk drives as it is.

    The other day, I was toying with the idea of replacing my Amiga 3000 with a cheap PC that would boot straight into WinUAE (mostly because building a new computer from scratch would likely be cheaper than all the outrageously priced Amiga hardware out there). The obvious extension of this is that I could easily use a cheap PC to replace ALL my obsolete computers (not to mention most of my game systems). The plan goes something like this:
    • A cheap Atom-based motherboard (like the Intel D510MO)
    • 2GB of RAM (Probably tremendous overkill, but whatever)
    • A nice small case (like the Apex MI-008)
    • A Catweasel MK-IV and floppy drive(s) for reading actual disks

    The Atom D510 is more than powerful enough to emulate any 8/16-bit computer, and low-power enough that it can run without fans. Even though I've never really liked the idea of on-board video, I imagine the GMA 3150 is more than capable in this respect. Putting all this together should cost only around $300-400.

    So has anyone here tried anything like this? One of my main questions is that of software. Since Amiga is a major target for me, and E-UAE lags far behind WinUAE, I'd likely choose to run Win 7 or XP rather than Linux. Are there any good frontends that would work well for this kind of a setup? Ideally I'd like to hide Windows as much as possible (since it's largely just backend to the emulators), and I'd like to be able to choose from different profiles for each computer setup, and have a consistent experience across all the emulators (same keystroke to exit emulator, same file browser, etc).

    Can the Catweasel actually do what I have in mind? Do emulators support it properly to allow me to load Amiga, C64, ST, etc disks? Is a standard PC drive mechanism appropriate? Of course, loading disk images off a hard drive is far more convenient, but I like the authenticity (such as it is) of being able to play off original disks.

    --Zero

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    Red (Level 21) Jorpho's Avatar
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    Instead of the Catweasel, perhaps you might want to consider the KryoFlux ? I doubt either one will work transparently with emulators, though.

    As for Amiga emulation, have you considered Amiga Forever ? Note that the Plus edition does not require any OS installed, though I wouldn't know if it is superior to E-UAE.
    "There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge." --Bertrand Russel (attributed)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jorpho View Post
    Instead of the Catweasel, perhaps you might want to consider the KryoFlux ? I doubt either one will work transparently with emulators, though.
    I've been following the KryoFlux project (as well as the Cyclone20 before it) with great expectations... I'll almost certainly buy one whenever it eventually comes out, but I figured the Catweasel at least has the advantage of software maturity, since it's been around for almost 15 years.

    Also, I'm a little worried about the fact that the SPS crew hasn't really put a lot of effort into write support yet. My plans for emulation transparency would really rely on that.

    It looks like VICE and WinUAE both have some sort of Catweasel support, but it's poorly documented, and I have no idea how it works. For other systems, I might have to rig up scripts that automatically dump the disk to a temporary image, run the emulator, and then attempt to write the image back to disk after the emulator exits.

    While I'm on this sort of topic... Are there any good options for authenticity with tapes? I haven't looked into it yet, but do any Spectrum or VIC-20 emulators support loading tape data through the audio-in port on a sound card?

    As for Amiga emulation, have you considered Amiga Forever ? Note that the Plus edition does not require any OS installed, though I wouldn't know if it is superior to E-UAE.
    It looks nice, but it's more limited in scope than what I'm looking for. I'm hoping something exists to manage ALL the systems I'd like to emulate rather than using something specific for each system. I wonder if I might have to write my own from scratch. It also doesn't help that Amiga Forever is a commercial product (I already legally own quite a few Kickstart images and Workbench disks...)

    --Zero

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    Answering some of my own questions, just in case anyone was following this and considering the same thing...
    Quote Originally Posted by Ze_ro View Post
    Can the Catweasel actually do what I have in mind? Do emulators support it properly to allow me to load Amiga, C64, ST, etc disks?
    Apparently, the answer is no. At least, as far as UAE is concerned. It can apparently read files off disk via Workbench, but it does NOT replace df0:, and it can't handle copy protected disks or custom drive routines (partly due to poor driver support, and partly due to timing issues that might make the whole idea impossible), so for the purposes of playing games it's pretty much useless.

    I can't seem to tell what exactly VICE supports on the Catweasel. There are vague mentions of support in the documentation, but I think they might only apply to the SID sockets and joystick ports. I don't think there's any support here.

    And it turns out Atari ST disks can be read in regular PC drive mechanisms, so I very much doubt any ST emulator has bothered supporting the Catweasel at all.

    Is a standard PC drive mechanism appropriate?
    The answer here is yes... but apparently there are some newer floppy drive mechanisms that no longer support double density disks, so if you're going to do any of this, look for an older drive just to be sure.

    Turns out there all kinds of other potential issues... like, there are no 64-bit drivers for the Catweasel (yet... Jens claims they're being worked on), so you're stuck with using 32-bit Windows. All in all, I think I'm going to scrap the idea of using a Catweasel altogether. I was thinking of just writing scripts that would automatically dump the disk in the drive, then run the emulator with that image, and then write the image back to disk after the emulator exited... but if that's all I'm going to do, then I might as well wait for the KryoFlux and hope it works out better (which it very well might).

    --Zero

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    Isn't there some handy doodad for hooking up a C64 1541 to a PC parallel port?
    "There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge." --Bertrand Russel (attributed)

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    Well, there are the X1541 series of cables, which I already have... and there are similar options for other systems, like SIO2PC for A8 drives.... I think VICE actually supports reading disks through an X1541, but the dream was to have an internal 5.25" and 3.5" drive that could be used by all emulators without extra devices, cables or power supplies. Looks like that won't be happening though.

    --Zero

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