How good was the Falcon?

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How good was the Falcon?

Postby Dan1975 » Thu Jan 19, 2017 11:45 pm

When it was launched the Falcon was obviously bigged up by Atari and the Atari magazines as being better than anything around at the time and I have seen a lot of impressive things but my knowledge of what else was available is very limited so , in comparison to the other computers around at the time, how exactly did the Falcon stack up?

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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby christos » Fri Jan 20, 2017 7:17 am

Well, a 486 beat it out of the water for most things. It was pretty much equivalent (for quite a few things) to a 386DX with a soundblaster and a vga card. If it was a real 32-bit machine with twice the CPU speed, it would have been much much better.
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby AtariZoll » Fri Jan 20, 2017 7:54 am

They tried to keep price low by putting it in practically same case as by 1040STFM. And by using 16-bit data bus. But price was still higher than expected. Additionally it delayed some 6 months - what together was the reason why I did not buy it then. And I guess that many other people too.
It was not bad, but such mistakes cost one company a lot - and we all know the outcome. And on top of it came poor SW support. Slowness self was not biggest problem, I think, since faster machines were more expensive too, but combined with integrated kb. design it was just home computer, and simply too expensive for that. What was good by me is DSP, probably ahead of it's time, and adding IDE port, because in 1992 SCSI started to be expensive, more server targeting mass storage.
As graphic computer it was not enough impressive, for musicians DSP probably meant not much, especially without SW (they needed MIDI mostly), for power hungry not enough fast, for some kid or lower class worker too expensive. So, I would say that it just had not it's target audience - as I know mostly hardcore Atari fans purchased it.
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby BoNuS » Fri Jan 20, 2017 9:17 am

The title is a bit off ;) It should be "How good is the Falcon" ;)
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby troed » Fri Jan 20, 2017 9:19 am

Back then there weren't really any SW development kits as we know them today. The Falcon would've needed already developed libraries (by Atari or on hire from Atari) on using the DSP for calculations / music / graphics. But then we're looking back 24 years with the knowledge we have today ... ;)

I bought a Falcon, and sold it six months later again IIRC. I was one of those die hard fans who really really wanted it to rejuvenate the "ST scene".

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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby Cyprian » Fri Jan 20, 2017 9:56 am

AtariZoll wrote:They tried to keep price low by putting it in practically same case as by 1040STFM. And by using 16-bit data bus.

Falcon with its 16bit CPU data bus was still faster that other systems with 32bit data bus like amiga.
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby christos » Fri Jan 20, 2017 10:14 am

Cyprian wrote:
AtariZoll wrote:They tried to keep price low by putting it in practically same case as by 1040STFM. And by using 16-bit data bus.

Falcon with its 16bit CPU data bus was still faster that other systems with 32bit data bus like amiga.


Yes, but that's because the amiga mainboard is clocked at half the cpu speed. From your numbers, the falcon at 2.25 x amiga bus speed is about 20% faster than an amiga 1200 at feeding the bus. By just adding fast RAM, the Amiga can have quite improved computation speed. It'd be interesting to see some benchmarks on pure computation speeds with fast ram. Of course the falcon is quite strange, because only the cpu is at a 16-bit bus while the Videl is on 32-bit or at least that's how I understand it.
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby joska » Fri Jan 20, 2017 10:59 am

Dan1975 wrote:in comparison to the other computers around at the time, how exactly did the Falcon stack up?


IMO the Falcon was the last "home computer" as we know it from the 80's. There were some Amigas released after the Falcon, but they were more "professional" both in design and application. The Falcon was the last and the best of it's generation, but it was already surpassed by the increasingly cheaper PC's. At the time I too thought that the case design was a mistake, but now it's one of the things that makes it legendary. It has many flaws but there's a reason why it's a legendary machine. I think it's the ultimate retro machine of it's type.

Of course, Atari could have made much better machine, but that wouldn't necessary make it more interesting today.
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby Cyprian » Fri Jan 20, 2017 11:30 am

christos wrote:Yes, but that's because the amiga mainboard is clocked at half the cpu speed. From your numbers, the falcon at 2.25 x amiga bus speed is about 20% faster than an amiga 1200 at feeding the bus.

true, the outcome is that bus bitness isn't the main factor, and there is nothing wrong in 16bit bus.

christos wrote:By just adding fast RAM, the Amiga can have quite improved computation speed. It'd be interesting to see some benchmarks on pure computation speeds with fast ram.


in amiga, when you want to add FastRam you have to change whole CPU (and still, fastram can't help avoiding slow 32bit chip-ram)
the same you can do with Falcon.

christos wrote: Of course the falcon is quite strange, because only the cpu is at a 16-bit bus while the Videl is on 32-bit or at least that's how I understand it.

yep, that strange
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby wongck » Fri Jan 20, 2017 11:54 am

What do you mean was.... it is a great machine
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby kolli » Fri Jan 20, 2017 12:08 pm

At the time I had a 1040 STFM with 3MB of RAM, about 150 MB of hard disk space and a monochrome screen with a resolution of about 700 x 480 pixels with Autoswitch Overscan.

What I wanted was mainly a system with higher resolution in color, more CPU speed and more RAM, capable of doing real multitasking. A TT could have been the right machine, but it was monochrome only in hires and with non affordable monitor, and it was way too expensive. I hoped for a hobbyist machine which would meet most of my desire, but out came the Falcon with 640 x 480 and also way too expensive.

I stayed with the ST, because cheap PC had no acceptable OS at that time. Bought a 386 when Linux got available in 1993.

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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby EvilFranky » Fri Jan 20, 2017 2:09 pm

It's the best and most interesting of the old school home computers from that era personally speaking.

Obviously not without it's flaws and I think Atari could have made some better design decisions.

It feels a bit unbalanced, the audio side is massively powerful, destroying everything from that time. But it isn't mated to an equally powerful CPU/BUS.

You do kind of feel the DSP isn't 'complimentary' to the system and instead has to make up for much of it's short comings and isn't left to what it was really designed for, audio processing.

This is highlighted by how well rounded the system becomes when a good accelerator and fast-ram are added, CT2/AB040/CT60. Atari really should have made the BUS fully 32-bit.
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby AtariZoll » Fri Jan 20, 2017 2:53 pm

RAM and Videl are 32-bit because True Color (actually 16-bit color mode, now called High Color mode) would be not possible otherwise with 60 nS FP DRAM. And even with 32 bit video, in 16-bit color mode there is significant CPU slowdown, because it must wait to RAM access some 30% time.
So, RAM was bottleneck in those times, and soon faster solutions appeared - EDO, SDRAM .
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby calimero » Fri Jan 20, 2017 3:07 pm

christos wrote:Of course the falcon is quite strange, because only the cpu is at a 16-bit bus while the Videl is on 32-bit or at least that's how I understand it.


yes, videl can even access RAM in burst mode.

I always wonder why Atari put 16bit CPU<>RAM bus?
1) they did not have time to implement (design) 32bit bus (it will require lot additional work/time)
2) it will raise cost of manufacturing motherboard
3) it will require some odd memory configuration like Rodophe Czuba suggest on his site (2MB or 8MB)??

They also could implement VRAM like Mac LC. It has even slot for additional VRAM so you can add more VRAM later. Mac LC was priced as Falcon back in 1993.

Cyprian wrote:
christos wrote:By just adding fast RAM, the Amiga can have quite improved computation speed. It'd be interesting to see some benchmarks on pure computation speeds with fast ram.


in amiga, when you want to add FastRam you have to change whole CPU (and still, fastram can't help avoiding slow 32bit chip-ram)
the same you can do with Falcon.

Are you sure?
I always believe that you can add ONLY fastram and get 32bit access from original Amiga1200 CPU?!? If you need to replace entire CPU, than situation is same as with Falcon, there was no advantages (except that A1200 expansion slot is 32bit).
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby calimero » Fri Jan 20, 2017 3:08 pm

AtariZoll wrote:RAM and Videl are 32-bit because True Color (actually 16-bit color mode, now called High Color mode)

yes... back in times TrueColor mode means mode without CLUT :)
Mac keep calling 24bit mod "millions color+" mode, while Microsoft call it "true color".

AtariZoll wrote:would be not possible otherwise with 60 nS FP DRAM. And even with 32 bit video, in 16-bit color mode there is significant CPU slowdown, because it must wait to RAM access some 30% time.

And Atari TT have 64bit access to ST RAM from TT Shifter!

AtariZoll wrote:So, RAM was bottleneck in those times, and soon faster solutions appeared - EDO, SDRAM .

What kind of VRAM is in Mac LC (and other mac from that time).
They have complete separate slot for VIDEO RAM (and memory modules are custom made by Apple, they are no SIMMs!)
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby Omikronman » Fri Jan 20, 2017 3:11 pm

Back in 1992 the Falcon was able to do most things better than the multi media PC level 1 standard which was set back in 1991: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multimedia_PC. That was one reason why the Falcon was so good at that time. :)

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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby calimero » Fri Jan 20, 2017 3:46 pm

My experience is similar to kolli, but I eventually bought Falcon :) and never regret :)

We had STe with 4MB, SM124 and harddrive. I used it with MagiC mainly.

Falcon was very exiting machine back in 1992. I did not want faster ST (like TT) but I rather want more colors.

But since it was quite expensive we did not buy it until 1995. and in 1995. there was already quite many software and utilities for Falcon.
I was really impressed by harddisc recording and DSP realtime audio effects; we even record few demotapes for local bands :)
Thanks to DSP Falcon could display fast JPEGs (that become popular at time), and also could playback MOV Cinepak video files in fullscreen but also some low res MPEG files that was shared back in days.

Most productivity software from ST works ok on Falcon so there was no problem, you could open (or convert) almost any file format from other computers on Atari. MagicC also ran very good on 16MHz 68030 (since it was already fast at 8MHz ST). There was few applications for 3D modeling and rendering specifically written for Falcon. Also graphics software like Apex, use all capabilities of Falcon; it is very good and fast graphics program. There was a lot of new stuff to try with Falcon.

What I missed most was games :( there were quite some preview games for Falcon, but only few were finished. Reservoir Gods had simple but very addictive games, but almost nothing that would push and show Falcon gaming capabilities (Llama zap from Yak have really big sprites and fast scrolling).
I still believe that Falcon could be great gaming machine, better than Amiga 1200; but lack of commercial success did not bring any mainstream companies to Falcon.

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If we look at PC from that time, you would use DOS. Text processors was still like from 1983., you need to type command, to configure files, you would spend most time in Norton Commander. You would also configure and reconfigure IRQ, memories and other stuff to run new software and hardware. You have applications for this and that but they were separate and archaic, they even have their own shortcuts on keyboard. It was complete mess if you like to try and explore new different programs - on ST it was super easy (I really enjoy trying new applications all the time). You could not cluck up anything, and everything work without any configuration. Usually you get job done faster on ST than on 5x faster PC with DOS.
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby kolli » Fri Jan 20, 2017 6:15 pm

calimero wrote:My experience is similar to kolli, but I eventually bought Falcon :) and never regret :)
[...]
But since it was quite expensive we did not buy it until 1995


Yes, today I regret, that I did'nt buy one, when it was cheap!

If we look at PC from that time, you would use DOS. Text processors was still like from 1983., you need to type command, to configure files, you would spend most time in Norton Commander. You would also configure and reconfigure IRQ, memories and other stuff to run new software and hardware.


But it was easy to expand those systems and didn't cost much! Tons of graphic adapters, I/O-cards, sound cards, this and that...
I agree in what you wrote about WIN 3.11 and WIN 95. But one has to admit that besides from MacOS those where the key to integrated desktops like those we still use today.

The Atari could have been all of that. EasyAraMiNT is the proof! But they did not have that vision. Maybe they thought they could build a "better Amiga". They totally neglected that Ataris where widely used as business machines in the beginning of the 90ies! For example Papyrus is as good as any later word processor for PC operating systems. But the TT lacked hires color graphics (without expensive graphics adapters) and the Falcon was a home computer, as you allready said!

To me all that DSP stuff did not make any sense. I had no use for it. Did no hard disk recording or so. It's true that in 1992 the PC was no alternative. But it got one in 1993 with WIN 3.11 for one part of users and with linux for the others.

Today I resurrected my 1040 STFM, but that is mainly for nostalgic reasons. I also have a Beekey version of EasyAraMiNT installed on a dual core pentium machine, but even this modern looking Atari OS doesn't even match my needs. Web browsing with SSL is awfully slow and unstable, it is missing some serious video editing software etc. Would have been good to have that type of system in year 2000! :-)

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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby Frank B » Fri Jan 20, 2017 7:56 pm

calimero wrote:Are you sure?
I always believe that you can add ONLY fastram and get 32bit access from original Amiga1200 CPU?!? If you need to replace entire CPU, than situation is same as with Falcon, there was no advantages (except that A1200 expansion slot is 32bit).



That's incorrect. You can add a 4 meg or 8 meg fast RAM board to a 1200 without changing the CPU. It makes the 1200 about twice as fast.

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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby Cyprian » Fri Jan 20, 2017 10:06 pm

Frank B wrote:That's incorrect. You can add a 4 meg or 8 meg fast RAM board to a 1200 without changing the CPU.

that's true you can some fast ram, like 8 or 10mb, but isn't possible to add more than 16 mega bytes due to 68EC020 has cut address bus to 24 bit.

Frank B wrote:It makes the 1200 about twice as fast.

not exactly, some cpu calculation can be boosted by fast ram,
but most important data are still located in slow chip ram, like: video data, sound, floppy disk.
finally, we should remember that 68EC020 has no any data cache.
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby Frank B » Fri Jan 20, 2017 10:53 pm

Cyprian wrote:
Frank B wrote:That's incorrect. You can add a 4 meg or 8 meg fast RAM board to a 1200 without changing the CPU.

that's true you can some fast ram, like 8 or 10mb, but isn't possible to add more than 16 mega bytes due to 68EC020 has cut address bus to 24 bit.

Frank B wrote:It makes the 1200 about twice as fast.

not exactly, some cpu calculation can be boosted by fast ram,
but most important data are still located in slow chip ram, like: video data, sound, floppy disk.
finally, we should remember that 68EC020 has no any data cache.


Remember that the Amiga doesn't data cache chip memory. It can't. Any user space program can own the blitter and kick off a blit.
Putting an 030 into the 1200 without fast memory is pointless.

I don't know what was worse, putting a crippled 020 into the 1200 with 7 mhz bus speed or putting a full 030 onto a 16 bit bus on the Falcon.
Both are sub optimal. The Falcon has faster ST RAM access than Amiga chip RAM though!

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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby Cyprian » Fri Jan 20, 2017 11:04 pm

IMO it's better to have data cache and faster bus - as it was done in Falcon :)
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby CiH » Fri Jan 20, 2017 11:34 pm

Short(ish) opinion,

The Falcon 030 can be considered as a colourful and fast STE with great sound, if that is what you were after. Certainly it would appeal to hardcore Atari fans like myself. I wish it had got a new case. The unreleased Microbox Falcon is what it should have been.

Objectively speaking, once PeeCee's got into the 486 generation and above, they were pulling away from all the other platforms on raw power, notwithstanding the crappiness of Windows, configuration and driver faffing etc.

What kept the Falcon interesting and made it punch above its weight was mastery of the DSP, as at least one other active forum member can surely testify! 8)
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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby Miguel » Sat Jan 21, 2017 2:17 am

In regard to music production the Falcon was quite impressive on account of the built in DSP hardware which made it possible to run 16 audio tracks, now while I could get the same track count on my Pentium 100 machine using native processing it's important to bear in mind that prior to that time hard disk recording was based on the concept of having dedicated DSP do all the heavy lifting for the computer, like back in the day there were versions of Cubase and Logic which were using Digidesign's DSP hardware which lived on as the Pro Tools HD system after everyone else went native, funny thing about that is people have incorrectly assumed that Macs are better for running native processing music production software based upon the fact that big studios have been dragging under powered Macs around with Pro Tools DSP hardware for years.

Now one of the issues with hard disk recording in the 90's was that it wasn't very economical so a lot of people opted to just keep using the old Atari ST with analog tape or invest in an ADAT recorder instead of the Falcon.....yeah people used both but it was more common to see the ST ADAT combo in project studios back then.

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Re: How good was the Falcon?

Postby AtariZoll » Sat Jan 21, 2017 10:07 am

Frank B wrote:...
I don't know what was worse, putting a crippled 020 into the 1200 with 7 mhz bus speed or putting a full 030 onto a 16 bit bus on the Falcon.
Both are sub optimal. The Falcon has faster ST RAM access than Amiga chip RAM though!

Indeed, in both cases companies saved on production costs. In case of 68030 internal cache can compensate slower RAM access a bit, if it would be much more than 512 bytes, then even considerably. I would say that Falcon's approach is little les bad :D
As computer for musicians, Falcon would be probably more successful in some professional case - they should at least go out with such version too.
Surely would not increase sales in 3-zypher percentage, but would pay, I'm sure. I still consider Mega STE as much better built computer.
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