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Phase5 Blizzard 1260 Accelerator Review: Part 1
By: Jason Compton
Phase5 was the first to hit the market with 68060 technology for the Amiga.
It didn't take long after the introduction of their first CyberStorm
4000/060 board for them to realize that there was a market for colossal
speed among the 4000's little brother, the A1200. The Blizzard 020 and 030
series has done well for A1200 users, and they can make the switch to full
060 power as well.
The Blizzard 060 board is a high-performance 68060/50 accelerator card for
Commodore/AT A1200 machines. The board itself is a very tightly designed
PCB, like most Phase5 products, with what few additional components there
are surface-mounted very near to the PCB. Most of the components,
including the PCB and the single SIMM slot (Which can accept up to a 64 meg
SIMM) face to the underside of the machine when installed.
Like all accelerators, the Blizzard goes in the trapdoor. I imagine it
would be possible to slip it in without removing the case, but my A1200 has
long been open for access and the screws misplaced, so I did it the easy
way. There is comfortable room for installation and removal, unlike the
Falcon 040/25 card which takes up ALL available space and is a headache.
There is basically only one jumper of interest, which selects whether or
not Kickstart ROM will be mapped to FastRAM for increased performance.
This is highly recommended.
The Blizzard comes with special support software. Of most interest to
general users is the CyberPatcher software. When activated, certain
software packages (generally graphics and rendering packages such as
ImageFX, Lightwave, Cinema4D, etc.) gain dramatic increases in performance.
This is due to the nature of the programs as well as the nature of the 060.
Since virtually no software is compiled specifically for 060 processors,
060 users at best can use 68040 compiled software. But the 060, while
fully compatible with the 68040 and its FPU math unit, does not run all 040
and FPU instructions equally well. Some require additional emulation,
which slows performance. CyberPatcher circumvents these bottlenecks and
puts the software back on the path of least resistance. CyberPatcher is,
plainly, very cool, and an advantage no other 68060 board out there has.
Documentation is provided in English and German. The English instructions
are adequate, with only a word or two that slipped by untranslated.
There are other support tools to make programming with the 060 easier (and
more compatible), including an Enforcer-alike and an assembler. StormC is
purported to support the 68060 chip directly, but as we don't have a copy
we are unable to test its performance.
Next issue, we'll deal with benchmark issues, although for early reference
you can look at the Blizzard's performance in the Apollo 1240/40 test.
From a usage point of view, the Blizzard is more or less transparent in
operation. Once you've dealt with the single board jumper, you're done
worrying about the hardware. The 060 is relatively low power so no
provisions for heat are made. It can get a bit warm, but nowhere near the
scorching temperature of a full 040. Most software will run unhindered.
Anything that does exhibit problem (certain games aren't going to run) can
be dealt with easily. By holding down the "2" key during a reset, you can
switch the board off entirely, giving you back a 2 meg A1200 with 020/14
processor. For software that demands nothing more, you'll be in good
shape. The Blizzard can be switched back on at the next reset by repeating
the process, or by cold booting the machine.
Since the A1200 can't normally benefit from graphic card enhancements
(unless you venture to put the machine in a tower case), AGA will be
somewhat of a damper on the speed of the 060 for certain applications.
However, for pure raw processing speed, little contends with the Blizzard
Phase5 updates its 060 software on a fairly regular basis, so continued
A SCSI/memory card may be added to the Blizzard, which provides an external
SCSI port and a second SIMM slot, this one capable of taking a full 128
megs of memory. We were unable to obtain one for review.
Stay tuned for benchmarks...
Phase5 Digital Products
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