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AMPM: Alpha Micro Eagle 450

The Eagle 450, along with the cost-reduced Eagle 250, Eagle 250LC and Eagle 450TX, and the bigger Eagle 550 ColdFire, represent the last generation of the 68K Eagles and have several interesting architectural features.

Probably the most notable of these unusual architectural attributes is the choice of CPU: the E450 and descendants are based on the Motorola ColdFire, though using the "bridge" MCF5102, which maintains full compatibility with 68K code and in this implementation looks like a regular 68040 to application software. The OS does need to be patched for ColdFire support, however, which is why only 2.3A is supported on these machines. The '040 core in the MCF5102 is slightly lower performance at the same clockspeed as a regular '040, so it is not faster than the bigger 40MHz 68040 or the 68060 machines (and it only runs at 33MHz). On the other hand, it's lower power, lower cost and lower temperature, all of which are advantageous in these smaller systems. The E450 was the first Alpha Micro system with this architecture and one of the earliest ColdFire systems extant.

The E450 also introduces 68-pin SCSI-3 for substantially faster I/O throughput, as the benchmark below demonstrates.

This is the fastest Alpha Micro in my collection, easily eclipsing the E300 serving this page and its lower-cost descendant E100, and was a generous donation from Douglas Peelle (thanks, Doug!). It used to work in a 9-1-1 dispatch center but now is my test machine and acts as hardware backup for the E300. I'll talk briefly about how I broke into it as an educational aid to other people who might find one of these blue-collar machines in the wild.

For more commentary on the Eagle machine line, see the Eagle 100 page and its ancestor Eagle 300 page.

Pictures

As it arrived to my lab after I did a bit of cleaning up. The DAT was factory installed and is supported directly by AMOS. It is in the standard PC mini-tower case Alpha Micro was using around this time, including for the E100.

The backplate of the unit, however, is very different from the E100/E300. The power supply is mounted sideways and there is a second cooling fan for the drive bays up top. It has connectors for Ethernet (the AUI is blocked off), parallel, UPS monitoring (old school DB-9) and the factory-installed 8 RJ-45 terminal serial ports. The external SCSI connector is 68-pin instead of 50-pin and wired directly into the bus. There are also no boot DIP switches like there are on the E100/E300 because boot options are set in CMOS (see below).

You can't see it here, but the official model number is AM-3500-450; all Eagles that I have seen are officially "AM-3500" series models.

With the cover off. As received the cables were just everywhere. The power supply is still an AT power supply; the factory-installed PSU is 250W. The AM-138 logic board is mounted to the rear.

A closer view of the AM-138 logic board with the cables out of the way. Click for an enlargement of the logic board (170K).

There are several interesting features on this board:

Some other interesting features are what were not implemented:

Actually, it's the little chip right above it at U96 hidden by the drive cage. Only that honking heat sink tells you this chip does a lot more work than anything else on the board. Best theory is that the AM-138 was developed to handle either CPU and it wasn't worth redesigning the board to remove the unused socket. The 1998 product announcement calls it an "R&D Test Point."

Unlike earlier Eagles which used DIP switches to set boot options, the E450 has a CMOS setup menu (notice the front LED reads "CS"), accessible by pressing ESC on the primary terminal as it starts up. Not only can you select the primary and secondary boot devices -- interestingly, Flash is one of them (don't select it, though, it won't work) but CD-ROM isn't -- but also the boot monitor, the boot INI file, serial port and even if bootup messages are displayed. Unfortunately this also means forgetting you changed the default terminal speed is likely to ruin your day in a big way.

Booting up.

In the server room next to the E300 with a Yamaha CRW-8424SX CD drive that I used to use with my old Power Mac 7300 as an "OEM" AM-402. The console is my usual workhorse AM-65. The LED reads "0" for "no error."

How I Broke Into It

Doug didn't know how to get into the machine, so here's how I broke into it and got it properly configured for those of you trying to play with the Alpha Micro you just bought on eBay.

Actually getting OPR: was the easy part. Many Alpha Micro systems, if they ask for a username, will allow you to log in as the vendor with DEMO or System Service without a password. DEMO is usually attached to OPR:; System Service is usually attached to SYS:. In this case, the DEMO login was working, and had no password! Instant operator access! (If you're already at a dot prompt, try an immediate LOG OPR: to see if you can get operator from there. Odds are that if those accounts were left open and active, there's probably no password on OPR: either.)

Unfortunately, when I got to the dot prompt and tried to do anything with the AM-65 terminal I had handy, the terminal emulation was just a big mess. After some looking at SYS:AMOS32.INI it seemed to be using a terminal emulation that neither the AM-65 nor my AM-75 could be configured to support. That was a problem because I couldn't edit any files, meaning I couldn't even log in over the network because it was configured with a weird static IP address. However, the TDVDEF line in AMOS32.INI showed an entry for ANSIPM (and, for that matter, AM65) if only I could just coax the machine to use it.

The easiest thing to do in this situation, since SYSTAT told me that AlphaTCP was enabled and TELNED (the Telnet daemon) was running, was to try to fix the network address because that could be done in one file from scratch (TCP:NETWRK.). To do this, I wrote a little AlphaBASIC "copy con" program to create a new version of that file with the right IP address. Start BASIC and key it in. It's only 5 lines. The session looked like this. When keying in the network info, between the three main fields, use tabs (two between loop and 127. in the first line).

If you make a mistake, start over, deleting out.lst if needed, since you may accidentally introduce odd control characters. If you saved the BASIC text already, then reload it into BASIC with load cpycon.bas and continue with the run command.

.log tcp:
Transferred from OPR: to TCP:
Caution - other jobs same PPN

.basic
AlphaBASIC Version 1.4(309)-2

READY
10 strsiz 255:open #1,"out.lst",output
20 input line q$
30 if q$="" then close #1:print "** DONE **":end
40 print #1 q$
50 goto 20
save cpycon.bas

READY
run
COMPILING
Compile time was 0 seconds, elapsed time was 0 seconds
loop            127.0.0.1       local
ethernet        192.168.0.1     ether eth net

** DONE **

CPU time was 0.02 seconds, elapsed time was 19 seconds

READY
bye
.type out.lst
loop            127.0.0.1       local
ethernet        192.168.0.1     ether eth net
.rename netwrk.bak=netwrk.
NETWRK. to NETWRK.BAK
Total of 1 file renamed
.rename netwrk.=out.lst
OUT.LST to NETWRK.
Total of 1 file renamed

At this point I plugged it into the network switch and rebooted it, then got out my trusty iBook G4 and assigned it an address on the same subnet. I could then do telnet 192.168.0.1 and got in!

e450 TELNET server (AMOS TCP/IP V1.5A) ready.

********** Welcome to AMOS **********

Enter terminal type and memory required (default is 64K)
or a question mark (?) to see a list of supported terminals
Example: >am65a 64k
>ansipm 640k

I then logged in as DEMO again and was back in OPR:. I backed up the old AMOS32.INI (copy sys:amos32.bak=sys:amos32.ini), created a new one (copy sys:new32.ini=sys:amos32.ini) and now I could use VUE to edit the new one (see the Primer on AMOS for the commands and keycombinations to use on a non-Alpha Micro terminal) and set the TRMDEF for the console to AM65. How that line will look depends on the system, but this is how it looked here:

TRMDEF TERM1,AM31810=0:19200,AM65,132,132,132,EDITOR=5

I shut down and restarted the machine into the CMOS menu for a test boot, setting the INI file to NEW32.INI. The test showed no errors, so as the last steps, I deleted the old AMOS32.INI (erase sys:amos32.ini) and renamed NEW32.INI to it (rename sys:amos32.ini=sys:new32.ini), and made one last trip into the CMOS menu to change back to AMOS32.INI. Fully operational! Whew!

Performance

Benchmarked with SI.LIT on standard hardware with spinning SCSI-3 hard disk. I don't have the optional cache card.

Computing Index (CX), relative to AM-100: 59.9
48 bit FP Index (4X), relative to AM-100: 58.2
Floating Point Index (FX), relative to AM-100/L: 7.9
Disk Index (DX), relative to ST-506: 30.9

All of the indices show substantial improvement over every prior Eagle except the E550, but disk speed in particular is roughly double that of the E300.

Rod Hewitt's test report on the E450 suggests the cache yields about a 13% performance boost (based on his reported SI.LIT CX result of 68). Even granted that he was working on a prototype this is still less than you would expect, but certainly not nothing.

Potpourri


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