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== Interview: Chris Ludwig ==
In a bizarre switch, Amiga Report has obtained permission to reprint
AmigaNews' interview with Chris Ludwig, one of the last 16 employees of
Commodore International, laid off in early December. While he doesn't
"tell all", it is one of the first public peeks into Commodore, company in
liquidation. Thanks to AmigaNews for making it possible.
By Bruce Lepper and Kamel Biskri of the French Amiga magazine AmigaNews
This article is Copyright (c) 1995 NewsEdition SARL. It appeared in the
issue 75 of AmigaNews (France) and will appear exclusively in English in
the March 1995 issue of Amiga Shopper (UK) on sale on February 16. All
requests for commercial non-English language translations and publication
should be adressed to AmigaNews. Permission is hereby granted to Amiga
Report to include this text in its electronic bulletin. Our thanks to
Chris Ludwig for his replies to our questions on this subject, so
important for Amiga users everywhere.
AmigaNews is the longest-running French-language Amiga magazine.
Address: AmigaNews, 12 Rue Barrihre, 31200 Toulouse, France.
Tel: (+33) 61-47-25-67, FAX: 61-47-25-69
30 Monmouth Street, Bath, Avon BA1 2BW
Tel: (+44) 01225 442244
An interview with Amiga software engineer Chris Ludwig at the World of
Amiga Show in London on December 11, two days after he and the other
members of the surviving Amiga development team finally left their jobs.
AN: You're probably the last person to work for what was once called
Commodore Business Machines?
CL: Actually there's one person still working there, that Jeff Frank, head
of hardware engineering and his job at the moment is to liquidate any of
the hardware that's left at Norristown. That may have changed since
Friday. Friday was the last day at Commodore for myself and for a lot of
other people as well. There were 16 of us, engineering staff.
AN: You were continuing work on a new system?
CL: There was not a lot of development going on, mainly because the
resource wasnt there, there was not a lot of money to be spent. We didnt
have quite the number pf people we needed. There were some software ideas
being toyed with, there were some hardware ideas being toyed with, but
there was no steady development goal...
AN: We were here last month at the Future Entertainment Show and we were
told that the HP Risc chip had been chosen as the basis for future Amiga
CL: That is correct.
AN: Mr Pleasance told us this morning that the fact that work has now
stopped means that some new agreement will have to be drawn up with HP in
order to re-start development.
CL: Yes, but having said that, the deal that we had with HP was a solid
one, and I don't think there going to be a problem there. They've got
every reason in the world to want that to go through with whoever
continues the Amiga.
AN: Was Lew Eggebrecht still working with you?
CL: Towards the very end he wasn't there full time, he was just consulting
to us, but when we needed him we could just call him.
AN: He knows the HP architecture really well?
CL: Somewhat well. We did have a resident expert, Dr Edward Heppler, the
guy who designed the RISC 3D system, and he was there to the end. And
he's committed to it so I'm sure that if something happened we'd get him
back on board.
AN: Did the Amiga design team take that decision to go to HP RISC or was
it a Commodore decision?
CL: It was a Commodore decision. We spent a lot of time looking at
available processers and trying to decide which one best met the needs
that we had in mind for the future of the platform. We chose it based on
a number of different concerns: - first of all, compatibility with
existing products. HP, because of their having bought out Apollo
(constructeur de stations graphiques) have an interest that their
processer is 68000-compatible, so theres a 68000 compatible emulation mode
for the PA-RISC
AN: Does that exist already?
CL: Yes, that already.
AN: Is that emulation in hardware?
CL: Its both, basically. The instruction architecture is similiar to
68000 in many ways and ther's some software emulation tricks that can be
done as well, so between those two pieces it makes migrating easy. It
doesn't guarantiee compatibility, it's not like Power PC where you have
compatibility that's basically out-of-the-box, they haven't got that
finished and I don't know that they will, but it makes the migration path
much shorter, there's a lot less that has to be done in re-coding.
AN: HP is doing that work themselves?
CL: That's correct.
AN: So that will make it a lot easier to create something resembling
AmigaDOS portable onto the HP RISC?
CL: Exactly. That was one of the principal reasons for choosing the HP
chip. Other reasons were:
- we wanted a chip that would allow us a greater degree of control in
implementing our own ideas for the 3D half of the work.. For example you
can go and buy, for PowerPC for example, if you want to be a PowerPC
hardware OEM (Ed: ,original equipent manufacturer, ou autrement dit un
fabricant qui prends un produit de base d'un autre fabricant et l'utilise
pour crieer un autre produit) the PowerPC core, which is a little square
portion of the die and then they give you the L-shape around the rest of
the die in order to add in your hardware. That's how it basically works
if you want to have a PowerPC-based chip of your own.
AN: But no PowerPC user has yet done that, they're all using the basic
chip as it comes.
CL: Yes, exactly. It's been done with other chips. But we wanted to have
our own die, our own semi-conductor work on the same die as the HP-RISC.
With the PA-RISC, unlike the PowerPC, we're actually allowed to have a
free rein over the whole die, so that we can take a HP-RISC core and
basically put in pieces that we want, take out pieces that we don't want,
add instructions, which is very important for us. We've had a lot of work
spent on designing new instructions which allow us to have really
fantastic 3D performance, and the PowerPC wouldn't have let us do that,
the HP stuff does.
AN: So you're creating a custom HP-RISC for the Amiga.
CL: Exactly, that was the plan, we're basically creating a custom PA-RISC
chip based on the PA-150, the latest one, that would allow us to have
really fantastic performance.
AN: How far have you got with that work?
CL: We've got software simulations of the chipset running. We did
software simulations of some of the four pieces and they worked, so we're
AN: Would those four chips come into one at a later stage?
CL: You mean the Amiga chips? Yes. Essentially, in that one core we'd be
taking the planned sound enhancements for AAA as well as all the graphics
enhancements that we've designed for the RISC release and obviously the
CPU port there as well. You'd still need a digital/analog converter at
the end that does the colour tables for the back end of the video, but
those are standard parts, it's not something that we have to design
ourselves, and you've basically got a one-chip solution, that's scalable.
Another reason for choosing the PA-RISC was that the PA-RISC is designed
around allowing you to have a multi-processer system, with other
processors acting as enabling processors. So that for example we could
have a one-chip solution which would be very low cost for games sytems for
example, that was just our version of the custom PA-RISC, but we could
have higher-end systems where our chip is actually just a sub-processer
that's doing graphics work and another PA-RISC is doing the! major
computation, so you've now doubled the through-put of the system and you
still get all of the graphics performance that you have but your
competition haven't on the PA-RISC chip, so you've got really tremendous
performance. And you can scale that architecture to get quite high-end
AN: Does that go as far as controlling transputers?
CL: It's not quite the same as transputers, it's not infinitely scalable.
Transputers obviously give you a lot more scalability in that direction.
But its a more tight integration as well. From a software perspective
it's easier to code for because you're basically spawning off the graphics
sub-tasks to the other chip, it's basically designing it as if you were
working with a one-chip solution.
AN: So how much time would be needed to finish it.
CL: We're looking at 18 to 20 months from inception. When somebody gets
the deal and says 'Go forward' and the money's there it'll take about 18
months. It's the whole chip design that needs to be done and software
support has to be done... it'll take some time.
AN: And that's not variable depending on the resources that you put behind it?
CL: Well of course it is, but not to a great extent. That's probably the
fastest it could be done. But the amount of resources required isn't
tremendously huge compared to what we've had in the past. It's certainly
a do-able thing.
AN: Apparently Windows NT would run on this.
CL: Sure, Windows NT runs on PA-RISC and we're not taking anything away
that would prevent that.
AN: So tell us what AmigaDos would look like on such a machine. In what
way would it be able to retain the AmigaDos that we know.
CL: The plan is simply to port AmigaDos to the chip. So Exec will be
ported, graphics will be ported, Intuition will be ported, all portions of
AmigaDos that currently exist will be ported, the idea being that the
system will be wholly an Amiga, with the capability of running Windows NT
as well. Because it's a PA-RISC there will already be native compiled
versions of NT. You're basically talking about a box that can run two
OS's. Three if you count HP's system.
AN: The new AmigaDos would not be compatible with existing software.
CL: That's correct, people would have to re-compile their existing
software. But, again, because of the chips degree of compatibility with
the 68000 line that shouldn't be a gargantuan effort. It should be about
as straightforward as it is for Apple people to recompile in order to get
their current 68000-based applications to run on PowerPC.
AN: Is all this something that can realistically be done now if someone
ends up buying the Amiga?
CL: Absolutely. It's a matter of ensuring that there's some vision at the
top of the company in order to let something like this go through.
Commodore has too often in the past been in the situation of having
designed very cool products which just at the very end of the life cycle
after we've spent all the money on them don't actually make it to market
because the people at the top have a lack of vision and when they see the
finished product say "Oh no, they wouldn't wanna buy that." But I don't
think we'll see that with the potential buyers.
AN: This work you've been doing is one of the major assets of Commodore
and we suppose that's why the liquidator kept it going. That means that
anybody who buys Commodore will be able to continue this project.
CL: Absolutely. It really depends on how the buy-out happens. Anyone
who's buying the whole company will get the rights to build this computer.
But there's been talk that the liquidator may be deciding to sell off the
company piecemeal which would mean that if someone wanted to pick up just
this technology they could come in with a smaller figure than the full
value of the company, and somebody else could buy the right to use the
names Amiga, etc.
AN: Do you think that people who have been working on this will be able to
come back if the sale happens fairly quickly?
CL: If it happens fairly quickly I feel personally quite certain that
people who were involved would be interested in coming back. It depends
on how long it takes. In six months from now if nothing's happened I'm
sure they'll all have jobs and they'll probably be quite happy with them.
Its maybe not going to be the same spark that we had with Commodore, but
you never know. If the money's good, you've got wives and children...
AN: Mr Amor said on Portal the other day that he wasn't sure which RISC
chip to go for. He said the Mac and the PC were pulling towards the
PowerPC, but talks had already gone on with HP. He didn't seem to be
firmly fixed on this idea of an HP-RISC chip.
CL: The truth is that he's had very little contact with the engineering
staff. He's been around once or twice but beyond that things have been in
AN: You've had more contact with oher teams?
CL: Yes, definitely. We've had more contact with teams that have gone
away now. At one point Samsung were a potential buyer.
CL: Yes, but that was a long time ago.
AN: All these people are apparently going to have another possibility of
making a last bid.
CL: Sure. I think that having got rid of the engineers and Christmas
obviously being dead now, it means the value of the company has probably
been reduced quite a bit, and people who lost interest before may be more
interested now that the price has gone down.
AN: We heard some months ago that Samsung were not really interested in
continuing the Amiga computer line.
CL: It's difficult to say. They were obviously interested in the
engineering know-how that we had and in a number of the hardware designs
that we had. Whether or not they were interested in continuing the Amiga
as a product line is difficult to say.
AN: Do you have a personal favourite buyer? Who has most impressed you?
I'll try not to let anybody hear your answer (AmigaNews Ed: David
Pleasance was in the same room during part of this interview but was
talking with Jim Drew and other people).
CL: All I can really say is, whoever takes over the company I hope they
have a driving instinct and vision to bring forth the best that the
platform has to offer. I worry that people may have a short-term view of
what to do with the platform, that some of the buyers will have a
potential of just wanting to do a kind of smash and grab operation.
AN: You think there are some like that?
CL: I think so.
AN: Do you think there are some serious ones as well?
CL: Yes there are some serious ones.
AN: Would you include CEI and the English Commodore team?
AN: You're not very sure.
CL: It's difficult to say. I think that the UK team have a real clear
idea of where they want to go, and that's very important.
AN: The Amiga has done very well in the sense of its technological
specialities. How may of those would you be keeping with this new system,
like draw-down screens, video compatibility, this sort of thing.
CL: Obviously the chip-set's gotta be video compatible. One of the major
reasons for making sure that we have a low-end version of the chipset is
that it would be usable in video games, set-top boxes, and low cost
multimedia presentation devices like a cheap television set-top bo, so
it's gotta have video compatibility. The blitter portion of the engine
will retain peroccupatibility with current blitter stuff.
AN: Scrolling the way we've got it now?
CL: Yeah, yeah, we'll have scrolling. A number of the current video modes
will be available or at least emulated, aand then the the new video modes
I think you going to be surprised with. There's some great modes.
CL: We're probably going to toss sprites altogether. If you look at how
games programmers write games today, very few of them are actually using
sprites any longer. They use just one sprite for the main character and
they toss out the rest; just because the overhead for sprites, while it's
minimal, it's so much easier these days to, especially if you're porting
to PC compatibles, to not have to deal with the sprite issue. It just
makes more sense to dispose with it altogether and use the real estate
that we gain to enhance the 3D abilities.
AN: Is the AAA chipset definitely out?
CL: I don't know that it's definitely out. Dave (Haynie) spent a lot of
time getting a system out that would, at least from a hardware
perspective, work I think the ig problem with it is that from a
feature-set standpoint it really doesn't buy us enpough in the short-term
to be useful in the short-term and in the long-term we're better off
trying to leapfrog the feature-set entirely so that we have something new
and innovative, and that's why we focused on the RISC-3D stuff.
AN: The specifications of the AAA seemed pretty impressive from the
average Amiga user's point of view, and now you're talking about
leapfrogging. Is the Custom RISC really that much better than AAA?
CL: Oh yes, definitely. From what we know reading IEEE magazine and
playing with them our system will beat the pants off a Saturn (Sega's
coming console). We've designed it around being a really fantastic
system, exercising the best of the resources that Commodore's always had,
basically designing our own chips rather than going out to someone else
and just using an off-the-shelf chip. We've got some really good stuff
AN: So you can envisage having a wide range of Amiga products, from the
games player to the professional user, in the real tradition of the Amiga
which has been so hard to market...
CL: Yes it has been hard to market. That's it. It's one of our assets,
and getting rid of it by just concentrating on one end or the other would
be a mistake.
AN: So you've got built in there all sorts of texture mapping and other
CL: Yes. Basically the blitter has grown features that allow it to do
texture mapping, that allow it to do shading like the new consoles, but
faster and with higher quality video modes, so that we've got a greater
resolution than the consoles have, because at the high end we're going to
need that resolution. We've got completely programmable pixel rates, as
you know that's basically a feature that started with AA, that AAA grew
some, and this basically continues that growth path so that we'll be able
to do a large number of graphic modes. We have true colour modes
(24-bit), we have some fairly innovative colour reduction modes, similar
to HAM but a bit different, we have YUV modes so it'll be much more simple
for us to do PhotoCD support, we've also got some 32-bit modes where we've
got a transparency channel as well.
AN: 24-bit colour on screen in high resolution?
CL: Yes, sure. Obviously that's not the kind of mode you'd want to use
for a games system, because it takes too much bandwith, the graphics take
up too much space, but it's there because the same chipset could be used
in a high-end system to provide a true-colour, high-resolution desktop
AN: How much of that system is in this one central chip that you're
talking about. Is there an external graphics sub-system?
CL: It's all in the one chip. Everything is in there except RAM, ROM, and
the RAMDAC for the colour tables.
AN: What is the cache situation?
CL: There's an internal cache for the PA-RISC and then there's some
external cache space as well.
AN: One of the big problems of the Amiga is the lack of memory protection.
One programme crash can bring down the whole system. Will that be
CL: Obviously if we're going to go to the trouble of porting the OS to
another chip then we have the opportunity at that point to get rid of all
the problems that we've had to live with in exec. We would have done it a
long time ago but certain internal features of exec made it difficult to
AN: It will be one of the advantages of losing compatibility!
CL: Exec won't be an easy port because it's written entirely in assembly
code but it's a small, tight core so it shouldn't be too difficult.
AN: What sort of a clock speed would this turn at?
CL: Whatever clock speed the Pa-RISC chips are available now. I know
they're doing 100MHz, so...
AN: What sort of upgrade path is foreseeable for the 4000?
CL: At the moment in-house there are no designs for anything beyond 25MHz
'040. I think what we're looking at as a likely prospect would be OEM'ing
somebody else's add-on CPU card design and then building those into the
box, just as a short-term solution. It's definitely true that we need to
have a 4000 with higher specifications on the market and that gives us a
quick way of doing that.
AN: What was your function the Commodore team?
CL: I was hired on about three and a half years ago to do multi-media
standards. Basically I managed the IFF standard, handling registrations
for the forms and so forth and tried within the organisation to bring in
standards from the outside world and develop our own standards where there
weren't already standards in place, and then get developers to adopt the
standards. Unfortunately as usual in Commodore there was very little
resource to expend towards these efforts so not a lot came of it, but we
had some good work. For example CAMDI (Commodore Amiga Midi Driver),
which is essentially a MIDI library-style system for allowing MIDI
applications to share access to the MIDI ports so that there is automatic
merging of the MIDI data. From that work a host of people ended up with
another library called Real Time Dat Library which provides the
synchronisation and timing information from a master clock source which
can be generated by the library itself or come externally from ti! me
code devices, and then this master clock is distributed to sub-tasks that
want it. So for example you can synchronise multiple animation playbacks
simultaneously with sound playback because Real Time Library helps all the
allocations to keep track.
AN: Isn't all this work going to be lost when you change the CPU?
CL: No, the plan is to bring it all over. That's one of the reasons it's
going to take 18 months. A good thing is that having picked an already
existing RISC core, even while the hardware work is progressing much of
the software work can be started immediately because you can go out and
buy an HP Workstation today with a PA-RISC chip in it. Basically we'll
have software simulation of graphics sub-systems and whatever graphics
abilities are available on the workstation, to the extent that they can
emulate, will be used. It's going to be completely different because what
we have in our own hardware is obviously going to be much faster, but from
our perspective, developing system software, that doesn't matter much and
we'll be able to programme a significant portion of the OS without having
the graphics end of the chipset done. We know what the graphics chipset
is going to do and we can write software that emulates that.
AN: So developers will be using an HP workstation to create the future
CL: Precisely. It has to be that way because 18 months sounds like a long
time when you're thinking about how long it will be before somebody's
hardware is released, but if you're a software developer, as you well
know, 18 months doesn't seem like much at all in order to learn a whole
new system and to come out with some decent software for it.
AN: Amiga developers will probably have a hard time learning to programme
for the new machine, won't they?
CL: I think you'll find that we'e tried to maintain the basic chip
philosophy. It's obviously not going to be compatible on a register
level, so people who have been hitting the hardware all along are going to
have to learn all over again! But if you're doing system programming then
I don't think you've got anythiung to worry about. You should be able, at
the end, without doing much more than simply recompiling your software,
have something that works. That's the goal. We have a huge base of very
good software out there. But I think you'll find that even in public
domaine this is where people go ahead because they wanna be first...
AN: One last question. If this new Amiga was produced in two years time,
what would be its main advantages over the Mac and the PC?
CL: I think that one important point is that the machine will come as a
base with outstanding graphics performance. As a system to do 3D
rendering, a as system to do commercial video work, you're going to find
that our system will be able to compete just as well as Amigas compete
today. In 18 months to two years time, when the PCs are coming to where
we are today, we'll have gone forward another generation.
(c) NewsEdition SARL 1995.