Amiga Anniversary and Tinkering With Pi

by Eric Schwartz
from the AmiTech Gazette, May 2015

Some updates are available in the Amiga sphere. ISO image files of the Amiga OS 4.1 "final edition" are available for download (restricted to paying customers only, presumably so buyers don’t have to rely on discs). The MorphOS team has just released version 3.8 of their operating system, adding support for the Sam-460 system boards by ACube. The supported number of Radeon video cards has increased as well, and the ability to drive 4K resolution displays has been added, along with a bunch of other under-the-hood tweaks and improvements.

Finally, the Kickstarter campaign has borne fruit, and there will be an Amiga 30th Anniversary event in the USA, held on July 25th and 26th at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View California. Several exhibitors are promised, along with a display of the history of the Amiga from original machines to recent derived hardware and operating systems, possibly even including some rare prototype items unseen by the public. If I could, I would be there in a heartbeat. I miss the days when I could travel relatively consequence-free. Hopefully lots of pictures will come out of the event. For anyone looking for info or tickets, go to http://www.amiga30.com.

It seems I’m always tinkering with one system or another any more, from MorphOS machines to various Linux-based boxes. Most recently I have been working with the tiny Raspberry Pi computer. I never really planned to get one in the first place, but when AmiTech member-at-large Jim Lawrence offered one for sale, it seemed a convenient opportunity to try out something new, and getting the working part of a new system in hand for $37 was tough to resist. For a while, I didn’t even have a purpose in mind for the Pi (actually Pi 2 model B), but eventually settled on the idea of setting it up as a media player and (retro) game console for my room, hopefully for as little money as possible. The Raspberry Pi is shipped as a bare board, so a case of some kind was required. Many have built cases out of Lego bricks, so I tried to as well, as my stash of Lego stuff would result in a free (or at least paid for long ago) case. Despite my efforts, I caved in and bought a plastic case, as the Lego case was rather bulky and awkward, especially when compared to a plastic case molded barely larger than the circuit board itself. I also got a Wi-Fi adapter which plugs into a USB port, along with necessary cables, power supplies, and micro SD cards. For software and operating system, I went with NOOBS, which streamlines the process of installing one or more operating systems to the Pi SD card. It covers a lot, but does not directly include "RetroPie," an OS and interface for several game console and computer emulators. With a little research, I was able to splice RetroPie into the NOOBS installation.

As of about a month ago, I was able to demonstrate the Pi at the last meeting, which did not go so well. First off, it’s worth mentioning that while the Raspberry Pi is a tiny system, it still needs to be wired to power, monitor, and whatever control devices you wish to use, leading to a potential inconvenient tangle of cables and supporting hardware. In some ways it’s worse than a "normal" computer system, as that has the mass to anchor all the wires and stuff. The media center software, called "OpenELEC," was frequently unstable and refused to boot more often than not. It turned out the power supply I got was a little weak for the Pi, leading to a little display indicator popping up on screen whenever the voltage dipped. It seems the problem may be the wireless dongle sucking too much power, but I got a beefier power supply, along with other hardware to go to my ultimate goal of a Raspberry media and gaming center. I have a little ways to go yet, but I am close to my final Raspberry goal, though my goal of keeping it as cheap as possible may have fallen to the side. I’ll bring it to the meeting, and I can promise better than the mix of "doesn’t work" and "kinda works" that I had at the last meeting. The not-completely final tally goes as follows:

Raspberry Pi 2 mainboard  $ 37
Various micro-SD cards  $ 30
Power supply  $ 7
HDMI cable  $ 6
USB Wi-Fi adapter  $ 10
Black plastic case  $ 8
Better power supply  $ 18
1 TB external USB hard drive  $ 65
22 inch HDTV  $ 170
USB power cable with switch  $ 6
Wireless mini keyboard/trackpad  $ 15
Total  $ 342

I’m still working on getting an ideal game controller for this setup, but that won’t add a lot to the total. I can only hope that all this effort won’t result in something I will ultimately ignore like other projects I ended up sinking a lot of time and money into.