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© 1997-2006
Gareth Knight
All Rights reserved

 

AMIGA TRANSPUTER PROJECT

Imagine being able to create the most powerful artwork on the Amiga.
In 16 Million Colors. With Unlimited Resolution.
Imagine 24-bit RAM animation, NTSC/PAL, RS178, Analog RGB/Composite video,
10 RISC MIPS/1.5/MFLOPS, 19 MB/S drawing speed, 8MB BLIT Operations.
For more performance, the graphics board connects to our Transputer
Processor Boards, each capable of a max performance of 120 RISC MIPS.
Each transputer chip is capable of addressing four gigabytes of memory.
Unlimited expandability.

Amiga World, December 1989 - Full page advert from Digital Animation Productions

If you were an Amiga owner during the late 1980s it is likely that you were excited by the mere mention of 'Transputer'. The Transputer was an 1980s term describing hardware that directly supported parallel processing. This enabled the transparent connection of multiple processors that would be used to work upon a single task. However, information on these boards has become increasingly elusive. On this page I attempt to catalogue every transputer card that has been sold or announced. If a board is missing or you can provide additional graphics or information on an Amiga Transputer projects, e-mail me using the address on the main page.

Avalon Transputer
Binaerdesign Computer-Grafik
Kasmin Zorro2 card
Metacomco Transputer
Micro Anvika
MicroComputers Transputer
Sang Transputer
Visiona Highpaint graphics card

AVALON TRANSPUTER

Developer: XPert Computer Services GmbH (Muenchen)
Date: Unknown

A 1991 catalogue confirms the existence of 5 Avalon transputer boards, designed for A500, A2000 & A3000 machines. Product information suggests a transfer rate of 1Mb/s. A newsgroup post suggests development was frozen in April 1991 as a result of problems with their software supplier.

Product: AVALON Junior
Designed for: A500
Hardware: 1x T800
Memory: 8Mb RAM maximum
   
Product: ALALON T1
Designed for: Zorro II and Zorro II slots
Hardware: No description
Memory: Unknown
   
Product: AVALON T4
Designed for: Zorro II and Zorro III slots
Hardware: 1 - 4 T800
Memory: 4Mb RAM
   
Product: AVALON M64
Designed for: Zorro II and Zorro IIII
Hardware: AS T1 & T4
Memory: 64Mb RAM maximum
   
Product: AVALON MODULAR
Designed for: Zorro II and ZorroIII
Hardware:

Flexible design according to user requirements. A choice of modules is available:

  • T800 with 1MB DRAM
  • T800 with 4MB DRAM
  • T800 with 8MB DRAM
  • T800 with 128KB no wait-state SRAM
  • T800 with 1MB no wait-state SRAM
  • T800 with 2MB no wait-state SRAM
  • T800 with 2MB DRAM and 32KB no wait-state SRAM (double module width)
  • T800 with 4MB DRAM and 128Kb n.w-s. SRAM (double module-width)
  • T801 with 160kb n.w-s SRAM (double module width)
Additional Information:

AVALON MODULAR is compatible with INMOS standard B008. This allows a maximum of 10 T800's to be mounted onto a single board. It is recommended for use with the Visiona graphics card. The following software was available:

  • TRANSPUTER-ASSEMBLER with an AMIGA specific set of Commands and LIBRARIES
  • PARALLEL-C Compiler
  • HELIOS (Operating System for transputers)
  • The INMOS development system
  • Raytracing application
  • Miranim
  • Marashading
  • Sabrina

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BINAERDESIGN COMPUTER-GRAFIK

Developer: Binaerdesign Computer-Grafik (Germany)
Date: Late 1980s

During the early 1990s Wuertzburg-based Binaerdesign Computer-Grafik sold a range of transputer hardware & software.

Product: Amiga Transputer Workstation
Performance: 10 MIPS + 1.5 MFlops pro 20Mhz T800 Transputer
Description: Internally expandable up to 5x T800. HeliOS available.
Display: 1280 x 1024/256 Colours or 800 x 900/16.7million.
 

The company also sold the following transputer-related software:

 
Application: Sabrina
Description: 3D modeling in 16.7 million colours. Support for multiple transputers Output in pal res.or in 8000 x 8000 (slides)
   
Application: Miranim
Description: Script-Oriented Animation system using the Cinemira-2 language. VLAN-compatible control of single frame video recorders.
Display: Output or 24Bit Amiga Graphics (TurboSilver, Sculpt3D, DigiView, TIFF, TGA, Miranim, 3DProfessional, Calgari, etc.). Export in IFF TGA and Miranim formats.

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KASMIN ZORRO 2 CARD

Developer: Team 4 Video?
Date: Early 1990s?

Ian Dibsdall provides an overview of the Kasmin Zorro2 graphics card.

Kasmin Zorro 2 card

The "Kasmin" is a Zorro2 24bit framebuffer card, with integrated RGB video digitiser and driven by a 25MHz T800 transputer. It is capable of storing 2 frames of full PAL resolution (768 x 576) in memory, and supports KasminPaint and TVPaint.

I have two cards, one (pictured) is a prototype. Sadly non-functional (damage to the tracks on the back, possibly repairable?).
The other is one of (I believe) five cards actually made, and fully working. Kasmin appeared at around the same time as the Harlequin, and in fact they share a lot in development. It uses the "grafexa.library", which is like a very early RTG system, allowing different cards to share a common software interface.

I have a reprint of an Amiga Format review, which was glowing in praise of the card and in particular the digitiser (but noted you need RGB video, which was more pro/studio than home use then.). Curiously there is no date on the review, so I can't tell if is was published or not.

My card came from Team4 video in London, where I believe it was used in an A3000 with TVPaint for stills work. I now have it in an A4000, which didn't work at first, but with an incredible stroke of luck I was put in touch with the original software developer, who fixed it for me.

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METACOMCO TRANSPUTER

Developer: Metacomco
Demonstrated: 1988/1989

InMOS - graphics courtesy of Big Book of Amiga Hardware

The Amiga Transputer was proposed by Tim King (who had previously ported TripOS to the 68k) and several others at Metacomco. The company had developed the custom OS, Helios to interact with the host operating system.
The project was demonstrated at several Commodore Amiga shows, but the company never bought the technology. It was later sold as the Atari Transputer.

Dave Haynie gave the following thoughts in a posting to the TeamONE mailing list:

Subject: Re[2]: Amiga Transputer query
Date: Wed, 8 Jul 1998 23:25:33 -0400 (EDT)

The Transputer was certainly interesting. InMOS (the parent company at
the time, the same guys making the original RAMDAC used for the IBM VGA
card) seemed to want to make Transputers work essentially as front ends
to every piece of your system. Rather than talk talk to a hard disc,
you'd talk to a Transputer fronting the hard disc. Same with video and
other I/O.

So conceptually, the processor could be used like an embedded CPU. It
had about 4K of on-chip RAM (not cache), a built-in RAM controller (
glueless, just add DRAM), and it could boot from a network link (so, in
theory anyway, you only had to boot one Transputer in a network by
conventional means). You generally programmed Transputers using Occam, a
language designed specifically for/with the Transputer. Occam supported
thread-style tasks (the Transputer had no MMU, thus no heavy-weight
tasks) in the language, and used FIFOs/Pipes for communication, so you
wrote code the same way, regardless of whether you were talking to tasks
on the same Transputer or one over a link. It was an interesting
approach to loosely coupled multiprocessing.

The chink in the armor was the price. You paid around $400 for a T800,
when the 68030, at nearly the same performance (based on our benchmarks),
cost under $100 in quantity. So Transputers didn't function, in practice,
the way they were designed to work. At $10-$25, it would have been
practical to build a system with several, working as specified, fronting
I/O subsystems and all. The other problems were in software. Without
memory protection, it wasn't going to fly as a high-end system. The
Helios OS had a UNIX-like look, but it wasn't UNIX. Loosely coupled
multiprocessing isn't as general purpose as tightly coupled multiprocessing,
since the communications overhead is high, and thus best suited for
problems that can be broken up into lots of separate chunks. A company
called Meiko sold a Transputer array for graphics rendering, at least
back then (the Meiko Computing Surface), which was pricey, but no less
reasonable than an 8000 node iCOMP from Intel. For our work, it didn't
fly.

> I believe at
> this point Tim went on to sell the concept to Atari, where it became the
> Atari Transputer.

Atari hooked up with the Perihelion guys, who had developed the system
that eventually became the Atari Abaca. Basically, they were graphic chip
guys (some of the same folks made the Atari Jaguar, and now work at VM
Labs), but in an effort, I suppose, to do something different, they
went for the Transputer. Needing an OS, they turned to Tim and the Boys,
with Atari doing the usual "here's some money, we can sell this" song
and dance. I hear they made a few hundred Abacas.

Jerry Everett provides further information on the Transputer board in an excerpt from an e-mail to Joe Torre:
What I know of the transputer is that it was demoed at the spring 1988 developer's conference in an off the shelf A2000. The board looked very clean and neat. There was only one hand wired jumper on it, so the project must have been fairly mature. It had a 32bit IMS T-414 or T-900 transputer chip running at 15MHz (10 MIPs), with 2k of on-chip RAM and one to four megabytes of external on-board DRAM. It communicated to other transputers via four on-chip serial links. In a 2000 you could have up to 4 other transputer daughter boards with 4 transputer chips on each. The on chip links could be used to connect to other transputer equipped 2000s to create a Lan without the need for a network controller card. The practical limitation was on the order of 500 transputer chips. The OS they were using was a partially com- pleted version of "Helios". The only thing they could demo was a Dhrystone test. It was very impressive for the time, and not bad even by today's standards. I was really pissed when CBM just dropped development (why spend money on something more advanced when you could make money selling what you had in hand). Last I heard the Inmos technology was owned by Phillips, I don't know what they did with it.
TOP

MICRO ANVIKA

Developer: Micro Anvika
Announced: October 1992

In his 1992 Amiga UK DevCon report, Eddy Carroll describes a Zorro III transputer board being developed by London-based Micro Anvika. If the developer is to be believed, the Transputer would have offered 'up to 40 times the performance of a 68040 when fully loaded with transputers'.

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MICROCOMPUTERS TRANSPUTER

Developer: MicroComputer
Timeline: Late 1980s

In addition to the MetaComco solution, an Italian company developed a second solution to the problem. In a TeamONE posting, Rudi Chiarito describes it's development.

08 Jul 98 23:53:09 +0100

Back in the late '80s, Andrea De Prisco, the coordinator for the Amiga
section of MicroComputer (the best selling computer magazine here and a good
read at those times) developed with a few guys ADPNetwork. It was a *ring*
network of Amigas, running on serial cables.

They went as far as writing a network messaging API and a handler/filesystem
(mind you, this was in the 1.3 days). They successful had demos at Amiga
expos: you probably remember them at the DevCon in Paris, with their Boing
ball bouncing across the displays of the three networked Amigas. They had a
lot of fun issuing COPY commands from the Shell, disconnecting the cable
while the transfer was in progress and then reconnecting it to let the COPY
continue without a glitch. Again, in those days it seemed like science
fiction!

They weren't satisfied with the CPU power wasted by the network layer, also
because each Amiga had to receive and pass along even packets that were
directed to another machine! So they developed a Zorro board with a fast
serial port and a Transputer (a T400, IIRC), which switched packets on its
own, leaving the CPU free. A working prototype was built and there were also
plans for more powerful versions and a library to 'share' the Transputer(s)
among applications for small routines (like the A3000+ DSP).

Eventually, without any explanations, the project was abandoned and ADP left
the Amiga. Sadly enough, last time I read MicroComputer, years ago, he was
writing articles like "How to do this and that with Photoshop"... *sigh*

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SANG TRANSPUTER

Developer: SANG Computer systems Gmbh
Date: Late 1980s

A German product list from 1990 describes the following transputer products manufactured by SANG Computers System. All prices reflect their cost in Gernaby Deutsch Marks during March 1990.
Products: MEGA-Link-Interface
Designed for: Zorro II
Description: Interface card required to connect Sang transputer boards to the Amiga. Driver software is also included. The MEGA-Link card is required for the transputer boards listed below.
Price: 400 DM
   
Product: MEGA-Link01- Plus
Designed for: Zorro II
Description: Transputer board fitted with 4x T800 CPU.
Memory: 1 - 8Mb RAM per processor.
Price: 13,600 DM
   

Product:

MEGA-Link02
Designed for: Zorro II
Description: Transputer board fitted with 1x T425/T800 CPU, colour video controller (operates at 110 MHz and capable of 16.7 Million colours. A port is available for framegrabber or U-Matic video machine. Multiple boards can be linked up in parallel to increase processing power.
Memory: 8Mb RAM maximum
Price: 8,000 DM
   
Product: MEGA-Link03
Designed for: Zorro II
Description: Low-cost version of the MEGA-Link01 Plus with only one T425/T800 CPU.
Memory: 32Mb RAM maximum
Price: 4000 DM

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VISIONA HIGHPAINT GRAPHICS CARD

Developer: Unknown
Launch: January 1991
(doubtful release date)

A web site (that has sadly bit the digital dust) suggests a T800 transputer was planned for the Visiona graphics card. The card would have been used for the A3000.

TOP

Additional References
For more information on Transputers visit RAM's Transputer home page, or click here to read Dave Haynie's criticism of early Transputer design.

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Last Update: 16/02/2003


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