Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The SIDBox Situation

You may have noticed that we’re redoing the SIDBox now and I’d like to shed some light on the whole situation, fill in the missing blanks and spaces, especially since its a lovely warm day today and I can sit here and enjoy the sunshine and the breeze along with my fluffy little son <3

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We were working on the SIDBox 4.3 (The reason why its up to SIDBox 4.3 already is because Wayne (Electronscape) has already created the first three as personal projects. I’ve got the SIDBox one and even though its basic compared to the SIDBox I’m used to, its very special and I’m so glad Wayne decided to keep it safe, it will be a relic.

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The SIDBox 4.3 we were going to put it onto kickstarter a few times and things went wrong each time.. So I thought it’s time to stop, reflect and listen. I noticed Wayne frustrated with Microchip and being so dependent on them, sometimes there would be an update which would change something resulting in him having to spend a day or two fixing something or finding a work around. When times got a bit tough last year and a few unfortunate things happened, Wayne had to move cities and start over from scratch, he couldn’t afford the monthly payments to Microchip to use their compiler, which I think is ridiculous to begin with that he should have to pay. The only one off payment option is a USB stick with their full software which you can buy for £1000 around about.. literally £1k for a usb stick of software?? The SIDBox progress was halted and It was really getting us both down.
In retrospect, the kickstarters not happening for the SIDBox 4.3 were a blessing in disguise. We attempted to set up the kickstarter three times now, once so everyone gets a SIDBox for Christmas 2019 and another the previous year and one time before this, but all three times something came up and stopped everything. I’m now glad they didn’t work out, because each time the kickstarter was hindered, there was a great improvement afterwards, every single time.
So with regards to this Microchip dilemma, and on top of that, Wayne had lost his job just before this Coronavirus hit and then there was lockdown, I couldn’t sit there and let the SIDbox and both our efforts on it just wither away. There seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel, no sign of an opportunity to improve the SIDBox situation at this moment in time.
So I pushed us both as a team to search for a new CPU, to break the shackles of Microchip, go out in the wild and be independent. Wayne understandably protested at first because it would mean we’d have to start from the ground up. It was a situation where one of us was willing to take a chance, take a risk and the other wasn’t. We ended up searching, It felt pointless at first as we couldn’t find anything suitable but the thought of going back to Microchip was depressing, until we found the STM32 chip. We then searched high and low for a dev board, once found, I snapped it up and ordered it, again taking such a risk as it wasn’t particularly cheap, but f**k it, i’m invested in this team and in the SIDBox, there are times we need to take stupid risks, even in hard times such as lock downs where everyone else is panic buying 15 sacks of rice and store rooms full of toilet paper.

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It Finally arrived!! At first getting that going was a pain as Wayne was unfamiliar with it and there wasn’t much documentation.

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..Well I mean… it’s the same colour as toilet paper? So money well spent….*ahem* anyway. Wayne was getting frustrated and kept talking about going back to the SIDBox 4.3.. despite understanding this very well, I still pushed on ahead, we ended up having a big fight over discord video which resulted in me slamming my laptop lid shut and throwing it to one side….After a couple of hours, opening up my laptop and replacing the couple of keys that popped out of the keyboard, we agreed to give it another go. He had been researching and I had started to also. Wayne himself discovered a lot from tinkering and is documenting his findings down for anyone else who struggles. We’ve never come across a chip so badly documented!
I knew all this would set progress back quite a bit but I decided to take that risk and push for the STM. Now Wayne can progress with the coding and doesn’t have to pay for the compiler and progress is being made!! Sure there were a few adjustments, but also so many advantages, not to mention better chip, we have even got RGB out on this thing now.

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…Not to mention more memory for longer Amiga samples, games too now and of course formats like XM have more of a chance to work. XM is weighty and even an Vampire Amiga can just about handle some. S3m was possible with the SIDBox 4.3 but it didn’t like 16bit samples and struggled with more than 8 channels. Now on the SIDBox 5 there is a chance it will be flawless. The SID engine sounds much better, we get this feeling the DAC on the STM is better.

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My room became very busy and still is to this day, MsMadLemon’s humble lair became also the SIDBox headquarters ;o)
This new chip has opened new doors and even though the developing for it will take some doing and maybe delay the SIDBox 5 getting out there, but firstly it’s better than standing still and stagnant. This time around we’re working properly as team Wayne can concentrate on the coding while I concentrate on the GUI designs and functionality. I’ve found I had to redesign how certain things worked like the playlist system and the menu system. So I’ve decided to redesign the interface and make it more efficient than the SIDBox 4.3. I will also be designing the case itself using CAD software once the time comes.

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With the SIDBox 4.3, I started off as a tester, but eventually I did some basic amendments for the menu system and playlist systems, thought up of the idea of a tracker window as I’ve always wanted one. I did some research on file formats and inputted some ideas in general.
This time around with SIDBox 5 I’m much more involved, the entire GUI I’ll be designing, as well as menu functionality from the ground up and the outer case which I’ve already got designs for, but that’s secret for now as I wish to keep that a surprise until its done… I will also be designing and building an add-on for the SIDBox 5 too which will expand it further. I REALLY cannot wait for that.

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Oh did I mention that this new SIDBox 5 will be having a bigger and higher resolution screen? Oh yeah, 4 inch instead of 3inch :o)

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So with both of us working on and focusing on different aspects of it, I’m finding we’re going to be getting the SIDBox 5 done more efficiently, quicker than how we were working before and have a nicer SIDBox released.
What about the SIDBox 4.3? Well we still love it dearly, I designed an entire Boombox with it I love it that much, the SIDBoomBox was the most intense project I’ve ever done and it took half a year to do and it all really was based on the SIDBox 4.3 as its really special to me, It will be honoured as a stepping stone to this new one. However, had I not pushed for the new chip and to redo this thing from ground up again, we would have still been stuck in that rut no doubt and still would have made very little progress with it having to rely on external situations improving.

So the progress continues :o)

Check out my SIDBoomBox Project here: https://www.youtube. … zKdC_FBpol2Apz8zsoMi
Also for more updates on the SIDBox please join the facebook group here: https://www.facebook … om/groups/TheSidBox/

  1. Electronscape

    Wednesday, June 24, 2020 - 23:39:46

    I REALLY love this blog!!!
    and i really am happy with the STM32H, it really is a very very difficult to use, but OMG I really am finding this extremely powerful!

    Maddi Thank you!!

  2. Lauren Horn

    Sunday, June 28, 2020 - 05:13:53

    Hello from Sunny Alaska!

    I’m so glad to finally hear the story and have (some) of my suspicions confirmed. I remember when you were just a tester for the SidBox and I noticed the…evolution of your responsibilities. ;) Despite having no media to play on it - I’ve never owned a Commodore machine, but some college friends wrote and sold a utility for the first-generation Amiga; I had an enthusiastic demo of the system every time I visited - I am sore tempted to get one of these when they’re ready. Both the product and the story of the journey to it are very compelling. While I am jealous because I haven’t (yet) developed practical skills at your level, I know enough to respect the work that you both do. Finally, I think you deserve a hearty clap on the back for your vision in changing CPUs.

    By the way, I stumbled over your videos after my dad bequeathed to me his old WM-6DC, which despite appearing nearly new has a few issues -tape tension, I think - that I fear may be beyond me at the moment. But your efforts have inspired me, and I hope some day to use it as an actual Walkman again.

    Please carry on, good luck, and throw us more stories when you can!

    P.S.: What is that tea in your videos?

  3. Jo Weiser

    Saturday, October 10, 2020 - 05:25:28

    I love this project - thanks for keeping us up to date with entertaining blog posts 🤩

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