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© 1997-2006
Gareth Knight
All Rights reserved

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pre\box

Developer: phase 5
Announced: March 1998

During March 1998, Phase 5 announced that they would producing a PowerPC Amiga using a fully licensed AmigaOS 3.1 and based upon an extension of the PowerUP accelerator boards (read the announcement). In an attempt to move the Amiga into the high-end market, and showing the characteristic Phase 5 flare for doing things differently, the pre\box was aimed at the high-end of the market, featuring at least 4 PowerPC processors. The machine, announced before the World of Amiga '98 announcement built upon the premise that Amiga Inc. were happy to develop the Amiga onto the PowerPC platform. It was intended to show a clear path towards PowerPC, building upon their implementation of the PowerUP software whilst moving away from the hacky multi-processing model of the PowerUP boards. Wolf Dietrich, head of Phase 5 outlined his plans to develop,

"Developers who jump on the PowerUP bandwagon today can make their products ready for multiprocessing quite easily. Therefore it will be possible to take two giant steps - from a single-CPU 68k system to a Multi-CPU PowerPC system - within only one year, an impressive progress for the Amiga community which many have not thought possible"
A fair degree of planning went into the announcement of the pre\box. In a few days phase 5 updated their web site to include the latest specifications and prices of the new machine.
  • ATX motherboard design
  • SDRAM-based memory with up to 100 MHz memory speed at first with speeds expected to increase in the future.
  • 100 MHz processor bus
  • Four PowerPC processors, located on separate CPU cards, featuring inline and backside caches.
  • Like current PowerUP software, the pre\box can use CPUs that do not offer hardware support for multiprocessing, such as the PPC603e or the PPC750 (G3).
  • Integrated 3D graphics subsystem, connected via a 66 MHz PCI 2.1 bus. This has a peak performance of 264 MB/s and include 8Mb graphics memory.
  • The PCI bus also includes a slot for Voodoo 2-based 3D accelerator cards, as used on the PC.
  • Ultra-Wide SCSI-II controller
  • 100 Mbit Ethernet controller
  • The PCI bus allows the connection of three PCI devices.
  • Serial and parallel interface
  • USB slot
  • EIDE interface
The system specifications reflect some of the most interesting at the time, pre-empting similar Mac systems of similar spec.
Phase 5 has promised that their multiprocessor systems will be compatible with the current range of PowerUP processors. However, some questions were raised about the implementation of AmigaOS 3.1 on the PowerPC board. It is only with the arrival of G3 boards that an Amiga without a 68k processor has become a possibility. The implementation of USB and PCI would also require a lot of work. Given Phase 5's reputation for poor software it remained a mystery how they hoped to create a pci.library that support the huge array of cards available. Phase 5 have admitted the existence of a 68k emulator that was being produced at the time, but abandoned it because of major difficulties with the MMU and FPU support. Phase 5 were also offering a form of network multiprocessing between the pre\box and Amiga-PowerUP cards, allowing the Amigas resources to be used on the pre\box. An interesting concept that would require major upgrade to the PowerUP software to make it feasible. A great deal of work would need to have been done if Phase 5 were to meet their Winter 1998 release date.

The system specification compared to price shows a reasonably competitive system in comparison to similar WIntel-based machines.

Processors Speed (MHz) Suggested Price
Four PowerPC 604e CPUs 200MHz UKP 1495.00 
US$ 1995.00 
DM 3.995
Four PowerPC 604r 250Mhz UKP 1895.00 
US$ 2495.00 
DM 4.995
Four PowerPC 604 
Each with 1Mb Backside Cache
300MHz UKP 2595.00 
US$ 3395.00 
DM 6.995
Four PowerPC 750 (G3). Each with 1Mb Backside Cache 300MHz UKP 3395.00 
US$ 4495.00 
DM 8.995

Retrospect
The pre\box was a very interesting system that promised next generation features using the current operating system. Ironically the announcement of the pre\box also presents the death (or postponement as they like to call it) of the UNIX based A\box. The pre\box represents Phase 5's final attempt to ally themselves to the Amiga owners and deliver a system that would take over from the mind share of the Amiga market. The name pre\box and comments that the machine had been in conceptual design for several months in the press release indicate that the pre\box was a backup plan originally conceived before Escom went bust and was upgraded later on when it became obvious that the A\box would not get support from the Amiga world with an official Amiga company around. After the events of the World of Amiga show '98 when Amiga Inc. announced that PowerPC was not part of their future (only to reinstate it soon after), Phase 5 found themselves stranded with a licence based upon an operating system that could soon be rendered obsolete. Wolf Dietrich commented in April 1999,

The big question for the pre\box is the software, and while we got our OS3.1 license from Amiga last year,
the whole confusion (as we have seen it from the point of a commercial developer) around OS3.5-5.0, PowerPC or not, and the magical mystery future after the WoA London 98 have been reason enough to put development on hold.
Read Wolf Dietrich's Usenet comments in full

The pre\box is a-mirage

Recent comments by Phase 5 indicate that the pre\box is far from dead but may resurface under a different name. In Wolf Dietrich's Usenet posting he suggested that a new version of the pre\box was in prototype stage.
The pre\box  has not been realized 1998, but been put back into the drawer. But
actually, this product could still be realized (in afct, we continued with the design
core of this product, in a different form and targeting a different vertical market,
and we are actually protoyping this other product these days).
On July 22nd, 1999, Phase 5 announced the development of the AMIRAGE K2, built upon the QNX real-time operating system.
"The new AMIRAGE ™ K2 design extends the proposed features of our older pre\box project, and contains many elements of the earlier A\BOX concept, but without the neccessity to design customized hardware right now. As the QNX Neutrino OS concept is also in full accordance with our vision of a new OS - in the past and today - we feel that we finally can make the dream of many Amiga users as well as other computer users come true."
The announcement was hardly surprising, both QNX and Phase 5 had been jilted at the altar when Amiga changed direction. Both companies gain a significant advantage from the partnership- Phase 5 gain a powerful operating system, traditionally a weak point for the company; QNX leverage themselves as an alternative to the Amiga community. The pre\box has changed from possibly the most powerful Amiga ever to the machine that could split the Amiga market. Only time will tell...

Phase 5 announce the pre\box
Wolf Dietrich's Usenet comments
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Last Update: 1/11/2001
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