Speed Comparisons and Amiga Nostalgia

by Eric Schwartz
From the AmiTech Gazette, March 2018

March has arrived, and I’m not sure whether we’ve gotten the lion or the lamb at this point. There are a few notable developments, one of which ties in to my continuing adventures of the Vampire A600. The Apollo Accelerators team recently put out the public release of the “Gold 2.7” core for the Vampire 500 and 600 cards. This adds several enhancements over the previous public release, but the headliner is the addition of the FPU (the Floating Point Unit for the uninitiated— for complex math stuff such as 3D work).

I downloaded the new core for my Vampire 600, followed the installation instructions to the letter, and turned my Amiga 600 into a brick. Apparently the update did not go through properly, and I was unable to try a second time now that the system refused to do anything. My next step was to order a “USB Blaster” device, which allows you to program the FPGA core on the Vampire board from an external computer. Eight dollars and four days later, I had the device and the software I needed, but my attempts to program it from my Linux laptop were unsuccessful. I took the next option available—bringing the Amiga and “blaster” to VP Mike Barclay’s home, and trying to program the core from his Windows machine. Thankfully, the operation was mostly a success, and the A600 is back up and running with the new core. I’m not completely out of the woods yet, as the SAGA graphics from the Vampire’s HDMI port are not coming through in full color, but everything else is apparently working fine, and I want to be sure to exhaust all other troubleshooting possibilities before I dare try re-flashing the core again.

At the last meeting, I started to explore some “practical” speed trials and comparisons of the Vampire system. I got my copy of Lightwave 3D (V5) running, with an identical scene of a spaceship rending an 800x600 pixel image on my different systems. My venerable A4000T/68060 rendered the scene in 8 minutes, 59 seconds. My MorphOS G5 Mac rendered the same scene with all the same settings in just 32 seconds. (Doing it a second time clocked in at a quicker 30 seconds, thanks to the nature of JIT processor emulation.) The Morph G5 has an extra speed advantage in that it does not perform some of the display updates that require an Amiga chipset, but I doubt that would be that big a drag if it did. Finally, I set up the render on the Vampire A600 at last month’s meeting. Unfortunately, this was under the previous “GOLD 2” core with no FPU, which Lightwave 5 requires to run. I was able to run it thanks to “Femu”—software that emulates an FPU—but like many forms of emulation, it was slow and quite a drag to the system. The render was only about halfway finished by the time we had to cancel and finish the meeting. Once I had more available time at home, I set up the render again, which took a glacial four hours, 55 minutes, and 49 seconds to complete. Obviously rendering under an emulated FPU is not recommended.

After all the mess updating the Vampire’s core to version 2.7, (now with FPU), I ran the test again, and got a far more respectable render time of 6 minutes even. I also did a few other time trials using some of my commonly-used graphics software (as opposed to benchmarks or SysInfo like everyone tries at least once). Bear in mind these times are far from exact, as my reaction time and fumbly fingers on a stopwatch app are factors, but you should get an idea.

Lightwave 3d V5 spaceship render: (800x600, raytraced shadows, glow effects)
   Amiga 4000T/060 — 8 min 59 sec
MorphOS Mac G5 — 32 sec
V600 2.5 (emulated FPU) — 4 hr 55 min 49 sec
V600 2.7 w/FPU — 6 min 0 sec
Personal Paint 7.1 load/convert JPEG (800x600 24 bit to 256 color)
Amiga 4000T/060 — 8.2 sec.
A600/V600 2.7 — 6.1 sec.
MorphOS Mac G5 — 2.7 sec.
Image FX 4.5 Gaussian Blur (640x844 24 bit, blur over entire image)
Amiga 4000T/060 — 15.7 sec.
A600/V600 2.7 — 12.9 sec.
MorphOS Mac G5 — 1.35 sec.
(Note: The G5 was using PowerPC native code here, and thus had a huge advantage)

As you can see from these admittedly imprecise tests, the Vampire A600, while not touching the speeds of the G5 even when it runs 68K-based software, it offers a significant all-around speed boost over the previous “fastest ever” 68060/50 Mhz, knocking down all times by about a fourth or more, which is quite good for something which is still ostensibly a 68000-series CPU.

One of the things I enjoy about our modern world is that, surprising as it may seem, nostalgic Amiga material both new and old is easier to find than ever. For example, there’s a wealth of Amiga stuff to be found on YouTube, with new things popping up fairly regularly, from old game coverage to talk of the new Vampire-accelerated systems and more. Here are a few videos I have found which you might enjoy, if you haven’t already seen them all.

81 year-old artist Samia Halaby, who creates works with her slightly younger Amiga 1000, from The Guru Meditation

New games for the Amiga CD-32, from The New Retro Show

An overview of Amiga Ireland 2018, from MsMadLemon

Seeing the Commodore CD1200 prototype, from Dan Wood

Plenty more can be found on YouTube, either linked with these videos, or by doing a search of your own.