Tuesday, April 6, 2010


The Last Documented Computer

I've been doing some research into non-x86 computing, trying to find the perfect computer for hackers. Something that has documentation down to the register level where it would be possible to understand every part of the machine, especially the video hardware.

Unfortunately the lack of documentation is a big problem nowadays. Most of the companies making video cards don't release programming documentation. There are many devices which have Linux installed but are quite difficult to program due to secrecy.

There are Sparc workstations available on Ebay in a wide variety of formats and varying ages but there appears to be a lack of community. The hobbyist programmer has become endangered if not completely extinct. The main Sparc programmer for Linux seems to think Sparc's time is over and the new Sparc boxes use Intel CPUs, and it's very doubtful that the video hardware used on Sparc machines is well documented.

Sharp has not supported it's zaurus series after they stopped making their SL series of Linux hand held computers. Although I thought the SL-5500 was a nice machine it is not ideal for software hacking. Once again the main problem is the lack of documentation. Learning to fully program the machine is difficult and many zaurus programmers have moved on to another platform.

Strangely enough the last machine that was fully documented appears to be the Amiga 4000 made by Commodore in 1992 and discontinued in 1994. (I inquired about becoming a dealer in 1991 but it never transpired). Of course hackers liked the machine and created versions of Linux and BSD for it. Some people who still use this machine today hang out in ##amiga on freenode.

Rumours and announcements persist to this day about an amazing new Amiga called the "X1000". But on a more mundane note we still see some Amiga's for sale used on ebay. Keeping in mind the first Amiga was released in July 1985 making the total lifespan of the Amiga series to be only 9 years.
Of course the original Commodore company itself died in 1994.

I am seriously considering buying a used Amiga 3000 or 4000 to hack on.


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