Contents | < Browse | Browse >
/// Usenet Review: Microbotics 1230XA Accelerator for Amiga 1200
By Brian King
Microbotics M1230XA-50 68030 accelerator for Amiga 1200
A 50MHz 68030 accelerator card for the A1200 with full Memory
Management Unit (MMU), 68881/68882 socket, RAM SIMM socket, clock/calendar
and EEPROM configuration scheme.
Name: Microbotics, Inc.
Address: 1251 American Parkway,
Richardson, Texas (TX), 75081
Telephone: (214) 437-5330
List price unknown. I paid $399 (US) for the 50MHz 68030 version
with no floating point unit (FPU) and no RAM SIMM.
The unit is also available in 33MHz and 40MHz-EC versions, with and
without RAM and FPUs. EC denotes the absence of an MMU.
SPECIAL HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE REQUIREMENTS
Amiga 1200 personal computer, with available LocalBus belly
A hard drive is recommended but not required.
OS 3.0, 3.1 compatible.
The configuration and test software is hard-drive installable.
MACHINE USED FOR TESTING
2 Meg Chip RAM, no Fast RAM.
Kickstart Version 39.106, Workbench Version 39.29.
Additional 4 Meg (70ns) Fast RAM added via SIMM socket on M1230XA.
50MHz 68882 FPU added (no oscillator necessary).
So you want to add speed to your new A1200? 40MHz isn't fast enough?
You REALLY need that MMU... SCSI/SCSI-II isn't a priority?
THIS is the accelerator for you!
I've primarily been using my 1200 as a console and terminal, since
the two Meg Chip RAM is not sufficient for many tasks any more. Yes, gone
are the days when your Amiga could run quickly and multi-task efficiently
with only two Megs of RAM. Count on 3-8 Megs for most serious applications.
I had the need for 32-bit RAM expansion, knowing that this would
instantly double the speed of my A1200, and also would allow the addition of
a math coprocessor. My initial leanings were towards the Microbotics
MBX1200Z, which came complete with clock/calendar, SIMM socket, and FPU
When I learned of a new Microbotics product which includes all these
features, PLUS 50MHz acceleration with a TRUE 68030, I knew I had to have
one. Not only has this board dramatically increased the overall speed of my
machine, but also it has allowed me finally to run some of the Amiga's more
sophisticated software (VistaPro, Art Department Pro, Lightwave, SAS/C 6.3,
Deluxe Paint IV, etc.) which until now was out of my reach.
Overall speed improvement estimates are:
Item Speed Increase
Hard drive 40-50 %
Graphics 70-100 %
Serial port performance 10-15 %
AIBB 6.0 results are as follows:
Integer Graphics Floating Machine
11.70 4.72 19.16 A600, 2 MB Chip RAM
4.99 2.05 9.07 A1200, 2 MB Chip RAM
1.99 1.93 2.00 A3000/25 + Fast RAM
1.30 0.66 0.60 A4000/040 + Fast RAM
1.10 1.05 1.11 A1200 - See below...
Thus, as indicated, the A1200 with M1230XA is 11.7 times faster at
integer math operations than the A600 (no surprise here!).
The last entry needs some explanation. The M1230XA comes with
excellent configuration software (SetXA), which allows setting of many board
parameters including RAM wait-states. When you configure the board for
50MHz, and 70ns RAM SIMMs, SetXA sets the wait-states to 4, which turns out
to be rather conservative. Instead, I set the wait-states to 3, which not
only runs reliably, but also runs faster as indicated by AIBB.
The machine was 1.10 times faster with 3 wait states than with 4.
However, doing this IS a risk, although I've had no problems with this so
AIBB also revealed the HUGE difference between the RAM access of the
A4000 and the M1230XA. The A4000 simply cannot keep up to the 68030-equipped
A1200 in sheer RAM access speed.
The included SetXA utility is excellent, eliminating the need for
many jumper blocks from the board and providing easy configuration.
However, the software is rather conservative in its settings for
wait-states, as outlined above.
Another problem with the software is its need. Once the board is
configured, you should not have to run the SetXA utility again.
Unfortunately, the M1230XA does NOT AutoConfig its RAM on startup, and the
SetXA software must be placed early in your startup-sequence in order to add
the Fast RAM to the system. By this time, however, your drive buffers and
graphics/Intuition libraries are already in Chip RAM. The operating
system will run more quickly with this data in Fast RAM.
While this is a problem, it is a minor one. It would be interesting
to see how having graphics/Intuition in Fast RAM would affect the above
speed comparisons. Also, games that need extra memory and don't behave will
not be able to access this memory. I hope that most newer games will allow
hard drive installation, or not need more than 2 Megs of RAM.
Kickstart/AmigaDOS 3.1 is supposed to allow full AutoConfig ability.
It seems that the present PCMCIA address space is right in the middle of the
AutoConfig space. This doesn't stop the GVP accelerator from
AutoConfiguring, however! Seems a small slip by Microbotics.
The other included software is the TestRAM program, which does cyclic
testing of RAM and is great for finding that bad RAM chip or area. I used
it extensively when experimenting with the RAM wait-state settings, since I
was worried about changing the SetXA defaults, but no errors occurred.
As noted above, this thing really FLIES! Also, the clock/calendar
module is fully AmigaDOS compatible, allowing you to use the existing
system's Time and Date commands.
The full 68030 is a boon to programmers using tools like Enforcer, as
well as allowing the Kickstart ROMs to be mapped into Fast RAM. Even though
this gobbles up 512K of your system RAM, it is recommended for full speed
processing. If memory is really tight, you can always disable the FastROM
option with the AmigaDOS CPU program.
The SIMM socket is excellent quality, featuring the metal-latch type
connection, rather than the typical plastic catches on most SIMM sockets.
The FPU socket is a typical PGA socket, and takes a fair amount of
force to insert your own 68881 or 68882. This is typical, however, and good
contact is made.
The included documentation consists of two double-sided 8.5" x 11"
pages, the User's Guide, and a registration card. Although the production
quality is low (no booklet, colour, etc.), the content is very clear and
The User's Guide is laid out nicely, including a detailed diagram of
the M1230XA circuit card. The Guide progresses through the following
1. General Description
2. Basic Installation
3. SIMM Memory Installation
4. Math Coprocessor (FPU) Information
5. Realtime Clock Information
6. SetXA Configuration Software Guide
The only concern about any of these sections lies in the Basic
Installation section, Part 3:
"..firmly press it completely onto the card edge. Because the
connector is so wide, it may require some strength to press the
card onto the Amiga's bus." ^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Wow! SOME STRENGTH??? I had to reef on the sucker with a screw-driver
as a lever, along with my hands stuck in there to keep things aligned.
Getting it in was extremely difficult and frustrating, and getting it out
will be damned impossible. It took about 5 minutes of aggravation until a
solution was ironed out.
In all fairness to Microbotics, I don't believe the problem lies at
their end; and once the board is fitted, it makes great contact.
Commodore's L-shaped bus slot makes insertion and removal very difficult,
and NOT for the faint of heart.
LIKES AND DISLIKES
o The SetXA EEPROM configuration software is excellent and
eliminates jumper blocks.
o Instructions, while skimpy, provide all necessary
o The SPEED!!!
o The RAM!!!!!
o Non-AutoConfig RAM expansion, while not terrible, is slightly
annoying! (See above review for details and explanations.)
o Two SIMM sockets would have been better, but there is not
COMPARISON TO OTHER SIMILAR PRODUCTS
There are a number of other accelerator products out there, including
GVPs, ICDs, CSAs and soon more. However, if you don't need SCSI-II
capabilities, then this board exceeds the GVP A1230+ board in specs, and
costs only slightly more. Here is a comparison chart:
Board Speed RAM? RAM Amount Clock/Cal Full 68030 (MMU)
M1230XA 50MHz YES up to 128MB YES YES
A1230+ 40MHz YES up to 128MB NO NO
The clock/calendar option is worth $30 US anyway, and the MMU is
necessary for the serious programmer and for virtual memory support,
as well as UNIX/Linux/Mach support.
No experiences yet.
One year, complete.
If your need is for speed, then this board is simply the fastest
right now! The RAM speed excels over that of the A4000/40, and
drive speed nearly doubles due to the processor speed and FAST RAM.
Until a 68040 accelerator appears for the A1200, this card will
provide king-of-the-hill performance. Microbotics is said to be working on
a 68040 version of this product, but cost will be prohibitive to most mere
King Rating = 96%
Copyright 1993 Brian D. King. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission.