Contents | < Browse | Browse >
Unveiling the PAWS
Fabian Jimenez firstname.lastname@example.org
On October 21st, the members of the National Capital Amiga Users Group were
treated to the first public unveiling of the Portable Amiga Workstation
(PAWS) laptop kit from Silent Paw Productions of Manasas, Virginia. The
PAWS laptop kit has been in development of almost two years with the goal
of creating portable Amigas for those Amiga owners who need to take their
computers on the road, but don't care for lugging those 1084 monitors with
them. Shawn Randolph of Silent Paw Productions conducted the presentation.
Displayed at the meeting were the PAWS 600, 1200, and 4000 laptop kits. A
soon to be released 3000 kit will complete the PAWS line-up by December.
No plans exist for making PAWS kits for the venerable Amiga 500 or 2000.
The suggested retail price of the PAWS kit is around the $3200 US range for
all three models. Mr. Randolph stated that two thirds of the cost can be
attributed to the active matrix color LCD screen. Included in the purchase
of your PAWS is CrossDos 6 Professional, Link-It file transfer software,
and a PAWS Track (mouseball). Oh, batteries are not included, but can be
had at your local computer superstore. Less expensive dual scan and
greyscale LCDs may be pursued in the future. However, Mr. Randolph
claimed such lower priced displays did not do to well with live video
As you may have notice, I use the word "kit" to describe this product.
This is because you must provide your own Amiga for the innards of the PAWS
unit. Mr. Randolph did state that some dealers will sell assembled units
for those who request it. Before you run out a pay extra for dealer
assembly know that the PAWS does not require any soldering, splicing, or
dicing. Just drop the innards into the kit, shields and all, connect some
calbes and screw shut.
Physically the PAWS kits are larger than your standard PC laptop of today.
In fact the 600 and 1200 kits look more like those portable typerwriters
you took off to college. The 4000 kit is about the same size of those
lugable suitcase PCs of many moons ago. The units were an off white color,
but are also available in black. The 600 and 1200 case are mostly aluminum
(any Ohio Scientific fans out there?). This is due to the fact that Silent
Paw needed to make a custom case for these units, and to make such a case
in plastic is significantly more expensive. The 4000 case is a slightly
modified OEM case, and is made of the more traditional plastic. The weight
of these units are 11 lbs for the 600 kit, 14 lbs for the 1200 kit, and 17
lbs for the 4000 kit.
All ports including the PCMCIA slot on the 600 and 1200 are accessable in
the PAWS kit. The exception is the RGB port which is used to feed the
video signal to the LCD panel. The panel has a diagonal measurement of
10.4 inches for all three units. As for your various ad-ons, as long as
you didn't have to hack your Amiga to make it fit, then it will easily fit
inside the PAWS. The 3000 and 4000 card slots will be accessed through a
sliding door on the side of the unit.
The 600 and 1200 kits use a Duracell DR-31 (aka Compac Extended Life
Battery) as well as a normal power cord. The battery life for these units
is roughly an hour and fifteen minutes. The 3000 and 4000 kits will not
use any battery whatsoever due to power demands. The batteries in the 600
and 1200 units can be recharged while inside the unit, but only in a
special sleep mode. Also, the PAWS will not allow "hotspoting" or
switching batteries on the fly.
As stated earlier, the RGB port is used to provide the signal to the color
LCD panel. This means that once inside the PAWS, you cannot use a monitor
as a display. Future versions of the PAWS may include a pass-through
feature. Since the RGB signal is incompatible with the LCD panel, Silent
Paws devised a driver board to convert the signal into an acceptable LCD
signal at a resolution of 640x480 non-interlaced. No matter what
resolution you select on your Amiga, it will be displayed at 640x480. The
good news is that all programs, including games, should work without a
hitch since no modifications are made to your Amiga's display chips. This
display driver card is also the basis of Silent Paw's Gecko box that allows
your Amiga to use a VGA monitor in any screen mode.
It was here that I was going to state my impressions of the PAWS in action.
However, the units were not powered up due to a ongoing modification to the
display driver board. Silent Paw decided to design PAWS as kit instead of
making a true laptop because they are a small company with limited
resources. To make a true Amiga laptop you would need to design a new
motherboard and chipset that would be condusive for such a unit. To design
these needed components you will spend close to a million dollars or more.
This is usually more than many Amiga developers have lying around.
I asked Dave Haynie what his impressions were, as well as any efforts by
Commodore, in making an Amiga laptop. Dave stated that the engineers would
have loved to make such a thing, but that Commodore was never big on
laptops. He related a story to me in which Commodore could have came to
market with a LCD based laptop like the Tandy 100 that could have made them
a major, but management shot it down.
Toward the end of Commodore, monies for new projects were virtually
non-existant. Engineers were always fighting for enough to keep the
desktop Amigas viable. For a true laptop to be made, a completely new
motherboard and chipset were needed. A special consideration would be to
make an Amber chip that ran LCD protocals. Most of the chipset on your
standard Amiga are comprised of the power hungry NMOS variety. Even with a
CMOS chipset, the power demands would still be significant.
"If I were to do this? the first thing I would do would be to dump the
custom chps," stated Dave. "Technically speaking you could make the
current chipset work in an LCD system, if power were no consideration."
In the future Silent Paw Productions hopes to make a true Amiga laptop
called the Puma. Mr. Randolph claims to have 2/3s the parts and technical
knowhow to make one. However, Silent Paw would need the financial backing
of an interested party (read Amiga Technologies).
Dave added, "At least he knows what he is talking about here. I've
occasionally been the victim of where a company didn't have a clue how much
it costs to design hardware, and would bail on a project they hired me for."
Mr. Randolph claimed that a company called Newer Technologies actually
made an Amiga laptop several years ago called the PL1. However, according
to Mr. Randolph, Commodore threaten Newer Technologies with all sorts of
legal action if they even brought such a unit to production. Eventually a
licensing agreement was reached a month before Commodore went belly up.
Mr. Randolph contacted Newer Technologies for their technical input in
The PAWS will be available directly to most dealers, except in Canada and
Germany where Silent Paw has signed exclusive dealership agreements. PAWS
will be demoed at Video Toaster Expo, AC Montreal, and possibly in Cologne,